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This Old Man: All in Pieces

Roger Angell, read by Arthur Morey. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-399-56534-2

Morey is a thoroughly competent and earnest reader who consistently exhibits his pleasure in reading Angell’s latest collection, a miscellany from his long career. It includes profiles from the author’s reportage, Commentary and Talk of the Town samples from the New Yorker, book and movie reviews, obituaries, light verse and annual Christmas rhymes, baseball stories, political opinions, and letters to and from family, friends, strangers, and major literary figures. In an essay on aging, Angell writes, “Getting old is the second biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love.” Morey articulates carefully in his mildly gruff voice, takes obvious delight in Angell’s humor, and proffers great bursts of enthusiasm when the moment calls for it. It’s clear he feels lucky to have gotten this assignment, and the listener gets to share his exuberance. A Doubleday hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush

Jon Meacham, read by Paul Michael. Random House Audio, 25 hrs., $60 ISBN 978-1-101-92296-5

Though a stage and screen actor, Michael reads—rather than performs—this biography of the 41st president of the United States. The text is full of quotes from the diaries Bush and his wife, Barbara, kept throughout their lives, and from the books and diaries of numerous political figures. Michael always manages to make it clear who is speaking without trying to create voices for each of these people. Meacham paints a portrait of a man who believes in loyalty, honesty, and necessary political compromise, only on rare occasions allowing his fierce ambition to overcome his code of honor. As a presidential candidate at the 1988 Republican National Convention, he truly believed in his winning line, “Read my lips: no new taxes.” While Michael has exhibited his acting acumen in other audiobooks, he’s right to read this one in a steady, straightforward voice. A Random House hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person

Shonda Rhimes, read by the author. S&S Audio, unabridged, 6 CDs, 7 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-9619-7

In her new memoir, Hollywood writer and producer Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy and other hit TV series, recounts a self-improvement project to step out of her personal and professional comfort zone, embracing opportunities for growth and positive change. As narrator, Rhimes delivers a home run with her poised, down-to-earth style of delivery. She effectively uses annunciation to bring context to her self-esteem metaphors and mantras, several of which—like “dance it out”—she has included in her TV shows. Her confessional tone shines through in numerous funny yet insightful anecdotes. In one especially memorable example of empowerment, she maintains her sanity as a single mother by saying no to a request from her children’s school that parents provide only homemade items for bake sales. As an added bonus, the audio edition includes recordings of several recent high-profile public speeches that Rhimes references in her narrative—speeches that Rhimes says she would have declined in previous years. A Simon & Schuster. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Death Wears a Mask

Ashley Weaver, read by Alison Larkin. Dreamscape Media, unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $59.99 ISBN 978-1-68141-754-7

Like Weaver’s Edgar-nominated debut mystery, Murder at the Brightwell (2014), this follow-up is narrated by Amory Ames, a British socialite who, with her husband, Milo, leads a charmed life in 1930s London. Here, Amory is asked by a family friend, Serena Barrington, to identify a jewel thief—a favor that eventually leads to murder as well as her and Milo’s near brushes with adultery. Reader Larkin’s use of a flippant, above-the-fray Mayfair accent for Amory flattens the characters. And Milo, though thoughtful and vaguely amused by his wife, sounds a bit too condescending, even for the 1930s. Despite being filtered through Amory’s off-putting air of constant frivolity, the novel’s murder plot and its solution make the book worth the listen. A Minotaur hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Avenue of Mysteries

John Irving, read by Armando Duran. S&S Audio, unabridged, 17 CDs, 21 hrs., $49.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-8449-1

Duran manages this multifaceted, character-rich tome with aplomb. He has quirky tones that catch Irving’s humor, humanism, and intellectual and political acumen, as well as his salacious eccentricities. The brilliant, self-educated 14-year-old Juan Diego and his mind-reading 13-year-old sister, Lupe, scavenge and live in the garbage heaps outside the Mexican city of Oaxaca. Around them circle rigid priests and warm-hearted clergy, the “dump boss” who may be their father, a bevy of prostitutes including their mother, a doctor, an American priest who falls for a lovable transvestite, and an assortment of dogs, circus performers, and sundry animals. Around Juan Diego Gurrero, the world-famous novelist traveling the world, are his former student, a sex-crazed mother and daughter who may not exist, and an assortment of ghosts. Duran leads the listener through the plot twists and mysteries surrounding the Virgin Mary and her counterpart, the dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe, and, in and out of the realities, dreams and memories of the young and old Juan Diego. This is vintage Irving, and Duran handles it well. A Simon & Schuster hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Wild Swan and Other Tales

Michael Cunningham, read by Lili Taylor and Billy Hough. Macmillan Audio, 3 CDs, 3 hrs., $19.95 ISBN 978-1-4272-6221-9

Taylor and Hough dramatize these newfangled tales with youthful charm and subtle savagery, easily swinging from the author’s gentle humor into darker recesses. Cunningham meshes ancient tales with modern interpretations, offering psychological background for each of our bedtime familiars. He creates post fairy-tale scenarios and seeks answers to questions never asked: Why is Rumpelstiltskin so obsessed with the queen’s baby? What happens to Rumpelstiltskin after she names him? What is life like for the 11 swans revived as men? How does the 12th, the one-armed, one-winged ex-swan, handle his disability? Why is the wicked witch relieved to be shoved in the oven? Cunningham has created a new and wonderful way of bending our minds around the myths that loomed large in our childhoods, and Taylor and Hough do him justice. A Farrar, Straus and Giroux hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Banquet of Consequences

Elizabeth George, read by John Lee. Penguin Audio, unabridged, 18 CDs, 22 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-1-61176-366-9

Lee has a great narrator’s voice and fine acting skills. The listener easily distinguishes between multiple characters, male and female, and is thoroughly engrossed in the fears, frustrations, and family feuds in George’s mystery. Lee deploys an excellent range of British accents for Insp. Thomas Lynley, Eighth Earl of Asherton, and his sidekick, working-class Sgt. Barbara Havers, as well as sundry friends and enemies. But Havers finds herself in deep trouble with Lynley’s boss (and one-time lover) Isabelle Avery, and she faces possible reassignment to the boonies, and even Lynley has difficulty standing up for her as the case unfolds. Who is to blame for William Goldacre’s suicide? Did Caroline, his mad, meddling mother murder her employer, the famous feminist writer Clare Abbott? Who put the poison in the toothpaste tube? Lee leads us comfortably through all the twists and turns of George’s 19th Lynley/Havers saga. A Viking hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Occupied Earth: Stories of Aliens, Resistance and Survival at All Costs

Edited by Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips, read by Elise Arsenault and Michael Hinton. Tantor Audio, $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-1618-5

This anthology pulls together writers to explore a shared universe where an alien race called the Makh-Ra took over humankind several decades ago. Each writer spins a tale about humanity trying to survive in a society dominated by aliens. Together, they present a fascinating series of exploits of characters who are surviving and resisting in an occupied zone. Voice actors Arsenault and Hinton prove capable narrators for the most part. Hinton excels when it comes to character voices, but his descriptive narration, while increasing the tension of a scene, can also push the listener away. Arsenault’s narration is more consistent as she reads in lively voice with a solid cadence that keeps listeners intrigued. A Polis paperback. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories

Stephen King, read by the author and multiple narrators. S&S Audio, unabridged, 16 CDs, 19 hrs., $49.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-8850-5

A dream team of talented performers reads these 18 tales and two poems by master fictioneer King. Several of the stories—including “Blockade Billy,” a baseball yarn with a predictable violent punch line, and “Under the Weather,” an exploration of the grim effect a tragedy has on an ad man—are not the author’s strongest, but they are given a boost by, respectively, Craig Wasson’s keep-rounding-the-bases-and-slide-into-home exuberance and Peter Friedman’s conversational narration, which shifts the emphasis from the repetitiveness of what he’s saying to the compelling way he’s saying it. Other stories are as strikingly composed as they are performed. As wonderful as the professional readers are, it is King’s nasal voice that distinguishes the production, preceding each story with information about its creation. He also begins the collection with an intriguing introduction explaining the differences between writing novels and short fiction, warning about the stories that follow: “The best of them have teeth.” A Scribner hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Beatlebone

Kevin Barry, read by the author. Brilliance Audio, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 7 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-5113-2201-0

Irish novelist Barry puts the striking brogue of his native accent to good use in the audio edition of his new book. The fictional story line, blending real-life events in pop music history with inventive fantasy and psychological introspection, centers on the late rock icon John Lennon’s 1978 visit to the remote island off the western coast of Ireland that he purchased a decade earlier. Barry shines in his vocal renderings of both Lennon and the other principal character, Cornelius O’Grady, a gruff no-nonsense driver for hire who possesses shape-shifting abilities that he displays while leading Lennon on a mystical journey. The secondary characters—an assorted cast of local burned-out hippies and salt-of-the-earth villagers—also shine in Barry’s vocal rendering, and Lennon even befriends a dog that he names after Beach Boy Brian Wilson. But the surreal plot elements are hard to follow in the audio edition, and the street-wise Lennon and his equally colorful companion certainly utter a great deal of harsh language. A Doubleday hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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