The John Cheever Audio Collection by John Cheever, read by the author, Meryl Streep, Peter Gallagher, George Plimpton et al. (Harper Audio). A first-class lineup of narrators—including Cheever and his son—read these selections from The Stories of John Cheever, making this a truly superb production.
A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris, read by Barbara Rosenblat (Audio Bookshelf). Displaying her remarkable vocal versatility, Rosenblat gives each of the three primary female characters in this cross-generational story a distinct voice, switching easily between such disparate characters as a chummy, awkward priest and a young bully.
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, read by Maggi-Meg Reed and Christopher Burns (HighBridge). The expressive, evocative performances of both Reed and Burns do justice to this clever, inventive love story between a Chicago librarian with "Chrono Displacement" disorder and the woman who has loved him all her life.
My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki, read by Anna Fields (Blackstone). Fields vividly brings to life the many disparate voices in this provocative novel, which conveys a controversial message about the beef industry and tells the story of two women who find the courage to break away from the destructive forces in their lives.
Jeeves and the Mating Season by P.G. Wodehouse, read by Jonathan Cecil (Audio Editions). Cecil's lively performance highlights the humor of Wodehouse's words, and he creates distinctive voices for each character, which is an admirable accomplishment, considering nearly all of them are upper-crust British men.
Kate Remembered by A. Scott Berg, read by Tony Goldwyn (Putnam Berkley). There were few lulls in Hepburn's long life, and the same can be said for this audio, in which Goldwyn nimbly recounts Berg's 20-year friendship with Hepburn.
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right by Al Franken, read by the author (HighBridge). Who's really distorting the truth for "partisan political advantage"—the Democrats or the Republicans? Franken offers his two cents in this witty, scrupulously researched and expertly delivered production.
Bushwacked: Life in George W. Bush's America by Molly Ivins, read by the author (Random House Audio). Though Ivins is mad as hell at what she says "Dubya" is doing to the country, she never lets that fact interfere with her offbeat sense of humor or her engaging delivery.
Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker by James McManus, read by the author (Audio Renaissance). Seemingly calm and impassive, McManus's voice may initially make listeners wonder if he's the right person for the job. But his even keel is a deception, and listeners will almost be able to feel his heart racing as he describes playing cards with the world's best for days on end.
Sex and the Married Girl: From Clicking to Climaxing—The Complete Truth About Modern Marriage by Mandi Norwood, read by the author (New Millennium). Having extensively interviewed 100 married women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, Norwood dishes the inside dirt on modern matrimony in a vivacious, friendly, sometimes giggly voice which is enhanced by a lovely British accent.
The Last Detective by Robert Crais, read by James Daniels (Brilliance). With its relentless pacing, large cast, many flashbacks and constant shifts between first- and third-person narration, this thrilling action-adventure yarn poses a significant challenge for an audio interpreter, which the versatile Daniels meets.
The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust by Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin, read by Barbara Rosenblat (JCC Audiobooks). Narrating with a light Austrian accent, Rosenblat seems to become Edith at times, and listeners might easily forget that this absorbing narrative is a memoir, not a novel.
Nina: Adolescence by Amy Hassinger, read by Mia Barron (Listen & Live). Barron narrates this disturbing and eerily seductive tale of adolescent angst and mother-daughter rivalry in soft, muted tones, but her sensitive telling nicely compliments Hassinger's expressive prose.
Tishomingo Blues: A Novel by Elmore Leonard, read by Frank Muller (Harper Audio). This seasoned audiobook reader possesses a rare knack for performing both male and female roles in a way that sounds completely natural, and here he ably portrays all of Leonard's eccentric characters.
The Wandering Hill: A Novel by Larry McMurtry, read by Alfred Molina (Simon & Schuster Audio). Listening to Molina capture the comic subtleties of the characters in this over-the-top Berrybender Narrative is to experience the art of the audiobook at its very best.
The Funny Thing Is... by Ellen Degeneres, read by the author (Simon & Schuster Audio). Whether offering tips to cover social embarrassments or grousing about parallel parking, Degeneres delights with her laid-back, stream-of-conscience musings.
Getting Mother's Body by Suzan-Lori Parks, read by the author. (Random House Audio). It's rare when an author reads her own work of fiction, but this superb audio adaptation of Parks's debut finds the author singing the blues and narrating with a slow, Southern drawl befitting the book's mood.
David Sedaris Live at Carnegie Hall by David Sedaris (Time Warner AudioBooks). This live recording of Sedaris's October 22, 2002, reading at Manhattan's Carnegie Hall finds the bestselling humorist performing seven hilarious new pieces. As uproarious as Sedaris is on the page, he's even funnier reading these wickedly jaundiced reflections.
Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton, read by the author (Simon & Schuster Audio). The former First Lady's infectious sense of optimism and unwavering energy shine through in her delivery of this engaging memoir.
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, read by Oliver Wyman (HighBridge). The lump-in-the-throat contained intensity of Wyman's reading gives listeners a palpable glimpse of the power of addiction and the struggle for recovery.
Creating True Peace: Ending Violence in Yourself, Your Family, Your Community and the World by Thich Nhat Hanh, read by Michael York (Simon & Schuster Audio). This accessible introduction to Buddhist principles is expertly narrated by York, whose soothing voice is a perfect match for a work that urges listeners to wake up to their true natures.
Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip by the authors with Tom Hanks, Philip Bosco, Kevin Conway et al. (Random House Audio). This excellent account of the nation's first cross-country road trip in 1903 is enhanced by well-chosen music and Hanks's reading of the letters Horatio Nelson Jackson sent home to his wife.
CHILDREN'S SPOKEN WORD
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne, read by Jim Broadbent (HarperChildren's Audio). Broadbent plus the Bear of Very Little Brain equals a blast. A light and lovely treatment (miles from Disney) of the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood.
Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism by Georgia Byng, read by Kate Burton (HarperChildren's Audio). When I count to three, you will have fond memories of this listening experience, which trails a spunky orphan who has mastered magical powers of hypnotism and uses them to daring and funny effect.
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, read by Graeme Malcolm (Listening Library). Malcolm is the big cheese here, luring listeners to the tale of a mouse who falls in love with a human princess with his rich, sonorous voice.
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, read by Hope Davis (Listening Library). Davis gives a carefully nuanced and emotionally riveting reading of this YA novel inspired by a mysterious real-life murder.
The Town around the Bend: Bedtime Stories and Songs by Bill Harley (Round River Music). A bit silly, totally satisfying and just right for bedtime.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling, read by Jim Dale (Listening Library). Yet again, Dale proves himself an audiobook tour-de-force, taking on more than 130 different character voices for Rowling's latest fantastic adventure.
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, read by Cherry Jones (HarperChildren's Audio). The pioneer life never sounded so good as it does in Jones's capable hands. Wilder's classic gains a whole new freshness.
Indian Elephant Tea by the Big Kidz Band (Rounder Kids). Families will want to share a cuppa with Skip Ewing and his Nashville crew as they give a snazzy new twist to tunes like "Bingo" and "If You're Happy and You Know It."
Making Good Noise by Tom Chapin (Sundance Music/Gadfly Records). Listeners' creative juices will flow after hearing this celebration of sounds—from hand-clapping to pot banging to full-fledged banjo playing.
Bon Appétit: Musical Food Fun by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer (Rounder Kids). Good songs are on the menu when these established artists strum and sing about the virtues of food and nutrition.
You Are My Sunshine by Elizabeth Mitchell (Last Affair Records). No gray skies here. Mitchell's honey-smooth vocals give her folk-pop arrangements a mellow, appropriately sunny mood.
When Bullfrogs Croak by Zak Morgan (Zak Morgan Music). With electric and acoustic guitar leading the way, Morgan serves up an eclectic and witty mix of mostly original songs.
It's a Puzzle by Trout Fishing in America (Trout Records). Odes to lunchtime or lost toys provide fodder for this duo's versatile singing and musicianship. Folk, pop, blues and bluegrass styles all pop their heads in here.
The World's Very Best Opera for Kids... in English! by various artists (the Children's Group). No family should be without this collection of beloved arias from around the world performed by professional opera singers and exactingly translated into English (without missing a beat).