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The Gift of the Gab: How Eloquence Works

David Crystal, read by Derek Perkins. Tantor Audio, , unabridged, 5 CDs, 6.5 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-5414-1991-9

With a sharp English accent and expert pacing, Perkins largely exemplifies the lessons in linguist Crystal’s lively treatise on the subject of eloquence. Originally published in 2016, the book investigates the concept of eloquence across cultures and at various points in history while also providing advice on how best to achieve it. For most of the book, veteran voice actor Perkins doesn’t so much read as confidently deliver the text (Crystal addresses the difference between the two in the book). He also subtly mimics the speaking styles of eloquent speakers quoted at length, including Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., and Winston Churchill. The audio edition gets bogged down by the later chapters, which deal with the technical aspects of public speaking, including pitch, cadence, and pacing. There’s a chapter on modifying notes to help individuals read eloquently that’s basically useless in the audio version (Perkins indicates where the symbols appear in the text but doesn’t follow them). Overall, Perkins’s versatile narration enhances Crystal’s book in ways that are especially suited to the subject. A Yale Univ. paperback. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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How to Think like a Cat

Stéphane Garnier, read by George Newbern. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 2 CDs, 2 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-5200-9842-5

Actor Newbern brings an aloof coolness to his reading of French novelist Garnier’s playful self-help guide. After years of enviously observing the lifestyle of his cat, Ziggy, Garnier developed the theory that people would be a lot happier if they acted more like cats. His book compiles 40 cat behaviors—such as knowing how to assert oneself calmly or being persistent in one’s demands for affection (or dinner)—to illustrate the ways humans can eliminate sources of stress by adopting the mindset of a cat. The text includes quotes from famous authors, checklists, quizzes, and other elements that are difficult to decipher in Newbern’s reading. However, reader Newbern handles the longer, more straightforward passages with ease, playfully conveying the worldview of cats with a smooth confidence and nonchalance. Though Newbern’s narration is hit or miss, the content of the book and Newbern’s attempts to mimic the attitudes of its subject are sure to please cat lovers. A HarperWave hardcover. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table

Rick Bragg, read by the author. Random House Audio, unabridged, 16 CDs, 19.5 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-0-525-58864-1

Cookbooks don’t translate easily to the audiobook format, but Bragg, reading in a friendly Southern drawl, manages to effortlessly transform this collection of his mother’s Southern comfort food recipes into an utterly captivating listening experience. This is largely due to the narrative component of the book, which includes stories from Bragg’s mother’s life in the South and is intertwined with 75 recipes for dishes including “fried chicken, potato salad, and slab of pie,” which Bragg’s grandmother served his grandfather at a barn dance and which helped to seal her fate as his future wife. The recipes themselves are rooted in the oral tradition, and many of them include measurements such as “enough” and temperature guidelines such as “you’ll know.” Bragg clearly developed each recipe while observing his mother in the kitchen. He captures his mother’s razor-sharp judgment and confidence as well as her frequent disclaimer of “Some people may do it that way, but I don’t.” As with his previous audiobooks, Bragg renders the banter of his blue-collar Southern family with pride and heart. This is that rare food-centric audiobook to savor. A Knopf hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Surprise Me

Sophie Kinsella, read by Fiona Hardingham. Random House Audio, unabridged, 9 CDs, 11.5 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-525-53176-0

Hardingham turns in a charming performance in this light confection, capturing the winsome humor of Kinsella’s novel. When young Londoners Dan and Sophie are informed by their doctor that they might both live to be 100, they begin to question whether their marriage is built to last that long. Thus is born “Project Surprise Me,” in which each attempts to invigorate the marriage by surprising the other, often to disastrous and comic effect. Hardingham is at her best when handling the over-the-top humor of these situations, which range from an inedible breakfast in bed to sexy lingerie that’s inadvertently revealed to the wrong person. Hardingham magnificently captures the bright demeanor of Sophie, whose people-pleasing tendencies mask long buried sadness and insecurity, as well as the working-class pragmatism of Dan and the cheerful tenacity of their five-year-old twins. The host of quirky neighbors and coworkers are rendered with affectionate individuality. Hardingham’s entertaining performance subtly reveals the novel’s more serious themes even as it revels in the many droll moments. A Dial hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found

Gilbert King, read by Kimberly Farr. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 12 CDs, 15 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-0-525-52824-1

Voice actor Farr offers a simple reading of King’s true crime saga set in the Jim Crow South. During the winter of 1957, Blanche Knowles, a white woman and the wife of a wealthy citrus baron in Lake County, Fla., is raped. She describes her rapist as a black man with bushy hair. Yet, despite evidence to the contrary, it is a mentally disabled white teenager, Jesse Daniels, who is convicted of the crime, and his family is ostracized by the community at the mere suggestion of having black ancestry. He spends the next 14 years committed to the state hospital for the insane at Chattahoochee. Despite an uncaring bureaucracy, crooked lawmen, and frightening harassment by the KKK, Jesse’s mother and a dedicated investigative reporter work tirelessly to prove Jesse’s innocence. Farr cleanly guides the listener through this tale of injustice and unabashed, rampant racism. Farr’s clear and steady reading keeps listeners attuned to the historical detail and plot twists that drive King’s narrative. A Riverhead hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Outsider

Stephen King, read by Will Patton. S&S Audio, 15 CDs, 18.5 hrs., $49.99 ISBN 978-1-5082-5221-4

Reader Patton’s steady, realistic narration adds a strong element of credibility to King’s supernatural police procedural, in which a small-town detective is faced with an apparently impossible crime. The worst day in the life of Flint City, Okla., detective Ralph Anderson is when he arrests popular Little League baseball coach Terry Maitland for the murder of a young boy. The coach’s fingerprints and DNA are all over the crime scene, but he has an ironclad alibi: he was at a convention in another city and has witnesses and even video footage to prove it. Subsequent events suggest the presence of an otherworldly serial killer whom Anderson and his associates set out to find and destroy. Joining them is Holly Gibney, a fascinating character from the author’s Bill Hodges crime trilogy. Brilliantly deductive, neurotic, and obsessively determined, she quickly takes over the novel, and Patton provides her with an edgy, breathless, and impatient voice that, at times, is an almost crooning stream-of-consciousness. Patton’s approach for Anderson and his other associates is more conventional: they speak in fittingly tough, hardboiled tones. As for the voice of the monstrous outsider, it is surprisingly conversational and educated, with just a hint of chilling playfulness. This audiobook demonstrates King’s ability to make even the most fantastic story believable and poignant, and Patton’s unswerving talent for making fiction feel real. A Scribner hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Girl Who Smiled Beads

Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil, read by Robin Miles. Random House Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 9 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-525-52628-5

Miles’s nuanced, emotional reading makes listening to Wamariya’s haunting life story an unforgettable experience. As a six-year-old child in Rwanda, Wamariya and her older sister, Claire, were forced to flee the Rwandan massacre without their parents. The sisters struggled to survive on their own for six years as they traveled through seven African countries, endured horrific refugee camps, and found brief periods of safety staying with distant relatives—only to have the war and violence descend on them, too. Finally the two make it to America and settle in Chicago where a family takes in Wamariya and provides for her, while her sister struggles as a single mother. The audio edition concludes with recorded commentary by Wamariya, giving listeners the opportunity to hear the author’s voice, but the main narrative is read by veteran voice actor Miles who fully embraces the role of Wamariya and easily enthralls listeners. Miles’s voice alternates between calmness, fear, anxiety, rage, and contemplativeness, as she sifts through Wamariya’s memories and helps convey the author’s complicated emotions. The sterling narration makes for a powerful audiobook. A Crown hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People

Bob Goff, read by the author. Thomas Nelson, , unabridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs., $21.99 ISBN 978-1-978620-53-7

In delivering the audio edition of the follow-up to his 2012 inspirational self-help guide, Love Does, Goff—a human-rights activist, attorney, and speaker—brings an affable and casual style that befits his laid-back San Diego surfer persona. Goff tackles some weighty topics related to the Christian commandment to love the unlovable, particularly with regard to his encounters with the perpetrators of child sacrifice in Uganda. Yet, he manages to project a natural sense of ease and calm without coming across as flippant. Goff’s voice sounds both sincere and humble when recounting the more personal anecdotes in the narrative—most notably, one about an encounter with a slow-moving rental car agent who strains Goff’s patience. His delivery is conversational, varied enough in tone and pitch to keep listeners engaged but not as intense as his charged motivational talks. Goff’s earnest rendering of memorable catchphrases—such as the recurring reference to his wife as “Sweet Maria”—provides a human touch that accentuates the warm tones of the message. Fans of Goff will flock to this audiobook. A Thomas Nelson hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Terminal Rage

A.M. Khalifa, read by Scott Brick. Mavenhill Audio, , unabridged, digital download, 10.5 hrs., $29.99 ASIN B07D5J4H6W

The audio production of Khalifa’s twisty thriller begins with a terrorist takeover of a Manhattan skyscraper and features a spirited reading by Brick. Former FBI agent Alex Blackwell initially sounds annoyed as he is dragged from retirement to handle a hostage situation in a New York City high-rise. His attitude shifts to that of a determined professional when Seth, the terrorist leader, demands a safe escape and a trade —the kidnapped daughter of an influential senator for the release of two bombers imprisoned in Egypt. Once the deal is struck and completed, Blackwell vows to hunt down Seth, and his quest is interrupted by chapters featuring Sam Morgan, a Southern California software developer who’s lured to a new job in New York City. The way the stories connect is clever and shocking. The plot hops around the globe, giving Brick’s international accents a workout—from credible Australian, Egyptian, and German accents to a questionable Caribbean one. Brick’s clipped, precise performance smooths out some rough spots in Khalifa’s prose and, more importantly, makes the most of the surprising finale. The result is a totally satisfying audiobook. A Mavenhill paperback. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Space Opera

Catherynne M. Valente, read by Heath Miller. HighBridge Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $24.99 ISBN 978-1-6816-8916-6

Miller shines in his reading of Valente’s outrageous sci-fi adventure. The book opens as washed up glam-rocker Danesh Jalo of the band Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros learns that his band has been chosen to represent the planet Earth in an intergalactic music festival. The hitch is that the festival is quite literally a battle of the bands in which each group must compete for the future of their planet and species. Danesh and his band don’t have to win the competition necessarily, but if they place last, it will be the final riff for planet Earth. For the audio edition, Miller delivers a high-energy performance reminiscent of the radio work of Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which originated as a BBC radio series in the 1970s. Whether he’s providing the voice of a seven-foot-tall ultramarine half-flamingo, half-anglerfish alien in a Southern accent or describing the potential perils of intergalactic sex, where an uncovered cough can lead to unexpected parenthood, Miller handles each outlandish character and situation with a fittingly over-the-top delivery. There is never a dull moment in the audio edition of this wacky novel. A Saga paperback. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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