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Refugee

Alan Gratz, read by Michael Goldstrom, Kyla Garcia, and Assaf Cohen. Scholastic Audio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 7.5 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-338-19107-3

The trenchant audio edition of Gratz’s middle grade novel employs the voices of three actor to tell the interwoven stories of three young refugees. Actor Goldstrom convincingly portrays 12-year-old Josef, who escapes persecution and murder in Germany in 1938. Listeners can hear the loss of innocence in Josef’s voice as he goes from anticipating becoming a bar mitzvah to becoming the head of the family after his father is murdered. Voice artist Garcia skillfully narrates the plight of 11-year-old Isabel and the Fernandez family during their harrowing 90-mile escape from Cuba to Miami on a boat in 1994. Actor Cohen dramatizes the horror of the ongoing Syrian crises in reading the story 12-year-old Mahmoud and his family, who are fleeing from the current, devastating civil war in Syria. His portrayal of Mahmoud’s optimistic father gives some relief to the grim circumstances that befall the family on their way to sanctuary in Germany. This well done performance is a timely work that will undoubtedly help young listeners think critically about the circumstances of children beyond their own comfortable borders. Ages 9–12. A Scholastic hardcover. (July)

Reviewed on 10/27/2017 | Details & Permalink

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I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Beyond the Lines of Jihad

Souad Mekhennet, read by Kirsten Potter. Tantor Audio, unabridged, 10 CDs, 12 hrs., $44.99 ISBN 978-1-5414-0733-6

Actor Potter stands in for but doesn’t adequately capture the voice of the author in reading the audio edition of Mekhennet’s memoir. As a journalist, Mekhennet first shot to fame in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, when her talent, drive, and Muslim identity granted her unprecedented access to terrorist cells and war zones throughout the world. Raised in Germany by immigrant parents from Morocco and Turkey, Mekhennet’s unusually cosmopolitan background helped her to see multiple sides of the stories she has covered for Western outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and NPR. Potter doesn’t quite have those cosmopolitan chops, however. As a narrator she is competent, but she sounds thoroughly American here, and is therefore not quite believable as a globe-trotting German reporter. If the listener can get past that miscasting, though, other advantages of Potter’s narration, like her emotional sensitivity, become evident. She also captures Mekhennet’s unexpected moments of humor in an otherwise serious book, like when she recovers her confiscated Kindle after being interrogated in Egypt and discovers that her captors apparently read to the end of a self-help book for single women. Still, the difference between the author’s background and the narrator’s is apparent throughout. A Holt hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 10/27/2017 | Details & Permalink

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An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

Al Gore, read by the author, Sterling K. Brown, Danny Burnstein, Marin Ireland, and Shailene Woodley. S&S Audio, , abridged, 4 CDs, 4.5 hrs., $24.99 ISBN 978-1-5082-4006-8

Gore’s sequel to An Inconvenient Truth has a wide scope that includes an update on the state of climate change, a look at those who have taken up the cause since the original documentary was released, and a guide to fighting climate change. The production comes across awkwardly, which is unsurprising considers it is a resource guide turned documentary turned audiobook. It strives for the conversational yet highly produced style of popular podcasts, but falls short. The book employs different voices for each segment­—profiles, actions to take, knowledge to consider—and occasional musical segues, but each voice feels divorced from the previous section, which makes the listening experience disjointed. One part that’s especially off-putting is the interview between Gore and artist-activist Shepard Fairey, in which actor Marin Ireland performs Gore’s contributions, which is odd considering that Gore reads for the introduction and conclusion. The book has a lot of invigorating parts to inspire and motivate people, but the consideration that went into the documentary is absent from the audiobook. A Rodale paperback. (July)

Reviewed on 10/27/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult

Bruce Handy, read by the author. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 7.5 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-6816-8789-6

Reading his book in a friendly and welcoming voice, Handy revisits classic children’s literature from his youth and considers the staying power of each as he reads them to his own children. He discusses classic picture books such as Good- night Moon and Where the Wild Things Are and series such as the Oz, Narnia, and Ramona Quimby books. In each chapter, he explores a specific book, its background, related titles, and what he considers the most poignant elements of the story. In narrating, Handy clearly communicates his enthusiasm for rereading the books; listeners can easily imagine him sitting next to his children’s bed reading to them. He has a consistent cadence like that of a professional narrator that keeps the prose moving along but is tinged with youthful exuberance, which proves essential as he narrates passages from the stories or discusses his children’s or his own initial reactions. It’s a convivial performance sure to please anyone with a fondness for classic children’s books. A Norton hardcover. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/27/2017 | Details & Permalink

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From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon

Mattias Boström, trans. from the Swedish by Michael Gallagher, read by Shaun Grindell. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 14 CDs, 17 hrs., $44.99 ISBN 978-1-6816-8621-9

Sherlock Holmes and his stalwart companion Dr. Watson have captivated audiences from the late Victorian era to the present day. Unfortunately, the audio edition of this work of literary criticism by Swedish author Boström isn’t nearly as enthralling as its subject. The book chronicles the history and evolution of the Holmes phenomenon and its enduring popularity through the seemingly endless series of incarnations and reincarnations of the legendary detective. There’s a massive amount of ground covered in Boström’s work, and voice actor Grindell presents it all with a simple, deliberately paced reading. While much of the information is fascinating, Grindell adds little excitement to the reading, and robotic pacing dulls down the narrative. The narration makes the audiobook a snoozefest. A Mysterious hardcover. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/27/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Odyssey of Echo Company: The 1968 Tet Offensive and the Epic Battle to Survive the Vietnam War

Doug Stanton, read by C.J. Wilson. S&S Audio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 9 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-5082-2757-1

Actor Wilson’s sensitive reading heightens Stanton’s story of one soldier and his platoon during the brutal 1968 Tet Offensive. Stanley Parker, a typical American teenager, is spurred to join the Army in 1967 by a patriotic desire to serve his country and naive visions of battlefield glory. He and his fellow members of Echo Company arrive in-country and are plunged into the chaos of firefights, booby traps, and a relentless and elusive enemy. Parker is wounded three times; he eventually makes it home, but the trauma of war stays with him. Wilson brings a calm, world-weary spirit to his reading that effectively captures the disillusionment and emotional exhaustion of Parker’s time in Vietnam. His recounting of a child being killed by the Viet Cong for accepting a can of peaches from Parker and his resulting emotional breakdown is presented with heart-wrenching clarity, as are numerous scenes of death and destruction. Wilson ever so slightly picks up the pace and adds energy to recount Parker’s return to Vietnam in 2014, where he meets a former Viet Cong soldier at a site where the two fought against each other. It makes for a very moving ending to this intense war story. A Scribner hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/27/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Vietnam War: An Intimate History

Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, read by Ken Burns. Random House Audio, , abridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-307-97081-7

Emmy Award–winning filmmaker Burns continues his tradition of narrating the audio abridgment of his documentary work, as he has done before with The Civil War, The National Parks, and other projects. The results are mixed, but that’s not because Burns lacks talent as a narrator; he has a measured, clear voice, and a strong delivery. Rather, the abridgment itself and the limitations of the audio format cause this product to falter—missing are the intense battle images, the unforgettable music of the 1960s and ’70s, and the personal interviews with Vietnamese speakers. Here, the only eyewitness recordings spliced in with the narration are ones by Americans. As a result, Burns, with his natural American accent, becomes the mouthpiece for Vietnamese soldiers and civilians, which creates a distance for the listener. The recordings of U.S. presidents with various generals and advisers becomes tedious in the audiobook, with Burns merely reading “Johnson” and “McNamara” followed by a rendering of their remarks. A Knopf hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/27/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Kiss Carlo

Adriana Trigiani, read by Edoardo Ballerini. HarperAudio, , unabridged, 13 CDs, 16 hrs., $44.99 ISBN 978-0-062-65728-2

Nicky Castone is an Italian-American cab driver in South Philadelphia after WWII, happy to finally settle down with his longtime fiancée Peachy DePino and move out of his family’s basement. But then he discovers a passion for the theater, and his long-planned life is no longer enough for him. This sweeping novel is populated with an almost overwhelming cast, and one narrator plays every part in the audio edition. Ballerini, a veteran television actor with recurring roles on The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, performs the epic 16-hour story so well that a listener can get lost in it. Ballerini’s voice can be gentle and carefully modulated or edgy and fast-talking in character. Particularly memorable are his portrayals of the comically indignant Peachy (and her angry parents), whose ire is palpable enough for Nicky to need to skip town, and rival love interest Calla, who runs the Shakespearean theater that inspires Nicky’s drastic change of course. Ballerini’s reading of Trigiani’s novel will have listeners attuned throughout. A Harper hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 10/27/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Apothecary Rose

Candace Robb, read by Derek Perkins. Tantor Audio, , unabridged, 11 CDs, 12 hrs., $42.99 ISBN 978-1-5414-0675-9

Set in the 14th century, Robb’s historical detective stories about Owen Archer, a spy working for the influential John Thoresby, Lord Chancellor of England and Archbishop of York, currently runs to 10 volumes. This new audio edition of the first in the series is the obvious starting place for both curious newcomers and a treat for fans of the shrewd one-eyed Archer and his beautiful pharmacist wife Lucie, who may appreciate a reminder of how the two first met: over a pair of corpses possibly killed by a concoction mixed by Lucie’s first husband, master apothecary Nicholas Wilton. Reader Perkins gives Archer a confident-sounding British voice, with the requisite uncertainty about his trial employment by the demanding archbishop and feelings for a married woman. Perkins also presents thoughtful interpretations of the series’ continuing characters, like the warm-hearted midwife, Magda Digby; the rowdy, humorous tavern proprietress Bess Merchet; and the enigmatic Thoresby, whose voice changes according to the situation. His clerical delivery is sharper, higher pitched, while his personal conversation, which Archer prefers, is more relaxed, down-to-earth, and uncritical. Adeptly capturing the voices of the series’ recurring characters, Perkins delivers a promising start to the audio edition of this beloved series. A Diversion paperback. (June)

Reviewed on 10/27/2017 | Details & Permalink

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My Absolute Darling

Gabriel Tallent, read by Alex McKenna. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 13 CDs, 16 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-0-525-49790-5

Voice-over actor McKenna delivers a chilling rendering of Tallent’s debut novel, which depicts the horrific abuse and neglect of a preteen girl on the rugged Northern California coast. McKenna masterfully inhabits the inner monologue of young Julia “Turtle” Alveston with a husky, quivering voice that manages to portray both self-loathing pain and steely determination. McKenna switches between the male and female characters with ease, most notably in the interactions between Turtle and her abusive father, Martin. McKenna captures equal parts regret and concern in giving voice to Turtle’s gruff, alcoholic paternal grandfather. She also shines in her delivery of Turtle’s love interest Jacob, a boy from a wealthy family whose precocious intellect parallels Turtle’s own sense of being different from her peers. McKenna portrays the conversations between these young characters as natural and plausible. McKenna deepens the story with spot-on vocal renderings of the protagonist and her peers; both Turtle and Jacob sound simultaneously young and advanced for their age. A Riverhead hardcover. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/27/2017 | Details & Permalink

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