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The Journey of Little Charlie

Christopher Paul Curtis, read by Michael Crouch. Books on Tape, 5 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-8041-6802-1

Crouch’s facility with character voices gives color and atmosphere to this tale of a Southern white country boy forced to help an evil overseer track down a runaway slave family. Charlie is a simple, naive, uneducated boy who only knows farming, but when his father dies in 1858, cruel Cap’n Buck insists on his help as payment for his father’s debts. Charlie comes to sympathize with the slave family he is pursuing and must make a choice whether to help them, at great risk to himself. Crouch reads Charlie with just enough of a folksy Southern twang to make lines like “If you was to ax me afore I seent what happened to Pap, I never would’ve thought time could slow down in the way it done” sound natural, while not making the accent so thick that children would have trouble understanding it. His Cap’n Buck has a monstrous, growling voice, while the runaway slave woman is dignified and fierce in her righteous defiance, and her son Sylvanus, who attends a boarding school, has an educated, intellectual tone. Crouch brings the characters to life, making this adventure novel all the more entertaining. Ages 9–12. A Scholastic Press hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 07/27/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Amal Unbound

Aisha Saeed, read by Priya Ayyar. Books on Tape, unabridged, 4 CDs, 4.5 hrs., $38 ISBN 978-0-525-63210-8

Ayyar gives an uneven performance of Saeed’s middle grade novel about the underworld of indentured servitude in contemporary Pakistan. When 12-year-old Amal publicly defies the scion of the powerful Khan family, the Khans call in her father’s debt and force Amal to work as their servant. While in their household, she discovers evidence that the Khans have engaged in illegal activities and forges alliances with other servants in the household to expose them. Ayyar’s performance is most captivating when she is narrating Amal’s inner monologue; her treble voice is quite believable as that of a child maturing into a woman. The problem is that many of the characters—whether they are adults or children, male or female—sound this way, too. When Amal’s parents have a heated discussion about Amal’s future, for example, it’s impossible to tell which of them is speaking unless the dialogue makes that clear; later in the book, the Khans’ chauffeur and housekeeper sound indistinguishable from each other and from the local teacher who helps to broaden Amal’s world. The lack of differentiation is a major drawback and makes this production more confusing than it needs to be. Ages 10–up. A Penguin/Paulsen hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/27/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Leaving

Tara Altebrando, read by Karissa Vacker. Tantor Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 9.5 hrs., $37.99 ISBN 978-1-5414-1338-2

Reader Vacker does an outstanding job of portraying the trio of main characters in Altebrando’s unsettling YA novel set in a small town in Florida where, 11 years earlier, six children disappeared on their first day of kindergarten. The story opens as five of the six missing kids suddenly return with no memory of what happened. The novel’s alternating chapters are devoted to two of the returning teens, Scarlett and Lucas, and Avery, whose older brother is still missing. Scarlett is poetic, perplexed, and surprisingly tolerant of her mother, who’s obsessed with space aliens. Lucas is a realist with a potential for volatility that’s tested when his father dies soon after Lucas’s return. Avery’s chapters mark her as good-hearted, moody, impatient, and selfish—in short, the novel’s most believable teenager. Other characters, though well-performed, are strictly minor, including the remaining kidnap victims. In the print edition, Altebrando uses word art—dashes, slashes, white text in black boxes—to convey the moods of Scarlett and Lucas, but Vacker’s on-target emotional performances are equally effective in capturing the characters’ highs and lows. Vacker’s trenchant and stirring performance will captivate listeners from start to finish. Ages 13–up. A Bloomsbury hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 07/27/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Like Brothers

Mark and Jay Duplass, read by the authors. Random House Audio, 6.5 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-0-525-52617-9

The Duplass brothers, who run Duplass Brothers Productions and frequently write, direct, and star in their own productions, bring a free-flowing conversational style to the highly enjoyable audio edition of their joint memoir. The book alternates between chapters chronicling the brothers’ upbringing in Metairie, La., and those detailing their professional relationship, including their regular brainstorming sessions at airports, in which the brothers create intricate backstories for the people they observe waiting in terminals. The most memorable part of the book involves an annotated version of Mark’s edgy short story “The Blowjob,” along with Jay’s feedback, in which the brothers effectively use tone, pitch, and comedic timing to convey the often-tortured nature of the creative process. The brothers both draw on their acting chops to recreate their points of view in anecdotes from their childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Though primarily of interest to inspiring filmmakers, the brothers’ fun-loving dynamic should appeal to all types of listeners. A Ballantine hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/27/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Room to Dream

David Lynch and Kristine McKenna, read by the authors. Random House Audio, , adapted, 13 CDs, 16 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-0-525-52694-0

Filmmaker Lynch and coauthor McKenna both contribute their voices to this wonderfully entertaining audiobook about Lynch’s life and his creative influences. The chapters alternate between first-person accounts from Lynch and more traditional biographical accounts written and read by McKenna. McKenna’s reading style is clear and unembellished. She reads her portion of the book, which paints Lynch as a visionary artist whose creative genius is guided by a mix of intuition and impulsiveness, in a detached journalistic manner. Lynch hems and haws, often riffing on topics discussed in McKenna’s chapters. His sections of the book are unpredictable yet strangely alluring as he moves breathlessly from one topic to the next. An anecdote about a meeting with comedian George Burns, for example, suddenly transforms into a discussion of the revival of Lynch’s hit show Twin Peaks. In another section, he muses on the talents of actor Richard Farnsworth and then veers off into the adverse effects of genetically modified corn. While Lynch’s sections no doubt steal the show, his entertaining style works in part because McKenna’s sections give the book direction. A Random House hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/27/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Reporter: A Memoir

Seymour M. Hersh, read by Arthur Morey. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 11 CDs, 14 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-7393-8423-7

Morey, with his mature and confident voice, is a convincing stand-in for journalist Hersh in the audio edition of Hersh’s memoir. The book recounts Hersh’s storied career as an investigative reporter, from his Pulitzer-winning report on the 1968 massacre of Vietnamese civilians by American troops at My Lai, up through more recent exposés, including that of the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib military prison. Morey’s vocal delivery has the perfect tone and timbre to tell Hersh’s story. His reading conveys Hersh with conviction as he recounts how the reporter doggedly follows lead after lead in his efforts to get to the truth of a story. Morey’s skillful narration of Hersh’s life makes for an excellent listening experience. A Knopf hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/27/2018 | Details & Permalink

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On Brassard’s Farm

Daniel Hecht, read by Lisa Flanagan. Blackstone Audio, , unabridged, 11 CDs, 13.5hrs., $39.95 ISBN 978-1-5047-9744-3

Voice actor Flanagan’s solid performance adds heart to the audio edition of Hecht’s novel about a Boston teacher who impulsively purchases a tract of land in Vermont and leaves the city behind to live there. While the novel’s structure leaves no doubt that Ann Turner will be positively changed by her environment—and the backbreaking daily work that accompanies rural living, the audio performance guides listeners into believing the transformation is authentic and not just inevitable. Flanagan does an outstanding job of making this character realistic—Ann is sympathetic and intelligent on one hand and dangerously thoughtless and impulsive on the other. In Flanagan’s capable hands, most of the other characters also come to life, including the couple who sells her the land and then hires her to work on their own dairy farm, and their quiet but attentive friend, Ernest. One hiccup is in the brief portrayal of Ann’s “trailer” neighbors, who are bizarrely voiced with a near-Southern accent that feels out of place in rural Vermont. Despite that minor flaw, Flanagan treats the novel’s main characters with sensitivity. A Blackstone hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 07/27/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Obscura

Joe Hart, read by Christina Traister. Brilliance Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-5436-7831-4

Hart’s futuristic techno-thriller, in which neural radiologist Gillian Ryan falls into in a murder mystery aboard an Earth-orbiting space station, has the elements of a suspense classic, but they’re undercut by reader Traister’s offbeat reading style, full of oddly placed pauses and unusual word emphases. The protagonist is a strong, empathic, dedicated scientist and mother, braving death while searching for the antidote for Losian’s disease, a ghastly neurological disorder plaguing Earth, which her eight-year-old daughter, Carrie, has contracted. Traister has no problem conveying Gillian’s desperate struggle to find a cure, survive an increasingly dangerous mission, and find a ship to take her back to Earth and Carrie. She’s equally effective in enacting the highly emotional conversations Gillian has with herself, her dwindling friends, and her increasing foes. In the end, Traister’s eccentric delivery and the novel’s indulgences (the brutality Gillian suffers would not be survivable anywhere on Earth) overwhelm the plot in Hart’s thrill ride. A Thomas & Mercer hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/27/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Our Kind of Cruelty

Araminta Hall, read by Nick Hendrix and Eleanor Matsuura. Macmillan Audio, unabridged, 7 CDs, 8 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-9683-2

In Hall’s dark, disturbing thriller, reader Hendrix presents a chilling portrayal of narrator Mike Hayes, a London banker convinced that the love of his life is toying with him by marrying an ultra-wealthy, socially prominent ad man. For years, Verity “V” Wilton has been Mike’s muse and his partner in a creepy game of seduction they call the Crave. Prior to her wedding, V stopped communicating with Mike, but, as convincingly interpreted by Hendrix, he remains too infatuated with her to accept her rejection as anything but an invitation to play the game. Reader Matsuura’s V sounds initially polite when confronted by Mike, then bemused and finally troubled. Hendrix has a bit of fun with Angus Metcalf, V’s groom, making him sound fatuous and elitist, while Matsuura gives voice to several other women, including V’s icy upper-class mother and a needy business associate of Mike’s who tries to push herself into his life. But it’s Hendrix’s relentless, intensely focused Mike that turns Hall’s novel into something more than just another exercise in psychological suspense. A MCD hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/27/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Providence

Caroline Kepnes, read by MacLeod Andrews, Emily Rankin, and Paul Michael. Random House Audio, unabridged, 10 CDs, 12.5 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-525-58823-8

The three leads in Kepnes’s dark romantic thriller—Jon, the shy middle-schooler kidnapped and unwittingly transformed into a toxic superman; Chloe, the unattainable love of his life; and “Eggs” DeBenedictus, the seriously ill but relentless police detective investigating a series of suspicious deaths in Providence, R.I.—are brought to vivid life by a trio of talented performers. Reader Andrews voices Jon as a soft-spoken, bullied teenager infatuated with his only friend, Chloe. Years later, Jon returns, mysteriously changed into a powerful man whose emotions can have fatal results, and his self-disgust and frustration are obvious in every word he speaks. Actor Rankin’s performance as Chloe, Jon’s childhood friend, tracks the character’s evolution from a giddy teen to a woman in love. As Eggs, actor Michael smartly conveys the relentless sleuth’s determination to find the truth behind the series of deaths despite a debilitating illness. Kepnes’s plot may be built around Jon’s supernatural transformation, but the audiobook’s success is based on the novel’s more human elements: obsession, longing, love, and the possibility of a better tomorrow, all brilliantly conveyed by its three narrators. A Lenny hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/27/2018 | Details & Permalink

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