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Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

William Deresiewicz, read by Mel Foster. Tantor Media, , unabridged, seven CDs, 8.5 hrs., $37.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-0290-4

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Culture critic Deresiewicz offers a hard-hitting critique of elite education. According to the author, colleges with indifferent teaching and incoherent curricula offer no guidance on intellectual development or character formation; the system reinforces class hierarchy. Reader Foster narrates Deresiewicz’s jeremiad with a deep and engaging voice that commands listeners’ attention and complements the weight of the overall argument. Yet his cadence is natural and manages to capture Deresiewicz’s tone while smoothing over the long passages where the author might otherwise be construed as condescending. A Free Press hardcover. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel, read by Qarie Marshall. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, seven CDs, 8.5 hrs., $49.99 ISBN 978-1-62923-974-3

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Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel provide a fascinating look at the latest research on learning. They identify the research, explain how it works, and provide relevant examples and anecdotes to help illustrate ways to integrate insights into the learning techniques of students, instructors, trainers, and everyday people. Reader Marshall delivers in a strong and clear voice that confidently guides listeners through the text. He provides a steady cadence, but also knows when to slow down slightly and emphasize information that is pivotal to understanding. Taken together, the authors and narrator create a learning experience that listeners will benefit from. A Harvard Univ./Belknap hardcover. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Don’t Even Think About It

Sarah Mlynowski, read by Erin Spencer. Random House Audio, , unabridged, seven CDs, 8 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-8041-6722-2

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When a group of 20 Manhattan 10th graders inadvertently receives telepathic abilities from tainted flu shots, things rapidly get chaotic (and noisy). Finding out too much information dramatically upends family relationships, friendships, and romances. No secrets are safe, and all this information overload results in the pinnacle of teen drama. The novel is written in a collective first-person perspective in which the “we” refers to the telepathic teens as a group, while the plot zeros in on a few central characters. Reader Spencer nails the comedic components of Mlynowski’s tale and aptly handles the multiple perspectives providing a hollow accentuation when voicing inner thoughts. However, the complex structure of the story, with its unique perspective, makes it hard to follow in Spencer’s rendition. Ages 12–up. A Delacorte hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Dark Inheritance

Chris d’Lacey, read by Raphael Corkhill. Scholastic Audio, , unabridged, six CDs, 6.5 hrs., $29.95 ISBN 978-0-545-67570-3

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This is an adventure story, a mystery, a paranormal tale, and a coming-of-age story, and narrator Corkhill does a terrific job keeping all that straight in his reading of d’Lacey’s enthralling story. Young teen Michael has just discovered he has the ability to alter reality when he is recruited by Unicorne, a group that investigates paranormal activity. The strange leader of the group, a man named Klimt, hints that he may have information about Michael’s father’s disappearance three years earlier. Michael reluctantly joins Unicorne and begins an investigation that brings him closer to a goth girl classmate who may be more than she seems. Corkhill’s reading of the many characters is suitably varied. Michael and the other students in his class are believably young, and the Unicorne mastermind has a delightfully creepy and sinister, high-pitched German accent. Corkhill also convincingly portrays middle-aged women, random working-class cops, and a breathlessly sexy French woman. The book is filled with action, mystery, ghosts, robots, dragons, UFOs, murder, and preternatural powers, which all seem perfectly reasonable when Corkhill is reading. His posh accent anchors the story to reality and lets listeners suspend their disbelief and enjoy the whirlwind adventure. Ages 8–12. A Scholastic hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Young World

Chris Weitz, read by José Julian and Spencer Locke. Hachette Audio, unabridged, eight CDs, 8.5 hrs., $30 ISBN 978-1-4789-0080-1

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Weitz kicks off a trilogy with a riveting adventure in which teenagers—the only ones immune to a fatal plague known as the Sickness—have inherited the Earth and are fighting over the remnants of New York City. Jefferson and Donna lead the group in their search to find a cure, with each chapter flipping back and forth between their points of view. Narrators Julian and Locke turn in a mixed performance of this postapocalyptic YA tale. Julian provides the voice for Jefferson and aptly captures his internal thoughts, but his portrayal, which sounds distanced and soft spoken, does not quite meld with the character of Loche’s Donna, who sounds a little too bubbly for how the character is written. Both narrations could use better sound balancing, as there are times when adjusting the audio is necessary to hear both characters. Ages 15–up. A Little, Brown hardcover. (July)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods

Rick Riordan, read by Jesse Bernstein. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 12.5 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-0-8041-6844-1

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Percy Jackson is your average teen guy who just happens to be the half-human son of the god Poseidon. Claiming that a publisher in New York asked him to give insights into the Greek gods, Percy tells listeners the Greek story of creation, then covers the lives and adventures of many of his “relatives.” Although this is sort of an encyclopedia and could be a dry listening experience—imagine reading informative essays for a dozen hours—having the snarky Percy relate these stories is a delight, as if a sarcastic teen cousin is telling funny and humiliating family stories. As mythology is packed with “lying, stealing, backstabbing, and cannibalism,” the stories are lively, and narrator Bernstein keeps pace with them. He portrays Percy with dry wit and slacker-dude tones, creating wonderfully campy voices for the Greek gods, mindful that he’s portraying Percy portraying these other characters. The male gods generally sound like dumb jock stereotypes while the females get whiny tones. As the myths are packed with action and melodrama, Bernstein cannot overact enough to fit the atrocities the gods commit. This is an entertaining, humorous, cheerful, and surprisingly informative audio book. Ages 10–up. A Disney-Hyperion hardcover. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Infinite Sea

Rick Yancey, read by Phoebe Strole and Ben Yannette. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, seven CDs, 8 hrs., $39.95 ISBN 978-1-62923-459-5

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The second book in Yancey’s the 5th Wave series offers an action-packed science fiction odyssey, in which Cassie Sullivan and her cohorts struggle to keep the Others from exterminating the human race. The belief that survival, taking risks, and keeping promises are the only things that matter comprises the philosophy Cassie employs as armor in her search for her brother, and her romances and interactions with the Others. The story involves a diverse group of characters with an array of nicknames and veiled identities, making it hard for listeners unfamiliar with the series to keep track of who’s who. Adding to the confusion are alternating narrators, which hinders the book’s ability to engage listeners and allow them to readily distinguish one character from the next. While Strole’s narration is clearly enunciated, her voices for the adults are not distinct enough. She fares better with the children. Yannette’s narration is straightforward and easy to listen to primarily because he portrays more fully developed and clearly written characters. Both Strole and Yannette’s presentations of the battles are invigorating, and there is a genuine interest in how each conflict will resolve. Ages 14–up. A Putnam hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle over a Forbidden Book

Peter Finn and Petra Couvée, read by Simon Vance. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, eight CDs, 10 hrs., $34.95 ISBN 978-1-62231-436-2

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Finn, an editor at the Washington Post who was the paper’s Moscow bureau chief, and Couvée, a writer who teaches at Saint Petersburg State University, offer a detailed account of the events leading up to the 1956 publication of Doctor Zhivago, the only novel by Russian poet Boris Pasternak (1890–1960); the authors also describe Pasternak’s subsequent effect on international politics. Along with tracking the manuscript as it traveled from Pasternak to his Italian publisher, Finn and Couvée provide a biography of the poet-novelist and an exploration of Soviet policy during the Cold War. The book also chronicles the machinations employed by the KGB to stop the publication of the manuscript and those of the CIA to aid its publication. Because of the nature of the factual material, veteran reader Vance isn’t given much opportunity to display his way with dialogue. But he makes up for that with his facility for pronouncing Russian names and words, and by using his crisp, precise British delivery to clarify the complex twists and turns this real-life thriller takes. A Pantheon hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the U.S.S. Jeannette

Hampton Sides, read by Arthur Morey. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 14 CDs, 17.5 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-307-96654-4

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The latest nonfiction thriller from Sides recounts the ill-fated North Pole voyage of the U.S.S. Jeannette during the late 1870s and early 1880s, which captivated newspaper readers of the era. Veteran narrator Morey displays his gift for transforming evocative prose into a vivid performance that captures the atmosphere and emotions of the harrowing journey. Morey’s renderings of the journal entries from Capt. George Washington De Long and Chief Engineer George W. Melville are especially heart-wrenching as the ship’s officers do their best to demonstrate honor in the face of peril and starvation. As delivered by Morey, the detailed descriptions of trapping and hunting polar bears and other arctic wild game become especially haunting, as do the explorers’ bonds with their sled dogs. Morey’s depiction of grit and bravery on the ice contrasts effectively with his presentation of the cavalier Gilded Age indulgence of the Jeannette’s wealthy patron, newspaper magnate James Gordon Bennett Jr. A Doubleday hardcover. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year

Tavis Smiley, with David Ritz, read by Tavis Smiley. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, five CDs, 6 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-1-4789-2868-3

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Smiley, a veteran public broadcasting host and prolific author, chronicles the last year in the life of the civil rights leader, highlighting the more difficult facets of King’s political and personal journey that contemporary audiences may not fully grasp. Smiley takes on King’s point of view in the midst of often contentious interactions with advisers, friends, and confidants. Smiley provides a naturally engaging voice, drawing on his television and radio background, and his warm demeanor reinforces the intimacy he aims to establish with his subject, such as when he refers to King as “Doc,” which was his nickname among his most trusted colleagues. As he move back and forth between elements of expository material, dialogue, and speeches, Smiley’s style of delivery vacillates between a straight-ahead reading of the narrative and a performance that attempts to recreate conversations from the past. These rocky transitions may deter from the overall listening experience; however, the power of the message and the significance of Smiley’s personal involvement in preserving a more vibrant record of Dr. King’s life cannot be denied. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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