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Revolution

Deborah Wiles, read by Stacey Aswad, Francois Battiste, J.D. Jackson, and Robin Miles. Listening Library, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 12 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-0-8041-6872-4

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Set during the Freedom Summer of 1964, the second installment of Wiles’s Sixties Trilogy begins as hundreds of civil rights activists descend on the town of Greenwood, Miss. to help disenfranchised black citizens overcome voting hurdles erected by local officials. The town is grappling with racial tension, and 12-year-old Sunny Fairchild and her brother are caught in the middle during a late-night adventure at a public swimming pool that bans African-Americans—including the young Raymond, whom Sunny and her brother meet. The story makes for a superb audiobook. Chapters are interwoven with re-created sound bites of reports, speeches, and radio announcements made to sound like authentic primary sources. Asward narrates Sunny’s chapters with a friendly Southern twang and youthful energy that captures the character perfectly. Battiste provides an equally engaging, and at times solemn and reflective, Raymond. Listeners will be enthralled. Ages 8–12. A Scholastic hardcover. (July)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Contract

Derek Jeter, with Paul Mantell, read by Jesse Williams. Simon & Schuster Audio, unabridged, 4 CDs, 4 hrs., $19.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-7543-7

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Eight-year-old Derek Jeter dreams of becoming a shortstop for the New York Yankees. His parents respect his dreams and develop a contract with him to help him get there with strong moral grounding. But before Jeter can make it to the Yankees, he has to survive a season with the Tigers, a little-league team with a coach who plays favorites. Reader Williams narrates Jeter’s semi-autobiographical novel decently. He keeps the narration moving forward and captures the fictional Jeter’s enthusiasm and emotion well. However, when voicing the other characters, he doesn’t offer much range and the story grows stale. It is at times surreal to hear the narrator refer to the fictional character as “Derek Jeter,” knowing the author has the same name. Ages 8–12. A S&S/Jeter hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Skink—No Surrender

Carl Hiaasen, read by Kirby Heyborne. Listening Library, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 8 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-8041-6688-1

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Heyborne’s easy-on-the-ears narration offers readily distinguishable voices for the characters of Richard, Skink, and Malley in Hiaasen’s first book for teens. Heyborne’s smooth vocal transitions from one speaker to the next, combined with Hiaasen’s irresistible plot and dialogue, is a pleasure to listen to. The adventures begin when 14-year-old Richard discovers that his cousin Malley has run off with a troubled and dangerous man she met on the Internet. After a chance meeting with Richard, former Florida governor Skink joins the mission to find Malley before she is harmed. Heyborne believably conveys Richard and Skink’s shift from strangers to comrades, as their quest finds them working in unison to overcome inclement weather, unpredictable animals, and worst of all, irrational humans. Hiaasen’s relationships ring true. His writing is spot-on, and, as a result, listeners will shirk their plans so that they may continue listening, eager to learn what happens next. Ages 12–up. A Knopf hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Black Ice

Becca Fitzpatrick, read by Jenna Lamia. Simon & Schuster Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-7250-4

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Reader Lamia skillfully portrays the characters as they move from their youthful antics to actual danger in Fitzpatrick’s psychological young adult thriller. High school senior Britt Pheiffer and her best friend Korbie are backpacking in the Tetons during their spring break when they’re left stranded by a blizzard, and two strangers take them hostage Britt is smart and resourceful, untangling mixed signals from mysterious captors Mason and Sean in order to survive, and navigating the brutal elements—blinding snowfalls, frigid temperatures, and grizzly bears. Lamia’s nuanced voice brings a distinct individuality to each character: Corby’s youthful and self-centered obliviousness, Sean’s cool, yet menacing, drawl, Mason’s good guy/bad guy persona, and Britt’s determined-to-survive gumption. There is never a doubt as to who is speaking, and the character development, already strong in Fitzpatrick’s writing, is greatly enhanced by Lamia’s interpretive gifts. Ages 14–up. A Simon & Schuster hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Belzhar

Meg Wolitzer, read by Jorjeana Marie. Listening Library, unabridged, 7 CDs, 8 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-553-39596-9

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After the death of her boyfriend, Jam Gallahue is sent to the Wooden Barn, a special high school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent” teens. She begins taking Special Topics in English, a class where she and four other students spend the semester studying one writer’s works: in this case, Sylvia Plath. Jam and her classmates are given journals to write in, and when they do, they are transported to a place they call Belzhar, a place that seems to exist out of time, where whatever tragedies happened to them never occurred. Narrator Marie is adept in presenting this powerful story. Jam’s English boyfriend’s voice is described as having a “scrape” to it. Marie nails that, but his accent comes and goes. This is a minor flaw in the narrator’s otherwise excellent performance. Marie gives Jam a youthful, buzzy edge; an elegant, elderly teacher has a creak to her voice that fits her age; and Jam’s little brother has a slightly squeaky tone. Marie’s choices are all true to the characters and are performed with seemingly no effort. Wolitzer’s book is a carefully crafted, heart-wrenching description of mental illness, and Marie underplays Jam’s affliction so that when the big reveal happens, listeners are taken by surprise. Ages 14–up. A Dutton hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart

Lisa Rogak, Read by Cassandra Campbell. Tantor Audio, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 6.5 hours, $34.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-0555-4

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Cassandra Campbell brings a relaxed, casual tone to her narration of this unauthorized biography of political comedian Jon Stewart. It’s hard to imagine Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, born into an ordinary middle-class household in New Jersey, would grow up to become the satirical voice of a generation. Rogak chronicles this trajectory from childhood soccer player, to stand-up comedian, to Daily Show anchor. Along the way listeners learn of Stewart’s love of rock legend Bruce Springsteen, his supposedly mercurial temperament, and bits from his personal life. Most of this content is taken from previously published interviews rather than original reporting. To reader Campbell’s credit, she narrates Rogak’s superficial bio with a smooth, professional delivery that keeps the book moving at an easy pace for listening. She avoids trying to imitate Stewart’s voice, but manages to slip in just the right amount of humor when quoting him. This is an entertaining overview of Stewart’s life read well by Campbell. One only wishes the material had more depth. A St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War

Helen Thorpe, read by Donna Postel. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 13 CDs, 16 hrs., $49.99 ISBN 978-1-63379-196-1

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Thorpe traces the lives of three women in the Indiana National Guard who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, highlighting how profoundly military service changed their lives and the lives of their families. Reader Postel keeps a steady pace, but her tone is flat most of the time, often sounding automated. These dry spells are relieved by the sections with multiple first-person accounts, when Postel makes use of different voices and livens up her narration. She differentiates the voices of the three women and their family quite well, distinguishing them all and using a commanding or compassionate tone depending on the context. A Scribner hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens

Benedict Carey, read by Steve Kramer. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 7.5 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-0-449-80777-4

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Carey provides a rich exploration into the theoretical underpinnings of the most recent research on learning. He unravels many myths, such as the benefits of studying in quiet, with clear prose supported by anecdotes, experiments, and examples. The main drawback is that several of Carey’s exercises for readers are not entirely conducive to the audio format. Reader Kramer has a deep, almost jovial voice that manages to convey the authority and expertise of Carey’s text. He is exceptionally adept at pacing and emphasis, making it easy to follow the denser parts of the text. When possible, he also adds enough emotion to his voice to connect with the reader. For instance, when Carey is relating some of his own success and failures, one can hear the hint of a smile in Kramer’s voice, which enhances the listening experience. A Random House hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh

John Lahr, read by Elizabeth Ashley. Brilliance Audio, , unabridged, 22 CDs, 27 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4915-1970-7

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In this exhaustive biography of Tennessee Williams, Lahr presents the life of the legendary playwright, warts and all, in enthralling detail, tracing him from his early life in a troubled Mississippi family (which gave him plenty of fodder for his plays), to his almost overnight success with The Glass Menagerie, to his death in 1983. The book also paints a fascinating picture of the theater world during Williams’s time, populated with such luminaries as Marlon Brando, Bette Davis, and others. Reader Ashley is a Tony Award–nominated actress who portrayed Maggie in the 1974 Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and was also a longtime friend of Williams. She reads Lahr’s book in a southern accent, perfectly infused with bourbon and cigarettes, and though her rendering of the expository passages is perfunctory, she shines when quoting Williams and his friends, lovers, and colleagues. A Norton hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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On Immunity: An Inoculation

Eula Biss, read by Tamara Marston. Highbridge, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 6.5 hrs., $26.95 ISBN 978-1-62231-497-3

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In this study, National Book Critics Circle Award–winner Eula Biss goes on a journey to learn everything she can about vaccinations: where they came from, why we (sometimes irrationally) fear them, and whether they cause some medical problems while preventing others. It’s a journey through science, history, literature, and autobiography, as Biss puts her personal story as a mother on the front lines of a social war between the “vax” and “antivax” camps. Throughout, narrator Marston brings stability to Biss’s sometimes abrupt twists and turns, the measured tones of the audio production offering an unobtrusive point of entry into the author’s complex historical imagination. Whether the book is explaining the germ theory of disease, unpacking the etymology of the word vaccine, or assessing the polarizing legacy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Marston keeps pace and provides a solid foundation with her quiet, almost Siri-like voice. A Graywolf hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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