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File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents

Lemony Snicket, read by multiple narrators. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, three CDs, three hrs., $18 ISBN 978-1-4789-8123-7

This title contains 13 short stories from Lemony Snicket’s youthful time in Stain’d-by-the-Sea, a declining seaside town. While residing there with his indifferent mentor, Snicket solved mysteries such as a dog abduction, a case of stolen spoons, the cause of ghostly apparitions, and who was behind incidents of vandalism and theft. Written with his usual clever wordplay and accurate but lighthearted vocabulary definitions, the stories have just enough clues for the listeners figure out the culprits. The readers’ voices may sound familiar to parents and children who ride in NPR-listening cars: Sarah Vowell, Ira Glass, Terry Gross, and Rachel Maddow all maintain their distinctive tones while giving characters unique identities. And somehow, the Snicket character sounds uniform across all thirteen stories. The varied voices keep listeners’ interest, and every one of them is “in” on Snicket’s sly wit and dark humor. What other children’s book would contain an sledding joke about Ethan Frome? The end of each story is told at the end of the audiobook. This makes for awkward listening. Listeners have to choose either to remember all the cliffhangers and listen to the resolutions all at once, or to skip ahead in the tracks and find the appropriate ending. Flipping back and forth in a print book would be much simpler. But in a print version, there would not be the joy of hearing the molasses-slow baritone of Stephin Merritt read words by Lemony Snicket—a job for which Mr. Merritt is eminently suited. Ages 8–up. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Door

Andy Marino, read by Allyson Ryan. Scholastic Audiobooks, , unabridged, seven CDs, eight hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-0-545-67572-7

Teenage Hannah Silver has an unusual life: she lives in a lighthouse with a mysterious door that is always kept closed, and she hears the voices of an old woman named Belinda and a girl her own age named Nancy, who give her advice and warn her of invisible dangers on the stairs, in her head. Then her mother tells her that their family has the responsibility of being “guardians” of the door, which leads to the world of the dead. When her mother is murdered, Hannah goes through the door to the world of the dead to find her. Narrator Allyson Ryan creates distinctive voices for hesitant Hannah, elderly Belinda, and the many colorful characters Hannah meets on the other side of the door. But she tends to use the same calm, measured tone for all the narrative parts, whether they’re descriptions or tense action scenes—there is not enough variety in her delivery.. In addition, the convoluted tale doesn’t translate well to the audio medium: when listening, it’s too easy to lose the thread of the meandering plot or miss a detail that turns out to be important. This is a tale best read in print, so the reader can easily refer back to previous scenes if necessary. Ages 8–12. A Scholastic Press hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Catch a Falling Star

Kim Culbertson, read by Erin Spencer. Scholastic Audio, unabridged, nine CDs, 10 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-0-545-72296-4

Nothing ever happens in Little, Calif.—nothing, that is, until a famous movie star comes to town to shoot a film. Much to Carter Moon’s dismay: she would much rather have her small town back and be done with all the Hollywood nonsense. It means nothing to her. Unlike her best friend Chloe, who knows all about young Adam Jakes, a child star gone wrong who has infiltrated the town, and soon Carter’s life. Adam’s people want to clean up his battered image, and a young, wholesome girlfriend from town seems like just the thing to accomplish it. They offer Carter an obscene amount of money to pose as Adam’s girlfriend while he stays. Carter needs the money, and doesn’t care a whit about Adam until they start spending more time with each other. Is he just another pretty Hollywood face or a real guy Carter could actually fall for? Spencer has an excellent voice for Carter—young and innocent yet mature and skeptical. There are occasions when Spencer misses an opportunity to realize Carter’s utter disdain for the celebrity lifestyle that would have resulted in a laugh and deeper insight to Carter’s dilemma about becoming a cog in the Hollywood machine. A Scholastic hardcover. Ages 12–up. A Scholastic/Point hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hexed

Michelle Krys, read by Tai Alexandra Ricci. Listening Library, , unabridged, seven CDs, 8.5 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-0-8041-6714-7

High school junior Indigo Blackwood is a popular cheerleader who dates the captain of the football team. Focused on maintaining her social standing, she ignores her nerdy neighbor Paige, bickers constantly with her mean-girl best friend Bianca, and makes light of her New Age-y mom. But Indigo’s priorities change when she and Paige see a young man killed in a traffic accident, Indigo discovers she is a witch, and violent sorcerers begin hunting for a witchcraft bible that Indigo’s mother has been hiding for years. In this first book of a planned series, Krys offers a lot of description about life in Los Angeles; sometimes the level of detail slows the story’s pace. Narrator Ricci has a youthful, throaty voice that belies much of the violence and gore that takes place in the story. Her female characters are spunky, sassy, bitchy, concerned, tired, exhilarated, or sexy. Ricci also gives the main bad guys distinct pacing and sneering tones, but, unfortunately, all of her other male characters are one-note: they sound very much like low-voiced young women. Ricci is at her best when there is dialogue or when she is reading action scenes. Her voice is very well matched to the tale—a sassy soap opera with magic—and her scratchy, sexy tones are decidedly appealing. Ages 12–up. A Delacorte hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Noggin

John Corey Whaley, read by Kirby Heybourne. S&S Audio, Unabridged, seven CDs, 8.5 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-6985-6

In Whaley’s novel , Travis Coates has his head surgically removed and cryogenically frozen after he dies of leukemia at age 16. Five years after his death, technological advances allow doctors to attach his head to a donor body that is taller and more muscular than the original. Travis awakens to restart life where he left off—sophomore year—,but it has only been five years, just long enough for everyone in he knows to have moved on. His best friend Kyle is struggling through college; his former girlfriend Cate is engaged to someone else. Heybourne masterfully captures the emotional roller coaster of Travis’s journey into a new life—and body. His ability to capture the inflection of this first-person narrative while conveying Travis’s emotions—and often disorientation—is truly commendable. Less praiseworthy is his portrayal of Travis’s two male friends, who are often difficult to distinguish from one another. Otherwise, Heybourne keeps listeners thoroughly engaged in this audio rendition of a truly original story. Ages 14–up. A S&S/Atheneum hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Hiltons: The True Story of An American Dynasty

J. Randy Taraborrelli, read by Robert Petkoff. Hachette Audio, unabridged, 16 CDs, 19.5 hrs. $35 ISBN 978-1-4789-2764-8

This detail-rich and substantial rags-to-riches history of the Hiltons makes for a solid and engaging audiobook. Tarborrelli traces Conrad Hilton’s rise to hotel magnate, along with all the challenges, scandals, and complex relationships that accompanied his family through the decades. Stage actor Petkoff has a matter-of-fact delivery, with clear projection and restrained emotions. He keeps a steady pace and can identify the proper emphasis of a scene, but keeps a distance from the text, allowing it to stand on its own. Occasionally, such as when the book quotes its subjects, he draws out scenes with a more deliberation for dramatic effect. He’s a strong choice for this production, which clocks it at nearly 20 hours, and will keep listeners engaged through the end. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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James Madison: A Life Reconsidered

Lynne Cheney, read by Eliza Foss. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 15 CDs, 18.5 hrs., $39.95 ISBN 978-1-61176-278-5

Former Second Lady Cheney’s meticulously researched biography peels away the myths and legends surrounding Madison, one of America’s Founding Fathers, to reveal a brilliant, driven, complex, and flawed human being. The book follows Madison from his youth, through the Revolutionary War, to the courtship of his darling wife Dolly, to the presidency, and beyond. Foss presents this rigorous history with smooth eloquence. Her pleasant voice and straightforward delivery complements Cheney’s authoritative yet conversational prose. Foss’s steady pacing enhances Cheney’s analysis, never allowing the audiobook edition to fall into monotony despite its large scope. A Viking hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hard Choices

Hillary Rodham Clinton, read by the author and Kathleen Chalfant. S&S Audio, unabridged, 21 CDs, 26 hrs., $59.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-6704-3

The once and possibly future Democratic presidential candidate looks back on her adventures as Secretary of State in this diplomatic memoir. Clinton identifies and reflects upon the many choices that defined her tenure as secretary of state, including nuclear negotiations with Iran and North Korea, the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Arab Spring, and the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans. Clinton narrates parts of the audiobook, and, although her voice is agreeable enough, her tone can be confusing. It often feels as if she is smiling or even laughing in her narration—while the text warrants this sometimes, it also feels more disruptive than enjoyable. Chalfant does a solid job of keeping a consistent and engaging tone throughout much of the production, but feels different enough from Clinton that it can feel a bit disjointed for the listener. A Simon & Schuster hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Have a Nice Guilt Trip

Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella, read by the authors. Macmillan Audio, , unabridged, six CDs, 6.5 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-3293-9

This mother-daughter literary team quip their way through life’s ups and downs with witty, wisecracking humor in a series of delightfully random vignettes. Scottoline declares that “someone has to write about the simple things in life,” while reminiscing about vapor rub and radiators and obsessing over furniture arranging. Love, marriages, and divorces provide the predictable zingers of Scottoline’s contributions; her own mother, “Mother Mary,” is lovingly portrayed as feisty and old-school; and their six dogs also inspire a great deal of material. Scottoline covers both the banalities of middle age (gray hair, glasses, vitamins) and the sadness suffered following the loss of a beloved dog: “Life contains the bitter and the sweet.” She sounds sincerely impassioned about politics, women’s self-esteem, and Hurricane Sandy. Serritella’s voice is crisp and pleasant as she likens jury duty to high school—a spot-on, funny analogy. She refers frequently to her boyfriend and her dog Pip. Rollerblading and being a dog’s stage mom call for Seritella’s lightness of tone, while she becomes more intimate about milestones, such as coping with the reality of a newly married ex-boyfriend. Lively, clever, and absolutely relatable, this audio is a winner. A St. Martin’s hardcover. (July)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Forgotten Seamstress

Liz Trenow, read by Anne Flosnik. Tantor Audio, , seven CDs, nine hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-0216-4

An heirloom patchwork quilt hiding a scandalous royal secret is the link between the generations in Trenow’s (The Last Telegram) solid second novel. The novel pairs the stories of the young women a century apart: Maria Romano, an orphan whose artistic needlework gets her placed in a royal household where she has a dalliance with the Prince of Wales, and Caroline Meadows, whose own artistic talents and ambitions jump-start her career as a contemporary interior designer. Caroline finds the quilt and begins an investigation into it’s provenance. Flosnik treats each character, major or minor, with a sense of distinction and identity. The narrative enthralls as it weaves back and forth between Caroline’s and Maria’s stories—a haunting tale of past and present voiced with grace and beauty. A Sourcebook Landmark paperback. (June)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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