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Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures

Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater, read by Cassandra Morris and Peter McGowan. Scholastic Audio, , unabridged, 4 CDs, 4.25 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-0-545-83832-0

After nine-year-old Pip Bartlett inadvertently instigates a unicorn stampede, she is sent to spend the summer in Georgia with her Aunt Emma, a dedicated vet for magical creatures. Morris provides the lively and jubilant voice of Pip—the perfect tone for the story, which is told from Pip’s first-person perspective. She also provides a variety of voices for a rich cast of secondary characters—both human and magical—which adds to the story’s enjoyment. Reader McGowan steps in to narrate the excerpts from Pip’s favorite book, Jeffrey Higgleston’s Guide to Magical Creatures, which are scattered throughout the story. He provides a prim and proper delivery in tune with the encyclopedic tone of the fictional guide; the result is an amusing contrast to the main story. Ages 8–12. A Scholastic Press hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Echo

Pam Muñoz Ryan, read by multiple narrators, music by Corky Siege. Scholastic Audio, unabridged, 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-0-545-78836-6

It’s hard to imagine a better way to experience this story than in the audiobook format. Music infuses the entire plot line; the characters are cellists, pianists, conductors, and singers. They hear orchestras and have chamber concerts in their homes. And a simple harmonica links the three main narratives. In pre-WWII Germany, young Friedrich, a budding conductor, finds comfort in playing a harmonica as he plots to rescue his father from a concentration camp. Mike and his little brother, Frankie, are in a Pennsylvania orphanage in 1935. Mike may need to win a spot in a harmonica orchestra to keep Frankie safe. In 1942 California, Ivy, a young migrant farm worker, plays the harmonica while living on a farm owned by Japanese-Americans who are in an internment camp. All three characters find great strength in music. The audio edition takes full advantage of the medium, with music playing throughout the story—simple harmonica tunes and orchestral music play in the background and the readers even sing at times. Ages 10–14. A Scholastic Press hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Saint Anything

Sarah Dessen, read by Taylor Meskimen. Listening Library, unabridged, 10 CDs, 12.5 hrs., $60 ISBN 978-1-101-91542-4

In Dessen’s novel, the teenage Sydney comes to terms with the incarceration of her golden-boy brother Peyton while navigating a new high school and the vicissitudes of first love. Reader Meskimen’s excellent performance is centered on the unassuming, quiet tones of the main character, but she also offers other voices, including a delightfully whimsical narration for Sydney’s new best friend Layla and a tight intonation for Sydney’s controlling mother. Other characters include Ames, a creepy hanger-on whose constant presence as a substitute family member during Peyton’s absence is a source of much of the novel’s tension; Meskimen captures his outward charm as well as the more sinister subtext. In all, this is a very satisfying audio performance by a young narrator worth following. Ages 12–up. A Viking hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Finding Audrey

Sophie Kinsella, read by Gemma Whelan. Listening Library, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 6.5 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-1-101-92532-4

After suffering horrendous long-term harassment from bullies at school, Audrey suffered an emotional breakdown and is now at home with severe social anxiety, afraid to leave the house, terrified of speaking to anyone outside her family, and wearing dark glasses all the time to avoid looking anyone in the eye. Meanwhile, her well-meaning but shrill mother is constantly getting into screaming matches with Audrey’s brother Frank over his excessive video game playing. But therapy and an unexpected relationship with Linus, a kind, funny friend of Frank’s who visits the house, help Audrey begin to heal and come out of her shell. Reading as Audrey, Whelan sounds exactly like an adolescent girl. She perfectly conveys the protagonist’s conflicting emotions—anxiety, exasperation, hope—and often sounds like she is struggling to put her feelings into words. She also creates distinctive, memorable voices for the other characters: reasonable Dad, overexcitable Mum, sarcastic Frank, adorable four-year-old Felix. With many moments of Kinsella’s signature humor to lighten the subject matter, this audiobook will be appreciated by teens, as well anyone suffering from anxiety and the Shopaholic author’s many fans. Ages 12–up. A Delacorte hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Jesse Andrews, read by Thomas Mann, R.J. Cyler, and a full cast. Listening Library,
unabridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-0-14-752083-8

Senior Greg Gaines has drifted through high school trying to be friendly with everyone but is friends with no one, moving between cliques without committing. His only hobby is making awful movies with Earl, his foul-mouthed pal. Greg’s carefully maintained routine is upset when his mother encourages him to spend time with Rachel, a classmate suffering from leukemia. Greg begrudgingly befriends Rachel, before being conned by another classmate into making a movie about her. The story employs a number narrative devices, including screenplay-style passages, bulleted lists, movie reviews, and fake newspaper headlines, which are expertly handled by a chorus of voice actors (Keith Szarabajka, Hillary Huber, Kirby Heyborne, Abigail Revasch, and Adenrele Ojo). The use of multiple voices textures the story and increases the entertainment value of the entire audiobook. Ages 14–up. An Abrams/Amulet paperback. (June)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Under the Egg

Laura Marx Fitzgerald, read by Jessica Almasy. Books on Tape, 5 CDs, 5.5 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-1-101-91550-9

Thirteen-year-old Theodora Tenpenny lives with her mentally scattered mother in a run-down 200-year-old townhouse in Greenwich Village, N.Y. When her artistic grandfather, the family provider, dies suddenly, Theo finds a letter from him suggesting that a treasure is hidden “under the egg.” Reader Almasy gives the protagonist a credible young-sounding voice and can-do attitude, as well as portraying a colorful cast of secondary characters who assist Theo on her treasure hunt. There’s Theo’s friend Bohdi, the child of movie-star parents whose roller-coaster Southern California accent Almasy captures “for sure,” and the guttural-accented deli owner Mr. K., who supplies Theo with the occasional free lunch. Antagonists include a dismissive art expert named Gemma, whose speech Theo describes as “deliberately pretentious,” Madame Dumont, a very French next-door neighbor who wants to evict Theo and her mother, and Lydon Randolph, a retired art curator who is convinced Theo possesses a painting of great value that Lydon wants for himself. Almasy gives him a mellifluously aristocratic Southern accent that turns hard and vicious when riled, which is how the ever-crafty Theo inevitably leaves him. Ages 8–12. A Dial hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783–1789

Joseph J. Ellis, read by Robertson Dean. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 8.5 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-0-553-55073-3

Here Ellis describes the hard-won journey undertaken by George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison to push the 13 colonies from pluribus to unum after the Revolutionary War. Dean, an experienced voice actor, narrates this satisfactory audio edition, exuding confidence with tone and dictation. His deep, rich bass lends a certain gravitas to the political machinations of the players involved. Yet Ellis’s narrative shows, in considerable detail, how tenuous, unlikely, and contested the quartet’s fight for a strong central government was, and Dean’s strong, stable reading lacks this air of uncertainty. The final hour of the audio book consists of Dean simply reading the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, and the Constitution of the United States. A Knopf hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics

Barton Swaim, read by Jonathan Yen. Tantor Audio, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 7 hrs., $37.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-1435-8

Swaim recounts numerous anecdotes from a three-year stint as a speech writer for former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. Much of the book is an entertaining inside look at state politics and how the wheels of executive office grind. Many of the stories relate the thankless dedication of the staff in contrast with the ego-enlarged antics of politicians. Reader Yen solidly projects with his deep and commanding voice, which maintains the listener’s attention. He moves through the narration at a steady pace, only becoming more deliberate when it fits within a given anecdote. Unfortunately, Yen fails to capture the light and humorous tone Swaim takes when relaying the ridiculousness of his work. As a result Yen’s attitude in the narration comes across as self-righteous, making Swaim seem just as petty as his boss. A Simon & Schuster hardcover. (July)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Egg and I

Betty MacDonald, read by Heather Henderson. Post Hypnotic (posthypnoticpress.com), unabridged, 8 CDs, 9 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-1-77256-016-9

A bestseller from the 1940s, this book captures some of the hijinks, adventures, and idiosyncrasies of MacDonald’s life from her childhood in Seattle to raising children on a chicken farm in rural Washington. Reader Henderson captures MacDonald’s tone perfectly in the audio edition. She’s lively and energetic and delivers MacDonald’s jokes with the right emphasis and timing. Her rhythmic delivery can be almost hypnotizing and makes the listener feel like they too have been transported to the farm. The most challenging aspect of the audiobook is that MacDonald makes derogatory comments about Native Americans throughout, which can be especially disconcerting to hear delivered in such as gleeful manner. A Harper Perennial paperback. (June)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice

Adam Benforado, read by Joe Barrett. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-62231-949-7

Audiobook veteran Barrett brings his raspy voice and knack for accentuating emotional nuance in his delivery to the new title from legal scholar Benforado. The book uncovers a wide range of scientific findings that reveal rampant bias in the United States justice system, particularly emphasizing how processes and systems tied to a punitive punishment approach make the streets less—rather than more—safe from crime. Benforado minces no words in his harsh view of the predominant American perspectives—compared with other Western industrialized democracies—regarding such matters as the police, courts, and prisons; Barrett’s animated narration stays consistent with the tenor of this hard-hitting message. Barrett provides an especially effective whimsical and sardonic tone in rendering Benforado’s historical overview of the retribution model of law and order, highlighting such baffling primitive practices as murder trials for animals, something that is compared to the nation’s recent track record of jailing the mentally ill and addicted populations instead of providing access to medical treatment. A Crown hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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