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Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”

Lena Dunham, read by the author. Random House Audio, unabridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-0-8041-2731-8

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Filmmaker (Tiny Furniture) and TV creator and actress (Girls) Dunham writes about everything from work and love to dieting in this sharp and often salacious essay collection. The essays are funny and raw, but these qualities are hard to detect in the audio edition because Dunham gives a somewhat lackluster reading of her book. Her pacing is slow and restrained, which seems at odds with the tone of the essays. The result is somewhat unengaging, and the essays begin to bleed into each other. Occasionally Dunham impersonates the people she writes about—she gives a relationship expert a thick New York accent and puts on a low, dopey voice for some of the men she describes—livening up the performance a bit. A Knopf hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Yes Please

Amy Poehler, read by the author. HarperAudio, unabridged, 7 CDs, 7.5 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-0-06-235088-6

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Comedian Poehler exudes her signature, lovably awkward charm in the audio edition of her collection of personal essays. Over the course of the book, she ruminates on a number of topics—from motherhood to her raise to fame on the Chicago and N.Y.C. comedy scenes, with plenty of tales from behind the scenes of Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation to boot. Her narration is as spontaneous as the anecdotes she shares, with her voice ranging from goofy and spastic to subdued. The audio edition features a host of guest narrators, including Poehler’s parents and fellow Saturday Night Live alum Seth Meyers, along with hysterical cameos from Patrick Stewart and Kathleen Turner (the latter is the voice of Poehler’s dark side, in short interrupting clauses throughout). Poehler frequently mentions her unease at writing a memoir but when it comes to reading that memoir she is clearly in her element. A Morrow/Dey Street hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel

Sara Farizan, read by Negin Farsad. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 5 CDs, 5.5 hrs., $26.95 ISBN 978-1-62231-488-1

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Leila is a high school junior who enjoys video games and hanging out with her friends. She is not enamored of schoolwork or keeping up with her older sister’s accomplishments. Leila’s family is Persian, conservative, and strict, and her parents expect big things from their daughters. While her older sister is pre-med at Harvard, Leila is just getting by at her private high school. She’s flying below the radar for safety’s sake: Leila is just figuring out that she likes girls. She knows this will make her stand out even more at her mostly WASP-y school, and she cannot begin to imagine how her parents will react. But when Saskia, a gorgeous new student shows some interest in Leila, the latter grapples with her fears and feelings. Farsad’s Persian accents are impeccable. She trills as Leila’s mother and lowers her voice believably for her father. She gives Leila a delightful crinkly voice, perfect for the wry humor and self-deprecation of the character. Leila’s older sister and her frenemies get nuanced cattiness, and she voices young men with a slightly nasal tone. But the audio production distracts from the story, as all the talent and skill Farsad shows in voicing characters gets lost when listeners are pulled out of the audio experience by loud breathing and mouth noises. Ages 14–up. An Algonquin Young Readers hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Confessions: The Paris Mysteries

James Patterson and Maxine Paetro, read by Lauren Fortgang. Hachette Audio, unabridged, 4 CDs, 5 hrs., $23 ISBN 978-1-4789-5570-2

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This new entry in the young adult series featuring the fabulously wealthy, undeniably weird Angel orphans finds them in Paris with their uncle Jacob Perlman. This time they’re battling the villainous minions of their sociopath uncle Peter, who is determined to steal their limitless fortune. Previous outings (Confessions of a Murder Suspect and Confessions: The Private School Murders) explained that the Angels’ father was a brilliant scientist with a Big Pharma drug empire, and he and his wife raised their children on a regimen of mood-, mind-, and body-altering drugs. As a result, the series’s narrator, Tandy, is a 17-year-old genius with a penchant for detection; her oldest brother, Matthew, is a New York Giants footballer who’s won the Heisman; her brother Harry is on his way to becoming a top-of-the-charts musician/composer; and her youngest brother, Hugo, is, at the very least, a world-class brat. There’s also an older sister, Catherine, another beautiful genius, whose reported death in a “motorcycle accident in Capetown” now appears to have been an exaggeration. Since Tandy’s confession focuses primarily on her own feelings and activities, it’s crucial that reader Fortgang has found the right voice for her: she narrates this short, inconclusive novel in a mildly peevish, entitled, intemperate manner and is a bit too emotional— just like a billionaire teenager, in other words. As for the less-defined members of the family, Jacob sounds properly noble, Harry speaks with a stoner’s bliss, and Hugo is like Bart Simpson with a silver spoon in his mouth. There’s an otherworldly quality about all of them that stems from their extremely odd upbringing, or perhaps from their present lives of extravagance and excess. Ages 12–up. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies

Alastair Bonnet, read by Derek Perkins. Tantor Audio, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 7.5 hrs., $37.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-0582-0

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From urban fox dens to micro-nations to temporary islands, Bonnet explores strange geography and ungrounded spaces found throughout the world. It is a veritable travelogue into unknown and limbo-like states. Perkins speaks in a deep voice and a refined British accent that can be hypnotically engaging when combined with Bonnet’s prose. His steady narrative pace regularly shifts in tone as needed, capturing the excitement of Bonnet’s travels exploring 50 different places. For each location, coordinates are given (when possible) according to Google maps. This addition makes sense for the book, but it feels distracting in the audiobook as it is not as easy to recall or search for when listening. A Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle that Set Them Free

Héctor Tobar, read by Henry Leyva. Macmillan Audio, unabridged, 11 CDs, 13.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-42724450-5

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Actor and audiobook veteran Leyva provides a perfect fit for Tobar’s acclaimed chronicle of the 2010 accident inside Chile’s San Jose mine and the harrowing experiences of the miners who were trapped underground for 69 days. Leyva handles the Latin American accents with finesse, never descending into caricatures. His portrayals of the complicated love triangles at the center of several of the trapped men’s households above ground never fail to entertain. Leyva also does a masterly job recreating the tensions surrounding matters of faith and spirituality, as evangelical Christian Jose Henriquez leads the men in organized worship services, which gradually become more polarizing. Any narrative with so many characters requires a bit of mental juggling from listeners, but it’s a captivating ride nonetheless. Leyva does an excellent job building anticipation with his speech patterns and changes in intensity, and he allows the national spirit of Chile to shine through. A Farrar, Straus and Giroux hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Choose Your Own Autobiography

Neil Patrick Harris, read by the author. Random House Audio, abridged, 6 CDs, 7.5 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-0-385-36794-3

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Harris relates the different adventures, roles, and challenges that he has faced over the years in this curious approach to the autobiography, using the classic choose-your-own-adventure style of storytelling. It’s an amusing approach to the nonfiction genre, but one that is not suited for the audiobook format, which he admits at the beginning of his recording. The adapted version and overall style of the audiobook fail to make it as enjoyable as it would be to read. With the entire book written in second person, the listener quickly loses interest in hearing you mentioned in nearly every sentence, as well as hearing the different choices that could be made if the listener were reading instead. However, the audiobook does have redeeming qualities: Harris is fantastic to listen to and repeatedly elicits smiles and laughs as he shares his past. Listeners will learn many behind-the-scenes elements of the different shows, movies, and musicals that he has participated in. They will also get to listen to a speech delivered by Harris when he was a child. The audiobook includes a PDF of favorite recipes and crossword puzzles. A Crown Archetype hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of ‘The Princess Bride’

Cary Elwes, with Joe Layden, read by Cary Elwes. Simon & Schuster Audio, 6 CDs, 7 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-8345-6

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Elwes shares his experience as one of the lead actors in The Princess Bride—from his initial meetings with director Rob Reiner to the 25th-anniversary screening of the film. He includes trivia about the production, and the various challenges he faced personally and professionally throughout. Elwes peppers the memoir with interviews of various people involved with the production of The Princess Bride, including Reiner, Robin Wright, Christopher Guest, and Wallace Shawn. Some of them, such as Reiner and Wright, even narrate their contributions in the audio edition, effectively conveying their excitement about the film. The absence of the voices of some of those interviewed leads to an imbalance, however, with Elwes narrating their sections. Even so, his voice is light and energetic, and it’s clear that he is smiling throughout the production. An S&S/Touchstone hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation

Bill Nye, read by the author. Macmillian Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 9 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-5209-8

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“The Science Guy” jumps off from and expands the arguments from his public debate with creationist Ken Ham, positing that denial of evolution is tantamount to denying science as a whole, ignoring the advances in medicine and agriculture that make modern human life possible, and destroying our children’s future by leaving them ill-equipped to understand the world. As narrator, Nye has an enjoyable voice with a hint of rasp, made all the more enjoyable because of the enthusiasm he maintains throughout the production. It becomes clear that he is having fun narrating and talking about science. Where he falls short is landing his jokes—but his timing and delivery are well-executed when he is discussing the fundamentals of science, and he knows exactly when to slow down for clarity. A St. Martin’s hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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41: A Portrait of My Father

George W. Bush, read by the author. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 7.5 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-1-10191314-7

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Former president Bush brings an unassuming and straightforward delivery to the audio edition of his new biography of his father. The title provides a unique vantage point of public life and the presidency, as a son draws on his own later experiences in providing context for a dad’s journey. Bush has never been known for polished oratory or diction, and his delivery of certain phrases may not always flow together seamlessly. Yet his easy personal manner consistently projects warmth and approachability. The stirring presentation of the father-son bond during the joy of electoral victories and the pain of defeats is especially memorable. Listeners discouraged by the current climate of partisan polarization in Washington will appreciate the conciliatory tones toward the family’s political rivals, including a touching correspondence between the elder Bush and Geraldine Ferraro, the late congresswoman and 1984 vice-presidential nominee. These types of exchanges—while not denying the spirited and competitive nature of modern American politics as practiced by the Bush family—offer a measure of grace and civility that will appeal to a wide spectrum of history buffs and political junkies. A Crown hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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