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What I Know for Sure

Oprah Winfrey, read by the author. Macmillan Audio, , unabridged, four CDs, four hrs., $24.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-5826-7

Beloved talk show pioneer, philanthropist, author, and actress Winfrey assembles a powerful collection of teachable moments and plainspoken empowerment in this inspirational audiobook. With her uniquely comforting and confident voice, she reflects on the emotions and concepts that will stand the test of time: joy, resilience, awe, connection, gratitude, and possibility. So conversational that she seems unscripted, Winfrey shares many light and profound life experiences, such as dancing onstage with Tina Turner, gardening passionately, learning the value of education, and having a profound spiritual encounter while hiking. This treasury of private revelations and spirituality is a must-read for those seeking self-improvement and wanting to probe the art of living. A Flatiron hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Marina

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, read by Daniel Weyman. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, six CDs, 7.5 hrs., $25 ISBN 978-1-4789-5368-5

Fifteen-year-old Oscar is leading a lonely life at his Barcelona boarding school in the late 1970s. While exploring an older part of the city, he meets Marina, a girl near his age who lives austerely with her father, who is a painter, in a rundown house. The teens get caught up in a mystery that began just after WWII. Inventors, aristocrats, opera singers, police inspectors, and millionaires were all involved in dark, sinister crimes, and the aftereffects of these events reverberate through the years and place Marina and Oscar in great danger. Ruiz Zafón tells his gothic tale with a great deal of exposition interspersed with sudden bursts of action. Weyman handles this expertly, narrating with great emotion, making the many minutes of description interesting to the listener when they could easily become tedious. He also plays around with a wide variety of accents: Spanish, Russian, German, and American characters are all subtly but distinctly portrayed, while narration is performed in dulcet English tones. Many characters are elderly and are given creaky voices that wobble in pitch, but it’s never cartoonish. This is a sophisticated performance of an atmospheric, complex mystery. A Little, Brown hardcover. (July)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia

Candace Fleming, read by Kimberly Farr. Random House Audio, , unabridged, eight CDs, 9.5 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-0-553-39528-0

This educational history geared to young adult readers explores the reversals of fortune that attended the Romanov family, from their reign as privileged rulers of 130 million Russians at the turn of the 20th century to their violent deaths at the hands of Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1918. Farr, who is primarily a stage actress, serves as the story’s primary narrator and also voices the diary entries and personal vignettes of various Romanov family members. She manages to create sympathy for the insulated family, especially the children, though her voice also expresses appropriate frustration at times when Czar Nicholas either turned a deaf ear to the desperation of his subjects or aggressively countered their complaints with military brutality. Less successful are the audio production’s various uncredited “Beyond the Palace Gates” performances, which feature stories from the lives of Russian peasants, WWI soldiers, or other observers. Several anonymous voices perform these parts, lending a disjointed feel to the narrative, and oddly reinforcing the class divisions inherent to the history itself. (July)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Good Talk, Dad: The Birds and the Bees... and Other Conversations We Forgot to Have

Bill and Willie Geist, read by the authors. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, five CDs, 5.5 hrs., $30 ISBN 978-1-47895306-7

Longtime CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Bill Geist and his son, Willie, co-host of NBC’s Today and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, demonstrate down-to-earth charm in the audio edition of their book about the ups and downs of father-son relationships. While most of the material centers on lighthearted and irreverent anecdotes about parenting, the elder Geist gracefully transitions to the weighty topics of his experiences during the Vietnam War and his battle with Parkinson’s disease. Bill, whose voice quivers slightly, reveals emotion without descending into gushing sentimentality. The younger Geist projects the “aw shucks” frat boy manner that has made him such a hit with morning viewers in recent years; his natural conversational delivery is well suited to the audiobook medium. Willie brings a whimsical tone to the discussion of careers, admitting that following in his dad’s broadcasting footsteps was tied to a series of happy accidents. Fans of the Geists will relish the opportunity to hear their story in their own words and voices. A Grand Central hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum

Rebecca Loncraine, read by Brooke Heldman. Oasis Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 17 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-613756-355

Heldman is a fine choice to narrate this well-researched biography on the life L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequels. Baum was born in 1865, and was 43 when he penned the book for which he would forever be remembered. But once he conceived of the land of Oz, he, unlike Dorothy, would never be able to escape it. Loncraine follows Baum through the middle years of his life, focusing on the specific events and experiences that influenced the magical world and creatures of Oz. The book is divided into five sections, corresponding to the five U.S. regions in which Baum lived, and reader Heldman skillfully keeps the story moving at a steady pace throughout. Her lively, breathy delivery animates Loncraine’s straightforward prose. Loncraine admits that much of what’s known of Baum’s life may be pure invention by the writer himself, but true or not, it keeps the listener enchanted to the last chapter. A Gotham paperback. (June)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

Ben Macintyre, read by John Lee. Random House Audio, , unabridged, nine CDs, 11 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-553-39788-8

Macintyre’s latest biography chronicles the adventures of British intelligence officer Kim Philby, who secretly spied for the Soviet Union throughout most of his career. These events have inspired a host of fictional espionage thrillers, but Mac­intyre offers new context to address the forces that shaped Philby’s betrayal of his country. Veteran reader Lee effectively shifts between expository passages and dialogue. Philby’s career makes for an engrossing narrative, with accounts of double-crosses and triple-crosses, and Lee’s performance brings out the human element in the action-packed plot. His rendering of eccentric CIA counterintelligence leader James Jesus Angleton—an American with strong British ties and sensibilities—is especially memorable. Building to the climactic confrontation between Philby and his best friend and colleague, Nicholas Elliott, Lee’s delivery of the spy vs. spy banter evokes the essence of Cold War tension. A Crown hardcover. (July)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner

Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell, read by Tanya Eby. Tantor Audio, , unabridged, six CDs, 7.5 hrs., $37.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-0389-5

Melinek, with the help of coauthor Mitchell, relates her experience as a forensic pathologist, giving readers a glimpse into the fascinating world of examining dead bodies. The narrative focuses on how she landed the job, why she stayed in this line of work, and the mundane and curious elements of the profession. Eby provides a natural cadence and delivery that sounds casual and will easily sustain listeners’ attention. The only time her performance falters is when she voices male characters such as Melinek’s husband. These attempts feel forced and distract the listener from the content. Otherwise, Eby’s performance flows surprisingly smoothly, even when she’s reading the details of autopsy. Together, authors and reader tame the morbid realm of forensic pathology, providing an entertaining and informative listening experience. A Scribner hardcover. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe, read by Susie Berneis. Dreamscape Media, unabridged, 16 CDs, 20.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-62923-498-4

Berneis gives a bravura performance in the latest audio edition of this classic tale. First published in 1851, Stowe’s novel focuses on the stories of two black slaves. The first is young Eliza, who makes a desperate run for freedom when she discovers that her son is about to be sold and taken away from her. The second is Uncle Tom, who is about to be sold by the masters he loves and trusts. Rather than run, he accepts his fate, holding on to his Christian faith to carry him through these tribulations. Both characters long for the peace that would come with the release of their bonds, and both, after much heartbreak, troubles and tears, find that peace, but in very different ways. Berneis is a consummate storyteller. She gives the book’s many characters distinct, individual voices that nimbly flow from one line to another. Her reading is simple and easy to listen to, even when the words and situations are disturbing. This is a powerful antislavery book that still resonates, over 100 years since its initial publication, and Berneis is an excellent choice to bring Stowe’s provocative novel to life. (May)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Quick

Lauren Owen, read by Simon Slater. Random House Audio, unabridged, 15 CDs, 19 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-0-8041-6547-1

Slater delivers an excellent rendering of Owen’s debut, a tale set in a vampire-populated Victorian England. The vampire world is divided between the elite men of the Aegolius Club and a ragged band of underclass undead. The numerous characters include shy, provincial poet James Norbury and his intrepid sister, Charlotte; vampire hunters Adeline Swift and Shadwell; a rich American in danger; and Augustus Mould, who researches vampire myth and fact on behalf of the undead and is as warm and friendly as his name suggests. Slater provides a unique sound and pacing to depict the various characters, which is especially handy as the narrative jumps from one perspective to the next—often unexpectedly. His delivery eases these transitions, giving a clear and distinct feel to the different parts of the story. Slater’s performance both entertains listeners and adds clarity to Owen’s complex world. A Random House hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Other Side

Sharr White, read by a full cast. L.A. Theatre Works, , unabridged, two CDs, 1.5 hrs., $29.95 ISBN 978-1-58081-957-2

Actress Calista Flockhart delivers a strong performance in this excellent recording of White’s play. Juliana Smithton is an accomplished neurologist who has developed a drug that could potentially help fight the onset of dementia. However, as the play progresses from past to present, it becomes apparent that Juliana is herself suffering some form of progressive brain ailment that is playing havoc with every aspect of her life. Flockhart keenly portrays a strong-willed, brilliant woman whose condition is quickly bringing about the loss and distortion of her memories. She brings vivid detail to Juliana’s frustration, denial, and fear of her deteriorating condition. Gregory Harrison plays Julianna’s stalwart husband. His attempts to communicate rationally with his increasingly debilitated and delusional wife are heartbreaking in their believable honesty. The excellent supporting cast joins the stars in making this an emotionally moving exploration of the power and fragility of memories. (June)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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