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The Things They Carried

Tim O’Brien, read by Bryan Cranston. Brilliance Audio, unabridged, seven CDs, 8 hrs., $19.99 ISBN 978-1-4558-5159-1

O’Brien’s collection of short stories, which he describes as fiction, is one of the most seminal works about the Vietnam War. It follows grunts trudging through hostile country and describes, as one might surmise from the title, the things they carried. These artifacts—comics, possible love letters, Bibles, photographs, and compasses, as well as the necessary array of military items—reflect the character of each man and the world in which he exists as a soldier. Narrator Cranston provides a fine performance in this audio edition. He has a gravelly, rich voice that’s perfect for the material. As he embodies different soldiers, Cranston’s voice alternates between melancholic, wistful, disaffected, and resigned. He’s less successful, however, when voicing female characters. However, these instances are rare, as O’Brien’s text largely focuses on the interior workings of the soldiers on the ground. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 03/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Red

Josh Logan, read by Alfred Molina and Jonathan Groff. L.A. Theatre Works, unabridged, download, 1,5 hrs., $6.95 ISBN 978-1-58081-933-6

Molina stars as abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko and Groff as Rothko’s assistant and errand boy Ken, in this Tony Award–winning play about the creation of Rothko’s ill-fated Seagram Murals. The process of doomed creation provides context for a series of dialogues about art and life between the mercurial Rothko and his naïve assistant. Molina shines as Rothko, the artist, anarchist, and iconoclast. Ken, an entirely fictional character, acts as the voice of modernity—and Groff effectively captures the essence of this evolving character. The changing relationship between the two characters and their eventual parting of ways foreshadows Rothko’s suicide in 1970. And while Rothko’s dark undercurrents are clear in Molina’s performance, the narrator provides nuanced characterization, revealing the complexities that make Rothko a figure of significance even today. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 03/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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RED 1-2-3

John Katzenbach, read by Donna Postel. HighBridge Audio, unabridged, 14 CDs,17 hrs., $39.95 ISBN 978-1-62231-245-0

Narrator Postel supplies a smooth, straightforward, if slightly unenergetic reading of Katzenbach’s smartly plotted thriller. Three women of different ages and backgrounds have only two things in common: they all have red hair and each has received a mysterious letter in the mail informing them that they have been selected to die. The killer identifies himself only as the Big Bad Wolf, but is in fact a rather mundane novelist who is looking to revitalize his writing career—and the stalking and killing of the three redheads should supply him with enough dramatic fodder for a bestseller. But when the redheads connect with each other, it only goes to show that even the best laid plans of the badest wolf can take an unexpected twist. Postel has a polished melodic vocal quality that is easy to listen to. And she reads Karzenbach’s prose in a professional, direct manner that certainly moves the story along at a good pace. However, her overall performance feels a bit languid in its execution—a little more vigor on this reader’s part would have raised the thrill levels of this cleverly conceived novel. A Mysterious hardcover. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 03/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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In the Blood

Lisa Unger, read by Gretchen Mol and Candace Thaxon. Simon & Schuster Audio, unabridged, nine CDs, 10.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-6143-0

This novel, full of dark psychological suspense, is set in a small college town not far from New York City; it follows Lana Granger, a psychology major nearing graduation. Lana harbors secrets from her youth, including family violence and murder. At the suggestion of faculty advisor Langdon Hewes, she becomes the nanny of Luke, a troubled 11-year-old who uses very adult methods of terrorizing his mother, Rachel. Soon he’s tormenting Lana with seemingly uncanny knowledge of her past. The narrative is interspersed with excerpts from the diary of an unidentified mother about her life with an extremely disturbed child, which is read by Mol in a soft voice that varies from guardedly optimistic to despondent. Handling the more extensive role of Lana, Thaxon is tart, almost flippant when the extremely bright student is viewing her life objectively, then switches to a less confident, almost miserable approach when expressing self-doubt and regret over past mistakes. Her equally astute interpretations of Unger’s other characters include a coolly impersonal Hewes, a vague and distracted Rachel, and Luke, who speaks with an intelligence beyond his years, is arrogant and impatient. A S&S/Touchstone hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Guts

Roddy Doyle, read by Laurence Kinlan. Penguin Audio, library edition, unabridged, eight CDs, 10.25 hrs., $59.99 ISBN 978-1-62923-180-8;

This sequel to Doyle’s The Commitments finds Jimmy Rabbitte approaching 50 and facing all the standard challenges of middle age, with four kids and a wife. However, when Rabbitte is diagnosed with cancer, he is sent down a path of physical and mental recovery as he reconnects with his band members, his family, and himself. Narrator Kinlan’s performance makes this audiobook more enjoyable than the print edition. He reads in a strong Irish accent throughout, especially when characters are speaking, making this audio edition colorful and engaging. Kinlan’s voice also has a weariness to it that capture’s Rabbitte’s character. Additionally, he constructs distinct and believable voices for the cast of characters. A Viking hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Still Life with Bread Crumbs

Anna Quindlen, read by Carrington MacDuffie. Brilliance Audio, unabridged, six CDs, 7 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4805-3312-7

Sixty-year-old Rebecca Winters is having a midlife crisis. Once an iconic photographer, her fame, and sales, have diminished over the years, and money problems have reached a crisis point. She’s long divorced, her son is grown, and she is lonely. To save money, she sublets her Manhattan apartment and rents a ramshackle cottage in the country, where, unexpectedly, she learns about life and herself, rediscovers her love of photography, and connects with Jim Bates, a down-to-earth roofer. Narrator MacDuffie perfectly conveys Rebecca’s worries and self-doubt, her increasing attraction to Jim, and her ultimate sense of confidence and peace. She also creates memorable and believable voices for the other characters—particularly for garrulous Sarah (a village baker) and manly Jim. A Random House hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Radiance of Tomorrow

Ishmael Beah, read by Dion Graham. Macmillan Audio, unabridged, six CDs, 8 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-3340-0

In Beah’s novel, set in Sierra Leone, friends Benjamin and Brockarie return to their village of Imperi after the civil war in the early aughts, only to find the town in ruins. But as more villagers return to Imperi, the two friends must pull together and help the community rebuild. In this audio edition, narrator Graham delivers a thoughtful performance that is both effective and touching. Graham’s rendition of dialogue is spot on, and he provides the book’s characters with distinctive and appropriate voices. Listeners will find that this powerful novel makes for an equally powerful audiobook, thanks to a standout reading from Graham. An FSG/Sarah Crichton hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Doing Harm

Kelly Parsons, read by Robert Petkoff. Macmillan Audio, unabridged, 11 CDs, 13 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-42723629-6

When Steve Mitchell, chief resident at Boston’s acclaimed University Hospital, is introduced by narrator Petkoff, he’s a man whose speech rings with confidence when discussing his happy marriage and bright future. There’s elation in his voice as he describes his joy at exercising his surgical skill. But when one of his patients dies mysteriously, Petkoff begins to ramp up the tension. More deaths follow and Steve takes the blame, but he soon begins to realize that Gigi, the brilliant, beautiful, and promising med student with whom he had a one-night stand, is a homicidal lunatic. As protagonists go, Steve is a not particularly likeable. But Petkoff skillfully handles Steve, taking the doctor through major mood swings—from smug self-satisfaction and arrogance to puzzlement, concern, surprise, and, finally, despair. Enacting the murderous med student, Petkoff tones down the insanity in favor of an oddly playful and eager attitude that is positively chilling. A St. Martin’s hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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