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After a charismatic foreign healer sets up practice in a sleepy Irish village, the residents find themselves caught in the aftershocks of war. O'Brien, a master at weaving the personal with the political, has a perfect partner in narrator Juliet Stevenson. Central to Stevenson's performance are the lovers: Fidelma's emptiness--both the cause and the consequence of her dalliance with Doctor Vlad--nearly echoes in Stevenson's voice. Doctor Vlad--seductively soft and controlled--is a convincing deceiver. Stevenson also crafts even seemingly incidental characters distinctly. That attentiveness pays off richly as the novel progresses, particularly with Mujo, a psychologically scarred functional mute whose voice eventually rises to an epic sound and fury. He reminds listeners that this is no mere tale of love gone wrong--it's a powerfully read modern parable. K.W. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine

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An experienced narrator like Peter Jay Fernandez is an excellent choice for a classic title by the late African literary giant Chinua Achebe. Fernandez’s tenor pitch laces this parable set in an imagined West African country with a degree of humor and irony. Combining the two is an excellent way to characterize protagonist Chris Oriko, who is forced to choose between loyalty to an old friend, now president for life, or aligning with his other childhood friend, now chief critic of the president. Alternating between the proud tones of the president and the groveling of his followers, Fernandez captures the political satire at the heart of this fictional take on life after British colonial rule. M.R. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine

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When feisty Southern divorce lawyer Paula Vauss receives a cryptic message from her estranged mother, Kai, she begins a search that ultimately shows her the power of family and forgiveness. Joshilyn Jackson's abilities extend beyond her writing--insightful, funny, and poignant--to her narration. She breathes fiery life into Paula, exposing the vulnerability that gives context to the character's self-protective sarcasm. Entertaining on every level, Jackson portrays a variety of original, flawed characters--including Paula's ex-love, Birdwine, who is a private eye, and mystical Kai, a storyteller. In addition, she creates touching scenes and builds suspenseful twists, capturing the listener's complete attention and admiration. J.C.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine

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The author uses dramatic, insistent tones to draw the listener into the Utu family's story of love and loss. The vividness of Chukwudi Iwuji's narration enlivens the imagery at the heart of this novel, set in modern-day Nigeria. When golden boy Paul Utu inexplicably disappears, the mystery wrenches the family into chaos. This personal drama provides the backdrop against which larger national politics unfold. Listeners discover that Nigeria's economic development comes at the expense of the majority of its citizens--and Paul's inability to overlook corruption. Iwuji's cadence creates an African-sounding English that is central to the characterizations in this story. His talent comes through in his capable treatment of male and female characters. M.R. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine

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Scottish cab driver, porn star, front-seat confidant, and ladies' man (to put it lightly) Terry "Juice" Lawson is a trip-and-a-half as he chauffeurs unsavory characters around Edinburgh and finds himself entwined in their complicated lives. The remarkable Scots actor Tam Dean Burn portrays the characters so accurately that some listeners may have to focus closely to understand the spicy lingo. Burn also transitions smoothly to portray unscrupulous American businessman and reality star Ronnie Checker as well as the suicidal playwright whom Terry sexually rehabilitates, locals from Edinburgh's underbelly, and many more. Burn understands performance timing, switching from comedy to drama with spot-on flair and spontaneity. Listeners should beware that this top-of-the-mark performance has it all--gritty encounters, "blue" exchanges, and hilarious and weirdly indecent scenarios, resulting in what is sure to be a cult classic. B.J.P. © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Mark Bramhall delivers a confident performance of Yann Martel's exploration of faith and personal tragedy. The lives of three men are mysteriously connected through loss and grief. In 1904, after the death of his entire family, Tomás, furious with God, sets out to find a "special kind of crucifix," located in the high mountains of Portugal. Bramhall is achingly convincing as the grief-stricken Tomás. In 1938, a pathologist finds a link to the crucifix inside a dead man who came from the same region, and in 1981, a Canadian widower makes a touching interspecies connection, changes his life, and moves to the high mountains of Portugal. Bramhall keeps the sometimes confusing tale just grounded enough to allow the spiritual elements to coalesce. S.J.H. © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine

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Accident or sabotage? The cause of the HINDENBURG disaster has never been conclusively determined. Narrator John Lee performs this well-researched fictional account of the doomed flight with impressive skill. Although he's a master at accents and the story involves a cast of international characters, Lee delivers this layered audiobook in his own voice, allowing listeners to focus on the action and intrigue. Along with the passengers and crew, the airship itself plays a role in this unsolved puzzle. Lee's clear, expressive delivery highlights the author's careful attention to technical detail as well as the varied personalities, motives, and secrets. Maintaining the mystery to the very end, he successfully avoids foreshadowing through his tone or pacing, so listeners experience the full emotional impact of the fiery conclusion. C.B.L. © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine

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The incomparable Cassandra Campbell shines again with an excellent audiobook performance. This fast-paced, absorbing novel follows Peggy, a winning protagonist, into and out of myriad relationships. We root for her as she navigates her staid Southern parents, challenging husband, pompous in-laws, and beloved children. Campbell, as always, creates a believable cast of characters with her acrobatic voice and accents. She captures the wry humor that is a staple of the novel’s tone, as well as the omnipresent irony of trying to be oneself in an environment that values only conformity. When Peggy’s marriage dissolves, she breaks out on her own; the listener will be glad to go along for the ride. L.B.F. Winner of AudioFIle Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Pamuk's newest novel is as much an homage to his beloved Istanbul and its slow metamorphosis into a modern city as it is the story of Mevult, a street vendor who struggles with understanding himself. Narrator John Lee's performance is seasoned with a delicate touch of melancholy as Mevult contemplates his family, fate, and God while wandering the city's neighborhoods selling boza (an alcoholic drink). Lee easily guides listeners past two of the challenges of this audiobook—its nonlinear structure and variety of perspectives—keeping confusion at bay. Most impressive is how Lee's pacing reflects the rhythms of the city and Mevult's life, from the quiet foundations of tradition to the bustle of the twenty-first century. Among the highlights is Lee's impeccable rendition of the boza seller's call. C.B.L. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Here are 20 rules, aimed at a young knight or lady, for living a good and moral life. Alessandro Nivola’s soft, cultured voice delivers the rules, along with stories and examples that illuminate them. On the eve of battle in 1483, a knight writes a long letter of guidance and stories for his children. Listeners may be familiar with the morals and values, which are from Western and Eastern philosophy, but incorporating them into one’s life is more difficult than simply knowing about them. Nivola uses grandfatherly tones—melodious, deep, and enchanting—to draw listeners in. Using lyrical tones, he BECOMES the knight who writes his timeless advice for his sleeping heirs. The rules conclude with a sonorous recitation of “Ballad of the Forty-four Pointed Red Deer,” which is equally didactic. M.B.K. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Cassandra Campbell creates a dreamy atmosphere that beautifully highlights the magical realism in this audiobook about fate, grief, and family. Eleanor's parents have failed to recover emotionally from the accidental death of her twin 10 years earlier. Since then, the teenager has been experiencing bouts of fractured reality in which she finds herself in a parallel plane where time is no longer linear and destiny is not necessarily fixed. Campbell's performance smoothly mirrors the pace of the action, and her expressiveness projects Eleanor's tumble of emotions as she tries to understand what is happening to her and her broken family. Listeners will be caught up in Eleanor's journey to reconcile her alternate worlds, to find unconditional love, and maybe even to change the past. C.B.L. © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine

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Once again, Philippa Gregory makes historical events personal. Bianca Amato offers an elegant, queenly performance, delivering intimate portraits of fascinating royals. King Henry VIII proposes marriage to young widow Kateryn Parr. Although Kateryn is in love with Thomas Seymour, she realizes she can't refuse the king, who is almost twice her age, grotesquely obese, with a seeping, oozing, foul-smelling leg wound. As the king woos her with kindness, Amato reveals Kateryn's growing fondness for him. She creates an independent, clear-eyed woman, who burns for Seymour but crushes her emotions. Amato is remarkable portraying the last of Henry's queens, a woman who was the first to publish a book, to advocate for a Bible translation in English, and to restore the princesses to their mercurial father's good graces. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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This mostly epistolary novel tracks the real and imagined friendship of Samuel Clemens (author Mark Twain) and Henry Morton Stanley (African explorer) from their meeting on a Mississippi riverboat before the Civil War through the end of their lives. Clemens, Stanley, and Stanley’s wife— painter Dorothy Tennant—are the main voices, ably performed by the ensemble of narrators. Henry Leyva captures the charming and tragic elder Clemens, and—more remarkably—James Langton, the bull-headed and searching Stanley. The vividly rendered Tennant—read by Polly Lee—matches both for energy and passion. Robert Petkoff ably covers the narration and other major characters. A meditation on Anglo-American imperial culture in the late nineteenth century, the story meanders from Cuba to the Congo. F.C. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Barbara Rosenblat is an outstanding performer. Here she uses varied tones and pitches to reflect four quirky but strong women: Edith, the organized, responsible 64-year-old legal librarian; Kat, Edith's identical twin, who is entirely the opposite in looks, personality, and temperament; Vida Cebu, the landlady, a beautiful and egocentric actress; and Ashley, an 18-year-old homeless Russian immigrant. The horrific plotline, involving a freakish phosphorus mold found growing in the twins' closet, is creative and kind of scary. Rosenblat's delivery is well paced and convincing as she assumes a voice for each character. Listeners will enjoy the way she projects the appealing personalities Ciment has created. S.C.A. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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With a voice that can shift from the liquid brown sugar of Barbados to Brooklyn’s assertive nasal tones, Robin Miles offers a pitch-perfect reading of Naomi Jackson’s remarkable first novel. The affecting coming-of-age story introduces us to 16-year-old Dionne and 10-year-old Phaedra in the summer of 1989. When their mother isn’t able to care for them back home in Brooklyn, the girls are sent to their grandmother in Barbados. Miles uses a slight change of pace to signal the scenes of memory set in Brooklyn. And she handles shifts in perspective and tone beautifully—exuberant young Phaedra, self-conscious teen Dionne, and world-wise grandmother, as well as offering believable sound portraits of the men in their lives. What a pleasure. A.C.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Paul Boehmer delivers a superb performance of Geraldine Brooks’s reimagining of the life of King David. Boehmer’s characters live through his vocal magic. He creates David, his sons, his wives, his enemies, and Natan, the narrator of the tale. A prophecy foretells that David, the shepherd boy, is destined to be king of the Jews. Once David defeats Goliath, his star begins to rise. He’s a fierce soldier, a natural leader who is capable of Old Testament-worthy vindictiveness and uncontrollable rage, yet his music transfixes all who hear it. Boehmer captures every nuance as David overindulges his baseness and carnality. Further, Boehmer's Hebrew pronunciations are splendid. Brooks offers a larger-than-life portrait of a charismatic David who was human yet capable of horrible deeds, and Boehmer captures all those qualities. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Set amid the lushness of nineteenth-century St. Thomas, this massive family tale is an appealing audiobook. As the novel imagines the origins of the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, the narrators’ performances are skilled and appropriate for each role. While each narrator's voice is distinctive, they share a common intensity, a complete immersion in the lyrical language that is a Hoffman specialty. Gloria Reuben's voice has a simmering, husky quality, while Tina Benko's delivery is more measured and subtle, which is appropriate for that section of the novel. Santino Fontana brings the listener forward in time, his crisp delivery sounding a bit more modern. Even with such scope, this audiobook manages to capture the imagination and transport listeners to another time. L.B.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Three talented narrators handle Hawkins’s debut psychological thriller, giving identifiable voices and personalities to the characters Rachel, Megan, and Anna. Rachel’s life is spinning out of control. She imagines the perfect life of “Jess and Jason,” people she sees from a train window on her daily commute. She actively believes in the fantasy, and when she observes something shocking, she determines to intervene. The three narrators alternate chapters, offering differing interpretations of events as seen by Rachel, who drinks excessively and is subject to alcoholic blackouts; Megan, who is having an extramarital affair; and Anna, who is married to Rachel’s ex-husband. When Megan disappears and the police investigate, listeners must decide how much of what the women report is reliable. Top-notch narration makes this perfect for audio. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award, 2016 Audies Winner © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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This audiobook is expansive in its narrative voices as well as its narrative scope. The story begins in 1950s California and goes on to span decades with the Blair family, a realistically flawed group. One quickly comes to care about the characters, who live vividly in one’s imagination, thanks to Packer’s gift with words. Cotter Smith et al. are expressive narrators as the novel’s point of view shifts from chapter to chapter. As each narrator portrays one of the Blair siblings, their individual voices blend beautifully with those of the surrounding chapters, creating a true familial effect. The strong quality in each voice not only provides aural unity but also propels the listener forward. Flawlessly paced and produced, this is an outstanding listen. L.B.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Phylicia Rashad gives such a vivid portrayal of the characters in this audiobook that you feel you are in the same room with them, only you’ve turned your head and don’t happen to be seeing them. It’s as if she’s known every one of them personally. Ivoe Williams is a capable and determined daughter of early-twentieth-century Jim Crow Texas. As a young woman, she starts an African-American newspaper, JAM ON THE VINE, in Kansas City, Missouri. Barnett’s writing is gorgeous, and Rashad revels in it. The book is a hymn to personal courage, love, and the fourth estate, and you will admire, remember, and care about these characters long after you finish, thanks in no small part to Rashad’s glorious and heartfelt performance. B.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Kathleen McInerney creates a vibrant audio version of the interlocked lives, families, and generations in Judy Blume's arresting, sometimes harrowing, new novel. In the early 1950s, Elizabeth, New Jersey, was a cheerful, confident town in the middle of the American Century when a freak series of plane crashes shattered assumptions and lives. Blume recalls the town's shock, grief, and loss of faith in the goodness of life, all of which shape this devastating story without descending to melodrama. Well matched with Blume's narrative control, McInerney's vocal technique is marvelously flexible, distinguishing with easy shifts of tone a 9-year-old girl from a 15-year-old, not to mention men from women, and the midde-aged from the elderly. Together, they make this powerfully imagined, intricately plotted story unforgettable. B.G. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Edith Pearlman, the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award winner for BINOCULAR VISION, offers another collection of painfully succinct observations of the ordinary events and people who find themselves under her microscope. Pearlman’s economy of language creates imagistic prose that feels like poetry. It’s especially effective on audio, thanks to Suzanne Toren’s artistry. Toren pulls listeners into the unusual lives of a pedicurist who is an excellent listener, a big-hearted antique dealer, Louie-the-vegetable-man—who is “not composed of fruit or vegetables”—and a family with an anthropomorphic plant. She creates credible, complicated characters—from Somali refugees in Boston to a stowaway on a cruise ship. The cast is large and memorable, the stories piercing and perceptive, and Toren’s performance puts a unique stamp on each remarkable piece. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Justine Eyre transports listeners to the mid-twentieth-century Scottish Highlands in Gruen's story of love and monsters. Maddie Hyde follows her husband and his best friend from Philadelphia to Scotland to prove the existence of the Loch Ness Monster and regain the favor of Maddie's father-in-law. Eyre does a wonderful job with the multitude of voices and accents in the story, deftly switching between American and Scottish accents and subtly denoting character traits from personality to educational level. Gruen develops her characters, particularly Maddie, incredibly well over the course of the story, and Eyre's skillful narration ensures that listeners engage with Maddie on her journey of self-discovery. J.L.K. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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The challenge presented by this novel for narrator Christa Lewis is portraying a small cast of highly diverse characters. Listeners will be enthralled by her consistent portrayals of these individuals, who seem to have little in common beyond living in the same Brooklyn brownstone. Each tenant is coping with a life-altering crisis just as the son of the elderly landlady threatens them with eviction. Lewis's skills shine in her portrayals, including those of an agoraphobic woman, a mentally challenged young man and his caring sister, and a has-been comedian. The tenants' bonds strengthen as they absorb the ramifications of moving, each longing for a safe haven. Lewis's sensitive performance keeps listeners fully invested in this character-driven audiobook. C.B.L. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Anna Acton beautifully captures the edginess and yearning that make Louisa Clark, the protagonist of this novel and Moyes’s previous runaway bestseller, ME BEFORE YOU, such an affecting character. Acton also so ably embodies the disaffected teenager who enters Louisa’s life that you may want to give her a time-out. But keep listening—you’ll be amply rewarded. In Moyes’s previous book, Louisa took a job caring for an amazing man who was left quadriplegic after an accident. Now, when he chooses to end his life, Louisa must navigate an unwelcome yet surprising world. In a captivating, believable reading highlighted by real-world pacing and characterizations, Acton lifts Moyes’s well-crafted novel into edge-of-your-seat listening that will keep listeners awake well past their bedtime. A.C.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Celia Imrie’s pitch-perfect reading of Joyce’s wonderful epistolary novel is such a transporting experience that listeners may want to start again the moment they come to the end. “Dear Harold, this may come to you as some surprise,” writes Miss Queenie Hennessy from a hospice where she is preparing to die. As described in Joyce’s previous novel, THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, he is so surprised that he sets off walking the length of England to see her. As she waits, Queenie writes about their time together long ago, her life since, and the hospice experience. Imrie’s exquisite timing and precise, inviting voice render everyone from dear Queenie to a crotchety Scottish hospice patient vividly clear in this funny, heartbreaking, infinitely moving story. A.C.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Franzen’s novel is an unalloyed listening experience. Clocking in at 25 hours, the audiobook allows plenty of time to love or hate Franzen’s tale of pairs and polarities, dyads and dualities. The characters are contradictions and extremes, with lives that careen between the banal and the bizarre. In short, the book is a dream for any narrator who is itching to demonstrate his or her acting range, as Jenna Lamia, Dylan Baker, and Robert Petkoff handily do. Their performances are uniformly engaging and engrossing; together, they make the listening time fly by. Anyone weighing the potential return on investment of reading all 587 pages can safely turn the heavy lifting over to them. K.W. Winner of AudioFIle Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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This novel, the first in a trilogy by Italian author Elena Ferrante, offers the engrossing story of two friends, Elena and Lila, whose lives crisscross over the years. Hillary Huber’s subtly shaded performance couldn’t be better as she reveals the complexities that separate and connect the two women. When adult Elena learns that her volatile, impulsive childhood companion has disappeared, she decides to write Lila’s story and the story of their lives together. Ferrante’s dense, rich prose provides the perfect palette for Huber’s artistry. She draws clear portraits of each woman and her family, as well as the small town outside of Naples where they live just after WWII. Huber’s delivery of this well-plotted, absorbing story of friendship will leave listeners wanting more. S.J.H. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Liza Klaussmann offers a splendid roman à clef, reimagining the lives of Sara and Gerald Murphy, whose salons in the 1920s included such notable expats as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, and many other artists, writers, and celebrities of the period. Narrator Jennifer Woodward presents this fictional version of the Murphys with all their magic intact as they entertain at their home, Villa America, in Cap d'Antibes. Woodward's genteel tones and girlish delight make the family's bohemian existence and hedonism both carefree and urgently serious. Woodward's performance highlights the Murphys' marriage, which was fraught with Jazz Age intensity and the sense of ennui that permeated the Lost Generation. S.J.H. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Nicola Barber’s narration offers a delightful assortment of voices that richly portray the characters of this Regency romance. The resonance of Barber’s voice captures the determination of Rachel Woodley who, after the death of her mother, makes a startling discovery about the father she believed died years ago. Barber’s quickening cadence conveys Rachel’s machinations as she and her cousin set about to perpetrate the scam of a lifetime. Crisp diction captures the propriety of these English characters, while a more nasal tone suggests undertones of condescension. With subtlety, Barber reveals Rachel’s changing emotions, including her dawning realization that perhaps revenge is not so sweet after all. M.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Tavia Gilbert jumps into this novel with both feet, carrying listeners to the end. Romantic suspense prevails as the author creates a whodunnit with a raft of suspects and a red herring or two. Working-class Bailey Browne is swept off her feet by Logan Abbott, a widower who is 10 years older than she and from a very different background. After they marry, he brings her home to his Louisiana horse farm, where she discovers she hardly knows him at all. Gilbert creates distinctive female and male voices. Especially notable is her ability to instill characters’ voices with strong emotion and complete vulnerability in the same paragraph. As her tone of authenticity lends credibility to the plot, the story becomes a delight for listeners. E.E.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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This remarkable audiobook unfolds movingly as delivered in a calm, measured voice by narrator Michael Goldstrom. Set in WWII-era Poland, the novel reveals the horrors of war through the eyes of the title character, Aron, whom Goldstrom voices perfectly. His performance has a quiet quality that suits the subject matter—after all, nothing could FULLY re-create these powerful scenes in the listener’s mind. Through his measured, reserved tone, Goldstrom allows us to fill in the blanks, and the effect is ideal. As listeners’ imaginations take over, they become part of Aron’s band of child smugglers and petty thieves who struggle to keep their families alive in the Warsaw ghettos. L.B.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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In the title piece of this debut story collection, the main characters participate in a breathtakingly crazy rite of passage: They build a bonfire on a frozen Wisconsin lake, cut a hole in the ice, and then scuba dive in the thick, dark waters below. It’s a perfect metaphor for Nickolas Butler’s relentless search for the damaged psyche of an elusive contemporary American Midwest. With the vocal rhythms of characters who own broke-down pickups and chase out-of-season deer across stubbled fields, narrator Holter Graham gives voice to the bitter and tough sounds of deferred dreams and plots of revenge as well as the painful hopes that inhabit these carefully woven tales. In this collection one hears a new strong voice in American fiction. B.P. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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George Sand's scandalous and passionate life is the subject of Berg's gorgeous historical novel. Narrator Emily Sutton-Smith captures Sand's amorous nature as well as her artistic genius. The listener gets a good sense of just how subversive Sand truly was in dressing as a man, smoking cigars, and having one love affair after another with an actress and a number of famous men. This novel also serves as a good overview of the Parisian artistic elite of the time as everyone who was anyone who was not a lover of George Sand was, at least, her acquaintance. The story never becomes a mere cavalcade of artistic heavyweights, however. Berg's poetic prose and Sutton-Smith's strong performance ensure that it remains fascinating and emotionally involving listening. J.L.K. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Narrators Ariana Delawari and Assaf Cohen fully inhabit the vulnerability and uncertainty of present-day Afghanistan teenagers Fatima and Sami as they slowly fall into a love forbidden by both family and society. Delawari and Cohen dramatize both characters’ internal monologues as they process their feelings of love and fear. Cohen also voices Sami’s cousin, Rashid, a product of radical Islamic indoctrination who believes that the runaway lovers must be punished. Cohen deftly distinguishes between candid Sami and Rashid, who is fueled by rage and obsession that he has come to see as truth. When narrating the novel’s most horrific scenes, the narrators never overplay the tragedy but commit fully to the heartbreaking lines of dialogue, forcing listeners to engage with the important and difficult subject matter. E.M.C. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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De Robertis brings a beautiful voice to the history and intensity of the tango in this coming-of-age romance of early-twentieth-century Buenos Aires. The 17-year-old heroine finds her way in the world of tango--strictly limited to men--by assuming the persona of her late husband. None of the passion is lost in De Robertis's narration. Character differentiation is almost flawless, and De Robertis's accent adds much to the flavor of the setting and the characters. The transvestite star of the story, Leda/Dante, is well handled as she switches between genders. De Robertis's narration is so good that, while there are technically no voicings, each character seems almost as distinct as those performed by a narrator using multiple voices. M.C. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Steve West carries listeners along on a literary adventure down France's rivers, from Paris to Provence. After reading a decades-old letter from a former love, Jean Perdu untethers his bookstore barge and leaves the City of Lights for the south, accompanied by two equally impulsive friends. Although the men are initially focused on their pasts, their journey soon becomes one of new horizons and second chances. West wisely reserves his French accent for the dialogue, immersing listeners in the setting without overwhelming them. His quiet, gentle performance fits the mood of this charming, contemplative story, which is perfect for book lovers. Although the majority of the audiobook is read by West, Emma Bering and Cassandra Campbell have small parts that enhance the listening experience. C.B.L. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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An astonishingly unique historical novel, which begins in Trinidad in the 1940s, this is an example of the best that an audiobook can offer. The two narrators, Ron Butler and Bahni Turpin, are superb choices who move the listener smoothly between the two main characters. Farook and Marcia Garcia are star-crossed lovers who don’t have fate on their side. Turpin evokes the rhythms of English as spoken in Trinidad, lyrical, and rhythmic. Through her confident narrative style, Marica Garcia comes across as a strong, beleaguered young woman. Her trials evoke empathy in the listener. Butler establishes the contorted choices that face Farook as an Indian man who is prevented by racism from marrying his true love. This sprawling tale spans Trinidad and the United States, from the 1940s-1960s. M.R. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award, 2016 ALA Media Award, 2016 Audies Finalist © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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This highly regarded novel is one of the most well-known Indian novels in English. Fraternal twins Rahel and Estha experience the ups and downs of childhood during periods of both family and national drama. Narrator Sarita Choudhury captures the lyrical prose with vocals that are as soft as velvet. She captures the dreamlike state of the child narrator's musings, which dominate most of the story. In a lilting cadence, Choudhury conjures the sense of mystery behind the images and descriptions peppered throughout the story. This title is an example of the many benefits of literary fiction delivered in audio form. The listener can close her eyes and be swept away by the story under the spell of an experienced narrator. M.R. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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US

British actor David Haig perfectly portrays the bumbling, good-hearted Douglas Petersen, who hopes to save his marriage while on a modern-day grand tour of Europe with his wife and sullen 17-year-old son. Haig's spot-on timing makes the humor pop, and his sympathetic performance connects listeners to Douglas's moments of despair and frustration, especially when he’s trying to communicate with his son. Haig's portrayal of a straitlaced middle-aged scientist who is trying to fit in with his artistic, laid-back family is flawless, and listeners will be impressed with his ability to seamlessly transition among the characters, capturing each one's personality. This bittersweet comedy of errors and self-discovery is destined to be one of the most talked about audiobooks of the year. C.B.L. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award, 2015 Audies Finalist © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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SMALL MERCIES is a beautifully wrought origami swan of an audiobook—every time you unfold a wing or beak to see how it’s made, you find Bobby, the beloved son/brother/husband who died at the Twin Towers on 9/11. In Scott Aiello’s rich and devastating performance you can hear how different Bobby’s widow is from her new Manhattan beau; it’s in their accents. Here are voices from all walks of New York City life as well as a vivid portrait of place, Staten Island, and an Italian-Irish family—how they love, support, and fail each other; how genes will out; how these decent, flawed people roll with what life deals them. Both novel and performance are full of craft and heart in this outstanding production. B.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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The much-anticipated continuation of the Todd family saga features the author’s hallmark scope of action and complexity of character. Fortunately for the listener, narrator Alex Jennings is a master. From the opening lines, his impeccable British accent establishes the scene and captures the persona of the main character, Teddy, and the rest of the diverse cast. Jennings's clear diction and pace advance the action through richly detailed accounts of Teddy's adventures as a WWII bomber pilot as well as quieter dramas of his daily life and family relationships. Although this work is a companion to Atkinson's LIFE AFTER LIFE, the story is thoroughly enjoyable on its own. M.O.B. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award, 2016 Audies Finalist © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Narrators Abby Craden and Arielle DeLisle are magnificent as the half-sisters who recount this heartrending family drama. Craden narrates from the point of view of Taisy, the 35-year-old sister who is involved with a broad array of characters, including her twin brother, her boyfriend, and her father. These characters are a tour de force on their own: funny, smart-alecky, and impassioned. Craden’s character transitions are flawless even when she shifts from one gender to the other. Her portrayal of Taisy’s father is impressive with its dual vocal personas, one for the man before his heart attack and the other for the man after. DeLisle perfectly captures the other sister, 16-year-old Willow, even delivering occasional minor mispronunciations that sound completely consistent with her character. As Willow’s love interest, DeLisle comes through flawlessly. This is a magical pair of performers. M.C. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Listeners will rejoice that narrator Mark Bramhall returns to narrate Kent Haruf's bittersweet swan song to his beloved town of Holt, Colorado. This short audiobook focuses on the characters Addie Moore and Louis Waters, now in their 70s and living alone, years after their spouses' deaths. Bramhall's soothing cadences and tender tones bring out the full range of emotions experienced by the neighbors as they find a way to mitigate their loneliness while maintaining their dignity and independence. Despite small-town gossip and the reactions of grown children, Addie and Louis want nothing more than to enjoy comfortable companionship through the uncertainties of aging. Bramhall's unhurried performance allows listeners time to absorb the richness of the couple's newfound friendship and the sadness of the roadblocks they're forced to navigate. C.B.L. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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As always, Tavia Gilbert is a shining light as an audiobook performer. Her voice is as varied as the diverse cast of characters in this unusually structured novel. The Mazie of the title is a scrappy, independent woman; one follows her progress on gritty Depression-era streets through diary entries and other characters' accounts. At times, the transitions between these different narratives seem awkward or stilted. In addition, some details enlighten while others drag down the pacing by elaborating on peripherally important details. Overall, though, the story has its appeal--essentially it's a family saga that spans a motley cast populating New York City's Lower East Side. Gilbert's energy and alacrity with voices make this a notable listen. L.B.F. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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"I remember when I first met her. It changed my life." He was 9. Adam Verner draws listeners into the life of Wylie Rose, his encounters with the eccentric Bonet family, and his lifelong obsession with Cesca Bonet. Naïve and overprotected, Wylie finds the wealthy, talented, and beautiful Bonets wonderfully strange and seductive, and he'll do almost anything to be near Cesca. Verner delivers Wylie's longing with just the right amount of youthful ardor and offers Wylie's luminous descriptions of Cesca with a lovely lyricism. As Wylie's preoccupation with Cesca covers decades, the story takes him to posh surroundings from East Hampton to the Upper East Side, from Paris to Barcelona. Verner adds luster to Charles Dubow's clear-eyed look at coming-of-age and the nature of obsession. S.J.H. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Torday’s inaugural audiobook is a masterful story of a WWII hero, performed with precision by narrator Aaron Abano. Ostensibly the biography of RAF bomber pilot Poxl West, the novel approaches his complex fictional life both from the present and from the perspective of his memoir, thus allowing listeners to glimpse both sides of a man with a far darker side than is apparent from day-to-day life. Abano’s performance is as exceptional as the book. His adept use of accents, coupled with an uncanny delivery, allows listeners to submerge themselves in the complex character Torday has created. The result is an extraordinary story of courage counterbalanced by a gripping story of suspense. D.J.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Three exceptional narrators take turns delivering the chapters of this quirky audiobook about death. Helen Walsh is perfect as feisty 7-year-old Millie Bird, who calls herself “Captain Funeral” after her father dies and her mother abandons her. Millie seeks the help of her widowed shut-in neighbor, Agatha Panther, who is portrayed by Nicolette McKenzie with a husky voice that is perfect for barking insults out the window as she sits in her “chair of discontent.” Millie is also assisted by “Karl the touch typist,” an elderly widower vividly portrayed by Nigel Carrington. As the three unlikely partners travel across Australia in a madcap adventure looking for Millie’s mother, the outstanding narrators take listeners on a roller-coaster ride of laughter, sadness, and contemplation. M.M.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Nicole Poole delivers the rich atmospheres of this story of a woman’s triumph over her abusive husband. With her Aunt Ruth at her side, Ellen finds a path to freedom. Following in her grandmother’s footsteps, Ellen, with the aid of Ruth, joins the circus. Poole deftly presents the many characters, ranging from kids to circus patriarchs. She finds the key to the feisty and steadfast Ruth as a character to be reckoned with and credibly portrays the transformation of a tentative abused wife to an independent woman who rediscovers her strength and purpose. Poole’s narration and the well-crafted story are a compelling combination. J.E.M. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Mozhan Marnò's stunningly perfect performance elevates this unforgettable novel to stardom. The story of Anna Benz's struggle to understand herself, her husband, and her adopted city takes listeners through the streets and markets of Zürich, letting them in on the 37-year-old's deepest secrets. One of the keys to Marnò's success is her ability to evoke the fog of Anna's loneliness and depression and then pierce it cleanly during Anna's moments of lucidity, resolve, and desperation. In addition, the European setting requires multiple accents, which are delivered skillfully by the multilingual Marnò. Listeners will be spellbound as Anna parses the intertwined layers of Swiss culture and language, Jungian analysis, and the inner conflict she experiences in her attempt to be "a good wife, mostly." C.B.L. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Hillary Huber narrates this lovely story in the same manner it's written--with a grave, unvarnished steadiness. The character, Lydia Rowe, takes us on a coming-of-age journey, jumping from one time period to the next. Huber's exacting pitch hits a cerebral ebb and flow. At times, there's meandering philosophical banter between the protagonist and her circle of friends. The characters are unique and clearly differentiated when Huber speaks. Her pace is consistent, as if she's carefully painting this story for the ear. She hits the right pitch of sadness, sarcasm, or even indifference when speaking of circumstances like Lydia's marriage or the death of loved ones. Huber's narration is sure to give one pause for contemplation on the purpose of life. T.E.C. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Robert Petkoff's expressive tones and sensitive cadence perfectly match the moods and rhythms of this stunning coming-of-age story, set in hardscrabble small-town Kentucky. In 1985, after the tragic death of his brother, Kevin and his mother return to her childhood home for a summer of healing. Even as Kevin falls in love with the beautiful woods and mountains, he learns that prejudices, family feuds, and tough economic times can lead men to ugly deeds. Petkoff's distinct voices and smooth presentation keep listeners engaged with this remarkable audiobook. Highlights of his performance include a gentle, musing tone that flawlessly conveys the atmosphere of quiet evenings on the front porch and a quick, clipped delivery that captures Kevin's fear of the violence he witnesses during those pivotal months. C.B.L. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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The musical introduction just sets the right mood for these wonderful stories of Irish country life in the 1990s. Ballybucklebo, a charming Irish village, is where cantankerous but highly competent GP Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly tends to his patients using cures and remedies not always found in medical books or journals. These warm and often funny vignettes are told by O'Reilly's long-suffering junior doctor, Patrick. John Keating narrates with empathy and vigor, sometimes making the listener laugh out loud. For example, the good doctor O'Reilly refers to Maggie, an unmarried patient, as "one of nature's unclaimed treasures." Keating's laconic, humorous delivery, which includes a vague but warm Irish brogue, adds warmth to Taylor’s enchanting stories of life on the Emerald Isle. S.C.A. 2015 Audies Finalist © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Mixing fact with fiction, Alcott offers a stardusted look at Hollywood’s Golden Years, when movie stars were glamorous, amorous, and scandalous—shocking and delighting the public. Cassandra Campbell’s engaging performance introduces Julie, an appealing ingenue who arrives in Hollywood from Indiana, hoping to become a screenwriter. Julie settles for a job at the studio filming GONE WITH THE WIND but is promptly fired. Campbell makes her sound plucky and determined, and when Julie encounters celebrities, Campbell is wonderfully understated, never resorting to theatrics. When Julie is hired as personal assistant to Carole Lombard, Clark Gable’s brainy, beautiful, outrageous ladylove, Campbell offers a Julie-eyed view of the sizzling Gable-Lombard affair and the electricity between Gable/Rhett and Vivien Leigh/Scarlett in GWTW. Campbell’s interpretation makes Alcott’s intriguing speculations feel right. S.J.H. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Wow, Richard Armitage brings William Shakespeare’s Hamlet into the modern age with a powerful performance. The authors cut no corners as they bring the story of the Danish prince to life. They turn the play into a novel, which may annoy Shakespeare fans, but the result amplifies, and perhaps simplifies, the original. Armitage is amazing. He's more than a simple reader, showing himself as a gifted actor. He gives distinct life to each of the many characters in the tragedy, making it easy to follow the story. You can actually close your eyes and listen to the work and imagine the scenes unfolding, thanks to Armitage's acting skills. At the risk of shocking English teachers everywhere, this may be a wonderful introduction to the classic. M.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award, 2015 Audies Finalist © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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If there could be a better production of this audiobook, I don’t see how. Sybilla Frye, a 15-year-old African-American girl, is found savagely beaten and violated by, she says, white cops. But shifting accounts rendered by a quartet of actors plant doubts about Sybilla’s story. All four performances are outstanding, especially the wit and sympathy the amazing Bahni Turpin shows her often unreliable characters. The laconic menace Adam Lazarre-White gives Sybilla’s violent stepfather is also stunningly effective. Given that once the name Tawana Brawley occurs to you, the bones of this story are predictable, Oates could have advanced her morally complex agenda more crisply. But these actors do a great deal to make the pace compelling and the coming train wreck riveting. B.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Christian Baskous delivers this collection of stories by award-winning author Ron Rash with a soft Southern accent, deftly matching the tone and substance of the material. Baskous evokes empathy and horror in these tales of hard-hit Appalachian people dealing with poverty, sorrow, addiction, and more. He allows a weary, threadbare tone to seep into his voice, evoking the sandpaper quality of life lived on the edge. Baskous raises the emotional level of the stories, which are already poetic in nature. A match made in literary heaven, Rash and Baskous capture bleak moments that make listeners feel the pain and joy of life. R.O. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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This book weaves two stories: one set in Vienna in 1899, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki; the second set in Germany in the early 1940s, narrated by Cassandra Campbell. Having two narrators helps the listener follow two plots that become entwined as the story progresses. Rudnicki deftly portrays a staid psychoanalyst with a somewhat pedantic and detached attitude who encounters a puzzling patient in Vienna. Campbell portrays a naïve, young woman in Germany years later who lives in her imagination, which is full of dark fairy tales. Campbell’s steady narration intensifies the contrasts between appearance and reality, hope and despair as she creates an understated and haunting atmosphere. J.E.M. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Narrator David Aaron Baker is perfect as Bud Frazer, a young cowboy who is determined to enter the world of stunt horsemanship in Hollywood during the late 1930s. Baker's voice holds just enough grit to portray the tough young man who endures fall after fall from horses running at full speed as well as projects an endearing vulnerability that makes the listener engage with the character. Baker is exceptionally convincing with the voices of the women in Bud's life--from his screenwriter friend, Lily, to his incredibly strong mother. Baker has the gift of disappearing from the narration as he reads the dialogue and vivid descriptions of injuries and deaths, the fascinating history of how the old Hollywood Western movies were made, and the personal tragedies that led Bud to choose this exciting and painful career. M.M.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Awrd © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Christopher Lane’s narration of this fascinating audiobook is elegant and engrossing. His sonorous voice is ideal for O’Nan’s rich imagining of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last years in Hollywood. With kindness and compassion, Lane entreats the listener to empathize with Fitzgerald as he copes with personal and professional trials—his wife is institutionalized, his career a shadow of its former greatness, his grip on his own health tenuous. Lane’s performance is as effective as O’Nan’s storytelling. Conversations with notables such as Hemingway and Bogart come across as believable, and descriptions of setting and character quirks are vivid and three-dimensional. This audiobook is outstanding—one that might inspire you to visit the work of the great Fitzgerald himself once again. L.B.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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An ensemble of accomplished narrators proves to be an effective choice for the rich diversity of characters in Poissant's debut story collection. Thirteen stories offer a range of complex characters and emotions, and the pairing of voices with personalities lets listeners experience a more intimate connection with the flawed but compelling figures who are playing out slices of their lives. The difficult relationship of the same father and son opens and closes the anthology, while the intervening selections deliver equally raw and honest glimpses of ordinary people who are trying to deal with life. This audiobook will reward listeners with impressive narrations and memorable stories. M.O.B. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Edoardo Ballerini waltzes listeners through New York City society as Zimmerman’s macabre tale of civility and violence unfolds. Wealthy Hugo Delegate stands accused of serial murder. He does not proclaim his innocence, however, fearing that the true culprit is his adopted sister, Bronwyn, a “savage” girl raised in the Nevada wilderness. Distinctive voicings of the braggarts and businessmen, socialites and sinners associated with this story make Hugo’s extended account vividly clear for listeners. Gradually, Ballerini alters Hugo's characterization, deliciously hinting that Hugo may be the ultimate unreliable narrator. During the trial, Ballerini narrates Hugo’s long-winded defense at a brisk clip. A master of phrasing, Ballerini tightens the descriptive passages while lingering over Hugo’s dreamy musings. Subtle yet powerful, his elegant style works well. C.A. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Kimberly Farr's experience with character-driven novels is evident from her nuanced performance of this compelling story about four generations of Whitshanks and the Baltimore, Maryland, home that bore witness to their public and private histories. One key to Farr's success with this audiobook is the wide range of emotions she employs to capture the characters' individual temperaments as they cope with marriage, parenthood, aging, and adult sibling rivalry. Although reading male dialogue is not Farr's strong point, her consistent voices and excellent sense of pacing connect the listener with the family members and the rhythms of their everyday dramas. Anne Tyler's twentieth novel explores the complex evolution of a family as the Whitshanks--singly and together--face the inevitable changes that come with the passage of time. C.B.L. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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Eighty-five-year-old Addie Baum’s granddaughter asks, “How did you get to be the woman you are today?” So begins a touching, unforgettable journey with a witty, charming guide. Narrator Linda Lavin brings heartfelt emotions, intelligence, and humor to Addie. Her performance is so truthful it feels as if Lavin is Addie Baum or Addie Baum is Lavin. Born here in 1900 of Russian immigrants, Addie experiences the conflict between the old and new worlds. Lavin is relaxed and mellow, chuckling when Addie finds something amusing—you can hear the impish smile on her face. As Addie’s life unfolds, Anita Diamant offers a well-researched, detailed look at women in the last century, and Lavin gets it just right. PS: I want Linda Lavin to be my BFF. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award, 2016 Audies Finalist © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine

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In Shakespeare’s play, all we know of the world’s most famous star-crossed lovers happens over a period of five days. Lois Leveen’s imaginative retelling covers all the years before—from the nurse’s point of view. Nicola Barber delights with her full-bodied, earthy performance of Angelica and her lusty husband, Pietro. When Angelica’s baby daughter dies in childbirth, Friar Lorenzo helps her become live-in wet nurse to the Cappaletta’s newborn girl. Angelica becomes irrationally devoted to Juliet, convinced that she’s truly her baby, switched at birth. Barber portrays aged Lord Cappaletta’s disappointment at not having a son and is convincing as Lady Cappaletta is driven to the edge of madness. She handles Elizabethan morés, beekeeping secrets, and hot-blooded teens engaged in an ancient feud with quicksilver vocal shifts. Wonderful listening. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Justin Go’s extraordinary novel is a tale of a wandering American’s discovery of a tragic WWI love story and a 1920s expedition to Mount Everest. It would be wonderful in any format, but narrator Steve West's excellent performance adds texture to the story. West has a strong, clear voice and a cultured British accent that evokes Cambridge, the tragic war, and the imperial mountaineering story. There’s a fertile tension between West’s performance and the sometimes callow first-person account of the young American protagonist. West’s pace is perfect, and his character dialogue is easy to follow. His accents—English, French, German, Swedish, and Icelandic—provide ambiance without being distracting. This is truly worth a listen. F.C. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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With an intricately crafted plot and well-defined characters, this audiobook demonstrates author David Mitchell’s literary potential. It also benefits from narrator William Rycroft’s ability to convey the diversity and complexity of storylines using a broad array of tones, accents and inflections. Nine diverse characters, one of whom is a terrorist, inexorably move toward a shared destiny. Each chapter is written in the first person and is set in a different international locale, creating a challenge for the narrator. Rycroft adeptly differentiates between the various locations and subtly distinguishes each of the key players. This ambitious debut demonstrates how entertaining out-of-the-box creativity can be. D.J.S. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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In a remarkable combination, Juliet Stevenson enlivens Sarah Waters's rich, intimate character study set in 1920s London. In the genteel neighborhood of Champion Hill, Frances Wray and her mother are forced to take in “paying guests”—Leonard and Lilian Barber—to maintain their household after the war. Using a variety of British accents, Stevenson makes class and regional distinctions clear, bringing depth to the many characters and what divides them. As the romantic relationship between Frances and Lilian evolves, Stevenson conveys their sense of urgency and isolation with expert pacing. Flawless are the passages of confrontation between characters, as Stevenson never hesitates to modulate her tone, adjust her pace, or employ a deliberate pause to bring the listener in closer. An authentic, stirring performance. A.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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The masterful ensemble narrating Picoult's latest novel allows the intriguing plot and recognizable characters that are her trademarks to take center stage. Picoult gives us an adolescent girl who enlists a failed psychic and an alcoholic private detective to help find her mother—an animal researcher who disappeared when the girl was 4. As the characters alternate chapters, the presenters develop them all into fully defined personalities while maintaining a roller-coaster pace as the plot moves toward its surprising conclusion. The backstory of family drama played out against the plight of African elephants is as rich and captivating as the prevailing plot. Leaving before the story ends will not be an option! M.O.B. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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A visit with Richard Ford’s fictional doppelganger, Frank Bascombe, continues to provide insight into the ever-changing American middle class, their hopes, dreams, and frustrations. Narrator Richard Poe is a gifted interpreter of Ford’s vision, with his sonorous tone and casual but engaging pacing. This latest check-in with Frank depicts the ordinary frustrations of life that everyone has to deal with, mixed with the disheartening and inevitable problems of growing older. Poe’s subtle narration is filled with nuance, along with a nod to both the character’s and the author’s maturation. The conclusion, the summing up of all that has happened to Frank, boils down to a universal truth that all of us find out if we live long enough. R.O. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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After two new people join an insular and predictable college community, Shakespeare scholar Tom Putnam is surprised to discover it's never too late to get a second chance at happiness. Narrator Lorelei King's thoughtful pacing and varied cadences are just two ways she engages listeners. By employing understated Southern accents, King signals the story's Virginia setting, and her distinct voices flawlessly reflect each character's personality—from a slightly pompous male professor to a tough female lawyer and an insecure young child. Although the novel touches on the issues of mental illness and addiction, this is really a feel-good audiobook. King's perfectly timed pauses give listeners the opportunity to absorb the subtle humor that makes SMALL BLESSINGS a joy to listen to. C.B.L. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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An exquisite performance by James Langton brings out the moral themes in this story about contemporary society’s culture of addiction. David, a flavorist-in-training, is testing Sweetness #9 on lab rats. When the rats begin to exhibit odd symptoms and behaviors, David doesn’t follow through with his instincts to blow the whistle on the highly lucrative product. Langton’s deliberately paced narration and inflections highlight David’s introspective nature when, years later, he is living with side effects of the drug—in a society that is obsessed with processed foods and quick-fix-medications. Langton’s diversity of European accents adds to the richness of the characters and the liveliness of the story. His modified falsetto for David’s wife and daughter conveys both humor and heartbreak. M.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Stefan Rudnicki takes listeners into the midst of the wonderful, funny, crazy characters in this debut novel. The Nasmertov family leaves Odessa in 1991 for Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, looking for their share of the American dream. After two years, they’ve made a life for themselves among Brooklyn’s Ukrainian Jews. Rudnicki colors their stories with all the dark humor, varied emotion, and bittersweet tones of a melancholy violin. From Robert and Esther, respected doctors back in Odessa, to Pasha, their poet son who has remained in the old country, the novel is less about the current crisis in Ukraine and more about the universal experience of immigrants everywhere. Rudnicki offers perfect pronunciations of Yiddish expressions, and his superb performance removes all distance between listener and characters. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Fifty-something Lizzie Prain snapped and killed her difficult husband, Jacob, with a garden shovel. Now she’s consumed with identifying the best way to dispose of his body. Narrator Gemma Whelan delivers this delectable dark comedy with a touch of irony as Lizzie tries to solve her problem by employing her skills as a chef. Whelan’s intonations and perfect pacing capture Lizzie’s pragmatic considerations on how to cook a body. She also conveys Lizzie’s anxious joy at her new freedom as well as her attraction to her new friend, Tom. Overall, Whelan’s performance is delightfully dark and delicious. M.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Andrus Nichols quickly engages listeners with this story of family and personal truths amid a hardscrabble existence in the High Plains of Montana. Her rough-edged timbre and soft cadence create an intimate atmosphere as Alma, a successful Seattle lawyer, is called home after her sister is found dead in the streets of Billings. As Alma teases out the tangle of Vicky's drunken, drug-addicted life, she unintentionally exposes family secrets. Using careful pacing and limited dramatization, Nichols emphasizes both the beauty of La Seur’s prose and Alma's deeply emotional journey to self-acceptance. Although the plot involves the mystery of Vicky’s death, the novel’s focus is the myriad ways that home and place intertwine to shape us. Nichols's performance is outstanding. C.B.L. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Try to label this audiobook? Impossible! Part thriller? Part mystery? Part family saga or ghost story? No matter. Just sit back and absorb the stories! As its spectacular narrator, Jen Tullock is as multifaceted and interesting as the book itself. She twists her voice to suit any of the offbeat characters, managing a kind of neutrality with the plot that makes the revelations all the more surprising. The late-twentieth-century owners of an ivy-covered estate investigate its history, which includes family scandals and a lively arts colony, both of which unraveled within its walls. Tullock never misses a beat with this broad cast and multileveled plot structure. A wonderful audio performance. L.B.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Angela Goethals’s rich and resonant voice is perfectly suited to this stirring story about three characters and one important day in their lives. Nine-year-old Madeleine, who wants to be a jazz singer, is grieving for her late mother and her inability to connect with her depressed father. Madeleine’s teacher, Sarina, is at cross-purposes with an ex-boyfriend of sorts but has hopes something may work out. And then there’s Lorca, who is doing his best to keep his jazz club afloat. Goethals delivers a range of voices for each character—deftly showcasing their insecurities and attempts to move past them. Goethals’s narration draws out words or cuts them short emphatically to capture a sense of scat singing and create the moody elegance of The Cat’s Pajamas—the jazz club where the stories of lost souls collide. M.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Goodwin’s Victorian-era grand romance is beautifully narrated by Clare Corbett. The story is told by three vivid characters: heiress Charlotte Baird, Empress Elizabeth of Austria, and the roguish Captain Bay Middleton, who has a passion for both of them. Corbett gives all of them distinct voices and personalities. Despite the number of secondary characters, each is given a voice that fits his or her personality. Corbett’s narration and Goodwin’s story give listeners an engaging audiobook experience. J.L.K. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Penelope Rawlins gives an outstanding performance, doing justice to the strong and varied personalities in this character-driven book. The story revolves around Tooly Zylberberg, the owner of a not very successful bookstore in Wales. Tooly comes to the United States in search of her past, which is populated by the eccentric and sometimes criminal people who raised her, plus a couple of former boyfriends. Rawlins captures both Tooly’s childhood and adult personalities and makes vivid the six or seven major characters of differing nationalities and ages. This book, which moves back and forth between three different time periods, presents a challenge for any narrator. Rawlins doesn’t stumble, and her work enhances the rich writing. G.S.D. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Courtney Collins scores a double win with her stellar narration of her outstanding debut novel—ideally suited for audio. The novel is a retelling of the Australian bush legend of Jessie Hickman, a woman notorious in the 1920s as a murderess and horse thief. Collins paints a much more nuanced and sympathetic portrait of Jessie as a resilient and sensitive survivor of abuse and oppression. The story is told from the point of view of Jessie’s buried infant, and Collins’s whispery, lightly accented voice lends it an intimate, haunting tone. The gripping narrative moves dreamily through time, smoothly weaving past and present, dreams with reality. This is a book that can't be set aside. Listeners are in for a truly exceptional audio experience. M.O.B. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Joy Osmanski creates distinctive voices and then seems to disappear into them. In a masterful portrayal, she becomes Sarah, the bereaved narrator who is mourning the loss of her son, Cully. She also smoothly shifts into the other characters—Sarah's father, her best friend, Cully's father, and his girlfriend—to create conversations that are so sharp, thoughtful, and, sometimes, funny that the listener can’t resist reacting aloud. Her performance is of the highest quality, so natural and well paced that it feels like one's own thoughts animating the words. With palpable warmth, Osmanski confidently navigates a simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious audiobook. Fans of Hemmings's previous hit novel (and the later film), THE DESCENDANTS, will love this—but no one should miss it. L.B.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Gerard Doyle’s sonorous voice provides the perfect complement to Sebastian Barry’s story of an Irishman who was awarded the status of “temporary gentleman” along with his commission in the British Army during WWII. Here he looks back on his life from the vantage point of a solo existence in Ghana in 1957. Barry’s lyrical writing is in striking contrast to the brutal life lived by his main character, Jack McNulty, a man whose gambling debts and inattention to his family destroyed the spirit of his lovely wife. Doyle’s narration highlights both the peaks and valleys of McNulty’s tumultuous life, making this a powerful listening experience. J.L.K. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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This novel presents a side of World War II history many have not heard. The realistic story explores the aftermath of the war through the confiscated property of those sent to the Holocaust death camps. Weaving between the past and present, the narration captures the quandaries of Jack, a captain in the U.S. Army, who grows old with many secrets. The deep baritone captures the listener's attention. The male and female characters are portrayed equally well; furthermore, the narrators avoid the higher pitches that can stereotype female voices. This is a literary volume that gains nuances and suspense in the audio version. The listener is transported into foreign times and lands. M.R. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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For a debut novel to be translated into 25 languages is a badge of honor. Sahar Delijani’s work deserves no less. This is a deeply felt story, much of it with autobiographical roots in the author’s familial experiences in post-revolutionary Iran. Mozhan Marno is an excellent choice as narrator of this story of struggle between individuals and the state. Her tone is subdued and warm, a deep alto that conveys the emotions that undergird the narrative. Marno brings the dramatic scenes to life in an intimate tone that draws the listener further into the story. Her moderate, controlled pace enhances the many dramatic moments, starting with the story’s very first scene of a woman in labor inside a prison. M.R. © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Narrator John Rubinstein infuses this delightfully nostalgic coming-of-age story with adult introspection but also childish scrutiny of a boy’s treasures. Nine-year-old Edgar, a Jewish boy growing up in the Bronx in the 1930s, is beginning to perceive that life is far more complex than he once assumed. His smooth-talking father is an unreliable provider, and his family’s declining finances are compounded by his mother’s growing misery. Rubinstein depicts Edgar’s awe as he visits the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, where he encounters amazing technological promises of the future alongside seedy hucksters and sad human oddities. Rubinstein’s strongest contribution to Doctorow’s award-winning novel is his unencumbered portrayal of a wide-eyed yet precocious youngster. N.M.C. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Lorrie Moore’s stellar collection of short stories, her first in 16 years, is not a sunny book, and her deeply ironic delivery, almost deadpan at times, announces that from the get-go. This self-read audiobook is the perfect vehicle for her mordant wit, which might be described to newcomers as David Letterman squared. But Moore’s dark, divorce-filled world, populated by “graying human flotsam with scorched internal landscapes mimicking the young,” will wow her devotees but will not appeal to all listeners. Her intended audience is the world-weary: "'Marriage is one long conversation' wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. Of course, he died when he was 44, so he had no idea how long the conversation could really get to be.” A.B.S. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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It’s difficult to imagine anyone surpassing the performances by narrators Jenna Lamia and January Lavoy in this story of antebellum Alabama. Alternating chapters harmonize as if read by one narrator with tremendous range. The character of Sarah Campbell represents the enslaved community, while mother and daughter Theodora and Clarissa Allen speak from the planters’ viewpoint. Each narrator evokes images of strong, resilient Sarah, tightly wound Theodora, and spoiled Clarissa. Focusing on a brutal white male-dominated society, Bodden dramatizes her characters’ common struggles and hopes. The gritty text spares no bitter detail without crowding out hope of redemption; the vocal presentation ensures that listeners, like the protagonists, will persevere. The unexpected notes played time and again leave no doubt: Nineteenth-century women of all backgrounds wore metaphorical, if not literal, chains. J.J.B. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Mattheissen’s last novel may not be his best, but in this audio production Mark Bramhall’s remarkable voice brings beauty, intensity, and emotion to a provocative novel of ideas. Only a superb actor could do justice to the central event, an international interfaith meditation retreat at and about Auschwitz. There is not so much a plot as an ongoing spiritual debate among Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists, and Jews about guilt, suffering, and survival, with some story threads woven through, but Bramhall keeps listeners engaged with the conflicted protagonist, an American academic of Polish extraction, and makes those around him into vivid (if sometimes unpleasant) people. Bramhall’s skill and gorgeous timbre do more than justice to Matthiessen’s grand ideas, and to the humanity of his goals. B.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Beata Pozniak re-creates the world of Catherine the Great through the eyes of Polish servant girl Varvara. Pozniak’s soft eastern European accent is just right for Varvara, at first a spy for those involved in court intrigue and then a trusted friend to Sophie, the 14-year-old princess who becomes Catherine, the empress of all the Russias. Pozniak’s voice trembles with delight as she describes the magnificence of all she sees—from sumptuous feasts to elegant fabrics to gilt palace decor. Sophie, who is destined to marry the disinterested Crown Prince Peter, realizes the dangers of life at court without the right powerful friends. Pozniak effectively delivers all the court’s diabolical machinations, secrets, and scandals in this well-researched history. Book 2 is on the way. S.J.H. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Declan O'Donnell doesn't exactly converse with a seagull, but David Drummond's distinctive performance certainly gives the impression that Declan's intellectual meanderings are affirmed by the winged creature. Drummond's range of expression, pitch, and emphasis lends whimsical meaning to the musings of Declan, who has sailed from Oregon into the vast Pacific on a voyage with no clear goal or intention. This solitary maritime quest eventually becomes crowded with entertaining and unusual passengers, all portrayed acrobatically by Drummond. It’s a joy to ride the waves of Doyle's prose, as the protagonist’s memories and newly introduced residents on the tiny vessel "Plover" come together in a celebration of life. A.W. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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This captivating story of America's "simultaneously conspicuous and invisible" population is powerfully rendered by an ensemble of narrators representing voices from all over Latin America. Like families before them, the Riveras immigrate to the U.S. in search of a better life for their daughter, Maribel. Though Maribel is the catalyst, it is Alma, her mother, and Mayor, her friend, who lure listeners in during alternating chapters. Their voices shift with emotion as the narrators deftly use pitch and pacing to maintain an intimate atmosphere amid the shifting perspectives. Periodically, new voices and new accents claim a chapter to share their own immigrant experiences. Each is captured with sensitivity, lending an immediacy to the story and providing a larger context to the Riveras's experience. A.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Part character study and part psychological thriller, Heller's stunning novel captures a few weeks in the life of a man who is haunted by personal losses and a blind rage he can’t control. Narrator Mark Deakins taps into the painter’s deepest self, bringing a full range of emotion to his performance in a way that gives listeners room to form their own reactions. Tuning into the rhythm of the prose, Deakins's reading flows no matter the nature of the scene—from a frenzied painting session in the art studio to a contemplative afternoon on a trout stream and from the violence of men to the sweetness of love. His respectful narration enlivens the story yet keeps the spotlight fully on the author's stark prose and vivid descriptions. C.B.L. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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An unusual audiobook deserves distinctive performers, and this one deserves a blue ribbon for its fascinating efforts on both fronts. After a striking opener involving a rat catcher and a daring escape, Susan Bennett, as Boy, the first narrator, grabs the listener and never lets go, for better or worse. Bennett's tone has a paradoxically vulnerable edge that suits the character. Later, Boy's daughter, Bird, takes over the story, and narrator Carra Patterson has her turn to shine. Both performers create vibrant, memorable voices for their characters as the twists of the story wind beguilingly into one's ears, demanding one's full attention. The story itself has strengths and weakness, but the audiobook is certainly worth a listen. L.B.F. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Craig Klein perfectly narrates these stories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, hitting their exact tone and pacing. The soldier’s life in a combat zone is one of boredom, military bureaucracy, violence, fear, exhilaration, and a host of other emotions. Klay, who as an adjutant in the Marines, had the perfect vantage point to see all sides of the warrior’s life, splendidly captures the experience of war. Klein’s voice is well matched to the text of each story—each told in the first person by a different observer. From the soldier returning home to the contractor with the ridiculous scheme to meet an equally ridiculous State Department goal and the chaplain who endures a crisis of faith, Klein reads each story as though he were the observer himself. M.T.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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This wonderful conclusion to the series Tales of the City takes listeners where they long to be—deep in the company of magical Mrs. Madrigal—joining her in a joint, or not—as she considers life’s whimsical turns. Kate Mulgrew portrays Anna with a delicious growl, which lightens or quickens as the action and other characters demand. And much is demanded, for the plot encompasses sex, love, and oddity in the Nevada desert, adventures in a wheezing RV, and Mrs. Madrigal’s boyhood—yes, boyhood—in her mother’s brothel. Yet Mulgrew voices men and women with equal fluidity and personifies the book’s many emotions without ever overplaying. The comedy and drama are all to Mrs. Madrigal in this perfect ending to an iconic series. A.C.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Kathe Mazur’s talents shine in this wonderful novel by the author of GIRL, INTERRUPTED. Told from the point of view of young Susanna, who pines for her Massachusetts home during her family’s world travels, the audiobook is so real that the listener may hear her own voice in that of Mazur. No matter which memorable character she takes on, Mazur is always genuine and thoughtful. Susanna’s restless spirit becomes one’s own as Mazur sympathetically creates a real girl with a true desire for happiness and a sense of home. Whether touring the museums of Florence or chafing against the restraints of school, young Susanna and her endless questioning resonate in Mazur’s lyrical voice. L.B.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Unerring pacing and pitch-perfect accents characterize Robin Miles's masterful presentation of this difficult, yet wonderful, story. Minot's powerful fact-based novel is the harrowing story of two young women dealing with personal struggles that play out against the backdrop of atrocities committed by an African rebel leader and his army of enslaved child warriors. Miles handles transitions flawlessly as the point of view alternates between that of American Jane and that of Ugandan Esther, and gives convincing voices to an international cast, male and female. Most impressive is the authentic cadence and lilt she uses for Esther, one of 30 girls abducted by the rebel army. Minot does not sensationalize the brutality and heartbreak the characters experience, and Miles's delivery blends understated emotion and crisp objectivity. M.O.B. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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The three narrators of this story are perfectly cast. Ellen Archer, as Sister Charity, brings to life a teen whose only family has been the Shakers. She displays a range of emotions that continually shift between unthinking devotion, doubt, and anger. Ali Ahn portrays Polly, reflecting the detachment she feels from the brutality of her past—she killed her abusive father and set fire to the family farm before coming to the Shaker community. Peter Ganim, as Simon Pryor, brings to life a disillusioned man who long ago sold his soul to the devil but who digs deeper into his better self to find answers that bring redemption. N.E.M. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Narrator John Lee pulls listeners into this enchanting and mystical tale, often described as the quintessential Latin American novel. Simultaneously wretched and comic, it is the convoluted account of 100 years of the Buendia family, who live in a remote tropical village. Lee’s steady narration is helpful as the listener wades through a web of multigenerational family members who share the same few names. With story lines not always in chronological order, one might suffer from the absence of a printed family tree. Instead, listeners will enjoy Lee’s enticing images of gypsies’ flying carpets and conversational ghosts, and embrace Lee’s solemnity as he describes the soldier patriarch who lost 32 consecutive wars and the children born with pigs’ tails. Soon, one is entwined in Márquez’s magical world. N.M.C. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Orlagh Cassidy's enchanting performance enriches this debut novel about how Flora, a lowly sanitation bee, is able to rise through the caste system to help her hive survive attack, starvation, and destruction to meet a bright new future. Cassidy's vivid, engaging characterizations quickly transport listeners into the busy world of the bees, in which the queen rules and the priestesses maintain the hive mindset. As Flora transcends her destiny, moving up through the ranks to forager, Cassidy expertly conveys the bee's astonishment at each new discovery, curiosity about the outside world, and bravery when defending her sisters against attack. The success of this audiobook lies in Cassidy's respectful yet lively narration, which enables listeners to connect with the story on a number of levels. C.B.L. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Kathe Mazur’s measured performance of this engrossing audiobook is understated to the point of being languid. Since the novel is set in California during a period inflamed by social unrest and an enraged stalker bent on revenge is on the loose, the laid-back narration may seem a risky artistic choice. However, Mazur’s control makes the chilling moments—and there are many in this ingenious novel—even more gripping. Listeners follow Dr. Julie Walker as she shifts between present-day chaos and the events that preceded it. Mazur makes her a sympathetic character whose familial, professional, and romantic relationships are too intense to switch off. A fantastic performance. L.B.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Ellen Archer offers a charming rendering of the first book in Pancol’s character-driven trilogy. She captures listeners immediately as medieval historian Joséphine accidentally slices her wrist while preparing dinner. Joséphine stares at the wound, imagining letting the blood flow and leaving her problems behind. Her unfaithful husband has gone to Africa with his mistress to run a crocodile farm, leaving her in debt. Iris, Joséphine’s fashionista sister, proposes that Joséphine write a novel and that she, Iris, claim authorship. They’ll split the novel’s earnings. Archer slips easily into the myriad characters, offering fascinating insights into people’s motivations, behaviors, and an author’s writing process. Thanks to Archer’s satisfying performance of this well-written English translation of Pancol’s French bestseller, listeners will eagerly await the next installments. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Set against the 1876 San Francisco heat wave and smallpox epidemic and based on a true unsolved murder, this is the story of how a chance meeting and the tragic events that followed helped a young woman discover her self-worth. Khristine Hvam's broad range of accents and beautifully expressive performance give this audiobook a dimension not found in print. Especially impressive is how naturally Hvam slips into song, giving listeners an extra connection with the novel. Hvam's theatrical training is evident in her skillful rendering of the characters' personalities and emotions—from the cocksure, cross-dressing, frog-hunting Jenny to the seductive, sometimes fearful Blanche and the arrogant, manipulative Arthur. A bonus disc with a PDF of the print book's appendices rounds out the audiobook experience. C.B.L. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Even more than she did in her vastly entertaining debut, SEATING ARRANGEMENTS, Maggie Shipstead soars with this exhilarating audiobook. A world-famous Soviet dancer defects to the West. The American ballerina who helped him escape gives up the stage to marry and have a family. Themes of talent, ambition, passion, and secrets are set up and repeated with variations over 30 years. To perform this intricately constructed story, narrator Rebecca Lowman must seamlessly voice boy, then woman, then girl; Russian speakers; French speakers, old and young. She’s fluid and transparent in a gripping performance of a tale about performance, even subtly aging the voices of characters we meet as children and follow into adulthood. A sensational piece of acting and a flawless production. B.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Kline's vibrant, sophisticated language comes alive with the sparkling talents of narrators Jessica Almasy and Suzanne Toren. Their finely paced, enthusiastic portrayals of the charming main characters quickly capture the listener. Molly and Vivian have decades separating their ages, but their lives become intertwined when Molly, a feisty teenager, has to perform community service for a minor offense. The two form a bond strengthened by parallel experiences as Vivian allows Molly into her inner sanctum to complete the required hours. At the novel's center are Vivian's captivating stories of her orphan train experiences. The portraits of Molly's and Vivian's harsh beginnings offer poignant insights into these characters and the foster care systems of the past and present. M.N.T. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Rigid, snobbish A.J. Fikry consoles himself in his island bookstore knowing he has a priceless early Poe and enough wine to obliterate another long night. Scott Brick delivers Fikry’s disdainful attitude in dialogues and laces his inner monologue with sarcasm. But Brick’s dramatization doesn’t render the main character a complete curmudgeon. He gives glimmers of Fikry’s vulnerability, allowing listeners to see his love of literature and know the residual heartache he suffers from having recently lost his wife. Listeners are prepared, then happily surprised, when Fikry adopts a toddler who’s been abandoned in his shop because the mother wants the bright child raised among books. Not only does Brick illuminate plot subtleties, he also honors the author’s passion for books, bookstores, wordplay, and the connections between love and literature. S.W. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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In the fall of 1998, 12-year-old Easter Quilby wasn't sure it was a good idea to sneak out of her foster care home to leave with her wayward father, but she and her little sister went anyway, setting off a chain of events that had far-reaching effects. Jenna Lamia's remarkable performance makes her the star of this ensemble audiobook. Her impeccable North Carolina accent and pitch-perfect expression enliven Easter's mixed emotions, such as distrust colored by yearning and excitement dampened by misgivings. Two men follow Easter's journey, one looking to rescue the girls and one seeking revenge on the father. Erik Bergman's slow, gentle voice is a match for Brady's kindness, while Scott Sowers makes listeners shiver with his rendering of Pruitt, a sociopathic hit man. C.B.L. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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This rambling novel, driven by character rather than plot, reprises the delightfully eccentric Paul Chowder character and showcases Nicholson Baker's talents as both author and narrator. The comfortable conversational style Baker uses is the perfect vehicle for his free-flowing prose in this trip through Chowder's psyche as he turns 55, analyzes his existence, and attempts to set a meaningful path forward. There’s as much humor as angst in Chowder's midlife crisis, and Baker conveys it all with the slightest shifts of intensity and tone. Baker's understated emotional range is effective at delivering both the intimacy of Chowder's inner struggles and his self-deprecating chuckles at his awkward attempts to be cool. This is a stellar example of an author successfully narrating his own work. M.O.B. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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This coming-of-age drama features the gifted narrator Luke Daniels bringing to life Will Baker and a cast of brilliant and strange young people who breathe the rarefied air of Oxford University. Daniels depicts Baker’s struggle to find himself with earnestness and creates empathy in the listener for Will’s complicated history. Listeners will feel like they know these characters as Daniels guides them through their maturation. Characters like Anil and Tom are portrayed with knowing and clarity, and Daniels adds subtle changes to his delivery as the group becomes closer and shares their personal struggles. Daniels is best as the relationship between Will and Sophie plays out to its emotionally satisfying end. R.O. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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If you haven’t listened to Alexander McCall Smith’s wonderfully amusing collection about the neighbors at 44 Scotland Street, you’ll want to get to know them before starting this seventh book in the series. Narrator Robert Ian Mackenzie’s performance is wise, witty, and usually tongue-in-cheek as he recounts the tribulations of Matthew and Elspeth, new parents of triplets; the realizations of engaged couple Angus and Domenica; and Big Lou’s latest romantic entanglement with an Elvis impersonator. Mackenzie is completely convincing when precocious 7-year-old Bertie puts himself up for adoption on eBay, and he’s believable without using cloying children’s voices for Bertie’s school chums, Tofu, Ranald, and Olive. Even Cyril the dog is credible. Mackenzie makes McCall Smith’s humorous stories delightful listening. S.J.H. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Fans of the television series “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” will be delighted to learn of BD Wong's dexterity as a literary narrator. Wong, a longtime supporting cast member on the series, is an excellent choice for this sci-fi novel, set in a bleak America. In a story that is part mystery, part adventure, he keeps the listener engaged in an unfamiliar world through a masterful control of pace and pitch. At times soft, almost tender, in other instances rapid, staccato, borderline loud, Wong capably renders the surreal, isolated future. An excellent pairing of a writer and narrator, this is a volume you’ll want to tell other listeners about. M.R. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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David Pittu is one of those expert narrators who disappear into a story. You don’t hear him interpreting it, or commenting on it; he becomes part of it. His task here is to portray a young Master of the Universe called Jonah whose ambition, selfishness, and willingness to betray should make you want to kick him down the stairs. But Pittu puts you inside Jonah, makes you feel what he feels, and as his life blows up, what he feels is shattering. Jonah’s tale runs parallel to the story of Judith, an equally driven, traumatized, and complex character whom Pittu inhabits just as fully as he does Jonah. You know they’re going to meet, and you have to know what happens. It’s a bravura performance. B.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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This splendid audiobook is a welcome addition to the Downton Abbey/Upstairs, Downstairs school of English narrative. Elizabeth Sastre’s sensitive and skillful performance is remarkable as she moves fluently among the class-revealing voices of the privileged family of the house and the “downstairs” tones of the Yorkshire dales. Set in the period just before WWI, Cooke’s story inevitably shares similarities with others of its ilk but completely holds its own. She is concerned here with the devastating social inequality of the period by which a stained reputation posed terrible dangers for women while men sinned with impunity. Sastre, a wizard with accents, makes the characters who experience this peril—from the mistress of the house to the seduced and abandoned kitchen maid—vivid and human. B.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most distinguished figures in American letters, and her matchless prose is best enjoyed when spoken aloud. The husband-and-wife team of Susan Ericksen and David Colacci are gifted professionals who narrate this novel and embroil us in the tragedy of the Mayfield family, whose younger daughter, the one they call “the smart one,” goes missing. Some of the most memorable portrayals in this stream-of-consciousness story include the older sister’s protestation of love for her wounded and psychologically damaged fiancé, the mother’s shaken voice as she tries to accept her daughter’s disappearance, and the soldier’s haunted tones as he remembers the horrors of his service in Iraq. This is a disturbing yet compelling listening experience, and its narrators show us the complexity of human experience. D.L.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Christian Baskous infuses this short story collection by a much acclaimed writer with vitality that brings its characters to life. The prose is tight and sparse; Baskous's narration gives us much more. His interpretation of Spanish-accented English is realistic, adding to the ambiance, rather than distracting us. He’s excellent at differentiating characters, particularly in the lengthy dialogue exchanges in various scenes. This is a volume that travels around Latin America from story to story, and Baskous is flexible as he brings across the angst of male youth in one story, the boredom of middle age in another. An outstanding book is matched by an equally strong delivery. M.R. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Dubus is an outstanding author, for sure, and here his narrator’s voice shines just as brightly as his literary one. His delivery is direct and lacking all practiced polish, features that are ideal for this raw collection of loosely connected stories. There’s a touch of sorrow, of regret, of disaffection, of distance in his voice—his calm demeanor allows the listener to connect to these intense stories of faithlessness and love gone wrong. There’s even a hollow quietness to the production itself, some subtle audio quality that resonates just as much as the stories themselves. The marriage of author and performer is one relationship—maybe the only one—that works perfectly here—because of the tiny imperfections that make them sound so real. L.B.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Mankell, the prolific Swedish author best known for the Kurt Wallander mysteries, has produced an engaging, well-crafted freestanding novel about a Swedish woman in Portuguese colonial Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century. A TREACHEROUS PARADISE is both a coming-of-age novel and a meditation on race and colonialism in southern Africa. Rosalyn Landor’s wonderfully clear alto voice adds enormously to Mankell’s story. Her occasional renditions of Portuguese and African accents (rendered from the Swedish and translated into English) seem surprisingly authentic. Her deliberate pacing matches the contemplative, almost dreamlike, quality of the story. Mankell knows a lot about modern-day Mozambique and holds strong opinions about its colonial past. F.C. © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Eerily told and prosaically performed, this ghost story recounts what appears to be the simple life of William Bellman and his subsequent rise to fortune. Little does he know that a chance act of childhood cruelty will shift his life into the realm of the macabre. Narrator Jack Davenport superbly captures the ambiance of rural Victorian England, a setting that has echoes of Thomas Hardy's works. Davenport captures life in a textile mill with an admirable ease of expression, pacing, accent, and tone. The plot slips into the gothic when a mysterious stranger appears, altering William's life, and Davenport's performance reflects the shift with a deeper and darker tone. The black rook that weaves throughout the story adds a bleak and haunting presence. A.W. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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You won’t know which to rave about first: Ivy Pochoda’s engrossing look at the citizens of Red Hook, Brooklyn, or Ray Porter’s amazing narration. The story revolves around teenagers Val and June, who decide to go rafting on the bay one summer night. When Val is discovered washed onto the beach, the whole neighborhood is drawn into June’s mysterious disappearance. Porter absolutely astonishes in his portrayal of the teenaged girls. He’s completely convincing as adolescent jealousies and angst emerge. And he’s masterful as locals Fadi, a shopkeeper; Cree, a young, black suspect; RD, a graffiti artist; and Jonathan, a dissolute teacher. Pochoda offers a gritty, hopeful literary thriller. Porter’s performance turns Red Hook into a character and makes each person and ghost tangible. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Words like “riveting” and “compelling” aren’t strong enough to describe this remarkable novel narrated by Mark Bramhall and set in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1942. Bramhall takes listeners into the mind of Lucien Bernard, a French architect who is labeled a collaborator by his countrymen because he builds architecturally beautiful buildings for the Germans, buildings that are turned into factories that create the deadly weapons used against the Allied Forces. When Bernard is offered a great deal of money to design hiding places for wealthy Jews that even the SS will not find, the lure of outsmarting the Nazis is too tempting to refuse, although it will mean certain death if he’s caught. Bramhall’s performance highlights Bernard’s moral dilemma and his ultimate decision. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Baker’s exceptional novel offers an original look at Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and Emma Fielding’s performance is quietly appealing. While the Bennets, the Bingleys, and the Darcys cavort upstairs in well-appointed drawing rooms, Baker opens up the world below stairs. Fielding turns characters into genuine individuals—from housemaids Sarah and Polly to housekeeper Mrs. Hill, the mysterious newly hired servant, James, and the Bingleys’ black footman, Ptolemy. Sarah is the heart of this tale of morning-to-night drudgery, chilblains, sweat, blood, and backaches. She laments, "If Elizabeth had the washing of her own petticoats‚ she'd most likely be a sight more careful with them." Fielding’s fine portrayals offer moments of hope and awakening for the characters and, for listeners, bittersweet awareness of Sarah’s life and the lives of her downstairs family. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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The combination of a prize-winning bestselling novelist and an experienced narrator does not necessarily make for a compelling audio title. Sunil Malhotra, who is often the narrator of choice when it comes to giving voice to the Indian subcontinent, fails to bring the vigor of young boys frolicking in childhood to the listener. Perhaps his understated delivery is intended to reflect the tragedy at the core of the story, but his muted, somber tone becomes monotonous over time. While there’s no technical fault in his precise, deliberate style, the overall effect of his steady pace leaves the listener wishing for any slight change in volume or pace. M.R. © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Between them, author Colm Tóibín and narrator Meryl Streep have created an audio experience worthy of all the popular awards put together. Winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize, THE TESTAMENT OF MARY delivers what the title suggests—the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth as remembered by his mother. Told in the first person, this testament is a fearsome thing, not always what his followers, faithfully writing down her words, want to hear. But tell it she does—she, Mary/Meryl. What a role. Gorgeously, fluidly, evocatively written. Scenes of celebration, miracle, terror, pain, and redemption are vividly conjured as Streep transmutes herself into the famous first-century mother whose son left long before his death. A.C.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award, 2014 Audies Finalist © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Alice Munro has written another extraordinary collection of short stories. Both Kimberly Farr and Arthur Morey lend intuitive pacing to their nuanced performances of these works. The listener becomes steeped in the meaning and beauty of Munro's stories by virtue of the performers' deliberate pacing. They give each one the focus that is essential for the concentrated prose of the short story genre. Further, they convey the sense of profundity that these stories evoke with eloquent and clear deliveries. Some of the stories take place in the author’s home territory of Canada during the period of her childhood. However, the collection's timeless and intimate subjects will resonate with anyone listening to these perilous journeys of life. A.W. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2012, Portland, Maine

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Sam Toperoff’s speculative novel about the affair between writers Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett is thoroughly entertaining, perhaps more than the truth may have been. Hellman and Hammett were legendary figures whose relationship spanned decades and has been the subject of much conjecture. Recounting what was, and what may have been, is not easy, yet the book, in all its juiciness, succeeds in doing so. The audio version is equally impressive, with narrators Mark Bramhall, Lorna Raver, and Bernadette Dunne complementing each other and enriching Toperoff’s engaging dialogue. They succeed by bringing to life the words and personalities of two celebrities who were known almost as much for their personal lives as they were for their writing. D.J.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Gilbert’s triumphant return to fiction is matched by Juliet Stevenson’s lyrical reading. Both author and narrator capture the listener from the novel’s opening words. The captivating story of nineteenth-century naturalist Alma Whitaker is long, and perhaps this led to Stevenson’s inconsistency in vocal characterizations. Regardless, listeners, especially gardeners, will delight in Alma’s discoveries about the natural world and herself. Father Henry’s felonious wealth grants the homely but brilliant protagonist years filled with scientific study and writing. Stevenson traverses the globe and a hefty cast of characters, shining in her depictions of Alma’s Dutch mother and adopted sister. Her melodic voice carries the story along so well that one forgives the discrepancies in characterizations. J.J.B. © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Elle Newlands, Katy Townsend, and Lincoln Hoppe lead an ensemble that delivers a poignant and irresistible epistolary romance. In 1912, at the outset of WWI, Scots poet Elspeth Dunn receives a fan letter from a college student in America, so beginning a correspondence that culminates in an affair. When a bomb hits Elspeth's home in 1940, a trove of letters is unearthed. Elspeth disappears the following day, leaving behind her daughter, Margaret, and one mysterious letter. As Elspeth and Margaret, Newlands and Townsend stand out with their warm Scots accents and ease with Gaelic, while Hoppe's earnest soft voice often betrays a mischievous smile. Listeners will revel in the intimacy of the performances. A perfect fit for audio. A.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Will Patton’s delivery enhances King’s prose in ways that make King’s work so much more enjoyable in audio than just reading it. This sequel to THE SHINING finds Danny Torrence, now middle-aged, returning to confront the inner demons left when his father came close to killing him one winter decades ago at the snowed-in Overlook Hotel. Now, Torrence must not only conquer his own demons but fight to protect another child who also has the shining, a supernatural power. Patton’s narrative voice captures the rhythm of King’s words. His character voices, filled with a variety of regional American accents, remain consistent. Most importantly, the sinister aspects that embody characters and moments of this novel are superbly executed and will certainly leave listeners on edge. L.E. 2014 Audies Finalist © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Earnest, cynical, scathing: With these varied narrative approaches, Bernadette Dunne, Bob Walter, and Robbie Daymond perfectly capture the complexities of Atwood’s last installment in her MaddAddam Trilogy. The first section of the audiobook provides a clear-eyed, nearly (maybe not quite) hopeful view of this postapocalyptic world so as to pull the listener in, regardless of any familiarity with the two previous titles. Subsequent sections dramatize all the horrors of human nature with harsh realism and suspense. All three narrators offer taut performances with grab-you-by-the-throat vocal energy, driving dialogue, and brutal momentum. Together, the three narrators create a dizzying, somewhat impressionistic, portrait of a future that contemporary humankind seems to be preparing itself for. L.B.F. 2014 Audies Finalist © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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This is the rare novel that captivates and intellectually stimulates—while leaving listeners wondering about the characters’ true motivations. The titular Singleton is an admittedly guilty murderer who has never shared her feelings, not even with her lawyers. On death row she faces her victim’s mother, who wants to spare Singleton’s life—but only if she will explain why she committed the murder. While the book is narrated by both Rebecca Lowman and Amanda Carlin, Lowman, as Singleton, carries the heavier load superbly. Lowman’s delivery prompts listeners to feel as though they have entered Singleton’s psyche, while still using just the right inflection to maintain the protective cocoon that makes the story so gripping and Singleton so intriguing. D.J.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Lipman's latest is a wry story of lost loves, money worries, and family dramas filled with memorable characters, tenderness, and humor. Faced with personal crises, two middle-aged sisters decide to share a home and restart their lives. Narrator Mia Barron captures the persona of Gwen with an evenness of tone and delivery that mirrors this middle sister's practical approach to life. Barron's understated tone conveys Gwen's droll analyses of the zaniness that now defines normal life for her, and her softly wistful shading is perfect for the young widow's reveries. Barron demonstrates her range with equally convincing portrayals of the male characters. So grab the sunscreen and pour something tall and cool—Lipman and Barron have just declared the opening of Summer Listening Season. M.O.B. © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Colette Whitaker does a beautiful job with this stunningly accomplished first novel. Set in a tiny Chechen village during the wars, the story deals with human beings under the worst kinds of pressure life or art can devise, and looks at them straight on, with sympathy and depth and mercy. Whitaker must deal with Russian and Chechen accents; voices of men, women, and children; and characters that seem at first to be irredeemable but whose humanity is never in doubt. Again and again in this remarkable work you think you know what has happened and what it means, only to have it go wider and deeper. Whitaker’s voice is lovely, and her command of her craft is deft and sure. You won’t soon forget it. B.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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This behind-the-scenes chronicle of the wives of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts is a poignant story about relationships and the effects of celebrity. Narrator Orlagh Cassidy’s appealing tone recounts the history of the U.S. space program while capturing the difficulties of the “astro-wives,” who were portrayed by NASA as perfectly poised and supportive no matter the situation or the intrusiveness of the press. Rendering the many scenes of the women interacting, Cassidy skillfully reveals their complex relationships. Her straightforward delivery depicts the isolation the wives experienced due to their husbands’ absence—despite their connectedness with one another. This work offers a real-life depiction of a community of women that is light-years ahead of reality television. K.C.R. © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Xe Sands has a talent for capturing the essence of the characters in Leavitt's story of tightly held secrets, betrayal, and reconciliation. In 1956, Lewis befriends other fatherless youths on his suburban Boston block, but when 12-year-old Jimmy disappears, Lewis and his mother, Ava, find themselves ostracized for petty and unfounded reasons. Sands’s performance subtly evokes the varied personalities of adolescent boys, the wistful longing of a youthful divorcée, the lazy drawl of a jazz musician, the anxiety of frantic parents, and the judgmental overtones of nosy neighbors. Leavitt's lyrical prose weaves backstory into present time seamlessly. The mystery of the missing child is resolved a decade later in a way that touches each of the damaged lives with startling consequences. A.W. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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In this absorbing version of the marriage story, Sneha Mathan gives a performance so flawless as to be invisible. The listener is drawn into the drama and held there, getting to know the characters, recognizing them as if they were people you would know again anywhere, with never a snag or rip in the illusion to remind you that it is one. As a backdrop Chitra Divakaruni has given us a cross-section of Kolkata society from top to bottom with all its social, religious, and class tensions, while in the foreground she tells a rich tale of young lovers in a rapidly changing society facing conflicts caused by politics, prejudice, betrayal, family secrets, a quest, and even fallout from 9/11. Mathan’s acting is thrillingly good. B.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Cassandra Campbell superbly portrays Nora Eldridge’s life of quiet desperation. Teacher, spinster, and dutiful daughter of an ailing father, Nora has the soul of an artist, but her existence has little personal meaning. Her late mother’s voice and frustrations also echo in her heart. When Nora meets the Shahid family, she becomes enchanted with them: her charming student, Reza, who is confronted by bullies in the schoolyard; his artist mother, Sirena, who becomes Nora’s studio partner and then outgrows their relationship; and his father, Skandar, a Harvard professor who embarks on long walks, and more, with Nora. Campbell portrays the Shahids with mesmerizing personalities and varied accents. Campbell’s performance shares the author’s passion for these characters and their intimate story. D.P.D. © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Cartomancy is divination using regular playing cards in a game called the Octavo. This and the language and geometry of fans, as well as several other arcane practices, form the intriguing premise of Karen Englemann’s engrossing debut novel. Mrs. Sparrow, mistress of a gaming establishment in late-eighteenth-century Sweden, predicts a golden future for minor customs official Emil Larsson. Simon Vance does everything right as Emil meets the human embodiments of the eight cards that are destined to assist him. With characters as diverse as King Gustav, a French fan-maker, and the scheming Uzanne, Vance never misses a step. His descriptions of several luscious young women, and of one particular fan thought to contain magical powers, are a marvel of nuance and subtlety. A delicious pairing of narrator and material. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Beware of listening to this production in public because you’ll laugh and gasp, and probably talk back to the characters, and thus unnerve those nearby. Otherwise, I recommend abandoning yourself to the pleasures of Frances McDormand reading the third of Armistead Maupin’s novels about the naughty, touching, funny, and occasionally bizarre lives of the inhabitants of Barbary Lane, San Francisco, circa 1981. Whether she’s voicing Michael frolicking with the Gay Men’s Rodeo, Mrs. Madrigal rolling a joint, or society columnist Prue falling for a mysterious derelict in Golden Gate Park, McDormand’s nuanced characterizations and perceptive timing are spot-on—and her delight in the book is itself delightful. Originally written as a newspaper serial, this is social commentary plus outrageous gossip. Yum. A.C.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Narrator Heather Bolton seizes hold of Maurice Gee’s terrific character, the elderly Rowan. She is married to a former athlete; they live in suburban New Zealand, not far from her two brothers, who are now inhabiting the home they all grew up in on Access Road. Rowan’s observations of the world, both as a young woman and in the present, are subtly amusing. Bolton is a master of pace, fully rendering Rowan’s simultaneous worldliness and naïveté. With an effective note of wonder, she creates both a sense of place and the innocence of childhood. But there’s darkness to the siblings’ world, too, as Lionel, inexplicably bedridden and noncommunicative, hints at a past he won’t talk about. When a childhood friend and general menace returns, the mysteries are solved. A.B. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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This simply titled novel follows the complex journey of a young woman’s growth, trials, and redemption. Allende’s skill lies in telling a story that is simultaneously accessible and thought provoking. The listener is drawn in by a compelling tale and held there by poetic language. Narrator Maria Cabezas has a youthful voice that can nearly break hearts with its blend of innocence and experience. Her performance as Maya is perfectly believable. Essentially abandoned by her parents and devastated by the death of her beloved grandfather, Maya must find her way back from the ravages of self-destructive behaviors and move ahead with life. Cabezas makes us root for Maya, no matter her choices; in the end, we want only the best for her. L.B.F. © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Dan Brown is back with another Robert Langdon thriller. This time the Harvard professor and art history expert is in Florence. Not only is he on the run, but he can’t remember anything about why he’s there. Turns out it’s to save the world; he just doesn’t know it yet. Paul Michael’s narration works well for the slightly deep-voiced Langdon and the doctor who’s with him, Sienna Brooks. Michael shines with the voices of the minor characters as well, especially that of a mysterious man who goes only by “the Provost.” The best part of the narration is Michael’s Italian—beautifully pronounced and lending authenticity to the characters and setting. Brown and Langdon fans, as well as art history lovers, will enjoy this well-paced story. M.B. © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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The story of a Western family ranges from the mid-1800s to the present day and is told through three alternating voices of McCulloughs. Philipp Meyer’s wonderful novel employs beautiful turns of phrase, imaginative imagery, and vivid scenes. It’s all matched by the quality narration of a full cast. Will Patton’s grizzled voice is perfect for Eli, who becomes a man at a young age. Kate Mulgrew’s deep-voiced twang gives great-granddaughter J.A. the vocal personality her independence deserves. And Scott Shepherd’s slightly shaky and tired voice is perfect for Peter, Eli’s son, who details his perspective through the pages of his diary. Meyer’s story recounts more than 150 years, covering rough and rocky ground, which is smoothed out by attentive narrators. M.B. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award, 2014 Audies Finalist © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Edoardo Ballerini’s performance of this exhilarating novel may be a personal best for him, and that’s saying a lot. The text is an unreliable narrative by an unnamed writer who is either telling you his own story or letting you read his fictions; you rarely know which for sure, and you sometimes can’t tell if he knows himself. The relationships of fiction to lying and to truth are obviously the subject here. So are young love, artistic rivalry, friendship, literary homage, fame, and the process of writing. Hardest to describe is how utterly satisfying, in the most old-fashioned way, these bravura-pleated stories-within-stories are, and how smoothly Ballerini inhabits Jansma’s continuously transforming characters. Surely this entrancing book and impeccable production will rank among the year’s best. B.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Cassandra Campbell’s narration is magical. She completely disappears into this novel about a young pregnant woman, Eleanor Amore, who seeks refuge in the home of her estranged grandmother and two aunts, who are all “witches”—able to see the future and cast spells. Campbell transforms Eleanor from a shy, abused girl with severe, magically caused memory loss into a secure woman who remembers everything—including the powerful secrets of the Amore family. Campbell easily handles the many time shifts as the Amore sisters and Eleanor take turns telling their stories in the past and present. Campbell makes each character’s voice unique while capturing the mystical atmosphere of witchcraft, ghosts, and old secrets. M.M.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Salter is after nothing less than all that goes into the life of a mid-century American man, his surprises, successes and failures, friendships, loves and losses (and one shocking act of revenge). It’s a breathtaking achievement, quietly riveting, and this production is completely worthy of the novel. Joe Barrett is perfectly cast, with the warm, slightly graveled voice of a man who, like Salter’s Philip Bowman, has been around the block a few times. His performance is flawless, attentive, skillful, free of mispronunciations, questionable acting choices, or anything else that might take you out of the story. The production is equally polished, with no bad edits or level shifts to remind you that you’re listening to an actor in a sound booth. Pure listening pleasure. B.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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In 1952, a poor Afghan villager makes the heart-wrenching decision to sell his young daughter to a childless upper-class couple in Kabul, setting off ripples that will affect both families for almost 60 years. Author Hosseini and Iranian-born actors Navid Negahban and Shohreh Aghdashloo alternately narrate this novel, which switches among characters in its point of view. Aghdashloo reads the chapters written from a female perspective. All three performances are emotionally strong and expressive, although they lack some polish. However, the easy-to-understand accents, correct pronunciations, and good characterizations keep listeners fully grounded in this story of family and hidden truths. Because the chapters are not chronological, inattentive listeners may be momentarily confused, but the solid readings and beautifully crafted text quickly cue them to time and place. C.B.L. © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Xe Sands’s narration reflects the sense of foreboding and guilt that permeate the life of this novel’s main character, Susan. A new widow, whose husband discovered her infidelity shortly before he was murdered, Susan finds her life changes dramatically when she inherits a mansion from her uncle. There she experiences a strange feeling of belonging amid the myriad hunting trophies of every conceivable animal peering from the house’s many nooks and crannies. Sands presents a complex character whose complaints are balanced by a quirky sense of humor and musings on the meaning of life. Sands’s narration is nuanced, entertaining, and thoughtful as Susan emerges from her self-absorption and takes on the role of conservator of the house and its inhabitants. J.E.M. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2012, Portland, Maine

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There's something so appealing about books with a whole cast of main characters. It's as if the listener has the chance to identify with not just one character but with a community. In this engrossing audiobook, Meg Wolitzer and Jen Tullock join forces to create three-dimensional characters whose friendship spans the period between their teenage years at an artsy summer camp and their midlife years in and around New York City. Tullock's gift is her ability to capture conversations without overdramatizing the inflections or the voices. Her pacing is superb, and her tone lends a contemporary feel to this contemporary novel. Beautifully written and performed, this audiobook will appeal to lovers of literary fiction as well as those interested in hearing the stories of kindred spirits. L.B.F. Winner of AudioFile Magazine Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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As the sole voice for a veritable smorgasbord of characters, time periods and plotlines, Edoardo Ballerini works magic with this audio production. Whether capturing the heartache of an Italian innkeeper or the frustration of a Hollywood production assistant, Ballerini lends just the right inflection and tone to some outstanding dialogue from Walter. There doesn’t seem to be an accent Ballerini can’t pinpoint or a fictional person he can’t animate. As the action shifts from the 1960s to the present day and back again, from actual plotted events to in-text novels or movie pitches, Ballerini does not once falter in his faithfulness to the overall story, one that wrestles with the essentials of dreams, love, and life. L.B.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award, 2013 Audies Winner © AudioFile 2012, Portland, Maine

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Ayana Mathis has written an amazing saga of one woman, her tortuous trials and seemingly endless tribulations, and the resiliency with which she faces life. Adenrele Ojo, Bahni Turpin, and Adam Lazarre-White infuse every ounce of life possible into the enormous cast of characters. Their voices shimmer with rage, sizzle with sex, and darken with despair as almost every possible misfortune unfolds to Hattie and her nine children. An Oprah’s Book Club pick, the novel captures the endless travails and tragedies Hattie experiences, but much more than the story of one woman’s family, it is an engrossing, heartbreaking, clear-eyed exploration of the hardships faced by the Southern African-Americans who went North at the beginning of the twentieth century, hoping for a better life. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Michael Chabon's new novel is one of the most anticipated titles of the fall season, and this superb production rewards all expectations. Set in 2004 in an interracial neighborhood in Oakland, California, the story is a narrative of voices, generations, genders, and the ambience of a particular place. Clarke Peters, best known for his performance in "The Wire," evokes the spirit and sensibility of the place as well its many diverse characters. Chabon is one of the few white writers who has a convincing ear for ethnic dialogue. He and Peters perform a magic that is something far more than mimicry. D.A.W. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2012, Portland, Maine

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