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Best Audiobooks of 2008

In this issue, AudioFile celebrates the best audiobooks and best voices of the past year. These are the books that everyone was talking about, the “must-listens” that we recommended to our friends, the performances that moved and transported us, the audiobooks that encouraged us to stay on the treadmill for an extra ten minutes and demanded that we sit in the driveway until the chapter was done. You’ll find here dozens of audiobooks--in fiction and biography, mystery and young adult, fantasy and classics--and the world-class narrators who translate the printed word into extraordinary audio experiences.


AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - FICTION & CLASSICS

THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN Garth Stein
Read by Christopher Evan Welch (Harper Audio/Recorded Books)
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THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows
Read by Paul Boehmer, Susan Duerden, Rosalyn Landor, John Lee, Juliet Mills (Random House Audio/Books on Tape)
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HOME Marilynne Robinson
Read by Maggi-Meg Reed (Macmillan Audio/BBC Audiobooks America)
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MOTHERS AND SONS Colm Toibin
Read by Gerard Doyle (Blackstone Audiobooks)
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ON THE ROAD Jack Kerouac
Read by Will Patton (Penguin Audio/Books on Tape)
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OUT STEALING HORSES Per Petterson, Anne Born [Trans.]
Read by Richard Poe (Recorded Books)
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OWLS DO CRY Janet Frame
Read by Heather Bolton (Bolinda Audio)
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THE PLAGUE OF DOVES Louise Erdrich
Read by Peter Francis James, Kathleen McInerney
(Harper Audio/Recorded Books)
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THE RESURRECTIONIST Jack O’Connell
Read by Holter Graham (HighBridge Audio)
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THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE David Wroblewski
Read by Richard Poe (Recorded Books)
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WHITE FANG/THE CALL OF THE WILD Jack London
Read by John Lee (Blackstone Audiobooks)
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THE WHITE TIGER Aravind Adiga
Read by John Lee (Tantor Media)
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WINTER’S TALE Mark Helprin
Read by Oliver Wyman (BBC Audiobooks America)
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A debut novel, THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE, had a banner year, topping bestseller lists and charming Oprah. The nearly 22-hour audio version is a fine way to experience it, thanks to Richard Poe’s expert narration. Length is not the only challenge to a voice actor--as our review notes, “The point of view jumps from man to dog to baby, and Poe alters his tone tellingly at each transition.” We’re looking forward to hearing what’s next from author David Wroblewski.
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AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - CHILDREN & FAMILY
LISTENING
AGES 4-8

THE CRICKET IN TIMES SQUARE George Selden
Read by Tony Shalhoub (Macmillan Audio)
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DIARY OF A FLY Doreen Cronin
Read by Harry Bliss (Live Oak Media)
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DO UNTO OTTERS Laurie Keller
Read by Jack Sundrud and a Full Cast (Weston Woods)
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GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! Laura Amy Schlitz
Read by Christina Moore and a Full Cast (Recorded Books)
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I’M DIRTY Kate & Jim McMullan
Read by Steve Buscemi (Weston Woods)
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Ages 8+

BROOKLYN BRIDGE Karen Hesse
Read by Fred Berman (Macmillan Audio)
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ELIJAH OF BUXTON Christopher Paul Curtis
Read by Mirron Willis (Listening Library)
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IGRAINE THE BRAVE Cornelia Funke
Read by Xanthe Elbrick (Listening Library)
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KING FOR KIDS Martin Luther King, Jr.
Read by Martin Luther King, Jr. (Hachette Audio)
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MELTING STONES Tamora Pierce
Read by Grace Kelly and a Full Cast (Full Cast Audio)
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THE SHOE BIRD Samuel Jones, Eudora Welty
Read by Jim Dale and the Seattle Symphony (Brilliance Audio)
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THE UNDERNEATH Kathi Appelt
Read by Gabra Zackman (Simon & Schuster Audio)
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Laurie Keller’s picture book read-alongs (ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT, OPEN WIDE: TOOTH SCHOOL INSIDE) are delights, with her signature funny asides and charming illustrations. In this year’s cheery DO UNTO OTTERS, she offers gentle instruction to young listeners about manners and the golden rule. A high-energy, full-cast narration, including songs sung by narrator Jack Sundrud, brings to life the otter and rabbit characters, keeping the whole family engaged, and, most importantly, making sure that the message is always fun.
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Kathi Appelt’s first novel, THE UNDERNEATH, offers animal characters older listeners will care about: an abused hound dog and a calico cat and her kittens who shelter underneath a porch. The novel was a National Book Award Finalist, and the narration helps make the magic of the story, which also follows the tale of a snake imprisoned in a jar a thousand years ago, real: “It is a ballad whose music is heard in Gabra Zackman’s perfect cadence.” 
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AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - MYSTERY & SUSPENSE

ATOMIC LOBSTER Tim Dorsey
Read by Oliver Wyman (Harper Audio/Recorded Books)

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DUMA KEY Stephen King
Read by John Slattery (Simon & Schuster Audio/Recorded Books)

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FEARLESS FOURTEEN Janet Evanovich
Read by Lorelei King (Macmillan Audio/BBC Audiobooks America)

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THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO Stieg Larsson
Read by Simon Vance (Books on Tape)

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AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE Jacqueline Winspear
Read by Orlagh Cassidy (Macmillan Audio/BBC Audiobooks America)

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LUSH LIFE Richard Price
Read by Bobby Cannavale (Macmillan Audio/BBC Audiobooks America)

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THE MIRACLE AT SPEEDY MOTORS Alexander McCall Smith
Read by Lisette Lecat (Recorded Books)

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NOTHING TO LOSE Lee Child
Read by Dick Hill (Random House Audio/Books on Tape)

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SWAN PEAK James Lee Burke
Read by Will Patton (Simon & Schuster Audio/Recorded Books)

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A narrator can’t ask for more than to have an author rave about his work, and that’s just the case with author Lee Child and narrator Dick Hill. “Dick is my undisputed favorite narrator,” Child says. “He inhabits the character so well. This guy is Jack Reacher. I’ve met Dick a couple of times. We sign CDs together, author and voice. He’s a great guy. Very modest and unassuming, given his talent.” Dick has narrated all of the U.S. versions of Lee Child’s books, and AUDIOFILE’s review of NOTHING TO LOSE demonstrates why they’re such a dynamic team and why their styles work so well together. “It only takes a few minutes to appreciate the effectiveness of Hill’s performance, which quickly draws the listener into Child’s gripping story. Reacher is an intriguing mix of brawn, brains, and bravado whose personality is enhanced by Hill’s presentation.”
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AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - NONFICTION & CULTURE

THE AGE OF TURBULENCE Alan Greenspan
Read by Robertson Dean (Penguin Audio)

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ALPHABET JUICE Roy Blount Jr.
Read by Roy Blount Jr. (Macmillan Audio)

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THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE William Strunk, E.B. White
Read by Frank McCourt (Recorded Books)

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GIVING Bill Clinton
Read by Bill Clinton (Random House Audio/Books on Tape)

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HOT, FLAT, AND CROWDED Thomas L. Friedman
Read by Oliver Wyman (Macmillan Audio/BBC Audiobooks America)

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IN DEFENSE OF FOOD Michael Pollan
Read by Scott Brick (Penguin Audio)

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LISTENING IS AN ACT OF LOVE Dave Isay [Ed.]
Read by Dave Isay and StoryCorps Participants (Penguin Audio)

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THE POETS’ CORNER John Lithgow [Ed.]
Read by John Lithgow, Ellen Atkins, et al. (Hachette Audio)

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TRAFFIC Tom Vanderbilt
Read by David Slavin (Random House Audio)

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THE WAR WITHIN Bob Woodward
Read by Boyd Gaines (Simon & Schuster Audio)

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THE WAY OF THE WORLD Ron Suskind
Read by Alan Sklar (Harper Audio/Recorded Books)

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Michael Pollan might just be changing the way Americans eat. Between his blockbuster OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA and this year’s IN DEFENSE OF FOOD, he’s encouraged us to question where our food comes from, what it’s made out of, and whether we really want to be putting it into our bodies. He covers a lot of complicated topics in his books, but Scott Brick’s narration helps make it all accessible. “Pollan’s denunciation of ‘the ideology of nutritionism,’ packed with studies, names, theories, and suppositions, is food for two or three listenings,” AudioFile’s review says. “Brick carries this manifesto against nutrition science and food manufacturers with the voice of indictment--unflinching, unflagging, and fired by conviction.” It’s can’t-miss listening.
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If food is an intrinsic part of our lives, so, unfortunately, is traffic. Subtitled “Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us),” TRAFFIC delves into our ever-longer commutes. It might, therefore, be the perfect in-car companion, as our review reveals: "Listening to this book while in traffic creates the ultimate ‘news you can you use’ experience."
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AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - BIOGRAPHY & HISTORY

BROTHER, I’M DYING Edwidge Danticat
Read by Robin Miles (Recorded Books)

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CALL ME TED Ted Turner, Bill Burke
Read by Ted Turner et al. (Hachette Audio)

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THE ESSENTIAL BARACK OBAMA Barack Obama
Read by Barack Obama (Random House Audio)

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THE LAST CAMPAIGN Thurston Clarke
Read by Peter Larkin (HighBridge Audio)

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LIFE BEYOND MEASURE Sidney Poitier
Read by Sidney Poitier (Harper Audio/Books on Tape)

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THE SNOWBALL Alice Shroeder
Read by Kirsten Potter (Books on Tape)

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THE SUM OF OUR DAYS Isabel Allende UN
Read by Blair Brown (Harper Audio)

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TOUCH AND GO Studs Terkel UN
Read by Norman Dietz (Tantor Media)

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THE ESSENTIAL BARACK OBAMAcombines abridged recordings of President-Elect Obama’s two books: DREAMS FROM MY FATHER and THE AUDACITY OF HOPE, both read by the author. Both recordings also garnered spoken word Grammy Awards. In spite of the title, DREAMS FROM MY FATHER is not about his father’s life, but about Obama’s, and, as our review says, “he brings that home with an intimate tone rather than that of his public speeches.” Of THE AUDACITY OF HOPE, AUDIOFILE's review says: “Barack Obama smoothly blends personal memoir with clear, bold statements on his political views. His delivery is exceptionally polished, and a strong sense of his character comes through.” Think of this audiobook as a chance for extra insight into a very public figure.
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AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - AUTHOR-READ

THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN
Sherman Alexie
Read by Sherman Alexie (Recorded Books)

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THE GRAVEYARD BOOK Neil Gaiman
Read by Neil Gaiman (Harper Audio/Recorded Books)

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IODINE Haven Kimmel
Read by Haven Kimmel (BBC Audiobooks America)

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A MERCY Toni Morrison
Read by Toni Morrison (Random House Audio/Books on Tape)

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THE PRINCE OF FROGTOWN Rick Bragg
Read by Rick Bragg (Random House Audio/Books on Tape)

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THEN Morris Gleitzman
Read by Morris Gleitzman (Bolinda Audio)

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WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES David Sedaris
Read by David Sedaris (Hachette Audio)

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A WOLF AT THE TABLE Augusten Burroughs
Read by Augusten Burroughs (Macmillan Audio/BBC Audiobooks America)

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“One senses the book flowing through his voice and his pen,” our review of STARDUST asserts about Neil Gaiman’s narration. From the magical to the funny to the downright creepy, count on Gaiman to set the right tone. “Every character, no matter how brief his or her appearance, receives impeccable attention vocally and textually,” says our review of FRAGILE THINGS. This year’sTHE GRAVEYARD BOOK is a tour de force for younger listeners and fantasy fans: “He’s a great writer who not only reads his own work well, but makes the listener reject any thought of having another narrator in his stead. Gaiman communicates his understanding of his own stories and characters from beginning to end.”
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Author Toni Morrison garners rave reviews for her narrations, whether in person or on audio. “When I read in public, I never vary from the rhythm or the accent or the emphasis,” she says. “I worked very hard in the writing to make the work have a presence that was quiet on the page, but at the same time to have an oral quality. I leave certain things out and shape the sentences for sound, as well as meaning.” She has performed unabridged versions of SULA, PARADISE, BELOVED, LOVE, and now this year’s A MERCY, all to great acclaim. “She honors each sound,” we write of her lush, luxurious style, “and expresses each image vividly.” Her prose merits nothing less.
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Australian author Morris Gleitzman narrates his own audiobooks for children with skill and empathy, including this year’s THEN, the sequel to his Audie Award finalist, ONCE. How does he believably embody the voice of a 10-year-old? “When I write,” he says, “I try to stay in touch with the internal world of the main character. That sort of emotional journey through the book helps me with my narration. Even though I don’t have many learned techniques of performance, staying connected to those emotions helps me read the story in the right way.”
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AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - YOUNG ADULT
AIRMAN Eoin Colfer
Read by John Keating (Listening Library)

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THE COMPOUND S.A. Bodeen
Read by Christopher Lane (Brilliance Audio)

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GOLD DUST Geraldine McCaughrean
Read by Laurel Lefkow (BBC Audiobooks America)

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NATION Terry Pratchett
Read by Stephen Briggs (Harper Audio)

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OCTAVIAN NOTHING: THE KINGDOM ON THE WAVES M.T. Anderson
Read by Peter Francis James (Listening Library)

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ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE NORTH Philip Pullman
Read by Philip Pullman and a Full Cast (Listening Library)

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PAPER TOWNS John Green
Read by Dan John Miller (Brilliance Audio)

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PLAYING WITH FIRE Derek Landy
Read by Rupert Degas (Harper Audio)

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SEEING REDD Frank Beddor
Read by Gerard Doyle (Scholastic Audiobooks)

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Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs make a clever, deft team, something the author is the first one to point out. “Stephen acts the novels. Discworld books are very dialogue driven, and pace change and tonal change are very important. It's a performance.” Having adapted 14 novels for the stage and collaborated with Pratchett on a number of Discworld maps, lists, and compendiums, Briggs has an encyclopedic familiarity with the material that few narrators can match, says Pratchett, who now and again calls Briggs when he can't remember which character did what in which novel.” That same dedication is apparent in Pratchett’s YA novels, like this year’s NATION, a coming-of-age story. “Briggs adopts a tone of fun without resorting to outrageous hilarity and thus preserves the satire, and the overall sweetness, of the story.”
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AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
ACACIA David Anthony Durham
Read by Dick Hill (Tantor Media)

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ACHERON Sherrilyn Kenyon
Read by Holter Graham (Macmillan Audio/BBC Audiobooks America)

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BRISINGR Christopher Paolini
Read by Gerard Doyle (Listening Library)

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52 Greg Cox, DC Comics
Read by Richard Rohan and a Full Cast (GraphicAudio)

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SELECTIONS FROM DREAMSONGS George R.R. Martin
Read by Claudia Black, Mark Bramhall, et al. (Random House Audio/Books on Tape)

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SWEENEY TODD AND THE STRING OF PEARLSYuri Rasovsky
Read by a Full Cast (Blackstone Audiobooks)

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VICTORY OF EAGLES Naomi Novik
Read by Simon Vance (Random House Audio/Books on Tape)

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THE WAR OF THE WORLDS H.G. Wells, Susan Sallis
Read by Martin Jarvis and a Full Cast (BBC Audiobooks America)

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ACACIA is an epic fantasy, full of the kind of cultural detail and world building author David Anthony Durham honed writing historical fiction such as GABRIEL'S STORY and PRIDE OF CARTHAGE. Golden Voice Dick Hill’s ability to make characters memorable and his eagerness to “play all the parts” serves this long novel well. “Hill turns in a magnificent performance, creating subtle yet distinct differences in the dialects of different peoples. The fluidity with which he is able to switch between these dialects is striking, and a perfectly timed sigh or pause further heightens the believability of the characters.” Start listening now, and get in on the ground floor of what should be an engrossing new series.
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If it’s possible to create comic books for the ears, GraphicAudio has done it. We call their 52 (available in two parts) “a wonderfully rich and layered recording” and “a sheer delight to be enjoyed over and over by comic book fans and other listeners searching for an escape.” Richard Rohan, who is also an audio producer and director at The Cutting Corporation, which produces audios for others as well as for its own imprint, GraphicAudio, handles the duties of the bridging narration. Cutting executive Anji Cornette calls his voice work “high impact.” A cast of 25 actors embodies the larger-than-life comic book heroes. Wonder Woman, Superman, Booster Gold, and more are as fully-imagined on audio as their brightly-illustrated counterparts are on the page. The soundscape is completed with sound effects and a dramatic musical score. It’s a superhero movie in your mind.
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AnchorUN = Unabridged   AB = Abridged   AUD = Audio program
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