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Best Audiobooks of 2009

These are the titles that got the buzz (and deserved it), the favorites we couldn’t stop listening to and talking about--and passed along to friend after friend.

These audiobooks and performances showcase our best listening this year. We hope you discover some unexpected audio treasures to expand your own listening.




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AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - FICTION & CLASSICS

CUTTING FOR STONE Abraham Verghese
Read by Sunil Malhotra (Random House Audio/ Books on Tape)
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THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG Muriel Barbery, Alison Anderson [Trans.]
Read by Barbara Rosenblat, Cassandra Morris (HighBridge Audio)
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HEAVY WEATHER P.G. Wodehouse
Read by Martin Jarvis (CSA Word)
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THE HELP Kathryn Stockett
Read by Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, Jenna Lamia, Cassandra Campbell (Penguin Audio/ Books on Tape)
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LARK AND TERMITE Jayne Anne Phillips
Read by James Yaegashi, Cynthia Darlow, Kate Forbes (Recorded Books)
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LITTLE BEE Chris Cleave
Read by Anne Flosnik (Tantor Media)
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THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING T.H. White
Read by Neville Jason (Naxos AudioBooks)
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THE PIANO TEACHER Janice Y.K. Lee
Read by Orlagh Cassidy (Penguin Audio/ Blackstone Audiobooks)
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RABBIT IS RICH John Updike
Read by Arthur Morey (Books on Tape)
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THE ROAD HOME Rose Tremain
Read by Juliet Stevenson (Naxos AudioBooks)
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SHANGHAI GIRLS Lisa See
Read by Janet Song (Random House Audio/ Books on Tape)
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SOUTH OF BROAD Pat Conroy
Read by Mark Deakins (Random House Audio/ Books on Tape)
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STONE'S FALL 
Iain Pears
Read by Roy Dotrice, John Lee, Simon Vance (Random House Audio/ Books on Tape)
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SUMMER LIGHTNING 
P.G. Wodehouse
Read by Martin Jarvis (CSA Word)
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THAT OLD CAPE MAGIC 
Richard Russo
Read by Arthur Morey (Random House Audio/ Books on Tape)
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AnchorTHE HELP was one of the audiobooks our editors personally recommended the most this year. The audio format adds a unique dimension to the text: “Audio is the way to be inside this story. The casting of the three voices of Stockett’s debut novel is astute. Listeners are swept up in the story--shocked and reminded by the times; inspired and proud of these women.”
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AnchorA storyteller like John Updike requires the right narrator to lift his prose off the page--happily, our review reports that RABBIT IS RICH is “as captivating in audio as in print. Arthur Morey’s performance is an ideal complement to Updike’s brilliantly drawn characters and rich prose.” Morey also narrates RABBIT AT REST: “Morey’s nuanced reading makes Rabbit real--vulnerable yet hopeful.” A fitting audio legacy.
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AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - CHILDREN & FAMILY
LISTENING
AGES 4-8

A COLLECTION OF RUDYARD KIPLING'S JUST SO STORIES Rudyard Kipling
Read by Jim Weiss (Greathall Productions)
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DON'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS Mo Willems
Read by Mo Willems, Jon Scieszka (Weston Woods)
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HENRY'S FREEDOM BOX Ellen Levine
Read by Jerry Dixon (Weston Woods)
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MARCH ON! Christine King Farris
Read by Lynn Whitfield (Weston Woods)
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RETURN TO THE HUNDRED ACRE WOOD David Benedictus
Read by Jim Dale (Penguin Audio)
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TIKKI TIKKI TEMBO
 Arlene Mosel
Read by Marcia Gay Harden (Macmillan Audio/BBC Audiobooks America)
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Ages 8+

DEAR AMERICA: MY SECRET WAR Mary Pope Osborne
Read by Barbara Rosenblat, Claire Slemmer (Live Oak Media)
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THE ENTERTAINER AND THE DYBBUK
 Sid Fleischman
Read by Banna Rubinow and The Full Cast Family (Full Cast Audio)
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LUCKY BREAKS
 Susan Patron
Read by Cassandra Campbell (Listening Library/ Listening Library)
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THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ
 L. Frank Baum
Read by Liza Ross (Naxos AudioBooks)
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NELSON MANDELA'S FAVORITE AFRICAN FOLKTALES
 Nelson Mandela [Ed.]
Read by Don Cheadle, CCH Pounder, et al. (Hachette Audio)
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UNCLE MONTAGUE'S TALES OF TERROR
 Chris Priestley
Read by Bill Wallis (BBC Audiobooks America)
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AnchorDirector Alfre Woodard shared with us about NELSON MANDELA'S FAVORITE AFRICAN FOLKTALES: “We wanted it to be a full experience for the listener—not only does it lift you up--starting with a blessing, and then having this really great music--but you feel like you’ve traveled with these stories, not only back in time, but across cultures.” A cast of celebrity readers, a wonderful collection of stories, and lively music come together to create special listening for the whole family.
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Anchor“Move over, Edgar Allan Poe, Lemony Snicket, and even Neil Gaiman--let Chris Priestley sit in the inner circle of storytellers of spine-tingling tales.” Our review is full of high praise for Priestley, already a favorite in England, and hisUNCLE MONTAGUE'S TALES OF TERROR: “Bill Wallis’s brilliant performance brings this work to American listeners with enduring shivers, and brave listeners young and old will fully appreciate this listening treasure.”
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AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - MYSTERY & SUSPENSE

BLACK MASK AUDIO MAGAZINE, VOL. 1 Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Earl Stanley Gardner, et al.
Read by Richard Ferrone, Richard Allen, et al. (Blackstone Audiobooks)
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CALL FOR THE DEAD John le Carré
Read by Simon Russell Beale and a Full Cast (BBC Audiobooks America/ BBC Radio)
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EYE OF THE CRICKET James Sallis
Read by G. Valmont Thomas (Blackstone Audiobooks)
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THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE Stieg Larsson
Read by Simon Vance (Random House Audio/ Books on Tape)
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GHOST OF A FLEA James Sallis
Read by G. Valmont Thomas (Blackstone Audiobooks)
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THE IRON DUKE L. Ron Hubbard
Read by Michael Yurchak and a Full Cast (Galaxy Press)
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THE LANGUAGE OF BEES Laurie R. King
Read by Jenny Sterlin (Recorded Books)
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THE MALTESE FALCON Dashiell Hammett
Read by Michael Madsen, Sandra Oh, Edward Herrmann, and a Full Cast (Blackstone Audiobooks)
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ROSA Jonathan Rabb
Read by Simon Prebble (Tantor Media)
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VANISHED Joseph Finder
Read by Holter Graham (Macmillan Audio/ BBC Audiobooks America)
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WICKED PREY John Sandford
Read by Richard Ferrone (Penguin Audio/ Recorded Books)
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AnchorL. Ron Hubbard’s pulp mysteries have found entertaining new life as dramatized audio productions. In these “Stories from the Golden Age,” full casts, sound effects, and original musical scores transport listeners to 1930s Europe, or pre-WWII China, or an Alaskan fishing boat. In THE IRON DUKE, “Blacky Lee, an American arms dealer who is in too deep with the Nazi regime, discovers that he’s the spitting image of a wealthy prince in Aldoria, and he wastes no time in departing to wreak havoc on the kingdom. A variety of talented narrators, including Michael Yurchak, R.F. Daley, Richard Rocco, Lori Jablons, and Jim Meskimen, create a remarkable theatrical atmosphere.”
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AnchorTHE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE is the sequel to Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, which was one of AudioFile’s Best Audiobooks of 2008. Simon Vance reunites listeners with Lisbeth Salander, asocial genius and hacker, and Mikael Blomkvist, publisher of a national newsmagazine. FIRE is a suspense tour de force on audio, one our review cautions won’t be easy to put down: “Fair warning: Once begun, you will not be able to stop listening to this audiobook. Vance’s reading of the breathless plot is faultless. The narrative is warm and enticing; the violence quick and crisp; the characters informatively voiced and unmistakable. Go ahead: listen. Who needs sleep?”
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AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - NONFICTION & CULTURE

THE AGE OF SPEED Vince Poscente
Read by Sean Mangan (Bolinda Audio)
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THE ASCENT OF MONEY Niall Ferguson
Read by Simon Prebble (Tantor Media)
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COLUMBINE Dave Cullen
Read by Don Leslie (Blackstone Audiobooks)
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DAWN LIGHT Diane Ackerman
Read by Laural Merlington (Tantor Media)
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THE FOOD OF A YOUNGER LAND Mark Kurlansky
Read by Stephen Hoye (Tantor Media)
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HALF THE SKY Nicholas D. Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn
Read by Cassandra Campbell (HighBridge Audio)
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IN A NUTSHELL: DARWIN Peter Whitfield
Read by Peter Whitfield (Naxos AudioBooks)
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READING MAGIC Mem Fox
Read by Mem Fox (Oasis Audio/ Springwater)
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RENEGADE Richard Wolffe
Read by Arthur Morey (Random House Audio)
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STREET GANG Michael Davis
Read by Caroll Spinney (Listen & Live Audio)
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Return to Top

AnchorHALF THE SKY might be one of the most imporant audiobooks you can listen to this year. Co-authors Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn shed light on the plight of women who are oppressed in developing countries. Publicity from Oprah Winfrey and former president Bill Clinton, as well as the release of REPORTER, a new documentary about Kristof, is helping to keep this subject in the public eye. “Cassandra Campbell’s somber reading couldn't be more attuned to the authors’ mission as she interprets writing that is as intense as it gets. Her impressive depth carries listeners through the book’s gruesome lows and inspiring highs, and ultimately to a place where they cannot dismiss this human rights tragedy.” And there’s hope: “Educational investment, small business loans, and courageous lawmaking can all help women help themselves--and their children and communities.”
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AnchorThe “In a Nutshell” series of hour-long audio primers offers listeners a starting point on everything from the history of Afghanistan or the Renaissance to a biography of Charles Darwin and discussion of his evolutionary theories. We like them as well-delivered samplers that give us insights into their subjects and maybe spark our interest in learning more. Our review calls listening to one of the “Nutshell” audiobooks “an hour well spent.” 
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AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - BIOGRAPHY & HISTORY

CHEEVER Blake Bailey
Read by Malcolm Hillgartner (Blackstone Audiobooks)
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CLOSING TIME Joe Queenan
Read by Johnny Heller (Tantor Media)
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DUCHESS OF DEATH Richard Hack
Read by Nicolas Coster (Phoenix Audio)
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THE HEMINGSES OF MONTICELLO Annette Gordon-Reed
Read by Karen White (Tantor Media)
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HUEY LONG T. Harry Williams
Read by Tom Weiner (Blackstone Audiobooks)
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LAST LION Peter S. Canellos [Ed.]
Read by Skipp Sudduth (Simon & Schuster Audio)
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THE LINCOLN-DOUGLAS DEBATES Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas
Read by David Strathairn, Richard Dreyfuss, et al. (BBC Audiobooks America)
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ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Read by Avery Brooks, Marcus Garvey, Maya Angelou, Samuel L. Jackson, et al. (Recorded Books/ Griot Audio)
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AnchorLAST LION was one of several audiobooks about the life of Senator Kennedy that came out in 2009, along with Edward Klein’s TED KENNEDY, read by Arthur Morey, and Kennedy’s own posthumously published memoir, TRUE COMPASS, read by John Bedford Lloyd. We praised LAST LION as “a solid one-volume biography that shows how his place as the youngest in a high-powered family shaped his political and social life. Skipp Sudduth’s narration style exactly matches the book’s tone. He’s easy to listen to as he varies his tone, inflection, and pace with the gravity of the material. His diction is clear and easy on the ears. A first-rate job all around.”
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AnchorTHE LINCOLN-DOUGLAS DEBATES--This production of the series of debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas was one of several audiobooks published for the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. The audio format allowed “Strathairn and Dreyfuss to reconstruct the passion and lively repartee that characterized their confrontations,” something that would be impossible to re-create by simply reading their words on the page. Richard Dreyfuss told us that he “wanted to play Douglas because he was a dynamic, fun character.” How did he get into that character? “I have known the story my whole life. There was nothing I didn’t know about these debates going into it. I just imagined that the studio was out in the open and there were 20,000 people there and that I was going to win the Senate seat.” 
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AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - AUTHOR-READ

ALWAYS LOOKING UP Michael J. Fox
Read by Michael J. Fox (Hyperion Audiobooks)
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BASEBALL GREAT Tim Green
Read by Tim Green (Harper Audio)
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CRAZY FOR THE STORM Norman Ollestad
Read by Norman Ollestad (Harper Audio/ Blackstone Audiobooks)
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ECOLOGICAL INTELLIGENCE Daniel Goleman
Read by Daniel Goleman (Macmillan Audio)
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FOOTBALL GENIUS Tim Green
Read by Tim Green and The Full Cast Family (Full Cast Audio)
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LETTER TO MY DAUGHTER Maya Angelou
Read by Maya Angelou (Random House Audio/ Books on Tape)
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THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK OF CONNECTIONS Jeffrey Gitomer
Read by Jeffrey Gitomer (Simon & Schuster Audio)
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LIVE FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE David Sedaris
Read by David Sedaris (Hachette Audio)
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THE MIGHTY QUEENS OF FREEVILLE Amy Dickinson
Read by Amy Dickinson (Hyperion Audio)
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OUTLIERS Malcolm Gladwell
Read by Malcolm Gladwell (Hachette Audio)
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WHAT THE DOG SAW: ESSAYS Malcolm Gladwell
Read by Malcolm Gladwell (Hachette Audio/ BBC Audiobooks America)
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AnchorIn an interview with AUDIOFILE, author Malcolm Gladwell told us, “I do think audiobook listeners are having a different experience than readers of the text. In a certain sense they’re experiencing the book in a way much closer to the way I would like them to read it. When you read print, you can miss a lot of things that the author intends because you read it in your own idiosyncratic way. But I can really dictate the terms of the experience a lot more when I’m reading my book myself.” He bears out that authorial intention in narrations of his nonfiction works OUTLIERS and WHAT THE DOG SAW: “Gladwell reminds us that authors can effectively read their own books by turning in a well-crafted, subtle performance. His slightly husky upper-register voice is calm and assured, and he knows exactly where to pause, provide emphasis, and how to deliver a punch line.”
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AnchorSeven years after his first memoir, LUCKY MAN, Michael J. Fox returns to recount, in a familiar but somewhat changed voice, “the major shifts in his life, which include leaving his acting career, creating the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, advocating for PD research, and coping with the disease itself, which has been tyrannical of recent years. However, PD is also a source of Fox’s optimism—which the listener can clearly hear in his poignant and impassioned delivery.” Thanks to Fox’s reading, ALWAYS LOOKING UP is a unique, and uniquely personal, audio experience.
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AnchorAuthor Tim Green is a triple threat and then some: former professional football player, lawyer, bestselling writer of books for adults and children, and narrator of his own audiobooks. Green’s 15-year-old son, Troy, and 11-year-old daughter, Tate, voice central characters in a full-cast production of his novel for children, FOOTBALL GENIUS, and Green himself narrates deftly among the almost two dozen other cast members. He goes solo with the audiobook of BASEBALL GREAT, to great effect: “As narrator, Tim Green breathes life and depth into the characters of this story, leaving an indelible impression.” 
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AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - YOUNG ADULT

CLAUDETTE COLVIN: TWICE TOWARD JUSTICE Phillip Hoose
Read by Channie Waites (Brilliance Audio)
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GRACELING Kristin Cashore
Read by David Baker, Chelsea Mixon, Zachary Exton and a Full Cast (Full Cast Audio)
Read Review and listen to an excerpt

IMPULSE Ellen Hopkins
Read by Laura Flanagan, Jeremy Guskin, Steve Coombs (HighBridge Audio)
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IN THE BELLY OF THE BLOODHOUND L.A. Meyer
Read by Katherine Kellgren (Listen & Live Audio)
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MISSISSIPPI JACK L.A. Meyer
Read by Katherine Kellgren (Listen & Live Audio)
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ON THE JELLICOE ROAD Melina Marchetta
Read by Rebecca Macauley (Bolinda Audio)
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WINTERGIRLS Laurie Halse Anderson
Read by Jeannie Stith (Brilliance Audio)
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AnchorEllen Hopkins’s gritty novels written in verse present a unique challenge to a narrator--how to convey all the teen angst plotlines as well as the free verse form? In CRANK, GLASS, IMPULSE, and TRICKS, Hopkins’s teen characters deal with horrors ranging from drug addiction to rape to attempted suicide. The audiobooks perform the strange alchemy of making the material both more immediate and intense and more riveting. Through her narration, Laura Flanagan makes these audios her own: “Sounding like a young, scared teenager, Flanagan makes it impossible for the listener to turn off the recording. She uses Hopkins’s carefully chosen line breaks as cues for adolescent vocal inflections and gives the impression that she has read, contemplated, and understood every single one of Hopkins's words.” In IMPULSE, Flanagan and her fellow narrators, Jeremy Guskin and Steve Coombs, deliver “such an honest performance that it’s startling.” 
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AnchorThe audio production of Kristin Cashore’sGRACELING was worth waiting for. A full cast brings to life a fantasy world where some people, like protagonists Katsa and Po, are born with special “graces.” Thanks to nuanced portrayals by Chelsea Mixon and Zachary Exton, “listeners will feel the power of the connection between the two and its building intensity. Even minor characters are richly rendered. Their interactions, thoughts, and actions are well integrated in David Baker’s strong narration, which animates events and astutely measures emotions. Musical interludes, both regal and somber, are as plentiful as the plot twists, and the result is a production listeners won’t soon forget.” GRACELING is the must-listen start to an exciting new fantasy series, which continues with a companion volume, FIRE, and a forthcoming one, BITTERBLUE.
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AnchorBEST AUDIOBOOKS - SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

GOOD OMENS Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett
Read by Martin Jarvis (Harper Audio/ Recorded Books)
Read Review and listen to an excerpt

THE MAGICIANS Lev Grossman
Read by Mark Bramhall (Penguin Audio/ Books on Tape)
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THE OTHER LANDS David Anthony Durham
Read by Dick Hill (Tantor Media)
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PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES Seth Grahame-Smith, Jane Austen
Read by Katherine Kellgren (Audible, Inc./Brilliance Audio)
Read Review and listen to an excerpt

TORCHWOOD: LOST SOULS Joseph Lidster
Read by John Barrowman and a Full Cast (BBC Audiobooks America/ BBC Radio)
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WHAT DREAMS MAY COME Richard Matheson
Read by Robertson Dean (Blackstone Audiobooks)
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AnchorGOOD OMENS, the funny Armageddon satire co-written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, was published in print almost two decades ago. But it only arrived on audio on this side of the pond for the first time this November, delivered in just the right dry, tongue-in-cheek tone by British narrator Martin Jarvis. The book gives Golden Voice Jarvis plenty of material to work with: Crowley and Aziraphale (a demon and an angel), the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, prophesying witch Agnes Nutter, and the Antichrist (in the guise of an 11-year-old boy). The release of the audiobook was an instant must-listen event for Gaiman and Pratchett fans alike.
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AnchorMore British humor comes in the form ofTORCHWOOD, the half-campy, half-edgy series where sexy agents fight aliens and try to keep Cardiff (and the world) safe. A hit television show from the creators of the new DOCTOR WHO, TORCHWOOD expanded its reach this year with a series of hour-long radio episodes from BBC Radio. Thanks to main players from the series, including Eve Myles, Gareth David-Lloyd, Freema Agyeman, and Captain Jack himself, John Barrowman, appearing in the radio plays, fans had the chance to cross over from television to the audio format. In LOST SOULS, “Jack, Gwen, Ianto, and Martha visit CERN, where they investigate the Large Hadron Collider--and aliens from another dimension. The cast throw themselves enthusiastically into the radio drama, and great sound effects--riding bicycles in a cold, damp, echoey tunnel; computers beeping; alien gadgets whirring--enhance this tight, brisk, entertaining audio episode.” Look for more audiobooks in the radio adventures series: ASYLUM, GOLDEN AGE, IN THE SHADOWS, and THE DEAD LINE.
Read Review and listen to an excerpt

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