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Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq. 2007. 56min. HBO, DVD, $24.98 (0-7831-5708-8).
James Gandolfini interviews 10 injured Iraq War veterans, whose stories of courage, sacrifice, and determination in the face of such life-altering traumas as lost limbs, head injuries, blindness, and post-traumatic stress disorder are heart-wrenching and inspiring.
Autism: The Musical. 2008. 2.5hr. Docurama, DVD, $26.95 (1-4229-0799-6).
Within the framework of rehearsal, performance, and at-home footage, this heartwarming documentary follows the progress of Elaine Hall (“Coach E”) and a group of autistic students who plan, stage, and perform an amazing musical production.
The Jewish Americans. 2008. 6hr. PBS, DVD, $64.95 (1-4157-3844-0).
Featuring interviews, reenactments, archival footage, and stills, acclaimed filmmaker David Grubin’s masterful documentary surveys 350 years of Jewish American history, beginning with the arrival of Brazilian exiles in 1654.
Kamp Katrina. 2008. 75min. Carnivalesque, DVD, $19.99.
Eccentric Ms. Pearl and her husband converted their modest backyard into a tent city for a group of beleaguered New Orleanians in the aftermath of Katrina. In unflinching detail, this unforgettable film documents the trials and tribulations of Ms. Pearl and her sometimes exasperating vagrant residents. (Top of the List winner—Video.)
Katrina’s Children. 2008. 83min. Shadow Pictures, DVD, $100.
Filmed in 2006 shortly after the devastation of Katrina, this film spotlights 19 economically and racially diverse children (ages 5 to 13) who tell their stories about the aftermath of the storm. The camera follows as they explore the ruins of their homes, neighborhoods, and schools, struggling to come to grips with the tragedy.
Life after People. 2008. 94min. A & E, DVD, $24.95 (1-4229-0939-5).
Backed by solid scientific research and filled with Hollywood special effects, this eye-opening program speculates on “what would happen if every human being on earth disappeared.”
Pearl Diver. 2008. 97min. Monterey, DVD, $24.95 (9781569944226).
A tale of family secrets, murder, and deception is brought forth in this powerful feature film centering on two squabbling sisters whose reactions to the horrific murder of their mother 20 years earlier have driven them apart.
Quantum Hoops: The Caltech Basketball Story. 2008. 85min. Green Forest, DVD, $24.95.
David Duchovny narrates this enlightening chronicle of the hapless but brainy Caltech (California Institute of Technology) basketball team, the ultimate underdog with 243 consecutive conference game losses. Can the current team pull off a victory?
Rape of Europa. 2008. 2hr. Passion River, DVD, $29.95.
Packed with archival footage and eyewitness accounts, this fascinating program examines the plundering, pillaging, and stealing of artwork during World War II and the frantic and sometimes unsuccessful efforts to save priceless European treasures from Hitler’s advancing armies.
Rosa. 2007. 14min. Weston Woods, VHS, $60 (9780545042581); DVD, $59.95 (9780545042574). Gr. 3–5.
Cameras pan watercolor-and-collage illustrations as author Nikki Giovanni thoughtfully narrates her picture-book biography of Rosa Parks, the seamstress who unexpectedly became a catalyst for the civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat on a bus.
Audio for Adults
The Almost Moon. By Alice Sebold. Read by Joan Allen. 2007. 9hr. Books on Tape, CS, $90 (9781415945940); CD, $90 (9781415945957).
In her reading of this troubling novel about a 49-year-old woman who cold-bloodedly smothers her crotchety, senile mother, Allen’s sublime voice seduces, probes, and chills, transcending mere words with disturbingly candid and haunting insights.
Blue Heaven. By C. J. Box. Read by John Bedford Lloyd. 2008. 11.5hr. BBC/Sound Library, CD, $94.95 (9780792752295).
In this evocative tale of policemen gone bad and children in peril, Lloyd’s chilling narration expresses the emotional eloquence of the prose without neglecting the building tension.
Genius. By Jesse Kellerman. Read by Kirby Heyborne. 2008. 14hr. Books on Tape, CD, $110 (9781415954607).
A Manhattan art dealer pursues a possible killer who left behind a mysterious collection of drawings and paintings. Heyborne captures the self-absorbed protagonist’s haughty airs and other characters’ dialects and personalities in his sparkling performance.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Read by Paul Boehmer and others. 2008. 8hr. Books on Tape, CD, $80 (9781415954409).
Talented British and American actors read a series of letters between a London-based writer and a Guernsey farmer and his neighbors, who share stories of survival, acts of kindness, and literary references while telling how they survived Nazi occupation of their British island during World War II.
The Heroines. By Eileen Favorite. Read by Charlotte Parry. 2008. 8hr. Recorded Books, CS, $61.75 (9781428185319); CD, $77.75 (9781428185333).
Parry shines in her portrayal of the various beloved guests of a bed-and-breakfast for literary heroines who need a break from their dramatic story lines before facing their tragic destinies.
Lady Killer. By Lisa Scottoline. Read by Barbara Rosenblat. 2008. 10.5hr. Recorded Books, CS, $72.75 (9781428180529); CD, $102.75 (9781428180543).
Rosenblat’s mastery of dialects enhances this mystery, which is set in South Philadelphia and boasts a richly textured cast of Italian Americans from attorney Mary DiNunzio’s old neighborhood.
The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom. By Simon Winchester. Read by the author. 2008. 9hr. Recorded Books, CS, $67.75 (9781436107105); CD, $92.75 (9781436107129).
Winchester’s perfectly modulated voice draws listeners into his account of Joseph Needham, whose multivolume study of the history of Chinese science remains a definitive work in the genre.
The Monster of Florence. By Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. Read by Dennis Boutsikaris. 2008. 9.5hr. Books on Tape, CS, $90 (9781415958070); CD, $90 (9781415955246).
Boutsikaris blithely handles a wide variety of voices and Italian accents with meaningful differentiation in this engrossing account of the authors’ pursuit of the fiendish serial killer known as the Monster of Florence.
Othello. By William Shakespeare. Read by Ewan McGregor and others. 2008. 3.5hr. Naxos, CD, $22.98 (9789626349298).
This impressive title is a studio recording of a London theatrical performance featuring McGregor as Iago, Chiwetel Ejiofor in the role of Othello, and Kelly Reilly playing Desdemona. An accompanying DVD includes interviews with cast members.
Robinson Crusoe. By Daniel Defoe. Read by Simon Vance. 2008. 10.5hr. Tantor, CD, $65.99 (9781400136926).
In his miraculous reading of this classic tale, Vance assumes the spirit of the garrulous adventurer. Includes a searchable PDF file that allows listeners to download the “companion e-book” to a computer or e-book reader.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. By David Wroblewski. Read by Richard Poe. 2008. 22hr. Recorded Books, CS, $113.75 (9781436149563); CD, $123.75 (9781436149587).
Lyrical writing and Poe’s reading keep listeners totally immersed in this compelling debut novel that concentrates on 14-year-old Edgar Sawtelle, who runs away with three pups following the probable murder of his father by Edgar’s uncle. Poe’s nuanced portrayal of mute Edgar easily reflects his profound grief, mounting anger, and frustrations in this heartbreaking story. (Top of the List winner—Audio.)
The Taste of Innocence. By Stephanie Laurens. Read by Simon Prebble. 2008. 15.5hr. Recorded Books, CS, $113.75 (9781436106047); CD, $123.75 (9781436106061).
Prebble demonstrates his vocal supremacy in his reading of this sensuous, suspenseful historical romance, in which hero Charlie Morwellan keeps his fiancé at arm’s length until danger threatens her life and his future happiness.
There’s No Place like Here. By Cecelia Ahern. Read by Sile Nic Fheorais. 2008. 12.5hr. Books on Tape, CD, $110 (9781415944455).
With a haunting, fragile Irish lilt, Fheorais reads Ahern’s imaginative story of lost things, lost people, and a woman who is determined to find them.
Audio for Youth
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. By Sherman Alexie. Read by the author. 2008. 4hr. Recorded Books, CS, $33.75 (9781428182929); CD, $46.75 (9781428182974). Gr. 7–10.
The idiosyncratic first-person voice that Alexie creates for Arnold Spirit, a Spokane Indian who leaves the reservation to attend a predominantly white high school, is the most distinctive feature of this harrowing, funny, and unforgettable title.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. By Lewis Carroll. Read by Jim Dale. 2008. 3hr. Listening Library, CD, $30 (9780739367650). Gr. 4–7.
Dale’s distinguished voice and commanding British-laced delivery imbue this outstanding rendition of the timeless classic.
Beethoven’s Wig 4: Dance Along Symphonies. 2008. 43min. Rounder Records, CD, $11.99 (1-57940-170-8). Gr. 3–5.
This latest entry in the popular symphony series is an eclectic collection of music pieces (ragtime, waltz, polka, sonata, and more) written for dance and set to zany lyrics.
Curse of the Blue Tattoo: Being an Account of the Misadventures of Jacky Faber, Midshipman and Fine Lady. By L. A. Meyer. Read by Katherine Kellgren. 2008. 14hr. Listen and Live, CD, $37.95 (9781593161347). Gr. 6–9.
Kellgren continues her tour de force portrayal of Mary “Jacky” Faber in this stand-alone sequel to Bloody Jack, a 2008 Odyssey Award Honor title.
Elijah of Buxton. By Christopher Paul Curtis. Read by Mirron Willis. 2008. 9hr. Listening Library, CD, $55 (9780739364154). Gr. 6–9.
Willis’ restrained yet enthralling narration turns Curtis’ meticulously crafted, authentic dialect and syntax into the effortless speech patterns of 11-year-old Elijah, who lives in a Canadian settlement of former slaves in 1859.
Fairest. By Gail Carson Levine. Read by Sara Naughton and others. 2008. 8hr. Full Cast, CD, $55 (9781934180136). Gr. 7–10.
Levine’s imaginative story is set in a kingdom where fine singing is the main form of communication. This creative audio, in which musical numbers and speaking parts weave in and out of the magical fairy-tale romance, will capture listeners’ hearts.
Feathers. By Jacqueline Woodson. Read by Sisi Aisha Johnson. 2008. 3hr. Brilliance, CS, $49.25 (9781423365631); CD, $62.25 (9781423365655). Gr. 4–6.
Johnson adroitly reflects the voice of 11-year-old Frannie, confused by her mother’s unexpected pregnancy and dealing with issues of race, faith, and disability, in her exceptional reading of this 2008 Newbery Honor Book.
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! By Laura Amy Schiltz. Read by Christina Moore and others. 2008. 1.5hr. Recorded Books, CS, $30.75 (9781436119580); CD, $30.75 (9781436119634). Gr. 5–8.
This 2008 Newbery Medal winner features 21 dramatic narratives involving characters living in and around a medieval manor. A cast of expert narrators and interludes of sprightly period music illuminate this magnificent presentation.
Miss Spitfire. By Sarah Miller. Read by Terry Donnelly. 2008. 7hr. Recorded Books, CS, $51.75 (9781436113182); CD, $66.75 (9781436113205). Gr. 7–10.
Donnelly’s reading of this debut novel focusing on Anne Sullivan and her attempts to break through to obstinate pupil Helen Keller is particularly heartfelt. She seamlessly transitions between Sullivan’s Irish lilt and the Kellers’ southern accents.
Once upon a Time in the North. By Philip Pullman. Read by the author and others. 2008. 2hr. Listening Library, CD, $30 (9780739367001). Gr. 7–10.
Pullman’s outstanding audio performance (he serves as narrator) is equal to that of the professionally trained actors (Tim Bentinck, Paul Panting, Nigel Whitmey, and Sean Barrett) featured in this tale set 35 years before The Golden Compass.
One-Handed Catch. By Mary Jane Auch. Read by Ryan Sparkes and others. 2008. 6hr. Full Cast, CD, $45 (9781934180167). Gr. 4–8.
Despite losing his hand in a meat-grinder accident in 1946, 11-year-old Norm hopes to play professional baseball in this inspiring novel, movingly read by a cast of accomplished actors. Accompanying big-band music is reminiscent of the era.
Sun, Moon, Stars, Rain. By Jan Cheripko. Read by Spencer Murphy and others. 2008. 4hr. Full Cast, CD, $34 (9781934180143). Gr. 10–12.
Music prodigy Danny Murtaugh drops out of college and returns to his rural community, where he falls in love with a recovering addict. Murphy’s well-placed inflections and tones convey Danny’s angst, with occasional piano music lending atmosphere.
Yes to Running: Bill Harley Live. 2008. 106min. Allegro, CD, $17.99 (9781878126535). Gr. 2–4.
Including six songs and four stories recorded by the Grammy-winning artist before an enthusiastic live audience, this two-CD set is a real crowd pleaser.
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