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AUDIOBOOKS: Literary lions and best-selling authors

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By Sunday, Dec 23, 2018 Arts & Entertainment

This week we have the works of two literary lions who have passed on and two best-selling authors who have stepped out of their wheelhouses.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou; read by the author
Random House Audio; unabridged version available only as a download from www.audible.com; 10 hours and 12 minutes; $28

The indelible first act of a seven-volume memoir, this follows Marguerite Annie Johnson, who later changed her name to Maya Angelou, through the age of 17. Written in 1969 and recorded in 2010, it is a searing account of racism, child abuse and the Depression. It spans much of her childhood as she and her older brother Bailey bounce from their parents’ home to their grandmother’s and back again. Considered at the time to be a revolutionary account of what it meant to be young, female and black in America, it was nominated for the National Book Award. It’s not for the faint of heart, as Angelou does not back down from racist slurs or blunt sexual descriptions. The best part of this audiobook is that Angelou read it with gentle lyricism and a strength that is nothing short of stirring. Grade: A-plus

One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel Garcia Marquez; read by John Lee
Blackstone Audio; available only as a download from www.audible.com; 14 hours and four minutes; $24.95

John Lee, with his deep, polished British narration and rolling Spanish accent, draws us into this enchanted history of a family and the village of Macondo in South America, a place of high comedy, dark tragedy and not a little magical realism. This family chronicle follows six generations of the descendants of José Arcadio Buendía and his wife, Ursula. There are ancient mysteries, family secrets, odd quirks and much lustiness. First published by the late Garcia Marquez in 1967, it traces the growth of Macondo from jungle hamlet to a fully realized town with a railroad. South American myth, metaphor and history are woven into the story with beautifully wrought descriptions. However, this is a dense tale so, if you wish to savor a passage, you may want to pick up a paper version. Grade: A-minus

The Cuckoo’s Calling
Robert Galbraith; read by Robert Glenister
Hachette Audio; 13 CDs; 16 hours; $20; www.audible.com download, $29.65

The worst kept secret in publishing is that Robert Galbraith is really J.K. Rowling. Her fourth installment in the Cormoran Strike mystery series, “Lethal White,” was recently released, but it is such a fun listen you should start at the beginning with this London-based whodunit about a model who may or may not have committed suicide. The plot is nothing new, and neither is the conceit of a smart detective and dumb cops, but Strike is a great character, as is his sidekick, Robin. He is especially flawed, being that he is brusque and sometimes rude just for the sake of it. But he is also a one-legged, heartbroken war hero brought to life with much brio by British actor Glenister. His manner is deep and gruff, though he manages different voices, even females, that sound believable. Great fun. Grade: A-minus

Ruth Reichl; read by Julia Whelan
Random House Audio; available only as a download from www.audible.com; 12 hours and 58 minutes; $31.50

This is a light and yummy audiobook that is just perfect for easy listening. Billie Breslin is a college dropout who pulls up stakes in California and heads to Manhattan and a job on a gourmet food magazine. She has an amazing palate, but a deep-rooted, almost pathological aversion to cooking. Reichl, though occasionally a tad over the top, depicts Manhattan and its kitchens in great sensory detail. The magazines folds, Billie lands a new job, may have met a romantic partner and discovers an intriguing mystery dating back to World War II. None of it is earth-shattering; some of it is predictable, but its heart is in the right place. Narrator Whelan has a vivacious, energetic style, manages small changes in the female voices and lowers her voice to indicate men. Grade: B-plus

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