Listen Up

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Read by Samuel West

Naxos AudioBooks

Recommended: 4 engaging audiobooks for busy readers

$11.98 (CD $13.98)

Two cassettes, 2.5 hrs., abridged

The charming boy who wouldn't grow up has inspired so many storybooks, plays, and cartoons it might seem hard to take a fresh look at the story. From the opening passages, Samuel West draws the listener's immediate attention. His resonant voice is charismatic; like Peter, he begs listeners to follow the tale he'll tell. To return to Barrie's original story reveals a charm and a certain moralism that both captures its own period and retains a freshness for today's young listeners.

West delivers deliciously imaginative character voices - Wendy, Captain Hook, pirate Smee, Peter, and each of the lost boys and pirates - but never allows them to become caricatures. The adventure is very real, and West's superb storytelling style involves listeners of all ages. He reveals a subtle side of Barrie's enduring classic that's overshadowed in stage and screen productions. The production uses carefully chosen and beautifully orchestrated music, and the abridgment flows smoothly. A family listening treat that will delight adults - even if they think they're too grown up.

Crooked Little Heart

By Anne Lamott

Read by Kate Burton

Random House Audiobooks, $18

Two cassettes, 3 hrs., abridged

Word by Word, by Anne Lamott

A Recorded Workshop with the author

Writer's Audio Shop, $17.95

Two cassettes, 3 hrs.

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

Read by the Author

Audio Partners, $17.95

Two cassettes, 3 hrs., abridged

Listening to any of these audio titles make a glorious introduction, or reacquaintance, with Anne Lamott. Known for her fiction - "Crooked Little Heart" is the newest - Lamott is also loved and respected for her writing workshops and her inspiring book "Bird by Bird," which follows the structure of a workshop with encouragement and observations on writing.

Her lively charm and wit are most evident in the workshop recording where the interaction with her audience is an added bonus. "Bird by Bird" is obviously read from a text, and though her voice offers little expression, Lamott's ideas, reassurances, and bon mots are worth anything. The recording is sure to inspire anyone who wants to write better to purchase the print version to have on hand.

In her fiction, "Crooked Little Heart," a story about a young tennis champ and her California family, Lamott practices what she preaches. Her characters are so vivid, and Lamott makes the novel work on several levels.

Burton uses her very best skills in the narration. She's able to capture the mother-daughter dynamics between 13-year-old Rosie and her mother, Elizabeth. The family relationships are so perceptively drawn by the narrator and author team that it's a shame to have any of it lost to abridgment.

Charles Kuralt's Spring

By Charles Kuralt

Read by the author

Simon & Schuster Audio, $12

One cassette, 1 hr.

Wherever we are, we all know how to celebrate spring; in fact, we're attempting to do so right now. Charles Kuralt narrates his collection of anecdotes in his avuncular style. Traveling to a wide range of locales, Kuralt instructs us about the rites of spring across America. The clank of sap buckets may be the sound in New England, but in the Okefenokee Swamp down South, the roar of alligators marks the season.

The program is lighthearted as Kuralt shares his enthusiasm, not only for the season and all its new beginnings and awakenings, but also for all the different people and traditions at each stop. He astutely finds charming, articulate and unusual characters who succinctly portray themselves and their interests. Kuralt also shares just enough of himself. Music and sounds from each location from brass bands to bird songs, enliven the program.

The Killer Angels

By Michael Shaara

Recorded Books, Rental $17.50

Read by George Guidall

Ten cassettes, 14.25 hrs., unabridged

HighBridge Audio, $24.95

Read by George Hearn

Four cassettes, 6 hrs., abridged

(Also unabridged from Blackstone Audio Books Rental, $12.95)

Shaara's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the Battle of Gettysburg makes inspiring listening in both the unabridged and abridged forms. The recent release of HighBridge's abridged version brings the compelling story to a broader audience, but George Guidall's full-length narration stands alone as a listening experience to remember. Guidall brings the listener into the minds of each of the generals, Lee, Longstreet, and Chamberlain - and beside them in the battles.

Through Guidall's subtle performance we hear and feel the pensive anticipation, loneliness of command, exhilaration and great sadness, and loss. In contrast, George Heard delivers a colorful interpretation, using Southern voices for the Confederate generals and a hard-edged Northern cadence for the Yankees. Hearn's version is more dramatic and is highlighted with excerpts from Randy Edelman's stirring score from the movie adaptation, "Gettysburg." An added plus for this version is a map that spans the three days of the battle.

Trunk Music, by Michael Connelly

Read by Dick Hill

Brilliance, $25.95

Five cassettes, 15 hrs., unabridged

(Also available abridged on 2 cassettes from Brilliance for $16.95)

Harry Bosch returns to the LAPD homicide squad and, in typical style, crosses swords with the "brass" in no time. An execution-style murder and seamy money-laundering operation in Los Angeles and Las Vegas give Bosch plenty to puzzle over. Dick Hill is well versed in Bosch's style after two audiobooks in the series.

Hill delivers the squad-room banter and the interviews with suspects and witnesses with perfection. The dialogue - quick and fresh - is read with astute cadence and inflection. The rough-voiced cop has a big heart and an unswerving sense of justice. Bosch is immensely likable, and Hill defines his character memorably.

* Robin Whitten is the founder and editor of AudioFile, a monthly magazine of reviews of audiobooks. For additional information 800-506-1212 ; email RAudioFILE@aol.com

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