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UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN: AT HOME IN ITALY

By Frances Mayes

Read by Barbara Caruso

Recorded Books, $72 (Rental $16.50)

Eight cassettes, 11 hrs., unabridged

Read by the author

BDD Audio, $24.95

Four cassettes, abr.

Let the Tuscan sun warm these earliest days of spring. Listeners can savor the delights of the countryside, fresh food, flowers, and Italian village life through Frances Mayes's memoir of restoring a stone villa in Tuscany.

For listeners who prefer to hear authors reading their own work, poet, teacher, and food critic Mayes reads the abridged version. While clear and engaging, her voice reflects her Georgia upbringing and accent. Mayes guides readers as one would a guest showing them all the delights of the place.

Barbara Caruso, narrator of the complete version has no difficulty transporting listeners to the terraces and stone streets. Her voice is light and her Italian lyrical. She gets to tell the whole story, revealing details, nuances, and characters lost in the abridgment. The abridgment has a booklet of recipes from some of the memorable meals.

CLASSIC BOB & RAY, Vol. I-IV

Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding

RadioArt, $29.95

Four cassettes per vol.., Radio drama

www.bobandray.com

For fans of radio's golden age, Bob and Ray are a familiar duo whose program was still broadcasting on National Public Radio in the early 1980s. The programs feature a repertoire of characters - reporter Wally Ballou, sportswriter Biff Burns, Harry and Mary Backstayge, and others.

Soap opera parodies, invented commercials (Einbinder Flypaper), imitations of Sen. Joe McCarthy and Arthur Godfrey are just a few elements that will delight new as well as old listeners of the broadcasts. Innovative and often improvisational, Elliott and Goulding are brilliant comedians whose work reflects their times and yet endures admirably.

JACKIE ROBINSON

Arnold Rampersad

Read by Levar Burton

Random House AudioBooks, $24

Four cassettes, 4 hrs. each, abridged

In the mood for baseball? Let Jackie Robinson's memorable biography start the season. Arnold Rampersad, who also wrote Arthur Ashe's biography, "Days of Grace," presents an insightful portrait.

He follows Robinson from his early life and success as a college athlete to the Negro Baseball Leagues and his breaking of baseball's color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Exploring relationships with people who influenced Robinson, like Dodger owner Branch Rickey and Martin Luther King Jr., this biography gives a historical context for listeners.

Levar Burton's voice reflects a sense of awe. His admiration of Robinson, however, keeps him from effectively presenting the nuances of some of Rampersad's observations.

THE STREET LAWYER

By John Grisham

Read by Frank Muller

Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio, $49.95

12 cassettes, 11 hrs., unabridged

Read by Michael Beck

BDD Audio, $27.95

Four cassettes (also CD), 6 hrs., abr.

A high-powered lawyer leaves a Washington firm to practice street law. Unlikely, but Grisham has concocted a believable story that may signal that his latest bestseller has something more to say to his readers than legal maneuvering and intrigue.

In the audio format, there are two choices of narrators. Michael Beck does an admirable job with the abridged edition, giving an especially appealing voice to homeless advocate Mordecai Green.

Frank Muller, however, reading the unabridged version is a master narrator. Muller offers a slightly restrained performance in terms of character voices, ably captures the essence of the young attorney's concern over abandoning his career, his discomfort as he finds himself in a homeless shelter for the first time, and the growing drive that pushes him to change his life.

Muller conveys inner conflicts not expressly stated. The story is a great choice for recording as it unfolds in deliberate storytelling style and doesn't have too many characters or shifts of scene.

* Robin Whitten is the editor of AudioFile, a monthly magazine of reviews and information on audiobooks. RAudioFile@aol.com

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