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4 audiobooks with positive messages for the new year

Three novels and one nonfiction audiobook provide inspiration and hope as we ease into 2019.

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, by Ingrid Fetell Lee

Read by the author; Hachette Audio; eight CDs; nine hours and 30 minutes

Most self-help books are padded magazine articles full of repetition and very little actual help. Lee tells us why baby animals, confetti, and nature give us enjoyment and then explains how we can simply and easily bring more joy into our lives. Lee’s writing is clear and engaging, while her narration is surprisingly on point, considering that she is not a professional narrator. She keeps the pace chugging along and comes across as inviting and inspiring. This is a great listen enhanced by the enclosed PDF but is not intended for the whole family as it contains adult language. Grade: A 

Night of Miracles, by Elizabeth Berg

Read by the author; Recorded Books; six hours and 51 minutes

Reminding one of Fanny Flagg’s sweet and homey novels, Berg’s second entry in her Arthur Truluv novels is an easy and engaging listen. Community, small kindnesses, the importance of friendship, and a bit of magical realism all figure into a story rife with charm.  Berg’s characters are fully realized, but even more important is that they are searching for true meaning and a deep connection to those around them, making this a lovely antidote to the daily news. At first Berg’s voice seems a bit thin, but she surprises as each character comes to life under her lively direction. Grade: A-

Us Against You, by Fredrik Backman

Read by Marin Ireland; Simon & Schuster Audioworks; 11 CDs; 14 hours and 17 minutes

A few familiar characters, and several new ones, are introduced in this sequel to Swedish author Backman’s 2016 novel “Beartown.”  This easily stands alone as the folks of a small community come to terms with the sexual assault of a young woman by a beloved hockey player. Backman’s true gift is that each character feels fully defined and, likable or not, always intriguing. Narrator Ireland thankfully does not adopt a Swedish accent, allowing this story to sound as if it could be set anywhere, which is one of its strengths.  She brings each character to life and captures the full gamut of emotions stirred up by this story. There are adult themes. Grade: A-

Virgil Wander, by Leif Enger

Read by MacLeod Andrews; Recorded Books; 10 hours and 37 minutes

Virgil Wander, the owner of the local movie house, is recovering from a car accident that left him with a concussion. The residents of his small town of Greenstone, Minn., wander in and out of his life, bringing with them kindness, friendship, and a low-key romance. Unfortunately, the plot eventually gets a bit clunky and doesn’t hold up as it unfolds. Andrews has a deep, attractive voice and speaks with a hint of Minnesota in his voice, though the accent comes and goes. That said, he comes across as emotionally authentic, which is a rare and lovely quality in a narrator.  Grade: B+

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