It's summer vacation time again, when both parent and child try to wile away the hours while they're getting where they're going. We've said it before, but it's worth repeating: travel in cars, planes and trains can be turned into real fun in the sun if you and your about-to-be-bored offspring listen to any of the wonderfully entertaining tapes that are yours for the picking.
Are we there yet? Fortunately, Lemony Snickett's Series of Unfortunate Events, now up to Book the Seventh, is beginning to come out in audio versions. These darkly quirky, humorous tales that follow the misfortunes of the three orphaned Baudelaire siblings, who are constantly moving from one disaster to another, are a fine way to take up the slack as we totter between Potters. The disarmingly honest Mr. Snickett warns the listener from the get- go that "the audiobook you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant." But kids (ages 8-12) are not put off by these dire warnings, and neither should their elders be. The curious appeal is infectious and audiences are growing rapidly. The first two in the series The Bad Beginning and The Reptile Room are read by Tim Curry. The next two, The Wide Window and The Miserable Mill, are read by the inimitable Mr. Snickett (aka Daniel Handler) himself.
The Amber Spyglass, the final book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, will keep you all enthralled for more than 14 hours. Performed by the author and a full cast, the extraordinary adventures of Lyra and Will continue as they travel to a strange, dim world where no living soul has ever gone. The first two parts of this highly acclaimed series, The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, are also available on cassette (ages 11 and up).
For sheer charm, and a little nostalgia for the grown-ups, listen to Ludwig Bemelmans' timeless tales of the mischievous Madeline in the Madeline Audio Collection, read by the timeless, mischievous Carol Channing. And for the younger crew there's The Babar Audio Collection, read by the divine Louis Jourdan. You might also want to check out the contemporary, hip Chet Gecko Private Eye (ages 5 and up) as he stars in Bruce Hale's The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse and The Mystery of Mr. Nice.
For older ears New as an audio presentation, but not as a book, The Monkey's Raincoat introduces Robert Crais' smart-mouthed, tai chi-trained, Vietnam-scarred, tough-but-tender Elvis Cole and his consummately cool, armed-to-the-hilt, Rambo-esque partner Joe Pike. Elvis, a private investigator who can quip with the best of them, even when someone is holding a gun to his temple or knife to his neck, keeps the flip talk flowing while he and Joe confront a very nasty, heavily guarded, drug-dealing ex-Matador, who has probably done in the husband and kidnapped the son of a sweet, seemingly inept Encino housewife. Amid much violence and over-the-top dialogue (well delivered here by David Stuart), Elvis and Joe, with a little help from the LAPD, attempt to find Hubbie, free the boy and see that justice is done, one way or another. Fast-paced, fun and convincingly plotted, the Elvis Cole thrillers make great travel listening. The bad, the beautiful, the betrayed Elegant historical whodunits (a growing genre) are a multiple treat you have the fun of figuring out who the culprit is while soaking up the atmosphere and ambiance of another time. Elizabeth Redfern's debut novel, The Music of the Spheres, read with great style by Tim Curry, takes us to the teeming turmoil of London in 1795. At war with Republican France, England is filled with master spies of every stripe, royalist refugees fleeing the bloody aftermath of the French Revolution and a serial killer with a predilection for young, redheaded women. Jonathan Absey, officially a clerk in Whitehall and unofficially a Home Office agent, is in the thick of it, quietly gathering intelligence on French spies. But his true obsession is finding the man who murdered his own Titian-haired daughter. In the moist, heavy heat of July, his obsession and job meet, as spy mutates to murderer, Royalist to Republican and Jonathan from frustrated functionary to avenging father.
Is she or isn't she? Harlan Coben's Tell No One, faultlessly read by Stephen Weber, is a race-paced, pulse-pounder if ever there was one. When Dr. David Beck's young wife, Elizabeth, was brutally killed eight years ago, something died in him too. Then his world turns upside down and inside out. In three short days, Beck goes from being a dedicated doctor, sleepwalking through his own life, to a man who has seen a ghost, received e-mails from the dead, become a suspect in two murders, assaulted a police officer, is on the run from the law and has enlisted the aid of a known drug dealer. And if that's not enough, he's being hounded by a cool FBI agent on one side and a strange Asian-American with cement-hard hands that torture for the fun of it on the other. What's driving Beck, and all the others, is the shaky possibility that Elizabeth is still alive and if that's true, what's false?Summer sizzle Eric Jerome Dickey's latest, Between Lovers, read by Richard Allen, is hot stuff and X-rated! The mystery here is how three hip, smart 30-somethings will sort out their complicated, interconnected love lives, not to mention their sensibilities and sexuality. There's a lot of searching, soul and otherwise, as the best-selling Dickey tells a good story and adds his special brand of wisdom. Definitely not for the kids.
Sukey Howard reports on spoken word audio each month.