Allan Gurganus can't hide his humor even when he's dead serious. And he's dead serious in Plays Well with Others (3 hours), his account of three talented people trying their damnedest to make it big in the Big Apple just as AIDS has made it as a big-time killer. Hartley, a thoroughbred Southerner, is decidedly gay; Robert, gloriously handsome, the darling of the rich and famous, is ambivalent; and Alabama Byrnes is a young woman with enormous ambition and the gift to match it. Their friendship is unconditional, their love affectionate and strong, with Alabama and Hartley both yearning to be Robert's most intimate intimate. The setting is real '80s New York, heady, hedonistic, full of hope and arty parties, all suddenly savaged by so many deaths of so many promising young people. Gurganus is a fabulous performer and actually makes you smile while you're wiping away the tears.
Cleveland Amory unabashedly loves animals, a love instilled at an early age by his favorite aunt who took countless strays into her Boston home. Amory followed his aunt's example, but on a much grander scale. He founded the Fund for Animals which has carried on successful creature crusades or "animal wars" for 30 years. In Ranch of Dreams (3 hours), Amory shares his heartbreaking, heartwarming tales of the wild horses, burros, elephants, prairie dogs, goats, buffalo, chimps, raccoons and, of course, cats and dogs saved from cruel abuse that have become cherished residents at his ever-growing Black Beauty Ranch in East Texas.
Zen by accident
Can a Catholic kid from Good Shepard High School become enlightened? Can he even learn to "just sit"? For the answers, and much more, listen to The Accidental Buddhist (3 hours) as Dinty W. Moore takes you with him on his journey (spiritual and otherwise) to understand Buddhism as a religion he is drawn to and as a growing phenomenon in America. He goes to the Zen Mountain Monastery in the Catskills, a Theravada group in West Virginia, a Tibetan Buddhist meeting in Atlanta, "Change Your Mind Day" in Central Park, Jersey City to talk with a Jesuit priest who is also a Zen Master. And along the way Moore, with much humor and a wonderfully easy style, makes many Buddhist precepts and principles clear and very appealing. For those with interest but little knowledge, this is one of the best intros to Buddhism I've heard in a long time.
If you need a little inspiration, a sweet snack to sustain the inner self, dip into Kay Allenbaugh's Chocolate for a Woman's Soul (2 hours) a collection of real-life vignettes written by women for women that promises to "feed your spirit and warm your heart."
A lovely romance
Best-selling author Julie Garwood writes unabashed romances, and Come the Spring (3 hours), a continuation of her popular Clayborne Bride series, is certainly no exception. The women are beautiful, with oval faces, alabaster skin and ringlets of ebony or gold, the men ooze sexy machismo and the passion smolders before it bursts into flame. Set in the Wild West of the last century, there are bold-faced bank robbers and ruthless killers pitted against two-fisted, fast-drawing U.S. Marshals, but the dialogue is contemporary and the emotions, timeless. Megan Gallagher narrates with her usual warmth and effortless charm.
Rough in the West
Johanna Lindsey's latest, All I Need Is You (9 hours), keeps us in the Wild West, but offers a very different cast of characters. Ranch-raised, amber-eyed Casey Stratton is determined to prove to her father that she can do anything a man can do. Damien Rutledge III, a wealthy, sophisticated New Yorker, has gone West in bowler and business suit to avenge his father's murder and prove that it was not suicide. Damien and Casey meet on her rough, tough, lawless turf, and though they seem worlds apart, common cause brings them together in ways neither could have imagined. Will lasting love come from their partnership and searing kisses or are their differences too vast? Sandra Burr, a specialist in lengthy readings and one of my favorites, performs with unflagging, unabridged elan.
A true love tale
Barbara Delinsky is another major contender on the best-selling-romance arena. In Moment to Moment (3 hours), read by J. Smith-Cameron, petite, flaxen-haired Dana wants desperately to live a free, independent life, away from her parents overbearing overprotectiveness. When Russ, ruggedly handsome, ruggedly fit, comes into her life, he is overpowered by desire and by the desire to protect her the one thing she doesn't want. The road to true love and understanding can be rocky, but the snags and crags can sometimes strengthen resolve.
Joining the dance
Maggie McIntyre, English professor, mother of two grown daughters, recently divorced from her husband of 25 years, and appealing heroine of K.C. McKinnon's Dancing at the Harvest Moon (5 hours), has lost her moorings. Then, rummaging in her attic, she comes across letters from her first love, from her three summers working at the Harvest Moon dance hall on Little Bear Lake in northern Ontario. Suddenly, she realizes that she must go back, perhaps to find the man she left but has never forgotten, perhaps only to return to the place where she was young and happy. Trying to reclaim the past is risky business and Maggie doesn't know if she's heading for heartbreak or renewal. Convincingly read by Patricia Kalember, this offbeat romance will tug at your heart-strings long after the cassettes stop spinning.
A bittersweet memoir
Born in 1899, Jesse Lee Brown Foveaux has lived through the ups and downs of this tumultuous, bittersweet century, through sorrow and happiness, some shared by the nation, some that were hers alone. Her memoir, Any Given Day (3 hours), is her gift of treasured memories to her beloved family eight children and 15 grandchildren and now a gift for her listeners. Jesse Lee tells it from the heart, with a wise simplicity that rings true. She tells of lessons learned, values lived, of loss and hardship, of the joy of family and pride in work. Here, Jesse Lee, still going strong, speaks directly to her audio audience in a special introduction and afterword. In between, Tyne Daly reads and captures the cadence of the heartland where Jesse Lee has lived her long life.