Even if you've read Angela's Ashes, and especially if you haven't, this may be the right time to listen to Frank McCourt's brogue-brushed, full-length, 15-hour reading of his best-selling memoir (Simon ∧ Schuster Audiobooks, $50, 067158037). It's an audio gem. Billie Letts's sadly sweet new novel, The Honk and Holler Opening Soon (Brilliance, $24.95, 1567400566), is a delight, made even more so by Dick Hill's fine performance in this full-length, nine-hour presentation. The odd group of characters we meet at this roadside cafe in Oklahoma a wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet, a young Crow woman drifting nowhere, a lonely middle-aged widow, a Vietnamese refugee, a three-legged dog all suffer with their own particular pain and loss. Yet, with a little help from their friends, each one gets by and gets better. Only the coldest of hearts won't be warmed and touched.
The Dark Tower series, Stephen King's foray into the fantastical wherein Roland of Gilead, The Last Gunslinger, struggles against awesome odds to reach the elusive Tower, repackaged and read by Frank Muller, is offered in three volumes of incremental lengths: The Dark Tower 1: The Gun Slinger (Penguin Audiobooks, $25.95, 0140867163) is six hours, The Dark Tower 2: The Drawing of Three is 12 ($35.95, 0140867155) and The Dark Tower 3: The Wastelands ($45.95, 0140867177) is 16. King-Craver-Autumn-Alert Bag of Bones (Simon ∧ Schuster Audio, $59.95, 22 hours, 0671582348), the hot new Stephen King blockbuster, will be out in September.
Short but not sweetSounds Like Murder, a new series of mystery stories all original, unabridged, and approximately two hours long offers six titles that will keep you on the edge of your seat, be it car, plane, train, or otherwise. Each story is by an acclaimed mystery writer, including Ed McBain, June Thomson, Peter Lovesey, Christopher Newman, Stephen Solomita, and S.J. Rozan (Random House Audiobooks, $12.95 each). Sounds of warThree fascinating and quite different novels set during and after the Civil War make outstanding audios. The Last Full Measure (Random House Audiobooks, $25.95, 6 hours, 0375403094), Jeff Shaara's concluding work in the trilogy that began with his father's classic, The Killer Angels,Êfollows the War to its end through the eyes and thoughts and hopes of Robert E. Lee, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and Ulysses S. Grant. Powerful, moving, and elegantly narrated by Stephen Lang. In On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon (Simon ∧ Schuster Audio, $23, 4.5 hours, 0671573012), Kaye Gibbons's most recent work, Emma Garnet tells her life story with the kind of compelling, low-key eloquence that rings true and resonates in your heart. Raised in privilege on a James River plantation, yet deeply aware of the injustice of slavery, she becomes the wife of a Boston-bred surgeon in Raleigh. There she lives through the horrors of the War as she helps her husband tend the mangled bodies of the young soldiers. As Emma Garnet grows older, she grows stronger, more emboldened to try to right the wrongs she sees around her. Gibbons has created a truly memorable woman, and Polly Holliday, who reads, has given her a memorable voice. Jacob's Ladder: A Story of Virginia During the War (Audio Renaissance, $24.95, 6 hours, 1559275081) by Donald McCaig is an epic tale of the shame and glory of the Confederacy. There's a big cast of characters, white and black, master and slave, good and bad, honorable and despicable, their lives intertwined. McCaig's grasp of historical detail allows him to move with ease from the bloodied battlefields of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville to Richmond's elegant salons, from plantation slave quarters to Bahamian banquets. Performer Ira Claffey's wonderful range of accents, timbres, and cadences allows us to hear each character's unique personality.
More for Civil War buffs and wannabesThe wave of patriotism, the fervor on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, is no where better documented then in the actual words of men who left their homes to fight. Voices of the Civil War: Soldier Life, Letters Home and Journals of the War (Time Warner AudioBooks, $12, 90 minutes) lets you hear these young men who went to war without an inkling of what lay ahead, who fought, were injured and scarred by what they saw and endured. This full cast rendering captures the intensity, the range of feelings from anguish and despair to the laughter and joy of camaraderie and triumph.
The medium to beat the tediumThere's nothing like an interesting audio to take the Mommy, are we there yet out of travel so if you're packing the kids in the car for a late summer jaunt, don't be caught tapeless! Dominic (Listening Library, $16.98, 3 hours, ages 8 and up, 0807278939), William Steig's tale of the sweet dog who sets off on a trip to nowhere and finds adventures everywhere, is a modern classic that continues to delight (ages 9 and up).
Marguerite Henry's King of the Wind (BDD Audio, $18.99, 3.5 hours, 055347829X), the classic horse story that has enraptured children for 50 years, will thrill listeners anew as David McCallum reads.
Redwall, a great mouse epic in three parts follows the good defenders of Redwall Abbey as they battle the wrath of Cluny the Scourge and his minions. Performed here by author Brian Jacques and a full cast. Redwall: Book One (Listening Library, $19.95, all ages, 0807278408), Book Two ($19.95, 080727965X), Book Three ($15.95, 0807279684).
PICK-OF-THE-MONTH Think of something that you would die for, then live for it. That's the advice Luis, a world-wise Cuban exile gives Caro Venable, who has been living in a soul-shredding haze of sorrow since the death of her young daughter. Caro, the appealing heroine of Anne Rivers Siddons's Low Country (HarperAudio, $25, 6 hours, 0694519960), read here by Debra Monk, takes that advice to heart when she faces the loss of the island she treasures to a development company one, unfortunately, controlled by her own husband. Siddons, a natural storyteller, is at her best here, conjuring up the mists and marshes and shaggy wild ponies of the South Carolina low country, creating characters with enough substance to stay with you long after the cassettes stop spinning. Sukey Howard reports on spoken word audio each month.