In the midst of the horrors of 9/11, many became heroes, putting the lives of others before their own. We've heard much about firemen and policemen. Now, with James B. Stewart's Heart of a Soldier: A Story of Love, Heroism, and September 11th we learn about a man who did what many others would not and could not have done. With deft strokes, Stewart paints vivid portraits of Rick Rescorla and a life that led to heroism; his closest friend and buddy-in-arms, Dan Hill; and Susan, the loving wife and soulmate he met in late middle-age. Rescorla was a soldier's soldier, a fearless fighter in colonial Africa and three-times decorated in the Vietnam War. As head of security for Morgan Stanley on that sunlit September day, it was his preparation and deep sense of duty that helped save the lives of 2,700 Morgan Stanley employees in the South Tower; he died, as he would have wanted, setting an example. George Di Cenzo's calmly intense narration on the audio underscores Stewart's "you-are-there" journalism and Rescorla's resolve.
The movie version of A.S. Byatt's Possession may have received mixed reviews, but the unabridged recording is cause for audio elation. For me, this is one of those books that is much easier on the ears than on the eyes. In other words, I had trouble reading the novel, but found listening to Virginia Leishman's reading a 23-hour pleasure. With consummate skill, Byatt not only recreates the passionate, disastrous love-liaison between two Victorian poets, the scholarly detective work that uncovers it, and the accompanying academic jostling and jousting, she actually recreates the poets' work their journals, sagas, poems and their extraordinary letters. It all adds up to an amazing, amusing literary tour de force.
Sparks of love
Get out your handkerchiefs and keep your casting list handy. Nicholas Sparks has done it again. Nights in Rodanthe, read by JoBeth Williams with just the right warm understanding, is as heart-wrenchingly romantic as its best-selling predecessors. At 45, with three children, a father in a nursing home and a husband who has left them all for the proverbial trophy wife, Adrienne is muddling through with little hope for the future. Enter, Paul, a surgeon whose single-minded ambition has driven his wife and only son away and who is finally facing up to the error of his ways. They meet in a B & B on the beach in the Outer Banks and have five days together five days that forever change their lives. You can guess the outcome it's told in flashbacks with just a hint of those Madison County Bridges but vintage Sparks is well worth your listening time.
Jonathan Safran Foer's debut novel got the kind of reviews that young writers (and the older variety) dream about. His novel, Everything is Illuminated, is brilliant, affecting, wildly original and, read here by Jeff Woodman and Scott Shina, makes a brilliant, affecting, original audio presentation. It begins simply enough an American college boy, Jonathan Safran Foer, goes to Ukraine seeking his European roots and the woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. He is escorted by Alex Perchov, a Ukrainian of equal age, who is, as he tells us, "fluid" in English and a "very premium person." But as the two tell the tale of their adventure of looking for places that no longer exist Alex in his magnificently mangled English and Jonathan by conjuring a fabulous, often irreverent, fable of his shtetl ancestors powerful comedy mixes with powerful tragedy, with memories that haunt with memories that fade, and with the meaning of love and friendship. If everything isn't ultimately illuminated though so much is it doesn't matter, you've just listened to something way out of the ordinary and "unequivocally premium."