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Audio Book Review
Books to read with your eyes on the road

Jonathan Lowe
Audio Book Reviewer

What makes a good reader? Well, obviously, it's in the voice. A sonorous and pleasing voice is preferable to one that sounds like it's coming over the speaker at a fast-food drive-thru. "Want fries with that?" No, thank you. Given a rich or interesting voice, the really good reader enunciates clearly - words must be crisp and precise in the telling. Finally, the reader must not sound like he or she is reading, and should be able to present a realistic interpretation. That requires acting skills to jump between dialogue, narration and action while using appropriate dialects and different character voices. It's rare to find a reader who possesses all of these qualities - golden voice, precise diction, acting skills, versatile dialects. As well-rounded talent, my own favorite narrators include Frank Muller, William Roberts, Dick Hill, Stacy Keach, Terence Donovan, Miriam Margolyes, Barbara Rosenblat and Tony Roberts. Do you have any favorite voices? Let me know by e-mailing at AudioRev@aol.com.

Cross Country (unabridged) titles

Chivers Audiobooks has a fine narrator in William Roberts, an American-born and British-trained actor, who has been heard extensively on radio and who has appeared on film. Roberts latest recording is "The Last Tycoon," the final and uncompleted novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is essentially a love story, although with much wider implications than for the two people involved. With the setting of Hollywood in its early years, Fitzgerald places Stahr - a studio mogul - in believable and ultimately tragic circumstances involving union woes, promiscuity and the self-deceptive shadings that characterize a man who tells lies for a living. The final chapters of the book are told in summary, as Fitzgerald died of a heart attack prior to completing the novel in 1940. As for Roberts, he is a delight to listen to; a virtuoso with a vast repertoire of voices and accents. (4.5 hrs., Chivers Audio, 1-800-621-0182) 

If you enjoyed the movie "Tombstone," you'll enjoy the novel by Matt Braun as read by Peter Waldren. Was Wyatt Earp a hero or a villain? This book, and historical fact, suggests the latter. Luke Starbuck is hired to infiltrate the Earp clan and discover Wyatt's treacheries, and then to have him killed. It doesn't work out that way, because truth is often stranger than fiction. This interesting and well-paced story is truth told as fiction, and narrator Waldren takes dead aim in delivering the goods. (7.25 hrs., for rent from Recorded Books, 1-800-638-1304) 

Jeffrey Archer is one of the most talented of British writers, in my opinion. Now comes an eclectic new collection of short stories, read by someone named Bill Wallace (who I'd like to hear more of) . "To Cut A Long Story Short" contains a dozen tales involving some interesting crimes and non-crimes. I say "non-crimes" because Archer loves to have his characters toy with loopholes in the law, outwitting the court system. Another theme here is loyalty and greed, especially among family members, as rich old men first test their inheritors prior to any reading of wills. Then comes Archer's inevitable surprise endings. Very entertaining. (6 hrs., Harper Audio, ISBN 0-694-52483-2) 

"A Man's Journey to Simple Abundance" by Sarah Ban Breathnach is a book about men understanding themselves, and women understanding men. Hats off to Breathnach for knowing that men don't like to be lectured, so instead of giving us another author-narrated self-help book, she has included the essays of men from all walks of life talking about love, trust, courage, despair and what it means to be a man. My favorite is the essay written by a mountain man who has given up on all but the company of animals. This is mostly those essayists' book, although Breathnach comments on the significance of each. (4.5 hrs., Simon & Schuster Audio, ISBN 0-7435-0681-2) 

Here's something unusual - a fully dramatized audio production that sounds like a novel, but is actually a how-to text illuminating a new way to look at profit, production and success. "The Goal" by Eliyahu M. Goldratt was originally published in 1984, but has been updated for this 2000 audio book, and is acted out in a reading that is both entertaining and instructive. The plot involves the manager of a manufacturing plant who is given three months to turn his plant around or it'll be closed. The only way to do this (he's told by an old college professor) is to discover the goal - the reason for the plant's existence. Music and sound effects accompany an ensemble cast to bring life to this novel idea. My only caveat is that the audio book seems too long and would have benefited greatly by being abridged. (10.5 hrs., Highbridge Audio, ISBN 1-56511-408-6) U

In "The Switch" by Sandra Brown, identical twin sisters go under the nutshells for the reader or listener to keep an eye on. When one is murdered while substituting as an escort for an astronaut, the other becomes the target of a religious guru bent on spreading his influence throughout the world. Will you guess the final switch? Don't be too sure. This shell game is narrated by Jan Maxwell, a first-rate actress and voice talent. Fun stuff, although I didn't believe the religious nut's motivations, which seemed contrived. (4.5 hrs., Simon & Schuster Audio, ISBN 0-7435-0514-X) U

Short cuts worth taking

"The Fortune Tellers" by Howard Kurtz tells the story of financial reporting in the '80s and '90s, and shows how even the so-called experts don't really know what's going on. Financial gurus are all guessing on what will be the next big thing, yet they try to outwit and outmaneuver each other for prominence on the airwaves. If you have total faith in your advisor, then this book is definitely for you. If not, then the subject may only be of passing interest. It is read by the author, whose sustained energy and style seems to prop up the audio book's repetitive content by the third tape. (4.5 hrs., Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-7435-10097)

"Young Men & Fire" is Norman MacLean's tribute to the 15 men who died fighting a forest fire in remote Mann Gulch in the Montana wilderness in 1949. From the author of "A River Runs Through It" comes a chronicle of one of the worst disasters in the history of the Forest Service, and the science is explored behind what caused the freak 2000-degree firestorm, which was 300 feet tall. (6 hrs., Highbridge Audio, ISBN 1-56511-369-9)

Here's an audio book that will appeal to those interested in antiques and collectibles. The focus here is on masterpieces of American furniture, how they are acquired and auctioned, and on two identical twins' obsession for discovery. "Hidden Treasures" is read by the authors, Leigh and Leslie Keno, who appear on the "Antiques Roadshow." Highlight of the two tapes is the story behind the most expensive single piece of American furniture ever made - a perfectly preserved secretary that sold for more than $7 million. (3 hrs., $17.98, Time Warner Audio, ISBN 1-57042-978-2)

For a broad overview of Shakespeare's work, here's (you guessed it) "Shakespeare - His Life and Work." Don't look here for an in-depth study of any one particular play, or for more than a few lines of each play performed by Judi Dench and Timothy West, but as a biography and sampling of all the master's plays, plus his poems and songs, this production is an interesting look into the life of the enigmatic Bard of Avon. (2.5 hrs., Audio Partners, ISBN 1-57270-178-1)

Elmore Leonard began his writing career with westerns, and now some of his old stories (dated 1953) are being presented on audio for the first time, read by a suitably gruff sounding voice belonging to Peter Renaday. Each title is $9.95, runs 90 minutes and includes sound effects or music. "Forty Lashes Less One" involves an escape from the Yuma territorial prison, "The Bounty Hunters" pits an Army scout against a Mimbre Apache, and "Gunsights," the best of the trio, has two frontier gunfighters and best friends on opposite sides in an Arizona land war. Leonard is best known these days as the mystery author of "Get Shorty," "Out of Sight," and "Rum Punch," all of which were made into movies. (90 min., Highbridge Audio, ISBN 1-56511-399-3)  

Audio book sources
If you don't see an 800 number for the book you want, call 1-800-532-7385 or visit Earful.com for rent or sale of books. For author interviews, visit audiobookcafe.com. Reviewer Jonathan Lowe is author of "Postal," an award-winning suspense novel read by Frank Muller (1-800-72-Audio), and "Mystery & Mirth For Anyone Stuck in Traffic," a tape of radio plays benefiting charity (1-800-88-Books).