Childhood memories, misconceptions, misdeeds, heroics, and fantasy -- both dark and dangerous -- are all fodder for this month's audiobooks. All titles are also available from Audible.com.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
By Neil Gaiman
Read by Neil Gaiman
HighBridge Audio; $29.99; 5 CDs, 6 hours
It's always a pleasure to hear the mellifluous, lovely-voiced Gaiman narrate his own work, and this elegiac fable, both dark and delicate, is no exception. When a middle-aged man returns home for a funeral, he is swept up in a current of long-forgotten memories that include the otherworldly Hempstocks, a clan of women who have protected him more than he ever realized. Masquerading as a children's story, this resonates with adult themes of lost innocence, longing, and the true meaning of both sacrifice and friendship. Gaiman's evocative narration adds an extra layer of entertainment to a memorable tale. Grade: A
The Execution of Noa P. Singleton
By Elizabeth L. Silver
Read by Rebecca Lowman with Amanda Carlin
Random House Audio; $40; 8 CDs, 10 hours
Recollections, perceptions, judgments and misjudgments are at the heart of a well-written and well-produced freshman effort by Silver. A woman sits on death row doing nothing to save herself, and over the course of several months we learn the surprising reasons why. Silver's vocabulary occasionally sounds stilted and overreaching, but her ideas are thoughtful and will linger. Lowman narrates most of the story as the stubborn and unmoving protagonist. Carlin is most surprising as the mother of the young woman Singleton killed. She shifts her voice and tone depending on the situation, revealing an aching heart under her shellacked exterior. Grade: A-
Learning to Swim
By Sarah J. Henry
Read by Suzanne Toren
Brilliance Audio; $14.99; 9 CDs, 11 hours and 6 minutes
We must suspend all disbelief when Troy Chance dives from a ferry into Lake Champlain to save a young boy. This is not because of her bravery, but because this clearly intelligent woman never calls the police and never explains her actions in a satisfactory manner. Gaping plot hole aside, this first title in a series develops into a surprisingly good listen as Troy turns amateur detective, all the while wryly observing those around her. Veteran narrator Toren has a voice that is both pretty and commanding. She convincingly changes characters and has a delicious French accent when required. Grade: B+
By Isabel Allende
Read by Maria Cabezas
Harper Audio; $44.99; 12 CDs, 14 hours and 30 minutes
As always, Allende creates vivid and lasting portraits and so cleverly depicts Chilean culture that one can almost smell the spices and see the colors. However, her main character, a young woman barely out of her teens, is so wise beyond her years that by the end of the book she sounds like a wizened crone. While we want to see growth in a character, Maya does not sound realistic. Still, this provides adventure, romance, and is read beautifully by Cabezas, who sounds appropriately young, Latina, flirty, funny, bold, and unhappy. She enhances this production with a performance that helps us glide through rough narrative patches. Grade: B
Read by Benjamin Percy
Hachette Audio; $29.98; 18 CDs, 22 hours
Set in an alternate universe in which Lycans are a persecuted minority that has begun to fight back, this novel manages to frighten while slyly commenting on cultural bias and societal unease. Though more than occasionally over the top, this is a fast-moving and fun summer listen that encompasses a host of characters and several story lines. However, Percy should not have narrated, as he can become so melodramatic that he gets in the way of his own writing. One becomes accustomed to his supremely (almost stentorian) deep voice and his rough edges smooth somewhat as the story unfolds, but this suffers from his involvement. Grade: B-
The Bookstore in Lenox will host Olympia Dukakis this coming Monday night, Aug. 12 at 7 p.m., in a talk about Bertold Brecht's play "Mother Courage and Her Children," as well as her role in it this summer at Shakespeare & Company.
Dukakis has written an introduction to the play in the new Penguin paperback edition of the play. Copies of the book will be available for sale.
The event will take place in the Get Lit@ The Bookstore part of the store, with standing room expected on the main floor.
No reservations are required, although patrons are urged to arrive early on Monday. Seating is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis.
Also, members of the company, including co-founder Dennis Krausnick along with Doria Bra-mante and Kate Abbruzzese, will present an afternoon of poetry at Get Lit @ The Bookstore on Sunday afternoon Aug. 11, starting at 3 p.m. They will read selected poetry written by company member R. A. Martelle which were inspired by paintings by another company member Sophie Breton. A lively discussion of the arts will ensue afterwards.
Any questions, please call Matt Tannenbaum at (413) 637-3390.