The Inaugural Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration

Established in 2010 by the American Library Association Collection Development and Evaluation Section (CODES) of RUSA, The Listen List recognizes and honors the narrators who are a pleasure to listen to; who offer listeners something they could not create by their own visual reading; and who achieve an outstanding performance in terms of voice, accents, pitch, tone, inflection, rhythm and pace.

This inaugural list (Be sure to check out the wonderful listen-alikes with each of the winners) includes literary and genre fiction, memoir and history and features voices that enthrall, delight and inspire.

The 2012 winners are:

All Clear by Connie Willis. Narrated by Katherine Kellgren.
This sequel to Blackout, a stellar science fiction adventure, follows the plight of a group of historians from 2060, trapped in WWII England during the Blitz. In a narrative tour de force, Kellgren brings to life a large cast of characters, including a pair of street-smart urchins who capture the hearts of characters and listeners alike.

Bossypants by Tina Fey Narrated by Tina Fey.
In a very funny memoir made decidedly funnier by its reader, Tina Fey relates sketches and memories of her time at SNL and Second City as well as the difficulties of balancing career and motherhood. In a voice dripping with wit, she acts out the book, adding extra-aural elements that print simply cannot convey.

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley. Narrated by Dominic Hoffman.
Dominic Hoffman reads this elegiac novel of memory and redemption with fierce grace, inhabiting Mosley’s characters with voices perfectly crafted in pitch and rhythm. His rough, gravelly narration manages the pace and mood of the book with astounding skill, brilliantly capturing the mental clarity and fog of 91-year-old Ptolemy Grey’s world.

Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert, Narrated by Edward Herrmann.
Ebert’s clear-eyed account chronicles his life from his youth in Urbana, Illinois, to his fame as a world-renowned film critic in Chicago. Herrmann’s engaging, affable reading mirrors the author’s tone—honest, often humorous, sometimes bittersweet—as he unhurriedly ushers listeners through Ebert’s moving reflections on a life well lived.

Middlemarch by George Eliot. Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.
Juliet Stevenson brings crisp clarity, a witty sensibility and a charming tonal quality to Eliot’s masterpiece of provincial life. Through her deft management of pacing and tone, she reveals character motivation and illuminates the many themes of the novel. But most of all she reclaims Eliot for listeners who thought they did not enjoy classics.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willg. Narrated by Kate Reading.
In this Regency Christmas caper, a pudding, a spy, a hilarious school theatrical and a memorable country house party lead to laughter, love and an offer of marriage. Reading’s lovely English accent and exuberance are a perfect fit for the wide range of characters, from young girls to male teachers to members of the aristocracy.

One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde. Narrated by Emily Gray.
In this genre-bending romp, the “written” Thursday must rescue the “real” Thursday from a nefarious Bookworld plot. Emily Gray wears Thursday like a second skin, as she does the robots, dodos, and space aliens running around. The story is paced such that every nuance of pun and word play is captured and rendered aurally.

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley. Narrated by Jayne Entwistle.
Flavia de Luce, a terrifyingly proficient 11-year-old amateur chemist and sleuth, investigates the beating of a gypsy and the death of a villager in this third outing. Entwistle’s spot-on narration reveals the irrepressible, intrepid heroine’s prowess and captures a delicious range of secondary characters in these whimsical mysteries set in 1950s rural England.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø. Narrated by Robin Sachs.
The icy chill of the Norwegian countryside and a series of cold-blooded murders dominate this Harry Hole crime novel. Sachs contrasts Hole’s world-weary professional attitude, his unquenchable thirst for justice and his yearning for love and comfort, as he skillfully maintains a suspenseful pace and projects an overarching sense of doom.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Narrated by Simon Prebble.
The tragedy and heroism of the French Revolution come alive through Prebble’s distinctive and graceful narration. As the lives of Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton intersect, Prebble takes listeners deep into France and England, narrating terrifying descriptions and breathless acts of courage with a cadence that sweeps one away.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht. Narrated by Susan Duerden and Robin Sachs.
In this imaginative novel, Balkan physician Natalia, on a mission of mercy, learns of her beloved grandfather’s death. Duerden’s mesmerizing voice leads listeners through the complexities of this rich novel with its intertwining stories, while Sachs memorably relates her grandfather’s haunting tales in a gentle and gruff voice.

Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick. Narrated by Nathaniel Philbrick.
In what should be required reading before cracking the pages of Moby-Dick, Nathaniel Philbrick’s homage to this great American novel compels the listener to experience Melville with an almost incandescent joy. His voice resonates with palpable enthusiasm and calls to mind a New England professor giving a fascinating lecture.

Feeding the Downton Fever

If you are one of the 142 library patrons waiting to catch up on the First Season of the PBS Masterpiece Theater's Downton Abbey, or you'd scheduled your Sunday activities around the Second Season now in progress, then read on.

This immensely popular British period drama set in a grand country house in North Yorkshire is largely the creation of actor/writer Julian Fellowes (with illuminating behind-the-scenes tidbits), whose niece, author Jessica Fellowes has published The World of Downton Abbey (photography by Nick Briggs) - a companion book about the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, as well as insights into British society in the early years of the twentieth century.

If you and your friends are caught up in the Downton fever that's sweeping the country, the New York Times has some smashing ideas that involve theme parties (tiaras optional, menus suggested).

If your participation tends to be the solitary variety, or you are already suffering from fear of withdraw once the last episode airs on February 19, then be comforted that the major publishers have already anticipated your needs with a further reading list.

Readers Advisory Guru (and my good friend) Neal Wyatt has come up with her impeccable suggestions in this RA Crossroads article "What To Watch (and Read) After Downton Abbey" that is sure to bring you many hours of reading/viewing/listening pleasure until Season 3.

Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday with Poetry

Monday January 16, 2012: 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

Jeff Kass from the Neutral Zone shares some poetry on Civil Rights, Equality, Peace and Justice in celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This event is for grades 4 - 12.

Boardwalk Empire Red Alert

This morning I got to work early and began to do little tasks to help get the day started. I cleaned the computers, restocked our giveaway rack, and shelved DVDs. Until I saw something so shocking I had to stop what I was doing and post a second blog for today. People, I am not sure if you have noticed, but rarely do staffers post consecutive blogs unless something extremely important has happened.

Here it is. Sitting on the shelving cart was the entire first season of Boardwalk Empire. This is their first day circulating in the system and they’re sitting there like the saddest library materials in the world. I double checked with the system to see if they were supposed to trigger holds and discovered that there is not a single hold on Boardwalk Empire. This is a travesty.

This is an incredible show! INCREDIBLE! You should put your holds on it immediately! These DVDs should have been met with all the fanfare an HBO releases normally receive: Hundreds of holds.

In case you aren’t familiar with the premise, this is a Martin Scorsese directed HBO television series set in prohibition era Atlantic City. It is historically accurate, with dazzling acting, intriguing storylines- it even has Omar (from The Wire). If you enjoyed The Sopranos, Deadwood, or Don Corleone’s flashback scenes from Godfather 2, I urge you to give Boardwalk Empire a try. You won’t regret it!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #305

Picked by Library Journal as one of the 8 best Women's Fiction of 2011, debut novelist Sarah Jio's The Violets of March is a rich blend of history, mystery, and romance.

After a heartbreaking divorce, author Emily Wilson returns to Bainbridge Island, WA, to put some distance between her tattered life in New York, and to reconnect with her elderly and secretive great-aunt Bee. When she comes across the diary of a woman named Esther from the 1940s, she is totally drawn into the mystery of lives on the Island, and begins to see the parallels to her own situation and connections to her family history. A charming old beau and the handsome neighbor down the beach provide romantic tension and love interest as Emily tries to ferret out the story behind the diary while attempting to make a fresh start.

Not brain surgery, but a pleasant, charming story in a lovely setting. For fans of the Sarah Blake, Julie Buxbaum, Juliette Fay, Sarah Pekkanan, and Allison Winn Scotch.

Jio's second novel Bungalow has just been released. Can't wait.

For other novels with Pacific Northwest setting, check out Owl Island by Randy Sue Coburn, Summer Island by Kristin Hannah or the inspirational Cedar Cove Series (imaginary place) by Debbie Macomber.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #304

My reading gets downright frantic when the "Best Of" lists start showing up at the end of the year. Glad this one made the lists.

Named by both the Kirkus Reviews' as one of the Best of 2011 Mysteries, and a Library Journal Best Mystery of 2011 Stealing Mona Lisa * * was published to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of the theft of the most recognized painting in the world from the Louvre in 1911.

First-time novelist Carson Morton (professional musician, screenwriter, and playwright), "smoothly blends fact and fiction while evocatively exploring the era's seamy underbelly."

Paris, 1925. On his death bed the Marquis Eduardo de Valfierno recounts to a young reporter his audacious plan to steal the Mona Lisa, and the elaborate scheme to pass 6 forged copies off into the hands of American tycoons with insatiable appetite for the unattainable. As well orchestrated as the plan was, it was undone by nature - human and otherwise, when "love, lust, jealousy, greed, and murderous revenge come into play, along with excessive rains and the worst flooding in contemporary Paris history."

Stealing Mona Lisa is a "sophisticated, engaging caper, complete with a richly imagined group of con artists and a historical mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end." The twisty conclusion will leave you wondering about the authenticity of the art on museum walls !!

For a historical account of the famous heist and largely unsolved mystery, try R.A. Scotti's Vanished Smile: the mysterious theft of Mona Lisa (also in audio).

The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft, and Detection by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler is "part fast-paced thriller and part social history," and an unwieldy and engrossing account of life and crime in belle époque Paris, with the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa serving as the centerpiece.

One last thing...do allow for the author's exercise of artistic license with the chronology of the Paris flood which actually took place the previous year, as captured in these vintage photos. You might also find fascinating Paris Under Water : how the city of light survived the great flood of 1910 by Jeffrey H. Jackson.

* * = starred reviews

The 5th Beatle

Looking through the new DVDs list in the catalog, I was excited to see that AADL will soon have copies of the movie, Backbeat! As a huge Beatles fan, this is one of my favorite movies because of how funny and also fairly accurate it is in its portrayal of the early days of the group.

In general, the story follows the band's start in the seedy nightclubs of Liverpool and Hamburg. More specifically, it chronicles the close friendship between John Lennon and "Fifth Beatle," Stuart Sutcliffe. The film is touching in its honesty towards this relationship and Lennon's struggle with Sutcliffe's decision to leave the Beatles in order to pursue a promising painting career (you can view some of his art at the link above...). Sometimes with all the "peace and love" Lennon tributes and memorials out there, it's easy to forget that the icon was once an angry, smart-aleck teenager with all kinds of abandonment issues. For me, understanding this Lennon makes me appreciate all the more the person he grew into later in life.

"Backbeat" is R-rated and as gritty and raw as the streets in which it takes place. The music, of course, is great. It's well worth checking out (if only to learn all about how the group got its famous hair-cut...), along with other John Lennon videos and albums. Or you can always buff up on your Beatles history with the wide range of books and videos at the library. And, of course, there will ALWAYS be the music.

Fats Waller - Ain't Misbehavin' Lecture With Musical Interludes At The Performance Network Theatre

Monday December 5, 2011: 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Join us for a delightful evening that gets to the roots of the famous musical Ain't Misbehavin'. This event will be held at the Performance Network Theater and will feature a lecture by pianist, recording artist and jazz connoisseur - Professor James Dapogny.

Professor Dapogny will discuss early 20th century jazz composer, Thomas "Fats" Waller, whose influential music comprises the 1978 Tony Award-winning musical Ain't Misbehavin' (now playing at The Performance Network Theatre).

The evening will feature performance examples of Fats Waller's innovative music. As a special treat - there will be an afterglow following this event at The Ravens Club, located at 207 South Main St. in Ann Arbor. All are welcome to attend.

The Performance Network Theatre is located at 120 East Huron St in Ann Arbor. There is no charge for this lecture, however there is limited seating - so please arrive early.

New Collection: Fandex Family Field Guides

Looking for entertaining yet educational activities for family car trips, snowy days stuck inside, or something to read on the bus? Check out a Fandex Family Field Guide from your neighborhood branch library. These full color, die-cut cards are great for upper elementary and middle schoolers for learning about a wide range of topics, such as Presidents, Mythology, Dinosaurs, Painters, and plenty more.

For example, the Presidents Fandex presents a chronological field guide to all 44 of America's chief executives. "Which President made the Louisiana Purchase? Which President won a Nobel Peace Prize? Which President also served as chief justice of the Supreme Court? Who was in office during the Teapot Dome scandal, and who endured the childhood nickname "Useless"? From the historic Founding Fathers (three of whom died on the Fourth of July) to the 19th-century forgettables (Fillmore, Tyler, Pierce, et al.) to our current leadership, Presidents lets you finally get it straight."

First Ladies

A new exhibition of the most famous dresses worn by U.S. Presidents' wives opens today at the National Museum of American History. The “First Lady Debuts” display forms part of the First Ladies Collection, which, for more than 100 years, has been one of the most popular attractions at the Smithsonian.

It features dresses worn by Michelle Obama, Mamie Eisenhower, Betty Ford, Barbara Bush, Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, Hilary Clinton and more.

The first ladies did more than just wear fabulous inaugural gowns. To find out more about their lives, work and causes, click on each of their names to be directed to books available at the Ann Arbor District Library.

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