In addition to assigning and editing the audiobook reviews, Media Editor Michael Rogers is himself a prolific audiobook reviewer with eclectic tastes. Along with the reviewer picks above, he offers his personal favorites from the year that was.
Hubbard, L. Ron. Hell’s Legionnaire. Galaxy Audio. ISBN 9781592122622. $9.95. F
Galaxy released a handful of Hubbard’s vintage pulp stories last year in its “Stories from the Golden Age” series, but this is the best of them. The package includes the title story plus “The Barbarians” and “The Squad That Never Came Back.” All released in 1935, these tales chronicle the death match between the French Foreign Legion and the Berbers in Morocco. The stories offer loads of action, and Hubbard doesn’t pull his punches—battles between the soldiers and the Arabs, beheadings, and torture scenes are refreshingly graphic. An absolute blast, and you can’t beat the price. (LJ 3/15/12)
Black Mask Stories. Vol. 7: Black Mask Stories. The Shrieking Skeleton and Other Crime Fiction from the Legendary Magazine. ed. by Otto Penzler. HighBridge Audio. ISBN 9781611744767. $29.95. MYS
This series, which launched late in 2011, has delivered one great collection after another and is my favorite of the year. Volume 7 proved especially lucky, with five mysteries running from straight detective/whodunit fare to the spooky, paranormal title piece. A bevy of gravel-voiced narrators bring to life these classic hard-boilers by Day Keene, Hank Searls, Erle Stanley Gardner, and others in a way that print can’t match—they’ll get listeners point blank between the ears! (LJ 9/1/12)
King, Stephen & Stewart O’Nan. A Face in the Crowd. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9781442359789. $9.99. HORROR
King’s short ghost story features Dean Evers, a retiree who bids New England winters goodbye for a Florida condo. Evers has baseball in his blood, and while tuning in to the games, he begins to see long-dead people from his past sitting in the stands—and they’re saving him a seat. The story generates eerie suspense while moving briskly, and actor Craig Wasson handles the pacing and voices beautifully. After this story, you’ll never answer the phone while watching a ball game again. At roughly an hour, this can be digested in a single sitting, and the price is sweet. (LJ 9/15/12)
Woodrell, Daniel. Give Us a Kiss. Hachette Audio from AudioGO. ISBN 9781611137132. $54.99. F
Woodrell’s hillbilly noir tale shows that blood is thicker than bong water. After catching his wife cheating on him, crime writer Doyle Redmond “borrows” her car and heads back home to the Ozark Mountains. He is immediately given a pistol by his father and recruited by his brother for a large marijuana deal, which doesn’t end all that well. This story is a weird mixture of serious violence and belly laughs and has as close to a happy ending as Woodrell musters. Narrator Brian Troxell’s reading is spot-on. A wild ride.
Black, Dustin Lance. 8. L.A. Theatre Works. ISBN 9781580818896. $29.95. DRAMA
Academy Award–winning screenwriter Black dramatizes the lawsuit filed by the American Federation for Equal Rights against the state of California following the passage of Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The dialog comes directly from court transcripts and interviews with the plaintiffs. Rob Reiner directs a stellar cast including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Kevin Bacon, Martin Sheen, John C. Reilly, Christine Lahti, and Jamie Lee Curtis in this live recording. This production deserves a standing ovation. (LJ 6/1/12)
Philbrick, Nathaniel. Why Read Moby-Dick? Books on Tape. ISBN 9780307969675. $19.95. LIT
This title is historian Philbrick’s valentine to Herman Melville’s singular masterpiece. In numerous, brief chapters, Philbrick, who also narrates, presents in very simple terms his argument for why Melville’s briny story of obsession and revenge becomes more relevant as history glides forward like the Pequod on its doomed voyage. He scrutinizes the novel’s core characters and ponders the well of Melville’s creativity and melancholy. Beautifully done. (LJ 3/1/12)
Smith, Kevin. Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good. Penguin Audio. ISBN 9781611760613. $29.95. AUTOBIOG/FILM
Director Smith himself is as much of an allure as any of his films; his “Evening with” Q&As have filled Carnegie Hall. Smith here recounts his life and career, from the amateurish Clerks to the superb Red State and his early days at Miramax. The audiobook is equal parts biography and personal philosophy, with loads of laughs. Smith is a funny, cordial, and embarrassingly honest host—he’ll tell you anything about himself—but be warned, much of the dialog is R-rated. Smith’s narration makes the program all the funnier and more personable. For his legions of devoted fans, this audiobook is Kevin heaven. (LJ 4/15/12)