by Chris Cleave
“And then the men came…” This is the recurrent opening to the story told by every traumatized refugee that Little Bee talks to while waiting in an immigration detention facility outside of London. The charming narrator of this original novel is sixteen-year-old Little Bee, who barely escaped from her Nigerian village with her life, after losing her family and home in a vicious attack. When released from detention after two years, she finds the one person in London she knows of — Sarah, a new widow who once met Little Bee during an ill-fated Nigerian vacation with her husband, two years earlier. The relationship forged by these two women (and one delightful little boy), the way they change each other, and their precariously intertwined fates, form a touching and compelling personal story set against a backdrop of an ocean of refugees moving around the globe in search of safe homes. Check this one out.
Peace Like a River
by Leif Enger
Read by Chad Lowe
Wow! This book already seems like an American classic, and it’s only a few years old (2001). Listening to it was like traveling west, possibly back in time, following a dream. But in reality it takes place in current times, with a father, son and daughter traveling into the badlands in a search for the oldest son, who is running from the law. It is told in first person by the younger brother. Enger has woven a tale with threads of humor, poignancy, spiritual mystery, miracles and suspense; also with clever allusions to Zane Grey stories of the Wild West, complete with outlaws and heroes.
The Red Tent
by Anita Diamant
Read by Carol Bilger
This is the imagined story of Dinah, one of the daughters of Jacob, sister to Joseph, and daughter to four mothers, from the Old Testament story. Dinah is actually mentioned only briefly in the Bible, when her rape is referred to, as the incitement to a major tribal battle. But Diamant has created a rich and moving tale focused on a strong woman who endured terrible tragedies and yet survived, gaining her strength from other women who taught her skills, rituals, and provided comfort via a female society separate from the dominant patriarchy of the times. The Middle Eastern music interspersed in the recording contributes to creating the atmosphere for this powerful story.
The Bonesetter’s Daughter
by Amy Tan
Read by Amy Tan and Joan Chen
Amy Tan has written a moving story based in part on her own mother and grandmother’s histories, and it is told from the points of view of Ruth, a first-generation Chinese-American who lives in San Francisco, and her mother, who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In the process of reading her mother’s writings, Ruth learns truths about her mother’s life that had previously been untold, and gains a new empathy and respect for her. The Chinese-accented voices of Tan and Chen bring authenticity and emotional resonance to the recording.
His Dark Materials
by Philip Pullman (trilogy: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass)
This theatrical production of this marvelous three-part fantasy has won awards and has many fans. This is a masterpiece suitable for most children aged 10+, as well as adults with imaginations, and it will carry you away to other times and lands, where magic, theology and physics intersect. The cast includes the author, Philip Pullman, and the drama that unfolds is intriguing, complex, suspenseful and utterly engrossing (drivers beware!).
by Jonathan Lethem
Read by Frank Muller
Now here’s a unique twist – a private investigator with Tourette’s Syndrome. Set in Brooklyn, this is a mystery tale told with pathos and self-deprecation by a native Brooklynite trying to resolve a crime and in the process uncovering a personal betrayal. If any book is a “must-listen,” rather than a must-read, this is it, as the narrator does a wonderful job portraying someone struggling to control his Tourette’s outbursts. Lethem’s power to evoke feelings is such that by the end of this noir story, I was ready to travel to JFK airport to get a particular kosher sandwich that is described in detail.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
by Lemony Snicket
Read by Tim Curry
Curry portrays the most dastardly villain to ever greet your ears in this wonderfully suspenseful and sinister (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) children’s series which is also suitable for adults who can suspend disbelief. Curry reads all the parts with considerable theatric skill. The first installment, The Bad Beginning, relates the tragic story of how three orphans ended up in the care of a terrible man who only wants their inheritance, but nevertheless it will leave you craving more, more, more distressing developments!