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In Southern Words: Volume 2

Family Album

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Read by the Authors: Pat Conroy, Reynolds Price, Roy Blount Jr., Gary D. Ford, Shirley Abbott, Wanda Butler, John Hamner, Kyle Caldwell Mann

Southern Living magazine $11.95, one cassette, 1 hr.

These eight essays from contemporary Southern writers collected by Southern Living magazine are little gems. Listeners are treated to reminiscences of homes and families, relatives and meals, births and funerals. Pat Conroy introduces them as an exploration "of kindred bonds." In a soft Southern voice Kyle Caldwell Mann in "My Father and Me" visits her father's family home, saying, "The house was locked, but I learned that day that memories need no keys."

Sharing stories of their kinfolk, the authors' voices add a particular intimacy. The selections are nicely chosen and many will resonate with listeners' own memories. The authors, for the most part, have a relaxed narrative style. Roy Blount Jr. regales us with dinner-table conversation in "The Way Folks Were Meant to Eat" - a selection sure to bring smiles and delight. In "Letter From Rome," Pat Conroy shows listeners a wry humor that rarely surfaces in his novels. Reynolds Price's "Penny Show" offers a host of elegant visual images. The oral tradition is nicely captured in these recordings, allowing listeners to be entertained by memories through the voices of some of the finest Southern writers.

A Christmas Carol

By Charles Dickens

Read by Patrick Stewart

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Simon & Schuster Audio, $16

Two cassettes, 2 hrs., abridged

A Christmas Carol and Other Favorites

Told by Jim Weiss

Greathall Productions, $9.95

One cassette, 1 hr., storytelling

Charles Dickens's holiday classic comes in many guises. For classicists, Patrick Stewart shows his Shakespearean roots in performing an elegant and resonant "Christmas Carol." Stewart, known to many as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in TV's "Star Trek: The Next Generation," has illustrious theatre credits as a former member of The Royal Shakespeare Company. Articulate and powerful, Stewart dazzles listeners with impeccable timing and drama.

For a recording that will appeal to families, tune in Jim Weiss's storytelling version of Scrooge's Christmas visions. Weiss's version of "Christmas Carol" is modern and, at the same, true to the original. Weiss couples his keen understanding of the original with his ability to delight young listeners. He simplifies without diminishing the rich images. He connects the scenes to situations young people can grasp, as he captures Scrooge's change of heart without heavy moralizing. Ultimately, he never lets the characterizations become cartoonish.

The Christmas Tree

By Julie Salamon

Read by David Birney

Random House Audiobooks, $12

One cassette, 1-1/2 hrs., abridged

Julie Salamon's tale becomes a special production when read by David Birney, performing as chief gardener of Rockefeller Center, home to one of the world's most famous Christmas trees. He immediately makes listeners believe his story of the search for the magnificent tree and why this particular year the tree has an unusual meaning. With a simple grace he tells the story of Sister Anthony, who as an orphan child "adopted" a special friend, "Tree."

Through the years, the child and "Tree" grow and change. Birney brings an immediacy and compassion to the moving story of how as an adult, Sister Anthony allows the tree to be cut down for the world to enjoy in Rockefeller Center.

A Certain Justice

By P.D. James

Read by Michael Jayston

Random House, $44.95

Twelve cassettes, 16 hrs., Unabridged

P.D. James constructs an intricate mystery wound about the labyrinthine politics of the English law office of Middle Temple Chambers. Commander Adam Dalgleish uses his finely tuned instincts to sort out the suspects in the baffling murder of the ambitious, uncompromising barrister, Venetia Aldridge.

Michael Jayston's brilliant narration is a mastery of understatement finely tuned to the nuances and shadings of James's characters. Listeners are never aware of a "narrator," yet he unfolds the story deliberately with each twist and turn carefully laid out. Jayston subtly distinguishes the clerks, police officers and lawyers, making each character keenly felt.

This unabridged recording, available simultaneously with the hardcover print edition, is a sign of the maturing audiobook market.

Sherlock Holmes Mysteries

By Arthur Conan Doyle

Read by Ralph Cosham

Commuter's Library, $34.95

Six cassettes, 9 hrs., unabridged

Commuter's Library has produced what may well be the first coffee table audiobook. Five collections of short fiction by masters Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, and Joseph Conrad are bound in handsome slipcases, accompanied by biographical and literary notes.

Fine performances of the literature deserve such fine packaging. Ralph Cosham narrates the Conan Doyle selections, which include "The Musgrave Ritual," "The Red-Headed League," "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," "The Final Problem," and "The Hound of the Baskervilles."

Cosham delivers a classic, scholarly reading with fine pacing, clear diction, and an astute sense of dialogue. His voice is smooth and listenable, unaccented even for the famous sleuth and his chronicler, Dr. Watson. He offers few character voices but is able to build the drama without dramatization getting in the way. The spareness of the performance is appealing. Listeners attend to language and plot without distraction.

* Robin Whitten is the founder and editor of AudioFile, a monthly magazine of reviews and information on audiobooks. For additional information call 800-506-1212 or

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