BOOKS: AUDIO BOOKS

2The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy read by Hugh Laurie, Hodder Headline pounds 8.99 each. More derring-do from "the best and the bravest man in all the world" ... you know the story. Put all thoughts of Blackadder away, Laurie refrains from buffoonery and delivers crisply defined characters: aristos and hags, men and women, whilst his menacing, sarcastic, thin-lipped Chauvelin exerts his own terror. A joyous bound through the revolutionary landscape.

2 Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier tread by Kerry Shale, HarperCollins pounds 8.99. Kerry Shale's deep, slow drawl transports you instantly to the deep South. Inman, a disillusioned soldier has turned his back on the Civil War and is walking home, dodging Northern Raiders and the Confederate Home Guard to Cold Mountain and his love Ada Munroe. Like a good film adaptation of a book, this poetic and poignant tape will create many new readers for Charles Frazier.

2William Blake: Selected Poems read by Stella Gonet, Alex Jennings, Haydn Gwynne, David Horovitch, Jeremy Northam and Nathaniel Parker, Penguin pounds 8.99. Blake's simple yet profound verse works brilliantly on audio and the alternating voices add extra interest. A basic biography links the poems - everything from delightful lyrics to the mind-boggling Prophetic Books.

2Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens read by Anton Lesser, Hodder Headline pounds 12.50. The labyrinthine plot of Dickens's tale of debt, duty and unrequited love is detangled effortlessly by Lesser's wonderful narration. His own voice is rather soft, ideal for the gentle heroine who lives in the Marshalsea prison with her vain, shallow father; but Lesser also provides distinct vocal identities for Arthur Clennam's grim mother; the sneering Mrs Merdle; huffing, puffing Mr Panks; tempestuous Tattycoram; the evil Jeremiah Flintwinch and his harassed wife Affery; and a host of others. Thoroughly gripping.

2The Chimney Sweeper's Boy by Barbara Vine read by Michael Williams, Penguin pounds 8.99. Williams keeps a tight rein on the tension in Barbara Vine's plot so although the denouement is amply signposted, it does not disappoint. Reeling from the sudden death of her beloved father, superstar author Gerald Candless, Sarah agrees to write a memoir for his publisher. She speedily discovers that her father's identity was utterly false, setting her on the trail of his past, and what it was which compelled him to re-invent himself.

2About a Boy by Nick Hornby read by Alan Cumming, HarperCollins pounds 8.99. As we all know by now, this concerns Will, a cool thirtysomething who makes friends with the nervous, nerdy 12-year-old Marcus and attempts to make him less of a target for bullies at school. For some reason Cumming reads both halves of the narrative - Will's and Marcus's - as though it's a children's book, and this has the effect of sending up the whole novel and making it sound even slighter than it is. And he gives Ellie, Marcus's 15-year-old protector, a very strange voice.

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