"Deacon King Kong," by James McBride. (Penguin Audio, unabridged, 14 hours.)
"Sportcoat" is a 71-year-old deacon who lives in a Brooklyn housing project in 1969. His drink of choice is King Kong, a concoction home-distilled by his friend, "Hot Sausage." This hilarious, moving novel is also charged with a current of understated anger. Written in the most glorious prose, its beat and buoyancy is delivered by Dominic Hoffman, a master at capturing the rhythm of backchat and in rendering Brooklynese, Southern and Spanish speech.
"Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir," by Natasha Trethewey. (HarperAudio, unabridged, 5¼ hours.)
In this piercing investigation of memory, loss and love, former U.S. poet laureate Trethewey shares the story of her mother's murder by her second husband, a violent, manipulative sadist. Tretheway's narration is elegiac in remembering her mother — and steely as she reads the chilling transcripts of her mother's telephone conversations with her killer. This heartbreaking memoir will stay with listeners long after it ends.
"The Night Watchman," by Louise Erdrich. (HarperAudio, 13½ hours.)
Erdrich reads her own moving and inspiring novel wonderfully, enhancing the text with the sincerity of her voice. The book is a fictional version of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians' struggle to quash the U.S. government's attempt to rip up treaties and destroy Native American rights, a campaign led by Erdrich's grandfather, personified here in the fictional reservation-born Thomas Wazhashk.
"Shadowplay," by Joseph O'Connor. (Dreamscape, unabridged, 11¾ hours.)
O'Connor's ingenious novel is based on the life of Bram Stoker, author of "Dracula," and his relationship with Henry Irving, renowned actor and impresario. Barry McGovern gives brilliant renditions of the Irishman Stoker and of Henry Irving, whose voice here is a thespian thunder. Anna Chancellor pipes up on occasion as the warm voice of Ellen Terry, Stoker's friend and Irving's leading lady.
"Shuggie Bain," by Douglas Stuart. (Dreamscape, unabridged, 17½ hours.)
Stuart's debut is a brilliant, heart-rending work set in decaying working-class neighborhoods around Glasgow of the Thatcher era. Shuggie is a gentle boy trying to manage his melodramatic, self-destructive alcoholic mother. Stuart's genius at evoking place, predicament and intense emotional states is wonderfully served by narrator Angus King, a Scotsman himself whose moderate but intelligible Glaswegian accent brings further authenticity.
Katherine A. Powers, a Minnesota native, reviews books for the Star Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. She writes this column for the Washington Post.