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Holiday sounds traditional and not-so-traditional

Everyone knows an audiophile who can use a laugh during a stressful holiday season. Just don't choose Christopher Moore's ''The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror" for the more staid on your list (Harper Audio, unabridged fiction, five CDs, six hours, $29.95, read by Tony Roberts; also available as a download from, $20.97). A town full of zombies, a Ray-Ban-wearing fruit bat, a murdered Santa, and a truly thick angel may be too much for them. However, this outrageous comedy is perfect for those who prefer their eggnog served with a shot of subversive satire. Paired with the Christopher Buckley-esque humor is a narrator with a zesty, slightly wry attitude that's a perfect fit.

We don't want to forget those traditionalists, though, so for them we have ''How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas, As Told to Jeff Guinn" (Listen & Live Audio, unabridged fiction, nine CDs, 11 hours, $29.95, read by Susan Denaker; also available as a download from, $20.97). Guinn, whose first novel was 2004's ''The Autobiography of Santa Claus," again provides the rundown of Christmas legend disguised by historical fact, only this time we get it from the distaff side of the Claus couple. Layla, as filtered through the wonderfully cheerful, slightly aged voice of Denaker, tells of the Canterbury Christmas March of 1647, when thousands of peasants took to the streets, demonstrating against Parliament's suppression of Christmas celebrations.

Christmas has become such a secular holiday that Santa often gets more ink than Jesus, the figure behind all the hoopla. Anne Rice, of all people, has written a fictionalized account of his life in ''Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt" (Random House Audio, unabridged fiction, eight CDs, 9 1/2 hours, $39.95, read by Josh Heine; also available on cassette for $39.95 and as a download from, $27.97). It's overly long and pallid compared with Rice's usual purple prose, but this respectful novel provides the listener with an account of the differences among first-century Jewish groups and creates an inner life for a child who recognized his uniqueness. Heine sounds youthful and energetic enough to pull off almost 10 hours as a young boy without becoming cloying or cute.

If that is too reverent for those on your shopping list, there is always ''The Worst Noel: Hellish Holiday Tales," written and read by various authors (Harper Audio, unabridged fiction, five CDs, six hours, $29.95; also available as a download from, $20.97). Though not exactly family fare, the essays run the gamut from sweet to tart, silly to darkly humorous. The audiobook is nicely put together with mini-biographies of each author.

Garrison Keillor is back with ''The Christmas Companion: Stories, Songs, and Sketches" (HighBridge Audio, fiction; two CDs, two hours, $24.95, performed by Keillor and various others, recorded from live broadcasts; also available on two cassettes for $18.95). It is comforting to know that he and his usual gang can be counted on for oddball skits, guest singers such as Diana Krall and Ricky Skaggs, Christmas carols, and the musings of Guy Noir, who goes undercover at an office Christmas party. Perfect when you need a nonoffensive, entertaining gift for your secret Santa or child's teacher.

There isn't much out there specifically for Hanukkah this year, but Rochelle Krich has brought back her Molly Blume character in ''Now You See Me . . ." (Brilliance Audio, unabridged fiction, eight CDs, about nine hours, $34.95, read by Deanna Hurst). This fourth installment in the series finds plucky LA crime reporter Blume tracking down the missing 18-year-old daughter of a rabbi who was her teacher. Since Blume and her colorful family are Orthodox Jews, this is not only a mystery but an entertaining lesson in age-old rituals and customs still observed in a modern world.

Random House Audio released Truman Capote's long-lost early novel, ''Summer Crossing" (See ''Short Takes") in time for the holidays (unabridged fiction, three CDs, 3 1/2 hours, $22.95, read by Cassandra Campbell) and Andrew Weill's ''Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being" (abridged nonfiction) in time for New Year's resolutions. For those needing a literary fix, pick up Recorded Books' ''Shalimar the Clown," by Salman Rushdie (unabridged fiction, 15 CDs, 18 1/4 hours, $39.95, read by Aasid Mandvi; also available as a download from, $27.97).

Lastly, one of the best audiobooks released in 2005 is ''Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen," by Julie Powell (Time Warner Audio Books, abridged nonfiction, nine CDs, six hours, $29.98, read by the author; also available as a download from, $20.99). Powell spent a year making every recipe in Julia Child's ''Mastering the Art of French Cooking." We learn of her life, her small apartment, her marriage, and her voyage into self-discovery while searing sweetbreads and caramelizing onions.

Rochelle O'Gorman is publisher and editor in chief of the online magazine

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