01/21/2009 12:36 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Talking Parrots, African Menace, and Barbara Stanwyck as a Cougar - Audio Book Reviews

CROSS COUNTRY, BY James Patterson
Crime Fiction - 8 Hrs - Unabridged
Hachette Audio

This is D.C. detective Alex Cross's hard-luck, cross-country tour through the savagery and corruption of Nigeria, Lagos, Sierra Leone and Darfur. His family gets kidnapped and he's up against a sadistic killer. Except for location, this is familiar Cross country. This time out, however, the indomitable detective is pretty much a wuss - a hero weakened by Kryptonite through most of the story.

Even narrator Peter Jay Fernandez, who gives Cross a dependable, calm demeanor, can't help. The Cross formula is running out of steam and interest. Maybe the poor guy should rest for a while.

If you want a really amazing Alex, listen to.......

ALEX & ME, by Dr. Irene Pepperberg
Non-Fiction - 5.5 Hrs - Unabridged
Harper Audio

In animated movies we expect the bird to sound something like Gilbert Gottfried. In real life, we're happy when parrots can squawk and mimic our words. The general consensus among animal behaviorists is that parrots don't actually understand what they're imitating - not, at least, until Alex, the African Grey parrot who talked for seven years and sounded very much like guy with attitude who actually knew what he was saying. This did not go down too well in the scientific community.

The 'A' story here is Dr. Irene Pepperberg's fascinating adventure into the cognitive capacity of non-human, non-primate, non-mammalian animals using communications as a window into their minds. The star mind here is the remarkable parrot named Alex, who did learn words, colors and shapes and, most importantly, intent. He seemed to know what he was saying. You may remember the news stories when he died last year. His last words to his teacher and old friend were "You be good. I love you."

The 'B' story is Pepperberg's Promethean struggle to find funding, supporters and scientific acceptance for a talking bird who defied conventional behavior assumptions. Officially, there wasn't enough proof for the scientific community by the time Alex died, but anecdotally, this bird delivers.

When Alex wanted a grape but was given a banana instead, he spit it out and demanded, "I want grape!"

Like humans he was sometimes grumpy, incorrigible and dumb. He could also be apologetic. Pepperberg railed at him one morning for chewing up a major grant paper she wrote, saying "How could you do this?" The cowering bird peeped, "I'm sorry."

Later on, Alex sees another bird and gets frightened until he realizes, it's a mirror he's looking at, "What's that?," he asked. "It's a parrot," he's told. The ever- inquisitive bird wanted to know, "What color?" These and other similar scenes, leave the listener convinced - this bird's for real.

This fascinating tale is delivered with warmth and understanding by narrator, Julia Gibson.

Warmth and a good nature is also what helps.........

PIECES OF MY HEART, by Robert J. Wagner and Scott Eyman
Autobiography - 5 hrs, 46 minutes - Abridged
Harper Audio

If you like the good old Hollywood studio days and want to know how a Fox contract player transitioned into a successful TV star, this not-so-tell-all abridgement is like Robert Wagner himself - likeable and easy going. You may already know about the one revelatory item in the book - his four year love affair with actress Barbara Stanwyck, who was twice his age which, in today's argot, makes her a Cougar. Every significant woman in Wagner's life seems to be the love of his life including his two marriages to Natalie Wood.

Narrated in his own congenial style, Wagner lopes through his six decades of 100 movies and successful TV series, "It Takes A Thief" and "Hart to Hart."

The take-away in these CDs is that Wagner's durability has a lot to do with his on-screen persona. What you see, seems to be what you get. Yes, he has the requisite good looks. So do others. His acomplishments have a lot to do with the charming, polite and relaxed guy off-screen, who knows how to work and play well with others - particularly in an industry known for its myriad of megalomaniacs. He's affectionately known in Hollywood as R.J. It appears to be well earned.