Author: Erik Larson
Title: In the Garden of the Beast
Narrator: Stephen Hoye
Publication Info: New York : Random House Audio : Books on Tape, p2011.
Books Read by Same Author: The Devil in the White City and Isaac’s Storm
This history and biography book explores the rise of the Third Reich from the perspective of one American family. Specifically that is the family of William E. Dodd, appointed to be ambassador to Germany by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Dodd and his adult daughter Martha are the main characters of the book. Dodd initially is supportive of Hitler and shares in some antisemitic beliefs. Martha, recently separated from her husband, enjoys the social life of Berlin and liaisons with several men including Soviet intelligence operative Boris Vinogradov. Over time the Dodd’s became more aware of the violence and oppression of the Nazi state, and the ambassador begins to become more vocal in calling on the United States to oppose Hitler’s regime (which in isolationist America proves to be an unpopular stance). This is an uncomfortable book to read. The Dodd’s are not very likable people, but then they’re contrasted with Nazis. No one comes off looking good. Still this is an interesting glimpse into a troubling time in history.
Author: Ursula Le Guin
Title: A Wizard of Earthsea
Narrator: Harlan Ellison
Publication Info: San Bruno, CA : Fantastic Audio, p2001. [originally published, 1968]
This fantasy novel set in the magical land of Earthsea introduces Ged, a boy whose magical ability shines in a society with numerous witches and practitioners of magic. After saving his village from an attack, Ged is taken as apprentice by a wise wizard and then sent to wizarding school. Despite his talent and proclamations that he may become the greatest wizard, Ged is headstrong and impatient and unleashes an evil shadow that follows him around and tries to possess his body. Ged thus has to face many quests and challenges to learn how to face down the shadow creature and understand himself. It’s a good novel, and apparently pretty influential as many of the tropes and ideas are picked up by other fantasy novels. Harlan Ellison’s reading of the audiobook is a dynamic performance that captures Ged’s anger and uncertainty.
Recommended books: The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling and Eragon by Christopher Paolini.
Author: Eoin Colfer
Title: Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian
Narrator: Nathaniel Parker
Publication Info: New York : Listening Library, p2012.
The final installment in the Artemis Fowl series or so it would seem. Opal Koboi has her biggest take over the world plot, Mulch Diggums has his biggest flatulence, and Artemis has his ultimate moment of genius. And sacrifice. Colfer’s humor stands out as Koboi raises an army with her minions occupying the bodies of the dead with comic results. It’s a nice distraction from the grim reality of a story that puts the entire world in peril. This is a strong finale the series.
Author: Eoin Colfer
Title: Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex
Narrator: Nathaniel Parker
Publication Info: Listening Library (2010)
The penultimate volume in the Artemis Fowl series has the titular hero suffering the titular disease. The Atlantis Complex is alleged to be brought on by feelings of guilt in recovering criminals leading to symptoms such as paranoia and multiple personality disorder. This means of course that Artemis’ alternate personality emerges at the worst possible time leading to some chuckles, although I think Colfer overplays the joke. The story has a different villain than Opal Koboi and this leads to some interesting variations in the adventure. Also, Foaly is on the scene with Artemis, Holly, Mulch, & Butler making for a nice twist as well. All in all, a solid story and an addition to the ongoing story arc of the series. I look forward to reading the final installment.
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Title: Between Shades of Gray
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2011)
This novel set in the World War II-era depicts the oppression of Lithuanian partisans through the eyes of 15-year-old Lina. A promising young artists, Lina and her mother and brother are rounded up by the NKVD with other women, children, the elderly, and disabled and transported to a labor camp in Siberia. The narrative depicts the hardscrabble life as Lina and her community in the labor camp as they struggle to survive. But there are also moments of joy and unexpected solace. It’s a decent novel and an introduction to the Stalinist persecution of Lithuania.
Recommended books: Stalemate by Icchokas Meras, The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov, and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Author: Eoin Colfer
Title: Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox
Narrator: Enn Reitel
Publication Info: New York : Random House/Listening Library, p2008.
Books I’ve Previously Read by the Same Author:
I gave up on reading the Artemis Fowl series a while back because I felt it was becoming formulaic with diminishing returns. But I had a change of heart, and after a decade decided to pick up where I left off. It felt good to be reacquainted with the characters like old friends. And this book strikes me as more mature than the earlier novels. In order to save his mother, a teenage Artemis has to go back in time with Holly to face his most devious opponent yet: his 10-year-old self. The novel oozes with philosophical ideas and pondering of mortality. The book also features a group of people whose goal is to cause extinction of animals, which is particularly grim. Sure, the formula is still there (Mulch Diggums shows up for some fart jokes and the ultimate villain is the same old character) but it feels refreshed and new. I’ll have to continue reading the newer installments of this series.
Author: Tony Horwitz
Title: Midnight Rising
Narrator: Dan Oreskes
Publication Info: Macmillan Audio (2011)
Previously read by same author:
Tony Horwitz, one of my favorite authors, presents a compelling history of John Brown and his followers and the keystone event of their raid on Harpers Ferry. Brown’s life and family are discussed from childhood, to his involvement in Utopian abolition movements, and their targeted assassinations of pro-slavery advocates in “Bleeding Kansas.” It’s eerie that the rhetoric and tactics of Brown and his followers while targeting the noble cause of abolition still resemble those of today’s Tea Party/2nd Amendment activists.The raid on Harpers Ferry took considerable planning and secrecy, although curiously it is uncertain what result Brown expected. Did he really expect it to spark a nation-wide uprising, or did he intend a blood sacrifice? Similarly, his changes in tactics during the raid itself contradict the planning. What’s interesting is that while the raid was widely condemned, even by ardent abolitionists, Brown’s real influence came in his words and letters while in jail and on trial. Even people who despised Brown and all he stood for came to admire his bravery and determination. Horwitz’s book is an interesting account on this key event in American history and the ripples it would have throughout the country.
Recommended books: Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks