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
Narrator: John Keating
Publication Info: [New York] : Listening Library, 2007.
Books I’ve Previously Read by the Same Author:
Irish author Eoin Colfer, creator of the Artemis Fowl series, spins a classic adventure story set in the fin de siècle era on the Saltee Islands off the coast of Ireland. In this story, the Saltees are home to a fictional sovereign kingdom which bases its economy on diamond mining. The protagonist of the story is Conor Broekhart who is friend of the daughter of the island’s progressive, American-born king. Conor shows an early proclivity towards science and engineering and when he is 14 he is framed for the murder of the king and sent to prison/mining colony. It’s up to young Conor to escape from prison and save the kingdom through his knowledge of flying machines. The outcome is never in doubt but Colfer spins an entertaining yarn with a lot of action and many memorable characters. John Keating does a magnificent job of narrating this escapist story.
Recommended books: The Land That Isn’t There, An Irish Adventure by Leonard Wibberley, The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois
Author: Brock Clarke
Title: The Happiest People in the World
Publication Info: Chapel Hill, North Carolina : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014.
Books previously read by same author: An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
A Danish cartoonist, at risk for drawing cartons offensive to Muslims, is moved by the CIA to a small town in rural New York, given a position as a guidance councilor, and finds himself in the middle of the family drama of the high school principal and his wife the bartender of the local tavern. To further complicate things, the CIA agent who assigned him to this town is the former mistress of the principal. And to further make things wacky, pretty much everyone in the city is involved in the CIA or a secret agent of some time. I suppose this book is supposed to be a farce and a satire, but I found it a chore to read. I probably would not have finished it if I hadn’t been an award from the Library Things Early Reviewer program. There are some funny bits, but after a while it’s just one reticent character avoiding communicating with another character who hates them over and over.
Recommended books: The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
Author: Robin Sloan
Title: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Narrator: Ari Fliakos
Publication Info: Macmillan Audio (2012)
A young man named Clay is out-of-work in San Francisco and ends up taking a job at a bizarre book store with an eccentric owner. It turns out to be a front of a shadowy organization and Clay’s favorite fantasy book series is a key to its mysteries.. With the help of a girlfriend who works at Google, and a nerdy childhood friend who’s become wealthy as a game developer, Clay is able to advance well into the organization. I found this book moderately interesting, with a bit of mystery, some book lore, and a lot of product placement for Google.
“The suburban mind cannot comprehend the emergent complexity of a New York sidewalk.”
Recommended books: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Portugal
Author: Gonçalo Tavares
Translator: Anna Kushner
Publication Info: Champaign [Ill.] : Dalkey Archive Press, c2009
This novel brings together several characters in one place for one event and then jumps back to show vignettes of each character’s life, building up to what all brought them there. It is a well-written and structured work, but also very complex, and I admit that I don’t totally “get” it. Themes of troubled relationships, mental illness, and the nature of evil. If you’re interested in provocative fiction, you may like this.
Recommended books: The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder.
Author: Ayana Mathis
Title: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Narrators: Adam Lazarre-White, Bahni Turpin, and Adenrele Ojo
Publication Info: Books on Tape, 2012
Summary/Review: This somber novel tells the stories of a woman named Hattie who migrates from Georgia to Philadelphia in the 1920s, and her subsequent life and that of her children. The novel is a series of connected stories, each focusing on a different child from dates ranging from the 1920s to 1980s. The family perseveres against poverty, racism, mental illness and internal strife. I found it a well-written story that approaches family life and the African-American experience from different angles. The audiobook is also well-performed with different narrators reading stories from the different children’s perspectives.
Recommended books: Bailey’s Cafe by Gloria Naylor, Strivers Row by Kevin Baker, and Jazz by Toni Morrison