August 12, 2008

Summer Novels for All Ages

Three summer novels, one for kids and two for adults:

Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox, by Eoin Colfer, read by Enn Reitel. Unabridged, 10 hours. Listening Library, $37.

Fresh from his excellent novel Airman, Colfer returns to his wildly popular Artemis Fowl series, about a teenage criminal mastermind who falls in with fairy police officers and begins to change his stripes.

This time, Artemis is trying to save his mother, who is exhibiting the signs of a deadly fairy-world disease, the only cure for which is an extract from an extinct species of lemur. Artemis, with his police pal Capt. Holly Short, goes back in time to try to find the lemur in question, and he knows just where to look. After all, it was he who sold the creature to a group of extinction- loving human-supremacy zealots eight years ago.

Thus Artemis, age 14, must defeat 10-year-old Artemis in a battle whose effects on the time stream could be catastrophic. The ins and outs of all their machinations make up for the book's somewhat wooden references to environmental issues. And what a treat to hear Reitel, an accomplished London stage actor, doing not only the Irish accents of Artemis and his family, but the voice of the head of the Extinctionists, played with an appropriate evangelical fervor straight out of the American South.

Chasing Harry Winston, by Lauren Weisberger, read by Lily Rabe. Abridged, 6 hours. Simon & Schuster Audio, $29.95.

A group of New York girlfriends get together periodically to talk about their love lives. One works in publishing, one is into love rather than casual sex, and one will sleep with anything in pants -- if he's good-looking.

Gee, where have we heard this before?

The latest novel from Lauren Weisberger, writer of The Devil Wears Prada, bears more than a passing resemblance to Sex and the City -- there's even a coy reference to Sex author Candace Bushnell. There are differences, of course -- three women instead of four, for instance, and one of them is from Brazil -- and a twist: two of the women make a pact to dramatically change their sex lives over the next year. But mostly, the book feels like the kind of knockoff that celebrity jeweler Harry Winston, maker of the fine wedding rings that are one character's target, would despise.

The book's main redeeming quality comes from Rabe, a Broadway and film actress who reads each of the main characters with a strength and distinctness that brings Weisberger's flat dialogue alive. There's a quaver in the voice of Emmy, the one who's looking for love; a New York flatness to Leigh, the publishing-house editor; and a pretty good South American sound for Adriana, the Brazilian bombshell who worries that she's coming to the end of her man- catching days.

You can really believe there are three different women having these conversations, and that goes a long way toward making this book worth listening to.

Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris, read by Deanna Hurst. Abridged, 4.5 hours. Hachette Audio, $19.98.

If you're a fan of TV's The Office -- with a tolerance for a sudden twist of tragedy -- then this might be the novel for you.

Or maybe not.

It's set in a Chicago advertising agency as the economy sours, narrated by an anonymous staffer. There are all sorts of people, more types than individuals -- the storyteller, the failed novelist, the failed screenwriter, the overachiever.

And suddenly, the story delves deeply into the life of the head of the agency, a woman who has ignored her health and is about to pay a steep price for her neglect. What drives her becomes more and more clear as we leave the general and home in on the very specific: Her choices, her pain, her way of coping.

The book spends about half its length there, eliciting some genuine emotion. But then it returns to the general topic, with just a glancing mention of the agency head later on. It's as though Ferris couldn't make up his mind what kind of book he wanted to write, and so he wrote two in one.

Some of it is clever. Some is affecting. But the combination, though read with a nice range of voices and tones by Hurst, adds up to less than the parts might have standing by themselves.

Alan Rosenberg is The Journal's South County regional editor.

Audio Books Alan Rosenberg


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