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Courier Articles by Sandy Schultheis
Sunday, July 2, 2000

Books Make Good Vacation Listening

Are you planning a driving vacation this summer? Auto trips were an ordeal for me when I was a child. Even a two-hour outing was a protracted agony of boredom relieved only by games of twenty questions, license plate identification, and reading the Burma Shave signs. If only we had had tape players and books on cassette I could have avoided numerous bouts of car-sickness induced by trying to read in the backseat. Today's suggestions are some that I have enjoyed in the past six months. All are available through your public library and will be good listening on your summer vacation. There is a wide selection of audio books for children as well. Some are abridged and suitable for short trips or commutes to work, others are for the long haul.

The Marching Season by Daniel Silva (Recorded Books, 1999).

A teriffic international thriller about the Protestant resistance in Belfast. Readers of Silva's earlier work The Mark of the Assassin will recognize Jean Paul Delaroche, a cold-blooded killer trained from childhood by the KGB who almost ended the life of CIA agent Michael Osbourne. Delaroche is probably the most memorable and weirdly likeable bad guy I have ever encountered. He rationalizes his career by saying he is not a murderer, merely a hired assassin. A shadowy group of international arms dealers wants to destabilize the peace talks in Northern Ireland so they hire Delaroche to kill the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain who happens to be Osbourne's father in law. Lots of tense action here, and Frank Muller's deadpan narrative style is perfect for the thriller genre. 11 hours 30 minutes.

Child of Happy Valley: A Memoir by Juanita Carberry (Recorded Books, 2000).

The White Highlands of Kenya in the 1930's is the setting of this coming of age memoir of the daughter of a British nobleman who renounced his title and moved to Africa. When Juanita was three her mother was killed in a plane crash, but she did not learn of this tragedy until she was six years old. Her cold and abusive father re-married a promiscuous woman who was by turns cruel and chummy with young Juanita. Fortunately the child had the strength of character to survive. Her appreciation for Africa and the Kenyans, and the support she received from friends and ultimately her uncle's family sustains her and helps her grow up. Narrated in a lilting British accent by Briony Sykes. 8 hr. 30 min.

The Vision of Emma Blau by Ursula Hegi (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

From the author of the Oprah pick Stones from the River comes a multi-generational saga of a German immigrant who builds an apartment house on the shores of a lake in New Hampshire. Hegi, who reads this abridgement is a wonderful storyteller, and she relates the immigrant experience with an appealing German accent. However, when a 432 page novel is reduced to a four and a half hour reading I'm afraid too much is left out. I got a good idea of the story line but felt I was missing large chunks of narrative that were essential to a full appreciation of this book. I hope an unabridged version will be out soon. 4 hrs. 30 minutes.

Hitler's Niece by Ron Hansen (Recorded Books, 2000).

Hansen, author of Atticus, and Mariette In Ecstasy, has written a novel based on the shadowy relationship of Adolph Hitler and his half-niece Geli Raubal. This masterful reading by Paul Hechr begins with the christening of baby Geli which is attended by her 19 year old, ne'er-do-well Uncle Adolph who was scorned by his brother-in-law for his artistic pretensions and defended and helped by his half-sister who is Geli's mother. After a slow start the tension slowly builds and the listener is drawn into the fascinating and incredible rise of a man filled with hate and paranoia but who was able to mesmerize the masses. A riveting fictionalized history of a family drama with an evil twist. Ten hours and 30 minutes.

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (BDD Audio, 1996).

When I can't find anything I like in the adult audiobook collection I turn to the children's section. I found this little gem, a fictional diary of a knight's daughter in Medieval England. Catherine, a lively 14-year-old, chafes at her mother's attempts to turn her into a lady. She wants to be outdoors with animals and having adventures, not cooped up in a dark house learning needlework and spinning. The narrator, Kate Maberley gives a charming performance that I didn't want to end. 3 hours.

Sandy Schultheis is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.