by J.R.R. Tolkien
(read by Rob Inglis)
The cinematic version of The Hobbit will be released on Thursday in Hong Kong and for those who can't wait for part two of another Middle-earth Movie Marathon, there are plenty of audiobooks. In an attempt to keep pace with Peter Jackson's trilogy, I tried the first half of an unabridged version read by Rob Inglis. After some slightly alarming folk music (heavy on the flute), Inglis narrates with a deep, warm tone. Bilbo Baggins' journey, we are reminded, starts in well-meaning, domesticated foolishness, progresses via accidental courage and ends in actual heroism. The real test of an audiobook is how well the reader differentiates the characters. While Bilbo emerges fairly directly out of Inglis' narrative voice, his Gandalf descends an octave. The real challenge comes when the dwarves arrive, one by one, at Bilbo's door and begin to sing. Thorin sounds eerily like Gandalf, and the rest like cockney dustmen. Part one ends when our heroes leave the shape-shifting Beorn and face the dread Mirkwood forest, with Smaug at the end. I can't wait.
by Barbara Kingsolver
Faber and Faber
The heroine of Flight Behaviour is Dellarobia Turnbow, young, wild and on a perpetual mission to escape her life - not unwise, given that she lives with her husband at his family's grim sheep ranch in Tennessee. As the novel starts, Dellarobia is charging up a mountain when she experiences what she later interprets as a terrifying moment of divine revelation. Staring at a withered forest, she sees "movement"': "The branches seemed to writhe." She returns home newly determined to lead her family into righteousness. But her vision was anything but heavenly: the movement Dellarobia spied was a rare species of butterfly, the monarch. It has been lured out of its traditional habitat by global warming, and faces extinction. And if the environment doesn't kill them, then Dellarobia's father surely will: he has sold the land to a logging company. Flight Behaviour flirts with being preachy. The hunky environmental researcher, Ovid Byron, is a little too good to be true. But the tone is pleasingly humorous. Kingsolver on top form.
The Black Box
by Michael Connelly
The Black Box is perhaps Michael Connelly's most personal novel to date. Set in the present, its plot enables our iconic hero, Harry Bosch, to rewind to 1992: the year of the Los Angeles riots. Connelly covered the tragic events and uses this novel, in part, to trace how race relations in the city have developed, or not, over the past two decades. A single case crosses the time divide. Following the release of four LA policemen, the city burns and the corpses multiply. One of these is a Danish journalist and photographer, Anneke Jesperson but known as "Snow White", who is found dead in an alley. Bosch was involved with the case in 1992, and it returns in 2012 when he is investigating unsolved crimes. The anniversary of the riots lights a fire under Bosch to find Jesperson's killer. But what he discovers is crime on an epic scale. Connelly delves deep into Bosch's relationship with his daughter, his fears of ageing - but most of all the relationship with his complex city: its people, politics and law enforcers. One of the best crime novels of the year.