– “A remarkable creature: the hidden life and epic journey of the world’s smartest birds of prey” by Jonathan Meiburg
The striped caracara, which occurs mainly in the Falkland Islands and on the southeast coast of South America, is the subject of Meiburg’s extraordinary book. Also known as the Johnny Tower, the bird is a member of the hawk family but has the intelligence of the corvids. Like all very clever birds, it is a mischief maker and thief, whose exploits Meiburg tells with great pleasure. (His theft harassed Charles Darwin and the Beagle crew.) The book is broad, fast-paced, and highly entertaining, and covers aspects of evolution, extinction, geology, and climate change. Meiburg touches such strange animals as giant carnivorous mice and covers the much neglected ornithologist and author of “Green Mansions”, William Henry Hudson. Meiburg tells the book himself – not always a good idea for a writer, but as the lead singer of the indie rock band Shearwater, he has a command of his voice and is particularly engaging when he tells what he thinks the birds would say ( if they spoke English). (Random House, unabridged, 10 hours)
– “The Death of the Heart” by Elizabeth Bowen
Bowen’s brilliant, disturbing novel about the innocence rampage, published in 1938, is now available as an audiobook. It’s the story of a 16-year-old orphan named Portia who was bumped into her much older half-brother Thomas and his fragile, devious wife Anna, a woman well endowed with gentleman admirers. Among them is the sardonic confidante St. Quentin; the man on his heels, Major Brutt; and the incorruptible, high-living Chancellor Eddie. Portia develops a passion for Eddie, whose attachment to her she considers love – with devastating consequences. Pearl Hewitt brings a light, petite voice into the narrative that gives Portia a watchful naivete, Anna a well-mannered irritation, Eddie boundless energy, and Major Brutt and Major Brutt a note of old Dufferdom dullness under the stairs to Matchett, the housekeeper – the the last two, the robbed, unsophisticated Portias are only sympathetic friends. (Tantor, unabridged, 13 hours)
– “Exit” by Belinda Bauer
Bauer’s dark comic book ninth novel is her best and, because of its subject matter, improbably her sweetest. The elderly widower Felix Pink is an “exiteer,” a member of an anonymous group that pays home calls to help terminally ill people die by suicide. He and his young colleague Amanda arrive at such a man, but unfortunately the two wrongly do not help him, but rather another man into the afterlife. Oh man! But wait: is this an accident or a setup? The considerate, dutiful Felix tells Amanda to leave to avoid guilt and calls the police. An unhappy but sympathetic cop, PC Calvin Bridge, becomes implicated in the case, and Bauer goes on to spin a great unity from each man’s point of view. The experienced voice actor Rupert Degas tells this wonderful story in a fast, dull voice that captures the prevailing moods of remorse, melancholy and gentle comedy well. (Dream landscape, unabridged, 9½ hours)
Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks for the Washington Post every month.