About Emma

Emma can (and does) listen to audiobooks all day. Her friends are tired of hearing about Davina Porter.

STAFF PICK: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Title: The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Author: Heather Morris
Narrator: Richard Armitage

This book is based on the true story of Lale Solokov, who survived the Holocaust with his wife Gita. After her death in 2003, Lale felt compelled to share his tale, and did so with author Heather Morris.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz follows Lale, a Slovakian who volunteers to work at the camps on behalf of his family. From the beginning, any hope of decent conditions slips away as he and others are roughly herded into an animal transport vehicle. At Auschwitz, he quickly learns to keep his head down to stay alive. With time, a near death experience, and chance, Lale is given the title of Tätowierer, German for tattooist. With this job he could protect himself and others, but he carried the burden of painfully marking his fellow prisoners with a permanent memory.

One of the people Lale tattoos is Gita, and he experiences love at first sight. Special permissions as Tätowierer allowed him to move more freely around the camp, which he used to distribute food and medication, and to visit Gita. I was very moved by this book’s ability to portray the characters’ emotions. Lale tries to keep his grasp on hope and humanity in a world where it might be better to feel nothing at all. The prisoners witness executions, lose friends, and suffer beatings, but still they rise and do what they can to help each other.

While this book is categorized as historical fiction, the author has said it was 95 percent true to Lale’s interview. The story is laced with the hope, bravery, and devastation you’d expect from a WWII novel, but as Tätowierer, Lale was witness to a vast range of the camp’s darkness while he battled feeling like a collaborator.

The narration by Richard Armitage relays the somber, thoughtful tone of the story. He conveys a man experiencing more and more hardship, who sounds increasingly pained and exhausted after each new brutality. He handles German words and foreign accents very well, and has a smooth, clear enunciation throughout the book. I’m happy to have listened to this book so I could hear the true pronunciation of words and character names, which I would have gotten wrong.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is as heartbreaking as it is uplifting. I highly recommend this book.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz book cover

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STAFF PICK: Sisters of the Winter Wood

Title: Sisters of the Winter Wood
Author: Rena Rossner
Narrator: Ana Clements

Inspired by Russian lore, Sisters of the Winter Wood is a mix of fairy tale, Ukrainian history, Jewish religion, and coming-of-age that tie together in ways I didn’t expect. Two sisters are left to fend for themselves just as mysterious things start happening in the woods where they live. With the girls facing challenge after challenge, this was one of those story lines that drew me in until it was done.

I was unfamiliar with many of the story’s themes, and that added to my surprise at each twist and turn. I wondered constantly how I might have dealt with their circumstances. When you need to feed yourself, protect yourself, and keep a life-changing secret, which takes priority? Weaved into the struggle is the obligation of sisterly duty; the sisters are opposites, and so are their ideas of the best solution, but they’re determined to protect each other. Rena Rossner separates the sisters even before the story starts by having one read in prose and the other in poetry. As the adventure progressed, I enjoyed listening to the characters balance the line between what their life was, and the fantastical world it became.

Ana Clements’ narration was well-paced and smooth. Her voice was well-suited to a fairy tale and it’s clear in her speaking when the prose and poetry changes with the sisters’ points of view. She was good at transitioning between different accents for different characters, and seamlessly integrated the Jewish words as she read.

This was a lovely tale of fantasy and family that kept my curiosity and imagination churning.

Sisters of the Winter Wood

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STAFF PICK: Star of the North by D.B. John

Title: Star of the North
Author: D.B. John

Narrator: Linda Park and D.B. John

Compelling and well-researched, Star of the North is a spy thriller based in North Korea and the United States. I was rapt; whenever I had the chance, my headphones were back on my ears. The story begins with an American girl being kidnapped from a South Korean beach. With no body found, her twin sister and family believes that she drowned off the shore. The twin lives for years with this belief, until she’s contacted by the CIA. On the other side of the world, we follow separate stories of North Korean citizens; Cho, an esteemed official, liaises with the U.S. while a peasant, Mrs. Moon, begins a career as a street merchant.

The book is as captivating as it is thought-provoking. The lifestyle of these characters is so far removed from what we know that it was difficult to imagine, let alone accept as true. While the story lines range from poverty to diplomacy, they have themes in common. Each character has their own form of suffering, manipulation, and perseverance that endears you to them. I particularly loved Mrs. Moon, fondly known as Ajumma. The book explains “ajumma” as the Korean word for “auntie,” and she was just that for many around her. The author wrote characters whose humanity shone through despite terrible circumstances, making it that much more of a compelling read.

Linda Park does a great job narrating this novel. She keeps a steady, suspenseful pace and her tone is clear. Her South Korean background helped her execute the Korean words confidently so I learned the pronunciation, which I surely would have gotten wrong.

This was a fascinating and educational listen. At the end of the book there is an author’s note (read by D.B. John), which details fact vs. fiction and recommends some further reading. Throughout the book I often assumed things were fiction, but I was surprised to find how much of the book was based on real accounts from North Korea. I don’t usually reach for political dramas, but with this one I’m very glad I did.

Star of the North

 

 

 

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STAFF PICK: Factfulness by Hans Rosling

Title: Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
Author: 
Hans RoslingAnna R. Rosling, and Ola Rosling
Narrator: Richard Harries

Recommended by Bill Gates, Factfulness is a resource to help you rationally respond to information. If you only follow the news, you’d think the world is going up in flames. Amidst the commotion, Factfulness is here to shed some level-headed light.

The book’s foundation is a simple quiz: thirteen questions covering a range of global statistics, such as health and income levels. After you take the quiz and tally your results, you are told how chimps perform on that same quiz. Chances are that you’ll feel sad, but don’t despair! Chimps choosing answers at random have 33% accuracy, and that score consistently beats human participants. It didn’t matter if the group was university students, journalists, or experts of health or economics, everyone assumed the world was worse than it really is.

With chapters like The Fear Instinct and The Urgency Instinct, the Rosling trio has brought data together to show how human tendencies lead to an overblown perception of reality. It tells listeners to take a step back from the dramatic figures and look at the trends. Despite headlines to the contrary, this book shows that the world is actually improving. This is not to say that we should be satisfied and stop aiming for improvement, but that we should be optimistic about our progress and about what the future has in store.

The narration was exactly what you’d hope for in a book like this. Richard Harries has a level but enthusiastic voice. His pace allowed me to take in the material while still staying engaged with the content.

No matter how you feel about this topic, I see this as a valuable read for everyone (even if your quiz score is 100%). I suspect the type of person drawn to this book is not the type of person who needs it the most, however, I won’t stop recommending it!

Factfulness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STAFF PICK: The Life List of Adrian Mandrick

Title: The Life List of Adrian Mandrick
Author: Chris White
Narrator: David Aaron Baker

Love, obsession, addiction. Bird-lover Adrian Mandrick is always experiencing all three, which together make a perfect storm. When his estranged mother leaves him a voicemail, a domino effect of poor decisions throws Adrian’s life into disarray. Attempting to drown the emotions in the drugs he prescribes, Adrian numbly meanders along, missing family events, and disrupting a life he loves.

Throughout the story I struggled between sympathy and contempt for the main character, who has kind intentions but allows himself to fall back on his addiction. His constant high means he isn’t completely present anywhere, except for when working on his life list – a collection of birds he’s spotted over his lifetime. It’s a thoughtful novel that highlights the fragility of human relationships and how someone else’s decisions could impair the rest of your life.

I enjoyed the narration by David Aaron Baker, whose calm and matter-of-fact tone contributed some stability in a story that was otherwise spiraling out of control.

If you’re in the mood for a book that will provide a different perspective, I recommend this listen. It’s a touching story told from an addict who otherwise has a seemingly wonderful life. It’s thought-provoking and reinforces the importance of gratitude.

 The Life List of Adrian Mandrick

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STAFF PICK: Brotopia by Emily Chang

Title: Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley
Author: Emily Chang
Narrator: Emily Chang

Bloomberg Technology reporter Emily Chang confronts Silicon Valley’s rampant sexism, which has excluded women from the greatest wealth creation of our generation.

For a really terrifying listen this Friday 13th, look no further than Brotopia. From the very beginning, this book had me riled! It features example after example of women systemically being excluded from the tech industry. From unconscious bias to very conscious harassment, the industry is at best unwelcoming and has led to women dropping out of tech at a rate 45% higher than men, if they can even breach the walls at all.

With each new stat and story, I grew increasingly agitated. I’m quite good at multitasking with audiobooks, but here and there this one required me to pause to absorb the gravity of what she was saying. During some parts my jaw dropped and I glared at my audio-producing phone as if it would return my incredulous expression.

The narration feels unsurprisingly like a news report, which is not my preference but was subtle and suited the book’s content. Emily Chang is clear and steady, just as you’d expect from a trained reporter.

While it may make your blood boil, it ends on a high note, with encouraging stats and advice to build the solution’s momentum. Whether you’re in the tech industry or not, you can benefit from what Chang has to say. This listen certainly won’t brighten your day, but it will broaden your perspective.

Brotopia

 

 

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