Charles Finch, author of a series of successful mysteries set in Victorian England, has turned to literary fiction. The Last Enchantments is Will Baker’s first-person account of his year at Oxford. He’s 25, way past a junior year abroad or a Wanderjahr. But Will, a privileged New York WASP with a Yale and Andover pedigree, is looking for something, maybe his adult self, maybe a new beginning, though he’s hardly begun. Bruised by spending months with the failed Kerry presidential campaign, not sure if his lovely live-in girlfriend is his true soul mate, he goes to Oxford to study English lit for a year. The Oxford that Finch evokes is a dreamily beautiful place, graced with sprawling lawns, punts on the river, pints in the college pub, lots of sex (sorry, hookups) and great camaraderie all wrapped in the coddled atmosphere of perpetual youth. Will makes great friends, falls for a gorgeous English girl who toys with his affections in the same way he toys with the heartfelt affections of the girl he left behind, and actually does a bit of academic work. Reader Luke Daniels gets all the accents right and makes these last youthful enchantments compellingly real.

A DEEPER GAME
If you didn’t meet Leo Maxwell in Bear Is Broken, the first in Lachlan Smith’s new legal thriller series, you’ll catch up on his background story in a flash as you get into Lion Plays Rough. Leo, now working in his older brother Teddy’s ex-wife’s law office, still caring for Teddy as he slowly relearns how to live after being shot in the head, thinks he’s been handed the first big case of his fledgling career. A beautiful woman wants him to defend her jailbird brother, falsely accused of murder. But when Leo checks in, nothing checks out. He’s been set up and is sinking deeper and deeper into a mire of deceit, duplicity and drug-dealing police corruption. And as the line between prey and perp blurs, Leo’s longevity is in serious doubt. Told in staccato prose, perfectly mirrored by R.C. Bray’s noir-tinged narration, Smith’s tautly twisted plot moves at a fast, cut-to-the-chase pace.

TOP PICK IN AUDIO
If you can tell a book by its cover, then Robert Gates’ sober, serious face staring at you from both the hardcover and audio of Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War leaves no doubt that this man is going to tell it as he saw it. And it was this candor that enveloped the book and the man in a pre-pub tsunami of hype, gripe and questions about the efficacy of publicly assessing a sitting president and his closest advisors, including his much-quoted remarks about Joe Biden. No matter where you stand on this issue, Gates’ take on his four unique bipartisan years as Secretary of Defense—two for George W. Bush, two for Obama—is a fascinating immersion into what actually goes on in Washington’s labyrinthian corridors of power. He has a lot to get off his chest about what he came to abhor (e.g. our gridlocked, self-absorbed Congress) and about the troops he came to love, increasingly affected by having to send young Americans to war, to die or be maimed physically and psychologically. In all honesty, I’m not sure I would have had the stamina to read Duty’s more than 600 pages, but I listened to George Newbern’s memorably modulated reading with abiding interest; a great example of how audio can, at times, trump print.

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