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elizabeth is missing – emma healey (audiobook)

January 22, 2015 1 comment

Elizabeth Is Missing

“Elizabeth is missing!”

This thought comes to 82 year old Maud frequently.  Sometimes she’ll have been thinking about something completely unrelated – the best place to grow marrows perhaps, who that strange woman is in her kitchen, or who moved her staircase.  But suddenly, she’ll remember that she hasn’t seen her best friend for quite some time (although she isn’t really sure when exactly she last saw her) or she will find one of her own handwritten notes, reminding her of Elizabeth’s strange disappearance.

Maud’s daughter Helen doesn’t seem to be taking her concerns seriously, although Helen gets very serious about many of the other things that Maud does – like trying to cook for herself.  And when she goes to the police, they already seem to know the story, and yet they also aren’t trying to find Elizabeth. They just tell her that she needs to stop contacting them – although Maud doesn’t remember having done so before.

Maud’s concern about Elizabeth and the changes ion her own life start to get confused and her mind is cast back to the years after WWII when her own sister Sukey went missing under mysterious circumstances. A mystery that was never solved.

This story has been so beautifully written. The care and the attention and the heart-break of ‘witnessing’ someone falling into dementia / Alzheimers is extremely carefully handled. Although you feel sorry for Maud, it’s never in a belittling way, and it makes me wonder whether the author has been close to someone that has been affected like this.

With Maud being such an unreliable witness, the two ‘disappearances’ are intriguing, as well as frustrating as you know that you are never getting the full story – just little snippets with allusions to more that you have to grab for yourself as clues.

Over the course of the book, Maud’s memory becomes increasingly worse – she can’t always remember the name of things – “The bed for sitting on” instead of “sofa” for example.

If you’re expecting an exciting thriller, this isn’t really the book for you. The real ‘thriller’ aspect comes far more towards the end of the book once we have been given all the clues about what has happened to both Sukey and Elizabeth.

The majority of the story is following Maud’s rambling consciousness, which in itself is fascinating. We, as the audience, read that she’s gone to make herself a cup of tea, and then wandered off, and then feels thirsty and wonders why she hasn’t had a cup of tea for so long, and then wanders back to the kitchen to find the kettle surprisingly warm. We see Maud’s memory loss even though she doesn’t.

Many people, like myself, will have witnessed a family member that has gone through this. It really is heart-breaking, especially when they don’t recognise you, as Maud occasionally finds with Helen and her granddaughter Katy.

There are echoes of Before I Go To Sleep and (the film) Memento in this, but it is truly unique. A fascinating book.

I actually listened to this as an audiobook, and I have to say that Anna Bentinck’s narration is absolutely spot on! It really, really adds something to the whole story – her characterisation is perfect. So, if you are an audiobook lover, this is certainly one to get!

the mayan prophecy – alex scarrow (audiobook)

January 18, 2015 Leave a comment

The Mayan Prophecy

Liam O’Connor should have died at sea in 1912.
Maddy Carter should have died on a plane in 2010.
Sal Vikram should have died in a fire in 2026.

Yet moments before death, someone mysteriously appeared and said, ‘Take my hand …’

I started reading (well, listening to) the Time Riders series as I had already read and loved a couple of Alex Scarrow’s ‘adult’ books, and it sounded like a series that my daughter would enjoy. As with a lot of YA series, I read the first to check it would be OK for her.

I got the first TimeRiders audiobook almost exactly a year ago. And the main characters and the whole concept was enchanting. I felt so drawn in by the stories of Liam, Maddy and Sal that over the past year I have continued to work my way through the series – in fact I almost caught the lovely Mr Scarrow up – the last (Book 9 – The Infinity Cage) only having been published in November.

Now, I know that the time travel paradoxes (parodxii?) are flawed throughout, and that this would annoy many who are purist about their time travel (such as my husband), but the characters, the research, the pure adventure in these books are fantastic – almost perfect. I’ve also learnt some lovely snippets of history.

The three main characters are rescued moments before their deaths by Foster, who tells them that they have been signed up by ‘The Agency’ to help him police time travel as they all have specific skills that are required. Their base is in a 48 hour loop time bubble, located in a bridge arch workshop space in New York on Monday 10th & Tuesday 11th September 2001.  The ideal place to be located to spot if there have been any changes in history.

The technology they are using is from the 2040’s and includes a couple of meat-bots for protection, Bob & (later) Becs who have GM human bodies with highly-advanced computer processor brains.

The books take the group all across the world and time, often leaving them supposedly stranded – and with an underlying story-arch of who picked them? Why are they there? Who are they really working for? Is it actually their job to ensure that mankind eventually ceases to exist?

In this particular story the story-arch is definitely drawing to its conclusion – they find more explanations for their own existence, and some of the clues in the earlier stories are being decoded.  The team travel to Nicaragua in 1994 to visit some symbols that helped them to decode The Holy Grail (in The Doomsday Code – book 3 and probably my favourite) to see if they can find any more clues. This leads them to visit the same spot in the 1400s when everything starts to go horribly wrong.

I hate to say this, but this is my least favourite of all the books. However, there may be a number of reasons why this is. For starters, I don’t want the series to end. I love the characters, and the thought of not being able to dip into their rather intriguing lives actually upsets me!

Also, they all seem less sure of themselves, and less sure of each other. They feel like they’re distancing themselves, and that is actually a theme within the book. The problem with not being a tight team is that something bad always happens to the stragglers – and that concerns me for the last book. I want it all to be lovely in the end!

This book was also a lot more dark and violent than the previous ones too – which is harsh considering they’ve been back 65million years, to the American Civil War, Nazi Germany, Medieval England, Victorian London 19th Century pirates and Empirical Rome!

A wonderful, wonderful, well-written and researched, exciting series where I am dreading finishing the final book. I know I’m going to put it off for a little while yet!

Also, I have done the whole series as audiobooks, and Trevor White has narrated them all – and he does an absolutely brilliant job. They aren’t short books, and yet his energy levels keep the suspense and the action and excitement palpable!

the second life of amy archer – r s pateman (audiobook)

The Second Life of Amy Archer

On the eve of the new millennium, ten year old Amy Archer disappeared from her local playground without a trace. Her mother, Beth, has found it hard to get any kind of closure as she doesn’t know for sure whether Amy is dead or alive. Her obsession with finding out what happened was a factor in her marriage ending – her life seemingly becoming more desperate and erratic.

On the tenth anniversary of Amy’s disappearance, Beth has her annual visit to see a psychic – but this year, the outcome isn’t quite the same as previously, leaving Beth wondering if there may have been a breakthrough.

And then Libby arrives at Bath’s door with her ten year old daughter Esme, who is the spitting image of Amy – and seems to know things that only Amy could know and claims that she IS Amy. Although Libby only seems to be there begrudgingly and out of sheer desperation, are her and Esme very cleverly scamming Beth? Feeding off of her grief and need for closure. Esme can’t really be Amy reborn, can she?

At first I thought that this book would be some airy-fairy, spiritual ‘cute little ten year old girl reincarnated’ stuff to give some hope and love back to a grieving mother. And to be fair, that’s kind of how it started out. We see the depth of depression that Beth has sunk into, and we WANT her to be able to pull back out of it, and be given a lifeline to thinking that there can be more to her life – something to fill the Amy-sized whole that has dominated everything for ten years.

And I found myself rooting for Esme to be exactly who she said she was. And then, the mood shifts. Not only are we given cause to doubt Libby and Esme, but the whole thing wanders into really dark territory that I can understand many people (especially parents) wouldn’t feel at all comfortable reading.

If you don’t want to be forced into thinking about child murder or rape, then this definitely isn’t the book for you, but these things do unfortunately exist in the world, and I think the subject matter was handled very well. Yes, I felt uncomfortable in places – but that shows how well the characters had been formed. The twists and turns, trying to put the pieces together, trying to work out which version was actually the truth was well worth the occasionally uncomfortable journey.

And the climax, when it came still couldn’t have surprised me more.

If you can deal with the subject matter, then it is a very well written book. And personally, I could listen to Clare Corbett narrate every single book I ever listen to – she brings all the characters to life so well.

grow up – ben brooks

February 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Grow Up

I was looking for some audiobooks from the library, and was drawn in by the cover of this one. My mind has had to do quite a lot of overtime recently, and I wanted something that I wouldn’t have to think about too much.

Thinking about it now, I guess I’m not really the target audience for a book narrated from the POV of a 17 year old white middle-class lad. However, with a 14 year old daughter – getting into the head of a 17 year old boy was probably way more scary than any horror story I could have picked up!

Narrated by ‘Jasper’, Grow Up tells of the ‘normal’ life of a teenage boy. Girls, sex, drugs, booze, parties and maybe something a bit more – a realisation that this time is where he is coming of age, and that once him and his friends leave school, nothing will ever quite be the same.

Being *whispers indeterminate age* myself, my mid-teens seem an oh so very long time ago. But I don’t think that much has really changed in that time – there were kids doing drugs, a lot of kids drinking too much, and kids sleeping around. I think what tends to surprise me when I read books like this and see things on the TV is how more stuff seems to be done publicly as a group. Yes, when I was 17, most of my group were sexually active, BUT we didn’t do it right there in front of each other – sex seems to be a spectator sport far too often amongst teenagers these days.

There wasn’t much of a story, it felt more like a snippet of life, although it was tied up neatly at the end – just when you didn’t think that it would be. Jasper obsesses about one particular girl at school and his whole time is spent working out how to get hold of her. His relationship with his female best friend is sweet and endearing – but still not perfect. He fucks up just like any (17 year old) bloke does.

There are many reasons not to like Jasper, but I couldn’t help liking him because (as the mother of a teenager), you could tell that he was just being a teenager, and deep down he was going to turn out a decent person.

Now more than two years old, Ben Brooks had the book published when he was just 17. It makes me feel extraordinarily inadequate! There was some great writing in it – some fantastic observations and points when Jasper was being quite reflective and the prose became beautiful. Brooks is likely to have a long glorious career ahead of him!

The audiobook was narrated by John Hasler – and he sounded exactly how I would have expected Jasper to sound – so was a great book to listen to in that respect.

I would definitely recommend it, probably to anyone under 25. But if you’re ancient like me, and have a teenage daughter…keep away, or you might end up locking her up!

star island – carl hiaasen (audiobook)

Star Island

I have a real fondness for Carl Hiaasen. I have never yet been disappointed by one of his books, but I realise that they are probably not everyone’s cup of tea. I do have a love of the surreal, and Hiaasen appeals to that in large doses.

Star Island introduces us to Cherry Pye (real name Cheryl Bunterman) who is a whiney, self-centred overtly sexual young pop starlet with no singing ability at all, and on a downward spiral to ruin.

In order to keep the paps off of her tail, her manager mum has employed the services of Ann DeLusia – an almost perfect double of the singer lookswise, but whose inteligence, sass and general likeability set her miles apart.  And somehow, Cherry knows nothing of Ann’s existence.

When an over-enthused pap kidnaps the wrong girl, just when Cherry is on a massive bender, the wheels are set in motion for a showdown between an obscure bunch of characters – including the wonderful Hiassen staple Skink, the one-eyed former Governor of Florida who resides in the mangrove swamps, lives off the land and brings his own form of justice to those he feels deserve it.

I do have a soft spot for Hiaasen, and I haven’t picked up one of his for a while.  I don’t think this is his best book by a long shot, but oh my, I was in for a totally unexpected treat as I got this as an audiobook from Audible.

It was narrated by Jeff Harding (which meant nothing to me when I picked it up, but have since found out that he’s “Hi, I’m Ed Winchester!” from The Fast Show) and I have firmly decided that Jeff Harding should read absolutely every comedic American book!

He was fantastic – the voices were brilliant, and it completely made it. It almost felt more like a play.  I’m not sure how much of my enjoyment was the actual book, and how much was him.  But I now don’t think I’d want to read another Hiaasen when Jeff can do it for me!

OneClickDigital – free audiobooks!

June 15, 2013 2 comments

One Click Digital

I have so many posts that I need to catch up on – I have seen a lot at various theatres etc, I have read a lot of books, but I have been SO tired that I haven’t been up to blogging for a while.  I am determined to get over that.

Another side-effect of being so tired is that actual READING has been a little tiring.  However, I have managed to get around this with a wonderful discovery that I made.

Because I have a library card with Waltham Forest, I am able to ‘take out’ free audiobooks!  And I felt moved to share this with you 😉

I am not sure which boroughs this comes under, but I am sure that you can check for your own.  If you head over to OneClickDigital, you can sign in with your online library membership (I am sure that you can get yours from the library that you signed up with if you don’t have yours to hand – luckily I did!)

Even better, you can download the app onto your phone or iPod (I have an Android, and that definitely works) and then you can listen to your audiobook straight away!

Ok, so it’s not as grea as Audible where I have been getting audiobooks for a few years, but it is FREE as it’s through the library.  There’s not a massive choice, and you only have limited options (eg you can’t choose the narrator speed, which I always increase), but it is FREE. And really easy to use. And I have already listened to loads of great books.

I’m dead impressed – and always looking for new books that are read by great barrators.  i will post some of the latest that I have listened to soon. Promise!

londoners: the days & nights of london now – craig taylor

May 19, 2013 8 comments

Londoners

Craig Taylor is a Canadian journalist and writer who has been living in London for at least a decade.  He claims to love London (he has chosen to live here above Canada, after all) but I wouldn’t have guessed that he did from this book.

The book was Radio 4’s Book Of The Week last year, and has received much critical acclaim. I decided to give it a go as an audiobook – especially as I have been doing a lot of walking recently, and obviously that is almost always on the streets of London.

Around 80 people were interviewed for the book, and this is more an exercise in editing on the author’s behalf.

I was looking forward to hearing from people that keep London ticking, the unseen perhaps – the ones who see a different London to the one that I do. I felt that they would be the stories to really make the book ‘pop’. The ones where readers are forced to see the city in a different way.

The book was divided into sections (eg arriving, living, working, departing, dying etc) although these seemed a bit of a flimsy way to bunch the stories, as invariably people’s experiences tended to go beyond the boundaries of that particular aspect.

Now, as you may realise, I LOVE this ever-changing city that I live in.  I defintiely choose to be here, and although I sometimes entertain the thought of leaving and moving somewhere more rural (as I did growing up), when I give it a little more thought, I realise that I am in no way ready for that.  I would miss SO much about London.  To be entirely honest, I don’t think I’m old enough to leave yet.  There is still so much to experience!

Although I have a deep-set love for London, I am also aware of its faults. I can’t have lived here most of my life without acknowledging them, after all.  I’m not blind to them, but I am accepting of them as there are so many positives.

With that in mind, I have to say I wanted to love this book so much, and I ended up hating it.

It felt so biased.  There seemed to be a huge bias towards people complaining bitterly about London – in some ways that I agreed with, but often in ways that I didn’t.  The times that the peopel were upbeat and positive, they were mainly just talking about their very interesting jobs (eg bus control room operators, Spitalfields market trader, stock-broker turned cabbie, funeral director, the actress who is the voice of London Underground), and they didn’t tend to offer an opinion on London itself – so the only opinions seemed to be extremely negative.

I don’t think that it helped that not very far into the book at all, a South African that lived here for a while describes London as “…a city full of Asperger’s people…”  How rude!  It’s funny how London is possibly one of the most multiculturally diverse places in the world, and yet people always refer to ‘Londoners’ as being a certain way.

The only people that seemed to be very positive and confess their love for London were people that lived in the East End or Essex borders.  The stockbroker turned cabbie, the market trader, and the old lady whose daughter keeps wanting to get her a nice flat in Broxbourne, but who says “London gets to you. I can’t leave it. There’s too much quiet in the countryside.”

There seemed to be so much missed out from what makes London great, and different to other place in Britain.  However, this in itself cemented my love for London, and made me see it through different eyes yet again.  I feel that there was so much unexplored – but so much that I haven’t explored myself.

And I have to say, the disappointment in this book has inspired me, and given me an idea to do something myself.  Watch this space (but don’t hold your breath!)

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