Mike Finn - Audio Book Junkie

Mike Finn - Audio Book Junkie

My name is Mike Finn and I'm an Audio Book Addict.

I'm here to share my experience of the books I listen to.

Review
4 Stars
"V For Vendetta" by Alan Moore. Narrated by Simon Vance.
V for Vendetta - David Lloyd, Alan Moore

"V for Vendetta" is one of the few movies that, in these days of crowded shelves and almost infinite digital storage, I chose to own a physical copy of. It is beautifully shot, perfectly cast and boldly told. It is that rare thing, a movie that dares to be true to its intent, even at the risk of being unpopular. The result is a cult classic.

 

Take a look at the trailer below to get a feel for what I mean.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCzfxcVrxfE&w=560&h=315]

 

I first saw it in the cinema in 2006 and found it startling and inspiring. At the time I was more transfixed by how well a comic (graphic novel for all you who just groaned) could be brought to the screen rather than by the political message. I saw the anti-fascist stance as obvious and necessary but the idea of fascism gripping the UK so firmly seemed like an exaggeration to make a point.

 

This year, in response to the Guy Fawkes Night book task in the 24 Festive Tasks challenge, I decided to do something new. I read the "novelisation" of the movie or, rather, I listened to the audiobook, expertly narrated by Simon Vance.

 

I've always avoided novelisations. The word itself is ugly and the literary snob in me, which is quite happy to watch movies adapted from books, was instinctively scornful of reading novels adapted from movies.

 

As usual, my literary snob was an idiot. If I had come to this novel without seeing the movie, I would have been praising the quality of the writing and the structure of the story. It's well-written, faithful to the movie but enhancing it in ways that are appropriate to the novel form. I recommend it to you.

 

Listening to the audiobook in 2018, twelve years after seeing the movie, Britain as a fascist state no longer felt like an exaggeration to make a point. It felt like a possibility that we are only a few missteps away from. The mechanics of the manipulation of the media, the creation of enemies of the people, the appeal to national pride in a mostly-mythical glorious past, the exploitation of the fear and hatred of the foreign and the different all felt too contemporary to be dismissed.

 

V, the hero of this story, is not a nice man. Not a man you'd want to make friends with or even spend time with. When I first saw the movie I was horrified by his treatment of Evie, who he shapes into a weapon of sorts.

 

Now, I begin to understand that there may be times when we all need someone like V to remind us that our governments should be more afraid of us than we are of them.

Reading progress update: I've read 35%. -wonderful but tough on the emotions
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

This is, in many ways. a beautiful book. The language is rich and diverse without being pompous or self-conscious. The themes of war, loss, fear and purpose are handled with a deft, light touch that nevertheless refuses to look away or to pretend.

 

At the heart of the book stands Billy Lynn - nineteen going on twenty - unassuming - just coming to terms with life and what it holds for him - matured by the war in ways he's only beginning to understand - puzzled and troubled by the ferocity with which his fellow Americans talk about the war as the thank him for his service.

 

Billy is real and likeable. He's not a message or a symbol. He's just a guy in a shitty place trying not to screw up and hoping not to get killed today.

 

I've just finished the chapter with his one-day Thanksgiving visit with his family during his victory tour. This is when Billy finally understands what he has to lose. Yet he goes back to the Army, who will send him back to Iraq because that's what he signed up for.

 

This is a tough book to read but only because it seems so truthful.

 

 

Review
4 Stars
"The Elementals" by Michael McDowell
The Elementals - Michael Rowe, Michael McDowell

If you're looking for a deeply atmospheric, well-written and perfectly narrated novel to fill you with an inexorable dread, "The Elementals" is the book for you.

 

"The Elementals" has a remarkably powerful, cliché-free start, that embeds your imagination in the South like a throwing knife splitting a rotting log. What better way to start than with a funeral that goes from dire and depressing to deeply disturbing in a few pages.

 

I'd never read Michael McDowell before but I wasn't surprised to learn later that he was an excellent screenwriter.  The style of"The Elementals" is cinematic in a lots-of-close-ups, see-the-motes-in-the-sunlit-air lighting and strange but intimate camera angles kind of way.

 

The characters, especially Luker and his preciously independent daughter India are engaging and believable. Despite being unconventional people (Luker came from around hear but he raised his daughter in New York City so you can't exactly expect them to be normal, can you?) become the anchor points for sanity in a world that is sliding towards the lethally strange with the slow grace of an unmoored house sliding of a cliff into the sea.

 

The heat becomes almost a character in the story in its own right. India discovers for the first time the heat and humidity induced languor of the South that bends time and alter perceptions. Luker explains to her that this hot humid coastal resort of Beldame is:

"...a low energy place. The kind of place where you can only get one or two things done in a day and one of those is getting out of bed."

 

Not surprisingly, the horror in this book is of the slow but deeply disturbing kind. It seemed to me that the dread in this book had a pulse: slow and strong, like an ambush predator waiting on a branch.

 

Having this atmospheric tale delivered to my ear in R.C. Bray's gravelly but insistent voice was a remarkable reading experience.

 

Child moves Reacher to a smaller screen with a bigger actor

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Apparently, having a five foot seven inch actor play a six foot five inch tall man with hands the size of dinner plates didn't go over well.

 

Either that or the movie franchise was a failure.

 

Here's the BBC version

Review
3 Stars
"Lost and Found - September Day #1" by Amy Shojai
Lost And Found (The September Day Series Book 1) - Amy D. Shojai

"Lost and Found" wasn't what I'd expected from the publisher's summary. I thought I'd be reading a dog-centric cosy mystery with a kick-ass heroine and her save-the-day dog.

What I got was less clichéd than that but also less easy to settle into.

 

This is too hard-edged and has too much violence in it for a cosy mystery. I'd barely started the book and had seen one person shot in the face at close range and another stabbed to death. The body count keeps rising, making the bad guys into spree killers rather than devious villains.

 

There are also some very dubious portrayals of the behaviour of autistic children. Although the plot shows this behaviour to be abnormal it still felt to me like it was playing to all the wrong fears and stigma attached to autistic kids. 

 

Shadow, the dog, does indeed save the day and all the parts of the book that relate to him, especially when we get his canine view of the world, work very well. Amy Shojai knows her dogs and knows how to bring them alive for the rest of us.

 

The cop-with-a-past-and-currently-in-disgrace was well written and believable. The heroine was more difficult to get alongside. Her dialogue, such as it was, seemed awkward and inconsistent. She flips from being highly organised and brave to falling apart and ridden by guilt and doubt. This was explicable in terms of the plot and her backstory but it didn't feel authentic while it was happening.

 

I enjoyed the book well enough to read my way through it but not enough to read the next two books in the series.

 

Off Topic Post: Some lessons need to be learned more than once

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Fifty-eight years ago today, six-year-old Ruby Ridges became the first African American child to go to a previously all-white elementary school. She was escorted there, through crowds of angry, shouting protestors, by Federal Marshals.

 

At one time, I saw this as a key step forward, a moment in history when things got better.

 

It's memorialised in this painting "A Problem We All Live With" by  Norman Rockwell and the poem I've added to it, "My First Day At School" by Michaela Morgan. 

 

It had become a milestone in our progress towards a more equal society, less driven by hate and fear.  

 

A few years ago the all-grown-up Ruby Ridges met with the first African American President of the United States so things MUST have gotten better.

 

Now we have Trump and Brexit and vicious, hate-driven, fear-soaked nationalism and racism raising its head proudly across Europe.

 

So now I see the events of 14th November 1960 differently.

 

It was a step forward. It was a lesson learned.

 

But it wasn't enough.

 

It can never be enough.

 

We can drive hate and fear into remission but we cannot eliminate them. They will always come back.

 

Today, fear and hate are being nurtured by men, hungry for power, who want to use them as weapons to divide and attack us.

 

I understand now that some lessons, the important ones, have to be taught more than once.

 

It has fallen to us to combat fear and the hate it produces and refuse to retreat from the progress we have made.

 

Review
3.5 Stars
"Beau Death" by Peter Lovesey
Beau Death - Peter Lovesey

I bought this book because it's set in Bath in the UK, a city I've just returned to after sixteen years away, which may explain why I've missed the previous sixteen books in this series featuring the career of Police Detective Peter Diamond dealing with crime in Bath.

 

I dived in to the latest book, without starting at the beginning of the series, because the idea of a skeleton, dressed in what appears to be the style of clothing worn by Beau Nash, being discovered in an attic of a condemned building in Twerton during its demolition was just so Bath I couldn't miss it.

 

The plot of Beau Death is a pergola supporting an artful display of Bath past and present. Diamond does investigate two deaths in this book and finds the guilty parties through a mix of detailed police work and imaginative insight but these activities seem secondary to exploring Bath, its neighbourhoods, its history, its remarkably diverse and often eccentric citizens and of course, the phenomenon that was Beau Nash.

 

The book is peppered with humour. One incident that made me laugh was a pet shop owner is giving the police the code to a smart lock. She tells them her mnemonic is "Hampsters".  They look blank. She explains that hampsters are cannibals. They still look blank. Then she tells them the code (read it aloud and you'll get the cannibal thing); 181182

 

I've been living in Bath since 1985 so I remember the Bath that the young police officers in this book think of as olden days. I recognised all the places and I remember how they used to be as well as how they are now. For example, for years Beau Nash's house contained a restaurant called Popjoy's (the name of Nash's mistress), It's been called something else for years now but it's still Popjoy's to old folks like Peter Diamond and me.

 

There's a lot of close observation of how class and wealth (not always the same thing) work in this town and a firm understanding of how policing here has changed (there is no real Police Station in this town of nearly 90,000 people any more - the old station now belongs to the University and the Police commute from halfway to Bristol when they're needed.

 

This is a pleasant, easy, entertaining read that works well as an audiobook. If you want to take a slightly unorthodox virtual tour of Bath, I recommend letting Peter Diamond be your guide.

Reading progress update: I've read 10%. - this is going to be good
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" came out in May 2012 but slipped right by me somehow.

 

That's a shame because this is a remarkable book: accessible, authentic and as is the way with such things, taking you someplace you didn't know you were headed to but that you're glad to arrive at.

 

This is the story of nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn, of Bravo Squad, a hero of the Iraq war being taken on a victory tour of the USA before being sent back to Iraq to complete the last eleven months of his extended tour of duty.

 

Now I honestly thought, when I bought this book in October, that my restless trawling of digital book stacks had rewarded me with this gem but it turns out I'm just another happy cog in a marketing chain. I see now that this five-and-a-half-year-old book was in my sights because Ang Lee releases the movie version this month.

 

Now that should be interesting given that the book opens with a slightly bemused Bravo Squad finding their story being turned in Hollywood movie fodder, with Hillary Swank being considered to play the role of Billy, although whether she'd do so as a woman playing a man or a woman playing a woman is still an open question.

 

I'm reading "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" for the Armistice Day door on the  24 Festive Task reading challenge.

 

Review
2.5 Stars
"The Stranger Diaries" by Elly Griffiths - some excellent storytelling undermined by a very disappointing finish
The Stranger Diaries - Elly Griffiths

I've enjoyed Elly Griffiths'"Ruth Galloway" novels so I was pleased to see a new standalone mystery from her that was gaining lots of four and five-star reviews.

My wife and I settled down to listen to the audiobook version over a few evening and mostly enjoyed ourselves.

 

We were amused by the sometimes cringe-making accuracy of the humour and the way the characters described each other. We speculated on where the plot might go and the identity of the baddy.

 

We discussed how structuring this tale of murder into first-person accounts / "stranger diaries" given by three very different women had the novel consequence of hearing three convincing female characters talking about themselves and their impression of each other without the comments being centred around men.

 

We enjoyed the way the contrasts and commonalities between the woman made the story richer: an English teacher with a fondness for Wilkie Collins and an obsession with modern gothic; her teenage daughter who dabbles in white magic and writing murder mysteries and a young Indian Detective Sargeant who is investigating the murders that the novel revolves around and who gives an outsider's view on mother and daughter but who went to the same school that the mother teaches at and the daughter attends. Using a different narrator for each woman also gave a boost to the audiobook.

 

We were impressed by how convincingly "The Stranger",  a short story at the heart of the novel, matched the style of M R James.

 

In other words, for the first nine hours or so of the novel, we were having a good time.

Tonight, we reached the dramatic conclusion with lives at risk, a rescue being attempted and the identity of the murderer finally being revealed but instead of going "That was good*, we looked at each other with raised eyebrows and said, "Is that it? Did I miss something". 

 

The ending felt cobbled together. The identity of the baddy carried all the conviction of a "the butler did it" solution.

 

I was so surprised that I began to reconsider the whole book, wondering whether Elly Griffiths was offering a kind of "Northanger Abbey" version of the gothic novel and I'd missed out on the joke. 

 

I like Elly Griffiths' books. I liked ninety per cent of this one but the ending left me feeling like I'd waited for hours for a Soufflé that failed to rise.

 

Listen to the SoundCloud extract below to get a feel for the M R James style story that opens the novel.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/515618340" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

Armistice Day: Task 3 - Dana Stabenow


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Task 3: Tell us: What author’s books would you consider yourself a veteran of.Kate Shugak

 

The author I've pursued most diligently is Dana Stabenow. My first encounter with her was six years ago when I read the first Kate Shugak book, "A Cold Day For Murder".

 

It was my first book from Audible. I downloaded it because my wife had an eye infection and couldn't read, so we listened to the book together.

 

At first, I didn't like the narrator, Margurite Gavin. She's since become one of my favourite narrators and will always be the voice of Kate Shugak to me. The first book was showing its age a little (it was published in 1992) and suffered from Season One Episode One issues but the second book, "A Fatal Flaw" hooked me.

 

I've now read twenty-nine Dana Stabenow books: twenty-one Kate Shugak books, four Liam Campbell books (a crossover series), two Coast Guard Books, one short story collection and one of her two science fiction books.

 

Kate Shugak remains my favourite. She's the only character where I've reviewed the entire series again after finishing it. Of course, as soon as I did that, Dana Stabenow published the book twenty-one and it turned out the series was not over.

 

 

 

Nightmares & Dreamscapes: "It Grows On You" and "Chattery Teeth"

chattery teeth

 

Nioghtmares and dreamscapesThis review covers the stories five and six in the audiobook edition of "Nightmares & Dreamscapes"  by Stephen King.

 

In listening to these two stories back to back I understood two things:

 

  1. I prefer King's stories to be up close and personal rather than being heavily dependent on the authorial voice.

  2. The skill of the narrator counts for a lot. Stephen King reads his own work well. His Maine country accents are perfect. But... you hear him pausing for breath and you get, or at least I thought I got, a sense of "I know the ending to this one and it's a doozie"complicity in his tone that I found distracting. Kathy Bates's performance is simply flawless. You almost don't notice what she's doing because she does it so well, using just the right amount of emphasis, keeping a beat-perfect rhythm and producing voices for characters that are distinct but not melodramatically different.


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"It Grows On You", narrated by Stephen King himself, was a rare experience for me: a Stephen King short story that I walked away from halfway through.

 

It wasn't that the story was badly written. Almost the opposite. It was that this story is a nasty, mean-spirited, malicious story, filled with vulgar, unpleasant but hard-to-forget images.

 

This story is told from a sort of Town's-Eye-View, mixing malicious gossip with layer after layer of local history that place an impenetrable varnish over events. The descriptions of the people and what happens to them are the kind of thing you should be ashamed to think, never mind say out loud. 

 

I know this is Castlerock and I know Castlerock is not a nice place but this time I found myself being invited to be a voyeur, sitting next to other voyeurs, judging and salivating in equal measure. 

 

I decided to leave and take a shower rather than stay and see what the punchline was.

 

49-2 "Chattery Teeth", narrated perfectly by Kathy Bates, is one of those horror short stories that they ought to hold up in Creative Writing courses and say "This is how it's done."

 

You start with a travelling man, stopping for gas and finding himself caught up in the blighted lives of the couple running the place.

 

You stay long enough for everything to feel deeply rooted in reality and to get a feel for the travelling man as warily open-minded, missing his family and still nurturing memories and impulses from his childhood.

 

Then you add:

 

  • a dash of weird: broken but exceptionally large Chattery Teeth, made of steel and designed to walk on their two spat-wearing feet.

  • a wildcard: a teenage hitchhiker with a wide-eyed smile that sometimes becomes a jackal's grin.

  •  a desert sandstorm in miles and miles of empty road.

  • What follows is masterful storytelling, illuminated by lightning bolts of weird that help etch the tale onto the back of your eyes. This is Stephen King at his best.

 

 

24 Festive Tasks Update after the first four Doors

The Festive Tasks have been blowing in a flurry and I'm struggling to keep up with them but I'm having fun.

 

So far, I've managed at least one task per open door

 

task update.001

 

 

iuhere liesDoor 1, The Day Of The Dead, had me satirising Jack Reacherin verse (an easy target really) and sharing Rochester's epitaph for King Charles II.

 

 

 

 

jaccuse

 

Door 2, Guy Fawkes Night,  had me accusing Librarians, Publishers and Reviewers of Treason against books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6BE3A796-61CA-4155-BFA1-73F11E51FE5FDoor 3, the Melbourne Cup, slightly bizarrely brought me to Hogwarts to visit with the Sorting Hat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DrjtzSoWoAE1YwkDoor 4, Diwali, brought me to a light show in preparation for Remembrance Sunday and some reflections on what it means.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books are going more slowly. I've read the first two and have just started the next two (the ones with greyed out covers below).

 

books update.001

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 5%. - Indian Sci Fi for Diwali
Tantrics of Old - Krishnarjun Bhattacharya

The book challenge for Diwali included reading a book set in India. I decided to take a twist on that and read some Indian Science Fiction. The publishing market in India is exploding but domestic Science Fiction is still a minority pursuit. 

 

"Tantrics of Old" is set in a future Kolkata (the city we colonial invaders called Calcutta) and involves both some kind of ultra-modern group called MYTH - I don't know who or what they are yet - and magic of the Indian runes and demons kind, practised illegally by Tantrics.

 

I used to go to Kolkata regularly on business so I saw a bit of the city and its people. I'm intrigued to see how this plays out.  

My picks from Barnes & Nobles' top 50 Science Fiction and Fantasy Debut Novels

I've just had some fun going through Barnes & Noble's list of

50 of the Greatest Science Fiction & Fantasy Debut Novels Ever Written

It turns out that I've read eighteen out of the fifty. I've picked them out below.

 

top 50

My top five on that list are "Trail of Lightning", "Ancillary Justice", Neuromancer", The Windup Girl and "Revelation Space".

 

The only one I didn't like was "The Library At Mount Char" which I couldn't finish.

 

I don't accept "The Wasp Factory" as Science Fiction or fantasy. For me, Bank's debut SF novel was "Consider Phlebus".

 

I have another nine of the books in my TBR pile.

 

next 9

I think my next reading challenge may be to read these nine plus a few more from the B&N list.

 

Take a look and let me know which are your favourites.

 

Off Topic Post: Banned Iceland Ad

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Iceland, the supermarket in the UK, not the country in the Arctic, have committed to remove products with Palm Oil in them from their shelves. They has planned to use a Greenpeace animation as their Christmas ad but it has been banned by the advertising authority for being too political.

 

Watch if for yourself and see what you think.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWGLlFXd7lQ&w=560&h=315]

Diwali - not as light as I'd thought it would be - a remembrance bathed in blood.

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Task 1: Share a picture of your favorite light display.

I enjoy Son et Lumiere. The technology now available produces some startlingly dramatic displays that transform the buildings that they're projected on to.

 

I was going to carry out this Diwali task by sharing pictures I took a couple of years ago of the Swiss Parliament building becoming a canvas for bizarre animations.

 

 

Then, today, I saw what's being done in Liverpool during the lead up to Remembrance Sunday on 11 November.

 

It's not particularly clever or high tech but it moved me.

 

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In Britain, the poppy is used as a symbol of remembrance for the war dead. It comes from the poem, "In Flanders Fields" written at a funeral of a friend who died at Ypres, by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae which reads (at least in the handwritten original version) as:

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
 That mark our place; and in the sky
 The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
  Loved and were loved, and now we lie
      In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
  The torch; be yours to hold it high.
  If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
      In Flanders fields.
 

"Lest we forget"  is a phrase that often accompanies the Poppy. It is both a warning and an exhortation, challenging us to remember those who died.

 

The phrase comes originally Kipling's "Recessional", a piece of poetry I've never liked and which, with each passing year, seems to me like the kind of nationalist, Christian, fantasy of self-importance that led to so many men drowning in mud, being blown apart by shells or ripped in two by machine guns so their leaders could count honour as being satisfied.

 

I believe that, when we listen to the voice of those who died in that pointless slaughter, what we must take care not to forget if we are not to "break faith with us who die" is that  WE CANNOT ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN AGAIN.

 

This Remembrance Sunday marks the centenary of the end of a war where millions of working men slaughtered one another out of loyalty to Kings and Emperors.

 

I am angered by the fact that the same kind of egotistical, entitled, jingoistic, incompetent upper-class twits who led our young to the slaughter one hundred years ago are now wrapping themselves in nationalist flags once more and trying to undermine the peace that Europe has nurtured for the past sixty years.

 

If we forget that the vanity of men like these led to the slaughter and maiming of tens of millions of men in a single generation, then we disrespect the memory of the dead and they "shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields."

 

currently reading

Progress: 28%
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