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.

Reading progress update: I've read 12%. - immediately immersive
Clock Dance - Anne Tyler

"Clock Dance", Anne Tyler's latest novel, sets out to share the defining moments of a woman's life.

 

The first. longish, chapter immediately immersed me in the life of the then eleven.year-old-girl, in small-town America in 1967, on the day her mother walks out of the house.

 

It effortlessly captures that feeling of still working out what's going on in your family, when you're not sure if stuff is really weird or if all the other families do this too and when your anger and anxiety and desire for competence get twisted up with your love for your parents and your doubts and hopes about yourself.

 

 

So far, it's wonderful stuff.

Reading progress update: I've read 8%. - totally compulsive listening
The Princess Diarist - Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher reading her own diary looking back on her involvement with Star Wars and including journal entries made at the time of the first movie - how could I resist that? WHY would I resist that.

 

With dry wit, unflinching candour, a dash of carefully expressed malice and a wry sense of humour, Carrie Fisher takes us into her confidence. I'm going to be dipping into this eagerly when I need to relax.

Review
5 Stars
"Magic Shifts - Kate Daniels #8" by Ilona Andrews - THIS is how you reboot a series
Magic Shifts  -  Ilona Andrews

 

I delayed reading this book for a while as I knew the previous " I am your Father and I may need to kill you" story in the last book,"Magic Breaks" was originally meant to be the end of the series and I didn't want to spoil what I'd already read with a faint-hearted extension requested by the publishers. I was also a little disappointed in and frustrated by the last book.

 

I should have had more faith in the writers. "Magic Shifts" does exactly what the title implies, it shifts the series to a new level - completely rebooting it.

 

So how do you reboot a series?

 

You don’t wallow in nostalgia, repeat storylines, make things a similar as possible to the original but with a few decorative twists.

 

You do make the present valuable and the future something to hope for; introduce new threats, new uncertainties and new opportunities to collaborate; dare to let your characters grow, let their actions have consequences, let their lives have meaning beyond kill-the-bad-guy save-the-world try-not-to-die.

 

When we first met Kate as a misfit mercenary, calling “Here, kitty, kitty” to the werelion Beastlord in "Magic Bites", she was alone and in hiding, taking on all-comers because she had nothing to lose and she knew her doom was coming for her one day. She was afraid of her blood and ashamed at being good at nothing but killing.

 

At the start of "Magic Shifts" as Kate rides home through the Atlanta night, sword on her back, blood on her clothes, we immediately see how she's changed: she's comfortable in her own skin, reconciled to her power and happy to use it. 

“…the night shadows watched us and I watched them back. Let’s play who can be a better killer. My sword and I love this game.”

She's also not alone. She now has a family, friends and a city to protect. At the end of the last book, she has turned her whole world upside down - a truce of some sort with her father, a responsibility of some sort for the city she claimed, a life completely outside of the Pack, even a house in the suburbs. She and Curren have gotten past the will we won’t we? stage into the more interesting how will we stage. Of course, she still has this I-have-to-save-everybody reflex, she still behaves as if she's invulnerable, although the evidence shows she isn't and she still worries about the monster she might become. I guess that's what makes Kate Kate.

 

Curren is having fun in the suburbs, free from the politics of being Beastlord and enjoying being underestimated by strangers who see him as Kate's muscle.

 

This is a fast-paced action-packed book that starts with a battle that's really more of a slaughter - two against thirty isn't really fair when the two are Kate and Curren - and the violence escalates from there. We get new monsters, a new baddy an interesting new ally, all wrapped up in a puzzle that uses characters from earlier books in new ways. One of my favourite pieces was Kate meeting her I'm-the-most-dangerous-being-in-the-world father at Applebees for a family dinner. That started off as funny and became quietly menacing.

 

Although the pace is fast, it's always perfectly controlled. .When I reached the penultimate chapters I thought “Oh no - cliffhanger ending” I should have known better. What I got was a perfectly executed, action-packed, denouement that delivered a satisfying conclusion to the puzzles in the book, followed by an epilogue that deepened the emotional impact of ending and opened intriguing possibilities for the next book.

 

This is how you do Urban Fantasy when you’re at the top of your game.

 

I won't delay in reading book nine.

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 47%.
Magic Shifts  -  Ilona Andrews

I delayed this book for a while as I knew the previous " I am your Father and I may need to kill you" story in the last book was originally meant to be the end of the series and I didn't want to spoil what I'd already read with a faint-hearted extension requested by the publisher's.

 

I should have had more faith in the writers. This post-Pack episode is energetic and full of renewed vigour.

 

The fight scenes are strong.  The enemies seem to be new and the dynamic between Kate and Currently is changing in interesting ways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review
2 Stars
"Full Dark House - Bryant & May #1" by Christopher Fowler - DNF - reluctantly abandoned at 37%
Full Dark House - Christopher Fowler

The premise behind this book was intriguing: a Peculiar Crimes Unit, set up during the Blitz quietly to handle crimes that might undermine civilian morale, leaving lots of room for Mulder-meets-British-stiff-upper-lip humour.

 

The Unit is led by Bryant: an eccentric, ostentatiously intuitive, tactless, scarf-wearing, driven twenty-two-year-old who is more comfortable with exotic books than with ordinary people. His newly-hired first-day-on-the-job side-kick is the enthusiastic, scientifically-minded, charming, good-looking nineteen-year-old May, brought in as a detective despite his lack of experience because all the experienced people have left to fight the Germans.

 

The overall effect was that of a frenetic young "Dr Who" meeting "Endeavour".

I liked the spirit of it. It would make great television. It didn't hold my attention as a book.

 

The opening, in London in the 1990s when Bryant and May are still serving officers although they are both beyond the normal retirement age, didn't quite work for me. It asked me to care too much about characters I'd barely met. I had no context and so didn't get the emotional impact of the devastating fire-bomb.

 

Once the story flipped to London during the Blitz it hit its stride. The writing was strong on visuals, a little predictable on dialogue and way out there on the weirdness of plot.

 

The problem I had was that this retrospective visit to London felt a little too cosy and too nostalgic, a feeling that was amplified by the "Mystique of the Theatre" riff. The murder was surprisingly gruesome but carried little emotional impact.

 

I abandoned the book when my irritation with the changing points of view, sliding timelines and self-consciously look-how-clever-but-quaint-we-were-back-then technology innovations overwhelmed my interest in who had what to whom and why.

 

I'm sure many people will enjoy this. Maybe I'd have ridden with it more easily if there was an all-cast audio version but the text by itself didn't hold me.

Film Review "Leave No Trace" a quietly powerful film - highly recommended

leave_no_trace"Leave No Trace" is one of those rare films that is brave enough to allow truth to be spoken in silence. Director Debra Granik(best known for  "Winter's Bone") uses beautiful photography, extraordinary acting and a subtle script to deliver a story about a daughter and a father living on the fringes of American society with compassionate realism.

 

Based on the novel "My Abandonment" which was itself based on a true story, it tells the story of a thirteen-year-old girl and her father who are found to have been living off-the-grid for some time in Forest Park, Oregon.

 

The movie starts by showing how efficiently and easily daughter and father work together to live in the forest with only basic tools, minimal shelter and with most of their food harvested from the forest. The bond between them is clear. She is intelligent, resilient and happy. He is caring and competent but somehow not quite right.

 

When they are discovered by the authorities, things change. They both have to adapt to new circumstances. She becomes aware of other ways of living and then comes to the understanding that these ways of living are not open to her father in the same way. He suffers from PTSD as a result of his military service and struggles when he has to deal with people, especially people in authority.

 

Leave No Trace stills

Told from the daughter's point of view. the story focus on her struggle to understand what is happening and what she wants to do.

 

The bond she has with her father is deep but, as she at one point blurts out in frustration: "Whatever is wrong with you. It isn't wrong with me”.

 

LNT_01544_RThomasin McKenzie'sperformance as the daughter is fresh, nuanced, skilful and compulsively engaging. It reminded me of the power Jennifer Lawrence brought to “Winter’s Bone”.

 

Leave-No-Trace-trailer-screenshot-Ben-FosterBen Foster'sperformance as the father is a triumph. Avoiding the usual clichés, he manages to be both strong and vulnerable, showing us a troubled man who knows his limits but is fighting against them to be what his daughter needs him to be.

 

I recommend that you seek "Leave No Trace" out and let yourself feel its power and humanity. This is movie making at its best.

 

Watch the trailer below if you're still not convinced.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ecmbu1s_HHI&w=560&h=315]

 

Reading progress update: I've read 15% and it's getting there after a slow start
Full Dark House - Christopher Fowler

I think this has the makings of a good retro series. The opening didn't quite work for me as it asked me to care too much about characters I'd barely met.

 

Once it went back in time to London during the Blitz it hit its stride. 

 

The writing is strong on visuals, a little predictable on dialogue and way out there on weirdness of plot.

 

Review
3.5 Stars
"Discount Armageddon - InCryptid #1" by Seanan McGuire
Discount Armageddon - Seanan McGuire

I've joined this party a little late. I didn't know about Seanan McGuire until I read the serious and pain-filled "Rosemary and Rue"a few months ago.

 

"Discount Armageddon" is almost the mirror image of "Rosemary and Rue". It's fast, light and witty in a superficial denying-the-danger kind of way. It reaches for sassy, willfully unconventional and effortlessly lethal and makes it most of the time.

It has a great opening line:

"I really don't think you should put your hand inside the manticore, dear. You don't know where its been."

It's sprinkled with clever descriptions that made me smile. Here are a couple of examples:

 

Verity Price on her unconventional childhood

"Other kids got chores and teddy bears; we got gun safety classes and heavy weaponry. Normal’s what you make it."

Verity on first encountering the straight-laced but soon to be undone Covenant new-crusader-in-town who has snared her on a rooftop:

"Straightening, he puffed out his chest and said, “I am armored with righteousness.” 'Does righteousness protect you from small-caliber bullets?'"

I loved the premise of a family leaving the God-Wants-Us-To-Kill-The-Monsters cult and becoming cryptozoologists working with the Cryptids/monsters to create a stable ecosystem - how on message is that. The plot was clever without being too demanding. The originality and variety of cryptids encountered were fun. The mice were cute. The ballroom dancing was... exotic.

 

At times, I thought the pace lagged a little. The sex was eye-rolling but I'm almost sure that was intentional.

 

In the end, much depended on whether you liked Verity Price and cared what happened to her. I decided that I did and that I want to know more - in small doses - so I'm signing on for the next book in the series.

Review
2.5 Stars
"Bartleby the Scrivener" by Herman Melville
Bartleby, the Scrivener - Herman Melville

I read "Bartleby the Scrivener" as I was told it was a good introduction to Herman Melville because it was short, accessible and showed how ahead of his time Melville was.

 

All of those things turned out to be true but especially the last.

 

"Bartleby The Scrivener" was published in 1853, the same year that Dickens published "Bleak House". It's set in the offices of a commercial lawyer on Wall Street and tells the story of a scrivener, (a clerk who hand-writes multiple copies of long legal documents) who changes the heartbeat of his office by greeting all requests to leave his desk and or check the work of others with the phrase; "I would prefer not to, sir"

 

The opening of the story is very much of its time. The narrator sets about telling his tale much as he might if he was addressing members of his club over an after dinner brandy. There's lots of extraneous detail and the pace is unhurried and the path a little circuitous. Except that this conventional opening is less an attribute of Melville's approach to narrative and more a way of establishing the conventional, conflict-averse, unambitious nature of the narrator. It becomes clear that he is a man whose life has contained few challenges and who has a tendency toward the droll rather than the dramatic. His inability or at least unwillingness to confront Bartleby’s oblique refusals to comply with reasonable request to do his job provides the platform for the humour in the first half of the story. It is amusing but not very, by modern standards but it does cast a light on how offices then were run and the relationship between lawyer and clerk. 

 

One thing that caught me by surprise was that the lawyer/narrator described Bartleby’s behaviour as passive aggression. Passive aggression is a familiar and often misused label today but it did not emerge as a clinical definition until ninety years after Melville wrote this story.

 

In the second half of the novella, the tone darkens, Bartleby's behaviour becomes more extreme and our lawyer/narrator moves from amusement through annoyance and finally arrives at sadness as it becomes clear how damaged Bartleby is. 

 

It seemed to me that what initially appeared to be a lighthearted tale of office disobedience became something much more profound: a contemplation on our inability and or our unwillingness to recognise mental illness and shows how our reactions can swiftly move from sympathy to punishment if the behaviours of the mentally ill person challenge our worldview. Melville’s mild-mannered, educated and self-consciously charitable lawyer’s progression from amusement through to empathy is shaped by an only partly voiced concern that the behaviours of the mentally ill are somehow contagious (knowing that this is not true does not dissipate the lawyer’s fear but rather strengthens his worries about the fragility of his own mind.

 

I was impressed by Melville’s subtlety, by the amount of menace he managed to create in a tale that started off as mildly absurd and most of all for his view of mental illness.

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 2%. - as first lines go - this one has legs...
Discount Armageddon - Seanan McGuire

"I really don't think you should put your hand inside the manticore, dear. You don't know where its been."

Best Reads, Best New Finds and Biggest Disappointment​ from April through June 2018.

 

2018 q2In the past three months, I've read thirty-seven books, books, thirty-one of them ranged from good fun to memorable read, four I opted not to finish and two I finished and wished I hadn't. Seventy per cent of the books came from my TBR pile but my lack of impulse control meant that I added three times as many books to it as I took off it.

 

I took on two Reading Challenges this quarter. The first was "Prospecting my TBR Pile to find 24 enticing books written by women"

 

24-women-wriers q2

 

This was to get me to read twenty-four of the best books by women in my TBR pile by the end of this year.

 

I read three (rather than the planned eight) but all three of them were five-star reads (see Best Mainstream Fiction and Best Genre Fiction)

 

The second was the Summer of Spies challenge. This turned out to be a very varied experience. Three of the five books were four-star reads, one I didn't finish and one I wished I hadn't bothered finishing.

 

Summer of spies

 

Mick Herron and John Le Carré both delivered excellent, richly textured, very British novels. In "Real Tigers" Mick Herron's third Slough House novel, the "slow horses" of MI6 who have been condemned to the pointless purgatory of Slough House, tangle with a British Minister and some security contractors. Le Carré comes at similar issues in "A Delicate Truth" but this time from the point of view of a senior Civil Servant in the FCO trying to find the truth behind his Minister's actions.

 

I highly recommend both books.

 

"Who Is Vera Kelly?" by Rosalie Knecht took me to Argentina in the 1960s with Vera Kelly, a young woman recently hired to the CIA and sent on a surveillance mission to pre-coup Buenos Aires. This original, engaging book used the spy genre and the attitudes of the 1960s to homosexuality to demonstrate what it’s like to live in an environment so hostile to your sexual orientation that you dare not admit to being who you are and the consequential stress, isolation and blurring of identity.

 

Sonja Stone's"Desert Dark", a YA spy novel set in an elite school training talented teens to be CIA Black Ops agents was a DNF for me. I was supposed to be engaged in finding out who the mole at the school was and instead found myself angry that any democracy would abuse children by sending them to a place like this. I was definitely not the target audience for this book.

 

My first reaction on completing listening to "The Traitor's Story" was "That's ten hours of my life I'm never getting back": Lacklustre story combined with unattractive characters and indifferent narration. Not recommended.

 

Best Mainstream Reads of the Quarter

My four favourite mainstream reads this quarter are all about strong women:

 

Q2 Mainstream eeads

 

Little Fires Everywhere"Little Fires Everywhere"by Celeste Ng is a beautifully written as her "Everything I Never Told You", brings together two families, Mia and her daughter, who live a nomadic life, with Mia working on her art as a photographer while raising her daughter, and the Richardsons, mother, father and four children, raised in the idyllic, safe, solidly upper-middle-class Shaker Heights. Mia rents an apartment from Mrs Richardson. Their children, all in their teens, start to spend time together, Mia starts to work part-time cooking and cleaning for the Richardsons so that she can observe the family her, previously independent and possibly lonely, daughter has fallen under the spell of.

 

This “compare and contrast lifestyles” set-up is used to examine choices on motherhood, different types of mother-daughter relationships, the rights and wrongs of adoption (especially of a Chinese baby by a childless white couple) of abortion, and of surrogacy. It looks at whether families are born or made or both. It contrasts choosing to follow rules with choosing to follow your passion and asks if either choice makes sense.

 

It does all this without turning into an ethics essay. It stays focused on the people, the choices that have made them who they are and the potential that they have for changing and or for becoming even more deeply the people that they already are.

 

book"The Trick To Time" by Kit De Waal is a is a deeply empathic book about the nature of grief, the enduring impact of loss and the effect of time on emotions, memory and our own sense of identity.

 

It tells the story of how the main character, Mona, came to be who she is. It is told in two parallel timelines: Mona as she reaches her sixtieth birthday, living alone in a seaside town in England, making dolls and providing some mysterious service to some of the women who visit her shop and Mona as a little girl, growing up in Ireland and then moving, in her late teens, to Birmingham to make a new life for herself.

 

The thing that most engaged me about the book was understanding how the little girl playing on the beach, and the young woman going nervously to her first dance in Birmingham, became the calm, strong but sad woman who makes wooden dolls in the present day.

 

The writing is beautiful without being flowery. From the beginning, I understood that there was more going on than I yet knew about and that understanding filled me with pleasant anticipation of a real story worth waiting for. It was a story that caught me by surprise time and again, up to the final chapter, but each surprise made more sense of Mona's life and actions rather than feeling like a magic trick.

 

sal-downloadable-audio-cover-9781786891907.800x0"Sal" is an original, engaging, story that deals with child abuse with empathy and compassion without turning the children into victims defined by their abuser. It made me think, cry, smile and get angry, sometimes within the course of a single page.

 

Sal is a thirteen-year-old girl who, after months of planning, has fled with her ten-year-old sister, Peppa, from their home in Glasgow to the forests of the Scottish Highlands, where, with a Bear Grylls knife, a compass, waterproofs, a first aid kit and what she's learned from the SAS Survival Handbook and watching YouTube videos, she intends to survive.

 

Sal has a unique voice, that Sharon Rooney brings to life with wonderful clarity in the audiobook version. This is a satisfying, thought-provoking but accessible novel. Sal is someone who will live in my memory for a long time.

 

American by Day Set in 2008, the year of Obama's election, "American By Day" follows Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård, the Oslo police detective from Miller's wonderful "Norwegian By Night", to upstate New York in search of her missing brother. She arrives to find herself in the middle of an investigation into the death by fenestration of her brother's girlfriend in which her brother is the main suspect.

 

As Sigrid tries to use a mix of rational analysis and deep cunning to prevent her brother being killed by the police searching for him, we are lead through an exploration of American policing and the why so many encounters between the police and black men end up with the black men dead.

 

"American By Day" works as a standalone novel. It's funny, has an interesting mystery at its heart and deals with issues that are at the centre of American identity without being simplistic or pompous.

 

Best Genre Reads of the Quarter

 

q2 best genre

 

This was a strong quarter for great Science Fiction. 

 

Space OperaI started with"Space Opera"  by Catherynne Valente which is a brilliantly conceived and executed take on what would happen if the fate of the Earth depended on how well we did in an intergalactic version of the Eurovision Song Contest.

 

"Space Opera" was a mind-expanding, chortle-making, thought-provoking, memory-stirring, joy-producing experience from beginning to end.

 

It's packed with wit, pyrotechnic sentences, infinite imagination, seasoned with potential genocide and diabolically devious competition and held together by compassion and empathy and a little hope. It's kept human and relevant by focuses on some broken-but-not-yet-destroyed musicians and all the magic that music works for us.

 

 

Terminal AllianceThe quirky comedy continued with "Terminal Alliance" which takes place in a universe where most humans have been turned feral by a zombie plague from which 10,000 or so have been rescued by an alien race who now use them as a military force. The post-plague humans are hard to kill, aggressive and loyal. For the aliens, it's a great deal.

 

The janitors of the title humans who keep the warship clean and plumbing functioning, albeit that their leader, nicknamed mops, is occasionally consulted by the humans in battle command because she has good strategic insights and keeps a cool head.

 

When the warship gets caught in a trap that kills the alien officers and turns most of the humans feral again, it's left to Mops and her crew to find out what happened and save the universe, or at least humanity.

 

The pace is fast. The humour is irresistible. Yet this is not a shallow book. The universe-building is robust and complex. The characters, including the alien characters, are believable and engaging. The plot stands up against more mainstream SF and contains a big, skillfully revealed, secret.  Best of all, Mops turns out to be a giant amongst humans: a natural leader, a shrewd tactician, an insatiable reader (Jane Austin's and Mary Shelley's works have survived the Holocaust), quietly brave and always witty.

 

Illuminae Ray V6FrontOnlyA2A_V3.inddThe quality continued to rise as I listened to the audiobook all-cast performance of "Illuminae" an engaging, exciting, and fundamentally original Science Fiction  Must-Listen-To audiobook, which changes the novel into an engrossing radio play.

 

"Illuminae" is the story of an attack by a rival corporation on a rival's illegal mining colony the is interrupted by a navy warship and the aftermath, when thousands of survivors, crammed onto two civilian ships and the, now crippled, navy warship, make a month's long run for safety, pursued a Corporate Dreadnaught that is determined to eliminate all witnesses to the attack.

 

The story is presented as a series of reports, recording conversations and analysis security video footage with no prose binding them together. This may sound tedious but it's done with such skill and with such a clever structure that I believe the authors have produced a novel form that is fundamentally disruptive.  It's like the leap from "Tristram Shandy" to "Pride and Prejudice" in terms of form. This is the bloom of an almost post-literate generation that has freed itself from linear text and the straight-jacket of grammar that keeps writing on the ground and has taken to swinging through the trees with the confidence of those who've grown up comfortable with Kanji/Emoli/Gif ideography.

 

The action is graphic and sometimes deeply disturbing. The emotional impact is high but not immature. The portrayal of the damaged-but-trying AI is first-rate. There are strong edge-of-your-seat thriller aspects to this book. It kept me caring and guessing right to the end.

 

Privilege of Peace.jpg.size-230This quarter also so the publication of what Tanya Huff says will be the last Torin Kerr book, "The Privilege of Peace". I've followed Torin Kerr through the five Confederation novels, which I think are some of the best and most innovative military SF novels ever written and then on to the three Peacekeeper novels, which show how Torin, having helped end a galactic war hundreds of years long, handles the peace.

 

"The Privilege of Peace" was the perfect goodbye to the series. It moved the story arc on, engaging most of my favourite characters but didn't make the mistake of tidying everything up. As I left the book, I could see that Torin had grown and, in the process, had helped me understand how much more difficult the maintenance of peace can be than the fighting of a war.

 

 

 

Best New Find of the Quarter

 

Claire Dewitt and the city of the dead

“Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead” is an extraordinary book: fascinating, rewarding, often upsetting but really hard to describe. It invites the reader to look beyond the narrative and ask themselves questions about mysteries: our ability to see them, our willingness to solve them and how we continue on day by day while the truth of our own lives constantly slips through our fingers.

 

I entered it expecting a whodunnit mystery with some local New Orleans colour and a clever plot. Two hours into it, I had no idea what it was about. I knew what was happening but I’d started to understand that that was the answer to a different question.

 

This was Noire but not as I know it. I was reading something that seemed to be the lovechild of Raymond Chandler and Jean-Paul Satre.

 

Claire Dewitt, a PI who makes Philip Marlowe seem like a romantic softy with a tendency to take things too literally, solves cases, sorry, mysteries, by using a kind of muscular mysticism that is stretched tight over a skeleton of existential panic with grief as its marrow.

 

If you want to meet an extraordinary detective, have your worldview challenged and be taken on a tour of the chaos that is post-Katrina New Orleans, this is the book for you.

 

Best New Series of the Quarter

 

soul eater trilogy

This Quarter, I read "Cracked", the first book in Eliza Crewe's Young Adult Soul Eater series. It was so good that I immediately bought and read "Crushed" and "Crossed", the other two books in the trilogy.

 

This is the story of a half-demon who finds herself caught in the middle of a war between the two sides of her heritage "Demon" and "Crusader". She's not really at home on any side other than her own. Well, except that there are a couple or Crusaders she cares about and a cute, charming and completely untrustworthy half-demon she spends a lot of time with but knows it's a temporary thing. Probably.

 

I liked the fact that the series eschews the normal dark vs light in an eternal struggle for balance thing and instead focuses on the choices that we take that make us who we are.

 

There's lots of action, some fairly witty dialogue, new twists on the supernatural world and a story arc that works across the trilogy and delivers constant surprises.

 

Biggest Disappointment of the Quarter

 

buried_450I got three-quarters of the way through "Buried" before abandoning it.

 

Why put it aside so close to the end? It had become obvious that this wasn’t really a complete novel. I was sliding towards a cliff-hanger ending and would have had to wade my way through another book, perhaps two, to get any real resolution. I hate that.

 

Why did I let myself get so far into the book? Well, the premise of a librarian-slaughtering, cold-case serial killer being investigated by a famous true crime author who has to return to his left-as-soon-as-I-could-and-never-went-back hometown seemed intriguing.

 

How can you go wrong with that? C. J. Carmichael managed it by writing all the characters at arms-length so that I felt I was reading a profile rather than meeting a person. Throw in the fact that the crime writer turns out to be a weak, undisciplined man who has never grown up and who does not meet even the few commitments he makes and I was losing interest in him solving any murders.

 

Even the writer's must-be-the-baddy soon-to-be-brother-in-law, my last hope of a good sub-plot came straight from the how-to-define-a-narcissist handbook and had no personality as an individual.

 

I felt like I was one step away from watching “The Bold and the Beautiful”

OFF TOPIC POST: The United Kingdom finally became a real democracy ninety years ago today. Keeping it a real democracy is a constant struggle.

On the 2nd of July ninety years ago, after sixty years of campaigning in Parliament, the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928, became law, finally granting women the same voting rights as men.

 

At the point the law was enacted, 12,250,000 men had the vote. The act enfranchised  5,000,000 women for the first time, bringing the total number of woman voters to 14,500,000.

 

To me, this means that Britain has only been a full democracy for three generations: long enough for the concept to have taken root but not long enough for us to assume that it is too deeply embedded in our society never to be removed.

 

There are many noble families in Britain whose grasp on power and money goes back a lot further than three generations. Their views of how the world should be are much more deeply and permanently rooted in our society than democracy is.

 

Stop the flapper folly

 

One example of multi-generational power is The "Daily Mail", one of the highest circulation newspapers in the UK. It is owned by Jonathan Harmsworth, 4th Viscount Rothermere, the great-great-grandson of the man who founded the paper 150 years ago.

 

This is a paper that has been successfully sued for libel seven times since 2001. It is famous for it's "Hurrah For The Blackshirts" support of Fascism in England in the 1930s. Its publication of the fake-news The-Labour-Party-Works-For- Russia "Zinoviev letter"four days before the 1924 General Election, led to Labour's defeat.

 

In 1927, this pillar of the British Establishment campaigned to get the Conservative Cabinet to break its pledges of giving votes to all women, labelling giving the vote to "girls of 21" as "Votes for Flappers". They argued that letting young, free-thinking, sexually active women have the votes would as the Spectator paraphrased at the time " shatter the British Constitution and destroy the Empire".

 

While wealth, power and media dominance remains in the hands of people like this, we cannot take for granted that the rights so relatively recently won will not be taken away.

 

To keep what we have we need to look to advice from those who campaigned to win those rights in the first place.

 

Millicent Fawcett was one of those campaigners. This year, she became the first woman to have her statue placed in Parliament Square.

NS_MillicentFawcettStatueUnvei_home02-1200x774

 

Millicent Fawcett campaigned for democracy for decades. It seems to me that she was driven by a deep belief that people - everyone in a society, no matter how marginalised they are, should have the power to govern themselves rather than being governed by those who want to tell them what they should want and how they should behave.

 

Millicent Fawcett quotes

 

She believed in women having the vote because:

“However benevolent men may be in their intentions, they cannot know what women want and what suits the necessities of women's lives as well as women know these things themselves.”

As I watch the BBC assemble panels of men to discuss whether women in Northern Ireland should have the same access to abortion as the rest of the UK, it seems to me that this is a principle that merits constant repetition.

 

Millicent Fawcett described her political beliefs as liberal and defended them by saying:

"I am a liberal because liberalism seems to mean faith in the people, confidence that they will manage their own affairs far better than those affairs are likely to be managed by others."

 

This is the core belief that identifies a supporter of democracy to me. Those who hold in contempt the ability of people to self-govern are those who believe the world would be better if only they had the power to make the rest of us follow their rules.

 

Millicent Fawcett's view of democracy was based not on division or sectarianism or sexism but on the fundamental belief that it is human nature for us to come together and help each other. She said.

 

"What draws men and women together is stronger than the brutality and tyranny which drive them apart."

 

Millicent Fawcett spent nearly sixty years campaigning for women's suffrage. She understood that democracy is won through courage and that it triumphs when other people recognise and respond to that courage. She said:

 

"Courage calls to courage everywhere"

 

We still need courage. The courage to confront the behaviours and attitudes that diminish sections of our society because of gender or race or age or ability. The courage to confront a government that concentrates power, uses it to cut funding to the most vulnerable members of our society and then tries to ignore or silence opposition. We need the courage to confront those who have been wealthy and powerful for so many generations that they feel entitled to tell us what to do.

 

Without this courage, democracy withers and tyranny and brutality become accepted as normal and inevitable.

The Fawcett Society

Millicent Fawcett's work is carried on today by the Fawcett Society. Take a look at what they do. If you think it needs doing, join in.

 

 

Review
2.5 Stars
"Fault Lines" by Doug Johnstone - DNF - abandoned at 65% because I didn't care what happened to the main character
Fault Lines - Doug Johnstone

The publisher's summary is:

"In a reimagined contemporary Edinburgh, in which a tectonic fault has opened up to produce a new volcano in the Firth of Forth, and where tremors are an everyday occurrence, volcanologist Surtsey makes a shocking discovery. On a clandestine trip to The Inch—the new volcanic island—to meet Tom, her lover and her boss, she finds his lifeless body, and makes the fatal decision to keep their affair, and her discovery of his corpse secret. Desperate to know how he died, but also terrified she'll be exposed, Surtsey's life quickly spirals into a nightmare when someone makes contact—someone who claims to know what she's done."

 

This led me to imagine I'd be reading a tense thriller in which a brave young vulcanologist in training would be stalked by an evil killer, with the probable involvement of a live volcano.

 

It's not that kind of book. In many ways, it's much better. Most of the “fault lines” are emotional rather than geophysical. It’s introspective, personal and deeply emotional.

 

Way back in Chapter One, when I was still living off the publisher's branding rather than the author's text, I found the novel hard to connect to. There I was, at the beginning of a promising thriller which opened with our heroine being where she shouldn't be, discovering a dead body and running away unseen.

 

Hours later, in the middle of the night our, by now high on grass, heroine receives a text on a phone only she is supposed to know exists and which she retrieved from the dead body.

 

It's a moment of high drama. I should be tense. But the text message takes my badly wired head to the wrong place. The message reads:

 

"I know you were there".

 

And my mind, without hesitation, provided the reply she would make if she were a sassy American Urban Fantasy heroine rather than a Scottish vulcanologist:

 

"But do you know what I did last summer?"

 

Sadly, the heroine's response was "Who is this?" and I was unable to continue with the novel until I'd given the voices in my head time to settle down and pretend to be grown-ups.

 

The chapters that followed didn't pull me into some kind of Clarice Starling versus Hannibal Lecter cat and mouse thing. Instead I learned more about our heroine Surtsey: her relationship with her mother, who is in a hospice dying of cancer in her forties, with her sister who is losing herself in casual sex and alcohol and only really comes alive while serving behind a bar, with her he's-cute-and-convenient classmate/lover and with her she-always-has-great-grass roommate.
 
It was well written, especially the relationship with the dying mother and with the if-I-ignore-it-it-isn't-really-happening sister. The love, grief, shame, anger and helplessness were delivered with an authentic emotional punch.
 
That's what carried me to the 65% mark in the book.
 
I abandoned it after another of Surtsey's paranoid, anger and fear-driven violent outbursts.
 
I realised I don't really care what happens to this woman. I feel sorry for the pain the deaths of those she loves is causing her but to me, she seems selfish, irresponsible, angry and violent. She uses the people around her to meet her needs without really connecting with them and she hides from her emotions and the consequences of her actions by staying drunk or high or both.
 
It's nicely drawn but it doesn't make me root for her.
 
I'll read more of Doug Johnstone's work, but this one isn't for me.

 

Reading progress update: I've read 57%.
Fault Lines - Doug Johnstone

This isn’t the techno disaster thriller I thought it would be. Most of the “fault lines” are emotional rather than geophysical. It’s introspective and personal.

 

Now if only I liked the main character, I’d be making happy rapid progress.

Review
4 Stars
"A Delicate Truth" by John Le Carré
A Delicate Truth - John le Carré

I came late to John Le Carré, falling in love with his prose storytelling style upon my first encounter with them when, last year, I read his remarkable novel"A Legacy of Spies".

 

Naturally, I had to have at least one Le Carré in my Summer of Spies reading challenge this year, I picked "A Delicate Truth" because, published in 2013, it was his next most recent book and because the audiobook version that I listened to was narrated by Le Carré himself.

 

I found the novel very satisfying both because the world it describes is frighteningly plausible without ever becoming melodramatic and because the cadence of Le Carré's prose and his nuanced use of language, especially in dialogue call to something in me in the same way that the best music does.

 

In some ways, this is not a very dramatic tale. It covers poorly conceived, disastrously executed and robustly covered-up covert operation. The body count is low by genre standards. There are no car chases. No desperate gun battles on the streets of London. No evil genius strapping our hero to a table to be dissected by an industrial laser. Yet the import of what it describes is truly disturbing.

 

The tale starts slowly satisfyingly,  by establishing the point of view of a mature senior Civil Servant in the FCO, pulled in over his head by an ambitious Minister, to oversee a covert operation in Gibraltar.

 

As I watched the stolidly upper-middle class civil servant, son of a general, married to money, well-educated but only moderately accomplished, thrill, in an appropriately low-key it-wouldn't-be-good-form-to-express-my-feelings kind of way, to the opportunity to serve his country, even if that meant obeying a bullying, egocentric, self-serving Minister, I understood that Le Carré's England is not mine or, at least, not an England I want to tolerate.

 

I recognise that it's real enough. It's the kind of England the odious Boris Johnson and the surprisingly dangerous Jacob Rees-Mogg want to drag us all back into so that they can live the Eton dream while the rest of us touch our forelocks and hope to keep our jobs. 

 

It's an England where the under-funded State is preyed upon by billion dollar Private Military Corporations that are contracted to kidnap and kill with an impunity secured by anti-terror legislation that has eroded public accountability to the point of non-existence.

 

Le Carré describes the people of this world with great precision and insight without ever once straying into empathy. I admire that.

 

Nothing in the content of Le Carrè's story surprised me, a fact I find deeply depressing, but it acted as a reminder of how the clannish secrecy of an entitled ruling class mixes with the greed and egocentricity of politicians whose eyes are the revolving door into high-flying commerce to create something fundamentally corrupt.

 

Yet what I like most about Le Carré is the way he tells his tale. He takes his time. He uses complex sentences. He moves the reader effortlessly backwards and forwards along the timeline and he perfectly evokes a sense of place, whether it is a Cornish Fair, a Private Club or the corridors and conference rooms of the FCO.

 

Here's a sample of that prose from the start of Chapter Two, where we are introduced to Toby Bell, the man around whom most of the story centres. It's a slightly long extract but that is necessary to demonstrate how he evokes the man and his situation. If you like this, you'll like the book.

"On a sunny Sunday, early in that same spring, a thirty-one-year-old British Foreign servant, earmarked for great things, sat alone at the pavement table of a humble Italian café in London's Soho, steeling himself to perform an act of espionage so outrageous that, if detected, it would cost him his career and his freedom. Namely, recovering a tape-recording elicitly made by himself from the private office of a Minister of the Crown whom it was his duty to serve and advise to the best of his considerable ability.

 

His name was Tony Bell and he was entirely alone in his criminal contemplations. No evil genius controlled him. No paymaster provocateur or sinister manipulator armed with an attaché case stuffed with hundred dollar bills was waiting around the corner. No activist in a ski mask. He was, in that sense the most feared creature of our contemporary world: a solitary decider. of a forthcoming clandestine operation on the Crown Colony of Gibraltar, he knew nothing. Rather it was this tantalising ignorance that had brought him to his present pass.

 

Neither was he in appearance or by nature cut out to be a felon. Even now, premeditating his criminal design, he remained the decent, diligent, tousled, compulsively ambitious, intelligent-looking fellow, that his colleagues and employers took him for. He was stocky in build. Not particularly handsome with a shock of unruly brown hair that went haywire as soon as it was brushed. That there was gravitas in him was undeniable. The gifted, State educated only child of pious artisan parents from the South coast of England who knew no politics but Labour..."

One of the joys of the book, for me, was Le Carré's narration. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear him read the start of Chapter One.

 

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Reading progress update: I've read 14%. - Le Carré's England is not mine
A Delicate Truth - John le Carré

I had to have at least one Le Carré in my Summer of Spies reading. I picked this one because Le Carré is narrating it himself.

 

The start of the story is slow but satisfying, establishing the point of view of a mature senior Civil Servant in the FCO, pulled in over his head by an ambitious Minister, to oversee a covert operation in Gibraltar.

 

As I watched the stolidly upper-middle class civil servant, son of a general, married to money, well-educated but only moderately accomplished, thrill, in an appropriately low-key it-wouldn't-be-good-form-to-express-my-feelings kind of way, to the opportunity to serve his country, even if that meant obeying a bullying, egocentric, self-serving Minister, I understood that Le Carré's England is not mine.

 

I recognise that it's real enough. It's the kind of England the odious Boris Johnson and the surprisingly dangerous Jacob Rees-Mogg want to drag us all back into so that they can live the Eton dream while the rest of us touch our forelocks and hope to keep our jobs.

 

Le Carré describes the people of this world with great precision and insight without ever once straying into empathy. I admire that.

 

As a novel, if's very satisfying so far. As a reminder of part of English society that is bullying its way to the front, it's a strong incentive to deny anyone who graduates from Eton or Harrow the opportunity to hold public office.

 

currently reading

Progress: 40%
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Progress: 31%