Audio Book Junkie

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.

"Three Seasons" or "Ba Mùa" by Tony Bui a beautiful movie about unpleasant things


For my birthday, my wife gave me a box with a book cover from Jules Vernes' "Around The World In Eighty Days". Inside was a ticket to travel the world through the eyes of film directors from Vietnam, China, Sweden, Patagonia and Japan.


It was the perfect gift. It took me out of myself and invited me to experience far away places through the eyes of the people who live there.


Today, I'm going to review the film that made the biggest impact on me, Tony Bui's "Three Seasons"


When it was made in 1999, "Three Seasons" was the first American film made in Vietnam, in Vietnamese, after Clinton lifted the embargo. It made a big splash at Sundance that year, becoming the  first filmto receive both the Grand Jury Award and Audience Award.


Set mostly in Ho Chi Min Cit, in the early days of the Đổi mới (which roughly translate as the Renovation) it tells interlocking tales of people trying to find their ways to a better future.


"Three Seasons" is visually seductive. The camera leads the eye to beauty in the midst of ruin and squalor and fills the mind with colour and light and hope. Yet the situations of the people the stories centre contrast starkly with the visual mood of the film: a prostitute, selling herself to men in luxury hotels, who dreams of a single night's sleep in air-conditioned bliss. A very young street peddler who searches relentlessly for the case he sells his wares from, which has been stolen from him. A young woman working in the growing and selling flowers for a cult run by a master who has been badly damaged. An ex-GI returing to try and find the daughter he abandoned at the end of the war.


These are tales rooted in poverty, exploitation, and dishonour.


Why then are they displayed with such beauty?


I've seen the arguement made that "Three Seasons" uses its cinematography to romanticise poverty and struggle and turn it into an acceptable myth.

That's not what I saw this movie do.


I believe the cinematography helped me see what the people themselves could see: that in the midst of struggle and deprivation, there is still beauty, there is still compassion and sometimes, even love. These tales are rooted in unpleasant things but the blossom they produce, like the flowers the young woman sells, represent the hope that will luck and kindness, things can get better.


This was a movie that I drank in first with the eye. The images are still with me and so are the people.


I have never been to Vietnam and the Ho Chi Min City of this movie is long gone, yet I feel that something has been shared with me that is alien and familiar and fundamentally redemptive.

3 Stars
“Breeds” by Keith C Blackmore
Breeds - Keith C. Blackmore

The main thing I enjoyed about “Breeds” is Keith Blackmore’s muscular writing style. He gets you up close and personal to the action. You feel fully present even when things get bloody, which they often do. Yet there’s nothing gratuitous or exploitative here. There’s just a situation that has consequences and things that have to get done.


The situation is set up to be tense and tightly focused. An old, disillusioned werewolf, living on a remote Newfoundland island, goes rogue and starts to draw attention to himself. He knows this will bring the wrath of the werewolf Wardens on him and prepares a surprise for them that threatens everyone on the island.


The story is told from multiple points of view: the rogue werewolf, one of the wardens sent to put him down, an islander caught up in the action and even the unwilling participants in the rogue’s surprise.


The story takes place mostly within a single day and night in the midst of fierce snowstorm. Blackmore summons up the sense of isolation and vulnerability of the inhabitants of the Newfoundland island and uses it to raise tension without making the islanders seem weak or stupid.


Although there is action on almost every page and a blockbuster/video game scale body-count, Blackmore manages to generate some empathy for everybody involved from rogue, through warden, through predators and prey. I found myself being swept along by the powerful narrative thrust of the tale and enjoying myself much more than I thought I would.


This is great entertainment for blowing cobwebs away. I’ve already ordered the next book in the series, even though it’s called “Breeds 2” – I wonder how long it took to arrive at that title?

Is there a problem with the log on to BL

I'm suddenly getting a message saying the BL's log on is not secure and that logon data, including passwords, could be compromised.


Does anyone know anything about this?

Reblogged from Audio Book Junkie
3 Stars
"The House At Sea's End - Ruth Galloway #3" by Elly Griffiths
The House at Sea's End - Elly Griffiths

"The House At Sea's End" is the third mystery involving Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist, living on the salt marsh coast of Norfolk.  It carries on with the same ensemble cast of characters that we met in "The Crossing Places" and "The Janus Stone".


This time, Ruth, now a single mother courtesy of a threat-induced one night stand with the (married with two daughters) Detective Inspector Nelson, is called in to assess multiple bodies discovered after part of the coastline crumbles.


The plot unfolds around a World War II mystery and modern murders that appear to be linked. The action is spiced up by the visit of an old friend of Ruth's from when she was working on mass graves in Bosnia, thus triggering a series of flashbacks that draw us away from the rather static Norfolk setting and the slow moving plot.


Ruth, of course, finds herself at considerable personal risk before the denouement is reached and Nelson feels a strong need to come her rescue and to protect his unacknowledged third daughter, the baby Kate.


It seems to me that, in this book, the series tipped over from crime mysteries into an ongoing story of the lives of the main characters, with the mysteries being used to provide a frame to continue ot bring them together.


I felt much greater tension and suspense about what would happen with Ruth and Nelson than I did around who had killed whom in this latest series of murders.

I know that the series has already reached nine books and remains very popular but this will be my last one in the series. How many deaths requiring the skills of a forensic archaeologist can there be in a small coastal town in Norfolk? I'm not sufficiently interested in the fate of the characters to continue to read books that must become increasingly implausible.


Is there a problem with the log on to BL

I'm suddenly getting a message saying the BL's log on is not secure and that logon data, including passwords, could be compromised.


Does anyone know anything about this?

3.5 Stars
"Cumulus" by Eliot Peper - near-future thriller that's stronger on ideas than people
Cumulus - Eliot Peper

I enjoyed "Cumulus" for its energy, the strength of its ideas and its ability to extrapolate current technology, political and social trends into a plausible and engaging near-future.

As a thriller, I found the pace a little uneven and some of the plot twists, especially the later decisions of the chaos maker in the book, a little too convenient. This is one of those books that reaches for William Gibson, matches him for ideas but misses on the ability to provide an understated plot and characters you care about.

"Cumulus" is told in the form of a thriller, bringing together the mulit-billionaire founder of a huge cloud technology company who is sees herself as on a mission to shape a better future, a jobbing photographer addicted to analog photography who aspires to be an investigative journalist. and a ruthless ex-CIA agent pursuing a personal agenda of subversion.

Along the way they explore the consequences of the growing gap between the wealthy and the rest, the increasing impotence of government and law enforcement and the impact of using a tiered access model for technology services that builds in exclusion of the poor and the vulnerable.

I found myself giving "Cumulus" as sub-title: "Palo Alto Dreaming" as it comes from the mindset of the new generation of Silicon Valley hopefuls who acknowledge the social consequences of the technology that they're building and are who are trying to control a genie that they can't get back into the bottle.

I'll be keeping an eye on Eliot Peper. I like his ideas and his boldness. As he gets better at pacing the plot and in giving his characters voices that are as interesting and distinctive as their backstories, I think he'll become a writer to watch.

3 Stars
"Glass Houses - Morganville Vampires #1" by Rachel Caine - a YA vampire tale that is heavy on cute and light on reality.
Glass Houses - Rachel Caine

I picked up "Glass Houses" in an "First In A Series" sale, thinking that I was going to be trying out a new Urban Fantasy series like Kate Daniels or Mercy Thompson.


What I got was an intriguing idea: vampires founding and maintaining a small Texas town, Morganville, so they can farm the human livestock and using their second-rate college to freshen the bloodlines.


There's lots you could do with that.


What Rachel Caine decided to do with it was re-invent the Scoobie gang with our main character being a small, skinny version of Velma, Shaggy being a huge guy who plays videogames and cooks chilli, Daphne being a Goth Chick just to piss-off the real vampires and Fred is a tall, handsome, guitar player with a secret. Quite an original secret.


The writing works well. The dialogue is often snappy and fun.Nasty things lurk in the background of all of the scooby gang who live in the Glass House. There is some real violence and some bodily harm.  Yet, overall there is a wholesomeness and simplicity to this tale of a bright sixteen year old girl who's never been kissed, making friends and facing up to vampires, that it was much more cute than chilling.


It's a good YA adventure, but the kind where someone has rounded off the  tips of the scissor blades and made sure there are no sharp edges for you to cut your innocent imagination on.


This struck me as a cupcake series: light and sweet. If that's what you're looking for, this is a great place to start

Turning out to be a very good read. Reading progress update: I've read 43%.
Warchild - Karin Lowachee

I hate the title and the cover but picked it up because Tanya Huff recommended it.


The first section is a tough read because it deals with the abduction and abuse of our nine year old main character. It's written in a deliberately distant way, like someone reporting something that happened to someone else a long time ago. Which makes it heart-breaking.


It also set up the rest of the book as the main character grows up.


Original and vivid science fiction.

4 Stars
"They May Not Mean To But They Do" by Cathleen Schine - excellent look at the experience of being old.
They May Not Mean To, but They Do - Cathleen Schine

"They May Not Mean To But They Do" is an immersive story of family life, told mainly from the point of view of Joy, a New Yorker in her eighties. Joy has a husband suffering from dementia, two grown up children who keep trying to look after her and three grand children.This is an affectionate but realistic tale that captures the joys and frustrations of family life


The central focus of the book is what it means to be old. What it does to your own sense of identity, your desires, your fears,  your place in the world .


The title is a paraphrase of  Philip Larkin's "This Be The Verse"   that changes "Mom and Dad" to "Son and Daughter"

"They fuck you up, your son and daughter.
They nay not mean to but they do."

Joy's son and daughter each, acting with the intent to care for and protect their mother, keep doing things that undermine her sense of self or ignore or over-ride her wishes. As Joy comes to terms with who she is now, her life is made more difficult by the anxieties and expectations of her children.


The book gives is written with empathy and honesty that is very engaging. I kept finding myself going: "That's EXACTLY how it is". Here are some examples


At one point, Joy,who is struggling not to be angry with the man her husband is becoming as he slips into dementia, finds herself saying: 

"I love you. I've loved you for so many years that I even love you when I don't."

One of the sources of conflict between Joy and her son and daughter is the way Joy deals with what they see a messy piles of paperwork.


Joy sees that messa as her life but she understands that, whe she was her daughter's age, this would have been incomprehensible to her.

"To them it was a pile,. To Joy  it was the  past and the future jumbled together. Some day they would understand. They would feel sad the way she felt sad about her own mother.

.It occurs to Joy that parents and children would understand one another better

"if only everyone could be old together."

I particularly liked the way the book dealt with Joy's grief at the death of her husband and the depression that it causes.


When Joy returns to her New York home after visting her daughter in California, she finds:

The sadness was there waiting for her in the apartment.  "I'm sorry," Joy said to the sadness. "I'm sorry I had to leave you behind for so long but believe me the blue skies never fooled me. You were in my thoughts I'm my heart every minute."

There is also a short chapter that captures the different expectations of the generations

Chapter 41

Daniel asked his mother if she was depressed.

She said, "Naturally".

Joy, newly widowed, newly truly old, struggles with a feeling that she has lost her place, that she no longer belongs.  Visiting a Court to pay her grandson's fine, she finds that she is not sure how to behave, in the company of such a disparate group of people.


She says,

"I have lost touch with normal social behaviour. I no longer know what is expected, When i find out what is expected, I do not like it. I do not belong here.  I do not belong anywhere."

As Joy makes peace with herself, she comes to understand that she does belong. She belongs amongst the frailty, failings, and the unexpected kindnesses that make up humanity in cosmopolitan New York.


This book was my first book by Cathleen Schine but it won't be my last. I'm grateful to her for reminding me that we all have so much in common when it comes to dealing with the things in life.

3.5 Stars
"Hell Divers" by Nicholas Sansbury Smith
Hell Divers (Hell Divers Trilogy Book 1) - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

“Hell Divers” is a gritty, intense, violent, action-packed, post-apocalyptic thriller. It takes place 250 years after humanity bombed themselves to the point of extinction. The survivors took refuge in the same huge airships that dropped the bombs. Now there are only two left.

“The Hive” is one of them. Over-crowded and under-maintained, it carries more than 500 people, clinging grimly to life and hoping to find somewhere to land where the surface radiation and the storms won’t kill them.

“The Hive” is kept in the sky by teams of Hell Divers who scavenge parts and power cells from the surface. Their moto is, “We dive so humanity survives”. The average Hell Diver lives for fifteen dives before their luck runs our.

“Hell Divers” is strong on duty, sacrifice and a stubborn determination not to let the human race become extinct. The price is high and the people paying it are far from perfect: addicted to the adrenlin high of diving, haunted by their dead, seeking respite in drink and drugs. What they do is heroic but they are believably and engagingly human.

“Hell Divers” is a cinematic book, described in a way that enabled me  to be RIGHT THERE when anything was happening and in this book, something was always happening. From the first page, I could see the interior of “The Hive” and immerse myself in its shabby, decaying, poorly-lit, claustrophobic atmosphere. “Hell Divers” has “Make Me Into A High Budget TV Series” written all over it. I could see how the lighting would work and the angle of the shots. It’s completely absorbing.

I won’t go into the plot other than to say that things are bad when the book starts and get progressively worse. Nicholas Sansbury Smith keeps tightening the tension with the inexorablity of a sadist using a thumbscrew. He moves smoothly between the story lines of different groups of characters and rings out every ounce of emotion from the incessant need for sacrifice and struggle.

R.C: Bray was the perfect choice as the narrator. His rugged voice and intense delivery grabbed me  by the arm and dragged me through the fights and the deaths, the impossible odds and absence of good choices.

If you’re in the mood for an original thriller, tinged with military ethics, offset by human frailty and fear, you’ll love this book.

“Hell Divers” is book one of a trilogy. Book two comes out in July. My copy is pre-ordered.

4 Stars
"Midnight Curse: Disruptive Magic #1" by Melissa F Olson - Scarlet Bernard finally outgrows her damaged victim status
Midnight Curse (Disrupted Magic) - Melissa F. Olson

"Midnight Curse" was the best Scarlet Bernard novel yet. Scarlet has grown up, come to terms with her power and her position in the Old World and (almost) figured out what she wants.The result is a well-paced Urban Fantasy thriller that is still largely character driven.

"Midnight Curse" (a title almost as lame as the cover - the only reference in the book that comes close to this is "midnight drain" which I think would have made a better title) takes place three years after "Hunter's Trail" and crosses over with the events and characters in the Boundary Magic series.

(If none of that makes sense to you, then start at "Dead Spots" and read your way forward from there.)

I liked the fact that things have moved on over the three years since "Hunter's Trail". Scarlet has had a period of relative quiet to grow into her role and her relationship with her werewolf lover, Jesse's world has fallen apart and the LA Old World has settled into a liberal,rhythm of power sharing between vampires, werewolves and witches that it takes for granted.

This peaceful rhythm and Scarlet's peace are shattered when Molly, the vampire who was Scarlet's housemate in earlier books, commits an unforgivable crime and reaches out to Scarlet for help.

Scarlet steps up and risks everything to protect Molly. This was satisfying to watch Scarlet being a powerful player in her own right rather than a fragile, used to broken but I'm getting better hones, ex-victim.

What follows is a clever plot, centred around Molly's back story and the exploitation of women by ruthless men who see them as not quite human. This is combined with a theme about powerful shadowy figures who want to deconstruct the system of laws and trials and powersharing that make the LA Old World special. For a while I was sure that the bad guy was going to turn out to be a supernatural version of Bannon.

The inhumanity of the men, who cannot even understand why what they do to the women is wrong, was chilling and very relevant to today's politics.

A cross-over with the Boundary Magic series added an edge to the story as well as providing some light relief by showing how Lex, a powerful boundary witch, throws Scarlet completely off her stride.

What I enjoyed most in this book was that, in the midst of an increasingly complex supernatural world, the emotions and the relationships were the real focus of attention.

Reading is...
Reading is...


3.5 Stars
"A Clean Kill In Tokyo - John Rain #1" by Barry Eisler
A Clean Kill in Tokyo - Barry Eisler

Barry Eisler recently reacquired the rights to his John Rain novels, gave them new titles and new covers and personally narrated new audiobook versions.

I was intrigued and decided to try the first book "A Clean Kill In Tokyo" which was published in 2002 as "Rain Fall".

It was a fun read all the way through, not least because Barry Eisler turns our to be an excellent narrator.

John Rain is a Tokyo-based assassin, who specialises in making it seem as if the men he kills die of natural causes. Rain had a Japanese father and a white American mother, was raised in both countries and is fully at home in neither. He lives an affluent but disconnected life, built on killing for money.

In this novel, he's the hero. That's not a role he has much experience of. He takes it on reluctantly and it doesn't entirely fit him. Even as a hero, his kill-rate is very high and causes him not a moments disquiet.

The foot-in-two-worlds aspects of the book are well executed and gave me an intersting blend of the familiar and the exotic..Tokyo becomes almost a character in the book. It's described the way someone who lives there would see it, with its peculiarities taken for granted. The tourist map of Tokyo has been overwritten by one that stresses the places that are important to John Rain: Jazz Clubs. Whiskey Bars and the intricate subway network that he uses to elude those trying to follow him.

The plot is a mixture of backstory, explaining how John came to be the killer he now is, and a protect-the-brave-independent-but-vulnerable-damsel-in-distress theme that's given a twist by the fact the Rain killed her father.

There is political intrigue, espionage, crime, corruption and lots and lots of fight scenes featuring martial arts, street fighting, knives, staves and guns.

I'm hooked now. Fortunately, there are eight John Rain books in print with a ninth coming out in July, so I expect them to become a regularly source of entertainment this year.

4 Stars
"Improbable Fortunes - A Novel" by Jeffrey Price - larger than life tale that carried me along
Improbable Fortunes: A Novel - Robert M. Price;D.L. Snell;Peter Rawlik;David Conyers;Nicholas Cook;William Meikle;Sam Stone;Tim Curran;Ran Cartwright;Michael Tice;Tom Lynch;Terrie Leigh Relf;David Dunwoody;Carrie Cuinn;Lois Gresh;CJ Henderson;Jeffrey Thomas

This book is as improbable as the title suggests but is all the more fun because of it.

Set in Vanadium, a town built around a worked-out uranium mine in South West Colorado, "Improbable Fortunes" tells the story of a likeable, impeccably honest, and almost unbelievably naïve, ranch hand called Buster,

The story opens with a dramatic and slightly zany disaster, involving a mud slide a destroyed luxury ranch house that is, for some reason, full of cattle, a damsel in distress and Buster, apparently to blame for it all.

Most of the rest of the book is spent recounting Buster's progress towards this event from his birth onwards.

Abandoned at birth, Buster is raised by a variety of foster parents who gift him, almost accidentally, with a wide range of skills that will become useful to him in later life

The families that Buster lives with each has something odd about them and each suffers an unexpected tragedy that soon gives Buster a reputation as Jonah or worse.

Buster is guided through his chaotic life by the local sheriff who acts as Buster's guardian angel for reasons that only become clear towards the end of the novel.

The sheriff, like many of the other characters, is a larger than life individual with complex, and sometimes concealed, motives for his actions.

Few people in this book, apart from Buster, are who they at first seem to be. The fates of the characters are as dramatic and as interwoven in surprising ways as those of characters in a Restoration Comedy.

Although many bad things are done by many bad people, some of whom are the same people you thought were good people, I was left with a persistent sense of optimism and hope.

“Improbable Fortunes” is the kind of book that you can only really get by reading it, not be reading about it. Even then, if you're like me, you'll be smiling, scratching your head and saying "I've no idea what just happened but I enjoyed it so much I want ti to happen again”.

1 Stars
"Daughter Of The Blood" by Anne Bishop - my first DNF of 2017
Daughter of the Blood - Anne Bishop

I bought "Daughter Of The Blood" because I'd read and enjoyed a "Black Jewels" short story and because I'm a fan of her "The Others+ series

In audiobook format, "Daughter Of The Blood" runs for a little over sixteen hours. I made it to a little over two hours before setting it aside.

The ideas are original, complex and fascinating. I can see that it has the makings of a strong trilogy but it's not one I'll be reading.

The story was much darker than I expected. There is a sharp edge of sadism  that cuts into the flesh of the story lightly but persistently, leaving thin rills of frustrated eroticism draining into my imagination. If this had been more skillfully done I might have run with it but much of the story in the first couple of hours was tell rather than show and I grew weary of being fed on backstory and foreboding rather than character and action.

The narrator of the story seemed unable to leaven the text but rather fell into a declamatory style that assaulted the ears and added nothing to the atmosphere or characterisation.

The main thing I took away from this book was how much stronger Anne Bishop's storytelling is now than when this novel was published.

OFF TOPIC POST: An unexpected truth about pro-active stupidity and ignorance as a political statement
My Year of Meats - Ruth Ozeki

One of the joys of reading fiction is unexpectedly encountering a truth relevant to my daily life in a work written many years earlier.


Today, while listening to a book published eighteen years ago, I came across a truth that helped me to take a fresh look at Brexit and the election of Trump, two decisions that I have come to realise feel like a personal betrayal,  undermining my understanding of the world.


The book was Ruth Ozeki's  "My Year Of Meats". Published in 1999, it tells the story of, Jane, a documentarian who spends a year making a series called "My American Wife" that is intended to promote the sale of American beef in Japan by showing wholesome American housewives cooking wholesome American meat. By the end of year, Jane is no longer able to stay within the propagandist role she signed up for and wants to tell the truth about the adulteration of American meat.


Jane knows that much of this truth is already available in the public domain but that people, including herself a year earlier, resist knowing about it. She reflects that a constant barrage of bad news creates the self-defensive classification of some knowledge as "Bad Knowledge".


What Ozeki wrote next made me stop and go "Yes. Yes, that. I knew that but not how to say it.".

"Ignorance is an act of will, a choice that one makes over and over again, especially when information overwhelms and knowledge has become synonymous with impotence.


…If we can’t act on knowledge then we can’t survive without ignorance. So we cultivate the ignorance.


…Fed on a media diet of really bad news, we live in a perpetual state of repressed panic. We are paralysed by bad knowledge from which the only escape is playing dumb. Ignorance becomes empowering because it enables people to live. Stupidity become pro-active, a political statement. Our collective norm.

I've always preferred knowledge to ignorance, even when the knowledge makes me angry or afraid or depressed, as so much of what I learn about Brexit and Trump does, but I recognise that mine is an outlier reaction. Ruth Ozeki's words capture the mainstream reaction and help me to understand the appeal of ignorance and why people put so much effort into preserving it.


I see now that sharing more "bad knowledge" is not the way to engage with "pro-active stupidity".


What is needed is a way to defeat the sense of impotence, to give people the ability to act and make a difference, to stop lecturing and start offering help.

currently reading

Progress: 18%
Progress: 87%
Progress: 37%
Progress: 9/334pages
Progress: 12/336pages
The Girl Of Ink And Stars - Kiran Millwood Hargrave