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.

3.5 Stars
"An Argumentation Of Historians - The Chronicles of St Mary's #9" by Jodi Taylor
 An Argumentation of Historians: The Chronicles of St. Mary's - Jodi Taylor, Zara Ramm



So the last St. Mary's book, "And The Rest Is History"mangled my emotions with great skill, putting me through much more angst than any allegedly light story about time-travelling historians has a right to. In her introduction to "An Argumentation Of Historians", Jodi Taylor says that her publishers asked if she could make this volume a little less depressing.  I think she managed that, but only just.


When Max says towards the start of the book:

"It had been a bad year but it was over now. I could look forward to the future"

I'm sure not a single reader will believe her.

There are lots of good things in this chronicle of St. Mary's. I was immediately back at home watching St. Mary's muddle through with stout hearts, awful luck and a reckless excess of pluck. We started off at a joust with Henry VIII and at the burning of Persepolis with Alexander the Great. It was all good stuff.


When it turned out that Clive Roland was back as the big bad and I became less pleased. This is a man with all of Time to choose from who still chooses to spend his energies plotting revenge on Max. He's apparently clever enough to avoid the might of the Time Police yet too dumb to kill Max on sight. I've had enough of that. I'd like a new bad guy. or at least the slow, painful and definitively final excoriation of this one. I found myself saying: "New balls, please!"


Then Jodi Taylor did it again. Just as I'd grown dissatisfied, Max ends up, lost, alone and with no hope of rescue in England in 1399 and we are treated to an engaging story of her efforts to make a life for herself there. This part of the book, which seemed like half of it, is wonderfully done.


The plot twist at the end holds up and explains a lot of the action but I didn't find it as satisfying as the 1399 section.


This was a good St. Mary's episode with some evocative pieces and it moves the story arc along but I'll be happier if/when we get a different big bad on the scene (although I'd be happy to applaud clever and violent revenge in the meantime.



“Her Body And Other Parties – second story: Inventory” by Carmen Maria Machado
Her Body and Other Parties: Stories - Carmen Maria Machado


"Her Body And Other Parties" is such a rich collection that I'm reviewing it one story at a time, mostly to enhance my enjoyment and understanding of these stories.




"Inventory", the second story in this collection, is about thirteen pages long and fine example of the fact that short stories, even ones as short as this are not literary snacks that you consume between novels. This story has a dense mass to it that lodged in my imagination, demanding attention and thought. I read it twice, not because I didn't understand it the first time but because there is so much there that once just wasn't enough to absorb it. I don't think twice was either. I'll be coming back to this one.


So what is it that has me so engaged?


I found the style of the storytelling hypnotic, It is presented as an inventory of encounters with always-nameless lovers: men and woman singly or in combinations. Each encounter starts with a sentence inventorying who was involved in addition to the narrator: "One girl." "One boy, one girl", "Two boys, one girl". The next sentence often qualifies the inventory "One boy, one girl. My friends" or "Two boys, one girl. One of them my boyfriend." Then there is a description of where the encounter took place: "We drank stolen wine coolers in my room." or "His parents were out of town, so we threw a party at his house." The sex and its attendant affection, ecstasy, disappointment, mess, betrayal, solace or regret are described with a rhythm that documents the moment neutrally but in a way that is neither sterile nor erotic but deeply human and often sad.

As the encounters passed I got caught up in trying to understand the pattern they were making, trying to discover the lesson being taught. There was no pattern except accumulated experience and more informed choice and no lessons being taught, just a life being lived.


Life is not lived in a vacuum and this life is lived against the background of the outbreak of a global pandemic that destroys most of the population. In other stories, the pandemic would BE the story. We'd have a valiant against-the-odds struggle between man and bacteria, end-of-the-world symbolism, violence. conflict and heroism. "Inventory" is not that story. Its focus stays firmly on the encounters the woman has. The pandemic appears in the death of partners or the change of circumstances and choices but it never takes centre stage. Curiously, perhaps, this makes the pandemic much more sinister and threatening.


By the end of the story, it seemed to me that our narrator, faced with the possible end of days, has inventoried her own life. So what does it mean that there are no names, not even the narrator's own? Or that there are no encounters other than with lovers, however inept or opportunistic? Or that the narrator remains, always, fundamentally alone?


Answering those questions is the job of the reader. Asking them so that they demand an answer, or several answers is the job of the writer.

3.5 Stars
"Coyote Dreams - Walker Papers #3" by C E Murphy
Coyote Dreams - C.E. Murphy





This third instalment of the Walker Papers sets itself a significant challenge that it doesn't entirely rise to: how do you make fighting sleep exciting?


The strength of this book lay in the character development and the dialogue.


The weakness lay in an excess of metaphor-heavy astral combat.


Moved the series along but if this is the shape of episodes to come, I'll be tuning out of this series.


The Story:


Joanne Walker's actions in the first two books, "Urban Shaman"and "Thunderbird Falls", have caused a disturbance in the Force, or at least woken up an as-yet-unknown big bad that is sending all Joanne's friends (which includes half a Police Precinct) into a potentially lethal sleep. Joanne has to figure out what the threat is and how to stop it while dealing with big changes in her social life (she finally seems to have one) and confronting trauma in her past that made her the late-developing Shaman she is today.


Things I Liked:


The humour remains sharp and well-dressed. Joanne's progress through her day is a chaotic rush from crisis to crisis lubricated by witty or sometimes regretful exchanges with her friends, bosses and even her maybe-enemies. This is done in a way that is smooth without being slick, makes me care enough about the characters and often gives me cause to smile.


The introduction of two new characters, (one of whom Joanne wakes up next to in the opening paragraphs - even though she doesn't know his name or remember how he got there) freshened up the ensemble cast and gave lots of room for jealousy, misunderstanding, wit and a little bit of genuine insight.


I enjoyed going back and seeing Joanne Walker's earlier self and getting a better understanding of how she got to be where she is. It was a welcome origins story that was done well.

The book ended with some decisions about Joanne Walker's future that could set the series on a new and more varied path, which would be very welcome.


Things I Thought Could Have Been Better


The astral-projection dream-landscape stuff went on for too long and without enough physical action in between. The Walker Papers has the same problem as Marvel's "Doctor Strange" comics, most of the conflicts happen at a level and in a place the rest of us can't even see. This places a heavy burden on the metaphor machine. C.E: Murphy does this well but this novel had an over-abundance of it. I hope future episode will vary the pace a little.

Reading progress update: I've read 40%. -Clive Roland - AGAIN? New balls please
 An Argumentation of Historians: The Chronicles of St. Mary's - Jodi Taylor, Zara Ramm

I'm loving being back in St. Mary's and watching them muddle through with stout hearts, awful luck and a reckless excess of pluck. This time we're at a joust with Henry VIII and at the burning of Persepolis with Alexander the Great. It's all good stuff.




Clive Ronan is back as the big bad. This is a man with all of Time to choose from who still chooses to spend his energies plotting revenge on Max. He's apparently clever enough to avoid the might of the Time Police yet too dumb to kill Max on sight.




Time for a new bad guy.


Or at least the slow, painful and definitively final excoriation of this one.


New balls, please.

4 Stars
"Cracked - Soul Eater #1" by Eliza Crewe
Cracked - Eliza Crewe

"Cracked" has Cool carved into its forearm with a Stanley Knife.


The opening draws Meda, our evil-but-wittily-self-aware more-than-human teenage heroine, in a series of fast, confident, blood-red claw strokes that create an image as clear and succinct as a Kanji.


We start at night, with a crazed, helpless girl, waiting in her cell in a run-down lunatic asylum as an evil guard prepares to pay her a visit.


Except the girl isn't helpless and she's a completely different kind of crazed, so soon there is blood everywhere and none of it is hers.


Yet just as I was settling down to a Dexter-meets-teen-girl-soul-eater story, filled with gore and witty banter, new players arrive and the story cracks open into a whole universe of possibilities.


Turns out that all that cool, quietly desperate, slightly self-deprecating, slightly self -congratulatory wrapping contains more complex characters, a mostly-original urban-fantasy universe and a plot that could go anywhere.


We meet suit-wearing evil demons and Harley-riding good-in-their-own-eyes Crusaders, while Meda tries to hide in plain sight in a Crusader highschool which seems more like a SAS training camp.


The action comes in wave after wave, with each wave getting taller and crashing more loudly. In between, Meda finds out what's really in her past and struggles to work out how "good" she's capable of being. As we watched her go from, me-first-survival, even if I have to throw one of you to the bears, to I-will-not-let-you-kill-my-friends bravery, I was impressed that what I saw was a rebalancing of a believable person rather than some epiphanal rebirth.


I liked Meda because she's capable of being truly evil and chooses, mostly, not to be.

The humour kept me smiling but never detracted from the tension for example when Meda has to flee through a sewer and her nose teaches her how foul they really are, she says: 

"The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lied to me. Sewers aren't a cool place to hang and definately not for eating pizza."

Clichés are skillfully repurposed or called out ironically and then milked with flair.

I got so hooked on this that I read the whole book in a day and didn't regret a single missed or delayed chore.


This is a Young Adult book that doesn't patronise its readers, no matter what age they are.


"Cracked" cries out to be an audiobook, Amy MacFadden would nail it, but I can only find ebook copies so I'm faking Amy in my head - that sounded better before I typed it.


"Cracked" is the first book of a trilogy. I'm in need of escape, so I'm going to consume them back to back the ways upset girls on TV eat whole cartons of ice cream.

Reading progress update: I've read 27%. I'm hooked.
Cracked - Eliza Crewe

"Cracked" has Cool carved into its forearm with a Stanley Knife.


The opening draws Meda, our evil-but-wittily-self-aware more-than-human teenage heroine, in a series of fast, confident, blood-red claw strokes that create an image as clear and succinct as a Kanji.


We start at night, with a crazed, helpless girl, waiting in her cell in a run-down lunatic asylum as an evil guard prepares to pay her a visit.


Except the girl isn't helpless and she's a completely different kind of crazed, so soon there is blood everywhere and none of it is hers.


Yet just as I was settling down to a Dexter-meets-teen-girl-soul-eater story, filled with gore and witty banter, new players arrive and the story cracks open into a whole universe of possibilities.


Turns out that all that cool, quietly desperate, slightly self-deprecating, slightly self -congratulatory wrapping contains more complex characters, a mostly-original urban-fantasy universe and a plot that could go anywhere.


I'm hooked.


3 Stars
"Tracker - A Fox Walker novel" by Indy Quillen
Tracker: A Fox Walker Novel - Indy Quillen



An entertaining thriller that makes a fast, light, weekend read and creates some real page-turning tension.


The Story:


Native American with phenomenal tracking skills helps search mountain forest in Colorado for a serial killer and finds a woman living in the wild. As he tries to look after her others are trying to find her, including a reporter from a trashy magazine, some FBI consultants and perhaps a serial killer.


Things I Liked:


Good pacing, taking enough time to bring the bits of the story together yet winding up to real I-have-to-turn-the-next-page-RIGHT-NOW tension at the end.


Clear, credible descriptions of how to live in a forest, using only what you find there and a clear sense of place. I could see the forests and the mountains clearly.


The empathy built for the "Wild Woman" and her simple view of life in the natural world.


The slow trust-building process that Walker used with her was well-described.


The fact that our heroine looks after herself rather than waiting to be rescued.


The action scenes at the end are well-timed. clearly described and deliver perfect tension.


Things I Thought Could Have Been Better


I struggled with the way Fox Walker spoke. He didn't sound like any Native American I've ever met. The perceived inauthenticity bothered me. It bordered on the patronising, although I'm certain that wasn't the author's intent.


The final scene was a bit too soppy for me. I thought the outcome was plausible but the speed felt contrived.




"How To Be Brave" by Louise Beech - DNF - abandoned at 15% - buying error on my part
How To Be Brave - Louise Beech

I only listened to ninety minutes of an eleven-hour book so I'm not giving a star rating but I'm certain this book is not for me.


I liked the story idea - nine-year-old-girl dramatically passes out and is diagnosed as having Type 1 diabetes, her mother has to cope with the consequences alone except for the perhaps ghostly intervention from a dead but still inspirational great-grandfather.


I feel bad about not liking this book beause is semi-autobiographical and I can feel the authenticity of the experience but that's not enough. I found the pace slow, it's a little over-written while still managing to be slightly dull. Where I'd hoped for passion, I found sentiment that verges on Hallmark.


I think I may not be nice enough for this book. I reacted badly to its wholesomeness.


Others may value this book for its uplifting message and the sincerity of the author and the love that obviously went into it, but I'm moving on.

3.5 Stars
"Odd &True" by Cat Winters
Odd & True - Cat Winters

"Odd & True" was a pleasant surprise: a tale of two sisters that blends historical fiction about women in America at the start of the twentieth century, the hunting of supernatural monsters in the wild woods of New Jersey and an exploration of how the stories we tell ourselves and each other shape who we become.


It is a peculiar book that resists categorisation, insisting on creating its own unique place on my mental bookshelf. For me, it's mainly a book about how women empower themselves and each other and how belief is, in itself, a form of magic.


Most of the action of the book is set in 1909 and revolves around two teenage sisters, Odette (Od) and Trudchen (Tru) who are on a mission to hunt the Jersey Devil.


Od and Tru are not the Winchester brothers in early twentieth-century dresses and the story is not primarily about the hunting of a monster, although it is about the creation of heroines.


The story is told from three perspectives in parallel. These tellings interact with one another in a way that makes truth something complex, agile and hard to fix in a single voice.


We hear from Tru, the younger sister who polio has left with a withered leg and constant pain, remembering her unquestioning belief in the stories her older sister told her of how the women in her family were fierce protectors who used magic to hunt monsters and her struggle to see this belief as anything other than a lie told to bolster the spirits of a crippled girl when her sister leaves home and sends back less than credible stories of her current life in a circus.


We get to read Od's account of her childhood and the traumas in it that she used stories and will-power and intimacy to try and shelter her sister from and then we learn of the things that nearly destroyed her in the two years she was away from home.


The third perspective is the present-day (1908) story of Od reuniting with Tru and taking her on a monster hunt.


This is not a light-weight tale. It's full of ugliness, pain and despair. None of it is exploitative but all of it is credible. It makes clear all the ways in which woman are vulnerable and how little support they have, except from each other.


It is also a tale of magic, not in the "clap your hands if you believe in fairies" kind of magic but the sort that you have to make for yourself by belief and courage and love.

There's a lot in the book about people who have lost their magic, or at least their hope. Od tries to explain this to Tru by saying

"Life has a way of knocking the whimsy out of people, Tru."

Yet as Od re-unites with Tru and starts to build up her courage again, she reaches a decision about the central choice the book asks readers to consider:

"I'd decided I'd rather be foolish than ordinary. I'd rather risk chasing monsters that might not exist, searching for a child I'm not meant to find, than to believe we're nothing more than mundane characters, steeped in ordinary lives."

By the end of the book, I could see that embracing the possibility of magic in our lives, of being and doing something more than the accommodating the inevitable and enduring the unacceptable is the first step to making ourselves magical. Magic is not used as a Get Out Of Jail Free card here. You can't just click the heels of your ruby slippers together to make everything alright but, with work and courage and love you can become something better than who you're being told to be even if you can't become the Princess you dreamed of being when you were a child.


This is my first Cat Winters book but it won't be my last. I like the way she makes me think and I love the way her characters see the reality of the world but don't let themselves be entirely determined by its expectations and constraints. 


"Instructions" by Neil Gaiman - what I get, what I hate and what I can't let go of.

touch the wooden gate


Sometimes, as with "Neverwhere", I get Neil Gaiman's work and sometimes, as with "The Ocean At The End Of The Lane",  I feel like I'm the only one who can't taste the secret ingredient that makes his work special.


Today, I read one of his poems, "Instructions" and found myself filled with excitement by the language and fully engaged with deciding what the poem means to me.

The poem opens with a calm voice giving clear, sparse but bizarre intructions:

"Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never
saw before.
Say "please" before you open the latch,
go through,
walk down the path.
A red metal imp hangs from the green-painted
front door,
as a knocker,
do not touch it; it will bite your fingers.
Walk through the house. Take nothing. Eat
However, if any creature tells you that it hungers,
feed it.
If it tells you that it is dirty,
clean it.
If it cries to you that it hurts,
if you can,
ease its pain.

I don't know who is being instructed or by whom but the Instructor sounds like a seasoned explorer advising a novice. The language is calmly imperative, allowing no dispute and offering no explanation. The imagery pulls me to fairytale quests. It suggests the presence of magical threats that require ritual responses to avoid conflict or ensnarement.


The goal the instructions are meant to help the person achieve is not clear to me but seems to be known to them. It's a piece of knowledge I'm keen to share.

The next verse reads:


"From the back garden you will be able to see the
wild wood.
The deep well you walk past leads to Winter's
there is another land at the bottom of it.
If you turn around here,
you can walk back, safely;
you will lose no face. I will think no less of you."

The sense of a quest being taken up in worlds beyond our own is confirmed, but what am I to make of the offer to turn back with no loss of face? Is this genuine, perhaps parental concern for a loved-one facing mortal risks or is it the kind of ruthless manipulation of pride and need to please that the old use on the young to risk young blood to achieve old goals?


Personally, I have the kind of mind that sees Dumbledore as Harry Potter's abuser and holds him responsible for creating and then mismanaging a mess that others have to die to clean up, so I tend not to trust the integrity of the statement just yet.


Then we get a lot "Do you get the reference?" advice on what to do with eagles, witches, giants and dragons.


If an eagle gives you a feather, keep it safe.
Remember: that giants sleep too soundly; that
witches are often betrayed by their appetites;
dragons have one soft spot, somewhere, always;
hearts can be well-hidden,
and you betray them with your tongue.

The last two lines seem like advice on dealing with new emotions and don't quite fit with the "how to pick up points in D&D" feel of the others.


The next verse starts with an unexplained reference to the Instructee's sister and then offers some verbally exuberant advice about not causing unintentional harm by what you say:

"Do not be jealous of your sister.
Know that diamonds and roses
are as uncomfortable when they tumble from
one's lips as toads and frogs:
colder, too, and sharper, and they cut."

Surprisingly, the rest of the verse reads a like a list from "Questing For Boys: how to use good manners to survive and triumph.“

"Remember your name.
Do not lose hope — what you seek will be found.
Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped
to help you in their turn.
Trust dreams.
Trust your heart, and trust your story.
When you come back, return the way you came.
Favors will be returned, debts will be repaid.
Do not forget your manners.
Do not look back.
Ride the wise eagle (you shall not fall).
Ride the silver fish (you will not drown).
Ride the grey wolf (hold tightly to his fur).

Then we get to the shortest verse. It contains only seventeen words and is the only part of this 521-word poem that is in italics (yeah, I used the word counter: that's how much this next verse got to me:

"There is a worm at the heart of the tower; that is
why it will not stand."

So at this part, I'm lost. I've no idea what it means or why it is where it is. The eager-to-show-off nerd part of me immediately figured that the italics meant a quote and asked Google what it was a quote from. Google says it's a quote from Neil Gaiman. Google's helpful like that. The pre-Internet part of my brain has vague memories of a sleazy Ken Russel film-version of Bram Stoker's "The Lair Of The White Worm" and wants to go off and check the paperback copy I bought but have never opened. The I'm-too-old-for-this currently-in-charge part of me calls bullshit.


What is Neil Gaiman trying to do here? Is he generating the question you're supposed to ask him at book signings, to which he'll reply, "Gotcha"? Is he making working for English Lit teachers across the world who have to try and sound like this quote makes sense? Is he off on some kind of T.S. Elliot-style use of an obscure personal reference that turns out to be central to the whole poem? Or is this still the Instructor cynically providing gnomic statements for the trusting Instructee to chew over?


Honestly, I don't care. I've moved on from not being able to taste the special ingredient to being able to taste something I want to spit out.


But the last verse of the poem hooked me again.

"When you reach the little house, the place your
journey started,
you will recognize it, although it will seem
much smaller than you remember.
Walk up the path, and through the garden gate
you never saw before but once.
And then go home. Or make a home.
And rest."

This brought me back to the Instructor's intentions. Is this a version of Louise MacNeice's "The Truisms" with the coffin-shaped box of things to know that can't be taught? Is the Instructor suggesting that, when the quest is done, real-life can start? Is he hinting that the quest could be skipped?


I have no idea but the words are hooked into my imagination now, to be worried at, rejected or absorbed.


I guess that's how you know it's poetry.

3.5 Stars
"Artificial Condition - Murderbot Diaries #2" by Martha Wells
Artificial Condition - Martha Wells

This continues straight on from Murderbot's decision about his future at the end of "All Systems Red"and carries with it all the strength of Murderbot's not-smart-enough-to-be-AI and not-socially-and-emotionally-mature-enough-to-be-human personality.


Martha Wells' writing remains tight and finely nuanced as she shows us the world through Murderbot's eyes and in the process, make me rethink what I'm seeing and the nature of the person whose eyes I'm seeing it through.


The story gave me two sets of insights into Murderbot, one through watching Murderbot and the AI of a research ship build a relationship that was at once completely credible and totally alien, the other through seeing Murderbot pass as an augmented human amongst a set of emotional, inclusive and completely vulnerable engineers.


In the meantime, a larget picture of power and threat started to emerge and Murderbot continued to grow into someone who is no longer content passively to watch entertainment shows but feels a need to get involved.


Murderbot, the Ship AI and the introduced-for-the-first-time Comfortbots all gave a perspective not just on what it means to be sentient but how poorly we humans treat other sentient beings, including other humans.


 I liked the fact that the title acted as both a description of Murderbot's situation and a reference to the idea that fear is external. It made me think that if fear, one of the most basic emotions, is artificial, then what about us is real? Which makes Murderbot seem more real even though he's artificial.


The only disappointing thing about "Artificial Condition" was that there was so little of it.

OK, so it's a few pages longer than "All Systems Red", the first of the Murderbot Diaries but that set out an entirely new world and ended at a point where I felt a conclusion had been reached. "Artificial Condition" reads more like an episode in a series.


While I'm sure I'll buy and read the next two episodes when they are released later this year, I feel as if the publishers are ripping me off. It would have been more honest to test the waters with "All Systems Red" novella and then follow up with a full-length novel.

OFF TOPIC POST - Small pleasures: visiting Florence again

We decided to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary in Florence, a city that made a bad first impression many years ago but that we've since learnt to love.


Our first visit to Florence was way back in the last century. We came in by coach for a day trip. The city was crowded, choked by traffic, plagued by scooter-riding purse snatchers and seemed to us to have an atmosphere of suppressed violence.


We came back about eight years ago when the first phase of the pedestrianisation of the city was underway and found the place transformed. The absence of traffic restored the sense of a medieval city.  Now the pedestrian areas are what makes the old town of Florence vital.


2018 florence streets 5.jpg


We started our celebration visit at thePalazzo Vecchio, in the always vibrant Piazza della Signoria. I love the brutal beauty of the old palace. It speaks of unrepentant power that still reaches for art. I think the statue of David looks great there So what if it's a replica? When you see them in the golden evening light they are compelling.


2018 florence david and palace.jpg


We spent the next day south of the Arno at the Pitti Palace. a huge castle, originally outside the main town, that the Borgia's acquired and developed and which later became Napoleon's base in Florence.


2018 florence pitti palace.jpg

The palace has sprawling, beautifully landscaped gardens, that offer views across all of Florence and which contain art by just about everyone you've ever heard of, crammed on to the walls of staterooms and anterooms and impress-the-hell-out-of-visiting-dignitaries hallways that give a more realistic context than the Uffizi manages. There's also a combined exhibition of modern costumes and modern art the is incredibly opulent and sensual.


We stayed south of the river for the evening. This is where most of the non-tourist population of Florence lives. The restaurants are more informal, the food is better and the people are relaxed.

2018 florence south of the Arno

We had an excellent couple of days, reminding ourselves of how much pleasure we have always taken in discovering the beauty of old places.

Reading progress update: I've read 46%. - great start to the third book in the Walker Papers
Coyote Dreams - C.E. Murphy

One of the things that I look for in the third book of an Urban Fantasy series is a fast start with lots of new content. It shows confidence and ambition and it pulls me straight into the story.



The first chapter of "Coyote Dreams" is packed with action and almost all of it made me grin.


There is enough backstory that a new reader wouldn't be totally lost but we don't get repetitive previously on Walker Papers. Instead, we get witty, fast-paced action that is lubricated by the contextual information not slowed down by it. It's a great start to the third novel.

Off Topic Post: Spirito d'Italia?

I was in Florence today, on the south side of the Arno and saw this built-in-to-the-wall photobooth being used. It seemed to me to summon up the vital spirit of Italy..


Spirito d'Itakia?


3 Stars
"The Robbins: Old Farts Gone Bad" by Timothy Freriks
The Robbins: Old Farts Gone Bad - MR Timothy Freriks


This is an entertaining, babyboomer-wish-fulfilment light holiday read with an interesting premise, a solid plot and a pair of not-so-appealing entitled Republican old farts as the heroes-



Seventy-three-year-old Engineer, Wayne Robbins is cheated out $2.8m in retirement funds by the young just-inherited this-national-jewellery-chain CEO and sets out to get his revenge by stealing enough jewellery to make up the loss. Then things start to get complicated and Wayne and his wife find themselves in stuck between lethal organised crime thugs and the FBI.


Good things:

The plot is clever in a John Grisham "The Firm" sort of way. It's much more complicated than it initially seems.


The pace works. Everything keeps moving. The ratcheting up of complexity is nicely judged not to be too overwhelming or too I've-already-worked-that-out.

The humour of old folks getting their own back doesn't wear thin


The relationship between the married-for-fifty-years couple is a little cute but still plausible and nicely demonstrated through the kind of dialogue that only people who've known each other that long (and still don't regret it) can have.


Not so good things

I had trouble empathising with the Robbins. They were too smug for me. White, middle.-class, proud-to-be-Republican grandparents whose sense of entitlement runs so deep that are incapable of recognising how smug they are and easily rationalise their own criminality.


The "jokes" against Obama might be contextually correct but they tasted too much of the author's values muscling into the narrative. I found them unnecessary and distracting.


The ending is clever but a little too cute for me.




4 Stars
” A Red Herring Without Mustard – Flavia De Luce #3″ by Alan Bradley
A Red Herring Without Mustard - Alan Bradley

"A Red Herring Without Mustard" is a third strong offering in the Flavia De Luce series.


Like it's predecessors, "The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie" and "The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag"it follows eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce as she uses chemistry, her insatiable curiosity and her almost sociopathic determination to solve the crimes associated with the dead bodies that turn up with frightening regularity at her Father's country house before the police can.


In this case, Flavia is one a hunt that includes a gipsy fortune-teller, an unscrupulous remittance man, the remnants of a local Dissenter sect and some truly eccentric water features.

The plots are twisty enough to be satisfying and honest enough not to be annoying but the true power of the book continues to come from seeing the world through the eyes of the inimitable and irrepressible Flavia De Luce.


Flavia has always been a recklessly brave, brilliantly but disturbingly analytical loner with a grief-stricken father, abusive older sisters, and hole in her life where her mother should be. Her only positive relationships seem to be with Dogger, the war-damaged family retainer, Gladys, her bicycle on whom she projects a personality and the local Police Inspector with whom she enters into a mutually respectful rivalry.


What I like most about this book was that I saw Flavia grow. She and her father reach a deeply-felt but barely expressed mutual respect. She learns more about her mother and starts to feel some of her mother's spirit in herself. Her relationship with her sisters remains twisted and sometimes hateful but Flavia is aware of the mutual love beneath the sandpaper surface. Flavia also makes a friend, albeit a rather enigmatic, sometimes violent and often absent friend who is socially completely inappropriate but that is perhaps how it should be.


I find myself caring more for Flavia with each book. We see her whole world through her eyes and sometimes what we see touches home. I understand exactly the feeling Flavia refers to when she says:



Whenever I’m with other people, part of me shrinks a little. Only when I am alone can I fully enjoy my own company."

The way she and Dogger deal with each other shows a great deal of compassion and affection. It tells us a lot about Flavia's character and her experience of intimacy that she likes sitting with Dogger because he supports her without demanding more information from her than she is willing to give. She says,

"The very best people are like that. They don’t entangle you like flypaper."

Flavia's new friend, Porcelain gives Flavia someone to talk to and a chance to understand how she is seen by others. I liked Porcelain's comments on familial love. She says,

“Love’s not some big river that flows on and on forever, and if you believe it is, you’re a bloody fool. It can be dammed up until nothing’s left but a trickle …”

I would read the books just to spend time with Flavia Alan Bradley delivers more than a fan-fest. His plots are strong. All of his characters feel real and form a richly detailed ensemble cast. His sense of period and of Englishness never seems to stumble, which is all the more impressive given that he is a contemporary Canadian writing about 1950s English rural gentry.


I've already ordered the next book in the series.

currently reading

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