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.

3.5 Stars
"Nice Dragons Finish Last - Heartstrikers #1" by Rachel Aaron
Nice Dragons Finish Last - Rachel Aaron

I picked up "Nice Dragons Come Last" because I was looking for some lighhearted escapism that would make me smile. Rachel Aaron's book delivered that and a good deal more; surprisingly strong and original world-building, intriguing characters, gentle humour and some great actions scenes.

This is a book about being nice, decent, honest, trustworthy and reasonable, It is not one of those knowing, self-mocking books. It occasionally goes right up to the cliff-edge of cute but never drops into the abyss of sugary wholesomeness. Instead it works through the idea that being nice doesn't have to make you weak, that being fair doesn't have to make you vulnerable and that being who you are is better than hiding from who everyone else wants you to be.

What spices all that up is that the person addicted to niceness is a dragon. Dragons don't hold with niceness. Dragon's are about cunning and power and strength and above all, about winning. Our hero is simply too nice to be a successful dragon, yet, if he fails to display a sufficiently draconian approach to the mission he has been given a couple of days to achieve, his mother will eat him. He teams up with a young mage, who, although she's human, behaves much more like a dragon than he does: she's fierce, territorial, always looking to find an angle and never backs down from anyone. Together they make the perfect odd couple.

There is a quest of a kind, labyrinthine intrigues, warring seers, hungry monsters determined to feed and lots of men with guns,

Our hero is congenitally incapable of being nasty and much of the humour in the book comes from the incredulity with which our hero's attempt to find win-win, conflict-avoiding, solutions to problems that are traditionally resolved by combat.

I found myself slipping more deeply into this world than I'd expected and liking the characters of dragons, even the scary or annoying ones.

So, I've bought the next book in the series "One Good Dragon Deserves Another" and I'm saving it for the next time I'm craving lighthearted entertainment backed up by clever ideas and likeable characters.

3 Stars
"Winner Take All - John Rain #3" by Barry Eisler
Winner Take All - Barry Eisler

"Winner Take All" was an enjoyable continuation of the John Rain series but it lacked the impact and or depth of the first two books "A Clean Kill In Tokyo" and "A Lonely Resurrection".


The encouraging thing is that it seems to have managed a transition from John Rain as a lone wolf to someone who may have people he can trust. This should open out future books and increase the momentum of the character development.


John Rain is an assassin, particularly gifted at making his kills look like death by natural causes. In the course of this book he kills about a dozen people, most of them in a close up and personal way, and doesn't lose a moment's sleep over it, unless you count the fact that he realises that, in his fifties, he's starting to be less fast and to heal more slowly.


Barry Eisler's biggest achievement is to make me care about John Rain. Rain kills for money, trusts no one, feels that his mixed blood excludes him from both his Japanese and his American heritage, and leads a life so solitary that it leaves almost no trace on the world.


So what's to like? Perhaps his sense of regret that he is who he is? Perhaps his acceptance, uncoloured by excuses or mitigating arguments, that he is a killer? Perhaps his loyalty to the women in his life? Perhaps that the people he kills are, mostly, nastier than he is?


You see how seductive and corrupting these lines of argument are? That's the kind of man Rain is. His strong sense of self, his discipline and his endurance are seductive. You start to admire how he does what he does. You start to want him to survive, perhaps even to be happy. I can't say this is something I've ever felt about Jack Reacher.


Barry Eisler sets his books in places that, for me, are exotic but in which John Rain is clearly at home, or at least as at home as John Rain is ever going to get.


"Winner Take All" (I hate that title. The absence of an S at the end of TAKE, makes me stumble every time. What was Barry Eisler thinking? This was his third attempt at a title for this book and THIS is what he came up with?) is set in Macao and Rio, taking John out of the his comfort zone in Tokyo and setting him loose to become someone new.


This turns out to be almost cruel as John discovers that living in a new country with a new name doesn't change who he is, what he has done and what the people who know about him will always want him to do. I felt sorry for Rio John Rain. The Macao John Rain, not so much.


Rain makes his first kill in Macoa in the first few pages, taking out a fellow predator just on a suspicion. As the book progresses, Rain's body count rises rapidly. True, most of them were trying to kill him but his efficiency and his ability to compartmentalise are chilling.


The new thing, probably the best thing, in this book is that John starts to trust at least two, maybe three people (the tentative, almost reluctant quality of John's trust explains why I can't be entirely sure of the number).


I like the fact that John can see he's getting older and that this has consequences. I liked that the people he (probably) trusts are not people who would inspire trust in others. I liked the fact that, despite staying in the best hotels in Rio and Macao, Tokyo still calls to him. The scene where he returns to his old neighborhood and finds it changed and all evidence of his time there erased, was beautifully done.


I also love the way Barry Eisler reads his own novels. He improved my experience far beyond what I would have gained from the text alone.


I'll be back for more.

3.5 Stars
"Six Degrees Of Assassination" by M J Arlidge - an audible originals production
Six Degrees of Assassination: An Audible Drama - Hermione Norris, Audible Studios, M.J. Arlidge, Clare Grogan, Andrew    Scott, Freema Agyeman, Geraldine Somerville, Clive Mantle, Julian Rhind-Tutt

"Six Degrees Of Assination" is a radio play rather than an audiobook.  It has a full, very talented, cast and the story is told entirely with dialogue supported by sound effects and punctated with (slightly annoying) "thriller" music to remind you how excited you are.

I spent a fun six and half hours on a sunny day, losing myself in the events following the assassination of a British Prime Minister in London.

I was convinced by the portrayal of British politics at a time of crisis. These are the types of politicians I recognise and understand. A couple of the political speaches were so well done, I felt sure I'd heard them before.

The list of suspects, foreign and domestic, was long and colourful. The story moved quickly and had a surprisingly large body count but never fell into the realms of the completely unbelievable.

The acting was what kept me interested. Most of the dialogue was good, some was even quote funny but the occaisonal "I'm saying this to move the plot along" lines were skillfully smoothed over.

I didn't guess who did it but I didn't feel tricked when I found out who it was.

A fun way to spend some time with a drama playing out in your head.

4 Stars
“And The Rest Is History – Chronicles of St Mary’s #8” by Jodi Taylor
And the Rest is History - Jodi Taylor

There's a point in this book when Max says, "Remember when we used to have fun?" I do. The early books in this series were a lot of fun. Bad things happened. Horrible historical events were encountered. Yet eccentric, prank-playing, anarchic fun was at the centre of St. Mary's.

This hasn't been true for a while now. I don't read a new St Mary's book with the expectation on spending most of my time grinning, (although there're always a few points at which I laugh out loud. I figure that Jodi Taylor adds them so I'll know that their absence in the rest of the book is deliberate). Now, when I pick up a St. Mary's book, I know that I'm in for trauma and tears and damn but Jodi Taylor is excellent at it.

I'm attached to the staff at St. Mary's. They're nice people. Odd, slightly broken, often deeply repressed people but I like them. I want good things to happen to them, perhaps because I understand, as they do, that happiness is not what they've signed up for.

"And The Rest Is History" is the most traumatic tale yet. The events the St. Mary's historians visit are bloody, violent and described in enough detail to make you want to look away and with enough passion to keep your eyes locked on what's happening. We see battles in Saxon-soon-to-be-Norman England. We are subjected to the barbarity of the papal-sponsored "you're forgiven for whatever you do to the Heathens" sack of Constantinople by the Christian Crusader rabble in 1204.

Yet these are not the worst parts. The worst parts are what happens to the people from St Mary's. Jodi Taylor put them and me through an emotional hell and made me feel every moment of pain, despair, sorrow, guilt and grief.

Do I remember when we used to have a good time at St. Mary's? I do. And I enjoyed it. And then the series grew up and became something touched with a deep understanding of what we fear and what we love and how closely linked the two are.

This is not a book I could read in public. People would look at my face and wonder what terrible thing had happened to me to explain that wet eyes and stricken expression and all I'd be able to say was, "Jodi Taylor did this to me."

The worst part is, she did it so well, I know I'll be back for more.

5 Stars
"Red Sister" not a review (yet) just a quick thank you to Just One More Chapter
Red Sister - Mark  Lawrence

It's rare for me to find a fantasy author that I've never heard of who then makes me go "wow" on a regular basis through nineteen and a half hours of the first book in a series.


The book is "Red Sister" and the author is Mark Lawrence.


I found them both through a review by Just One More Chapter.


That's one of the joys of BookLikes.


I'll write my own review once my head has stopped spinning.


In the mean time, take a look at the review that set me on this path and see if it gets your imagination running.



3 Stars
"The Witches Of Lychford" by Paul Cornell
Witches of Lychford - Paul Cornell

I'm not sure what to make of this novella.


I ought to be singing its praises and reaching for the next in the series. The three main female characters are intriguing. The themes in the story fold over one another in intricate patterns through which malice spreads like wine staining linen. Magic transforms the everyday world of a Cotswold village so that normal life seems illusory and less substantial than the shadow worlds that the witches of the title hold at bay.


That's a lot to pull off in a novella but in the end it disappointed rather than satisfied me.


It felt like a song with not enough lyrics. I could feel what it might have been and so was disappointed by what it actually was.


i think, perhaps, it was all just a little too easy. Victory should cost more. The ending felt too neat and too bloodless. Not uninteresting or unbelievable, just not enough.

3.5 Stars
"Kitty Saves The World - Kitty Norville #14 - last in the series
Kitty Saves the World - Carrie Vaughn

"Kitty Saves The World", the last Kitty Norville book, reflects my experience of the series as a whole, strong on good guys, albeit sometimes flawed and haunted good guys, but weak on really evil villains who are a terrifying threat to the world.


Still, if you enjoyed the first thirteen books, the lack of palpable evil will neither surprise nor disappoint you.


The book read like a fond farewell, bringing back some of my favourite characters, having Kitty give another great performance on "The Midnight Hour", showing Kitty and Ben as a strong and loving couple and finally resolving the conflict with Roman so that Kitty can indeed, save the world.


I liked Kitty in this book. She continued to be strong and brave and witty, even when deeply afraid, but she was also willing to lead and to accept her right to take the help offered by her friends.


The resolution with Roman was clever, original and plausible, within the context of the series. It was drama rather than melodrama. I enjoyed it partly because it felt like something that Carrie Vaughn had been carefully leading up to for some time, rather than a "how am I gonna end this so I don't have to write any more of them?" ending.


It seems to me that Carrie Vaughn has never quite known what to do with the pack that Kitty and Ben lead. She had one book, after Kitty took over, where the pack dynamics were important but mostly, Kitty's pack have been passive elements in the story. Sadly, this remained true for the final book, although there was a good explanation for it.


I ended the book and the series very glad to have spent time with Kitty and watched her grow from a frightened victim of terrible abuse into a strong and compassionate leader who inspired loyalty and created hope.


I think the final book honored Kitty and her readers by staying true to the spirit of the series and by bringing many story arcs to satisfying conclusions without closing everything off so neatly that it became too "happily ever after".


I'm sure the Kitty books are over but I have a suspicion that Carrie Vaughn isn't quite done with Cormac yet. Which is a very fine way to end a series.

"Beartown" has me holding my breath and I've barely started it - 3% complete
Beartown: A Novel - Fredrik Backman

"Beartown" is the latest book from Fredrik Backman ( "A Man Called Ove" and "My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry"). It's about a remote, slowly dying, small town in the middle of the woods where the success of the Junior Hockey Team is the last hope for the town to grow rather than continue its slow decline.


I've barely started the book and its already holding my imagination hostage. The language is simple and undramatic yet it gets to the heart of the things that shapes lives.


Here's how it starts:

"Late one evening, towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked in to the forest, put the gun to someone elses forehead and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there".


I'd love to take today off to drink this book down but I'll have to sip at it as work permits. Still, it will make my day.

4 Stars
"Cold Reign - Jane Yellowrock #11" by Faith Hunter.
Cold Reign - Faith Hunter

"Cold Reign" was a fun read that brought the series back to form.

Finally, the evil European Vampires have arrived. We've been waiting for them for what feels like forever. Their arrival picks up the pace, challenges existing relationships, reveals long-planned treachery, and unleashes lots and lot of violence.

I enjoyed seeing Jane moving with more freedom now that she no longer has to hide her true nature. I was glad to see Beast playing a significant part in the action. I always enjoy seeing the world from her unique point of view.

The story made sense (at least in part - there's more to come) of the various additions to Jane's household, the alliances that she's made and the magical objects she's acquired. It's clear that she's going to have to draw on all of them to survive the arrival of the European Vampires.

Jane's powers continue to evolve in useful ways and she, perhaps more importantly, she continues to grow and to make better connections with the people around her and the "family" or clan she has built for herself.

"Cold Reign" casts-off two problems that I'd been having with earlier books: Jane was losing her humanity and she was spending her time protecting some not very nice vampires. In this book, Jane leaves her humanity behind and accepts that she has become something else. Something that she relishes and that those she cares about accept and value. Protecting the vampires is put in a more positive light now that the "take over the world and kill them all" European vampires  have arrived. They are a threat worth fighting against.

This book is about as good as it gets in the Jane Yellowrock universe: vivid battle action with blades, bullets, stakes, fangs, claws and lots and lots of blood, snarky humour, byzantine plot, new players and new magics and, at the heart of it all, a set of people worth protecting.

The Kate Shugak Series – Books 16-20 Kate grows into her power.

16 to 20


This month sees the publication of the 21st book, “Less Than A Treason”. Before I read it, I decided to remind myself of the story so far and how I felt about it. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers but it’s inevitable that you’ll get a sense of what happens to Kate during the course of the series.


I’ve split this into four posts to make them easier to read. I’ve provided links to my spoiler-free reviews of individual books if you want to be certain of not hearing something  you don’t want to know.



16 whipser to the blood In the previous book, the Auntie's over-stepped, upsetting the equilibrium of the Park and unleashing vigilante violence and starting to lose control of the community.


In "Whisper To The Blood  is as the consequences of this imbalance manifest, I understood the balance Kate Shugak always brings to her actions.


Kate isn’t motivated by power or a need to be in control. She doesn’t give way to the outrage she sometimes feels. Without having to think through why, when she acts to limit harm or protect the weak, she does so with a calm fury guided by her sense of what is right. That’s what makes her respected and feared. It’s also what prevents her from understanding fully the power that she has.


The fun element in this book comes from watching Kate deal with having political power thrust on her by mastering it so she can give it away. Yet the book has a dark, cold feel to it with snowmobile trips to remote landscapes only to find slaughter, attacks on the frozen river and a killer on the loose.



17 a night too dark"A Night Too Dark"   surprised me, given the title, by being an up-beat Kate Shugak novel. Nothing lifts my spirit more than being around Kate Shugak when things are going well.


Of course, up-beat is a relative term. This is a Kate Shugak novel so, although the book is filled with the intense sunshine of humour, love, sexual attraction, practical compassion, moral courage and physical bravery, it is still loomed over by deaths, murders, political intrigue and the impossibility of being able to save everyone.


Dana Stabenow’s ability to write (relatively short) novels that make me laugh, cry, become angry and relax in the company of characters who feel like friends continues to astonish me.





18 though not dead"Though Not Dead" was a wonderful, spirit-raising read. This is Kate Shugak at her best, following a quest, solving puzzles,  exploring her family’s past, using her wits and her strength and her courage to take on the bad guys with only Mutt at her side.


The plot of “Although Not Dead” is driven by the bequests of two dead men: Old Sam, who leaves all his property to Kate, along with a one-line instruction that sets her on a path to discover more about Old Sam’s past than she might want to know, and Jim Shugak’s father who leaves him an enigmatic gift that will change Jim’s understanding of  his own childhood.


Kate’s intense, sometimes combative, sometimes deferential, but always loving, relationship with Old Sam contrasts starkly with Jim’s emotionally barren childhood, the sterility of which is illustrated by the fact that Jim was at a sleep-over with friends before he discovered that parents hugged their children.


I particularly enjoyed seeing the world that Old Sam grew up and the events that shaped the world Kate has grown up taking for granted.


We learn how Sam came to own the Freya and why he spent so much time away from home. We come to understand his rugged independence and some of his loneliness. In some senses, “Although Not Dead” is like a wake for Old Sam. It gave me a sense of completion, off saying goodbye to him without forgetting him.



19 Restless in the grave"Restless In The Grave" This is the book where Kate Shugak and State Trooper Liam Campbell, the lead in Dana Stabenow's other Alaskan series, finally get to meet.


Kate get's to go undercover investigate a possible murder at Newenham, Trooper Liam Campbell’s domain. She gets locked up and hit over the head but it stills feels like freedom to, leave Niniltna politics behind.


It was fun getting to see the Liam Campbell cast of characters through Kate's eyes and seeing Jim realise how much he misses Kate.


The plot turned out to be big and twisty and perfectly paced.  It also set up some challenges for Kate when she returns home.






20 bad blood"Bad Blood"

When I read this book, I believed it was the last time I'd be in Kate's company and I was surprised to find how much I'd miss her and the people around her.

I won't go into the plot here. It would spoil the book. Instead I'm going to remember the things in this book that showed me Kate in her prime.


Kate is not a saint. She hates as intensely as she loves. She judges people and she acts on her judgement. She is capable of great generosity and violent vengeance. She is almost always fearless and when she’s not fearless she’s brave.


The Kate in “Bad Blood” is not the Kate I met in  book one,“A Cold Day For Murder”, reclusive, damaged, unwilling to be part of the lives of others, nor is she the woman so lost to grief that she has abandoned herself, that I met in my book eleven “The Singing Of The Dead”. She has become a woman at peace with herself and her family and friends. She is full of passion and potential and serious intent.


“Bad Blood” is full of small scenes of joy and friendship. It also contains violence prompted by hate and ignorance and shear male pig-headedness. It is another credible and compelling view of Alaska. It is another chance to understand that who we are is as much about what we do as what we think.


And now Book 21...


21 less than a treason

It's eighteen months since I last saw Kate. Now I have book 21 on my iPad mini, waiting for me.


I'm almost reluctant to open it, yet I was too impatient to wait for the audiobook version to be ready.


Just because Kate and the people around her are fictional doesn't mean that what happens to them doesn't matter.


In the end, all you can do is trust the author. After all, she's the real source of the meaning in these books.


I've honoured my memory of Kate. Now I'm going to see what happens next.


The Kate Shugak Series - Books 11-15 Kate Comes Home

11 to 15.png

This month sees the publication of the 21st book, “Less Than A Treason”. Before I read it, I decided to remind myself of the story so far and how I felt about it. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers but it’s inevitable that you’ll get a sense of what happens to Kate during the course of the series.


I’ve split this into four posts to make them easier to read. I’ve provided links to my spoiler-free reviews of individual books if you want to be certain of not hearing something  you don’t want to know



11 singing of the dead"The Singing Of The Dead" is my least favourite Kate Shugak book.


Kate is still and mourning and consequently very passive.


I enjoyed the up close and personal view of political campaigning in Alaska, especially the political speeches.


I enjoyed the Park Packrats coming together to support Kate in her determination to keep custody of Jack's son.


I struggled to connect to the telling of the story of a young woman caught up in the Alaskan Gold Rush and doing the best she can.






12 a fine and bitter snow

"A Fine And Bitter Snow" brings Kate back to the Park. She's no longer living in seclusion with Mutt. She has friends. She has an adopted son. She has a hole in her life where Jack Morgan used to be.


In this book, Kate starts to take up her Grandmother's mantle and involves herself, in her passionate and obstinate way, in the politics of the Park.


She also solves another murder of course, this time of one of her friends.


Jim Chopin's character is sharpened up in this book, making him more than a Mounty with a grin. He is becoming someone interesting.


Mutt also gets a bigger slice of the action and the fierce beauty of Alaska wraps it all up.




13 a grave denied crop

In "A Grave Denied"  we see Kate back in the Park, surrounded by the people and places that she loves.


The is a lot of love and a lot of humour in this book. Of course, being a Kate Shugak book, there is also death and evil and at least some of it is aimed at Kate as she tries to set things right.


This is a pleasing ensemble piece, with all the major characters playing a part and almost everyone else getting at least a cameo. I loved seeing how strong Bobby and Dinah are together, how grown up Johnny Morgan is becoming and how dazed , confused and perhaps a little scared Jim Chopin is by the way Kate treats him. Watching her playfully torture him was a lot of fun.


I enjoyed seeing Kate at her strongest, confronting  Johnny's mother in a direct, forceful, ruthless and fearless way. This is the Kate Shugak that has the Park’s respect. It was good to rooting herself in the homestead her father built. Kate is, for once, happy.


When disaster inevitably strikes, the response of the people in the Park made me want to cheer.


14 A taint in the blood

 "A Taint In The Blood" is very slight as a mystery but it's the most light-hearted Kate Shugak book after "Breakup".


It is a light, fun, sometimes sexy read that gave a welcome change in pace from the depressed mood of the books that started with “Hunter’s Moon”. It made me look forward to what Kate was going to do with her life.


She is in the right place with the right people and she has her confidence back.

What could possibly go wrong?









15 a deeper sleep"A Deeper Sleep" was another departure from the normal Kate Shugak book. The focus of the book is not on Kate or even on Jim but on Louis Deem, a monster living in the Park.


Deem is a rapist and a murder and seems to be untouchable, even by Kate. Yet something has to be done about this evil, even if what is done is evil in its own way.


This is a solid story about a predator thriving in the midst of a community that seems powerless to protect itself. It’s about what that threat does to the people who have to watch it without being able to stop it. It explores the moral ambiguity of taking the law into your own hands and what meeting violence with violence does to those who act. It looks at the difference between being evil and doing bad things. It is a book filled with grief and waste and impotent anger.


It seemed to me that “A Deeper Sleep” signals a change in the Park. The evils that are done here will have consequences for many of the people in the Park. The context Kate is operating in is about to change. What is being asked of her is about to change. Kate herself comes out of this book innocent of wrong-doing but that may not protect her.


The Kate Shugak Series - Books 6-10 The breaking of Kate Shugak

6 to 10.png



This month sees the publication of the 21st book, "Less Than A Treason".


Before I read it, I decided to remind myself of the story so far and how I felt about it. I've tried to avoid spoilers but it's inevitable that you'll get a sense of what happens to Kate during the course of the series.


I've split this into four posts to make them easier to read


I've provided links to my spoiler-free reviews of individual books if you want to be certain of not hearing something  you don't want to know


6 Blood will tell"Blood Will Tell" brings Kate back to Anchorage to attend the Alaska Federation of Natives convention with her Grandmother, a power in the Native community,  so Kate can investigate the mysterious death of one of the Council Members.


I enjoyed thisbook for many reasons,  Kate's struggle not to follow in her grandmother's footsteps and take on the mantle of leadership, the power and passion of Kate's speech to the convention that shows her just how much like her grandmother she is and for the scene where Jack (white, middle-class, handsome male) takes Kate (Aluet, non-white and unadorned female)  shopping for posh clothes in Nordstrom's. The sales assistant's unconscious and unflustered racism and sexism and Kate's reaction to it are beautifully handled.


There is a sting in the end of the book: a death full of sadness, a sources of grief, a reshaping of Kate's life.  This hit home for me.


7 break up"Breakup" is another of my favourite books. It took me out of the shadow of the death in the last book and into the anarchic madness of spring in the Park.


This book is the funniest in the series. It made me laugh out-loud several times. It kindled Spring in my spirit.


It has bears and tourists who shouldn't be allowed out on their own and twitchy locals recovering from the isolation of winter and Kate, at home in the middle of it all, riding the chaos with a grin and still finding time to solve a murder and deal with it in her own unique way.










8 killing grounds"Killing Grounds" is another book where Kate's adventures give a behind the scenes view of a great Alaskan industry, as she goes commercial salmon fishing in Prince William Sound.


The plot is a classic whodunnit where Kate has to parse a long list of suspects to figure out who killed the most hated fisherman around. In the process, we get to see how the industry works and getting some vivid descriptions of commercial fishing.


What I like most was Kate's relationship with Old Sam, who is her skipper as well as an, on the surface, direputable, tribal Elder. I also liked the way Kate accepted Jack's son.





9 hunters moon"Hunter's Moon" was a book I initially felt a little betrayed by. I don't expect to get nine books in and then have a major character die a violent death and have Kate helpless and humiliated. I raged a little at Dana Stabenow for putting me through this.


I raged a bit more at casting cardboard cut out Germans as the bad guys.


Then I got over it and gave Dana Stabenow credit for writing powerful, distressing scenes and for being brave enough to put her hero through such hell. Then I wondered what she'd do next.








10 midnight come again

What happened next was "Midnight Come Again", the first Kate Shugak book of the twenty-first century. a book that was a complete departure from it's predecessors.


It opens like a Tom Clancy novel with a rogue Russian military unit killing people in an armed robbery in Moscow. It was well written and intriguing but it left me with one big question: where is Kate Shugak?  This is the question the whole novel sets out to answer.


Kate has left her life and disappeared. State Trooper, Jim Chopin, called "Father Of The Park" for his womanizing, asks after her whereabouts and discovers that no-one knows but everyone expects him to find her and bring her home.


Most of the book is told from Jim's point of view, making Kate into a kind of ghost that he is summoning by finding out more and more about her.


In the end, he encounters her by chance while working with the FBI to track down some Russians. The Kate he finds has changed her name and become "the working dead" with no life except for her job running a small bush air service.


This is a dark, complex  thriller. It is also an exploration of grief and loss. Finally, it is about choosing  to continue to live when you know everything you valued has been lost because you are still needed and because living is better than the alternative


The Kate Shugak Series - Books 1-5 getting to know Kate and Alaska

Kate Shugak


"A Cold Day For Murder" was the first book I ever downloaded from My wife and I listened to this five hours-long book together through a couple of dark afternoons in February 2012. It convinced me that audiobooks were an excellent way to relax while still concentrating.. It also introduced me to Kate Shugak, who didn't impress me at first but soon carved a place for herself in my imagination.  When I finished "Bad Blood", book 20, I assumed the series was over and found that I missed it a great deal.


This month sees the publication of the 21st book, "Less Than A Treason".


Before I read it, I decided to remind myself of the story so far and how I felt about it. I've tried to avoid spoilers but it's inevitable that you'll get a sense of what happens to Kate during the course of the series.


I've split this into four posts to make them easier to read


I've provided links to my spoiler-free reviews of individual books if you want to be certain of not hearing something  you don't want to know


i t0 5.png


1 cold-day-for-murder"A Cold Day For Murder" introduced me to a damaged, Kate Shugak, living in seclusion on her homestead homestead in an Alaskan National Park with only Mutt, her half-wolf, half-husky bitch for company.


Kate has retired from being an Investigator in the Anchorage DA's Office, after a near fatal attack by a child killer, which left her with a scarred throat, a broken voice and a lot of anger. Kate is reluctantly pulled back into the world by Jack Morgan, her ex-boss, who asks her to investigate the disappearance of a Park Ranger.


This was a slow but atmospheric start with a strong sense of place and well drawn characters. I didn't quite get Kate but even then I could feel her intensity and the strength of her connection to the Park and, almost reluctantly, to her people.



2 a-fatal-thaw"A Fatal Thaw" is the book that hooked me on the series and it's still one of my favourites.


This is the book in which Kate starts, reluctantly, on her path as protector of her community and instrument of natural justice. At the start of the book, Kate and Mutt take down a spree killer and the reaction in the town is that Kate is finally starting to live up to her potential as the granddaughter of the head of the Tribal Council. 


The descriptions of the Alaskan wilderness and all its lethal beauty are vivid. Kate's slow personal thaw is well-described and the ending at a Potlach is just perfect.







3 dead in the water4 a cold blooded business"Dead In The Water" and "A Cold-Blooded Business" are both good mysteries that would function as stand-alone thrillers, enhanced by vivid descriptions of major Alaskan industries in the mid-90s.



In "Dead In The Water", Kate is under-cover, fishing for crab off the Aluetian Islands, investigating the disappearance of two crew members.



In "A Cold-Blooded Business" Kate is working on The Slope for a Prudhoe Bay Oil Company, investigating drug dealing. This book is strong on the oil industry and less strong on Kate.


In both books, Kate is distancing herself from the Park but deepening her connections with her Aleutian and Russian roots and with Alaskan politics in ways that will become important later.


In these books, Kate is confident and competent to the point of feeling almost indestructible, yet she is mostly alone and  feels like a sojourner rather than a part of the landscape. The one exception is when she meets a young Aluet girl and her grandmother. The scene with the girl using the Storyknife to tell her life in the sand is wonderful.


5 play with fire"Play With Fire" is book that I couldn't bring myself to review at the time. There would have been too many spoilers involved and I was too angered by the content of the book.


In this book, Kate comes into conflict with an austere, slightly insane, Christian Cult that is light on the Christian and heavy on the Cult part. Dana Stabenow does a great job of showing how this kind of fear-and-hatred, we-are-the-chosen mindset can poison a community and damage lives. Kate's instinctive and unrelenting hatred of the Cult as something evil and twisted endeared her to me. I'm an athiest but I prefer God-loving to God-fearing Christians and I believe cult leaders are parasites on humanity.


In retrospect, this book is important because it is the first time that Kate does not get her way and has to live with the frustration of not having the power to do what needs to be done


Film Review "The Longest Ride" - two love stories in one movie



I passed on this movie when it was in the cinemas a couple of years ago. It seemed to schmaltzy and coy from the (fairly awful) trailer I saw. Last night I found it while flicking channels, searching, more in hope than expectation, for something relaxing to watch. I ended up totally engrossed in a movie that was far better than I had expected it to be.


The story is structured as two parallel love stories of seemingly mismatched couples with strong, art-loving women and respectful, devoted men who nevertheless cannot easily give their partner what they need to be happy. The couples are separated by a two generations but connected by an accidental encounter and some well written letters that bring the past alive and provide a commentary on the relationship in the present.


The pacing is good: not too rushed or condensed and with a flair for delivering emotional tension, sprinkled with humour and joy. The film manages to deliver a strong emotional punch, despite it cute, almost Hallmark, ending because the quality of the camera work is superb, the script is strong and the actors deliver their performances with conviction.


The film is set in North Carolina, which is made to look truly beautiful. Some of the action is set in the bull riding rodeos which are made almost unbearably vivid by the close up, crystal clear camera work and lighting.


The-Longest-Ride_2015-3Britt Robertson, a young, slight, blonde woman delivers a performance full of strength and compassion as the modern day A-student headed for an NYC internship in an art gallery.

Scott Eastwood (yes, son of Clint) pushes beyond the tall, lean, deferential cowboy stereotype into someone who is dealing with significant internal conflict and more than a little fear.



thelongestride-1-gallery-image Jack Huston (yes, grandson of John and nephew of Angelica) gets the fresh faced young jewish man in a 1940s small town just right and  Oona Chaplin (yes, granddaughter of Charlie) delivers a sparkling performance as a passionate young Viennese refugee, intoxicated by art and determined to make a life with the shy young man of her choice.


"The Longest Ride" (which I still think is an awful title) is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. I've never read him but when I looked him up it turned out that he's had eleven of his books made into films. "The Longest Ride" is better than either of the other movies I've seen:  "Message in A Bottle", which was OK but was formulaic and had Kevin Costner as the lead, and "Nights In Rodanthe" which I watched because it had Diane Lane in it.


Watch this when you're ready to go through something, cathartic but optimistic.

Below is a trailer for the film (this one without the dreadful voice over that ruined the first trailer that I saw).




4 Stars
"Isabel's Bed" by Elinor Lipman
Isabel's Bed - Elinor Lipman

"Isabel's Bed" is a gentle, amusing, charter-driven read, filled with kindness and comedy that lifted my spirits. It deals honestly but sympathetically with story of Harriet Mahone, a wannabe writer running for cover from a recently failed twelve year relationship with a man she now sees has always been a jerk.

Although the story is told from Harriet's point of view, she is one of the most ordinary and most passive characters in a novel which is dominated by colourful, larger than life people. Yet Harriet does not fade into the background or become just a cypher for observing more interesting people. In a way, the whole book is about her building a more solid understanding of herself and acting upon it-

Harriet takes refuge with Isabel, a woman who's notoriety Harriet is unaware of when she agrees to ghost write her autobiography in exchange for living in Isabel's house for a year.

Isabel is funny and smart and totally overwhelming. The dialogue in the scenes she's in sparkles. I found her extraordinary and yet completely convincing. She is a woman who takes charge of her life and lives by her own rules. She is Harriet's opposite and so finds Harriet novel and intriguing. The friendship that builds between the two woman is drawn with a light touch that gives it credibility and emotional value.

Hattie has a a low simmer, never quite getting to the boil, relationship with Isabel's handy-man/driver which manages to avoid rom-com clichés and serves mostly to help Harriet understand what had been missing in her previous twelve-year-too-long relationship.

I enjoyed the sideways glance into writers and writing that the novel provides. Harriet writes to escape from her life. Being a writer is a transformational fantasy for her. We see that it is not the writing itself that motivates Harriet but the opportunity to been seen as a writer in her local writers' group which sustains her dream by listening with attention and providing encouraging feedback.

Harriet is competent rather than talented at writing. Her first draft of the autobiography is so bland and dull and so NOT Isabel, the Isabel has a go at re-writing the piece "to make it sound more like me". Isabel is a natural raconteur and produces an opening to the the autobiography that is witty, energetic and gives a strong sense of her personality. The contrast between the two pieces is the start of Harriet coming to understand that writing might not be her route to personal fulfillment

The ending of the novel made me smile. It was unexpected yet realistic. One of those things that makes everything click into place so that you say, "that's so true and obvious. How did I not see that coming?"

3.5 Stars
"The Many Selves Of Katherine North" by Emma Geen
The Many Selves of Katherine North - Emma Geen

The premise of this book, teenage children working as "phenomenauts", researching the reality of being a fox or a whale, or an eagle, by projecting their consciousness into constructed versions of the creatures and experiencing their lives in the wild, is so original, that it took me a long time to see that the book is really about a strong but damaged teenager who is, literally, trying to find herself.

At nineteen, with seven years of working for ShenCorp, jumping into the minds and senses of other creatures behind her, Kit North is the world's most experienced phenomenaut.  She loves what she does. She needs to do it. It is fundamental to her sense of who she is.

Kit does not love ShenCorp and what they want to do with her abilities, The book opens with Kit hiding from ShenCorp in the streets and parks of Bristol, hungry, cold and alone. Most of the rest of the novel is spent flipping between that timeline and the events that led up to it.  This structure mislead me into thinking that the book is a thriller, but it isn't really, it's a personal journey into memory and identity being made by a vulnerable girl at the edge of her ability to hold herself together.

There was a lot to like about this book. The plot is original and well thought through. The descriptions of Kit's experience of being different animals, perceiving the world through their senses, being driven by their urges, having the joy of their ability to fly or swim or sing or hunt, are beautifully done.

The description of the difficulty of "coming home",  of being just human with all those memories of being yourself in other bodies, is subtle and effective.

The novel captures the corrosive anxiety of not knowing if you can depend on your own perceptions, of being unable to be certain of whether you're paranoid or whether you're being hunted, of whether your sense of self is fractured or simply expanded beyond most people's experience.

There are things in the novel that didn't work well for me. The ShenCorp bad guys are thinly drawn and unremittingly bad without any real explanation of why they behave that way.  The pace could have been tighter, especially if I read this with the expectation of it being a thriller. Sometimes the same facility for complex description that made the animal experiences vivid, clogged up the scenes that were there just to move the plot along.

The ending was well done if this is a book about a personal journey but a little anti-climatic if it's meant as a thriller.

This was an enjoyable read with an original premise but it got a little caught between thriller and personal journey, or, at least, my reading got stuck on that.

currently reading

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Less Than A Treason -  Dana Stabenow
The Girl Of Ink And Stars - Kiran Millwood Hargrave