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.

Reading progress update: I've read 38% but it feels like I've been doing this forever
The Longer Bodies - Gladys Mitchell

I'm eight (long, slow, did they really need to have that explained twice) chapters into this book and Mrs Bradley hasn't arrived yet. I hope she arrives soon or I'll lose the motivation to turn another electronic page.

 

Right now I'd re-title  "The Long Bodies" to "The Long Boredom". I think most of the main characters would agree with me.

Review
3.5 Stars
"Weeping - Fritillary Quilter #1" by Shelley Reuben - this could be called "How I grew up to be a claims adjuster and then solved a murder"
Weeping: A Fritillary Quilter Mystery (Fritillary Quilter Mysteries) - Shelly Reuben

"Weeping" is a peculiar novel, part murder mystery, part fire investigation manual, but mostly a, first person, let-me-tell-about-what-I-love-and-why, from a personable young woman, called Fritillary Quilter (named after a butterfly)  who goes from accidental arsonist at the age of eleven to fire investigator in her twenties and wants to share with you exactly why that happened, how she feels about it, what makes it exciting and how it's all odd but true.

 

Sorry for the long sentence but the book feels like one.

 

I thought "Weeping" was quiet fun, mainly because I like Fritillary (or Tilly for short) and found her enthusiasm for, well... almost everything, infectious.

 

The plot is respectably complex. The details on fire detection are an (entertaining) education but the success of the book lies on whether or not you like Fritillary. This is the story of who she is. The rest is incidental.

Well-behaved women rarely solve mysteries - competition for free historical crime books

Laurie R King has just tweeted a competition at Penguin Random House that may appeal to historicla  crime fans.

 

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Review
4 Stars
"Ancillary Mercy - Imperial Radch #3" by Ann Leckie
Ancillary Mercy - Ann Leckie

It's been some months now since I read "Ancillary Mercy". I held back from reviewing it, not because it wasn't good but because what made it good was so pervasive, so delicate and so intricately linked to the two preceding books, whose meaning it subtly modifies, that I didn't know where to start.

 

I'm writing this review now so that I can capture how it felt to read, "Ancillary Justice" and finish the Imperial Radch trilogy before I read Ann Leckie's latest book, "Provenance" which set in the same universe but with a very different focus.

 

Firstly, I was left with a real sense of progression and completeness that I always hope for in a trilogy but rarely get. This completeness comes not from the unravelling of a mystery or from an exponential growth of world-building but from somewhere much more interesting, the emotional growth of the main character.

 

There aren't many science fiction books I can make that kind of statement about, even fewer when the main character is an AI (although Joel Shepherd's last three books in the Cassandra Kresnove series also do this well).

 

The first book, "Ancillary Justice", Breq, an AI in a human body who was formerly the warship Justice of Toren, was alone, recovering from crippling betrayal and seeking vengeance. Even then, she seemed to me to be a better person than many of the humans she encountered.

 

In "Ancillary Sword", Breq has a command of a ship, an imperial mission and an opportunity to repay a debt of honour to the family of one Justice of Toren's officers. In that book, Breq has moved beyond simple vengeance to the consideration of just use of power and the nature of personhood. She is building relationships, administering justice and recreating herself into a person with a very different view of life than the one Justice of Toren had lived within.

 

What I liked most about "Ancillary Mercy" is that Breq not only completes the building of her new identity but, in doing so, she changes many of the people and AIs around her. Breq has replaced a hunger for revenge with something much more important, the need and ability to love and be loved. She wins the love and loyalty of her human crew. She prompts other Ships and Station AIs to consider their own personhood and desires and she brokers a the opportunity for a kind of peace.

 

I'm aware that this is not necessarily the explosive ending some people were looking for. I've seen the reviews that complain that too much time in this book is spent making tea.

 

Tea, in Breq's world, is an archetype of civilization. It is about thought, courtesy, respect, discipline, hospitality and refusal to have one's will drowned in the torrent of events. It is about making choices and exercising will. Tea is Breq's alternative to weapons of mass destruction and, in my view, shows that she has transformed herself from an intelligent military asset of the Empire into a person seeking freedom for herself and others.

 

If you don't find those ideas interesting, then this probably isn't the book for you.

 

There is, of course, more to the book than tea. There is brinkmanship, warfare, encounters with the disturbingly alien and clashes between cultures and classes that are as old as time. There is perfectly paced storytelling, that holds you in suspense but never tempts you to skip ahead and most of all there are many, many believable characters who make the story rich and credible.

 

I'm sure the Imperial Radch trilogy will become one of the classics of science fiction. I know I will read all of it again. But not until I've read "Provence" and anything else new that Ann Lecke publishes.

 

Ajoha Andoh's narration of all three books is perfect. Listen to the SoundCloud extract below to hear for yourself.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/244874811" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

 

Review
2.5 Stars
"Murder With Puffins - Meg Langslow #2" by Donna Andrews
Murder With Puffins - Donna Andrews

"Murder With Puffins" is an éclair of a book: light, sweet and quickly gone.

 

In the first book, "Murder With Peacocks",Meg Langslow stumbled into solving a murder while trying to organise a series of family weddings.

 

This time she has left the chaotic and overwhelming presence of her family behind and secretly headed out to a family cottage on a remote island off the coast of Maine to find some privacy and relaxation with new boyfriend.

 

Her plans are frustrated by a hurricane, the unexpected arrival of most of her family. and the murder of local artist, in which various members of her family are prime suspects.

 

The word "zany" comes to mind as does the phrase "trying too hard".

 

There are some funny moments in the book but not so many. If you like farce, puns, gentle, non-threatening murder mysteries, served up with local colour and lots of Puffin jokes, then this is the book for you.

 

Although this was a smile, I don't think I'll be reading the remaining eighteen Meg Langslow books (Although it's hard to resist a book called "The Penguin Who Knew Too Much").

 

The Crow Girl (Victoria Bergmans svaghet #1-3)
The Crow Girl - Erik Axl Sund, Håkan Axlander Sundquist, Jerker Eriksson

I haven't rated this book because I've abandoned it three hours in to a thirty hour book.

 

The writing is excellent. The characterisation is subtle and clear. The sense of doom is all pervasive. I just couldn't cope with the subject matter.

 

Three hours of contemplating the rationale for, mechanics of and damage inflicted by child abuse was as much as I could stomach. Another twenty-seven hours of it was inconceivable.

 

If you have a stronger stomach than I do, I'm sure you'll find this to be a compelling read with three strong but flawed woman as the main characters.

Review
1.5 Stars
“The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries” by Gladys Mitchel – BBC Full Cast Dramatisation
The Mrs Bradley Mysteries (Classic Radio Crime) - Mary Winbush, Gladys Mitchell, Leslie Phillips, Full Cast

Good reviews on BookLikes convinced me to try out Gladys Mitchell’s rather unique take on the female upper-class sleuth. I’m one of those folks who feels obliged to start such things from the beginning, so I went in search of an audiobook version of the first book “Speedy Death”.

 

I could only find a BBC dramatisation that  presents “Speedy Death” and “The Mystery of the Butcher’s Shop” in a condensed version that accords only ninety minutes to each.

 

“Speedy Death” is presented at pace worthy of the title. The overall feel is that of a pantomime intended for adult consumption. The cast is competent. The production standards are smooth but perhaps a bit too tongue-in-cheek. It seems to me that the dramatisation is cosy almost to the point of being self-mocking whereas the themes in the book : murder, extra-judicial execution, transgender living, lesbian attraction, abusive men and a self-possessed, manipulative older woman would have been quite shocking when the book was published in 1929.  Gladys Mitchell seems to be playing Quentin Tarrantino to Agatha Christie’s more conventional Cohen Brothers but the BBC have turned her efforts into something close to a farce.

 

“Speedy Death” is populated by damaged, privileged people who seem to have no understanding of just how broken they all are. Mrs Bradley, our heroine is a high-functioning sociopath, strong on insight and short on empathy, who stalks ruthlessly and gleefully through the pack of upper-class walking-wounded, mentally vivisecting them with accuracy and obvious, almost manic, pleasure.

 

I finished the dramatisation “Speedy Death” feeling thatI’d been shown the pop-up book version of what might well be a fascinating novel.

 

Things got worse when I reached “The Mystery Of A Butcher’s Shop”. The main murder committed here seems to be by the BBC who effectively killed this novel by slap-dash attempts at humour and a script so clumsy as to be negligent. They added insult to injury by inflicting “Them Bones, Them Bones, Them Dry Bones” as a chorus sung at random intervals.

 

I suspect that this novel never had a particular strong constitution as it leans too heavily on the sensational supported by the improbable but the BBC have managed completely to drain it of any life it once had.

 

I’m interested in reading Gladys Mitchell but I’ll stick to her text in future.

Review
3.5 Stars
"Dying Light - Logan McRae #2" by Stuart MacBride - grim, violent crime in Aberdeen
Dying Light  - Stuart MacBride

I didn't enjoy "Dying Light" as much as its predecessor  "Cold Granite", the first in this series.

 

The same cast of characters were there as before but now DS Logan McRae has been allocated to the Fuck Up Squad after an officer ended up in a coma during a drugs raid that he lead.

 

I enjoyed the humour and the tension that comes from the orderly McRae having to deal with his chaotic, despotic but strangely charismatic boss in the Fuck Up Squad. The local feel of the book remained strong and the depiction of bored police officers playing "If you had to or die" or "Spit or swallow" while on endless stakeouts seemed credible.

 

The plot was as twisted as in the first book but the sense of compassion and loss was not as strong. I was also put off by the maiming of one of the main characters by a gangster hard man. I recognise that this kind of thing is realistic but the detail in which it was described and the lack of empathy demonstrated by McRae and others left a bad taste.

 

I will continue with this series because it's well written and has strong characters but I'm hoping for something beyond twisted plot and escalating violence in the next book.

 

Kenny Blythe does a great job as the narrator. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear him do his stuff.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/328181286" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

Review
4 Stars
"Iron Kissed - Mercy Thompson #3" by Patricia Briggs
Iron Kissed - Patricia Briggs

"Iron Kissed" stepped this series up from good urban fantasy with a likeable, strong heroine and a satisfyingly complex supernatural world, to something that really gets face to face with abusive power and what it does.

 

In less than three hundred pages, Patricia Briggs managed to move from a fairly conventional (by Urban Fantasy standards) who dunnit, with Mercy trying to prove that her mentor did not murder seven fae on the local reservation, into a book that is really about what men and women do with power.

 

Mercy is brave and loyal and smart but she's not powerful and she doesn't have any magical healing ability. If Mercy gets hurt, she stays hurt.

 

Mercy grew up surrounded by male werewolves with an impulse for violence and the physical power to tear her apart. She survived by learning not to draw attention to herself. That's not an option for her any more. The two earlier books gained her the attention of the local werewolf pack and the local nest of vampires. In this book she is dragged into the affairs of the fae.

 

It is Mercy's vulnerability that makes her courage remarkable. When she stands up to those more powerful than her, with no ability to protect herself from the consequences, it means something.

 

The first part of the book expands our understanding of the fae, a not at all human set of people who will always put their security above the lives of the humans around them. Mercy negotiates a route through their threats where she can and initially this seems like another urban fantasy book where clever humans can outwit the monsters. Then Mercy is cornered by something powerful that wants to kill her and that she cannot fight or outrun.  Her only option is to seek protection. What I liked about this was her reaction: fear, not wise-cracking arrogance; guilt for putting others in danger, not a "hah, trapped you" joy; an understanding that, if things continue as they are, one of the many monsters she is surrounded by WILL kill her.

 

In the second part of the book, things get darker. Much darker. Mercy comes to understand that not all monsters are supernatural. She falls prey to one of them who hurts her, diminishes her and takes her to the brink of self-abnegation.

 

This was not easy reading. We'd left fantasy far behind and become entangle in the worst things we do to each other.

 

Mercy's reaction and the reaction of the people around her, made me cry.  I wanted to cheer but crying got the better of me.

 

The novel avoids a soft, pain free, happy ever after ending. Damage is not so easily undone but, it turns out, hope is not so easily extinguished.

 

I'm hooked now. If this standard of writing continues, I'll be with this series until the end.

 

"Whose Body?" Dorothy L Sayers - DNF - poor narration
Whose Body? - Dorothy L. Sayers

This hit my DNF pile in record time because the narrator mangled the wit in the text with poor timing and zero sympathy with the spirit of the book.

This one goes back to audible and I'll try again with an ebook.

Review
3.5 Stars
"Strange Magic - Essex Witches #1" by Syd Moore -odd but fun
Strange Magic - Syd Moore

In "Strange Magic" Rosie Strange inherits the Essex Witch Museum from her estranged grandfather and finds herself pulled into skullduggery involving violent occult practitioners, a race against time to save a young boy's life and a gruesome treasure hunt.

 

This is a light, fast, often funny read that draws much of its humor and most of its originality from the fact that Rosie Strange is an Essex Girl from generations of Essex Girls.

 

Essex Girls were invented in the UK in the 1980s, a decade when much humor on television was thinly disguised misogyny and racism presented with an "only joking, luv" passive aggressive veneer. The basic premise was that Essex girls were dumb, blonde, working class and promiscuous and therefore deserved to be treated with disdain and abuse in the name of wholesome fun. This stereotype and even some of the alleged jokes survive to the present day.

 

Syd Moore gives Rosie the working class background and estuary accent of the Essex girl. She also makes her smart, independent, irreverent, stubborn, curious,  sexually confident and brave. It becomes clear that Rosie is an archetype of generations of strong women from Essex and that those women explain the disproportionately large number of witches murdered in Essex during the various purges.

 

"Strange Magic" is gentle fun, easy on the ear but with a grit beneath the surface that lifts it into something distinctive.

 

I recommend the audiobook version because accents are an important part of the characterization. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear an example.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/340842100" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

In the interview below, Syd Moore talks about the Essex Girl stereotype, its impact and how it got her started on writing this series.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LM-v0KhYa8Y?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

 

Off Topic Post: "Nazis. I hate these guys". It's not amusing any more

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When I went to see "Indiana Jone and the Last Crusade", back in 1989 and heard Indy spit out the words "Nazis. I hate these guys." the Nazis had almost become figures of fun, caricatures of themselves, still hateful but not a threat.They were locked firmly in our past, to be puzzled over as an anomaly, reviled as a source of evil but never to be encountered again.

 

Twenty-eight years later, things have changed. If I ever wondered how Germany sleep-walked from being a Western Democracy into being a Totalitarian state, led by a man prone to rant and rage, call the press liars, attack judges and pour down abuse on minorities, I have only to look across the Atlantic at Trump's America to see how it happens. Nazis are no longer safely in our past. They're here among us and their power and their confidence is growing.

 

munichI've just started reading Robert Harris' latest novel, "Munich". A few days before, I watched the idiot Trump smugly tell the world that we are in "the calm before the storm", grinning as he hinted at a military action that could tumble us all into a nuclear war. I found myself thinking, "He's surrounded by Generals. Doesn't one of them have the courage to stop this man, who is such a threat to humanity? One bullet would do it."

 

"Munich", explores that thought and the emotion behind it, only substituting Hitler in 1938 for Trump in 2017.

 

I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with it.

 

I hope the generals keep Trump away from the nuclear codes for long enough for me to finish it.

My Best Reads, Best New Finds, Best New Series and Biggest Disappointment in July, August and September 2017

2017q3I felt in need of a bit more stimulation this quarter so I  spiced my normal diet of urban fantasy, crime and science fiction with some mainstream reading, partly driven by this year's Mann Booker Prize Longlist. On impulse, I also added British spy fiction to the mix with surprisingly pleasing results.

 

My staple genre diet was also very rewarding with the long-awaited twenty-first Kate Shugak novel "Less Than A Treason", a strong Scarlett Bernard story in "Blood Gamble" , one of the best Angel Crawford books, "White Trash Zombie Unchained" and a short but entertaining new Peter Grant story in "The Furthest Station".

 

It was such a good three months that it was more difficult than usual to select the best and most disappointing of the twenty-six books I've read but here they are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best  Mainstream Reads of the Quarter

Normally I'd just pick one best read here but this quarter's offerings were so strong, I indulged myself with three remarkable books.

 

jon_mcgregor_front_cover"Reservoir 13" by Jon McGregor as my favourite of the three books I read from the 2017 Mann Booker Prize Longlist although it didn't make the Shortlist-

 

It shows how life is lived in a village over thirteen years, season by season, giving a .surface view of all the things that people in a small village know about each other: the gossip, the constant observation of each other's acts and the things they don’t say or don’t ask. I came to understand how the politeness of being indirect grants dignity and privacy while still offering the possibility of sharing the things you cannot bear alone.

 

The people in the village are following the same tidal flows as the wildlife around them and, just as I learned about the courtship of badgers in the woods, I was shown that most human mating rituals are led by women and conducted through body language and eye contact more than words.

 

The missing girl is not the centre of the book but rather something that distorts the flow of village life without adding to it, She is like a waterlogged piece of driftwood that only occasionally surfaces but is always there, disturbing the peace of the water.

 

“Reservoir 13” has a distinct voice and an unusual structure that did, eventually, imprint the village on my imagination and made me reluctant to leave. The narrative doesn’t thrust, it shapes your perception of people and events with gentle persistence, like a stream eroding one bank and building up another. It has stayed with me in the weeks since I read it and grown richer in my memory like a place visited and fondly remembered.

 

The wolf border

"The Wolf Border"  has a strong plot that deals with politics and class and the struggle between the wild and the civilized. On that level alone it would be compelling but what sets it apart is Sarah Hall’s muscular writing and her unflinching insights into people.

 

The language is sometimes beautiful, sometimes brutal, always precise. The people are complex and real. The book is filled with sex, death, science, addiction, grief, motherhood and many varieties of love and distaste.

The sex is described with an honesty that is so unusual it is almost shocking. The raw pain and anger that death produces in those who are forced to watch it and survive it are graphically evoked. The overwhelming experiences of pregnancy and early motherhood are embraced without being romanticised.

 

One the themes of this book is rewilding, the untaming of our countryside by returning to it predators that we have long since exterminated. Rachel Caine is working towards this and,

“…would like to believe there will be a place again where the street lights end and wilderness begins: the wolf border.”

Rachel walks this border throughout the book, sometimes seeing herself and those around her primarily as animals dominating their territory but still driven by basic needs and urges, sometimes feeling the pull to retreat from that wilderness into a safer world where she can protect the family and friends that she loves.

 

idaho"Idaho" by Emily Ruskovich deserves a much larger audience than it seems to have achieved. Each chapter is a work of art. Emily Ruskovich can write in a way that makes you fully aware of how a particular person is experiencing something that is vivid and immediate but also ladened with context and possibility.

 

It is an intense, absorbing experience that speaks to my senses and my emotions but, by itself, does not satisfy my need for a narrative leading to some form of release.

 

The nonlinear nature of this narrative, the emphasis on moments of being and intense but bounded insights into a person, meant that reading “Idaho” felt more like experiencing other people’s lives than it did reading a novel with a beginning, a middle and an end. I was given lots of hard, emotionally taxing questions but I was offered only the inference of answers, much as I am in real life.

 

There is a narrative. It is triggered by an act of violence that changes the lives of almost all of the characters in the book. Revealing this narrative in a non-linear way is not done to enhance the tension or to build to a great reveal, but to show that we are not the events that we live through. They can harm us or help us but the self we bring to each moment is what shapes the outcome of an event.

 

Best New Finds of the Quarter

a legacy of spies"A Legacy of Spies" was my first John Le Carré novel and my biggest surprise of the quarter.

 

What surprised me most was how beautiful the language is. Le Carré writes with clarity and precision, capturing nuances of speech, thought and culture with deft touches that are evocative without being obtrusive. He moves skillfully from past to present, from lie to truth, from regret to rage, in a way that fully engaged my mind and my emotions.

 

The premise of the book is a present-day investigation into British security operations during the Cold War. It is told through contemporary interrogations by a rather loathsome lawyer, extracts from official, secret but not necessarily truthful records and intensely intimate memories of Peter, the retired spy from whose point of view the story is told.

 

This is a strong spy story, full of intrigue and deception and betrayal but those are really just the vehicle for the true heart of the novel, which seems to me to be an exploration of the nature of patriotism and the inability and unwillingness of the current generation to understand the context of the actions of the previous generation.

 

As I shared Peter's memories and experiences, his secrets and his regrets, I was reminded of a time when Russia was our overt enemy, holding half of Europe in its totalitarian fist and threatening the other half with conquest or extinction. Patriotism then was a matter of survival not nostalgic flag waving.

 

"A Legacy Of Spies" is not a polemic disguised as a novel, It is fundamentally a very human story of love and sacrifice and deception and regret and most of all, of endurance.

 

Ms Bixby's last day"Ms. Bixby's Last Day"  by  John David Anderson wins my nomination for "book that would make a classic movie"

My blurb for the book would say:

“Read this book. It’s wonderfully written, perfectly structured and shares the lives. problems, passions and fears of three young boys in a way that feels real and true without ever getting schmaltzy or maudlin.”

 

The book is told as three first-person accounts, with each boy getting a chapter in turn. The pace of both plot and character development are perfect. There is a quest structure that is amusing and exciting and sad in turns but never leaves the real world behind.

 

At the centre of the book are three very different boys who each have a particular take on friendship, a teacher they all love but who is neither a saint nor a superhero and their mission to provide her with a perfect last day.

 

What I liked most about the book was the way the character of each boy was slowly built up through a series of interlocking events and insights that deepened my experience as the book progressed.

 

I strongly recommend the audiobook version of “Ms. Bixby’s Last Day”. Each of the boys has their own narrator, which emphasises their individuality. The performances are pretty close to perfect.

 

Best New Series of the Quarter

 

Cold GraniteSet in the perpetually rain-drenched granite streets of Aberdeen, “Cold Granite” tells the story of DS Logan “Lazarus” McRae’s return to work after a long sick leave recovering from a knife attack. On his first day back he ends up investigating the death of a young child.

 

What follows is a very Scottish police procedural, crammed with local colour, larger than life characters, raucous humour and unflinching descriptions of death, decay and violence.

 

The pace is perfect. The relationships inside the police force and between the police officers and the press felt very real. There are plenty of credible suspects, a twisted trail of crimes and criminals and, at the heart of it all, a young DS still learning his trade. McRae works hard, is not yet comfortable with his rank, occasionally screws up but mostly spends his energy doggedly pulling together the pieces of the puzzle that can lead him to the murderer.

.

Slow-Horses“Slow Horses” is a (very) British spy thriller, set in contemporary London, in the post 7/7 bombing world of domestic anti-terrorism.

 

The slow horses of the title are security service people who have messed up and have been cut out of the herd of thoroughbreds with whom they’ve demonstrated they can’t keep up. Their punishment is being sent to work at Slough House where they are given pointless routine work that is meant to demoralize them to the point where they will resign and save the Service the trouble of firing them.

 

Slough House is run as a fiefdom by Jackson Lamb, a mercurial despot with a reputation as a dangerous field agent. Discovering why he is there and what he wants is one of the mysteries of the book. His staff are a mixed bunch but it soon becomes clear that some of them are not what they seem. In the world that these folks inhabit, little is what it seems.

 

The plot revolves around the abduction and threatened execution of a boy of Pakistani descent by a group of right-wing nationalist extremists. This takes us into BNP, EDL deluded English Nazis.  The plot is cunning without ever becoming Byzantine. The storytelling keeps the tension cranked up and throws in lots of surprises. The characters and how they interact with each other are credible and compelling. This is Le Carré for the modern day, with a faster pace and a new set of issues.

 

“Slow Horses” is a good thriller made exceptional by the plausibility of the people and the situations. It seems like an insider’s view. As one of the retired Service guys says of Le Carré in this book, “Just because it’s made up doesn’t mean it’s not true".

 

Biggest Disappointment of the Quarter

in the guise of another

“The Guise Of Another” was a very disappointing read. It was a book I persevered with rather than savoured.

 

It started as a fairly conventional police procedural novel, albeit with the original premise of finding that the victim of a fatal car accident had been living “in the guise of another”. The police procedural part lasted for a (very slow) first hour or so and then the book took a left turn into thriller land.

 

The idea was interesting but the characters were so clichéd I’m sure you’ll have met them before. Imagine a gone-to-seed, corrupt, American arms dealer, running a decades-long scam on the Department of Defense. Then add the stone-cold killer from Serbia who acts as his muscle. Got a clear picture of both of them? Not hard is it? Not that interesting either, sadly.

 

The plot devices are clever. The action scenes are engaging. The pacing is often a little off. The characters read like a first draft rather than real people. The language and the imagery are functional and pedestrian.

 

Apart from the satisfaction of solving the puzzle and seeing if any of the good guys manage to survive, I really didn’t care about the events in this book or the people they were happening to.

 

What made this so disappointing is that I bought “The Guise Of Another” because I fell in love with Eskens’ first novel, “The Life We Bury”, which was a beautifully written thriller with well-rounded characters

Review
5 Stars
"The Wolf Border" by Sarah Hall
The Wolf Border - Sarah Hall

At the start of "The Wolf Border", Rachel Cain, an English zoologist, is living a stable, semi-wild, almost solitary life working on the grey wolf recovery program in the Nez Perce National Historical Park in Idaho. The book, told from Rachel's point of view, covers a period where her life changes fundamentally as she returns to her native English Lake District to work for an eccentric Earl, reconnects with her estranged family, deals with being pregnant and leads a project to reintroduce grey wolves to the North of England.

 

The book has a strong plot that deals with politics and class and the struggle between the wild and the civilized. On that level alone it would be compelling but what sets it apart is Sarah Hall's muscular writing and her unflinching insights into people.

 

The language is sometimes beautiful, sometimes brutal, always precise. The people are complex and real. The book is filled with sex, death, science, addiction, grief, motherhood and many varieties of love and distaste. The sex is described with an honesty that is so unusual it is almost shocking. The raw pain and anger that death produces in those who are forced to watch it and survive it are graphically evoked. The overwhelming experiences of pregnancy and early motherhood are embraced without being romanticised.

 

One the themes of this book is rewilding, the untaming of our countryside by returning to it predators that we have long since exterminated. Rachel Caine is working towards this and,

"...would like to believe there will be a place again where the street lights end and wilderness begins: the wolf border."

Rachel walks this border throughout the book, sometimes seeing herself and those around her primarily as animals dominating their territory but still driven by basic needs and urges, sometimes feeling the pull to retreat from that wilderness into a safer world where she can protect the family and friends that she loves.

 

Rachel stumbles into motherhood through accident and hesitation. Its effect on her is transformative. It changes who she is, not just by making her into someone who would give her life for her child but by making her understand that her new-found vulnerability is also the key to seeing herself and the world clearly. She tells herself

"The only wound is life recklessly creating it knowing it will never be safe it will never last it will only ever be real."

One of the things that I enjoyed about this book was the way in which the Earl and his daughter were portrayed. It perfectly captured the charm and the power of this class and made my hackles rise in self-defense far more than encountering any wolf would.

 

Loobrealeyheadshot

I recommend the audiobook edition, narrated by Louise Brealey who has the perfect pace and the slightly hard-edged delivery needed for "The Wolf Border".

 

Sarah Hall interviews well. She's frank, articulate and doesn't conform to the traditional "book plug" format.

 

If you'd like to hear her views on "The Wolf Border", take a look at the interviews below in The Guardian and The Independent.

 

 

sarah hallInterview in The Guardian 

The books interview: the author of The Electric Michelangelo talks about her new book, The Wolf Border, how motherhood has affected her work and why avoiding politics in fiction is juvenile.

 

 

 

 

5809511One Minute Interview in The Independent

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review
1.5 Stars
"White Silence" Jodi Taylor - DNF
White Silence - Jodi Taylor

I bought"White Silence" as soon as it came out last month because it has a beautiful cover, is written by Jodi Taylor, whose "St. Mary's" series has given me a great deal of pleasure and is described by the publisher as:

 

The first instalment in the new, gripping supernatural thriller series
and as:

"a twisty supernatural thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat"

 

Well, I'm twelve chapters and four hours into this ten-hour audiobook and I have yet to experience anything like tension. I'm having difficulty maintaining more than mild curiosity so I'm giving up and reluctantly adding "White Silence" to my Did Not Finish pile.

 

The premise of "White Silence" is intriguing. It tells the story of Elizabeth Cage, an adopted child with the ability to see people so clearly that she knows their character, intent and inclinations on sight. Trained from childhood to hide her powers, she seeks out a quiet life with a quiet man, only to be manoeuvred into the hands of unscrupulous people who want to use her powers for evil.

 

Sounds like stirring stuff in a sort of Superman meets Sixth Sense meets Medium kind of way. Except it isn't. The pace is agonisingly slow. Elizabeth Cage has so little personality that I struggled to care what happened to her and the England of the story seems to be trapped somewhere in an idealised 1950s.

 

Maybe all the good stuff happens in the last 60% of the book and I'm missing out by walking away but life is short and other books are calling to me, so I'll take that chance.

Review
4 Stars
"White Trash Zombie Unchained - White Trash Zombie #6" by Diana Rowland - things go right for Angel
White Trash Zombie Unchained - Diana Rowland

"White Trash Zombie Unchained" is the most fun I've had with Angel Crawford since the first book in the series.

 

How could I not like a book that has Angel Crawford AND zombie alligators in it?

 

Some of the recent Angel books have been dark, as Angel came to terms with her own nature and her new status as a person that needs to eat brains and who LOVES their smell, especially when fresh.

 

"White Trash Zombie Unchained" manages to lift the mood while still embracing and enriching the world-building from the previous novels.

 

Angel comes into her own in this book, showing leadership, taking good decisions and still remaining someone who will rescue frogs from certain death.

 

The book is packed with wit, humor, action and its own distinctive brand of strangeness. The plot stands up on its own, resolves some points from previous books and opens up some intriguing new possibilities. What more could I ask?

 

The book is perhaps a little wish-fulfillment heavy, but hell, I enjoyed it and Angel certainly deserves it.

 

Read this one with a grin on your face. I recommend the audiobook version because, for me, Alison McLemore IS Angel Crawford and she does a wonderful job with this book.

 

I was originally drawn to this series by the striking cover art. Take a look at the pictures below to see how this book cover evolved.

wtzu

 

currently reading

Progress: 64%
Progress: 31%
Progress: 4%
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore: A Novel - Matthew J. Sullivan
The Gaslight Dogs - Karin Lowachee
Provenance - Ann Leckie