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.

Review
3.5 Stars
"The Jane Austen Project" by Kathleen A Flynn
The Jane Austen Project - Kathleen A. Flynn

I found the premise of "The Jane Austen Project", time travelers from our future being sent back to 1815 to inveigle their way into an intimate acquaintance with Jane Austen with a view of diagnosing the disease that would kill her in 1817 and retrieving a copy of her unpublished novel "The Watsons", irresistible

 

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was much more than a good idea written up over a few hundred pages. "The Jane Austen Project" is well written, engaging and original.

 

The story is told from the point of view of Rachel, a physician with a history of working in disaster zones in her own time, who is passionate about meeting Jane and deeply curious about the disease that will end Jane's life.

 

Placing a strong, competent woman with a broad experience of the world and an expectation of being in charge of her own life into England in 1815 is a very effective way of highlighting the constraints placed on women at that time and the frustration and waste that they caused.

 

Rachel is a deeply imagined character that it is easy to become attached to. The future she comes from is tantalizingly different from today. That I wanted to know more about it and her life before the Jane Austen Project, is a sign of skill of the story teller. I was tantalized and intrigued. I came to realise that Rachel's past was as alien as the 1815 present the action takes place in.

 

I was surprised at how much tension I felt reading the book. I wanted to know what happened next. This wasn't an academic exercise or a passive homage to Jane Austen. It started as a difficult mission where failure could have disastrous consequences and became a personal and emotional journey for Rachel and those who's lives she touches.

 

Seeing the world of Jane Austen through the eyes of a woman from an unknown future but who has a detailed knowledge of Jane's life and works produced a kind of refraction of ideas and expectations that kept the novel fresh and made me think again about what I thought I knew of Jane Austen and her times.

 

Fans of Jane Austen will be fascinated by this book. People who only know Jane through various Mr Darcy movies will not feel left out but may find themselves intrigued. My interest in Jane Austen's books was revived to the extent that my next read will be "Persuasion", a Jane Austen novel that I've never read before. 

 

Saskia Maarleveld did a competent job as a narrator but I was distracted by her inability to pronounce place names like "Berkley Square" and "Basingstoke" correctly. You can hear her work on the soundcloud link below.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/317680906" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

 

kathleenflynn

 

This is Kathleen Flynn's debut novel, She's a copy editor at the New York Times. In this interview she discusses how the novel came about and what it was like for an editor to be edited.

 

I hope I see more work from her soon.

 

 

 

 

OFF TOPIC POST: The Hybrid Threats from Russia the British Press isn’t talking about but that NATO and the EU are already countering

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I’ve just started J. J. Patrick’s “Alternative War” in which, to quote the publisher,

“former police officer turned investigative journalist James Patrick tackles Russian interference in the UK’s Brexit referendum and the US election of President Donald Trump head-on, exposing the reality of the third world war in the face of fake news and sophisticated disinformation campaigns…

 

Alternative War exposes the depth and complexity of a hybrid world war and captures the methods used to profile and manipulate populations in order for Russia to emerge victorious. The book leads us to question everything about Western regulation and enforcement, setting accountability at the highest levels while empowering the people everywhere to help ensure the world is never taken by surprise again.

I’ve been following James Patrick on Twitter for some time and have seen him predict dismal events related to Trump and Brexit with depressing accuracy, so I decided to see what I’d learn when he has a whole book to explain things.

 

The first thing I learned is that NATO and the EU are already very much aware that they are engaged in a covert struggle with Russia and others. The Finns, who have a long history of dealing with Russian aggression, have taken the lead and this month, with backing from the EU, NATO and a dozen States (including the UK and the USA), have opened the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats in Helsinki.

 

The Hybrid CoE believes

We live in an era of hybrid influencing. There are state and non-state actors that are challenging countries and institutions they see as a threat, opponent or competitor to their interests and goals. The range of methods and activities is wide: influencing information; logistical weaknesses like energy supply pipelines; economic and trade-related blackmail; undermining international institutions by rendering rules ineffective; terrorism or increasing insecurity.

 

Hybrid threats are methods and activities that are targeted towards vulnerabilities of the opponent. Vulnerabilities can be created by historical memory, legislation, old practices, geostrategic factors, strong polarisation of society, technological disadvantages or ideological differences. If the interests and goals of the user of hybrid methods and activity are not achieved, the situation can escalate into hybrid warfare where the role of military and violence will increase significantly.

 

Hybrid tactics have been under discussion, in particular, since the conflict in Ukraine and the ISIL/Da’esh campaign in Iraq. Hybrid threats have a connection to both Eastern and Southern challenges. In order to meet the challenges, it is important to develop integrated national responses, including threat analysis, self-assessment of vulnerabilities and comprehensive security approach. An integrated international response – including EU and NATO efforts – is needed to support the assessment of threats and vulnerabilities as well as coordinated action.

What does this mean?

 

Imagine you were an ex-KGB leader of Russia, with a history of fierce enforcement of total power by any means necessary. Imagine you felt threatened by an ever-expanding NATO and an increasingly united and prosperous Europe supported by the United States who’s President had recently manipulated oil prices to bring your economy to its knees. How would you proceed?

 

In an age of Hybrid warfare, you might start by doing what you could to make your enemy weaker: undermine the authority of US President, push the US into isolationism, separate the UK from the rest of the EU, undermine the liberalism of the EU by using your military power in Syria to send wave after wave of refugees to Europe while sponsoring right-wing groups in France, The Netherlands, Hungary and Czech to incite anti-migrant hatred.

 

You would achieve these aims through using social media to spread disinformation and promote hatred. You might seek to influence elections by creating a bot army of supporters for those you think will spread division and by channelling funds to specific campaigns. Your campaign would be coordinated across countries but each country would believe they were facing a local issue, like Brexit or a Presidential election and would not see the threat. Individuals who started to understand what was going on would be labelled as conspiracy theorists, unpatriotic internationalists and would be pilloried on social media. The boundary-free nature of the Facebook and other social media platforms would mean that no one nation State could respond to the threat alone.

 

Scary isn’t it?

 

The EU thought so. In April 2016 they produced the “Joint framework on countering hybrid threats – a European Union response,” paper.  Now we have the Hyrid CoE  coordinating the fight back.

 

We also have EU Mythbusters who are dedicated to countering disinformation by providing piece like this one from the thinks tanks in Europe

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What surprises me is how little of this makes the news in the UK. I can see that the print media, owned by billionaires who are implicated in these hybrid attacks, would not want to publicise the fight but why am I not seeing articles on the BBC or Sky News?

 

Perhaps they think it’s too complicated to explain. Perhaps they think it’s not news. Whatever reason they give themselves, I’m sure the Kremlin is very happy with them.

"Alternative War": I've read 13%. - read this to understand Brexit and Trump as part of Russia's covert war on western democracy
Alternative War - J. Patrick Lewis

I've been following J J Patrick on Twitter for almost a year. He's a whistle-blowing ex-Scotland Yard Police Officer turned independent investigative journalist. This book brings together the evidence that shows how Russia is intervening in the west.

 

It's short. The ebook costs $4. It's worth a read.

Review
3.5 Stars
"Holding" by Graham Norton
Holding - Graham Norton

Normally,  my impression of an author is created by how they write and what they write about. With "Holding", the process was reversed. I've known Graham Norton firstly as a quirky, slightly risqué comedian, then as an often outrageous but always superficially charming chat show host and most recently, as the Irishman selected to step into the late Terry Wogan's shoes to make witty comments during the Eurovision Song Contest.

 

When I heard he'd written a novel and was narrating it himself, I expected something quirky, slightly risqué but superficially charming. "Holding" is none of those things.

 

"Holding" is a slightly mournful account of the uncovering of bad things that have happened in a remote Irish village.  The policeman at the centre of the action is a slightly slow, slightly overweight, slightly demotivated man, living a lonely life surrounded by people who see him as a joke in uniform.

 

The characters in the village are well drawn and the dialogue is nuanced and credible but I never really got beneath the skin of anyone but the policeman.The plot is well thought through but has all the tension of a crossword puzzle.

 

The claustrophobic atmosphere of a small village where people have known one another too well for too long is well rendered. There IS a lot of humour in it but it's mostly the kind that helps you survive what would otherwise have been an unbearable day and that is a brave alternative to tears.

 

This is an above average debut novel but one that didn't quite have enough emotional weight to be fully satisfying.

 

OFF TOPIC POST - Riding Death's Gravity Curve

deaths gravity curve

 

My death is one of the few things in my future that I can be completely certain of. There is no way out, no Plan B, no last minute rescue, just the absolute certainty of dying.

 

I don’t know what will happen to me when I die. I have to rely on belief. My belief is that I stop, that I cease to be, that there is nothing of me left to experience or remember or hope or act. I’m done. I recognise that this is a self-serving belief in that it gives me comfort. It frees me from the myths of Heaven and Hell and gifts me the right to be nothing at all.

 

I don’t know when or how I will die. I hope it won’t be soon. I hope it won’t cause me and those around me more pain than it has to. I hope I meet it well. I refuse to hope that it won’t happen.

 

When I’m faced with uncertainty, I turn to the numbers. I’m sixty now. If I make it to sixty-five then the stats say that, on average, I’ll be dead before I reach my eighty-fifth birthday. Given my family history and my own health, I’d expected to reduce this figure to slightly below average, so I’ll go with dying at eighty. Which gives me twenty years to live, the last ten of which are likely to be lived with reduced mobility, strength, health and stamina, making my next ten years the most productive that I have left.

 

I am fortunate to have enough money that, subject to the world’s economic system not collapsing, I could stop working now and not have to live my final years in grinding poverty.

 

The rational side of me, the part that has always felt the gravitational pull of my own death curving my personal spacetime continuum, had planned to stop working at the start of this year. I was going to go home, to focus on living well while I can, to slide down the gravity slope towards my death with as much grace as I can manage.

 

Yet, I’m still working.

 

I blame this on three things: momentum, inertia and a failure of my imagination.

 

Although I lack the math truly to understand physics, I’ve often found the metaphors it provides a useful way to view the world. I imagine my life as a complex but unified object that has increased in mass as the years passed. My life has a direction, a vector that charts my path through Minkowski space. As each year increase my mass, my inertia increases, making it harder to change the direction my momentum is carrying me in unless there is a dramatic increase in the “frame-dragging effect” of my own death like significant injury or illness. In other words, if I want the direction of life in my sixties to be different from life in my forties and fifties, I have to exert significant force on it.

This has proved to be difficult. I have discovered that my life does not come equipped with brakes. Like a runner on a treadmill, the life I lead requires me to keep up a certain pace or fall. It turns out that I’m not brave enough to let myself fall.

 

If I refuse to fall, then the only way for me to change course is to jump. This is where my imagination fails me. I cannot see the life I would jump to.

 

It seems to me now that I have two options, I need to find the time and the focus to imagine a life I can embrace or I need to leap in the dark.

 

I’d prefer not to leap in the dark unless I absolutely have to. I’d rather build a picture with enough force to change my path, quickly and irrevocably.

 

So, what do I want my life to be like?

 

I want to love and be loved. I want as much time with my wife as I can get. I want friends. I want to touch the lives of the people in the community I choose to live in.

I want to read and read and read and to write something others will want to read.

I want a simple rhythm to my life without falling under the tyranny of routine. I want to cook and eat and feed others. I want to walk. I want to feel the wind coming in off the sea, gloriously unstoppable and oblivious. I want to do something more than look after me and mine. I want to help without losing myself to the anger of politics or the despair of overwhelming service.

 

See what I mean? There’s nothing tangible there. It’s not wrong but it’s not real. There’s no ME in it.

 

I need to rid my imagination of the need for a narrative, for my life to have a design and a purpose and allow myself to just be. Sadly, that goes against years of habit.

 

Perhaps writing fiction will help. Sometimes it has proven to be the best way for me to listen to myself.

 

The clock is ticking. There are things to do and things to stop doing. I just need to figure out which is which quickly enough to make a difference to the last part of my ride.

Review
4 Stars
“A Legacy Of Spies” by John Le Carré – beautifully written, distinctly British story that challenges our current xenophobia
A Legacy of Spies: A Novel - John le Carré

A Legacy Of Spies" is John Le Carré's most recent novel and the first of his that I've read. Up to now, I'd been put off by the rather dreary and mournful versions of  George Smiley that I'd seen on TV. I picked up the latest book after listening to a Fresh Air interview with Le Carré that covered contemporary themes around ideology and patriotism that intrigued me.  You can listen to the podcast here

 

What surprised me most about the book 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 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.

 

Peter, the retired spy under investigation, is no longer the zealous young man who faced danger, put others at risk and sometimes acted against his conscience in the service of his country. He is a man who controls his emotions, edits not just his speech but his thoughts and has a deeply embedded habit of secrecy and distrust. Yet he is and was an honourable man. Far more honourable than the men currently interrogating him who are acting not to protect their country from foreign aggression but to protect the Service from embarrassing litigation.

 

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.

 

Of course, Russia is still our enemy and still seeks to weaken or destroy us but Europe is now strong and united and free from direct oppression. The message of the book seems to be that we have lost sight of our enemy's true nature,  have forgotten the struggle that brought us hard-won freedom, have become smug and complacent and have allowed our own selfish nationalism to be used by Russia as a weapon against the rest of Europe. Le Carré is never quite so direct as this but beneath the calm, apparently dispassionate text, I can feel his rage. It is a rage that I share.

 

"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.

 

Tom Hollander does a wonderful job of capturing every shade of meaning in the text. You can hear an extract of his performance by ciicking on the SoundCloud linke below.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/341291279" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

2017 Man Booker Prize Shortlist announced - I'm disappointed "Reservoir 13" didn't make it

Shortlist-Main.00_00_15_12.Still008

When the 2017 Man Booker Longlist was announced, I decided to read three of the books nominated: "Autumn" by Ali Smith which will be my next read, "History Of Wolves"  by Emily Firdlund which was very compelling and "Reservoir 13"  by Jon McGregor which is a remarkable and original book that immersed me in the eddies and flows of village life.

 

The first two made the Shortlist. Sadly "Reservoir 13" didn't. In some ways I can understand that. It took me a while to let go of my expectations and be carried along by the images and the relationships in the book but in the weeks that have followed, the "Reservoir 13"  has stayed with me, haunting my imagination, to the point where, having originally listened to the audiobook version, I've now bought the hardback because this is a book I know I'll want to hold on to.

 

Now I'll wait to see if either "Autumn" of "History Of Wolves" win this year's prize.

Review
4 Stars
"Drysine Legacy - Spiral Wars #2" by Joel Shepherd
Drysine Legacy - Joel Shepherd

"The Drysine Legacy" carries straight of from "Renegade" but manages to crank up the complexity and broaden the scope of the story to include even more aliens and to get deeper into the AI threat.

 

Like its predecessor, it's a long book but the pages fly by and the story never drags. I always wanted to know what would happen next.

 

I felt that this book was less character driven than the last one. The intricacies of the plot dominate the book and drive most of the action. Yet the characters DO continue to develop and their relationships shift in realistic ways.

 

The action scenes (and there are many of them) are outstanding: easy to visualise, massive in scale and very fast moving.

 

I particularly enjoyed getting to see various aliens in the story develop so that I understood more about their point of view and their motivation. In some ways, I found it easier to empathise with the aliens than I did to get inside the heads of the Marines.

 

The AI in the story is well imagined and avoids the clichés and simplifications that picture AIs as just big computers who are scarily smarter than us. This AI has a strong personality that is hard ignore and impossible to second guess. In some ways that's much scarier than Skynet. I found myself liking "her" and then realised that I had no way of knowing if I was just being conned. Which is exactly the dillema for the human crew.

 

This is well written space opera on a massibe scale that continues to deliver excitement and action as well as big ideas and intriguing characters.

Review
5 Stars
"Cold Granite - Logan McRae #1" by Stuart MacBride
Cold Granite - Stuart MacBride

I came across Stuart MacBride when he won "Celebrity Mastermind" a week or so ago.  The host asked Macbride what he did when his first novel, "Cold Granite",was so well received that his publishers asked him for the next novel in the series, even though he had no plan for one. MacBride replied, "Well, it was write another novel or carry on working in IT. So... here's another novel."

 

That was enough for me to get hold of an audio book copy of *Cold Granite"

 

Set 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.

 

It is straightforward crime fiction that delivers good entertainment and memorable characters.

 

Like MacBride's publishers, I'm demanding more. Fortunately, I'm twelve years late to this party so there are another nine books already in print.

 

"Cold Granite" is narrated with great skill by Steve Worsley. Click on the SoundCloud link below for a sample

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/323232771" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

 

Crazy Kindle pricing or how not to sell ebooks

check price

Here's how it normally works.

 

I browse book blogs and find something that I like.

 

I go to audible.com or amazon's kindle site and I buy it, usually for less than $10 (I have a 24 book membership with audible.)

 

I'm a self-confessed book junkie. I buy more books than I have time to read. I'm not hard to sell to.

 

Here's how it worked this time.

 

I read an article on Literary Hub, called "The Dark Side Of Office Life" that got me interested in Debbie Graber’s short story collection Kevin Kramer Starts on Monday .

It's 176 pages long, which is fine for a short story collection. I was ready to buy with one click.

 

Audible didn't have it so I went to Kindle.

 

Kindle asked me for $18.44... for a digital copy of a 176 page book.

 

Expecting an error, I checked more closely and saw Amazon would sell me the paperback for $9.92

 

In other words, Amazon want to charge me 85% MORE for the ebook than the paperback.

 

crazy kindle pricing

 

This is why I don't have a copy of "Kevin Kramer Starts On Monday".

 

What I don't understand is why on earth Amazon thinks this makes sense.

 

In May 2017 it was reported that sales of ebooks fell by 17% while physical book sales rose by 8%. All kinds of fancy reasons were given. I wonder how much is simply attributable to Amazon experimenting with how high they can push ebook prices.

 

I will NEVER pay more for an ebook than for the cheapest available new print copy.

OFF TOPIC POST - My first time in Krakow

Recently I’ve been working with a team of AI and automation developers based in Poland. They’re talented and friendly and quietly proud of their country. I’ve come to Krakow for a few days to work with them. It’s my first time in Poland.

 

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I came with the expectation of arriving in a very old European city. I’ve been to lots of  those and it seems to me, despite the architecture and the weight of history, they are what the current population makes of them.

 

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Krakow seems to have spirit and energy. The people are friendly, the food is good and the atmosphere is relaxed but not boring.

 

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My hotel is in a old palace, (think small scale Palazzo Vechio) and fronts on to the main market square. The square is large and old, pedestrianized and edged by restaurants. If this was Brussels, those restaurants would be like sharks circling their prey,  waiting to take a bite out of tourist wallets for very ordinary food. Here the restaurants offer good food, lots of choice, pleasant staff and a little respite from the day.

 

20170904_184110

Sadly, I’m here without my wife. She’d love this place and her enjoyment would amplify mine.

 

I’m reminded of an old Vodafone ad where a middle-aged business man is shown walking through the streets of Paris alone, talking to his wife, who is up a ladder painting the ceiling. He says to her, “Here I am in the one of the most romantic cities in the world and you’re hundreds of miles away”.

 

I’m sure they meant to send the message that mobile phones bring you closer. It’s true, in a way, yet they also remind me of how much I’m missing. You can’t hold hands on the phone. You can’t see a city for the first time together by phone. You can’t watch your wife smile and feel content.

 

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So, I’ll be coming back to Poland and next time, I won’t be alone.

"After The Apocalypse" by Maureen McHugh
After the Apocalypse - Maureen F. McHugh

After The Apocalypse" is a collection of nine short stories that look at events in different near-futures after a disaster of some kind.

 

As you'd expect with Maureen McHugh, the stories tell us as much about the world we live in as the possible future being described.

 

She has a flair for looking at the world through the eyes of the disadvantaged, the marginalized and the at risk and an impressive ability to build future worlds and believable characters using very few words. Almost every story describes a near-future that stimulates, surprises and convinces and populates it with characters that I recognize and care about.

 

If you're not familiar with Maureen McHugh's work, this is a good introduction. If you're already a fan then these stories are a treat not to be missed.

 

I've given short comments on each story below to give you a flavour of the collection. Some of them are available on line if you want to sample them but to get them all, you'll need to buy the book.

 

The Naturalist

This is dark, surprising and not at all your average zombie story. In this tale of a Zombie Preserve being used as a prison compound cum death-by-zombie execution sentence, the walking dead are not the thing you should be afraid of.  I enjoyed the way this story makes the Rational Observer, so beloved of many science fiction stories, into something quite chilling.

 

Special Economics

This near future story is set in a post-plague China, faced with a scarcity of workers for the first time. It describes a brand of Corporate Slavery that was once common in the US and is now rumoured to be used when the US outsources work to less regulated nations.  It appealed to me because it showed how ordinary people will find a way to overcome the economic obstacles in their way.

 

Useless Things

This is one of the simplest and most powerful stories in the book. It is permeated with a sense of threat, of the real possibility of imminent loss. It captures the quiet desperation of living a life on the edge of an unstoppable slide into poverty and homelessness; of wanting to help others but being afraid that they will do you harm; of having little control and less hope; of having enough to lose to cause worry but not enough wealth to buy security. It's the perfect tale for Trump's America.

 

The Lost Boy: A Reporter at Large

This one didn't engage me. It felt like an essay on disassociative states and what they imply about identity. It was interesting but it didn't hook my emotions.

 

The Kingdom of the Blind

This is the most plausible story about the possible emergence of an AI "awareness" that I've read. It's mercifully free of anthropomorphization. There are also so nice points made about women in the coding world that made me think of the recent Google embarrassment.

 

Going to France

This is the shortest story and the most bizarre. I felt its pull but it was just a little too far out for me.

 

Honeymoon

I loved the first line of this:

 

"I was an aggravated bride."

 

It got me straight inside the head of the woman telling the story. She's a forceful working class woman, who's been working in McDonald's plus two other jobs that paid for her wedding. At first, it seems that she's leading a relatively unexplored life but as the story progresses and she faces some abnormal events, it becomes clear that she is making informed, even philosophical choices because that's the kind of person she is.

 

The Effect of Centrifugal Forces

This is told from multiple points of view. Unfortunately, the narrator didn't demonstrate this very well and I got confused from time to time. It's focused on people under pressure who can't hold themselves or their lives together.

 

After the Apocalypse

This is the strongest story in the collection. It showcases Maureen McHugh's ability to help us see the people in the situation and then help us to see the situation differently.

We've been saturated with post-apocalyptic worlds where we revert to something less than we used to be in order to survive. We've been fed tropes about tough survivalists and ruthless raiders and the crumbling remnants of an order that doesn't know it's already extinct. It's like we're practising for something that we expect to happen soon so that we'll know what to expect and what choices to make.

 

We've been saturated with post-apocalyptic worlds where we revert to something less than we used to be in order to survive. We've been fed tropes about tough survivalists and ruthless raiders and the crumbling remnants of an order that doesn't know it's already extinct. It's like we're practising for something that we expect to happen soon so that we'll know what to expect and what choices to make.

 

The achievement of this short story is that it humanises the tropes we've been taught. It shows us that, in other parts of the world, the apocalypse has already arrived and that the flood of refugees we are so used to seeing on the media could one day be us.

 

The story is told from the point of view of a woman on the road with her daughter, heading through an America without electricity or fuel or clean water or food or any of the things that Americans take for granted.

 

As they travel, the woman slowly comes to realise that everything she knew is gone. That even though she's an American, she's now just another refugee. Then she decides what to do about it.

 

Her situation, her reactions and her final choice seemed very real to me. After the apocalypse, we're still there, only the future we assumed we were entitled to is missing. Dealing with that realisation would tell each of us a great deal about who we have always been.

 

Review
3.5 Stars
"Blood Gamble - Disrupted Magic #2" by Melissa F. Olson
Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic) - Melissa F. Olson

"Blood Gamble" continues the walking disaster that is Scarlet Bernard's life as a Null: a human who cancels out the magic of supernaturals in her presence, vampires and werewolves become human and witches' spell bounce off her.

 

This book takes Scarlet out of LA, where she is supported by people she trusts, and into Las Vegas, a city she has a bad history with and where she has to fall back on her own resources. She is made more vulnerable by the fact that her cover story for being in Las Vegas is to attend her sister-in-law's belated hen-party weekend. This gives her enemies potential targets. It also gives us the fun of her seeing her suffer through various girly rituals that she has no wish to take part in.

 

It was refreshing to see Scarlet in a new environment. I thought the tacky-but-hard-to-look-away-from nature of Vegas was captured well. The plot was original, held a few surprises, gave me a few laughs and made just enough (mostly remote) use of well-loved characters from earlier books to keep continuity.

 

Scarlet did a lot of growing up in the last book, "Midnight Curse", finally pulling herself out from her victim status and becoming an actor in her own right. She continues that here, for the most part, acting independently and often quite aggressively.  She is dragged into her past again by another Null that she met when she was a teenager and who she is sympathetic towards, despite his flaws because she sees that she could easily have become what he now is.

 

This is a well done, first person account, that works because Scarlet is a mostly ordinary, mostly nice person who keeps finding herself with life and death choices. What could be more engaging than that?

 

Read this if you're in the mood for an urban supernatural adventure that's heavy on snark and attitude that hides a heart of gold.

 

I recommend the audiobook version as Amy McFadden is the perfect narrator for Scarlet's books.

 

Try a sample for yourself by clicking on the link below.

 

https://soundcloud.com/brilliance-audio/blood-gamble-by-melissa-f-olson

 

The popularity of book festivals - readers sometimes do it together

20160908_144534_167559_bvn-locnbf-hero.pngI wish I was able to go to this but spending time on BL is the next best thing - and it's available all year.

 

See the article below on the popularity of book festivals.

 

The book is dead. Long live the book festival. http://wapo.st/2gp1VjL?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.45323a7a4bba

Review
4 Stars
"Less Than A Treason - Kate Shugak #21" by Dana Stabenow
Less Than A Treason -  Dana Stabenow

When I read “Bad Blood”, the twentieth book, almost two years ago, I thought the series was at an end and that I’d lost Kate Shugak and all the people around her that I’d come to know so well.

 

I was surprised at how strongly I felt the absence of these books over the past months. I missed Kate’s humanity, her indomitable spirit and the friendships that she’s made.

 

It’s been a long wait for book twenty-one, a book I wasn’t sure would ever be written.

 

I bought the ebook as soon as it came out and then left it languishing on my TBR pile because I realised that what I really wanted was to have Marguerite Gaven read it to me. Her voice and the voices she’s created for the main characters are a big part of how I experience Kate Shugak’s world. So, I waited for the audiobook version and then dived straight in.

 

Within half an hour, I felt like I’d come home. I KNOW these people and this place and I’d missed them. It wasn’t just that I wanted to know what had happened to Kate, I wanted to catch up with everyone.

 

I experienced this book as a gift from Dana Stabenow. Another chance to be with Kate and to hope that, this time, things might end well.

 

I won’t focus on the plot here, as that might spoil the book for anyone who hasn’t read it. I’ll just pick out the things that gave me pleasure.

 

Kate is mostly absent from the early part of the book. She has taken herself off, rather implausibly, and against medical advice, to recover from her injuries. Watching Jim adjust to this and decide what to do about it made me like him more than in previous books. The ageing of the Aunties and the decline of their power felt real and a little sad.

 

When Kate did return, I found her as hard to understand and as easy to like as ever. The way she let herself get caught up in a case on her first day back, her comfortable familiarity in navigating her way through death and violence and deceit, made it look as if I had the old Kate back but that was not entirely true. Kate had rebuilt herself but not quite in the same image. She feels the gap at her side, where Mutt should be. She’s aware that bullets don’t bounce off her. She’s unsure of what will happen when she meets Jim again. She now truly understands the folly of revenge.

 

The plot was interesting and brought some long-standing topics to a conclusion.  It was peppered with fun pop-culture references, some nods to the changing climate in Alaska as global warming starts to bite, a diatribe against the sins of the baby boomers – a generation who took but did not build – and disappointment at the dismal choices available in the Presidential election.

 

The ending of the book is a little heavy on wish fulfilment but I felt I DESERVED that after the grief the ending of the last book left me with.

 

If you’re a fan, this book will please you. If you’re not yet a fan, go back to “A Cold Day For Murder” and know that you have a splendid journey ahead of you.

Review
3 Stars
"Crimes Against A Book Club" by Kathy Cooperman
Crimes Against a Book Club - Kathy Cooperman

I have mixed feelings about "Crimes Against A Book Club".  It made me laugh. It made me like some of the characters. The plot is clever in a modern-day Restoration Comedy way. The women are strong and the men, particularly the old, arrogant, rich men, get what they deserve. Smart references are made to books I've read and enjoyed and everyone lives happily ever after.

So what's not to like?

The basic premise of the book, without giving too much away, is that two women who have child-related problems they lack the funds to address, set out to sell a bunch of rich, apparently superficial, women, over-priced face cream with a special, illegal ingredient.

Our two heroines are, by and large, nice people, one of whom is capable of being very charming. Yet, what they set out to do and how they do it, turns them into predators, abusing the trust of the women that they meet for personal gain.

This is never properly confronted. It is glossed over in a way that tainted the book for me.

In a way, this taint was strengthened when the author showed the rich women to be real people in desperate need of the friendship that our heroines only appear to be offering.

I thought the strongest parts of the book were the ones dealing with how the women in the Book Club reassessed their lives and got their acts together.

It's clear to me that, behind the slick humour, Kathy Cooperman has a good understanding of people and the things that make them betray or redeem themselves. I wish she'd made this the main focus of the book.

What I got was slick plotting and facile humour but the avoidance of real consequences.

This is a fun, light read if you don't let yourself think about it too much. Still, lot's of things can be fun if you don't think about them too much. It doesn't make them worthwhile.

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