Mike Finn - Audio Book Junkie

Mike Finn - Audio Book Junkie

My name is Mike Finn and I'm an Audio Book Addict.

I'm here to share my experience of the books I listen to.

Reading progress update: I've read 20%. Flavia is on top form
Speaking from Among the Bones - Alan Bradley

The first dead body has already been found but I have the feeling that there are more to come.


Favourite Flavia quotes so far 


The opening sentences:


"Blood dripped from the neck of the severed head and fell in a drizzle of red raindrops, clotting into a ruby pool upon the black and white tiles. The face wore a grimace of surprise, as if the man died in the middle of a scream."


Then a burst of joy at the start of chapter three:


"It was one of those glorious days in March when the air was so fresh that you worshipped every whiff of it; that each breath of the intoxicating stuff created new universes in your lungs and brain you were certain were about to explode with sheer joy; one of those blustery days of scudding clouds and piddling showers and gum boots and wind-blown brollies that made you know you were truly alive."


And finally, some reflections while feeling slighted by her sister:


"Whenever I'm a little blue I think about cyanide, whose colour so perfectly reflects my mood."



Calling "Spellbound" gives me my fifth bingo

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My last two books for Halloween Bingo
Z For Zachariah - Robert C. O'Brien Speaking from Among the Bones - Alan Bradley

I have to more books left to complete my Halloween Bingo card and, in my usual undisciplined way, I've changed both of them.


I've abandoned "The Last Children Of Tokyo" for my Doomsday square as it had become a chore rather than a pleasure and gone back to my original choice of "Z For Zachariah". I've listened to less than an hour and I'm already hooked by the story of the competent, cautious and deeply isolated girl.


I never got to start "Smart" for my Baker Street Irregulars square. My eyes aren't working so well just now and a printed text is harder work than I want. So I've started m fifth visit with young Flavia De Luce and I'm already 20% in and smiling.

1.5 Stars
"What Haunts Me - Ghost Killers #1" by Margaret Millmore
What Haunts Me - Ghost Killer 1 - Margaret A. Millmore

"What Haunts Me" has an original and fascinating premise. Thirty-three-year-old George Sinclair, a realtor in San Francisco, on recovering from a bout of flu, discovers three things: he can see ghosts who haunt people and make them sick, he can "kill" the ghosts by stabbing them, and the haunted person returns to health when their ghost is killed. 

I settled down to see what Margaret Millmore would do with this.


"What Haunts Me" is told as a  first-person account in which the narrator, George, addresses the reader directly, saying things like:

"Before we go on, I should tell you a little about me so you know who I am... or was, to be more precise."

This style reminded me of early twentieth-century ghost stories, with their intimate formality, treating the reader as a confidante and companion on the narrative journey.

As I got a few chapters in, I experienced an increasing gap between the language used to tell the story and the character of the narrator telling it. 


The narrator is in his thirties. He'a native of Los Angeles County, a graduate of UC San Diego and has lived and worked in San Francisco for long enough to save to buy his own place, yet the language  he uses to describe the people around him seems a better fit for a well-brought-up lady in the early twentieth century than the man he's supposed to be. Here's an example of George describing to us what he sees when he enters a bar:

"A few older gentlemen were perched on the bar stools chatting with the bartender, and a couple of younger guys on the other side of the large room playing pool.?

What thirty-something man describes guys drinking in a bar as "a few older gentlemen"?

Then there's a point where he meets up with the most likely love-interest and we get this:

"I only had on my wrinkled khakis from the night before, and suddenly felt conscious of my naked upper body. Don't get me wrong, I was a strapping young man, and thought I looked pretty good shirtless. But I could actually feel her staring and it wasn’t a pleasant sensation."

We know George has been working too hard to have a girlfriend but I hadn't assumed he was a thirty.three-year-old virgin. Even if he was, what man describes himself as a"strapping young man"? 


I kept forgetting George was male and picturing a slightly awkward woman as the main character.


I carried on with the book because I wanted to know what happened.  The plot was quite good. There were long-held family secrets, scary bad guys, shadowy organisations and some very threatening demons.


Unfortunately, there was also a lot of, sometimes painfully slow, info-dumping and very little action, unless you count eating and drinking while people drip-feed George the truth about what's going on.


There is a big battle at the end, which was quite well set up but which lacked the tension and the thrill/panic of being involved in a life and death struggle against the odds.


There wasn't enough here for me to continue on to the second book in the series.

My fourth bingo

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genre horro Mike Finn Halloween Bingo Card-021What Haunts Me

I've just finished "What Haunts Me".


The best thing about it was that it completed "Genre Horror", a square that had already been called, giving me my fourth Bingo.

Reading progress update: I've read 58%. - how frustrating
What Haunts Me - Ghost Killer 1 - Margaret A. Millmore

I'm reading "What Haunts Me" for the Genre Horror square, which will give me my fourth bingo.


It should be a fun experience because the story is original and interesting but it turns out that 'what haunts me' about this book is how poorly it's written.


It's set in contemporary San Fransisco with the main character as a thirty-something male but the way the main character describes the people around them seems to be from a different time and doesn't seem like the way a man would think.


Here's an example:


"A few older gentlemen were perched on the bar stools chatting with the bartender, and a couple of younger guys on the other side of the large room playing pool."


Set aside the apparently missing word (which reflect the poor proof-reading throughout). What thirty-something man describes guys drinking in a bar as "a few older gentlemen"?


Then there's the point where he meets up with the most likely love-interest and we get this:


"I only had on my wrinkled khakis from the night before, and suddenly felt conscious of my naked upper body. Don't get me wrong, I was a strapping young man, and thought I looked pretty good shirtless. But I could actually feel her staring and it wasn’t a pleasant sensation."


Who described themselves as a "strapping young man"? This seems to me a very peculiar and unlikely reaction for a man to have.


I've come too far to DNF this book and I do want to know what's happening but I find the style very distracting.





Double Bingo


Fear the drowning deep Mike Finn Halloween Bingo Card-011


Fear Of Drowning Deep gave me a great excuse to read a Jim C Hines book about mermaids and TWO bingos.


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"Silence Fallen -Mercy Thompson #10" by Patricia Briggs - read for the Shifter square in Halloween Bingo
Silence Fallen - Patricia Briggs

"Silence Fallen" is the tenth Mercy Thompson book, a point where some series start to creak, strain and repeat themselves. Patricia Briggs avoided this by filling "Silence Fallen" with firsts: the first time Mercy has been to Europe, the first time sections of the story are told from Adam's point of view and the first time that the Patricia Briggs has gone with a not-entirely-linear timeline.


It mostly worked.


The parts told from Adam's point of view did give me a different perspective and also rounded-out some of the secondary characters but Adam lacks Mercy's snarky optimism and, surprisingly, her ruthlessness, which made him less fun to be around. The politics was interesting but went on a little too long.


Mercy sparkles from the first line: 

"I died first, so I had to make cookies."

What a way to start a book.


The move from this kind of silly domestic humour, with werewolves LARPing as Pirates to Mercy taking sudden violence in her stride, is central to the appeal these books hold for me. 


Moving the story to Europe was a smart idea and opened up some interesting back stories but Mercy sometimes sounded too much like a guidebook to Prague without really giving a sense of the place. I didn't like the World War II stories being woven into the werewolf world. It felt a little exploitative and wasn't entirely necessary to the plot.


I enjoyed Mercy's resourcefulness and the way she thought her way out of difficult spots. There were some new developments on her relationship with ghosts that seem promising and I thought having her fight using a scythe was inspired.


This was fun but not more than that. I'm hoping the next book, "Storm Cursed", will go back to a more Mercy-centric way of telling the story.


Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear the start of the book. The audio version gets two narrators this time and manages the shifting timelines without too much fuss.


[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/310662490" 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" /]

Reading progress update: I've read 35%.
Joyland - Stephen King

There are times when I wish that Stephen King didn't write horror.


"Joyland" hasn't had any supernatural content in it yet (unless you count a little precognition - in which case I guess "A Prayer For Owen Meaney" is horror as well - what a thought) but it is filled with whimsy, nostalgia and a well-crafted consideration of how our concept of grief or bravery or love or even common-sense change as we age. They may not get better but they change.


This would be reason enough to read the novel. 


I know there must be horror or at least spooky uncanny woo-woo stuff coming. I wonder whether it will the grated Parmesan that completes the flavour of the dish or the limp basil leaf garnish that most people leave on the plate?

Halloween Bingo Update: sixteen days left, four books to go, only one bingo scored but two new authors found.

20181015 Halloween Bingo Update.001


I've had some fine reading this week, with four novels and two novellas completed and the next three books started. Probably the best part of the week was that I've read two new-to-me authors that I'm excited by. My reading is running a little ahead of my reviewing at the moment but I'll probably have blacked out my Bingo card by the end of the week and I can catch up then.

Here's what I completed this week:


Diverse Voices Mike Finn Halloween Bingo Card-002The Ballad of Black TomI had started "Dawn" by Octavia Butler for the Diverse Voices square. It's a fine book and I will finish it but, in my undisciplined way, I got tempted by something new and shiny and found myself read Victor LaValle's novella "The Ballad Of Black Tom" instead.


This is a very impressive piece, with many layers to it and all of them good. I have his novel "The Changeling" in my TBR pile and I'll be getting to it as soon as I can.


shifters Mike Finn Halloween Bingo Card-017Silence Fallen"Silence Fallen", the tenth Mercy Thompson book, turned out to be full of firsts: the first time Mercy has been to Europe, the first time sections of the story are told from Adam's point of view and the first time that the Patricia Briggs has gone with a not-entirely-linear timeline. It mostly worked. It was nice to have a fresh approach but while enjoyed Adam, I found myself missing the opportunity to spend more time with Mercy.


Fear the drowning deep Mike Finn Halloween Bingo Card-01191XFh1LZ-wLI'm now a firm fan of Jim Hine's Princess series. "The Mermaid's Madness", the second book in the series was bit darker and less joyous than the first book but none the worse for it.


It made a great read for the "Fear The Drowning Deep" square which sadly hasn't been called yet but will give me two bingos when it is. 



spellbound Mike Finn Halloween Bingo Card-005The rules of magicI'm still forming an opinion on Alice Hoffman's"The Rules Of Magic". The story of three magically-gifted siblings growing into adulthood and coming to terms with their difference and the curse that seems to accompany it was full of strong characters and great moments. The way the story was told was a little more arms-length than I would have liked it to be. Perhaps too much tell and not enough show? I'm going to let it settle in my memory before I decide. What I have decided is that I will read "Practical Magic" which this is the prequel to.


Soutern Gothis Mike Finn Halloween Bingo Card-006The ElelmentatlsAs many people had told me it would be, "The Elementals" by Michael McDowell was a wonderfully atmospheric and very Southern book. It's filled with scenes that would make wonderful cinema. It has one of the most interesting and believable father-daughter relationships I've read, a wonderful ability to make lassitude sinister and some very scary sources of evil.

I was delighted to discover that I have many more Michael McDowell horror novels to read. I'll be starting in on the Black Water series later this year.


ghost stories Mike Finn Halloween Bingo Card-013MrsZantGhostReading Wilkie Collins always reminds me of how far the popular imagination has moved since his day. The ghost in "Mrs Zant and The Ghost" is barely more than a suggestion. This isn't horrifying by modern standards of slash and splatter.

Yet, allow yourself to imagine it actually happening to you, to find yourself confronted with such a presence and it becomes enough to change how you see the world. It's Collins' gift to help even someone with a palette as jaded as mine, taste that delicate shock.


I've started another three books (one audiobook, one ebook and one beautifully produced paperback) that will almost complete my bingo card over the next few days.


doomsday Mike Finn Halloween Bingo Card-004the last children of tokyoI'm struggling a little with "The Last Children Of Tokyo". It's a beautiful book to look at and the ideas are original and credible but my ignorance of Japan means that I have to put in extra effort to understand some of the contrast between Japan as it is today and as it's projected to be in the book.


Still, the writing has a gentle clarity that I'm enjoying so I will persist with it. 


creepy carnivals Mike Finn Halloween Bingo Card-007JoylandI've barely started Stephen King's "Joyland" but I'm already enjoying the richly textured world that King is building. I've never liked fairgrounds much but a behind-the-scenes view is intriguing and setting the story in the seventies adds a patina of nostalgia.





genre horro Mike Finn Halloween Bingo Card-021

What Haunts MeMy most recent read is an original take on ghosts. "What Haunts Me" by Margaret Millmore. The central ideas are that ghosts are capable of harming people and that, for reasons yet to be explained, our hero can make ghosts go away.


The writing style is intimate and informal in a way that is quite modern in phrasing but has a storytelling approach that is reminiscent of the nineteenth century.



Do you have any "Battle Of The Title" suggestions?



Bookmark Reviews are currently running an article called "Battle of the Book Titles" in which they put books with the same title head to head and ask which one is more likely to endure.


Many times recently I've been searching for a book by its title and have found such a long list of novels that meet that criterion that I've had to search by the author to find the one I want. Some of the books seem to have nothing in common except the title.


I think it might be fun to read a couple of books with the same title once a quarter or so just to see what each author made of the title.


Do any of you have suggestions for good same-title pairings?

Reading progress update: I've read 13%.
Joyland - Stephen King

I've had "Joyland" in my TBR pile for over two years now. The Creepy Carnival square on Halloween Bingo finally nudged me into reading it.


This is a short book by Stephen King standards but I like that he still takes his time settling into the story and the people. 


The story is told by a sixty-year-old man looking back on his twenty-year-old self, something that I am now able (but seldom inclined) to do. King does it with style. His prose is studded with phrases that please me in the same way that the subtle use of chilli does in food. Here's an example that says something I know to be true better than I would be able to say it and yet is still a phrase that fits neatly in the story and comes believably off the tongue of the narrator.


"When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction."

4 Stars
"The Ballad Of Black Tom" by Victor LaValle
The Ballad of Black Tom - Victor LaValle

"The Ballad Of Black Tom" is a powerful novella which appropriates H, P, Lovecraft's occult lore and ancient gods and places a young black man at the centre of the story. 


I'm not a Lovecraft fan but I was fascinated by the way Victor LaValle took possession and Lovecraft's world and used it to explore a black man's rage at how he and his father are treated by the white men.


In less than 150 pages, we follow Charles Thomas Tester's transformation from a savvy twenty-year-old hustler with a passing knowledge of the occult and a flair for dissembling to Black Tom, a bringer of death and a herald of doom. The means for this transformation comes from occult knowledge provided acquired from the rich power-hungry white people who buy his time. The motive for the transformation comes from the contempt and violence he receives from the white men around him.


The text is vivid and full of energy. LaValle perfectly captures the sense of threat a lone black man experiences when venturing outside of Harlem. The scene where Tester learns of the brutal act of violence by a white private detective is chilling and makes a perfect trigger for his transformation into Black Tom.


Towards the end of the novella, Tester reflects on his own transformation into a monster by the way in which white people saw him, saying of white people:

“Every time I was around them, they acted like I was a monster. So I said goddamnit, I’ll be the worst monster you ever saw!”

He also recognises that his rage has cost him his connection with his own community and stripped him of his humanity.


H. P. Lovecraft's racism is well known so it interested me that the racist white private detective's surname is Howard, which was Lovecraft's first name.


Diverse Voices Mike Finn Halloween Bingo Card-002I read "The Ballad Of Black Tom" for the Diverse Voices square for Halloween Bingo

Reading progress update: I've read 24%.
No! I Don't Need Reading Glasses! - Virginia Ironside, Maggie Ollerenshaw

A few years ago, I read "No, I Don't Want To Join A Bookclub" by Virginia Ironside. It was a diary of her character's sixtieth year and it was that rare thing, a book that was witty, humane and spoke truthfully about getting older.


"No, I Don't Need Reading Glasses" is the diary of the sixty-fifth year of the same character. My wife and I are both sixty-one and as we listened to this audiobook we kept finding ourselves laughing and saying - "yes, that's EXACTLY how it is. Why does no one talk about this?"


If you in your sixties, or you want to know what it's like to be in your sixties, this is the book you should listen to .

Reading progress update: I've read 38%.
The Ballad of Black Tom - Victor LaValle

Debbie of Debbie's Spurts put me on to this book yesterday and I couldn't resist starting it.


Published in 2016 this novella calls on Lovecraftian lore but has a black man as the main character and is set in 1920's New York City.


The text is full of energy. It does a great job of showing how alien and alone a black man could feel outside of Harlem and it builds a strong main character. I'm enjoying it more than I ever enjoyed Lovecraft.


I'm thinking of using this for the Diverse Voices square.

Reading progress update: I've read 37%.
The Elementals - Michael Rowe, Michael McDowell

This quote resonates with how I've felt on a number of days recently. Luker describes the punishingly hot coastal resort by saying something like:


"This is a low energy place. The kind of place where you can only get one or two things done in a day and one of those is getting out of bed."





currently reading

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