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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

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Amok was originally published in German, but has been translated and turned into this audio dramatisation, featuring – amongst others – Adrian Lester and Natasha McElhone.

The story opens with Jan May, an esteemed psychologist, waiting for his girlfriend Leonie to arrive for dinner. Tonight is the night he is going to propose but then he receives a panicked phone call from her telling him that “they” are going to tell him she has died, and not to believe “them.” Almost instantly, a policeman appears at his door and tells him that Leonie has died in a traffic accident.

Several months later, Jan takes a radio presenter and several visitors to the radio station hostage, and takes over the programme. He says that he will be phoning a random member of the public each hour and if they do not answer with the correct slogan, he will shoot a hostage dead.

Meanwhile, police negotiator Ira Samin has decided that today is the day she is going to kill herself. Unable to get over her eldest daughter’s suicide for Ira blames herself, and distraught because her younger daughter won’t speak to her, Ira sees nothing to live for. But when Jan May says that she is the only negotiator he is prepared to deal with, her plans to kill herself are put on hold. She has to negotiate with him live on air and this  includes discussing her dead daughter and revealing intimate secrets. He demands that she finds out the truth about Leonie, otherwise all of the hostages will die.

Although that sounds like a detailed synopsis, all of the above happens early on in the story – as Ira delves deeper into the mystery surrounding Leonie, she discovers the truth at the same time as the listener.

This is the second audio dramatisation I have listened to, and I do enjoy them; in this case the cast, which includes the aforementioned Adrian Lester and Natasha McElhone, as well as other stalwarts of theatre and television such as Rafe Spall, Brendan Coyle and Peter Firth, were all excellent. The narrator who joined the seams together was Robert Glenister, who can also always be relied upon to put in a solid performance.

While the production held my attention, particularly in the first half, the story did get somewhat convoluted and far fetched in the second half, and relied heavily on coincidence. I would have preferred a straightforward hostage drama, rather than the machinations that transpired. Nonetheless, this was still an entertaining production and I would listen to other dramatisations of Fitzek’s work.

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This book has dual time frames told in alternating chapters:

In 1985 in Chicago – and across the United States – AIDS has devastated the gay community. The story starts with a group of friends mourning the AIDS related death of their friend Nico. These chapters are largely told from the point of view of Yale Tishman and through Yale, we witness the ongoing crisis, and it’s effects.

In 2015, Nico’s sister Fiona, now in her early 50s, has gone to Paris to track down her estranged daughter Claire. Through these chapters we learn about the fates of various characters in the earlier timeline, and understand what Fiona went through, watching not only her brother, but so many of their friends die at the hands of a virus which the government at the time seemed largely unbothered about.

This is without question my favourite book that I have read so far this year – and I’d put it into at least my top 10 of all-time favourites. I absolutely adored Yale, and appreciated that Makkai drew so many believable and distinct characters which made up his friendship group and other acquaintances. She does not portray heroes and villains, just incredibly ‘real’ characters, who I felt like I genuinely knew and cared for. I do feel that the early timeline on its own would have made for an interesting and wonderful novel, but the 2015 story added to it, in that we could see what an effect Fiona’s experiences had had on her as an adult.

I could write about this book all day, and good luck to anyone who asks me about it – you’re going to need to set aside a few hours while I wax lyrical! However, I don’t think I could do it justice. It is a beautifully written, heartbreaking, uplifting, thought provoking novel, and I recommend it to literally everyone.

 

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Otilla McGregor needs to sort her life out. She drinks too much, she is in a relationship with her married boss, her sister has severe mental health problems – but she is determined to sort her life out and get herself together.

I listened to this as an audiobook narrated by Colleen Prendergast. It’s told from the point of Otilla, and employs a type of ‘scrapbook’ method to tell her story; this encompasses emails, snapchats, text messages, letters to the Little Book of Happy (makes sense when you’re listening/reading!) and conversation transcripts with her therapist.

The narration was excellent – Prendergast really got under the skin of Otilla and helped make her into a believable and likeable character. The story itself was also interesting and I liked the deviation from conventional narration, although I think this may work better as a physical book rather than an audiobook.

I would say however, that this is NOT a book to listen to if you need cheering up! As mentioned above, Otilla drinks way too much, her love life is a mess, she thinks that she may be to blame for her sister’s mental and emotional problems, her father passed away a few years earlier and she misses him terribly, her mother has her own problems….on top of all this, Otilla’s best friend Grace is an enabler who believes the only reason to give up alcohol is so that when you go back to it, you get drunk quicker and for less money. Otilla works in a cancer care hospital, so even several of the lesser characters have serious problems.

For all this, although at times I did wonder how much more misery could be stuffed into one book, the story did hold my attention throughout. I adored her new potential boyfriend, and really rooted for Otilla.

I’ve heard good things about other books by Annaliese Mackintosh and would certainly read/listen to more of her stories.

 

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The book – one of King’s most beloved works – is essentially a story of good vs evil, in a post-apocalyptic setting. It was initially published in 1978 and then reissued including parts that had been cut from the original publication (for financial reasons). In the later version, the setting was moved from 1980 to 1990. It was the later, bigger edition which I read, which came in at over 1300 pages. So a big brick of a book!

The books starts with a man made plague sweeping the earth and killing most humans, although a few remain immune. After the plague come the dreams – people dream of a faceless man who terrifies them, and an elderly lady who they see as a saviour. Two groups form – followers of the faceless man – Randall Flagg, and of the elderly lady – Mother Abagail.

The scene is set for an epic battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil; between God and the Devil or certainly at least between their emissaries on earth.

The story has everything – the supernatural, horror, human relationships and the gamut of emotions – there is love, hate, fear and despair, hope and friendship. There are unlikely heroes and tragic villains. It’s epic in every sense. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although on balance I still prefer Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King, which I read earlier this year.

The Stand is a wonderful book though which really drew me in, and I really came to care about a lot of the characters. Stu Redman was my favourite character in the whole story and I also have a soft spot for Nick Andros. It took the me the best part of two months to read, which is a LONG time for me! But it was worth it. Highly recommended.

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The Blurb:

Every few Sundays, Anna and her extended family and friends get together for lunch. They talk, they laugh, they bicker, they eat too much. Sometimes the important stuff is left unsaid, other times it’s said in the wrong way.

Sitting between her ex-husband and her new lover, Anna is coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy at the age of forty. Also at the table are her ageing grandmother, her promiscuous sister, her flamboyantly gay brother and a memory too terrible to contemplate.

Until, that is, a letter arrives from the person Anna scarred all those years ago. Can Anna reconcile her painful past with her uncertain future?

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My Thoughts:

I am in two minds about this book. First of all, I listened to it as an audiobook and the narration by Karen Cass was excellent. Secondly, I really liked the format of the book – each chapter revolves around a different meeting of the Sunday Lunch Club – the Piper family take it in turns to host – and the menu for each gathering is at the top of the chapter. From the events of the each ‘club’ meeting, it becomes clear what has happened between chapters.

However, I was a bit put off by the obvious attempt to shoehorn as many social issues into the story as possible. It was so obviously politically correct that it got a bit tiresome (to clarify, I have no issue with political correctness but there were so many instances crammed in here that it felt very deliberately done). The ending was predictable and I was waiting for a particular twist that never came.

I wouldn’t say it was awful but just a bit too treacly for me. Nonetheless it helped pass time while I was out on some long runs.

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Year of first publication: 2018

Genre: Family, drama

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In this short book, renowned psychologist Susie Orbach discusses how our bodies have become a commodity, something to be altered by surgery, weight loss, make up, etc. Social media has reinforced ideas of the perfect body, and anyone who doesn’t have one (i.e., most of us) is made to feel that it is our fault and that we need to change it to be accepted. Our body is no longer somewhere to live from, but a commodity to prove our worth in the world. In Scandinavia, women who think they are too tall are having their femur broken and reset to make them shorter; in China, people who think they are too short can have a metal rod inserted to make them taller; women are having plastic surgery to shrink their waist and enlarge their breasts, while men are having surgery to increase the length and girth of their penis. Something has gone very askew in the way we view our own bodies.

Orbach also examines extreme cases such as Andrew, a physically healthy man who felt that he could only be happy if he had his legs amputated, and she looks at the psychology behind such stories.

It’s a short book at 145 pages and is something of an introduction to the ideas contained within, rather than a full scale investigation, but it makes for fascinating reading, talking about how the dieting industry is based on failure and plays on people’s insecurities. This is a book to make you think, it’s a book to make you angry, and it’s a book that everyone should read. Fascinating and highly recommended.

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The Blurb:

Imagine you meet a man, spend seven glorious days together, and fall in love. And it’s mutual: you’ve never been so certain of anything.

So when he leaves for a long-booked holiday and promises to call from the airport, you have no cause to doubt him.

But he doesn’t call.

Your friends tell you to forget him, but you know they’re wrong: something must have happened; there must be a reason for his silence.

What do you do when you finally discover you’re right? That there is a reason – and that reason is the one thing you didn’t share with each other?

The truth.

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My thoughts: 

This was an audiobook which I listened to mainly while running. In all honesty, I think the cover art and the title are a bit misleading (the original title was ‘Ghosted’ which I think was better, but anyway…) in that they give the impression that this book is chicklit, which it actually isn’t.

I did enjoy this book a lot. I liked both Sarah and Eddie, and also Sarah’s friends Tommy and Jo. I don’t think it’s spoilery to say that there’s a twist, but I am not going to give any clues about what it is. Suffice to say that I didn’t guess it at all, and thought it was very cleverly done. But this is not a thriller, it’s more a drama which centres around the sort of thing that has happened to almost everyone at one time or another.

My only criticism is that I think the ending was slightly drawn out, and could have been a bit ‘tighter’. Overall though, a nice story, well written. I would definitely read or listen to more by Rosie Walsh. Credit also to Katherine Press, who did an excellent job of the narration).

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Year of first publication: 2018

Genre: Drama, romance

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