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Free Audible books.

FREE: Crackanory Too Cracked for TV - exclusive to Audible -  Crackanory, Toby Jones, Katherine Parkinson, John Robins, Robert Bathurst, Simon Bird, Audible Studios

I downloaded this as a free read from Audible, so I can't really complain that I didn't particularly enjoy it, but I did feel that these stories were inferior to those that I listened to in series 1 and 2 (also a free download from Audible).
Each of the five stories in Crackanory Too Cracked for TV was about 15 minutes long and each had a different narrator.
Most of the narrators were excellent, although one read too fast and rather swallowed her words.


The stories, 'Kill Phil', 'Mummy Business', 'The Character Assassin', 'The Egg That Knew Too Much' and 'The IT Man', all seemed to me to be trying too hard to be clever. Frequently a sentence would be over complicated with facetious asides that I found annoying. I guess it's a British humour thing and I've been out of the country for too long. Still, they were good to divert me from the stress of driving and as free audiobooks, they are a bargain.


Augustown - Kei Miller

I particularly wanted to enjoy this book as the author was at our literary festival and he was just lovely. He was the only man on a panel for International Ladies Day and had such empathy. I really felt this empathy in the way he wrote his main character of Augustown, the elderly, blind, Ma Taffy.


I was listening to the audio version of this book, read by Dona Croll, which was great for getting the correct Jamaican accent, but a bit irritatingly slow.


However, for me, the part that lowered my star rating was the story about the flying preacherman, which didn't grab my attention at all. What I didn't realise when listening was that this story represented the beginnings of the Jamaican religion of Bedwardism, which, to quote Wikipedia, 'was one of the most popular Afro-Jamaican politico-religious movements from the 1890s to the 1920s".


The rest of the novel was excellent and the characters were interesting. Ma Taffy's great-nephew, Kaia, has his dreadlocks cut off by a teacher and there is a nice circle of connections between the characters of Ma Taffy's family as the story progresses. 


A heavy atmosphere of impending trouble and doom runs throughout the novel and is excellently portrayed by the author. In the opening scene we meet a young gangster who thinks Ma Taffy doesn't know he hides his guns under her house, and later the Rastafarians mass to protest the cutting of Kaia's dreadlocks. Class segregation and social hierarchy felt like a living entity that could spark a riot at any time.





A holiday read.

Bad Mother's Diary  - Suzy K Quinn

This is not a book I would normally have chosen but our book group wanted it for this month, so I thought I'd give it a go. It was an easy enough read, although rather predictable and the ending was a bit rushed. It felt like a cross between Sophie Kinsella (Shopaholic books) and Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones).

I cringed at the appearance of the author half way through, congratulating us for getting this far, I hope this does not become an author trend.


Juliette Duffy and Nick Spencer have a young baby and are planning to make it official and get married. They are living in London in Nick's mother's flat. Helen is the mother-in-law from hell, appearing almost daily, unannounced, complaining about anything and everything. I'm not keen on books that announce on the front cover that they are hilarious, as I rarely laugh in books, but some of the best moments were Juliette's come-backs to Helen.


Juliette and Nick's baby, Daisy is adorable but doesn't sleep well. Juliette is constantly exhausted, which will ring true to many mothers. Just getting out, without smears and marks on her clothes, is a major achievement. The issue with weight and dieting was a bit tedious, and very Bridget Jones's Diary, ditto the diary format, which felt rather too familiar.

Juliette bravely decides to run the London Winter Marathon, which was a nice touch. Then there was Alex, a childhood friend from a wealthy background, hmmm, way too predictable, but I won't add any spoilers.


By the way, I live in Dubai and there is no shortage of bikinis available - not just burkinis and Juliette supposedly discovered.


A comforting bedtime read.

The Forest Sleeps - Calee M. Lee, Erin Kenna

A beautifully illustrated book for very young children that helps them to unwind at bedtime. The repetition of the phrase 'sleep tight' is perfect for young audiences. The animals are a mixture of the familiar (snakes, rabbits, birds) and the less familiar (deer, beavers, fireflies) which helps children add to their knowledge of the wild.

I read this to my 20 month granddaughter and she loved it. She also loves that it's on my Kindle Fire (and therefore in colour) and that she can share something on this device that she knows I value. She enjoyed turning the pages for herself and exclaiming at each animal, often with their young.

Now that I have grandchildren I can discover a whole world of new children's books :)

Some of these people only have a minute left to live.

The Last Minute - Eleanor Updale

The Last Minute takes place in Heathwick town centre, before an explosion rips the place apart, killing 65. Each second is a gradual build-up, adding to the tension of the final event. What will be the cause of the devastation and who will be its victims?


Needless to say, with a death-toll of 65, this really is a cast of thousands and you'd need to read the book in pretty much one sitting to keep a track of who everyone is. This also made it impossible to go into any depth with the characterisations, although Ms Updale did manage to produce several characters about whom I was more concerned than others, and then there were also the two magnificent carriage-horses.


At the end of the book is the newspaper reportage of the explosion, which was impossible to read on the Kindle, but there is an on-line site where it is possible to see this: http://www.eleanorupdale.com/minute/ This also completes the book by discussing the possible cause of the explosion(s).


For me, this was a clever idea that, unfortunately, didn't quite work, by the time I'd read sixty sets of one second events, I'd lost interest and certainly wasn't getting tense at the inevitable outcome.



What if you could change just one thing in the past of someone you love?

The Summer of Impossible Things - Rowan Coleman

I was so lucky to be approved by NetGalley for a preview copy of this book, I absolutely loved it - it's already my best read so far this year and it could well be my favourite book of 2017.
It does require a bit of imagination, you have to travel back in time to 1977, but it's worth the stretch and if you loved the Time Traveler's Wife then you'll love this too.

Luna and her younger sister, Pia, are devastated by the death of their mother, but she had suffered from depression for many years and struggled to hold things together for the family.
She had moved to UK to marry their father in 1977, but her childhood home had been Bay Ridge, in Brooklyn and there was a family house there that needed to be sold. Luna and Pia travel to Brooklyn to finalise the sale, hoping to find out something about their mother's life before she married their father.

What they discover is the basis of the story, but that's not all, because Luna finds that she can go back in time to those last days while Marissa was still a vibrant young woman, before something happened that shattered her life. And if Luna can go back and meet her mother in that time, is it possible that she might also be able to change things just slightly so that Marissa's life takes a slightly different path - and if she does so, what are the implications?

Beautifully written with wonderful characters and subtle twists, this was an excellent read. The only problem is that it's not out until June, but put it on your Wish List now, because this is one book you won't want to miss.

Beautiful coffee table book.

Nell Hill's Rooms We Love - Mary Carol Garrity

This is a stunning book to pick up and browse through, perhaps you would find a few ideas to inspire you - I don't think it's something that you'd read from cover to cover, or buy for your Kindle.


The photography is excellent, with prefect lighting in every shot, but for my taste, the rooms are rather over-filled with upholstery and ornaments. Some of the fabrics are also a bit busy. I love the author's aim of bringing the outside indoors, but there are rather too many floral fabrics and it's hard to keep fresh flowers looking good all year. I noticed that the same bunch of white tulips seems to appear in all the houses too!


These are not your average suburban semis, these are houses to drool over, with arches and space to spare. A book for when you feel like dreaming. 

A great cookery book for meat lovers.

Year-Round Slow Cooker: 100 Favorite Recipes for Every Season - Dina Cheney

I have used a slow cooker before, but it has been neglected lately, so I thought I would request this recipe book from NetGalley (for an unbiased review) to inspire myself to start using it again.


I buy organic vegetables direct from a farm, so the first thing that appealed about this book was that it was organised by season. This means the correct vegetables are grouped together and I can make efficient use of my veg box.

On the downside, the majority of the recipes are not vegetarian, which reduces the number that I can use, although I'm generally pretty good at substituting alternatives, these are definitely heavy on the meat.


I did find a few delicious recipes to sample - lentils with garam masala, coconut, and pomegranate seeds (P22) and tartines with roasted garlic, white bean spread, fresh spinach, and radishes (P90). The deserts are also vegetarian, but I don't make a lot of deserts so I haven't tried any of these yet.


The advice at the beginning of the book applied to all slow cooking though. I was not previously aware that frozen food should not be added as it brings the temperature down into the danger zone, ditto opening the lid any more than necessary during cooking.

I was also interested to learn that slow cooker sauces need to be quite thick to allow for the liquid that comes out of the foods during cooking and for the lack of evaporation through the closed lid.


On balance, this is a great book for non-vegetarians who want inspiration to start using a slow cooker, sadly, it is less practical for those of us who prefer to eat vegetarian.


The Blue Between Sky and Water - Susan Abulhawa

Mornings in Jenin was one of my all-time favourite novels and made a huge impact on me when I read it. It was one of the most accessible explanations of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle that I had read. So I was most excited to find that Susan Abulhawa was coming to our Literary Festival and that she had a new book out. Shamefully that was last year and I have still not written my review.


The Barakas family is evicted from their home in village of Beit Daras in 1948 and travel with just portable luggage to a refugee camp outside Gaza.



 "...She made her way in the village, walking through walls of fear. The air was heavy, almost unbreathable, and people moved in fitful motions, as if unsure that one leg would follow the other. Women hurried with bundles balanced on heads and children hoisted on hips, pausing occasionally to adjust each. Children struggled to keep pace with their elders, who pulled them by the arms. Bewilderment carved lines in every face that Nazmiyeh passed, and despite the noise and chaos around her, she thought she could hear heartbeats pounding on chest walls."


The strength of the women holds the family together across three generations, even beyond the borders into the US. Nazmiyeh, the matriarch is empowering in the face of extreme hardships and the love that young Nur has for her grandfather is deeply touching.


This novel tackles the after-effects of becoming a refugee; the trauma, the loss of pride, the poverty and the separated families, trying to make ends meet in a canvas and corrugated-iron city when you are used to living amongst your own fields and tending your own animals.

The author is the daughter of displaced Palestinians, so she writes from close to the source, using first-hand reminiscences.

The balance between the horror and pain versus the love and support makes this book a really special read. and I highly recommend it.   



Nope, going to abandon this.

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

So, in my quest to update my reviews, here is another abandoned, one star book. Why didn't I enjoy it as much as the majority?
I actually made two attempts to read this, for two separate book groups - that's how popular this book was when it came out, five years ago. I was surprised to find I wasn't the only one for whom this book just didn't work, there were others in my book groups who also struggled with it and this is reflected in its average star rating.

I only managed 10% and everyone's watched the film, so I won't rehash the story. As I remember from so long ago, there were two things that I disliked about the book. Firstly, I found the writing pretentious and whiny. I was still kind of going with it at this stage, but when the woman's voice came in, with her awful language, well, life is too short for such a book, in my opinion. Then, when I heard that after struggling through it, the ending would be a let-down, I officially put it into the 'abandoned' pile.
I'd be curious to see the film, perhaps, just to complete the cycle, maybe...

The story of Famagusta.

The Sunrise - Victoria Hislop

I had enjoyed Victoria Hislop's first novel, The Island, and was looking forward to reading The Sunrise before the author visited our literary festival. Most of the novels I have read about Cyprus have been set in the south, so it was interesting to read about Famagusta, the town on the border between North and South, where the worst of the fighting occurred in 1974.


When the narrative starts, in 1972, the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots are living in relative harmony. Many of the residents of Famagusta are working in the luxurious Paradise Beach Hotel, run by Savvas Papacosta and his wife Aphroditi, and tourists are enjoying the resort and facilities. The Papacostas are ambitious and as we join the novel, they are opening a new hotel, The Sunrise, even more fabulous than its predecessor.

Markos Georgiou is the manager of the night club at The Sunrise and Savvas Papacosta comes to rely heavily on him. Markos, however, is not the totally reliable employee and has resentments towards the wealth of the Papacostas.

Finally, Markos's family, The Greek Georgious, are very close friends with the Turkish Özkans Both are Famagusta families of moderate means, whose relationship is tested when the war breaks out, bringing old animosities back to the surface. They become trapped in the war stricken city and must scavenge to survive.


I enjoyed the historical research and I learned a lot about this disastrous event. The town of Famagusta still lies barren and deserted more than forty years later. Something about the book, however, didn't quite work for me. I was invested in the characters to some extent but I wasn't particularly enjoying the read, it seemed to be lacking somehow.


The presentation by the author at the literary festival was fascinating, with photographs of the resort before and now, in its deserted state. Along with her enthusiasm, this all made a rather mediocre read, worthwhile.





Men In The Sun - Ghassan Kanafani

This is a difficult book to review because I'm not sure if the confusion I felt while reading this was due to the author's writing, or translator errors. There were several times where I wasn't sure which character was being referred to and even a re-read didn't always clarify the question. Considering the blurb above says "In the unsparing clarity of his writing", I suspect this was caused by the translation.

Ignoring the issues I had, this was an interesting read, very close to the bone at times. Life was cheap, yet each of these characters is close to our hearts and we're not ready to part with them.
The 'Men in the Sun' are unfortunate Palestinians, forced from their country and without means to help their families. They take the ultimate risk and join the floods of immigrants to Kuwait, where they believe that work and riches await them. The journey is treacherous and they must put their lives in the hands of strangers. Three such men travelling on the roof of a tanker give rise to the title.

'Men in the Sun' is the main story, but there are some shorter stories towards the end, along a similar vein.
Books like these are important for raising awareness; no-one should have to suffer such deprivations because another people has taken that which was not theirs.
I wish I could give four stars but sadly, the confusion marred an otherwise fascinating read.

Nope, going to abandon this.

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

So, in my quest to update my reviews, here is another abandoned, one star book. Why didn't I enjoy it as much as the majority?

I actually made two attempts to read this, for two separate book groups - that's how popular this book was when it came out, five years ago. I was surprised to find I wasn't the only one for whom this book just didn't work, there were others in my book groups who also struggled with it and this is reflected in its average star rating.


I only managed 10% and everyone's watched the film, so I won't rehash the story. As I remember from so long ago, there were two things that I disliked about the book. Firstly, I found the writing pretentious and whiny. I was still kind of going with it at this stage, but when the woman's voice came in, with her awful language, well, life is too short for such a book, in my opinion. Then, when I heard that after struggling through it, the ending would be a let-down, I officially put it into the 'abandoned' pile.

I'd be curious to see the film, perhaps, just to complete the cycle, maybe...

Gallivanting around Europe.

Mr Gandy's Grand Tour  - Alan Titchmarsh

This was a book club read that I started with reservations. Although I had previously read and enjoyed three of Alan Titchmarsh's novels, I was worried that this was going to be more of a rehash of David Nicholl's 'Us'. However, while both centred around a guy touring Europe, they we actually quite different and I have to say I enjoyed this. Only the end, as sort of epilogue to the tour, grated with me and I felt the story would have been stronger without it.


Timothy Gandy suddenly finds himself with no job and no wife. So what better to do than the travel that he had longed to do for many years? Inspired by the Grand Tour of previous centuries and armed with old writings and a guide-book dated 1904, he heads towards France and Italy in search of....adventure?


I couldn't help but picture Alan Titchmarsh, himself as Timothy Gandy, he is just too well-known a face. But even that added to the narrative in a way. It's a very easy-read style, almost chick-lit, but I could quite see how the shy traveller could shake off his reservations in a new environment and meet some interesting characters along the way.


Add it to your summer beach reads :)


Also read:

Trowel and Error - Memoir (3.5 stars)

The Last Lighthouse Keeper (5 stars)

Only Dad (4 stars)

Evocative of WWII

Everyone Brave is Forgiven - Chris Cleave

I have read all of Chris Cleave's books but I'm afraid this was the one I enjoyed the least. The rest of my book group thoroughly enjoyed it and one member came armed with all the wonderful quotes that had appealed to her, but it didn't excite me.


I have procrastinated with this review because I'm not exactly sure what it was about the book that dropped it to three (and a half) stars. A lot happens, and I'm wondering if I found the transitions a bit chunky. The flow of a book is always very important to me. I also related to some of the characters more than others, which could have affected my response.


We were lucky to meet Chris Cleave at our Literary festival and it was fascinating to hear how he had drawn from his grandfather's experiences during WWII, when he was stationed in Malta, some of which he used in the narrative.


I loved the vibrant character of Mary; she is from a wealthy family but throws herself into the war effort. She had fancied herself as a spy but takes on the role of teacher with enthusiasm. Her students end up being the children rejected from the country evacuations - children with disabilities and colour.

The two other main characters were her boss, Tom, an administrator in education, and his artistic friend, Alistair. Neither of these characters interested me as much as Mary, but both of them play an important part in her life.

There is also a side story around one of Mary's pupils, Zach, a black boy whose father is a minstrel in the Minstrel Show in London. Zach is one of the children rejected from the countryside, probably dyslexic, and Mary develops a special fondness for him.


Judging from the reactions of my friends I would highly recommend this book, don't take any notice of my views, I was definitely in the minority :)


Previously read:

Little Bee (The Other Hand) - 4 stars

Incendiary - 5 stars

Gold - 4 stars

What would you do?

Inside My Head - Jim Carrington

This is a Young Adult novel that deals with issues of bullying and integration into a new school. Whilst I wouldn't exactly call it an adult cross-over novel, it was a good read with a relevant message for today's youngsters.


There are three main characters who all have a voice in the narrative. Zoe is the new girl, she's none too happy about joining a new school, but she's able to view the student interactions with the eyes of an outsider. David is a friend of Paul's, the class bully, and Paul's main target is Gary, who he has given the nick-name of cheese puff for his round head and red hair.

Zoe meets Gary in the local playground before she starts school. It turns out he's in her class, but she doesn't exactly form an instant friendship. It does mean, however, that she has some empathy for him when she sees him being targeted. David is also starting to think that the bullying has gone a bit too far, but are he or Zoe strong enough to stand up against Paul and potentially put themselves in Gary's place?


The book asks some pertinent questions about bullying. What would you do if you were in the same situation? Would you have the strength of character to speak out?

Definitely a good book for sparking important discussion.