Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins for the ARC of this audiobook.
In the past few weeks to try to keep my mind off Lockdown 2, the increasingly scary COVID figures and the fact we’ll probably have a very low-key Christmas this year, I have been mainlining cheesy Christmas romcom books and films. I’m looking for something easy and sweet which requires very little effort and has a nice happy ending and is a simple distraction from the crazy real world.
This is probably the best of these books I’ve read so far this year. It has a nice setting for a Christmas book, an estate in the Lake District with a Christmas tree farm and wedding venue. It has an intriguing premise, a woman is abandoned by her fiancé only to discover she has to plan his wedding the following Christmas. The writing is of a high standard, the dialogue is not too cheesy. There is a nice balance of romance and melancholia. The situations aren’t too far-fetched or contrived and there aren’t too many irritating misunderstandings which could just be fixed with a simple conversation. It does exactly what you expect and want from an escapist Christmas romance.
I listened to the audiobook version of this book which is well read by Laura Kirman. I thought her northern accents were pretty good and narration style was engaging.
From this book, Phillipa Ashley seems to be a superior writer in a genre full of plenty of examples of substandard, lacklustre, repetitive writing. I will definitely look out for other books by this author.
Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins for the ARC of this book.
I have an enormous amount of good will towards Mark Watson. He is one of my favourite comedians and he has a nervous, vulnerable energy which makes him difficult to criticise. His books always have intelligent concepts and he writes in an understated, observational, wry manner. He brings clear elements of his own personality into his books. For example, this book is about a man who is planning to commit suicide, was written following a period of mental struggle for Watson when he had struggled with alcohol use following the break up of his marriage. It feels very personal, even though the character’s struggles are different to Watson’s own experience. I feel somewhat protective towards Watson, knowing that he has been going through a difficult time and he chose to write about suicide as a result,
The book starts with the lead character, James, texting his entire phone contacts list to tell them he is planning suicide. It then follows several of the people who receive this text and their reactions as they try to find a way to prevent his suicide. It’s an interesting premise, although makes the book harder to get into as each new chapter from a new person’s perspective feels a bit like starting the book afresh.
The book is a study of how important human contacts are, how our actions affect each other, how important it is to stay in contact with each other and how mobile phones and social media, which have the potential to make us more in contact with our loved ones than ever before can somehow have the opposite result.
It is an intelligent look at what might make a person suicidal, how the build up of small things can affect our mental health so that from the outside something which seems trivial may be the tipping point too another person’s mental well-being.
It is not particularly exciting to read and the ending is fairly predictable apart from an event involving a train conductor which I felt was jarring and required more explanation, although I think that’s probably the point of its inclusion. However, if you like Mark Watson’s voice and his frustrated, witty observations you will also like this book. I struggle to say enjoy as it is hard to enjoy a book with suicide as once of its central themes.
The audiobook is read by Mark Watson himself. I think this is probably a mistake, he has a slightly odd way off speaking, so that, even though he wrote the words, it sometimes sounds like he is putting the emphasis on the wrong part of the sentence. He doesn’t really make much of an attempt to do the accents required, so it probably would have been better to get a professional, experienced narrator to read the book. His narration doesn’t impair the enjoyment of the book but I feel a professional may have been able to breathe a bit more life into the narration.
Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins for the ARC of this audiobook.
Confession time: to my shame I’ve never actually read an Agatha Christie book. I tried to read the Poirot mystery ‘The Third Girl’ once but gave up about 80 pages in because it was really dull at not at all what I expected from a Poirot book. I probably picked it because it’s not one I had seen adapted for TV, so I wouldn’t know the story. However, I’ve since realised that it was one of Christie’s later Poirot books and is not considered to be one of the best, so it’s a shame it put me off reading her other books. I should probably try one of her more popular books.
I decided to try one of Sophie Hannah’s new Hercule Poirot books because the cover is just exquisite and really appealing. The audiobook version of this book was an excellent choice for my reintroduction to world of Agatha Christie. It is expertly read by Julian Rhind-Tutt, his narration is a tour-de-force and probably makes this book twice as enjoyable as it would have been reading the paper version. His accent for Poirot is perfect and conjures up David Suchet’s TV Poirot beautifully. I would definitely search out more audiobooks narrated by him.
I’m less convinced by the actual writing of the book. It’s quite enjoyable and I listened to it In the course of one day, so I definitely found it compelling. However, the mystery itself is a bit flat, the murders are crimes of passion rather than premeditated evil which means Poirot does not have a decent villainous sparring partner to outwit. The conclusion was not very exciting and I don’t think there were enough breadcrumbs to help the reader to become engaged in guessing whodunnit.
The other problem with the writing is that it is almost entirely dialogue and exposition and very little action. I usually prefer books which are mostly dialogue and don’t get bogged down with pages and pages of scene-setting and description, but there is very little drama in this book. It really fails the ‘show don’t tell’ test as it is almost all just people standing around relating events to each other. I assume this must be faithful to Christie’s style and that her books probably also just feature Poirot listening to people telling him what happened and then him telling everyone what actually happened, but it’s not a very sophisticated or pleasing way to convey narrative. I guess I’ve been spoiled by the TV adaptations which able to dramatise the explanations characters are giving to make the story more immersive.
I think Sophie Hannah does a good job with the the language she uses of making you feel like you are genuinely reading a book from Christie’s time, but I definitely need to try another Poirot book actually written by Agatha Christie to see how it compares. I’ll pick up one of her more famous books next time.
I would recommend this audiobook for the excellent narration by Julian Rhind-Tutt which really raises the enjoyment level of the slightly lacklustre story.
To celebrate the fact that they’ve made audiobooks available on NetGalley this week, I’ve decided to write about a few of the audiobooks I’ve listened to recently.
Eve of Man by Giovanna and Tom Fletcher I thought this was fairly standard dystopian YA fiction. It had an interesting premise – what would happen if only one girl was born in the world for 50 years? I don’t think the book reached the potential of the premise, the world building was not strong enough, there wasn’t enough detail about what had happened to the world in that time and how relationships between the men left on earth work now. It only cared about the one girl, Eve, who supposedly was beautiful and perfect when in actuality someone in that position would either have a god complex or severe mental health issues. I thought it was well read by the two narrators and was an easy listen.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins I’m not sure what I thought of this book, I found the premise of the main hero also being the anti-hero/future villain to be interesting. It was uncomfortable because it made you want to route for him but also he kept having dubious opinions which reminded you not to. The book lost steam half way through and I was never really invested in the romance as I found the female character too enigmatic. It’s narrated by actor Santino Fontana, who I like, but found his style a bit dry.
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes I wanted to love this book as I listen to Linda Holmes podcast NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour and I know she is a big fan of romance novels so I thought this one may be exceptional. Sadly it is not, it is dull, very little happens and I couldn’t see any reason why the male lead would be interested in the female lead. It is narrated well.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides This is a fun twisty psychological thriller with a classic unreliable narrator and a good twist that you can kind of see coming. I didn’t love the narration as I find Louise Brearley’s style a bit too breathy and melodramatic. It’s a shame because she narrates a lot of books.
Kid Normal by Greg James and Chris Smith This is a fantastic book for 8+ year old children. It is brilliantly read by the authors and is genuinely funny. It’s currently available free on the Audible stories website.
The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey During lockdown I seem to have found reading apocalyptic/dystopian fiction comforting. I’m not sure why. This should have been disturbing as it is about humans being infected by a new disease which turns them into zombies, but for some reason I enjoyed it. Flinty Williams is a good narrator.