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K. J. Noyes

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Disappointingly dull. Great premise but fell flat.

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 23-09-20

A hard genre to stand out among with films - the slasher/stalker thriller. So many recycle ideas, don't bother with character development past a simple stereotype, villains are obvious. One of my least favourite sorts of films to watch. But I was intrigued to see the idea of an escape room played out over pages rather than a screen. Escape rooms are rather popular as a concept at the moment, and as a (showing my age) fan of the original Crystal Maze programme, the idea of games and puzzles with a killer thrown in hooked me. Sadly though, I soon found this rather humdrum. Not overly interesting teenage characters, they soon find themselves in an escape room situation. I was listening to this on Audible and despite a nicely-voiced set of narrators covering multiple characters, had to really concentrate to pay attention. It seemed to follow genre conventions, switched between characters for tension and viewpoint, even the killer. But I was just bored, I'm afraid. I don't think the escape room itself worked well, these seem hard to describe and visualise when compared to watching one in action. And I just didn't really care. I didn't really care what happened to the characters, sympathy hadn't been built up, and I had no real curiosity about who was controlling the action and why. This is not how it's meant to be. My favourite thrillers (again, not my favourite genre, but a good one really does stand out and make you pay attention) have you reading hungrily, guessing, physically sweating for the protagonists and their wellbeing. I'd like to know what teenagers who may identify with these characters more than I do, think about this book. Maybe it works better on a page than in audio format. While the narrators did a good job of bringing their characters out, I just didn't connect with the writing, the plot or the people. Not for me. Maybe for 14-17 year olds who are just experiencing thrillers for the first time and need a familiar context to get a feel for it. With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy.

A young Brewster's Millions

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 17-09-20

A young Brewster's Millions, satisfying and with a lot to think about. Brewster's Millions (Richard Pryor and John Candy) was one of the films of my childhood. About a pretty penniless ball player given $30 million to spend by a distant billionaire relative in his will, he must spend it in a month to receive his true inheritance of $300 million. Now this wish-fulfilment story is transported to a school, and to two boys who find a billionaire's wallet. As reward/punishment for stealing $20 out of it, she (yes, now a female) sets them a similar challenge. Without explaining to anybody why, and without giving any away, they must spend $5million in a month to receive a bigger sum that is theirs to keep. But Felix and Benji can't explain to anyone why they are 'wasting' all this money, buying useless things but not things that could be helpful to family and friends. They might just learn what money, riches and even friendship mean over the course of the month. The context change really worked for this plot: what child hasn't dreamed of this type of scenario, being able to throw money at every single thing they've dreamed of? But consequences exist and the two boys, different in temperament, family situation and even morality, will both find themselves thinking hard about what matters and what they can do together. Great audiobook, I really enjoyed the narrator voicing the boys, and it's one I'll share with my 9-year-old. It's a straightforward story to follow and a good choice for a listen rather than on paper. The different personalities of the boys were a good contrast, with a few moral dilemmas flung their way, some maths I enjoyed (regarding the money), the effects of over-indulgence, and some clever manoeuvres to attempt to spend all the money in time. Great title for the 9-13 market. Lots to think about and to entertain, and even discuss. With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy.

One of those listed 'must read' titles.

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-09-20

One of those listed 'must read' titles. Glad I did, but it was a long'un. This felt overlong, the story was more slight than the running length, but as I was listening to this as a new audiobook version, I didn't mind as it helped pass long drives and walks. The narrator managed the voices of several very old and young character, male and female, well, without their own gender and age intruding on the listener. With two main characters, the first part mainly gives us the life of Dr Wilbur Larch, abortionist, while the rest is more on his protege and surrogate son, Homer Wells (almost always referred to by his full name). Over two generations, Larch and Wells both live and work at an orphanage. Women unable to care for their children leave them there, or beg for abortions (illegal operations at the time). Homer Wells is one such child, and grows up bounced around at less-than-happy foster homes, meaning he is raised with Larch and under his medical supervision. Later leaving the small world of his childhood, his journey brings him full circle back to his childhood ‘home’. Some memorable characters, the time and place is quite strongly portrayed and easy to picture, there's a lot of poverty, hardship and pain. But there's also a good dose of love. Strong themes, which may upset, but I thought they were handled realistically. Glad I’ve read it, but I’m also glad it was an audiobook that I could follow while doing other things. Ponderous in places. With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy of this new edition.

30-something womanhood represented and examined

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-08-20

30-something womanhood represented and examined, hits a nerve. At least, it hit a nerve with me. Though I'm a mum, Olive really did strike a chord. Olive herself - a successful career in the writing she loves, with lifelong close friends, the story picks up just after Olive's relationship of nine years breaks down - Jacob wants children, Olive has always been adamant that they are not for her. Olive proceeds to examine her own motivations, history and reasons for this, all the while attempting to move on and keep her friendship going with the old schoolfriends navigating their own life changes and problems - pregnancies, motherhood, relationship worries. It's all very convincingly portrayed - I don't personally have a close-knit circle of female friends that I turn to in times of need, but I recognised the 'sisterhood' and connection, as well as the obstacles and emotional traumas they each reveal to us. This shows the contemporary lives of women as what they really are: messy, complicated, a veneer of perfection smoothing over the undercurrent of strain, boredom and human frailty. Olive is never less than empathetic, she isn't perfect herself, sometimes too self-centred, rude or liable to wallow in self-pity. So who doesn't find themselves in this role sometimes? The group of friends will contain someone that you find reminds you of of yourself and your own lives and issues. I liked the snippets and reminders of Olive's younger self, as she and friends finish University, begin to explore the world of work, worry about pregnancy scares, and slowly start to show the signs of growing up and becoming the women we see in new roles a decade later. Olive explores the issues of childfree living, both for herself but also for her readers (meaning us as well as those of her publication), in some both funny and quite affecting scenes - attitudes and characters will amuse, annoy, even outrage in their turn. Personally, it's an issue I was rather interested in, having children, seeing the decision from Olive's perspective reminded me very strongly of how different life was, and could be... and I very much liked how Gannon concluded with her protagonist at the close. Perfect for audiobook, I'm really glad I listened to this, having Olive talking to me was a perfect choice for a story with a narrator sharing so much of her thought process with her readers. The narrator excelled at her voice as well, I slipped straight into her voice and it seamlessly swept from friend to friend. I didn't expect this to hit home the way it did. And I might even go as far to say I'd read it again, which I don't say very often at all. Recommended, for those who would call Olive a contemporary especially, both for younger women looking ahead at choices they still have time to consider, and for older readers who might want to step inside the shoes still finding their path to contentment with life. With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy.

4 people found this helpful

Alice updated. Clever stuff.

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-08-20

Alice updated for relevant issues, themes and groups. Clever stuff. It would really help for a reader/listener to know Carroll's original, or the regular references will be wasted. The updating feels fresh, smart and is full of memorable characters, often playing on traits and lines from the children's book. Alice now is a teenager, and the White Rabbit is her missing friend Bunny. Visiting Wonderland by invitation, she find it a sensualist days-long party where norms and expectations go out of the window, and other young people she knows are congregating for various purposes. As is usual with Dawson, themes of sexuality, coming-of-age, teenage relationships and sex itself are not shied away from, with some graphic content here making this feel authentic. Like Carroll's Wonderland, can Alice trust anyone? Even herself? Without giving anything away, the plot, characters and even quotes from the book (as well as references to the author) fill the story. And yet it feels completely contemporary. I did find the denouement a little cliched, but everything that came before it was original and well thought-out. I listened to this via Audible, and enjoyed hearing Dawson's own voice narrating her own creations, with a range of accents and tones. She brought Alice's mixture of young libidinous adult and vulnerability out very well. With twists and other issues that fall outside the remit of the classic story, it's a combination of update and modern adolescent novel. Drugs, sex, sexual violence, gender identity, this is for older teenagers really, and does contain unapologetic (sexual) swearing and some scenes that might upset younger readers. Cleverly done. Lots for book groups to talk about with this one. For ages 14 and above. With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy.

From children to teachers to parents...

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 31-07-20

From Children to Teachers to Parents... you know what to expect at this stage. Walliams has his formula, and he knows his audience. For me, this is similar to the Teachers - over the top stereotypes, lots of bodily function jokes and silly lists (not complaining - they go down a storm), moral lessons for parents whose behaviour is ridiculously outlandish. All very silly, children will blaze through these short chapters alone or with parents reading. A few stood out for one reason or another - a parent who takes all his kids' toys reminded me of the Lego Movie and the Dad who won't let his children play with the family set, a Supermum who was actually pretty sympathetic (I am a Mum, after all!). The one who hit home for me was the Dad who queue jumped. That was a good one for unloading all your wrath onto. With his poor, embarrassed children in tow. For a younger audience than his novels, this will fill stockings and birthday wrapping paper as ever, though I'd like to see more original novels from Walliams as he's had some corkers over the years now. Read by a star cast on Audible, it's entertaining to listen to, full of energy, though you do miss some of the visual humour and Tony Ross illustrations by accessing it in this format. For ages 6 and above. With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy.

1 person found this helpful

Rather fascinating insights, an unusual structure

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 31-07-20

Rather fascinating insights, and an unusual structure that works well. Instead of following just one or two characters in the ancient world, giving insight into their lives, here we are treated to two dozen citizens of Ancient China. We see their jobs, their homes, their families and their problems during an hour of the day (or night) in which they are busily occupied. Midwives, grave (tomb) robbers, craftsmen, a whole range of men and women take their turn upon the stage as we see what everyday life might have been like two centuries ago. The point that hit home with me was that China was so ADVANCED... their structures, technology, and above all else - a writing system - incredible compared to the rest of the globe at the time. By itself, a piece of writing left behind by a doctor, documenting cases, treatments - stunning foresight and professional behaviour! And how useful to have these kinds of information. I quite liked listening to this, rather than reading a paper copy, it helped the stories feel more personal and present. The voice worked well for both genders and it was not hard to follow, chapter by chapter. What a great idea for a series, a collection of personal accounts, snippets and lives of ordinary people at hours that mean something to them. Fresh and definitely something I'd want to delve into more, both for this time period and others. With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy.

Solid teen romance/equal rights story

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 15-06-20

Solid teen romance/equal rights story, with a medieval twist. The setting: a medieval-themed family restaurant. The hero: a heroine, waitress/serving wench Kit. The plot: with a wastrel vanished father leaving Kit, her brother and mum with little to live on, Kit and Chris help out with their wages - Chris earning significantly more as a knight, fighting in staged battles that Kit dreams of joining. The kicker?: she's a girl, so of course she can't be a knight. The scene is thus set for some modern-day equal rights fighting, some family drama, and with a best friend who's also an employee at this same medieval restaurant, a potential spark of a love story. This was a fairly typically structured YA story, with a sweet/sassy lead who's struggling to realise her academic dreams, keep (and even better) her job, not lose her best friend over a silly crush, and spearhead a snowballing feminist campaign. I liked Kit, I cared more about the subplot of her knightly ambitions than her relationship with her best friend, though her family situation does make you care how things are going to turn out for them all. A good time-passer for me, though I'm clearly not the target audience (probably also why the teen romance didn't really hit a nerve with me). Liked the medieval theme. The Audible narrator did a great job bringing Kit's voice to life, nice and clear, a strong young woman which transferred fairly well when having to voice the male characters. For ages 12 and above. A few themes/scenes involving discussion of drug taking, poverty. No sexual/swearing content. With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy.

Prequel that builds Panem and background

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-06-20

Prequel that builds Panem and builds background into the original trilogy. The Hunger Games was one of the only YA trilogies I've read in its entirety, mostly I read the first book and then leave it for other reading adventures. But I loved Katniss and found great satisfaction in seeing a rebellion come to fruition. To read a new novel, set many decades before those events, that wasn't going to be something I passed up. Especially as it's from the point of view of President Snow, or as he is here, 18--year-old Coriolanus Snow. Living in (genteel) poverty, Snow is banking on his upcoming role as mentor in the Hunger Games to restore his family fortunes. He'll need a tribute capable of winning. But the female from District 12 is unlikely to be it... It's a new view of tributes, the Games, and the world of Panem. And you will sympathise with Snow, the young man desperate to hide his old clothes and rise to his ambitions. Though seeing his tribute in a cage, seeing her spirit and bravery, makes him question his standards and what he's willing to do to make it in the world. I found Lucy much more bland than Katniss, despite her memorable scenes and personality. Katniss's games were far more tense and bloodthirsty. Coriolanus though, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing inside his head, knowing who he would become in the future and trying to work out how the events here would bridge to that man. The Games themselves took up less of the book than I was expecting, and nothing really stands out from them in my head after finishing the book, despite the usual manoeuvring and underhanded vying for resources and advantages. I wanted more of Snow's family and liked his story more than the rest. Narrated by a familiar voice (Prince Hans in Frozen for teenaged listeners who can't work out where they know him from!), Snow's voice is young and upright and not yet jaded with life. I think I would have preferred this on paper, in all honesty, as an audiobook I found myself tuning out sometimes, not the fault of the narrator though. Some books are better at your own pace. It did the job of building background into Snow and expanding my view of Panem and the districts. Something felt 'missing' for me, couldn't really say what. But it will go down well with fans, I expect. With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy.

Another heart-rending poetic novel from Crossan

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-06-20

Each lyrical piece of writing from Crossan manages to be narrative and poetry. A complete story broken down into chapters that each become a poem in their own right. I don't know how she does it. While Toffee tells a truly distressing tale of abuse, it never quite hit my heart the way 'One' or 'The Weight of Water' did. Allison is our focus. Physically and psychologically abused at home for many years, her father's longest-term partner (and Allison's ally) gone, she also leaves. But the shed she hides in belongs to an old lady who sees her own old friend in the young girl, and the dementia-ridden woman and Allison form an unlikely alliance. We watch Marla's dementia turn Allison from a friend called Toffee into someone she battles, the effects of her illness so painful, including for Marla's own son. The conflict between the women and their torturers, and the relationships between the women, are the two prongs of this story. I found the chapters of Allison and her father quite frightening, the girl's perspective somehow detached but still brutal in their depiction of mistreatment and violence. You know exactly what is happening. I wanted to know more about her father, delve into his psyche. It's a structure that melds itself well to the audio format, with short chapters and the verse structure in one voice a pattern that flows easily to the ear. The actor narrating has a young and vulnerable voice that suits the protagonist. A very short book, combining two emotive and highly relevant subjects to young people and their families today. With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy.