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Rachel Redford

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  • Naples '44

  • By: Norman Lewis
  • Narrated by: Nicholas Boulton
  • Length: 6 hrs and 40 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 1
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 1
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 1

Naples '44 is an unflinching autobiographical account of a year in Naples after the armistice and Allied landings in Sorrento in 1943. Working as a British counterintelligence officer under the Allied occupation, Lewis documents the rich pageant of life in the city and its surrounding areas. There is suffering and squalor: Criminal gangs are on the rise, along with typhus and black market commerce, and the female population is forced into part-time prostitution. But there is farce and humor, too, witnessed in the Roman uncle paid handsomely simply to appear at funerals.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Brilliant essential listening

  • By Rachel Redford on 08-10-18

Brilliant essential listening

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

Reviewed: 08-10-18

This is an iconic history /travelogue/memoir of a dire time during WW2 with both sides in the conflict driven by hideous brutality. Lewis was an intelligence officer sent for a 13-month stint to Naples in 1943 which was then under the Allied occupation. It was written 30 years after these indelible events which heightens the feeling of experiences which can never be expunged from memory.

Naples was a hideous shock to Lewis and his section. Whilst they were housed and fed in part of a once-grand house, the local Neapolitans were surviving and not surviving under unspeakable privation, helpless casualties of a bitter war. Their fishing had been forbidden; desperate little blind children begged at the men’s table; women were lined up for the soldiers who paid for their pleasure with a tin of food and frequently VD; acts of sickening vendetta savagery were considered justified; typhus was rife. The locals driven by hunger to acts of extreme desperation stole army hardware and rations and killed any creature that could possibly be eaten. The officers nonchalantly sent men to be shot or thought it reasonable to interview innocent suspects with the ‘encouragement’ of cracking them over the head with a chair.During this terrible time Vesuvius erupted. Lewis’s description is superb – driving out to inspect installations he’s met by lava moving down the main road with the church cupola cresting the flow as the people prayed that the liquefaction of the blood of their patron saint would save their city.

Excellently read by Nicholas Boulton, it’s one of the most powerful works of war memoir, reminding us of the obscenity of war and of the courage and resilience of those who suffer in it.

  • The Restless Girls

  • By: Jessie Burton
  • Narrated by: Thandie Newton
  • Length: 2 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 10
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 8
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 9

A dazzling feminist reinterpretation of a classic fairy tale, from the best-selling author of The Miniaturist and The Muse. For her 12 daughters, Queen Laurelia's death in a motor car accident is a disaster beyond losing a mother. Their father, King Alberto, cannot bear the idea of the princesses ever being in danger and decides his daughters must be kept safe at all costs. Those costs include their lessons, their possessions and, most importantly, their freedom. But the eldest, Princess Frida, will not bend to his will without a fight.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A charming winner

  • By Rachel Redford on 06-10-18

A charming winner

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

Reviewed: 06-10-18

The Restless Girls is a re-write of the Brothers Grimm's folk tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses, the favourite childhood fairy tale of Jessie Burton. I'm sure it's going to be a massive seller - available as a beautiful illustrated edition in a slip case as well as hardback and this audio version. I can see it as a stunning animated version too...

On the death of the mother the Queen, the 12 princess sisters are denied all their worthwhile hobbies from piano to science by the King their father who is determined to keep them confined close and safe. But the girls discover a whole new world of dancing animals in a land at the bottom of 100s of steps behind their mother's portrait, where they dance and dance and are happy each night. But they're found out because they wear out so many pairs of shoes, and the suspicious and controlling King offers his daughters in marriage to whoever can solve the mystery of the worn out shoes...

It's a strong feminist take on Grimm with a gloriously happy ending but doesn't hammer home its message. It's a delightful, subtle tale full of adventure and suspense to uplift children and grown-ups alike. The narration is just right

  • Black Dogs

  • By: Ian McEwan
  • Narrated by: Philip Franks
  • Length: 4 hrs and 59 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 9
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 9
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 9

In 1946, June and Bernard set off on their honeymoon. Fired by their ideals and passion for one another, they had planned an idyllic holiday, but in France they witness an event that alters the course of their lives entirely. Forty years on, their son-in-law is trying to uncover the cause of their estrangement and is led back to this moment on honeymoon and an experience of such darkness it was to wrench the couple apart.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Menace within Europe

  • By Rachel Redford on 07-09-18

Menace within Europe

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

Reviewed: 07-09-18

Through the narrative framework of Jeremy researching for a memoir of his estranged parents in law, Bernard and June Tremaine, McEwan's 1992 novel explores the dire situation in Europe, which is remarkably appropriate to now.

Bernard and June were committed communists but their separate intellectual development separated them. Through the disjointed account of the relationship between these two and of key events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, and of the June's terrifying encounter with wild dogs on her honeymoon, McEwan presents an intellectual analysis of the rupture of Europe.

Although the characters are clearly explored through the decades, the most important element of the novel is intellectual and metaphorical, the current situation giving it extra bite.

Extremely well read.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Fire Court

  • By: Andrew Taylor
  • Narrated by: Leighton Pugh
  • Length: 12 hrs and 3 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 71
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 62
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 63

Somewhere in the soot-stained ruins of Restoration London, a killer has gone to ground.... The Great Fire has ravaged London, wreaking destruction and devastation wherever its flames spread. Now, guided by the incorruptible Fire Court, the city is slowly rebuilding, but times are volatile, and danger is only ever a heartbeat away. James Marwood, son of a traitor, is thrust into this treacherous environment when his ailing father claims to have stumbled upon a murdered woman in the very place where the Fire Court sits. Then his father is run down and killed. Accident? Or another murder?

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Another historical winner

  • By Roger on 04-10-18

A brilliant sense of place

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

Reviewed: 02-09-18

This is the follow-up to Andrew Taylor's The Ashes of London reviewed by me on my Audible review page on 13/4/16 - and it's just as good.

The fast paced story is set against the back drop of the London Fire Court which carried out the legal business of property rights after the devastation of the Great Fire with all the corruption and claims to destroyed houses and jealous plans for re-building. James Marwood's father has died muttering about having seen a woman murdered. Was the old man murdered (most likely) or just deluded in his last days (not so likely)? The crime narrative twists and turns but what I like best about The Fire Court is the amazingly good creation of post Fire London crammed with intense details, smells and images amongst which live the real Londoners existing (and dying) amongst the ruins of everything that had been familiar.

The other best part is Leighton Pugh's excellent narration - he's a master of every accent and character and brings a brilliant cinematic quality to the listening.

  • Bitter Orange

  • By: Claire Fuller
  • Narrated by: Rachel Bavidge
  • Length: 9 hrs and 25 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 71
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 68
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 67

From the attic of a dilapidated English country house, she sees them - Cara first: dark and beautiful, clinging to a marble fountain of Cupid, and Peter, an Apollo. It is 1969, and they are spending the summer in the rooms below hers while Frances writes a report on the follies in the garden for the absent American owner. But she is distracted. Beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she discovers a peephole which gives her access to her neighbours' private lives. 

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Enjoyable story line with great characters.

  • By Amazon Customer on 26-07-18

Lose yourself in this tangled web

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

Reviewed: 28-08-18

Claire Fuller is a comparatively new writer well worth watching. This is her third novel – I wrote about her first, Our Endless Numbered Days, on 27/5/15 and Swimming Lessons, her second on 28/1/17 on my Audible review page, so I was keen to download Bitter Orange. With its uncomfortable, tense scenario where credible real lives are tinged with menace and the legacy of un-named trauma, it ensnares the listener from the start.

When Frances goes to the old manor house Lyntons in 1969 to study the history of the gardens, she finds furniture historian Peter and his possibly Italian ‘wife’ Cara already lodging there. The structure of the novel swings between place and time. At the start Frances is a frail dementia patient visited by a vicar trying to extract some kind of confession from her. From there the narrative veers between Cara’s many partially fantastical stories of her life; to Frances nursing her demanding old mother; a court room; to Frances nursing an obsessional delusional love for Peter; to Cara’s childhood in Ireland … and along many more by-ways.

As soon as we see Frances (awkward and lumpy and unloved in her mother’s old underwear) spying on Cara and Peter’s bathroom through a chink in the wall, we know that this fast developing claustrophobic and over-needy friendship between the threesome will end badly. The pleasure is in the development of the relationships which leads to the conclusion.
Fuller explores the pains of loneliness, love, dislocation and longing. It’s tremendously rich and rewarding, even if it is perhaps too fatly stuffed with themes and incidents which sometimes actually detracts from the novel’s power. The switches of time and place can be confusing, but perhaps they are clearer on the printed page.

It’s beautifully read, absolutely in tune with every ebb and flow of the narrative.

  • Clock Dance

  • By: Anne Tyler
  • Narrated by: Kimberly Farr
  • Length: 9 hrs and 11 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 87
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 80
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 81

Willa Drake can count on one hand the defining moments of her life: when she was 11 and her mother disappeared, being proposed to at 21, the accident that would make her a widow at 41. At each of these moments, Willa ended up on a path laid out for her by others. So when she receives a phone call telling her that her son’s ex-girlfriend has been shot and needs her help, she drops everything and flies across the country. The spur-of-the moment decision to look after this woman - and her nine-year-old daughter, and her dog - will lead Willa into uncharted territory....

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Beautiful - as you'd expect from such a fine write

  • By Liz Scully on 19-07-18

Will she or won't she?

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

Reviewed: 20-08-18

Willa is a child in Lark City, Pennsylvania at the beginning of Anne Tyler’s22nd novel, bewildered by the temporary disappearance of her temperamental and destructive mother. I like the way her life is followed through the decades following into her sixties.
How do childhood experiences shape our lives? We see how Willa’s longing to be (unlike her mother) mild and unnoticed inspired her two marriages as a response to those early years. It’s not until the very last sentence that we see whether or not she will at long last break out. Will she return to the controlling husband who spends a lot of time on the golf course and calls her ‘little one’, or make a new life with all its risks and possibilities?
The narration and the people are (not surprisingly) very American, but Tyler’s observations are universal. Tyler’s skill is showing how quiet, ordinary lives are shaped by their early years: what is lost and more positively what can be salvaged and eventually grow. Well worth listening to if rather drawn out in places.

  • Middlemarch

  • By: George Eliot
  • Narrated by: Juliet Stevenson
  • Length: 35 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,145
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 907
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 903

Dorothea Brooke is an ardent idealist who represses her vivacity and intelligence for the cold, theological pedant Casaubon. One man understands her true nature: the artist Will Ladislaw. But how can love triumph against her sense of duty and Casaubon’s mean spirit? Meanwhile, in the little world of Middlemarch, the broader world is mirrored: the world of politics, social change, and reforms, as well as betrayal, greed, blackmail, ambition, and disappointment.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • All consuming

  • By Caro on 27-04-11

The finest of all nineteenth century novels

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

Reviewed: 01-08-18

Middlemarch is one of those books you can read or listen to many times over the decades and still find something you have missed. Its 86 chapters present a nineteenth century community in the middle of England, not just its inter-connecting characters from the titled and well to do to household servants, but the very sinews of the place which bind them all together. (Interconnection interested nineteenth century scientists and the theme is explored by Eliot through striking imagery of entanglement and webs as well as narrative).
The community is also a physical place with its river, church and homes from the grand house with its library to humbler homesteads which children, chickens and dogs in the kitchen gardens. Above all we are drawn inside what George Eliot called ‘the passions of the mind’: theology, books, ideas on agriculture and academic research, political reform, advances in science and medicine, expansion of the railways, the unwritten laws governing social behaviour… the list goes on.
There’s nothing exceptional about the cast of human beings (they’re so much more than mere characters), and the complex themes around marriage are just as poignant and real now as then. Dr Lydgate aspired to make advances in medicine, but was ensnared by the fatally pretty Rosamond; Dorothea yearned to be useful to the dried up old academic and spent her honeymoon in floods of tears. The many marriages, disastrous, happy or unexceptional, are played out sharp insight making them as relevant today as then.
Middlemarch for me is the finest nineteenth novel, immensely rich and rewarding and Juliet Stevenson’s narration provides a further brilliant dimension. Her range of apparently effortless character creation is astonishingly impressive and brings out all the complexities and nuances of thoughts and feelings.

  • Rosie

  • By: Rose Tremain
  • Narrated by: Rose Tremain
  • Length: 4 hrs and 46 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 26
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 24
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 24

Rose Tremain grew up in postwar London, a city of grey austerity, still partly in ruins, where both food and affection were fiercely rationed. The girl known then as ‘Rosie’ and her sister, Jo, spent their days longing for their grandparents' farm, buried deep in the Hampshire countryside, a green paradise of feasts and freedom, where they could at last roam and dream.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Beautiful book

  • By Carol on 20-04-18

'It deepens like a coastal shelf'

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

Reviewed: 19-07-18

I loved this finely judged slim memoir. Avoiding the memoirist’s pitfall of self-indulgent prolixity, Rose Tremain’s language (as in her 13 novels and many short stories) is spare and delicately chosen. The life extends from early childhood to the end of her formal education.

Tremain’s heart was set on Oxford, a longing described by her mother (referred to throughout significantly merely as ‘Jane’) as ‘an inappropriate dream’. She did not want ‘a bluestocking for a daughter’, nor did she want her around. Rosie (as she was known) was sent to a finishing school in Switzerland where she learned ski-ing and secretarial skills.

Rosie’s background was privileged – servants (her nanny was Rosie’s sole source of love), idle leisure and property. Post-war boarding school was bitterly cold, food was scarce and Rosie started marking off the days on her ‘term worm’ (her grid of the days as a worm) from the first day of each term. But after some time her beloved teacher Robbie (who taught in a fur coat against the cold) opened up poetry for her and assuaged her homesickness.

But what makes the memoir so moving as well as a fascinating vignette of a vanished era (Tremain was born in 1943) are the tragic dynamics of the family’s three generations. Larkin’s ‘Man hands on misery to man, it deepens like a coastal shelf’ could have been written for Rosie’s family. Inside their beautiful Linkenholt Manor (a rural sanctuary for Rosie and her sister Jo) Rosie’s grandparents lived crucified by the grief of losing both their sons, a loss so grievous that Rosie’s mother, unloved Jane, knew she was no compensation. She was sent off to boarding school at six (two years younger than all the other children). She grew up to become an abandoned wife and an unloving cruelly neglectful mother to Rosie and Jo.

But Tremain’s touch is light: analysis and insight without judgement beautifully read – a feat in itself as few writers read their own work well.

  • Whistle in the Dark

  • By: Emma Healey
  • Narrated by: Julia Deakin, Laura Aikman
  • Length: 10 hrs and 43 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 74
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 71
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 71

Penguin presents the audiobook edition of Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey. Jen's 15-year-old daughter goes missing for four agonising days. When Lana is found, unharmed, in the middle of the desolate countryside, everyone thinks the worst is over. But Lana refuses to tell anyone what happened, and police draw a blank. The once happy, loving family return to London, where things start to fall apart. Lana begins acting strangely: making secretive phone calls, hiding books under her bed, sleeping with the light on. As Lana stays stubbornly silent, Jen sets out to solve the mystery behind her daughter's disappearance herself....

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Unexpected therapy

  • By mrs t m snook on 26-06-18

What ever happened to Lana?

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

Reviewed: 17-05-18

Emma Healey's Elizabeth is Missing was a great success - her focus there was the mental states of old people. Whistle in the Dark focuses on the mental state of 15 year-old Lana, Her parents Jen and Hugh have always done their best for her and tried to help her conquer her depression and urge to self harm. Jen takes her on a bonding painting trip and it's then that Lana goes missing for 4 days. The newspapers home in on the story and when Lana is found covered with strange injuries and claiming to have no memory of what happened, all kinds of fantastical and painful stories are printed about what might have happened - from sex to Satanic cult activity. The truth is revealed at the end.

The story is told by Jen and the pain, frustration and powerlessness she suffers in trying to help her daughter drives her close to distraction. The conversations where Jen tries to help and Lana blocks her and returns to her Messaging are brilliant in their excruciatingly painful reality, as is the disintegration of Jen as the very best she can do is never right. Anyone who lives with a teenager as troubled as Lana will recognise every line. But there's humour too and tremendous vitality, humanity - and hope. The story is fleshed out with flashbacks and it ends on an up.

The narration captured the different voices of Lana and Jen making them absolutely real. The whole comes from tremendous observation and understanding.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Property: A Collection

  • By: Lionel Shriver
  • Narrated by: Lionel Shriver
  • Length: 14 hrs and 56 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 9
  • Performance
    2.5 out of 5 stars 9
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 9

The first ever story collection from the inimitable Lionel Shriver. This landmark publication, the first collection of stories from a master of the form, explores the idea of 'property' in both senses of the word: real estate and stuff. These sharp, brilliantly imaginative pieces illustrate how our possessions act as proxies for ourselves and how tussles over ownership articulate the power dynamics of our relationships. In Shriver’s world, we may possess people and objects and places, but in turn they possess us.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Love Lionel but not as a narrator

  • By Mrs C. on 29-05-18

Domestic territorial conflict

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

Reviewed: 08-05-18

14 hours is a long download – 10 short stories book-ended with 2 longish novellas, all on the theme of possession and rights, whether over property or another human being.

Lionel Shriver is undeniably razor-sharp and strident in her robust opinions on topics of the moment such as immigration, religion, property owning and the shortcomings of the millennial smart-phone generation, but the trouble with creating fiction as a vehicle to expound on these opinions and observations is that the characters Shriver creates (and there are a great many of them) are almost without exception unpleasant, unkind, unappealing, unsympathetic, uncompromising people.

There are plenty of sharp observations on marital and family relationships and the madness of aspects of today’s society, but 14 hours is a very long time to spend in these characters’ unrelieved company and Shriver’s entirely appropriate but unpleasant, grating, harsh, hard voice doesn’t make the experience any more enjoyable. Some of the stories are set in the UK and hearing the attempt of strongly American Shriver to speak like her idea of rough English speakers is one of the worst audio performances I’ve ever heard in my long audio-listening life!

The best, set in Africa,is KIlifi Creek, even though the arrogant, ignorant, selfish millennial protagonist is thoroughly unlikeable: a well-structured and memorable short story.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful