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Rachel Redford

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  • Clock Dance

  • By: Anne Tyler
  • Narrated by: Kimberly Farr
  • Length: 9 hrs and 11 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 45
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 42
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 43

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 40 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,092
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 860
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 856

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 18
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 16
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 16

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 58
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 55
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 55

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 out of 5 stars 8
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars 8
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 8

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

  • The Western Wind

  • By: Samantha Harvey
  • Narrated by: Nyasha Hatendi
  • Length: 10 hrs and 56 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 10
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 9

Oakham, near Bruton, is a tiny village by a big river without a bridge. When a man is swept away by the river an explanation has to be found. The story is relayed by the village priest, John Reve, who, in his role as confessor, is privy to a lot of information that others are not. But will he be able to explain what happened to the victim? And what will happen if he can’t? 

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Much more than a medieval whodunnit

  • By Rachel Redford on 30-04-18

Much more than a medieval whodunnit

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

Reviewed: 30-04-18





The Western Wind is certainly unusual with its central event being in 1491 when in the Somerset village of Oakham the body of Thomas Newman, a good, important and generous man, is found – separate from his shirt – in the river, the river for which the villagers are pleading for a bridge to end their isolation from the other better off villages around. Not everyone, including the rural dean, is in agreement with the bridge.
So who drowned Thomas Newman? The whole story is told by the contemplative parish priest John Reve who in his confession box is privy to many people’s secrets – as well as those in his own heart. Harvey creates the fifteenth century ways, mind-sets, beliefs, suspicions and a wealth of everyday tasks with great skill, as well as the powerful rhythms of the seasons, earth and winds. The central mystery unfolds as a succession of villagers claim their guilt in the confession box and as Reve sifts through them, a network of grievances, losses and quarrels underpinning those confessions are revealed.
The narration is appropriate. Nyasha Hatendi's voice is quiet, soft and gentle but I did find it trying after a while through no fault of his. I think I would have preferred to read this book than listen to it, because there’s plenty of beautiful language which needs to be savoured by slower reading or re-reading, and John Reve’s unvaried voice and tone would not have become so tiresome.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau

  • By: Graeme Macrae Burnet
  • Narrated by: Geoffrey Breton
  • Length: 8 hrs and 15 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 39
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 36
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 35

Manfred Baumann is a loner. Socially awkward and perpetually ill at ease, he spends his evenings quietly drinking and surreptitiously observing Adèle Bedeau, the sullen but alluring waitress at a drab bistro in the unremarkable small French town of Saint-Louis. But one day, she simply vanishes into thin air. When Georges Gorski, a detective haunted by his failure to solve one of his first murder cases, is called in to investigate the girl's disappearance, Manfred's repressed world is shaken to its core.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Who's teasing who?

  • By Rachel Redford on 19-04-18

Who's teasing who?

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

Reviewed: 19-04-18


What an intriguing tease this is! For a start The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau isn’t Graeme Macrae Burnet’s follow-up to His Bloody Project (reviewed by me last year), but his first novel which never received much acclaim outside Scotland. It should have.

It’s a Simenon-esque murder mystery focused on the psychology rather than the act set in Saint-Louis, an undistinguished little town on the Rhine where loner Manfred Baumann has his lunch each day in the Restaurant de la Cloche whilst idly lusting after the amply proportioned waitress Adèle Bedeau. When Adèle disappears, the local detective suspects Manfred of murder, even though there’s as yet no body.

There are good reasons for his suspicions, but not the ones you might expect. The past lives of both Manfred and the detective are chillingly fleshed out, but just when you think it’s all about to be solved, there’s another clever twist.

And finally the real-life author comes in and says the whole story is his translation of a 1980s French cult novel by the teasingly anagramatic Raymond Brunet, and we get Brunet’s life which is uncannily like Baumann’s…

Puzzling, tantalising, intriguing, highly original, intelligent, it’s a top-rate listen, and the whole is enhanced by the narration.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

  • By: Imogen Hermes Gowar
  • Narrated by: Juliet Stevenson
  • Length: 17 hrs and 19 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 572
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 537
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 534

Random House presents the audiobook edition of The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar, read by Juliet Stevenson. This voyage is special. It will change everything.... One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah's ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Utterly beguiling and brilliantly believable.

  • By ms.t.s.hutchings on 20-02-18

Can you believe in mermaids?

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

Reviewed: 10-04-18


It is easy to immerse yourself in this late eighteenth century world of up-market whores, pimps and aristocratic cads because the vocabulary and the mass of period detail of daily life – city streets, carriages, dress fabrics, hats, jewels, wigs, food, interiors, servants and so on - are so vibrant and visual. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock would make a brilliant television serialisation.

So authentic is the detail that you are lifted happily into the realm of fantasy (the mermaid; Mr Hancock in his shell grotto) and into the imagined intimate workings of the brothel and of the various very well described sexual encounters enjoyed (or not enjoyed) there.

The main narrative follows the fortunes of Angelica Neal, the high spirited, vain and opinionated ‘envoy of Venus’ who is irresistible to men including the worthy merchant Mr Hancock who makes a fortune through his ‘mermaid’ . This very long saga is many things: a highly coloured fun eighteenth century romp as well as some kind of allegory or cautionary tale.

Don’t think too deeply about it, just swim with it like the mermaid and enjoy Juliet Stevenson’s brilliant narration.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Educated

  • By: Tara Westover
  • Narrated by: Julia Whelan
  • Length: 12 hrs and 10 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 331
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 296
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 296

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. She spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating emergency supplies, hoping that when the World of Men failed, her family would continue on, unaffected. She hadn't been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she'd never set foot in a classroom and no medical records because her father didn't believe in doctors or hospitals. According to the state and federal government, she didn't exist.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Wonderful, inspiring book on the value of education

  • By David Bowden on 03-03-18

Disturbing

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

Reviewed: 28-03-18


I have reservations about Tara Westover’s best seller.

Of course her story of overcoming a hideous childhood in Idaho in her Mormon family and escaping through education to some kind of ‘normality’ (certainly academic success) is to be admired and many readers have felt inspired by her courage.

The details of her childhood with her delusional, bi-polar father and colluding mother are utterly dreadful in their savagery. How can any family have survived the catalogue of what should have been fatal ‘accidents’? The brother’s leg is ripped to the bone in some mad-scheme lethal machine the father had made for his scrap yard (ignoring his severely injured son he immediately insists that teenage Tara should take over at the machine). Her mother suffers severe brain trauma in a road crash in which no other vehicle was involved and suffers years of excruciating pain and permanent impairment. Father manages to blow himself up in an explosion, ‘dies’ several times burnt to a pulp but survives to live many more monstrous years (albeit without lips). Tara’s brother regularly nearly kills her by shoving her head down the toilet and cracking her head against the wall (punishment for being a ‘whore’ also meted out to her sister she learns years later). In adulthood her brothers attack their subdued Mormon wives and one brother slices his dog to shreds with a knife. On another occasion Tara finds her brother beside his crashed motorbike with his brain leaking onto the road … That’s just a few instances and because of Father’s Mormon faith all these horrific near-fatalities are dealt with at home treated with Mother’s herbs and oils through which God heals.

For me, I found it so dreadful I don’t quite know what to think.

I’m disturbed by ‘Educated’ on many levels.

  • The Road to Wigan Pier

  • By: George Orwell
  • Narrated by: Jeremy Northam
  • Length: 7 hrs and 37 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 499
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 422
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 418

A graphic and biting polemic that still holds a fierce political relevance and impact despite being written over half a century ago. First published in 1937 it charts George Orwell's observations of working-class life during the 1930s in the industrial heartlands of Yorkshire and Lancashire. His depictions of social injustice and rising unemployment, the dangerous working conditions in the mines amid general squalor and hunger also bring together many of the ideas explored in his later works and novels.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Road to Wigan Pier

  • By M on 15-10-12

Essential reading

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

Reviewed: 19-03-18


The 1937 Road to Wigan Pier resonates sharply and shockingly with conditions in Britain now with the North South divide and the suffering caused to ordinary people by stringent cuts in public spending.

We may no longer have working men living in vermin infested lodgings, such as Orwell stayed in whilst investigating conditions in the north of England, with not even a bed for each man, tripe and vinegar doled out from a collier’s unwashed blackened hands and a full chamber pot under the breakfast table. The fearful conditions which the colliers suffered underground, their lungs ruined by coal dust; their skin permanently discoloured; bent double for purgatorial hour after purgatorial hour with the imminent danger of roof fall are now mercifully in the past. The parallels are clear however. The chronic housing shortage (sound familiar?) resulted in families crammed into spaces dripping with damp with one outside lavatory serving 30 or more families, many of them in wretched health.

In the second part Orwell changes gear into a polemic vision of his socialist utopia. He describes social attitudes, the gulf between the social classes and how he was brought up to view the lower classes – if at all – as inferior and ugly. The language and the detail have changed, but again it’s all strikingly relevant to now. How have we progressed and not progressed since 1937? This is one of those books which are essential reading and Jeremy Northam’s narration is an excellent way of absorbing it.