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Maggie

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Airs Above the Ground cover art

Odd reading, yet it still enhanced the book

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

Reviewed: 31-08-19

This is another of the old, well loved, Mary Stewart murder / mystery / romance set of novels mainly written between the 1950s and 1970, well before her Arthurian books. This was published in 1965. It was never one of my top favourites, though I did enjoy it - but somehow the story never really 'gripped' me, (though it did give me an ambition to go to Vienna one day to see the Spanish Riding School).
Vanessa and her husband Lewis have fallen out when their planned time together had to be scrapped so Lewis could go back to work abroad, and not for the first time. Vanessa becomes aware (though her mother's gloriously awful friend, Carmel, briefly read but you get a real ‘sense’ for the ghastly woman) that Lewis may not be where he said he was going... so, lumbered with Carmel's young son Timmy as a travelling companion, she sets off to find out for herself.
Not only does Vanessa find out what's happening with her husband, getting pitched into a mystery along the way, but she also learns that Tim isn't anyone's 'little boy'; instead a resourceful and rather nice young man more than capable of getting involved in whatever is going on.
It's a good story, and it's not badly delivered - I've heard a lot worse - though other reviewers are right that the style isn’t particularly fluid, and basically it's just being read rather than performed, albeit in a pleasant voice. No real attempt at characterisation (strangely enough, apart from a parrot who is quite good). I’ve definitely heard a lot better, but oddly I still found that I became more involved listening to this than I had when originally reading the book.
Despite the rather stilted reading, I liked it.

Touch Not the Cat cover art

A slight departure for Mary Stewart

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

Reviewed: 31-08-19

As another reviewer has commented, this book is a bit of a departure from Mary Stewart's normal romance/mystery books in that it strays into the past, ESP and psychic links / thought transference within families.
All this is enclosed within a modern mystery with the usual murder / general nastiness combined with romance that is Mary Stewart's trademark.
That it's different doesn't mean it's not good, it is - very. It's the story of Bryony returning after her father's death to what has been her family's home for many generations aware that apart from personal bequests the entailed property now moves elsewhere in her family. Sounds like something out of Jane Austen, but it's not, it's set in modern times, holds the attention and builds to a really climatic conclusion.
The book is evocative and enjoyable with well drawn characters, from Bryony herself, her father (although we never actually meet him, he's very real) her cousins, the tough US businessman with a friendly wife and spoiled daughter who are renting the house, the vague minister, the kind and helpful pair of foreign Doctor and local Solicitor to the farm manager / man of all work, Rob Granger.
It also makes you want to whizz back down the centuries and defend Bryony's ancestor, Wicked Nick (well, it does me, anyway). As someone who spends a lot of time researching family trees, both my own and other peoples', it's fascinating.
And on the whole it's well read.
So why not 5 stars all round? For the story, always. For the narration, everything worked for me but Rob Granger. The 'country cousin' bit is so overdone he comes across with the hackneyed tones of a rather stupid straw chewing yokel when he's anything but, and that's a shame because he, of all the voices, jarred and was not believable.
That's the only downside though, and if you can live with that, it's well worth listening to.

My Brother Michael cover art

Excellent, I really did save the best till last...

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

Reviewed: 31-08-19

Christmas came early in August for Mary Stewart aficionados this year, with the release of four unabridged novels at once. Apart from the very real disappointment of The Ivy Tree, it's been a great month, and this really is 'saving the best till last'
Another reviewer has said the narration disappointed as it sounded as if Camilla and Simon were pensioners. I can (sort of) understand where they are coming from, but don't think I agree. This book is 60 years old this year, and the action takes place in a Greece where the memories of the Second World War are still very fresh, and very raw. Watch any film of that time and you realise that voices have changed a lot in the intervening 60 years.
Simon, a man who wears grey flannels (bet he calls them 'bags'), and teaches Classics to 'his house' in a minor public school, is not your modern 21st Century man. On the other hand, he is one of Stewart's not overtly romantic but essentially kind, practical and tough heroes that are really rather nice - the type of man you would always want at your side when in trouble. For me, his voice sounds about right, as does Camilla's, another of-her-time young woman who smokes whenever she has the chance and has a major crisis of confidence in her life at the outset of the book.
I'd not heard Jasmine Blackborow before and think she handles the cast of characters really well, with a special mention of Stephanos, and the narration of both the early scene where he describes Michael's death to Simon, and the later rather Homeric finale in the quarry.
This is an excellent book, bringing Delphi - or the Delphi of 60 years ago anyway - to life with mystery, some sadness and some real beauty, particularly in the bright citadel. And it's well read. What more could we ask?
And there's four more to come in November to complete the set...
Thanks Audible (oh, and if you can see your way to re-recording The Ivy Tree I'd be eternally grateful...) Pretty please?

Penshaw cover art

Superb... follows straight on from The Moor

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

Reviewed: 24-08-19

These 2 books, The Moor and Penshaw, were released on the same day and are best listened to straight through one after another. The time gap between them is no more than a day or so and we are back with the usual team of Ryan, Phillips, McKenzie, Yates - and of course Anna, though less of her than other books - and the lovely Sam, introduced in The Moor (and of course, all the others as well, where would we be without Tom Faulkener and Dr Pinter?)
The Moor ended on a cliffhanger with Jack Lowerson doing his usual thing of dashing off to be a hero without actually thinking things through... no spoilers, but let's just say don't look for a wild improvement too soon. A lot of links back to previous books in the series as well and a theme of corruption, in many senses, running through the story.
In this one LJ Ross also nails her colours to the mast and graphically describes aspects of the Miners' Strikes of the 1980s, conveying the real emotional pain and long term effects for the close knit pit communities. OK, it's a detective novel, but it's good at helping us understand the impact of some of those political decisions
There is one character that deserves a special mention - Joan Watson, a lady in her 80s. Joan is very much the victim in this book, but such a strong well drawn character that she really stands out.
And the narration? Well, it's still Jonathan Keeble. As long as LJ Ross keeps writing these, please keep reading them Jonathan. You have become the voice of Ryan and all of these great characters - and you do it so well. Thank you

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

The Ivy Tree cover art

Oh dear... it's such a brilliant book

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

Reviewed: 24-08-19

I'm not sure where to start... with the simultaneous release of 4 well loved Mary Stewart novels I listened in order on the 'save the best till last' principle, I've already heard The Moon-Spinners and The Gabriel Hounds, moving to this and finishing with My Brother Michael. Never did I imagine I might even consider returning a Mary Stewart...
So can I ask a question? Looked at logically, a young man, Connor Winslow, grows up in Ireland, moves to Northumberland in his late teens and at the age of 30 still has his Irish accent. Fair enough, because speech patterns are normally set in our early years.
So why would a young woman, born and brought up in Northumberland, leave home in her late teens and return after only 8 years with a slow transatlantic droning voice and an inability to remember how to pronounce the local place names?
Doesn't compute, does it? But that's what we are supposed to accept. A slight Canadian accent can be justified in the early incarnation of Mary Grey - but not in the later chapters; and this isn't slight
I can't entirely blame the narrator. Somebody else made the editorial decision to make this narration a slow emotionless monotone with an accent that doesn't fit the character. Sometimes I think these studios push the narrations through on a conveyor belt without anyone concerned actually knowing anything about the books.
And to be fair to her, Amy Molloy makes a pretty good attempt at some of the other voices, though not all. Connor, Lisa, Mrs Bates, Grandfather - they are all distinctive and she even has a fair go at the Geordie accent early on in the cafe, and that is a really difficult thing to pull off. It's with these other voices that any trace of emotion and spark of life comes in. With Mary / Annabel it remains a slow monotonous drawl and it really drags..
One tip - listening on a Kindle it does improve a bit at times if you shift to x1.25 speed. But then you get a headache...
Sorry but one to avoid. Such a shame. It's a brilliant book

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

The Gabriel Hounds cover art

Another classic Mary Stewart, well read

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

Reviewed: 20-08-19

This, like all Mary Stewart's novels, is a book that I've known, read and re-read over many years but The Gabriel Hounds was the only one where one aspect never seemed to quite click for me. The story is a classic Mary Stewart plot, this time Christy (sheltered,moneyed, a bit naive, a bit spoilt and entitled but nice despite all that) is travelling in the Middle East. By chance she bumps into her cousin Charles and later learns that their eccentric Great Aunt Harriet, who had shifted lock stock and barrel (and dog) to live in some state in the area years ago is not, as Christy thought, dead but still alive and living in remote seclusion in a crumbling desert palace,
No wish to give spoilers for those who haven't read the books, but the one part I always found difficult to 'see' in my mind's eye was the scene where Christy, after some stubborn pressure on her part, is finally admitted to her Great Aunt Harriet's darkened room to talk to her. It was surprising how much simpler I found it to visualise that clearly when listening to the narration rather than reading.
As with all of Stewart's classic novels, there is a romance but there is also danger and murder.
This one was written in the 1960s. For a modern listener it seems strange to hear of tourist visiting Beirut, Damascus, Aleppo and other names we are only too familiar with from the news, for all the wrong reasons. The world described here is not the same today and it's sad to realise how different it was such a short time ago.
But it's a good story, and of its time. And it's well narrated on the whole, though not sure why the local Arab driver is given an Estuary accent - the book was written far too long ago for him to have been learning his English from East Enders..
It's great to have all these Mary Stewart books finally recorded and unabridged. Emilia Fox read the first, Madam Willl You Talk, and from then on they've been different voices all the way. I think Ellie Heydon, who reads this and Nine Coaches Waiting, is the first to 'double up'. Despite a few pronunciation errors, it's ok and I hope she reads some of the 4 still to come in November.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

The Moor           cover art

Where's the health warning? These are addictive..

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

Reviewed: 20-08-19

Like so many, I leap on new DCI Ryan books by LJ Ross as soon as they are published, but still can't wait until the Audible edition comes out with Jonathan Keeble reading. Always worth waiting for. his reading is brilliant and adds another layer with his characterisation and accents. Just as one can't imagine listening to Harry Potter read by anyone but Stephen Fry, Jonathan Keeble does the same for DCI Ryan
For this one the team is firmly placed back in the centre of Newcastle, this time when the circus comes back to The Moor after an absence of 8 years. Everyone is assembled from detectives to Chief Constable to forensics to pathologist and it's like revisiting a family of old friends.
Ryan and Anna still as happy, but in this one there's a new face added, Samantha (Sam) age 10, who literally lands up on Ryan's doorstep asking for help with a murder she has witnessed. Sam provides the main case that Ryan and Phillips tackle but at the same time Jack Lowerson and Melanie Yates have some nasty deaths to deal with. One of the two of them handles that well, the other makes some serious errors (no spoilers)
The other effect Sam's introduction has is to develop even more the characters of Frank Phillips and Denise McKenzie. They've always been a mismatched but much loved couple, in this book you'll probably fall for them even more.
This one doesn't finish with all ends neatly tied up, there's a significant cliff hanger, and as such it's good that Jonathan Keeble has also recorded Penshaw - we can move smoothly from one to the next
It's another cracker, both the story and the narration. Totally recommended
... but I still think they should carry health warnings. Totally addictive

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

Nine Coaches Waiting cover art

An old friend, now updated with great narration

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

Reviewed: 16-08-19

Beautifully read. This is a book that die hard Mary Stewart fans know inside out, and are well aware how the tension slowly builds up, from the coldness of Madame to the love for the little Count and a real worry about the fascinating Raoul, let alone his father, Leon de Valmy.
The background build up from Linda's childhood in Paris to the new role as a Governess who doesn't want to admit she speaks the French of France is well handled.
This is a wonderful book (I can still swear I can taste the frosted grapes from the midnight feast) with mystery, romance and the gloriously down to earth William Blake. Like all Mary Stewart fans I love it.
Ellie Heydon does a great job of narration, I just wish she had been commissioned to read some of the others, but hey ho, by the end of this year we will have them all recorded so it's churlish to complain...
Thank you Audible, wonderful to have so many favourite old friends read to me at last

The Moon-Spinners cover art

An old and well loved friend

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

Reviewed: 16-08-19

Those of us who are Mary Stewart aficionados have been so pleased over these past few months to find all of her books have been, or are about to be, recorded unabridged (thanks Audible). The balance, mainly her later, shorter, titles are due to follow in November.
Language evolves, we all know that, and it's been interesting to hear how this, one of her earliest and best loved novels from the 1960s, (Hayley Mills was young when they filmed it) would sound in the hands of a young 21C female actor (I'm assuming that as this seems to be her first narration for Audible) Some words do defeat her, which is a shame as someone could have guided her (for instance for Psyche we got sickie all the way through)
The answer is, not that bad. I was a bit worried at first as Daphne Kouma seemed to be attacking the first narrative sections so fast she was almost breathlessly gabbling, probably out of nervousness, but it did settle down. It's of its time, as all Mary Stewart books are, The Boy meets Girl is from a more innocent age, but the murder and general nastiness is not.
Kouma's characterisation is not bad at all, giving us the very believable light touch of the rather lovely (despite everything) Tony and the sadness and worry of Sophia - and as with all Stewart's practical heroes, Max sounds good. OK, her Colin age 15 sometimes sounds like a rather childish 12 year old by today's standards, but on the whole it's all right.
Now onto My Brother Michael, The Ivy Tree and The Gabriel Hounds, all also released yesterday. For Mary Stewart readers, Christmas has come early. Shame in some ways that the narrators are such a scatter gun mixture, rather than a single voice, but just glad they are all recorded.
As to Daphne Kouma, not a bad first attempt. Hope she goes on to record more.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

The Hermitage cover art

Just like red buses: wait ages and 2 come at once

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

Reviewed: 07-03-19

The Hermitage and Longstone released on the same day? LIke so many, I read any new DCI Ryan book as soon as it comes out, and none have disappointed yet. Waiting for the audio version is another thing, but providing it is going to be read by Jonathan Keeble, it's well worth the wait. Please don't ever change the narrator!
This is another cracker, with the much loved cast of Ryan, Anna, Frank Phillips and Denise McKenzie. Oddly enough, Elly Griffiths took a recent Ruth Galloway novel to Italy for a change - and here goes Ryan on the same route, this time on the trail of Nathan Armstrong, last seen walking scot free at the end of Dark Skies. As a story it has it all, twists, an ending that I really didn't see coming, and more development of all these familiar characters.
So why 4 for story rather than 5 across the board? Because there's one small aspect of it that seems a little too much like a plot contrivance. With a murder on the go in Northumberland would Morrison really have allowed Phillips and McKenzie to jet off to Italy to join Ryan, who was making waves with the Florence police department? Would Ryan really have been able to crash around Florence annoying the local force to quite such an extent? Hmm... not sure about that bit. That is the only, and minor, quibble though.
And not one, but two, lovely endings - one beautiful one in Florence, one satisfying one back in England.
Overall, it's another great read, and in Jonathan Keeble's hands, a pleasure to listen to. Long may this series continue.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful