I’ve discovered an amazing way to get through more books and I’m raging I didn’t start the process a year and a half ago when I began my commute to work. It has doubled my rate of reading and what’s more, I’m seeing books and how they are written, differently.
Friends, I give you – audiobooks. If you haven’t tried them and they don’t appeal to you, I would say, try it and see how you get on. I always dismissed the idea before now – they were something I associated with older people or housewives doing the cleaning (I tick both boxes there actually). They just didn’t seem cool.
And like the kindle V paperback debate, I felt like I wouldn’t enjoy listening rather than reading. Well, what a turn up for the books. (Slaps thigh laughing). I am LOVING my new found readalistenathon.
I spotted the audiobooks in my library recently and I took a chance and borrowed Phillipa Gregory’s The Red Queen. I have a few of Phillipa’s books and while they make for wonderful historical fiction, they can be long and sometimes, a read that will take me quite a while. As I drive about forty minutes each way to work, I started listening to the book then and I got through The Red Queen in three weeks. (I work part-time so if I was in the car more, I’d be getting through them quicker too).
I’ve come to notice a few things.
1) I cannot wait to hop in the car and listen to the book – I find it so relaxing and feel smug with my new use of what can sometimes be wasted time
2) I don’t listen to the radio anymore and when I do can’t get over how grating and loud the ads are
3) I’ve no idea what’s going on in the world because I’ve stopped hearing the news
4) My friends haven’t heard from me in two months because drive time was previously phonecall time
5) I retain the book, the story and how it is told far more than when I’m reading the words
It’s a completely different literary experience. If you think about the stories you were told as a kid and how they stayed with you – it’s the same thing as an adult. I find myself thinking about the characters and dialogue I’ve heard all through my day. I’m also paying close attention to structure and how the story is told and how little red herrings are dropped at the start of the book are then played out and resolved in the story. All good research for an aspiring author.
So, I will continue to borrow my audiobooks and envelop my working day in literature. My only limitations will be what my local library has on offer, but I’ve heard that you can also download audiobooks easily on to your phone – so that may be the next step. (I might end up drowning out the world entirely).
Here’s what I read in August, September and October.
The Cinderella Reflex by Joan Brady
The Cinderella Reflex is Joan Brady’s debut novel and tells the story of two women involved in a local radio station that is just about to go national. Tess is reaching end of her 20s and is finding the changes at work hard – she feels that she hasn’t reached a stage in life where she thought she would by now. Her boss Helene, is reaching the end 0f her 30s and has enjoyed a successful career but it all starts to fall apart around her and her love life hits the rocks. I found this a light and enjoyable read – there was nothing too taxing for my sometimes addled brain, but it was well written and I liked how Joan composed the story, as well as her writing style. I featured Joan in How I Write recently and we now share an agent, which is lovely. I met her at a book launch earlier in the year (she later sent me the book for review) and we had a great natter about working in the media industry – which obviously inspired this story and made it an authentic read. If I had one criticism, it was that the book sometimes brought those work memories for me rushing back! (I will try to pick books set only on utopian desert islands from now on.) Would make a good summer read.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
I’d heard a lot about The Miniaturist – not about the story line or what the novel was about – just that it was a very good read and a highly respected novel so I was keen to start reading. I absolutely LOVED it. I’d put it as my second favourite read of the year. It reminded me of Girl With A Pearl Earring – but that’s probably just because of its setting which is 1600s Amsterdam. Jessie did a wonderful job of bringing us right back to that era, from describing the foods the characters were eating, to their dress to their settings and daily routines. There’s Dutch words spread throughout the work too, so that it feels like you really are there, living with the characters. The storyline follows Nella Oortman who arrives as a new bride to the home of Johannes Brandt, a wealthy merchant who behaves oddly towards her and leaves her feeling cold. She is faced with Johannes’ strict and overbearing sister who refuses to relinquish the role of mistress of the house. I enjoyed the simplicity of the Nella’s life – there is little for her to do and I liked imagining the life and frustrations of young wealthy educated women in this era. I also enjoyed the mystery and puzzle of the miniaturist, who leaves clues and signs for Nella throuhgout the novel. There are lots of twists and turns – none of which I foresaw, which made it a compelling read, one which I truly couldn’t put down. It combined everything that I love in historical fiction along with thriller and mystery elements. Would highly recommend.
The Things I Should Have Told You by Carmel Harrington
I was sent this novel by Harper Collins who have kindly sent me quite a few books this year for review and I’m slowly making my way through them. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I hadn’t previously read any of Carmel’s books before – I have however met her and found her to be engaging, warm and a great story teller and that’s exactly what is poured into this book. The story follows the Guinness family who are on the verge of disintegrating with a marriage that’s gone stale and is about to do down the path of infidelity, and troubled kids who feel like their parents have forgotten them and have no idea about the troubles in their lives. They are sent on a journey across Europe in a campervan and it’s a road trip story full of ups and downs as well as laughs and poignant, sad moments. I’m not a crier when it comes to books – really I’m not – but this did spring a leak, which I can blame on the pregnancy hormones or Carmel’s enhanced writing skills! The book felt real – it was very reflective of what really goes on in a family dynamic – the arguments, the seething animosity, the love, the loyalty, the special memories and family unit / bond that can be hard to describe, let alone understand. It’s a real feel-good book, is well written and engaging – a good all year round read. I was delighted to see it shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards this year. You can read about how I got on at the blogger book launch for this novel here.
The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
This is the second book in The War of the Roses series – following the White Queen novel, which I haven’t read. It was a stand alone book for me and I don’t think you need to have read the previous book to enjoy this. It follows the life of Margaret Beaufort and her efforts to put her son Henry onto the throne of England. It’s a first person narrative and for me, it was very skilfully told with tons of historical detail to bring you back to what it must have been like to live in the late fifteenth century. Margaret is harsh and dis-likable – yet I wanted her to succeed in her life goals and felt sorry for her when the many mishaps that come her way steer her further and further from the royal throne. It’s rare to find a book with someone so unlikable that you want to continue reading. I’m a fan of Phillipa Gregory and while I’ve seen her thrashed in many’s a historical fiction circle (I don’t know why) I enjoyed this book which I listened to on audio. I’m only familiar with later Tudor history so I really enjoyed this work which spans the Red Queen’s whole life as I had no idea what was going to happen to her or what the outcome was going to be. Historical experts or people who have studied this era, may not find it as fascinating, as it read like pure fiction to me. Definitely a good read for historical fiction fans.
The Absolutist by John Boyne
I’d previously read The Boy in The Striped Pajamas and enjoyed it, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book. I liked the sound of the storyline which follows Tristan Sadler, a young man who works in a publishing house in London and is fresh from world war one. He sets out on a journey to return letters to the family of a friend who was killed in the trenches. I’m very interested in the early 1920s and I loved the dialogue in this book which was captured so well and felt very authentic. The book takes place over just one day when Tristan takes a train journey to Norwich and Boyne skilfully weaves the tale of what happened to Tristan and his friend Will in a sad, poignant historical telling of world war one. I haven’t read much on world war one, but the descriptions of life in the trenches is truly horrific and you could almost taste the earth and smell the latrines, blood and muck from the flashback scenes. There are plenty of interesting characters in this book – all representative of their time and I enjoyed how Boyne structured the book, revealing more and more of the story while building the characters throughout. A very enjoyable read and highly recommended.