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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 15-07-18

'Tis But a Scratch!!!

This series has always been action-packed and violent but this one moves up another gear and accelerates into almost non-stop carnage as the events within throw Beobrand and his brave warriors into fight after battle after duel. Harffy doesn't hold back as he puts his hero through just about every combat experience the Dark Ages offered. Especially once it gets going Warrior of Woden is pretty much breathtaking. There are pitched battles, old enemies as well as new ones and fresh oaths and the basest of treachery. Even Beobrand doesn't remain untouched and even his strongest of abilities and principles are tested to the limit and he descends further into darkness as a result.

Barnaby Edwards once again does an excellent job of the narration with a wide range of character voices and great description of the action. However, I bet even he probably allowed himself a wry smile as Harffy has his hero ape Monty Python with the Black Knight's most famous line - yes Matthew we do notice these things! Once again there is an excellent "historical note" which describes how history and fiction have been forged together to produce Beobrand's story.

The only thing that disappointed me about this book was getting to the end, knowing there is no more on Audible at the time of writing, though the author kindly promises more to come! If you liked the previous books you're going to love this one. If you haven't read the others it's much better to start with the first book "The Serpent Sword" as there are a lot of continuing threads and arch-enemies that last for multiple books.

This is now becoming one of my favourite ever series!

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 13-07-18

You Can Bank on Barclay's Stories!

There is no doubt in my mind that Linwood Barclay is an author you can literally bank on when you want to guarantee yourself a quality read. His latest thriller about Paul, a man who is almost killed in a violent coincidence really is no exception. After an explosive start we get to meet a recovering Paul and follow his story as he tries to piece his life together gradually. But he forgets things, hears things and the whole story almost channels Stephen King for some time.

The characters and their situation are well developed and there are considerable twists, for anyone that manages to guess the complete story before the end phase of the book I tip my hat to you because I certainly didn't. I guessed some right and some very wrong and one event in particular really did take me by surprise. It's for these reasons and of course the quality of the writing that I would recommend this as a genuinely intriguing character-based thriller with only the last few chapters possibly going a little overboard in terms of over-explaining what had gone on.

The narration by Jared Zeus is well done, I don't think I've heard him before but he is engaging with a decent range of character voices and knows how to ratchet things up when the story demands it. Possibly he makes the lead sound a little bit weak at times but it's a good performance.

In summary this is a really decent package with only the ending possibly being a little over-cooked.

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-07-18

I'm Now The Man With Striped Feelings!

When I read some of the rather angry reactions to this book that have appeared on sites like Goodreads coupled with the effusive praise that the majority of readers documented for it I thought I saw the signs of intriguing literature in The Boy With Striped Pyjamas. Even though it's billed as a Young Adult book I thought that to have provoked so much strong reaction there must be a lot of interest even to us (ahem!) older sorts too.

So that's how I found myself being carried along inside the mind of nine year old Bruno who did seem to come across as younger to me. A bit too innocent and naive maybe. Then again the book is described as a fable and that's exactly what it turns out to be. It's a moving story of childish curiosity and innocence being thrown hard up against the wall of the worst sort of evil that mankind has produced.

It really does take liberties with the history though and as the author and publisher explain in a fascinating interview at the end this was deliberate and why they billed it as a fable. There are obvious question marks over the approach and whether it weakens the historical message of the holocaust and these nagged at me all the way through. However, in that final interview Boyne very eloquently talks through his reasoning and gives a largely compelling case for his approach though it won't satisfy everyone.

If you accept the nature of a fable for this story though it's a moving, almost heartbreaking tale with a very dramatic ending that juxtaposes justice and injustice into a single tragic event. If you accept this for what it is you will be rewarded with an emotional and thought-provoking story.

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3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-07-18

The Heat Disappears Through The Cracks!

Impressed by favourable reviews elsewhere and intrigued by the synopsis . . . murder, volcanoes, earthquakes . . . I decided I'd give this one a go. The first thing to say is that if you're expecting a book full of violent eruption and constant volcanic thrills this isn't it. What it is is a decent thriller plot that is well-written and over fairly quickly, I never got bored though the plot itself and the characters are pretty much by the numbers stuff and the lead Surtsey is not that easy to like.

Highlights for me included her relationship with her dying mother which I thought was well done and gave the best depth to any of the characters and there was also an exciting ending. Where i felt the author failed was in delivering a "re-imagined Edinburgh". Sure there are tremors throughout but I never felt that the author ever really explored the impact of it on Edinburgh at all. How it would have changed daily lives or impacted the local infrastructure. I never got the feel of this new reality for the city's citizens.

The characters also never felt fully-developed and Surtsey seemed to shrug off some major trauma and pressure all too easily. For my personal tastes this book needed more development of place and people to deliver on its promise and become fully realised. If I'm also nitpicking that exciting finale will probably have real vulcanolgists wincing somewhat but whether you like it will very much depend on how much leeway you're willing to give the author.

The narration by Caroline Guthrie brings what to my ignorant ears sounded like authentic accents but it is heavily accented and there isn't great character voicing so you might want to check out the sample before you buy. My ears tend to be more forgiving than most I think when it comes to accents.

So, it's actually a reasonably decent story and I liked Johnstone's writing style. GIven that he chose to "re-imagine Edinburgh" though I don't think he delivered what he promised and the large majority of the main plot could easily have happened without the leap of faith that a volcanic Edinburgh requires. So, half decent popcorn munching movie type stuff but not the greatest of reads.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-07-18

My Dysfunctional Relationship With Sarah Denzil!

I seem to be developing an odd kind of relationship with Sarah Denzil's books, I thoroughly enjoyed Silent Child even though on reflection it had its ridiculous side. Saving April was okayish but a pale reflection of that previous book. This one I again enjoyed but I can see some real flaws in it. It is a book about disturbed minds though and I think that while it is undoubtedly a bit far-fetched there is some mitigation in that which only becomes apparent as the book progresses.

The subject matter is by its very nature dark and gets darker as the book progresses and the characters take on depth. There is a distinct strangeness to Leah's behaviour right from the off which is gradually explained as events progress to the conclusion. Even so some of what happens is hard to validate even by the end. There are some editing clangers in there such as Leah relating that she had no smartphone due to affordability then using the torch app on her phone a little later. On top of that the story does get a bit far-fetched and convenient in places.

Yet, while I can make a good case for there being things wrong with this book I still enjoyed it. Like I said a strangely dysfunctional relationship! Any such relationship needs counselling of course and there is no doubt that Jasmine Blackborow's narration smooths over a lot of the cracks. She puts in a very convincing performance, especially towards the end of the book as the action hots up. She seemed to have a genuine empathy with the characters. I think it also helps that Denzil does set this book up very nicely at the start and builds in a lot of question marks about all of the characters.

Should I recommend this one? On the basis that I enjoyed it yes indeed but if you are likely to be put off by the fault lines in it then maybe steer clear. I think it's genuinely exciting and that Denzil writes an engaging story, I'm willing to let her take a few liberties in the process. At the time of writing I see that one other reviewer, Marjory L, has a very different view and I'd advise taking that on board too before purchasing. I'll likely buy Sarah Denzil's next offering to see if it can heal this dysfunctional relationship of ours completely.

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11 of 11 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-07-18

Death and Vengeance, his faithful hounds!

Just put Matthew Harffy’s latest bone-splitter of a book between your ears, sit back and be prepared to feel the need to wipe the blood sweat from your shoulders afterwards. These continuing tales of his hero Beobrand are just thundering good yarns. Blood and vengeance follow this Thane of Mercia about like faithful hounds with enormous fangs ready to sink into your ears at a moment’s notice.

This one does develop into a slightly darker, more troubled Beobrand, he is like a hot cauldron of anger constantly threatening to boil over. The only death his loyal followers can be assured of avoiding is boredom. He just never stops looking for trouble and trouble never stops looking for him.

As for the narration, for someone with such a posh name Barnaby Edwards might sound like a Paddington Bear wannabe but he gets down and dirty with these warriors and yet gives them and their kings genuine gravitas. It’s a fine performance.

Harffy's enthusiasm for the historical period and his characters shines through including the excellent ten minutes or so of historical notes at the end. Personally I really enjoy it when authors reveal a little of their research, thought process and how their stories match against what we know of these dark ages. His promise at the end of more tales to come is extremely welcome!

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-07-18

Has the Fight Gone Out of Chuck?

When I read Fight Club I re-learned the lesson of not judging a book by its cover because it really was a far more intelligent and absorbing read than I had imagined. Adjustment Day taught me a new lesson: Never judge an author's latest book by one of his earlier ones!

This simply never got going for me, a mish-mash of characters and scenes stopped it ever gaining momentum and never once presented me with a character that I cared about. It stuttered and stumbled its way rather than ever accelerating smoothly towards a satisfactory conclusion.

The narration by Christopher Ragland is just fine. Clear concise and with enough variety to make it a decent performance but it was never going to be enough to lift this material.

So, while there are moments in this when Palahnuik shows his talent you have to wade through a lot that just doesn't feel like it matters to find them. I can't really recommend this one.

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8 of 9 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-07-18

Comedy Gold but Maybe not Pratchett Purist Gold

The Discworld series is, of course, absolutely stellar and while Unseen Academicals might not have been among the very best of those books it was a decent entry in the series. Pratchett had a penchant for dressing real world issues up in his fantasy world and making fun of them. Here we get gangs, football violence and prejudice among others. He also apes the great bard himself in this one bringing us Romeo and Trev!

The cast, as you would expect from actors of their quality being directed by Dirk Maggs are wonderful. It's a superb quality production with Mathew Horne's Trevor Likely stealing the show.

As with all book adaptations though there is a distance between it and the book so maybe this won't appeal to all of those who love Practchett's work. And I can certainly understand that kind of reaction, lord help Mr Cruise if I catch up with him after what he did to Jack Reacher! However, so much of the book's humour is brought to life in this production that I massively enjoyed it.

If you haven't heard or read any of Pratchett's work before you have presumably been serving a life prison sentence or two and not allowed in the prison library so not wanting to upset you I'll just quietly suggest going to the start of the series to get the full Discworld effect.

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13 of 17 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-07-18

Subprime Ordinary

What a great idea? Arthur Conan-Doyle's famous Lost World being based on real events and be there for one of his descendants to re-discover. I really liked the sound of that, old clues, jungle adventures, deadly dinosaurs, what could possibly go wrong with all that?

Unfortunately while the idea was good the execution felt pretty average to me. I feel sure that Beck's writing has been much better in the past. The characters felt very two-dimensional and the make up of the team of friends very convenient. The action part of the plot when it did finally arrive just felt like a queue of things that the author had researched being inflicted one after the other on the characters. . The dialogue was lacking with a flippant, youthful approach which remained untroubled by death and disaster.

In addition, Sean Mangan, while he has a lovely rumble of a speaking voice doesn't have much in the way of character voice or dramatic effect to his performance. All put together it leads to a vague sense of the artificial permeating everything giving little that could immerse the listener in the grand adventure that the book promised.

It's not the worst audiobook you can buy by any stretch but to me this feels like the author invented an excellent opportunity for himself but didn't quite manage to make the best of it, particularly with this audio production.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-07-18

Interesting Take on the Subject

These shows are a nice addition to the Audible membership offer. They are of course free and I find them very useful to listen to when time is short or as a break between books. This one us another American production, it would be great to have more UK-based documentaries, but it's reasonably well done and presented in a lively fashion.

While it doesn't go into great depth, given its short length the stories were interesting, particularly the last episode where I thought that the journalists did dig a little deeper into the issues faced by a troubled town.

Only word of warning is that the first episode contains a fairly grisly account from a witness of a crime scene so if that would affect you best to stay clear of that one.

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8 of 8 people found this review helpful