Paul Snook

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-06-18

Class warfare, jungle style

This book is classic Orwell; a study of the English class system but uprooted and plonked in the humid jungles of Burma. Each man looks down upon the other, the women know their place, and they all look down upon the natives. It demonstrates the raw ugliness of English imperialism through the eyes of a few pivotal characters. It's all there: open racism, a detached sense of duty, alcoholism, exploitation, manifest sexism, and all underlined with dollops of self-loathing.

Needless to say, because it is classic Orwell, don't expect a happy ending. Just a shame about the dog.

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2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-06-18

Lincoln In The Muddle

Perhaps I didn't give it the benefit of the doubt, perhaps I should have persisted longer than the 2 hours of this I endured, but in the end I waved the white flag and gave up.

Some books work well as an audio book, others exceptionally well. Then there are those that just don't seem to work at all and for me, this is one of those books.

I suspect that this book would be better read to oneself than having a cast read it for you because of the way it is structured. For example, there are 109 chapters. At the start of each chapter a strangely disembodied electronic female voice sounding for all the world like a telephone answering machine message, snappily barks the chapter number. Bearing in mind that some of the chapters are only a few sentences long, this can become very grating.
Then there is the extensive use of quotations which is kind of irritating, especially when you end up with half a dozen all saying the same thing. And then there's the fact that the title of the quotation source material is often two to three times longer than the quotation itself.

When one then adds in the over-riding factor that I had absolutely no idea what was going on it did make for a very long and confusing two hours before my surrender. Sure, it won the Man Booker prize; sure, it has a stellar cast giving fine performances, but there's no escaping the fact that if one is looking for an audiobook to enthrall and entertain then one would do better to look elsewhere.

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-02-18

So subtle you could almost cut yourself

It may seem sacrilegious to say it but I prefer this second part of the trilogy to the first. It continues the theme but has parallel stories running alongside each other, crossing over, intertwining, which The Northern Lights lacked.

Mr Pullman has a stunning imagination and with him reading the text and actors playing the parts it is a wonderfully immersive story and I'm just about to download the last part of the trilogy.

When the author reads their own work it does add a special dimension to it as they are reading it in the way they imagined it being read. If I have one criticism it is that Mr Pullman does tend to read rather quickly which meant I occasionally had to skip back a little bit to repeat something that I missed.

Onto the Amber Spyglass!

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 17-03-17

You know there's a catch...

Darkly humorous, ironic, disturbing, sad, and depressing all at the same time. Joseph Heller's magnum opus is a poignant satire on the cruelty and pointlessness of war. It is a study of men pushed to the brink of endurance and sanity by other men who want glory and 'tight bomb patterns' without having to risk themselves in doing so. It is about how men go to their premature deaths whilst others reap huge profits. It will make you laugh out loud and cringe inwardly at the same time.

It is a great novel but, and this is obviously a matter of opinion, also a badly written novel. It lacks the hand of a good editor. It is over-descriptive and the fact nobody can say anything in the book without an unnecessary quantifying adverb on the end becomes really irritating. If I'm really honest, some of the writing is quite amateur and you find yourself subconsciously putting a red pen through swathes of text just to keep it flowing, muttering to yourself 'get a move on'.

Having said that Trevor White does a splendid job with the text and really brings it alive.

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-03-17

A Brief Review Of Way More Than Seven Killings

This is a brutal, disturbing, uncomfortable yet compelling narrative, brilliantly constructed and executed. It is told in five sections, each section covering a day in a particular year and being divided up into the recollection of events of that day as told by many different characters. It is an exploration of ghetto life in Kingston and political turmoil in 70's Jamaica, leading up to the attempted assassination of Bob Marley, the events after, and then onto the New York drug scene of the 80's & 90's. It shines a spotlight on some of the ugliest sides of Jamaican culture at those times, showing the sheer horrors that the poorest residents of the ghettos faced.

The whole enterprise could have been written with an audiobook in mind as each chapter is one person's narrative. The mix of Jamaican patois along with American and Cuban accents enhances the telling and the cast do a superb job of bringing this masterpiece to life.

If I have a criticism it with the production. It feels that it has been rushed onto the market as there many blatantly obvious moments where pieces have been edited or re-recorded. Instead of the differences being balanced-out and blended with the rest of the piece they have been left in. A bit of a shame and is the main reason why I've given it 4/5 stars instead of the full 5.

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-11-16

Beautiful, if uncomfortable storytelling

A wonderfully intimate story of a nonagenarian who finds love in the shape of a young teenage girl he was intending to deflower.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that this Lolita-esque storyline does not sound terribly appealing. And there were many times, when I was listening, that I felt deeply uncomfortable about the tone and implications. However, this is classic Marquez and not everything is as it seems and we have to be careful about judging a story set in 1920s(?) South America with 21st century Occidental sensibilities.

Whilst it is easy to get hooked up on the paedophiliac aspects, the primary driver for this tale is an old man facing up to death and I found myself reflecting upon my own mortality because of it.

Thom Rivera reads this audiobook in sublime fashion. His accent is perfect for the piece, still wonderfully clear and gives it a distinct flavour.

Apart from the uncomfortable subject matter, my main criticism with this book is its relatively short length. I know it is a novella but one felt that the story could have been expanded upon. As a crude simile, it was like enjoying several slices rather than a whole cake.

Still worth a nibble though.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 31-10-16

Barking up the right tree

If it is possible to be a big fan of a deceased Russian satirical author then I am one and proud of it. I love Bulgakov's stuff and this is up there with the best of his work.

This is short novel is a satire on life in Bolshevik Russia and human nature, but also a work of comic fiction. A brief synopsis would sum it up as an eminent doctor conducts an experiment in which he transplants a deceased criminal's pituitary gland and testes into the body of a stray dog he has taken in. The dog transforms over the following weeks into a manlike creature. However, instead of being a loyal, obedient dog-like person, he is an unpleasant, conniving bastard who causes no end of misery for anyone who crosses his path.

Roy McMillan reads it with verve and aplomb and it gives it the voice this story so richly deserves.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 30-07-16

Letting the train take the strain

A brilliant, innovative adventure story for kids (and the middle-aged like myself). Philip Reeve is a master of imagination and this is some of his best work to date.

This story is set in a universe where planets are linked by railways. Not the plodding, choking diesel things of the 20th century but majestic machines that are sentient and emotional. Imagine some of the American streamliners of the 1930s but on a grand scale and you won't go far wrong. These railways lead into K-gates; like Cluedo tunnels that allow the trains to travel between worlds in an instant, much faster than spacecraft.

Add to this feudal politics as rival families control corporations that compete for power over the rail network, Railforce polices the lines with brutal efficiency, and mysterious, ethereal beings, part gods, part computers manipulate everything to maintain the balance.

Into this mix strays a petty thief, a teenager with little prospect, who ends up as the most wanted boy in the universe and the unwitting agent of the secretive Raven.

This is a fantastic rollercoaster of a story that I can't recommend enough, especially now that Audible have fixed the fault where the last chapter was missing.

The sequel, Black Light Express, must be coming to a station near you soon. That's a big hint Audible!

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 27-07-16

Strange Goings-On

I read this book last year and then enjoyed the TV mini-series so the chance to listen to the book all over again was too good to miss. It is utter fantasy but is so well written it seems totally plausible and you will certainly be wishing that magic had returned to England and the faerie roads are open and accessible.

The tale itself is about a man's attempt to impress his peers and the terrible consequences of that action. The fact the man is a magician and he is trying to bring back someone from the dead should start to alarm bells ringing; it clearly isn't going to end well for all concerned.

The performance is strong, well-paced and well-characterised. It may be many hours of listening but they seem to fly by. I listen in the car during my commute to and from work, along with taking a lunchtime stroll with headphones, but it never seems long enough and I find myself sitting in the car until the end of a chapter, or sneaking a bit more listening time at the desk.

If I have one criticism it is in the author's extensive use of footnotes. When narrated, the start of the footnote is defined but not the end. Consequently you are sometimes unsure whether the narrator has finished reading the footnote and is back on the main text or not.

All-in-all a superb historical fantasy adventure that is well worth 32 hours of anyone's time.

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3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 19-06-16

Not an ugly duckling but no swan either

This book, judging by the extensive list of press quotes, promised much and, to a point seemed to deliver. The story draws you in with its exciting and dramatic opening and then pads swiftly along in enigmatic style. This is, for me, the nub of the problem; it is so enigmatic that much is implied but never actually said. There are so many loose ends and unanswered questions that it left me, as the reader / listener, wondering what on earth happened. It is as though there was more text that has been carefully edited out to leave you puzzled and strangely dissatisfied. Which is a great shame as this could have been an exceptionally good novel, up there with The Night Circus, The Golem & The Djinni, and works of Mr Gaiman. Instead we are left with a jigsaw with several pieces missing.

I cannot fault, however, the performances by Mike Grady and Imogen Wilde, which do much to prop up what would otherwise be a laboured tale.

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