Audio Book Review: Secrets of the Dead

The Secrets of the DeadThe Secrets of the Dead by Tom Harper

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Description:

In a villa on the coast of Montenegro, Abby Cormac witnesses the brutal murder of her lover, diplomat Michael Lascaris. The last thing she remembers is a gun pointed directly at her. She wakes to find herself at the centre of a diplomatic nightmare. Everyone wants an answer but no one wants to listen. Even her employers at the Foreign Office believe she’s hiding something. She is completely alone. As Abby tries to piece together the last few months of Michael’s life in order to get at the truth, she soon realises that he wasn’t quite what he seemed. What exactly was his relationship with one of the most ruthless men in the Balkans – a war criminal who has never been brought to justice? And what links Michael’s gift to her of a gold necklace with its Christian monogram, a 4th century manuscript left in the shadow of Emperor Constantine’s palace at Trier and an inscription on a tomb in Rome? When Abby investigates further, it becomes clear that someone wants to suppress a secret, one that has been kept hidden for centuries. And they will stop at nothing to do so…

My Review:

During a visit to the local library, I was waiting for someone else to make their selection (I had quickly picked up a couple of books that interested me; although my reading list is already quite long and I don’t need more books to add to the pile), and I wandered over to the audio book section. Secrets of the Dead sort of jumped out and screamed, “pick me, pick me”. So I did.

I’ve listened to a couple of podcast books in the past, but I don’t think I’ve ever listened to an audio book. To be honest, it was a pleasant experience. I discovered that I could do more than one thing at once, such as play Candy Crush or scanning the old family photos while reading. It was a win-win situation.

Secrets of the Dead is NOT the type of book, by that I mean paperback or ebook, that I would normally read. It’s too big worded for me, and there are too many foreign words. I’d stumble over the pages and quickly loose interest. However, listening to someone read the book was totally different. The narrator, Francis Greenslade, was excellent. He is easy to listen to and he made those difficult words blend in to the story and brought a complicated plot to life. I was impressed … and I learned the pronunciation of numerous words from him!

The book itself is actually two stories running parallel to each other — one historical and one present day. I felt the historical content was well researched and totally convincing. I ‘believed’ in the characters and the events. The only drawback was the flashbacks. After a while I found them a little annoying (even if the content of the flashbacks did move the story forward). The present day storyline was also convincing, although it took me longer to settle into this side of the book. It wasn’t the characters that troubled me (those I accepted straight away), it was the events taking place. Some things seemed too convenient. Anyway, I remember thinking I’d hate to get caught up in anything similar to what was happening to Abby Cormac. I’d be terrified. Both stories were a type of murder mystery and had certain factors that tied them together.

Overall, I’d be more than willing to ‘read’ another audio book. It’s the perfect way of discovering new authors and new genres. I’m glad I gave Secrets of the Dead a chance, and while I know I would never read an actual printed book by the author, I certainly would listen to another audio book written by him.

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Audio Book Review: The Shack

The Shack

The Shack by William P. Young

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Horror of horrors, I came to the end of my knitting supplies and have nothing to fill my morning train ride hours. No, I can’t write. I’ve tried it and I’m too sleepy to be able to focus. Besides that, my eyes water like crazy, which is more than a little annoying and I was arriving at work looking as if I’ve cried all the way because my eyes were so red and puffy. Not a good start to the day, I can tell you. Yet I find I can knit and not suffer any “side affects”.

After some complaining, I woke one morning to find a small mp3 player sitting on the kitchen table, along with a spare battery. Upon querying why the device was there, I was told that an audio book borrowed from the library had been converted and loaded onto the player and that I was to take it with me on the train. I did. It’s not the first audio book I’ve listened too, but it’s the first time I’ve realised that I can listen to a book without “side affects” too. Yay!

The Shack (Amazon / Kindle) is a story of a man whose six-year old daughter is taken and murdered, while the family is on a camping trip, and then goes on to tell the anguish that follows the tragic event – emotionally and spiritually. When G borrowed the item from the library and when I first started listening to the story, neither of us knew it was religious. By the time I did realise, I had already grown attached to the main character and his problems (I could identify with him because of my own loss) and I wanted to know more. I wanted to know if this man, this father, could get through the darkness that I knew so well…so I kept listening.

Yes, this story is highly religious and my one complaint is that at times the dialogue felt more like a sermon than a discussion, which really grated on my nerves. Yet at the same time, I was drawn in and held tight by the ideas behind the sermons. I guess I even found comfort in those ideas to a degree. So, again, I kept listening.

This book was written to get those religious thoughts across to an audience. I know and accept that. Prior to 18th May 2006, I wouldn’t have listened to the entire book because I simply don’t like being preached at and to be honest I wouldn’t have related to the characters and events at all. But I’ve changed…in many ways. I didn’t like the preachy parts, but I sat and listened and was completed absorbed in what was being said. I was touched by the emotional struggle the father was battling, enough to bring tears. I remained oblivious to the comings and goings of other passengers. I was oblivious to everything happening around me. In fact, when I turned off the player and looked around I was shocked to see so many people seated around me when I had been completely alone when I pressed play.

This isn’t a book I would feel comfortable recommending to others because not everyone will get something from it. It’s a book that the reader should read if they have experienced troubled times, if they know grief and if they want to attempt understanding just one possibility of the whole picture. It’s a book I believe will pull a reader/listener in, but only if that person can relate to profound grief and emotional stress.

Religious or not, I’m glad I listened to this audio book because I gained something from it.

Book Review: The Hobbit

The Hobbit

The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I’ve always been an avid reader, I was not introduced to Tolkien until the Lord of the Rings series was made into movies. I watched the movies in absolute awe and rushed out to buy the books. However, the books were drab and boring in comparison. It’s not often I enjoy the movie more than the book, but in this case it was 100% true.

Tolkien’s writing style put me to sleep! I didn’t finish the books and got rid of them, vowing never to read anything else by this author…and I’ve kept that vow.

Then, last year, G arrived home from the library with an audiobook version of The Hobbit ( book / audio book ). I didn’t have time to listen to it then, and wasn’t overly keen to make time either, but he kindly converted it to mp3 so that I could listen to it when I was able.

Time became available at the beginning of this week. My thought was…I’m too tired to read or do anything else on the train in the morning, so I could sit with my eyes shut and listen to the story. If it was boring – and I was certain it would be – I could let my mind wander, just like I do any other morning. No big loss.

Early on Monday morning, iPod Touch clutched in my hand, I settled back, touched “play” and closed my eyes. Two hours later, I almost missed my stop – which has never happened before. No, I didn’t fall asleep. Yes, I was engrossed in the story…and I was enjoying it.

I wish I knew the reader for this audiobook, because he was excellent. He made the experience entertaining by using different voices and accents for different characters. He used music and some sound affects to help set the mood in certain scenes and he knew how to deliver tension and pace effectively. I also wish I knew if the reading was abridged or not. At a guess, I’d say it was but that was fine by me.

I’m glad I took the time to listen to this story, or this version of the story anyway. It surpassed my expectations. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Shadows

Shadows

Shadows by John Saul

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Shadows is the first audio book I’ve listened to. I thought I would have problems with my mind wandering, but the story was so intriguing that I found myself completely absorbed with what was happening.

In short, the story is about a school for genius children. It confronts the many problems these children experience on a daily basis, in normal life such as isolation, teasing, boredom, lack of friendship and suicide tendencies. Then it moves into life at the new school and shows the feeling of normalcy and acceptance. But the school isn’t everything it portrays and that’s when things turn quite sinister in parts.

Unfortunately, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else, I can’t go into any details. There was, however, one section about suicide that actually made me quite angry. It was obvious to me, a person who has lost a son to suicide, that the author hasn’t experienced suicide and this fact showed in his writing. Yet, running parallel to this was some interesting thoughts that I actually agreed with too. One moment I felt a fire in my belly that wanted to put an end to the words I was reading because they embraced everything that fed the stigma that has been around for decades, and then the words changed and I found myself nodding in agreement. It was a roll coaster that swung back and forth. All I can say is that I was glad when the story changed direction and the topic of suicide was over.

Then the story moved into another interesting topic. I can’t tell you what it is as it would spoil the book, if you intend to read it. However, although I find the topic interesting, I am not emotionally attached to it so things were “sweet” from this point on…if not quite disturbing, in other ways.

I do not know if the technical stuff was correct or not. All I can say is that it sounded convincing and when reading a story that is all I care about. As the story ran swiftly to the climax, I found myself eager to find out how the author would tie the pieces together and what would have to a couple of the “characters”.

The end was satisfactory. I was pleased that the author didn’t elect to go in another direction, which I had feared might happen at one stage.

For my first audio experience I think I had the right book. I enjoyed it a lot and will definitely try something else by the author…and I’d also listen to another audio book too.