Two-fer – A Double Review of Two Audio Books

Due to a Christmas and New Year break – in which I did virtually no blogging, but was still reading, I’m now a little behind with reviews so the next couple of weeks will be a little more active as I try to catch up.

Today, I’m posting mini reviews for two audiobooks that I listened to during the last few days of December – one of these was a festive story that strictly speaking I would have liked to have posted pre-Xmas (but the best laid plans, etc, etc) – regardless of timing, I enjoyed both.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, narrated by Hugh Grant.

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This is a story that I have reread many times over the years.  A well known tale of one man’s redemption and overall a story of hope.

I won’t elaborate greatly upon the plot as I’m sure most people are well aware of the basics of this well loved classic.  Ebenezer Scrooge is a selfish man – in fact over the years his very name has become synonymous with anything miserly or avaricious.  He works long hours, constantly striving for success yet taking no pleasure in his wealth.  He is penny pinching and mean spirited, not just to others but also to himself. His path is one of misery, not only in this life, but if he doesn’t change for the better, in the afterlife as well.  On Christmas Eve, he is paid an unusual visit by Jacob Marley.  Jacob was Ebeneezer’s business partner, dead these last seven years and paying the price of his pernicious greed in life by wearing a heavy and burdensome chain in death.  He seeks to save Ebeneezer such a fate and plans an intervention from three ghosts.  The ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.  These visits reveal much.  Scrooge wasn’t always such a bitter and twisted individual and but for the hand of fate could have found himself on a very different path.

This is a story than never fails to work it’s charm on me and once again I found myself spirited away to Victorian London as it prepares for another Christmas Day.  Carols are being sung, turkeys are being prepared, children are skating on the icy streets and one cold office remains open to the bitter last.  Dimly lit and poorly heated, it’s occupants won’t go home until the close of day.  Ebenezer Scrooge and his uncomplaining clerk, Bob Cratchit, are where our story begins.  My full review of a previous reread can be found here.

I thoroughly enjoyed this audio version.  It’s told by Hugh Grant who is a superb narrator and whilst I can’t compare it to other readings (this being my first (but definitely not my last) for this particular novel) I would definitely recommend it.  Of course, I set the scene well, listening to this as I was undertaking my own Christmas preparations and being very much in the mood for everything and anything seasonal.

I found this every bit as enjoyable as my past rereads, it truly is a wonderful story to listen to written in simpler times when people would gather round to tell stories to each other.  In fact Dickens writing style really lends itself to this form of storytelling.  This has a great balance between the bleak and the sensational and given the seasonal feel is a lovely tale of hope and redemption.

I have no hesitation in recommending this audio version and in fact I picked up a copy for free on Audible and understand that the offer remains valid for members until the end of the current month.  So, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy – then you’ll be prepared, well in advance, for next Christmas.

Rating 7.5/8 out of 10

 

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham, Dina Gregory narrated by Cush Jumbo, Harriet Walter, Aimee Lou Wood, Susan Wokoma, Jennifer Saunders, Raj Gatak, Clare Corbett, Gerard McDermott, Stephanie Racine

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‘This is an all female retelling of a classic.’

Okay, first things first.  This was another free audible book for members – a holiday gift in fact.  And, in my excitement at finding a present available for download (yes, I am still just as excited in adulthood at the thought of a prezzie as I ever was as a child) I failed to notice the ‘all female retelling’ element and grabbed a copy with positively indecent haste – my expectations were for a a new audio version of a classic tale – for goodness sake, if I’d taken one moment it’s fairly obvious from the cover that Toad is female and this is a different kettle of critters.  Ah well, something about fools rushing in. 

Now, firstly, I’m not averse to an all female cast, I’m also not averse to a retelling of a story and in fact have enjoyed many retellings of well known stories over the years, and, in fairness, I can see what the author was hoping to achieve in some respects, but, this one didn’t really work it’s magic on me.

To be fair, this is an excellent cast of narrators but in spite of some impressive narration I felt like there was something stopping me from truly enjoying this.  One thing that immediately springs to mind is the drawn out pace of reading.  Obviously, as an audio book, the pace can be increased and in this particular case I would say that it’s essential to do so, but this pacing issue detracted a little from the overall enjoyment – like the charm of the story somehow became lost in the need to slowly enunciate every word.

On top of this, and in spite of my enjoying retellings, I can’t help but feel a bit puzzled by this one because it follows the original story almost to the letter – simply replacing the ‘he’s’ with ‘she’s’ and calling the characters Mrs Mole and Lady Toad, etc.  It feels, for me, a little like a lost opportunity somehow, if you’re going to take a story and retell it then make it your own. Instead of telling the same story why not create a new adventure set on the river bank and the wild woods but with some of the female inhabitants of those places taking the lead roles with a whole new adventure to explore?

I think overall, perhaps if you haven’t read the original story then this might work better for you than it did for me and if you fancy giving it a shot I understand it is available for free on Audible until the 31st January.

Mr rating 4 out of 10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Face Off : Mist/fog – “A thin grey fog hung over the city, and the streets were very cold; for summer was in England.”

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future week’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.  This week’s theme:

Mist/fog – “A thin grey fog hung over the city, and the streets were very cold; for summer was in England.”

So, did everyone find this one easy or not??  I had a couple in mind, of course, the age old problem of only one cover reared its ugly head.  I still had a couple of possibilities but this week I went with a classic.  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – which I really love.  Here are the covers:

Lots of hazy, misty mansions, graveyards and gateways.  I’ve gone for a very small selection of the covers here.  In terms of a favourite, difficult to choose this week but I’m going to go with the young man in the top hat:

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Do you have a favourite?

I’ll be updating the list in order to include forthcoming events that I’m aware of so that you can perhaps link your themes up where possible (if you know of an event you’d like to share then let me know in the comments).  As always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.

Next week – Spider web – “Farewell, Aragog, king of the arachnids, whose long and faithful friendship those who knew you would never forget!

Future themes: (if you’re struggling with any of these themes then use a ‘freebie’ or one of your favourite covers) (I’ve added some new themes – some of these are slightly different, in order to avoid too much repetition I’m trying to make the themes more of a suggestion that everyone can interpret how they like.  

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16th October – Spider web – “Farewell, Aragog, king of the arachnids, whose long and faithful friendship those who knew you would never forget!

23th October – Ripped/torn – interpret it as you wish

30th October – Forest/jungle – ‘None of the Jungle People like being disturbed.’

6th November – Planets – “You’re on Earth. There’s no cure for that.”

13th November – Bright – ‘The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades’.

20th November – Words only – “Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”

27th November – Modern sci fi

4th December –  Fae – or fairy??

11th December – Lake – the mysterious lake

18th December – Highly Stylised

25th December- Freebie – or day off.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Just finished reading Great Expectations by Charles Dickens which I was reading as part of a Dickens readalong being hosted by Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) and Delia (Postcards from Asia).

This is a reread of the novel for me as I read it many years ago and I always wonder if I will actually like a book the second time round or whether revisiting will somehow mar the memory.  No problems here I’m pleased to admit.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the second time round the story was even better.

For those of you unfamiliar with Great Expectations the story is about a boy called Pip.  Pip is an orphan, being raised by his sister and her husband Joe.  Due to a chance circumstance Pip is thrown into the path of the local eccentric lady of the manor, Miss Haversham where he meets her ward the beautiful and proud Estella.  Pip is later to be apprenticed to Joe as a blacksmith until his fortune is changed by an unknown benefactor and he is elevated to the status of a gentleman with ‘great expectations’.  I won’t elaborate further on the plot.

The first thing I noticed this time round is the humour in Dicken’s telling of the story.  I can genuinely admit that I recalled none of that at all and yet he really does incorporate a lot of fun into his character Pip.  Perhaps I missed this originally as I was much younger and probably concentrated mainly on the story (not to mention racing to the end to find out how it all concludes).  I think much of the writing style and the subtle nuances were probably wasted on me at that age whereas this time, being already aware of the story, I was able to enjoy Dicken’s style.

I must confess that I had moments where Pip didn’t come across as well as he could – in fact at one point I positively disliked him.  But, I think this was part of Dickens intentions.  Pip starts out in life quite destitute and his only friend in the world is Joe (who frequently rescues him from a good beating from his sister).  And, yet, as soon as he meets Miss Haversham he becomes overwhelmed with shame about his own circumstances.  He cringes at the thought of the  disdainful Estella ever meeting Joe or seeing his home circumstances.  This is in sharp contrast later in the story when Pip becomes friendly with Mr Wemmit who works at the law firm that acts as Guardian to Pip’s income until he becomes of age.  Mr Wemmit doesn’t have a lot to speak of in the world.  He has a small home and looks after his elderly father who remains known throughout the story as The Aged.  And yet Mr Wemmit loves his home and family and experiences none of the feelings that Pip does.  It also reaches a bit of a peak when Joe pays a visit to Pip in his new home in London and Pip is practically on pins for the whole visit, acts quite rudely towards Joe, is ashamed for him with his country ways and lack of breeding and is actually relieved when he leaves!  I was really naffed off with him at this point I must admit!

That being said I think that Pip does redeem himself – and this seems to be a theme with Dickens that characters become aware of the flaws in their own character and attempt to change themselves for the better.

A couple of things that occurred to me during this read were:

I thought that Dickens was making a point about females in society – if you look at Biddy in this story she is quite obviously as clever, if not more so, as Pip and yet due to circumstances her chances in life are quite different.

The other thing that stood out with this, and I don’t know if this is the same for other novels by Dickens, is that he is a master of misdirection.  He leads you into wrong conclusions and dead end alleys without any difficulty whatsoever.

And, finally, I wondered if he was making a point about nature over nurture.  Both Pip and Estella were taken into a situation where they were manipulated and raised almost like a tool of revenge.  Estella to seek revenge against men on behalf of Miss Haversham and her overwhelming disappointment in life and Pip, placed into a different situation in life by somebody who wanted to make a gentleman out of him to prove a point and then display Pip around time as being the superior of everyone else.  Both of them, later in life, realised how they were being used and it was sad to see that neither of them were able to lead perfectly happy or normal lives comparative to some of the other characters in the story.

I really enjoyed this story reading it for the second time.  It is a great story and easy to see why it’s been adapted to film on so many occasions and I would like to thank Caroline and Delia for giving me the inspiration to revisit.

 

 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Posted On 21 December 2012

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For the month of December I decided to read a couple of Dickens book as part of an event being hosted by Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) and Delia (Postcards from Asia).  Actually, rather sensibly for me, I only really undertook to read two books – Great Expectations which I will review in a few days and a Christmas Carol which I will today be answering questions on provided by our lovely hosts.  If you haven’t read this book then you may want to stop reading as the Q&A below will undoubtedly contain spoilers.

Before I even start I must say that A Christmas Carol was just as lovely to read as it was on the past 5 or 6 occasions that I’ve already read it!  On top of this I also watched A Muppet Christmas Carol this month (just to keep in the spirit of things) – I actually had the film playing whilst I was putting up the decorations.  I love that film.  I realise it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I just can’t help myself.  Plus the songs are great.  How odd is it that in spite of watching this film countless times and reading the book quite a few it never occurred to me before now that instead of just Jacob Marley, as in the book, we have a double helping of Marley’s in the film played by the two curmudgeonly old guys who always used to heckle from the theatre balconies.  Anyway, onto the questions:

Is this the first time you are reading the story?

Nope, at least 5 or six times.  Difficult to remember now!

Did you like it?

I’ve always liked this story.  It has a timeless appeal.  I probably saw the film before the book.  I seem to recall seeing the old black and white version of this film with Alistair Sim followed a couple of years later by a cartoon version.  Anyway, the films led me to the books which is unusual for me as usually its the other way around.

Which was your favorite scene?

This is really tough.  Making a choice.  I do like the scene when Marley first appears – probably because of the dialogue between the two ‘more of gravy than of grave’.  I love that line (I also love the scene with Bob and Mrs Cratchit are toasting Scrooge’s health).  I think probably on reflection I really enjoy the scene where the last spirit has ended his visitation and Scrooge is back in his bedchamber and comes to realise that it’s still Christmas Day.  It’s great that scene and also, although I can’t pretend to remember how I originally felt when I first read the book it’s unexpected.  One minute you’re with this scary critter standing next to a tombstone and then you’re back in a bedroom and the sense of relief that comes across for Scrooge is just really infectious in that it sort of makes you smile also.

Which was your least favorite scene?

I don’t really have any problems with any of the scenes but I guess the only time I felt a little more detached was on some of the journeys with the Ghost of Christmas Present.  Not that I didn’t enjoy them – thinking about visiting the seamen, etc, I totally understand what Dickens was doing with these scenes but they didn’t have the same enjoyment factor for me and I think that’s because they weren’t related to Scrooge or his story.  They were random people who were being visited to show that the spirit of Christmas is everywhere.

Which spirit and his stories did you find the most interesting?

I liked the spirit of Christmas Past probably the most (although the sinister stories with the pawn shop were pretty good!)  I really enjoyed seeing Scrooge’s past.  His time spent at school, his sister, Fezziwig, breaking the contract with his fiancee – all a great insight into his character and the way he eventually changed.

Was there a character you wish you knew more about?

I wish I knew more about Scrooge’s family – particularly why he was left for such a long period at school.  How he managed to keep a decent relationship with his sister despite hardly ever seeing her and probably a bit more about his nephew.  I cheated a bit there because a whole family got included in this answer!

How did you like the end?

Well, I suppose the ending is very sweet – probably a bit overly so – but I like it.  It’s perfect for the time of year and gives you a good feeling.

Did you think it was believable?

Well, as believable as a ghost story can be.  I mean, what is believable is the story itself of somebody turning themselves around and changing their behaviour for the better.  It’s just a great story of redemption with a bit of the supernatural thrown in.  At the end of the day I love a good ghost story – and three ghosts with a message to relate, at Christmas.  It’s the perfect recipe.

Do you know anyone like Scrooge?

Yes!  Well, probably not quite as bad as Scrooge.  We definitely have somebody at work who could peel an orange in his pocket and who, when he opens his wallet, moths fly out.  Kidding aside – I suppose it’s more likely to know a few people with maybe one or more of his traits.

Did he deserve to be saved?

Yes, I absolutely believe he did.  Okay, he wasn’t soft and cuddly and he wasn’t short of saying or thinking some pretty mean sentiments but he pretty soon came round.  Plus, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him for his past which obviously had a massive influence on him.  He clearly went down the route of thinking money would make everything good in his world but obviously became so focused on that that he eventually excluded all the good things and therefore had nobody in his life to enjoy things with any more.  It’s sad because by the time Scrooge is redeemed he’s basically in his twilight year and has missed so much but it’s also happy because he’s realised the error of his ways and he is in a position to make a difference for others.