It’s been a year of rather big changes here – out and about and spending time with people again (and isn’t that wonderful?), discovering I actually really enjoy walking (on my own, with friends, and with the Nordic walking group I was so delighted to find), joining a Pilates class (still haven’t found my core, but it’s been hidden under layers of fat for rather a long time), enjoying cooking healthy Mediterranean meals from scratch, and a rather impressive four and a half stones shed. And I’m full of energy once more, and happy – last Christmas was so very difficult, but this year I’m greeting it singing and dancing.
Now if you’re a friend, you’ll already know about all that – but there’s been another big change too. With a bit of a fanfare, I’m delighted to report that I’ve finally discovered a love of audiobooks. I do know that many of you won’t find that a particularly big deal, happily switching between your books, kindle, and earbuds or headphones – but I honestly never thought audiobooks were something I’d enjoy.
I have tried a few times over the years. My book club chose a book I was really struggling to get into – just between us, it was The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – and I wondered if I might find it easier to listen than read. For three days on the trot, I sat down and listened, and every single time I dropped off to sleep – and I’m still not sure if it was the book itself or the act of listening that was causing the problem. I tried again once when I was driving long distance – I think it was on my way to Narberth for the book festival – and this time I chose The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, and was really enjoying it. Well, I was – until I got so engrossed with the story that I entirely missed the junction for the M5 and found myself in the middle of a housing estate.
Like so many others, I took up walking during lockdown – walking round the block (sometimes anti-clockwise, just for a change of scene), sometimes doing a longer circuit through nearby villages. As the scenery became rather familiar, I did start to find it a bit of a chore – and it was really eating into my precious reading time. I must credit Sue Moorcroft for my lightbulb moment – she’d mentioned her walks around the park while enjoying audiobooks on her phone, and I thought I’d give it a try. My iPhone was an older one, with wired earphones – but I revived my Audible subscription, selected a book I fancied, and decided to give it a try.
Do you know, I couldn’t have chosen a better book for my first outing – it was The Switch by Beth O’Leary, and I thought it was quite wonderful. Narrated by Daisy Edgar-Jones and Alison Steadman, it reminded me of the Radio 4 dramas I used to enjoy in my younger days – and it was such a superb story of Leena and her grandmother Eileen’s adventures when they swapped lives, moved on from their sadness and loss, and enjoyed their second chances at happiness.
I raced through that one – well, in three weeks, my walks aren’t that long! – and chose my next. This time it was The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan (narrated by Georgina Sutton) – I’ve never read any of her books, saw her on one of Kim Nash’s book chats, and wanted to give her a try. In some ways it was a comparable story – the developing friendship between characters from two generations and their adventures on an epic road trip across America. I really did enjoy this one too – although I did think it maybe didn’t take some opportunities for bringing the settings to life, and I wasn’t entirely convinced by the occasional US accents.
And then I unexpectedly started to struggle a little – I tried two more romances I’d wanted to catch up with, but really didn’t like the narrators’ voices (one too gentle to engage with, the other reminding me uncomfortably of a teacher I hadn’t liked at primary school). And I upgraded my phone – the new one didn’t have an earphone socket, so I needed to get used to earbuds. Does anyone else have ears they just don’t fit? The right ear works just fine, the left one just doesn’t want to stay put – but I’ve now acquired the knack of shoving it into place. And, rather belatedly, I then discovered that you could speed the books up a bit – I now listen at x1.2, and it keeps my attention far better.
So I was then off and running (well, walking…) again – The Getaway by Isabelle Broom, narrated by Kirsty Dillon. Another author I’ve (rather shamefully) never read before, and I really enjoyed this lovely story set in Croatia, as Kate ran away from her life and discovered new possibilities in her developing relationship with Alex along with its many twists and turns. The only little mistake I made with this one was listening to it at the same time as I was reading Eva Glyn’s The Olive Grove, also set in Croatia (a lovely read – you’ll find my review here) – and I did find it a challenge at times to keep the storylines separate in my head.
Time to choose another listen – and it was also time for another revelation when someone (I think it was Julie of A Little Book Problem) mentioned (on Twitter) that they particularly enjoyed listening to crime and thrillers. While romance and women’s fiction will always be my reading of choice, I wondered if that might just work for me too – it’d be easier to keep my listening and reading in separate compartments in my head, and there are so many thrillers I really wanted to catch up on but could never find the time to read.
I started with the familiar – two books by Elizabeth Haynes that I remembered enjoying quite a few years ago, Human Remains and Revenge of the Tide (both narrated by Karen Cass), and I loved them every bit as much as I did the first time round. I’ll admit that the one I’d really wanted to try was her latest, You, Me and the Sea, but there was no audiobook available – but it’s on my list to read on kindle during my January break. The change in genre really worked – I know that people who run like a music soundtrack with a stronger pace and rhythm, and I found a similar effect with that switch to listening to thrillers.
For my next, I chose The Nurse by JA Corrigan, narrated by Daphne Kouma – and my goodness, I SO enjoyed it. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that there was one day when I got home after a circuit of the block and set off to do it a second time because I really didn’t want to stop listening. If you haven’t tried this one, I recommend it really highly – I was entirely caught up in Rose’s story, her interactions with writer Theo, and those promised “shocking twists” really had my on the edge of my seat (well, they would have done if I hadn’t been walking…). The characterisation was so excellent – this was one where I kept my earbuds firmly in place for a while after I’d come back to the house.
And then, another superb one – The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith (narrated by Anne Dover, Laura Kirman and Charlotte Strevens). My goodness, what a story, and so superbly told – the antibiotic crisis and its dire consequences for the over-70s, the world vividly created, the fascinating African back story, the characters wonderfully drawn, and that central question mark over their relationships and the threat from the past. I really don’t read enough books from Orenda, and I have quite a few more on my listening list to catch up on.
I’ve always loved Clare Mackintosh’s books, so my next choice was Hostage (narrated by Vinette Robinson). This was another one that increased my mileage a little – the different voices of the passengers worked so well as an audiobook, the tension and pace was simply wonderful, and the story entirely gripped me from beginning to end.
And then I had another idea – I often struggle to fit my real-life book club’s choices into my reading list, so why not try listening to them instead? My first was The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (narrated by Julia Whelan), one I’d missed out on when first released but really wanted to catch up with. At first, I was a bit put off by the narrator’s Kentucky accent – but my goodness, that didn’t last long. It was a quite wonderful story about the friendships formed between the women of the travelling library, their challenges and their hardships, and every one of them won my heart. And I’m sure it’s a superb read, but the narrator really brought it to life – every voice distinct, every different accent, picking up pace for those dramatic moments and with real tenderness in the more poignant ones. It’s the first time I’ve found myself walking with tears running down my face – such a fantastic book.
And my next book club listen was The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex (narrated by Indira Varma and Tom Burke) – which I very much enjoyed, but think I might have done so rather more had I sat down and read it in the usual way. It’s an engrossing story – set around the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse men, and the women who awaited their return – but with a fairly slow pace, and I did find it quite difficult to distinguish between the different voices and to get a fix on their various relationships. One I’d really recommend as a read, but perhaps less so as a listen.
The next audiobook I tried was The Christmas Murder Game by Alexandra Benedict (narrated by Laura Costello) – another one I think I might have enjoyed rather more on my kindle. It’s a really clever and original idea – a closed door mystery laced with riddles and clues and characters you love, hate and suspect – but I found its cleverness was rather lost in the audio format, it rather exposed the occasional weaknesses in the writing (a real over-indulgence in similes), and the reader challenges just didn’t work.
But I’m now back to the thrillers again – currently listening to Her Sister’s Secret by SE Lynes (narrated by Tamsin Kennard), and absolutely loving it. I haven’t read one of Susie’s books since Valentina, back in 2016 (you’ll find my review here), and I’m really kicking myself that it took me so long to return – this one’s entirely gripping, with the most wonderful characters, and I have no idea where the story’s heading. Note to myself – I must add a few more of her books to my future listening list.
And after this one (three hours to go!) I’ll be trying 56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard (narrated by Alana Kerr Collins) – it’s another book club choice, recommended by me when I read some of the excellent reviews from blogger friends, a lockdown thriller that looks particularly original and intriguing.
There – a bit of a ramble, but I hope it’s coming across that I’m really enjoying this new world of listening pleasure. It’s all felt so very separate from my usual reading that I’ve made no mention of the books I’ve listened to on Goodreads or here on the blog – and I do plan to log them from now on. But I won’t be writing and sharing full reviews, I’ll only do that for my kindle reading, and it really keeps me busy enough – but I will try to add a few lines of review to Amazon/Audible for any books I listen to in future. And, if it’s ok with you, I will mention my listening in a round-up post every three months or so.
Right, sun’s shining, so I’m off to grab my earbuds and phone, do a circuit of the block, and rejoin Her Sister’s Secret – happy listening!