audiobooks, books, fiction, Series I love

Audiobooks

Hello, my name is Verity and I am bad with silence.  I am not good at being left alone with my own thoughts.  No idea why, but the fact remains that I need something to listen to when I’m walking somewhere, or trying to go to sleep, or taking a shower.  As a teenager, I listened to hours of news and sport radio as I did my homework.  When I did my year in France as a student, it took two months for my brain to get good enough at French that I could go to sleep listening to French talk radio.* These days, now I work in news, I tend to want to listen to something that’s not to do with the job when I’m on my way home or trying to go to sleep. So audiobooks have become my friend – I’ve had an Audible subscription since I first started doing the mega train commute, and now my one book a month subscription has evolved into a big old library.

But as I looked at my collection the other day, I realised that it’s mostly made up of books that I’ve already read, and that I listen to the same books over and over again.  And I got to thinking about why that might be.

Firstly I think it’s because I listen for comfort.  Some of my audiobooks are like old friends.  Novels that I love that I can re-read by listening to them at times when I can’t be physically reading a book.  If I’m going to sleep, I don’t want to be surprised, or scared – and I don’t want to lose my place if I fall asleep before the off timer runs out.  So I’ve probably listened to Dorothy L Sayer’s Busman’s Honeymoon (the third audiobook I got from Audible) 100 times in the four years that I’ve had it.  I’m not exaggerating.  When I was little, I had this story tape of Paddington Goes To Town (I can’t believe it’s on YouTube – it’s made me all nostalgic) – and my mum used to joke that if you set her going and then turned the tape off, she would be able to keep going until the end.  I think I’ve got to the same stage with Busman’s Honeymoon.  I’ve listened to the various Peter Wimsey mysteries so many times, that when I read the book now I hear Ian Carmichael’s voice in my head.  I have one (Murder Must Advertise) that isn’t read by him and I’ve listened to it maybe three times – because the voice isn’t right.  Instead I listen to the BBC radio adaptation of it, which is shorter, but has Carmichael in the cast playing Wimsey.

The second reason is because some of the time, I’m not giving my audiobook my full attention.  If I’m listening on the train, I’m probably reading a proper book at the same time.  I’m listening to the book with half an ear – but when I get to where I’m going I’ll stop reading and listen to it properly – and if I already know the book’s plot I won’t be confused because I’ve missed a major plot point.  If I’ve got an audiobook I haven’t already read, I’ll make sure that the first time I listen to it I do it when I can give it my full attention – like when I’m washing up, or doing the housework – or walking somewhere.  Once I’ve listened the whole way through, if I liked it, it’ll go into rotation.

Of course this preference for things I’ve already read brings with it its own problems.  My sister and I hated the first couple of Harry Potter films – because the actors were all wrong for the visions we had in our head and that happens to me a lot with book adaptations on TV and on film.  Audiobooks are slightly better, because I can keep the picture in my head of what the characters look like – it’s just the voice that’s got to be right.  So my Miss Marple audiobooks are read by Joan Hickson (who’s not as good on audiobook as she is on TV, but she’s still better than any of the alternatives) and my Murder on the Orient Express is read by David Suchet (it’s actually the same version that we used to listen to on tape in the car on the way to Bournemouth/Devon for our holidays all those years ago).  But sometimes the voices are Wrong.  In the early days of my audible membership I got a lot of Georgette Heyers – read by various people – and had issues with a few (notably These Old Shades) because the readers were just somehow inexplicably Not Right.

But for all those occasions there are some narrators that are just Right – take Stephen Briggs’ Discworld narrations.  He’s perfect.  He makes the Discworld sound even better on audiobook than it does when you read it on the page.  He gets it right.  Dwarves are always Welsh in my head now.  There was a slight slip in the audiobook of Raising Steam, where Adorabelle Dearheart’s accent has changed slightly from the previous two books she features in – but you’d only notice that if you’re like me and listen to one of the Moist books at least once a month!  I have one of the Nigel Planer Discworlds – and apart from the fact that it’s a really poor cassette to digital transfer (I complained) – it’s just not the same.

I’ve been experimenting recently – with a couple of the Miss Fisher Audiobooks (I get a special rate because I already own the kindle copies) and some of the abridged Inspector Alleyn books.  The jury is still out on the Phryne ones – I’m yet to listen to one with a lot of men in it  – and I’ve discovered that although I prefer Benedict Cumberbatch’s Alleyn narration, the other options are ok too – partly because the series covers so much time and has so may different characters.  I’m debating whether to try the Daisy Dalrymple audiobooks and the Gail Carriger ones too, but haven’t plucked up the courage yet.

I also have a collection of non-fiction books that are helpful when we go on holiday – The Boy is also bad with silence, and on those occasions he’ll demand something to listen to to go to sleep to.  I have a selection of non fiction for that purpose – and some Agatha Christies that he likes.  It’s also become a tradition that if we’re driving on holiday we have to listen to some of the brilliant Cabin Pressure  – which in case you’ve never encountered it is a radio comedy about a charter airline starring Benedict Cumberbatch (again) – on the way. I dare you to resist this level of genius

or this in fact

Anyway.  Back to the audiobooks.  I’m open to recommendations – what else should I be listening to?  Is there anything I should be avoiding?  And does anyone else have a problem with being left alone with their own thoughts?!

Background noise to the composition of this post has been provided by the Overture to Gypsy, Murder on the Orient Express Suite by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, a medley of the incidental music from the James Bond films, Patti LuPone singing Anything Goes and this beautiful version of Ol’ Man River from last year’s Last Night of the Proms:

*Music doesn’t help me go to sleep.  My brain needs something to think about to stop me from overthinking things.  I can’t explain it better than that.

detective, Series I love

Series I Love: Phryne Fisher Mysteries by Kerry Greenwood

Here it is finally – the post about Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series that I’ve been promising for so long!

Phryne was my discovery of the year in 2013 – I read the first book, Miss Phyrne Fisher Investigates* on June 1 last year – and by September I’d read the first 18 books in the series (books 19 and 20 took a bit longer because they initially fell outside my Kindle book cost limit as they were so new – although I stretched my limits on occasion for some of the others) reading them almost in one sitting.  I’ve just re-read the whole lot to see if they’re as good second time around – and they really are.

So who is Phryne?  Well  firstly, it’s pronounced Fry-knee (not Frinn as I had it in my head until she told some one how to say it!) and the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher is a 1920s aristocrat, who spent her childhood in poverty in Melbourne before her father came into his title.  She returned to Australia in her mid-twenties to investigate a mystery for a friend of the family (and to get away from said family).  She liked Melbourne so much that she stayed and has established herself as a Private detective.  She’s smart, she’s pretty, she’s brave, she knows what she wants – and she has the money to do it.

There aren’t a lot of (good) female leading ladies in historical detective fiction**.  This is mostly because for the vast majority of history women haven’t really had the power to do much on their own – and it’s hard to construct realistic stories around what they would have been able to accomplish.  From this point of view, Kerry Greenwood has done a perfect job in creating Phryne.  The post-war period brought greater freedom for women, particularly if you had money – which Phryne does.  Greenwood has also given her a stonking – and realistic – back story which explains why Phryne has the attitudes that she does and also creates openings for stories that aren’t too far fetched.

And in a genre where men often get all the action in the bedroom, Phryne more than holds her own.  She may on occasion pine for a man – but not to marry, she just wants them in her bed!  Her lovers rarely last more than a book – but they always leave on good terms. Lin Chung is the notable exception to this rule – but I’m not going to tell much more than that because I don’t want to ruin it for you.

Like every good detective, Phryne has a gaggle of loyal helpers including her maid Dot (frequently described as a “good girl” who tries not to be scandalised by her employer), her adopted daughters (picked up during a case) and Bert and Cec, the wharfies-cum-taxi drivers-cum-red raggers.  And as she’s not actually a policeman, she has her own Inspector Japp in the form of Inspector Jack Robinson and his constable, Hugh Collins.

I don’t know a lot about inter-war Australia, but I can’t remember a jarring word or phrase in the books, and rarely has anything struck me as being too far-fetched.  There’s often a bibliography at the end to reassure you that the author really has done her homework. In fact the more I read about what people could get up to in the 1920s (Kenya’s Happy Valley, some of the Bright Young Thing’s antics), the more I think that Kerry Greenwood’s been positively restrained!

So, in short, if you like your period crime novels with strong heroines, interesting plots and a little bit of bedroom action (fairly subtle, not too graphic) and you haven’t read any of Phryne’s adventures, may I point you in the direction of Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates in paperback or on Kindle.  She’s well worth it.

 

*  The first book was originally published as Cocaine Blues – I’m assuming they changed it for the UK market to make it clearer that it’s the first in the series.  I can’t think of any other reason.  It’s still called Cocaine Blues in Australia.

**I’m planning posts on some of my other favourites as well – and I’m always looking for recommendations – please leave a comment if you have suggestions for more that I should read.

books, detective, fiction

From Page to Screen: When it works and when it doesn’t!

I always feel a sense of trepidation when I hear that a book or series that I like is being turned into a film or a TV series.  There have been some notable successes, but equally a number of failures too.  When I analyse it, I tend to prefer the adaptations where I’ve read the book after watching the TV show or movie.  So here for your delectation are some of my hits and misses.

Miss Marple

Joan Hickson as Miss Marple
To me, Joan Hickson was perfect

I’m fairly sure that I watched the Joan Hickson Miss Marple adaptations before I started reading the books.  I was 10 when I first watched them (as mentioned in my post on Lord Peter Wimsey), twenty years on I still love them wholeheartedly – and actually have a fair few of them on my TiVo box which I watch whilst ironing.  My favourites are Body in the Library, A Murder Is Announced, The 4.50 from Paddington and Nemesis (despite the fact that the murdered girl is called Verity!).  I’ve only seen a couple of ITV’s “Marple” adaptations – and I’ve loathed them – not only do they change the plot and sometimes even the murderer, but they are utterly unnecessary considering the perfection of the 1980s adaptations.

Hercule Poirot

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
David Suchet gets it pretty much spot on

Moving from one Agatha Christie creation to another – I think my first encounter with the little Belgian detective was David Suchet’s audiobook version of Murder on the Orient Express, although I may have read a book or two first.  I think this means I was predisposed to like his TV version – and I forgive it the tweaks and alterations.  I don’t rewatch these the way I do with the Miss Marples, but if one happens to come on, I won’t turn it off.  I also love the film of Murder on the Orient Express with its starry cast and gorgeous music by Richard Rodney Bennett (if you’ve never heard it, spare a few minutes to watch the wonderful Proms performance below) – a rare occasion of my liking two different adaptations of the same property!

Pride and Prejudice

My much-loved TV tie-in edition of Pride and Prejudice
My much-loved TV tie-in edition of Pride and Prejudice

I started reading the book after I’d watched the first episode of the legendary BBC adaptation with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.  I’d finished the book by the time the second episode aired.  Because I read it that way around, Ehle and Firth were Lizzie and Darcy in my head from the start – and that’s where so often it goes wrong with adaptations for me – when the actors just don’t look like the image you have in your head of the characters.  I’ve never managed to get past the first 15 minutes of the Keira Knightley/Matthew Macfadyen version – possibly because I’m so attached to the 1995 adaptation and it’s so fixed in my head.

Harry Potter

German hardback edition of Chamber of Secrets
German hardback Harry on Chamber of Secrets doesn’t look like Radcliffe

The “image in your head” issue is at the heart of the problem with Harry Potter.  My sister was very angry when the first film came out – she wasn’t pleased with Daniel Radcliffe, but her bigger problem was Emma Watson – “Hermione’s not meant to be pretty and she’s about as convincingly plain as Rachel Leigh Cook is in She’s All That”.  I agreed – and there are also parts of the books that I’m sentimentally attached to that are left out (the last lines of Prisoner of Azkaban for a start – “He was my mum and dad’s best friend. He’s a convicted murderer, but he’s broken out of wizard prison and he’s on the run. He likes to keep in touch with me, though … keep up with news … check if I’m happy.”).

French editions of Harry potter
The look of the trio definitely “evolves” once the films start

But of course for children reading the book now (or anytime in the last decade) that’s not a problem – you can’t avoid the film versions, so you’re unlikely to have the same strong mental image of what Harry et al look like that those of us who were fans of the books before the movies appeared.  I read Harry in French and German to improve my vocabulary (for degree and A-Level respectively) and it’s noticeable that the cover illustrations of Harry grow more like Daniel Radcliffe as the books go by.  On a side issue, I’m still sad that children now won’t experience Harry we (my sister and I) did – today, if you read the first one and like it, you can read all the way through to the end of the series.  Never again will you have to wait a year to find out what happens next, or worry about how it’ll end.

Phryne Fisher

The cover of Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates
Book Phryne…

Back on the literary adaptations, we move on to the inspiration for this post. I love the Phryne Fisher books – but I have serious issues with the TV adaptations.  I have to try to view them as completely separate entities or I get ragey. Very ragey.  In the books, Phryne is in her late 20s, solves murders and gets a lot of action in the bedroom department.  She has two adopted daughters, Mr and Mrs Butler to run her house, her regular man (or as regular as any) is Lin Chung and she unofficially assists the happily married policeman Jack Robinson.  In the TV series, she still solves murders.  The actress playing Phryne is at least a decade too old (although, to be fair, she is a good actress and does her best), one of her daughters and Mrs Butler have disappeared, Lin Chung appears in one episode (and looks young enough to be Phryne’s son), they’re trying to work up a love interest with Jack Robinson (who is divorced from the daughter of a police bigwig) and Phryne’s lesbian socialist sister has been replaced with Miriam Margolyes as an uptight class conscious aunt.  On the plus side, the costumes and locations are gorgeous, although there have been some really shonky wigs.

Essie Davies as Phryne Fisher
…TV Phryne

I appreciate that for a family audience you can’t get away with what you can in a book, but the two are so different that it sometimes seems that the only thing they have in common is the names of some of the characters!  One of the reasons for my recent Phryne re-read was to banish the memory of the second series of the TV series – which I mostly watched whilst yelling at the TV over the character changes and the narrative alterations, much to the amusement of The Boy.  Still, so far, I’ve managed to keep my own mental image of Phryne going without it being overwritten with the TV version – I credit my rage for this!

 

So, there you have it.  Three good, and two not so good.  A couple of other snapshots for you:  I found the TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale deeply disappointing when we watched it during A-Levels, but I like the first Bridget Jones film (the second was a bit of a let down, but then the book isn’t as good either).  The Boy is a big fan of HBO’s True Blood and I’ve almost finished reading the books.  We have fun comparing the plots of the two – which seem to differ wildly (Typical conversation: Him “Has the governor appeared yet?” Me: “What governor?” Him “He does experiments on Vampires and starts poisoning True Blood”  Me: “That’s not in the book!”).  I’m also working my way through the Inspector Alleyn series – both the books and the TV adaptations (the latter being classic ironing fodder) and the jury is still out on those.

I’ve got the TV version of Tales of the City waiting to be watched next time I do some ironing so that I can see how it compares to the books and I’m currently debating whether to go to see The Fault in our Stars at the cinema – but that’s not so much because I’m worried it’ll upset my mental image of the characters, but because I’m not sure I can handle all that crying again so soon after the book – and this time in public!

If you’ve got any literary adaptations that you love or loathe – or think I ought to watch, leave your comments below!