Reading Roundup: Audio Edition

A while ago I made a short list of some of the books I’d been reading lately. I’m going to do the same thing again, but with a slight twist: everything on this list will be an audiobook.

I haven’t really talked about this before, but I absolutely love audiobooks and always have done. They were a huge part of my childhood, mainly thanks to Stephen Fry’s excellent reading of the Harry Potter series (I listened to them so often that to this day, when I read them myself I can only hear the words in his voice). There’s just something really relaxing about having an audiobook read to you, and a good performance can really make all the difference.

So! Here’s what I’ve been listening to that has really stood out:

 

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image: amazon.com

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, by Arthur Conan Doyle – read by Stephen Fry 

This is exactly what it sounds like. Stephen Fry reads the entire works of Sherlock Holmes (apart from the apocrypha) and it’s great. The full recording is about three days long and took me the best part of a month to get through, but it was totally worth it. Fry does an excellent job of creating the right atmosphere for each story and there’s also a short introduction to each of the main collections where we find out more about the Sherlock Holmes canon and how Fry discovered it.

I really liked this one. Sherlock Holmes stories aren’t always my favourite, as a lot of them tend to rely on forcing their characters into pretty restrictive boxes, but Fry’s performance made me forget about that. It was a little strange hearing him do all the accents, as I’m just so used to him having the most English voice in the world, but he got the voices right. My only complaint is that I still don’t know how to pronounce Inspector Lestrade’s name right, as he used both ‘Le-straahhhd’ and ‘Le-strayed’ and now I don’t know how to speak. But all in all a really great collection.

 

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image: audioeditions.com

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee – read by Sally Darling

This one has a special place in my heart. The first time I came across this particular recording was when I was writing my dissertation. I didn’t work very well in the university library, but needed to use lots of books on short-term loans, so what I would do was to take out a bunch of books, transcribe as many direct quotes from the useful passages onto my laptop and then take them all back three days later. My eyes hurt so much it felt like all the moisture had been systematically removed from each eyeball with a syringe. Do not do this.

Anyway. When I wanted to take a break, I needed to close my eyes. But I wasn’t sleepy – I just needed to not be staring at screens or tiny print for a while. So I was idly scrolling along when I came across this audiobook, and decided to listen for a while just to see if I liked the performance.

And it was perfect.

Sally Darling got the pace, the accent and the tone spot on for me. It was exactly like an older Scout had plonked herself down in my chair and was just telling me about her life. I was completely transported. Years later, after a death in the family, I’d listen to this audiobook again, and it was exactly what I needed: comforting, bittersweet and rich, without shying away from all the nasty things in life. After all that, no other performance can compare.

 

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image: amazon.co.uk

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson – read by Richard Armitage

I got this one as part of The Monster Collection, which is a three-in-one audiobook of Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein and Dracula. All three stories are read by different actors but it was Jekyll that really stood out. (For what it’s worth, Greg Wise and Rachel Atkins did quite a good job on Dracula, but I didn’t really think much of Dan Stevens reading Frankenstein – the voice he went with was a bit too woeful for my tastes, even though I can see why he made that choice.)

Damn, Richard Armitage. Damn. This man can really read a book. His performance was genuinely electrifying. He has the perfect voice for scary stories, managing to get just the right kind of slow-build menace in the scene-setting, but the really stand-out part was when he was reading Jekyll’s confession right at the end. As he was describing his transformation his voice started slowly changing, becoming low and scratchy as Jekyll transformed into Hyde – he did an amazing job of showing the transformation through his performance.

 

image: denofgeek.com
image: denofgeek.com

Discworld series, by Terry Pratchett – read by Stephen Briggs

I’m cheating slightly by listing a series, but it’s my blog and I don’t care. You didn’t think we’d make it this far without me raving about Discworld some more, did you?

There’s actually three different narrators for the Discworld audiobooks, but for me Stephen Briggs is the one that ready stands out. Nigel Planer reads the earlier unabridged ones, and he does a decent job, although some are better than others. Tony Robinson reads all the abridged audiobooks, and while he’s probably the better performer I am 100% not here for abridged audiobooks – don’t give me that nonsense, I don’t care that it takes a day to read it through, don’t cut out the story.

Sorry. Anyway, Stephen Briggs reads the later unabridged ones, and for me these are the best of the lot. He gets the voices and the tone just right, no matter which character he’s reading for, and best of all he seems to have a really intuitive understanding of the Discworld universe, which really makes a difference. It’s little things, like making sure all the dwarves in his Discworld audiobooks speak with a similar accent, that really gives his readings the edge.

 

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image: amazon.co.uk

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak – read by Allan Corduner

I really don’t know why I bought this one. I love The Book Thief, even though every time I read it, it punches me in the face. So far, it is the only book I feel the need to cuddle after I’ve finished reading it. I don’t know why this is.

I was kind of sceptical about this one at first. I just love the book so much, and there’s nothing worse than having a narrator ruin your favourite book by getting the voices all wrong. But I’m happy to say I was proved wrong. Allan Corduner does a great job on the accents and the tone for each character, and he can really carry the emotional weight through his narration. I haven’t finished this one yet, but I know that I’m going to cry.

 

And there you have it! A short list of stuff I’ve listened to that I’ve liked. Ta-dah. Feel free to discuss in the comments (and leave suggestions if you want, I always like recommendations) but please do tag up your spoilers. Apart from Frankenstein. It’s been out for two hundred years, it’s a little late for spoiler warnings now.

 

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Book Recipes: How to Write a Medical Romance

Time for another book recipe! This time we’ll be looking at medical romances. It’s OK if you faint – there are loads of hot doctors about in these ones.

 

Ingredients:

  • One hot doctor
  • One feisty yet vulnerable female lead
  • A big fancy party
  • The shiniest hospital you can find
  • A cute but sick baby
  • White coats
  • A big dollop of pointless misunderstanding
  • Some medicines or something.

 

Method:

  1. Put your hot doctor in the shiny hospital. It’s important to establish right off the bat that he is the best doctor in the whole of Medicine-Land.
  2. Enter the female lead. It doesn’t matter who she is, just that she’s feisty, but with a secret soft side.
  3. Your leads hate each other right away but oh no, this baby is sick! Now they must put aside their differences FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN.
  4. Hot doctor starts treating the baby. It’s going well, but the female lead huffs about it anyway.
  5. Angst about how much your female lead hates the hot doctor. He’s arrogant! He’s a maverick! But he’s also hot! What a dilemma.
  6. But wait, what’s this? Could it possibly be…sexual tension?
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Dun dun DUUUNNNN. (image: giphy.com)
  1. The female lead decides she definitely isn’t going to date him. Nope, definitely not. Boy, we sure are glad that’s been established as something that definitely isn’t going to –
  2. HAHA THEY’VE KISSED!
  3. More angst from the female lead. They kissed! But he’s arrogant. But he’s also hot! But she’s so secretly vulnerable!
  4. Let your female lead play with the baby for a bit or something. It doesn’t matter what actually happens, because you’re using this scene as a vehicle for…
  5. …more angst! Oh boy, looking at this cute sick baby sure makes our lead want to settle down and get married and that.
  6. Have a bonding moment with the hot doctor and reveal the female lead’s totally tragic backstory. This should explain why she can’t love/date/shag anyone, and especially not you, Dr Cheekbones.
  7. Time for the big fancy party! The whole hospital is going. What? It’s not like they’ve got patients to treat or anything.
  8. Have a special dance for your leads. Maybe they are going to get together after all…
  9. But no! It’s time to stir in the misunderstanding and now EVERYTHING IS RUINED
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RUINED I SAID. (image: giphy.com)
  1. The female lead mopes a bit, but doesn’t actually discuss anything with the hot doctor like an adult. Just run away from any attempts at straightening things out, we’ve still got four steps to go.
  2. OMG GUYS! THE BABY! IT’S SICK!
  3. Rush to the baby’s bedside. Time for some serious medicine. Enter the hot doctor, ready to save the day.
  4. Hooray, the day (and the baby) is saved! Time to sort out that misunderstanding. Now the baby is all better, but who’s going to take care of it now?
  5. JK IT’S THE LEADS NOW THEY HAVE TO GET MARRIED YAAAAAYYYYY

The end. Serve dressed in a white coat and garnished with medical jargon.

 

Tips:

  • Don’t let your hospital get too gross. Readers aren’t here for anything that oozes.
  • It doesn’t actually matter who your female lead is, or what she does. She can be related to the baby, or she can be a nurse in the hospital, as long as she’s got an excuse to be there regularly.
  • The misunderstanding at the end isn’t all that important. Choose from one of the following flavours:
    • No it’s fine, that woman was my sister
    • It wasn’t actually you I was talking about when you overheard me
    • I’m not actually going to move away after all
    • I only kissed that other woman to make sure we weren’t going to get together
  • Keep your hot doctor out of scrubs as much as possible. Have you seen those things? They’re like wearing a paper bag. Ideally you want him in a nice suit with a white coat over the top, stethoscope artfully draped around his neck, or just shirtless.
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It’s medically sound. (image: pinterest.com)
  • Don’t make your female lead’s backstory too tragic. The classic is that she can’t fall in love because there was a man who done her wrong, but you can always throw a dead relative in the mix as well.
  • Don’t spend too much time on the actual medicine – it can’t get in the way of all the lovely dates!
  • Why not let your adorable sick baby play Cupid? It’s what every fledgling adult romance needs – a sticky child asking them when they’re going to get married.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

Bailey McRae sat at the bar, nursing a glass of red wine. It had been a long, long day. She’d spent it running between the children’s ward and the operating theatre, pacing up and down endless corridors and biting her nails. But now, her nephew Jackson was out of surgery, and it looked like he was going to be all right.

She drained her glass and ordered another. Someone slid into the seat next to her. Of course they did. The bar was half-empty, and there were plenty of seats to choose from, but she was a redhead sitting alone and this was what always happened. She turned, ready to tell him to go away – and stopped.

It was Max Stirling. Blond, blue-eyed Max Stirling, with the brains of a genius and the body of a swimwear model. Dr Max Stirling, who’d just saved Jackson’s life.

He smirked at her. “I’ll get this.”

She put a hand on his arm before he could wave down the bartender and flinched back. If the average human body was seventy percent water, Dr Stirling was seventy percent muscle.

“It’s fine,” she said, blushing.

He flexed a bit. “I know. Shiraz, right? We can split the bottle.”

Her temper flared. Why did he have to be so perfect? He was so arrogant, thinking he was always right. Why didn’t have the common decency to be ugly, so that she could hate him without going all conflicted and tingly?

Dr Stirling poured out two glasses and pushed one towards her. Bailey took it, trying not to smile. She couldn’t get close to him – to anyone. No-one would understand.

“I ought to thank you for what you did today,” she said. “Jackson couldn’t ask for a better doctor. I mean, he can’t speak yet, but…”

“I get it. I’m just glad you chose me.”

“For Jackson’s doctor,” she said, quickly.

He winked. “Sure. But, seriously, I’m glad you acted when you did. I’ve never seen a case of poorlyitis that bad. Not even in both my PhDs.”

“Really?”

He nodded. “Oh, yeah. I’m just glad we got the right medicine in time. I don’t know what Dr Bumble was thinking, giving him that other kind of medicine. That other kind of medicine is no good for people who’ve been in the wars in this particular way, and certainly not for poorlyitis.”

Bailey nodded and sipped her wine. She was having a hard time keeping up with all the jargon.

“Of course,” Dr Stirling continued, “we may still need to do an operation. But don’t worry, I’ll bring plenty of bandages.”

That made her feel better. Dr Stirling smiled at her and ran a hand through his perfect blond hair. It made it go interestingly tousled, and as a bonus, when he lifted his arm she had a really good view of his bicep.

“I never asked,” he said. “How come it’s just you and Jackson?”

“It isn’t. I’m only looking after him for a little while – just until my sister gets back. She’s exploring the Peruvian rainforests, looking for plottonium.”

He raised his eyebrows. “And there’s no…Mr McRae?”

Bailey’s mouth tightened. “No.”

“Really? That can’t be right. A pretty girl like you?”

Bailey snorted and took another sip of her wine. “Yeah, well. I’ve kind of sworn off men since –”

“Since what?”

Bailey took a deep breath. There was no point telling him. He wouldn’t get it. She was prepared to bet her own face that no-one had ever broken up with Dr Max Stirling, ever. He was too pretty for that sort of thing.

“Last date I went on, the guy never showed up.”

There. She’d said it. Her secret was out in the open. She’d told him. She’d come clean about her shameful past, at last, and now he would –

“That’s it?”

“What do you mean, ‘that’s it’?”

“Well, it just seems like a bit of a –”

Bailey downed the last of her wine, blushing fiercely. She knew she shouldn’t have told him. “Look, just forget it, all right?”

“But don’t you think it’s a bit –”

She grabbed her bag and pulled on her jacket. “I knew you wouldn’t get it! Look, sometimes things don’t work even when you flex at them. Got that, Mr Perfect?”

She stormed out. Dr Stirling sat at the bar, stunned, and emptied the rest of the bottle of wine into his glass.

“It’s Dr Perfect, actually,” he muttered.

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

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Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

Harry Potter and the Passage of Time

About a month ago, my friends and I went up to Edinburgh.

I had the best time. By some miracle the weather was amazing and we had glorious sunshine for all our trips to Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat and the Palace of Holyrood – which was just as well, as a lot of the museums we visited were crammed with very creepy mannequins and I couldn’t have dealt with it in the dark. But it was a pretty hilly city, and we had to regularly refuel with tea and cake.

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I am British, after all. (image: giphy.com)

One of the places we went to was The Elephant House.

The Elephant House is a small café just opposite the National Museum of Scotland. It’s a little small, a little crowded, and the back room is filled with an eclectic assortment of chairs and tables, in a way that reminded me of going round someone’s house to see they’ve set up for a barbecue or something. I had a hot chocolate and my friends had some tea, and because we’re all used to London prices (a.k.a. “re-mortgage your house if you want another slice of cake” prices) we were all pretty happy with it.

But that wasn’t why we went. We went to The Elephant House because that is the place where JK Rowling wrote some of the early chapters of the Harry Potter series.

We had a full geek-out. We sat in the back room, by a window overlooking Edinburgh Castle, which was apparently the very place where the first draft of Harry Potter was actually written omigod you guys one of us could be sitting on the same chair as JK – and we were totally calm and mature adults about the whole thing. We didn’t even cry.

But the really nice thing was that we weren’t the only ones doing this. Our table was an old desk with working drawers. I pulled one open and found that it was crammed with letters, all written by visitors saying how much they loved Harry Potter. And that wasn’t all we found. Even the loos had been turned into a kind of shrine:

Harry Potter was a huge part of my childhood. I read all the books. I had the audiobooks too, and listened to them so often that to this day I can only hear the words in Stephen Fry’s voice. I’ve seen the movies, I’ve bought the merchandise, I’ve written fanfiction which (thankfully) is now dead and buried. But visiting The Elephant House really brought home the fact that it wasn’t just me. I got oddly emotional in those toilets, because it was so clear that people from all over the world had come to see the birthplace of Harry Potter in just the same way that I had done.

But Harry Potter wasn’t just a huge part of my childhood. It has also been a pretty constant feature of my adult life, and these experiences haven’t been quite so nice. The seventh book wasn’t the end of the franchise, though perhaps it should have been. Rowling’s efforts to continue the world of Hogwarts beyond that haven’t gone down so well. Her expansion of the wizarding world has been met with accusations of cultural appropriation. The follow-up play, The Cursed Child, was an incredible spectacle but, plot-wise, left a lot to be desired. And most disappointingly of all, Rowling has continued to support the casting of Johnny Depp in her Fantastic Beasts movie series: a man who tacitly admitted to domestic abuse in his official statement of separation from his now ex-wife, Amber Heard.

All of these things have changed the way I view JK Rowling and her series. Now, I’m much more sceptical of any new Harry Potter development. I’m less inclined to support a project just because it has Rowling’s involvement. Part of me wonders if, when I reminisce about the series, it’s not the books I’m nostalgic for but the way I felt when I first read them. They were an important part of my childhood, that’s true – but now, I am no longer a child.

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Actual footage of me ageing. (image: giphy.com)

Does this mean I don’t enjoy the series any more? If you mean the expanded HP universe, well, kinda. If you mean the original books, it’s a solid no. I still love those books. They were such an important part of my life that it would be kind of hard not to. Changing my mind about them would be almost like suddenly despising a childhood teddy. But it has made me look at them in a different light. Now I’m not afraid to look at them critically, or to share my (copious) opinions about them. I still enjoy them, but I can acknowledge that they have flaws, and that the author holds views that she and I don’t share. Despite everything that has happened since the final book was published, it was a formative series for me and I still appreciate having had it in my life.

And then, I left the toilets.

So if you’re ever in Edinburgh and want a cup of tea and a muse about children’s books, I can recommend popping along to The Elephant House. Perhaps you’ll pull a JK and inspiration will strike, and there’ll be different graffiti in the toilets the next time I go. Or maybe you’ll just sit at a table in the back room, pull open a drawer that you didn’t know was there, and you’ll find this:

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