Audio books to the rescue


Marsden, Pennine Way       Attribute: Public Domain,

The first weeks of 2017 brought Trump, Brexit and, for me, an emergency heart procedure.

Thanks again to the dedicated staff of the NHS and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Thanks too to family and friends for love, company and food.

And thank you to everyone who responded to my desperate pleas for book recommendations… especially my Australian connections who have taken my reading (listening) in new directions. I have deliberately avoided old favourites and nostalgia.

What I want to write about now is the restorative power of audio. During the last six weeks I have listened to numerous books. Perhaps not all of them have been the wisest of choices in the circumstances but they have got me through some frustrating and anxious hours. They have been chosen for their variety. I am aware that this blog is very personal so I shall not hold back on any comments and this is no reflection on the authors.

Books listened to January and February 2017

Sisters and Lies by Bernice Barrington narrated by Caroline Lennon and Marcella Riordan. One sister in a coma following an unexplained car accident, the other going back over their lives in Ireland, before they moved to London, in an attempt to unravel the mystery of the accident. Well written and suspenseful and lovely to listen to the soft Irish accents.

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift narrated by Eve Webster. Brilliant, subtle, at times erotic, evocation of a seminal day in an 80 year old writer’s early life as a housemaid in a big house. So many layers in this novella that I will listen to it again.

Walking Home: Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way by Simon Armitage narrated by Simon Armitage. Simon Armitage, the poet, decided to walk the Pennine Way. He would take no money but he would give readings and pass round a sock for contributions to his bed and board. He advertised his journey in advance and, with the help of ordnance survey maps, plotted his course. He let it be known publicly where he would stop each night and invited people to come and hear him, offer him a bed, offer him food and drink and even accompany him on his journey. I was in hospital when I listened to this beautiful evocation of a particular part of England and the poet’s encounters with people and animals. I can’t imagine a calmer, more therapeutic book. Loved it.

The Dry by Jane Harper narrated by Stephen Shanahan. Exceptionally well written and read, mystery set in Australia during a long hot drought. The small town bears an old grudge against Federal Investigator, Aaron Falk, unofficially called back to his hometown to help discover who murdered his best friend Luke, Luke’s wife and young son Billy. Harper takes the reader right into the centre of small town dynamics. For a mystery this is gentle and humane without being remotely cosy. I loved the atmospheric descriptions of the homes, the farms and the landscape. Great read.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks narrated by Edwina Wren. Geraldine Brooks is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. She has taken the true story of the 14th century Sarajevo Haggadah which was rescued by a Moslem librarian during the bombing of Sarajevo. Another librarian was killed by a sniper while trying to rescue a pile of books. Brooks describes the conservation of the exquisitely illustrated Haggadah by fictionalising its journey from, probably 14th century Spain to the present day through the hints provided by wine stains, blood, a fragment of an insect’s wing. She conjures vivid images and dangerous events mixing fact and fiction. Full of detail, this story had me riveted. But… I am uneasy about the mixture of fact and fiction so in the end I’m not sure what to think. But well written and well worth a listen.

Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, narrated by Caroline Lee. A story of bullying and the effects of misinformation set around the parents and children in an Australian kindergarten. The novel is written with a deceptively light touch. Well observed and building backwards to what seems like an inevitable conclusion. It deals with the serious topic of hidden middle class domestic violence and its ripple effect. I really enjoyed this for its wit and humanity. It has recently been made into a mini-series with Nicole Kidman.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout narrated by Kimberly Farr. Mother and daughter story, beautifully written and beautifully read but I found it intensely irritating. Put it down to my grumpy state of mind.

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths narrated by Jane McDowell. Another Ruth Galloway mystery, forensic archaeology lecturer, investigating bones found in an ancient tunnel under the city of Norwich. Full of detail and character. Easy and enjoyable.

A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor narrated by Crispin Redman. This came highly recommended and is a terrific find as I enjoy travel writing. I am just at the beginning when the eccentric author sets off as a young man to walk across Europe to Constantinople. I have laughed out loud at his adventures in Germany where he falls in love with the generosity of the people while at the same time being chilled by the Nazi movement. Can’t wait to read more of his work.

A House Full of Daughters by Juliet Nicolson narrated by Julie Teal. More about the Nicolsons and Sackville Wests. Well written and enjoyable.

Several books were returned to for a variety of reasons. One I am hesitating about is Barkskins by Annie Proulx. This is 25 hours long. I have listened to about 5 hours. It is set in the 18th century and ranges from Canada to China to Europe and America. Great characterisation and description. Very violent and am finding the environmental message a bit heavy handed. Not sure if I shall finish it.  Anyone else read it?

So these are the books which have kept me company during my convalescence. (Now well on the road to recovery.) No old favourites so far!  If you are thinking I have strayed from my brief of writing about technology, I download onto and listen on my trusty iPad.

Any more suggestions will be gratefully received. What do you like reading when you are ill?




Queen Elizabeth Hospital


This entry was posted in Audio books, Birmingham, Health, Literature. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Audio books to the rescue

  1. heavenali says:

    Hope you’re feeling much better now. You have listened to such a brilliant mix of books. I enjoyed My name is Lucy Barton more than you, though I know you have enjoyed other novels by that author. I loved People of the book – though I take your point about the mix of fact and fiction, it’s not something I am always comfortable with. Mothering Sunday is a beautiful novel.

  2. So glad you have shared some of my choices I think I just listened to Mary Barton at the wrong time and maybe the narrator’s voice was not one for me. Feeling much better thank you and looking forward to,hearing about your Icelandic adventures.

  3. Glad to hear you’re feeling better. It’s good to know that books can help so much in illness. When I’m feeling ill or low, I go for old favourites. Jane Austen (especially read by Juliet Stevenson) Love in a Cold Climate read by Patricia Hodge & anything read by Ian Carmichael or Jeremy Sinden. I’ve just listened to Hugh Fraser reading an Agatha Christie & I’ll be listening to more. I’ve also recently enjoyed Frederick Forsyth’s memoir, The Outsider, read by Robert Powell & his novel The Odessa File, read by David Rintoul. I also loved David Timson & Janet McTeer reading Wuthering Heights & Timson reading Dombey and Son.

  4. Liz Dexter says:

    I loved Walking Home and have his Cornwall one on my TBR. I love Paddy Leigh Fermor – I wonder if his letters with Debo Devonshire are available on audiobook, as they are wonderful. I haven’t read Barkskins because she is alas too violent for me (never read Accordion Crimes – argh!) but I know several reviewers who have been bored stiff and belaboured around the head by the environmental message.

    • As usual, we are in agreement! thanks for your lovely feedback. I can’t believe I have never read Patrick Leigh Fermor before. I love It when I find an author new to me and glad you like him too. Audible do several of his books but can’t find the letters to Debo Devonshire unfortunately. I’m glad I made the decision to move away from old favourites. It has been very energising. Barkskins is going back!

  5. Thanks for your list. All,good! At the moment I am trying to avoid old favourites and explore new directions but I take your point. Will try the Frederick Forsyth and very tempted by Patricia Hiodge and Juliet Stevenson reading anything! Don’t you agree that, in the end, it all depends on the narrator? Thank you again for your interesting reply.

I love hearing from my readers - do please leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s