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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Audio Books: Yay or Nay?

I recently decided to set up a small Facebook group to allow me to share my bookish passion with my similarly inclined Fb friends, without clogging up the feeds of those who are not so enlightened.
I have named this group Friends of Brown Flopsy's Book Burrow (catchy, I know!).

I (obviously) share reviews of the books I have read in this group, along with posts about other bookish topics that take my fancy, and I am hoping that my bibliophile group members will do so too, once the group takes off.
I am pleased to report that they have started sharing recommendations with each other a bit, so I am looking forward to more!

As it was recently Audio Book Week, I decided to run a poll to see which of the group members listened to audio books - I am a huge audio book fan myself, so I was curious to see what my bookish friends though too.

The results were very interesting.

I was surprised to see that the majority, of my bookish friends that took part in the poll, had not ever listened to an audio book. Particularly since recent news reports have shown that there has been huge growth in audio book sales.
On questioning, it seems that most of these were not sure whether they would like someone reading a book to them, rather than reading it themselves.
I guess this begs the question about whether potential audio book customers get enough opportunities to try them for free in the first place, or if they are simply not promoted enough to a wider audience. In either case, the recent move towards opening up audio books to reviewers and bloggers to promote them can only be a good thing.

A fair number of my friends have actually listened to an audio book, but they did not seem to have strong feelings about them one way or another. It was quite interesting that, on looking further, quite a few of these actually listened along with their children ie. they had bought audio books aimed at children, rather than the adult market.
From my own experience, I think that quite a lot of people do still see audio books as something to amuse their children, rather than for their own enjoyment - again, more promotion to the adult market would seem to be the answer here.

It seems that I am actually the only one of my friends who listens to audio books on a regular basis and I found this a little disappointing. I don't know if my love of audio books stems from listening to them as a child myself - I can even remember listening to an LP of The Brer Rabbit Stories by Uncle Remus when I was a tiny little tot! It would be interesting to see a study into whether enjoying audio books as a child means you are more likely to listen as an adult.

In my view, audio books are complementary to the hardback/paperback and e-book markets. The advantage of the audio book lies in the fact that you can enjoy a book while you are doing something else - be it housework, cooking, driving, walking/running etc. - which is how I tend to use them.

I am the first to admit that these results are based on a very small sample size and cannot be extrapolated to a wider audience. However, I think it is significant that the number of respondents who had never listened to an audio book was the biggest percentage, since poll was taken by my friends who would all consider themselves to be book lovers.

You have to wonder who it is that is buying all the audio books to lead to such a leap in sales? Food for thought...

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

Read June 2019. Published 20th June 2019.

Littleport, Maine is a vacation destination for the wealthy, who come to spend their weekends and holidays in the quaint harbour town, but underneath this lies another Littleport - the one populated by the locals that live here year-round and serve to cater to the tastes of the rich visitors.

A gulf exists between the visitors and locals, which is seldom bridged by friendship - except for socialite Sadie Loman and local girl Avery Greer. The unlikely bond between Sadie and Avery means that they have become firm friends over the last ten years, and are rarely apart when Sadie is in town with her parents and brother. Although, Avery and Sadie have started to drift apart of late, and Sadie seems to be keeping secrets.

Avery has had a difficult childhood, being orphaned by a car crash that killed her parents, and Lomans have been very good to her. In fact Avery has become so close to the Lomans that she now runs their holiday rental properties for them, and lives in the guest house of their palatial summer home year round.

One night Sadie fails to turn up at the party marking the end of the summer season. The party comes to a premature end as the police arrive to break the news that Sadie's body has been found at the foot of some cliffs close to her parents' house. Many of the party-goers are under suspicion of being involved in Sadie's demise, but eventually the police deem it to be suicide.

A year later, Littleport is still reeling from Sadie's death. Her brother Parker is back in town for a memorial ceremony for Sadie and uncomfortable memories are being stirred up.
Avery cannot shake the feeling that the community, police and even Parker, blame her for Sadie's death.

Break-ins are being reported at the rental properties and the strange goings on seem to lead back to Avery. Someone seems to know more than they are saying and Avery becomes convinced that the police have made a mistake in ruling Sadie's death a suicide. She needs to find out what really happened to Sadie, before she is branded a killer.

I thoroughly enjoyed this tense little thriller set on the Maine coast - think Murder She Wrote, without Jessica Fletcher! The aftermath of Sadie's death will uncover delicious secrets and lies that go back years in the community of Littleport - both among the locals and the visitors.

The story goes at a good pace and the tension builds nicely, as Avery uncovers the clues left behind by Sadie - until you are convinced, along with Avery, that you know the identity of the killer. Oh no, think again! There is a lovely twist here that I did not see coming, but it fits so nicely with the events of the past. There is a nice little surprise at the end too, which wraps everything up in a satisfying way.

This is my first Megan Miranda book, but I actually have a copy of her previous book - The Perfect Stranger - sitting in my tbr pile and I have high hopes for it after having read The Last House Guest.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Record Keeper by Agnes Gomillion

Read June 2019. Published 18th June 2019.

After World War III, the Earth is a different place. It has been ravaged by the hi-tech weapons the warring factions used against each other and very little habitable land remains. The rival armies were forced into a reluctant truce, before the planet was completely destroyed and an agreement called The Niagra Compromise was drawn up to offer a way for the survivors to move forward.

The World now consists of a portion of what was formerly America and is split into three territories - The White English in the north; The Brown Clayskin in the central area; and The Dark Kongo in the south - with an Assembly of elected Senators to guide them. The Compromise laid down strict rules about the role to be played by each territory, and the social status of the people that live within them.

According to recorded history, the people of Kongo volunteered to become the "bread basket" of the new world, at the time of The Compromise. Only land in the south was deemed suitable for cultivation, and only then with much hard labour, so the people of Kongo became land workers for the greater good.
The people of Kongo are split int two orders - The First Brother and The Second Brother. The First Brother are of lighter skin and considered more intelligent and are educated - it is their role to rule the The Second Brother and ensure crop quotas are reached, for the greater good. The Second Brother are of darker skin, considered of low intellect and undertake the hard labour required to feed the peoples of the new America.
The brutal work forced upon of The Second Brother means they live very hard lives. To help them accept their lot in the greater scheme, each worker is offered a pill every few years which wipes most of their memories - this is called The Rebirth and is considered a natural part of life for The Second Brother.

Arika Cobane, is born into the Kongo House Cobane. She is a First Brother and is selected to become a Record Keeper - one of the prized few who record the history of The Kongo. Her years of training as a Record Keeper offer her the chance to become one of the elite - a Senator of The Assembly - a prize almost within her grasp now she is valedictorian and nearing the end of her schooling.
But then, a new student arrives at The School House - one who causes Arika to question all she has been taught about The Compromise and the sacrifices that have been made in the name of peace. She realises that the laws she has been brought up to follow are the cause of misery for her own people. Furthermore, a deadly fever has arrived in Kongo, killing workers at a alarming rate, and rebellion is stirring among The Second Brother.
Arika must reawaken the fight she used to feel within her own fierce heart - before the fight was beaten out of her by the vicious and hateful Headmistress Jones. She must choose a side in the war to come, discover the true meaning of freedom and learn to live without fear. Is Arika the promised "One"?

Wow, this story completely blew my mind! It took me a while to piece together the scattered parts of my brain before I could sit down to write this review! This is a compliment to the skilled story-telling Agnes Gomillion has wrought in this debut novel.

This is a sophisticated and complex story, which will appeal to a much wider audience than the Young Adult market is is aimed at. It strikes me that this is a kind of cross-over story, in a way. This is a finely drawn dystopian world, reminiscent of the cruelties and rigid social structures of the ilk of Margaret Atwood, but it also promises the excitement and rebellion offered by Stephanie Collins in The Hunger Games books. Believe me, I have read a lot of dystopia over the years, and this is not easy to achieve.
Arika makes an interesting heroine, but she is not without fault and at times, you will find yourself begging her not to do something she is misguidedly bent on doing - of course, she doesn't listen and does it anyway! She is stubborn and sure that she does not need the help of others to get what she wants, but she learns better and you will be with her, egging her on, throughout her journey.

I have read that Agnes Gomillion loves the idea of "roots" in a story and this novel certainly has that.
Its origins lie in the Slave Trade days, but setting the book in a dystopian near future, gives it a freshness that carries it above an ordinary slave story.

Yes, the arrogance of a race that considers itself superior to the workers it has consigned to do its dirty work, not only by law, but by false science, comes across strongly in Gomillion's writing - drawing on its historical roots. However, by setting the story in the future, this has given her the freedom to introduce additional horrific elements - such as The Rebirth inflicted upon The Second Brother. Details like this will make you sick to the stomach and ache for rebellion.

I hate to give away spoliers, so I won't be doing that here, but be assured that the ending of this book - the first in this new Record Keeper series - is stirring to the soul. I cannot wait to read more of the adventures of Arika and discover the future waiting to be written for the people of Kongo.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Somewhere Close To Happy by Lia Louis

Read June 2019. Published 13th June 2019.

Lizzie' world is shaken to the core the day she receives a letter from her childhood friend and first love, Roman Meyers. The problem is that the letter is dated 12 years ago, when Roman mysteriously disappeared from her life, but it has only just been posted.

Roman...the faithful friend who could see the real Lizzie, behind the anxiety and depression she felt after the break-up of her parents' marriage.
The friend who said he would never leave her, despite his own troubles.
The friend who was going to be her companion when they left their worries behind and travelled off into the sunset in the battered old caravan named "Sea Fog".

Where are you Roman? Why did you leave? Are you safe?

Lizzie has certainly had a troubled childhood, made worse by the loss of her beloved granddad, Hubble, just before Roman disappeared from her life. It took her a long time to get to where she is now, but she has settled into a routine with a steady job and her regular Thursday nights round at her dad's place, with her brother and sister-in-law. It is best to avoid some members of the family - such as the horrendous Aunt Shell - but Lizzie mostly manages to succeed. She is somewhere close to happy, at least.

Encouraged and aided by her oldest friend, Priscilla, Lizzie attempts to track down Roman. She is unsure if she really wants to do this, at first - scared of what she might find, but Priscilla plays Sherlock to Lizzie's Watson and they soon begin to uncover some clues. Lizzie's search will stir up some painful memories and she will learn some truths that she did not expect along the way. Can she find Roman and forgive him for leaving her?

This book is wonderful.
The timeline moves around a lot between the present and past - swinging between the events of now and the events that tell the story of Lizzie and Roman's relationship. Past events do not always come in the order that they happened, but this serves to build up layer upon layer of the history between Lizzie, Roman and her messed up family. Everyone here will benefit from confronting their past to help them move forward.

Tension builds beautifully towards the end of Lizzie's search, when the answers to the past become clear.
Lizzie will reach a kind of peace with what happened to her years ago, and a breach will also begin to heal between the fractured members of her own family....well all except the awful Aunt Shell anyway, who seems beyond help and needs a good kick in her substantial pants!

This is a book about friendship, love, loss, family and accepting people for what they are. I absolutely loved it and sobbed my little heart out at the end.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Other Half Of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen

Read June 2019. Published 13th June 2019.

Augusta Hope has always felt like she has never fitted in. Her parents are baffled by her restless ways and cannot understand why she is not more like her perfect twin, Julia.

Augusta and Julia are as different as chalk and cheese - Augusta is endlessly curious about words, facts and the world around her, while Julia is happy to be unremarkable and content with her life.

At eight years old, Augusta spins the globe and decides that Burundi is her favourite sounding country of all. She is fascinated with it and spends hours finding out everything she can about the country - her obsession will last a lifetime.

Over the years, Augusta also develops a passion for Spain and Spanish literature and poetry - sparked by the arrival of a Spanish family into the midst of their tight little community in Willow Close. Holidays in her beloved Spain convince her that one day she would love to live there herself - travelling about in a gypsy caravan.

Half-way across the World, Parfait's family in Burundi is being torn apart by tragedy and war. He would like nothing better than to escape to the safety of Europe, where he thinks they will be able to live in peace. Eventually, Parfait leaves his homeland with his brother, to walk north across Africa - their aim is to follow their dreams all the way to Spain, but this dream will come at a price.

As time goes by, the course of Augusta and Parfait's lives will bring them closer and closer to each other, but will they actually meet? Can they move beyond the tragedies that have haunted their lives and become whole at last?

What beautiful and moving book this is.
The story is told in chapters which alternate between August and Parfait, as their lives edge closer together across the years and thousands of miles - at times, being so close, but not connecting.
You will find yourself yearning for them to meet, as you feel they are destined to be together, but fate must play out first.

I absolutely loved this book. There is lots of humour to make you laugh, and plenty of horror and tragedy to make you cry too.
You will be completely swept along by Augusta and Parfait and will them a happy ending with every fibre of your being - make sure to bring a handkerchief with you on the journey, because you are going to need it!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

This Green And Pleasant Land by Aisha Malik

Read June 2019. Published 13th June 2019.

Bilal Hasham is not a man who is comfortable with his Muslim faith. He cannot even remember the last time he set foot in a mosque.
Some years ago, he moved away from Birmingham, with his wife Mariam and her son Haaris, to an idyllic country village. Their intention was to live an "English" life in the country, and for eight years they have succeeded. For all intents and purposes, they have settled into village life, as members of the community of Babbels End, without bringing attention to their heritage or religion - although they are the only non-white family for miles. On the surface, they seem content with their lives and have made many friends.

Bilal's devout mother worries about him and his lack of faith. On her death bed, she gives him a task, which she hopes will bring him back to Islam - she asks him to build a mosque in Babbels End.

Mariam is horrified and the majority of the villagers are outraged by the suggestion, seeing it as an attack on their way of life - led by the formidable leader of the village council, Shelley. However, Bilal feels compelled to proceed with his task out of respect for his mother's wishes, whatever the cost.

Lines are drawn in Babbels End and a battle is about to begin. The Hasham's will find that many of those they previously called friends have become hostile to them - especially when it becomes clear that the intention is to convert an ancient, unused church into the proposed mosque.

Bilal will be forced to choose between community and identity, faith and friendship.

In the midst of strife, an unexpected light at the end of the tunnel is about to appear, in the form of Bilal's aunt Rhuksana. Rhuksana has lived most of her adult life in the shadow, and home, of Bilal's mother, after being tragically widowed at a young age. She speaks no English and has always been content to stay at home, away from the busy world around her, quietly saying her prayers and writing poetry.
But, Rhuksana has had a fall and needs to stay with Bilal and his family, while she recuperates. Her quiet presence and endless kindness will have a profound effect on the village of Babbels End, because Rhuksana does not understand why everyone is so angry. Why can't they all just get along?

This is actually a pretty complex story, with many themes running underneath the main storyline.
Yes, it is about a Muslim man who is compelled to question his own faith and identity, at the behest of his dying mother, eventhough this will put him out of favour with the community in the village he calls home - and lead to unexpected hostility. But there are also themes of friendship, love, home and the difficult feelings associated with change. Bilial is not the only one questioning his faith, either.

The nature of love is explored in the stories of many of the characters in this book - romantic love, matrimonial love, and parental love - both happy and sad. Friendships are broken and sometimes remade, but the story also shows that kinship can be found in unexpected places too - even if those friends appear to have nothing in common.

What does home actually mean to us, and how is this tied to our identity? Is it the place we are born, where we are living, or the people we live with? Plenty to think about here.

Parts of this book are actually quite funny. It is loaded with humour and there are some odd-ball characters for you to laugh at - in fact, it reminded me a little of some of the characters from the old Tom Sharpe books (Blott on the Landscape springs to mind).

This book was a slow burner for me, and at a third of the way in I was not convinced that it was for me, but Rhuksana began to work her way into my affections. Rhuksana's kindness, her ability to see beyond the surface and her persistence in forming a friendship with the unhappy Shelley - even when she was suffering from her own secret sadness - really made this book for me.

This is a very touching story and has left me with lots of things to think about. I defy you to get to the end without shedding a tear or two.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Read June 2019. Published 13th June 2019.

New York City cop Barry Sutton is called to a high rise building, where a woman is threatening to throw herself off a balcony. As the first cop on the scene, he tries to talk her down, but this woman is a victim of the rapidly spreading phenomenon dubbed FMS (False Memory Syndrome) - she has memories of a life completely different to the one she is living and no longer knows what is real and what is not - and he is unable to stop her.

Victims of FMS are being driven mad by the memories of lives they have not lived: memories which are often of traumatic events and even death. The suicide rate is growing and people are becoming scared that they may catch the disease too.

Neuro-scientist Helena Smith is obsessed with memory. Her own mother has dementia and Helen is consumed with the need to perfect technology that will allow precious memories to be recorded, so they could be experienced again. Just as Helena is in desperate need of more funding to perfect her methods, a mysterious benefactor comes forward to offer her unlimited resources to continue her work.

As Barry pursues his investigation into FMS, he comes up against an opponent that will stop at nothing to get what he wants. It will take Barry and Helena to work together to protect the fabric of the past and save the World from destruction.

This book is amazing and really difficult to review without giving away spoilers - which I am not going to do - but I will try to explain what it is about!

It is not just a book about memory. It is about the nature of reality and how we experience it.

It starts with the premise that the reality we perceive is always made of of moments which have already passed, because our brain cannot process the stimuli received by our senses instantly.
It follows, therefore, that our own reality is actually made up of "memories" of the stimuli we have received. Ok, still with me?

But what is "the past"? This is something we have already experienced, right? Or is it just that we have created a framework on our experiences that forces us to process them as having followed a temporal sequence. Is Time just a construct that we have imposed upon ourselves to help us process the world around us?

What if you could access the memories you have stored in your brain and experience them as if you were in that exact moment again? Would it be possible to fully immerse yourself in "the past" again?

I know this sounds mind-boggling and quite frankly, it is! However, Blake Crouch has managed to craft a wonderfully complex and thrilling story that makes you, not only question the nature of reality itself, but also to do it as part of a tense and gripping story-line too.

I absolutely loved Crouch's previous book, Dark Matter. It is one of my absolute favourite books about alternative realities, so Recursion was going to have to be pretty damn good to follow in its footsteps.
I can categorically say that Recursion has not been a disappointment. This is a much more complex book than Dark Matter, but Crouch has handled this follow-up with aplomb. Bravo!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

New logo for Brown Flopsy's Book Burrow

I have a new logo, fellow book lovers!

I have been having a bit of a makeover too to bring a theme to my social media activities - please let me know your thoughts!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott

Read June 2019. Published 6th June 2019.

Ailsa Calder has inherited a house nestled among the craggy peaks of the Scottish Highlands, from her artist mother.
Well, more of half a house really, since the other half belongs to her father. Unfortunately, Ailsa's father went missing years ago, when she was only seven years old and no one knows why - although many believe that he ran away with a fortune in diamonds from his jeweler employer.

Ailsa has returned to her childhood home, with her half-sister (same mother, different father) who she barely knows, in tow, to try to decide what she wants to do with her inheritance - if anything can be done with her father's whereabouts unknown. Some of the locals are far from welcoming and there are strange stories about the history of The Manse.
The Manse holds unhappy memories for Ailsa and she cannot escape the feeling that she is being watched. Is The Manse haunted by tortured souls? Why won't animals come near the house and garden?

When Ailsa encounters an intruder in the middle of the night, and dead creatures keep appearing on her door-step, her feelings of dread become ones of real fear for her safety.

This is actually one of my favourite books this year! It is so creepy, full of suspense and impossible to put down.

Lexie Elliott expertly weaves the supernatural undertones of the story behind The Manse's history with the claustrophia of living in a small, remote town - where everyone seems to know each other, but dark secrets lurk beneath the surface. The past clashes up against the present at every turn and the atmosphere hangs as heavy as a Scottish fog.

I particularly liked the way that each chapter begins with a speculative tale about where Ailsa's father may be living in the present day - and that these stories get darker as the story unfolds, until Ailsa is forced to confront the fear that her father may actually be dead.

I loved this book and if you like an exciting, creepy page-turner, then you will too.

The Hound Of The Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Read June 2019. Audio-book.

This continues my love affair with Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson on audio book, read by the wonderful Stephen Fry.

This time Holmes and Watson find themselves involved in a mystery surrounding the death of Sir Charles Baskerville - the frail, elderly owner of Baskerville Hall, in the wilds of Dartmoor. Sir Charles appears to have died of fright and rumours abound that this has been caused by the appearance of a ghostly hound that haunts the Baskerville family.

When the heir to Baskerville Hall, Sir Henry, arrives in England from Canada to take up his seat, he receives a letter warning him to keep away or to face his doom.
Can Holmes and Watson solve the mystery of Sir Charles' death and save Sir Henry from the Baskerville family curse?

This is my favourite Holmes and Watson mystery to date - eventhough Sherlock Holmes himself is absent for much of the story. Holmes actually sends Watson ahead to protect the new heir, while remaining at a distance, and Watson proves himself to be a fine investigator in his friend's absence.

There are some lovely moments in this story and Stephen Fry's narration keeps the suspense levels high all the way through.
This is pretty exciting stuff, especially as it takes place on the brooding, wilderness that is Dartmoor.

This is fabulous stuff and I absolutely loved it.

One Word Kill (Impossible Times Book One) by Mark Lawrence

Read May 2019. Published 1st May 2019.

The year is 1986 and maths genius and Dungeons and Dragons' fan Nick Hayes gets the horrifying news that he has leukemia. It would be true to say that this is a big blow for Nick, but it is not the strangest thing to happen to him that week - Nick has a new friend called who claims to be from the future.

Nick and his D & D buddies are used to exercising their imaginations, but even they find it hard to accept that Demus has travelled back in time to see them. The group have only just come to terms with the fact that a girl (Mia) has joined their tight little circle of geeks, and they must not only accept Demus' story, but believe that he is there to save future Mia from a fate worse than death.

And so begins a race against time to save their friend, with a terminal illness, a blood-thirsty maniac and trying to ensure they remain on the same time-line to complicate matters. Simple then....

This book is so much fun!
I am a total sucker for a time travel story - especially one which involves the idea of multiple universes. Add to this the fact that this is set in the 1980s, and you are looking at a set-up that it definitely up my street.

Nick's gang of friends are adorable and offer a good range of different characters to attach yourself to, and there are some suitably nasty baddies for you to hate too.
I do not know a lot about Dungeons and Dragons, to be honest, although my youngest son and his friends do partake in this, and I found it very interesting to read about how this game works. I loved the way that the gang's D & D sessions echoed events that were happening in the real world, as this really advanced the plot rather that taking you away from the story-line. Very clever.

The delicious time travel concepts underlying this excellent adventure will have your head going around in circles for some time to come, and this makes it really special. This is definitely one for adults and the YA crowd.

This will really appeal to fans of recent hits like Stranger Things, and I cannot wait to get started on book two Limited Wish.