The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien (read by Andy Serkis)
There is no point in me harping on about this brilliant novel. However, I will talk about the narration of this audiobook version. During the Covid lockdown, Andy Serkis streamed a live reading of The Hobbit for charity, which I tuned into. If you were lucky enough to watch that, this is in a similar style. Serkis played Gollum in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films and voices the character with the same energy. The plethora of characters he voices in their distinct ways. Tom Bombadil has a hint of Brian Blessed about him and he mimics Ian McKellen’s Gandalf interpretation (and numerous other character portrayals in the films) very well. Different races have their own speaking styles. The Elves’ speech is soft and calming, and the dwarfs are rougher. The different kingdoms of men have different dialects, although the men of Gondor sound similar to Ralph Ineson’s Yorkshire accent rather than Sean Bean’s. On Sauron’s side, the Orcs, Wraiths and evil men sound harsh and sinister.
Serkis reads this with passion. Saruman’s defeat at Isengard is one scene which sticks in my mind when he speaks in honeyed words to Gandalf and the others before exploding into a torrent of angry speech. This energy springs forth again and again, especially during the battle scenes when emotions are running high. My husband caught a snippet during Bombadil’s scene and said life must seem boring after listening to that as we speak in normal, quiet tones. Later in the day, my husband found me in the garden, brandishing a cuppa, and exclaimed with true boisterous Bombadil fashion, ‘Hey there, Emma! I have brought you a mug of tea!’
I certainly recommend it to any Tolkien fan and anyone who enjoyed the films but finds the idea of reading the books daunting. There is almost three days’ worth of audio to listen to, but it’s read with such energy that it doesn’t feel like it.
Winchelsea – Alex Preston (read by Gary Cross, Tigger Blaize George Weightman)
After seeing one review say Winchelsea was Du Maurier crossed with Quentin Tarantino, it compelled me to read this. This sadly fell short of expectations. Not to say it’s badly written, or the plot poor. However, I did not understand the author’s choice of switching points of view.
Goody is a young woman raised by a family who saved her after her real mother drowned herself. Her foster father is involved in smuggling and is murdered by supposed friends within his smuggling gang. Goody, and her foster brother, Francis, go to take revenge by joining forces with a rival smuggling group.
The author split the book into three, with the first part told from Goody’s point of view. This is the strongest part of the novel. Goody is an interesting character; a woman in a man’s world. Yet she is comfortable in all genders. Her brother, Francis, is equally an interesting character, as an African who escaped from his life as a slave.
Later, in the second and third parts, Goody is reduced to a side character, and we’re lumped with the point of view of two men. Each is brief compared to the first part and sucks the energy out of the story. Goody loses much and achieves more in these two sections, and I wish the author had kept to her point of view. They would have packed a much bigger punch.
There are a few tropes that cropped up in the story which I am not fond of. Goody’s relationship with another woman smacked too much of ‘insta-love’ and while Goody is gender fluid, the remaining female characters suffer dreadfully at the hands of men.
On the whole, it is a good read. The audio version I listened to was well done, but the change in point of view in the second and third part makes me wonder how much better it would have been if it remained in Goody’s. Perhaps that is the aim of the author? This is a story of a woman, but a man retold it, therefore the story is inexorably wrenched back into his viewpoint.
Poseidon’s Gold – Lindsey Davis (read by Gordon Griffin)
Book 5 in the series follows Marcus Didius Falco, Private Informer, and his life in the Roman Empire during the time of Emperor Vespasian. After six months in Germanica, he’s back in Rome only to discover a soldier sniffing around demanding money owed by Falco’s late brother, Festius, When the soldier ends up dead, Falco is the prime suspect and must clear his name before he’s crucified or fed to the lions in the arena.
The Falco novels bring the hustle and bustle of Ancient Rome to life. Despite the multitude of novels in the series, they all focus on a different aspect of the era, so they remain fresh and engaging. Falco is a likeable character, as well as his friends and family, who are often dragged into his endeavours. Helena Justina, his girlfriend, once again is there to help and support him. Although they dearly wish to wed, Falco is lowborn and requires money to marry a senator’s daughter.
The audiobook I listened to is well done. The narrator gives Falco a voice which is reminiscent of Derek Jacobi.
If you enjoy detective stories and also have an interest in Ancient Rome, then these are a must. The chapters are sharp, and they are easy reads and at times very amusing.
The Honjin Murders – Yokomizo Seishi (read by Akira Matsumoto)
Hyped as Japan’s Agatha Christie, I had expectations going into this novel which were unfortunately not met. Set in 1937 Japan, detective Kosuke Kindaichi investigates the Locked Room murder of a bride and groom on their wedding night.
My first gripe is the narrator/writer. They have researched the investigation and tell the story directly to the reader. I wasn’t a fan of this style and didn’t like how they kept name-dropping different mystery writers and their thoughts on the typical tropes found in such books. The set-up began well, but the characters are flat and the big reveal took four chapters to explain and was impossibly over the top.
The Silmarillion – JRR Tolkien
Since I was listening to The Lord of the Rings, I embarked on The Silmarillion. The day before the first lockdown in the UK, I offloaded a lot of unwanted stuff we had accumulated at a local charity shop before we moved house. While I was there, I saw this on the shelf and picked it up. I’m convinced my husband used to own a copy, but it disappeared into the ether, as many books do. For two years it sat on the shelf and finally I got round to reading it.
Here, we discover how Middle Earth was created, and the ancient histories of the ages long before the ring of power. There is love and tragedy, and I enjoyed every moment.
I can understand why people may dislike it. As a writer, I am astounded by Tolkien’s world building. It is not an easy read, for it is more like a history book than a story, but there are storytelling aspects to it. The characters are numerous and family names are all very familiar. However, I’ve read enough history books on the Anglo-Saxons where I’m used to everyone of any importance being an Athel-something. The book will not suit everyone, but if you enjoyed The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, then it is worth attempting.
Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place – Philip Marsden
This book was an unexpected gift which turned up from a friend in the post. The book is hard to describe. It begins with Aveline’s Hole in Somerset, where the author used to play as a boy, and later he discovers it was once a burial site going back to 8000 BC. It made him question what it was about a place which draws humans towards it, and why we keep returning century after century. Now living in Cornwall, Marsden wanders the county, from Bodmin Moor to the eerie white peaks of Clay Country, along the creeks and down to the west coast and beyond to the Isles of Scilly. The writing is evocative, and an OS Map will help when he’s discussing various places.
Having lived in Cornwall all my life, I know a lot of the places already, but it introduced me to some places and characters of which I wasn’t aware of. One gripe is the author completely ignores the far north and east of Cornwall. It is an easy book to pick up, with shortish chapters to nibble at.
What have you read this month?