Audiobooks || Blogmas Day 9

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It’s the weekend! And today, I want to have a discussion about audiobooks.

Audiobooks aren’t something I thought I would, at the age of 24, be bowled over by and spend hours on end listening to – but they are. Before I got in to them, I honestly thought the selection was limited, I thought they were something that only blind people, or elderly people enjoyed. How wrong I was! I’ll admit I was ignorant, and I have seen the error of my ways over the last few years (in which audiobooks have become one of my favourite things!)

When I last did blogmas in 2015, audiobooks were something I was very new to and had only listened to a handful of. Two years on, however, it is a completely different story. Over half of the books I have read this year I have listened to some, if not all, of the book. I am someone who happily uses a combination of physical and audiobooks, and if anything it only enhances my reading experience. I have found that audiobooks give me a freedom that I couldn’t otherwise have – I can read and do something else. I can play stupid games on my iPad, I can colour, or more recently I have been wrapping gifts while listening. It means I can still read, I can still get that experience of ‘escaping’ that I get with a book but I can do other things alongside it and I love that.

Compared to a physical book, audiobooks can be quite pricey, but they really don’t have to be. I myself do have an audible subscription (which I love) and I get 2 credits a month to trade in against any of their ever expanding library, and I can purchase additional credits at the cost of £17 for 3 – which when you compare the cost of that to the cost of the audiobook alone is stupidly cheap in many cases. Audible nearly always have deals going too – 2 for 1, or buy 3 audiobooks with cash or credits and get a £10 gift voucher to spend are the most common which I often take advantage of! Not only that but they have an excellent returns policy – if you don’t like a book, or a narrator, or you have technical issues, it can be returned no questions. Obviously it isn’t something to take advantage of, you can’t use the service like a library!

Talking of libraries, most libraries have a selection of audiobooks available as CDs in the physical branches. However, a lesser known secret is OverDrive – a fantastic little app which you can sync your library card to and get access to their digital lending library of eBooks and, you guessed it, Audiobooks!

If you haven’t already taken advantage of the First Free Listen on Audible, I’d highly recommend it. You don’t have to continue with a subscription if you get an audiobook and it isn’t for you, but it’s a really good way to experience a first audiobook without splashing out any money.

Hints & Tips:-
First tip if you’re new to audiobooks definitely pick something that will hold your attention as a first listen. You don’t want to pick a long ass book which is dry as stale bread and sends you to sleep (I’ve picked up my fair share of those, trust me!)

02 - harry potterFor something familiar to most people, you can’t go wrong with the Harry Potter series – any of them. In the UK they’re narrated by Stephen Fry, and I believe over the pond it is Jim Dale. They’re something familiar, something you already know the entire plot of, but in a new way. Listening to the audiobooks for the first time was like reading the books anew for me and really breathed fresh life in to the characters.

Go for a book narrated by the author – this can be fiction or non-fiction but because the book is theirs they read it how it was intended. Some recommendations here would be anything by Neil Gaiman (who is an incredible narrator even if I’m not the biggest fan of his books) or find a celebrity you like and see if they’ve narrated their own autobiography!

Don’t be put off by the speed! A lot of people, when I mention I enjoy audiobooks, say “but they’re so long” – they don’t have to be. Generally speaking 1x speed is too slow for me, but most audiobook apps enable you to speed the narration up. With Audible you can go up to x3 speed meaning that a “30 hour” audiobook is suddenly going to be a much more doable, and less scary, 10 hours. And it isn’t fixed – you can speed up or slow down at any point during a book and that’s great. I started listening at 1.5x speed and now most books I do listen to on 3x speed, so don’t be put off by the ‘length’ of a book – because it’s only as long as you make it, essentially!

If you’re worried about not following it, pick a book that you’ve had on your shelf for a long time and find an audio version of it (just be careful if it’s translated, especially if it’s a classic as there is a lot more room for variation in the translation!). Settle down with a cuppa, and both an audio and physical copy of the book. Find the narration speed that works for you and follow along with the book for a little while. If you’re anything like me, you’ll soon feel you’re absorbing enough of what is being said to go do something else alongside it!

Anyway, this has been a very long post today – I am apparently very passionate about audiobooks! I’d love to hear your opinions on them because I think they are becoming less stigmatised now, and I’d love to hear if you’ve listened to any particularly fantastic books lately as I’m always game for a few recommendations! Equally, if you want a more specific recommendation I’m happy to try and assist.

Happy reading!

Review: The Outrun – Amy Liptrot

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Rating – 4*

This book has been one that has caught my eye since I first saw it in bookshops but it wasn’t one I picked up. It didn’t really appeal to me, if I’m honest. But then I had a few credits on Audible, and decided to pick it up as an audiobook because the soft Scottish burr of Amy herself reading it appealed to me. I’ve not been having the easiest of times lately, and just listening to a clip of this relaxed me and I knew I had to have it in my life, if only to calm me down.

It’s one of those books which came in to my life at exactly the right moment. I don’t have the experience with addiction which Amy struggles with in this brutally honest account of her decent in to alcoholism and subsequent recovery. But, a lot of the feelings I could relate to and I found myself connecting with this book. Because of that, throughout it I had a full spectrum of emotions – it had me laughing and moved to tears, and maybe that’s just because of the headspace I’m in right now.

I loved how this book just blurred together so many things. It is a recovery memoir but it is also so much more. There’s so much about wildlife and nature, which I absolutely adored. The writing is beautiful and it read so much more like fiction in parts. One thing I’ve come out of this book with is an urge to visit the Scottish islands and completely lose myself in them, this book was so immersive and Orkney itself became such a big part of it. I found the islands themselves  the biggest draw of this book and losing myself in them was an absolute pleasure.

I gave this 4* because I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much had I have had a physical copy over an audiobook (which I would highly recommend and I listened to the entirety of this in 2 sittings). The experience of an audiobook is something very immersive, and in the case of this book really was a good choice to make – but I don’t think I would have found myself as caught up in the book had it not been on audio.

Ultimately though, I’d recommend this book – I’m not sure who to, but read the description and see if it floats your kayak.

Review: Fingers in the Sparkle Jar – Chris Packham

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Rating – 4*

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is one of the most interesting memoirs I have read. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Chris Packham, he is probably best known for presenting shows such as The Really Wild Show and Springwatch for BBC. He has also written a huge number of books relating to wildlife and conservation. I’ll admit, I’m not an avid watcher of shows like Springwatch, but when I read the blurb of this I knew it was a book I just had to read.

This was definitely something special. Told in third person, for the most part, it jumps about his life a bit – between his childhood in the early to mid 1970s and 2003/04 after a period of severe depression which lead to an attempted suicide. It’s raw and it’s powerful and I adored it. One thing which really connected with me is that it does read more like fiction, and maybe that’s how Chris best dissociated himself from his past enough to write this, but it really set it apart from other books in this genre I have read as of late.  It sort of plays out like a therapy session, wherein stories jump in to each other and one thing makes you think of something else – each chapter being a series of tenuously connected vignettes, some first person, some third person, some are when he’s older and others when he’s younger and each chapter finishes on a monologue to his therapist. Throughout, he also relates stories of his childhood through the eyes of other people in his life and that, for me, was a really interesting concept!

I really related to young Chris, in many ways his story reflects my own. He didn’t have friends at school and spent time alone. For him, it was with wildlife and one of the most important parts of this book is his relationship with a kestrel (which he acquired illegally) which taught him so much. While this book is quite melancholy, and discusses quite a lot of difficult topics, there are moments of humour which did make me laugh out loud – I don’t want you to think that it’s all sad!

It was written so beautifully, and poetically. While initially it’s a little difficult to adjust as it’s nowhere near as brutal as some memoirs are, it’s a lot more gentle and poetic, once I was in to it I couldn’t put it down. Honestly, if Chris Packham turns his hand to fiction I will be first in line to buy it because his writing is just stunning.

I would also highly recommend the audiobook, read by Chris himself. It was a joyous listen!

Review: Stardust – Neil Gaiman

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Rating – 3*

This book was a really enjoyable couple of hours of listening to Neil Gaiman read to me. I love any of Gaiman’s audiobooks as he generally narrates them himself which just adds a much greater depth to the story, in my opinion. A quick sidenote, if you’re unsure as to whether audiobooks are for you seriously check out some of Gaiman’s work as not only are the stories amazing, but it’s a perfect way to slip in to audiobooks.

That note aside, this book was good. I enjoyed it, it was easy to listen to but it felt a little flat for me. I loved the idea of this, a boy goes on a quest to capture a fallen star. The issue with that is he does it to win the heart of a girl he’s in love with, or just get a kiss for her, that didn’t sit particularly well for me, it didn’t address the fact he was being predatory instead shrugged it off with the attitude of “boys will be boys”. Yes it’s a fairy tale, yes it’s short, yes there was a lot overlooked and missed out but I don’t think that really excuses the fact that it really objectifies women. The premise of it being a fairy tale for adults I also loved. It’s just it fell quite short of the mark for my personal tastes; adult equalled random sex and some violence which, in and amongst the childish narrative, felt quite out of place.

So, on the whole this was a good book. I enjoyed listening to it. I just didn’t love it like I was expecting to. I gave this book 3*

Review: Back Story – David Mitchell

back storyYes. It’s a book by THAT David Mitchell, the real David Mitchell, the one who has not previously written any books but what a great book it was. I am seriously on an autobiography binge, simply because I’ve discovered that I love listening to them as audiobooks. This was one of the best ones read, or rather listened to – it has to be said I haven’t listened to many but this was a good one that I will be making others listen to parts of.

Just imagine David, on a rant on say Would I Lie To You (I love that show, if you haven’t watched it seriously have a gander on YouTube) and make it a 9 hour long episode of just him. Occasionally it lulls a bit, is more about him (as you would expect from an autobiography) and it’s not as entertaining but there are interludes of him going off tangent and for me these were some of the best parts. It read more like a novel in some respects as every chapter is started by a thought he has had on a walk and it just gets further and further off topic in parts.

Like any memoir, this goes in to his childhood, how he struggled at school, his despair when he didn’t get in to Oxford university (he ended up at Cambridge, he became president of Footlights and that role was his goal), how his career in comedy really took off. There are exploits with many well known people, I particularly loved the insights in to his friendship with Olivia Colman, or Colly as she’s known to her friends.

For me though, the shining light has to be the penultimate chapter – his relationship with Victoria Coren (or rather Victoria Coren Mitchell as she now is). That woman is glorious, anyone can see it, and they are just so adorable. This chapter filled me with a lot of warm fuzzies. It’s available on youtube somewhere if anyone wishes to just listen to a bit, it’s totally worth it. It is pretty out of character, so to speak, it reads completely differently to the rest of the book but I think it’s a nice way to round it off.

Overall this has to be a 4*. It was a great listen, I did enjoy it, but while I love David it was no better than the last autobiography I listened to (Revd Richard Coles).

Review: The Story of Antigone – Ali Smith

antigoneThis is a retelling of Sophocles’ tragedy about a young girl, Antigone, who after a brutal battle has lost both her brothers. One is declared a hero, the other a traitor.  The king of Thebes decided that his nephew, Antigone’s bother Polynices, was a traitor at the time of his death and as such doesn’t deserve a burial. Young Antigone can’t bear to leave her brother and, fully aware that the penalty for honouring her brother’s remains will be her own death, Antigone still goes out of the city to find his body and bury it.

Ali Smith reworks myth so well. Rather than rework this and give it a modern twist, as she did in Girl Meets Boy, she retells the original myth from the perspective of a crow. This, I have to say, is a stroke of genius on her part. It makes the events a lot more interesting and, in a way, more understandable. She even gets interviewed by the crow at the end which is a really great way to insert more back story. It is worth saying that this is aimed at children and I think the perspective it is told in really helps make it approachable for that younger audience – it’s still gory but not quite so gruesome!

I listened to this as an audiobook, Ali herself narrating it, and it was glorious. It really heightened the experience for me. It wasn’t a long audiobook by any stretch at just over an hour and was perfect to curl up and listen to before bed. I do, however, really want the physical book because I have seen it is beautifully illustrated.

This was easily a 5* book. I loved it.

Review: Fathomless Riches – Richard Coles

Fathomless Riches

So I’ve wanted to read this book for a long while, and I actually ended up picking this one up as an audiobook. I had some audible credits and I was absolutely sold on it after listening to the taster. Richard reads it himself which, I find, adds a lot more depth to an autobiography

For anyone who doesn’t know, The Reverend Richard Coles has an insanely interesting life; from popstar in 80s group The Communards to a CofE priest turned comedian. As I said, I wanted to read this for a good period of time before I actually picked it up because Richard’s appearances on shows like QI and Have I Got News For You have turned him in to one of my favourite TV personalities. This book was not a disappointment, it made me laugh, it was interesting and also gave me a little spiritual lifting.

This book is brutally honest, but still respectful of the others involved, and I admired that. There is an insane amount of drugs, sex and rock and roll, especially in the first half. There’s the rise and fall of The Communards, his life through the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, where he lost of many friends. The years that followed where he drifted and then found himself turning to religion, going to university to study theology and his subsequent path to the pulpit.

It does end quite abruptly, just has he has been ordained, but I have been assured that there is a part 2 to come, as to when that will be I don’t know! I look forward to reading, or listening, to it because I’d quite like to hear about his life after being ordained!

Overall I’m going to give this a 4/5. It was great, I loved it, the audiobook was a brilliant decision (I whizzed through it in two sittings) and it affirmed that this man is as great as I thought he was. Highly recommend it!

Review: Matilda – Roald Dahl

matildaThis was one of my favourite books as a child and today I was feeling nostalgic so revisited it. A cold, stormy afternoon is the perfect excuse to revisit a beloved childhood book.

In the end, though I own the 25th Anniversary Edition (which is beautiful and unread), I listened to the audiobook and it just made it so much better for me! Kate Winslet read this beautifully, it has to be said. She breathed a new life in to it that I haven’t felt from the book since I was a child myself, however much I have revisited it over the years.

I still love this book. I will always love this book I think. Matilda is precocious; she reminds me of me when I was little! Maybe not to the extent I read Dickens at the age of 3 or 4, but I’ve always identified with her in some way. She is absoluely unbelievable, that much is given and it’s only more obvious now I’m older, but she is still charming. Her positivity, and all round optimism, is infectious. The Trunchbull is still one of my all time favourite ‘villains’ – up there next to Delores Umbridge!

If anyone doesn’t know the story of Matilda, it follows the story of an unusually bright girl who has very unsupportive parents. She learns to read, write and do mathematics herself at a very young age with the help of a lovely librarian. The first half of the book follows her home life, the second half is her story when she starts school and we follow her as her life changes upon the introduction of (a not so formal) education. Oh, with a little bit of magic…

This was the first “chapter” book I read as a child; I still love it as much now. Though, as I said, the audiobook in which Kate Winslet reads it, has injected fresh life in to it for me and reignited the love I had for it as a 7 or 8 year old when I first read it. So this time, 5/5