1800s Audio Book Books in Translation Classics Recommended books Uncategorized

Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola (Audio Book)

zola Narrated by Paul Freeman

Five words from the blurb: loveless, marriage, affair, murder, revenge

Zola is one of those authors I always wanted to try, but kept putting off as I was intimidated by his reputation. I really shouldn’t have worried – Thérèse Raquin wasn’t difficult to read. Instead I found an engaging book, deserving of its classic status. 

Thérèse Raquin is a young woman who is forced to marry her sickly cousin, Camille. She resents the time they spend together, especially when she falls in love with Camille’s best friend, Laurent. Thérèse and Laurent begin a passionate affair, revelling in the secrecy of their relationship. Eventually they realise they cannot continue like this forever and plot to kill Camille. This leads to a gripping narrative that is packed with atmosphere and emotion.

I listened the the BBC audio production of this book and I think that this the perfect way to experience this story. The text can appear quite dense and difficult on the page, but Paul Freeman did a fantastic job narrating this unabridged version. He made the story come alive and the difficulties seemed to melt away when the words were put into the mouths of the characters.

This book probably contains the best portrayal of jealousy and regret that I’ve ever read. The complex relationships felt realistic and the fear and paranoia of this couple jumped from the page. I completely understood the thoughts and emotions of everyone involved and was entranced throughout; longing to know what would happen, but simultaneously dreading the conclusion.

He turned the same idea over in his head until daybreak. Previous to the visit of Thérèse, the idea of murdering Camille had not occurred to him. He had spoken of the death of this man, urged to do so by the facts, irritated at the thought that he would be unable to meet his sweetheart any more. And it was thus that a new corner of his unconscious nature came to be revealed.

Beneath the dark and twisted story the book was packed with symbolism. I’m sure that it could be read multiple times, with new layers of meaning being discovered each time. It is amazing to think that it was first published in 1867 – it must have been even more shocking back then.

Thérèse Raquin is a powerful warning about the danger of wanting what you can’t have. I can’t fault this book and it has shot straight onto my list of favourites.


Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it?

Which of Zola’s books do you suggest I try next?


2013 Audio Book

One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper (Audio Book)

One Last Thing Before I Go

Five words from the blurb: mistakes, divorced, refuse, operation, relationships

Jonathan Tropper is one of those authors that I’ve always wanted to try, but for some reason he never made it to the top of my TBR pile. When Sandy raved about the audio version of his latest book I added it straight to my wishlist. Since the book wasn’t published in the UK at the time she kindly offered to send her copy across to me. I’m so pleased that she did as this is a beautifully written book that works very well on audio.

One Last Thing Before I Go centres on Silver, a dysfunctional middle-aged man who is told that he will die unless he has surgery on his heart. Silver decides not to have the operation and is surprised when his ex-wife, daughter, and everyone else, try to persuade him that his life is worth living.

I have to admit that I initially struggled with this book. The first disc (of seven) bored me. I had no interest in this former rock star, his divorce, or his grumpy outlook on life.

Silver is forty-four years old, if you can believe it, out of shape, and depressed—although he doesn’t know if you call it depression when you have good reason to be; maybe then you’re simply sad, or lonely, or just painfully aware, on a daily basis, of all the things you can never get back.*

Then, part way into the second disc, Silver had his medical emergency and I was instantly engaged. The tone of the book changed as Silver began to think about his fate and I almost began to like him.

Many readers rave about the humour in this book, but I’m afraid it never made me laugh. The jokes were so dry that I barely registered their presence and I suspect that a lot of them went over my head as the Jewish culture is unfamiliar to me. Despite this problem I was impressed by the way Tropper made me sympathise with a man I’d never normally be interested in. His observations of a dysfunctional family felt realistic and there were many pieces of wisdom sprinkled through the text.

I initially thought the narrator was dry and boring, but as the book progressed I realised he was the perfect choice. He sounded exactly as I imagined Silver to be and his lack of enthusiasm reflected that of the character. By the end I was very impressed with everything he’d done.

One Last Thing Before I Go is one of those rare books that enables you empathise with characters that are initially repulsive. Recommended to those who like darker insights into dysfunctional families.


Have you read this book?

Which of Jonathan Tropper’s books should I read next?

* Quote taken from Goodreads, as it is difficult to get quotes from audio books.

2012 Audio Book Books for Children Recommended books YA

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green (audio book)

Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend Note: Author is known as Matthew Dicks in the US

Five words from the blurb: boy, danger, loyalty, imagination, friend

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend has the most original premise I’ve come across this year. The book is narrated by Budo, an imaginary friend who explains what life is like for those who only exist because a human has thought of them. Most live brief lives with young children, but Budo is special. Budo was imagined by Max, an 8-year-old boy with autism. Because Max has autism his attention to detail is excellent and so Budo is very life-like – unlike most other imaginary friends he even has ears! Budo can talk to Max and other imaginary friends, but cannot communicate with other people or touch anything in the real world. One day Max disappears and Budo is the only one who can save him. This leads to a thrilling, entertaining plot that is packed with emotion.

I am drawn towards books that deal with autism and this one did a fantastic job of showing the condition in a realistic, but positive light. Matthew Green’s career as a teacher has obviously helped him to understand children and this engaging story was filled with lovely little details about school life.

There were a few moments when I became frustrated by the plot – in the middle it became far fetched and I could see easier ways for Max to be rescued. But as this is a children’s book I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt – especially since the plot was so compelling.

There were also times when it got a bit too sentimental for me, but on the whole the messages were good and so I’ll forgive this too.

You have to be the bravest person in the world to go out every day, being yourself when no one likes who you are.

The audio book narration was wonderful! Matthew Brown was perfect, effortlessly managing all the different voices and capturing the heartache and emotion of the situation. I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed it as much if I’d read the print edition. The style reminded me of My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece and I’m sure that anyone who enjoyed Annabel Pitcher’s book will also like this one.

Because it addresses so many issues this book would make a fantastic classroom resource for older children. Themes of bullying, death, friendship and disability could all be discussed. The fact that most of the problems were faced by imaginary friends somehow made them less oppressive. But this isn’t just a book for children; as an adult I loved the original approach and was charmed by Budo’s insight in human behaviour.

This has become one of my favourite books with an autistic character. Recommended.


Many thanks to Bay State Reader’s Advisory for drawing this book to my attention!

The thoughts of other bloggers:

I listened to the entire 10 hour audiobook over the course of a single day because I just could not bear to put it down. Devourer of Books

….for all the suspense, the writing wasn’t quite as tight as Emma Donoghue’s in Room. Capricious Reader

That Matthew Dicks crafted his novel in such a way as to give an almost 3D view of the life of a child with emotional and social issues impressed me. The Literate Housewife


2011 Audio Book Books for Children YA

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece – Annabel Pitcher (Audio Book)

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

Shortlisted for Galaxy National Book Awards 2011 Children’s Book of the Year & Audiobook of the Year
Shortlisted for the 2011 Dylan Thomas Prize
Shortlisted for 2011 Red House Children’s Book Award

Five words from the blurb: boy, loss, family, heart-warming, struggle

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is a children’s book that tackles many difficult themes. The story is narrated by Jamie, a ten-year-old boy who lost one of his twin sisters in a terrorist attack five years ago. His family are torn apart by grief, but Jamie was too young to remember much about his sister and just longs to be normal. He wishes that his father would stop drinking and that his mother would return. This book is a moving account of Jamie’s struggle to understand his family and his plans to lead a happy life.

I loved this book! Jamie was a fantastic narrator and I felt I understood his complex problems entirely.

That’s the thing no one seems to get. I don’t remember Rose. Not really. I remember two girls on holiday playing Jump The Wave, but I don’t know where we were, or what Rose said, or if she enjoyed the game. And I know my sisters were bridesmaids at a neighbour’s wedding, but all I can picture is the tube of Smarties that Mum gave me during the service. Even then I liked the red ones best and I held them in my hand until they stained my skin pink. But I can’t remember what Rose wore, or how she looked walking down the aisle, or anything like that.

He had an innocence that I was charmed by and he dealt with his problems with the realistic, but flawed thinking of a child.

My only problem with the book was that I felt some of the themes were a bit heavy-handed. The “not all Muslims are terrorists” plot thread was especially lacking in subtlety, but I suppose that it is a children’s book and so should be given some leeway.

David Tennant’s narration of the audio was fantastic. I can imagine that reading Jamie’s rambling thoughts in the print edition could become draining, but David Tennant added a warmth and humour to the text. He brought the story to life and I frequently found myself unable to turn the audio off, listening to the end of a section in the car after I’d reached my destination. I normally prefer audios narrated by multiple actors, but this was so well executed that it has just become my favourite single narrator audio book of all time.

Highly recommended.


Clips of the audio book are being released as part of a blog tour. The third section of the audio book and links to the other blogs taking part are below.

2010 Audio Book Memoirs

BBC Radio Dramatisation of Direct Red by Gabriel Weston

I have been wanting to read this book ever since I heard Gabriel Weston talk at a library event last year; so when I spotted that the BBC had created a dramatised version I started listening immediately. This book is just as witty, intelligent and insightful as I had hoped it would be and I urge you to listen to it before it disappears from the BBC iplayer* tomorrow evening (10:00PM GMT Fri, 18 Mar 2011).

Direct Red is a memoir of the author’s life as a surgeon. In a series of short stories she reveals the truth about life inside a hospital. She explains exactly what doctors are thinking about as they deal with patients – revealing everything from the initial embarrassment of dealing with genitalia to the heartbreak of seeing people die. I’m sure that some people in the medical profession will object to the public learning that their minds are not always on the task in hand, or that lives are often put in danger by a lack of staff, but I found the insight into hospital life fascinating.

If you are squeamish then this book probably isn’t for you as there are many graphic descriptions of medical procedures. I must also warn you that some of the scenes are very distressing and most do not have a happy outcome.

If you have ever thought that audiobooks are a waste of time then I urge you to give this a try – the cast of excellent actors add an extra dimension to the text.

This is a well written, emotional, insight into the mind of a surgeon. Highly recommended.


* I think there may be problems listening to this outside the UK. If this is the case then I’m sure the text version is worth reading.

2010 Audio Book Non Fiction

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot (Audio Book)

I don’t read much non-fiction, but so many people raved about this book that it became impossible to ignore it. Sandy persuaded me to get the audio book version* and I’m so pleased that she did because I think it added an extra dimension to the text – the narration was fantastic and the different accents brought the story to life.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor, black woman who died from cervical cancer in 1951. Shortly before her death a sample of cells was taken from her cervix and then used, without her permission, for scientific research. At the time cell culture was in its infancy and scientists found it very hard to keep cells alive in culture, but for some reason Henrietta’s cells were different – they divided quickly and easily. These cells revolutionised cell research. They became known as the HeLa line and were used by scientists around the world to find cures for a host of different diseases. This book explained how the Lacks family discovered that the cells existed and their search for the truth about how billions of dollars of wealth were created from them without the family receiving a penny.

The book gives a fascinating insight into the life of a family struggling to cope with the loss of their mother, whilst at the same time having to cope with the fact that a part of her lives on in test tubes around the world. I found the initial explanations of events to be gripping, but by disc 6 (out of 10) I was beginning to get a little bored. I felt I knew exactly what was going to happen next and found that things were beginning to be over-explained. The downfall of many non-fiction books is that they include too much unnecessary detail for me and although I appreciate that completeness is sometimes needed I felt that much of the last half of the book could have been left out. I wasn’t interested in the word-for-word transcripts of every phone call that took place between Rebecca Skloot and the family and I also found the detail of what happened to each member of the Lacks family to be unnecessary. I wish that the book had concentrated more on Henrietta and her cells and less on the process of researching a book.

The main benefit of the book is that it raises many important questions about who owns the various parts of our bodies. It is a fantastic discussion starter and I’m sure that almost everyone will find something to enjoy in this book.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an important book and I’m really pleased that Henrietta Lacks is finally receiving the recognition that she deserves, but this book desperately needs an update. I found the ending to be quite abrupt and I would much prefer it to end on a high note, detailing all the wonderful things that are happening to the Lacks family now that this book has been successful.

*Note: The audio version is not available in the UK. I imported a copy from the US.