September 8

Raising Steam – Terry Pratchett (Audiobook)

To the consternation of the patrician, Lord Vetinari, a new invention has arrived in Ankh-Morpork – a great clanging monster of a machine that harnesses the power of all of the elements: earth, air, fire and water. This being Ankh-Morpork, it’s soon drawing astonished crowds, some of whom caught the zeitgeist early and arrive armed with notepads and very sensible rainwear.

Moist von Lipwig is not a man who enjoys hard work – as master of the Post Office, the Mint and the Royal Bank his input is, of course, vital…but largely dependent on words, which are fortunately not very heavy and don’t always need greasing. However, he does enjoy being alive, which makes a new job offer from Vetinari hard to refuse….

Steam is rising over Discworld, driven by Mister Simnel, the man wi’ t’flat cap and sliding rule who has an interesting arrangement with the sine and cosine. Moist will have to grapple with gallons of grease, goblins, a fat controller with a history of throwing employees down the stairs and some very angry dwarfs if he’s going to stop it all going off the rails….

 

Still doing the very long daily commute so it was time to bring some Terry Pratchett into my journey. I have been a fan of the Discworld books since the late 1980’s, I have read and re-read each title multiple times – mostly.

Even my favourite authors (and Sir Terry has been my favourite for many a long year) do not always hit the mark with their books.  Although Mort, Wyrd Sisters and Nightwatch are virtually imprinted onto my brain – I am less fond of Pyramids, Eric and Monstrous Regiment.  Raising Steam had fallen into the latter category, I bought the book on first release but never really got into it and it remained unfinished (a state previously unheard of for a Discworld novel). So when I wanted a Discworld book for my car journey – Raising Steam was getting a second chance.

Happy I am to report that I got much more involved with the story this time around and I enjoyed it a lot more as an audio experience than I had when I tried to read it.

Raising Steam sees the return of Moist von Lipwig, saviour of the Post Office and Vice-Chairman of the bank (with a small snuffly dog as the actual Chairman). I have loved both the previous Moist novels and this time around we see him coming to the fore as an industrial revolution blooms and the railways spring up.

Once again Pratchett has perfectly captured the best bits of our history and lampooned it perfectly.  We have the luddites (represented by Deep Down Dwarves) and the innovators – an engineer who gets a cracking Yorkshire accent from the narrator, the Patrician oversees the development using Moist as his conduit.  But Raising Steam is much more than an industrial revolution as there is a Political Revolution going on too. Dwarf’s are revolting (as in rising against their King) but stability and progress is the more desirable outcome for The Patrician, the King, The City Watch and also the Trolls (long time enemy of all Dwarf people). Tensions will rise and it will take a cast of many of our favourite characters to sort this mess out.

Raising Steam highlights again that there are few that can hold a torch to Terry Pratchett – his work is the stuff of legend and I sorely miss having the opportunity to enjoy new adventures with characters I have loved for all my adult life.

As for the audio – well Stephen Briggs does an admirable job and brings life to the whole cast. He gives accents to all the races (and characters) and Yorkshire, Wales, South-West and Cockney all shine through.  My only quibble is that the bad dwarf was Scottish and so was one of my most loved characters – “Spike”.  My mental image of Ms Dearheart were slightly tarnished by Mr Briggs making her sound like Supergran.

All in it was a great few hours of listening – with minor quibbles over Scottish accents – but only a Scot would pick up on that I feel!

 

Raising Steam is available in paperback, digital and audiobook. Terry Pratchett remains a legend.

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August 17

Block 46 – Johana Gustawsson – Audio

Evil remembers…

Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina.
Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s.
Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again.

Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald?

Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French truecrime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.

 

Another from my unexpected (but very enjoyable) Audiobook Season – today I get to rave about Block 46.

First the audiobook experience.  Very positive!  The narration duties are split for Block 46 – the majority of the book is delivered by Patricia Rodriguez with the “historical” elements (which I shall come to shortly) picked up by Mark Meadows. The two voices work wonderfully – both actors are to be commended for bringing the story to life around me.

Block 46 is a modern day murder mystery but it holds a link to 1944 and a concentration camp in Germany (the aforementioned Historical element of the tale). In London Alexis Castells attends the launch of a new jewellery collection designed by her friend Linnea Blix – despite the importance of the night Linnea does not appear. Alexis travels to Sweden where Linnea would often stay “on retreat” but as she arrives in snowy Falkenberg Linnea’s body is found.

While Alexis gets swept up in the investigation into Linnea’s murder – kept in the loop through a friendship with criminal profiler Emily Roy – the reader gets to slip back in time where we encounter Erich Hebner.  A German national in a German concentration camp.  Erich is doing what he can to survive but when Johana Gustawsson begins to outline some of the terrors which Erich, and the other prisoners, endure each day it becomes impossible to see how he will escape from this Hell.

Narrative swings to present day, the murder investigation reveals some unexpected connections to London. Then we are back in wartime Germany and Erich’s story moves on…he has been granted a rare opportunity to contribute to the German “war effort” but how will he feel about helping when he learns he is going to Block 46. Nobody every comes out of Block 46 alive.

I cannot praise this book enough – at times harrowing but always compelling. It threw up the classic reading dilemma – so good I want to reach the end to find out what happened. But I don’t want to reach the end as I was enjoying it so much.

 

Block 46 is published by Orenda Books and is available in paperback, digital and audiobook.  You can order a copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Block-Roy-Castells-Johana-Gustawsson/dp/1910633704/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1502917618&sr=1-1

 

 

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August 9

The Girl in the Ice – Robert Bryndza – Audio

Her eyes are wide open. Her lips parted as if to speak. Her dead body frozen in the ice…She is not the only one.

When a young boy discovers the body of a woman beneath a thick sheet of ice in a South London park, Detective Erika Foster is called in to lead the murder investigation.

The victim, a beautiful young socialite, appeared to have the perfect life. Yet when Erika begins to dig deeper, she starts to connect the dots between the murder and the killings of three prostitutes, all found strangled, hands bound, and dumped in water around London.

What dark secrets is the girl in the ice hiding?

As Erika inches closer to uncovering the truth, the killer is closing in on Erika.

The last investigation Erika led went badly wrong…resulting in the death of her husband. With her career hanging by a thread, Erika must now battle her own personal demons as well as a killer more deadly than any she’s faced before. But will she get to him before he strikes again?

 

My thanks to Kim at Bookouture for the opportunity to listen to this book.

 

The variable nature of my day job sprang a recent surprise…gone is my daily train journey and my hour of peaceful reading on the train. Say hello to 3 or 4 hours in the car each day. Say hello to a series of audiobook reviews here at Grab This Book.

Audiobooks live and die on one crucial element – the narrator. It really does not matter how good the underlying story is, if the narration is jarring then listening to that voice for 10+ hours is not going to be a fun or relaxing experience.

Fortunately for Robert Bryndza’s The Girl in the Ice the listener is in very good hands. Jan Cramer narrates throughout and she does a fantastic job. Erika Foster’s voice is now firmly fixed into my mind and Cramer’s narration has brought a character to life for me more vividly than would have been the case had I read a paper copy of the book.

As for the story – I loved it. A society rich girl (and seemingly an extremely shallow young woman) is found dead in the waters of London. She has been bound and brutally attacked prior to death and Erika Foster is put in charge of the investigation. Foster is taking on a new role in London, relocating from Manchester following the death of her husband (a fellow police officer) when a police operation went badly wrong.

Thrown in at the deep end – Foster must establish her authority over a new team, overcome racial prejudices when dealing with the dead girl’s parents and contend with factions within the police who are determined to undermine her investigation to keep a politically sensitive murder investigation “acceptable” in the media.

The juggle and pressure which Foster faces will take its toll and I felt myself getting frustrated that she was being thwarted at pursing the leads she felt needed tackled. Robert Bryndza presents us with a string of red herrings and a suspect pool which is sufficiently broad and unlikeable (for various reasons) that it will keep you guessing to the identity of the killer – right until the shocking endgame.

Fans of police procedurals and gripping serial killer thrillers – this is a book for you. I cannot listen as fast as I can read – but I grudged every second that I had to remove my earbuds whilst listening to The Girl in the Ice.

 

The Girl in the Ice is available as a paperback, digital book and (obviously) as an audiobook. You can order a copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-Ice-gripping-thriller-Detective-ebook/dp/B019G6DSDE/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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November 9

Talking Books with Steve Worsley

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to chat with AK Benedict about audiobooks. She had just released her fantastic new novel Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts and had also written a Torchwood audio play for Big Finish productions – she was telling Captain Jack Harkness what to say!  Our chat covered what it was like for an author to pass their work to a team to turn it into an audiobook. You can read that interview here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=1419

Now I am delighted to be able to bring you the other side of the story. Today’s guest, Steve Worsley, is a narrator of audiobooks and has spent hours in a studio to give a voice to the books we listen to. Down the years I have listened to many, many audiobooks so I was keen to learn a little more about how the audiobooks come together.

My first question is never actually a question, this is where I ask you to introduce yourself and give you the opportunity to get a few plugs in!

I am Steve Worsley. I’m a Scottish actor/singer. Originally from Aberdeen but now living in Falkirk with my wife and step children. I sing with a rat pack vocal trio called Ocean’s 3. I also perform improvised comedy with an Edinburgh improv  troupe called Men With Coconuts. We perform at the Edinburgh Fringe, Prague Fringe and currently have a residency at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh.

 

shatter-the-bonesHow do you become the voice of an audiobook?

For me it kind of happened by accident. I was working with another actor who specialises in voice over work. He mentioned that he had been asked to narrate an audiobook. It was Shatter the Bones by Stuart MacBride. He said he didn’t really fancy it as he was from Glasgow and the Stuart MacBride books were set in Aberdeen (my home town). I jokingly said I’d do it if he didn’t fancy it. He took me up on the offer and helped me record a short demo to be approved by the publisher (HarperCollins). To my surprise they did and before I knew it I was off to a studio in Manchester to record my first unabridged audiobook. On the back of that I approached another publisher, who as luck would have it had just listened to Shatter the Bones. I was immediately offered another audiobook. The rather wonderful crime thriller The Blackhouse by Peter May. Due to reader popularity I have now become the voice of all the Logan MacRae series of books by Stuart MacBride. Since then I have gathered together all the equipment needed to make a wee home studio, and now produce my own audiobooks through an online company called ACX where writers submit their novels, and narrators can then audition for the roles.

 

I know all books will vary in length but if you have narrated a story with a 10-hour running time how long may you have spent in a studio to get that recorded?

I usually spend about 3-4 days in a studio, reading from 9-5 with regular breaks. My longest book so far is The Missing and the Dead by Stuart MacBride which came in at just over 17 hours. That took about 4 days in a studio in London. That was a real challenge to complete as the studio had booked me for 4 days but then found out that the book was about 150 pages longer than estimated! Luckily I’ve been told by several sound engineers that my sight reading rate is unusually high. I can comfortably read about 150 pages in a single day. Of course home recording is a different matter as I not only have to read but edit the whole book myself. And I can only record when the kids are at school! It can take me up to 2 months to produce a home recording.

 

the-blackhouseDo you need to be able to voice different accents?

 Oh yes! The Stuart MacBride books were great for me as they are all set in my home town. Until I took over on book 7 his books had never been narrated by a native Aberdonian (except the two he did himself). But even in his books there are loads of different accents. Some of them particularly specific. One character spoke with a mix of Aberdonian and Brummie!!. I’ve also had to do American, regional English accents and few others from around the world. In The Blackhouse by Peter May the whole book was set in Stornoway and was littered with Gaelic phrases and names. That was a real challenge! Not to mention reading different gendered characters as well.

Is a book recorded sequentially? 

Yes. You start at chapter 1 and keep going to the end.

 

(I think I know the answer to this but…) Can you just show up at a recording session and start reading or would you expect to have read the book beforehand?

I always read the book at least once (twice if possible) and allow time to makes notes. Unfortunately that it not always possible. Particularly with the big publishers. In the past I’ve received a manuscript on a Friday or Saturday and been in the studio on the Monday!

 

Dsteve-worsleyo you ever meet any of the authors or get feedback from them?

I’m good friends on Facebook with Peter May. He lives in France. My wife and his daughter are also now best friends as they are both artists. Most of the authors I home record for live in the States but again we stay in touch through Facebook. I’ve been lucky enough to have had some lovely things said about my work from the authors. Which is not only an honour but a huge relief!! It can be pretty nerve-wracking being entrusted with someone’s baby!!!

 

Are you a reader? If so then what types of books do you enjoy?

I love to read when I can find the time. I like a bit of everything but have been a lifelong Stephen King fan. He truly is one of the great writers of the last century. I also love Clive Barker (I do love a bit of horror). And of course The Lord of the Rings gets an outing every few years. And if I am in the mood then you can’t beat Matthew Reilly for just pure entertainment and non-stop action.

 

Have you have to narrate books which you really didn’t enjoy (and I am not asking you to name them) but would that make the experience seem longer?

All I will say is yes and YES! However so far I have been very lucky to have read some wonderful books by extremely talented authors.

 

Steve – thank you! I have spent hours/weeks/days of my life listening to audiobooks have not given much consideration to all the work that goes into making that possible. As a skim reader (who doesn’t like to say much) I am in awe of how much work you have to do to bring us these audio delights.  

 

You can find Steve’s audiobooks on the Audible website here: http://www.audible.co.uk/search/ref=a_pd_Crime-_tseft?advsearchKeywords=steve+worsley&filterby=field-keywords&sprefixRefmarker=nb_sb_ss_i_0_8&sprefix=steve+wo

More information about Men With Coconuts on this link: http://www.menwithcoconuts.com/

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