The Children Act: Audio Book vs. Physical Book

The Audio Book
This is one of those rare times that I’ve both read a novel and listened to it in its entirety in audio book format.  And I found the experiences to be very different ones.  In the case of reading the physical book, even though the main character is a female high court judge in London, I did not consistently “hear” her voice in my reading mind as that of a woman.  (Keep in mind that, while the book is written in the third person, it is very much told from Fiona’s perspective.)  Listening to the audio book, however, it is impossible to forget that Fiona Maye is an upper class British woman at the tail end of a rather powerful legal career.  I will explain why that difference is important toward the end of this review.
Fiona Maye has done quite well for herself.  She is at the top of her profession as one of London’s family court high court judges and she feels good about the role she plays in helping clean up the messes that people so readily make of their lives and, more importantly to her, the lives of their innocent children.  She and Jack, her husband, a professor of ancient history, have been married for thirty years and have settled into a rather comfortable lifestyle that both seem happy enough with – with perhaps their only regret being that they never had children.  But, as Fiona will learn, she has overestimated her husband’s satisfaction with their situation.
The Mayes are an aging couple now, something that Jack seems to feel more intensely than Fiona.  And what Jack wants more than anything else in the world is one “big passionate” love affair before it is forever too late for him to have one.  But he does not want a divorce.  Rather, he makes a plea for Fiona’s understanding and tacit approval of his one-time fling – she tosses him out the door and changes the locks.
Author Ian McEwan
In the midst of everything that is going on at home, Fiona is assigned a case that could define her entire career, that of a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness who is refusing the blood transfusion that could easily save him from what is an imminent death.  Adam is in many ways, a special boy: beautiful and a talented musician, he is personable and curious beyond his years despite being rather naïve about life itself.  Fiona, caught off guard by her reaction to Adam is faced with a legal decision that demands her objectivity.  But whether or not she can remain objective is only one of the issues she is dealing with as she comes to realize that her decision, despite her good intentions, has the power to ruin not only Adam’s life but her own.
Reader, Lindsay Duncan
This is where I found a difference in my reaction to the written page and the recorded version of The Children Act.  While reading the book, I found it a little difficult to believe that a woman of Fiona’s stature and experience would put everything at risk over one case.  The audio book, on the other hand, gave me such a distinct sense of Fiona’s current vulnerability that I found her reaction to Adam and his plight to be not only believable but likely.  It was almost like “reading” two different books.

Ian McEwan continues to produce remarkable novels, and this time he is aided by the outstanding reading talent of Lindsay Duncan, a Scottish stage actress with many movie and television appearances to her credit. 

Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America

Although you would not guess it from her picture on the book jacket of Hand to Mouth, Linda Tirado is one angry young woman.  She herself admits to being angry much of every single day of her life.  What makes her angry, you wonder? It’s this: being poor and having to put up with a way of life she sees no end to despite what she considers her best efforts to break free from the cycle of poverty into which she was born.  Only Tirado can say if she has given up on ever escaping poverty, but from the level of anger she so readily embraces, that just might be a safe bet.
That Linda Tirado knows of which she speaks is beyond dispute.  She has the lifetime credentials so many of this country’s poor earn the hard way: through personal experience.  She is an obviously intelligent and articulate woman and she hopes that more fortunate Americans are willing to listen to her for the two or three hours it takes to read her book. 
I listened and I agree with much, maybe even most, of what she has to say about being stuck in low-paying jobs for the long term.  Tirado’s points about how extremely difficult it is to escape the barely-making-ends-meet life are valid ones.   As she says, it is near impossible to find a better paying job if you cannot afford a car to get you to that job; it is hard to go to school if you have to work two jobs just to pay the rent and put food on the table; it is near impossible to save for the future at the rate of five or ten dollars a paycheck if the first medical emergency that comes along is only going to wipe out your savings again. 
Author’s Book Jacket Photo
Tirado, though, seems to have given in to the temptation to do more than just inform with this book.  She wants to get even – at least a little.  Even as she shoots down all the stereotypes that “rich people” hold about “poor people,” she gleefully embraces all the ones about rich people.  She preaches tolerance and respect for the poorer segment of American society while ridiculing the rest of that same society.  She demands respect but does not display any in reverse.  She strays into politics but shows that she knows little more than liberal talking points, and she uses those points to distort the position of others with whom she disagrees.  And, frankly, her “Open Letter to Rich People,” with which she ends the book, might be “cute” but its contemptuous tone makes it pretty much counterproductive.  
The author paints everyone not living a life of poverty with the same brush, and we, of course, are not all the same.  Many of us come from backgrounds very similar to hers (my own parents were sharecroppers who moved to a neighboring state in order to start a whole new life with little more than what they could carry with them in their old car – I grew up poor and did not escape that life until a good while after I married). 

And that is a real shame because this book has a worthy message.  But a little less anger would have gone a long way in getting that message across.

The Search for Anne Perry: The Hidden Life of a Best Selling Crime Writer

Finally…a book that gets inside the head of author Anne Perry in which Perry herself tries to explain what she was thinking when she, along with another teen girl, brutally beat that girl’s mother to death with a stocking-enclosed piece of brick.

Because I’ve been wondering for years about Perry’s rather strange decision to make her living as a murder mystery writer after having been convicted of committing one of the more horrible murders in the entire history of New Zealand, I had high hopes that “The Search for Anne Perry” would answer some of my questions and doubts about Perry. What I did not expect was to come away with much sympathy for Anne Perry, but even that happened – if only a little.

Joanne Drayton managed to get the full cooperation of Anne Perry for this biography despite the fact that Drayton is from New Zealand and that the book would first be published there, a country which Anne Perry is still more than just a little sensitive about (the U.S. edition is new but The Search for Anne Perry was, in fact, published in New Zealand in 2012). For that reason, Search is filled with Anne Perry quotes that help explain how such a terrible murder ever happened, how Perry survived five years in harsh prisons, how her newly acquired Mormon faith allowed her to move on with the rest of her life, and why she believes today that she should be forgiven of her crime. Drayton offers her own analysis, too, often by quoting characters from Perry’s books in which it seems that Perry is explaining herself through those fictional characters.

My only complaint – and I did find this irritating – is that Drayton, in the process of quoting those characters often insists on going through much more plot detail than is necessary to make her points about Perry. She sometimes even includes spoilers (for no need) that Anne Perry readers probably will rather not learn. But that’s a minor quibble. This book ultimately delivered the goods for me, and for that reason, I am recommending it to others who might still be wondering about Anne Perry’s murder conviction and how she kept her past hidden (even from her agents and publishers) for as long as she managed.

See below for a previous post on the Anne Perry murder conviction:

Anne Perry / Juliet Hulme (Revisited)

The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World

As someone who has been working in the energy sector for more than 40 years, I am probably more familiar with the subject of drilling and fracking than the average citizen, but I still learned some things from Russell Gold’s “The Boom.” It is always healthy to look at an issue as sensitive as fracking from both points of view, and this is something that Gold does an admirable job of via this book.

The new fracking technology was originally intended to tap into the huge natural gas reserves that were until the last decade or so pretty much beyond the ability of contemporary drilling methods to recover economically. That technology has proven to be just as effective in the recovery of the shale oil that had previously been way too expensive to recover and bring to market.

The question now is one of safety and environmental impact of the fracking techniques being used in so many thousands of new wells each year. Economically, there is no doubt that fracking has had a huge beneficial impact on the country. Environmentally, the final judgement is yet to be reached because, while it is true that some water wells have been contaminated by natural gas leaking into the neighboring water systems, this has happened so few times that there is no great impact involved – so far. On the other hand, those who lease their property to drilling companies do often find their personal lives shattered and changed forever by all the drilling activity that suddenly springs up around their homes, farms, and ranches. Of course, they can always take the big money and run – and lots of them do – but that’s not a welcome option for everyone.

Too, as Gold points out, substituting natural gas in place of coal in the electricity-generating process cannot help but have an immediate, and positive, impact on the environment. The U.S., in fact, is one of the few countries in the world (despite never having signed the Kyoto Agreement) that has significantly cleaned up its air in during the past two decades. Many environmentalist have reluctantly come to the conclusion that natural gas is a “bridge fuel” that buys the world more time to develop alternative fuels that we can actually afford, ones that will ultimately provide ALL of the energy we need in this country and not just a tiny fraction of it.

So, love fracking or hate fracking. It’s your choice – and “The Boom” might help you decide which side of the issue you come down on.