Audiobook: The Last Convict

The Last Convict by Anthony Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: ‘It’s a good story, Samuel. You’re a piece of living history.’ 

Oxford 1863: Young Samuel Speed sets a barley stack alight in the hope it will earn him a bed in prison for the night. He wants nothing more than a morsel of food in his belly and a warm place to sleep off the streets. What he receives is a sentence of seven years’ servitude, to be served half a world away in the penal colony of Fremantle, Western Australia. 

When Samuel boards the transport ship Belgravia, he is stripped of his clothing and even his name, and given regulations of when to rise, eat, clean and sleep. On arrival at Fremantle Prison, hard labour is added to the mix and he wonders if life can get any worse. The only solace he finds is a love of reading, which allows the likes of Tom Sawyer and Oliver Twist to become his lifelong friends. 

Samuel is granted a ticket of leave in 1867 and full freedom in 1871, but what sort of life can a man forge for himself in the colony, with no skills, no money and no family? Will it be the beginning of the life he has always dreamed of, or do some sentences truly never end?

A colourful recreation of the life and times of the last known convict to be sent to Australia, The Last Convict is a moving study of old age and loneliness, as one social outcast finds meaning in his impoverished life through the power of literature. Meticulously researched and brilliantly woven into an engaging fictional account, it is an unforgettable story by an award-winning writer and historian.

My review: Here’s another book that I have been slow into writing a review for. I finished the book in July this year. The lack of a review until now has nothing to do with my liking for the book, as I enjoyed it immensely, but is more to do with my lack of time and energy to write reviews this year. To be honest, my health has not recovered as quickly as I would have liked and I’m enjoying life outdoors more while the temperature isn’t too high.

The Last Convict is an Australian book, written by an Australian author. I saw it in my local library and the premise jumped out and immediately took my attention. I live near a pioneer cemetary and while the book is not based on anyone in that resting place, I have discovered an interest of that time.

As the title suggests, the book relates to the story of the last surviving convict in Australia. It is based on a real person. However, little is known about Samuel Speed, but the author used what is known (I actually found and read the newspaper report referred to in the book) and filled in the rest to create this story and I think he’s done an excellent job.

The book isn’t fast paced, but it is captivating in other ways. The main character is relatable and I wanted to know what would happen to him. My heart broke for him in so many ways. Poor Sam and his mate were desperate. Homeless, going from poorhouse to poorhouse looking for a dry bed and a meagre meal. And their desperation made them make a decision that changed their lives. They ended up as convicts for seven years and heading for Australia. Sam spent most of his life in an institution of some kind. His life was lonely and isolated. Yet, in the story, he came across as a lovely man who only wanted peace of mind.

I found myself wondering what his life would have been like if they didn’t make that first decision. And for the life of me, I cannot imagine it would have been any better.

In those days, life as a pauper and a convict would have been most difficult. It’s something I’m glad I have not and will never experience. Living in Australia, I find the history fascinating and thoroughly enjoyed this book as a result.

Recommended.

Audiobook: The Postmistress

The Postmistress by Alison Stuart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: To forge a new life she must first deal with her past…

1871. Adelaide Greaves and her young son have found sanctuary in the Australian town of Maiden’s Creek, where she works as a postmistress. The rough Victorian goldmining settlement is a hard place for a woman – especially as the other women in town don’t know what to make of her – but through force of will and sheer necessity, Adelaide carves out a role. 

But her past is coming to find her, and the embittered and scarred Confederate soldier Caleb Hunt, in town in search of gold and not without a dark past of his own, might be the only one who can help. Can Adelaide trust him? Can she trust anyone?

When death and danger threaten – some from her past, some borne of the Australian bush – she must swallow her pride and turn to Caleb to join her in the fight, a fight she is determined to win…

My review: COVID-19 has made me lazy, which I find strange as I’ve been working from home for four months and you would think I would have more time to do the things I’ve always loved, such as reading and writing, but that hasn’t been the case. My husband and I have found walking in the bush a relaxing and enjoyable way to relax. Anyway, I finished this book in August and am just getting around to writing the review now.

The Postmistress is an Australian book, written by an Australian author, and most enjoyable. It begins in England where a daughter of a well-to-do father finds herself pregnant and decides to “run away” to Australia to bring up her child.

The story shows the difficulties of living in a young country—the hardships, poverty, lack of facilities and covers themes such as mining, bushfires, pandemics and dangerous Australian wildlife. But it also shows how people with secrets can start again and build a new life for themselves in a country just starting out. I especially liked how the small town, while diverse, came together to battle outside threats because the enemy without can be more threatening than the enemy within.

But secrets have a habit of coming out in the open. What happens then? We need to adapt and adjust, and sometimes we must face those secrets head on, and that is (of course) what the main character must do.

In my opinion, this is a historical romance. I enjoyed the storyline and the characters. They fit together well. Yes, parts were predicable, but I didn’t mind that at all. It was lovely to read about life in the early years of Australia. I enjoyed the book and would read more by this author.

Recommended.

Audiobook: Hamish Macbeth Mysteries

Death of a Perfect Wife by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The blurb: Hamish Macbeth is savouring the delights of a Highland summer. But as fast as the rain rolls in from the loch, his happy life goes to hell in a handbasket. The trouble begins when his beloved Priscilla Halburton-Smythe returns to Lochdubh with a new fiancé on her arm. His miseries multiply when clouds of midges descend on the town. And then a paragon of housewife perfection named Trixie Thomas moves into Lochdubh with her cowed husband in tow. The newcomer quickly convinces the local ladies to embrace low-cholesterol meals, ban alcohol, and begin bird-watching. Soon the town’s menfolk are up in arms and Macbeth must solve Lochdubh’s newest crime – the mysterious poisoning of the perfect wife.

M. C. Beaton is the author of the best-selling Agatha Raisin series. She has also written several Regency romance series. She lives between Paris and the Cotswolds.

My review: I picked this out of my elibrary listing, not knowing it was part of a series…and book 4 of the series! Yet, it didn’t matter. The author wrote the book in a way that felt stand alone. The characters, the setting, the era, all were complete and interesting.

I felt like reading something “easy going”. By that, I don’t mean simple, I mean something that flows easily and doesn’t jerk the reader here, there, and everywhere. The book is part of the Hamish Macbeth cozy mysteries and I enjoyed it immensely.

The setting felt old fashioned and laid back. The people of the Scottish town had distinct personalities and traits that I could relate to and the mystery itself was well thought out and entertaining.

I will read more by this author.

Death of an Outsider by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The blurb: Dreary Cnothan’s most hated man is dumped into a tank filled with lobsters then eaten in Britain’s best restaurants. Exiled there with his dog Towser, Hamish Macbeth misses his beloved Highland village Lochdubh, Priscilla, and easy lazy days. His superiors want the business hushed up, a dark-haired lass wants his body, and a killer is out for more blood. On TV show.

My review: In order to keep to the trend, I’ve gone backwards instead of forwards with this series. I completed book 4 recently, and then decided to read book 3. I know, I’m crazy to go backwards, but it really was not an issue as this book was not set in the same town. Worked out perfectly for me.

Hamish is set to another town to fill in while the regular police officer had a well deserved holiday. But, of course, things go wrong as soon as Hamish turns up. Yet, there is a upturn of events for Hamish in other areas (wink, wink, say no more).

This storyline was a little more twisted, and I didn’t like the townspeople much. I don’t have much more to say other than I would read more books in the series.

Audiobook: The Woman in the Green Dress

The Woman in the Green Dress by Tea Cooper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: 1853 Mogo Creek, NSW

Della Atterton, bereft at the loss of her parents, is holed up in the place she loves best: the beautiful Hawkesbury in New South Wales. Happiest following the trade her father taught her, taxidermy, Della has no wish to return to Sydney. But the unexpected arrival of Captain Stefan von Richter on a quest to retrieve what could be Australia’s first opal, precipitates Della’s return to Sydney and her Curio Shop of Wonders, where she discovers her enigmatic aunt, Cordelia, is selling more than curiosities to collectors. Strange things are afoot and Della, a fly in a spider’s web, is caught up in events with unimaginable consequences…

1919 Sydney, NSW

When London teashop waitress Fleur Richards inherits land and wealth in Australia from her husband, Hugh, killed in the war, she wants nothing to do with it. After all, accepting it will mean Hugh really is dead. But Hugh’s lawyer is insistent, and so she finds herself ensconced in the Berkeley Hotel on Hunter St, Sydney, the reluctant owner of a Hawkesbury property and an old curio shop, now desolate and boarded up.

As the real story of her inheritance unravels, Fleur finds herself in the company of a damaged returned soldier Kip, holding a thread that takes her deep into the past, a thread that could unravel a mystery surrounding an opal and a woman in a green dress; a green that is the colour of envy, the colour buried deep within an opal, the colour of poison…

My review: I was looking for something different to listen to while on my treadmill each morning and came across this audiobook. It’s set in Australia, and as I know of the two locations (Mogo Creek and Sydney) and have visited them, I decided to borrow this book.

The author wrote the story over two timelines and then merged them together. It was well done. I especially enjoyed reading about the hardships of the two eras – 1853 and 1919. Both eras would have been difficult to live in, and I could appreciate those difficulties and felt like I experienced them because of the way the book was written.

The taxidermy element was interesting to read as well. It’s a craft I know little about, but I believe the information given would be correct, especially the bit about arsenic. I also appreciated how the author wove the issues early Australia had between the new settlers and the original inhabitants of the land into the storyline as well. I believe many atrocities occurred back then. Many never recorded in history.

I class the story as a drama/mystery. There was a tiny bit of romance, but nothing overbearing. The characters were written well and fit together nicely. I was interested in the main characters, from both eras, and wanted to know what the harsh times and the storyline had in store for them.

I would recommend the book and would read more by this author.

Audiobook: The Wizards of Once, Books 2 & 3

I read, or listened, to both of these books in March 2021.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twice Magic by Cressida Cowell

The blurb: This was once the story of a young boy Wizard and a young girl Warrior who had been taught since birth to hate each other like poison.

But now, the boy Wizard and girl Warrior have been brought together in the Badwoods and they have witnessed the shocking consequences of the Stone That Takes Away Magic. They will need to cast aside their differences once more–for an Evil Spell has broken free.

It’s up to Xar and Wish to find the ingredients. But it means entering dangerous territory unannounced…

My review: I have been borrowing most of the audiobooks I read from my local library. I read the first book last year in July. The books are so popular that I had to wait for a … very … long … time to get my hands on book 2. It was worth the wait.

The adventure continues for our two heroes – Wish and Xar. The plot is fast-paced. There’s no time to get bored, too much is happening. And the characters are intense, funny, different, and work so well together even if they do argue and screw things up for each other.

I enjoyed the pace and the humour. And, again, I especially enjoyed David Tennant’s reading of the book. He truly brings the book alive.

Again, totally recommended.

Knock Three Times by Cressida Cowell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: Xar and Wish are heroes with a huge task ahead–confronting the Nuckalavee is not for the faint-hearted. But with Magic and Iron together, they might just have a chance of saving their beloved homes from those who seek to destroy everything they hold dear. The third electrifying book in The Wizards of Once series fizzes with magic and introduces us to a host of glorious new characters: bears and piskies and magical pins and needles to name but a few.

My review: And we arrive at book three of the series. I believe there is one more book after this one, but I don’t have access to it yet.

Book 3 changed a bit, went in a slightly different direction. For me, that had something to do with a storyline that loosely fell into a Hogwarts feel as several chapters were in a school. Apart from that, the story continued to twist and turn. The characters are learning and growing, and betraying, because things are getting serious. Everyone is after them, including their parents. And, yes, sparks will fly. (You’ll get my meaning when you read the book.)

The books continue to be a fast-paced, exciting read. And the narrator, David Tennent, continues to bring the story and characters alive. I am thoroughly enjoying this series.

Audiobook: The Wizards of Once

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: This is the story of a young boy Wizard and a young girl Warrior who have been taught to hate each other like poison; and the thrilling tale of what happens when their two worlds collide.

Perfect for boys and girls who love fantasy adventure …

Once there was Magic, and the Magic lived in the dark forests.

Wizard boy, Xar, should have come in to his magic by now, but he hasn’t, so he wants to find a witch and steal its magic for himself. But if he’s got any chance of finding one, he will have to travel into the forbidden Badwoods.

Xar doesn’t realise he is about to capture an entirely different kind of enemy. A Warrior girl called Wish.

And inside this book, at this very moment, two worlds collide and the fate of the land is changed forever.

Xar and Wish must visit the dungeons at Warrior fort, and face the evil Queen.

But something that has been sleeping for hundreds of years is stirring …

My review: WOW. This is such a good story. From the first page, I was totally in. In fact, I was so taken by the plot and the characters, that I simply couldn’t stay away from the book for long periods. That doesn’t happen often, and is certainly a positive sign that I loved the book.

The world the two main character’s live in is dark. Wish is a warrior girl with a secret. Xar is a wizard boy with attitude. They come from different sides in a world where they are taught from birth to hate the other side. But these two are thrown together and must conquer all. (I know that’s a pretty general comment, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what they have to conquer.)

I love the two main character. And I have to say that Squeeze Juice is also a favourite of mine. The characters are so different, but so likeable. The story is so action-packed. Honestly, I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this book.

I listened to the audiobook and I feel compelled to mention the narrator, David Tennant. He gave life to the characters and storyline. His reading was fantastic and I believe that added to my enjoyment of the book ten-fold.

This is the first of three books, I believe. I definitely will be listening to the rest of the series.

Highly recommended.

Audiobook: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!

My review: I read the Harry Potter series many moons ago. I’ve seen the movies umpteen times. So why go back to Hogwarts again, after all these years? My response is, why not?

I’ve read, and I’ve watched the series. Now I intend to listen to it. At the risk of sounding tedious, I was looking for an audiobook from my local elibrary and couldn’t find anything that appealed to me. Then Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone magically appeared, and I made my decision.

I won’t tell you what the story is about, as I’m sure you already know. If you don’t, then I’d like to ask what deserted island have you been living on over the last two or so decades? Anyway, what I will tell you is that the movies pushed the details in the books to one side and I was amazed to discover all those little details that I had forgotten.

Stephen Fry reads the version I am listening to. He is excellent—top marks to Stephen.

I’m enjoying revisiting the world of Harry Potter (I’ve almost finished book 2). Recommended.

Audiobook: Jane Doe and the Cradle of All Worlds

Jane Doe and the Cradle of All Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: Step inside. Don’t look back. Forward is the only way. Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights meets Mad Max in this unforgettable blockbuster adventure about the world between worlds.

When a fierce quake strikes the remote island of Bluehaven, and her father disappears, Jane Doe is thrown headfirst into an epic quest to bring him home. 

But this ain’t no ordinary rescue mission. Her father is lost in a place between worlds; a dangerous labyrinth of shifting rooms, infernal booby traps and secret gateways. And Jane has to find him fast, because someone else is searching for him, too. A man who knows her father’s secrets. A man who has an army. 

With a pyromaniac named Violet and a trickster named Hickory by her side, Jane is about to discover that this adventure is even bigger on the inside than it looks… 

My review: Jane Doe and the Cradle of All Worlds is another audiobook I found through my local library. Judged on the cover alone, I was intrigued enough to borrow the book. Then I discovered the author is Australian, which was a pleasant surprise. However, where the author is from actually doesn’t make a difference to me at all. A book is a book. A story is a story. But a good book with a good story is like finding gold.

And this is a good book. I enjoyed it from the first chapter.

Jane Doe lives in Bluehaven, and from the beginning, it’s clear that something is amiss. Jane and her dad, John, are treated poorly by the community. And there’s something peculiar about the Manor. Everyone is hiding something. Secrets are big in Bluehaven.

After a massive earthquake, Jane enters the Manor to save her father. She meets up with Hickory and her one and only friend, Violet. The trio is an awesome combination. But again, there are secrets and half-truths every which way Jane turns. Who can she trust, and can she locate her dad?

Of course, the Manor is no ordinary place and does not have regular occupants living there. Far from it. Jane must learn how to navigate the Manor without setting off the traps, and without being caught by creatures that want to kill her.

There’s lots of action. The three main characters are a strange combination, but they have their funny moments and are as crazy as anything. Something is always happening. Yet as the story progresses, the author allows the reader to find out bits of information to keep them anchored in the plot.

Male and female readers will enjoy this book. There’s something for everyone. I’ll be watching for book 2. I hope my library gets a copy soon.