2018 Book list
1 journaler for this copy...
Conclave by Robert Harris (not registered - for a local book group)
I have not read a Robert Harris for a lot of years and was pleasantly surprised. For a potentially dry subject this was easy to read, fast paced and well plotted. It is almost a perfect 'locked room' setting, the Conclave electing of a new pope. Cardinal Lomeli narrates and leads the process amidst all the intrigue, plotting, and through to the eventual shock outcome. RH also manages to touch on many bigger topics including gender equality (important this!), the role of the modern church, past and current religious wars, corruption and power in this unique society. All in all an interesting and light read.
Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith (not registered)
This is an unusual stand-alone book by AM, by his standards tackling quite grown-up themes (love, acceptance, betrayal) but you can still recognise his soft voice in the narrative. The story follows Amanda and her daughter Clover (the 'Forever Girl'), ex-pats in Grand Cayman, as they glimpse and then chase real love. In the mother's case it is the possibility of infidelity with a neighbour, and for Clover its the permanent draw of her childhood sweetheart. I won't give away the resolution in either case, but it makes for a nice cosy ending, as I would expect!
ps. this is a signed book from a author talk given at Suffolk University, and we visiting Cayman on a holiday last year so I recognised the sleepy, blue-on-blue, description of this rich tax haven in the Caribbean.
Remember Remember the 5th of November (not registered)
This is a fascinating little guide to the history of Britain, in bite-sized chunks. From Roman invasions to the post-war United Nations (why stop there?), here are all the important dates, kings, queens, events, political and social movements...the bits you knew and have forgotten from school, and lots more besides.
Amazing Tales for Making Men out of Boys by Neil Oliver
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
Fluke by James Herbert (not registered - my 2nd Criccieth book group)
I kept thinking this would come to life (it never did) or include some horror, as is Herbert's normal genre. Unfortunately it started and finished with a dog, doing dog things, and thinking as a human post-reincarnation (some light philosophy here). I guess in the '70s pre-young adult this was trying to copy the animal-based journeys in Watership Down and Shardik? Mercifully a short novel, I do not want to read any more about Fluke and his adventures, woof!
How not to be a Boy by Robert Webb (not registered)
For the majority of this book it felt a lot like Jeremy from the Peep Show narrating his back story, Webb playing a self-absorbed, feckless and frankly quite unlikeable role. However, in the end the pieces came together to create a powerful memoir; this was not in the end simply a ‘poor me’ tale about his life and its challenges, a bullying father, broken home and dead mother, but rather a quite deeper insight into the nature of men and the male stereotype in the C21st. I don’t completely subscribe to his liberal manifesto, but I do believe in his integrity and his gift for humour and pathos. And of course, the boy from Lincolnshire came good, he got to Cambridge footlights (eventually), found his muse in David Mitchell, and eventually saw the light, or at least knew roughly where the light was (is?) - resetting his life to move away from the shadow and expectations of his gender and start to become a better version of himself.
This is going to my little brother to read next...
Shakespeare by Bill Bryson
The Last Summer of Water Strider by Tim Lott (not registered)
I'd forgotten how good Tim Lott is! This is a hypnotically paced, cleverly plotted and rich novel of people and ideas, laced with his normal pathos and nostalgia (set in the 1970's). I'm going to miss [Uncle] Henry, swimming off into an unknown future, and young Adam and Strawberry seeking lives with meaning after rocky starts. Even the villains in the piece, the brilliant firebrand Welsh Toshack and daughter Ash, are rounded and fascinating characters adding to the ensemble.
And a couple of quotes (so much fine prose to pick from):
Adam returning his Dad's letter, 'I could not bring myself to fill the emptiness of the paper with still more emptiness.'
And in the last few pages, 'Go left or go right, but do not wobble.' Zen
The Red House Mystery by A.A.Milne
61 Hours by Lee Child
The Truth about Stories by Thomas King
The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
A Celibate Season by Carol Shields & Blanche Howard
Why England Lose by Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
The Last Frighting Tommy by Harry Patch & Richard van Eden
The Bat by Jo Nesbo
Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
Tide by Hugh Aldersley-Williams (not registered)
This is a fascinating compendium of history, facts, myths and geography about the tides. Who knew there was quite so much that could be said about this apparently simple lunar (not only) rise and fall of the seas (not all of them) and the intertidal zone and circa tidal rhythms in nature. The beginning is very slow and the structure annoyed me as each section and chapter seems disjointed. An encyclopaedia 'A to Z' format might be better?
The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman (not registered)
This is the first of a trilogy(?) of prequels of His Dark Materials, and would serve the reader well to do some research or remembering!* (I didn't) We meet the special child Lyra, as a baby, and her young guardians Malcolm and Alice. La Belle Sauvage is Malcolm's boat, used to rescue her from a Biblical flood and the dastardly Gerald Bonneville ... who doesn't make it to the main series. It's a book of 2 parts, the first is slow and sets the scene, the second zips along with added danger and metaphysical elements. We see the 2 leads - not the baby yet - grow, and grow closer, during their flight and the older worldly-wise adults take a back seat. As I said I probably need a 'primer' before tackling part 2, which I will probably do, but beware it's a slow burn.
*Well there are animal Daemons of course, dust and the Rusakov field, Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter, witches and gyptians, but no armoured bears yet!
Worth Dying For by Lee Child
The Shortest History of Germany by James Hawes (not registered)
What a great book, the story of Germany, from Roman 'Germania' to Angela Merkel via Charlamagne, Frederick the Great and Bismarck, full of insight, historical sweep, facts and figures. I had no idea about the Prussians and the 'Junkers', East Elbia and the real roots behind the ongoing conflict between Germany and Russia. And by the way a new perspective on the seeds of WW1. Brilliant.
Get Her off the Pitch by Lynne Truss
Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz (not registered)
More Bond than Bond, a pleasure from cover to cover. Horowitz is obviously a great fan; he captures the language, style and mood perfectly in this pre-Casino Royale romp. Bond (obviously Sean Connery!) has just earnt his '00' stripes when he is sent to the south of France to investigate the death of his predecessor and find out what is happening with the Corsican gangs and strange dearth of drugs coming through Marseilles. In doing so he meets 2 - two(!) - unhinged baddies, gets beaten up, gets the girl ('Madame 16'/Sixteen), loses the girl, and wins the day. I am inspired to (re)read the other Fleming homages from Deaver, Faulks, Boyd and Horowitz, again.
How We Live and Why We Die by Lewis Wolpert (unregistered - not finished)
I didn't persevere with this, it drifted too far from easily digestible 'pop' science for my liking in 50+ pages, like an 'A' level course text, but without the primer module, diagrams or context. Wolpert dived straight into the cells structure and the role of proteins and enzyme without explaining about atoms and molecules. I got a bit lost TBH.
I hope someone else reads this and enjoys it :)
In a Nutshell by Ian McEwan (not registered)
Ian McEwan is back on top form after the mixed 'Children Act' (the film was a bit odd as well IMHO). The conceit of this small book is daft, an aware hyper-intelligent unborn baby 'witnessing' plans for a murder; but the execution is fun and rich with prose and ideas (yes really, baby x, thinking/narrating?? on such diverse topics as geo-politics and poetry). The reader's sympathies are constantly played-with until the final, more-or-less, resolution.
Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall
Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D.James
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks
The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker (not registered)
This is a very thorough writing primer, quite heavy in places, but I like to think that some of it has sunk in to inform my blogging style ... I aspire to the 'classic style' and seek to present information, engage and encourage thought. I like the phrase, 'align language with the truth', which is not the same as 'plain style' where the reader doesn't have to work at all. I will have to leave it to my readers to decide if I am successful in translating my personal web of knowledge into a coherent structured narrative.
The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent (not registered)
This is a glorious little novel about extraordinary people doing ordinary things (or the other way around?) The lead, Guylain Vignolles, of the unfortunate spoonerism (in French, 'ugly puppet') lives a life of quiet monotony doing a job he hates, helping a friend recover his lost legs*, communing daily with his pet goldfish, and reading fragments of books to an appreciate audience on his daily commute - the '6.27' of the title. And then he finds a memory stick on the train and so begins a new search for love. This reminds me a little of Magnus Mills (The Restraint of Beasts) with it's deceptively simple prose and gentle pace, but it's a lot richer in character and plotting ... it almost feels like a new French magical realism genre emerging. Discuss!
*too complicated to explain, but it includes a book pulping machine!
The Age of Kali by William Dalrymple
The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz
The Affair by Lee Child
How to Dunk a Doughnut (The science of everyday life) by Len Fisher
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Entropy: A New World View by Jeremy Rifkin
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz