Archive for the ‘ Books ’ Category

Books in August

Hans Rosling and Ola Rosling – Factfulness
Like many, many thousands of people I discovered Hans Rosling through his Ted talks using data and statistics in simple yet visually creative ways to present a richer pictures of things we assume we know. His utterly charming personality, passion and energy come across perfectly in this book. I didn’t put the full title above, which is “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think” but the book does rather do what it says on the tin. Unlike some books of this type there is a powerful and simple structure running through it, each chapter presenting a different way that it is incredibly easy to get things wrong. There is a mix of anecdotes, data, psychology, statistics and sociology in every chapter that carefully reinforces each key point. Not a chapter went by without me being surprised and enlightened. It’s a relatively short book and a phenomenally easy read that will open your mind and genuinely make you feel a bit better about the world. Everyone should read this.

Claire North – The End of the Day
Looking back, I adored Claire North’s first two books (The First 15 Lives of Harry August and Touch) but the last two (this one and Sudden Appearance of Hope) have frustrated me. All her books have in common an incredible richness of central idea, they are all playing with sci-fi like abilities/powers/curses and North has built them in a way that fully embraces and plays with all the implications that they bring. But I feel that she doesn’t always embed them in a good story. The End of the Day in fact doesn’t seem to have much in the way of story at all. It’s a huge collection of small stories that don’t really seem to go anywhere. The characters and settings involved are all interesting to spend time with, so it’s not a disaster, but I was always aware of the fact that it didn’t seem to be coming together. There’s a lot of observation about the world today that if I’d known was going to be there, I probably wouldn’t have read the book (“warning – this book contains social commentary and observation that may make you angry and sad”). Despite the great concept at the centre of the book, I just came away unsatisfied and frankly a little depressed.

T Kingfisher – Summer in Orcus
If you read the author’s notes at the end she explains that this book ended up a home for a lot of the stray ideas she’d had that hadn’t made it into another book. That could make for a bit of a mess, but I think it just about works here. It’s held together with a familiar structure of a child transported to another world, but but writer and the child herself are aware of those tropes and so it feels like it’s moving the ideas forward rather than just retelling them. The collection of ideas are beautifully collected, and you can see how each grew out of either a phrase, a visual image (the valet birds are my favourite), or even a pun. I don’t think it’s her best work, it lacks some punch and it’s more of a children’s book than most of her other fairy tales, but it’s a lovely tale to read.

Agatha Christie – A Murder is Announced
With my increased commute, my reading time has multiplied dramatically and as I’m powering through books so fast I’ve started using my local library rather than bankrupt myself buying books. The selection is quite erratic, but I can always rely on finding an Agatha Christie. I haven’t read many Miss Marple’s but there’s something very comforting about the slow pace of them, easy going detective work and village life and relatively low impact crimes being investigated. There are lots of elements to the mystery, so even if you see through one or two early on as I did, there’s still more surprises to come. It does get somewhat more brutal towards the end, but it’s slightly swept away which left me feeling a bit bruised and feeling slightly less satisfied than I might otherwise have done.

David Thomson – How to Watch a Movie
The author makes a point of explaining that he is not looking to reduce the enjoyment of films through over-analysis, and I could completely get behind that message. I find that my enjoyment and respect for films is often improved by knowing a bit about the context of their production, their place in history and the complexities of producing them. So I was completely with him. Then I read the book and he actually had me doubting the whole idea. The book is STUNNINGLY boring to read, weirdly too dry to be entertaining, but too flimsy to feel educational. It wanders all over the place with little coherent messaging. I got no sense of love or joy from any of it and ended up just turning the pages as fast as I possibly could.

Raymond Chandler – The Big Sleep
A classic. Hmmm. I can see the charm of the writing style, the turns of phrases and dry wit are beautifully written and really leap off the page. But I didn’t feel like I was pulled into the book at all, like I was observing something at a difference. Maybe it’s because the central voice is so dry and emotionally distant, and the rest of the characters are all fairly unlikable so it’s hard to really engage, but I found myself just turning the pages rather than really sinking into it.

Philip Gwynne Jones – Vengeance in Venice
It’s not long since I read the first book in this series and I can see it becoming a series that I happily return to with each new work, but rather forget in between. The characters are charming and real, all with their own flaws and eccentricities (particularly the cat). The plot on the other hand is a bit so-so, as a murder mystery it relies on too many coincidences and even though the writer ‘hangs a lamp’ on those issues, it doesn’t excuse that you don’t have to try too hard to pull the story apart. But really, the star of the book is Venice itself. I’ve only been there once myself but I can certainly recognise it from the book – both the wonder of the place and the insanity of it. As mindless reads go – it’s great fun, as a quality murder mystery – it’s a bit mediocre, but as a promotion for the Venetian tourist board – it’s beyond compare.

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Books in July

I continue to enjoy reading on my commute (although I wouldn’t mind the temperatures dropping by a dozen degrees or so) and am ploughing through books. To save my bank balance a bit I went and investigated the library! What a wonderful place – they just let you take books away! The selection is a bit limited, but thus far I’ve been managing to find some classics and some random picks.

Sarah Whitfield – Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables
Full disclosure – the author of this book is one of my best friends and I’m even mentioned in the acknowledgements (!) so this isn’t exactly an unbiased review. Also I should note you will probably struggle a bit to follow some sections if you have not at least passingly familiar with the musical itself, or at least look up a few youtube clips as you read.
This little book tries to explain why people are such fans of Les Misérables by looking at a number of factors – the story, the music, the marketing, the history of the production and a little bit on fandom itself. Although Sarah is an academic expert in musical theatre, this book is never dry. Peppered throughout the book are quotes and anecdotes from fans of Les Misérables who were surveyed as part of the research for the book. The analysis of the musical techniques, or emotional manipulation to hook audiences is always balanced with the voice of that audience expressing how much it means to them. Sarah doesn’t stand back from this as a passive observer – she also shares her own anecdotes about growing up with a father who loved Les Misérables, and who passed away while Sarah was writing the book. The sharing of powerful emotions throughout the book is a perfect match for Les Misérables, which as Sarah says, only an Easter Island statue could fail to be moved by.
At only 60 odd pages long, the biggest problem with the book is that it’s too short. There’s plenty of room for expansion and I was a little disappointed that some areas weren’t probed a little deeper – particularly the bubbling counterpoint of why “serious” theatre people look down on the musical (and maybe by extension the fans). But as it is, it’s a charming little love letter to a musical, its fans, and a father.

Derek Thompson – Hit Makers: How Things Become Popular
Any book advertised as picking up from Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point is setting a high bar, but also makes itself an easy sell to me. I find this kind of subject fascinating, it sort of spans marketing, business and economics, psychology, sociology and history. The trick that people like Gladwell, Seth Godin and Matthew Syed pull off is to blend in just the right number of case studies and stories and write the whole thing like a human being, rather than a dry text book. Thompson is a worthy addition to this pantheon. Hit Makers was not only a fascinating read, but also a fun one. The structure is clear and tidy, told with a journalist’s respect for grabbing attention, retaining it and landing messages deliberately and forcefully. The stories being told are a mixture of the familiar and the unusual, finding people and emotions that are relatable and inspiring. Thompson delivers a book that both explains why things are popular, explains why we’ll never understand why things are popular, and uses all the tricks he’s identified to write something that should be popular (except for the cover, which is stunningly poor). One of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in a very long time.

T. Kingfisher – Clocktaur War 1: The Wonder Engine, and 2: Clockwork Boys.
T. Kingfisher is one of my favourite authors and I’ve never seen a physical copy of her book. I’ve just checked and some of her books are available as physical books, but they’re far more aggressively priced as ebooks, so I don’t think anyone is really wanting us to buy the actual books. That means they have to rely more on word of mouth to sell and I continue to do my bit on that front. There’s something effortlessly simple and pure about her writing, which is of course anything other than effortless and far from common. Her stories are straightforward, retelling fairy tales, or in this case a fairly standard quest story. But the characters, worlds, and plots always sparkle. I read the two books back to back and I suggest you do the same as a) they’re impossible to put down and b) it’s really a continuous story and the first book by itself just sort of stops in the middle.
The story is a fairly straightforward quest set up with an unlikely team of experts sent off on an apparently impossible mission and a few heists and bumps along the road, plus the slightly inevitable romance of course. It’s all quite standard – the world has some magic and some steam punk type stuff going on, the team all have individual specialisms but aren’t used to working in a team and are a mixture of heroic rogues and roguish heroes. Everything jumps off the page, dialogue and thoughts of characters are immediately real, it’s laugh out loud funny, un-put-down-able action, a romance that even my cold heart fell in love with and some “unfortunate events” that had me reaching for the tissues. I cannot recommend this author highly enough and the ebooks are embarrassingly cheap so you really have no excuse to not read them.

Caitlin Moran – How to Build a Girl
I’m not sure about this book. The writing style is refreshing, bluntly honest (although maybe not quite right for a sheltered 15 year old) and laugh out loud funny while also gut-wrenchingly painful. It’s the kind of book that is both hard to put down and difficult to keep reading because the emotions are so powerful at times, and various disasters loom like icebergs on the horizon. I can see why some people would love it and connect incredibly deeply with it, but it didn’t quite work for me on that level. It’s the kind of book that I respect more than I like. (573)

Agatha Christie – By the Pricking of My Thumbs
Another random Agatha Christie, but not one of her better ones. I did enjoy the characters of Tommy and Tuppence for the most part, although they occasionally got a little too smug and prim. Unfortunately the story itself let the book down, the mystery was slow to develop, relying on epic numbers of coincidences to keep things moving and come up with reasons that the characters should keep searching for a crime that was completely hidden. Then there was a rush of exposition at the end to bring everything together and explain the solution to a puzzle that I still didn’t quite believe was there. It’s as if Christie started writing hoping the plot would come to her, and then when she eventually found one, she didn’t bother going back to the beginning so that it made sense.

Seni Glaister – The Museum of Things Left Behind
A random pick from the library based mostly on the title, which then proved to be completely inappropriate as the Museum in question makes barely 2 appearances and even as a metaphor is pretty far stretched. The quirkiness sort of matches the book for the most part and it’s an interesting set up, but about half way through the author seems to decide they don’t want just a nice little story and tries to add more depth with more pointed political and social satire. The bait and switch unsettled me, I wanted something nice and quirky, not something that made me sad and thoughtful. I think the author was capable of delivering either approach interestingly, but the mixture was ill judged.

Books in June

I started a new job in June. Amongst other changes, I now have a much longer commute and I find myself with about 2 hours a day on tubes. Currently, I’m actually quite enjoying this time because I get to spend that time reading. My previous commute only gave me about 20 minutes on a tube and I often found that by the time I was settling into a book, it was time to get off, so I’d frequently just waste that time playing on my phone. Now though reading time isn’t something I have to squeeze in and I’m finding that really lovely.

Steven Brust – Taltos 15: Vallista
I usually pounce on Vlad books the second they come out, but somehow I completely missed that this came out last year. Still, I’ve now caught up, or at least I’ve caught up with reading the book, to be honest I haven’t caught up at all on the overall storyline because I have no real idea what any of the book meant. I don’t really mind that much, because spending time with Vlad is always a joy, and him wandering around a mystery house is a pretty solid set up. Working out the mystery was beyond me and not only did I not really understand the explanation, but it arrived in such a big chunk that it was actually a little dull. Still, more time with Vlad can only ever be a good thing.

Truman Capote – In Cold Blood
I’ve seen this described as the first “true crime novel” and it does hover between fact and fiction – a carefully researched retelling of true events, but written in the style of a novel, seamlessly moving between the points of view of different people, expanding their thoughts and flashbacks to their pasts. Capote himself has no presence in the book beyond his beautifully eloquence and turn of phrase. I’m sure there’s a lot of extrapolation in his work and maybe some complete fabrication too, even as you’re reading there are things that jump out that seem unlikely to have come from Capote’s research, but it all fits into the wider narrative and doesn’t feel too much like cheating, just enriching. This is now also a period story, and because the descriptions are so vivid it’s a fascinating look at history as well. I was utterly gripped for most of the book (there are a couple of sections that linger too long or get a bit repetitive) and if this was the first book of its kind, it set an extraordinarily high standard.

Jessica Fellowes – The Mitford Murders
A thoroughly entertaining murder mystery with a large and likeable cast of investigators and an intriguing group of suspects. It’s in the vain of Agatha Christie, but much richer given the length and details put in, there’s also a fair amount of Downton Abbey in there (not surprising given the author) although not really as much as the book cover might play up – the whole “six sisters” thing is actually a complete red herring as we see relatively little of the life of the main character as a nursery maid. It isn’t a book that will set the world alight, but it is a comfortable and easy read that is rewarding with the steps in the mystery and engaging with the characters.

Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Scarlet Letter
Incredibly dull. I got this because I haven’t read “a classic” for a while and this happened to be very cheap on Kindle. It got off to a bad start with a rambling introduction that took up 18% of the book (according to my Kindle) and left me very confused as to whether the book had started or not. The book proper also left me confused a lot of the time. Obviously it’s set in an incredibly different time, and it’s written in another different time, but I found it hard to pin down what attitudes the characters had, and what attitude the author had. It’s written very moralistically, but I could never quite settle what the moral stance was that any particular character was taking. Also the thing rambles on and on, twisting around and avoiding saying anything clearly. It was a slog to read and the ending wasn’t worth the effort to get there.

Peter Jones – The Venetian Game
A nice little easy read. The author’s love and knowledge of Venice is clear, but it’s not a fluffy and overly poetic love, more a very grounded one that actually feels real and tangible. The characters we spend most of the book with also feel realistic, big and charismatic enough to be fun to spend time with, but not quite so much as to be ridiculous. The same can’t quite be said for the plot and the villains of the piece which is a bit daft. But I approached the book more as a pleasant way to spend time than as a high quality thriller, and with that aim it heartily delivered. I’ve just ordered the second book.

M.L. Rio – If We Were Villains
This book is Shakespearean through and through. It’s written by a Shakespeare scholar, the characters are Shakespeare actors and it gradually becomes clear that the plot itself is a Shakespearean tragedy. That final characteristic is what really turned the book from disposable to outstanding for me. I was about half way through and already engrossed with the characters (which isn’t the same as actually liking any of them) and the story, but was a little frustrated with some of the twists of the plot that seemed to rely on somewhat unlikely decisions and actions. But with the realisation that the story was a Shakespearean tragedy, the irritations fell away. Suddenly, all the flaws became deliberate features, and while that can still be irritating, it just felt so right here. It’s not that the actions were completely unbelievable, just that they were unlikely, but with the added aura of melodrama and intensity that Shakespeare brings, they made sense. I’ve never really got on with Shakespeare, and many of the references went far, far over my head; but I found this book utterly compelling.

Nigel Slater – Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger
It took me a little while to settle into this book, but then I couldn’t put it down. The whole book is made up of hundreds of incredibly short, specific memories Slater has of his childhood mostly focusing on food. Each one is very vividly told but it can feel rather bitty. But after a while the overall narrative comes through and you see the people and the history building up. I read the entire book over a gloriously sunny weekend in the garden and I think it’s probably best to read it intensely like that, otherwise it would be easy to make the mistake that it’s just about food.

James Surowiecki – The Wisdom of the Crowds
The core concepts are very interesting, but it’s quite hard going. The author actually seems to have quite an easy style, in short bursts, but the pure density of the book makes it a quite a dry read, and I found myself speed reading chunks of it. It was hard to get a firm grasp of the different ideas he was trying to cover as many of them were quite subtle. It’s also a little dated now, being over 10 years old and I found myself often wondering what examples from the latest financial crisis and political situations would look like. I think I would have got more out of the book if it were shorter and more direct.

Books in May

Edgar Cantero – Meddling Kids
A group of kids (and a dog) solve local mysteries while on their summer holidays, they set off in search of supernatural and invariably find a guy in a costume. But 15 years later where are the kids, and what if one of the mysteries still haunts them? It’s a great idea for a story, with lots of fun opportunities to play with the ideas of Scooby Doo, Enid Blyton. Nancy Drew and who knows how many other things that almost everyone grew up with, whatever their age now. It’s a really great idea and Cantero develops it very well. The only problem I had was that I really didn’t get on with his writing style. The writing just didn’t seem to flow, I kept getting bounced out of sections because I’d lost track of who was speaking, or where they were, and for some reason he chooses to drift into script format occasionally, like he got bored with writing it out in full. Slightly disappointing, but overall I think it’s still worth reading for the ideas.

Joanna Cannon – The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
I found this book irritating. Having a 10 year old as one of the primary narrators is just plain annoying. I’ve not had much to do with kids of that age, but I don’t think I’d like to spend a lot of time inside their heads, and this one seems particularly obnoxious and bad company. There are a lot of characters and I found them incredibly hard to keep track of, even with the stereotypes they all fall into, keeping the names straight was hard. It also has the problem that it’s hard to maintain a mystery when you’re doing first person point of view of people who know some of the answers. They had to keep referring to everything cryptically, even when they were only thinking things to themselves. It just made it incredibly artificial. Mind you, the mystery itself was rather poor, and frankly even when it was explained there were so many questions left unanswered that it was very unsatisfying.

Spencer Johnson – Who Moved my Cheese?
This is a very short book (circa 100 pages of large print) which I had recommended to me via a couple of change management courses and experts. It’s an odd structure, in the middle is a children’s style story of creatures dealing with change (the eponymous moving cheese), wrapped around that is another story of a group of friends that are telling the story and reacting to it, and then around THAT is a bit of blather telling us how amazingly transformative the story can be. After all that setup it’s hard not to be underwhelmed and I was. I actually read the core story a second time a couple of weeks later just to try and get the key point of the book without all the Americanised sales waffle. There is a lot of good change management stuff in the story, illustrating different attitudes and actions. But the delivery is so bad that’s it’s a real effort to get to the points. I would have much preferred a proper, grown up book about change management with the key story surrounded by actual psychology and sociology instead of salesmanship. The ideas are excellent, the delivery is terrible.

Books in April

This month’s selection of books was entirely driven by the Waterstones buy-one-get-one-half-price tables, where I couldn’t limit myself to just one pair, and had to buy two pairs. I can’t lie, the shiny covers had something to do with it.

Laura Purcell – The Silent Companions
I do love a good gothic horror, and this is a very solid one. It follows the traditional constructs for the most part, fairly standard characters and ideas but very competently done. The narrative wavers a little between suggesting that it’s all in people’s heads versus truly supernatural explanations, but it was always on the boundary rather than lurching dramatically from committing one way then the other, but in the end there was a good, complete resolution that made everything clear. Really entertaining, and I look forward to more from this author.

Jessie Burton – The Muse
Like Jessie Burton’s previous work, The Miniaturist, I found this rather predictable. It was only the overall length of the book that had me looking for alternate explanations, when in fact my early guesses about several elements had been right. However I guessed because they made sense for the story, not because the character choices or transitions really joined up. I found the sections set in Spain underwhelming, with underdeveloped and annoying characters for the most part. 1960’s London was more interesting and I would have preferred to spend more time there, Odelle’s story was what really interested me, not really the story of the paintings. I did read most of the second half of the book at a pace to get through it faster.

Sarah Maria Griffin – Spare and Found Parts
This didn’t really work. I never settled into the world or the characters, nothing quite felt like it made sense. Something caused by computers has caused some sort of plague and resulted in most people needing artificial limbs? That makes no sense. The level of technology that remains is incredibly confusing (fully functioning mechanical hearts but no vehicles?) and leaves a set up that just makes no sense at all. If the story and the characters had been better then it would have been possible to ignore those problems, but they weren’t. There are some small slivers of nice ideas in there somewhere, but there just wasn’t enough.

Books in March

Sometimes I actually read things rather than watch them flicker before my eyes. March was actually a good month for reading, so makes a good starting point for my monthly summary of what I’ve read. (Plus I didn’t watch much TV so haven’t got much to write about on that front.)

Neil Gaiman – Sandman Vol 1: Preludes and Nocturnes
A couple of decades ago at university (oh, how it hurts to write decades) Sandman was the thing that all my friends obsessed with. It’s taken me this long to get round to finally reading it and I was left significantly underwhelmed. Nothing about it worked for me. I’m going to blame 3 factors.
1) I don’t really get on with graphic novels. I find it hard to take time to ‘read’ the pictures rather than just the words. I also didn’t really like the graphic style of this one.
2) I don’t really like it when I’m forced to join a lot of the dots together. I struggled to keep track of some of the characters given the jumping time frame and never really cared about any of them.
3) As I was reading I couldn’t help but think of how obsessive people got about the series, particularly of course the more goth end of the spectrum of my friends. That just made me feel rather grown up and dull.
I don’t think I’ll bother reading the rest of them, I certainly won’t buy them, as they’re a far more expensive cost per minute than non-graphic novels, and I don’t get the proportionate increase in enjoyment.

Agatha Christie
There’s something comforting about Agatha Christie. I’ve never read one and been disappointed, although I can’t say as I’m ever blown away by them either. It’s like settling into a comfy sofa with a good friend and a nice cup of tea – relaxing, unchallenging and just plain nice. I read two this month, both very cheap on Amazon kindle.
Mysterious Affair at Styles: has a fairly mercurial Poirot as seen through the eyes of a rather dim-witted Hastings, investigating a family full of pretty unlikeable people. Poirot’s smugness gets a little waring at times, but as Hastings feels the same way, it has a muted impact on the reader. The mystery develops very well and I found it satisfying that I was sometimes ahead, and sometimes behind of the reveals.
Cat Among the Pigeons: A slightly odd Agatha Christie, given that it’s billed as a Poirot novel but he doesn’t turn up until about 2/3 of the way through the book, giving it an odd lack of focus. I’m not sure the mystery is one of her best, and the setting at a posh girls’ school and all the usual character types is also a bit cliche (although of course it may not have been at the time). So it’s not one of her great classics, but it’s still perfectly readable.

Roger Zelazny – Amber 1: Nine Princes in Amber
It’s always interesting to finally get round to reading classics, they can feel cliche because so many have imitated them, but there was something still very fresh about Zelazny’s work. It comes from an era of SF that didn’t waste any words or pages, leaping straight into things and just getting on with them. The initial amnesia of the central character is both a useful way to introduce the audience, but also very carefully done with the gradual realisation of memories and experiences. It wasn’t something that I finished and immediately jumped on the second book, but I think there’s a good chance I’ll continue reading the series.

Genevieve Cogman – The Invisible Library
A first time author who has come up with a passable excuse for throwing together all the tropes that she wants to. You’ve got steampunk zeppelins, great detectives, magic, werewolves, dragons… pretty much anything you want. It’s quite blatant, but the glue holding them together is just about solid enough that she gets away with it. I’m not sure anything made a huge amount of sense, but things move along quickly enough it doesn’t matter. The central character is vibrant and pleasant company, although everyone around her is rather one-dimensional and clunky. A fun read and I’m not ruling out picking up some more books in the series.

London Transport Museum – London by Design: The Iconic Transport Designs that Shaped our City
This is a beautiful book, but ultimately rather unsatisfying. Visitors and curators at The London Transport museum picked their favourite pieces of design, an impressively wide sample including specific posters, architecture of stations, specific types of bus, pieces of equipment, fonts and layouts of public spaces. Each item then gets a double page spread, mostly comprising of photos with a short quote from a member of the public about why they chose it, and a very short piece from a curator explaining its importance. The problem is that I wanted to know more about most of the things, and I wanted it to be told a bit more chronologically about how each type of item (eg design of tube stock) evolved. It whetted the appetite but left you nowhere to go next.

Books I Read in 2017

Oh dear – only 22 books this year, that’s not great. A long way down on last year’s 49, but also a bit above my worst (10). I got ‘blocked’ a couple of times this year, either in the middle of a mediocre book that just didn’t inspire me to pick it up (and I’m pathologically unable to stop reading a book I’ve started) or with a lack of inspiration for what to pick up next. I need to get in a mind-set again of defaulting to reading at certain times (tubes etc) rather than just reaching for my phone, so I’m setting another page count target for the year to see if that helps.

The numbers:

  • 22 books, of which 17 were new reads. All of them were read in dead tree form except one which I read on my poor neglected Kindle, mostly due to the fact that I didn’t make it through the pile of books on my shelves to read. .
  • A little under 8.5 thousand pages, that’s about 23 pages per day on average, this year I’ll set the target at 40 pages.
  • 16 different authors (two books had two authors, and there were two authors that accounted for 10 books between them). Mostly British (74%), a few Americans (38%), one Irish and one Danish (if Sandi Toksvig counts as anything other than a British institution).
  • Dead even split between male and female which I’m quite pleased with, (I’m counting Robert Galbraith as female as it’s really JK Rowling).
  • Genres – only 3 non-fiction (14%), about half were some form of SF/Fantasy, and the rest were some sort of drama, crime, thriller type. None that I would say are ‘young adult’ this year which is odd for me.
  • All of the books are from the 21st century except two (one from 1990 and the other 1932). 9 (41%) were published this year or last.

Read of the YearThe Power – Naomi Alderman. Lots of people have raved about the important messages in this book, and it is a fascinating (and slightly terrifying read), but what struck me more was that it was incredibly enjoyable to read. Many books that are delivering strong and complex arguments lose track of the fact that the plot and characters need to be believable and interesting, but this one didn’t. The plot and characters are well thought through and developed, and the way the book jumps though time moves things along quickly, but it’s always easy to fill in the gaps of what happens in the missing time.

Runner upRobert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series – something about the TV series spoke to me, so I decided to give the books a try and I wasn’t disappointed. I think seeing the TV series first helped because the actors gave a depth to the lead characters that was possibly not entirely there in the writing. They’re not going to go down as great works of literature or anything, but they are a very solid entry to the genre and I spent hours curled up in an armchair unable to put them down and they made me want to read again after some disappointments.

Lifetime Achievement AwardBen Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series – I re-read the whole series before moving onto the new book 6 and the novella that counts as 7. The series is just as good on second read through and a complete joy which I can’t recommend highly enough. From the first pages of the first book, Peter Grant leaps from the text and is one of the most natural characters I can ever remember reading. The plot occasionally gets away from me, but the characters, and London itself never feel like anything other than pure reality.

Non fiction – only three this year (pathetic!) and two of them were television related. Alan Sepinwall is one of my favourite TV writers and his book (unimaginatively called “TV (The Book)” co-written with Matt Zoller Seitz is a scientifically calculated list of the best American TV series. I don’t necessarily agree with all the entries, but they’re fascinating to read nevertheless. Watching The Crown left me wanting more information and Robert Lacey’s companion book delves a little deeper, although possibly still not deep enough to scratch the itch. Finally, Felicia Day’s autobiography (You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)) is just as vibrant, funny, inspiring and open as she is, and just as wonderful.

Disappointments

  • A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers – After the hugely enjoyable Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, I was really looking forward to the second book in the series. Unfortunately I’m disappointed. The story being told was incredibly basic, with limited settings and characters and very little carry-over from the first book. It felt like it had been rushed out.
  • The Sudden Appearance of Hope – Claire North – one of the books that killed my reading momentum. The great ideas and depth of development are here, but the delivery was awful. Way too much time telling us how we should feel about everything, long lectures spelling out all the nuances and intricacies of the issues.
  • Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor – I thought this could be a good entry way for the podcast, but it was just too weird for me, too incoherent.

Miscellaneous

  • Lying in Wait – Liz Nugent was a random thriller a friend gave me which was ok but predictable and disposable.
  • Flying Under Bridges – Sandi Toksvig – I love Sandi, but this was unremarkable and a bit of a drag.
  • Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons – normally I make an effort to read some classics, but this was the only one I managed this year. It was quirky and fun, but not really outstanding.
  • Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton – does this count as a classic, it was 1990, which I guess now is a long time ago. I was slightly underwhelmed, while the fundamental ideas are great and the writing surprisingly as good as film at conveying both the wonder of the dinosaurs and the tension of the action, unfortunately the plot mechanics are a little clunky.
  • Revenger – Alastair Reynolds – a quilt assembled from very familiar panels from SF tv and books, but sown together competently.
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