Books I Read in 2022

54 books this year, which is a total I’m very happy with. I had a really strong start to my year in reading and lazy days sitting in the garden doing nothing but reading meant I read 20 books over May and June. But then the year tailed off thanks to life getting in the way and a few underwhelming books that just meant I didn’t feel like reading which makes me a bit sad. I had committed to 40 pages a day and actually averaged 48, although the average for the first half of the year was an astonishing 72 pages per day.

All but 5 of the books were new to me, 3 of which were re-reading Pratchett books that I haven’t read in a couple of decades, and 2 were pure comfort reads of familiar friends. 18 (1/3) were read on Kindle, most of which thanks to a couple of months of Kindle Unlimited subscription which remains a good deal for some easy going modern fantasy and some classic reads as well. I only did one batch from the library this year (5 books) because most of the time I’ve got a backlog of books that I couldn’t resist buying in shops.

40% of the books were newly published either this year (12 books) or last (7 books). I didn’t do a very good job reading classics this year, only 1 from pre-20th Century (Persuasion), 3 Agatha Christies, 3 Cadfaels, and 3 Discworld books make the only 20th Century reads. I’ve definitely got an aim to do a bit better there.

The 54 books I read came from 38 authors, and only 14 of them (37%) were new to me. However 60% of the authors I read were female and that was without me making any deliberate choices in that direction.

Fiction – 43 books (80%)
A few series bulked this figure out, most notably 7 books in the Case Files of Henri Davenforth series which is a lovely little alternate universe/fantasy/detective series available on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. There were also 3 books in the King’s Watch series also on Unlimited and 3 from Pratchet’s Discworld Guards. I discovered the Cadfael books on Unlimited and read three of those, and 3 more Agatha Christies.

A few of my favourite authors happily continued their series too with Richard Osman, Robert Galbraith, Ben Aaronovich and Naomi Novik all providing satisfying continuations to their ongoing series that I happily got in hardback.

There’s a distinct lack of science fiction in my book list which is incredibly weird to me, but I seem to have recently moved far more towards fantasy (37%), I definitely need more spaceships in my life though so there’s an objective for 2023. I’ve got the same number of crime novels as fantasy although there’s a fair amount of overlap as a popular genre seems to be crime fantasy, which is absolutely perfect for me. In fact only 4 of the books I read this year were set in the present day real world – which indicates my enthusiasm for escaping the real world!

I don’t really have a single book that feels outstanding for the year, nothing has really stood out in terms of quality although there are plenty that I’ve really enjoyed, so here are some of my favourites in no particular order.

  • Cormoran Strike 6: The Ink Black Heart – Robert Galbraith: Yes, these books could stand to lose a few 100 pages, and there’s some pointed commentary from JK Rowling about online trolls etc, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in it.
  • Cadfael Series – Ellis Peters: I was familiar with the Derek Jacobi TV series but had never read the books and they turn out to be absolutely brilliant. Easy going crime mysteries, a charming lead character and a convincing historical foundation.
  • The Case Files of Henri Davenforth Series – Honor Raconteur: a present day detective finds herself in an alternate world with magic. It’s a really fun fantasy/crime series with magic, murder, policing and talking purple cats.
  • Non-Fiction – 11 books (20%)
    A satisfying balance of non-fiction to fiction, and a pleasing range of topics. 3 books to understand the past, 2 books to help you understand the present, 3 books to help you understand people, 2 entertaining auto-biography type things and 1 rubbish book that purported to be about television but was in fact a badly written philosophy book. Again, no particular individual standout, but here are my favourites:

  • Who Thought This Was a Good Idea – Alyssa Mastromonaco and Lauren Oyler: One of Obama’s advisors this is a really personal account of how a relatively normal person finds herself in the White House. On the surface, it’s a political memoir, but it’s really more a guide to how one particular person managed her job and life, not preaching, just as a “here’s how I did it, good luck!”.
  • Dead Famous- Greg Jenner: An academic history of celebrity produced by one of the writers of Horrible Histories – unsurprisingly hugely entertaining and engaging. Also check out his BBC podcast – You’re Dead to Me.
  • The Next Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy and How to Make the World Add Up – Tim Harford: economics and maths can be daunting even to those of us that are interested, but Harford’s books always somehow make things clear, approachable and entertaining.
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    Books I read Oct-Dec 2022

    First a bit of an apology that this blog has been silent for the last 3 months. The end of 2022 had a lot going on for me and I wasn’t really in the mood to read or watch much, let alone write about it. So here’s a catch up on the books I’ve read since September, all ready to go into the review of 2022.

    Naomi Novik – The Golden Enclaves
    A pretty solid ending to this trilogy, but I wasn’t as blown away as I had been with the previous novels. The first two books were set entirely in the school, and while there was a lot of complicated history and rules to learn for the magical world, they were constrained. The third book however throws us out to the wider world and everything suddenly needed a lot of exposition. I didn’t feel the elements blended together – you either had feeling, exposition, or action, and the exposition element far far outweighed the others. It was still really compelling and hard to put down, I just didn’t feel as lost in the book as I had the previous ones.

    Natalie Haynes – Stone Blind
    I’m a big fan of Natalie Haynes’ Radio 4 show Stand Up for the Classics, which mixes her skills as a stand up comedian with her academic skills as a Classicist. I also really enjoyed her non-fiction book Pandora’s Jar which looks at how the portrayal of women in Greek myths has been changed over time. I therefore had big hopes for this entry into the fiction genre of feminist retelling of myths… and I was sadly disappointed. The plot and characters are all solid enough, but the writing is a bit erratic, it can’t quite seem to decide whether it’s adopting a modern, self-knowing, funny tone, or a more ‘classic’ style with more artistic descriptions and metaphors. Different characters seem to live in different styles and even if that was intentional, it didn’t really work for me unfortunately.

    T Kingfisher – Illuminations
    This could easily be called A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Painting and pairs nicely with the previous book on Baking. It’s very suitable for younger audiences, following a fairly traditional structure that would be a perfect fit for a Disney movie, all the way through to sarcastic talking animal sidekick and the eccentric family members. It’s a lot of fun and very sweet, but maybe it’s just because I’m a baker not an artist, it didn’t have quite the same impact.

    Richard Osman – The Bullet that Missed
    Another very enjoyable installment from Richard Osman’s series. On one hand it’s quite an easy going murder mystery, with a charming group of inhabitants of a retirement village teaming up with a couple of local police officers. But there are a couple of threads running through that have more substance to them. Talking to the freedoms and constraints that come with getting older that leave a bit of sadness if you dwell on them. But you could just ignore that, and enjoy the mystery and the surface of the vibrant characters.

    Victoria Glendinning – Family Business: An Intimate History of John Lewis and the Partnership
    Given that I work for John Lewis, I couldn’t resist this book. It’s a slightly misnamed book because it’s actually a biography of the Lewis family rather than the business they founded, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. John Lewis started as an orphan in Somerset and ended as a rich department store owner, his sons were raised to continue his legacy, but neither quite followed the plan and although Spedan Lewis did take over the business, he had radically different ideas for how shops, business and the world should operate and launched the ‘experiment’ of co-ownership that is still running today. The book is a fascinating look at an utterly bizarre family, and also gives an insight into the world that they and their shop staff were living in for the 2nd half of the 19th century, through the war years and post war years of the 20th.

    Tom Hindle – A Fatal Crossing
    A fairly bog standard period murder mystery. Set in 1924 aboard an Atlantic crossing, an elderly gentleman is found dead. A police detective coincidentally travelling on board is determined to investigate and is assisted by one of the ship’s officers who narrates the tale. The story unfurls fairly predictably with many of the usual tropes. The only really original thing about the book is the ending and I’m not 100% certain that it really earned it. It’s not terrible, but it’s very disposable.

    Sandi Toksvig – Between the Stops
    This book is like being inside of Sandi Toksvig’s brain, which you’ll either find delightful or utterly bizarre. A sort of autobiography in that it’s mostly about her life and experiences, but between the meandering of topics and timelines and frequent diversions into utterly random bits of history it’s a long way from a traditional autobiography. I love Sandi, and her voice absolutely sings through from these pages so I really enjoyed it and learnt a lot of stuff that I have absolutely no use for.

    RE-READ: Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club
    This is a lovely little murder mystery novel. Set in and around a retirement village, a group of residents regularly review cold cases supplied for a retired police officer and then find themselves involved in a present day murder. It’s a lovely idea and all the characters are vibrant and large, usually just the right side of credibility. It’s on the lighter side of crime fiction, but also has some real emotion in it and doesn’t gloss over the wide ranging effects. I think if I had picked this book up randomly I would have nothing but praise for it, but with the name Richard Osman on it I was expecting a little more. There were occasional flashes of his wit, and there were some lovely bits of observation, but they were a bit few and far between when I was hoping for more. Still, an excellent first novel and I look forward to reading more.

    Books in Aug and Sept 2022

    A very slow couple of months for reading, although the top book was probably thick enough to count for at least 3 books.

    Robert Galbraith – Cormoran Strike 6: The Ink Black Heart
    When each of these books come out, I roll my eyes at the size and weight, grumble about poor editing and over indulgent authors… and then thoroughly enjoy every single page wishing it would go on longer. Somehow Galbraith/Rowling manages to give pace and energy to a glacially slow story which drags out both the mystery itself and the relationships between the characters. I do get a bit tired of the will-they-won’t-they relationship, but it is at least realistically told. The twist in the mystery featuring lots of social media aspects was well handled, with tweets and message boards compellingly integrated to the narrative. Despite its length I read it in just a few days, quite unable to put it down.

    Elizabeth Macneal – Circus of Wonders
    Set in a Victorian ‘freak show’, following the triangle of the ambitious circus owner, his brother and the unlikely new star of the show. The shifting balances of power, desire and need are carefully played out. But I found the whole thing a bit light. I didn’t really get the wonder or the emotions, I just didn’t get lost in it.

    T Kingfisher – A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking
    I needed something comforting, and I couldn’t think of anything better than a book about a girl who is a wizard of bread. I mean, how wonderful a pitch is that?! This is a bit of a companion to Minor Mage and continues to play with the idea that not all magic users get the ability to control lightning, or raise the dead, some just get the ability to make dough do what what they want it to and just have to make do. Mona is moderately content in her life persuading the scones they don’t want to burn, making gingerbread men dance and feeding the grumpy sourdough starter called Bob that lives in the cellar and eats rats if they get too close. But this is a fairy tale so Mona gets thrown into a bigger adventure and as always Kingfisher gets the emotions of that SPOT ON. There’s darkness in fairy tales, bravery in being scared, weakness in the most powerful and strength in the smallest of people (with or without magic). I adored every single little thing about this book.

    Books in July 2022

    Only three books in July. Normally that would be a fairly solid month, but it’s down a bit since recent months, partly because the two fiction books were a bit underwhelming.

    Victoria Mas – The Mad Women’s Ball
    I think there’s something about books in translation that sometimes loses the magic spark that makes the difference between words on a page and a story in your imagination. I can’t imagine how hard translating a book is so I’m not judging! I usually find these kind of gothic novels easy to get lost in, but this one just never really connected. The building blocks were all there, but it just didn’t sing to me.

    Alyssa Mastromonaco and Lauren Oyler – Who Thought This Was a Good Idea
    If you’re looking for a really detailed retelling of life in the Obama White House, or a critical analysis of that period of American Politics, this is not the book for you. However if you are interested in the personal point of view of the experiences of a woman working in a unique environment then this is DEFINITELY the book for you. Alyssa Mastromonaco has had some incredible roles and writes incredibly openly about what she has learnt along the way. Her humour and humility shine through the random anecdotes, and while I might have occasionally wished for a little more about the details, I really enjoyed the experience of spending some time with her.

    Jennifer Saint – Ariadne
    Another solid entry for female led retelling of Greek myths. I do wonder whether the handful of authors in this space have divided up the stories between them or if it’s a race to publish and hope no one else has picked the same one. I struggled at first to get into Ariadne, the characters aren’t as well rounded as in Madeline Miller’s Circe and it reads a bit more like a fairy tale with broad “good” and “bad” characters. But the story and characters develop gradually and tells an interesting end to end version of Ariadne’s story.

    Books in June 2022

    I read 11 books this month! But they really just came in three chunks, one non-fiction, and then two fiction series from Kindle Unlimited, the first 3 of the fairly well known Cadfael series, and all 7 of the probably very unknown Honor Raconteur series. Those 10 books would give very good value for the Kindle subscription, and it was even better given that I got the month for free!

    David Rooney – About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks
    It’s important to really read the title of this book, it’s NOT a history of clocks, it’s a history of civilisation told via the stories of twelve clocks. It’s a big ambition, civilisation has a LOT of history and the book somewhat struggles under the weight. There’s so much ground to cover that it’s hard to really get the richness of anything, the 12 clocks really only get a few pages each before the discussion of sociology and politics take over. It is an interesting attempt, and raised some ideas and connections that I really hadn’t heard before. However I think it tries to do a little too much and ends up spread a bit thin.

    Ellis Peters – Cadfael 1: A Morbid Taste For Bones
    I remember watching Derek Jacobi as Cadfael on Sunday nights as a kid and although I’ve had a nostalgic soft spot for the series, I’ve never actually read the books. I spotted however that they’re available on Kindle Unlimited and I figured I’d give it a go. I was not in the slightest bit disappointed. They’re like Sunday evening tv in paper format (or pixel format in this case). Peters finds just the right balance between easy to read, lightness and not trivialising death and the impact on everyone involved. It would be easy for these books to become bogged down in historical detail, but somehow while they still feel authentic and well researched, they’re a lovely easy read and the history and religion are just lightly sprinkled on top, I hesitate to say this, but they may replace Agatha Christie as my go to, easy reading mysteries.

    2: One Corpse Too Many
    Another very readable Cadfael story. This one has a bit more history going on, and although there were enough details to make the context of the plot clear, I found myself wanting to know more than my spotty historical knowledge and the book itself provided. Some of the twists of the book were slightly spoiled by knowing the characters from the TV series, but it’s still a lot of fun to read.

    3: Monk’s Hood – I read this book in a single day, completely immersing myself into it and shutting out the world and it was exactly the right level of intrigue and gentleness.

    Honor Raconteur – The Case Files of Henri Davenforth
    Another fun, light, fantasy series available on Kindle Unlimited. An FBI agent is transported to another world, at roughly 1910s level of technology (cars and home telephones just coming in) but with magic thrown into the mix. She becomes a detective and partners with the magical examiner and starts bringing modern Earth procedures and ideas to the investigations. the set up is solid, and the characters and mysteries enjoyable to spend time with. The blending of periods, technologies and magic is well handled and while the main characters have a respect and curiousity that’s uplifting, there’s enuogh challenge to make some drama. I read all 7 available books in just a couple of weeks and this will definitely be another series/author that drive me to subscribe to kindle unlimited periodically.
    1: Magic and the Shinigami Detective – The first book launches the series with a lot of energy, introducing the world and characters well, showing off the potential of the set up and delivering a solid mystery as well.
    2: Charms and Death and Explosions (Oh My!) – Without the ‘newness’ it’s a little less exciting, but is a solidly entertaining mystery novel that continues to expand the world and characters.
    3: Magic Outside the Box – The team take a case outside the city so we get to see a bit more of the world and a slightly personal twist to the story brings something new as well.
    4: Breaking and Entering – The plot suffers a bit in this novel. It felt like the team were missing obvious clues, going round in circles and not being as systematic as they usually are. One of the key interesting things about the series is what happens when a modern day detective brings the knowledge and experience from Earth to a world about 100 years behind. So the procedures should be solid and I was frustrated that they didn’t quite seem to be here. BUT the story is still fun to read, the characters fun to spend time with, and it’s hard not to love a book with a purple, talking cat working on cases.
    5: Three Charms for Murder – While the book is still very enjoyable, like the previous novel it feels like the mysteries may be getting away from the author a bit. There are a few inconsistencies and holes that don’t completely ruin things, but do start to niggle a bit. I also worry about the ‘moonlighting effect’ that putting the two main characters together romantically might spoil things (I’m always far more interested in professional respect and friendship than I am with romance, but maybe that’s just me being a cummudgeon). Still, there are now talking kittens to brighten the day and the fact that the trio are named for a slightly niche corner of Marvel Avengers fandom just makes me smile.
    6: Grimoires and Where to Find Them – I’m happy to see that the romantic pairing of the two lead characters hasn’t negatively impacted this series. If anything, other than occasional gushing musings the relationship is pretty much invisible which if anything feels a little too coy even for the period setting. Still, I’ll not complain that the fun elements of the book remain undiluted. The case is an interesting one, playing more in the magical space which makes a nice change.
    7: Death over the Garden Wall – This felt a lot more like an Agatha Christie novel than anything particularly fantasy or steam punk. It was a solidly put together murder mystery, but it felt rather generic and predictable (I guessed who did it very near the beginning) and lacking anything that really made use of the vivid world that’s been created. An entertaining enough book, but a bit of a let down.

    Books in May 2022

    Thanks to the tail end of my holiday and some very lazy weekends, I’ve read nine books in May, mostly just sitting in my garden for hours on end utterly failing to do any of my grown up chores. All but the first two books below were from Kindle Unlimited, and represent the handful of authors that are regularly putting their series up there and making it a good investment for a couple of months a year. There’s nothing there that really sets the world alight for me, but they’re firmly in the entertaining category, perfect for lazy afternoons.

    T Kingfisher – Nettle and Bone
    Another excellent book by T Kingfisher. Exactly like her other books it features perfectly rounded characters, concepts that are familiar but feel fresh, some very sweet romance, some imagery and ideas that are really very disturbing if you think about it too hard, and a sprinkling of absolutely bonkers ideas that somehow work perfectly. It’s hard to think of new things to say to be honest, I adore everything she does.

    Tim Harford – How to Make the World Add Up
    Tim Harford has a lovely writing style that conveys not only information, but also the complexities and joy behind the information. Here he gives us the 10 fundamental elements we should consider whenever presented with numbers. It’s a guide to how much ‘simple’ figures can be misrepresented either deliberately or accidentally and frankly this kind of thing should be on the national curriculum for everyone. That would be no chore because it’s very well written with plenty of examples and anecdotes that make it not only an education, but a pleasure to read.

    Agatha Christie – Murder in Mesopotamia
    Not one of Agatha Christie’s best novels. It has a good concept with an interesting location at an archeological dig, a good collection of characters, plenty of tension building and then a solid locked room mystery. But it’s not very well delivered. There are too many characters that are all introduced in a rush and it has a clunky narrative structure that is supposedly being retold after the fact by someone, with occasional “little did I know at the time” nods, but it doesn’t quite sit right because character introductions and things aren’t done by someone who knows the outcome of the mystery. I also found the chunks of psychology quite uncomfortable, it may be “of its time” but the casual misogyny made me squirm.

    Agatha Christie – Appointment with Death
    An entertaining Agatha Christie novel. I prefer murder mysteries like this one where the victim isn’t a very nice person, so as a reader I can just relish the mystery without having to feel any pesky sympathy. The book is very nicely structured, an introductory section, the murder itself and then the investigation filling in various gaps in the events to gradually paint the complete picture. The ending is, as usual, a bit forced, but it was satisfying and twisty enough that it held my attention very well.

    Lydia Kang – The Half-Life of Ruby Fielding
    Lydia Kang has a real talent for creating vibrant period settings that are slightly off the beaten track of the normal settings. Here we are in 1940’s New York with a pair of siblings one of whom is a trainee physicist working as an odd job man for the Manhattan Project and his sister who’s starting as a welder in the Navy Yard. Their lives are unexpectedly entwined with some of more higher society lives, but the story is very much from their point of view and how their lives continue during the war with normal family problems. The mystery elements are solidly done, Kang’s medical and science backgrounds shine through, but the science doesn’t overwhelm the story and the characters. I did find the conclusion of the story a bit clunky, I’m not 100% sure it was ‘right’, but I enjoyed the ride enough to not be overly bothered.

    Eva St. John – The Quantum Curators and the Missing Codex
    This fun and easy to read series continues. There’s a solid concept at the heart of the series and each book expands and pushes the world and the characters within it. I’d read the first two books back to back last year and I did find it a little hard to pick up who everyone was, the nature of the book being about betrayals and conspiracy theories makes that even harder, but by letting the details wash over me a bit I was soon back into it. The series isn’t going to be one I necessarily re-read, but it is one that makes it worth getting a kindle unlimited subscription for every so often.

    Mark Hayden – King’s Watch 9: Five Leaf Clover
    This is a 13 book series, and each book (and a few additional novellas) adds more characters, more mythology, and more complexity and the whole thing is really starting to struggle under the weight. Hayden is putting out the books very quickly, but I tend to catch up once a year or so (saving them up to make the Kindle Unlimited subscription worth it). I enjoyed reading this book and settled into the specifics of the story fairly comfortably, but I was distinctly aware that I was missing a huge amount of connections and richness to how everything fits together.

    Mark Hayden – King’s Watch 10: Four Roads Cross
    Previous challenges with the complexity of the world really came to a head in this book and it’s probably the weakest I’ve read yet, and also the longest which is an unfortunate combination. I get the feeling this was the big set up for the final 3 books of the series, laying out politics and alliances, getting pieces into place but it meant very little really happened for most of the book. Then when things finally do happen, I still didn’t follow them and when stuff finally did start to happen character choices didn’t quite sit right and left me sad and frustrated. I was quite disappointed in this book, although it’s not enough for me to give up on the series at this point, I’m hoping it was a blip before a rousing finish. But I’ll definitely be waiting until I can read the rest of the series back to back.

    Lucy Campbell – Arrow in the Dark (A King’s Watch Story Book 7)
    Mark Hayden’s King’s Watch series can get a bit bogged down in the weight of its own universe, so the novellas are often a bit of respite in the complexity, focusing on standalone incidents and side characters. The fact that there’s now a collaboration, with a author playing in the world is really interesting. In particular Campbell brings a interesting voice to Karina, a much quieter character then most of the massive personalities in the books. This is a fun story, expanding the (don’t call them) werewolves and I found this 120 pages or so much more engaging than the 500+ pages of Four Roads Cross.

    Books I read in Apr 2022

    After a disappointing two books in March, April is an utterly triumphant TEN! I had two weeks off work after Easter, desperately needing to relax and de-stress. Thankfully it it coincided with some lovely weather so I basically spent the whole time sat in my garden reading and it was utterly glorious. I even went to the library to get more books out and there’s another 2 books read during my holiday that fell into May.

    Ben Aaronovitch – Rivers of London 12: Amongst Our Weapons
    This series is impressively consistent, it’s hard to think of anything original to say for the 12th book in the series. Everything just jumps out of the page into your head, the narrative from Peter is completely natural, driving the story on, providing all the exposition and conveying his personality flawlessly. The supporting characters are all equally vibrant, whether recurring characters, or new ones for this mystery. The only thing I struggle with a little is keeping track of the story itself, but to be honest, I don’t try that hard, because even if I’m not really getting the nuances of who is plotting what against who, it’s such a fun journey that I don’t really care that much.

    Malcolm Gladwell – Talking to Strangers
    This is not Gladwell’s best book. It still has all the wonderful storytelling and journalism, bringing a range of histories and science to life through carefully crafted narratives and humanising everyone involved. Usually however those anecdotes and explanations connect together into central themes and this time it didn’t land. The subtitle is “what we should know about people we don’t know” but the book focused mostly on how we can’t actually know whether someone is lying. I felt disappointed that there wasn’t more depth on things like cultural differences, contexts, body language, even understanding what you bring to any meeting yourself. There didn’t seem to be any kind of core message beyond – you can’t know why people are acting as they are, which was kind of depressing. It’s still an interesting read, but it just fell flat without a stronger theme to bring it together.

    Tom Holt – An Orc on the Wild Side
    Tom Holt has an impressive bibliography of over 40 books since the late 80’s. I read a lot of his books in college, finding him a very enjoyable read, although lacking the world building skills, depth and elegance of Pratchett. I hadn’t read one of his books in ages, but spotted this in the library so gave it a go. It’s everything I remember about Holt, thoroughly enjoyable rollercoaster journey, with some nice observational stuff and really vibrant characters. The plot and world felt fairly solidly put together actually, helped by borrowing/riffing on Tolkien’s Middle Earth and also being part of a series (not that I knew that while reading, so it can clearly be read stand alone). I’m going to make a mental note to read more of his work.

    Pat Barker – The Silence of the Girls
    I had been meaning to read this for a while and was slightly disappointed. I’m a big fan of the recent trend in retelling classics and myths from a more female point of view, and having studied Homer’s Iliad in detail at school thought this would be really interesting. Unfortunately I think my knowledge was a downside for this book, because although I liked the storytelling and where details were added, it didn’t do much to develop the story. It didn’t feel like there was enough richness or depth to it to really sustain even the relatively restrained 320 pages. I would have liked to see more of the characters, maybe interweaving with someone inside Troy. It’s very well written, easy to read and adds some depth to the story from The Iliad, but I think it missed an opportunity.

    Pat Barker – The Women of Troy
    I enjoyed this sequel to Silence of the Girls a bit more than the first book, I at least didn’t have the problem that I knew exactly what was going to happen. I felt the story was richer here, more depth and complexity, but that may just have been that it was new to me. There are more characters although there could still be more development of them. It frustrated me that more of the women weren’t given the opportunity to narrate, the majority is still from Briseis, while Pyrrhus gets a few chapters here and there. It seems ironic that so few of the women are given their voices and it would have really added to the book. As in the ( book the historical descriptions of the camp and war are vivid and feel very credible.

    Jane Austen – Persuasion
    Every now and then I feel obliged to pick up a ‘classic’ book and at least 50% of the time all I get out of it is a small amount of smugness that I tried. I’ve read a few Brontes and Austens and haven’t like a single one of them. Persuasion is probably the least offensive of them. The lead character is actually quite likeable, and although many of the supporting characters are very irritating, at least the central character feels that way too. I did find the plot a bit convoluted and confusing, but that probably wasn’t helped by the fact I was struggling to stay focused. At least it’s fairly short.

    Claire North – The Gameshouse
    Claire North’s books are a bit hit and miss. I love her concepts, she has a rare ability to take a concept like body swapping, or being forgotten by everyone that meets you and developing it into a complete narrative, fully fleshed out and believable. However her story telling sometimes lets her down, she experiments with different styles of writing and some of them really haven’t worked. This book falls somewhere in the middle. The story follows the players of games, part of a century spanning Gameshouse where the stakes can be anything from years of your life, your memories or even your name. The game of Hide and Seek may span an entire country, the pieces in a game of chess are generals, bishops and prime ministers and taking a piece could mean a death, an institution collapsing, or a coup. It’s a great concept. However I didn’t get on with the writing style which had a kind of independent observer narrating it as if we were all watching. It was interesting at first, but became grating after a while and meant I didn’t connect with the story or characters as much as if it had been told more first person. I didn’t et lost in the book, the stakes were so high and the moving parts so epic that it felt a bit unreal and I just never sank into it.

    Terry Pratchett – Discworld 21: Jingo
    This isn’t the best of Pratchett’s City Watch novels. It lacks the adventure and mystery of the earlier books. The story and messages about the stupidity of war isn’t delivered with much subtlety and it feels a little like the Guards just got thrown in for the ride and the story compromised in order to include them. I’d actually have preferred it I think if it were a book ‘starring’ Vetinari rather than Vimes and make it a full on political satire. It’s not a bad book, there are plenty of Pratchett zingers and clever observations, but it’s not one of his best.

    Mark Rowlands – Everything I Know, I Learned from TV – DIDN’T FINISH
    The title of this book obviously really spoke to me, but digging in a bit it actually sounded even better. It’s actually a book about philosophy. That’s a subject that I’ve always wanted to know more about but really struggle to find an entrance too. Well, unfortunately this is another one I struggled with, so much that I gave up after 2 chapters. It has the same problem that every other book on philosophy I’ve ever tried, it just lost me. The problem is it’s very very heavy on the philosophy and just sprinkles some TV in as examples. But the concepts were either too complicated, too poorly explained, or just too much for me because I was lost by about page 10. For once, I’m not going to keep going through a book I don’t like and am not getting anything from, so I gave up. Off to the charity shop it goes.

    Agatha Christie – The Hollow
    A perfectly serviceable Poirot story. The characters are all a bit over the top (as usual) and the mystery meanders about a little bit, but it’s a pleasing enough read.

    Books I read in March 2022

    Oh dear, March wasn’t a good month for books. Just two, and one of them was really bad. And really long! Why I didn’t give up on it I really can’t explain. But just to prove I’ve learnt, I’ve thrown in a third book that was technically in April, but I stopped reading it after 2 chapters. See I can learn!

    THE GOOD: Greg Jenner – Dead Famous
    The history of celebrity is a longer story than you might think and it’s a subject that works very well for Greg Jenner’s easy going, down to earth approach. He’s clearly done a huge amount of research on individual personalities from the past couple of thousand years and then turned it into a solid structure to look at different aspects of celebrity and how much the term can be applied to historical figures. It’s an academic approach, but the writing style is completely accessible. He does sometimes get a little stuck by his constructs and also can’t quite stick to his self imposed rule about not covering ‘modern’ celebrities, but I’m willing to forgive. It’s an entertaining and interesting read shedding light on how remarkably little has changed.

    THE BAD: Elizabeth Knox – The Absolute Book
    I was lured in by a shiny cover and gushing praise on the back. The first bit of the book started quite well, a fairly straightforward kind of thriller, and then it lurched towards the fantasy and it all fell apart. What I should have done is stop at that point, about 100 pages in, but I kept going for another 500 pages for some unknown reason. The book’s a mess. Nothing felt consistent, characters and plots meandered about, the world building just didn’t work for me. I never felt like anything made sense, let alone feeling immersed or getting any enjoyment out of it. The bits that are written as a straight real-world thriller actually work quite well, but as soon as the fantasy elements break through again it just felt like random words on a page. Maybe I missed something early on and once I’d disengaged there was no way back. And I’ve no one but myself to blame for not just putting it down.

    THE NOPE: Mark Rowlands – Everything I Know, I Learned from TV
    The title of this book obviously really spoke to me, but digging in a bit it actually sounded even better. It’s actually a book about philosophy. That’s a subject that I’ve always wanted to know more about but really struggle to find an entrance too. Well, unfortunately this is another one I struggled with, so much that I gave up after 2 chapters. It has the same problem that every other book on philosophy I’ve ever tried, it just lost me. The problem is it’s very very heavy on the philosophy and just sprinkles some TV in as examples. But the concepts were either too complicated, too poorly explained, or just too much for me because I was lost by about page 10. For once, I’m not going to keep going through a book I don’t like and am not getting anything from, so I gave up. Off to the charity shop it goes. (750)

    Books in Feb 2022

    I hit my page count target, although to be honest that was only because the last Sunday of the month was a beautiful sunny day and I spent almost the whole day sitting in my garden reading, looking at the daffodils, eating a packet of biscuits and drinking tea. All while wearing multiple jumpers and a warm hat because it may have been sunny bit it was still February. I also had to break out the Terry Pratchett’s because after a run of underwhelming fiction, I just needed the reliability and escapism of the Discworld Guards.

    Tim Harford – The Next Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy
    Another interesting and entertaining education from Tim Harford on some things that have fundamentally contributed to the way the world works today. They’re not necessarily things you would think of as important, or that you’ve ever heard of, but they’ve either driven important transformations, or they keep the world (and its money) moving. The structure makes the book very readable, each item is only a few pages and entirely standalone. Unfortunately that does mean that some of the entries are a little confusing, or leave you wanting more.

    Amanda Craig – The Golden Rule
    I did enjoy reading the book as a light thriller, but I think there were opportunities missed to have more meaningful discussion of some of the central issues. The main character, Hannah, is in an awful situation, a spiral that she can see no way out of. But the book doesn’t probe too deeply on the responsibilities of how she got there. Her ex-husband is no doubt an awful person, but it’s quickly shown in flashbacks that he’s pretty much always been awful and she kept choosing him over the advice of her friends and family. The end of the book also suggests some interesting contributing factors, but despite the book dragging out the ending an unnecessary 50 pages, it doesn’t explore this angle. Throughout, I found characters making sweeping statements about “men are x”, “women are y” and it never felt like it got a richer conversation about “men and women are people, and people are x and y”. Is it good writing about irritating but realistic characters, or is it mediocre writing creating limited characters? I’m not sure.

    Dean Burnett – The Idiot Brain
    This title really jumped out to me, and hilariously my brother and I both got it for the other for Christmas, and I wasn’t disappointed in either my giving or receiving of the gift. It’s more focused on neuroscience and biology of the brain than it is about the psychology of how we think, but the overlap of the two are fascinating – is it biology driving behaviour or the other way around? It’s a good read, well written in manageable chunks, with a very readable style, and plenty of clever metaphors and clear descriptions. However there were lots of bits that made me glaze over a bit, as soon as the descriptions of the anatomy and names of things started being listed, I just couldn’t keep them in my head. But there are still plenty of things that have stuck and I feel like I better understand things even if I can’t remember the specific name of the bit of the brain responsible for that.

    Terry Pratchett – Discworld 15: Men at Arms
    The Watch were always my favourite of the discworld ‘series’, and while I’ve re-read Guards! Guards! a couple of times (and listened to the excellent BBC Radio play many times) I’ve not gone further into the series for probably 20 years. Men at Arms is where the Watch really starts to grow and Pratchett’s writing and eye for observation and satire has really come into its own. There are dozens of absolute standout lines and paragraphs that other authors can only dream of writing a couple of times in their careers. If anything the satire and spoof elements have only got stronger since this book was written in 1993, TV and films really haven’t moved on that much from these tropes. The plot is clever, the characters vibrant and the writing second to none.

    Terry Pratchett – Discworld 19: Feet of Clay
    Another excellent Guards book. The characters and the city of Ankh Morpork are all settling into their familiar forms, the satire is firing on all cylinders and the one liners are laugh out loud funny. There’s a heart at the centre of Pratchett’s discworld novels that’s on fine display here, behind the dead pan humour, there’s actually a joy and that’s on fine display here, when Vimes gets angry about something, or when Carrot starts saying ‘stupid’ things they get to some fundamental truths that just make me want to applaud.

    Books in January 2022

    I’ve set myself a ‘read 40 pages a day’ target for the year, and I did an ok job in January, I hit the target 22 days and made up the difference so I averaged it out which I’m happy with. There are only three books though because I’m working through a couple of thicker books that will be finished next month. Something to look forward to, because unfortunately the three I did finish were a bit underwhelming.

    Tom Allen – No Shame
    I like Tom Allen, in small doses, I don’t think I’d want to see an entire show with him, but I enjoy him on panel shows and presenting Bake Off spin offs. I also prefer him when he’s being a bit more natural; when he’s performing the role of Tom Allen for too long it just gets a bit much. It seems from his autobiography that he’s been ‘a bit much’ since he was very small, and that means his book is best read in relatively short sections as well, much more than about 30 pages at a time and I started feeling like he was performing a role again, rather than being himself. I felt a bit like the whole thing was an edited performance (particularly because there were jumps in the story and gaps in the narrative). There are some lovely turns of phrase in it, nice observations of the times and places, and if you like Tom Allen, then you’ll like this; it’s just it would have been nice if there was a bit more depth to it.

    Laura Purcell – The Shape of Darkness
    I’m not sure whether Purcell’s books are getting worse, or whether it’s just that my enthusiasm for gothic horror is drying up, but I was not particularly engaged with the Shape of Darkness. The twists and turns were either completely predictable and took forever to be ‘revealed’ or came completely out of nowhere and just didn’t make any sense. Characters were inconsistent and everything felt very drawn out. It was ok, but it went straight on my pile of books to donate to the charity shop, and I don’t think I’ll bother with Purcell’s next work.

    Jenni Fagan – Luckenbooth
    This book has a very clever structure that I really liked. It’s almost a collection of short stories, tied together by the protagonists living in the same tenement building in Edinburgh through the decades. Each section tells three stories in sequential decades, three chapters each, interweaved. So it goes A-B-C-A-B-C-A-B-C-D-E-F-D-E-F etc. That’s really pleasing. The stories and characters are fairly diverse and tell you a bit about the period. Unfortunately for all that good stuff the book borders on unreadable at times because of the writing style which fully embeds you in the characters’ heads. It’s a stream of consciousness where it’s a struggle to pull out details and narrative. Most of the stories are just snapshots, and while some connect together to fill in dots, most of the stories are unfinished. A brilliant idea, done incredibly badly.