Holidays have been a bit upside down for us this year so I’m cheating a little bit. We went to Tokyo at Easter and as that’s our ‘big holiday*’ for the year I’ve included the books I read whilst we were there too. I’ve also included one that’s a dip-in-and-out book and one I’ve not finished but think I’ll take into school as my ‘quite reading’ book.
*The plan was for a UK break over the summer and maybe some cheap sun at October half term but them someone went and signed themselves up to researchED Washington so now we’re going there instead…
Book 1: Runaway by Peter May (a Tokyo at Easter one)
Peter May keeps cropping up in these posts doesn’t he? Well I’ve managed to get my mum addicted too and she’s churning through them all aswell now.
‘Runaway’ is a bit of a change to the usual murdery plots of Mays books and if I’m honest I wasn’t 100% gripped with this one. There’s an element of whodunnit as it follows a group of childhood friends who ran away together in their youth and do it again as old men. There are flashbacks and the two stories are intertwined but it wasn’t really for me.
If you are at all tempted to give a May novel a go after me harping on, definitely do, but this isn’t the one to start with. No matter though – got another coming up in a bit…
Book 2: The Bat by Jo Nesbo (my other Tokyo at Easter one)
Having read all the available books with the various maverick detectives I’ve got on the go, I was looking for a new one to fill the void whilst some more get written. I read ‘Headhunters’ by Jo Nesbo as one of the staff Blind Date books and liked it enough. I found the Harry Hole books when I was looking at what else I could go with and as another detective to add to the mix goes it seemed perfect.
It’s quite cleverly set as an introduction to a Scandinavian cop (there are a few out there) as this one is set in Australia. We get the Norwegian feel but none of the formula that perhaps comes with the others (I believe there are others in the series set abroad too). Premise is that our detective is shipped over to Australia to assist in the investigation into the murder of a Norwegian national – peril ensues. I’ll definitely read more in the series, but might wait for when I need a gap filler rather than rush to buy them all straight away.
Book 3: I Left My Tent in San Francisco by Emma Kennedy (start of the Summer ones)
I read Emma Kennedy’s first autobiographical account last summer and thoroughly enjoyed it. The amount of disaster that one family can have is quite spectacular and as Emma grew up it doesn’t look like things got much better.
This book picks up as Emma finishes university and hasn’t got a clue what to do next. Lured by promised riches on the other side of the Atlantic, we follow Emma and her friend Dee as they set out to make their fortune in San Fransisco and travel back across America before facing life as grown ups. Obviously, as this is a Kennedy tale, thing are far from smooth and I don’t think it would be spoiling it to say there aren’t exactly riches. What we do get is a glimpse into their perseverance and the generosity of strangers.
One of the most beautiful parts of ‘The Tent, The Bucket and Me’ was Emma’s relationship with her parents and that’s missing from this book. As much as I prefer that book, I’m glad that wasn’t the end and we get a second installment. Worth reading if you’ve read the first.
Book 4: Animal by Sara Pascoe
This is a combination of autobiography and the story of female evolution. Using examples from her own life and experiences, Pascoe takes us through a history of what it is to be woman, answering questions of why we might behave and feel the way we do and how women fit into modern society. It’s not too sciency but there’s enough back-up to know it’s not just conjecture.
I’m the same age as Pascoe and I always find it quite easy to read things by people who were teenagers at the same time. I like the way she writes and read most of it with her voice in my head.She covers the topics of ‘Love’, ‘Body’ and ‘Consent’ in a funny and informative way, with things I knew, things I’d forgotten and things we should be shouting about.
I admire people who can be so honest about themselves and found a lot of what she wrote about familiar and motivating. This is the sort of book that makes you follow up on some of the references at the back and realise there are things we should all be shouting about a little bit louder.
Book 5: The Firemaker by Peter May
The China Thrillers series have been out of print and are currently being reissued with the first few already available. As the name suggests, these books are set in China and follow a Beijing detective, Li Yan, through a period of immense cultural change in China. The Firemaker is the first in the series and is set at the turn of the millenium. May has spent time in China from the early 1980s and his witnessing of change in the country is evident in his writing.
The story runs at a good pace and contains all the elements I have come to expect from May. The introduction of American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell serves as our guide to the different ways and customs of the Chinese system. History is peppered through the book and the atmosphere is refreshing in a genre that is swamped with western backdrops. This is a great start to a series and a memoir to a point in time. I’m (predictably) looking forward to working through the rest of them.
Book 6: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
I’ve waited for a LONG time to read this. Having got the first ones in paperback I didn’t want to break the trend so had to wait and then decided to save it for our summer holiday that we’ve ended up not having. It was worth it.
Me n Howard love Cormoran Strike and his third adventure is a solid addition to the set. The relationship between Strike and Robin is moved forwards brilliantly, there’s enough to keep you guessing and trying to work things out, and Galbraith/Rowling has successfully built the characters over the previous novels into well-rounded figures that can work in changing settings. There’s not the same amount of explanation of the main characters now – just enough to remind the reader of previous books, and the case takes the front seat in a way I don’t think has happened before. This might be because it is more personal to Strike and so the two are more intertwined.
There is a satisfying few references of Doom Bar and we dutifully drank some because that’s what Strike would want. Just waiting for the next book now…
Book 7: Harry Potter and The Cursed Child by J K Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
I can say it’s brilliant and I really want to see it performed. The plays follow on from the first seven books and are set nineteen years later. The main gang are there and they have children.
It was really easy to read the story as a script so I’m not sure what some people have moaned about. I actually preferred it as I think there’s a lot of bits in the Harry Potter books that stray away from the story and with this there was just enough to allow the reader to build the scene for themselves. Having said that, the hints in stage direction hint deliciously at just how spectacular the stage production is. I doubt we’ll get tickets for London but when it goes on tour we’ll be trying our hardest to get tickets.
Book 8: Fables: Farewell by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha
I blame my boss for this. He bought me the first in the Fables comic book series (trade paperback) for my 30th birthday. I’ve spent a small fortune of the rest now but they are completely worth it. The premise is that characters from fairy tales and folklore are in exile from their homelands and settled in New York. It follows their fight against ‘The Adversary’ and the challenges they face from their past and future. The series is creative and, despite the ‘fairytale’ themes, adult with no one spared for the story’s sake.
From what I can gather the series lasted much longer than initially intended and for that I am grateful. This collection of the final stories is the perfect ending to an amazing series. If you haven’t tried graphic novels then this is a series that is more than worth a try – I warn you it can be expensive though.
Book 9: What Every Teacher Needs To Know About Psychology by David Didau and Nick Rose
This is my dip-in-and-out book. A brilliant introduction to lots of psychological principles in themes across education. This is going to be an excellent go-to book for a wide range of topics that are bound to come up, with quick reference bullet points and longer explanations. The book is organised into three sections: Learning and Thinking, Motivation and Behaviour and Controversies. There’s going to be something for everyone in this – even if, especially if, it goes against what they already think.
The language is easy to read and not scarily academic, and there are a good number of references to follow-up and delve further into each topic. I can see this easily becoming indispensable for people at all levels of a career in education.
Book 10: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (the one I’m still reading)
The book is set in mid-70s India and follows the stories of four characters who come together at a time of political turmoil. The book tells the story of each of them individually and together and I’m about a third of the way through. A couple of things have sprung to mind whilst I’ve been reading this: Anita Rani’s episode of the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ that followed her grandfather’s story through the partition of India, and the book ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and set in the Biafran War. Both these reminders give me a sense of foreboding as to the rest of the novel but also of importance that I read it.
Links to books are (almost all) The Guardian Bookshop again because of tax and monopolies etc.
The amount of reading I actually do (rather than think I’ll probably do) during the year fluctuates quite a lot, but the summer holidays are definitely the time when I churn my way through a fair few books and this year was no different. A couple of them I’ve been waiting to read in paperback both because I don’t see the point in forking out for a hardback if I can wait and it makes sense to take lighter books on a plane. I’ve tried reading ebooks on both a proper, non-backlit eReader and on a tablet. I prefer to take books. I’m well into my thirties now so I reckon I can get away with picking and choosing the technology I want to engage with.
Dave at work says I should blog about books I’m reading throughout the year too (probably because he leant me a very good Doctor Who related one) and I probably should. Until I get round to that, here’s this summer’s lot.
Book 1: Blacklight Blue by Peter May
Peter May is a fairly steady presence in my reading lists now. This is the third in the Enzo Macleod series set in France and continues to follow Enzo as he uses his forensic expertise to do what the police have failed to do and try to solve another cold case.The premise of this series works around a bet he has made to solve seven prominent murders that feature in a book by his friend Roger Raffin and the series looks set to focus on one case per book.
The book starts with the abduction of a young boy on holiday 40 years ago and jumps to a murder in 1992. In the present day, when Enzo finds himself framed for murder, and his daughter is nearly killed, he reasons that it has only been a matter of time before the perpetrators of the remaining cold cases start to try to take him out before they get caught. Investigating ensues. Assisted by the now familiar characters of his second daughter and her boyfriend, his assistant Nicole and Raffin, his first daughter has more of a role in this one and we start to get a bit more of the characters’ back story. There’s the obligatory scrapes with death, bottles of good French wine and beautiful women.
I find May’s style easy to read and there’s a good balance of continuing threads and fresh storylines. I like the implied end to the series with the seven murders which stops a feeling of things dragging along that can happen with other detective series, and there’s enough of a question mark at the end to make me eager for the next one.
Book 2: The Tent, The Bucket, and Me by Emma Kennedy
Surely no family has had the amount of disaster befall them on their summer holidays as the Kennedy family have. Emma Kennedy’s hilarious memoir following her family’s ‘disastrous attempts to go camping in the 70s’, hurtles you through storms, down French toilets and gangrenous wounds. The determination of one family to have a successful holiday is something to behold. Full of cultural references that paint a picture of 70s Britain (which isn’t too far from my memories of 80s Britain), this is a book that will have you in fits of laughter, cringing, wincing with pain and championing our heroes to get through to face another summer.
I’m not sure whether it was a good idea to take it on holiday or not. One of the flight attendants on our plane spotted it and said how much she’d enjoyed it (which vindicated my stifled giggling for a 4 hour flight) but there’s something about reading about disastrous holidays whilst your on one that seems to be tempting fate! Luckily we didn’t fall down anything nasty and survived to recommend this.
If you can’t be bothered to read it (which you should) the BBC have gone and done a whole TV series of the book. ‘The Kennedys’ should be on in the autumn I think.
Book 3: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
This is one of the Richard and Judy summer reads and I happened to see them plugging it on the One Show. Quite liking their description I thought I’d give it a go and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m not sure what to say about this one. I really enjoyed it and definitely recommend it but I don’t want to spoil it. I don’t want to say too much really. I had more information before I read it and spent the whole time waiting for that to happen.
So who would like it. Well online and on-book comments suggest that if you enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’ you’ll enjoy this. I read ‘Gone Girl’ last year and it irritated the hell out of me for the first half, got better in the second and had a disappointing ending. This book is far better and much more worth reading. It’s a psychological thriller that kept me gripped and eager to get back to. I invested thoroughly in the characters through the well crafted narrative and raw detail throughout. There aren’t any gun-wielding space aliens or Russian naval spies so I don’t think it’s quite Howard’s thing, but that might help you decide.
Book 4: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
I have invested heavily in Cormoran Strike, Private Investigator, since reading the first novel. Every time I have a pint of Doom Bar I think of him. I got this book for either Christmas or birthday and I’ve been saving it for the summer (might as well take a book we’re both going to read on holiday).
As predicted, the first outing ‘The Cookoo’s Calling’ was a solid introduction to the characters and all the key people were in place for this investigation. Strike’s still struggling with his leg (send him to a doctor please Mr Galbraith), Robin’s still his right-hand woman, and there’s still some murdering to solve. There are some classic detective story elements but it reads as a fresh set of characters and if you enjoy the genre then it shouldn’t seem like you’ve heard it all before.
This one focuses on the world of publishing with a swathe of colorful characters from authors to agents. There is a good balance between the case and development of Strike and his work so I’m looking forward to the next one. I’m being cagey again I know. I’d rather tell everyone to just read it without giving anything away, it’s kinder. Just know that if you liked the first one you should like this one, and if you’ve not read the first one. Read it.
Book 5: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Right where to start with this one. Well, this was the second of my ‘wait for paperback’ books after I heard the review on Radio 2 and thought it sounded really interesting. The book follows the character of Holly Sykes throughout different decades of her life with each decade told from the perspective of a different character; some of which interact with her more than others. It’s a long book and in many ways each chapter/decade is a book of its own.
There’s a bit of a Neil Gaiman style fantasy element feel to the story although I spent a long time not quite sure how it was panning out and this frustrated me a bit. I found the book easier to read for some characters than others which reflected in my pace of reading; it was a lot of work to remember characters as they re-appeared and it took me a while to get through some parts. Having said that, once the story started to reveal itself I really enjoyed piecing it together.
The book starts in the 1970s and works through to the 2040s. As the chapters entered the ‘future’ there was lots of subtle references that I appreciated (like a passing comment on Justin Beiber’s 5th divorce) and it didn’t seem like there were over the top attempts to predict what’s ahead. It allowed for the story to take centre stage as it reached a climax. Having had the climax, the final chapter was a proper slog. Set in a dystopian future there was an unecessary amount of explaining the changes to the world and the collapse of civilisation, I found it all very strained and fairly detached from the story-so-far.
It sounds a bit like I hated it. I didn’t. The premise of where everything leads to is a brilliant idea and as it got going and more was revealed I really enjoyed finding out new perspectives from different characters. I think the ending has jaded my view a bit. You know how a generic hour-long TV murder has the classic solve at 45 minutes and it’s all wrapped up in the last 15? Well this felt a bit like we had the resolution at 45 and there was another hour to wrap it up. I think I’ll be thinking about this one for a while to digest it properly. I’ll recommend it because a lot of people have enjoyed it and I didn’t hate it by any means. It’s a long one though and I prefer Gaiman.
Links to books are The Guardian Bookshop again because of tax and monopolies etc.
I’ve read rather more books than usual this year thanks to the Blind Date With A Book project at school. It’s only now that I have realised how many I’ve churned through so perhaps I should review those too, separately. Needless to say, I have read quite a few books I would never have thought to pick up and that is pretty much how I chose the books I took on holiday. Like last year’s reviews, I’ll try to give my opinion without giving anything away. One of the things I’ve enjoyed with all these books (and the Blind Date ones) is coming to them completely cold and hopefully the feeling of finding something great.
We booked our holiday six days before we were due to leave and I suddenly realised I hadn’t thought about books to take. I can’t quite remember my process, but I basically chose four books on Amazon that had good reviews and I thought Howard might be interested in (might as well double up if you can help it). Last year I unintentionally read books with a vague ‘crime’ link. This year I seem to have gone with a sort of (mental) health theme – albeit quite loosely. There’s only one of the six I ended up reading that I wouldn’t really recommend, but I’ll get to that in a bit. So. The books.
Book 1: The Shock of The Fall by Nathan Filer
This was actually one of the staff Blind Date books. I’d thrown it into the mix because we hadn’t had enough staff nominations and it had just won the Costa Book of the Year award so I figured it wasn’t going to be completely rubbish. It hadn’t made it back to the shelf in the staff room so I thought I’d pop it in the basket and give it a go.
The book is written from the point of view of Matt and pretty much starts with the death of his brother. The book follows how this has affected Matt into adulthood and because it is being written by him, it allows the story to be told with a depth and honesty that portrays mental health as a very human experience. Different typefaces are used to indicate where Matt is at a particular time and this is done well, without being a distraction. The author, Nathan Filer, is a registered mental health nurse and it is clear that he knows the subject matter and genuinely understands not only the processes a character like Matt might go through in these situations, but how this impacts on a family and the wider circles of a community. There were moments of humour and moments of raw honesty, and I was completely absorbed by this book.
Book 2: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
This is the one I wasn’t so keen on. There are lots of recommendations splashed on the cover and it’s a bit of a whodunnit so I was looking forward to it.
The book starts with a wife who goes missing on the morning of their wedding anniversary and a husband who is in the frame. It’s not a conventional thriller and the author twists and turns the story so you are never quite sure who is telling the truth and who is lying as it switches from the husband’s real-time account and entries from the wife’s diary. If I’m honest, I found the first half of the book a bit of a slog and quite irritating and only stuck with it due to the emergence of a good twist. Obviously I’m being cagey about it, I’m not going to spoil anything, but from the book picking up pace I was then left disappointed with the end.
It was an interesting format and I’ve not read anything like it before. I don’t regret reading it but I don’t know if I’ll rush back to the author. I think it’s one to borrow or buy second hand rather than fork out for and if you don’t think you’ll ever read it but I’ve piqued your interest, I’m happy to tell you what happens.
Book 3: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I loved this. Howard found me very irritating as a was laughing constantly at this beautiful journey through life with Don Tillman; the man with Asperger’s who doesn’t realise he has Asperger’s, and sets out to find a wife in a perfectly logical manner using a sixteen-double-sided-page questionnaire. This of course isn’t something that can be done in a logical manner and makes for a wonderful story that is more than a joy to read. It’s not a book about Asperger’s – I don’t want that aspect to put any one off reading it. It’s just the reason for the scientific, logical personality of Don which then contrasts with Rosie, the inevitable female lead. The balance is perfect and the story does follow a sort of quirky rom-com path. The fact that we, as readers, can see what is happening for most of the time doesn’t matter because Don is always completely oblivious.
I really loved this book and I recommend it whole-heartedly. I know there’s a follow up coming soon and I’m sure some film studio’s bought the rights, but I would love people to read the book because it’s thoroughly absorbing and to be honest I still miss Don a bit.
Book 4: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (it’s a pen name dontcha know)
Howard read this first. It was his Blind Date book from me – I just chose the one that was at number 4 in Asda’s book chart. We’ve obviously read the Harry Potter books but neither of us have read ‘The Causal Vacancy’ so it was our first foray into JK Rowling’s adult writing.
This is a proper crime novel, and with the promise that it’s the first in a series of books following private detective Cormoran Strike, this book serves as an excellent introduction to what I hope will become the main set of characters throughout the series. The story is one of a supermodel suicide. The brother doesn’t believe she killed herself and gets Strike in to investigate. In some ways, the plot didn’t matter too much for me a I felt I was getting to know the main characters and how they interact with each other. There are moments where the characters appear to fall into the stereotype – the smoking, failed relationship, ex-army detective (with added quirks of a lost leg and a rock star dad), but I didn’t let it bother me as the story flowed and turned into an easily read novel.
It’s a definite adult book and there a few c-bombs here and there – nothing gratuitous though and in fitting with the characters, I actually think it’d be quite nice if the whole JK thing had been kept secret for a bit longer. It’s a good book with a clever storyline and I’m looking forward to getting back in with Strike and reading the next one.
Book 5: The Psychopath Test – A journey through the madness industry by Jon Ronson
I got this for either Christmas or my birthday so I’ve had it for a while. I actually started it just before the summer but I didn’t want to take it on holiday because I’d have finished it fairly quickly and why waste luggage allowance on half a book when you can take a whole un-read one. I enjoyed The Men Who Stare At Goats and I like the sort of journalistic-storytelling style with which he writes. That was probably offensive – I didn’t mean it to be.
The Psychopath Test is an interesting book that tracks Ronson’s investigation into the world psychopathy – including talking to people who diagnose, people who have been in prison and people who deny that any of it exists. I am aware that this is a book that has been criticised by various sources and I at no point took what was written here as a definitive ‘guide to the psychopath’. I did however enjoy the book. I think it is more an investigative journey that Ronson has taken – as he comes up against a question he hs attempted to answer it. He’s spoken to people from different backgrounds and the book is written in an entertaining manner. There is no glorification of any of the medical conditions talked about, but it does ask some interesting questions that I would hope anyone who reads the book might want to answer by taking up their own exploration of the subject.
Book 6: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
This was brilliant. This was my couldn’t-put-it-down book. I got cramp in my knees from sitting cross legged on the sofa reading this and as it’s a hearty 900-pager I got aching wrists from the sheer weight of it. This is definitely not the sort of book I would ever choose to read if someone described it to me. I’ve been rubbish at describing it to people so far so ignore my description and read it anyway. I believe the film rights have been bought for this one too but I think I can picture the trailer and it’s really not a film I’d be bothered about seeing.
It enters the world of super intelligence where people don’t exist and the things they do never happened. The central character was the head of such a force and has now retired. The book starts with a murder in a hotel room and goes on to take us round the world as we find out about Pilgrim’s past and how he deals with the future. Alongside Pilgrim’s story is one of another man set on a very different journey. That really tells you nothing, but I don’t want to tell you. Like I said, I’ve not been able to describe it successfully so far – I don’t want to spoil the plot and as I never read stuff like this I can’t even say what else it’s like without risking giving the wrong impression.
The book is current and when taken with the news headlines, it’s quite disturbing at times. In with that are characters you can understand and follow the motives of. It’s graphic and human. A fast paced thriller that it is easy to skim over the elements of the story that may or may not be entirely plausible. Also, the chapters are nice and short (which is a joy when you need to go for a wee and have to put it down, but a curse when you decide, just one more chapter…) so the length isn’t really an issue – don’t use it as an excuse not to give this one a go.
Links to books are The Guardian Bookshop again because of tax and monopolies etc. (even though I did get some of this year’s from the big A).