Archive | December, 2014

Hath Booker Prize 2014

18 Dec

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  Dr. Seuss

photo 1My aim this year, as it was last year, was to increase the amount of books I read for pleasure.  More than that I was pitching for a book a week.  I actually topped the 52 book aim and would have probably broken 60 had I not struggled through a few in December.  Pleasingly, on the whole the books I read this year were far more enjoyable.

I did start off by compiling a top 3, which soon became a top 5, and ultimately has just become a bit more detail about those books that stood out for me over the course of the past 12 months.

Shock Of The Fall – Nathan Filer

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I thought this book was utterly brilliant.  The story follows the decent of the main character, Matthew Holmes, into mental illness and the relationship he and his family have with guilt and grief after the death of his brother.  I found the central character one of an authenticity I haven’t experienced since Mark Hudson’s the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.  The authors blurb states that Nathan Filer is a qualified psychiatric nurse and that knowledge is clearly evident.  The insight is haunting and unsettling in its realism but makes the book frighteningly readable.

Anyone who knowns me will not be surprised with the statement that I am, to use a phrase from my mother, soft.  However, even with my weak resilience, it is noteworthy this book brought me to tears and at the right time. The final chapters. Given I was lying on a boiling hot beach at the time enjoying the sunshine of a lovely family holiday full of laughs, crying was far from my plans but that’s the power of this novel.

I was left with a real sense of hope and hopelessness combined.  It is a fantastic and powerful read that I would highly recommend.

The Fifth Child – Doris Lessing:

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This is the first book I’ve read by Doris Lessing.  As a nobel prize winner for literature you’d expect it to be well written and I wasn’t disappointed.  It is a short novel at just 158 pages and so I read through it quickly.  The general story is that of Harriet and David Lovatt who, intent on having a large family, bring four happy children into the world before their family sanctuary is upset by the fifth child Ben.  The book follows the struggle in the change of their relationship and the fear of what they have brought into the world given Ben is not like other children in his ways or development.

The book actually made me very anxious while reading for a few reasons.  The style of writing really made you feel for the family and Harriet in particular.  It’s an almost claustrophobic feeling of suffocation due to the mounting worries of the family.  The shortness of the book and the fact there are no chapters meant it was read at a frantic, almost chaotic, pace which only emphasised the spiraling confusion and mental anxiety that the family endured.  As a father myself I also empathise with Harriet who had an upsetting and horrible child but who could not break the maternal bond. (I have a very lovely son I should point out but felt that sense of protection that Harriet details).  Further to this at the point of reading I had very recently found out that my own good wife had become pregnant with our second child.  The very handsome little Llew Rhys Hathway.  While I am pleased to report nothing but joy on my end, the fact I was reading this at the time of finding out we were expecting, meant Lessing’s drama really captivated me in a way it perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise.  I felt quite unsettled by it at times, which was the point I am sure.

I haven’t read anything else by the author to judge her collection of work but this was a hit with me.

The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax – Christopher Shevlin

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I really enjoyed this book.  It is sharply written, very witty and funny from the outset.  The plot focusses on a cover up in central government that is stumbled upon by a trio of unlikely friends with comedy consequences.  There are a large number of characters but all are easy to relate to and each contribute to the book.  While the plot ran out of steam somewhat towards the end the dialogue remained charming and dry.

Lullaby – Chuck Palahniuk

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Most people will have some knowledge of Chuck Palahniuk’s work, even if they like me were unaware that they did.  Palahniuk was the author behind the book that inspired the Brad Pitt and Ed Norton cult film ‘Fight Club.’  I was looking for an author to discover that wrote in a different way and created intrigue and twists with their plots.  After a bit of a google search Chuck Palahniuk’s name came up.  Being a fan of Fight Club as a film I thought I’d give his work a go.  Lullaby is actually Palahniuk’s fourth book so I didn’t quite start from the beginning.

I have to say I absolutely loved this book.  I tend to find reading very fulfilling but I do always find the first 50 or so pages a bit of a battle.  Once I’ve past that tipping point I can usually settle in and immerse myself in a novel.  Lullaby however gripped me from the very beginning.  The short sharp chapters and punchy style of writing make it an easy book to get quickly lost in.  The plot is based on the discovery of the narrator, investigative journalist Carl Streator, that a specific lullaby can be a killer.  What would happen if words could kill is the question that is being posed.  It follows his and real estate agent Helen Hoover Boyle’s quest to destroy the book.  The plot gets generally more and more surreal as you go on (perhaps a little bit to the detriment of the book towards the end) but it is a very engaging and at times thought-provoking and disturbing novel.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

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From the plot, which continually teases and intrigues, to the narration which is both engrossing and believable, I could not put this down and read it cover to cover in about two days.  Had I not had work in the middle it would have been sooner.

I was a little disappointed in the ending originally but the more I’ve reflected on it the more I think it was actually pretty perfect.  Poignant and well judged.

I am loathed to give anything away as there are a few twists that will ruin the book if you have any spoilers.  What I will say is that it was a very different type of book to what I usually read and made me question a few things while reading it, and still does now.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher Stories – Hilary Mantel

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I have to say as a rule I don’t really read short story books.  There’s something about them that just doesn’t appeal to me.  The fact that they seem a bit patched together.  The shortness of each tale doesn’t really make you feel like you’ve had the full pay off in the same way you do from getting through an entire novel.  I was, therefore, very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this collection by Hilary Mantel.

There was some hit and misses in the ten pieces of work, as there are no doubt in any short story collection, but over all there was something of interest in every read.  I read the whole lot in a little less than two days and found it entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measure.  Rarely, if ever, do I re-read a book.  Once I’ve read it once I’ve read it.  I’m the same with watching films.  Repeats do not interest me.  This is one I think I will make an exception for however as I certainly felt there were different layers to the stories that I will pick up on upon reading again.

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly – Sun-Mi Hwang

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This is a short novel, translated originally from Korean.  I was surprised just how much it made me think.  On a superficial level the story is about a hen that wants to hatch an egg and the relationship she has with her child, made a little more complex in that she hatches a duck egg.  The themes of parental responsibility; the fear of letting your child grow up and leave the nest; abandonment and loneliness really spoke to me as a parent.  I’m not afraid to admit that towards the end of the book I had quite a lump in my throat imagining myself as Sprout the Hen and the Gryffalo as her duckling.  (Llew wasn’t around when reading)

However, the more I thought beyond the first layer the more intriguing I found the book.  I’ve previously blogged in an education context about the society that Korea has created.  High achievers through conformity but that loss of personal identity has also lead to shockingly stark levels of suicide amongst young teenagers and low levels of pupil well-being in school.  I think some of those themes are also evident in this book.  There is a clear recognition of the trade-off between secure life as part of the system (the hen in a coop that lays her eggs) and the freedom yet dangers of a more individual life (the hen who roams free but under constant threat of attack).  There are also nods to the conformity of Korean life in how those individuals are ostracised from their communities as the hen is not welcomed by other sections of the farm-yard society.

I read Animal Farm by George Orwell when I was quite young and it left quite an impression on me.  (spoiler alert) Although I don’t think it was the point I remember being pretty terrified when I read the pigs were standing on two legs at the end of that book.  There’s definitely a comparison to be made from that novel and this which is a compliment to both.

At just over 130 pages this is a very quick read but packs a lot to ponder into those pages.

The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

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I’m a sensitive soul at the best of times (something which I notice is becoming a theme in these reviews) so a book that is about a girl with terminal cancer was always going to be a tough read for me.  That said I was really surprised and pleased at how uplifting I found this.  It took a different view of cancer.  Instead of the stereotypical perception of heroic courage that we have come to expect it was brutally honest at the fears and pain but that reality made it all the more hopeful in some ways.

It isn’t a depressing book about illness but a love story that happens to be about people who are ill.  The book benefits hugely from the fact that the two central characters, Augustus and Hazel, are likable and intelligent.  They carry the narrative well.  I invested heavily in it and by the time I finished the last page certainly felt that I had been rewarded for that.

It would have been easy for this book to have slipped into the over the top melodrama in a bid to elicit emotion from the reader.  No doubt that will be the mistake the film makes.  Yes I did tear up, on a train to London for a work meeting which was slightly embarrassing, but it was as a result of some beautiful sentiment and well judged narrative.

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith

I have to say I missed the whole Harry Potter thing. I was a little too old for it. That said my wife, who is a month older than me, loved them. As a result of not being a fan I was a bit reluctant to think that JK Rowling was going to pen a novel that I would enjoy but I was more than a little surprised by The Cuckoo’s Calling.

The book, which follows private detective Cormoran Strike’s investigation into the apparent suicide of model Lula Landry, was a real pleasure. The fast pace of the plot; believable characters and sharp dialogue very much won me over and made for a very enjoyable book.  I did also read the sequel, ‘The Silkworm,’ which while also enjoyable wasn’t quite of the same standard.

Fish Change Direction In Cold Weather – Pierre Szalowski

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At the point of reading this book I’d just dragged myself through ‘Frances & Bernard’ and ‘All is Silence.’ Two books I found pretty hard going.  Slow paced and relatively dull.  I was happy then to get some light relief.  This book was a very easy read, a feel-good novel and a heartwarming tale.  It is the story of a Montreal neighbourhood whose inhabitants have various personal problems that come together during an ice storm, the results of which change their lives permanently and for the better.  This isn’t a literary great.  There are no dramatic plotlines or character developments but I genuinely enjoyed it and ultimately that’s what reading is about is it not?

Don’t Point That Thing At Me – Kyril Bonfigioli

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This is a charming little crime thriller.  The strength of the book comes from the witty narrator, Charlie Mortdecai, and his relationship with servant and sidekick Jock.  The dialogue and writing are very much of the Oscar Wilde variety and has some lovely expressions that bring a smile and a laugh out of the reader.  It was probably the most quotable book I read in the past 12 months.   It was one of the more unique authors that I read this year.  At times the plot descends a bit into farce but that probably compliments rather than hinders the book.

The best?

It is hard to narrow the list down to one but if I had to I’d go for ‘Shock of the Fall’ by Nathan Filer.  This was the book that had the biggest impact on me while reading and the one that I probably think back to most.  It sucked me in and I had a real challenge getting through some of the more emotionally draining sections.

Honourable mentions

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 A Long Way Down – Nick Hornby: Some great characters and really entertaining

We Were Liars – E Lockhart:  I was slightly let down by the end, which is the part most people seem to enjoy, but worth a read for sure.

The President’s Hat- Antoine Laurain: I felt quite taken in by the setting and the original concept.

The Norfolk Mystery – Ian Sansom: Like a tip of the hat to the early 20th century detective novels.  A unique yet familiar creation.

Elmore Leonard – Nothing in particular by him, I’m just glad I discovered him as an author.

Books I was Let down By:

Three Graves Full – Jaime Mason: Why use one word when 156 will do?

To Rise Again At A Decent Hour – Joshua Ferris: I’m a little shocked this was Booker Prize shortlisted. Possibly my biggest let down of the year.

The Mirage – Matt Ruff: An interesting concept let down by some wooden characters, wooden dialogue and a unneccissary attempts to use modern cultural references.

Let Me Off At The Top – Ron Burgundy: This was a gift. Not good. (sorry to my brother who I also happened to buy it for)

The Sports Gene – David Epstein: This isn’t a bad book.  There are some really interesting concepts to read but it just didn’t catch my interest in the way I expected it would.

Time’s Arrow – Martin Amis: After the novelty of the concept wears off, around 50 pages in, it becomes more than a little tedious.

Interested?

I’m always happy to pass a book on so if anyone would like any of these to read then just get in touch (you can DM me on twitter @Hath53 or leave a comment below) and I’ll happily pay it forward. (Those I still have in my possession that is).  Alternatively if no one wants any I think I’m just going to start leaving copies of books in different locations for people to stumble upon them and enjoy.

Here’s this year’s reading list in full:

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All Is Silence – Manuel Rivas

Alex – Pierre Lemaitre

Shock Of The Fall – Nathan Filer

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith

The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith

After Me Comes The Flood – Sarah Perry

Three Graves Full – Jaime Mason

The Fifth Child – Doris Lessing

Hector and the Search for Happiness – François Lelord

Broken Dolls – James Carol

Watch Me – James Carol

Vendetta – Dreda Say Mitchell

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

The Drop – Dennis Lehane

Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather – Pierre Szalowski

A Long Way Down – Nick Hornby

We Were Liars – E Lockhart

Inferno – Dan Brown

Frances & Bernard – Carlene Bauer

Time’s Arrow – Martin Amis

The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

The Rivals – James Naughtie

The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

The Time Keeper – Mitch Albom

For One More Day – Mitch Albom

Don’t Point That Thing At Me – Kyril Bonfiglioli

A Meal In Winter – Hubert Mingarelli

Time Present and Time Past – Deirdre Madden

Death And The Penguin – Andrey Kurkov

The Racketeer – John Grisham

The Litigators – John Grisham

Theodore Boone – John Grisham

Solo – William Boyd

To Rise Again At A Decent Hour – Joshua Ferris

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

The Mirage – Matt Ruff

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories – Hilary Mantel

The Contortionists’ Handbook – Craig Clevenger

The President’s Hat – Antoine Laurain

52 Pickup – Elmore Leonard

Get Shorty – Elmore Leonard

Raylan – Elmore Leonard

The Norfolk Mystery – Ian Sansom

Lullaby – Chuck Palahniuk

Half Plus Seven – Dan Tyte

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly – Sun-Mi Hwang

Let Me Off At The Top – Ron Burgundy

The Sports Gene – David Epstein

The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax – Christopher Shevlin

The Man Who Forgot His Wife – John O’Farrell

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

Espedair Street – Iain Banks

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami

Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell

The Walking Dead – Compendium 1 – Robert Kirkman

Rosie’s Vintage Tea Shop – Leamington Spa

17 Dec

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The Place

Rosie’s Vintage Tea Shop is a little boutique cafe off the main street in Leamington Spa.  A welcoming little venue that made for a pleasant break after the just under 3 hour drive to get there.

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The decor is lovely, and particularly appealing to my good wife’s taste.  In fact much of the wallpapers and decorations could have come direct from our living room.  Indeed, given the shop also sells little ornaments many of them will now, sadly, be filling even more shelves in the Hathway residence.

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The staff were very attentive and interested and a credit to the place.  There were a lot of staff on the day so no delays and while I don’t know if it was or not, it did feel like a family run business.

The Hot Chocolate

This was an absolutely delicious hot chocolate.  The flavour of the drink was a strong and bitter dark chocolate which really hit the spot.  However, it was the cream that was the star of the show.  Velvety and smooth and sprinkled with tasty coco.  A top-notch hot chocolate.

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The Carrot Cake

I’ve been on a bit of a health kick in recent weeks.  I’ve given up alcohol (or at least I had for 4 months until a weekend ago) and I’ve eaten a lot healthier.  Overall I’ve lost about 16lbs and in the process I’ve eaten no carrot cakes.  I’m pleased to say then that the first one back was well worth it.  Not just an ordinary carrot cake but a triple layered caramel carrot cake.

The frosting was creamy with caramel drizzled throughout giving it an indulgent lift.  The cake itself was full of flavour and moist with excellent texture.  A real contender.

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I also liked the little touch of providing specific cake eating folks.  Delicate little utensils that stopped me from gobbling this cake in quite as speedy fashion as I otherwise would have done!

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The Rest

I was in Leamington for a uni reunion.  I went to Aberystwyth uni but we all met there as one of my former university friends who lives in Leamington organised it.  Fair play we all scrubbed up well, even if our nights out are far more timid these days.  Middle age has got the best of us I fear.

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Something in the air

3 Dec

So my good wife has taken the carrot cake appreciation to whole new levels with this air freshener!

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