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Hath Booker Prize 2015

15 Dec

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My good wife got me this amazing book mark.  If you know me you’d know how much I love the number 53.  Sadly the Gryffalo got hold of it one day and it has not been seen since!

Last year I aimed to read a book a week and successfully hit that target.  Knowing that I was going to be undertaking a diploma this year I decided not to set myself a target but to just enjoy reading as often as time would allow.  I still managed a decent return and for the most part in reading books I very much enjoyed, in fact I ended up totaling 63 books.  I have posted infrequent reviews of the odd book here and there but I thought I’d collate all the books into a final end of year post here.

As always with my end of year posts if there are any books you are interested in let me know and I am happy to send them on to you.  Otherwise I will just do my usual thing of leaving them in random public places for strangers to pick up.

The Pick of The Best (in order of preference):

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The Humans – Matt Haig (1) I’m not going to claim this is the deepest or most cultured book I read this year but it was one that just gripped me.  The plot was enjoyable and it made me think a lot about human nature and my own relationships.  To many it may appear a tad bit superficial but for me it was a really excellent read.

Terms & Conditions – Robert Glancy (2) The first book of the year that I considered a contender.  Very funny and well paced.  Highly recommended.

Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz (3) One of the last books of the year I read and the final book to crash into the picks of the best. Great plot, with a lovely twist at the end.  Well paced and thoroughly entertaining.  I may even be a little harsh not having this higher up.

Chop Chop – Simon Wroe (4) I didn’t expect the plot of this book to take the turn it did but enjoyed it.  The authenticity of the characters and settings in particular were great.

Money – Martin Amis (5) This was recommended to me at the end of last year and I bought it in January.  For some reason I just couldn’t get enthused with it.  It wasn’t until many months later when I had no other books at hand did I crack on with it.  Delighted I did as there are some utterly fantastic characters here.  Lorne Guyland is up there with the best.

After the Quake – Haruki Murakami (6) Beautiful short story collection. Each and every one hit a spot with me. I enjoyed all the Murakami books I read this year but this was probably the pick.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson (7) This book completely changed my attitude to social media, for the better.  I wish everyone was forced to read it before being allowed on twitter.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan (8) This is just a lovely, charming and whimsical read.  At times bordering on the ridiculous but none the worse for that.

Honorable Mentions:

The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simson: Time passing and easy-going feel good book.  As enjoyable as the first in the series.

Sharpe Objects and Dark Places- Gillian Flynn: Much improved on her more critically acclaimed and popular Gone Girl offering.

Salvation of a Saint – Keigo Higashino: Another very intelligent and well crafted locked room mystery from my favorite Japanese author.

The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler: Some of the best one liners and quotable witticisms I’ve read for some time. Whispers of Oscar Wild.

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey: Possibly the first book of 2015 I really enjoyed.

After Dark, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki & South of the Boarder, West of the Sun: Haruki Murakami: Any one of Murakami’s novels I read this year could have made the best list and the rest deserve at least an honorable mention.

Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith: I’ve really liked the Cormoran Strike series and this was a really good addition to it.  If they get the casting right it could be really good news that it has been commissioned as a TV series by the BBC.

Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari: Part social study, part comedy.  Really interesting and funny look at modern day relationships. Made me both wish I had read it during my single days and extremely glad I am married.

Kill Your Friends – John Niven: Pretty brutal and explicit, often sensationally so, but none the less enjoyable in a Trainspotting/Money/American Psycho sort of way.

The Let Downs:

Half the Kingdom – Loe Segal:  Messy and confusing narrative. The book feels like a mashing together of the train of thought from far too many characters.  It just didn’t work for me.

Paper Towns – John Green: This wasn’t a particularly bad book really but I massively enjoyed ‘The Fault in our Stars’ last year by the same author and this just wasn’t close to that standard.

The Facades: Eric Lundgren: This book had a lot of hype and expectation.  I can imagine other people reading it and thinking it was stunning.  I just found it rather self-indulgent and uninspiring.

The Art of Killing Well – Marco Malvaldi: This just didn’t click with me. I found it really hard to get interested in it.

The Ring and the Opposite of Death: Roberto Savian: I really wanted to like this book.  There was a lot of hype about the author but it just didn’t do anything for me. It seemed messy and forced. Perhaps it lost something in the translation from Italian but either way one to miss.

Blackwater – Joyce Carol Oates: I am intrigued by the whole Kennedy family and as this was a loose fictionalization of the Chappaquiddick incident I thought it would captivate me.  Sadly I felt as if it was poorly written and a bit drawn out, which is particularly odd given it is a short book.

Pygmy – Chuck Palahniuk – Some people think this is some of Palahniuk’s finest work.  I hated it.  There’s a deliberate use of incorrect English throughout to give a voice to the lead character.  I’m hardly one to critique such things but I just couldn’t get passed it.  Made it a dreadful read for me.

The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett – This was a good sliding doors style concept.  However three alternative timelines made for a confusing read at times and I’m not sure it was worth the payoff.

Full reading list in the order I read them:IMG_0899

The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler (1)

Breaking the Chain – Willy Voet (2)

The Uncommon Reader – Alan Benett (3)

Trash – Andy Mulligan (4)

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey (5)

Cat Out Of Hell – Lynne Truss (6)

Saturday – Ian McEwan (7)

The Ring and the Opposite of Death – Roberto Saviano (8)

Half the Kingdom – Loe Segal (9)

The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide (10)

Holes – Louis Sachar (11)

Trash – Andy Mulligan (12)

Terms & Conditions – Robert Glancy (13)

Malice – Keigo Higashino (14)

Salvation of a Saint – Keigo Higashino (15)

Paper Towns – John Green (16)

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins (17)

The Facades – Eric Lundgren (18)

Random Deaths and Custard – Catrin Dafydd (19)

The Red Notebook – Antoine Laurain (20)

Who is Tom Ditto? – Danny Wallace (21)

Casino Royal – Ian Fleming (22)

Live and Let Die – Ian Fleming (23)

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop – David Adam (24)

The Last Treasure Hunt – Jane Alexander (25)

Chop Chop – Simon Wroe (26)

True Grit – Charles Portis (27)

The Humans – Matt Haig (28)

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson (29)

Dept. Of Speculation – Jenny Offill (30)

The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simson (31)

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan (32)

BlackWater – Joyce Carol Oates (33)

Don’t Try This At Home – Angela Readman (34)

The Manual of Detection – Jedediah Berry (35)

Naive. Super – Erlend Loe (36)

Hotel Alpha – Mark Watson (37)

After Dark – Haruki Murakami (38)

Fadeout – Joseph Hansen (39)

The Art Of Killing Well – Marco Malvaldi (40)

Dark Places – Gillian Flynn (41)

After the Quake – Haruki Murakami (42)

A Class Apart – Gareth Evans (43)

South of the Border, West of the Sun – Haruki Murakami (44)

Every day – David Levithan (45)

Sharpe Objects – Gillian Flynn (46)

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami (47)

Money – Martin Amis (48)

NYPD Red – James Patterson (49)

Walking Dead – Compendium 2 – Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard (50)

Pygmy – Chuck Palahniuk  (51)

Reykjavik Nights – Arnaldur Indridason (52)

NYPD Red 2 – James Patterson (53)

The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett (54)

After The Crash – Michel Bussi (55)

A Boy Called Hope – Lara Williamson (56)

Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith (57)

NYPD Red 3 – James Patterson (58)

Walking Dead – Compendium 3 – Robert Kirkman, Stefano Gaudiano, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn (59)

The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas – John Boyne (60)

Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz (61)

Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari (62)

Kill Your Friends – John Niven (Book 63)

Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz

24 Nov

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I’m coming to the end of the 2015 reading lists.  My plan was to hit a book a week for the year but finishing this brought up number 61.  What was especially pleasing was that I kept one of the best until last.  This will absolutely feature in the top 5. Possibly top 3 or higher.

About two years ago I read the back catalog of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.  I thoroughly enjoyed them for their ingenuity and style.  Credit has to go to Anthony Horowitz who very much tapes into that with his continuation of the Holmes era with a new detective in Athelney Jones.

The writing is sharp and well paced.  The characters are authentic and believable and the plot keeps you guessing while remaining believable.

All in all this was a really good read and to top it off it had a fantastic little twist at the end that I have to admit I did not see.  Worth a read.

40:1

8 Oct

At the start of the year I embarked on a process of trying to make the literary world a little smaller.  That’s PR speak for saying that I took the books I read in 2014 and have been leaving them in random locations (on trains, in parks, in coffee shops etc.) for strangers to find, read and pass on.

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The way I see it I am not one to re-read books so it is better to let others enjoy them.

In January I had this naïve view of being inundated with tweets from people who had stumbled upon my offerings.  As more and more books were recycled I feared I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the praise and demand.  That bubble was quickly burst.

5 books in with no reply I was humbled.  15 books in I feared the worst.  25 books in I was depressed.  35 books in and my heart was no longer in it.  But low and behold, God loves a trier and 40th time lucky, 10 months after I began this, I reaped the rewards.  Finally someone has responded to a book by tweeting me.

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When I had this yesterday it made my day.  My only regret is that after passing on some fantastic reads throughout the year including Nathan Filer’s The shock of the Fall, We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, and Hilary Mantel’s The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher the one that was discovered was a run of the mill John Grisham.  Please don’t judge me.

I only have about 8 books left from the class of 2014.  My stockpile from this year however is both larger in quantity and certainly better in quality.  With this life affirming moment to boost me I can crack on again.  Hopefully you (yes you the person bored enough to read a blog about Welsh education and carrot cakes) will pick one up.

Exploring Murakami

24 Jul

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Saying you are a fan of Haruki Murakami is almost a hipster cliché these days.  In fact, to suggest that you haven’t read his back catalogue is something to be frowned upon.  Sadly I haven’t.  With the exception of his memoir about running, ‘What I talk about when I talk about running,’ I’d never read anything by him.  I thought I would put that right this year, if only because the covers are beautiful in their simplicity.

In total I’ve read three of his books.  ‘After the Quake,’ ‘After Dark,’ and most recently ‘South of the Boarder, West of the Sun.’  These are possibly some of the lesser revered and certainly on the shorter side of his works.  I really don’t think I have it in me to tackle the mammoth 928 pages of 1Q84.

Without trying to sound like one of the many Murakami devotees I must say I am a convert.  Each of these three books were highly enjoyable.  I am a sceptic of the short-story work as I often find it fails to fully explore concepts and can be very much hit and miss but the collection put together in After the Quake was fantastic.  Each offering was thoroughly enjoyable and not one seemed a let down.  I thought it was fantastic.  I was also really taken by After Dark and South of the Boarder in their flowing yet almost static storytelling.  With both I almost felt like I was fully invested in the books completely without noticing I was being gripped.

I’m not sure I have it in me to want to tackle some of the longer works but I at least owe it to the quality of these first three to dig a little deeper into Murakami’s bibliography.  Suggestions where to go next are welcome.

The Manual of Detection – Jedediah Berry

11 Jun

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This was a fine detective novel that had a tinge of the Sherlock Holmes about it, if it was written from the perspective of Watson. Having read ‘The Big Sleep’ by Raymond Chandler earlier in the year I could also hear some of that film noir style of writing, which is no bad thing.

The story focuses on Charles Unwin, a clerk for the ‘Agencies’ star detective Travis T Sivart. However when Sivart goes missing it is up to the newly promoted Unwin to understand the rules of detection and uncover the mystery.

The plot descends into quite a surreal world blurring the lines between reality and fantasy in a way that echoed Inception to me.  It build into a bit of a reveal but, while enjoyable, I’m not sure it packed the punch it promised.  Still, it certainly had its moments along the way.

Don’t Try This At Home – Angela Readman

9 Jun

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Short story novels have never appealed to me until I read the excellent ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’ by Hilary Mantel last year.  I am glad I did as not only did I thouroughly enjoy that collection but it meant I chose to pick up another set of short stories this year when purchasing Angela Readman’s ‘Don’t Try This At Home.’

The collection is a fantastic set of off the wall, interesting, creative and pretty imaginative stories that really highlight the sideways thinking of the authour.  As with any short story collection there is an element of hit and miss here, no doubt heavily depending on your personal preferences.  Still, a number of the stories stood out including the title piece which focused on a woman who kept cutting her partner in half to grow a second, third, fourth, etc companion; the excellent ‘Conceptual’ which told the tale of a family living through art and how the norms of society tame that reality and the excellent, ‘There’s a woman who works down the chip shop.  Overall worth a read.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed- Jon Ronson

31 May

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As I think I’ve written a few times I generally don’t read non-fiction.  It just doesn’t appeal to me.  However, I had heard good things about Jon Ronson’s ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,’ and having previously really enjoyed his book, ‘The Psychopath Test,’ I gave it a go.  I thought it was brilliant.  Thought-provoking and inspiring in equal measure.

Towards the end of the book the author examines the impact of shaming as part of criminal prosecution and incarceration.  I found this really interesting as I am a firm believer that prison, for the majority of people, is part of the problem rather than the solution.  Locking people up and denying them self-esteem and an opportunity to improve themselves denies them, and us, the opportunity to see any tangible reform.  I just cannot understand why as a society we continue to expect different results with the same experiment.  Untill we do, I doubt reoffending levels will drop dramatically nor will we see a role in the community for those placed in jail.

There are a series of investigations, analysis and interpretations around public shaming throughout the book but it was the looks at twitter that most got to me personally.  I know from speaking to some friends that their reaction to the book has been to make them second guess the sort of things they put up on twitter.  It has created a paranoia around the fact their tweets could be misinterpreted, deliberately or otherwise.  For me it was a different reaction.  I don’t believe I’ve posted things up that could be seen as overtly offensive, although I have no doubt someone could construe anything to suggest otherwise.  However, I did identify with the threads in the book that highlighted the growing sense of community outrage.  Individuals who have jumped on the bandwagon of public shaming, sometimes for all the right reasons, without a greater consideration for the individuals at the centre of the storm.  I may have been perfectly within my rights to have been shocked at the nature, tone or thrust of someones comments but have I always stopped to consider their context?  Have I always thought about the regret those individuals may have had or what the longer term impact has been on their social/professional lives?  I am not sure I can say I have.  It was a timely read in particular coming after the election.  I stayed, I believe, politically neutral.  I’m glad to say I don’t partake in party politics in any way shape or form.  Still, many of those I follow do, and on a cross-party basis.  The commentary from some was so one-eyed and deliberately misleading that it soured the whole debate.  I think some would certainly benefit from reading Ronson’s warnings about the changing nature of our online communities.

The book has made me review the way I use twitter.  How I post and interact with it.  It doesn’t change my own moral compass but it does make me ask the question of what the purpose is of my commentary and more so what the impact is.  If anything I am left with the sense that it is I who has been publicly shamed for partaking in social-media shaming in the past, irrespective of the worthiness at the core of the issue in some cases.

Dept. of Speculation – Jenny Offill

14 May

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After finishing off both ‘True Grit’ and ‘The Humans’ travelling on the train to London for work a little while ago I was left without a book for the return journey.  Under pressure of time constraints and in need of something to read I picked this up.  I’ll be honest, I based the choice entirely on the fact I loved the film ‘The Adjustment Bureau.’  There is literally no logic behind this other than there is something about the titles that suggested they could…maybe….be of a similar interest.

As it happens, they are nothing alike.  While The Adjustment Bureau is a film about the agents of fate conspiring to ensure life’s plan works to schedule, this novel depicts the realities of married life and raising a family.  The narrative develops through a series of punchy fragments which feel like we are following the train of thought of the unnamed storyteller working through her memories.  At first I found this a little sporadic and difficult to follow but as I settled into the book I thought it worked very well and it established an authentic and engrossing way of presenting the plot.

The simplicity of the writing and its accurate depiction of modern romance are fast paced and thought-provoking, especially for me during the sections of raising a young child.  It was a snatch and grab purchase but I’m pleased to say it worked out this time.

The Humans – Matt Haig

12 May

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After a bit of a bad run my book choices have picked up a little in recent weeks with ‘True Grit,’ ‘The Girl on the Train’ and the excellent ‘Chop, Chop.’ This was certainly a fine addition to that foursome.

The plot involves an alien who inhabits the body of a British mathematics professor who has recently solved the Riemann hypothesis. His mission is to eliminate the proof, and anyone aware of it, so that humans do not advance beyond their capabilities. However, the real story is the understanding, appreciation and love that he gains for the human race. Both the virtues and flaws of our species are highlighted in a quirky and off kilter way which are heart-warming, saddening and amusing in equal measure. It is a lovingly bittersweet review of the human race that makes you think, in a personal way, about just how brilliant and bizarre we can be.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read and definitely think it is one worth picking up. I can imagine it would make a pretty nice beach novel for anyone heading off for their summer holidays in the coming weeks and months.

Chop Chop – Simon Wroe

28 Apr
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I’ve had a bit of a bad run of late with books that haven’t been to my taste so I was pleased to say this has got me back on track.It charts the story of the narrator, nicknamed Monocle, whose foray into working in a high pressures kitchen leads to some very dark twists.

Given the shocking nature of some of the actions that take place in the kitchen of The Swan it is amazing that the author writes from an experience of being a former chef himself. That authenticity and knowledge does come through and adds a lot to the book with some highly individual yet believable characters starring along the way.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a book about cooking mind. It is a brilliantly dark comic novel that uses the restaurant industry as a springboard, albeit one it heavily relies on.

This was a really good read. Funny; well written; good plot and unique. Well worth picking up.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.