3 September 2014

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen's England

Author: Roy and Lesley Adkins
Year published: 2013 
Pages: 422, including appendices and notes
Time It Took To Read: About a week

I love history/Previously, I've focused on everything pre-1600, but doing a medical history module last academic year fired me up to learn more about social history in more recent eras. I spotted this book in Walkers, my favourite bookshop in the world (except maybe Jarrolds). Support thy local bookshops.

This book is brilliant. It covers every aspect of social life, from marriage, to pregnancy, birth to childhood, going out, being ill, housing, working, and dying. Despite being not THAT long ago, and easily imaginable from the numerous period dramas (note: I hate period drama), the reality is rather harder, colder, starker and at time, insane. The combination of modernish values and proper medieval thinking is startling to read, and doesn't necessarily tally with the idea of Georgian England.

Book count: 42/50

The Last of the Martin Beck series


Author: Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
Translator: Unknown
Series: Martin Beck
Year published: 1968, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975
Pages: Approx 300 pages each
Time It Took To Read: An hour or so each

I also finished the Martin Beck series, several months after first starting it in a Yorkshire hotel. I LOVE this series. I love it's clarity and precision. I love that, without theatrics or fireworks, you are absolutely entwined with the story and unable to put it down. I love how I had to know what was going to happen, even when I didn't think the plot was great. My favourite is probably Cop Killer, out of the entire series, but they're all good. You can read them as standalone, but you get a much better feel for it if you read the whole series.

Book count: 41/50

The Saxon Tales

No pics. Too many damn books. 

Books: The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman, The Lords of The North, Sword Song, The Burning Land, Death of Kings, Pagan Lord
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Series: Warrior Chronicles
Year published: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013
Pages: Between 350 and 400 each
Time It Took To Read: A few hours each

So, I got married. And in doing so, I forgot how much I read when my shiny Kindle came. Mainly because, to alleviate wedding stress, I re-read THE ENTIRE SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series. What a series it is! Bring on Winds of Winter.

Anyway, before I got married, I read this lot. I love the Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell. They were the first fantasy books I read, back when I was about 12. They focus on the deeds of Arthur, and there is magic and Merlin and battles and angry women.

This series is pretty much the same. It covers the world of Alfred the Great, and attempts to be vaguely historically accurate. There is one major problem though. The narrator, one Uhtred of Bebbanburg is an absolute arsewipe. He's a nasty, unlikeable, cocky, vicious twonk. And whereas this is fine in some books because sometimes anti-heros are a good thing, Uhtred is not a good thing. 

As I read, I bitched, and my betrothed asked "Why are you reading them if you hate them so much?" To which the only answer was "I'm a completionist, how do you not know this yet? You don't know me at all. Maybe we shouldn't get married."
Jokes. We did. It was great. 

Book count: 35/50

22 July 2014

Time of Contempt and Baptism of Fire

Author: Andrzej Sapkowski 
Translator: Danusia Stok
Series: The Witcher parts 2 and 3
Year published: 1995 in Polish, 2013 in English. 1996 in Polish. 2014 in English.
Pages: 352 and 352
Time It Took To Read: A day each

I didn't read Baptism of Fire in Spanish...I just couldn't find an English translation cover.
I love this series. It is a bit different, a lot awesome, and doesn't BORE. But I am fed up with Gollancz. They're taking forever to translate it (with no plans to translate the last books of the series), and the translation is roundly criticised by those who've read it in original Polish. I can't read Polish, but this series is  a damn good reason to learn. The idea that I can't finish the series because Gollancz are doing such shit translations (apparently that's the root of the publishing problems) PISSES ME OFF! 

Anyway, Geralt the Witcher has care of Ciri, who may or may not be the most important person alive in the world at that point. He is sharing her care, and protecting her with his long time love Yennefer, a sorceress of insane power. And war is brewing.

If you've played The Witcher, read the books. If you like fantasy novels, read the books. If you want to read something written with a bit more bite than your average elves/dwarves/humans saga, read the books. Just please give Gollancz a good reason to translate the last few.

Book count: 28/50

The White Princess

Author:  Philippa Gregory
Year published: 2013
Series: The Cousins War 5
Pages: 560
Time It Took To Read: A day

This is the book I bought to baptise my new Kindle. I've wanted one for a while, but not been able to justify the expense. Then I got a first in one of my uni modules, and got one, so it is dubbed The Kindle of Reward. 

Anyway, I've read all four preceding books and this one is about Princess Elizabeth of York who married Henry VII after he acceded the throne, and she was the mother of Henry VIII. Their marriage was made for political reasons, to unite the factions of York and Lancaster after the War of the Roses, but Henry VII should have been Elizabeth's mortal enemy, moreso if she really had been having an affair with her uncle Richard III. Instead, their marriage historically seems to have been a success. 

So, the book opens on the defeated York faction waiting to be summoned to court for the proposed betrothal of Elizabeth and Henry. This eventually happens, there's gratuitous and rather unnecessary rape, magic, childbirth, women being sidelined, Margaret Beaufort being every bit The Boss that she seems to have historically been, and an abrupt ending, to make way for Margaret Pole's story, which is coming out later this year.

I love historical fiction, I really do, but sometimes Philippa Gregory's gets a bit cloyingly similar. Oh I hate him! Oh I love him! Oh I'm pregnant! Oh someone I love is dead and I'm powerless to stop it! Every single book. I keep buying them, keep reading them, but I'd love something meatier. 

Book Count: 26/50

1 July 2014

London Under

Author:  Peter Ackroyd
Year published: 2011
Pages: 208
Time It Took To Read: A few days

I decided to read this off the back of the Aaronovitch books, because the idea of London existing in layers fascinates me. I've had this book ages, and just not read it. I'm not the biggest fan of Peter Ackroyd. He drifts around all over the shop, and it can be really hard to keep track of his argument. However, he does know what he's talking about, and his London: Autobiography is a tour de force.
This book is not so good. It's too short, for a start, and too superficial. There's no real analysis, no sense of depth - metaphorical or literal! I enjoyed it, but it could have been so much more. This is more like a brief introduction than a decent history.

Book count: 25/50

Moon Over Soho and Whispers Under Ground

Author:  Ben Aaronovitch
Year published: 2011 and 2012
Series: Rivers of London 2 and 3
Pages: 384 and 400
Time It Took To Read: I read them both over two days, to the cost of all else

I think I have a new love. These books combine everything I loved about the Frost series, back in the old days, with everything I love about the Dresden Files, and even Harry Potter. I am holding off buying the next one, because if I pass my exams, I'm getting a Kindle and these are the sort of books I want on Kindle. 

In Moon Over Soho, something is killing off musicians after gigs. And Peter's dad is a musician. Also, a woman with vagina dentata (look it up, it's grim, and also not real...) is on the loose. I read this with a growing sense of irritation at how OBVIOUS everything seemed, and then it wasn't remotely obvious at the end. 
In Whispers Under Ground, a rich American kid dies on an underground platform. This leads to a trail of art, pottery, Covent Garden and festive London disruption. 
If you like detective novels or magic these are a must-read. To be honest, even if you're not mad keen, go find them. They're warm, realistic and funny, and they're sometime sickening. 

Book count: 24/50

17 June 2014

Rivers of London

Author:  Ben Aaronovitch
Year published: 2011
Series: Rivers of London 1
Pages: 432
Time It Took To Read: A few days, could've been quicker if I hadn't taken my time

Imagine if Harry Potter didn't go to Hogwarts, and 12 years later, he was working for the police when someone said 'yer a wizard, Harry'. That's how I described the pretext of this book to my sister. I don't think I can improve it.
Peter Grant is a fairly rubbish Met copper, who just before he finishes his preliminary training, has a chat to a ghost at a crime scene. From there, his career path wildly deviates from the path he wasn't really looking forward to. Not only is something possessing people to commit awful crimes, there's gang warfare breaking out between the rivers. No spoilers.
I loved it. I don't even want to write a proper review because I want to go and start the second one right now. I SAVOURED this book. I read it slowly (not one for reading things slowly, me), I thought about it, re-read bits if I didn't 'get' them the first time. London is lovingly, perfectly described, and the people are believable and solid. Except when they're ghosts, and then they're just malevolent. 
It's perfect for those who like their supernatural fiction to be actually believable, and not too romantic. 

I'm also reading The Odyssey at the moment. Which is quite the different tack. 

Book count: 22/50

12 June 2014


Author:  Conn Iggulden
Year published: 2013
Series: War of the Roses, books 1
Pages: 512
Time It Took To Read: A couple of days

You may have sensed a theme in my recent reading. Historical fiction (plus some fantasy), are really the only fiction books I like. And recently, I've been reading buckets of them. I am AGGRIEVED that once again, I have started a series of books that isn't even close to being finished yet. Truly, this makes me cross. My patience is thin, but I only need to wait for September for the next one.

So, the Wars of the Roses. A horrible, bloody struggle between the descendants of Edward III, which ended up in Henry VII - who had the weakest claim to the throne - taking the crown after the Battle of Bosworth Field. This series takes a rather different view of the political machinations that led to it (notably the surrendering of French land in exchange for a French bride), using an invented spymaster as the go-between amongst the factions, plotting and trying to keep the increasingly unwell Henry VI on the throne. There are bloody battles, people die without warning (shadows of A Song of Ice and Fire with this), and it's fascinating. There is real grit.

Most of the historical fiction I read of this period is framed in the eyes of women, and their historical powerlessness.  Much as I love a bit of romantic historical fiction (Alison Weir/Philippa Gregor), women do tend to lack nuance - either weak innocents, or megalomaniac monsters. This book, however, I loved because Margaret d'Anjou is amazing. She cries a lot, but she holds the power of the throne for her incapacitated husband. She's frightened, but doesn't show it. She takes the initiative. 

The historical notes at the end are lengthy, because Mr Iggulden (GREAT NAME) has taken a lot of liberties with the time scale, but I don't mind that. The only thing I have against this book is that I have to wait for more of them. 

Happy news! If I pass my exams, I'm buying myself a Kindle. Until then, I have about 20 books I've garnered and not read yet. BOOKS! THERE WILL ONLY BE BOOKS!

Book count: 21/50

9 June 2014

The Constant Princess and The Boleyn Inheritance

Author:  Philippa Gregory
Year published: 2005 and 2006
Series: The Tudors, books 1 and 3 (chronologically)
Pages: 490 and 528
Time It Took To Read: A day each

I read The Other Boleyn YEARS ago, which was Philippa Gregory's first Tudor novel (although the second, chronologically) and decided to read these as something light while revising. Which was a mistake, because these books are bloody addictive. They're not in the same ballpark as Mantel, but still enjoyable, and interesting. 

The Constant Princess covers the life of Katherine of Aragon, my favourite wife of Henry VIII. It tells the story of her first years in England, and her first marriage as well as her second. Katherine, if you didn't know, was married first to Henry's older brother, Arthur. That was his grounds for trying to divorce her years later when she didn't give him a healthy son. God was punishing him for shagging his brother's wife. Except that the Bible actually states you SHOULD shag your brother's widow if he dies heirless. But that's by the by: the crux is that Katherine claimed her first marriage was never consummated, and since Arthur died not long after their marriage, nobody could prove it either way. This book attempts to explain why she stood her ground over the virginity/divorce matter, and also portrays her as a young woman instead of the fat, barren, old hag that hangs in the background of other Tudor fiction as though she was always that way. The glaring historical inaccuracies are annoying if you know your Tudor onions, but it's still a good read.

The Boleyn Inheritance springs forward thirty years to the fourth and fifth marriages of Henry VIII. Anne of Cleves was divorced because of non-consummation, Katherine Howard was beheaded for sleeping with other men. The book speaks through Jane Rochford, who was the sister in law of Anne Boleyn, and narrowly escaped with her head after that due to giving evidence against both Anne and her husband George. She then returned to court, as Anne of Cleves lady in waiting and Katherine Howard's after her. She was complicit in Katherine Howard's adultery, and lost her head for it. That's the historical element: the book weaves a tale of Jane Rochford being an instrument of the Duke of Norfolk, and either really foolish or really evil. I enjoyed this one, as these wives of Henry VIII tend to get overlooked as ugly and slutty, when they were somewhat more complex than that.

Now...I have finished my exams (OH THANK GOD) and reading can commence once more! I have a pile of unread books like you wouldn't believe...

Book count: 20/50

21 May 2014


Author: Peter Ackroyd
Year published: 2012
Series: A History of England, vol. II
Pages: 528
Time It Took To Read: A week or so, intermittently

I love the Tudor period of history. It's the soap opera tangle, with far more death, sex, and personality than is usually considered decent in history. It makes history seem real, and present in a way that other periods don't (although the Plantagenets are finally getting an airing). It took me by surprise when Peter Ackroyd devoted an ENTIRE BOOK of his history of England to them, when the first book managed to take in several thousand years. However, Ackroyd is a hell of a history writer, with an almost deranged prolixity. 

Anyway, I haven't read the first in the series, and was surprised to find this book on the Tudors misses out the very first, Henry VII. I found this a bit of a disappointment, as you can't really understand much about them without knowing that Henry VIII's older brother Arthur was both married to his first wife (Katherine of Aragon), and supposed to be king before dying in late adolescence. 

It's a good read, though can feel a bit aimless and loose at times. It's also difficult to keep track of what years he's talking about. I think David Starkey has pretty much written the definitive Tudor books for non-expert readers, but it was nice to read an alternate historiography. 

Book count: 18/50

It's nearly exam time, so reading is seriously limited at the moment, but come June I SHALL READ ALL THE THINGS!

12 May 2014


Author: Nigel Slater
Year published: 2013
Pages: 464
Time It Took To Read: About a week

I cook for two adults, and two young children. My fiancé doesn't get home until 6pm most nights, so whatever we eat has to be able to feed me and the boys around 5pm, and stay 'fresh' til 6, when he can reheat his. Souffles are out. I think most families tend to fall into something of a cooking rut, moreso when children are young and picky. My eldest son is on the autistic spectrum, and will occasionally decide not to eat something because he doesn't like the look or texture of it. I do the majority of the cooking, and tend to have about ten 'favourites' that I do on rotation, notably something-and-chips, enchiladas, sausage/mince casserole, sausage and mash, chicken curry, roast chicken, chicken noodle soup, a parade of pasta bakes, and chilli con carne. These are things I know everyone likes and will eat. But it gets boring, and I am a greedy food fanatic. 
I love Nigel Slater. His recipes are always totally reliable, and delicious. I have only cooked one recipe from this so far, and that was sausage and tomato lasagne. It involved mushing sausage meat up, and making a simple sauce from cream and mustard, and was delicious. I can't wait to cook more. The recipes are ordered into sections such as handheld food, stews, bakes. There's a tiny pudding section. There are two indexes: one at the front by main ingredients, and one at the back by other ingredients. Everything sounds gorgeous, and most recipes fit on one page, so no missing half the instructions because they're over the page. Recipes feed one, two or four and are easily multiplied. Nothing takes long to cook, or prepare. I love it.

Book count: 17/50

22 April 2014

The Crow Road

Author: Iain Banks
Year published: 1992
Pages: 512
Time It Took To Read: Two days

My fiancé suggested I read this when I claimed I didn't want to read any of my ENORMOUS COLLECTION OF UNREAD BOOKS. I go through phases of this. Anyway, it's one of his favourite books of all time, so I obliged.
It concerns Prentice McHoan, the somewhat deadbeat middle child of the younger generation of the McHoan clan. He has escaped the family town of Gallanach, where it seems everyone is related to everyone, to study (badly) at Glasgow. He likes drink, drugs, music, trying to get laid, and trying to avoid his family. He doesn't speak to his dad because they differ in religious view, and his grandmother's just died, so back he must go. There's also the mystery of why his Uncle Rory known to be a unreliable, hasn't been back to Gallanach for years. He doesn't even come back for his mother's funeral. 
This book is a catalogue of death. Indeed, it seems Prentice only comes of age because of the deaths of so many of his friends and family. And the deaths reveal slowly the secrets of Gallanach.
I enjoyed it. Iain Banks was a hell of a writer, and this book is full of languorous prose, like having a warm bath in description. The cultural references place it inextricably in 1990, which is a time I vaguely remember as one of starting school and hating chips and being steadily outflanked by younger siblings. It was simultaneously vaguely recognisable and terribly dated. Everyone is believable, and pretty much everyone who has ever attempted to escape a village or small-town life will recognise themselves in Prentice. 

Book count:  16/50

Roseanna, The Man Who Went Up In Smoke, The Man On The Balcony


Author: Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
Year: 1965, 1966, 1967
Series: Martin Beck books 1 - 3
Pages: Approx 300 pages each
Time It Took To Read: A few hours each

My love of detective stories has been rekindled by the amazing Cuckoo's Calling, and I've had the Martin Beck stories lying in wait on my ebook since October. So I read the first three over the Easter weekend.
In Roseanna, a body is found. Nobody is missing, nobody knows who she is, so how are they supposed to find her killer?
In The Man Who Went Up In Smoke, a journalist has been missing for a couple of weeks, but for some reason the foreign office are involved and want it investigated....quietly.
In The Man On The Balcony, children are being raped and murdered, the city is in uproar, and the police cannot find the killer - every policeman's worst nightmare, I expect.
I love these books. I plan to read the rest over summer. You see the crime and investigation almost solely through the investigator's eyes. There are no first-person murderer narratives jarring into view. If the police don't know, the reader doesn't know (this is slightly deviated from in The Man In The Balcony, but not by much). And I love that, I love seeing it unfold, and trying to guess whodunnit. Unlike a lot of detective stories, the murderer isn't one of a number of suspects dangled before your eyes from page 1. Also, unusually, these books are mostly unconcerned with motive, or justice. Once the criminal is caught, the story ends, pretty abruptly. It is refreshing, and stark. It is pre-DNA, so the forensic examination is generally fingerprints and notes, and waiting for analysis, rather than UV lit sperm at the crime scene.
The Martin Beck stories revolutionised crime writing, and they're quite unlike most modern crime books. But they haven't aged, and have a realism and freshness that I adore.

Book count: 15/50

14 April 2014


Author: Hugh Aldersey-Williams
Year: 2013
Pages: 320
Time It Took To Read: Months to finish

I am a student of health and social care, but I'm not really studying health and social care at all. I'm studying the philosophy, evolution, science and practice of medicine. The social aspect comes into it, but as I believe the health and social care systems need to be fully integrated, it's all part of the whole and shouldn't be separate. I think one of the most dangerous parts of modern medicine is cartesian dualism - that the body and person are separate entities. Healthcare needs to be holistic. I don't mean alternative medicine, I mean actual NHS healthcare needs to take into account the person across the board. It's something I feel intensely strongly about, most particularly in psychiatry and obstetrics.

Anyway, I got this book because I've read the author's book on chemistry, Periodic Tales, and it was one of the first really interesting things I've read about elements. And I have a long fascination with physiology and anatomy. It took me ages to read, because I literally wanted to discuss every single thing I read in it with someone, so didn't get very far very fast.

Everyone has, at some point, been treated as a body. You've got a throat infection? Observe the swollen throat and treat. If you're lucky, you have a GP who understands that you can't take time off work, or rest, or afford your prescription, but otherwise your throat is the issue, divorced from your personhood. This book takes the opposite view, relating anatomy and systems to a culture and philosophy. Why is there no standard of beauty? Why is someone's gender so important and unimportant at the same time? Why do we develop symmetrically: how does the left arm know it is left? Why are left handed people historically treated as freaks? If we could live forever, would we want to? The author manages to discuss complicated scientific ideas without it becoming arduous, and uses endless sociological, cultural, and philosophical ideas and models to remind the reader that their body is simultaneously their whole reality and their empty shell. 

If you're interested in health, medicine, anatomy, society, sociology, demography, philosophy, culture or just generally in people, this is a fantastic book. I loved it. 

Book count: 12/50

11 April 2014

After Dead

Author: Charlaine Harris
Series: Southern Vampire Mysteries
Year: 2013
Pages: 200
Time It Took To Read: Fifteen minutes. I'm not lying.

This is the most disappointing book I've ever read. Ever.

I thought it'd be akin to The Sookie Stackhouse Companion, which is a meaty fan-friendly book of trivia, extra and ACTUAL CONTENT. Alas, I was wrong. 200 pages which could easily be condensed to 45, with a few lines to sum up the characters' ending. Quinn, for example, gets a WHOLE PAGE to describe his ending, but only five words (He had many more adventures). It's an affront to trees, this waste of paper. I don't know why Charlaine Harris even bothered writing it, except as a money spinning exercise. Nobody has a satisfactory ending: it's all misery, death and mundanity. The combination of this and the last proper book has taken away all the joy I had in this series. If I'd paid for this, I'd be LIVID, it's going for NINE POUNDS on Amazon and I doubt there's more than 3000 words in the whole thing.

I am taking this deeply personally, I know.

Book count: 11/50

8 April 2014

Dead Ever After

Author: Charlaine Harris
Series: Southern Vampire Mysteries 13
Year: 2013
Pages: 352
Time It Took To Read: Three hours

I have been waiting for this to come out in paperback since last year. I cannot be doing with cluttering my house up with hardbacks. The covers fall off, they take up immense amounts of space, they hurt to hold too long because I've got a faulty wrist. But this is one of the few book series that I have read AS a book series, rather than started with book ended in ebook. I needed an ending.
In preparation, I read all twelve preceding books in order over a few days. 

I was a bit worried in case the ending was shit. A series you've invested in has the potential to disappoint in a way non-series books do not. And lots and lots of fans DID think the ending was shit, and loudly declaimed this only. I avoided spoilers, and this is a non-spoiler review.

I liked it. I don't see how it could have ended any other way, while still being true to the central character. But there were lots of things left unsaid and undone that I would have liked a better ending on. As a postscript, she's written a book about What Happens Next, which I plan to read as soon as my beloved brings home my charger cable for my ereader... 
It does suffer slightly from a change in narrative style. Sookie has upset a lot of people over the years and they want revenge, and this point of view doesn't fit with the narrative of any of the other books, so it jars. Then it lapses back into the usual style. There's only one sex scene, and it's appallingly written. The sex itself is believable, but the way it's written made me cringe. It's not a particularly well thought out plot: the final villain isn't really believable in motive, and I was disappointed. The series deserved to go out on a bigger bang than this.

I'm a bit sad it's ended. I do love vampire mystery soft core, and I don't watch True Blood because bleeding wrists make me faint. But perhaps it's better this way than Charlaine Harris just churning out books to make money.

Book count: 10/50

The Filth of Roald Dahl

Author: Roald Dahl
Year: 1979
Pages: 208
Time It Took To Read: A couple of hours

Author: Roald Dahl
Year: 1974
Pages: 208
Time It Took To Read: About an hour

My eldest son bloody loves Roald Dahl. He is obsessed with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but loves all of them. I loved them myself as a child, loved the edge of darkness. I have read Dahl's story about the leg of lamb murder, but this was the first time I've read his adult fiction.
Dear reader, it is filth.
And I love it.

My Uncle Oswald is a story about a debauched man who develops an aphrodisiac akin to Spanish Fly, but stronger, and then collects the sperm of the famous to sell to greedy women hoping to buy genius. He has help from Yasmin Howcomely, a girl with a similar worldview. Oswald's motto is to never sleep with the same woman twice. The book is littered with food, drink, luxury, sex and snort-inducing hilarity. 
Switch Bitch is a collection of four stories. Two are about Oswald again, getting his end away (or trying to) in rather improbable conditions, and more experiments in aphrodisiac. One is about two men who organise a secret wife swap, with a genuinely hysterical twist at the end. And finally, in the darkest short story I've ever read, a widow tries a new relationship with awful results.

I really enjoyed these books, and I want to read more dark Dahl. 

Book count: 9/50

The Cuckoo's Calling

Author: Robert Galbraith (or J.K Rowling, as he's better known)
Series: Cormoran Strike
Year: 2013
Pages: 464
Time It Took To Read: Three days

That J.K Rowling's a wily one. Instead of writing an encyclopedia of Potterdom (which she should), she diverts us by writing a detective story in the guise of a man. And I absolutely understand why, and why she adopted a pseudonym. I haven't read The Casual Vacancy, because I'm not a massive fan of fiction (not that you'd know, reading this blog), but my sister lent me this and I was in PAROXYSMS of AWE throughout.

Everyone knows you can't have a normal detective. Detectives always have a flaw, preferably several. They smoke, they drink, they're ugly, they can't keep relationships down, they are shit fathers, they cry out for vengeance, they are gruff, they have no friends, they enclose themselves in such a cloak of dour arseholeness that nobody wants to work with them. Cormoran Strike, the detective of this book, has many of the above flaws, plus an absence of leg, but manages not to be either defined by his flaws, or irritatingly unlikeable because of them. 
Detectives also need a long suffering sidekick. Holmes had his Watson, Morse had his Lewis, and Strike has his Robin. Robin, a temp, turns out to be surprisingly good at detective groundwork. Which is handy. 
And the victim, a beautiful, fucked-up model, has fallen to her death from her luxurious mansion. None of the police involved go quite as far as saying "Are yew saying it was MUR-DUR?" like Doris in Hot Fuzz, but that's the general gist. 

I loved it. It was immersive, on the nose with celebrity culture, and not too obvious. I can't wait for the next one, which is apparently due out June.

Book count: 7/50

26 March 2014

A Place of Greater Safety

Author: Hilary Mantel
Year: 1992
Pages: 880
Time It Took To Read: Over a week - it's MEATY

I've been swamped, literally swamped, with uni work since Christmas. If I'm not ignoring one module to concentrate on a TMA, I'm doing the reverse. This book was a treat for getting my January essays in on time, but I didn't start reading it til last week.

Oh my God, you guys, she needs to crack on with the last Cromwell book.

Anyway, prior to reading this book, I knew absolutely nothing about the French Revolution. I studied it briefly in year 9, but spent more time sniggering about people having to sleep in the corpse of their horse. I was a heartless child. I knew that a lot of people got their head cut off, and that it was probably ultimately not a terrible thing, but no details.
Well, now I feel like I lived through it. That's the power of Mantel's writing; one sentence and you're there. One line, one tiny piece of description and the scene is set. I think, as with her Cromwell books, it's a lot better to read if you already have a fair idea of who's who and what actually happened.
It portrays the lives of Maximilien Robespierre, Georges Danton and Camille Desmoulins, three leading revolutionaries who began as lawyers. Their love, their pain, their hate, aggression, anger, humour is all in the book. They become three dimensional, but oddly inscrutable. Their women are as important as the men, acting as a domestic balance to their almost fantastical political world, but also involved in it.
As the book drives on through death, factions, more death, insurrection, and death, you KNOW people that have been fully developed are going to die. As I couldn't remember the facts of the Revolution, I didn't know til the very end who died in what order. The last forty pages were compulsive.
It's brilliant. I am sad that I've finished it.

Book count: 6/50

A History of Ancient Britain

Author: Neil Oliver
Year: 2012
Pages: 480
Time It Took To Read: About five days

It can be difficult to find a book about prehistoric Britain that isn't laden with so much jargon that it makes it impenetrable. It's also difficult to find one with a good narrative. The simple fact is that it's hard to make a story out of limited evidence and no written artefacts.
Neil Oliver manages to weave a narrative that MAKES SENSE, that doesn't require specialist knowledge, and that is peppered with little imagined events that give it life, rather than simply being fanciful. I particularly love the way he points to the lore found in nonsense rhymes and stories, and if anyone can recommend more books that do this, please let me know.
I loved this book. I wasn't really expecting to, but I got really immersed. It takes you right up to the Roman invasion, and it's an excellent overview. 

Book count: 5/50

6 March 2014

The Spy's Bedside Book

Author: Hugh and Graham Greene
Year: 1957
Pages: 272
Time It Took To Read: Three days

I bought this to read in bed. Everyone needs a bit of late night escapism. But I was sorely disappointed. The excerpts aren't long enough, there's very little context, and true stories are not distinguished from fiction. 
If you want a spy anthology, get The Headline Book of Spy Fiction by Alan Williams.

Book count: 4/50

The Churchills

Author: Mary S. Lovell
Year: 2012
Pages: 640
Time It Took To Read: Three days

I've got literally three books on the go, and five more in the wings. One day, I'll actually concentrate and finish them, but it is not this day.

There is something captivating (for me, at least) about society families in the Edwardian era. The changes wrought by the two world wars are fascinating. The change in lifestyle, the degradation of value, the shifts in hierarchy: all fascinating. I have read practically every decent book I can get about the Mitfords, and bought this for my mum for her birthday a couple of years ago...and then borrowed it to read myself.
The book centres on Winston and Clementine Churchill, but goes back to the Stuart era, when the first Duke of Marlborough was created. It ends with the death of Clementine in 1977, with a postscript on the fate of their descendants. There is much adultery, forced marriage, wayward children, scandal and gossip, with the statesmen of the family anchoring the narrative. 
The book touches on the politics of Churchill, but largely focuses on family life. It is slightly gossipy, with an occasional total lack of citation. I have read Mary Lovell's book on the Mitfords, and that had similar issues. However, it's a well written overview that doesn't see Winston Churchill solely as the bulldog of Parliament. 

Book count: 3/50

27 January 2014

Beyond Black

Author: Hilary Mantel
Year: 2005
Pages: 451
Time It Took To Read: A day of pretty much solid reading

You wait all month to finish a book, and then do two in two days.
Oh, Hilary Mantel! I read the Cromwell books last summer and LIVED in them. I'm generally not a fiction fan, but Mantel writes obliquely enough for me to know exactly what she means without feeling it. It sounds like bollocks when you say you 'feel' what the characters feel when you read a book, but that's what I do. I don't visualise it, I feel it. In fact, I live it. It means books like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo make me feel awful for days after reading them. It's why I prefer non-fiction or fiction from a male perspective. 
Beyond Black is a book about women, and the men that have hurt them and made them miserable. It is also about mediums, and sceptics. I am a massive sceptic about mediums. I think they exploit the grieving with their utter bollocks, but this book makes you think well...what if they WERE real? What demons would they face every day, listening to the lost dead witter on? What if the dead held a grudge? Why do some people who hear voices get locked up or medicated, and others get TV shows? 
Alison, the medium, has a history of utter misery and secrets so dark, she is literally haunted by them. Colette, her manager, is a woman who has had a bitter, beige sort of existence. And Morris...Morris is grim.
There is a deep, sensual realism in Mantel's writing, that lets you breathe the world she describes. Places you know you've been: the new build estate, the flashy chain restaurant, the dodgy village hall, the relentless toll of the motorway - all drawn perfectly. 
I can't wait to read more of her stuff. 

Book count: 2/50

26 January 2014

Overground Underground

Author: Andrew Martin
Year published: 2012
Pages: 320
Time It Took To Read: A few nights

This year, the #50books2014 is being hosted by Sara. I don't think I'm going to hit it this year, but I shall have a go. 
This month has been chaos, but I have finally finished a book. I've got three on the go now... I've had a lot of uni work on, which means a LOT of reading, writing, reading, cursing, writing and then FEAR waiting for the results. I've also finally seen the paediatrician with my eldest, and he's on the autistic spectrum. This isn't a surprise to us, but having it confirmed is a lot to swallow. On top of all that, I got engaged at the beginning of the month, and since we're getting married in August, that's a lot of planning that needs doing NOW.

But...I managed to read this. I am an unashamed geek about railways. So much so that my boyfriend proposed on a disused railway platform. I love the underground as only one who doesn't NEED to use it can. I love how it sprawls across London like a drunk. Each station is different, some historical, some shiny and huge (Jubilee extension, I'm looking at you). This book covers the history of the system, and aside from somehow missing out the 7/7 bombings seems comprehensive. It's also enjoyably written with trivia dotted about, which makes it a far more entertaining read than some other books on the Underground I've read recently. 

Book Count: 1/50