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December 01, 2012


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Iain Banks' 'Stonemouth'

Horns by Joe Hill. Dark, dirty, brilliant.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Tight, fresh, unexpected, and beautifully written. The ending seems to divide readers, but I loved it - and so did my non-fiction-reading husband.

Hemingway's Boat by Paul Hendrickson is an absolutely stunning book, i thought - a retelling of all the old twoddle about EH's life, but through a completely different lens, and with tons of wonderful tangential social history too about Long Island boatyards and aspiring young writers who got old never having published anything. superb book for any dads Ha ha

When She Woke by Hilary Jordan (I am still feeling big LOVE for this book)

Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai... because it exists, and because it finally exists in English (props to George Szirtes).

And The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus for the same reason, apart from not being translated by George Szirtes, because it's already in English.

I think the book I most enjoyed this year was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

I'll second Gone Girl. The Twelve by Justin Cronin was a worthy follow up to The Passage, especially the first half. Broken Harbour by Tana French was a wonderful thriller, Liz Jensen's The Uninvited, and like most people I fell in love with Wonder by RJ Palacio. Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers was such a good non-fic too.

Another vote for Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Also Broken Harbour by Tana French for amazing atmospher, Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann for brilliantly clever structure, The Good Father by Noah Hawley, The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman.

S May's Life! Death! Prizes! Funny and touching, also sweetly bleak. Also, I'd like Jake Arnott's House of Rumour, but we do share agents (and it needs a bloody good edit)

Two favourites from me:

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Two girls in WW2 - a pilot and a member of SOE. A stunning achievement - I was bereft when I finished it.

The Knot by Mark Watson. Didn't expect to like it - absolutely LOVED it. Just brilliant.

I loved Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway!

I'd also recommend Gwendoline Riley's novel Opposed Positions. An unsettling and merciless examination of the people we are supposed to love.

And I'm going to second Andrea's vote for Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It's great fun.

The Wicked Girls. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wicked-Girls-Alex-Marwood/dp/0751547980

One summer day, three little girls meet for the first time. By the end of the day, two will be charged with murder.

Absolutely one of the best books I've read this year.

Life, Death and Vanilla Slices http://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Vanilla-Slices-Jenny-Eclair/dp/1847444938/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1354358058&sr=1-1

Black humour, sharp observations, terrific plot. Can't recommend highly enough.

No surprises here: Where'd You Go, Bernadette, which had me howling from the blackberry bush incident onwards. And also Kerry Hudson's Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. This book tripped me up with how much I loved it. It's the painful, mesmerising details & Janey Ryan's voice that have you gripped even when you want to stop.

Tell The Wolves I'm Home, Seating Arrangement, Flight Behaviour are three I loved and am still thinking about.

Oh! And in a year when I've read hundreds of short stories, DW Wilson's Once I Break A Knuckle still astonishes me. Vulnerable men and unknowable nature. It's amazing.

I liked Tuesday's Gone by Nicci French. Good, gripping psychological crime thrillers are rare.

Osama by Lavie Tidhar. A strange slipstream novel which captures the tone of a really grizzled noir novel and then takes it to very strange and dark places.

Hats off to Geoff Dyer for deliberately appealing to as few people as possible. In Zona, he has described, pretty much scene-by-scene, an obscure Russian sci-fi film from the seventies interspersed with autobiographical footnotes. Nobody will pick it up, fewer will buy it, fewer still will read it but those who do will agree, by the end, that Tarkovski's Stalker is the greatest film ever made.

Yet another vote for Gone Girl. A beautifully written, audacious and twisted peek into the dark heart of marriage. Best non-fiction for me was Moranthology; a collection of Caitlin Moran's Times columns. By turns hilarious, furious and hugely moving, proof if it was needed that Moran is consistently the best columnist we have.

I'm joining the Gone Girl chorus. Narrative gymnastics and an astonishingly powerful voice from both lead characters. But I can't ignore Megan Abbott's Dare Me - dark, stylish and brilliant, like all her work. (And if it wasn't for your same publisher ban, I'd be raving about Stav Sherez's A Dark Redemption, too!)

The Twelve by Justin Cronin was even better than The Passage - a huge, Stand-like blockbuster that had me sitting up through the night. Favourite crime novel was A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez because it has everything you could want from a thriller and is even better-written than his tweets. And I would choose James Smythe's The Testimony but we share an agent and publisher so am not allowed.

Yet another vote for Gone Girl, which I had to read in one sitting. I also loved Tell The Wolves I'm Home, Tigers in Red Weather and The White Lie by Andrea Gillies.

Three stand-outs in my 2012 reading, two in fiction and one non-fiction:
Alex Marwood – The Wicked Girls
Incredible tension and reflecting issues we are not comfortable with in society today: rehabilitation and media manipulation.
Stav Sherez – A Dark Redemption
Outstanding and a fresh eye is cast over London, from an immigrant’s POV.
Books to Die For – John Connolly and Declan Burke (editors)
An essential text for the crime aficionado to luxuriate in. Kept me reading to 3am too!

Slaughter's Hound by Declan Burke (no relation). A suitably twisted, darkly humorous noir novel with a uniquely Irish twist. Crime novel of the year and a great read

Best overall read - 'Any Human Heart' by William Boyd. Best new book - 'Pig Iron' by Benjamin Myers. Both wonderful and brilliant and both are books I look forward to re-reading.

In this order:

Pig Iron - Benjamin Myers
99 Reasons Why - Caroline Smailes
The Tattooist - Louise Black

I loved 'Codename Verity' by Elizabeth Wein and am buying copies for Christmas presents. Other YA books that I enjoyed: 'Second Chance Summer' by Megan Matson and 'Torn' by Cat Clarke.

I have read so many great books this year, so hard to narrow them down (and I usually refuse to do this sort of thing until 31st December but as Scott asked so nicely...).

Novel: The Testimony by James Smythe - clever use of multiple narratives to explore differing beliefs when the world hears a voice in the sky.

Short stories: Diving Belles by Lucy Wood - beautiful and enchanting stories combining Cornish mythology and every day life.

Non fiction: The Violinist's Thumb by Sam Kean - fascinating and immensibly readable history of DNA.

Young adult: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry - what sounds like yet another girl meets bad boy story turns out to be raw and realistic story-telling tackling mental illness and custody issues with the overriding desire to be normal.

Please correct "immensibly" to immensely if you're going to quote that. Brain fail!

The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman. Emotionally draining but so, so good. Loved it so much that it's going to be the Portsmouth City Read in 2013, with free copies across the city!

Also, Wildwood by Colin Meloy. Big fan of The Decemberists do was bound to like this, but was really satisfying to read a book for young people that didn't talk down to them.

For me, The Good Father by Noah Hawley deserves mention. From the first line – ‘He bought the gun in Long Beach’ – I was hooked into the story of a father’s quest to save his son. Emotional and compelling, it stayed with me long after I’d finished. (A book I wouldn’t have read had it not been for a recommendation whilst browsing in Goldsboro Books.)

Gifted by anonymous.


The story behind the 10 anonymous book sculptures which appeared in various Edinburgh arts institutions over a period of a year. £8.99 at Amazon, £10 elsewhere, and a present you could give to almost anyone.

In no particular order, my favourite new reads of 2012 were:

Everything’s Fine by Socrates Adams.

Captivity by Lander Hawes.

Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth.

Jubilee Hitchhiker (a biography Of Richard Brautigan) by
William Hjortsberg.

Dirt by David Vann.

The White Goddess: An Encounter by Simon Gough.

Nod by Adrian Barnes.

Skagboys by Irvine Welsh.

Grow Up by Ben Brooks.

The Adult by Joe Stretch.

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy.

Copendium by Julian Cope.

Burning Bright by Ron Rash.

My favorite 2012 book was Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. A young man in the 1960s tries to attract tourists to his family's small resort in a sleepy Italian town. One day, the outside world arrives in the form of an actress from Hollywood. The novel travels from past to future amd back, tracing the ripples this chance meeting have made. Beautiful writing, masterful construction. Loved it.

I’m going to select a self-published book: Wool by Hugh Howey. This may not be the best book of 2012, but it’s one of the better self-published novels I’ve ever read. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel, where people are forced to live underground in a gigantic silo. It’s my choice, not for the sci-fi aspects—because the feasibility (in my mind) of some of it is questionable—but because of the writing and the characters. (It was picked up by the director, Ridley Scott, to be made in either a TV series or a movie. I hope it’s a hit.)

As an aside, (and maybe going against the point of this post, so I apologize in advance), I see a few people selected Tell the Wolves I’m Home. I just finished this book and, while I think it was well done and worth reading, I had a problem with some of the characters. Interesting how readers can have such a different reaction to the same book.

To end on a “best of” note: I just finished Black Bread White Beer by Nivan Govinden last night, and I am still thinking about it this morning.

Artful by Ali Smith and Swimming Home by Deborah Levy - two beautifully written and strikingly unusual books, that I wanted to start again as soon as I'd finished.

I loved The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and The Testimony by James Smythe. Two very different books but with such original construction, ideas and stunning execution. I also loved John O'Farrell's The Man Who Forgot His Wife - great characterisation and a surprisingly touching storyline.

I really enjoyed Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson, the first volume in his new Malazan trilogy, and totally fell in love with Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles. Both Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka and The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng deserve mentions for being beautifully written too.

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane. A series of sketches of his walks from Cambridge along the various "old ways" of this country, evoking the peoples, times and places, the stories and the songs, the poems and the poets. Beautifully written by this most thoughtful of men, I haven't read anything finer this year.

Winter Journal by Paul Auster. It's a really good read. It caused me reflect on my life and made me think about the many things that have happened during my lifetime. It's an excellent and very well written book, which I would thoroughly recommend. Auster once wrote that the purpose of a book is to entertain. It certainly does that.

This "no logrolling" rule of yours is tough, Scott. I'll try. Suzanne Treister's "Hexen 2.0" is a beautiful and sinister art project - a tarot deck remastered for the internet age - released as a book by Black Dog. It absolutely blew me away. Jonathan Meades' "Museum Without Walls" is erudite and hugely entertaining. Verso had a good year: David Harvey's "Rebel Cities" and Daniel Trilling's "Bloody Nasty People" were both fascinating and troubling. I also enjoyed John Jeremiah Sullivan's "Pulphead" but for me Mark Dery's "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts" was stranger and more satisfying. William Gibson's "Distrust That Particular Flavour" was another great collection in a very good year for essays.

Gone Girl definitely deserves a place as one of the best I've read this year - it's clever, different, sharp and insightful - but actually, I wouldn't say I enjoyed it. Where'd You Go Bernadette is excellent in all ways. But my favourite discovery this year is Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson, found in a charity shop - I had no idea what to expect, and was astonished on almost literally every page.

Without a shadow of doubt, my book of the year has been the wonderful Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. A beautiful love story that had me at hello.

Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan is the best non-fiction I've read in a long time. Then, May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes and Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway are both fantastic books, but Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner deserves the highest praise, I think.

My fav read of this year has been Pig Iron by Ben Myers. Just stunning. I also really enjoyed the stories translated from German collected in Crime & Guilt by Ferdinand von Schirach. The graphic novel Habibi by Craig Thompson completely held my attention at the beginning of the year - beautiful artwork. Other special mentions to Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May.

Novels: What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang. The Age of Miracles - Karen Thompson Walker.

Poetry: little armoured by Rebecca Perry.

Short Stories: Sweet Home by Carys Bray.

Seconding Amro's vote for Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways, a book best enjoyed over several months, my goodness it's beautiful. (As is he. Although, we're readers, we'e not meant to care about that sort of thing *coughs awkwardly*).

No one has yet mentioned Billy Lynn's Long Half-Time Walk, which I did not expect to like, mainly because I never really properly warmed to Catch-22 and that book is ALL OVER the cover. But by about 2 pages in, I was totally hooked. Yes, there is a bit of wish-fulfilment ending. Yes, there is a hot cheerleader. And Beyoncé (briefly). Yes, Billy seems more articulate than his background and education might lead you to expect. But as a snapshot of the insanity of domestic reactions to war in the States, it's unbeatable. Best enjoyed before watching 4 episodes of Homeland back-to-back.

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Books Read: 2014

  • Takashi Hiraide: The Guest Cat

    Takashi Hiraide: The Guest Cat
    Japanese novella about a childless couple who 'adopt' a local cat. Pleasant enough but a bit lightweight. (***)

  • Peter Carey: Amnesia

    Peter Carey: Amnesia
    This may well be the worst book I have ever read. Clumsy, confused and, I would argue, only partially finished. Feels like a bad first draft. (*)

  • Craig Brown: One on One

    Craig Brown: One on One
    101 true encounters told in chapters of 1001 words. Helen Keller meets Martha Graham, Graham meets Madonna, Madonna meets Jacko, Jacko meets Nancy Reagan, Nancy meets Andy Warhol, and so on through a biographical baton race. Quite wonderful. (*****)

  • Richard Cowper: A Tapestry of Time

    Richard Cowper: A Tapestry of Time
    Final part of the White Bird of Kinship series of novels and stories. Nice to see the story wrapped up but this is perhaps the least successful volume. (***)

  • Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl

    Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl
    A proper page-tuner. Great entertainment, even if the two lead characters are absolute cunts. (****)

  • Dan Davies: In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile

    Dan Davies: In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile
    Grim but gripping portrait of a complex man. Doesn't sensationalise any of the subject matter. Manage to balance a morbid fascination with an objective take on what happened. (****)

  • David Mitchell: The Bone Clocks

    David Mitchell: The Bone Clocks
    Great first half. Dodgy second half. Turns into Highlander at one point. (***)

  • Karen Joy Fowler: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

    Karen Joy Fowler: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
    Interesting premise with an early twist which I am sure no one will see coming. I enjoyed this a great deal but it didn't blow me away. (****)

  • Greg Baxter: Munich Airport

    Greg Baxter: Munich Airport
    Two men, father and son, kill time at a fogbound Munich airport waiting for the flight that will take them, and the body of their dead daughter/sister, back to the US. Off-beat, dark and more than a little depressing. (***)

  • Kat Su: Crap Taxidermy

    Kat Su: Crap Taxidermy
    Very silly book full of pictures of really shit stuffing. Includes a guide to stuff your own mouse. I am sure this will be in lots of Christmas stockings this year. (****)

  • Ian McEwan: The Children Act

    Ian McEwan: The Children Act
    Unremarkable but not bad. A few memorable lines but let down once again but an unnecessary twist at the end. This feels charmingly old fashioned in a world of Mitchells and McBrides. (***)

  • Dan Kavanagh: Fiddle City

    Dan Kavanagh: Fiddle City
    Second in the series of crime novels written by Julian Barnes in the 80s featuring Duffy, a bisexual private detective. Not quite as bleak and compelling as the first but good fun nonetheless. (****)

  • Helle Helle: This Should Be Written in the Present Tense

    Helle Helle: This Should Be Written in the Present Tense
    Frustratingly vague novel from, apparently, one of Denmark's most popular novelists. Not sure this will win her many fans in the UK. It's fine, and I sort of enjoyed it while I was reading it, but have already started to forget it. (***)

  • Tom Robbins: Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life

    Tom Robbins: Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life
    If you like his novels then you will love this memoir. Irreverent, inspiring and hugely entertaining. (****)

  • Haruki Murakami: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

    Haruki Murakami: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
    Quite possibly his most 'normal' novel to date. Very little magical stuff going on. Very good but not sure I loved it. Liked it a lot though. (****)

  • Liz Berry: Black Country

    Liz Berry: Black Country
    A bit of a hit and miss poetry collection. Some amazing writing here but many of the poems are written in Black Country dialect and they were lost on me, to be honest. (***)

  • Philip Hoare: The Sea Inside

    Philip Hoare: The Sea Inside
    Part memoir, part travelogue, part natural history book this meditation on the sea, the people who reside alongside it and the creatures that live in it was full of beautiful writing and fascinating facts. (****)

  • William Horwood: Duncton Wood

    William Horwood: Duncton Wood
    I revisited one of my favourite books after twenty years and enjoyed it just as much. An epic and a genuine classic that is sadly out of print. (*****)

  • Linda Grant: I Murdered My Library

    Linda Grant: I Murdered My Library
    Another Kindle Single, this time an essay about Grant culling her books when she moved from one London flat to another. Will resonate with all book lovers, and especially book hoarders. (****)

  • Jonas Jonasson: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

    Jonas Jonasson: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden
    A young South African girl working in a latrine ends up changing the world through a series of unlikely coincidences and her own remarkable spirit. Jonasson doesn't deviate all that much from his successful formula but that was fine with me. Very funny indeed. I loved it. (*****)

  • A.N. Wilson: The Man Behind Narnia

    A.N. Wilson: The Man Behind Narnia
    A Kindle Single in which Wilson returns to the subject of one of his biographies, CS Lewis, twenty years after he wrote it and uses it to catch up a bit but mainly to explore his own relationship with his faith. The Lewis bits were more interesting than the Wilson bits. (***)

  • Sarah Bakewell: The English Dane: From King of Iceland to Tasmanian Convict

    Sarah Bakewell: The English Dane: From King of Iceland to Tasmanian Convict
    A biography of Jorgen Jogensen, a sailor, whaler, explorer, privateer, naval officer, spy, author dramatist, preacher, revolutionary, gambler, prisoner, convict-doctor, police constable, editor, exile, prospector, drunkard, vagabond and, briefly,King of Iceland. A cracking yarn. (****)

  • Shehan Karunatilaka: Chinaman

    Shehan Karunatilaka: Chinaman
    A dying, alcoholic sports writer attempts to track down the greatest Sri Lankan cricketer no one has ever heard of. Playful novel that won the DSC Prize. (****)

  • Peter Jefferson: And Now the Shipping Forecast

    Peter Jefferson: And Now the Shipping Forecast
    A bit of a jumble—doesn't really know if it wants to be a history of the Shipping Forecast or a personal miscellany of sea-related anecdotes—but managed to contain sufficient detail on the forecast itself to sustain my interest. (***)

  • Michel Faber: Under The Skin

    Michel Faber: Under The Skin
    Read this after seeing the film which is usually the wrong way round but not sure it did any harm this time as they are quite different. I preferred the film, to be honest, as this was a bit heavy handed in places. Good though. (****)

  • Robert K. Massie: Catherine The Great

    Robert K. Massie: Catherine The Great
    I borrowed this from the Kindle Lending Library and then spent about four months reading it off and on. It is a huge book. Impressive too. The chapters on her early years in Russia are particularly good. (****)

  • Brian Moore: The Temptation of Eileen Hughes

    Brian Moore: The Temptation of Eileen Hughes
    The first of Moore's books that I have read. A somewhat cold and austere tale of a young shopgirl taken on holiday by her rich employers. She doesn't see anything odd in this but the reader does, and the reader would be right. I liked this a lot so will check out some more of his stuff. (****)

  • Sun-mi Hwang: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

    Sun-mi Hwang: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
    A fable about a chicken that flees the coop which had been a phenomenal bestseller in the author's home country of South Korea. Just enough of a dark edge to keep me interested. Not bad at all. (***)

  • Jenny Offill: Dept. of Speculation

    Jenny Offill: Dept. of Speculation
    A clever novella comprised of short, poetic paragraphs that has an impressive cumulative effect. Reminded me variously of David Markson, Sarah Salway and Charles Lambert. (****)

  • Jimmy McDonough: Shakey: Neil Young's Biography

    Jimmy McDonough: Shakey: Neil Young's Biography
    Fascinating look into the life and career of an unconventional musician. (****)

  • Joël Dicker: The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair

    Joël Dicker: The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair
    Quite the most preposterous novel I have read since The Da Vinci Code but I must confess I enjoyed it a great deal. (****)

  • Joanna Smith Rakoff: My Salinger Year

    Joanna Smith Rakoff: My Salinger Year
    An account of the year she spent working for JD Salinger's agent, much of which was taken up with answering his fanmail. I liked it a lot. (****)

  • Laura Sims: Fare Forward : Letter from David Markson

    Laura Sims: Fare Forward : Letter from David Markson
    A charming and thought-provoking collection of letters Markson (if you've not heard if him, he's one of the most readable experimental novelists there is) wrote to a young writer and fan towards the end of his life. Comes with some excellent supplementary material too. (****)

  • Julie Maroh: Blue is the Warmest Color

    Julie Maroh: Blue is the Warmest Color
    Good, but nowhere near as good as the movie. (***)

  • John Connolly: The Killing Kind

    John Connolly: The Killing Kind
    I have enjoyed each of Connolly's Charlie Parker novels and this was no exception. (****)

  • Robin Black: Life Drawing

    Robin Black: Life Drawing
    Enjoyed this a lot but somewhat spooked by lots of similarities with a book I publish next month. (****)

  • John Freeman: How to Read a Novelist: Conversations with Writers

    John Freeman: How to Read a Novelist: Conversations with Writers
    An interesting collection of pen portraits based on meetings and interviews the author had with numerous famous authors over the past couple of decades. I kept this by my bedside and dipped in over several months. (****)

  • Dan Kavanagh: Duffy

    Dan Kavanagh: Duffy
    A crime novel written by Julian Barnes under an assumed name back in the early 80s. Set on the seedy streets of Soho it is pretty dark and grim but all the better for it. (****)

  • Nicholson Baker: Travelling Sprinkler

    Nicholson Baker: Travelling Sprinkler
    A frustrating book that is brilliant, quite brilliant, in places but the author goes off on political rants about Obama's drone policy that become tedious and annoying and spoil an otherwise entertaining novel. (***)

  • Steve Martin: Shopgirl

    Steve Martin: Shopgirl
    After a couple of decidedly average novels it was great to tuck into something short and very good. I am not sure Martin gets the credit he deserves as a novelist. He restrains his anarchic humour and offers something beautifully observed and occasionally heartbreaking. (****)

  • Mitch Cullin: A Slight Trick of the Mind

    Mitch Cullin: A Slight Trick of the Mind
    A great concept - Sherlock Holmes was real and we meet him when he is in his 90s, just after WWII - but ends up as a bit of a missed opportunity. Three storylines, none of which are quite finished with any sense of satisfaction. (***)

  • Gerard Woodward: Vanishing

    Gerard Woodward: Vanishing
    An unreliable narrator, but also an inconsistent one, leading to a number of plot holes and cul-de-sacs that left me thinking the book wasn't quite finished. A bit of a muddle but enjoyable when it worked. (***)

  • Natsume Soseki: Kokoro

    Natsume Soseki: Kokoro
    Took a while to work for me but once I got into it I really enjoyed it. A Japanese novel from the early part of the last century. Reminded me of EM Forster in the way it presented restrained emotions. (****)

  • Ted Hughes: The Iron Man

    Ted Hughes: The Iron Man
    I was quite enjoying this until the space dragon turned up and then it all got a bit too silly. (***)

  • Leah Price: Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books

    Leah Price: Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books
    A bunch of authors answer questions about their book collections and allow their shelves to be photographed. Great book porn. (****)

  • Charles Bukowski: Pulp: A Novel

    Charles Bukowski: Pulp: A Novel
    His last book is a far-fetched private eye novel that is completely daft but good fun. (****)

  • George Saunders: Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness

    George Saunders: Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness
    A short speech about kindness Saunders gave to graduating students at Syracuse University. It is born of good intentions and has been turned into a very handsome little volume. Sweet but slight. (***)

  • Thomas Christopher Greene: The Headmaster's Wife

    Thomas Christopher Greene: The Headmaster's Wife
    Great story. Beautiful prose. Amazing twist. (****)

  • Matt Rudd: The English

    Matt Rudd: The English
    A very funny field guide to our (my) great countrymates. Great social commentary, manages to make serious points and subvert your expectations while making you laugh. (****)

  • Jack Standing: The Bug - Episode 1

    Jack Standing: The Bug - Episode 1
    First instalment of a horror novel being released in six parts for 77p each. A neat idea and, although horror is not a genre I bother with normally, I really enjoyed this. Would make a great TV drama. (****)

  • Barry Webb: A Book About a Matchbox

    Barry Webb: A Book About a Matchbox
    At times this was brilliant. At times this was frustrating and in need of a jolly good edit. A novel about a sentient matchbox and the lives of the people who own it. A bold experiment that almost comes off. (***)

  • Danny Rhodes: Fan

    Danny Rhodes: Fan
    A novel about the Hillsborough disaster, or rather its aftermath. A Nottingham Forest fan who has moved down south finds himself reliving that awful day when, years later, he receives news of two deaths back home. Rhodes holds nothing back. This is an important and unforgettable book. (****)

  • Julian Barnes: Levels of Life

    Julian Barnes: Levels of Life
    A study of grief. I confess I did have uncharitable thoughts that he was dwelling rather too much and I preferred the earlier portions of the book which are all about the early pioneers of ballooning. (***)

  • Nik Perring: Beautiful Words: Some Meanings and Some Fictions Too

    Nik Perring: Beautiful Words: Some Meanings and Some Fictions Too
    An alphabet book for grown-ups with just the hint of a story across its pages. Clever stuff. Quite charming. (****)

  • Malcolm Lowry: Ultramarine

    Malcolm Lowry: Ultramarine
    A posh bloke tries to write about working men and doesn't really pull it off. Somewhat tedious with just occasional flashes of quality. (**)

  • Richard Hughes: In Hazard

    Richard Hughes: In Hazard
    Written just before the outbreak of WW2 this story of a steamer caught in a hurricane is a real thriller and, dare I say it, a bit of a lost classic. (****)

  • Kent Haruf: The Tie that Binds

    Kent Haruf: The Tie that Binds
    His first novel, and the only one I hadn't got round to reading. Definite signs of the genius that was to come. Not quite as spare and economical as his very best work but still quite marvelous. (****)

  • Lucy Inglis: Georgian London: Into the Streets

    Lucy Inglis: Georgian London: Into the Streets
    A wonderful history which really brings to life the inhabitants of 18th century London to life. (****)

  • Éric Faye: Nagasaki

    Éric Faye: Nagasaki
    A middle-aged Japanese man becomes convinced someone is sneaking into his house and drinking his orange juice, among other things. A real little gem of a book. I finished it in one sitting. (****)

  • Igort Tuveri: 5 Is The Perfect Number

    Igort Tuveri: 5 Is The Perfect Number
    Some great images in this graphic novel about a retired mafioso who returns to the game following the death of his son but the writing isn't really of the same quality. (***)

  • Osamu Dazai: Schoolgirl

    Osamu Dazai: Schoolgirl
    Japanese post-war existential novella that, I am guessing, has a bit more impact in its original language. Interesting but slight, and lacks any real clout. (***)

  • Junichiro Tanizaki: In Praise Of Shadows

    Junichiro Tanizaki: In Praise Of Shadows
    An essay on aesthetics from the author of The Makioka Sisters. Some interesting passages and he makes a considered argument against electric light and the way it ruins the look of things. Mind you, this was written in 1933. (***)

  • Ben Watt: Romany and Tom

    Ben Watt: Romany and Tom
    A memoir of his parents. Contains some beautiful writing. (****)

  • Cynan Jones: The Dig

    Cynan Jones: The Dig
    Short, intense novel about a farmer trying to get through lambing season and a badger baiter attempting to evade the law. Told in short poetic bursts. Some wonderful lines in this. I read it in one sitting. (****)

  • Magnus Mills: Three to See the King

    Magnus Mills: Three to See the King
    A wonky, wonderful parable. As if The Woman in the Dunes had been rewritten by The League of Gentlemen. (****)

  • Alejandro Zambra: The Private Lives of Trees

    Alejandro Zambra: The Private Lives of Trees
    An interesting novella from Chile. First half is better than the second half. (***)

  • Charles Lambert: The View from the Tower

    Charles Lambert: The View from the Tower
    Published by Exhibit A books, a specialist crime imprint, but not perhaps the sort of crime novel you'd expect. Romantic and political intrigue in a troubled Italy. (****)

  • Banana Yoshimoto: Lake, The

    Banana Yoshimoto: Lake, The
    As I find with most of her books, this is enjoyable but slight. (***)

  • Diogo Mainardi: The Fall

    Diogo Mainardi: The Fall
    An unusual, experimental memoir. A father writing about his son who has cerebral palsy. He does so in 424 numbered paragraphs, many of which go off on tangents but all seem to find their way back to the subject somehow. Clever without showing off. Moving without being sentimental. (****)

  • Joan Lindsay: Picnic at Hanging Rock

    Joan Lindsay: Picnic at Hanging Rock
    A dark and haunting modern classic. A real shame that the author didn't write any more novels. (****)

  • Wesley Stace: Misfortune

    Wesley Stace: Misfortune
    Oh I loved this. A foundling baby boy is raised as a girl by an eccentric lord in this tale of family secrets, incest, libraries, ballads, forgotten poets, hermaphrodites and sweet revenge. Imagine Middlesex crossed with Crimson Petal and the White. (*****)

  • Heðin Brú: The Old Man and His Sons

    Heðin Brú: The Old Man and His Sons
    A classic novel from the Faroe Islands. An old man gets drunk and bids too much for a load of whale meat. Most of the book is him trying to raise the funds to pay the impending bill. A black comedy. (****)

  • Sophocles (Translated by David Grene): Oedipus the King

    Sophocles (Translated by David Grene): Oedipus the King
    This is the translation I read for A-level. Brought back memories. The centre of the play, when the secret is revealed, remains incredibly powerful. (****)

  • Natalie Haynes: The Amber Fury

    Natalie Haynes: The Amber Fury
    A teacher in a school for expelled pupils wins over the older kids with some Greek classics but then, after all, these are the Greek classics so it is unlikely to end well. A promising debut novel which inspired me to re-read some Sophocles and Euripides. (****)

  • Ingrid Winterbach: The Book of Happenstance

    Ingrid Winterbach: The Book of Happenstance
    A lexicographer is working on a dictionary of lost Afrikaans words when she is distracted by the loss of something closer to home: her collection of rare shells. An unusual novel which deserves a wide audience. (****)

  • John Banville: The Sea

    John Banville: The Sea
    I tried, I really did, but most of this just washed over me (pun noted but not intended). Interesting in places but ultimately a bit dull. (***)

  • Robertson Davies: The Lyre of Orpheus

    Robertson Davies: The Lyre of Orpheus
    The final part of the Cornish trilogy. Perhaps not quite as joyously entertaining as the first two but still marvelous in its own way. (****)

  • Barbara Graziosi: The Gods of Olympus: A History

    Barbara Graziosi: The Gods of Olympus: A History
    Charts the history of the Greek gods from their origins through to the present day. Informative and entertaining. (****)

  • Roberto Bolano: Monsieur Pain

    Roberto Bolano: Monsieur Pain
    Short Kafka-esque romp which becomes somewhat vague and rambling in the second half. Started well, and promised much, but didn't quite deliver. (***)

  • Stephen Grosz: The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves

    Stephen Grosz: The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves
    A collection of stories from the psychoanalyst's couch. It was interesting to take this peek into other people's lives (and minds) but it did get a tad repetitive by the end and the lack of any real resolution in most cases left me feeling short changed. (***)

  • Donna Tartt: The Goldfinch

    Donna Tartt: The Goldfinch
    This is good, very good in places, but I had some issues with it. Also, it is 250 pages too long. (****)

  • Lawrence Wright: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

    Lawrence Wright: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
    A study/expose of the Scientology 'religion'. I think it tries to be even handed but it is hard when the founder is quite clearly a con-artist and the beliefs are so fucking daft. Mind you, not much different to all the other religions out there. An absolutely riveting read. (****)

  • Charlie Hill: Books

    Charlie Hill: Books
    Patchy, and sometimes very silly, satire of the book world but I couldn't help but enjoy it immensely. (****)

  • Plato (translated by Walter Hamilton): The Symposium

    Plato (translated by Walter Hamilton): The Symposium
    A bunch of Greek blokes, nursing hangovers from the night before, decide not to get pissed and chat about love instead. Quite sweet really. Nice accessible translation too. (****)

  • Ray Robinson: Jawbone Lake

    Ray Robinson: Jawbone Lake
    Robinson seems to reinvent himself with each book. This time he has written an exemplary literary thriller. The clever bastard. (****)

Currently Reading

Kindle Sampled

One You May Have Missed

  • Benjamin Parzybok: Couch

    Benjamin Parzybok: Couch
    Three flatmates try to dump an old couch but the couch has other ideas. Bonkers but brilliant.

Big Mouth at the Movies

  • : 20,000 Days on Earth

    20,000 Days on Earth
    Quite wonderful. Witty, insightful and beautifully shot. I am not a huge Nick Cave fan but this is one of the best music documentaries I have seen. (*****)

  • : A Single Man

    A Single Man
    Every bit as beautifully heartbreaking as the book. Quite brilliantly done. (*****)

  • : Behind the Candelabra

    Behind the Candelabra
    It is, essentially, a straightforward TV-movie biopic but elevated above the norm by two wonderful central performances. (****)

  • : The Great Gatsby

    The Great Gatsby
    A really terrible movie. Stupid choice of framing device, ridiculous over-acting that doesn't even work as a bit of camp fun and none of Luhrmann's usual witty pizazz. Painfully dull. (*)

  • : The Way, Way Back

    The Way, Way Back
    Bittersweet coming of age movie packed full of great performances. Do watch this if you can, it is great stuff. (****)

  • : Jaws

    Watched this for the first time in years. At night. On a beach. A great evening of open air cinema. Glad it stayed dry. (****)

  • : Twilight

    I have not read the book but watched this with Martha, who has. It's OK, nothing special but not terrible. It totally failed to convince me of that there was any chemistry between the two leads, though, which rendered most of the plot a bit tepid. (***)

  • : Boyhood

    Rarely has a filmmaker taken on such an ambitious project and produced something so subtle. A genuine masterpiece. (*****)

  • : Under The Skin

    Under The Skin
    Fucking weird but highly effective. (****)

  • : Greetings From Tim Buckley

    Greetings From Tim Buckley
    A reasonable attempt to tell the story of Tim and Jeff Buckley which got better as it went on, and the concert scenes are great, but it lacked a strong enough narrative to really work. (***)

  • : Stoker

    Directed by the bloke who made the original Oldboy and written by the chap from Prison Break. Very dark story. Looks and sounds amazing. (****)

  • : Lifeguard

    Off-beat, somewhat dark indie movie about a women who quits her job as a journalist to go home and be a lifeguard. Great soundtrack. (****)

  • : Bel Ami

    Bel Ami
    Occasionally threatens to be good but ends up a somewhat diluted and antiseptic version of what is actually quite a dark and spiteful book. Shame. The story is great though. (***)