Article · Books

January Reading: New Year, New Process

My January book pile.
 
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This year I have set myself a routine. Instead of meandering about picking books willy-nilly, based on system-less and entirely arbitrary decisions, books shall be chosen this way:
  •  monthly Old Baggage’s Book Club book, chosen by a club member;
  •  one off my ‘unread but I’ve owned it more than a year non-fiction’ pile;
 
Persuasion
 
As it happens ‘Persuasion‘ ticks a box on two of the challenges, so hopefully that will ease me in, and probab-, possibl-, hopefully help me stop buying books I know I’m not going to read just yet, but which I’m worried I’ll forget about if I go away and leave them on the shelf.
 
Now if I can just get the sound of their papery little sobs out of my head, as I walk away and abandon them…
 
 
 
As well as reading, this year I’ve decided to give my brain a workout and included a puzzle book. Though I’m not going to worry about trying to get through one a month.
 
OS puzzle tour
I’ve been eyeballing these in Waterstones for about three years now, and over the Xmas break finally took the plunge with Sinclair McKay’s Scotland Yard Puzzle Book. I had assumed that they would be far too complex for me, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that they also cater to those of us with an IQ level that more often resembles the lower end wattage of old-school filament light bulbs.They do get progressively more difficult, though, so there is a challenge there for everyone. Having mostly completed McKay’s puzzles in about a fortnight, I picked up the OS Puzzle Tour of Britain. There’s a secret cartographer hiding in a small ,quiet corner of my soul so this was an obvious choice, and it was half-price to boot. So far, so good, I’m three puzzles in and the lightbulb hasn’t blown a fuse. Yet.
 
Styles
This is a surprisingly ‘historical’ collection for me. I usually veer more towards crime and sci-fi. ‘Styles’* is an easy one, then, but I’m Christie-lover anyway, and anything by her can be classed amongst my comfort-reads. My copy is one of the facsimile editions released a few years ago. There is something particularly special for me about reading a book in the form the author understood it would be published in. I have also found, having now read a few, that this small hardback format, is actually very pleasant to read. They are not particularly heavy, but they have that feel of solidity, and substance that paperbacks lack, but without the bulk and stiffness of modern hardcovers.
 
The Austen is a different proposition. I’ve never been a fan of this genre (in my head its classed as ’19th Century middle-class soap opera’) But I’ve enjoyed, if not loved, the odd BBC production, and they are classics, so maybe it’s time to get my head down and give it a shot. Especially as this one book fulfils both Penguin’s monthly challenge, and one of MMD’s slots. 
 
West Winging
West Winging It, by Pat Cunnane has been on my shelf for a while. I’ve been mildly obsessed with the goings-on of the White House since the turn of the century, and (yeah, you got it) The West Wing TV series. (Thanks, for that Mr Sorkin). I’m not high brow enough to read the really in depth political books though, so I settle for the stuff that’ll fill the void left by the end of the show. The gossipy light-weight fluff that throws out an occasional detail of process whilst spilling hundreds of secrets about the people, their cock-up’s, and scandals and (hopefully) eschewing any kind of regard for the Official Secrets Act, or whatever they have over there. I’m hoping Cunnane is going to live up to all my lowest expectations.
 
Gentleman Jack
The last book on the pile is ‘Gentleman Jack’. This is our January book over at The Old Baggage’s Book Club.
Chosen by one of our members, I’m having a little wobble about this, too. I love non-fiction, but the flat-out truth is I’m a junk reader, and whilst non-fiction subjects fascinate me…it takes me a lot longer to read them. They have complicated stuff like, y’know…𝑓𝑎𝑐𝑡𝑠, in them. It takes more time to absorb the information they contain. Not to mention my compulsive Googling of every tiny detail that I suddenly need to know more about. So whilst I’m thrilled at the idea of learning more about Annie, I’m vaguely worried I might have to exert some effort.
 
So, with slightly mixed feelings about how this month is going to go (how am I going to survive with no sci-fi, no urban fantasy, no….Bryant & May?!)  it’s time to see if I can make it through the first month of my new reading routine. Or if I end up back in Waterstone’s gathering up my weeping new children from the shelves, and carrying them home to a life of comfort, genre-sectioning, and very little prospect of ever being read.
 

*If your first thought upon reading this was “Harry?”, then you should definitely be reading a different blog…

 
Books · Review

Force of Nature

Jane  Harper builds on the promise of her debut novel 

Harper’s debut novel ,’The Dry‘,  was one of my personal books of the year last year, and in fact I still sell it quite regularly to customers seeking recommendations. I was absolutely delighted ,then, to receive a proof copy of her new novel,Force of Nature‘, from LittleBrown.

The plot is fairly straightforward , five female colleagues take part in a team-building weekend in the forests north of Melbourne. Three days later and several hours behind schedule four of them finally struggle back to the base camp, dehydrated, panicked and battered. The fifth one – Alice Russell, unpopular with the others – walked out of the camp one night and hasn’t been seen since.

force of nature cover
Force of Nature by Jane Harper will be published in hardback on 08/02/2018 by LittleBrown

Is her disappearance linked to the serial killer who had made the area his hunting ground twenty years earlier, or is it the result of the bullying,  anger and resentment that permeates the group? Or is it less than a coincidence that the woman who is missing is an informant for Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk, the officer investigating her employers for money laundering?

In ‘The DryHarper used binary narratives – one historical, one contemporary – to artfully unravel a single story. She repeats this formula in ‘Force of Nature’ with equal success,  the only difference being that in this instance the ‘historical’ events preceded the contemporary events by a few days, rather than decades.

One of the outstanding qualities of Harper’s writing is her character development. She delivers convincing and well-realised personalities who manage to be separate and distinct from each other without falling into charicature-like stereotypes. The  new book makes the most of this particular skill, building one of the narrative lines from the alternating perspectives of the remaining four women of the group, and using it to steer the story in different ways unique to each character.

This is a beautiful example of Harper’s defining quality as a writer: the ability to  carry a simple, uncomplicated storyline with masterful writing and composition. The way she utilises the voices of her characters: the careful, almost throw-away manner she drops in suggestions that could as easily be red-herrings as critical plot devices. With perfect pacing that builds exponentially to a dramatic,  whirling climax Harper unravels a gripping tale.

Two books in an she has already made it onto my ‘favourite authors’ list. I shall be reserving space on my bookshelves for all her future books.

 

Book · Review

New Year, New Mug, New Books

All the Janes bring me joy to start my New Year.
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First on the list is Jane Harper’s New book Force of Nature. I loved her debut – The Dry – last year, so I’m excited to see if she’s done as well this time. It’s always a concern of mine that a new author will have a wonderful first book, but then the follow-up will be disappointing.

Back in the days when you could get a publishing contract for just one book, those who only had ‘one book in them’ could still be published without the pressure of being expected to produce more. These days, when publishers want a three book minimum, I have read a few books which have never been well-followed-up. I wonder sometimes how many great books we’re missing out on because the authors can’t produce a second that will at least satisfy the contractual demands of publishers.

After that, some political history.

Feminism is very current, once again, and  whilst I am passionate about it I feel that I have never really read enough into it. With that in mind I have devoted a small corner of my personal library to space for books on the subject. So far they have all been recent texts dealing with contemporary issues, so I was very happy indeed to receive this reading copy of Jane Robinson’s book Hearts & Minds.  Though the book is new the story it tells is of one of the key moments in the actual advancement of equality.

The Pilgrimage was a six-week march beginning in June 1913, organised by the NUWSS.  Groups of women proceeded from one of the three starting points (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Carlisle and Land’s End) and followed a common route to the finally assembly point in London. The purpose of the march was to show the establishment how many women actually wanted the vote – that it was not just a few shouty, brash Suffragettes – and how much they wanted it, and also to explain to other ordinary people why the Suffragists wanted the vote and felt it was so important: meetings were held along the route of the march to that end. The Pilgrimage was not without violence, though it was invariably inflicted on the pilgrims rather than starting with them, but in spite of the best efforts of their detractors to silence and intimidate them on July 26th 1913 50,000 women arrived in Hyde Park. They had made their point.

It is shocking, though unsurprising  (most British civil rights movements are ignored by our education system) that this incredible achievement is not taught in schools. Everything I know about the march I know from researching it prior to requesting the book, and that, right there, is why I am so eager to read this. Even those of us who consider themselves ardent feminists have often forgotten or never learned the history of our own movement beyond a few key names and buzzwords. It’s good to see more of the history of the movement finally being brought a wider audience.

 

Review

My Goodreads annual summary

My Year In Books 2017

Screenshot-2018-1-2 Goodreads 2017 Year in Books

 

My book absorption for 2017. Not as impressive as I would have liked, but there have been some great books in it. I have had the pleasure, this year, of discovering a number of new authors that I have immediately fallen in love with. A couple of whom even had the great decency to already have a good back-catalogue for me to work through!

There were some dark moments this year. Certainly one of the darkest but most compelling books I have ever read, made it onto the list.  One or two debut authors, and a couple of returning favourites.

Stand-out names this year for me have been Abir Mukherjee, Jodi Taylor, Jane Harper, Laura Lippman and Ben Aaronovitch and – absolutely not ‘least’ – Adam Kay whose book This Is Hurt  Going To Hurt should be required reading for anyone who thinking of criticising the NHS or supporting J.Hunt in his efforts to break it.

 

Books · Review

This Is Going To Hurt

by Adam Kay
A trip through the modern NHS in easy and accessible anecdotes.

This Is Going To Hurt

On the surface of it this is an engaging and often hilarious collection of anecdotes from someone who worked as a doctor in the NHS for several years. There is an abundance of stories for those who love to hear about the quirks and peculiarities of humanity. Dark and funny things that will make you laugh out loud whilst simultaneously making your toes curl.  The de-gloved penis.  The dehydrated cocaine users. The homeless man who preferred to go back out on the streets rather than run the risk of MRSA.

Referring to the diaries he was obliged to keep during his years as an obstetrician, Kay has pulled together a raft of stories and thoughts ranging from simple one line ‘notes-to-self’ to more lengthy tales of patients he cared for.

The happy, the funny and the occasional simply uplifting make for an easy and read that clips along nicely. I had this in audio book form and it was a little over six hours long. It is easy to pick up, slightly less easy to put down.

You may also have seen this  book  referred to as ‘heart-breaking’.

And it is. Because in writing a highly entertaining  memoir Kay has found the perfect vehicle to deliver some brutal truths about the state of our NHS these days. To highlight the lies being peddled by the Secretary of State for Health and the government.

This is not a treatise on the issues facing the National Health Service and the people who work there-in delivering health care, there is no lengthy analysis – he simply punctuates the usually funny, sometimes tragic stories with brutal realities he has experienced first-hand:

Being told that he would have to come back for a weekend halfway through a two-week holiday abroad because the cover he had had to arrange himself fell through;

Falling asleep in his car in the hospital car park before he even managed to start it and waking up the next morning only to find he’d slept so long he was still late for work. On Christmas Eve;

Working out that with the unpaid overtime he was expected to put in his actual wage was £6.60ph – less than if he’d worked in McDonalds.

This is far more important book than it is really given credit for. I would recommend this book for everyone who loves stories about the peculiarities of people, and it’s a must read for all those who love the NHS. It should also be mandatory reading for anyone who has ever nodded their head when Jeremy Hunt’s lips have been flapping.