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  2014 - A Year In Books (Lodge Books Blog, first published by Bridlington.net)
   
Week 1 - A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
 

I have decided that my blog for 2014 will feature a week by week account of the books I am reading – bear with me, it might get interesting.

 
So I am kicking off with Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I read over theChristmas/New Year period. Let's face it the televisual offering was poor (my expectations weren't high so I wasn't much disappointed) and the weather not much better, hence a good opportunity to tackle this c.600 page, rough guide to science.
 
Now, like me, you will know the author as primarily a travel writer, witty and very readable, and despite being American, a lover of Britain who actually knows where Yorkshire is. And A Short History is a travel book of sorts in that it takes the reader on a journey through science, from the Big Bang to the rise of civilisation, via physics, chemistry, biology, geology and anthropology, to name but a few.
 
Whilst I cannot claim to have understood absolutely everything, not having a scientific background (the result of a narrow, indifferent, seventies, comprehensive education rather than a complete lack of interest), I found it accessible, interesting and peppered with Bryson's humorous touches. In short, I would recommend it to anyone.
 
Week 2 - The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
 

The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal has been on my 'to read' list since I first became aware of it a couple of years ago, and it was well worth the wait.

 
Categorised as Biography/History this is the story of the journey of a collection of 264 Japanese wood and ivory carvings, called netsuke, inherited by the author. Originally purchased by a wealthy, art collector cousin of his great-grandfather in fin de siècle Paris, they move from there to Vienna, survive the Nazi occupation and plunder of Jewish wealth and possessions, and find their way to post-war Tokyo in the possession of a great uncle, before finding their current resting place in London and so prompting the author's quest for knowledge.
 
This book becomes then, both a fascinating family saga and an insight into their historical surroundings in a changing European landscape in the first half of the twentieth century, followed by an equally interesting picture of post-war Japan.
 
Some books fail to live up to the hype on their covers, but this is a delightful book and a worthy winner of the 2010 Costa Biography Award
 
 
Week 3 - Clochemerle by Gabriel Chevallier
 

Clochemerle by Gabriel Chevallier was suggested to me by a regular customer in the book shop and is described on its front cover as 'A full-blooded uproarious farce in the Rabelaisian tradition.' Having never read any of Francois Rabelais' work (check Wikipedia for more information on this Renaissance writer – I did) I couldn't comment, but suffice to say the book is very entertaining.

 
The story is set in a small provincial French town in the Beaujolais winemaking region, in 1922-23 and surrounds the installation, at the Mayor's instigation, of a public urinal. There is a broad cast of colourful characters (helpfully listed at the beginning of the book) from the local aristocracy, Baroness Courtebiche who behaves as if the revolution never happened, to the schoolmaster, described as 'a true intellectual, the quality of whose breath made him a formidable opponent in argument at close quarters'.
 
Unseemly behaviour and scandalous intrigue abound in a story that lives up to the dictionary definition of a 'farce' i.e. a low comic dramatic work based on ludicrously improbable events.
 
First published in Britain in 1936, the language is of its time and the book may be a bit wordy for some modern tastes, but I enjoyed it
 
Week 4 - The Chess Men by Peter May
 

I read the first two volumes of the Lewis Trilogy, The Black House and Lewis Man, by Peter May last year and so was looking forward to completing the story with The Chessmen.

 
This is a crime series featuring former Edinburgh detective, Fin MacLeod who has returned to Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, the island of his birth and formative years. In this final part of the trilogy he is now living on Lewis and has been called upon by a local landowner to investigate the disappearance of game from his estate. However, in the company of an old friend, and local poacher, he in fact becomes involved in a mystery that has lain out of sight, at the bottom of a loch, for twenty years.
 
He is called upon to re-examine memories of his time as a roadie to a successful, local folk band and in the process uncovers a closely guarded conspiracy, involving members of that band.
 
This is a book that is difficult to put down, although perhaps not quite as good as the previous two, and it was as well that I started reading it on a day off.
 
The title of the book refers to the Lewis Chessmen, a group of 78, 12th century, carved chess pieces discovered on the island in 1831 and now housed in the British Museum in London and Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
   
Week 5 - Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
 

Prior to receiving an enquiry about a particular book by this author, I had not previously been aware of David Sedaris, an American humorist with a number of unusual book titles to his name: Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and Santaland Diaries for example.

 
I decided to try him out for myself and chose to read Me Talk Pretty One Day, a collection of autobiographical episodes, including some occurring during his time visiting and living in France, and his attempts to learn the language.
 
David Sedaris writes observational comedy, seemingly finding much rich material in his own life and family, as well as the world at large. However, whilst I found humour in many of the incidents recounted, it wasn't ever laugh out loud funny, and the chapter relating his foray into drug-enhanced, conceptual and performance art was, for me, tedious, perhaps because I have no interest in the subject matter.
 
The second half of the book, largely set in France, was more appealing to me and redeemed the overall work to some extent, although I couldn't help feeling at times as if the author was trying too hard.
 
The cover reviews from various well known newspapers suggested more than the book delivered for me personally, and the favourable comparison to the wit of Oscar Wilde seemed a little over the top.
   
Week 6 - The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
 

'Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.' A classic line from a classic crime writer.

 
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler introduces that well known Los Angeles Private Investigator Philip Marlowe; the novel, first published in 1939 was later, in 1946, made into a film starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, a memorable partnership in so many Hollywood films.
 
Marlowe is called upon to work for General Sternwood, who is being blackmailed, but nothing is ever straightforward and the PI is drawn into a seedy world of drugs, gambling and murder. He also has the General's two wild, devil-may-care daughters to contend with.
 
The plot is actually quite difficult to follow for a while (the author apparently had difficulty keeping track himself), but at one point Marlowe gives the reader, and probably himself, a useful summing up of events so far, which is helpful.
 
With Marlowe, Chandler seems to have created the mould for many investigators to come – a lone wolf, unmarried, cynical, likes liquor, women and chess and is not well liked by the regular police – and as such set the standard for others to follow.
   
Week 7 - The Killing by David Hewson
 

Somewhat unusually The Killing, a novel by David Hewson, is based on an original screenplay by Søren Sveistrup for the BAFTA award winning, Danish TV crime series of the same name. I haven't yet seen the TV series and so can't make any comparisons but if it is as good as the book it will definitely be worth a watch, particularly if you like Nordic Noir.

 
This is a weighty tome, but is a real page-turner and it needs to be with some seven hundred plus pages. It features female detective Sarah Lund who is looking forward to her last day with the Copenhagen police department before starting a new life in Sweden. However her plans are put on hold when a nineteen-year-old student is found murdered in the woods outside the city and Lund is called upon to lead the investigation alongside her replacement Jan Meyer.
 
The book covers the twenty days of the investigation during which time suspect after suspect emerges, including a leading candidate in the city's mayoral race and members of the city hall staff.
 
However, the route to the truth is constantly thwarted by lies and misdirections until the police finally have their killer. But can they really be sure they have the right person?
   
Week 8 - Anderby Wold by Winifred Holtby
 

I first came across Winifred Holtby's work in the 1970s when Yorkshire Television produced a series, starring Dorothy Tutin and Lesley Dunlop as I recall, of her novel South Riding, which I subsequently read. And it has only taken me forty years to get around to reading any more of her work, namely Anderby Wold.

 
Winifred Holtby was born in Rudston in 1898 and this, her first novel, was published in 1923. It tells the story of Mary Robson, a young woman intent on preserving her inherited farm and way of life, alongside her older, unromantic husband.
 
However, the social change that has been sweeping through urban districts finds its way to the village of Anderby in the Wolds, in the form of a charming, eloquent, young socialist. Mary can't help but be attracted to him, despite their radically opposing views. The consequences of the confrontations that occur because of the sparks ignited by this young man change Mary's life and that of the calm village of Anderby forever.
 
I enjoyed this small slice of social history set in my adopted county of East Yorkshire and now have a mind to read more of her novels, including the delightfully titled The Land of Green Ginger, set of course in Hull.
   
Week 9 - The Bat by Jo Nesbo
 

Norwegian author Jo Nesbo is one of a crop of Scandinavian thriller writers to be translated into English in recent years, but it is a little curious that his first novel featuring Oslo detective Harry Hole, The Bat, was not actually published in English until 2012, some time after others in the series such as The Snowman and The Redeemer.

 
I do wonder if it's because The Bat is not set in Norway but in Sydney, Australia and therefore does not satisfy our love affair with all things Scandinavian (and is perhaps not his best, but still a good read).
 
We meet Detective Harry Hole as he arrives in Australia, sent to assist in the investigation into the murder of a young Norwegian girl on a gap year in Sydney. He is supposed to stay out of trouble and not get too involved, but when the team uncovers a string of unsolved murders and disappearances, nothing will stop him from finding out the truth, and the hunt for a serial killer is on.
 
The storyline encompasses aboriginal culture and prejudice, the gay scene in Sydney, drugs, prostitutes and alcoholism. It also gives us some insight into the demons that haunt Harry Hole and thereby sets us up for future encounters with him back in Oslo.
 
I'll be there.
   
Week 10 - The Railway Man by Eric Lomax
 

A few months ago I came upon a list of books that had been made into films due to be released in 2014.

 
A couple of them caught my eye, both coincidentally set around the time of the Second World War, and I investigated further: they were The Monuments Men and The Railway Man.
 
The reviews for the first book were less than complimentary, although I have a feeling the film may be worth a watch, so I decided on the second, an autobiography by Eric Lomax.
 
The Railway Man tells a little of the author's early life growing up near Edinburgh, and his passion for steam engines, but is essentially the story of his experiences as one of thousands of prisoners of war forced to work on the notorious Burma-Siam line, known as the Railway of Death, by his Japanese captors.
 
He is brutally tortured and witnesses horrific atrocities, but it takes another fifty years for him to be rid of his demons, when he is finally given the chance to confront one of his tormentors.
 
This is a tale of survival and courage both during the war and afterwards, when nobody really understands what these prisoners had to endure and how it still haunts them. Beware, the final couple of chapters may reduce you to tears – you have been warned!
   
Week 11 - The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
 

I don't often read romantic fiction, but Susanna Kearsley, a Canadian author, was recommended to me, and I chose to read The Winter Sea, which had the added interest of some Scottish history.

 
In terms of romance, you do get two for the price of one: firstly in the present day, when an author rents a cottage on the east coast of Scotland to research her current historical novel set in the nearby castle and becomes acquainted with the two sons of the owner of the cottage; and secondly within the novel she is writing, about a young woman who comes to live at the castle.
 
The history part is set in 1708 when Scottish soldiers and Jacobites, with the help of the French, are trying to return King James (father of Bonnie Prince Charlie) from exile to rule his country and to take his rightful place in succession to the English throne, following the 1707 Union, although many of course would prefer that the Union had never happened and Scotland had remained independent. No change there then, Alex (Salmond).
 
This is a pleasant enough read with a slightly supernatural element, and the history is interesting, particularly to someone like me who studied the later Jacobite rebellions in 1715 and 1745 for 'O' Grade History, and because of current events.
   
Week 12 - Headhunters by Jo Nesbo
 

Before the police car burst through the first treetops it had performed two and half somersaults with one and a half twists. This will give you an indication of what to expect from Jo Nesbo's Headhunters – a thriller with an element of the comic, almost verging on farce at times; but very entertaining nevertheless.

 
This is a standalone novel in that it does not feature Nesbo's normally ever present Oslo detective Harry Hole. Instead we meet Roger Brown, a highly successful headhunter of senior personnel for big business, who also has a little job on the side to keep himself busy – that of art thief.
 
A meeting at his wife's gallery with Clas Greve appears to present a man who can satisfy both of Roger's current requirements: he is the perfect candidate for a job for which Roger is currently recruiting and he is in possession of a much sought after (thought lost) painting that would make Roger rich beyond his wildest dreams. But who is hunting who?
 
This book is now a 'major motion picture' (Norwegian not Hollywood) and proceeds from both book and film go directly to the Harry Hole Foundation, a charity set up to reduce illiteracy among children in the third world. Can't argue with that.
   
Week 13 - Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver
 

I'll read anything Barbara Kingsolver writes and so I was delighted to get hold of a copy of her 2012 novel Flight Behaviour. I wasn't to be disappointed.

 
This is a human story, of small town America, but also one about climate change and how it is affecting the world in which we live.
 
Dellarobia is a young mother struggling to make ends meet on a failing farm in the Appalachians. When the opportunity for an affair presents itself she doesn't shy away, but in doing so she discovers something much more profoundly life-changing – a marvel of nature, but one that tells us that all is not right with the world.
 
The old certainties of her community cannot remain unchanged by the uncharacteristic arrival of thousands upon thousands of migrating Monarch butterflies, somehow disoriented by their changing environment, and she cannot help but be absorbed by this phenomenon.
 
This is literary fiction with a social message; it tells of daily life but in the context of the planet we inhabit. This is definitely up there with two of her other novels, The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna, all of which should be read, in my view.
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

 

 

 

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