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2017 books


The Reader on the 6:27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

A charming, quixotic love story about a man who rescues pages from a book pulping machine. He discovers pages from a woman’s diary, falls in love and tries to find her. Full of quirky characters and humour. Think Gaiman after a bottle of Pernod. 8 out of 10. Dec 2017


The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

Murdered bodies turn up just after the Great Fire dies out in London. Harwood is asked to investigate in an atmosphere of recriminations against the roundheads now that the monarchy is restored. Also the story of a young woman, Cat, who flees from her family. Intertwines very nicely. Atmospheric. 8.5 out of 10. Dec 2017

Tin Man

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

The story of an unlikely love triangle. Ellis is forced to work at the local car factory but yearns for beauty. His friend Michael feels the same, but after Ellis marries, Michael disappears for several years. Tragedy happens when he comes back. Evocative writing, clever structure but a lack of action put me off. 6.5 out of 10. Dec 2017


Dr Jekyll & Mr Seek by Anthony O’Neill

An intriguing sequel to Stevenson’s original. Dr Jekyll’s lawyer is about to inherit his fortune, when an impostor turns up claiming to be Dr Jekyll. Mr Seek knows this is false, but cannot persuade others without ruining his friend’s reputation and memory. Atmospheric and well written. 7.5 out of 10. Nov 2017


Smiler’s Fair by Rebecca Levene

A king’s son is foretold to spell his doom and is whisked away before the king can kill him. The son is the reincarnation of the Moon God and lots of people are after him. A complicated story (slow to get going) of tribal hatred, political machinations, warring gods. Cruel and hard to root for any one character, except the giant talking bat. 7 out of 10. Nov 2017


Leviathan by Paul Auster

A writer, Sachs, blows himself up building a bomb, and a fellow author relates the man’s story. Lots of affairs, friendships and falling-outs, but not much happens until a fatal encounter with a man in the wilderness. Sachs finds money and bomb-making equipment and begins his descent. Dense, slightly dull. 6 out of 10. Nov 2017

The Power

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Women discover they have the power to use electric jolts to overpower, even kill others. Women take revenge for their centuries of suppression. Male terror groups try to resist. Eve provokes all-out war, hoping for total annihilation and a new beginning for humanity. Good concept, but too preachy and not enjoyable. 6 out of 10. Oct 2017


Doorways by Robert Enright

The Otherside is a parallel universe, hiding in plain sight of our world. Only a few can see the Others and only one can travel there. Bermuda Jones works for an elite organisation trying to keep us safe. But one of the Others is determined to conquer our world. Enjoyable romp. 8 out of 10. Oct 2017


Stranger of Tempest by Tom Lloyd

A group of mercenaries get hired to help a lady escape a city. But she turns out to be an assassin and soon there is an army on their tail. The only route takes the group through a ruined, underground city. And down there, there are worse things than being chased by an army of fanatics. Very enjoyable. 8 out of 10. Oct 2017

Handmaid's tale

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The story of Offred’s life in a totalitarian America. Fertile women are used by the commanders to reproduce. But the resistance and outside world offers hope of escape. What must Offred do to get out? Flashbacks set the scene, revealing just enough each time. Fantastic detail, chilling. 9 out of 10. Sep 2017

Dead Lions

Dead Lions by Mick Heron

The second novel about Jackson Lamb and his bunch of misfits in Slough House. An ex-spook is murdered by an ex-KGB man and Lamb suspects there is a sleeper cell ready to be awakened. A high-profile Russian oil baron is visiting London and something’s not quite right. Plenty of twists, humour and pace. 9 out of 10. Sep 2017


Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow by Peter Hoeg

A boy falls to his death from a roof. The police conclude accident, his neighbour, Miss Smilla thinks otherwise. She uncovers a trail to repeated expeditions to Greenland, where not everyone comes back. How is this all related? A strong and unusual voice. Very atmospheric. 8 out of 10. Sep 2017

Miss You

Miss You by Kate Eberlen

The story of Tess and Gus whose lives keep criss-crossing but never quite meeting up. Relationships come and go, lots of affairs. Tess’ story is really the hard-luck when her mother dies and her autistic sister needs caring for. The men in the story are all unsympathetic. Nice flow to the narrative, good observations about family life. 7.5 out of 10. July 2017

Animal Farm

Animal Farm by George Orwell

The animals drive out the farmer and start up their own commune run by themselves for themselves. Well meaning rules are set and everything goes well to start with. But soon the pigs exploit the rules for their own benefit and then fight amongst themselves until, Napoleon becomes a despot. Rules are altered, history re-written. And the masses are down-trodden once again. Biting satire. 9 out of 10. August 2017


How to Write Like Tolstoy by Richard Cohen

Non-fiction, looking at what makes a great novel and how different authors go about achieving this. The editor uses lots of fine examples to discuss beginnings, characters, plagiarism, points of view, dialogue, plot, rhythm, editing and endings. Very insightful. 8 out of 10. August 2017


Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Katie Kontent is determined to be a success in late 1930s New York. She is smart & witty but loses her dream man, Tinker Grey, to her best friend. The plot sagged a little in the middle as Katie drifts in and out of relationships but ends very well. Katie finds out the truth about Tinker, reminiscent of the Great Gatsby. This is written in brilliant evocative style. Full of wry humour, Katie is a heroine worth rooting for. 8 out of 10. June 2017


Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

A story that flits between just before and after a flu pandemic wipes out 99% of humanity. It centres around Kirsten, who lives in a travelling caravan troupe and a famous film star who died just as the pandemic hit North America. Several of the actor’s friends survived in different ways and their stories are told in flashback. The future is bleak and scary but full of kindness and love too. Moving. 9 out of 10. July 2017


The May Queen by Helen Irene Young

May’s life is dominated by her Ma, especially after her sister, Sophie, disappears with a baby out of wedlock. May’s heart is stolen by the Lord of the Manor’s son, but she thinks he’s responsible for Sophie’s child. WWII breaks out and May becomes a wren, finding another man, but never falling for him. After the war she is re-united with Sophie and the heart-throb. Very distinctive voice, and the era is well-captured. Accomplished debut. 8 out of 10. July 2017


Electric Souk by Rose McGinty

Aisling moves to Arabia to work for the health service there. Her relationships turn out to be troubling and a potential boyfriend seems crooked. The locals are friendlier but who works for the secret police? As the Arab Spring erupts, she needs to flee the country but whom can she trust? Atmospheric & paranoid, but the passage of time is slightly did-jointed. 7 out of 10. May 2017


Valdez is Coming by Elmore Leonard

A black man is killed accidentally for crime he didn’t commit. Bob V.aldez, town constable, tries to win compensation for the man’s widow from Frank the man who wrongly accused the black man. When Frank’s men beat Valdez and leave him for dead, their only problem is they didn’t finish the job. Valdez is coming to get you. Fine, compact storytelling, very satisfying ending. 9 out of 10. May 2017


Beware the Cuckoo by Julie Newman

Three teenage girls growing up in the late 1970s, one of them abused by another’s father. The story flits between that timeline and the present day when two of the girls are reunited with secrets and scores to settle. The dual timeline reveals just enough information each time to maintain the intrigue. Well-paced easy read. 7 out of 10. June 2017

24 out of 30 for this story about a woman seeking a career in 60s sitcoms

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

Barbara turns herself into Sophie and lands a starring role in a TV comedy, her life-long ambition. Evokes the 1960s London scene nicely along with its blatant sexism, homophobia and clash of establishment vs youth. The dialogue is excellent and the interplay of relationships amongst the cast, writers and director very good. Funny but not hilarious. 7 out of 10. May 2017


The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Cora Seaborne’s abusive husband dies and frees her to pursue her interests in science and the natural world. Out in Essex, rumours of a serpent drowning people swirl in the beautifully evocative Victorian mists. A minister of the local parish befriends, Cora, much to the annoyance of her London friends. A story about religion vs science and about dealing with the unknown. 8 out of 10. May 2017


Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

Two lovers, Carys and Max, are thrown from their spaceship with only 90 minutes of oxygen left. As they struggle to find a way back to the ship they argue and reminisce. A dystopian Earth where young people are meant to serve time for the community before they can settle. Challenging the rules, they are sent into space to be together. Can one of them save the other? I wasn’t that bothered. 6 out of 10. May 2017


The Late Hector Kipling by David Thewlis

A successful artist is jealous of his friend’s nomination for the Turner prize. Hector has a lovely girlfriend and a new exhibition coming up. He thinks he needs some bad news in his life and soon he has more than he can cope with. A self-destructive spiral ensues. Dark, humorous, crackling dialogue and some great one-liners. Ending too downbeat for my tastes. 8 out of 10. Apr 2017


The Alchemist’s Secret by Scott Mariani

The first Ben Hope adventure. Ex-SAS sent on a mission to find an ancient alchemist’s secret that could save the life of a dying child. Soon Hope is trying to stay ahead of the police and a dangerous organisation after the very same thing. Plenty of action and historical code-breaking. Very close to Dan Brown in feel. 7 out of 10. Apr 2017


Storm Front by Jim Butcher

The first Harry Dresden file – he’s a wizard private investigator who helps police solve unusual cases. A missing husband and a grizzly murder are connected, somehow. Magic realism crossed with Ray Chandler gum-shoe detection and lots of action. Harry Potter meets Dirty Harry. Strong cast of supporting characters. Very enjoyable. 8 out of 10. Apr 2017


The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts

A bit like Foucault’s Pendulum, I’m not sure if this is genius or nonsense. High concept sci-fi full of wit and imagination. Some sub-plots irritate and detract. I almost gave up halfway through. A secret institute is researching AI and teleportation, using Kant’s philosophy about The Thing Itself. 2 men on an Antarctic research base, 20 years earlier, are somehow caught up. Good ending, so glad I stuck with it. 7 out of 10. Mar 2017


Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard

The story of a gun runner, Ordell Robbie, who uses and disposes of people at will while the police are trying to entrap him. When Ordell asks Jackie Burke (renamed Brown for the film) to smuggle money for him,  and the police want her to help them, Jackie out-foxes them all. Max Cherry, a bail bondsman, wants to help her but stay on the right side of the law. Great story-telling, crossed purposes, razor sharp dialogue. 9 out of 10. Mar 2017


Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Darrow is a Red, a miner who lives inside Mars, struggling to make the planet inhabitable for future generations. But in reality, the planet surface has been lived on for decades and the Reds are slaves for the Golds. A rebel group transform Darrow into a Gold and in the first of this trilogy he must pass through the deadly academy as a winner and into a position of power. 9 out of 10. Mar 2017

Slow Horses

Slow Horses by Mick Herron

A sharp, intelligent thriller about the forgotten department of MI5 – Slough House – full of supposed no-hopers headed by Jackson Lamb. A hostage due to be be-headed, double-crossings, plots within plots. Full of dry wit and lively characters that make this a cracking read. 9 out of 10. Feb 2017

Red Dancer

The Red Dancer by Richard Skinner

The fictionalised life of Mata Hari, as seen through the eyes of people who knew her. The early, disastrous marriage, the re-invention as an exotic dancer and peak in fame. And then as WWI breaks out, the life as a double agent and eventual execution. The narrative structure keeps the subject lively and ephemeral. 7 out of 10. Feb 2017

A monster calls

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

The story of a boy coming to terms with his mother’s terminal illness. Bullied at school, an absent father and a strict grandmother pile on the pressure. A monster with attitude – the Green Man – comes to visit, to help in ways that Conor does not expect. Poignant, emotional depth. 9 out of 10. Feb 2017


Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

This is darkness beyond my comfort zone. A daughter turns in her serial-killer mother to the police. But is the girl destined to be like her mum, or can she start a new life with a foster family? Chilling, taught and very well written. Stays with you long after the book is finished. 8 out of 10. Jan 2017


Dune by Frank Herbert

I read this many times in my youth, returned to it for a book club. The plot remains fantastic. The political machinations, the completeness of the setting is so well thought out, it’s completely logical and believable. Full of brilliant characters, heroes and anti-heroes. Stands the test of time well. 9 out of 10. Jan 2017


Journey Into Fear by Eric Ambler

A great story about an engineer dragged into the shady world of espionage at the onset of WWII. Atmospheric, tense, full of well-rounded characters and a nail-biting, satisfactory finish. The 210 pages flew buy. Have ordered more from Ambler – a forgotten genius, front-runner to Fleming, Deighton and Le Carre. 8 out of 10. Jan 2017

2016 books


The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The brilliant start to a trilogy that I can’t wait to finish. The Name of the Wind is about a hero, Kvothe, who relates the story of his childhood and magical education. But this is no Potter-derivative. 660 pages and the pace never drops. Full of intelligent depth that doesn’t obstruct the flow. 9 out of 10. Dec 2016


Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Wonderfully written dark fairy tale of a wizard in a tower, an evil forest and the coming of age of a young woman who becomes the wizard’s apprentice. Agnieska turns into a very powerful sorceror but she’ll need all that to combat the evil that lives in the forest. Fine fantasy. 9 out of 10. Aug 2016


The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Beautiful writing that gives a powerful treatment of memories, time and the enduring love of a couple. All set in dark ages England. The land is wrapped in a strange mist – the breath of a dragon – that helps people forget the horrors of the war just gone. A warrior sets out to defeat the dragon, while a knight tries to keep it safe. 9 out of 10. Mar 2016


The Silent Children by Amna Boheim

The ghostly tale of tragedy and revenge from debut author Amna K Boheim. This book won an indie award and is well deserving of praise. The setting jumps between pre-WW II Vienna and modern-day London. Dark and unsettling at time. 7 out of 10. Nov 2016


Saga Volume 1.

Yes I know I am late to the party – many volumes of enjoyment for me to catch up on. This is a very graphic graphic-novel starting with a humorous birth scene and including plenty of violence and sex. And yet, even with sparse dialogue, it’s full of wit and depth. 9 out of 10. Dec 2016


Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

A very famous book – really a novella at 176 pages – about the WWII bombing of the German city Dresden. Vonnegut tells the story of a prisoner of war who after the war gets captured by aliens and starts to slip back and forth through time. Very effective and affecting. 8 out of 10. Dec 2016.


The Rose of Tibet by Lionel Davidson

Evocative, tough as teak adventure full of vivid characters and challenges that push the protagonists to the limit. A monastery, a treasure and a chase that you’ll never forget. Slightly unusual framing device of a journal being pieced together by a writer. 8 out of 10. Jul 2016


The Life Assistance Detective Agency by Thomas Hocknell

Well paced plot with a nice twist at the end. Two detectives go in search of a missing professor who is obsessed with Elizabethan Dr John Dee, and scrying for Angels. Humour and fantasy elements that reminisce of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently. 8 out of 10. Oct 2016


All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

The story of two school friends, one a witch, the other a brilliant scientist. An unusual chatty style of writing that is full of humour, intrigue and wild ideas. While the middle drags, the start and ending are great. A bold attempt at fusing sci-fi with fantasy. 8 out of 10. Sep 2016


The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Writing that conjures up wonderful and scary images as well as recreating what it is like to be a seven-year old child in an adult world. Fantasy that deals with what makes us who we are and our worth. Short but poignant. 9 out of 10. Jun 2016


Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

Lots of fine detail about politics, the legal system and fashion as well as the technology behind a moon colony. Everything, even the air you breathe, must be paid for. Feuding families. Slightly ponderous middle. First in a series – not entirely satisfactory as a standalone work. 5 out of 10. Feb 2016


Stasi Child by David Young

Evocative, well researched, detective novel set in East Germany before the Wall came down. The plot proceeds at a good pace, with obstacles typical of the genre, including a failing marriage and an internal cover-up.  7 out of 10. Aug 2016

2015 books