Wednesday, 17 July 2013

My 2013 reading list so far

With over half the year gone I thought it would be a good time to look back at the books I've read so far this year along with a few words about each of them. So in chronological order I've read the following:

Mike by PG Wodehouse - having read most of the Jeeves and Wooster stories plus various other works by Wodehouse I knew I'd enjoy this. Introduces Psmith who has become one of my favourite literary creations.

Bah Humbug by Heather Horrocks - not the sort of book I'd usually choose but I'd just bought a Kindle and wanted a free book to try out. Entirely predictable, fine if you like that sort of thing but not really for me.

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson - I loved this. Like a quirky Forrest Gump without the sentimentality.

Psmith in the City by PG Wodehouse - Second of the Psmith books, naturally I loved it. In this book Psmith takes the central role, with Mike still present as his loyal friend. Psmith's baiting of his boss, Bickersdyke provide many of the laugh out loud moments in this book.

Safe House by Chris Ewan - A thriller with several twists and turns, it took me a little while to get into it but once I did I liked it a lot.

The Twelfth Child by Bette Lee Crosby - I enjoyed this one too, it follows the life of an unwanted child and has an unexpected twist at the end. Nothing ground-breaking but a good light read.

Blood Sisters by Melody Carlson - Not a bad read but as an atheist I found parts overtly religious. I don't object to characters being religious but this felt rather preachy at times.

What We Saw by Ryan Casey - A little predictable but managed to retain enough of a mystery to keep me reading.

Psmith, Journalist by PG Wodehouse - Psmith and Mike go to America. A darker plot than many of Wodehouse's works with a strong social conscience. One of my favourites.

In the Blood (A Genealogical Crime Mystery #1) by Steve Robinson - A slow start but actually this was a really good thriller. Making the main character a genealogist just avoided him being too cliched and the fast pace and plot twists made for a well constructed debut novel.

Death by a Honeybee/Death by Drowning/Death by Bridle (Josiah Reynolds Mysteries 1-3) by Abigail Keam - With the main character being an older woman who seems to fall into these mysteries you could say the spirits of Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher are alive and well! Nothing truly original but mostly kept me guessing and I quite enjoy reading the gentler mysteries sometimes.

Renegade by Donna Boyd - I found out after reading that this was an addition to the Devoncroix series of books about a werewolf (or loup garou) dynasty but I don't feel I missed out not having read them. I will definitely read the other books in the series at some point.

The Sun, The Moon and Maybe The Trains by Rodney Jones - a YA time travelling book. A good quick read with likeable main characters.

Open Minds (Mindjack Trilogy #1) by Susan Kaye Quinn - another YA book and a really good concept for a story. Ultimately though I only found it ok, I'm not entirely sure why other than the main characters weren't especially engaging. I may read the rest of the trilogy but am in no hurry to.

A Season of Secrets by Anneke Campbell - an easy read I enjoyed but not really a memorable story, I had to remind myself of the plot as I'd completely forgotten what it was about.

Round the Red Lamp by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - I love the Sherlock Holmes and Challenger books so enjoyed these short stories. Not classics but some thought provoking tales amongst them.

Doctor Who: Summer Falls by Amelia Williams - as a Whovian I had to read this! Supposedly written by Amy Pond, without the Who link and taken just on its own merits this would appeal especially to pre-teens. It reminded me a bit of The Winter of Enchantment which was one of my favourite books growing up.

While You Are Sleeping by Paul Craig - a fantasy novel, very humorous, I wasn't sure if it was written for children or adults but either way it was a fun read.

The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister - Nonna's often heartbreaking story of living through the holocaust as a young girl from a wealthy Russian family. Not an easy read due to the content but it's a book that will stay with me for a long time and another important reminder of the horrors people endured at the hands of the Nazis.

Are We Nearly There Yet?: A Family's 8000-Mile Car Journey Around Britain by Ben Hatch - Much more than a travelogue, this book made me snort with laughter and cry like a baby. So good I've read it twice and will read it again. Definitely on my list of favourites.

Molly Brown by BA Morton - An enjoyable enough thriller, not especially original but a decent page turner.

Daughter of Time/Footsteps in Time/Winds of Time (After Cilmeri 0.5-1.5) by Sarah Woodbury - I've not read much in the way of historical romance but the time travel in this was enough to tempt me. The author clearly knows this period well and I liked these books very much. The first is actually a prequel and was my favourite of the three. There are more books in the series and when I'm in the mood for something undemanding but with a well plotted storyline and a good cast of characters I'll read them too.

The Humans by Matt Haig - one of the best books I've ever read. I loved it the first time I read it then read it again and possibly loved it even more. Everything I could want in a book, if you're looking for a book to take on holiday then take this.

Leave it to Psmith by PG Wodehouse - Psmith at Blandings! Sadly the last of the Psmith books but arguably the best. Very similar in places to the sublime Something Fresh. Classic Wodehouse.

Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain by George Mahood - a funny, feel-good true story and the perfect antidote to those "Broken Britain" headlines.

Road to Rouen by Ben Hatch - another hugely enjoyable book by Ben, honest, funny and poignant. Reading this is a workout for your emotions but so worth it.

The Radleys by Matt Haig - families, love, growing up, growing old, living in suburbia...oh and vampires! What's not to love? Don't let Twilight put you off reading this book.

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness - a beautiful lyrical story inspired by a Japanese folk tale. This was a book I tried to read more slowly so I could really savour it.

One Big Damn Puzzler by John Harding - a laugh out loud bittersweet story filled with memorable characters, humour and compassion. I loved reading this one.

As They Slept by Andy Leeks - easy to read diary extracts, not particularly moving other than a couple of entries but an interesting idea (the author set himself a challenge to write a diary entry on his train commute into work each day) that made for a decent light read.

The Lawnmower Celebrity by Ben Hatch - Ben's first book, this one is fiction but semi-autobiographical. Again he put my emotions through the wringer. At times I found it a painful read but the humour meant it wasn't a depressing book, I'd definitely recommend it (unless you hated Catcher in the Rye in which case you probably won't like this!)

So there we have it, 35 different books read, two I read twice (Are We Nearly There Yet? And The Humans). I'm currently reading The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat and have a long list of books to read including The Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Florence and Giles by John Harding, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, The International Gooseberry by Ben Hatch, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Terra by Mitch Benn.


Thursday, 11 July 2013

Book Review: One Big Damn Puzzler by John Harding

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One Big Damn Puzzler was published a few years ago but the reviews on this blog will be for books I've read and enjoyed and so will include older as well as more recently published titles.
It was actually a recommendation on Twitter (from Ben Hatch, author of Road to Rouen reviewed here) that led me to this book; once I read that the plot involved a tribesman on a remote South Pacific island who is attempting to translate Hamlet into the local pidgin English I couldn't fail to be hooked.
Managua is the name of the ageing tribesman and he is the only islander able to read. As the book begins he is struggling to translate Hamlet's famous soliloquy, they have no concept of nobles on the island, nor do they use slings and arrows. Eventually "To be, or not to be, that is the question:" becomes "Is be, or is be not, is be one big damn puzzler:" and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune are "Clubs and bamboo pits of real damn bad luck." Meanwhile his wife Lamua jealously hunts for Cordelia, the pig she believes Managua loves more than her.
Their lives, and that of all the islanders are interrupted by the arrival of William Hardt, an American lawyer who has, he says, come to help them. Flashback chapters show us William's battle to control his OCD, a battle made much harder on an island with a communal shitting beach.
The only other white resident on the island, Miss Lucy is an ethnographer, we discover more about the islanders through excerpts of her book 'The Other Side of Paradise: The Sexual Life And Customs Of An Unspoiled People." These excerpts and the chapters about William and Lucy's earlier lives may have been a distraction from the main narrative but actually I rather liked the slightly more meandering route to explain the behaviour of the characters.
We learn of the islanders' taboos, their attitude to sex before and after marriage, their rituals following a death and their belief in magic. The men visit the kassa house, where stoned on the local drug they converse with dead relatives, we are left to decide whether they experience a mass hallucination or magic really is at work. We find out too that in this matrilineal society where girls are more highly prized, mothers who have only had sons will dress their youngest boys as girls, the scenes involving the she boys often being the most affectionate and touching in the book.
William wants to help the islanders, many of whom lost limbs after stepping on mines left by American soldiers and believes that he can make their lives better but as the book progresses he is forced to reassess those beliefs.
I remember reading an article in The Guardian recently about books that make you laugh out loud. I would add One Big Damn Puzzler to that list, I'm a big fan of PG Wodehouse and with all the secret keeping in this book I was reminded of the more farcical scenes in Plum's books - and of course there's a pig! There is a deeper, more bittersweet side to the story too though, if you have a dry eye after reading the islanders' version of the Yorick scene in Hamlet then you're made of sterner stuff then I am.
It's a book that owes as much to The Tempest as to Hamlet and references other Shakespeare plays too but if you're not a fan of the Bard don't let that put you off. The memorable characters, humour and compassion combine into a delight of a book I highly recommend.

One Big Damn Puzzler is published by Black Swan.