What I read in 2014 in numbers, and goals for 2015…

Yes! It’s my annual stats post. Apologies if it’s not your thing, but analysing the numbers of what I read each year and comparing them to previous ones always flings up some interesting figures. I have kept a master spreadsheet since 2007.

This year I read more books than in any year since I used to commute by train to work (when I got through 3 or 4 books a week). 129 is my actual total this year – however … that did include quite a lot of shorter novels and novellas which is clear if I look at my chart of Books v Pages over the years …

Books & Pages 2014

So pages read are a better measure of how much I read?  Perhaps, although of course, ignoring any discussion of quality vs quantity, that premise is not without its flaws too!

TARGET: Aim to keep up a good reading rate in 2015.

Moving on to date of publication.

Books v date

This year I surpassed myself in the number of ‘Shiny New Books’ I read with 57% of them published this year (it was 42% last year).

TARGET:  I really MUST try harder to read from my TBR in 2015 when not reading for Shiny!

One area of true success is reading more in translation.
Books v nationality 2014
I read 22 novels originally published in other languages this year.

Of those books published in English, I read more by UK authors this year than last at 58%. American authors accounted for 20% this year, 5% or so down on 2013.

TARGET: To keep up reading books in translation.

Last graph now – looking at categories.  I didn’t read a lot of crime novels or thrillers this year, and slightly more Young Adult books – otherwise it is my usual mix, with Non-fiction remaining around the 10% mark.

Books v genres
I didn’t read a lot of crime novels or thrillers or classics this year, making up for them with slightly more Young Adult books – otherwise it is my usual mix, with non-fiction remaining around the 10% mark.

TARGET: Read a bit more non-fiction in 2015, but aim to read eclectically across a wide range of categories and genres as always.

Two last stats for you:

Male / Female Author Ratio – This year it’s 67:62 – ie 52% male, 48% female so very close after having been 70:30 last year. I never choose my reading based on gender, and this ratio goes up and down each year – so it doesn’t mean a lot in terms of my reading but I do follow it at year end in case a trend does start to appear!

And finally, a new stat – that of ‘New to me’ authors, complementing my post yesterday on my best finds of the year. I was amazed to find that 76 (approx 60%) of the books I read this year were by authors I’d not read before – and as you saw yesterday, I’ve discovered some fabulous ones to follow up.

That’s all folks!  I’ll be back with book reviews in the New Year.

All the best for 2015!

Some great ‘new to me’ author finds of 2014…

This year I added a column to my master spreadsheet that I religiously maintain (more on that tomorrow!). The new column is for ‘new to me’ authors, and I wanted to share a few of my favourites with you; the links will go to my reviews. And top of the list is:

Pascal Garnier

pascal garnierSadly, Garnier is no longer with us; he died in 2010. However, thanks to Gallic Books’s series of translations into English, the Frenchman’s books have found a new and appreciative audience. He wrote about fifteen novels, of which six are now available, plus many other works many of which were stories for children.

Garnier’s novels are pure noir often set in the French suburbs and hinterlands of the big cities, featuring people who are at the end of their tether, leading them to commit extraordinary – and often murderous – acts.

islandersI’ve read two of them so far.  The A26 (translated by Melanie Florence), and The Islanders (translated by Emily Boyce). The A26 features a brother and sister who were dying of cancer and an agoraphobic hoarder respectively, living and working alongside a new stretch of road being built. The Islanders features the rekindling of a dangerous romance from his teens when a man returns home to bury his mother at Christmas. They’re intense, claustrophobic, and very funny in that laughing while gasping behind your hands kind of way!

Antal Szerb

antalszerb I read just a single novel by Szerb –  The Pendragon Legend (translated by Len Rix), which was tremendous fun and a philosophic adventure to boot involving stolen manuscripts, ancient rituals, murder and mayhem all at breakneck speed.

P1010976Although his other novels are altogether more serious and less comedic, I know I will adore them, but I was absolutely delighted to discover that Szerb wasn’t the stuffy, serious European author I’d thought he might turn out to be.

I Also Discovered the Joys of Reading…

at freddiesrainOlder or reprinted novels by Penelope Fitzgerald, Kyril Bonfiglioli, Robert Aickman and Sylvia Plath. Some notable debuts too in Virginia Bergin’s dystopian YA novel The Rain and Jasper Gibson’s hilarious yet nasty A Bright Moon for Fools.

But I shall finish with one more, very much alive, British, new to me author …

Mick Herron

mick herronAnyone who is a regular here will know that I am a huge fan of spy stories, generally preferring them over crime novels any day. Thus it was a pleasure to discover Geordie, Mick Herron via his book Slow Horses.

In this novel, a bunch of has-been and disgraced MI5 spies, known as the ‘Slow Horses’ and  shunted into a backwater office to do paperwork, get involved in an international kidnapping plot.

slowhorses200The author has come up with a truly labyrinthine plot with many layers of players and internal politics for them to unravel, let alone getting into the minds of the kidnappers. It’s certainly worthy of comparison to Le Carré, horribly plausible too! There’s plenty of tradecraft deployed throughout which gives that authentic feel (as if we’d really know how it’s done!), and I loved all the secret service slang. On top of all that though is a sense of humour – subtle at times, less so at others. One thing about the Slow Horses is that they’re not used to working together as a team these days, and old skills have to be brought back into play.

There is a sequel – Dead Lions, which I’m looking forward to reading, and I gather a third is on the way for 2016, Yippee!

* * * * *

Which authors did you discover in 2014?

… and those that disappointed

All in all, I’ve had a marvellous reading year, but there were a few disappointments along the way. Of course a book that was meh or a DNF for me, may be just the ticket for another reader, but I hope I’ve explained in the full posts on these titles what I didn’t like about the books. You are very welcome to disagree!

ferrisI’m finally starting to overcome my compulsion to finish every book I read, posting about three DNF titles which I abandoned a way in but merited a mention here.  They were:

I found it quite liberating to abandon these books – especially the Ferris which had all the Booker interest…  I won’t be revisiting any of them in the future.

But there are another couple of novels that I read all the way through and posted about which were just about okay…

frog musichow-to-build-a-girlThe main character in Frog Music by Emma Donoghue just wore me out with her fussing and cussing.

Similarly, Johanna in Caitlin Moran’s first novel How to Build a Girl, despite Moran’s insistence that Johanna is not based on her own life, appears too close to be not her. Apparently aimed at older teens, this novel is full of swearing, wanking, sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. You have been warned.

The Mindless Thriller Award

nemesis… goes to The Nemesis Program by Scott Mariani.

I was lured into reading this book by the mention of the genius Szerbian scientist Nikola Tesla, who in his later years developed an oscillator that he reckoned could be scaled up to knock buildings down etc.

The sub-Bondian baddie in this thriller has developed such a weapon and ex-SAS soldier turned vicar(!) Ben Hope, in his tenth outing, is the man to stop him.

Just too absurd and too long, and the sense of humour bypass made this a bit of a slog.


Reading Flop of the Year

seth macf
The biggest disappointment in my reading year however was Seth MacFarlane’s comedy Western A Million Ways to Die in the West – which with passing time I recall as ever more puerile and just full of toilet jokes.

Originally, I had thought to go and see the film – but it absolutely tanked! I’m glad I didn’t get to waste my money. I even managed to resell my copy of the book too, so only ended up a couple of quid out of pocket.

* * * * *

I was in two minds whether to write this post or not, but given that I have written a post about each of the books mentioned, saying what I thought about them thought it fair enough.

Am I being too snarky?
What do you think?
Have you read any of these books?

Tomorrow I’ll be back with some of the best
new to me authors I’ve discovered this year.

My Books of the Year 2014 – Part Two – The Blog edit

Yesterday I shared my best reads of 2014 as reviewed for Shiny New Books. Today, I turn my attention to titles reviewed here. The links will return you to my full reviews:

Best Retro-Subversive Laugh-Out-Loud Book

scarfolkDiscovering Scarfolk by Richard Littler

So nearly my book of the year, Discovering Scarfolk is just hilarious! Stuck firmly in the 1970s world of public information films and Cold War paranoia, every page of this little book which is designed from front to back yields gems of parody and references in its tale of a missing man who got stuck in the unique town of Scarfolk.

There is also an comic twist to each illustration too, which ironically does make you look again to see if you missed anything…

For more information please reread this poster.


Best Illustrations

sleeper spindle 1The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

sleeper spindle 2Gaiman’s reworked fairy tale is fabulous on its own, but with Chris Riddell’s illustrations it reaches a new height.

Inked in black and white with gold highlights, Riddell’s characteristic strong-browed young women, cheerful groteseques and skull-like gargoyles are simply gorgeous.



Horrorstor_final_300dpiBest Cover Art

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

And whilst we’re on the subject of illustration, I must mention the best cover concept of the year – in this horror spoof of the IKEA catalogue.

The graphic design extends to the inside of the novel too with lots of attention to detail, but the story itself, although entertaining, is standard horror fare.

Best in Translation

my brilliant friendMy Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (trans. Ann Goldstein)

Like many this year, I too have caught ‘Ferrante Fever’. The first in a sequence of four novels by the elusive Italian author captures growing up in backstreet Naples in the 1950s perfectly for two young girls. Volumes two and three are now available, with the fourth to come. I’m so looking forward to catching up with Elena and Lila’s lives.


Best Medical Drama

Dirty WorkDirty Work by Gabriel Weston

The second book by Weston, a surgeon herself,  is a novel that looks at one of the toughest things that obs & gynae surgeons may ever have to do – provide abortions.  It was not an easy book given its subject matter, but it was completely compelling to read and gives a profound insight into this difficult area.


Best Sequel

echoThe Echo by James Smythe

My book group will disagree with this choice for they hated the first book (The Explorer) in this planned quartet. However, I loved the utter claustrophobia of outer space in these books, and The Echo takes the central premise of the first book and keeps twisting it further with great effect. Roll on the third volume I say.


Best Book-Group Choice?

all-quiet-on-the-western-frontAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maris Remarque

Arguably, we read some great books this year including Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, but the added poignancy of reading this novel of WWI during the centenary month of August was very fitting and moving too. Our discussions were wide-ranging and everyone enjoyed the book, proving you don’t always need a voice of dissent to have a good book group meeting.

Best YA Shocker

BunkerThe Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks

I am glad to have read the controversial Carnegie Medal winner to see for myself what it was all about. I can honestly say it is the bleakest novel I have ever read and it is for younger teens and upwards. If it had been written for adults, we wouldn’t find it so shocking at all, but despite its subject, I wouldn’t stop any child from reading it – I would encourage discussion afterwards though!


… And Finally, My ‘Blog’ Book of the Year

hangover squareHangover Square
by Patrick Hamilton

I read this back in January it is still, frankly, the best book I’ve read all year.

Set in 1938 pre-war Earls Court in London, this is the story of George Harvey Bone and his unrequited love for the teasing Netta. This tragic novel is billed as a black comedy, and I suppose it is in a way. The laughs, however are never at George’s expense. When they come, it is Netta and her friends we laugh at, over their outrageously bad behaviour that makes them targets for our scorn. I nearly cried for George, wishing he hadn’t spotted her across a crowded room that day.

Hamilton’s prose is beautiful, incendiary, moving, clinical, full of ennui – everything it needs to be to tell George’s story. I shall be reading more Hamilton in 2015.

* * * * *

So that’s it for my Books of the Year.
Have you read any of these from yesterday or today?
Do share yours too.

My Books of the Year 2014 – Part One – the Shiny Edit…

hollyThis year for the first time, I’ve split my best of list in two. Having read around 130 books this year, there are too many to feature in just one post and there is an obvious split – today’s first part will feature those books that I’ve reviewed over at Shiny New Books

Forgive me for continually banging the drum, but I’m inordinately proud of Shiny and I am immensely grateful to all the lovely bloggers, friends, authors, translators, publishers who have written reviews and features for us. Special thanks to my three co-editors: Victoria, Simon and Harriet.

Tomorrow’s list will feature my favourite books this year reviewed on this blog, which includes many titles not published this year. 

But first over to the Shiny Edit! The links will take you over to my full reviews:

Best (Auto)biography

bedsit disco queen

Bedsit Disco Queen: How I grew up and tried to be a pop star by Tracey Thorn.

Tracey writes beautifully about life, love and the music business but does it quietly with warmth, wit and wonder at the good luck she’s had along the way. I loved this book so much, that sharing a maiden surname, I wish I was related to her!


Best YA Read for Adults Too

picture me gonePicture me Gone by Meg Rosoff

This novel about a girl and her father who go on holiday to visit his best friend only to find him missing is an understated novel, with a teenager as its reliable narrator who discovers that it’s the adults who are unreliable. Gently told, there are no big shocks but it reveals a lot about how we learn to see the world in shades of grey rather than black and white.


Best Coming of Age

american sycamoreAmerican Sycamore by Karen Fielding.

A tale of siblings growing up by the banks of the Suequehanna river in north-eastern USA. Billy Sycamore’s life may start off as a modern day Huck Finn but something terrible happens that affects his whole life and family. Narrated by his young sister, it is both funny and sad, and has some transcendant turns of phrase.  Loved it.

She was beautiful, our mother; an extrovert yet flammable, a walking can of gasoline just waiting for a match.

Best Woods

into the treesInto the Trees by Robert Williams

Forests play a huge part in mythology, yet can a modern family find their own enchanted life living in one?  The very first paragraph of this novel tells us that the forest may be a safe sanctuary one moment, a dangerous and lonely wild place the next. This is a powerful drama of families, finding a life-work balance, true friendship … and trees.


Best Totally Un-PC Book

BonfiglioliDon’t Point That Thing At Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli

Imagine a 1970s Jeeves and Wooster crossed with James Bond, an upped double-entendres quotient and totally un-PC and you’ve got the Charlie Mortdecai books, of which this is the first. Written in the late 1970s, these capers narrated by the art-dealing aristo are great fun.


A Quick Mention for These Two

Mother Island by Bethan Roberts and Tigerman by Nick Harkaway.

The former a drama about child abduction and growing up on Anglesey in Wales, the latter an eco-thriller set on an island paradise that is ‘full of win’. Totally different, but both fab.


… And Finally, My ‘Shiny’ Book of the Year

StationelevenUKHCStation Eleven
by Emily St.John Mandel.

I loved this elegant dystopian novel that takes place in the aftermath of a flu pandemic and following the links from former lives that persist between some of its survivors.

Awful things happen, yet seen through the journey of the Travelling Symphony – a collective of musicians and actors who struggle to keep the canon alive – there is positivity instead of despair for the fate of mankind.

Speculative fiction is possibly my favourite sub-genre of reading and this book is superb.

Read my review at SNBks.




Bored on Boxing Day? Check out ‘The Folio 80’ …

If you’re like me, you’ll be sneaking off to have a look and see if anything is happening around the blogosphere today in the quieter moments!  So I’ve prepared a big linky post for you …

Folio PrizeI looked at the 2015 Folio Prize reading list of 80 nominated titles which was published in mid-December with initial dismay – I’ve only read two and a half titles on it, (the half being the Joshua Ferris, which I didn’t finish).

I do however, have quite a few of the titles listed on my shelves – but which to read?

Well, we’ve reviewed quite a few of them at Shiny New Books and many others have been covered by other bloggers. So below is the list with links to a selection of reviews to help you think about the shortlist which will be announced on February 9th – you haven’t long!

By the way, the Folio judges this year are: Deborah Levy, AM Homes, Mohsin Hamid, William Fiennes and Rachel Cooke.

The reviews list below is far from exhaustive so do add your links in the comments and I’ll update the list. (An asterisk after the titles means I have it on my shelves or plan to get it.)


The Folio 80

10:04 by Ben Lerner

A God In Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie – (review at SNBks)

Academy Street by Mary Costello – (review at A Life in Books)

After-me1-189x300After Me Comes The Flood* by Sarah Perry – (review at SNBks)

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews – (review at SNBks)

All Our Names by Dinaw Mengistu

All The Days And Nights by Niven Govinden – (review at Lonesome Reader)

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Rage by A L Kennedy

Amnesia by Peter Carey – (review at Tales From the Reading Room)

annihilationAnnihilation* by Jeff Vandermeer

Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut – (review at Lonesome Reader)

Bald New World by Peter Tieryas Liu

Bark by Lorrie Moore

Be Safe I Love You by Cara Hoffman

Boy Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi – (review at SNBks)

Can’t & Won’t by Lydia Davis

Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey – (review at SNBks)

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill – (review at A Life in Books)

dissident-gardensDissident Gardens* by Jonathan Lethem

Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Em And The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto

England And Other Stories by Graham Swift

Euphoria by Lily King

Everland by Rebecca Hunt

Eyrie* by Tim Winton – (review at SNBks)

Family Life by Akhil Sharma

Fourth Of July Creek by Smith Henderson

How To Be Both by Ali Smith – (review at SNBks)

In Search Of Solace by Emily Mackie

barker approachesIn The Approaches* by Nicola Barker

In The Light Of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman – (review at SNBks)

J by Howard Jacobson – (review at SNBks)

Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li

Lila by Marilynne Robinson – (review at SNBks)

Life Drawing by Robin Black

Lost For Words by Edward St Aubyn

Love And Treasure by Ayelet Waldman – (review at A Life in Books)

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin – (review at Lonesome Reader)

On Such A Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee

Orfeo paperbackOrfeo* by Richard Powers – (review at SNBks)

Outline by Rachel Cusk

Perfidia by James Ellroy

Road Ends by Mary Lawson

Shark by Will Self

Some Luck by Jane Smiley – (review at Tales from the Reading Room)

Stay Up With Me by Tom Barbash – (review at SNBks)

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood – (review at SNBks)

The Ballad Of A Small Player* by Lawrence Osborne – (reviews at Tales from the Reading Room)

Bone ClocksThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – (review at SNBks)

The Book Of Gold Leaves by Mirza Waheed

The Book Of Strange New Things* by Michel Faber – (review at A Life in Books and A Little Blog of Books)

The Country Of Ice cream Star by Sandra Newman

The Dog by Joseph O’Neill

The Emerald Light In The Air by Donald Antrim

The Emperor Waltz by Philip Hensher – (review at SNBks)

FeverThe Fever* by Megan Abbott – (review on My Blog!)

The Heroes’ Welcome by Louisa Young

The Incarnations by Susan Barker

The Lie* by Helen Dunmore – (review at SNBks)

The Lives Of Others by Neel Mukherjee – (review at A Little Blog of Books)

The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan – (review at Savidge Reads)

The Night Guest* by Fiona McFarlane – (review at A Life in Books)

The Paying Guests* by Sarah Waters – (review at SNBks)

The Tell Tale Heart - UK hardback coverThe Tell-Tale Heart* by Jill Dawson – (review at SNBks)

The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry – (review at SNBks)

The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth – (review at Asylum)

The Zone Of Interest* by Martin Amis – (review at Asylum)

Their Lips Talk Of Mischief by Alan Warner

Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken

To Rise Again At A Decent Hour* by Joshua Ferris – (reviews at My Blog! (DNF))

Travelling Sprinkler by Nicholson Baker

Upstairs At The Party* by Linda Grant – (review at SNBks)Upstairs-at-the-Party-cover1

Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre

Virginia Woolf In Manhattan by Maggie Gee – (review at SNBks and Lizzy’s Literary Life)

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas – (review at A Life in Books)

What You Want by Constantine Phipps

Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyer

Young Skins by Colin Barrett

Your Fathers Where Are They?… by Dave Eggers

* * * * *

As you’ve got to the bottom of this post, it’s probably time to go back now and
a) talk to your family,
b) watch the telly, or
c) have another turkey sandwich.  

Hope Santa brought you what you hoped for yesterday.
Back tomorrow with half of my best books of 2014.


I’ll be back after Christmas with a whole host of posts: My Books of the Year, Disappointments, Great Finds and the Annual Stats I have so much fun with.  I shall leave you for now with a Christmas quotation, guaranteed to get you in the mood…



Eight of us set out that night. There was Sixpence the Tanner, who had never sung in his life (he just worked his mouth in church); the brothers Horace and Boney, who were always fighting everybody and always getting the worst of it; Clergy Green, the preaching maniac; Walt the bully, and my two brothers. As we went down the lane the other boys, from other villages, were already about the hills, bawling ‘Kingwenslush’, and shouting through keyholes ‘Knock on the knocker! Ring the Bell! Give us a penny for singing so well!’ They weren’t an approved charity, as we were, the Choir; but competition was in the air.

jam jar lantern


From the chapter Winter and Summer in Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee (1959).

The boys light their way home, after their carol-singing trek through deep snow, with candles in jam jars.




Three Slightly Shorter Reviews

I’ve got a series of posts lined up for the week in between Christmas and New Year with my hits, misses, finds and stats, so it’s time to catch up with my review pile backlog and some shorter reviews…

The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield

undertakers daughter For anyone who loved the TV series Six Feet Under, this is what it’s like in real life to grow up living in an American Funeral Home, and sometimes it’s not that different! Kate Mayfield’s family moved to the town of Jubilee in southern Kentucky in 1959 where her father could realise his dream of running his own funeral home. Kate was already used living in the same house:

Back in Lanesboro, I had been the first in our family to be carried as a newborn from the hospital directly into a funeral home. Birth and death in almost the same breath.

We grow up with Kate in the business. We experience the competition between the rival businesses, and the favours and kindnesses that her father secretly does for the owner of the funeral home for the black population – for Jubilee in the 1960s was segregated. Kate’s father is a bit of a conundrum, totally professional and controlled, yet charismatic and a real dandy and, with his own hidden secrets of hard-drinking and womanising, no wonder Kate’s mother is brittle and desperate to fit into this community where they are initially outsiders. We learn a lot about the funeral business with Kate as she grows up, becoming a quietly rebellious teenager in the 1970s. We also see how the business of death can divide communities, cause family feuds and rattle a lot of skeletons in closets.

This memoir was absolutely fascinating, I heartily recommend it. Source: Publisher – Thank you, (9/10)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

kjfI’ve read this for book group – we’ll be discussing it in early January, but I won’t post about that discussion because I don’t want to spoil this novel for anyone that hasn’t read it yet – is there anyone?

The story is told by Rosemary who, at the start is at university, and still trying to come to terms with the disintegration of her family that started when she was five and her sister Fern disappeared from her life.

Rosemary takes us back and forwards through her life and the details gradually fall into place. However the big plot twist happens on page 77, early on in the novel.

As it happens, I knew the twist and I can honestly say it wouldn’t have taken me by surprise. The clues are all there (don’t read the tagline on the back cover for starters!). I’ve read several other books over the years that cover much of the same ground – without the twist.

After that it’s all a bit inevitable. That said, I did enjoy this book a lot, although I didn’t like the way the author continually signposts where we are in Rosemary’s story by referring to the beginning, middle, end and points inbetween.  I’m still confused too why the Booker judges thought so highly of it as literature, but it is a good read. Source: Own copy, (7.5/10).

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

murakamiI’ve had mixed success with Murakami, but loved this beautifully illustrated novella, translated by Ted Goossen.

A boy gets an urge to find out about Ottoman tax collection and stops off at the library on his way home. Directed to the basement and the stacks of withdrawn books, he finds himself in the weirdest of horror stories featuring a sheep man, a cage, doughnuts and a girl who talks with her hands amongst many other strange things. It’s a very weird story – sort of Alice in Wonderland meets The House of Leaves.

The beauty of this little volume is in the illustrations, many of which are pages from old catalogues and text books. The end-papers are marbled and on the front is a pocket to hold the book’s ticket – Harvill Secker, the publishers have done a lovely job. I must admit I pored over the illustrations, finding the story almost as secondary, but loved the whole. (If you need a late Christmas present for someone this would be ideal.)  Source: Own copy, (9/10).

murakami spread

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To explore any of these on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate links):


Charlie Mortdecai, volume two

After You With The Pistol by Kyril Bonfiglioli

mortdecai 2
This is going to be a quick post, as you shouldn’t read the second novel in this delightfully Un-PC comedy crime series until you’ve read the first – they follow directly on from each other, but I’m not giving anything away with this quote from near the beginning…

To this day I still do not know where it was that I awoke nor, indeed, how long I had been separated from my cogitative faculties, bless them. But I think it must have been somewhere awful in the North-West of England, like Preston or Wigan or even Chorley, God forbid. The lapse of time must have been quite three or four weeks: I could tell by my toenails, which no one had thought to cut. They felt horrid. I felt cross.

BonfiglioliCharlie Mortdecai, art dealer and aristo-gentleman bon viveur, all-round reprobate and womaniser, first appeared in Don’t Point That Thing At Me which I reviewed over at Shiny New Books – so head on over there to get a feel for it in detail.

First published in the late 1970s, if you crossed Jeeves and Wooster with James Bond, extra double-entendres and a total disregard for political correctness, you’ll get the idea. If you’re easily offended, these books are probably not for you…

The second novel sees Charlie Mortdecai, art dealer and aristo-reprobate forced to get married, thus getting into even more improbable scrapes, this time involving the a spy school for women and Chinese tongs…

You can also learn a surprising amount from Charlie – the following is actually true – I checked:

‘Please salt the eggs for me,’ I said by way of conceding defeat, ‘I always overdo it and spoil them. And do please remember, the fine, white pepper for eggs, not the coarse-ground stuff from the Rubi.’ (Cipriani of Harry’s Bar in Venice once told me why waiters of the better sort call that huge pepper-grinder a ‘Rubi’: it is in honour of the late, celebrated Brazilian playboy Porfirio Rubirosa. I don’t understand it myself because my mind is pure.)

I chuckled all the way through this book, and shall be reading the rest in the series before the film comes out in the spring.  Yes, if this sounds like your kind of thing, you need to get cracking in case the film is a dud. (9.5/10)

* * * * *
Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Don’t Point That Thing at me: The First Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 1)
After you with the pistol: The Second Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 2)
Something Nasty in the Woodshed: The Third Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 3)
All by Kyril Bonfiglioli, Penguin paperbacks – around 200 pages.

The boy, the stolen painting and the Russian…

Just occasionally, I believe I can read minds – well in a Derren Brownish way – you see by my title of this post, I hope to have manipulated you into thinking you were getting a(nother) post on The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt; some of you will be thinking but Annabel’s already reviewed that, hasn’t she? They would be correct – see here.

Yes you would be right too – partially – for this post will concern The Goldfinch – but only in passing…  for on my shelves the other day I found a book which I had bought years ago, and its subject matter does concern a painting which gets stolen, and a Russian who is initially very much in the Boris mould. This book though was published in 2006, thus it predates The Goldfinch by years. Let me tell  you a bit about it…


The World to Come by Dara Horn

world to come

The story starts with Benjamin Ziskind, recently divorced. His parents are dead, but he’s still very close to his twin sister Sara who persuaded him to go to a singles cocktails event at the Jewish Museum in New York where there was an exhibition of paintings and drawings from ‘Marc Chagall’s Russian Years’. He was about to leave when he saw a painting and it stopped him in his tracks:

It was a painting of a street. The street was covered with snow, and lined by a short iron fence and little crooked buildings whose rooftops bent and reflected in all directions. Above the street, a man with a beard, pack, hat, and cane hovered in the sky, moving over the houses as if walking – unaware, in murky horizontal profile, that he was actually in flight. The painting was tiny, smaller than a piece of notebook paper. The label next to the painting offered its date as 1914 and its owner as a museum in Russia, titling it Study for “Over Vitebsk.” This intrigued Ben, who despite his mastery of trivia on all topics, including modern art, had never before known this particular painting’s name. All he knew was that it used to hang over the piano in the living room of his parents’ house.

Ben steals the painting. The story of whether he’ll get away with the theft or not forms half of the rest of the story, the other tells how the painting came into the family and what happened to it and them through the generations.

In the second chapter, we meet Boris Kulbak, an orphan in the Jewish Boy’s Colony in Malakhovka just outside Moscow. These orphans are lucky – they have school lessons, and the new art teacher takes a shine to Boris’s painting of a cave-like womb lined with bookcases and stalactites, and in it a fat, pink baby. The teacher offers to trade him one of his own paintings for Boris’s one – and this is how Boris (whose real name was Benjamin), met Marc Chagall, and Chagall’s friend, the author Der Nister (‘The Hidden One’). All are Jewish, but call each other Comrade. Boris/Ben chooses the tiny painting above in trade. All three will eventually escape from Russia making a life for themselves elsewhere, Chagall in Paris, Der Nister in Berlin – but as a Jew, he will struggle to get his stories published.

So back to Ben – who meets his own ‘Boris’ type – Leonid from Chernobyl – in High School. After a rough start, the two become friends and Leonid will marry Sara. The story continues to flit back and forth between the ages, and somewhere amongst all this we meet the other really important character – Rosalie, Ben’s mother – who becomes a famous author of philosophical fables based on Yiddish folktales. Meanwhile, back in the present day, Erica at the museum is onto Ben…

The story was inspired by the real-life theft of said Chagall painting (it was later recovered). Chagall did teach for a time at the orphanage too along with various poets and Yiddish writers, so Horn had a rich vein of historical fact to base this novel upon.

The straight-forward mystery part of this story works really well. She (yes, this Dara is a woman) weaves in and out of the time-line and we begin to see how the past fits into the present and how everything links together. So far, so ‘Goldfinch’ and I really enjoyed it.

Where it didn’t work well for me though were the parts where it went all mystical and dived deep into Yiddish fables of birth and rebirth – the world to come, what happens to souls when you die and all that. Also some of Der Nister’s and Rosalie’s tales were included and these did nothing for me either I’m afraid. Most of this occurred in the last third of the book, confusing matters quite a lot and not giving me the satisying ending I was craving.

The book had multiple rave reviews when it was first published – it was very different then to the literary mysteries that had come before. Now with post-Goldfinch hindsight, and I apologise to the author for comparing it all the way, despite its faults and length I preferred the straight story-telling of Tartt. The World to Come is not short either at just over 400 pages, and parts of it were brilliant – just not enough for me. (6.5/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The World to Come by Dara Horn (2000). Penguin paperback, 416 pages.