Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff


Category: Reviews (page 1 of 7)

What I Read in 2017

I read 67 books in 2017, which was seven more than in 2016, but still a long way short of 2014’s epic 95. One of these days I’ll make it to 100.

Anyway, here they all are:

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi Half of a Yellow Sun
Alderman, Naomi The Power
Ball, James Post Truth
Barnes, Adrian Nod
Bateman, Colin Divorcing Jack
Beatty, Paul The Sellout
Berger, John Ways of Seeing
Berkeley, Humphry The Life & Death of Rochester Sneath
Bilston, Brian You Took the Last Bus Home
Blacker, Terence You Cannot Live as I Have Lived and Not End Up Like This
Blair, etc. (ed) Funny Bone: Flashing for Comic Relief
Bray, Carys The Museum of You
Broadribb, Steph Deep Down Dead
Bromley, Carole The Stonegate Devil
Brown, Dan Inferno
Carver, Raymond Can You Please Be Quiet, Please?
Conan Doyle, Arthur His Last Bow
Corlett, Anne The Space Between the Stars
Cowan Montague, Jude The Wires 2012
Curtis, Deborah Touching from a Distance
De Curzon, Colette Paymon’s Trio
Doig, Ivan Mountain Time
Elborough, Travis Atlas of Improbable Places
Emmerich, etc, (ed) The book of Tokyo
Fitzgerald, Martin Ruth and Martin’s Album Club
Fleming, Ian For Your Eyes Only
Frost, Toby Pincers of Death
Gapper, Frances In the Wild Wood
Gauld, Tom Mooncop
Gebbie, Vanessa Memorandum: Poems for the Fallen
Gebbie, Vanessa A Short History of Synchronised Breathing
Gompertz, Will Think Like an Artist
Gonzalez-Crussi, F. On the Nature of Things Erotic
Hannett, Lisa Smoke Billows, Soot Falls
Haruf, Kent Benediction
Haruf, Kent Our Souls at Night
Hoffnung, Gerard Acoustics
Hoffnung, Gerard Encore
Knausgaard, Karl Ove A Man in Love
Laurenson, Neil Exclamation Marx!
Macdonald, Rowena The Threat Level Remains Severe
Marsh, Henry Do No Harm
Mbarushimana, Andrea The Africa in My House
Menmuir, Wyl Bounds
Middleton, Nick An Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist
Murakami, Haruki The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Moore, Alison Death and the Seaside
O’Neil, Cathy Weapons of Math Destruction
O’Neill, Ryan Their Brilliant Careers
Perry, Grayson The Descent of Man
Perry, Sarah The Essex Serpent
Ronson, Jon What I Do
Ronson, Jon The Elephant in the Room
Royle, Nicholas (ed) Best British Short Stories 2016
Shriver, Lionel We Need to Talk About Kevin
Slatter, Angela Home and Hearth
Stokes, Jones (eds) Unthology #6
Stokes, Jones (eds) Unthology #7
Stokes, Jones (eds) Unthology #8
Thorn, Tracey Bedsit Disco Queen
Tinniswood, Peter The Brigadier Down Under
Tinniswood, Peter The Brigadier’s Brief Lives
Tyler, Anne The Accidental Tourist
Van Den Berg, Laura Isle of Youth
Vincent, Bruno Five on Brexit Island
Vowler, Tom Dazzling the Gods
Watson, SJ Before I Go To Sleep

If I start trying to highlight any of these, I’ll probably tie myself in knots worrying about the ones I forget to mention (especially the ones by friends of mine). So I’m not going to say anything at all right now (although I may well have more to say about one or two of them later on in the year, once certain things are in place). However, if anyone fancies opening up a discussion below, I’ll be happy to join in. Also, in 2018 I am going to make a determined effort to do some proper reviewing. I have plans.

And, yes, that was the second post of this year to end on an enigmatic wink.

“On my way here tonight…”

The thing I like most about having had a book or two published is the random stuff that tends to happen. Once you have a book out there, you have NO IDEA who is going to read it or what they’re going to think about it. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it is less than good and sometimes it is downright odd.

Anyway, it struck me last night that I hadn’t Googled Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens for a while, and in doing so one or two new hits popped up. The first was a nice review on Anne Wrightwell’s blog from just over a year ago, in which she says:

It reminded me of a Carry On film, one of the better ones not the travesty that was ‘Carry on Columbus’. I think an alternative title for the book could have been ‘Carry On Darcy’ Now, there’s a film I’d like to see. It is stuffed with puns and allusions to modern day topics. Some of these are very clever and funny and some of them aren’t so much. Although mercifully (in my opinion) there aren’t too many references to ‘pearl necklaces’ and ‘pork swords’.

Mercifully, indeed. I tend to agree with the last point. I think if I had my time again, I’d probably trim some of the excess self-indulgences. One day, when I’m massively famous, I’d like to publish a revised edition. Or perhaps that long-promised sequel…

Next up was a review in Spanish of Señora Darcy vs. Aliens on this blog. As far as I can tell from Google Translate, it doesn’t say much, which is a blessing, since the last time I had a review from the Iberian peninsular, it was a Portuguese one that contained the word “atrocidades”.

And then it all got a bit weird. Because it turned out that Mrs Darcy had been mentioned in a sermon. Yes, you read that right. At St Barnabas’s Church, Southfields SW18, in February of this year, the vicar, Revd Ian Tattum, opened his address thus:

I don’t imagine that Jane Austen ever thought that one day there would be a sequel to Pride and Prejudice called ‘ Mrs Darcy versus the aliens.’ But there is- as one reviewer put it’ ‘it is much funnier than the original and has a lot more aliens.’

I can safely say that my career as a writer has now peaked. It’s not going to get any better than this, is it? The only thing that could possibly improve things would be for the vicar to turn out to be this chap:


But then he ended up in a different parish altogether, didn’t he?



Film Review: VICTORIA

On paper, this sounded amazing. A high-adrenaline heist thriller shot in a single take on the early morning streets of Berlin. No cuts, no trickery, just one long hand-held take. I love a narrative gimmick, me, and this sounded right up my street. Here’s the trailer. Fun, eh?

I should have been warned. Last time I fell for this kind of thing, I wasted an hour and a half of my life watching “Russian Ark”, which is a fabulously glitzy single-take ramble through the rooms of the Winter Palace of the Hermitage Museum. Totally spectacular and technically brilliant, but (for me at any rate) it lost the plot, along with my attention, about halfway round. It became far more entertaining to wonder about all the frantic scurrying around there must have been going on behind the scenes.

The thing is, gimmicks are great fun, but if that’s all there is, the story fails to resonate. The main reason why Pixar were successful from the off wasn’t just that they produced the first-ever full-length computer-animated film. It was that they coupled their technical brilliance with a terrific story, and it’s the story that ultimately lingers on. The clue’s in the title of their first feature, “Toy Story”. It’s technology (toys) and narrative (story) working together. I’m really looking forward to putting that into a PowerPoint presentation one day, BTW.

“Victoria” is, despite the hype, not a great film. For me (again), while it was technically clever, it didn’t work at all as a story. However, it didn’t work at all in quite an interesting way, because not only did the gimmick fail to serve the story – it actually wrecked it completely.

Now from this point on there will be spoilers, so I’ll make a break and then continue.

Continue reading

Citations and Erdős Numbers

I’m suffering from a  cold today so I’ve given myself permission to do something silly. I was recently Googling my name (don’t tell me you don’t do that, because I won’t believe you) and I thought I’d have some fun and try Google Scholar instead. It turns out that my work has been cited in some pretty hardcore places, so I’ve added a couple of new pages to this site, just to show off.

Here’s where my software books have been cited. (Actually, at the moment, it’s just the one book – there are too many for the collaborative ones.)

And here’s where Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens has been cited. Yes, it really has. Amazing world we live in, eh?

Of course, I began to wonder if these citations might point towards me having an Erdős Number. Because, obviously, this is something that everyone should aspire to. However, it turns out that the online tools to check collaboration distance (try this one if you want some fun) sometimes get a bit confused. I got quite excited when a couple of my Wrox co-authors appeared to have an Erdős number, only to find that they’d swapped places with someone with a similar name halfway along the chain. In any case,  it turns out that collaboration on an elementary textbook doesn’t really count, although I have to say I’m quite prepared to argue the toss about the Wrox books being elementary if I ever actually do find a collaborator who’s made it all the way. “Erdős Number 5” would look massively cool in my Twitter profile.

What I Read in 2015

Time to take a look at the books I read last year. According to my spreadsheet, I seem to have only read 70, which is considerably down on 2014’s 95 and 2013’s 92. No idea what went wrong, but it doesn’t really matter as  long as I got something out of the ones I did read. And, by and large, I did. Once again, I’ve avoided any attempt at star rankings because they scare me, frankly, particularly when it comes to books by people I know (and, yes, I know those are the ones I really should be shouting about). Maybe one day I’ll screw up my courage and risk doing something like the Facebook friend of mine who perfectly honestly and with well-argued (albeit completely wrong – obviously) reasons gave me a one star review for Mrs Darcy. (She’s still, incidentally, a Facebook friend. I’m that grown up, people.)

Generally speaking, of course, my friends write wonderful books. That’s one of the reasons why they’re friends.

Anyway, here’s my list, with a few notes as to what made a particular impression this year.

Ali, Monica Brick Lane
Amis, Martin Heavy Water and Other Stories
Amis, Martin Money
Blissett, Luther Q
Borges, Jorge Luis Fictions
Bray, Carys A Song for Issy Bradley
Burchill, Julie and Parsons, Tony The Boy Looked at Johnny
Cleave. Chris The Other Hand
Coe, Jonathan The Rotters Club
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Valley of Fear
Crème, Lol and Godley, Kevin The Fun Starts Here
Ewen, Paul Francis Plug: How to be a Public Author
Fallada, Hans Tales from the Underworld
Filer, Nathan The Shock of the Fall
Fleming, Ian Goldfinger
Fletcher, Tom The Home
Frayn. Michael Skios
Gallant, Mavis Paris Stories
Garfield, Simon Just My Type
Gawande, Atul Being Mortal
Gebbie, Vanessa and Roberts, Lynn Ed’s Wife and Other Creatures
Gee, Maggie Virginia Woolf in Manhattan
Goldacre, Ben I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That
Gonzalez-Crussi, F. The Senses
Hadley, Tessa Married Love
Haig, Matt The Humans
Harris, Joanne Chocolat
Haynes, Steve (Ed) The Best British Fantasy 2014
Healey, Emma Elizabeth is Missing
Hersey, John Hiroshima
Hilary, Sarah No Other Darkness
James, Clive May Week Was In June
James, Clive North Face of Soho
Joyce, James Dubliners
Kurkov, Andrey Penguin Lost
Mantel, Hilary Wolf Hall
Mantel, Hilary Bring Up The Bodies
May, James How to Land an A330 Airbus
McVeigh, Paul The Good Son
More, Alison The Harvestman
Mueenuddin, Daniyal In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
Munroe, Randall What If?
Murakami, Haruki Norwegian Wood
Nadjaran, Nora Ledra Street
Padua, Sydney The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
Parkin, Cassandra The Summer We All Ran Away
Parkin, Cassandra The Beach Hut
Powell, Gareth Hive Monkey
Pratchett, Terry Making Money
Pryce, Malcolm Aberystwyth Mon Amour
Pryce, Malcolm Last Tango in Aberystwyth
Readman, Angela Don’t Try This At Home
Rose, David Meridian
Royle, Nicholas (Ed) The Best British Short Stories 2014
Royle, Nicholas (Ed) The Best British Short Stories 2015
Schlosser, Eric Gods of Metal
Smith, Ali Ali Smith’s Supersonic 70s
Smith, Ali How To Be Both
Smyth, Richard Wild Ink
Stoller, Fred My Seinfeld Year
Swarup, Vikas Six Suspects
Townsend, Sue The Woman Who Went to Bed For a Year
Ware, Chris (Ed) McSweeney’s Quarterly 13
Ware, Chris Building Stories
Welty, Eudora The Golden Apples
Wodehouse, PG Jeeves in the Offing
Wodehouse, PG Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Much Obliged, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen
Wynn Owen, Andrew Raspberries for the Ferry


Best books I read this year

The best pair of novels I read this year were Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. I’ve never been a big fan of historical fiction, but these, along with Q, were a revelation. Utterly gripping. The best short story collection, by a country mile, was The Redemption of Galen Pike. I didn’t quite engage with Carys Davies’ previous collection, Some New Ambush (perhaps I should try again now), but every single story in this one was a delight. And what I really loved was the slightly old-fashioned way in which she seemed perfectly at ease with the deeply uncool idea of a revelatory twist at the end. Several of these tales wouldn’t look entirely out of place in a Roald Dahl collection – particularly the title story. Both the graphic novels I read were excellent (I really should read more of these), but I’d single out The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage for particular praise – hugely entertaining as well as nicely informative.


I got to the end of Jeeves and Wooster (I’m not going to count anything by anyone other than PGW), and while they didn’t quite hit the mid-period peaks of Code of the Woosters and Joy in the Morning (two of the best books ever written), they were all terrific fun. I should have read these ages ago. I read another Bond novel, which was OK, enjoying it more for making comparisons with the film than anything else. Hive Monkey was a terrific sequel to Ack-Ack Macaque and I’ve now got Macaque Attack to look forward to in the new year. Best new discovery of the year was Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth Noir series, which was very funny as well as a remarkable exercise in world-building – even if the world in question consisted of a down-at-heel Welsh seaside town populated by a bunch of mad druids. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of these in 2016. The Best British Short Stories series continues to impress and I thought 2014 was particularly good, as was The Best British Fantasy of that year, although that series seems to have come to an end now, more’s the pity.

Nice surprises

The Rotters Club was the first Jonathan Coe I’ve read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even if it was one of those dreaded “coming of age” novels (come on, you can play bingo with most of them). I’ve actually just finished the (even better) sequel, The Closed Circle, and if I read a better book in 2016, I’ll be very happy. Marvellous combination of pathos and humour, and a bunch of flawed characters that you can really care about. I would probably never have read Virginia Woolf in Manhattan if it hadn’t been for the fact that the lovely Maggie Gee was one of my tutors at Bath Spa last year, but I’m so glad I did, because it’s wonderful. Brick Lane was a marvellous read, too, although I would have loved to discuss the central character’s almost complete lack of agency with my tutors. Ed’s Wife was a bizarre and rather wonderful curio  that entertained and disturbed by turns (actually, no surprises there really, knowing Vanessa – but the form of it was especially unusual). Having provided a blurb for Cassandra Parkin’s short story collection, New World Fairy Tales, I really shouldn’t have taken so long to get round to reading the two novels she’s written since, but I’m very glad that I did get round to it, because they were both absorbing reads and I’m looking forward to whatever she comes up with next. Cards Bray’s A Song for Issy Bradley was a lovely, touching story of loss. Finally, I read my first Murakami this year, and I’ll definitely be reading more.


There were a few. I’d never read anything by Martin Amis before (you’d be amazed by some of the gaps in my reading) and I thought I’d start with a short story collection that I picked up in a charity shop. I hated it. I asked Facebook for recommendations for something else to read by him and I ended up buying a spanking new copy of Money. Which I also hated. I may try once more, but then again, life is short. Of authors I usually love, I have to say that I didn’t get on with The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year at all. And it really pains me to say that I found Making Money well below Pratchett’s best.

Best single short story

As with last year, The Best British Fantasy came up with the goods here, this time with a lovely, odd story called “Triolet” by Jess Hyslop. It’s worth buying the book just for that, but there are plenty more good ones in there.

Other things I enjoyed

I didn’t see many films in 2015, but Mad Max – Fury Road was easily the best. I didn’t watch much TV either, but I loved series 3 of The Bridge – every bit as good as the first two. I also discovered (late again) Twenty Twelve and W1A – I’ve been a fan of John Morton for years, and this is some of his best work yet.

Anything else? Probably. Oh yes. Gig of the year was (obviously) King Crimson at St David’s Hall in Cardiff. But you knew that already, didn’t you.

There are probably other books I should have singled out – feel free to add your thoughts below.

In the meantime, roll on 2016. And I really should get back to finishing writing that novel.

Liars’ League at Sevenoaks

Last Wednesday I delivered my 40000 word (well, 41439, words to be accurate) manuscript to Bath Spa for marking. Since then I have been tidying up a few things that got slightly out of hand during that final burst of activity, and now it’s time to breathe some life back into this thing.

At some point, I’m going to blog about the strange and wonderful world of Creative Writing MA courses, and I’ve also got a review or two lined up. But first, I thought I’d gently ease into things with a brief report on Tuesday’s Liars’ League event at the Sevenoaks Literary Celebration.

I’ve been submitting stuff to Liars’ League since 2008. Sometimes they pick my stuff, sometimes they don’t (which is, incidentally, what makes it especially satisfying when they do pick one). Anyway, back in May, they picked a story of mine called “Ventriloquism for Dummies”. Unfortunately I didn’t get there on the night, so when I heard that it was also going to be read again at a special LL night in Sevenoaks featuring stories from all eight years of the League, I was determined to go along.

I was so glad I did. Clive Greenwood gave the piece an absolutely superb reading, bringing out every nuance of the story. In fact, every single reader was excellent, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole evening. What’s more, there was a decent sized audience – well in excess of 100, I would have thought. Eat your heart out, all you who say the short story is in trouble.

Anyway, judge for yourself. Here’s Clive:

And here’s a picture of the assembled actors, plus an author or two. One of these days I may learn to look like a normal human being when I’m having my picture taken.



Meanwhile, in other news, I almost forgot to mention that TAKE IT COOL got a very nice review from the lovely Marija Smits:

This book is fascinating and as creative non-fiction goes, a highly-enjoyable read. The author is a fine writer and very, very funny; he has the kind of self-deprecating, weird humour that really tickles me and I laughed out loud at many parts.

One final thing: if you’re interested in a signed copy of MRS DARCY VERSUS THE ALIENS, I’ve reduced the UK price to £4.99 including P&P. Bargain, I say. Bargain. GET IN.

This and That

14-mockupIn the immortal words of Granny Weatherwax, I aten’t dead (in case you were wondering). I’ve been quite busy with one thing or another – some of it to do with the day job, some of it to do with writing and the rest to do with real life – which means the blog has had to take a bit of a back seat.

But here are a few things that have happened recently, writing-wise.

My current work in progress, which I will refer to by the tantalising initials of TTAAAP, has now hit somewhere around the 45K word mark. Of this, around 25K is eligible to be considered for my final MA submission of a 40K manuscript (basically because the first 20K is mostly stuff that has already been used in earlier submissions). I would dearly love to say loads more about TTAAAP, but I won’t, because I’m superstitious like that.

Out of the blue, TAKE IT COOL had a nice review from David Hebblethwaite (I’d forgotten I’d even sent him a copy). His final remark sums up both the appeal and the problem of the book in a single sentence:

Take It Cool tells an intriguing story, whatever your immediate interest in its subject matter.

I think I’m going to have to accept that TAKE IT COOL was always a long shot. But I’m still pleased it’s out there.

Issue 14 of the very stylish Structo magazine is now available, including (amongst others) my story “The Picture of Mrs Tandogan”.


I think this may be my favourite story of the moment. Except possibly that one. Or that one. Anyway, it’s good to see it finding such a nice home.

Finally, my story “Ventriloquism for Dummies”, which was read at Liars’ League back in May, has now been selected to be read at the Sevenoaks Literary Celebration in October. I think I might try to get there this time.

My Book is Sad

Take it Cool Cover with groovesMy book ‘Take It Cool’ is sad because no-one has reviewed it. Actually, that’s not strictly true, because the Herald really liked it and Family Tree Magazine made it their TOP CHOICE for September 2014. Even Songlines … well, let’s not go there, because I don’t think they got what I was trying to do. Several bloggers have also chipped in with some nice comments. Have a look here if you want to see more.

BUT there haven’t been any reviews at all on either Amazon or Goodreads. And that makes my book sad, because it makes it feel terribly unloved.

So, if you live in the UK, I’m offering to give away not ONE, not TWO but THREE copies of it. All you have to do is add a comment below↓, and I’ll put you into the draw.

THERE ARE, HOWEVER, STRINGS ATTACHED. If you are one of the lucky people who gets a free copy of this very entertaining book, your part of the bargain is that you have to write a review on Amazon or Goodreads (or preferably both) within the next month or so.


Off you go, then!

My Year of Reading

Last year I read 95 books. I was a little disappointed at this, because I really wanted to break the 100 barrier. I suppose I could have got a bit closer by counting all four volumes of “Dancers at the End of Time” as separate items, or indeed breaking up Lydia Davis’ collected stories into their constituent volumes. But then I might have had to rule that some of the shorter pamphlets and Kindle Singles didn’t really count as proper books either. So I’ll stick with that 95, with a note to myself to do better in 2015.

The books are a mixture of random stuff I’d had lying around for years, stuff I bought specially, stuff that I happened on in charity shops and – this was a new feature for 2014 – set texts for my Creative Writing MA. I’ll leave you to guess which.

Here we go. No star ratings, because (a) I can’t be bothered rating every single one and (b) I find it very awkward when there are books by people I know in there. I mean, obviously everyone I know is worth at least 6 stars, but some are worth 7 or 8, if you see what I mean.

And yes, I know there are two Dan Browns in there, and probably his worst two as well. Humour me.

Armitage, Simon Book of Matches
Atwood, Margaret The Handmaid’s Tale
Barden, Jenny Mistress of the Sea
Barden, Jenny The Lost Duchess
Barrett, Colin Young Skins
Benson, Fiona Faber New Poets 1
Birnie, Clive Cutting Up The Economist
Boo, Katherine Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Bradley, Lloyd Sounds Like London: 100 Years of Black Music in the Capital
Briggs, Raymond Ethel & Ernest
Brown, Dan Deception Point
Brown, Dan The Lost Symbol
Bryson, Bill Notes From a Small Country (re-read)
Calvino, Italo The Complete Cosmicomics
Chabon, Michael (et al) The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist
Cleave, Chris Incendiary
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Hound of the Baskervilles
Cook, Lin (ed) Something Like Fire: Peter Cook Remembered
Cope, Wendy Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis
Coutts, Marion The Iceberg
Davis, Lydia The Collected Stories
Dickinson, Ash Slinky Espadrilles
Didion, Joan The Year of Magical Thinking
Duffy, Carol Ann The World’s Wife
Engel, Matthew Eleven Minutes Late
Fleming, Ian Diamonds are Forever
Fleming, Ian From Russia With Love
Fleming, Ian Dr No
Frost, Toby End of Empires
Gaffney, David More Sawn-Off Tales
Gebbie, Vanessa The Half-Life of Fathers
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins The Yellow Wallpaper
Gleick, James Faster
Gough, Julian CRASH! How I Lost a Hundred Billion and Found True Love
Gough, Julian BANG! The Great Somali Goat Bubble
Grant, Linda I Murdered My Library
Greer, Bonnie Entropy
Gudgion, Geoffrey Saxon’s Bane
Haynes, Steve (Ed) The Best British Fantasy 2013
Hilary, Sarah Someone Else’s Skin
Johnston, Jennifer This is Not a Novel
Johnston, Jennifer Grace and Truth
Karlinsky, Harry The Stonehenge Letters
Kellaway, Lucy Who Moved My Blackberry?
Kerridge, Richard Cold Blood
Kurkov, Andrey Death and the Penguin
Larkin, Philip The Whitsun Weddings
Larsson, Stieg The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Larsson, Stieg The Girl Who Played with Fire
Larsson, Stieg The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Littler, Richard Discovering Scarfolk
Logan, Kirsty The Rental Heart
McBride, Eimear A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing
MacDonald, Helen H is for Hawk
McEwan, Ian Atonement
McGough, Roger Melting into the Foreground
Malcolm, Janet The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
Milligan, Spike The Essential Spike Milligan
Mitchell, David Ghostwritten
Moorcock, Michael The Dancers at the End of Time
Moore, Alison The Pre-War House and Other Stories
Powell, Dan Looking Out of Broken Windows
Powell, Gareth Ack-Ack Macaque
Priest, Christopher The Dream Archipelago
Pryor, Richard Pryor Convictions
Ridgway, Keith The Spectacular
Rohan, Ethel Out of Dublin
Ronson, Jon Them (re-read)
Rose, David Posthumous Stories
Royle, Nicholas (Ed) The Best British Short Stories 2013
Sage, Lorna Bad Blood
Schalansky, Judith Atlas of Remote Islands
Sedaris, David Me Talk Pretty One Day
Simpson, MJ Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams
Smith, Ali The Accidental
Sobel, Dava Longitude
Tatsumi, Yoshihiro A Drifting Life
Thayil, Jeet Narcopolis
The Fiction Desk New Ghost Stories
Thompson, Ben Ban this Filth!
Thompson, Harry Tintin: Hergé & his Creation
Thorne, David I’ll Go Home Then, It’s Warm and Has Chairs
Toibin, Colm The Testament of Mary
Tolkien, JRR Mr Bliss
Townsend, Sue Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years
Turnbull, Bill The Bad Beekeepers Club
Vale, Brenda and Robert Architecture on the Carpet
Watson, Mark Hotel Alpha
Weaver, Dave Japanese Daisy Chain
Wilson, Anthony Riddance
Winchester, Simon The Surgeon of Crowthorne
Wodehouse, PG Joy in the Morning
Wodehouse, PG The Mating Season
Wodehouse, PG Ring for Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit


A few observations…



I continued my journey through P.G.Wodehouse and continued to find it rewarding, with the exception of “Ring for Jeeves”, which was well below par, proving that you need both halves of the double act present to make the comedy work.

I’m still working manfully through the Bond books. They’re certainly improving, but not quite the classics I’d been hoping for.

I was very sad to get to the end of Adrian Mole and even sadder to know that there won’t be any more now.


Things I should have read aeons ago that turned out to be every bit as good as I expected

This year’s prime contender has to be “The Handmaid’s Tale” – an absolutely terrific sustained piece of dystopian fiction.

“Making Tea for Kingsley Amis”, as well as a classic that I should have read by now,  was also easily the most entertaining poetry book I read this year. Which brings me on to…



I read more poetry books than ever this year, and many of them had some excellent moments. Generally speaking, though, I must confess that I’m still struggling find the kind of stuff that really appeals to me. I always come away feeling a bit of a lightweight. Possibly because I am.


New discoveries

Biggest discovery of the year was Jennifer Johnston. I literally bought “This Is Not a Novel” for 50p, and then only because a charity shop was selling off books at two for a pound and I needed something to go with “Eleven Minutes Late” (God, I sound a cheapskate). I love her style: very spare, straightforward and not a single word out of place. I intend to read a lot more of her work in 2015.

I’m also looking forward to reading more Ali Smith. “The Accidental” was the first of hers I’d read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I could certainly read more of Colm Toibin, too.

I’d had the “Atlas of Remote Islands” lying around on a coffee table for several years and I’m so glad I got round to reading it. It’s one of the most evocative books I’ve ever read. It’s also a thing of beauty.

“The Silent Woman” was the biggest surprise. It was one of the MA set texts and I wasn’t looking forward to reading it at all, knowing little of either Hughes or Plath beyond the stuff that everyone knows, but it’s one of the most riveting non-fiction books I’ve ever read. A fascinating insight into a whole strange world of literary fandom and factionalism.


Anyone else out there read and enjoyed / hated any of my 95? I’d be fascinated to hear what you think.


[UPDATE: Forgot to mention that the best short story I read last year, by a country mile, was Simon Bestwick’s “Dermot”, in “The Best British Fantasy 2013”. Utterly chilling and morally challenging story, brilliantly told.]

When the Man from Del Monte Says Meh

Songlines Take It Cool reviewSo, do we start this with “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” (always a bit suspect, that one) or “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about” (which doesn’t really stand up to close inspection, either)?

Oh well.

I got reviewed by Songlines magazine. I like Songlines. I’ve had a subscription to it since it first came out. So I was quite excited when I heard that they were going to review Take It Cool, although I was more than a little apprehensive. I had a vague feeling that the music press might be a little more picky than, say, Family Tree Magazine (pick of the month, remember – oh, that seems so long ago now).

The thing is, it’s not actually a bad review. It’s more of a meh review, and what’s really annoying is that I can’t complain about much of what the reviewer is saying (although I don’t quite understand that bit about “Jammin'”). The only thing that we strongly disagree on is whether or not the book was worth writing. Although that is, I guess, quite a fundamental difference of opinion. It’s Dennis I really feel sorry for – I feel like I’ve let him down somehow.

Still, the book has now had three print reviews, of which the first two (in the Scottish Herald and Family Tree Magazine – did I say it was their pick of the month?) were excellent. Two out of three ain’t bad, after all.

So I won’t be cancelling my subscription to Songlines. It is still an excellent magazine, even if they do get things ever so slightly wrong every now and then.

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