18. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North

I picked up this book in Waterstones’ cafe last year. The beginning intrigued me.

The premise is that Harry August is re-born each time he dies.  He lives his life over again, albeit never in the same way.  He accumulates knowledge and experience across his lifetimes, as do others of his rare kind.

The story becomes something of a time travelling thriller, a cat and mouse chase over several repeated lifetimes.  I am sorry to say that the characters lacked credibility and depth. I would say a good idea that needed a better writer. Sorry. 3 out of 10.

17. Scattered Ghosts, by Nick Barlay

Nick Barlay is the son of Hungarian Jewish refugees.  His parents left Hungary for the UK in 1956, in the aftermath of the uprising against the oppressive Soviet rule.  That is when my parents left Hungary.

In this book, Nick Barlay tells the stories of his family members going back several generations.  Those who made something of themselves in the times of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Those who fought in the Great War. And those who were sent to Auschwitz.

The detail becomes greater as he tells the stories of those in living memory, as is only to be expected.  But clearly the book has been very carefully researched.

As the son of Hungarian emigres, I found a lot in this book that I could relate to, and I will be passing it on to my daughter and my mother.  Not being Jewish, however, no one in our family died at Auschwitz.  I visited that place a few weeks ago. Just horrible. I would have found it hard to cope had I lost family there.

A very interesting book, bringing all the characters in Nick’s family to life.  No doubt about it – 10 out of 10.


16. Snare, by Lilja Sigurdardottir

Another Icelandic crime story, set in the aftermath of the banking crash and the Eyjafallajokull volcano that closed down air traffic in (I think) 2010.

Sonja is divorced. She has no money. She becomes a drugs courier, bringing cocaine into Iceland. She is in an on-off relationship with Agla, who is facing criminal investigation for her role in financial scandals. For a large part of the book, the story is about Sonja and Customs officer Bragi, who is sure she is up to no good.  But then the twists and turns happen…

This is the promising first in a trilogy.  More soon. 8 out of 10.

15. Paper Towns, by John Green

At first I thought I was 40 years or so too old for this book. All the characters are American teenagers, about to graduate high school.

Quentin and Margo have known each others since they were very young. They live next door to each other. The story starts with their adventures one night, as Margo gets Quentin to help her in a series of revenge actions on various of their contemporaries.  So far, so very teenage.

Then Margo disappears. Quentin follows the clues she has left, and the story follows as with some help from his friends he works through them, reading Walt Whitman and Moby Dick on the way.  This was when I got into the story. I worked out the meaning of ‘paper towns’ before it was revealed.

Yes, this was a fun audiobook. 8 out of 10.

14. The Laughing Policeman, by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

laughing policeman.jpg

This is the fourth in the series of police procedural novels by Sjowall and Wahloo, set in Stockholm in the 1960s and 1970s.

Read elsewhere about the social commentary of these novels. To me these books are obviously of a different time. Stockholm was a very different place 50 years ago.  I don’t suppose that women are called nymphomaniacs any more.

These books describe the methodical nature of police work. A lot of hard slogging, following dead ends, making mistakes, until it all comes together.  Here, an unsolved murder more than 10 years ago holds the key to a mass killing, a bus driver and 9 passengers shot on a bus, one of the victims being a young detective who in spare time had been looking into what we would now call a cold case.

Unlike some, I am not sure how to view these books individually, as opposed to as part of the overall series.  I think I’ll give it 7 out of 10.

13. Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes

I’m guessing we all know at least something about the story of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. I sort of did, but I had never read the book.  And I’m glad I listened to this audiobook.

I would have struggled reading Don Quixote. One of the great things about audiobooks is that I can listen to long descriptive passages, paying attention and often appreciating the writing, whereas with a book in my hand I would have raced through to the next bit of ‘action’. Thus I came to enjoy the numerous long conversations between Don Quixote and Sancha Panza, Quixote earnest and serious, the foolish wise man, and Panza the wise fool with his endless proverbs and sayings.

Don Quixote’s ‘adventures’ become increasingly ridiculous – the famous tilting at windmills is one of the first. The proper word is picaresque, but the one that came to my mind as I was listening is pythonesque.

36 hours in all, this is a long listen. I was listening for almost 2 months on my daily drive to and from work and some longer drives. At times I felt it almost lost its way, but Cervantes always pulled the narrative back on course.

You know something about the story. If you have not already done so, read or listen to Don Quixote. You won’t regret it.

Definitely 10 out of 10.

12. Sunfall, by Jim Al-Khalili

You probably know who Jim Al-Khalili (‘Professor Jim’ in our house) is. Professor of Physics, presenter of tv series popularising science.  Now he has written a novel.

Set in the not too distant future, the world is facing a calamitous doomsday that threatens the existence of life on this planet. Only quantum physics can save the day.

Add in to the mix a nutjob terrorist outfit who want the end of the world to happen, and the James Bond-type efforts of the brilliant physicists who have worked out how to save the planet, and you have a science fiction thriller.

Good fun. 8 out of 10.