Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig

Set in London, in about 2007, Hearts and Minds follows a number of diverse characters whose lives slowly become connected.

It is a novel about life in London, and about Britain. It is written from something of a Guardian reading liberal viewpoint, and may therefore not be for everybody. I listened imagining how these characters would react to the shock of Brexit.

I understand that the author has written a number of other novels in which some of the minor characters here are the lead characters. Comparisons have been made to Balzac and La Comedie Humaine. I shall read more.

I enjoyed this book. I was drawn into the world and lives of these characters, and wanted to see how things panned out for them. 9 out of 10.

35. Beloved, by Toni Morrison


Buy Beloved on Amazon

What a powerful book! I really do not know how to do it justice.

Toni Morrison died a few months ago, and all the tributes made me realise that I had to read Beloved. I have found it hard work: while some sections read more easily, others required care and perseverance. At times I wondered if not having black slave ancestry was making it harder for me to relate to this book.

I won’t attempt to describe Beloved. You can look elsewhere for that. I can see why it is rated as an American classic, and why Toni Morrison won a Nobel Prize.

But I cannot quite give it 10 out of 10, not yet, anyway. I suspect that it is a book that I will be thinking about for a long time to come, so it may yet earn that extra mark in my mind. 9 out of 10.

28. Monsignor Quixote, by Graham Greene

I read this book a long time ago, and I remember the tv film with Alec Guinness and Leo McKern. Having listened a few months ago to Don Quixote, I thought it time to revisit this book.

Here Don Quixote’s descendant is a parish priest. For various reasons he sets off on a journey with the communist ex-mayor of El Toboso, who he calls Sancho, in Rocinante, the monsignor’s old Seat car. Various adventures ensue – run-ins with the Guardia, a visit to the cinema where they see a movie called A Maiden’s Prayer, Monsignor Quixote blowing up what he thinks is a balloon in a house of ill repute.

And there are of course the conversations between the two friends, on subjects of catholic and marxist theology.

Much shorter than Cervantes’ work, this is a worthy 20th century reimagining of the story. 9 out of 10.

11. Even Dogs in the Wild, by Ian Rankin

The 20th Rebus novel!

John Rebus retired several years ago, and yet he continues.  This is the third novel in which he plays an active role, as a sort of consultant to Police Scotland.

If you enjoy the Rebus books, as I have, then you will enjoy this.  It is up there with the best of them.  Themes involving the regular characters continue to be developed – Siobhan Clarke, Malcolm Fox and ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty all feature prominently, and younger officers like Christine Esson are being brought on.

I’m going to give this 9 out of 10.

4. Cities of The Plain, by Cormac McCarthy

This is the third in the author’s Border trilogy. I listened to the first two, All The Pretty Horses and The Crossing in 2017, and then had real problems the couple of times I tried to download this final novel in the series. But it was worth it.

Cities of the Plain picks up the stories of the protagonists of the first two books, John Grady Cole and Billy Parham, now working as cowboys in a ranch in west Texas. The story is set in the late 1940s, when the cowboy way of life is coming to an end. The love that John Grady and Billy have for their horses and the animals for which they care is evident.

Sadly for one of our heroes, there is an ending of great violence, while the other fades into old age, just as his way of life has faded.

What I love most of all about these books is the writing. McCarthy writes beautiful prose, and the narration of Frank Muller really brings out the high quality of the writing.

Novels of the West are not really my thing, but I strongly recommend these books.

9 out of 10

2. Charlotte Street, by Danny Wallace

In 2015 I listened to “Who is Tom Ditto” by the same author, and absolutely loved it. So I bought this, and then promptly forgot about it, until a few days ago. And it’s nearly as good.

Jason seems to be on a downward spiral. He’s lost his girlfriend, not really got a job, lives in a room in a flat above a shop and next door to a place that is not a brothel.

And he bumps into a girl. literally. And after that very short encounter finds himself holding her disposable film camera,

The book is about how his life goes first into a downward spiral, and then how he gets out of it. Jason and his mate Dev go from one adventure – or disaster – to another, as they try to find The Girl from the photos on her camera.

Most enjoyable. 9 out of 10.