Friday, 4 January 2019

A Year In Books - 2018

At the end of 2017, I set myself a couple of ambitious goals for 2018. One of which was to read 20 books by the end of the year. As of the 26th December 2018 I had read 25 books - just over two per month. In this post I'll give my overall rating and a little description as to why.

Books in reading order left -> right
NOTE: War & Peace looks like a single book but I split the three volumes into different reading chunks.

  1. David Mitchell - Bone Clock (2014) [8.8/10]

  2. As the first book of the year, I was surprised by just how good it actually was. It had the feel of the mythical; about cults, magical powers, other beings etc. which is not always my cup of tea. But it was so well written, it really drew me in and I could hardly put it down.

    It follows several stories which combine from almost mini stories as part of a wider plot - which although it might seem difficult to follow, was actually an incredibly easy read.

  3. Andy Weir - The Martian (2011) [8.4/10]

  4. Having watched the film of the same name, I couldn't help but hear Matt Damons voice and see his face - similar to many younger Harry Potter readers who can never unsee Hermione, Harry and Ron.

    The book is extremely funny, believable from a scientific view - for this lamen at least - but was also pretty tense throughout. Once I started reading, I finished the book in just a couple of sittings over two nights.

  5. Homer - The Odyssey (1200 - 800BC) [5/10]

  6. I'd wanted to read Homer for a while and had previously read the Illiad. Both epics were written in similar styles, with the familiar "Aiden who was son of Patrick who was son of Harold who was son of..." littered throughout. The odyssey was a much easier read than the illiad but was still not easily digestible.

    The epic follows Odysseus on his 10 year journey home from Troy where he falls upon all forms of mishaps and woe. It also follows his wife Penelope and son Telemachus who have to fight off suitors. The intention is for the epic to be orated, but I'm not sure I would have got away with muttering away to myself for several weeks.

  7. Bernard Cornwell - Lords of the North (2006) [9/10]

  8. Following the story of Uthred (son of Uthred) - this third in the series novel - was as compelling a read as the two before had been. It was easy to read, engaging and makes you feel like you were in ancient England in person.

  9. Douglas Hulick - Among Thieves: A tale of the kin (2011) [7.7/10]

  10. An organised crime spy in a fantasy world where magic is forbidden must piece together clues from a series of events to save the criminal world he inhabits. Whilst the first few paragraphs come across as very 'samey' for the genre it picked up pace and the story really started to pull you in - so much so that I order the next in the series as soon as I had finished reading.

  11. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams - Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (2015) [6.5/10]

  12. The book began well by examining the history of the left, how it had failed and what the left needs to do in the future to bring around the general populace to left policies by emulating neoliberal strategies.

    The next few chapters look at how shifting work availability, greater automation and a non-working class of people who cannot or will not be suitably employed is raising problems for the left, standards of life as well as - to a degree - business.

    The four points raised are; fully automate, reduction of the working week, a universal income and the diminishment of the work ethic. As a 'left' leaning person the reduction of the working week seems reasonable and should be encouraged. However the premise of the book leans heavily on the automation aspect which suggests that automation means less work.

    In my opinion this doesn't hold true. Historically the industrial revolution, introduction of irrigation, computing, machine processing and many other concepts should have eliminated work, but instead society and the world adapted, generating a need for different jobs. The book was generally good, but the urgency placed around the falling job numbers and the need for the four solution didn't quite ring true.

  13. Douglas Hulick - Sworn In Steel: A Tale of the Kin (2014) [7.6/10]

  14. Following from the original adventures of Drothe. Drothe must now use his new position to solve different intrigues. As in the first book the fight scenes seem realistic, the book is a nice easy read and the plot keeps you guessing. I would have purchased the next in the series but as of yet there is none.

  15. John Stack - Ship of Rome (2009) [7.8/10]

  16. As a Rome enthusiast this book gave a new perspective of the Romans which was exciting and enthralling. Focusing around the early Roman need for ships against the Carthaginians and their journey to becoming moderately good shipwrights made for a novel approach to typical roman adventures whilst keeping a similar style to what you might read by Simon Scarrow.

    What helped put the book into perspective was that I was also listening to History of Rome podcasts by Mike Duncan and his fantastic description of the Punic Wars.

  17. Margaret Atwood - The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) - [8/10]

  18. Dystopian tales are my jam, and this one left the right amount of intrigue and historical background to what led to the 'new world' to really leave me satisfied. What I really enjoyed was seeing the transition into the new totalitarian state from the eyes of Offred.

    Although the cliffhanger leaves a lot to be desired, I was beginning to struggle to see where else the story could really have gone to. It didn't exactly make me want to watch the tv series. That being said it did teach a very important piece of advice "Nolite te bastardes carbatorum".
  19. Agatha Christie - Murder On The Orient Express (1934) [8.2/10]

  20. Having watched the film first, the book was never going to surprise me in the same way. However, the ending is fantastic and the book is so magnificently written that it surpasses its age. It doesn't seem to be written in over 70 years before like you might find with a C.S Lewis or Enid Blyton novel. Fantastic read, great ending, brilliantly written.

  21. Bernard Cornwell - Harlequin (2000) [8.3/10]

  22. I originally read this book as a young boy, and it kick started my childhood joy for building bows and arrows from pieces of cane. The adventure is exciting, the historical context and placement - as with all Bernard Cornwell books - makes you feel like you are there in person. A great book, well written.

  23. Ben Elton - The First Casualty (2005) [7/10]

  24. Whilst the flow is a little off at times and can be a little difficult to get into at the beginning, the story really transports you as a reader into the horror and misery that was the trenches. The Inspector Kingsley is somewhat annoying which appears to be intentional, whilst vitriol toward the pointlessness of the war is much easier in hindsight the book is a good read with lots of intrigue.

  25. David Moody - Hater (2009) [7.4/10]

  26. Hater was a reread from my first year in uni, and it was good as I remember it to have been. The book focuses on a 'hatred' that appears in many people, often displayed through the eyes of the 'haters' themselves. As escalating violence erupts across the nation, panic ensues and Danny must protect his family from the haters. Genuinely good book which was a lot different to other horror stories I've read.

  27. David Moody - Dog Blood (2010) [7.1/10]

  28. Having just finished Hater, I had already pre-purchased the next in the series as I was enjoying the first so much. The second follows Danny as he navigates around a much different world. I don't want to give away spoilers to the first book. But this one only dipped slightly, the writing was as good as the first but obviously there was less intrigue in the second.

  29. Ross Leckie - Hannibal (2008) [7.7/10]

  30. Following the podcast for the History of Rome about the Hannibal era I saw this book and couldn't not buy it. It was a great read and dramatisation of the life of Hannibal that was not too dissimilar to the history in the podcast. It follows Hannibal's life right through to his death showing the pride, loyalty and commitment he had for Carthage but also the intense hatred he held for Rome and all Romans.

  31. David Moody - Them Or Us (2011) [6.8/10]

  32. By 'Them or Us" the pace and intrigue had really been impacted in the series so I couldn't quite enjoy the third book as much as I could "Hater" or "Dog Blood". Had it been written as a stand alone I'm sure it would have rated better - I really enjoyed the first in the 'Autumn' series for example which has a similar feel.

    The story fantastically displayed how the human race at the end of its life might be torn apart by infighting, bullies and tyranny. The writing is fantastic and the scene setting is perfect. My downside would be the bleak outlook on the end of days but that's because I'm all about sunshine and butterflies.

  33. Anna Sewell - Black Beauty (1986) [7.9/10]

  34. The life of the horse 'Black Beauty' shows the different ways that horses live amongst humans. How they are loved, ignored, used for their beauty or as a symbol of wealth, mistreated through ignorance and malice and the relationships they might build with each other. Anna Sewell shows the greatest of empathy and understanding of horses and their lives, making this a beautiful read.

  35. Ted Chiang - Arrival (2002) [6.8/10]

  36. If you have watched the film Arrival, the book is a collection of short stories of which one happens to be the 'Arrival' from the film. Ted Chiang is an interesting writer with a world of imagination that he conjures on the pages. Unfortunately, this makes it hard to follow at times.

  37. Bernward Cornwell - Vagabond (2002) [7.8/10]

  38. The theme of the year has been that the second book to a series is never quite as good as the first. Maybe that's just me and the books I've read this year? Vagabond was a continuation of my boyhood dream to be an archer fighting for England, hunting deer and beating the French, great read.

  39. Leo Tolstoy - War and Peace Vol. 1 (1869) [7.1/10]

  40. I watched the TV series on the BBC before reading the book which made comprehension of what was going on much much easier, as I could put faces to names and scan over the names much easier. The book is somewhat hard to read, being written in the style of the time which for some reason begins with a long preamble around history, a city or the writers opinion on a subject before moving onto the story itself (This happens in Les Miserables too).

    I really enjoyed the intrigue of the life of the gentry shown in the book and its very easy to become attached to the characters and want them to succeed, hate their enemies and feel like you are resting in a Russian townhouse or joining in a great hunt.

  41. Leo Tolstoy - War and Peace Vol. 2 (1869) [6.5/10]

  42. The second book slows considerably and I'm not entirely sure why I struggled so much more with the centre piece. The war progresses throughout volume two and the circumstances the characters find themselves in seems much of their own making which is frustrating - a sure sign that the author has done a good job at evoking feelings in the reader.

  43. Leo Tolstoy - War and Peace Vol. 3 (1869) [7.2/10]

  44. Tolstoy describes in this part how the ebbs and flow of war were not directly contrived by important figures of the day. There is an obvious adoration for Kutuzov who he obviously sees as a wise, sickly man who was able to see the bigger picture in everything he does against the brash arrogance of Napoleon.

    Having never been a fan of the slow, almost idiotic fighting of the era (standing in squares with slow reloading guns) this is the first time the Napoleonic Wars have ever interested me. Tolstoy is a magnificent story teller who obviously studies and gave great consideration to the invasion of Russia.

  45. Stephen King - The Green Mile (1998) [7.8/10]

  46. As with all books by Stephen King the story was mysterious and believable in equal measure. It was well written with intrigue throughout.

  47. Tom Beaumont James - Winchester (1998) [6.2/10]

  48. This book describes Winchester through time in cold hard facts. It describes architecture, burials, population - size and origin - throughout Winchesters existence in a factual and informative way.
    It might have benefited from a couple of folk stories from the area, such as perceived notions of King Alfred time in the city - even if described as unfounded with no evidence. The reality is somewhat disheartening and loses Winchester some of its magic.

  49. Iain Gale - Four Days In June (2006) [8.9/10]

  50. This novel was one of the best I have read all year. I couldn't recommend it highly enough. It describes the rolling, unimaginably complex formation and distribution of Napoleonic armies perfectly to present the difficulties and intricacies the wars of the times held.

    The story telling was brilliant and well described. There was obvious bias towards Wellington over Napoleon which tried to show the fall from grace the French commanders and leaders had felt. Obviously well researched, it was a fantastic entry point into the world of Napoleon and Wellington.

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