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Books I read in 2019
2020-01-02
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Books I read in 2019

Proudly I've continued to read (if you know my story, this is a big deal for me), this year having read 29 books (28 listed below) and 9,976 pages (just because I had the numbers!).

My absolute favourite was Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - a beautiful antidote to the world we live in today. I've also included a publication date breakdown at the end of this post. Most books were published in the last decade and 6 from between the 1920s and '50s.


The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

★★★★☆

Spoiler

I did enjoy this story (the 3 stars wasn't a 5 for any negative reasons) - it's pretty well paced, and discusses some particularly interesting ideas – and at the time I read this book whilst I was also reading A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes which is pertinent to the subject matter The Chrysalids covers: genetics.

This particular edition was also prefaced with an introduction essay, which I feel like I'm cheating when I read, because it explains core concepts much more explicitly and throughout the story, these ideas are provided additional context for me.

The story follows David and his struggle to fit in in the world (or certainly his world). The planet has been ravished by something that has scrambled DNA across all life, and humanity (as we meet it in the start of the book) is holding dearly onto "pure" existence. "Pure" being applied to crops, animals and humans, or "man".

The result of a non-pure human (an extra toe or misshapen bones or perhaps an extra chromosome?) leads to that individual being sent to the "Fringes", perhaps even exiled to the Badlands, or just murdered. For intolerance.

Except David does not fit in, and the community is ultimately fearful of change and they religiously to stem it's progress. The thing is: life is change.


One of the more poignant moments (to me) was between David and his uncle (who is sympathetic to "Deviations"), where his uncle questions the ideas and definitions of "pure" and "pure man", and how it is horribly flawed.

This entire exchange prompted me to consider what we, in our society and our communities accept as written in stone. And perhaps I'd do well to remember that just because something "is" doesn't mean it should be.


A character that I struggled a little with, was Sophie. Her character early in the story was strong and inquisitive about the world. When we meet her much later in the story and in life, she knows what she wants, but her wants are limited to the world she now exists in. Specifically she works to protect her position as the raped partner of the head of her tribe.

Sophie's character is possibly the most heartbreaking, and I wish she had been able to escape her destiny.

Yet, when David, his cousin Rosalind and his sister Petra escape to a new land at the end of the story, the intolerance exists in this new community, though it seems the only difference is that they know that they will be succeeded eventually (and not without putting up a fight).

Read: 1-Jan 2019
Read in: 9 days
Pages: 212

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter #3) by J.K. Rowling

★★★★★

Spoiler

I read this to my son, who turned 7 just after we started. We did end up doing some epic bedtime reading sessions to complete whole chapters. And as with books I've read to him, I shall let his own words dictate this review :)


I liked the bit where Harry goes underground and in the house, because I wish I had a scary house under the whomping willow.

When Black came into the room, I thought it was scary, and I thought it was going to happen in my bedroom!

The sad bit was when Buckbeak died (but oh yeah, they rescued him).

It's good, and a little bit scary.


Read: 2-Jan 2019
Read in: 3 months
Pages: 453

A Brief History of Everyone who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes by Adam Rutherford

★★★★★

Goodness me, this was a good book! Right from the start, Rutherford states that the book won't be littered with references to research papers throughout and the book reads very much like Rutherford is quite literally telling me _a story_ (I should add that references are added in the appendix of the book if you want to validate and have further reading on the subject of DNA).

I always feel like when I read non-fiction I'm supposed to be a little smarter once I've finished, and somehow retain my newly acquired knowledge so I can wax lyrical later on in the pub in years to come…

The subject of this book is (as the title suggest) genes, DNA and how it all works. The book is fascinating, and although I'm certain that I'm zero percent smarter now (sadly my own failing!), Rutherford's book was littered with fascinating stories from both recent and distant history - which have so far stuck in my head.

I got wind of this book via my own genealogy research, and being able to find every step in my ancestry to William The Conqueror, I posted a tweet and eventually saw a reply from Adam Rutherford explaining "that's cool that you can demonstrate it with genealogy, but it’s literally true for all British people too. Edward 3 is the direct ancestor of every British person".

That snippet reply alone piqued my interest in reading this book, and damn glad I did - I think I highlighted nearly two pages worth of kindle notes, partly to help me remember and partly because there was some superb stuff in there, including:

borborygmus, which is a technical word for a rumbly tummy.

Rutherford's writing and storytelling is entertaining, informative and even regularly funny.

Read: 6-Jan 2019
Read in: 1 month
Pages: 432

Clawthorn (Clement, #3) by Keith A. Pearson

★★★☆☆

I've read and enjoyed the previous two Clement stories. This story was fun, and a very easy read (for me to get through 400 pages in a matter of days is testament to that).

The story follows a journalist, Emma in her mid-40s, living in London on her own and being handed crappy assignments, whilst she's still hungry for her big break.

She comes across Clement (our 70s angel trying to - somehow - find redemption) and he's drawn to her knowing that he must help her in some way. Enter the Clawthorn Club and the story.

Overall, the story is enjoyable, and it's nice to get a little into the feelings of Clement (having read the two previous installments). The story does have some predictable (to me) twists, but it doesn't hurt the reading experience too much.

Sadly the author decided this was the book to push his own opinions about the current climate of how women are to take daily microaggressions.

I understand that Clement's language and attitudes stem from the 60s and 70s which leads to some socially jarring language. This is what adds to Clement's charm, that when he's pulled up on the language be it "casual" racism or sexism he listens to the feedback and adjusts when appropriate.

This book is different to the previous installments, as this story is sprinkled with the protagonist, Emma, casually putting down other women's own struggles. These times throughout the book don't contribute to the characters nor did it help the story along, so I sense this is more that the author is _shoehorning_ their own opinions in. Which served to annoy and frustrate me when I bumped into those random moments in the book.

Read: 10-Jan 2019
Read in: 4 days
Pages: 505

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

★★★☆☆

Spoiler

I wanted to love this book but I kinda fell short right at the end. However, the two protagonists: Patricia and Lawrence are beautifully written.

The book is split over 3 era's of our characters' lives. Firstly when they're young children where the world is huge and wonderous. Patricia in particular has her first adventure very early in the book, and in part I wondered if this was entirely in a child's imagination rather than happening to her.

The next era in the book Patricia and Lawrence are at (what I'd consider 'middle school'), and frankly it's horrible. They're bullied and targeted across the board. I found this part of the book the hardest hitting, and probably closer to the reality I know and it made me sad for the characters. I also felt like there was no real growth from this period of the book and they were simply tortured for being different and that wasn't addressed (or I missed it).

Then the last era of the book the characters are young adults, Patricia a witch with more control over her powers (and yes, it seems that it wasn't her imagination back when she was a child), and Lawrence a full super nerd building a machine to save humanity.

The story feels like it accelerates in momentum, complexity and consequence as it progresses. It reads really well, and the sci-fi aspects are fun, complex and draw some interesting moral questions.

Except for me, the end just…kinda happened. I was following the story along, the world in the book was going to hell, level 10 dystopia stuff, and then all of a sudden the protagonists left alone, Patricia is following a pigeon to a tree, they have a weird conversation, she vaguely answers a question and then Patricia and Lawrence walk off together into the sunset (sort of) with a sense of hope and everything will be okay for them.

Yet the world is still collapsing (mother nature trying to course correct), witches (and wizards?) are blasting people into unknown realms, and intend to unleash The Unravelling (which we meet once and it's a horror show), and the scientists are pissed and building mega machines to blow away the witches. So that's all still happening and yet Patricia and Lawrence seem to be okay.

I was left feeling like I missed something crucial at the end of the book, because I felt like the characters were doom, but didn't realise it, and the world was going to die even though both Patricia and Lawrence intended to save it. So…yeah, I'm not sure.

I loved the characters, and the writing was great and really original, and quite biting at times. But the more I thought about the end of the story, the more confused I felt.

Read: 22-Jan 2019
Read in: 12 days
Pages: 314

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

★★★★☆

Enjoyed this book. Definitely a modern look at the possibilities of the future ahead of us. I have to admin I was expecting more robots and augmentations and sci-fi, but this leant more towards a political statement in particular about free access to healthcare (which is something I care a lot about being in the UK and having the NHS).

An enjoyable story and some strong characters.

Read: 9-Fed 2019
Read in: 17 days
Pages: 304

Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps... and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind by Nick Littlehales

★★★☆☆

In general, the concepts and ideas are pretty solid. A lot of common sense that revolves around using sunlight to help with sleep patterns. Somehow I personally experienced a similar sleeping pattern (sticking to a regular alarm, getting up quickly, getting sunlight) and it worked incredibly well for me for 2 years (until I broke the pattern).

The body of the book though is littered with how the author works with top sports teams, Manchester United, Man City, Arsenal, etc - top cyclists etc. I was happily convinced of his authority by chapter 1, but I didn't need repeated on every chapter. It felt like random name dropping (since most of the sports celebrities named were unknown to me).

All in all, there are some useful tips throughout the book, but probably didn't need so much of the constant reminders of who the author worked with.

Read: 25-Fed 2019
Read in: 16 days
Pages: 208

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) by Patrick Rothfuss

★★★★★

Absolutely superb stuff. This book was recommended separately by three different friends, and it lived up to expectations.

It's the first fantasy book I've read (or certainly in the last decade) so initially I wasn't quite sure. As the chapters progressed though, the story fell into really beautiful story telling.

I'm was taken away by how good the writing and prose were. There were turns of phases that were fun and a pleasure to read. The book itself is also broken into small enough chapters that I could read for 15-20 minutes at night and complete a chapter (I like to stop reading at "natural" endings).

The story, or rather the trilogy of books (this being book 1), follows Kvothe and the telling of his life story. Kvothe agrees to tell his story over three days (at which point I realised that I was reading Day 1).

I'd to write more of thorough review, but the story is brilliantly dense that I can't do it justice. The second book in the trilogy is 1,000 pages - which is daunting to me, but it's definitely on my reading list now. There's also a number of novellas that have been written for the world the Rothfuss has written which I've also earmarked. As for the conclusion of the trilogy, I've been told that not only is there no publication date set, but that Rothfuss has been at it for 8 years 😱!!!

Read: 22-Mar 2019
Read in: 25 days
Pages: 676

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

★★★☆☆

Stressful, but solid, reading.

My rating is based on how much I _personally enjoyed_ the story. It was pretty heavy reading, and perhaps more so as I knew there was an underlying bullying aspect that ran through the story - and bullying always puts me on edge.

The book itself is brilliantly written and the climax of the story is masterfully executed. Golding does an excellent job of slowly building up the tension throughout the story until it's crashing so hard at the end of the story it seems like there's no way out.

Ralph's (one of the protagonists) feeling of peril at the end of the book is visceral. Reminding me of my typical nightmares and stress dreams where I'm unable to escape the terror no matter what choice I make.

Read: 6-Apr 2019
Read in: 15 days
Pages: 227

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

★★★☆☆

Spoiler

I loved the concept behind this story, but sadly the delivered story fell fairly flat for me.

Firemen: those who burnt books. The story does go into why this profession even exists and it's even more intriguing.

But I really struggled with the book. It's a little over 100 pages and I felt like I was slogging the book after the first 1/4 of the story. I _think_ the writing style also distracted me from the story too. I felt line nearly every sentence was laiden with a turn of phrase or clever simile - but the book is *thick* with this and it became very noticeable to the point of distraction.

The pace really threw me off too, it starts building up characters and before I know it, Montag is murdering his fire chief, battling murderous robot dogs, planting fake evidence against another fireman (and from what I could tell, a character we hadn't met) and then wondering off in the woods to meet the people who keep books in their heads.

It felt like there was a great story of a dystopia where happiness is swallowed up in a pill, potentially like Brave New World, but Fahrenheit 451, for me, falls way short of achieving that.

A shame. I really wanted to enjoy this story more.

Read: 25-Apr 2019
Read in: 19 days
Pages: 119

I Had a Black Dog: His Name Was Depression by Matthew Johnstone

★★★★★

Beautifully illustrated and communicated. Some particular pages rang more than true for me and it's useful and helps to see the way others articulate their own depression.

With such a simple read, I'll be passing this on to my family members to read so that they have a little more insight into what goes on inside my own head.

Read: 2-May 2019
Read in: 0 seconds
Pages: 48

The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

★★★★★

Great page turner, and I loved the concept of how an individual exits whilst always forgotten in the world.

This is the second book I've read of Claire North's and unwittingly had already earmarked 84K (also by North). North's writing style is pretty unique with half completed sentences and almost a stream of thought put down on the pages. It wouldn't seem to work, but it reads brilliantly.

Hope Arden has a unique condition that she is forgotten. I loved that the book looked at the effect of being forgotten and the loneliness that goes hand in hand. There's also the practical impact of being forgotten such as medical treatment or anything requiring long term attention.

The opening chapters explain Hope's early life and though the story is told from Hope being (I think) mid/late-30s, the times that she's forgotten by her family is truly heartbreaking - and that's _just_ the beginning!

The first half of the book is pretty evenly paced, by which point I couldn't quite see how the story would end (it sort of has a half-ending in the middle), but then the story goes up several gears and races forward, twisting around questions of sanity and reality (if you're always forgotten, do you exist? Did they exist? What don't you know?).

Definitely recommend.

Read: 19-May 2019
Read in: 23 days
Pages: 480

The Passengers by John Marrs

★★★☆☆

Certainly a page turner and an easy read. Interesting concepts on near-future issues, but I was left feeling a bit…unchallenged.

The story, sort of, revolves around Libby who is a juror on a panel that decides who is responsible in autonomous car collisions. These inquests have always been closed-doors and utterly opaque, and nearly always lays the fault on the human, so Libby gives us an inside view of what's going on.

There's a "Hacker" who takes control of a number of cars and states that each Passenger will die in two hours time. It's then put to the jurors in the inquest to decide (along with a vote from the public - ala dystopian x-factor) as to which single individual will survive.

Jack Larsson is an MP on the panel of jurors. He's horrid. I got the impression he was a Farage type character, disgustingly sexist, racist, self centred, the works. The author does a great job of keeping Larsson on character - as much as it was hard to read this character.

What I had trouble with was how the Hacker had unprecedented control over not only *every single car* in the UK, but also what seemed like hundred of cameras inside the inquest. The hacker could turn off the audio from the passengers and somehow also kill their network reception on their phones (okay, maybe…) but why the passengers didn't resort to writing on a bit of paper to communicate…it seemed like (to me at least) an obvious tool to use.

The hijacking story ends around 80% in the book which left me kind of confused as to what was coming next. The last of the book is split in half between 3 months later where Libby is the voice for an activist group and the 2 years later when (another) inquest into Jack Larsson's involvement.

The end felt pretty jarring whilst also trying to clean up all the loose ends and (almost) quickly making sure all the baddies have their comeuppance (though in "reality" the real baddies get away scott free…).

I think it makes a good holiday read, but not so well suited to my desire to read a clever dystopian view on near-future technology.

Read: 30-May 2019
Read in: 10 days
Pages: 400

Meeting Mungo Thunk by Keith A. Pearson

★★☆☆☆

There's a clever story in here, with some decent humour but for me, personally, the undertone of sexism and 1980s machismo was a turn off.

I almost want to put two ratings for this book. One for the story and one for how I enjoyed the story. Amazingly I've actually read everything that Pearson (the author) has published. I _really_ enjoyed the early works and the Clement series is pretty strong - though the last Clement book had similar tones that this book had. I can't quite articulate it, but it feels like Jim Davidson…

The actual story, once it gets around 30% and we meet Mungo Thunk, is pretty entertaining. The protagonist is (unrealistically, but works for the story) transformed from a completely unreliable and irresponsible idiot - into a thoughtful, caring, responsible and somehow a successful entrepreneur.

Amazingly the core of the story makes sense and there's a decent twist.

But, for me personally, I don't enjoy books that a so riddled with that slimy Jim Davidson feeling.

Read: 17-Jun 2019
Read in: 10 days
Pages: 398

No Way Out (DI Adam Fawley, #3) by Cara Hunter

★★★★☆

Well paced, well written and engaging crime thriller. Not my typical cup of tea, but really enjoyed it.

I was a little wary of picking this book up (from recommendations) as it was book 3 in DI Adam Fawley books, but it turns out there was nothing to worry about.

Although the story does include characters whom I can only assume had their backstories explained in previous books, it only adds depth to the characters rather than feeling like I was missing something.

The story itself begins with a house fire and (effectively) an entire family being consumed in the blaze. DI Fawley and team then set about digging out leads and trying to understand what had happened.

It's what I'd expect from a crime novel (whilst I half imagine an Inspector Morse episode). The story is extreme thorough in taking me through the approach to the investigation, each following up on leads, some dead ends, some theories requiring proof. There seems to be _just the right_ amount of supporting characters that I can follow them as each chapter changes perspective.

There's also a fairly significant plot points around infant death - something that is in my personal life and I'm wary of reading or watching in stories - but the author, Cara Hunter, doesn't include this in a grotesque way and it's handled carefully (or carefully enough for me).

Otherwise a really well paced thriller - where I found I seemed to gobble down the last 1/4 of the book in a few short sittings and couldn't put the book down right at the end. Great stuff. Definitely introduced me to a genre I've typically not been interested in.

Read: 30-Jun 2019
Read in: 12 days
Pages: 367

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

★★★★★

I loved it; gripping, heart warming, shameful, despairing, brilliant and quite beautiful.

I'd seen the film some years ago and knew it was based on the book but had heard it diverged from the book a lot in the end. But wow, the book was a different beast.

The story centres around Robert Neville, the last man alive in a world of vampires and undead.

He's surviving, but for what he doesn't know. The story doesn't hold back to expose his awful constant sexual frustration and how, somehow, rape is normalised to him.

His survival is bleak and he knows it. He's constantly asking why he continues and fights for his sanity whilst every single night he barricades himself in his home whilst the undead come calling at his door.

Brilliantly written, brilliant story and I only wish it was longer.

When I read the last line of the book, I broke into a smile. Such a good story that holds up so well after being written in 1954.

Read: 6-Jul 2019
Read in: 6 days
Pages: 163

The Humans by Matt Haig

★★★★★

My first read-twice book. A love letter to humanity.

This is the first time I've read this was 2 years ago, directly after reading Matt Haig's 'How to stay alive', and as such, it was easy to see the relationship between The Humans and Haig's own personal experiences.

On second reading I really enjoyed the characters perspective and fresh eyes on the world.

After my own personal tragedy, I remember walking through the woods and seeing the beauty of the late summer light shining through the plant life, as if seeing the beauty of everything that surrounds us.

Haig's writing and this story in particular, reminds me of this feeling. Seeing the wonder and amazing around us all the time.

The impossibly unique circumstances that bring us together, and for those lucky ones, share the love with others.

I could describe the story in this review, but instead I'd recommend reading this book and simply falling in love with all the wonder around you.

Read: 6-Jul 2019
Read in: 1 hour
Pages: 285

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1) by Liu Cixin

★★★★☆

My first "hard science" read, but had me immediately inspired to learn more about physics.

I really enjoyed this book - and I loved the science it discussed. It got me watching youtube videos on physics and asking questions about how things work and made me want to learn more.

The story itself spanned a full lifetime, starting around the 1960s (in fact earlier) and follows through to (what I presume) is modern day. The book is full of historical references (and my Chinese knowledge is practically nil, so this was great) and chock full of amazing, believable physics questions that had me pondering over between reading sessions.

Great stuff.

Read: 18-Jul 2019
Read in: 11 days
Pages: 400

The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2) by Liu Cixin

★★★★☆

A tough/hard science start, but gets picks up and good gosh, the ideas in this book are…wow, expansive!

The Three Body Problem ends in a way that left me feeling like I _had_ to read the second book in the trilogy, and Ye Wenjie passes on the story to Luo Ji, though as the read we're not sure how or why at this early point.

I found the first chunk of the book (around 20%) pretty tough to read and very "hard science", but then it feels like the groundwork has been laid and the story kicks into gear.

One thing I found myself thinking over and over as I read through the book are how amazing Liu Cixin's mind is to be able to create these broad, world impacting ideas founded in (what I seemed to think was) real science. The variety and twist of ideas are quite amazing - particularly as the author tells of different ways that the entirety of humanity could be obliterated!

The last 1/4 of the book sped up for me and the story galloped towards a finale that tapered off fairly nicely at the end. Certainly I feel like this ending is enough to stop at (though I'll definitely read the last in the trilogy, Death's End).

Great stuff, if a little heavy at first.

Read: 17-Aug 2019
Read in: 29 days
Pages: 513

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

★★★★★

All throughout reading this book, I found myself smiling.

This book was published in 1938 and tells the tale of Miss Pettigrew, a failing governess who's life thus far has been quiet, polite and "ladylike", but, as the title gives away, this day, she lives.

I've never before read a book that I've non-stop smiled whilst reading.

I found myself falling quickly in love with Miss Pettigrew and wanting her to have all the kindness she deserved.

Read: 24-Aug 2019
Read in: 7 days
Pages: 234

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

★★★★★

Spoiler

Unexpected scary bits!

It was a tiny bit scary and it had really good descriptions. It was kinda fun and creepy scary. It was about Harry Potter doing the Triwizard Tournament.

(I read this book aloud to my son - aged 7 - this year, so the review and rating is entirely his - personally I would have rated this as 3 star, it was super repetitive and I'm worried about the 5th book being even bigger and recovering all the stuff we already know about the characters and the world!)

Read: 26-Aug 2019
Read in: 6 months
Pages: 734

The Afterlife of Walter Augustus by Hannah M. Lynn

★★☆☆☆

Spoiler

A bit obvious, uneventful and a miss for me.

As always this review is based on my experience of reading this book and not reflective of the actual content or story for a broader audience (I say because I'm not particularly glowing in my rating!).

If I had this on holiday then I may have warmed to it a little more. It definitely feels like the kind of book that doesn't require much thinking.

I found the twist "baddie" very obvious but at the same time lots of the story moved forwards without any real reason.

I came away from reading the book like it had been 100 pages or so. Maybe it's because I felt like the characters didn't have any depth - the sister Victoria is cruel and unkind to the protagonist Letty, but it seems for no reason other than to make a bad character (in the living world).

Then there's Walter, living in the afterlife (or the interim, or maybe even purgatory…), it's unclear why he's been there for so long - what was special about his name. He wrote a book of poem, god knows how many hundreds of years prior to the current day, so I'm not entirely sure why he doesn't pass on.

Later we meet Hector. I'm not sure how he's part of Walters "life". Maybe it was explained and I skimmed idly past it, or perhaps it's just some rando that has a larger part to play - and even then, when Hector plays his hand, he kind of just falls off the pages.

All in all, a bit of a miss for me.

Read: 1-Sep 2019
Read in: 7 days
Pages: 334

Death's End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3) by Liu Cixin

★★★☆☆

If this were a technical rating, the book would get 5 stars. For me however, the book felt like a bit of a slog. It took me 2 months to read it and the story line, good gosh, feels like it is stretched across time.

I felt like there were large sections of the story that didn't really apply to anything in the overall arch that we were following - or maybe it was so long that I lost the thread of the story!

It also felt like the main protagonist, Cheng Xin, was being constantly punished by the author - although she does admit her own uphill climb in one of the later chapters entitled "The Stairs of Responsibility".

The ending of the book (last 15%) also describes in detail the end of the Solar System. It's pretty visual and pretty bleak, and one heck of an idea to wrap my head around.

In fact, the book is full of ideas that are hard to wrap my head around - and that's what Liu Cixin does amazingly well.

For me though, as someone who is reasonably new to hard sci-fi, I found this book to tip me over the edge into "whoa, this is a bit much". I've also read that apparently there's a fourth book in the works (or even finished) and I've no idea how that story would even continue!!!

As for the contents of the story, I'm not sure I can even explain - certainly epic and thought provoking!

Read: 29-Oct 2019
Read in: 1 month
Pages: 608

Recursion by Blake Crouch

★★★☆☆

Spoiler

Decent sci-fi read, not terribly challenging, perhaps a bit overly grim towards the end, but entertaining all round.

After reading The Three Body Problem, I feel like sci-fi might be spoilt for me if it's not rooted deeply in hard science! Though Recursion does stem from a real world MIT experiment (amazingly) it's more akin to the romantic notion of sci-fi (if that's even a thing!).

The book splits pretty cleanly into three phases: 1. setup and drama, 2. sci-fi, time travel, action, 3. world ending disaster and reconciliation.

I felt like the first part was a little underwhelming, wondering where the story was going and what these two characters had to do with each other: Helena and Barry.

Thankfully this is cleanly answered in the second part where some interesting ideas are at play: specifically being able to travel back to a memory and "fork" reality off into a new timeline. Though it's only mentioned briefly, it feels like this a nod to four dimensions.

The last part when the characters decide they have to save the world - though apparently it's just down to one person not only being responsible for the end of the world but also be responsible for stopping it.

The book does its best to tell some fairly horrific tales of how the world would end - though this is very American-centric, but as the characters are based in the states, I'd imagine this is because it's their point of view. The descriptions of skin melting off and sores and blisters and radiation burning and all of that is fairly graphic. I can't decide if it made this part of the story more harrowing or if it just felt grotesque.

There's also large chunks of scenes where the protagonists are such incredible pain (the skin from a handprint peeling off and sticking to the walls) that I wondered how they were supposed to actually perform anything, instead of passing out from internal failure. But still, it's _just_ a story!

Overall, a decent read, not super challenging and explored some "fun" ideas with time travel and the concepts of what reality might be.

Read: 17-Nov 2019
Read in: 19 days
Pages: 336

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

★★★★★

Engaging from the very first pages, brilliant writing and ideas with some sci-fi without the need to explain absolutely everything. Loved it.

If I'm honest the title is what attracted me to the book and I had hoped it would be a brilliant read - and it absolutely was!

The story kicks off immediately into the first few pages where people have start to lose their shadows, and the knock on effect is that they forget, they forget all sorts of things, then they forget their name, or forget their parent's names, or that they had a husband or wife or children, then forget how to speak. Then more mind bendingly, they forget that a thing is a thing, an in doing so reality changes around them - such as forgetting that a place exists then all of a sudden that place really doesn't exist taking all it's inhabitants with it.

The story follows a few key characters dedicating chapters to telling each of their story and the effect this epidemic (of sorts) affects their lives. So the story is very much about humans even though it lives inside an almost magical epidemic.

I like that the story doesn't particularly try to explain how the shadows are lost or why and why it affects some people faster than others.

A wonderfully written book that swept me along. Definitely recommend.

Read: 26-Nov 2019
Read in: 9 days
Pages: 496

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

★★★★☆

Sad. Heart breaking. Beautiful.

The story of Leon, a (nearly) 10 year old boy who has his family pulled apart. Set during the 80s in England where social services are struggling, the threat of terrorism is present, and racism is still commonplace.

We follow Leon as he moves through foster homes and tries to find a way back to his family.

The writing employs a technique whereby the style is told from perspective of Leon's 10 year old mind, typically I'm not a fan, but it works well for this story. In particular the last section of the story, Leon finds himself in a rioting scene and the torrent of words and fear and confusion roll right off the page - I finished the last 1/3rd of the book in a single (1am) sitting.

I liked that this was something different for me to read, and a relatively short-ish read (without feeling short). I also liked that the story didn't try to wrap a neat little bow on the end of the story, this isn't a fairy tale - but something that feels real and it ends in a way that's tinged with sadness _and_ happiness at the same time.

A lovely read.

Read: 4-Dec 2019
Read in: 5 days
Pages: 264

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

★☆☆☆☆

Skip Skipping Christmas.

I read this based on a recommendation on social media and somehow missed checking the existing reviews. Also because I hadn't read John Grisham before I expected something even mildly challenging. I was completely wrong.

Skipping Christmas doesn't have a single decent character in it. They're all first class privilege selfish individuals with zero character progression.

The writing is also extremely basic, written exactly as if I were watching a screen - which I'm not doing - and trite to boot.

Aweful. I won't be reaching for a Grisham book in a hurry!

Read: 23-Dec 2019
Read in: 6 days
Pages: 242

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

★★★☆☆

Beautiful prose but no idea what it was about!

I've been collecting both recommendations and books that "we should have read" and it's really amazing to find that this book was written in the 1920s, before 1984 and A Brave New World.

The book was originally written in Russian and banned from publication for many decades. The version I've read is apparently a faithful and good translation but I do always wonder if the language has been modified or not (in one section I found a reference to electric toothbrushes - something that was invented some 30 years later).

None the less, the words to this book really are poetry.

The problem I had is that I really wasn't sure where I was in the story. The character thinks he's going insane, but he's actually discovering he has a soul, but often it did read like a madman and hallucinations.

It does end predictably, but only because I've already read the likes of 1984. I can't imagine the impact on a reader reading this back in the late 1920s. It's also worth adding that the writing really does hold up nearly a century later, which is baffling amazing.

So, great stuff for nearly 100 years old, but "just okay" because I struggled to fully follow the character.

Read: 31-Dec 2019
Read in: 27 days
Pages: 224

Books by decade

1920s
1921: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

1930s
1938: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

1950s
1953: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
1954: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
1954: Lord of the Flies by William Golding
1955: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

1990s
1999: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter, #3) by J.K. Rowling

2000s
2000: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4) by J.K. Rowling
2001: Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
2005: I Had a Black Dog: His Name Was Depression by Matthew Johnstone
2007: The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) by Patrick Rothfuss
2008: The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2) by Liu Cixin
2008: The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1) by Liu Cixin

2010s
2010: Death's End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #3) by Liu Cixin
2013: The Humans by Matt Haig
2016: A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes by Adam Rutherford
2016: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
2016: My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
2016: Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps... and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind by Nick Littlehales
2016: The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
2017: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
2018: Clawthorn (Clement, #3) by Keith A. Pearson
2018: Meeting Mungo Thunk by Keith A. Pearson
2018: The Afterlife of Walter Augustus by Hannah M. Lynn
2018: The Book of M by Peng Shepherd
2019: No Way Out (DI Adam Fawley, #3) by Cara Hunter
2019: Recursion by Blake Crouch
2019: The Passengers by John Marrs

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