The Secret Rooms

This was an absolute gem of a find. Bought from a local bookshop in Wiltshire, I liked the look of it but was also aware it could be a gamble. Thankfully it was one that paid off. This is a superbly written account of an aristocratic world of old that doubles as a moving and detailed account of the 1st world war to boot. It flows brilliantly and it really does read a bit like a thriller as the author leaves her finds in the titular secret rooms of an enormous castle as tantalisingly hanging at the end of the chapters. 

An insight into a real life Downton Abbey sort of thing (I’ve not actually watched it but I think that’s a fair thing to say), I would thoroughly recommend this book. 

Death and Croissants

The best thing about this book is its title. It really is a cracker and it sold it to me in one go. Unfortunately it’s all downhill from there. The plot is a bit simplistic, the prose is disjointed and built around various dad jokes  rather than the other way round and there is some shoddy, confusing dialogue on the other. Thankfully quite short so you can get through it nice and quickly but really, best avoided. Have a chuckle at the title but don’t be fooled to go any further than that. 

A Foreign Country

I sought this out as I read another of his books – Box 88 – and really enjoyed it. This lived up to my expectations. He writes very well and the action is tense, interesting and slick. I love the spy aspects it goes into and I will certainly be reading the other books he has written. 

Under The Blue

This was a random pick up in Waterstones. Cracking buy it was too. Although it was a classic cliched apocalypse novel, it was also a thought provoking account on the worth of humanity and how it regards itself. It carries an important environmental message and added to that, it is written very well. Enjoyable and I would recommend. 

It was fairly obvious from the outset that this book was going to be biased. It felt consistently as if the author was trying to ‘sell’ biogerontology. This became even more blatant during the last chapter where he as good as admits the book was written to raise political pressure to push forwards the drive to ‘cure’ ageing altogether. While he has obviously done a lot of research into a field that is still significantly speculative and in its infancy, he comes across as almost fanatic at times, treating the subject as would a child with a toy. It is occasionally rambling. What concerns me the most however is the glaring absence of any discussion about the ethical effects on the world should ageing be successfully cured. That is but for a small paragraph near the end. He even includes a link to an extra chapter which goes into the ‘counter argument’. Perhaps he didn’t want to write this in his book because of the obvious role it would play in completely undermining everything he has written about. To leave this aspect out is hugely irresponsible and his comment that the net ethical benefit would so clearly be in favour of stopping us from ageing that it is not really worth including is utter nonsense. This is not a balanced popular science book no matter what it is marketed as. It is a sales pitch – propaganda. Don’t be fooled. And to be honest, it was a bit boring.

Every Song Ever

Initially, I enjoyed this book. But very quickly it descended into a realm of pretentiousness that I really can’t stand. Clearly this man has an encyclopaedic knowledge of music. Clearly he has lived his life within a world of music so I will be at least a little cautious in criticising him too much as I haven’t. However, he is the sort of guy who has every vinyl record ever and loves to bask in people’s amazement when he talks about the most obscure artist or song ever as if it was the most obvious and well known thing in the world. 

His analysis of music itself is overly complicated and I feel a little too clinical. He goes on tangents of such irrelevance that the book becomes a mess. The chapter headings that hint at some sort of structure are false. This book was a real slog towards the end which is a shame as the concept was, at least on the face of it, a sound one. Excuse the pun. 

Avoid unless you are a super super geek for music. Even then, probably avoid.  

Snow, Dog, Foot

An intriguing book, translated from Italian. This was gifted to me and can be read in an evening. I am no connoisseur of translated works but it seems to me they have done a marvellous job. The story itself is good. It charts the descent of a mountain man into dementia or madness over a winter, all in the presence of his dog. As things progress the dog becomes more and more human while the man changes in quite the opposite way and is a reflective account of humanity. Glad I read this.  

Trio

William Boyd is one of my favourite authors and so I was always going to give this one a read. As always he writes brilliantly. His prose is concise and seemingly effortless. The story in this case is not really very tangible however. It is a series of events in three people’s lives rather than an actual cohesive ‘story’ as such. Most would not be able to get away with this but his reflective way of writing helps get this over the line. Not his best by any means. 

Extreme Medicine

This one missed the mark for me unfortunately. It markets itself as a book looking at how exploration transformed medicine and even has a polar explorer on the cover. I had envisaged exciting accounts of expeditions to dangerous corners of the earth in which people had to draw upon medicine to help them out. Think jungle medicine to treat gangrene or the account of a polar doctor having to perform his own appendectomy. In reality it mentions people like Scott  only in passing as a way to justify the title and then goes off in completely different directions. It lacks a focus, darting between different areas of medicine with basic text book-like physiology lessons alongside scattered and padded out anecdotes. The space bit towards the end is the only bit that really fits the bill but, for me, is only mildly interesting.

There are better books out there on exploration and medicine. This falls through the cracks of both.