Tuesday, 26 January 2016

My first few reads of 2016

 1.  Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (4*) - Probably don't need to say much about this one, right? Classic vintage children's fare: a charismatic yet dangerous young main character, a small army of assorted children, lots of adventures, some dubious attitudes towards women and Native Americans, a dose of tongue-in-cheek humour and plenty of magic. I actually really enjoyed it!

2.  Knots and Crosses (Rebus 1) by Ian Rankin (3.5*) - I've never read any Ian Rankin before, but I liked this! I especially liked John Rebus - an old-school British smoking, drinking, book-loving, slightly unstable detective - and the way Edinburgh became a character in its own right, from the bright touristy areas right down to the sleaziest bars and most dangerous neighbourhoods. The story itself wasn't the height of excitement, but it was only the first in a very successful series so I think I'll read on, see where the characters go from here.

3.  Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge (4.5*) - Now, THIS one had me glued to the pages. It's an eco-pocalypse thriller in which the natural behaviour of animals across the globe starts to shift, including their hunting and feeding habits, and there is a corresponding rise in brutal attacks on humans. Jackson Oz, a young biologist, has been monitoring this for years, but as things escalate it becomes a matter of international importance to finally get the message into the public eye and try to work out what's causing the change. It's been made into a TV series, which I haven't seen yet, and I found the book gripping, infuriating, suitably shocking in places, and oddly plausible.

4.  Very British Problems Abroad by Rob Temple (2.5*) - I really like the VPB Twitter feed (hilarious AND relatable!), sailed through the first book, and then a TV series arrived, and now here's a 'Brits on holiday' book. To be honest all of the above could probably be enjoyed by anyone quite reserved, socially anxious, polite and well prepared - though being British definitely helps. This took me only an hour or two to read, and once again there are some dud entries and some silly editorial slips that really shouldn't be an issue in a book this easy to comb through, but it was fun!

5.  21st Century Dodos: A Collection of Endangered Objects (and Other Stuff) by Steve Stack (3*) - Another British-skewed humour book that could probably be enjoyed by other people too, at least in part.  This one is about objects and concepts on the verge of going extinct (or already long gone) in our modern life: mix tapes, dial telephones, milkmen, Opal Fruits, half-day closing, 10p mixed bags of sweets, chocolate cigars, Smash Hits magazine, Woolworths... Things I don't remember at all, things I must have only ever come into contact with as a tiny child, perhaps at my grandparents', and things that lasted all the way into my early teens and beyond and now wear the rosy halo of nostalgia for me too. Lovely.

6.  Newtown: An American Tragedy by Matthew Lysiak (4.5*) - Oooh, now, this one's a difficult one to talk about, especially knowing how many of my readers live in the US. As a Brit who, like most people here, has never even SEEN a gun that isn't being worn by a soldier outside an army barracks or by armed security in an airport, mass shootings are one of the few areas of life where America, so similar to us in so many ways, suddenly seems like another planet. I found this book fascinating, sad, respectful, compelling and gratifyingly well-balanced. It tackles Sandy Hook from multiple angles - the children and their families, their teachers, the Lanzas, the events of December 14 2012 and the subsequent days in Newtown - before looking at the roles of various elements such as mental health care, media, gun control and community, and the way these elements continue to impact on EVERYONE involved, from those at the heart of the shooting (victims and survivors) out into the town and beyond to the rest of the country. It was hard to read at times - so much loss, pain and rage - and sometimes I had to stop because I was in tears or just needed a breather, but I thought it was an excellent account and surprisingly fair and objective, albeit written in a slightly overblown style that betrays its author's tabloid newspaper roots. Definitely the best book I've read this year so far.

Aaaand that's my reading year so far!