Books 1-6 / 2016

1) Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither by Sara Baume. Attracted a bit of awards attention – a quite involving story of an outcast man and his outcast dog. But a bit overwritten (like someone fresh out of a Creative Writing programme) if affecting. Recommended for dog and adjective lovers only. 5.5/10

2) Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer has been this week’s book. Dyer is a bit uncategorisable, but this is great, especially if you have been to either city. It’s funny, insightful and hugely enjoyable, even if it tails off a bit towards the end. The best book about water-based cities I have read. 8/10

3) The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin – very good & interesting crime thriller set in New Orleans in earlier 20th century; if you like jazz, creole, American history and serial-killing axe murderers, then this is for you. Genuinely quite immersive in terms of atmosphere & bringing the city to life from that era. Recommended for crime buffs & historical fiction lovers. 7/10

4) Unreliable Memoirs by Clive James – first non-fiction of the year, and very entertaining stuff. I have strong memories of watching Clive James taking the piss out of stuff on TV when I was growing up (Margarita Prakatan, anyone?) and the arch, dry and wry wit of his voice comes through well on the page. Very funny detailing his childhood exploits, and he’s appropriately self-mocking of his younger self. If you’re a sarcastic, cynical git (*looks in mirror*), you’ll like this a lot. 7/10

5) H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald – made it under the wire for 5 books in January. Number 5 is this relatively short memoir meets hawk-textbook meets historical exploration….all of which make it sound less interesting than it is. Won lots of awards when it came out – surprisingly gripping for a book about a hawk, and very moving about how it helps her through stages of grief. Well worth a read for a diversion into an entirely unexpected world / subject: you will go away thinking about bates, rouses & jesses…. 6.5/10

6) Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li – loved her writing since her debut short stories collection (Thousand Years of Good Prayers) & these are wonderful. If you want an insight into how China is changing, you couldn’t have a better, more moving, more erudite guide. Brilliant & highly recommended. 9/10

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