Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami, Jay Rubin On hearing a song from his college years, Toru Watanabe, remembers the girl that he first loved, Naoko. She was his best friends girlfriend, but following Kizuki's tragic early death, they have a night of passion and lust. after that she disappears from college and writes to say that she has been admitted to a sanatorium for treatment.

He stumbles around not knowing what to do, and has several one night stands when going out with an associate, Nagasawa, who even though he has a girlfriend, goes out regularly to pick up girls. Having picked himself up he meets Midor, a girls who flirts with him and who he starts to see regularly, but it is a strange relationship, as she is all over him at certain points and then refusing to talk to him at others.

He visits Naoko at the sanatorium, and develops a strong friendship with her roommate. At the end of the book she gives him the strength that he needs to move onto the next stage of his life.

It is set in the late 60's and early 70's in Tokyo. It is a time of transition for the formal Japanese society, and there is tension from student wanting a change from the lives that their parents knew. When Midor suffers a death in her family they still have the formal funeral, but her and her sister refuse to cry as tradition expects.

I liked the way Murakami writes this as a dreamy recollection of the events. Some are remembered as sharp and others are vague. He has good tension in the book between the characters and the way that society is changing but it is quite tragic and sad in parts. But i found some of the characters shallow and occasionally annoying. The writing (or translation) is at times beautiful, but is did not grip me.
In Cold Blood - Truman Capote This is an impartial, true life story, about the cold blooded murder of a rural farming family in Kansas.

The Clutter family lived a hard, but uncomplicated, life, and were well respected in the community, and as far as anyone knew, had no enemies. One night they were tied up and murdered each with a single shotgun wound to the head. This shocked the local community to the core, and traumatised the people who discovered their bodies. The local KBI set about trying to establish a motive, as virtually nothing was stolen, and trying to find the killers of this family. The main lead was given by a guy who was serving time, who remembered a conversation with a fellow inmate, and passed those details onto the police. Smith and Hickock, the accused, were apprehended when they made the mistake of returning through Kansas. They were arrested for parole violations and then were accused of the murders.

What Capote does here is to write a step by step account of the process. He does not judge the two accused, merely reports the facts, and lets you the reader make your judgement to the horror of the murders, the carefree attitude of the accused and the shock of the local community. The interrogation and the trial and subsequent convictions are covered in the same dispassionate style. At no point are you aware of his opinion or feelings towards the family and the accused.
Hunter Killer - Patrick Robinson This naval thriller has a slightly unbelievable plot, where France has been approached by a prince from Saudi Arabia who has had enough of the prolific spending of the current royal family and has decided that a coup is necessary to bring back a more restrained order to his country.

France agrees to help with special forces and subs to carry out the coup. There is devastation of oil industry which has huge ramifications for the global economy and energy supply. The Americans are not best please that they have been stitched up, and set about trying to right the wrongs.

The books starts of very slowly, I don't mind a little of setting the scene, but this took a while. When the action does start it isn't bad, but it does come across as stilted and not totally believable. The actions that America takes against France would probably start WWIII, so I cannot imagine that ever happening. It was a swift read though.
The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton, Stuart Hutchinson Not something that I would ever consider pick up, and was read as part of a book club read.

It is set in the upper echelons of New York society in the late 1800's, and Wharton has written about a series of families and their interactions. One of the cousins in this society has separated from her husband and this is seen as slightly scandalous. Archer, starts to fall in love with her, but ends up marring another girl.

Whilst it is is written fairly well, and she sets the scene of society at that time very well, I found that the characters were almost impossible to empathise with or connect to. They are too consumed with being seen to be in the right place and with the right people.

Has not encouraged me to read any other classics.
My Cool Campervan: An Inspirational Guide to Retro-Style Campervans - Jane Field-Lewis, Chris Haddon, Tina Hillier This is a great little book, full of evocative and detailed photos of all types of camper vans and motorhomes, door-mobiles and car conversions. These are all cars that are looked after and loved by enthusiastic owners, with I suspect deep pockets.

There are some great vehicles in here; the obvious VW versions, splitty's, T2 bays, and the T25, as well as Bedford's, Transits and some really strange car conversions including a 2CV!

I though it could have done with a little more text, as it has a profile of the owner, and a profile of the vehicles, but no technical details. Four stars for the photo's and three for the text.
On The Map: Why the world looks the way it does - Simon Garfield Maps can be a source of wonder to those that like to explore the world, or bring a sense of bewilderment to those that are directionally challenged. Garfield brings his sense of wonder to this subject

In his engaging style, he write about all aspects of maps, from the earliest know maps, a new producer of globes, sat navs, folding maps and how women can read maps; but not those created by men!

I liked the way he has done mini chapters for subjects that do not justify a full chapter, but really cannot be lumped in with other subjects. He travels all over the world, meeting map sellers, globe producers, and the head of Google Earth who is probably the man best place to sculpt the future of maps in years to come.

It has enough details to captivate the reader, but not so many to make it a academic tome.
Philip Ardagh's Book of Howlers, Blunders and Random Mistakery - Philip Ardagh A collection of errors, mistakes and foul ups that humanity has managed to achieve.

There were some funny bits, but not many, and there is a lot of white space in the book, making it a very swift read.
The End of Your Life Book Club - Will Schwalbe Will Schwalbe has managed to write a book that not only commemorates his late mothers life, but celebrates it as well. Following her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, they start an informal book club together, hence the title. Throughout the book they read and discuss a large number of books as her treatments take place and her health deteriorates over a couple of years.

Mary Ann Schwalbe comes across as a remarkable woman; she spent time in Afghanistan and Thailand working with refugees and vulnerable people who society had abandoned and sought to bring them small simple pleasures. Not only does she has a big, generous heart, she has insight, sharp political nous and compassion. Whilst the ending is ultimately known, and expected, the way that she grabs hold of life is inspiring. Through the book the pancreatic cancer advances and retreats and she accepts the necessary pain and steady deterioration in health with humility and decorum. She also realises her privileged position, and seeks a political solution to the lack of heath care to these at the very bottom of the American health care system.

Schwalbe wears his emotions on his sleeve. And that is understandable, it is his mother after all. The books that they read together act as a comfort blanket at times; sometimes as a prism revealing their anxieties and fears, and sometimes as a mirror that shows things as they are. The book is punctuated with passages and quotes that has significance at that time. What Mary Ann Schwalbe leaves is a legacy of an immensely strong family unit and she shows an ability to look beyond where you are. The books that her and Will read add punctuation and relief to the end of her life.
Longitude - Dava Sobel Finding the latitude in the 17th century was straightforward, but finding the longitude was extremely difficult. This compromised the safety of all seafarers, and in one particular incident around 200 lives were lost of the Isles of Scilly.

The admiralty of the day decided to set up a Longitude board and offer a prize to the inventor of a method to reliably calculate the longitude of a vessel. Various methods were tried, including one that took lunar sightings developed by Nevil Maskelyne.

Enter John Harrison. He taught himself to read and write, and was a proficient musician, his real talent was clocks. His first wooden pendulum clock is still in existence, held at The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. And it was this talent that he put to good use to start to develop the devices that would enable the navy to know their exact longitude.

His first attempt at a device was called H-1 and has lots of new technologies including frictionless bearings, the gridiron pendulum and the grasshopper escapment. This clock lost a second a month compared to the best clocks of the day that would loose 1 minute a day. The clock is still working.

He presented the drawings to the Longitude board, and they gave permission to make one. The clock passed the tests, but as it improved the board decided to amend the original tests make them tougher. Harrison went on to develop 4 versions to meet these changing requirements, culminating in a 5 inch diameter watch that did the same as the H-1.

By this time Nevil Maskelyne was head of the Longitude board. He made it extremely difficult for Harrison as he wanted his preferred lunar method to win. Harrison complied with the demanding requirements, and surrendered his clocks to the board. It was only with the kings intervention that the reward was finally given to Harrison.

Sobel has written quite a dry account of this tale of engineering excellence and political manipulation. Whilst it get all the facts across, it doesn't convey the emotions of the men involved.
The Great Wood - Jim Crumley Crumley is a nature writer that i have never heard of until recently. He has written a number of books, and has also done some things for the BBC from what i have found out.

This book is looking at the remnants of the forests that used to cover the landscape of Scotland, that are now very much reduced compared to ancient times. Each chapter is written from a different aspect or perspective or a recollection of a walk taken in a forest, or wild animals seen. He writes with a passion for his subject, be it the trees of the forests and woods, or the red deer, eagles or pine martens that he sees in his explorations. He is scathing of the Forestry Commissions 'management' of the woods and forests, and asks some pretty serious questions as to their future in managing these unique environments. Unlike most nature books, he takes the long view. He considers what these places could become with the reintroduction of wolves, and with a measured approach to the planting of these areas, and looking to re-introduce a proper mix of native species to the forest, and to join the four main ares up.

I found the writing did not flow as well as someone like Mabey, but it was a worthwhile read, and i really like the fact that he is wanting to think of the long term opportunities of these environments for wildlife and man alike.
Ig Nobel Prizes: The Annals of Improbable Research - Marc Abrahams This is a compilation of all the Ig Nobel prizes awarded to those inventors and scientists who are are the very fringes of research and experimentation and development.

The blurb says it will make you laugh; and then make you think. It didn't make me laugh very often, but it did make me smile a few times. There were a few favourites, for example I didn't know that there was a British Standard for tea (BS6008), and that learned men have developed equations for the correct length of time to dunk a biscuit. Other have used magnets to levitate frogs, and have perfected the technique for getting the barbecue lit. And too temperature. In three seconds.

There are some mad people out there and some of them are responsible for things and other people! This book celebrates their achievements...
Strange Places, Questionable People - John Cody Fidler-Simpson John Simpson is one of those BBC news men who seems to have been around forever, and according to this book of his he has. He started at the BBC in 1966 in the radio news room, and after a short while, started to climb the ladder within the news room.

Following on from the radio, he made it into TV, and was sent to Ireland just as the troubles were starting. He seems to have managed to end up at the right place at the wrong time pretty consistently through his career, and the images and reports that appeared on our screens from South Africa, Israel, Germany, China and Afghanistan have been part of the reporting that has made the BBC what it is today as a source of reputable global news.

I enjoyed reading about Simpson, as like most I had seen and heard his reports over many years. To get a lot of the background and his feelings and thoughts and opinions on significant world events that he was there makes this a worthwhile volume to read.
The Blind Watchmaker - Richard Dawkins I have only ever read one other Dawkins book before, The God Delusion, and really didn't like the style or attitude of the writing, so was not completely looking forward to this one.

The primary aim of the book is to look at all the evidence and theories that make up the Darwinian theory of evolution and natural selection. He considers all the evidence from real life examples, in particular the eye, and buy using a computer program that he wrote, demonstrates how new variants of a species can evolve with very simple initial amendments.

Later on in the book he looks at how DNA works, the effects of positive feedback on evolution and the way that mutations works of evolution and selection. He also considers the complexity of trying to document the tree of life.

Overall I thought this book was a better read than the previous one I had read. Bearing in mind it was written originally in 1986 most of it is still valid, though we now understand far more than we did then. He can get on his high horse quite often, but thankfully not so much in this book.
The Accidental Adventurer - Ben Fogle Ben Fogle is a guy that I only really knew the name of until he recent presented Harbour Lives, and a friend left this book for me to read. So I did.

He is an adventurous and spirited guy, and he has done all sorts of things, from walking to the Antarctic, the world longest race, rowed the Atlantic with James Cracknell, with no rowing experience and presented an awful lot of TV programmes, that I have some how managed to completely miss! This book give details of all the adventures, along with the work he did for victims of Noma, a debilitating and disfiguring illness.

It was a nice easy read. He writes from the heart, and, as he says he wears this on his sleeve then you are pretty aware of just how he feels. He describes some of the scrapes and very nears misses that he has had, and is some ways he is lucky to be alive. I would have preferred that the timeline of events in the book was more consistent, as it does tend to jump around a lot. Other than that it was ok, and a good solid three stars.
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane - Neil Gaiman On returning to his home village a man in his early forties starts to remember the things that happened to him when he was seven. A lodger appears at his home, and shortly after is found dead in his fathers car. He is there when the body id found and is sent to the nearest farm, where the Hempstocks give him breakfast. The death of the lodger opened a rift between this world and another, and dark things begin to happen to him. Lettie Hempstock, she says she is 11, but has been 11 a long time, aids him against these dark forces.

What Gaiman has done here is to take memories, the innocence of childhood, the fears of that age, and fairy tales, blended them together and distilled the essence into this exquisite tale. The Hempstocks are worldly and wise, and care deeply about all the things around them. The events that take place and the dark forces that swirl around this Sussex village are some of main fears that a child can confront, and yet the writing is compelling and deft.

You never get to know the name of the main character as I think Gaiman wants you to think that it is him, or possibly even you, experiencing these events. The way that the main character remembers means that reality, the dreams and nightmares, are all intertwined and you are not sure what is really happening, or is in his mind.

It is a melancholy tale, and the ending is quite powerful. Really enjoyed this and can highly recommend it.
Dark Fire  - C.J. Sansom The second book in the Shardlake series was as good as the first. In this the story starts with him being asked to represent a girl accused of the murder of her cousin. She is refusing to speak, and the initial court case almost results with her being pressed, a horrible process of being squashed under weights, as she has refused to speak. All looks desperate, but she gets a two week reprieve from the judge.

The reprieve is from Cromwell, and Shardlake is summonsed to his presence. Cromwell is trying to get hold of a substance called Dark or Greek Fire, an amazing substance that can set fire to any manner of things. Cromwell sees this as a powerful weapon for the Navy and is desperate to get hold of this for the King. But the people who have demonstrated this are reluctant to pass on the secret and others are aware of the substance. Shardlake is thrust into a swirling nest of vipers, with different figure in the court of Henry vying to power and influence. The plot twist and turns and Shardlake tries to find out who knows what, and who is a possible traitor. Interweaved with is is finding out the circumstances of his original case. It all concludes with a really good twist at the end.

Really enjoyed this, and cannot wait to read the next one.

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