Books for 2014: Recommendations please!

Yesterday on Twitter I asked for book recommendations as my birthday is fast approaching and I wanted to add a few things to my amazon wishlist. I got quite a few suggestions!

Kate & Katie (@KillerReads) suggested
Innocence by Dean Koontz
A Song for the Dying by Stuart MacBride
A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger

MD Villiers (@MDVilliers), Alison Hennessey (@crime_queen) and @vintagebooks all recommended Long Way Home by Eva Dolan

@crime_queen and @Lizzy11268 both went for Black Chalk, by Christopher J. Yates.

@Gollancz suggested
The Wolves by Simon Ings, and
Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins (which I started yesterday and I’m loving it so far!)

@HarperVoyagerUK recommended
The Echo by James Smythe
Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Memory of Water by Emmi Itaranta
Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

@HarperFiction had quite a list!
The Toy Taker by Luke Delaney
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas
Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner
Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
Treachery by SJ Parris
and The Machine by James Smythe, which I read last year and absolutely loved.

Amy Lord (@tenpennydreams) also suggested The Explorer/The Echo by James Smythe – I’ve got the latter as an ARC, but not The Explorer, so that’s on the list!

And last but by no means least, Lyndon (@LyndonMarquis) came up with this selection.
Theft: A Love Story by P Carey
Rashomon & Other Stories by Akutagawa
The Last Werewolf by G Duncan
Gates of Eden by Ethan Coen
The Things They Carried by T O’Brien
St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by K Russel
Gentlemen of the Road by M Chabon
Twilight by William Gay
Climbers by M J Harrison
A Song for Arbonne by Guy Kay
Valdez is Coming by Elmore Leonard
Moriarty by K Newman

All of which should keep me busy for quite some time! Of course, I’ve still got a mountain of unread books courtesy of The Great Unread Book Pile, along with the three books I got for christmas, and the few I got in the Kindle 99p sale…

But, I’m a sucker for new books. What else would you recommend? I’m happy to try any genre…

Top ten Discworld books

Today’s Blog Every Day in November prompt is ’10 things’

Hmm. Now, I love a good top ten list as much as the next person and, of course, I’ve written a few in the past – my top ten books, ten simple ways to improve your photos , ten reasons why Skyfall is the best Bond movie and so on. That Skyfall post *still* gets hits 8 months on!

So, what should today’s top ten be?

Aha! Today sees the publication of Terry Pratchett’s 40th Discworld novel, Raising Steam. I’m a huge fan of Mr Pratchett’s work and have rather a lot of his books, mostly in first edition hardback[1]. Some of them aren’t even signed[2]!

So, here then I present my top ten favourite Discworld books. Not necessarily in order.

1. Pyramids
This is my all-time favourite Discworld story. It’s pretty much self-contained. It concerns the story of Pteppic[3], prince of the tiny kingdom of Djelibeybi (it took me ages to get that). Pteppic has just passed his exams at the Assassins Guild in Ankh-Morpork when he discovers that his father has died and he must return home. Pyramids happen, and we meet the greatest mathematician on the Disc, who just happens to be a camel.
It also features some wonderful quotes, my favourite of which comes from Pteppic’s friend, Arthur (a fellow student at the Assassin’s Guild), when faced with some erstwhile muggers.

The leading thief tore his fascinated gaze away from it just as he heard Arthur say, quite pleasantly, ‘This is a number two throwing knife. I got ninety-six per cent for throwing knives. Which eyeball don’t you need?’

2. Guards! Guards!

A good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.

It wouldn’t be a top ten Discworld list without featuring the City Watch. G!G! is the first of the many City Watch books and one of my favourites. The story follows a plot by a secret brotherhood, the Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night, to overthrow the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork and install a king. They summon a dragon to strike fear into the people of Ankh-Morpork.

In it we meet the Night Watch – Captain Vimes, Sergeant Colon, Corporal Nobbs, and new volunteer Carrot, a six foot tall dwarf, who to stop them, with some help from the Librarian of the Unseen University (who just happens to be an orangutan) trying to get the stolen book back. We’re introduced to the idea of L-space – that books in large quantities warp the space and time around them. All libraries are linked together through L-space. Makes perfect sense, if you think about it.

3. Mort

Although the scythe isn’t pre-eminent among the weapons of war, anyone who has been on the wrong end of, say, a peasants’ revolt will know that in skilled hands it is fearsome.

Death (a recurrning character in the Discworld books) takes an apprentice. He’s called Mort. Hijinks ensue. Brilliant stuff.

4. Lords and Ladies

In the Beginning there was nothing, which exploded.

Ah, the witches. Much as with the Watch, no list would be complete without at least one book featuring Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick. It follows directly on from Witches Abroad. so I suppose you probably should read that one first. Some young witches have been summoning elves, who we discover aren’t *quite* as nice as everyone seems to think.

5. Men at Arms

The river Ankh is probably the only river in the universe on which the investigators can chalk the outline of the corpse.

The second book concerning the City Watch. Essentially a whodunnit, in which the Watch must investigate a string of gruesome murders as well as work out who stole the the Disc’s first and only firearm…

6. Thief of Time

“Sometimes I really think people ought to have to pass a proper exam before they’re allowed to be parents. Not just the practical, I mean.”

The Auditors of Reality commission a perfect clock which will imprison Time (the character) and therefore freeze time on the Discworld. Death sends his granddaughter Susan Sto-Helit to stop them, with the help of the Death of Rats and Quoth, the raven. I love Quoth.

We also meet the History Monks (aka The Order of Wen the Eternally Surprised), a highly secretive religious organisation who maintain Discworld history up in the Ramtops mountains. Death rounds up the other Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Hijinks, as per usual, ensue.

7. Night Watch

He hated being thought of as one of those people that wore stupid ornamental armour. It was gilt by association.

The City Watch meet the History Monks. Sam Vimes is sent back in time and has to become his hero and former mentor to fix a temporal anomaly…

8. Reaper Man

Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.

The Auditors decide that Death isn’t doing his job properly and send him off to live as a normal person. As there is no longer a death, the life force of dead humans starts to build up. Snow globes happen, along with the usual hijinks.

9. A Hat Full of Sky
This is possibly a controversial entry in the list. Not everyone likes Tiffany Aching, a young girl who is learning to be a witch. I’m rather fond of her as a character though. It’s aimed at a slightly younger audience, but is still great fun. We get to meet the Witches again, and the Nac Mac Feegles, who we first saw in The Wee Free Men. Great fun.

10. I Shall Wear Midnight
And another Tiffany Aching book. Told you I liked them. This is the fourth one featuring our young witch.

There are some which I’ve not enjoyed quite so much. Monstrous Regiment was fairly average, and I’ve heard quite enough of Moist von bloody Lipwig, thankyouverymuch. Slightly disappointed to see that the latest book is also a von Lipwig one, but it’s got steam trains in. And, as we all know, steam trains are awesome.

Interestingly[4], I was asked recently which Discworld book you should start with. Not the same list as above. Maybe I’ll save that for another day…

So, there we have it. My top 10 Discworld books. I’m sure I’ve missed some favourites in there, and reserve the right to change my mind at a moment’s notice. Will Raising Steam make the list?

Are you a Pratchett fan? What are your favourites?

[1] I wish I could remember who I loaned my first print, first edition copy of Lords & Ladies to. If it’s you, can I have it back? Ta.
[2] if you’re a Pratchett fan, you’ll understand that this is very very unusual.
[3] which is why you’ll sometimes see Terry referred to as Pterry. Us Pratchett fans love an in-joke almost as much as we love a good footnote.
[4] to me, anyway. YMMV.

Review: My Criminal World

My Criminal World
My Criminal World by Henry Sutton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this – interesting idea too, a struggling crime writer getting caught up in his work a little too much. I liked the way you got snippets of the fictional author’s book throughout the main story, and got to experience some of the frustrations of being a writer, seeing how it all pans out. Great fun.

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the greatest long distance cyclist

Ah, July. Le Tour de France is upon us once more. Tales of incredible efforts over the course of the three weeks’ cycling, covering in this centenary year, 3,404 kilometres (or about 2,115 miles) over 21 stages. Up and down mountains, through fields of sunflowers and onto the Champs-Élysées. Sir Bradley took the Maillot Jaune to Paris last year. Will Chris Froome make it a second Brit atop the podium?

Le Tour is a truly impressive bit of long-distance cycling, by any measure.

But let me tell you about the greatest long distance cyclist. And no, he’s not a Tour rider.

Let’s start back in 1911. Frenchman Marcel Planes set the record for the longest distance cycled in a year, riding 34,666 miles. The record changed hands over the years between Great Britain, Australia and France. In 1937, the record was up to 62,657 miles, held by Australian Ossie Nicholson.

On the 1st of January 1939, Bernard Bennett and Tommy Godwin set off to take the record back.

Bennett managed a staggering 65,127 miles over the year, but it was Tommy Godwin who took the record, cycling 75,065 miles.

That’s an average of 205 miles per day. Compare that with le Tour’s rather more modest average of 101 miles per day, and remember that le Tour has two rest days (and only goes on for three weeks!), and you get some idea of the enormity of Tommy’s achievement. What’s more he did it on a 14 kilo steel-framed bike with only 4 gears!

On 21st June 1939, he rode an incredible 361 miles, the equivalent of Wakefield to London and back. Even the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 didn’t stop him despite food rationing and blackouts meaning that he couldn’t cycle at night unless there was enough moonlight so he could see his way. Also no lycra for him, and cycling over the winter meant heavy woollen jerseys which must have been sodden!

By the 26th October, Tommy had beaten Ossie Nicholson’s record with 66 days to spare, but he didn’t stop there, pushing on to break through 75,000 miles on December 31st.

What’s even more astonishing is that he didn’t stop there either, but continued on until May 1940 to secure the fastest-ever 100,000 mile record.

There’s a brilliant website dedicated to Tommy’s record-breaking ride, with stats for each month, photos and the routes Tommy rode. And thanks to Ned Boulting, whose fantastic book On the Road Bike: The Search For a Nation’s Cycling Soul introduced me to Tommy.

I wonder how far he’d have managed if he’d attempted it today, with a carbon fibre bike…

Iain Banks – farewell

It was only recently that I wrote about hearing the news that Iain Banks was (very) ill, then yesterday heard the news that he’d passed away.

Damnit.

He was an enormous influence on my reading from the late 80’s and early 90’s. A new book by Banks (M. or not) was always an event, and something to be anticipated, savoured and enjoyed. His books have long been a staple foundation of my bookshelves, often in multiple copies as they fall victim to much re-reading and passing around.

There was an outpouring of grief and condolences on my twitter feed yesterday (though, interestingly, virtually nothing on FB – Twitter, you have exceptional taste).

Lots of people wrote lovely things about Iain – Nick Harkaway’s “So long, IMB, I never knew ye” and Neil Gaiman’s “Iain Banks. With or without the M.” being the first of many which come to mind.

There’s also a truly fantastic collection of quotes on GoodReads from Iain and from his books. If you’ve never read any of his stuff, start there. Find a quote you like, then go buy the  book. Or, if you’re already a fan, buy a book for someone who’s never read any of his work. As Neil himself puts it:

Even the bad ones were good, and the good ones were astonishing.

Me? I can only echo what everyone else has already said, in many other places, and far better than I am able.

Farewell, Iain. Here’s to you and your stories.

book review: World War Z

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pretty good, though the style of the story, told as interviews of survivors of the zombie war meant that there wasn’t a lot of tension. You knew that the war was over, and that these people had survived to tell the tale. That said, it was really interesting to see so many distinct character voices come out, and the stories they told were often fairly gruesome. Not usually a fan of horror stories, or zombie stuff, but quite enjoyed this.

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my first job

Old Books in the library
Old Books in the library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Inspired by Rachel at Courtyard Lullaby’s and Beth at plasticrosaries.com’s My First Job blogposts for the #BEDM series.

I was pretty lucky, in that my first job was the job I’d always wanted. Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper I’d always loved books, so naturally I wanted to work in a library.

Cue work experience week towards the end of my school career. I was offered a placement at Fenham Library, in Newcastle. General stuff – filing the book returns away, processing new books, writing out index cards and so on.

Hey, this was back in the 80’s. We still had a physical card index system (probably where I got my love of 5×3 index cards from) and the libraries were moving from the old Brown ticket system (paper ticket in a book, pulled out and slotted into your little cardboard library tickets when the book was issued) over to a new computer-based system of barcodes and pen scanners.

I loved it. Everything. The books, the people, the satisfying ‘kachunk’ of the date stamp on the books, the books… You get the idea.

At the end of the placement I tentatively asked the librarian in charge if there was any possibility of a saturday job. Luckily she said yes, and my library career began.

I worked Saturdays to start, then school holidays. I’d work any shifts that needed working, and they soon realised that if they were stuck for staff, odds were that I’d be more than happy to come and work. Partially the money, but partially the place and mostly the people. And the books.

Have I mentioned that I love books?

Oh, and there were some wonderful characters – the Mills & Boon brigade who’d turn up regular as clockwork to sign up for the latest bodice-rippers. The Catherine Cookson gang (and boy, did we go through a *lot* of Catherine Cookson books). The teenagers who’d lurk in, not doing their homework. The old guys who’d rock up at 9am on a Saturday morning, only to promptly fall asleep and have to be woken so we could close for lunch. I was fairly unique in that I was one of the few men in a largely female library staff, so quickly became aware that everyone knew me!

And the tales I could tell. The interesting bookmarks we found, including on one memorable occasion, a perfectly cooked slice of streaky bacon.

I kid you not.

Bookmarks weren’t the only things we found. One book on fishing was found to contain, in very small, precise handwriting, a reader’s opinion on the author’s approach to the subject. It would seem that the reader (and that’s what we called the library patrons – not customers as I’m sure they do now) had taken umbrage with more or less the entire book, and had felt strongly enough to write a quite vitriolic diatribe putting forth his opinion.

In pencil.

Guess whose job it was to rub it all out?

I ended up working in various places across the public library system in Newcastle. One day I found myself in Byker Library, which was utterly surreal. It was *exactly* the same building as my home base at Fenham, but with half the number of books and shelves. I probably worked in a dozen libraries around the city and met a huge cross-section of the library-visiting public. Some libraries were very lovely modern buildings, some were in pretty deprived areas of the city.

All full of stories, in every sense of the word. The library cats in Jesmond, playing a feline version of chess, or snoozing on the shelves amongst the books. The bullet-hole in the library window at Cruddas Park (to go with the used nappy found tucked behind the books – seriously, just ask. We’d be quite happy to find a bin for you). The quite excellent chippies we’d find for lunch breaks. The gossip. Oh, so much gossip…

I got a real kick out of meeting and helping the people. They’d come in having just finished their allotment of books, and sometimes wanted our opinion on what they might read next.

“Ah, if you liked that, then you’ve *got* to try this one. I saved it for you.”

Happy days. You’d get the odd ones too – people who just wanted someone to talk to. One lady in particular would appear regular as clockwork on a saturday afternoon. Jennifer, her name was. Mad as a box of frogs. You could always tell when she was coming in as you’d turn around and wonder where all your colleagues had gone. She’d have some wonderful tall tales of being whisked off by an Arabian Sheik in his Rolls, or that the police helicopters were really spying on her.

Part of me wished that she’d turn up one day, this tiny little old lady with her milk-bottle specs, slightly worn perm and grubby overcoat with a tall, handsome sheik on one arm, irrepressible grin on her face and introduce us to her fiance.

Sadly it never happened. Maybe he whisked her off to his palace in the sands where she was fed peeled grapes by her true love…

I’d always intended to go to university to study librarianship, but one of the subject librarians at Fenham advised me study something else first, then consider a post-grad. Better pay, and a subject to fall back on should I change my mind.

I ended up at Leeds for 3 years doing various interesting things (another future blog post, no doubt), followed by a year working for the University Library, then a year doing a postgrad in information studies, which led in turn to a career as a law librarian.

But that, as they say, is a story for another day.

What was your first job, dear reader?