“Murder On The Orient Express” by Agatha Christie (1934)

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“It was five o’clock on a winter’s morning in Syria.”

There are certain books that are truly iconic in their genre. The Lord of the Rings stands out above all others in fantasy. Misery lords it over the other thrillers. Dune sails high above the rest of science fiction. When it comes to murder mysteries, however, there are few titles better known than Murder on the Orient Express.

The world famous Orient Express is regarded as one of the most luxurious trains in the world. Taking passengers of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds across Europe, it is the last word in quality. Hercule Poirot finds himself returning from Syria to England and aboard a surprisingly packed train, which, shortly after midnight one night on its journey, gets halted by a snowdrift. And then things go from bad to worse – Simon Ratchett, the American millionaire who the night before approached Poirot with a theory that someone was out to get him, has been found dead in his compartment. The door was locked from the inside and he’s been stabbed multiple times. And due to the lack of tracks in the snow, this can only mean one thing: the murderer is still on the train.

Poirot is rapidly hired by the train’s staff to work out who killed Ratchett and why, and as he interviews the passengers he finds himself dealing with endless contradictory explanations. It seems there’s almost too much evidence to be had. Someone is lying, but who, and why, and will justice finally be served?

Even though the solution is now quite well known and, like several of Christie’s stories, something of an open secret, I won’t be sharing it here. It is, however, ingenious and is one of her novels that changed everything about murder mysteries again. Because of the large number of suspects, the book is surprisingly methodical, divided into three parts – the facts, the evidence and the solution. Each character gets a chapter in the second section to explain who they are, what they were doing at the time of the murder, and why they’re travelling. The evidence is all there and, if you’re paying attention, you can solve it quite early on, but some of the finer points might still elude you.

Not only is the solution ingenious, but the way it is handled is wonderful too. Poirot is someone who always wants to see justice done, and here he does that admirably, although it’s impossible to say much more for the few people who haven’t yet read it and don’t want to be spoiled. It still ranks much higher in my head than the film, although my problems with the film were nothing to do with the plot, and more to do with Branagh’s interpretation of Poirot. Perhaps still Christie’s most logical novel, laying out all the evidence piece by piece, it is a masterclass in how to deceive, although I’m certain people at the time – and still now – consider bits of it to be “cheating”. I happen to disagree.

As close to perfection as you’ll get in the genre.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“A Wizard Of Earthsea” by Ursula K. Le Guin (1968)

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earthsea“The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.”

Since April, I’ve been re-reading a chapter of Harry Potter every morning as an anxiety-reducing measure. I know the author is becoming increasingly problematic, but whatever the case is there, I, like many, still find the books very comforting. However, upon several recommendations, I have this week been drawn to another wizarding school, one found in a strange archipelago in a whole other world.

Duny has grown up poor on the island of Gont, but when it is discovered that he has some innate magical talents, his aunt teaches him all the magic she knows, which later earns him the nickname Sparrowhawk for his work with birds, and leads him to save the village from attacking raiders. Hearing the stories, the powerful mage Ogion takes him as an apprentice, giving him is “true name”, Ged, and eventually sending him to the magical school for wizards on the island of Roke.

While a student, he forms an antagonistic relationship with Jasper, an older peer, and after they decide to have a battle, Ged tries a dark spell he’s only read of and attempts to summon a dead soul. Instead, he releases a shadow creature which escapes into the world, scarring him and leaving him in recovery for months. After leaving the school, Ged learns that the world will forever be out of balance all the while the shadow creature still exists, and he has to deal with the ever-present threat of it hunting him down. In an adventure that will see him face dragons, dark magic and his friends in a quest to restore order to the Earthsea.

I enjoyed Le Guin when I read her before, and there’s no denying her legacy or ability to build worlds. A beautiful storyteller and someone who has a natural skill when it comes to imaginative, unique ideas, you cannot fault her. However, I found something distinctly lacking here. It could simply be that I’m not of the right age range to have found it for the first time (I think I wouldn’t like Potter as much had I found it in my thirties, too), but I didn’t find myself particularly caught up in Ged’s quest. Parts seemed rushed, and there were passages where long stretches of time were glossed over. For all the comparisons it has to Rowling’s world, I found there was actually very little in common. I would have loved more details on the school, more time spent in lessons, and more specifics of how magic works.

That being said, the magic is quite ingenious. I enjoy the notion behind having to know the “true name” of everything to be able to command it, as this is an old and powerful idea. I actually thought the school had more in common with the world of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, actually, especially in the way winters are spent in a harsh environment learning by rote.

For the right person at the right time, I can absolutely see the appeal, but I’m afraid I’m adrift on the Inmost Sea, not totally understanding all the hype. Not writing off Le Guin, however, I know she’s got more to give me.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Turning For Home” by Barney Norris (2018)

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turning“In the first young years of the new century, a team of researchers affiliated with Boston College attempted to collate an oral history of the Troubles, recording the recollections of combatants on both sides.”

I last read Barney Norris in 2017 and hugely admired his prose from the off, but not without a little jealousy about how good it is. I finally made my way back to him with Turning For Home to find that, if anything, he’s somehow got better.

Every year, Robert hosts a birthday party for his enormous circle of family and friends. It’s a chance for them all to catch up and his rambling old house and talk about their lives. This year, his eightieth birthday, however, he doesn’t really want to be go through with it and be reminded of what has happened in the year since they last met. Neither, as it happens, does his granddaughter Kate, who has been absent from these parties for the last three years.

However, both are determined that the show must go on. Kate, after years in hospital, is finally going to confront her mother. Robert, meanwhile, finds the celebrations interrupted when he receives a phone call from Frank, an old contact he knew back when the Troubles were at their height. Frank needs to meet immediately, and Robert, fearing what is about to happen, invites him to the house. This is a family laced with secrets, and maybe this celebration might be the time to let go of some of them at last.

As I said last time, there is something quite magical about Norris’s style. As before, he inhabits more than one narrator and while they are – to my knowledge – nothing like him, he manages to entirely get under the skin and make them vivid and believable. Here we’re got 80-year-old Robert, struggling with loss, loneliness and mistakes he made in his youth. On the other side, we’ve got Kate, in her mid-twenties and recovering from a very serious eating disorder that almost killed her. The detail is gripping and you are pinned to the page, desperate to know what happens to them and whether they will be OK.

His use of language is something other-worldly. The books are set entirely in reality, however, but he manages to describe things and explain feelings in ways you had never quite been able to. One of my favourites was this description of a birthday cake:

The cake is heavy with candles, a petrified forest of wax and years, enough to burn your eyebrows off. How can I have gathered so much fire so quickly, when it seems only yesterday that we looked round this house for the first time?

If you like your books beautiful and true, then stick with Barney Norris. I know I will be.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Unnatural Causes” by Dr Richard Shepherd (2018)

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unnatural“Clouds ahead.”

Death comes to us all. It is the great equaliser. Cultures all deal with death in different ways, but generally the deceased are treated with absolute respect. In many cases, this also means ensuring that if the death wasn’t natural, we do our best to deliver justice. That is where the world of forensic pathology comes into play, and Dr Richard Shepherd is one of the best.

In this staggering memoir, Shepherd explores his career at the forefront of the morgue, with over 23,000 autopsies to his name. He has taken on the mantel of a detective, using his expertise to work out how all those who come before him have died. In his time, he has dealt with serial killers, freakish accidents and natural disasters, been pivotal in some of the most important and famous cases of the last forty years, and has freed the innocent, jailed the guilty, and turned whole cases upside down. All of it, however, has come at an enormous personal cost.

So, first up, this certainly isn’t for everyone. Shepherd does not gloss over much of his work, so there are a lot of details about the process of death, what dead bodies look and feel like, what happens to us after we die, and what illness really does to the human body. He is also frequently involved in cases that feature infant mortality, which are not the easiest things to read. That said, it’s nonetheless a fascinating insight into the world of pathology.

I’ve often contemplated the notion that, in another timeline where I did all my education differently, I may have ended up doing something about death. It’s important work, and at least you know (however morbid this sounds) you’re not going to run out of it. I find the whole thing really interesting, and the book is very engrossing, allowing you to stand at Shepherd’s shoulder as he dissects the deceased. He has been involved in some big cases including the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the aftermath of 9/11, the Marchioness disaster, and was even instrumental when the case behind the death of Princess Diana was reopened years after her death. It is quite something to read about these cases from someone who was there.

A stunning, candid and impressive memoir.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“The Long Mars” by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter (2014)

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“The High Meggers: Remote worlds, most still unpopulated, even in the year 2045, thirty years after Step Day.”

I think we all are dreaming right now of stumbling off into a world that isn’t this one. On that theme, here is a book that dials the dream up to eleven. It is the middle of a series, so beware spoilers ahead if you’ve not read The Long Earth and The Long War. If you don’t care, press on!

The Datum Earth is in chaos. After the Yellowstone supervolcano erupted in 2040, decimating everything from the economy and climate to politics and agriculture, more and more people are pouring into the Low Earths, setting up new homes on alternate versions of the Datum. Joshua has returned to the Low Earths, leaving his wife and son behind, to assist in the evacuation and be reunited with Lobsang, the sentient AI. Sally Linsay, meanwhile, has been contacted by her disappeared father, the man who was the catalyst for Step Day. Long thought to be dead, it turns out he is alive and well and living near the Gap, a stepwise world where the Earth never existed. He wants Sally to go with him to Mars and explore the various versions of that planet, although it seems he has an ulterior motive and she isn’t entirely sure she can trust him.

Elsewhere, Maggie Kauffman has been chosen to lead a new mission. The Chinese may have headed twenty million steps East, but now the Americans are heading two hundred million steps West, seeking out new lands, new discoveries, and potentially the answers to the questions of what happened to the last mission. And things are becoming more fraught with those born and raised in the High Meggers, and some of humanity appears to be evolving into a super-intelligent new species, which have dubbed themselves the Next and have concerns that the “dim-bulb” humans aren’t going to take kindly to their existence.

Once again, Pratchett and Baxter have their imagination turned up to eleven. We travel further into the step worlds than we ever have before, encountering many more strange planets. On millions of them, there is nothing more advanced than bacteria. On others, crabs have become the dominant landforms. On another, it’s jellyfish. Elsewhere, biology is based around acid rather than water, allowing for flying, explosive snakes, or there are lands dominated by trees that wouldn’t look out of place in a bonsai garden. They’ve also given themselves the opportunity to look at different versions of Mars here, with most of them being barren and deserted like our own, but every so often one is found containing perhaps fire-breathing sauropods, whales that swim through sand, or sentient crustaceans. It’s a whole other layer, and by the time the book ends, you get the feeling that it’s only going to expand further.

An interesting addition to the series. I can only imagine where it’s going next.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” by Douglas Adams (1987)

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“This time there would be no witnesses.”

I’m an enormous fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. It’s probably the best series in the world about an Englishman travelling the universe in his dressing gown. Somehow, though, I had entirely bypassed Douglas Adams’s other series about holistic detective Dirk Gently. I did watch the Netflix series a couple of years ago which, it turns out, bears absolutely no relation to the novel, but I thought it was time to finally fall into a new world.

Richard MacDuff is attending a dinner at his old Cambridge college, where his ancient tutor Professor Chronotis performs a staggering magic trick that leaves everyone else confused. Richard’s boss, software mogul Gordon Way, has just been shot while driving home and is finding his new status as a ghost rather inconvenient. Gordon’s sister (and Richard’s girlfriend) Susan has grown tired of listening to her brother’s long-winded voicemails and waiting for Richard to take her out to dinner, and so instead goes on a date with Michael Wenton-Weakes. On another planet, an Electric Monk and his horse find a door to Earth, leaving the horse stranded in a bathroom and the Monk trying to work out what he’s doing there.

And among all of this, there’s Dirk Gently, the holistic detective who believes in the interconnectedness of all things. If everything is truly linked, then what does all of this have to do with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a dead cat, and pizza?

It comes as little surprise that many aspects of the novel come from a Doctor Who story that was written by Douglas Adams but never completed or aired. The time travel element in particular is key here, but it seems that some of the characters, including Professor Chronotis, have been lifted entirely from one story to the other. Like a really good episode of Doctor Who, it pings around the timeline, deals with paradoxes, is steeped in clever jokes, and leaves you feeling satisfied at the end. Unfortunately, as I’ve noted before, Doctor Who as a concept doesn’t always work in a novelisation. It’s something that seems to work best on screen. Similarly, while the Dirk Gently series worked on TV (even though the story is entirely different and the only thing the two have in common is a desire to believe in the interconnectedness of all things and the main character’s name), somehow is lacking on the page.

Adams also uses it as an excuse to share his love of computers. Notable for being the first person in the UK to buy a Macintosh computer, Adams was fascinated by technology and one of the first people to really get excited about the Internet. It’s a crying shame that he never lived to see the invention of smartphones, tablet computers and the true potential of the Internet – he would’ve loved it. Although he’s also famous for hating writing, you also get the impression he loves creating, as he’s got some interesting stuff in here, and is having to do the most remarkable back flips to ensure that everything truly is connected.

It all makes sense by the end (well, as much as anything Adams did ever made sense) and I’m a little curious to continue, although I’d advise a hard hat and not to read while imbibing alcohol.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“The Man Who Loved Books Too Much” by Allison Hoover Bartlett (2009)

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“At one end of my desk sits a nearly four-hundred-year-old book cloaked in a tan linen sack and a good deal of mystery.”

If you are a book lover and ever find yourself in the vicinity of King’s Cross, London (assuming non-pandemic times), I urge you to drop into the British Library. The reading rooms and the knowledge you’re sharing space with every book ever published in the UK in the last few hundred years are enough, but there’s also the Treasures Room. Here you’ll find some truly remarkable literary gems including an original copy of the First Folio, the original manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, and the only surviving copy of Beowulf. Surrounded by such magic, it’s easy to wonder what it would be like to own such rarities. For some people, however, this goes beyond a mere thought exercise.

John Gilkey is notorious among sellers of antiquarian books. A continual thief, he has used dud cheques and falsified credit card information to swindle hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of literature over several years. Allison Hoover Bartlett learns about him after finding herself in possession of a stolen four-hundred year old German book on botanical medicine, and developing an interest in the world of antiquarian book theft. Discovering that more books are stolen than any other kind of art, she gets in touch with Ken Sanders, the self-appointed “bibliodick” who has been working for years to return stolen books to their owners and get the thieves locked up. His particular obsession is Gilkey, whom Bartlett eventually meets and interviews, only to learn that he is not your usual bibliophile. Soon, she is drawn into a world of book lust and obsessive collecting that is insightful, tense, bizarre and entirely true.

While the collectors and sellers are all interesting people, it is Gilkey who really stands out as someone very unusual. He is absolutely unable to tell himself that what he’s doing is wrong, believing that it’s the sellers fault for pricing him out of the market. He acts as if it is his god-given right to own these books, and it doesn’t matter how he goes about doing it. He is working the system, and it’s all fair because he wants them. The gymnastics of logic he is performing are quite something. Allison Hoover Bartlett doesn’t portray him as a straight-up villain, and at times even seems to have some admiration for the sheer bravado of her subject, but I don’t think at any point she considers him doing the right thing. No one would, I’d wager. He’s a curiously beguiling man, though, with an obsession for collection but no apparent appreciation for anything he is collecting. I don’t recall at any point him mentioning a book he’s actually read – he just wants the status that comes with owning them. Little is made of his psychology, but I suspect there is some emotional instability here.

If anything, you realise that if you’re not somehow involved in the antiquarian book industry, you’re in a mug’s game. Although the chances of finding something truly rare are small, and you’re always at risk of people like Gilkey, the money involved here is absolutely staggering. A first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – only twenty-three years old at time of writing – can be worth around $30,000 as only five hundred were printed. Even a first edition of The Cat in the Hat is worth around $9,000, and if we go back further, an copy of the first trade edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit can be worth anywhere up to $100,000. Signed copies can swell prices even further, while the loss of a dust jacket can reduce the book’s worth to one tenth of its value. Staggering amounts in anyone’s book.

This truly is a world of people who love books, and I’m one of them, but quite sadly none of them ever seem to get read. They are collected as historical artefacts, and while I agree that books should be kept, preserved and treasured as they are links to previous eras, it is quite sad that they never get to live out their intended purpose. That’s beside the point though. This is an absolutely stunning work of non-fiction, fascinating and suspenseful, and anyone who loves books would get a kick out of it. Because haven’t we all wondered what we’d do if we found a Hemingway first edition at the flea market?

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“The Library Of The Unwritten” by A. J. Hackwith (2020)

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“Books ran when they grew restless, when they grew unruly, or when they grew real.”

Jorge Luis Borges once said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library”. I share in this hope. An eternal afterlife will only be tolerable if I’ve got access to everything ever written. For every book that has been written, however, there are dozens that have not. In this novel, we head down to the Library of Hell and explore the Unwritten Wing, where everything that was never written is stored.

Claire Hadley is the current Librarian of the Unwritten Wing, home to all the books that were unfinished by their authors. Her job is to protect, repair and organise them, as well as keep an eye on the restless stories who sometimes materialise in the form of one of their characters and have to be wrestled back between the covers before they get too real, or worse, escape into the real world.

When one of these heroes does escape and heads to Seattle to meet with his would-be author, Claire must go up to retrieve him, accompanied by the ex-muse Brevity, and the demon courier Leto. On Earth, however, things do not go according to plan. Hero has no intentions of coming quietly, Leto begins having memories of being a human and wondering how, when, as far as he knows, he has always been a demon, and the angel Ramiel is hunting down the Librarian under the impression that she possesses the Devil’s Bible, an unearthly tome that could rewrite everything that defines Heaven, Hell and Earth.

The trouble is that the book lacks something and I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s a fascinating concept, but it feels like it’s been somewhat wasted. Despite being a book about imagination, inspiration and unwritten books, the characters don’t seem all that inspired. I love the idea of a failed muse, and Brevity is a compelling, sympathetic character. (Also, does her failing explain why novels are sometimes too long?) The others, however, still lack a certain something. Claire feels like a character we’ve seen dozens of times before; an angry woman who only moves the plot on by shouting at it. The angels feel ill-defined too, and at no point do I feel entirely clear on what the goal is. The worlds explored are quite fun, though, and it seems that most – if not all – of the afterlives that humans have dreamt up exist here, including a traditional Hell and the Valhalla of Norse mythology. There’s also a brilliant duelling scene in which combatants fight with words that become physical and can only be stopped by naming the author that is being quoted. That’s a really fun idea.

Maybe it’s more about how I’ve been feeling lately, but I found myself zoning out of the text repeatedly, unable to focus. As I said, perhaps that’s a fault of mine, but perhaps it’s not a good sign that a book can’t keep me within its grip and not have me be easily pulled from the pages. I kept returning and realising I had no idea what was now going on. The resolution, while interesting, is also somewhat rushed and leaves a few things unanswered (not necessarily a bad thing) but, again, there feels like several huge missed opportunities in what could have been achieved. I’ve since seen that this is the first of a potential series, so perhaps things will be expanded on in the future, but I don’t feel eager to return and find out. The writing itself is competent and sharp, but the plot veers wildly, the characters feel inconsistent and there’s no real threat hanging over any of it, and you know where it’s going from the start.

This wasn’t intended to be such a negative review, because I still read it and enjoyed it in places, but now trying to pick out specifics seems hard. The concept remains solid, I just don’t think it was explored in the right way or with the right people.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“A Book Of Book Lists” by Alex Johnson (2017)

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“This is a book of book lists.”

I never really understood that cliche of making a habit of looking in someone’s medicine cabinet when you first visit their house. What I do believe in studying, however, is people’s bookshelves. You can tell a lot about people by what books they own, and sometimes even more by how they’re arranged, how well-thumbed they are, and what sort of topics take centre stage. And as John Waters said, “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!” Sage advice.

In this book, Alex Johnson explores the bookshelves of the rich and famous, as well as taking a look at lists of books in other unusual situations. Have you ever wondered what books line the shelves in the apartment in The Big Bang Theory? Do you know which books are allowed into Guantanamo Bay’s library? Have you ever wanted to peek at the libraries of Richard III, Marilyn Monroe or Osama bin Laden? What books are on the university reading list if you study English in Mississippi? If these sound like questions you want answers to, then this is the book for you. Combining simple lists and beautifully impressive trivia, Johnson takes us on a journey through some of the most unusual libraries in history, from the mythical Library of Babel, to the books that were burnt by the Nazis.

He also tackles more eclectic lists, delving into the world of books more generally. One list gives all the titles that Ernest Hemingway rejected before settling on A Farewell to Arms. Another tells us what the astronauts on the ISS have at their disposal. Elsewhere, we look at the books already declared “future classics” and even which titles line the shelves of countless Billy bookshelves in IKEA stores across the globe. One of the most interesting topics is that of the Future Library, a collection of never-before-published stories that are being kept in a vault to be opened in 2114. Authors are asked to contribute a new piece that won’t be seen until the next century. Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell were the first to contribute, and every year a new literary figure is picked. It makes me kind of sad that, barring some remarkable advances in science, I won’t be around to see them. (In 2114, I would be 126, so don’t think I’m suggesting an early death.)

Quite silly, but also an insight into the history of literature and the books we love, this is definitely one for any bibliophile to consume. It may even inspire you to expand your own shelves. After all, what do yours say about you right now?

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“The Guest Cat” by Takashi Hiraide (2014)

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“At first it looked like low-lying ribbons of clouds just floating there, but then the clouds would be blown a little bit to the right and next to the left.”

Being the biggest reader by far in my family, it is unusual to receive a recommendation from my sister about what to read. Nevertheless, she’s related to me, so her taste isn’t bad and when she does suggest something, I know she’s usually talking sense. This brings me to The Guest Cat, another journey into the weird and wonderful world of Japanese literature.

It’s 1988, and a couple in their thirties live in the suburbs of Tokyo, with not much left to say to one another. One day, however, things change when a small cat invites herself into their home. Chibi becomes their guest, a tiny spark of beauty that infects the rest of their world, lighting things up and giving everything a new, fresh appearance. The couple also find their relationship blossoming as they share stories of Chibi and learn to love her curious ways. But then something happens and everything changes again.

This will be a short review because there isn’t a whole lot to say about the book. Like many Japanese stories that have made their way into an English translation, it is a story where not very much happens, there is an obsession with cats, and the writing itself is beautiful. The author, Takashi Hiraide, is more prominently a poet, and that very much shows here. The descriptions of the narrator’s little house and the behaviours of the adorable Chibi are stunning, and you get quickly dragged in to this tiny world, a slice of life tale where we see a scene from the lives of some very ordinary people. There isn’t much more to say than that.

A lovely gem of a novella.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

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