Saturday, January 23, 2016

2016 books, #6-10

Make me, by Lee Child [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Whitley Bay: Soundings, 2015.

Another excellent Jack Reacher book; I really don't know how he keeps up the standard, given that this is book 20.  Reacher's inner romantic is intrigued by the town of Mother's Rest; it has a railway station, so Reacher hops off at midnight to find out why the town got its name.  He meets a woman called Michelle Chang waiting for a work partner, who hasn't got off the train.  As the following day goes on, Reacher's curiosity about the origin of the town's name, and scouring of the streets for a monument, a gravestone or a museum, attract suspicion among this intensely rural community.  (Which is basically Standard Operating Procedure for anyone coming into contact with Reacher.)  As Reacher and Chang (ex FBI) start trying to find Chang's missing partner, the truth behind the grain-silo fa├žade of Mother's Rest turns out to be something very strange, and then something very horrible indeed.  Lee Child's on top form here, riffing off the omnipresent "Reacher said nothing", and giving us a superb plot.


Land of second chances: the impossible rise of Rwanda's cycling team, by Tim Lewis. London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2014.

This was rated extremely highly by the guys at the wonderful Cycling Podcast in their round-up of the year's (or possibly the last couple of years') best books.  It starts with the presence of Adrien Niyonshuti in the mountain bike race at London 2012; and then goes back to look at Rwanda pre-genocide, during the genocide, and then during the reconstruction.  The beauty and the poverty of Rwanda come through so clearly; as does the evangelical zeal of the cycling fanatics of various nations who come together to try to help.  Initially, the aim is to produce indestructible, affordable coffee-carrying bicycles to help farmers get their produce to the processors earlier.  But then Team Rwanda was also born, and provided shelter, and the second chances mentioned to both the riders, many of whom had lost so many family members in the genocide, and the team coaches and staff, some of whom had... dubious... backgrounds they were trying to make amends for.  You learn about the Rwandan genocide, international development politics, cycling economics, and the enigmatic, wonderfully enlightened/completely dictatorial President Kigame.  You really don't need to be into cycling to read this book.

Greedy man in a hungry world: how (almost) everything you thought you knew about food is wrong, by Jay Rayner [audiobook]. Read by the author.  [S. l.: HarperCollins Audio, 2013.]

Rayner's on a tear, here. He's spent way too much time among pretentious foodies; so the targets are local food, seasonality, farmers' markets, small-is-beautiful, industrial-is-bad, supermarkets-are-evil, GMOs-are-going-to-kill-us-all semi-orthodoxy.  To be fair, he goes at it like Ben Goldacre, but a Ben Goldacre with a hangover who hasn't had lunch yet.  And it's all really interesting.  He visits large, carbon-neutral, water-neutral, large-scale agriculture in the US; he talks to researchers into farming in the developing world.  He looks at food miles versus the other elements of the carbon footprint and concludes that maybe certain areas of the world are just better at some of this stuff.  And it's also emotional (interlaced as it is with memories of his late mother), and entertaining; and he's looking at the ethics of the thing all the way through - I enjoyed this immensely; and Jay Rayner's another guy who really should read his own books.

Flying too high, by Kerry Greenwood.  Scottsdale, Ariz: Poisoned Pen Press, 2007.

The second of the Phryne Fisher books.  Phryne has started to put down roots in Melbourne, moving out to her own house with her maid Dot; she's approached by two clients simultaneously.  Mrs McNaughton is terrified her son, a flying-school owner, will murder her husband; and a child (the utterly delightfully phlegmatic Candida) is kidnapped from the family of a recent lottery winner.  Phryne sets out to solve both murders, using her wits, her own special sense of morality, her red Hispano-Suiza and a series of borrowed aeroplanes.  I love this series; the next one's on order already.

Gray mountain, by John Grisham. London: Hodder, 2015.

I always forget quite how good a storyteller Grisham is; particularly when he's up on his environmental, David-v-Goliath, high horse as he is here.  Samantha Kohler is a victim of the 2008 financial crash; she's told by her New York real estate law firm to intern somewhere else for a year, and they might be in a position to take her back. "Somewhere else" turns out to be Brady, Virginia, working in a law clinic for impoverished families dealing with repossession, domestic violence and the health consequences of the strip-mining industry.  Samantha meets environmental lawyer Donovan Gray, a fierce opponent of the mining companies since his land (the eponymous Gray Mountain) was destroyed, and grows to like him. Part of this book is charming; part is very scary. It's vintage Grisham.

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