Sunday, February 21, 2016

2016 books, #16-20

The climb, by Chris Froome, with David Walsh. London: Penguin, 2015.

I enjoyed Cav's first autobiography (see last reviews post); but this one really is fascinating, mainly because Froome is always a bit of an enigma when you hear him in interview (other than Ned Boulting's great Sports stories documentary last year set mainly in South Africa and Kenya, which was lovely).  Froome takes us through his childhood in Kenya and South Africa - first in Kenya with his mother, and then later at boarding school in Johannesburg.  You realise quite how... different... his upbringing, and cycling experiences, are from the norm of UK and European riders. There's the story of his having sent an e-mail purporting to be from the Kenyan minister for sport to get himself into the 2007 World Championships as manager, team-leader and sole rider (and then felling a race official on the first corner of the time-trial); a heart-stopping story about his having nearly killed an old man who was coming out of an Italian off-licence; and the odd funny, never insulting, stories about team-mates.  (This, about the Sky Tenerife training camp: The rooms have small prison-cell TV sets that only trade in Spanish. There is nothing interesting to do and no distraction. We rely on each other for entertainment and, knowing just how entertaining we all are, we take the precaution of bringing box sets of television series.)  Over and over, there are the twin pillars of fairness, and hard work; Froome's passionate anti-doping stance comes through, as does his complete dedication to a goal.  There's a fair amount about the Wiggins/Froome rivalry here, but really, that's not what this book's about.  I like the fact that David Walsh (the man who worked so hard to expose Lance Armstrong over so many years) has a proper place on the title page - but he's let Froome speak here, and it's a funny, engaging, book about a very nice chap.

Career of evil, by Robert Galbraith. London: Sphere, 2015.

The third Cormoran Strike, and utterly true to form.  Robin receives a severed leg in a box; and discovers to her horror that there are potentially four people who might want to send such a thing to Strike. One motive is entirely personal; the other three accumulated in Strike's career of making himself unpopular with very nasty people. Strike and Robin investigate, while Robin's relationship and impending marriage to (the rather awful) Matthew also cause problems.  There are a couple of really horrific characters here, notably the dreadful Tempest, bullying and self-obsessed webmistress of a 'transabled' forum for apotemnophiliacs and those who wish to become disabled (this doesn't, as you'd imagine, go down well with Strike). Brilliant, occasionally scary, sometimes extremely funny, often moving; I think this series may be getting better as it goes on; but I'm a sucker for series where the characters' relationships and personalities are as strong as the plots.

Lifetime, by Liza Marklund [audiobook]. Read by India Fisher. Bath: AudioGO, [n.d.]

Journalist Annika Bengtson has separated from her husband; then she and her two kids only just escape a house fire.  Meanwhile, one of the most famous police officers in Sweden is found murdered in his bed, his 4-year-old son missing, his wife suspected of the crime which was committed with her police weapon.  Desperate to take her mind off her own troubles, Annika starts to investigate the police officer's killing - if the wife is innocent, as she claims, who could have abducted the child and murdered her husband?  As ever, Annika is unable to stay away from trouble... and the fact that the police think she might have torched her own flat isn't helping.  I do enjoy these - but I wonder if I'd sit down and read the books, rather than listening to the audiobooks - Annika annoys the hell out of me...

Rogue lawyer, by John Grisham. London: Hodder, 2015.

After Gray mountain, I was expecting something equally epic from this book; but this is effectively a set of short stories tied together by one character.  Sebastian Rudd is someone famous for defending the indefensible client, and is hated by the police, prosecutors and his ex-wife.  We see his custody battles for his small son interspersed by cases where defendants of various stripes appear. Rudd has ethics, but those ethics don't necessarily correspond with the law; and he is prepared to bend rules in what he regards as a rightful cause.  It's Grisham, so it's tremendously entertaining; but not one of his greats.

The black sun, by James Twining [audiobook]. Read by Andrew Wincott. Rearsby, Leics: Clipper/WF Howes, 2006.

In London, an Auschwitz survivor is murdered in hospital and the arm with his camp tattoo is removed; in Maryland, an Enigma machine is stolen; in Prague, mindless vandalism at a synagogue fails to conceal the theft of a Czech painting.  Tom Kirk becomes involved, and soon realises nothing's quite what it seems.  This started off fascinatingly, but it degenerates into the normal Nazi-gold type of conspiracy thriller, and is less interesting for that.  I'll carry on with this series, and hope the theme's different next time, as I do like Kirk and his sidekick.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

2016 books, #11-15

Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill [audiobook]. Read by David Thorpe.  Bath: Oakhill, 2010.

I wanted to read this because it was about cricket in America, and murder.  And it sort of is, and sort of isn't.  I really don't know what to say about this book other than that I'd hoped to enjoy it and eventually just sort of left, confused.  The fact I had to listen to the final disc twice, and still didn't work out what the author was intending to say maybe expresses either my lack of attention, or the lack of focus of this book...

This dark road to mercy, by Wiley Cash. London: Transworld, 2014.

I really wanted to love this book.  Cash's previous book, A land more kind than home, was a tour de force.  This sets itself up magnificently; a 12-year old and a 6-year old are put into a children's home in North Carolina; their loser dad abducts them; people are chasing the dad... But somehow it fails to deliver.  Having said that; this was a book-group book and we had so many things to talk about having read it...  And when I say I was disappointed - that's in comparison with the previous book which is quite astonishing.  This is still pretty good.

Boy racer: my journey to Tour de France record-breaker, by Mark Cavendish. Epub format. [Originally London: Ebury, 2010.]

Cav's first autobiography, written in 2009; and as opinionated and passionate (and occasionally chippy) as you might imagine if you've listened to any of his famously unpredictable post-race interviews. What I didn't necessarily expect was his ruthlessly realistic view of his own talents and how they match up to those of other sprinters; but he's someone who is always the first to praise his team's performance... This takes us through Cavendish's childhood, early racing, the Academy, and his first couple of really successful series with 9 Tour de France stage wins and the massive disappointment of being the only member of the UK Cycling team not to win a medal at Beijing. Cav's notorious photographic memory for every race is shown at its full advantage here - and his collaboration with Daniel Friebe (whose contribution is somewhat hidden in the credits at the very end) has made for a wonderfully readable book.

Sex, lies and handlebar tape: the remarkable life of Jacques Anquetil, the first five-times winner of the Tour de France, by Paul Howard. Edinburgh; London: Mainstream, 2008.

I had to get this out for the name - saw it in the bibliography at the end of another cycling book.  I didnt know much about Anquetil - his glory years were when I was a toddler - but he'd been the hero of my French penfriend's Dad, and one of those names who keeps coming up.  I can't say I particularly warmed to him as a person, which is probably why this has taken me months to read and I've only finished it now because it needs to be back to the University Library in a couple of weeks; but it's a fascinating story. Not least the fact that his daughter is also his step-granddaughter, the child of his stepdaughter - something the French penfriend's Dad didn't ever mention.  Anquetil's constant quest to avoid financial distress, even when he was earning hugely, and his seemingly unequivocal endorsement of doping, are alienating; but the book's a window of a world into the decade before Eddie Merckx's dominance and interesting from that point of view. If you like that sort of thing.

My family and other strangers: adventures in family history, by Jeremy Hardy. Ebpub format. [Originally London: Ebury, 2010.]

This is a lovely warm, funny book.  Hardy goes about investigating his family history in a somewhat haphazard way - perennially not really getting up in time to get a full day's research in, or being sidetracked by lunch; and this is endearing.  While he's toddling around graveyards failing to find stones, or being wildly enthusiastic about the research room at The National Archives, he's also reflecting on his own life, his family's (and thinks about family in general and how we make it, as his own daughter is adopted), and what it means to belong somewhere.  He explores Hitchin, and Arundel, and mentions many times that it would be much more helpful if he had an army of white-gloved helpers from Who do you think you are?  He also talks movingly about the deaths of Linda Smith and Humphrey Lyttleton, both very recent at the time of the book.  Many times, you're laughing with a lump in your throat. Highly recommended.