Well, the New Year resolution to reduce the TBR has got off to a fine start – it’s gone up three to 182! Still, eleven and a half months to go…
Here are a few more I’ll be reading soon. A couple of Scottish writers this week, and all four books are from writers I’ve enjoyed before…
Unlocking the World by John Darwin
Courtesy of Allen Lane. John Darwin won the 2013 FF Factual Book of the Year Award for his excellent Unfinished Empire. The prize is that I will read the author’s next book. It’s taken a while for a new one to come along, and happily it looks just as interesting…
The Blurb says: Steam power transformed our world, initiating the complex, resource-devouring industrial system the consequences of which we live with today. It revolutionized work and production, but also the ease and cost of movement over land and water. The result was to throw open vast areas of the world to the rampaging expansion of Europeans and Americans on a scale previously unimaginable.
Unlocking the World is the captivating history of the great port cities which emerged as the bridgeheads of this new steam-driven economy, reshaping not just the trade and industry of the regions around them but their culture and politics as well. They were the agents of what we now call ‘globalization’, but their impact and influence, and the reactions they provoked, were far from predictable. Nor were they immune to the great upheavals in world politics across the ‘steam century’.
This book is global history at its very best. Packed with fascinating case histories (from New Orleans to Montreal, Bombay to Singapore, Calcutta to Shanghai), individual stories and original ideas, Darwin’s book allows us, for better or worse, to see the modern age taking shape.
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Scottish Historical Crime
The Heretic by Liam McIlvaney
Courtesy of HarperCollins. I’ve only read one of Liam McIlvanney’s books before, and found it a good read, though it suffered from my inability to stop comparing it unfairly with the great Glasgow-set crime novels of his dad, William McIlvanney. I’m happy to have a second chance and hopefully will be able to judge him on his own merits this time – I’ll try, anyway!
The Blurb says: Set in 1976, seven years after the murders recounted in Liam McIlvanney’s breakout novel, The Quaker, this new Glasgow noir novel is a standalone mystery featuring serial character, Detective Duncan McCormack.
McCormack has returned to Glasgow after a stint with the Metropolitan Police in London. The reason for his return is left a lurking mystery throughout. He is investigating a series of murders that seem at first to be the result of random bouts of violence among Glasgow’s poor and destitute. McCormack, however, has insight into Glasgow’s underground that many of his colleagues don’t. He has a secret of his own that he guards carefully but that takes him places and introduces him to people that prove essential to his investigations.
Mcilvanney’s The Quaker was named the Scottish Crime Fiction Book of the Year and a Washington Post Best Book of the Year. The Guardian called it “a solidly crafted and satisfying detective story.” McIlvanney is known for his well crafted plots, his deep characterization, and his stylish prose. The Heretic is no exception.
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Scottish Historical Fiction
Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig
Courtesy of Quercus via NetGalley. I’ve loved Greig’s writing in the past but have been less enamoured by the subjects he has chosen to write about – his books can be a bit too grief-laden for my tastes. This one, however, sounds right up my street, and my hopes for it are stratospheric! (Any blurb that includes the line “John Knox is dead” is already singing my song… 😉 )
The Blurb says: Embra, winter of 1574. Queen Mary has fled Scotland, to raise an army from the French. Her son and heir, Jamie is held under protection in Stirling Castle. John Knox is dead. The people are unmoored and lurching under the uncertain governance of this riven land. It’s a deadly time for young student Will Fowler, short of stature, low of birth but mightily ambitious, to make his name.
Fowler has found himself where the scorch marks of the martyrs burned at the stake can be seen on every street, where differences in doctrine can prove fatal, where the feuds of great families pull innocents into their bloody realm. There he befriends the austere stick-wielding philosopher Tom Nicolson, son of a fishing family whose sister Rose, untutored, brilliant and exceedingly beautiful exhibits a free-thinking mind that can only bring danger upon her and her admirers. The lowly students are adept at attracting the attentions of the rich and powerful, not least Walter Scott, brave and ruthless heir to Branxholm and Buccleuch, who is set on exploiting the civil wars to further his political and dynastic ambitions. His friendship and patronage will lead Will to the to the very centre of a conspiracy that will determine who will take Scotland’s crown.
Rose Nicolson is a vivid, passionate and unforgettable novel of this most dramatic period of Scotland’s history, told by a character whose rise mirrors the conflicts he narrates, the battles between faith and reason, love and friendship, self-interest and loyalty. It confirms Andrew Greig as one of the great contemporary writers of fiction.
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The Wolf Hall Trilogy on Audio
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
We waited so long for the final part of this trilogy that I felt I really needed to re-read the first two books before tackling the third. So since I’d heard that Ben Miles does a wonderful job of the narration, I decided to listen to them all. They’re incredibly long and as regulars will know I’m incredibly slow at listening to audiobooks, so this will be a kind of mini-challenge to listen to the whole trilogy this year. I’ve started this one and totally agree about Miles’ narration so far…
The Blurb says: Listen to the exciting new rendition of Wolf Hall, read by Ben Miles, who was personally cast by the author and played Thomas Cromwell in the Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. The winner of the Man Booker Prize and captivating first book in the Thomas Cromwell trilogy.
England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk and later his successor.
Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events.
Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.
From one of our finest living writers, Wolf Hall is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of character and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion and suffering and courage.
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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.
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