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The cyclist who went out in the cold by Tim Moore

This should have been funny and interesting but it isn’t, unlike many of his books. Half the book is just the author stupidly riding through Finland in freezing conditions, and then he covers the rest of Central and Eastern Europe in a rush. The whole concept of riding a ridiculous tiny East German bike is just such a fake gimmick it ruins the whole book. 41/100

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

An unusual novel juxtaposing possibly the most annoying fictional family ever with the collapse of the Middle East and Israel. Sometimes it seems like Portnoys Complaint meets HBO, and it strangely seems to be winding up half way through the book, giving it the longest conclusion in literary history. Some fine writing and good ideas but I can’t imagine anyone that isn’t American Jewish getting much out of this. Perhaps less of the middle class intellectual divorce and more of the middle East crisis would have made it more accessible.  52/100

Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh

Nasty guy from Trainspotting, Frank Begbie has reinvented himself as a Californian sculptor. But when he returns to Scotland for his estranged son’s funeral, well, you can guess it from here. Enjoyed this a lot up until the final chapters. 85/100

Country in the Moon by Michael Moran

This is really two books in one, a travelogue of Poland, especially the Vistula river, and an account of the author’s time running a college in rural Poland. The travelogue stuff was interesting, the work stuff a yawn. A bit too much about classical music too for my liking. 62/100

The Romanovs 1613 – 1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore

HBO would have a field day turning this excellent history book into a TV series. It has everything – alcohol and drug abuse, orgies, sex scandals, bizarre rituals, crazy religious nutters, battles and political intrigue. And yet it is all true and well referenced. An incredible epic story of some of Russia’s most famous rulers with unusual insight into their home life as well as their successes and blunders from Paris to Japan. 89/100

Indonesia Etc by Elizabeth Pisani

Insightful account of the author’s journeys around the many islands of Indonesia. It feels like it was heavily edited and there is so much that seems to be missing from this book, especially the last chapters. The sections dealing with the eastern islands are especially interesting, as is the workings of politics and business and the bizarre mash of traditional and Islamic traditions. 75/100

Mirrors of the Unseen by Jason Elliot

Having just returned from Iran, this was a good conclusion to my time there. The author, who I must say is a bit of a dag, observes many things we ourselves remarked upon, especially the ugliness of the towns of modern Iran, and the duplicities of life there. The book is at its best in the more obscure places, such as Tabriz and the Iraq border, and at its worst when he muses and drones on about Iranian art and his endless preoccupation with the mosques of Esfahan. 67/100

 All That Man Is by David Szalay

Most reviews of this interesting book see it as about men and masculinity, but really it is more about modern Europe than about men. Intriguing writing style and topical, punchy stories make this an interesting collection. But is it a novel, as the Booker people considered it to be? 81/100

Ali and Nino by Kurban Said

Absolutely beautiful book, at its heart it is a love story, but it is also a tribute to the unique cultures of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Iran, a political thriller and an examination of cultural and social conflict. Full of wit, nostalgia and at times anger and violence, this seems so modern for a book published in the 1930s. Looking forward to the recently released movie, though disappointed about the casting, especially a 30 year old actress to play 17 year old Nino! 91/100

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

A really good story spoilt in many ways by the author’s desire to show how much he knows about medicine and far too much detail about surgical procedures. The setting in Ethiopia is fascinating, and the links with South India make it even more so. Lots of plot twists too, but the graphic surgery is a bit too much. 77/100



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