Thursday, January 8, 2015

Book reviews 2014

Here are the books I read in 2014.  45 in total, though nothing achieved 5 stars!  I suspect my ratings were a bit pessimistic in the latter half of the year ...

4.5 stars:
"Radical Homemakers" Shannon Hayes. 4.5 stars. A manifesto for living a home-based, non-consumptive life. Domesticity == revolutionary!
"On The Trail Of Genghis Khan" Tim Cope. 4.5 stars. Seemless and enthralling, historical, cultural and personal. A staggering achievement.
"Down To This" Shaugnessy Bishop-Stall. 4.5 stars. Hard-hitting, revealing, intense look inside homelessness.

4 stars:
"The Time Traveller's Wife" Audrey Niffenegger. 4 stars. Causal conbobulation, heartache ending. Brilliant concept hooked me in.
"The Wife Drought" . 4 stars. A damning and surprising revelation of sexual norms and roles. Kind of obvious in retrospect!
"Perdido St Station" China Mieville. 4 stars. Fantastic imaginings and conception, though plot a bit too action-thriller at times.
"The Great Disruption" . 4 stars. Concise & irrefutable presentation of challenge, but some holes in argument and response.
"The Luminaries" by Eleanor Catton. 4 stars. Beautifully written and intricately assembled, but lost its punch towards the end.
"The Last Argument of Kings" Joe Abercrombie. 4 stars. Finishes off the trilogy very neatly, harshly realistic and with sustained action.
"A Long Way Home" Saroo Brierley. 4 stars. What a story! Not brilliantly told, but a hard to go wrong with a tale like this.
"Farther Than Any Man" 4 stars. Incredible and amazing story of Captain Cook. Hard to tell where fact stops and fiction begins though.
"The City & The City" China Mieville. 4 stars. Unlikely premise, but brilliantly executed.
"The Last Explorer" Simon Nasht. 4 stars. Sir Hubert Wilkins, the incredible Australian no one has heard of. What a life!

3.5 stars:
"Your Money or Your Life" Robin & Dominguez. 3.5 stars. Targeted at those stuck in consumer culture, but good ideas on work and meaning.
"The Resilient Farm & Homestead" Ben Falk. 3.5 stars. Impressive effort at building a self-sufficient permaculture homestead in northern US.
"The Rosie Effect" Graeme Simsion. 3.5 stars. Somewhat amusing, but nothing like the prequel. More painful, if anything!
"Capital in the 21st Century" Thomas Piketty. 3.5 stars. Wealth begets wealth, capitalism is inherently unequal - a threat to democracy.
"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" Betty Smith. 3.5 stars. Inner city poverty of 100 years ago - quite a different world! Didn't pull me in though.
"My Brilliant Career" Miles Franklin. 3.5 stars. Evocative of the time and place, but an infuriating main character!
"The Night Circus" Erin Morgenstern. 3.5 stars. A wonderful and evocative book, but not quite captivating.
"A Spot of Bother" Mark Haddon. 3.5 stars. God forbid my wedding turns out like this. A lesson in the need for honest open communication!
"The Blade Itself" Joe Abercrombie. 3.5 stars. Harsh and violent, with some good characters, and a rollicking climax.
"Shades of Grey" Jasper Afforded. 3.5 stars. Fun, quirky and intriguing. Good easy read.
"Mr Stuart's Track" John Bailey. 3.5 stars. Pedestrian writing but incredible history of a stubborn explorer.

3 stars:
"Totto-chan" Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. 3 stars. A charming account of life in an alternative school in Japan during WWII.
"Anna Karenina" Leo Tolstoy. 3 stars. What's all the fuss? Nicely written, but goes on a bit, and not clear to me what it's on about.
"Making Money" Terry Pratchett. 3 stars. Some light-weight fun, with a few good jabs at the financial world.
"The World Until Yesterday" Jared Diamond. 3 stars. Some interesting sections on child-rearing, constructive paranoia and multi-linguism.
"Honeybee Democracy" Thomas Seeley. 3 stars. An enthusiastic and passionate look at the extraordinary way bees choose a new home.
"The Painted Boy" Charles de Lint. 3 stars. Good young adult urban fantasy. Creative and contemporary.
"Before They Are Hanged" Joe Abercrombie. 3 stars. A good sequel, maintaining the momentum. Some fantasy plot cliches though.
"Dust" Hugh Howey. 3 stars. Better than Shift, but nothing special.
"The End of Oil" Paul Roberts. 3 stars. A good in-depth look at energy, but written when $30 oil was expensive, so a touch out of date!
"Botany of Desire" Michael Pollan. 3 stars. Somewhat hit & miss. Section on hemp was the best, the one on potatoes a hint of things to come.
"Old Man's War" John Scalzi. 3 stars. Quick easy but decent sci fi with some good ideas.

2.5 stars:
"Mini-farming" Brett Markham. 2.5 stars. Talks up backyard food production, but doesn't appear to walk the talk. Covers issues well though.
"Raising Steam" Terry Pratchett. 2.5 stars. Easy entertainment, but lacking some depth and good laughs.
"The Long War" Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter. 2.5 stars. Lack lustre sequel, with a forgettable climax and too many pointless plots.
"Why Shoot A Butler?" Georgette Heyer. 2.5 stars. Hides too much from the reader to be a satisfying detective tale
"Hominids" Robert Sawyer. 2.5 stars. Neanderthal appears from parallel universe. Amusing idea, but not a very good book.
"Altai" Wu Ming. 2.5 stars. Passably engaging historical fiction, but lacking real interest.
"MaddAddam" Margaret Atwood. 2.5 stars. Fine, but not a lot new going on.
"Tamam Shud" Kerry Greenwood. 2.5 stars. Fascinating real-life murder mystery, but lazily written. My grandpa gets a mention!

2 stars:
"Murder in Mississippi" John Safran. 2 stars. Too much like reading a diary, and not really a particularly interesting crime.

1.5 stars:
"The Burial" Courtney Collins. 1.5 stars. Wishy-washy, with a pointless dead-but-alive baby plot device.