2022 in Review Part 1: Books what I read (part 1)

Given everything else that’s happened this year, many might think that starting my ‘year in review’ with a list of the books I’ve read rather than literally anything else is strange. But there is a very simple reason for it – the only resolution I set back at the end of 2021 was to read more. So, instead of diving into a hard hitting, deeply personal look back at the last twelve months that will no doubt make me, you, or my mum cry, here’s my thoughts of the books I read. Or at least the first part of them as I seem to have read 27 books this year.

Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler

An odd start, I’ll admit. Blame my Brother and his continued ‘game’ of buying my Nazi themed Christmas presents. However, this was no novelty gift. It’s a very well researched and well written history of the use and reliance upon methamphetamine in the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. From the party drug of choice of the German upper classes, keeping them going from party to the office, through to the heavy doping of Nazi storm troopers during their blitzkrieg warfare giving them the ability to fight for 48 hours without sleep. Once the drug supplies start to dwindle, the advancements slow to a crawl and then a stop. It’s a fascinating read.

This gets the Adam seal of recommendation! (If you like that sort of thing).

Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors by Matt Parker

See, maths IS important in the real work, Jake Webb, despite your protestations in Year 8 arithmetic class. Another non-fiction title to start the year, another Christmas present well received. If you don’t know the name Matt Parker, you might know his YouTube channel Stand-Up Maths which taught me more than either of my A-level maths teachers ever did. (ps if your students are still having anxiety dreams about going to your class, you’re a shite teacher and need to evaluate your life). It’s a fun read, seeing how small maths errors have caused massive issues in the real world, from bridges wobbling to planes almost falling out of the sky.

This gets the Adam seal of recommendation! (If you like that sort of thing).

The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh

The first play on the list and a book that is incredibly easy to recommend with no caveats, no warnings, no anything. It’s a brilliant story told in a way that is both harrowing, impactful and emotional. It’s a dark, twisted story of torture, murder, and childhoods in pieces. I am desperate to see a production of this and more desperate to be in it.

This gets the Adam seal of recommendation!

The Black Locomotive by Rian Hughes

Okay, the first difficult one. I enjoyed reading this book, but I don’t think it’s a very good story. It’s the tale of workmen discovering something harrowing under London while digging the tunnels of Crossrail, something that might impact the entire history of humankind. What follows is an EMP pulse, a secret group of steam train enthusiasts and the mythological Black Engines coming to save the day. It build the tension and story well, continually upping the stakes until we get to the final act and it just stops. There’s no real resolution and I felt disappointed – it was like having a lovely Christmas dinner with all the trimmings only for the dessert to be overly runny angel delight. But the book itself was gorgeous, the graphic design work is beautiful and the overall aesthetic is worth picking the book up for, but maybe only if you borrow it.

Hare House by Sally Hinchcliffe

A beautifully well written book of witchy goings on in the Scottish Highlands. The unnamed narrator is a disgraced teacher who leaves London for a rental cottage on the Hare House estate in Galloway, and accidentally stumbles across a family plot of death and superstition that snakes through the community. It’s a good read, one that is genuinely unnerving at times, although the story does go through a few flits and starts around the two thirds mark. Once the true intentions of everyone is laid bare, it really leaves you wandering who is telling the truth, who’s lying, and who’s the real witch in the glen. It’s not for everyone, but if you like folk horror, it’s one for you.

This gets the Adam seal of recommendation!

Dare to Know by James Kennedy

A really interesting premise kneecapped by some ‘clever’ writing and a boring love story seemingly tacked on because the author couldn’t think how else to use his idea. A shady tech company have worked out an algorithm that accurately tells you exactly when you’re going to die, but now their technology is no longer their own and every two-bit website is offering the service. After a bad job, our narrator puts his own details into the algorithm only to find out he should already be dead. Sounds cool right? Well, what if I said that the only person who could help is his ex-wife, so he must rekindle their love to work out what’s happened and I can hear you sighing and getting bored. It’s a really creative idea draped over a tired story, like a rainbow cloak covering those blokes that commentate cricket.

This gets the Adam blot of shame!

Felidae by Akif Pirinçci

How is it I have read a book about Nazis this year and yet this is the book with the racist author? It’s a pity because this is such a good read, from a unique perspective. Told from the perspective of a cat that’s moved into a new area only to discover a series of neighbourhood cats that turn up murdered. What follows is a fun, feline detective romp with all the twists and turns that you need. But what makes this book more than just another novel and propels it into recommendation territory is the voice of our hero. He’s got every single sneery, arrogant opinion of humanity that you expect your pet cat to have, and you’ll see your own moggy in him the whole way through the story.

This gets the Adam seal of recommendation!

Wales: England’s Colony? by Martin Johnes

Another non-fiction? Mostly. This is a good introduction to the thousand year age of oppression between Wales and England*. It’s a very good intro to the topic of English rule over Wales, and the constant, depressingly successful, attempts to remove Welsh culture and language from the British Isles, from the Norman ring of Steel, through the Welsh Not, the drowning of Capel Celyn and the Tories clear hatred of devolution. Definitely worth reading if interested in the construction of Wales’ identity and its Sense of Place within the world, but to say it’s unbiased would be to bury ones head in the sand. For a more holistic, academic view of Welsh History and the relationship with our noisy neighbour, I’d recommend A History of Wales by John Davies

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

I love this book. I’m not going to even pretend to bury the lead here, there’s no point. This short novella is one of the best things I’ve ever read. Three separate narratives are weaved seamlessly together by Bolander to make an emotive, thought-provoking story about how humanity is made up of mostly nice people hampered by a noisy minority of pricks. Set in an alternative history where humans an elephants can communicate and, as is our destructive way, we’ve taken to treating these gentle giants as menial labour and second class beings. I really don’t want to tell you more about the plot, but with the three stories taking place throughout different parts of history, the author does an excellent job in showing that, as much as we like to distance ourselves from the horrors and prejudices of the past, some things stay in the mind forever.

This gets the Adam seal of recommendation!

Join us later for part 2 of this first section of my year in review!

*Death to the Stormcloaks

Published by Adam Unwin

Yeah, I write stuff occasionally, make things up on stage, and like saying words other people have written in a dramatic way.

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