Seeing how it’s almost the end of the year, I thought it would be a good time to share with you some of my favourite reads of the last twelve months, on both the fiction and non-fiction front.

In truth, I’ve been very disappointed with a number of the fiction books I’ve picked up this year and I stopped reading several of them after thirty or forty pages. Once upon a time, I would have pressed on regardless, but these days I am far less tolerant and more willing to move on to something else. Although this much reduced the pool for consideration here, there were still some good enough ones to be included.

So, let’s crack on, starting with the fiction books.


The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.

I was reading this for the second time, but it made little difference to my pleasure. One of Christie’s best and certainly one of her more high profile works, it features the moustache wearing Belgian with the little, grey cells, Hercule Poirot. Oddly, though not for the only time in Christie’s books, we see relatively little of Poirot in this story, in no small part because the story is told by a narrator, Dr Sheppard, who I found to be an excellently well drawn character.

Although elements of this story now come across as a little old fashioned, the ending created something of a sensation at the time it was first published and it loses none of its impact now. Great stuff.


Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming

I read two of the Bond books this year, the other being The Man with the Golden Gun, which I didn’t find as good as this one. Here, Bond is set the task of infiltrating a diamond smuggling gang that has operations in southern Africa, London and the USA. Along the way, he meets Tiffany Case, a woman with a dark and unhappy background, who develops into the love interest.

There are lots of thrills and spills along the way to ultimate success and I much enjoyed the book, but I’ve included it here for two reasons. Firstly, because as is the case with all the other Fleming written Bond stories, it’s worth noting that the later made film bears no more than a passing resemblance to the book, which is a much simpler and often more subtle affair. There are far fewer gadgets and sex and, instead, a lot more focus on the people and the story.

The other reason I’ve included it is because I think Fleming’s writing is much underrated. His writing in general and his character development in particular is frequently (though not always) very impressive, whilst some of the scenes he writes are superb. To my mind, his description of the card game at the Blades Club between Bond and Hugo Drax in Moonraker is simply superb.


The Rhineman Exchange by Robert Ludlum.

A classic example of a 1970s espionage thriller, set during World War II, mostly in Buenos Aires in Argentina. It features our hero, the American David Spaulding, who is a mixture of spy and assassin. Assigned to a top secret mission, Spaulding soon finds himself at the centre of a devious plot involving elements from both the Nazi and American administrations. We also have a little love interest added along the way, which works pretty well.

Although a little dated in places, this is still a thoroughly enjoyable read, with the plot moving along at a decent pace, with little breathers to give you a rest here and there. Although many of the characters are only sketches, that of Spaulding and his lover, Jean Cameron, are much better done and develop nicely as well. Enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes and a satisfactory ending.


And now for the non-fiction.


D-Day by Stephen E. Ambrose

A vast and mightily impressive description and analysis of the events of June 6th 1944. Focused largely on the American landings at Omaha and Utah beaches, it does also include some coverage of the British and Canadian landings.

The research that went into this book was clearly immense, as witnessed by the bibliography, and it’s terrific how Ambrose was able to pull together such a cohesive and impressive story from so much material.

One of the strengths of the book is the use made of anecdotes from those who took part, especially as many of these are simply remarkable. Time and again we hear from men who were involved in or witnessed events that were sometimes examples of extraordinary courage and at other times bordered on the bizarre and barely believable. There is also a decent amount of coverage of things from the German perspective, which provides some good balance.

It was well worth every minute of the many hours I spent reading this superb book.


Benjamin Disraeli by Roger Blake

What I often love about biographies of well-known characters is how they can draw your attention to the parts of the subject’s life that you were never really previously aware of. We often fall into the trap of seeing them solely as the person they were at the peak of their fame or infamy. This book is no exception.

Looking at the entirety of his life, rather than just his time as British Prime Minister, shows Disraeli to have been an even more fascinating and remarkable character than he already seemed. No longer just the tired old man he became in later life, we see him as flamboyant, opportunistic, sometimes unreliable, insecure, a great socialiser and, most surprisingly to me, a Romantic, his big hero throughout his life being Lord Byron. Yes, we were all young once and so was he!

This is an excellent piece of writing. It’s easy to read, covers all aspects of Disraeli’s life, private, business, literary, romantic and political. It includes a vast amount of information, is often humorous and, although the author appears to be sympathetic towards his subject, he is also often willing to be critical. Thoroughly recommended.


But what about you, what have your favourite reads been this year?









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