Friday, December 19, 2014

Books of 2014

Books of 2014 

So as history dictates, it is about time that I write up my blog post about the books I have read this year. So after about 6600 pages of reading in 29 books I have worked my way through many hours of public transport. With our moving of house in May, it actually cut down my reading as I spent less time on public transport. So I slowed up for the second half of the  year. Thanks to all those who loaned me books this  year, it is greatly appreciated. I can't wait to get our book shelves established in the new house so that I can put everything up and look at the books proudly. My book for the year this year is....... Karlology by Karl Pilkington. When a book can actually make you giggle and snort aloud on public transport, it is a winner. Special mentions to 'Tis and Born to Run.

Under a Mackerel Sky, a Memoir: Rick Stein. 320 pages 
 HardcoverHardcover
A pleasant read, nothing too outstanding, but not offensive either. There was the odd laugh to be had but overall what I would call a decent travel read, not about traveling but something to read whilst traveling. It will make you hungry too, which is always a good thing. Rick comes across as a strange cross between self confident, self hating, an arrogant arse and a shy guy. It certainly has its ups and downs.

6,5/10

Karlology: What I've Learnt So Far. Karl Pilkington. 220 pages.
PaperbackPaperback

A hilarious book. If you like the podcasts with Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant then you will enjoy this book. He is his normal self, a little defeated, a little confused, a little perceptive and overall a good laugh. If you enjoy Karl then I suggest this book as a must, he displays his usual oddball thinking, his analysis of things that don't need to be analysed. I was snorting out loud on the tram reading this, I hope you will enjoy it as much as me.

9/10

Born To Run. ChristopherMcDougall. 287 pages.
 PaperbackPaperback

A really interesting book for people who run, are interested in running or have been in the past. It might motivate you to get off the couch and hit the road again, it might change the way you hit the road or it at least might make you think about going to Mexico to see some crazy runners. Running is totally in vogue now, how long for.... who knows. It goes through these cycles, but I am enjoying it now, as much as I did when I started running 8 years ago. This book drove me on a little, helped me think about new things and just challenged me to look at what I am doing. Next year will be my first attempt at a marathon and this book was a big motivation for that too.

9/10 (for runners) 7/10 (non-runners)

'Tis: A memoir. Frank McCourt. 477 pages.
 PaperbackPaperback

The man who wrote Angela's Ashes wrote 2 more books, these are not based in Ireland as was his original book, they are based in NY. Tis' talks about his early life there and how a man without any real skills or experience, bad eyes and skin, teeth problems and no real education could get on with just hard work and determination. It shows us of today who have millions of options in front of us that we don't need to be a superstar, we don't need to change the entire world, just our own world.

9/10

Goats From a Small Island: Grabbing Mallorcan Life By The Horns. Anna Nicholas. 351 pages. PaperbackPaperback

The story of an expat that lives in Spain and sometimes flies back to the UK for work. I bought this book because of my love of goats and thought that this might give me some extra knowledge about goats or about Mallorca. However, it was really just a bit flat for me, it was pleasant but didn't really go anyway. I enjoy reading expat adventures but sometimes you just don't click with the writer of it. This was one of those times.

6/10

Kitchen Confidential: Anthony Bourdain. 310 pages.
 PaperbackPaperback

Mr Bourdain is like licorice, an aquired taste. Where as I love licorice, like a mad man, Anthony Bourdain just doesn't get me excited about food or about life. I have watched his shows and while I envy him and his adventures and experiences, I don't think he comes across as a super likeable person. After reading his book, he comes across as an arse, who got lucky in life due to the influence of friends and companions throughout his career. Then again, that is how we all get along isn't it. Anyone out there want to give me a book deal and tv show? Anyone?

6.5/10

The Riddle and The Knight. In search of Sir John Mandeville: Giles Milton. 230 pages. PaperbackPaperback

My favourite historical writer. This was, again, another great book by Giles. He really researches his subjects well. He is able to pull out a story that makes it feel like you are talking with the main character that he has researched. You get to know them quite intimately, and this is quite a job when most have been dead for hundreds of years. If you enjoy history, you will enjoy Mr Milton.

7/10

My Animals and Other Family: Clare Balding. 258 pages.
 PaperbackPaperback

I had heard of Clare Balding from my time in the UK, and had just associated her with sports and not really put much further thought into her. The I saw this book and thought it would be great to learn more about animals on a farm. Well, I should have read the footnotes a little more as the book was more about her life growing up as a young girl. The book was quite bland to be honest, and I really didn;t get into the oh woe is me coming from a rich family that gave me my own horses. Just not for me.

6/10

Minding my Peas and Cucumbers. Quirky tales of allotment life: Kay Sexton. 208 pages. PaperbackPaperback

I bought this as we are planning to buy an allotment, I was thinking we might get some great practical advice on how to do something, anything, maybe even everything. Alas, it was a bit of a let down.It wasn't really about gardening, or about relationships with people, or cooking just a dabble in each. It was a bit too self centred to be of practical use, and when she gave practical details it just seemed pretty boring. It had some recipes in it too, to help you deal with your vegetables in gluts. I finished it and said "M'eh" I think that is about the best review for it. Middle of the road.

5.5/10

Road to McCarthy: Pete McCarthy. 480 pages.
PaperbackPaperback

After reading McCarthy's Bar a year or two ago, I was really glad to find this book and give it to my wife for her birthday (yes, so that I could read it. But she did want to read it too!) It was very much like his last book full of great yarns and humour. I have always said, if a book can actually make you audibly chuckle it is a good read. And this, was one of those books. Pete has a great way with words and of looking at things from a different point of view, sometimes like Karl above which makes for a good book all over. Again, I can recommend this especially if you have read McCarthy's Bar.

8/10

The Art and Craft of Coffee. Kevin Sinot. 176 pages.
semi hardcoversemi hardcover

This was a book I bought as I wanted to learn more about the art of coffee, and by that I mean the art of growing, roasting, processing. Well the entire gammet of coffee. I have always thought of opening a cafe or a roaster or something to do with coffee, as it really is something I love and something I think I could be good at. But the book bordered on simplicity at times, and the weirdest part was that the smell from the printing actually made me nauseous. Not great on public transport in the wee hours of the morning.

6/10

Teacher Man: Frank McCourt. 258 pages.
paperbackpaperback

Last year I read Angela's Ashes and it was a really lovely book, and earlier this year I read 'Tis (see above). Full of humour, the Irish way. This continues to tell more of his life in relation to when he became a teacher and the challenges associated with being an immigrant to the States and trying to teach other immigrants or children of immigrants. There is the regular laughs and some more serious sides as well. Another good book though, and it is a shame he only started to write later in his life, as he only wrote these three books. All, very worth a read.

7/10

Leonardo: Martin Kemp. 100 pages of 286.
paperbackpaperback

This is the second time I tried to read this book. The first was about 8 years ago when I bought it to travel with. I ended up putting it aside and reading things far more interesting and fun. So I thought, maybe now I had matured enough to finish it. Well, I have to say Martin it isn't me it is you. I just cannot read it. I don't know how someone can turn such an interesting life as Leonardo da Vinci led and make it into something as boring as watching paint dry. Sorry Leo, but Martin killed you, again.

3/10

The Happy Prince and Other Stories: Oscar Wilde. 204 pages.
paperbackpaperback

After reading "The Picture of Dorian Grey" I thought I should read some more Oscar, well this was a bit of a let down. Of course I am sure there were many hidden agendas and metaphores and the like in this collection of short fairy stories, but they were lost on me. It is something about the late 1800s sometimes I can love the writing and the flamboyant nature of the script other times I want to pull my eyes out instead of reading it. Sorry Oscar my dandy friend, but I am not able to enjoy your fairy stories.

5/10

The Metamorphosis: Franz Kafka. Page 88.
paperback (not my cover, but I liked it)paperback (not my cover, but I liked it)

One of those stories you hear so much about but I had never read. It of course is a huge metaphore for being a Jew at that time in Europe and how it felt to be an outcast and something that no one should see or be associated with. A really, really well written story and one that has huge meaning when you are actually living in Eastern Europe and have experienced and learned about this era a great deal since being here. If you have the time I recommend this as a read of a classic that is not too difficult but actually really quite powerful.

7/10

Big Chief Elizabeth; how England's Adventurers Gambled and Won The New World. Giles Milton. 416 pages.
HardcoverHardcover

Another one by my favourite historical writer, Giles Milton. He must have a great team of researchers helping him, as I cannot imagine how he could do such in depth research into these subjects. This of course is the story of how Elizabeth sent forward her explorers to the far sides of the world to make something grand for the nation. For someone from a colony it is an interesting read, as are all of Giles work, he is able to get to the heart of characters and situations and provide insight into decisions made as well as repercussions.

7/10

Dickens; Public Life and Private Passion. Peter Ackroyd. 160 pages.
 Hardcover.Hardcover.

While I am a fan of both Peter Ackroyd after reading his fabulous book on the Thames some time back, and Mr Dickens, probably my favourite writer, this book never really took off. It was interesting and certainly taught me many things I didn't know about Chuck and his work ethic, travels and life. However, it didn't grip me and make me want to go out and find out more. Maybe it was too conclusive in that way. Either way, if you are interested in Dickens or a decent biography this should keep you relatively chuffed.

6.5/10

The Lifted Brow: Issue 20.
 papercoverpapercover

An Australian magazine that has no one direction, that has no defined target market, and has no real flow. But, it is a fabulous, fabulous thing. It makes you think, it makes you laugh, it helps you remember to enjoy having a brain. Unfortunately, I only bought one edition of this in Australia, so cannot determine the consistency of said publication, but the one Issue I did, made me a very happy man.

8,5/10

Captain Courageous: Rudyard Kipling. 282 pages.
 1911 hardcover1911 hardcover

Ok, I admit it. I have re-read a book. This was for two reasons, one, I had nothing else to read at the time and two because I had completely forgotten I had read it, until I was a few chapters in, but I decided to keep on reading as it is a pretty easy read. Also, I liked reading a really messy, torn, damaged book from the turn of the last century. The story of a rich boy learning lifes rules the hard way. Could be good for many spoiled children globally.

7/10

The Butcher Boy: Patrick McCabe. 231 pages
 Paperback coverPaperback cover

An Irish Modern Classic, loaned to me by a Modern Irish Lover and Poland's premier Irish Liaison Attache. The story of a somewhat simple Irish boy, from a simple Irish family and he turns out to be a bit of a nutter. The book has its own defined style. It is a style that you either enjoy or don't. To be honest this wasn't my favourite of books. The style jarred with me and I couldn't gel into the book properly until the last 1/3 which was ended in a nice thriller. Therefore, it gets a little more than a third for its score.

6/10

Ogilvy on Advertising: David Ogilvy. 224 pages.
 Hardcover DustcoverHardcover Dustcover

Apparently a classic for all people invovled in the advertising world. It has some relatively dated information and examples, yet the world of modern advertisers could actually learn some very important rules from this. Such as fonts, colours, and stylising. A book which goes through some tips and tricks from one of the grandfathers of the way modern advertising appears today. But don't let that scare you, it is actually really quite interesting.

7/10

Lean In: Sheryl Sandberg. 240 pages.
 Hardcover DustcoverHardcover Dustcover

A book by "the most powerful woman in America" would normally make my eyes roll so far into my head that they would dislocate and I would appear zombie-ish. But I was interested in what she had to say in the first half of the book, it really did make me think about how we run companies, how we treat each other in the workplace and how things aren't always fair or equal, for varying reasons. I think all managers should read the first half of the book, both male and female that is. The second half just felt like filler to get it to the publishers page minimum.

8/10 (first half) 4/10 (second half)

The Invisible Man: H.G Wells. 149 pages.
 HardcoverHardcover

A story of a mad scientist who wants to be famous, powerful, and right the wrongs of his previous existence. A great story written far earlier than you would expect in regards to science fiction. It was a story we all know in a form, but we never really know what happens during it. I am sure there are few who haven't ever dreamed of being invisible, but the story actually speaks of the potential problems with it. A real classic novel, not too long either so great for a train ride or flight of a few hours.

8/10

The Book of Murder: Guillermo Martínez. 224 pages.
 paperback coverpaperback cover

This was one of those crime stories. A story about a girl who believes that someone is murdering her family, she believes she knows the culprit and she is determined to prove it. Hoping to get help from a long lost acquaintance. Like almost all crime novels it was an easy read and didn't really have much depth to it over all. It didn't grip me, or suprise me. In fact I'd rather read an old Sherlock Holmes story for suspence and excitement.


6/10

Hommage to the Firing Squad: Tariq Goddard. 256 pages.
Paperback front cover.Paperback front cover.

A story about coming togethers during the Spanish Civil War. A Don of the village is wanted dead by all, but he is oblivious to it. It is a story told entirely through the eyes of men, some fighters, some cowards, some lovers. Again it was a bit of light fare, something that finished before it really started. Pleasant enough, especially for a first time writer.

7/10



In Defence of Food: Michael Pollan. 256 pages.
Hardcover DustcoverHardcover Dustcover

This is a book describing the world through food. Why the Western diet is so bad for us and how it changes our bodies, lives and politics. The book is well researched and gives you information that you may not yet know, may have forgotten or just didn't believe. It lays things out in relatively easy reading, giving you the science and the politics behind most everything that occurs in the world of food, in the past and today, of course, mostly it is focused on the US market place. That said it can act as a great way for us all to live the lives we should, and also to help us understand what we can do to change our future and the lives of those around us.

8,5/10

The Maltese Falcon: Dashiell Hammett. 213 pages.
Paperback cover.Paperback cover.

Having seen this Humphrey Bogart movie very,very long ago. So, much so that I only remembered it had him in it. I am sure it was a a sick day from school watching this in a blanket and eating tim tams. That said, I thought it would be good to read the book. I am glad I did, the story of Sam Spade and his adventures to land the falcon with wit, humour and a little aggression. He meets women left right and centre in the traditional chauvinistic love em and leave em way. The story is good, well paced and holds interest well, so that you don't really know what will occur. Worth a read.

7.5/10

N.B These photos are not mine and are sourced from the internet.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Łaziekni Gardens at night.

So in Summer, the Łazienki Gardens opened a new Chinese pavillion and garden that was in part donated by the Chinese government and was used to recreate the feeling a previous king had desired as he also had a Chinese garden at one stage.

We just had photos of the gardens in the day, so let's see some on the opening night of the garden. Also, a big thank you to all the mosquitoes for turning out on mass. They really celebrated the night hard. I am sure they had some intense blood hangovers the next morning.












So after all the mosquitoes, there there was a ghoul about! Time to run home!

Monday, December 01, 2014

Łazienki gardens day time

The days have been leaving me without much time, as they are getting shorter. So to remember the beautiful things sun can bring, here are some photos around Łazienki Gardens in Autumn to feel at least a little warmer than the -10C from yesterday.













These are all from the last Chopin concert of the season.





Ahhhh memories.

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