Category Archives: Books of 2010

The Final Bits of 2010… What Where My Favourite Books?

I wasn’t really planning on doing a specific post on my favourite books of 2010 and yet I didn’t really feel like I could move onto a new year of reading unless I did. Maybe it’s something to do with having actually finalised the year or some such? Or maybe its simply my love of lists? Anyway its now done…

Well when I say ‘it’ is now done I mean ‘they’, as I couldn’t actually just do a single list of the top ten – I went for two. Now knowing some people don’t like these lists, though I have to say I love them, I thought I would hide them in the blog at the end of 2010, so you can find Part One here and Part Two here.

I have started my first book of 2011 (and almost finished it in fact) finally, and I thought I would have a little competition to get us off to a delightful start to 2011. So if you can tell me what my first read is from its first line pop your answer in today’s comments and two of you will be plucked at random and I will send you a copy of any paperback edition of a book on my best of 2010 lists, and its open world wide… how does that sound?

So the first line is this… ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him’.  So what’s the book? Good luck, you have until the review goes up at some point tomorrow!

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Books of 2010 Part Two…

So in my second list of books that I loved in 2010 I decided to go for books that were published in hardback or paperback for the first time in 2010. There are some exceptions though and I have not included any of The Green Carnation Prize long or shortlisted books as I don’t know if I could rate them in the same way I do the books I read randomly and pop on the blog, is that fair of me? I will have to think about that more going forward in 2011 maybe? Right anyway, as Miranda Hart would say, let’s get on with the show…

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot (Pan Books)

“…there is so much in this book that it’s really, really hard to do it justice in any kind of way. It’s book that will open your eyes to some of the most important times in modern science, the not that distant injustice of racial segregation was still going on (Henrietta was on a coloured only ward) and a real life family drama that you couldn’t possibly believe isn’t fiction, but it’s all very real and makes for an incredibly emotional and utterly brilliant book. I cannot recommend this enough; it’s definitely one of my books of the year, if not the book of the year so far for me. It’s emotional, angering, thought provoking and mind expanding; it’s also incredibly readable and an important book too.”

Purge – Sofi Oksanen (Atlantic Books)

“Sofia Oksanen has written something quite amazing. It is a rare book that takes me on such an emotional journey and to such dark places and yet leaves me almost unable to put the book down. Her prose is absolutely stunning (and here I should credit Lola Rogers on a fantastic translation) and without ever being too graphic she manages to drop in enough information to let the reader work out what’s going on and yet leave enough unsaid that we create the scenes in our own minds which is often the more disturbing and effective than spelling everything out.”

One Day – David Nicholls (Hodder)

“I am well aware that this book won’t be for everyone but anyone who is looking at it and thinking ‘chick-lit by a man with no literary merit’ (and I have heard that said) would be wrong. The prose is incredibly readable without being throw-away. I laughed and cried whilst reading this book in one sitting, it was rather like spending a day on an emotional rollercoaster I have to say and yet once I had put it down I really just wanted to start all over again and I don’t say that too often. It’s not a modern masterpiece but I hope it becomes a contemporary classic… A book that will leave you an emotional wreck, make you want to hug it and also start all over again all at once possibly.”

Beside The Sea – Veronique Olmi (Peirene Press)

“I know there are some people out there who think that if you don’t have children then you can’t relate to tales about mother’s (or father’s) feelings for their child or children. I think that’s a load of rubbish, I believe that a wonderful author can take you absolutely anywhere, into any mind or situation, that’s the wonder of books. Olmi is just such a writer who put me into the mind of a mother thinking of her and her children’s lives and left me rather an emotional wreck and not any books can leave me almost feeling physically winded.”

The Long Song – Andrea Levy (Headline Review)

Slavery is always going to be a tough subject and yet the way Levy writes it both hits home the horrors of what took place, sometimes in quite graphic detail, and yet through her wonderful narrators voice there is a humour there… If you haven’t read any Levy then this is a great book to start with. If you have already had the pleasure then this book continues to show that Levy is a wonderful author who can take you to faraway places with wonderful characters and make it all look effortless… This is a truly wonderful book that haunts you in both its humour and its horrors.”

A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee (Corsair)

“It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel as to read it feels so accomplished. Unlike other books that could have made you feel almost too much is going on everything is measured and paced, themes are explored but not overly so. No puddings are overegged by Mr Mukherjee here where some authors might have gone into melodrama or overkill. The prose is both lush and stark in parts and has a wonderful flow to it. The only slight tiny niggle I had was that Maud Gilby’s tale is all in bold which played a bit with my eyes, as I said a small niggle though…  Not only, as I mentioned above, is it a book that leaves you feeling a little differently about life, not on a grand scale but in subtle ways and haunts you after you finish the last sentence.”

Room – Emma Donoghue (Picador)

“Emma Donoghue does something incredibly special with ‘Room’. By putting us in the mind of 5 year old Jack she makes us see things from both the innocence of the child narrating and the cynical knowledge the reader has as an adult and rather than play it for a schmaltzy tale of woe, or a calculated tear fest, though the book is emotional in parts. It’s also very funny in parts too and that’s all down to the child eye observance of Jack and his voice. Child narrators can sometimes really grate on me, let alone books that are written in a slightly childish dialect, yet I could have listened to Jack describing his life for pages and pages more.”

Started Early, Took My Dog – Kate Atkinson (Black Swan)

“Not only do you have a mystery or two in the book to work out, you have this overall mystery of just how on earth everything interlinks and with ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ she draws out the process by introducing each character and bringing their circumstances and personalities to the fore. No one dimensional characters here, not even if they are merely in the book for a page or two. All the main characters are marvelous, readable and real. In doing so she also gets to voice her thoughts on both issues from the past (in this case the serial killings in the seventies which gripped the nation and left many women in fear) and in the present (prostitution, child welfare, the recession, dementia) through their back stories which makes it even a fuller read.”

The Hand That First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell (Headline Review)

“I should say it will be hard to do this book justice full stop, it will also be hard to say too much without giving everything away and spoiling it for the reader… For me the star of the whole book was the writing. Every single sentence was a real joy to read and seemed to have been crafted with care as if every word counted and that is a rare find I think. In some ways it reminded me of the way Brooklyn was crafted though the stories are nothing a like at all. The fact that on top of this atmospheric and beautiful writing are two such interesting women, a whole cast of wonderful crafted characters and a plot makes this a wonderful book for the reader, you won’t want to rush it rather savour every line page by page.”

The Clay Dreaming – Ed Hillyer (Myriad Editions)

If I said to you that ‘The Clay Dreaming’ was a book about an aboriginal cricket team arriving in London in 1868 it might not sound like the type of book you would instantly rush down to your nearest book shop to grab… The prose is masterly, the characters are full drawn – apart from the mysterious ones of course and I could easily imagine this having been published in installments in the papers/magazines of the late 1800’s… It’s not a book to be read quickly, nor an easy read by any means (ideally it’s one to be read slowly with no great rush and allowed to unfold in front of the readers eyes – perfect for on your holidays) but it is one that I don’t think people should miss out on.”

You can find the rest of my top books of the year here. Which of the books above have you read and what did you think? Have any of these books been on your must read lists? What were your favourite reads of 2010?

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Books of 2010 Part One…

I do like a nice top ten list of some kind and here is the first of two that cover my favourite reads of the year. 2010 has been a fairly vintage year for reading both with discovering some wonderful new books along with some older classics and so I thought what I would do is one list which is the top ten book I read in 2010 which were published before the year started and another list which covers all the books published in 2010 be it in hardback or paperback. So let us start with the top ten books I read in 2010 but published before it, links to the full review can be found by clicking on the titles…

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (Vintage Classics)

“I will simply say that ‘Jane Eyre’ has instantly become one of my all time favourite novels. I have even given ‘Villette’ a few enquiring sideways glances since I finished this yesterday. I would give ‘Jane Eyre’ an eleven out of ten only that would be breaking the rules. I shall simply have to give it a ten out of ten in bold… a simply MUST read book, it’s even made me think about the way I read – and it takes the most special of books to do that to us I think personally.”

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago)

“I cannot pretend that I didn’t originally want to read this book in part because it sounded like a wonderfully shocking and slightly trashy romp of a tale. Yet to label the book trashy is unfair on ‘Peyton Place’ because Grace Metalious (possibly the best name for an author ever?) writes wonderfully and as a piece of fiction it’s really rather complex, as there are so many characters and undercurrents, and also has a lot to say. Fear not though never once does the author baffle you or over complicate things.”

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber)

“If I gave anything away I would be so cross with myself because knowing nothing about this book is probably the best way to let the emotional impact hit you as it unfolds. I will say that Ishiguro creates such a realistic story and scenario that rather than thinking ‘Never Let Me Go’ is set in an ‘alternative England’ in the 1990’s I could very well believe that all that happens in the novel could have really happened and still be happening and you would never know. You might find yourself looking at people you pass in the street a little bit differently. I know I did after finishing the book and to me that shows how real and engrossing a modern masterpiece Ishiguro has created.”

The Drivers Seat – Muriel Spark (Penguin Classics)

“I think this has almost instantly become my favourite Spark yet. In comparison to some of the other works of hers I have read this has the darkest undertone despite its bright cover and flamboyant lead character. It also packed one of the hardest punches yet, and I will say I thought The Girls of Slender Means had a dark twist; this one hits you early on.  It also see’s Muriel dabble in a genre that I wouldn’t have seen her try and yet she does brilliantly in her own Sparkish way. I realise I sound vague but I do so hate to spoil things and this is a book that should not be spoiled in any way at all and in fact if you haven’t read must be read immediately.”

Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks (Vintage)

“It is incredibly hard to try and encapsulate ‘Birdsong’ in a mere few paragraphs and I am sure I haven’t done it justice. The writing is incredible, as I mentioned above I don’t think I have ever had war depicted to me – especially life in the trenches themselves – with such realism. By turns dramatic yet never melodramatic you find you heart racing as much as you do feel the longing of a love affair that seems doomed from the start in the first section. I did initially get thrown by the addition of the modern narration through Elizabeth, Stephen’s granddaughter; however Faulks uses this to add a further dimension to the journey we are already on whilst adding a further tale of the effects of war. The only word for it really is epic, ‘Birdsong’ is a book you’ll want to get lost in for hours and yet be unable to put down.”

The Loved One – Evelyn Waugh (Penguin Classics)

“I laughed out loud a lot with this book and I wasn’t expecting it (though maybe with a dedication ‘to Nancy Mitford’ inside I should have guessed) it charmed me. I loved the irony, comical cynical attitude of the author and random plot developed and it entertained me and took me away from everything for the two hours that I couldn’t put it down. Ten out of ten! This is a lesser known work of Waugh’s that has left me looking forward to reading many, many more of his books in the future… It’s wickedly entertaining and a real riot to read, if in some slightly dubious taste, I bet this caused quite the stir when it was published in 1948.”

Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett (Serpent’s Tail)

“I will admit it left me a bit of a wreck (am not doing spoilers but feel free to in the comments), it was all utterly worth it for a reading experience like this as they don’t come around all that often… I could go on and on raving about this book, the other wonderful characters that Bartlett creates (Mrs Kesselman is a wonderfully drawn formidable yet secretly caring middle aged woman who works with Mr. F), the descriptions of London in 1967 with its living and breathing atmosphere, the parallels with the much mentioned and alluded to ‘Beauty and the Beast’, the role of a victim as a tormentor, sexuality… the list is endless.”

Stiff – Mary Roach (Penguin)

“It might not be a subject that you would think you would want to read about but death is really the only guarantee that we have in life, and though we might not openly admit it aren’t we all a little bit fascinated (in a morbidly inquisitive or scientific way) by it? Well in ‘Stiff’ Mary Roach is very intrigued by just that and meets all the people who have dealings with us when we die and asks all the questions that we would if we honestly could… You get history, you get insight, you get emotion and laughter – yes I was in hysterics at some points – and you get reassurance in a strange way. All the while in the company of Mary Roach who by the end of the book I felt I was firm friends with, if only all nonfiction whatever its subject could be as readable as this.”

On The Beach – Nevil Shute (Vintage Classics)

“Nevil Shute has created possibly one of the most brilliant ‘tart with a heart’ heroines in Moira, who from her first drunken arrival on the pages (and soon followed up with a hilarious ‘accidental’ bra loosing moment which made me laugh out loud) promptly steals any scene that she is in. You could actually say to a degree it is the tales of Moira and Mary that in part make the book such a special read. I know I have picked a few holes in it but I still ended up coming away from ‘On The Beach’ feeling very emotional and it’s made me do quite a lot of reflecting and thinking which all the best books should do. It’s one of those books that will stick with you for days and days, I am sure I will be mulling this book and the question it raises over for weeks and weeks to come. Like I said before ‘On The Beach’ is not the perfect book but it’s an incredible one.”

Firmin – Sam Savage (Phoenix)

“It was the ending and then surprisingly the authors note that popped it back to being five star as I didn’t realize the period in which the book was set was a strange time for Boston and in particular those in Scollay Square. Don’t look that up though until you have read it as the impact of that and the ending left me feeling a little winded and a little more emotional… I would call this ‘a tale of a tail whose owner who loves tales’ and a book that will leave you with more book recommendations than you could shake a tail at!”

You can find the rest of my top books of the year here. Which of the books above have you read and what did you think? Have any of these books been on your must read lists? What were your favourite reads of 2010?

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Books of 2010… Your Thoughts

It’s getting to that time of year when you start seeing ‘The Books of The Year’ in all the broadsheets, which I always find quite interesting as invariably I have missed out on these choice reads!

Its also the time of year when I start to think which books will make it into my end of year lists and the question always arises ‘have I missed any?’ So I thought I would ask you for some of your favourites from 2010, be they published this year or ones of old (or the last few years/decade) that you have only discovered this year!

Which books might I have missed that you’ve loved this year and I should try and get reading before the end of December? (You might also save some books from getting culled… The cull is almost done, more on that later in the week!)

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Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

Isn’t it funny how something in your real life can lead you down a different reading path than the one you were expecting? I was planning to make a start on ‘Middlesex’ by Jeffery Eugenides earlier in the week when I received a text from my big sister Holly asking if I wanted to go and see the stage adaptation of Sebastian Faulks ‘Birdsong’ in the West End on Friday (today) as her acting agency have a lot of their members as cast in the show. Naturally I couldn’t turn down time with her or the change to go and see a show and so I said yes, and will actually be on the way there when you read this. The thing was though I hadn’t read the book, which has been languishing on my TBR for about 4 years, so with slight trepidation to its size and subject matter I thought ‘right I shall pick it up and read it now’ and wow was it a real reading experience!

‘Birdsong’ is such a wonderful novel that when you try and write about it, and this is my sixth edit, you never feel like you could do it justice without simply telling people to go and read it. However people might want to know a little more about it and I shall try and furnish the finer detail for you a little without giving anything away. Or you could stop reading here and simply go and grab the book if you haven’t already. Anyway, I digress…

As ‘Birdsong’ opens its first of seven parts we are in Amiens, France in 1910. Here we follow Stephen Wraysford as he joins Rene Azaire to spend time in his textile factory at the behest of his benefactor in England. Not only does he spend time in Azaire’s empire he also lives with his family including daughter Lisette, son Gregoire and second wife Isabelle. This is Faulks way of not only setting up life in middle class France before the First World War but also the first dimension of the story as Stephen embarks on a dangerous and secret love affair with one of the women of the household.

The second part of the novel is set six years after the latter parts dénouement as we rejoin a slightly altered Stephen as he fights in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme, his previous years have turned him cold and dedicated so much to the war, for escape I felt, that he will take no leave and seems to want to fight fiercely all he can. The battle rages and soon as Stephen is let in on a sad secret of the next part of their fight, and therefore we the reader learn the same, we follow the war in the most realistic fictional account I have ever read of it. The reader then follows Stephens story through both his eyes and the eyes of his granddaughter in the 1970’s and just when you think the story couldn’t unfold anymore it does and not the way you might expect.

It is incredibly hard to try and encapsulate ‘Birdsong’ in a mere few paragraphs and I am sure I haven’t done it justice. The writing is incredible, as I mentioned above I don’t think I have ever had war depicted to me – especially life in the trenches themselves – with such realism. By turns dramatic yet never melodramatic you find you heart racing as much as you do feel the longing of a love affair that seems doomed from the start in the first section. I did initially get thrown by the addition of the modern narration through Elizabeth, Stephen’s granddaughter; however Faulks uses this to add a further dimension to the journey we are already on whilst adding a further tale of the effects of war. The only word for it really is epic, ‘Birdsong’ is a book you’ll want to get lost in for hours and yet be unable to put down. 10/10

I loved this book and read it in three sittings, I don’t think I can put it any simpler. I was carried away by the love story, equally horrified and gripped by Faulks war scenes and left quite bereft when I finished the final page. I am sure I am preaching to the converted and you have all read this already, however if you haven’t then you must… in fact go, go right now and get it. I am just left wondering which of the novels of Sebastian Faulks to read next and if any could ever compete with this one? Maybe I should have read it last rather than have it as my first read of his work? Though of course I could read everything else and return to this one, which I think I will definitely do at some point. Will the play do it justice I wonder?

This is a book I have had on Mount TBR for about 4 years and always meant to read… how many more like this might I unwittingly own I wonder?

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Filed under Books of 2010, Review, Sebastian Faulks, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics

The City & The City – China Mieville

Sometimes I can get cross at myself as a reader (please tell me some of you do this too), as you are reading a really entertaining and interesting book such as ‘The City and the City’ by China Mieville yet because of everything else going on in your life you go into some sort of funk and you can’t read. Its not the books fault, and really its not your fault as the reader its just life, but if you are like me then you get really annoyed with yourself. However the sign of a good book is when you can have a break from it for a week or two rejoin the plot and characters and not only be straight back into the story you are also swept away by it again once more and this was one such book and considering its synopsis I actually thought I would struggle to get into it at all the first time.

The title ‘The City & The City’ really hints at what you might be expecting from this book (I don’t think China Mieville would have been able to get away with calling it ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ which could have been a good option) as the reader is rather quickly drawn into a world we almost know, a dystopian idea of some part of the edge of Europe, we must also accept that two cities can actually reside in the same place. It sounds complicated and like it might be hard work, which I thought it was going to be, but Mieville somehow makes the whole idea seem incredibly easy to imagine.

In the city of Beszel people are aware that there is another city, Ul Qoma, that occupies the same space as them and yet as they grow up they are trained in the art of ‘unseeing’. This comes into jeopardy on occasions when either something like a car crash happens in one city and for a while everyone can see both, possibly to do with the shock or the extremity of the situation. As we find ourselves in Beszel a murder of a young woman that seems unsolvable has occurred, and its not until Inspector Borlu, our protagonist, realises someone could be murdering people in Ul Qoma and leaving them in Bezsel that ‘unseeing’ may have to go out of the window and that ‘Breach’ (which is an all seeing all knowing eye, slightly in the vein of Orwell’s Big Brother in ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’) may have to be consulted and assessed.

To say too much more would be to undo some incredibly clever twists, turns and imagination that Mieville creates and passes onto any reader coming to the book afresh and I wouldn’t want to ruin that. I will say that the murder mystery does take on a further twist or seven as we discover the murdered girl was looking for a third ancient city (yep, one more but fear not by this point you will be open to eight cities being in the one place as Mieville makes them so clearly different) which brings a whole new historical level to the book and that the powers that be may be hiding something creating a taught thriller that will have you furiously reading to its incredible dénouement.

Mieville has officially won me over with this novel, the characters are fully built, no one dimensional inspector in sight as some authors might have gone for in favour of story over substance. I know in the hands of another author most of this novel could have gone over my head and frustrated me to the point of throwing my book across the room. Not so in the case of Mieville, he’s clearly a masterful writer and incredibly inventive and clever but without a hint of smugness ever appearing on the page. ‘The City and the City’ is a book that has to be read to be believed, and for someone who doesn’t normally go for this type of book Mieville has gained a huge new fan! It’s a book to get lost in. 9/10 (I actually wanted it to be longer and unfold a little though what he achieves in only 312 pages is incredible.)

So I have found a new author now who I want to read the entire works of. In fact I was most annoyed that this was from the library and I had to give it back. I think had I not had the rush of that deadline, someone selfishly requested it (ha); I might have started the book over and loved it even more. That’s not the book or authors fault, and not really mine its just sods law. I think Mieville fans it seems were slightly let down by this book, have any of you read it? If this is his poorest as some, not all, of his fans believe which books are his best I wonder? Can any of you could recommend where I should head to next, which Mieville books have you read and been blown away by?

This book I borrowed from the library, and returned rather grumpily as I would have liked to have it on my shelves to read again one day, its one of those books you could get something new from every time you read it.

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Filed under Books of 2010, China Mieville, Pan MacMillan, Review

The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

As I mentioned to you the other week, a man who helped form the reader I am today sadly passed away. As you read this I will be on the train to his funeral in Kent, where I will be talking to everyone about him during the service, and I thought as a second tribute to him I would re-read one of the books he gave me many moons ago that has become a firm favourite of mine over the years. In fact I still think that ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ may not just be my very favourite Sherlock Holmes story yet also possibly my favourite Arthur Conan Doyle novel, though don’t hold me to that.

When Dr Edward Mortimer appears seeking Sherlock Holmes at 221b Baker Street he comes not only with a mysterious death but also a family curse that has latest through the Baskerville line for decades. Sir Charles Baskerville recently died of a heart attack in the grounds of Baskerville Hall on the edge of the misty moors in the English countryside. However there has been suspicion around his death as his face was filled with a terrible fear and giant paws were found by him, the giant paws of the mythical ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’. With a new heir soon to arrive from America Mortimer wants Holmes to look into the mystery, and yet weirdly Holmes doesn’t seem convinced regardless of how grand a mystery it seems.

In fact it is Watson who is sent back with Mortimer to Baskerville Hall with the instructions that he must just keep Holmes abreast of the goings on and characters in the area and Holmes will join him if he feels the need. Once Watson arrives he finds that the characters are rather dubious and the moors incredibly ominous especially when during the night howls are often heard.

I am refusing to say anymore, though I could go on and on as I love this tale so much, as to give even a snippet away of what comes after the first quarter of the book would do any new reader, or indeed any returning reader who hasn’t read it for quite some time, out of a wonderful mystery that will have you turning the pages faster than you can say ‘whodunit’.

I love the atmosphere of this novel. We start with foggy Victorian London but are soon carried away by carriage to the haunting moors and the countryside that looks so peaceful but proves to be incredibly hostile. Conan Doyle also manages to make what could be another old country house murder mystery so much more using the supernatural of which he was a fervent believer. So as well as a murder mystery you also have a rather spooky tale. All in all this is the perfect tale for dark nights when you want to escape into the fantastical and the sinister. 10/10

Even several re-reads later, and I think this most recent must be my ninth or tenth, I spot new things I hadn’t before. Ok, I know then ending but there is so comfortable in opening a book like this and knowing just where you are but being able to take in all the extras of your surroundings. I can’t recommend this book enough, I am just wondering where to head with Sherlock next? I have suddenly realised with shock I have never read ‘The Valley of Fear’, maybe I should open one of the collections and have a short Sherlock by the bed that I can dip in and out of over these winter nights.

So a huge thanks to my Uncle Derrick for introducing me to such story telling and tales, hopefully me spreading the word will encourage others to try it and leave a little legacy from a man who was a true legend in my life.

This wonderfully covered new edition was sent to me from the publisher earlier in the year when I was planning a Sherlock season… I am still mulling over the idea.

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Books of 2010, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review