A list of books I have read:

19) Penelope Lively - Judgement Day 6/3/17

18) Luke Delaney - Cold Killings 4/3/16

17) Helena Drysdale - Mother Tongues 13/2/17

16) Mary Higgins Clark - Daddy's Gone A-Hunting 18/12/16

15) Frank Delaney - Pearl 10/12/16

14) Sophie Hannah - Kind Of Cruel 1/12/16

13) Simon Toyne - The Tower 21/11/16

12) Lars Kepler - The Nightmare 31/10/16

11) Jeanne de Ferranti - The Journey That Never Was 17/10/16

10) Ben Aaronovitch - Rivers of London 24/9/16

9) P D James - The Private Patient 14/9/16

8) Graeme Fowler - Absolutely Foxed 23/8/16

7) Chris Carter - The Death Sculptor 18/8/16

6) Mandasue Heller - Forget Me Not 8/8/16

5) Graham Brown - The Eden Prophecy 1/8/16

4) Peter James - You Are Dead 18/7/16

3) Mary Higgins Clark - Daddy's Little Girl 11/7/16

2) Peter Millar - Bleak Midwinter 6/7/16

1) Paula Hawkins - The Girl On The Train 17/6/16

And so the end of another year's reading - much reduced from last year, but with good reason. More work, yes: but also some on-line courses, which took up a bit of my spare time.

25) Mary Higgins Clark - The Lost Years 11/6/16

24) Nicci French - Tuesday's Gone 3/6/16

23) Rachel Escott - A Very Long Walk 22/5/16

22) Brian Freeman - Spilled Blood 8/5/16

21) Peter Robinson - Abattoir Blues 26/4/16

20) Stuart MacBride - In The Cold Dark Ground 20/4/16

19) Anthony Stancomb - Under A Croatian Sun 13/4/16

18) Peter Francis Browne - Rambling On The Road To Rome 2/4/16

17) Stuart MacBride - The Missing And The Dead 19/3/16

16) Tami Hoag - The 9th Girl 7/3/16

15) Susie Kelly - A Perfect Circle 1/3/16

14) Stephen Booth - The Corpse Bridge 23/2/16

13) Patrick Leigh Fermor - The Broken Road 8/2/16

12) Tim Binding - On Ilkley Moor 11/1/16

11) Jo Nesbo - Police 3/1/16

10) Jo Nesbo - Phantom 23/12/15

9) Jo Nesbo - The Leopard 11/12/15

8) Jo Nesbo - The Snowman 28/11/15

7) Jo Nesbo - The Redeemer 15/11/15

6) Jo Nesbo - The Devil's Star 3/11/15

5) Jo Nesbo - Nemesis 24/10/15

4) Jo Nesbo - The Redbreast 22/9/15

3) Iain Pears - An Instance Of The Fingerpost 7/9/15

2) Jennifer Lash - On Pilgrimage 11/8/15

1) Stephen Booth - Already Dead 17/7/15

End of another year of reading: well down on the last few years, but that was to be expected.

41) Peter Robinson - Children Of The Revolution 5/7/15

40) Christopher Somerville - The Golden Step 10/6/15

39) Michael Dobbs - Old Enemies 25/5/15

38) Paul Richardson - A Late Dinner 18/5/15

37) Paulo Coelho - The Pilgrimage 26/4/15

36) Luca Veste - Dead Gone 14/4/15

35) James Oswald - The Book Of Souls 9/4/15

34) Patricia Cornwell - Black Notice 30/3/15

33) Patricia Cornwell - Scarpetta 25/3/15

32) James Becker - The Messiah Secret 16/3/15

31) Jonathan Kellerman - True Detectives 10/3/15

30) Jonathan Kellerman - Guilt 1/3/15

29) Shirley MacLaine - The Camino 25/2/15

28) Jonathan Kellerman - Evidence 15/2/15

27) Khaled Hosseini - And The Mountains Echoed 9/2/15

26) Jonathan Kellerman - Bones 29/1/15

25) Jonathan Kellerman - Therapy 24/1/15

24) Susie Kelly - Best Foot Forward 19/1/15

23) Halldor Laxness - Under The Glacier 12/1/15

22) Patrick Leigh Fermor - Between The Woods And The Water 3/1/15

21) Tim Weaver - Never Coming Back 21/12/14

20) Neil White - Beyond Evil - 10/12/14

19) Will Carver - Dead Set 4/12/14

18) John Harvey - Far Cry 17/11/14

17) John Harvey - Cold In Hand 9/11/14

16) Kerry Wilkinson - Behind Closed Doors 3/11/14

15) Rachel Escott - A Very Long Walk 30/10/14

14) John Steinbeck - Of Mice And Men 12/10/14

13) Andy Cave - Thin White Line 8/10/14

12) Mark Billingham - The Dying Hours 30/9/14

11) Mark Billingham - Good As Dead 25/9/14

10) Sara Wheeler - Travels In A Thin Country 18/9/14

9) Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner 6/9/14

8) Peter Robinson - Watching The Dark 22/8/14

7) Peter James - Denial 17/8/14

6) Charlie English - The Snow Tourist 13/8/14

5) Stephen Booth - Dead And Buried 9/8/14

4) Ranulph Fiennes - Captain Scott 3/8/14

3) A.D. Miller - Snowdrops 24/7/14

2) Peter Matthiessen - The Snow Leopard 21/7/14

1) Peter May - Entry Island 30/6/14

And thus ends my fourth year reading list. Slightly up on previous years, main due - I suspect - to reading more novels and fewer travel books. Never mind: I'm happy enough. But I'll aim to do more "proper" reading in the next 12 months.

48) Peter May - The Chessmen 10/6/14

47) Patricia Cornwell - Trace 3/6/14

46) Peter James - Dead man's Time 27/5/14

45) Craig Robertson - Cold Grave 19/5/14

44) John Le Carre - The Constant Gardener 14/5/14

44) Mark Billingham - Death Message 29/4/14

43) Mark Billingham - Buried 22/4/14

42) John Harvey - Ash & Bone 9/4/14

41) Robert Byron - The Road To Oxiana 2/4/14

40) Elizabeth Gowing - Edith & I 24/3/14

39) Taylor Stevens - The Informationist 13/3/14

38) Jonathan Kellerman - The Clinic 6/3/14

37) Jonathan Kellerman - Victims 28/2/14

36) Simon Beckett - Whispers Of The Dead 22/2/14

35) Simon Beckett - The Chemistry Of Death 17/2/14

34) John Harvey - Good Bait 13/2/14

33) Mark Billingham - Lazy Bones 7/2/14

32) Stuart MacBride - A Song For The Dying 30/1/14

31) Stuart MacBride - Birthdays For The Dead 25/1/14

30) William Blacker - Along The Enchanted Way 6/1/14

29) Candida Clark - The Chase 27/12/13

28) John Connor - Phoenix 22/12/13

27) David Hewson - Native Rites 17/12/13

26) Stuart MacBride - Close To The Bone 7/12/13

25) Michele Giuttari - A Death In Calabria 30/11/13

24) Robert Goddard - Closed Circle 22/11/13

23) John Harvey - In A True Light 14/11/13

22) Stuart MacBride - Shatter The Bones 11/11/13

21) Tom Harper - Secrets Of The Dead 7/11/13

20) Stephen Leather - Nightshade 29/10/13

19) Natasha & Peter Murtagh - Buen Camino! 24/10/13

18) Terry Hayes - I Am Pilgrim 20/10/13

17) Elizabeth Gowing - Travels In Blood And Honey 14/10/13

16) Jesse Kellerman - The Executor 3/10/13

15) Bernard Loughlin - In The High Pyrenees 30/9/13

14) Stuart MacBride - Dark Blood 20/9/13

13) Robert Goddard - Dying To Tell 15/9/13

12) Ismail Kadare - Broken April 9/9/13

11) Jonathan Kellerman - The Murder Book 3/9/13

10) Dervla Murphy - Through The Embers Of Choas 27/8/13

9) Brian McGilloway - Gallows Lane 11/8/13

8) Colin Thubron - Shadow Of The Silk Road 7/8/13

7) Nevil Shute - The Far Country 19/7/13

6) Jan & Cora Gordon - Two Vagabonds In Serbia And Montenegro 12/7/13

5) Donna Leon - Doctored Evidence 5/7/13

4) Donna Leon - Wilful Behaviour 1/7/13

3) Caro Ramsay - Absolution 26/6/13

2) Belinda Bauer - Blacklands 20/6/13

1) Martin Edwards - The Arsenic Labyrinth 17/6/13

This represents the end of my third year's reading list. 42 books - only one less than last year and the year before! Consistent, if nothing else. I'm pleasantly surprised to have kept this level up.

42) Martin Langfield - The Malice Box 12/6/13

41) Stuart MacBride - Blind Eye 31/5/13

40) Malcom Noble - A Mystery Of Cross Women 26/5/13

39) Eric Newby - Love And War In The Apennines 24/5/13

38) Isabel Fonseca - Bury Me Standing 8/5/13

37) Jack Hitt - Off The Road 19/4/13

36) Rosie Thomas - Border Crossing 12/4/13

35) Alex Grey - Never Somewhere Else 4/4/13

34) Robert Harris - Archangel 25/3/13

33) Martin Edwards - The Serpent Pool 14/3/13

32) Lars Kepler - The Hypnotist 9/3/13

31) Stuart MacBride - Flesh House 28/2/13

30) Gavin Francis - True North 22/2/13

29) P D James - The Murder Room 5/2/13

28) Robert Macfarlane - The Wild Places 27/1/13

See main blog for review.

27) Peter May - The Lewis Man 14/1/13

26) Michael Robotham - The Night Ferry 8/1/13

25) Robert Hutchinson - When In Rome 2/1/13

Slightly irreverent look at the history and modern life of the Vatican.

Hutchinson spends a year living in Rome, trying to get to know more about how the Vatican is and was. Along the way he encounters a little Roman surliness and learns to cope with the labyrinthine beaurocracy surrounding the centre of the Catholic church.

Such topics as the Vatican bank, popes on the make, their sex lives and the collection of weird relics are all covered, and the humour used maintains the interest whilst still being informative.

24) Stuart MacBride - Broken Skin 22/12/12

23) Michael Robotham - Bleed For Me 18/12/12

22) Patrick Leigh Fermor - A Time Of Gifts 13/12/12

Telling the first part of the story of the 18-year-old PLF's 1934 journey on foot from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, crossing Europe on the cusp of war and at a time of immense change.

This is, quite rightly, considered a classic of travel literature. Travelling down the Rhine and up the Danube, this volume takes the reader as far as Hungary and describes the scenes encountered in vivid detail: in part harking back to a Europe unchanged for hundreds of years, yet fully aware of it's standing at a key point in history after which nothing would be the same again.

Sleeping one night in barns then the next in a castle, he experiences all the freedom and camaraderie of the road, revealing his curiosity in the art, history, language, religion, landscapes and people he encounters along the way.

This is definitely a book to read and re-read.

21) Sheldon Siegel - Special Circumstances 21/11/12

20) Peter James - Not Dead Yet 16/11/12

19) Linwood Barclay - Too Close To Home 12/11/12

18) Peter Robinson - Watching The Dark 7/11/12

17) Eugenie Fraser - The House By The Dvina 2/11/12

Autobiographical tale of a young girl growing up in the Russian north.

Daughter of a Russian father and a Scottish mother, Eugenie Fraser grew up in a well-to-do family in the northern Russian city of Archangel. Covering the first two decades of the C20th, events cover the last days of Imperial Russia and the horror and tragedy of war and Revolution, before a desperate, last-ditch flight to Scotland.

In many ways, this book reads like a real-life account of the events in Dr Zhivago. Anyone interested in Russian history and the massive social and political changes brought about by the Russian Revolution will enjoy this, as will anyone who simply enjoys a fascinating biography. Remarkably, the author was in her 80s when the book was published.

16) Stuart MacBride - Dying Light 19/10/12

15) Susan Hill - The Pure In Heart 15/10/12

14) William Fiennes - The Snow Geese 5/10/12

After a lengthy spell of recuperation, William Fiennes realised he needed to stretch his wings, and decided to follow the annual migration of the Snow Geese from the Gulf of Mexico to the high artic tundra.

This beautifully written book recounts that journey, describing the path of the geese, his own feelings as he follows them north, and his interractions with an unusual cast of characters.

You don't need to be a birdwatcher to enjoy this book (although an interest would help). Anyone who ponders travel and the human condition will find this book a delight.

13) Luis Miguel Rocha - The Holy Assassin 25/9/12

12) Dervla Murphy - The Waiting Land - 19/9/12

In which Murphy describes her time with Tibetan refugees in the Pokhara Valley, Nepal in the mid-1960's.

All the usual elements of an early Dervla Murphy are there, from her response to the privations she encounters to the humour with which she describes her experiences - including two broken ribs and the beaurocracy encountered when trying to take her small "Miniature Himalayan Sheepdog" back to Ireland.

Nepal, at that time, presents a complex and mistifying society very different in almost all respects to that of the West: an age-old civilization with strong tribal connections and customs, very different ideas of hygene and cleanliness, and weather the equal of anywhere on earth.

As usual, the unexpected seems to happen on a regular basis, and unpredictability seems to be the only constant. However, there is always beauty of the remote, mountainous landscape to provide a calm in the Nepalese storm, and the final chapter sees Murphy on trek with her Sherpa guide in the foothills of Langtang on the border of Tibet.

11) Stuart MacBride - Cold Granite 14/9/12

10) Linwood Barclay - The Accident 6/9/12

9) Sara Wheeler - Terra Incognita 1/9/12

Excellent account of the author's extended stays with the various scientific communities in Antarctica after she became the first foreigner to be accepted on the American National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists' and Writers Program.

In all, she spent six weeks at the polar station and with the various communities living and working on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, as well as another month with the British Antarctic Survey. Her descriptions of day-to-day living in these extraordinary conditions - mostly in close confinement, yet surrounded by the mind-blowing vastness of this enormous continent - bring the stories of these disparate communities to life.

More than that, though, Terra Incognita explores the myths and history of one of the remotest parts of the planet, revealing just what effect experiencing a landscape of such cold vastness has on the human condition.

Well worth a read.

8) Tami Hoag - Dead Sky 10/8/12

7) Jonathan Kellerman - Flesh And Blood 5/8/12

6) Jeremy Poolman - The Road Of Bones 29/7/12

The “Road of Bones” is an epithet given to several stretches of highway, not least the section undertaken by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman during their Long Way Round round the world journey in 2004. In this case, though, the title describes the Vladimirka Road – or Vladimir Highway – the road linking Moscow to the city of Vladimir some 200km to the east.

For over 200 years, this road has been at the centre of Russian history – and still is today. Immortalised in both art and literature, the most poignant aspect of the road is its association with exile and death – the route to Siberia, the journey to the Gulag.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a book where the horrors contained within its history and its soil are so huge that the stories become almost matter-of-fact. The writing has an unusual quality about it, being quite poetic and slightly dream-like.

But make no mistake; this is an excellent book that anyone interested in Russia – or in its travel and history – would do well to read.

5) Stephen Booth - The Devil's Edge 12/7/12

4) Matt Dickinson - The Death Zone 8/7/12

Account of film-maker and writer Matt Dickinson’s attempt to get actor Brian Blessed to the summit of Everest in 1996.

Accompanied by guide Alan Hinkes, the plan had been to film Brian’s (hopefully successful) summit bid by the North Face route on this, his third attempt. Of course things don’t always go to plan, and the 1996 season turned out to be one of multiple deaths and lasting recriminations as a fierce storm hit the crowded mountain as ten expeditions prepared for their summit push.

There have been many books on the subject of the 1996 disaster, but Dickinson’s brings a new perspective: firstly by trying to film the progress of an actor of limited mountaineering experience to the summit, and secondly through their approach from the less-well-tackled Tibetan side.

A very interesting read that sets off at a cracking pace and never lets up, and also brings another perspective on some of the moral issues that surround the sport of modern high-altitude mountaineering.

3) Michael Connelly - The Overlook 29/6/12

2) Tim Severin - The Jason Voyage 21/6/12

Geographer and explorer Tim Severin has a unique specialism: he likes to recreate ancient boat journeys in craft as close to those of time in question as possible. Having already sailed in a leather boat from Ireland to America and followed in the wake of Sinbad The Sailor from Arabia to China, he turns in this adventure to the voyages of Jason and the Argonauts.

Beneath the mythology and the numerous account, the search for the Golden Fleece appears to have some historical basis, and Severin sets out to test whether the 1500 mile journey from present-day Greece to the coast of Georgia was possible in a twenty-oar galley made to the exact specification of a Bronze age craft.

Exploring both the legend and the adventures attributed to the Argonauts, Severin and his crew put themselves through extraordinary hardships along the way to find out whether the journey was in fact possible.

1) Michael Connelly - Echo Park 13/6/12

This represents the end of my second year's reading list. 43 books - weirdly exactly the same as last year! A sort of consistency is appearing, all totally unplanned. Again, I'm pleasantly surprised to have kept this level up.

For year three, I will continue to simply list novels (to add to the count) but comment on travel, mountain or other outdoor-related literature that I think may be enjoyed by others.

43) Karin Fossum - Calling Out For You 7/6/12

42) Ian McEwan - Solar 4/6/12

41) Helena Drysdale - Mother Tongues 28/5/12

Over a period of eighteen months, Helena Drysdale explored the far flung corners of Europe in a mobile home, searching out indigenous tribes and trying to determine how or whether language played a part in defining them. Accompanied by her Husband and two young children, their journey took them to such diverse places as Samiland, Corsica and the Basque Country, where part forgotten tongues are spoken - Frisian, Ladin, Flemish, Sard; names that conjure up memories of an older Europe of different boundaries and cultures.

What is fascinating is the way Drysdale not only analyses the link between language and identity but weaves it together with the history, geography, politics and anthropology of these regions as told by real people. The result is a travelogue of rare brilliance.

Anyone interested in travel, language or the current situation of minority groups in modern Europe should read this.


40) Tess Gerritsen - The Killing Place 11/5/12

39) Tess Gerritsen - Keeper Of The Bride 5/5/12

38) John Le Carre - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 30/4/12

37) Christa Paula - The Road To Miran 15/4/12

Having just finished one book on a Silk Road theme, I found my appetite not entirely sated so opted next for this tale of "one woman's remarkable, single-minded attempt to reach the forbidden desert city of Miran.

As a young student of Central Asian art and architecture, Christa Paula harboured a desire to visit this ancient Buddhist site of second-century wall paintings in Xinjiang Province in Western China. The only problem? It's off-limits to foreigners and under military rule.

Travelling incognito and helped by sympathetic locals she skirts the fringes of the dreaded Taklamakan Desert, evades capture by the Han authorities on several occasions, passes through an area dotted with forced labour camps, nuclear testing sites and asbestos mines, and witnesses the stirrings of discontent and political unrest amongst the down-trodden Uighur people.

I really enjoyed this book, something of a one-off gem and an entertaining tale well told. This story of a tall, blonde Western woman travelling alone in a far-flung, exotic part of the world with very different mores is always honest, despite her obvious need for subterfuge. Though art and architecture pay their part, this is first and foremost a travelogue, and an entertaining one at that.

36) John Pilkington - An Adventure On The Old Silk Road 6/4/12

Being an account of the author's trip from Venice to the Yellow Sea.

I must admit to being beguiled by the Silk Road and Central Asia in particular, so this was always going to be bought and read as soon as I saw it. The author's journey takes place in the mid-1980s, soon after it became possible to follow these remote routes once again now that passes, borders and regions have been newly re-opened to travellers.

Beginning in Venice, he describes his 8,000 mile journey in the footsteps of Marco Polo and other early traders across Turkey, into Central Asia and on to China, and recounts tales of his exploits and the people he meets along the way.

It's an easy read which anyone interested in Silk Road and Central Asia will find compelling, and his encounters with Kirghiz nomads, border guards, Chinese officials, and others along the way illustrate clearly the diversity of people and range of experiences encountered along the way.

All in all, an interesting and well-written book, sympathetic but not overly sentimental.

35) Simon Kernick - The Payback 25/3/12

34) Nicci French - Blue Monday 19/3/12

33) Simon Beckett - The Calling Of The Grave 16/3/12

32) Ed Viesturs with David Roberts - No Shortcuts To The Top 13/3/12

Ed Viesturs is one of the world's foremost high-altitude mountaineers. For 18 years, he pursued a goal: to climb all 14 of the 8000m peaks - without the use of bottled oxygen. This is the story of that pursuit.

As well as telling the story of his exploits on each of the individual summits - some expeditions proving successful, and some not - the book also fills in the back story of Ed's life and how he came to climbing in the first place, and espouses his philosophy on the sport, particularly his mantra "Reaching the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory" which in some quarters has him labelled as an overly cautious climber.

It's a fascinating read; well written and structured, and with enough excitement to keep the pages turning. What comes across is not only the tale of an astounding achievement (twelfth person to climb all 14 of the 8,000ers, sixth without the use of supplementary oxygen and first American to complete the set) but of an extraordinary man who did so without compromising his personal beliefs, and who would always go to the aid of stricken climbers even if it meant sacrificing his own agenda.

This book is well worth a read, both for a different perspective on the ultra-dangerous sport of high-altitude climbing and for the picture it paints of a humane, heroic and decent human being.

31) Mefo Phillips - Horseshoes And Holy Water 4/3/12

Subtitled: On the hoof from Canterbury to Santiago de Compostella - two women, two horses, one pilgrim trail ...

An enjoyable read about two sisters who decide to follow in the footsteps of pilgrims across the ages by travelling to Santiago de Compostella along the Way of St. James - but on horseback. Variously named the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James or the Route St Jacques, this centuries-old trail leads across France and Northern Spain bearing pilgrims to the site of the tomb of St. James.

This is an enjoyable read - easy going and with an engaging and humerous style. The horses, Leo and Apollo, are as much a part of the tale as the people (as is the decrepit horsebox that accompanies them, driven by the author's husband, Peter) and feature fully in the narrative. But the good thing, at least for those of us who are not necessarily enthralled by everything equine, is that though they appear in the drama on an equal footing (so to speak) as the people, the horsey detail is kept to an acceptable minimum.

If you are considering doing the Camino and are looking for lots detail about the trail or how to tackle it, this is perhaps not the book for you - a guide book would serve better. But if you are interested in The Way in any way, it's well worth a look and is a very entertaining read.

30) Jon Krakauer - Eiger Dreams 23/2/12

From the author of Into The Wild and Into Thin Air.

This book collects together a dozen of Krakauer's mountaineering articles written for magazines such as Outside. Among the topics covered are climbing K2 and Mt McKinley, scaling the Eiger, bouldering, canyoneering or even going stir-crazy being stuck in a tent for days on end.

It's a diverse collection, but as usual Krakauer's in-depth understanding of climbing and mountaineering and the men and women who do so brings this high-risk sport and it's practitioners into sharp focus.

Each article is complete in itself, so it makes an ideal book to dip into between other reads (as I have done) - great if you need to satisfy your craving for a fix of mountain action.

29) Peter Robinson - Before The Poison 22/2/12

28) Greg Mortenson (With Mike Bryan) - Stones Into School 13/2/12

In this follow-up to his 2005 book, Three Cups Of Tea, Greg Mortenson relates details of the most recent work undertaken by the Central Asia Institute. Along with his ongoing efforts to build schools in the most far flung corners of Pakistan, he tells of the CAI's work to fullfil a promise he made to establish a school in the farthest reaches of Afghanistan's Wakhan corridor, the most remote area of an already remote country, and their work in Azad Kasmir in the wake of a terrible 2005 earthquake disaster.

Interwoven with stories of this massive humanitarian effort, Greg espouses his broader vision of promoting peace through education and literacy (particularly through the schooling of girls) and how building lasting relationships with tribal leaders and villagers on the ground has brought two opposing cultures that bit close together.

27) David Roberts - Escape From Lucania 3/2/12

The epic struggle for survival of two young American climbers - Brad Whitburn and Bob Bates - after their first successful ascent of Mount Lucania in the inaccessible Alaskan Wilderness.

The project ran into difficulties right from the start when, after being air-lifted in to base camp, it took several days and a last-ditch attempt to get the pilot back out again. As the expedition progressed, difficulties were summounted: even after a successful summiting, there was to be an epic hike out of some 150 miles through the wilderness, and the escape was hampered by flooding rivers and lack of food.

Beside recounting Washburn and Bates' story, the book charts the history of North American mountaineering and outlines the reasons for the different approach, logistics and techniques required for success in these ranges compared to, say, the Himalayas or the Alps.

The two men remained great friends for the rest of their lives, but after this expedition they took their separate paths through life. Unusually for high-altitude mountaineers, the two are still alive (at the time of writing in 2003) - now both into their nineties!

26) Stephen Booth - The Lost River 30/1/12

25) Patricia Cornwell - Cruel And Unusual 25/1/12

24) Patrick French – Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer 23/1/12

A comprehensive biography of Sir Francis Young Husband, the celebrated soldier, explorer, adventurer, author and mystic.

A really good, if lengthy, read covering the life of one of the most legendary figures of his day, a man as famous in his time as T.E. Lawrence or Ernest Shackleton and almost the archetypal Victorian/Edwardian explorer.

For a man that achieved so much – so many great journeys, Chairman of numerous societies, prolific author, public servant – and was several times decorated for his efforts, there is a slightly sad tinge to his life, as the great Victorian age and British Empire into which he was born and passionately believed was collapsing all around. Somehow, his story seems to encapsulate all the elements of that decline.

In later life, exploration and soldiering gave way to public service, philosophy and mysticism. Some of his ideas were fanciful – barmy, even – but others were surprisingly forward thinking.

Of course his main claim to fame is as a central figure in the Great Game, the political and military manoeuvring in the Himalayas between the British and Russian Empires, and his exploits in the high realms of Central Asia. He was also leader (on the ground) of the disastrous British “invasion” of Tibet – a sorry situation indeed.

Possibly more thorough than many might require, this is still an interesting biography on many levels – particularly for me in respect of his early career as an explorer.

23) Donna Leon - A Question Of Belief 6/1/12

22) Shirley Rippin - One Woman's Walk 3/1/12

I think this book is out of print now - unsurprising in a way since it was only ever published by a local publisher in the first place - which is a great shame. It describes Shirley's walk from Land's End to John O'Groats - rather like a blog might do these days - but at a time when such ways of recording a trip were much less common.

I must confess, it's about the fourth time I've read it now. It's quite a gentle story, the interest being in the amount of tiny details recounted rather than the prodogious nature of the undertaking. But what makes it all the more remarkable is that Shirley undertook such a massive, solo outing whilst suffering from Agoraphobia.

The mix of practical information, details of life on the road, and day-to-day experiences makes this a valuable addition to the wealth of information now available to potential End-to-Enders, as well as a source of inspiration to anyone wishing to undertake a long walk - or any large-scale project - and it is a pity it is not more widely available.

21) Peter Firstbrook - Lost On Everest 23/12/11

Interesting book which is part biography of George Mallory, part history of the attempts on Everest between WW1 and WW2 (particularly the infamous 1924 expedition) and a subsequent search for the bodies of Mallory and Sandy Irvine in 1999.

For those with only a sketchy knowledge of the early expeditions, this book provides a good overview, discussing the make up of (and the tensions within) the teams, the internal politics of the Alpine Club and the Royal Geographical Society (co-organisers of the expeditions, each of whom considered their part the most important!), as well as the trials and tribulations faced during the trek in and on the mountain. Also, there is the contribution made by the political background of superpowers jockeying for position in an unstable part of the world.

It's a really good read, interesting all the way. The final section is given over to the 1999 expedition (sponsored by the BBC) to try to find the bodies, see whether the long-lost camera could be found and to try to work out the did they/didn't they reach the top debate.

Excellent stuff, with which any mountaineering history fan should be acquainted.

20) Pete Brown - Hops & Glory 13/12/11

It's taken a while to finish this one!

Brown's book, subtitled "One man's search for the beer that built the British Empire", discusses the place of India Pale Ale in the history of the Empire - what it was, how it was brewed, how it became famous and, eventually, how it became a lost drink.

His idea was to brew a barrel of IPA very similar to that made back in the C18th, and then take it to India by the same, long route.

The mix of travel and humour, beer and Burton history, and Empire and India background has all the ingredients to appeal. Even so, interesting as it was, I found it somehow didn't quite hold my attention over the full 440 pages! Not that it was bad or boring in any way, just that it would have been a crisper read at 300 pages!

Consequently, it took the best part of 4 weeks to read as my attention was apt to stray.

19) Philip Marsden – The Spirit-Wrestlers 17/11/11

Subtitled “A Russian Journey”.

Marsden’s third book on post-Soviet Russia concentrates on his travels through the southern fringes of the old Soviet Union, through Georgia, Armenia and a host of minor Russian states such as Cherkessia, North Ossetia, South Ossetia. Along the way he meets Cossacks, Yezidis, Doukhobors, Old Believers, Milk-Drinkers and all manner of people living a thin existence “on the edge of the world”.

Uniting these disparate religious groups and peoples is their courage and ability to survive the unsurvivable, and Marsden’s eye for detail, poetic prose and vivid descriptions bring a host of these very Russian characters to life – real-life creations from Russian literature.

With it’s long cast of characters and of peoples and groups split by differences almost incomprehensible in the modern West, it’s not an easy book to read. Nevertheless, it is worth sticking with for any number of memorable scenes and Marsden’s superb style. Whatever you may feel at the end, you will be better off for having read it and have a deeper understanding of what it means to live in a fractured, post-Communist world.

18) Donna Leon - About Face 1/11/11

17) Rich Mayfield with Bob Mann – Kinabalu Escape 28/10/11

The story of an ill-fated British Army expedition to Mt Kinabalu in Borneo.

In 1994, a ten-man party set out to navigate a formidable and previously unclimbed ravine called Low’s Gully. Things began to go wrong almost from the start – bad leadership, unfit and inexperienced participants, insufficient equipment and food – and tensions grew between the men right from the off.

As the expedition went on, they split into three different parties – and things went from bad to worse. Then, three weeks later, the first of the men staggered out of the jungle, starving and near to death …..

I must admit, I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy this at first, being as it was slightly army-orientated. But once involved in the story, it became quite gripping. As it told of the inexorable breakdown of the group and highlighted, point-by-point, how a series of small incidents built to such a critical outcome, it was also fascinating to see how the rift between the NCOs and the Officers grew in the light of poor decision-making.

Not for everyone, but an exciting true-life adventure.

16) Stieg Larsson - The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest 20/10/11

15) Stieg Larsson - The Girl Who Played With Fire 13/10/11

14) Stieg Larsson - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo 7/10/11

13) Louisa Waugh – Hearing Birds Fly 28/9/11

Subtitled “A Nomadic Year In Mongolia”.

Ever wondered what it’s like spending a year in Outer Mongolia? By choice? Well, now you can find out.

Louisa Waugh’s superb book relates the story of her year-long teaching appointment to the remote village of Tsengel in the far west of the country, living and working amongst the local people. She describes the village characters and their way of life, how Mongol, Tuvan and Khazak rub along in these wild places, their cultural similarities, difference and nuances, the effect of the seasons on daily life and how she herself adapts to life as a Westerner in challenging circumstances.

And, through these wonderful, testing experiences, recounts her own feelings of friendship and happiness, joy, fear and loneliness.

I would recommend this to anyone interested in Mongolia or Central Asia or in any tale of contact with different, remote cultures (it being more akin to “Tribe” than a traditional travelogue).

A remarkable story and a wonderful read.

12) Clive Powell-Williams – Cold Burial 18/9/11

In the spring of 1926, three men trekked into the Canadian wilderness searching for adventure. Led by legendary adventurer Jack Hornby, they set out to experience the harshness of the northern wilds, to hunt for furs, to take scientific notes, and to live off the land at the edge of existence. In search of a fortune, they took risks and trusted to luck, believing their idealism and faith in their leader would see them through. They would not come back.

The story of their downfall is one of endurance, fortitude and – ultimately – a terrible waste of human life. Bad luck and, more importantly, bad planning meant the expedition was doomed to failure from the outset, with the participants likened, in more ways than one, to Scott of the Antarctic.

Powell-Williams’ book details the events and how fate conspired to condemn them to death. Although viewed by many as paragons of courage and honour, ultimately it is tinged with too much loss and hopelessness to be a truly heroic story. Starvation is a cruel and lonely way to die.

It is a grim but riveting read, in some ways similar in tone to Jon Krakauer’s “Into The Wild”, and worth a look if you have an interest in wilderness tales, adventure stories or what drives people to take such risks.

11) Peter James - Dead Man's Grip 9/9/11

10) Christina Noble – At Home In The Himalayas 3/9/11

In the early 1970’s, Christina Noble travels to the high valleys of Northern India, drawn back after an uncompleted trek of a year earlier, and sets up home and a trekking business in Manali in the Kullu Valley.

This book describes her adventures from the earliest treks, through triumph and a smidgin of disaster, to her leaving almost 20 years later. As well as an autobiography of those times, it highlights the changes in the valley as well – changes to the people and their way of life as the outside world came to Kullu.

Sympathetic, touching, perceptive and funny, this is well worth a read for anyone interested in adventure travel or Himalayan culture.

9) Graham Bowley – No Way Down 30/8/11

Subtitled “Life And Death On K2”, this book tells the story of the 2008 disaster on the world’s second highest mountain.

K2 may have been pipped at the post to being the highest point on the planet, but most mountaineers will tell you it’s a much tougher prospect than Everest. Far fewer climbers have stood on its summit, and a far greater proportion has died in the attempt. This is the one that really impresses the experts.

Bowley’s book tells the story of the events unfolding over three days and nights in August 2008. A group of climbers attempt the summit – many make it, but on the descent an ice shelf collapses, sweeping away ropes and climbers, and trapping others on the mountain at around 27,000 ft.

This gripping story – in the vein of “Into Thin Air” – tells the struggle for their survival in one of the world’s most hostile places, and of the courage and loss they experienced.

8) Peter James - Dead Like You 24/8/11

7) Greg Mortenson – Three Cups Of Tea 19/8/11

Co-written with David Relin.

This is a fascinating read. Subtitled “One Man’s Mission To Promote Peace ….. One School At A Time” the book tells the story of climber Greg Mortenson’s failed K2 attempt and the subsequent adventure he quite literally stumbled into.

1993: Recuperating in a small village in the Karakorum Mountains of northern Pakistan, Mortenson is so moved by the villagers’ kindness towards him as a western stranger he promises to build them a school in return, a promise that turned into an obsession.

Battling against bureaucracy, bankruptcy, religious inertia and the fervent beliefs of the Taliban, his belief that their quality of life can only be improved and the mistrust and misunderstanding of their two very different cultures can only be bridged through education. Against a backdrop of 9/11 and strained relations between America and the Muslim world, he gradually gains acceptance, building first one school, then another …..

An uplifting, humanitarian tale of determination and strength of spirit, this could genuinely be considered a “life-changing” read.

6) Donna Leon - A Venetian Reckoning 11/8/11

5) Tony White - Another Fool In The Balkans 6/8/11

A journey "in the footsteps of Rebecca West" through the states of the former Yugoslavia.

An interesting read. The author recounts his impressions of the emergence of the individual states from the meltdown of the former Yugoslavia and the warring aftermath, revealing the lives and landscapes of this enigmatic region.

Brought together from over 5 years of visits, this account examines the history, culture and politics of the region, and looks at its transition towards independent nationhood.

4) Henning Mankell - The Troubled Man 26/7/11

3) Colin Thubron - Shadow Of The Silk Road 24/7/11

Another wonderful book by Thubron. Fans of his work on Russia and Central Asia will be familiar with both the style and coverage of this book, and it certainly sits well as part of his group of writings on the area.

Detailing a journey roughly paralleling one of the major arms of the fabled Silk Road, Thubron's trip takes him from Xian in China to Antakya (Antioch) in Turkey in the shadow of that great trade route. Through western China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iran, he recounts both his adventures and the current state of these mysterious, ancient places in the modern world.

I can only really sum up this book as the critic of the Financial Times did - "haunting, elegaic, melancholy, magical".

Anyone at all interested in Central Asia should read this book.

2) Robert Carver - The Accursed Mountains 8/7/11

Re-read this as a precursor to our trekking trip.

An account of the author's three-month trip through Albania in the troubled summer of 1996. This is an excellent read, and sheds much light on a hitherto secretive and misunderstood country. It is mainly a travelogue, but with plenty of reference to the history and culture of the country, especially the historical book of rules - the Kanun of Lek - and the ostracism imposed by former dictator Enver Hoxha as he fought to keep Albania cut off from the real world.

There are times when Carver's trip seems to have got to him a bit, coming as it did during a time of such political and social unrest. And his conclusions for the country's future, mostly downbeat, have proved to be far too pessimistic, as we found on our trip.

Make no mistake, though, this is a fine book, densely-written, with a narrative that builds in intensity from the start, and that captures the many facets of this unique place at a very turbulent time.

Well worth a read for fans of Colin Thubron, Philip Marsden, Rory Stewart and Tony Anderson, et al.

1) Peter James - Dead Tomorrow 21/6/11

This represents the end of my first year's reading list. 43 books - I had no idea before how many I read in a year. I'm pleasantly surprised, really, as I had made a resolution to try to read more.

For year two, I will simply list novels (to add to the count) but continue to comment on travel, mountain or other outdoor-related literature that I think may be enjoyed by others.

43) 13/6/11 Joe Simpson – Storms Of Silence

As always with Simpson, this was a fascinating and thought-provoking read from one of the top writers of the genre.

Cleverly weaving the story of one season’s climbing with a gradual realisation of the atrocities occurring in the countries he visits, the author discusses the nature of aggression and bullying, with particular reference to the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Whilst relating the story of his own successes and failures, he starts to question his own attitude towards the atrocities and whether, by climbing there, he is tacitly approving of the oppressive regime.


42) 25/5/11 Peter James – Dead Man’s Footsteps

The fourth in the Roy Grace series.

I’m getting more used to the writing and characters in this series, and this one is a much better offering. Still as unbelievable, crazy, and ridiculous as before, but an entertaining romp if you can suspend belief for long enough. On the plus side, there is plenty of detail for detail fanatics.

41) 18/5/11 Alex Hickman – Slow Winter

A very personal snapshot of a country at a time of upheaval.

Alex Hickman was a young man recently out of University, searching for adventure and a deeper understanding of his late father. By a series of coincidences, he finds himself appointed to a Government post in Albania at a time when Communism has failed but Democracy has yet to take root.

Hickman tells of his experiences as the chaos grows all around him, and is very honest in telling how he copes with the country and it’s entrenched bureaucracy and recording his feelings towards the places he visits and the people he encounters in this most distant corner of Europe.

40) 14/5/11 Paul Stewart – Trek

Continuing on the Africa theme …..

In 1955, four Britons set out to drive from Kenya to England in a Morris Traveller, including a crossing of the Sahara desert. With an overoptimistic and under-prepared leader they were bound to get into trouble. This is the story of what happened when they did.

This is really a dramatisation of events, based on a true story. Stewart has done as much research as possible, referring where possible to newspapers, journals and photograph albums, as well as interviewing one of the main protagonists. From this, he tries to piece together the journey and the sequence of events that led to tragedy.

Interesting story of Boy’s Own adventure gone wrong.

39) 9/5/11 Jonny Bealby – Running With The Moon

Jonny’s original adventure – riding a motorbike through Africa.

I’ve read Jonny’s other books and came to this – his first – last. But it interesting to see all the usual traits that made his other books so enjoyable are there.

Trying to come to terms with the loss of his girlfriend, Mel, Bealby decides a trip of a lifetime might be the cure he needs. Of course, it doesn’t really work out quite as he expected, but there is plenty of adventure, soul-searching and even a little love along the way.

In many ways, this pre-empts the Long Way Down journey made recently by Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor, but his was a solo journey and unsupported. What always shines through is his honesty and irrepressible belief that it will all work out OK in the end.

Definitely worth a read whether Africa fan, biker, adventurer or just armchair traveller.

38) 27/4/11 Peter James – Not Dead Enough

Third in the series featuring DS Roy Grace.

A man’s wife is murdered. He is the chief suspect, but with a seemingly unshakeable alibi.

So far, I have tackled this series in order. My comments about the main characters is much as before – all a bit too good to be true and great-looking, as if designed for TV (as are the very short scenes/chapters we are given) – and becoming to look a bit stereotyped in all departments. Grace is annoyingly trying to act younger, and the missing wife thing is getting annoying. Branson and Potting are too stereotypical to be believable. And the others – are any of them ugly?

Also there are quite a few “Americanisms” sprinkled through his work – James has spent considerable time in the States – as though he is aiming at having a foot in both the US and UK camps. Nothing wrong, it just feels clunky.

Again, the action motors along and the story quite enjoyable. The problem I found was that once again I saw a lot of the “surprise” plot twists from some way off. I don’t know whether this is James’ style – to make us feel good – or whether they were just far too telegraphed. So, all in all, it was a lot less satisfactory that the two earlier efforts.

37) 22/4/11 Peter James – Looking Good Dead

Second in the series featuring Sussex-based detective Roy Grace.

A man picks up a CD on the train, and gets into lots of trouble because of it.

This is my second Roy Grace novel. Once again, the story races along and is a real page-turner. The writing and plotting seem to leave a little to be desired, but the suspense generated seems to carry the day.

I still have a bit of a thing about the main characters – all a bit too good to be true and great-looking, as if designed for a future TV adaptation? Perhaps stronger characterisation and less reliance on certain stereotypes might improve things?

I would say that this wasn’t quite as good as the first in the series, but there is still enough there for those that want a fast-paced, holiday-type read without the need to think too deeply about it.

36) 16/4/11 Stephen Booth - Dying To Sin

Another Cooper and Fry mystery. The strength of booth's books, to me, is the incredible sense of place his novels have. Even people who know the Peak District quite well might struggle to work out exactly where the "real" ends and the "invented" begins, especially when considering the geography of Booth's Derbyshire.

In a way, it doesn't matter too much about the story - good though it is. I just find it fascinating to read about people and places that seem so familiar, even though they are not, and can be absorbed for hours in the half-invented world the characters inhabit. I know the pace is too gentle for some, and might lack the agression of other writers, but, for me, the sense of evil and violence just under the surface rings truer than with many.

Once again, great stuff from probably my favourite thriller writer.

35) 11/4/11 Robert Macfarlane – Mountains Of The Mind

This is a really quite exceptional read. Subtitled “A History of a Fascination” it is exactly that, a look at the subject from a different and novel perspective.

Firstly, it is perhaps easier to say what this book isn’t. It is not a traditional biography or autobiography, nor is it an account of the events of a specific expedition or incident, nor a history in the sense of a timeline of achievements, although elements of all of those do appear. Rather, it aims to examine our changing attitudes towards mountaineering and mountains, our approach to fear and the achievement of a higher spirituality, and to explain the lure of wild places and what drives those who are beguiled by them.

The author examines these questions both from a personal perspective (as a mountaineer himself) and using examples from throughout history – from science, philosophy and literature, as well as accounts of triumph, tragedy and heroic failure that litter that history.

This is an assured debut. Macfarlane is a talented writer who has the ability to articulate complex ideas and trains of thought in an understandable way. I am looking forward to reading his second work – The Wild Places – in which he tackles the question of whether there are any truly wild places remaining in the British Isles. It promises to be compelling.

34) 24/3/11 Kenneth Kamler – Doctor On Everest

Not, as you may have thought, one of the series of hilarious (?) Carry On – style British comedies of medical mayhem starring Dirk Bogarde, but a pretty decent book about the altogether more serious matter of high altitude medicine by micro-surgeon and mountaineer Ken Kamler.

Kamler’s qualifications as both gifted surgeon and experienced mountaineer have led him to practice in some of the most inhospitable and dangerous places on Earth. He is an accomplished mountaineer in his own right, having reached over 28,000ft on Everest’s South Summit, and has served as team Doctor on a number of high-profile expeditions. But perhaps his main claim to fame is in being on the mountain during the disasterous 1996 season (as described in Jon Krakauer’s book “Into Thin Air”) when so many climbers were injured or died.

It’s a really good read, not without moments of humour, contrasting the daily minutiae of expedition life and the all-out desperation of emergency medicine, and the medical slant provides a different perspective on the high altitude memoir. It’s also really informative, yet the medical stuff is explained in such a straightforward way that it’s easy enough to understand, too. If you like books on Everest, give this a go – it’s well recommended.

33) 10/3/11 Stephen Venables – Higher Than The Eagle Soars

It’s not very often that a mountaineering book is presented as a straight autobiography. But Venables’ book is just that, and makes for fascinating reading.

The book takes us from his early childhood in well-to-do Surrey to his triumphant ascent of Everest by a new route and without oxygen, and reveals how each adventure along the way shaped him as a climber and prepared him for the greater tests ahead.

Along the way, a catalogue of experiences shows us many facets of his personality – including the commitment, the relentlessness, the selfishness, the drive and the ruthlessness – and describes well what climbing meant to him, not without humour at times.

It’s easy to become infected with the same enthusiasm, as well, as he regales us with tales or derring-do in a typically British, understated style, describing brilliantly both the terror and the exhilaration of climbing. But make no mistake, many of these expeditions were tough, and this makes for a fascinating and insightful read about the achievements of a top-draw climber and what makes him tick.

32) 10/3/11 Peter James – Dead Simple

First in the series featuring Sussex detective Roy Grace. A fast-paced story that opens with a stag-night prank gone badly wrong.

This is the first of these stories I have read. The action cracks along at a fair pace and is generally enjoyable, the only slight downside being that the main characters all seem a bit too good to be true, filled with “beautiful people” like TV or film casting.

But on the basis of this opener, I shall try more.

31) 5/3/11 Peter Robinson – The Price Of Love

Ten short stories plus a novella that tells the story of why Banks moved north to Yorkshire in the first place. I read this in bits and pieces, in between other books.

To be honest, I’m not much of a fan of short stories, and I’m afraid this collection has done little to persuade me otherwise; all the usual shortcomings, to my mind, are in evidence here.

The problem is that most of the stories feel too short for any kind of character development, and also oddly out of context sitting a bit uncomfortably next to each other.

For Robinson aficionados only, and then really only from the point of view of the early Banks story.

30) 27/2/11 Peter Robinson – Bad Boy

19th and most recent in the continuing series of novels featuring DCI Banks.

Following the almost unrecognisable TV treatment of one of Robinson’s finest Banks novels (Aftermath) and the mixed reviews given to the previous three or four books in the series, it came as no surprise to find very a mixed reaction to this latest volume.

Keeping the momentum going over so many stories must be a difficult task for any author, and much of the fans’ criticism directed at “Bad Boy” revolved around the supposedly thin and rather unbelievable plot.

As a fan, I found it to be nowhere near as poor as many had made out. True, there were elements that were not perhaps up to the usual high standard we have come to expect from Robinson, the evocative sense of Yorkshire place was in short supply, and the denouement was perhaps not up to the usual standard, but there are enough good points to still make it an enjoyable read.

It strikes me that this could be a significant book for Banks fans, either heralding the end of the series or marking a transition in the character’s development, less of a whodunit and more of a re-drawing of the Banks universe. With Rebus retired, the Wallander series stalled, and no more Zen to come, the loss of another of the great detective creations of the last 20 years would be very sad indeed. So I hope this is merely that drawing of breath before a second wind.

29) 20/2/11 Daniel Farson – A Dry Ship To The Mountains

In 1991 writer and journalist Daniel Farson set out to complete a journey his father had begun back in 1929; to cross an obscure pass across the Caucasus. The journey – a cruise along the Volga to, Baku in Azerbaijan, via the Georgian Military Highway to Kislovodsk and back over the Khlukor Pass to the Black Sea – didn’t perhaps work out as envisaged, but at the same time made for unexpected adventure.

Despite discomforts, Russian red-tape, the inconveniences of travelling, and having timed his journey with the 1991 Coup, Farson recalls his adventures, the friendships and the hospitality of the people he meets, contrasting his experiences with those of his father. It is a book about him getting to know his father better and exposing his own strengths and frailties, as much as a voyage of discovery. Good stuff!

28) 14/2/11 Barry Pilton – One Man And His Bog

A humorous account of one man’s attempt to walk the Pennine Way. This short volume is a pleasant enough read; sometimes trying a little hard to be funny but with one or two laugh-out-loud moments. Still, it is enjoyable enough and many walkers will be able to relate to Mr. Pilton’s trials and tribulations along the way.

27) 11/2/11 Dan Brown – The Lost Symbol

Confession time: I have read all Dan Brown’s previous novels so thought, with all the hoo-hah associated with it’s publication having died down, now might be a good time to add this one to the list as well.

Fans of Brown’s work might like to know – if they haven’t read it already – that all the usual elements are in evidence: the break-neck pace, the breathless narrative, the rollercoaster ride, the edge-of-the-seat thrills and spills, the relentless plot; plenty of death, double-dealing, and desirers of world domination; secret codes to be broken, puzzles to be solved, evil to be thwarted, truths as old as time to be revealed. Etc.

Unfortunately, there are many of Brown’s other traits on show, too. The main protagonist, Robert Langdon, is at best a two-dimensional character: many of the others barely one-dimensional. His characters, supposedly highly educated leaders in their respective fields, are impossibly intuitive one moment: monumentally stupid the next. And as for the writing – well, let’s just say there won’t be many prizes for great literature on the way any time soon (although he, his agent and his bank manager may not rue that greatly).

Then there is the plot. You may not be able to guess the twists but you can see them coming from a mile off. It’s more than a bit thriller-by-numbers and has the feeling of all having been done before (which it has – by him, as well as others). The diverse strands of the tale are cleverly woven together and must be well researched, but the “science” is a bit suspect here and there and there is a hollow ring to it on more than one occasion. And goodness knows how many times Langdon has “died” in these books, only to miraculously survive. However, fans must be used to this; it’s bunkum, but they don’t let that spoil the fun.

But the main criticism is the story: basically, it’s pretty dull. I don’t feel the setting of Washington D.C. provided the necessary pizzaz as a backdrop, the plot twists and turns were largely telegraphed, fairly predictable and not especially exciting when they arrived, the revelations were more than a little underwhelming, and the Oh-my-God-what-is-he-going-to-unleash-on-the-world “secret” in reality is fairly piffling.

It's often said of books that "fans will love it" but in this case I'm not so sure. Diehards will read it, but it’s not his best work; the formula (and it is formulaic) is already beginning to wear a bit thin. Newcomers, start with The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons – they are better books. At least the stories are good enough to detract from Brown’s shortcomings as a writer.

26) 3/2/11 Richard P. Feynman – Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!

A collection of anecdotes illuminating the personal passions and outlook on life of Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Richard Feynman.

From his early life, through his involvement with the Manhattan Project, to his academic career and subsequent lecturing, Feynman’s love of his subject and zest for it shine through. Although inhabiting the very highest echelons of the scientific world, he had the ability to be able to explain the most complex theories in an understandable way, enthusing future generations of scientists along the way.

Beyond physics, though, Feynman was a man of many talents – drummer, artist, safe-cracker, story-teller, linguist, practical joker, to name a few. Always ready to challenge accepted wisdom, deflate the pompous or denounce the hypocrite, his intelligence, curiosity and scepticism got him into many an adventure.

Sometimes odd, often humorous, but always entertaining, this book is an honest and open self-portrait of a real-life genius.

25) 27/1/11 Philip Marsden – The Crossing Place

Brilliant book in which Marsden undertakes a journey through the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus in search of one of the world’s most extraordinary people: the Armenians. Caught between opposing religions and powers throughout history, and at times without a land of their own, against all odds they have somehow managed to survive.

Throughout the course of his epic journey, Marsden discovers the people, landscape, language and religion of the Armenians. Beautifully written, this book is infused with knowledge, humour and love, as well as a tinge of sadness.

A great book in the mould of Colin Thubron, Tony Anderson and Robert Carver - I’ll definitely be reading this one again.

24) 13/1/11 William Boyd - Restless

This is the first time I have read William Boyd and, on the strength of this novel, it may not be the last.

In what is essentially an old-fashioned spy novel, Boyd creates a fast-paced story – split between wartime events and the long, hot summer of 1976 – of a former British Spy who needs her daughter’s help when the past begins to catch up with her.

Although there’s plenty of detail about training and procedure – this is more George Smiley than Jason Bourne – the pace never drops, and this is a sophisticated and intelligent spy thriller.

23) 9/1/11 Stanley Stewart – In The Empire Of Ghengis Khan

I read this over the Christmas period, rather in fits and starts, but it deserves better ….

Decent effort in which Stewart crosses the lands of the former Mongol Empire from Istanbul in the west via the Black Sea, Russia and the ‘Stans and culminating in a 1,000 mile horse trek across Mongolia, crossing desert, mountain and steppe, meeting and living with nomads along the way.

A fascinating book: Stewart compares the differences and similarities between modern Mongolia – “a medieval land marooned in a modern world” - and their Empire of over 700 years previously, as well as the influence of Communism and their continuing nomadic tradition.

Well written, sympathetic, and at times hilarious, this is a great book – entertaining, moving and informative – that describes a journey that all travellers would harbour a wish to accomplish.

22) 15/12/10 Peter Robinson – Piece Of My Heart

Another dose of death in the Dales ….

This time, two murders for the price of one. While Banks is busy investigating the death of a writer in a remote village, the events of another murder nearly forty years earlier seem to take on increasing relevance.

This, the sixteenth in the series set in the Yorkshire Dales and featuring DCI Banks, is one of the best so far. The usual set of well-drawn characters, tight plotting and evocative descriptions of the dales and villages make the action all the more plausible. Excellent.

21) 12/12/10 Ed Viesturs – K2: Life And Death On The World’s Most Dangerous Mountain

Ed Viesturs, one of the world’s leading high-altitude mountaineers, describes the remarkable history of the men and women who have attempted to conquer the world’s second highest mountain, K2. Choosing some of the most dramatic campaigns, as well as his own ascent in 1992 with Scott Fischer, he highlights both triumph and tragedy on the mountain and discusses the part that overt risk, teamwork, ambition and glory play when scaling this most dangerous of mountains.

This is a cracking read, full of horror and grief, bravery and heroism, that leaves you alternately wondering why they do it and understanding what draws them to it.

20) 30/11/10 Peter Robinson – Cold Is The Grave

Another tale featuring DCI Banks, and another in my aim to fill in the missing pieces of the series. This time, Banks is asked to locate the Chief Constable’s runaway daughter – quietly, so as not to threaten his superior’s political ambitions. Although they do not see eye to eye, Banks agrees, and re-unites the family.

Soon after, though, the girl is found murdered …..

19) 24/11/10 Donna Leon - Death At La Fenice

The death of a famous conductor during a performance of La Traviata begins a new mystery for Guido Brunetti. He uncovers plenty of suspects and, as usual, has to play the various factions involved off against each other to reach the truth.

The usual high standard of the series is maintained, and the contrast between the crumbling city and it's moral decline is expertly drawn.

18) 20/11/10 Aron Ralston - Between A Rock And A Hard Place

You know the one. You get your arm trapped by a boulder, you cut it off ....

The whole harrowing experience, interspersed with Ralston's life story, that is part Joe Simpson, part Chris McCandless. Perhaps a trifle long, but not without a certain ghoulish fascination.

17) 11/11/10 Dervla Murphy – Transylvania And Beyond

More misadventures from the accident-prone Miss Murphy, this time as she explores northern Romania. Following the collapse of the Ceausescu regime, early 1990 finds her setting forth in a country flushed with the promise of freedom and democracy.

However, she is barely across border before she is relieved of her luggage – the first of several mishaps to befall her. As one by one the setbacks stall her progress, her journey stretches to over a year, during which time she sees the population gradually find it’s initial enthusiasm blunted by lack of progress in the ensuing political vacuum.

16) 29/10/10 Heinrich Harrer – Seven Years In Tibet

Some books become classics through longevity; some are instantly hailed as such but whose time quickly passes. Others become classics because they are amazing stories, wonderfully told with an affection and humility that allows them to stand out and stand the test of time. Harrer’s Seven Years In Tibet is one of the latter.

Already an Olympic champion and member of the first party to conquer the awesome North face of the Eiger, Harrer was climbing in the Himalayas when WWII broke out and interned as a POW in northern India. At his third attempt he successfully escaped the camp and, on foot, sleeping in the open and with few possessions, began a two-year trek across Tibet to Lhasa, becoming the first Westerner to penetrate this most secret of countries.

While in Lhasa he learned the language, acquired a great understanding in the ways of these ancient and secret people, and became friend and tutor to the young Dalai Lama. Finally, in 1950 in the face of the Chinese invasion, he was forced to flee thus ending a remarkable story.

As an adventure story, a snapshot of the end of an era and a portrait of a special human being, this book is hard to beat.

15) 15/10/10 Tim Severin – The Spice Islands Voyage

Tim Severin is a writer and modern-day adventurer who specialises in recreating famous journeys. Having covered such famous subjects as Marco Polo, Genghis Khan, Sinbad and Jason, here he tackles the relatively unknown Alfred Russell Wallace.

Wallace, a brilliant19th Century naturalist, is the man who jointly proposed the theory of natural selection with Charles Darwin, and whose rapid progress and insight pushed Darwin into publishing for fear of being usurped. In fact, a less diffident man than Wallace might have agitated for more recognition of his contribution.

In a parallel to Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle, Wallace’s travels took him to the exotic Spice Islands of Indonesia, an area teeming with unusual wildlife and many unique species. Severin and a small crew retrace his journey in a native boat, visiting many of the places Wallace did, recounting much of Wallace’s extraordinary life and work, and comparing social and environmental conditions some 140 years apart. He rightly voices his concern over logging, habitat destruction and trade in endangered species, but is relieved to witness the emergence of a new sense of environmental awareness.

14) 2/10/10 Tibetan Foothold – Dervla Murphy

Following her long distance cycle trip from Ireland to India, Dervla Murphy went on to spend five months working as a volunteer at a Tibetan refugee camp at Dharamsala in northern India.

This book tells the story of those months at the camp, and her subsequent cycle trip in the Kulu valley. The camp, run by Tsering Dolma, sister of the 14th Dalai Lama, is “home” to several hundred Tibetan children – her “Tiblets”, as she refers to them – displaced following the Chinese invasion of Tibet.

Once again, all the classic ingredients of a DM are present – humour, sadness, and an ability to cope with the most outrageous circumstances with utmost stoicism – plus her observations on the cultural, social and political problems faced by the refugees. Another worthy read.

13) 19/9/10 Innocent Graves – Peter Robinson

Eighth in the series of Police procedurals set around the fictional Yorkshire Dales town of Eastvale featuring DCI Banks. I am currently tackling these novels somewhat out of sequence as I try to fill in the gaps between those I have already read. This strikes me as one of the better efforts.

When the teenage daughter of a powerful businessman is found strangled in a churchyard, Banks is called to investigate. As the team begins to delve into the case, secrets emerge …

Although this is a series I have enjoyed for quite some time, I am not looking forward to the forthcoming television adaptation, fearing that they will concentrate too much on the action and less on the characterisation and sense of place that are so much a part of the books, and making it more of a vehicle for the chosen lead actor, Stephen Tompkinson, who, I confess, I can’t see as Banks.

12) 13/9/10 Past Reason Hated – Peter Robinson

Fifth in the series of novels set in the Yorkshire Dales, featuring DCI Banks.

The Christmas-time murder of a young woman keeps Banks and the team busy as they uncover her secretive past. Although perhaps not the best in the series this novel still featuring the well-drawn characters and sense of place that runs strongly through the books.

11) 10/9/10 Bread And Ashes - Tony Anderson

A superb book, and one of my recent favourites, this is the author's account of a walking trip through the Georgian Caucasus in 1998. As much about the tribes and villages as the valleys, meadows and peaks, Anderson's love for the area and it's people - their history, language, culture and architecture - as well as his in-depth knowledge, make for a riveting read.

10) 13/8/10 Dark Shadows Falling – Joe Simpson

Simpson’s book on the state of modern mountaineering is, as usual, insightful and revealing. Concerned that commercial expeditions and a succeed-at-all-costs ethos are damaging the reputation of the sport he loves, his examination of recent events brings the world of modern high altitude mountaineering into sharp focus. As candid and forthright as ever, he is equally prepared to ponder his own motives as well as those of his peers.

9) 6/8/10 A Mind To Murder - P.D. James

An Adam Dalgliesh mystery - standard fare that seems a bit dated in the modern era.

8) 2/8/10 Where The Indus Is Young - Dervla Murphy

Fantastic stuff, again, from the indomitable Dervla Murphy: this book documents her trip to Baltistan in remote northern Pakistan over the winter of 1974 - 75 accompanied by her 6-year-old daughter Rachel and a former polo pony called Hallam. Hair-raising and insightful, the people and high mountains are wonderfully portrayed. Excellent.

7) 26/7/10 Siberian Light - Robin White

Decent thriller set in the vast, icy wastes of Siberia after the downfall of the Soviet era. Well plotted, with a steady, unrelenting quality that allows the action to unfold, and with plenty of the required chill.

6) 13/7/10 The Hanging Valley – Peter Robinson

Fourth in the Chief Inspector Banks series of Police procedurals set in fictional Swainsdale in the Yorkshire Dales.

A faceless corpse, a small tight-knit village community and a powerful family with secrets – classic ingredients of the British crime novel – are blended with well-drawn characters in a deftly plotted, pacy tale, set in glorious Dales countryside.

5) 10/7/10 The Beckoning Silence – Joe Simpson

After the death of a close friend, Simpson reaches a momentous decision; that it is time for him to give up on the extreme mountaineering that has been his life, and nearly his death, for almost twenty years. Unable to resist, though, he plans a number of challenges by way of a finale, culminating in an attempt on the fearsome North Face of the Eiger, a climb that has exerted its fascination over him since boyhood and which defines that space between risk and death he has inhabited for so long.

As well as describing a catalogue of extreme experiences in hair-raising detail, Simpson also reveals the inner workings of the high mountain climber’s mind – the belief and the confidence, the risk and the fear - and what drives people to suffer such perils. From the first page this book draws the reader into that world of rock and ice so thoroughly one can almost feel the chill. A masterpiece.

4) 2/7/10 The Longest Crawl - Ian Marchant

An entertaining and surprisingly informative account of the author’s meandering, booze-soaked trip from the Scilly Isles to the most northerly hostelry in the Shetlands exploring as he goes the deeply-engrained Anglo-Saxon drinking culture of Britain; a journey punctuated not only by pubs of all kinds but brewers, cider makers, gin producers and and a host of interesting characters along the way.

3) 21/6/10 The Kill Call - Stephen Booth

Ninth in the series of Police procedural novels set in the Derbyshire Peak District featuring detectives Cooper and Fry. As well as being a great story, Booth captures the atmosphere of the Peak District superbly, is knowledgeable and informative about the area, and peoples it with believeable characters.

2) 16/6/10 For A Pagan Song – Jonny Bealby

An emotional account of Jonny Bealby's attempts to follow in the footsteps of his literary heroes Peachey Carnehan and Daniel Dravot from Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King" and journey into Kafiristan on the Afghanistan / Pakistan border looking for evidence of modern-day pagans.

1) 11/6/10 The White Spider – Heinrich Harrer

Captures in unflinching detail the attempts - both glorious and tragic - to climb the fearsome North Face of the Eiger, and details Harrer's part in the first successful team to do so. A mountaineering classic and a fascinating insight into the climber's mentality.