The Riddle of the Labyrinth – Margalit Fox

I delight in non-fiction about obscure subjects. This is a look at the story behind the decoding of linear b, a writing set on clay tablets over three millenia ago. This was a herculean task as the alphabet used and language were both unknown, so meaning had to discerned entirely form context.

This book opens with the discovery of the clay tablets containing the writing to later be known as linear b, then sets out their journey through the following decades, and that of the contemporary researchers who were driven to understand this writing, and spend hours working, often in scraps of spare time, to decode the script. From the possessive Evans, to Kober, a classicist who recorded every single word on a separate homemade index card, through to the amateur Ventris who finally extracted meaning  from the tablets.

There’s archeology, some light statistics and human lives all twisted together as we follow the methodologies and work that spanned decades. Fox spins all these together seamlessly, to produce a compelling book about a subject matter that could be expected to be dull or dry.

Wool – Hugh Howey, read by Susannah Harker

I picked out Wool as a knitter, but instead it scratched my dystopian future needs. There is wool, and knitting, mentioned in the text, but neither to the extent that it is what I associate with the story.

Instead I think of cleaning and silos, and law and politics. A detective story is interwoven with this dystopia, making this into a deeply compelling listen.

I enjoyed how Howey choose to reveal the truths of this place, and change viewpoints to good effect to unwrap the twisting story beautifully. And then how he tied everything together to a satisfying ending was not in a way I expected, having accepted that all the remaining “good” characters were doomed. I did find that after part 1 I was just expecting everyone to die as soon as I decided I liked them.

Harker is a good reader for this, and the pacing of her descriptions allowed me to absorb far more than I often do when reading from a paper book.


This was a “playaway” audiobook from the library, essentially a preloaded MP3 player to borrow. It worked better than I expected, although I did find myself wishing for a record of total chapters/overall time listened, as I had no feel for how far through the story I was.

Have you listened to an Audiobook recently?

Hamish and Dougal – Chorley Little Theatre

Chorley Little Theatre try to produce their own material, and this is something that their director adapted (with permission) from “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue”

You’ll have had your tea?

This was a light, silly play of Hamish and Dougal, as they muddle through life, together with the rest of the village. It was packed with innuendo, along with gags at every opportunity, and we had a good giggle.

Metroland – Julian Barnes

Metroland is one of those books that keeps coming up, through conversation or mentioned in other works. Eventually I decided it had to be read, and put a reservation into my library account. I had to wait a few weeks, but then before I got the email, I was told that it had just arrived when I was returning other books, and the librarian fetched it for me immediately.

A lightly-mocking account of two schoolboys, this has parallels to Catcher in The Rye: a book I was so unimpressed by that I didn’t bother to review. But the more British humour of Metroland worked much better with my tastes.

“Hey, what about that? What if the whole school, apart from us, became bank managers. Wouldn’t that be great?”

I also greatly appreciated the passage of time, impact of adulthood and benefit of perspective when reexamining characters who grew up together. That expectation of the whole school being dull, except our central characters, is cast into a new light as one of them grows up.

All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot See is set against a backdrop of the rising Nazi party. It opens flicking between many of the narrators we will have over the course of the novel, setting the scene of the closing section of the novel, and putting all the pieces into play.

Then we flick back a decade and start again viewing the characters through innocent eyes. They start off as young children, we see how the war machine dehumanises everyone, from the soliders to civilians. But instead of focusing on the terrible motives of those who want to destroy, we see those children again, growing up. Some cling to their idealism, and some accept the grim realities and are swept up into that machine. Both approaches are convincing and heartbreaking.

I love the father-daughter bond Marie-Laure has with her father, and the ties that Werner has with his sister and friends, and how human they make the characters.

But the ending remains tense, despite the scene having been set at the start I found myself willing them not to end up where they did. Then the loose ends were tied up beautifully, and there is a real sense of satisfaction that everything has been tidily put away.

Who Gets What – And Why? Alvin E. Roth

This book received a good review in Mathematics Today, and I always like to read books by leading experts. In this case, Roth is a winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics for his work in market design: a leader in designing and implementing sorting algorithms for kidney donation, medical job applications and school place allocations.

He gives detail of how algorithms are developed, how they are applied and why they provide a stable solution, as well as the importance of the stability of this solution for that allocation to function well and prevent systems disintegrating and failing to serve the people within them well. Of course only systems that don’t “naturally” reach sensible stable solutions will attract the interest of a market designer.

I didn’t approach this book with an entirely open mind as to the motivations of the author though. Due to the current political drive to make everything into as free a market as possible, I am wary of economists applying market theories to parts of life where it does not intuitively apply. But Roth has the flexibility to talk about goodness of match for the purpose of his reason, not just financial value. But sometimes that viewpoint can be valuable, when we fall into the alternative universe of US healthcare…

If a hospital sends a non-directed donor, the NKR promises to end one of its chains at that hospital. That ensures that the hospital doesn’t “lose” a transplant by sharing its donor. Keep in mind that hospitals earn revenue on their transplants; they’re commercial enterprises as well as caregivers.

But oddities of US healthcare aside, this is a well-written book, giving an insight into how matching works when markets are designed. and the value of this to our institutions.

Unseemly Science – Rod Duncan

Stored as Fantasy in the library, this is fabulous Steam Punk. Not only that, but a mystery in a misogynistic society where nearly all the main players are women, who don’t spend their time mooning over men.

Set in the East Midlands, during an era when it is somewhat colder than it is in real life, to such an extent that I ended up searching for Rod Duncan to find out where he lives. Its Leicester, so I assume he was deliberately economical with reality.

Elizabeth and Julie make compelling heroines, facing a complex criminal and political network which they have to unpick, making this a compelling page-turner of a novel. Even the antagonists are fully-formed characters with backstory, which I love.

It wasn’t obvious from the cover, but I gradually realised it is a sequel, and is in fact Volume II of “The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire”. I hate it when that happens, I like to start series from the beginning. But it was good, so I’ll look for Volume I, even though I know what the outcome is. The library catalogue is down today though, so I will do it another day.

My favourite reading spot


With the chaos of family life, I have managed to carve out my own spot as a library in the guest bedroom. But it was lacking coziness, and I had a desire to learn to quilt. Then, in the library (where else) I spotted “The Little Book of Simple Quilting”. I now have the warmest snuggliest quilt, in just my style on my reading sofa.

Of course, this isn’t helping the the blogging guilt-pile of books that I’ve finished but not yet reviewed..

Blogging guilt pile

The Perils of Morning Coffee – Alexander McCall Smith, read by Karlyn Stephen

This is another case of the library service’s initiatives doing what they aimed to – the little lad is doing the summer reading scheme at the library, and one “stamp” is to borrow an audiobook. So we went on the library’s audiobook download site, to find him a story, and I found an Isabel Dalhousie novella on the front page.

I was very impressed with how easy it was to borrow, download, and move to my music player (in MP3 format). This left me to listen at my own pace during train journeys.

This is just a novella, coming in at under 2 hours, so even shorter than the usual Alexander McCall Smith fare. But Isabel still undergoes some character development, and it places a new lens on her, as she confronts her own expectations, and considers how to handle friendships. She is required to confront her own nature, with and without Jamie’s support.

Resolutions were aspirational, Isabel knew, honesty required one to acknowledge that.

And of course, some poetry is interwoven throughout, and the neatness of the opening and ending being tied together with the same metaphor is one I appreciated.

Having enjoyed this, I have another McCall Smith novella, along with another audiobook reserved through the library service.

You Made Me Late Again! Pam Ayres

Sometimes a bit of light nonsense verse is just what is needed. In You Made Me Late Again, Ayres takes a humorous look at everyday life and how a woman’s place changes through life.

Its a lovely comfortable world, where the worst that happens is

Some lowlife has flashed a knife, and made off with your cauli!

Such wry observations of life draw a smile and the elegant use of language made this a lovely little collection, and has added Ayres to my list of comedians to look out for.