Friday, 29 December 2017

Top Ten Books of 2017

I have read some truly fantastic books this year and it has been extremely difficult to whittle it down to my ten favourites. In no particular order here they are:


The Good People by Hannah Kent

Based on true events in nineteenth century Ireland, Hannah Kent's startling novel tells the story of three women, drawn together to rescue a child from a superstitious community. 

Nora, bereft after the death of her husband, finds herself alone and caring for her grandson Micheál, who can neither speak nor walk. A handmaid, Mary, arrives to help Nóra just as rumours begin to spread that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley. Determined to banish evil, Nora and Mary enlist the help of Nance, an elderly wanderer who understands the magic of the old ways.


The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale

An infamous murder in Victorian London.

On 8th July 1895, thirteen-year-old Robert Coombes and his younger brother Nattie set out from their East London home to watch a cricket match. Over the next ten days they spent extragantly, visiting the theatre and eating out. The boys told neighbours their father had gone to sea, and their mother to visit family in Liverpool. But when a strange smell began to emanate from the house, the police were called. What they found threw the press into a frenzy - and the boys into a highly publicised trial.

Click here for my review of this book


The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

In Nazi-occupied Holland, seventeen year old Noa saves a baby from a train bound for the concentration camps, fleeing with him into the snowy wilderness.

Passing through the woods is a German circus - a troupe of waifs and strays, led by the infamous Herr Neuroff. They agree to help Noa and the baby - on one condition.

To earn her keep, Noa must master the flying trapeze - under the tutorage of mysterious aerialist, Astrid. Soaring high above the crowds, Noa and Astrid must learn to trust one another - or plummet. But, as war closes in, Noa will earn that loyalty can be the most dangerous trait.

Based on real events, The Orphan's Tale is a spectacular story of love, sacrifice and courage.


Click here for my full review of The Orphan's Tale

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

A comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience has come expecting an evening of amusement. Instead they see a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling, as a matter of choice, before their eyes. Dovaleh G, a veteran stand-up comic  - charming, erratic, repellent - exposes a wound he has been living with for years; a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between two  people who were dearest to him.

Flaying alive both himself and the people watching him, Dov provokes revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn't know whether to laugh or cry - and all this in the presence of a former childhood friend who is trying to understand why he's been summoned to this performance.


Click here for my review of A Horse Walks into a Bar

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

twin siblings in the wake of their mother's death, she resumes a dream long deferred - studying in America. But she can't stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London. Or their brother, Parvaiz, who's disappeared in pursuit of his own dream - to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters' lives. Handsome and privileged, he inhabits a London worlds away from  theirs. As the son of a powerful British Muslim politician, Eamonn has his own birthright to live up to - or defy. The fates of these two families are inextricably, devastatingly entwined in this searing novel that asks: what sacrifices will we make in the name of love?


Click here for my review of Home Fire

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

There are things even love can't do ...If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it's in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn't mean it's no longer love ...' Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything - arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, appeals to God. But when her relatives insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair. Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 1980s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayobami Adebayo weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Recently retired, sweet, emotionally numb Harold Fry is jolted out of his passivity by a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend, who he hasn't heard from in twenty years. She has written to say she is in a hospice and wanted to say goodbye. Leaving his tense, bitter wife, Maureen, to her chores, Harold intends a quick walk to the corner mailbox to post his reply but instead, inspired by a chance encounter, he becomes convinced he must deliver his message in person to Queenie—who is 600 miles away—because as long as he keeps walking, Harold believes that Queenie will not die. 

So without hiking boots, rain gear, map or cell phone, one of the most endearing characters in current fiction begins his unlikely pilgrimage across the English countryside. Along the way, strangers stir up memories—flashbacks, often painful, from when his marriage was filled with promise and then not, of his inadequacy as a father, and of his shortcomings as a husband. 

Ironically, his wife Maureen, shocked by her husband's sudden absence, begins to long for his presence. Is it possible for Harold and Maureen to bridge the distance between them? And will Queenie be alive to see Harold arrive at her door?


His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae.

A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country's finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence.

Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows.

Graeme Macrae Burnet tells an irresistible and original story about the provisional nature of truth, even when the facts seem clear. His Bloody Project is a mesmerising literary thriller set in an unforgiving landscape where the exercise of power is arbitrary.


Click here for my review of His Bloody Project

The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa

It is 1947, and Beit Daras, a rural Palestinian village, is home to the Baraka family - oldest daughter Nazmiyeh, brother Mamdouh, dreamy Mariam and their widowed mother. When Israeli forces descend, sending the village up in flames, the family must take the long road to Gaza, in a walk that will test them to their limit.

Sixty years later, in America, Mamdouh's granddaughter, Nur falls in love with a doctor. Following him to Gaza, she meets Alwan, who will help Nur discover the ties of kinship that transcend distance - and even death.

Told with a raw humanity, this book is a lyrical, devastatingly beautiful story of a family's relocation, separation, survival  and love.


Click here for my review of The Blue Between Sky and Water

The Dead Man by Nora Gold

The Dead Man is a compelling novel about a woman who is obsessed.

Eve, a composer of sacred music and a music therapist, is well aware of the saying, "Physician, heal thyself," but she just can't seem to do this. For some unknown reason, she -- a sensible, intelligent professional -- can't recover from a brief relationship she had five years ago with a world-famous music critic named Jake. This obsession with Jake is a mystery to Eve's friends, and also to her.

In an attempt to solve this mystery, she "returns to the scene of the crime", Israel, where Jake still lives, and where they first fell in love. There she revisits all their old haunts and struggles to complete the song cycle she started composing five years ago about Jake but hasn't been able to finish. Gradually the dark mystery behind their complex relationship begins to unravel.

Eve discovers the forgotten childhood memories, losses, and desires that are encapsulated in her connection to Jake. And then, inspired by all the music she hears around her (including the singing of birds, the crying of babies, and the honking of cars), she succeeds in finally completing her song cycle and setting her obsession to rest.


Click here for my review of The Dead Man

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler

Absence doesn't make the heart grow fonder. It makes people think you're dead. 

So begins Christopher Fowler's foray into the back catalogues and backstories of 99 authors who, once hugely popular, have all but disappeared from shelves.

We are fondly introduced to each potential rediscovery: from lost Victorian voices to the twentieth century writers who could well become the next John Williams, Hans Fallada or Lionel Davidson. Whether male or female, flash-in-the-pan or prolific, mega-seller or prize-winner - no author, it seems, can ever be fully immune from the fate of being forgotten.

These 99 journeys are punctuated by 12 short essays about faded once-favourites: including the now-vanished novels Walt Disney brought to the screen, the contemporary rivals of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie who did not stand the test of time, and the women who introduced psychological suspense many decades before it conquered the world.

This is a book about books and their authors. It is for book lovers, and is written by one who could not be a more enthusiastic, enlightening and entertaining guide.

This book contains a multitude of authors who have fallen out of fashion. Some of them I previously knew of such as Margery Allingham, Virginia Andrews (I loved her Flowers in the Attic series when they were first released in the late 1970's) and Georgette Heyer. However, the majority of authors I had no knowledge of and I do not know whether to be joyful or unhappy that there are so many recommended books written by authors I knew nothing of and now want to read them as well as the huge list of books already on my 'to read' list.

This is a marvellous book to dip in and out of and it will appeal to anyone who is interested in books and reading which I guess is most of you lovely people who read my blog. 

Happy reading to you all!

ISBN: 978 1786487759

Publisher: Riverrun

About the Author:

Christopher Fowler is an English novelist living in London, his books contain elements of black comedy, anxiety and social satire. As well as novels, he writes short stories, scripts, press articles and reviews.

He lives in King's Cross, on the Battlebridge Basin, and chooses London as the backdrop of many of his stories because any one of the events in its two thousand year history can provide inspiration

In 1998 he was the recipient of the BFS Best Short Story Of The Year, for 'Wageslaves'. Then, in 2004, 'The Water Room' was nominated for the CWA People's Choice Award, 'Full Dark House' won the BFS August Derleth Novel of The Year Award 2004 and 'American Waitress' won the BFS Best Short Story Of The Year 2004. The novella 'Breathe' won BFS Best Novella 2005.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Ten Books for 2018

It's never too early to start thinking about what I want to read next year so here are ten up and coming books that I am looking forward to reading.



The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths

By far my favourite series I can not wait for this 10th instalment in the Ruth Galloway series. 

Dr Ruth Galloway is flattered when she receives a letter from Italian archaeologist Dr Angelo Morelli, asking for her help. He's discovered a group of bones in a tiny hilltop village but doesn't know what to make of them. It's years since Ruth has had a holiday, and even a working holiday to Italy is very welcome!
So Ruth travels to Fontana Liri, accompanied by her daughter Kate and friend Shona. In the town she finds a medieval shrine and a dark secret involving the war years and the Resistance. To her amazement she also finds Harry Nelson, who is enduring a terrible holiday at a resort nearby. But there is no time to overcome their mutual shock - the ancient bones spark a modern murder, and Ruth must discover what secrets there are in Fontana Liri that someone would kill to protect.
ISBN: 978 1784296636      - Published by Quercus
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.
As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost.

Where will their ambitions lead? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?

In this spell-binding story of curiosity and obsession, Imogen Hermes Gowar has created an unforgettable jewel of a novel, filled to the brim with intelligence, heart and wit.
ISBN: 978 1911215721        -         Published by Vintage Books
All Those Things We Never Said by Marc Levy
Days before her wedding, Julia Walsh is knocked sideways twice: once by the sudden death of her estranged father…and again when he appears on her doorstep after his funeral, ready to make amends, right his past mistakes and prevent her from making new ones.
Surprised to say the least, Julia reluctantly agrees to turn what should have been her honeymoon into a spontaneous road trip with her father to make up for lost time. But when an astonishing secret is revealed about a past relationship, their trip becomes a whirlwind journey of rediscovery that takes them from Montreal to Paris to Berlin and back home again, where Julia learns that even the smallest gestures she might have taken for granted have the power to change her life forever.
From international bestselling author Marc Levy, the most widely read writer in France today, comes an unusual and charming love story that reunites a father and daughter, and past and present, in the most unexpected ways.
ISBN:  978 1542045988       -      Published by Amazon Crossing
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
It's 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York's Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. Four siblings, too young for what they are about to hear, sneak out to hear their fortunes.

We then follow the intertwined paths the siblings take over the course of five decades and, in particular, how they choose to live with the supposed knowledge the fortune-teller gave them that day. This is a story about life, mortality and the choices we make: is it better to live a long and cautious life, or to burn brightly, but for the shortest time?
ISBN: 978 147224994       -    Published by Tinder Press
The Coffin Path by Katherine Clements
Mercy Booth has lived at Scarcross, the old hall just off the coffin path, for all her life. The moors and the house are in her blood - and her soul.

Ellis Ferreby is a mysterious, unpredictable outsider who arrives there unexpectedly and finds himself increasingly drawn into her world.

But the house holds a tainted history. And the moor top hides something far darker...
ISBN:  978 1472204271     -     Published by Headline Review
You, Me, Everything by Catherine Isaac
You and me, we have history. We have a child together. We have kept secrets from each other for far too long. This summer, in the beautiful hills of the Dordogne, it is time for everything to change.

You, Me, Everything is a heartfelt and unforgettable novel about the lengths we are prepared to go to for those we love.
ISBN:  978 1471164460   -   Published by Simon and Schuster UK
Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon
Ted Lyte, amateur thief, has chosen an isolated house by the coast for his first robbery. But Haven House is no ordinary country home. While hunting for silverware to steal, Ted stumbles upon a locked room containing seven dead bodies. Detective Inspector Kendall takes on the case with the help of passing yachtsman Thomas Hazeldean. The search for the house's absent owners brings Hazeldean across the Channel to Boulogne, where he finds more than one motive to stay and investigate.
 ISBN: 978 1464209086      -      Published by The British Library


Dear Mrs. Bird by A. J. Pearce

London, 1940. Emmeline Lake and her best friend Bunty are trying to stay cheerful despite the Luftwaffe making life thoroughly annoying for everyone. Emmy dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent and when she spots a job advertisement in the newspaper she seizes her chance – but after a rather unfortunate misunderstanding, she finds herself typing letters for the formidable Henrietta Bird, the renowned agony aunt of Woman’s Friend magazine.

Mrs Bird is very clear: letters containing any form of Unpleasantness must go straight into the bin. Emmy finds herself dismissing problems from lovelorn, grief-stricken and morally conflicted readers in favour of those who fear their ankles are unsightly or have trouble untangling lengths of wool. But soon the thought of desperate women going unanswered becomes too much to bear and Emmy decides the only thing for it is to secretly write back . . .

Irresistibly funny and enormously moving, Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce is a love letter to female friendship, Blitz spirit, the kindness of strangers and the art of letter-writing itself.


ISBN:  978 1509853908          Published by Picador


The Confession by Jo Spain

Late one night a man walks into the luxurious home of disgraced banker Harry McNamara and his wife Julie. The man launches an unspeakably brutal attack on Harry as a horror-struck Julie watches, frozen by fear.

Just an hour later the attacker, JP Carney, has handed himself in to the police. He confesses to beating Harry to death, but JP claims that the assault was not premeditated and that he didn't know the identity of his victim. With a man as notorious as Harry McNamara, the detectives cannot help wondering, was this really a random act of violence or is it linked to one of Harry's many sins: corruption, greed, betrayal?

This gripping psychological thriller will have you questioning, who - of Harry, Julie and JP - is really the guilty one? And is Carney's surrender driven by a guilty conscience or is his confession a calculated move in a deadly game?


ISBN:  978 1786488367        -       Published by Quercus
Census by Jesse Ball

When a widower receives notice from a doctor that he doesn’t have long left to live, he is struck by the question of who will care for his adult son—a son whom he fiercely loves, a boy with Down syndrome. With no recourse in mind, and with a desire to see the country on one last trip, the man signs up as a census taker for a mysterious governmental bureau and leaves town with his son.


Traveling into the country, through towns named only by ascending letters of the alphabet, the man and his son encounter a wide range of human experience. While some townspeople welcome them into their homes, others who bear the physical brand of past censuses on their ribs are wary of their presence. When they press toward the edges of civilization, the landscape grows wilder, and the towns grow farther apart and more blighted by industrial decay. As they approach “Z,” the man must confront a series of questions: What is the purpose of the census? Is he complicit in its mission? And just how will he learn to say good-bye to his son?

Mysterious and evocative, Census is a novel about free will, grief, the power of memory, and the ferocity of parental love, from one of our most captivating young writers.


ISBN:  978 1509853908   Published by Granta

Thursday, 7 December 2017

The Secret of Vesalius by Jordi Llobregat (translated by Thomas Bunstead)

Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Things We Learn When We're Dead by Charlie Laidlaw

Small decisions can have unintended consequences, but sometimes we get a second chance.

On the way home from a dinner party she didn't want to attend, Lorna Love steps into the path of an oncoming car. When she wakes up she is in what appears to be a hospital - but a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery. She is served wine for supper and everyones avoids her questions.

It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN. Because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain. She seems to be there by accident. Or does God have a higher purpose after all?

At first Lorna can remember nothing. As her memories return - some good, some bad - she realises that she has decisions to make and that she needs to find a way home.

I have heard this book being compared to The Wizard of Oz, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Lovely Bones and it is true that there are influences from those books throughout. However, I stress the word influence because, in my opinion, this book is very much better than all three of those books.

This is a book which refuses to be put into any specific genre. It is humorous, quirky and moving  and I enjoyed it very much. Alongside the death of Lorna is the story of her life which Mr Laidlaw tells with a detailed eye for the minutae of every day living. Changing from the present to the past is flawlessly achieved throughout and I was enthralled by the believable characters regardless of whether they were mortal or celestial.

This original story is well worth reading. It is a story of life and how the small decisions we make have an impact on ourselves and those around us. I highly recommend this unusual book. There is something for everyone within it's pages and I think most people would enjoy finding this in their Christmas stocking.


ISBN: 978 1786150356

Publisher: Accent Press


About the Author

Charlie Laidlaw was born in Paisley and is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. He has been a national newspaper journalist and worked in defence intelligence. He now runs his own marketing consultancy in East Lothian. He also wrote The Herbal Detective under the name of Charles Gray. He is married with two grown up children and lives in Gullane.




Sunday, 12 November 2017

What's in the Air? by Ivor Morgan


What's in the Air?

What's in the air? There's a murmuring note
Winding it's way through a bugle's throat.
A sound in the distant far away,
Not very much in the air today.

What's in the air that travels so fast
Following the sound of that bugle's blast?
A sinister note of war's alarms
Louder and clearer 'To arms, to arms'.

What's in the air? The soul scaring tramp
Of armed soldiers marching to camp,
A rattle of bayonets, stern commands,
Martial music from military bands

What's in the air? Oh, strategic plans,
And banquets for men in corned beef cans,
Oh yes, there's fever and dread disease,
Mosquitoes, bluebottles, lice and fleas.

What's in the air? Loud thuds and wild yells,
Fire and flame and poison gas shells
Making a hell of a world so gay,
Oh, yes, there's more in the air today.

by Ivor Morgan

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Lest They Forget


On this Armistice Day I have been thinking about the fact that as the years pass us by our brave and heroic wartime veterans are becoming fewer. For my generation, who's parents and grandparents lived through two world wars, we were drip fed their first hand accounts of life in wartime.  My parents were born and bred in London and experienced the horrors of the Blitz and I can remember growing up with a real sense of the fear they endured due to their personal recollections.

With each subsequent generation the lives of people in WWI and WWII become more distant and I got to thinking about the books I shared with my children when they were young to impart this hugely significant time through which their grandparents and great grandparents lived. 

Although aimed at a young readership, these books I have selected have relevance for us all and are the ones I most enjoyed reading with my children and continue to enjoy reading.


Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

From the Children's Laureate of 2003 - 2005, a stunning novel of the First World War, a boy who is on its front lines, and a childhood remembered.

"They've gone now, and I'm alone at last. I have the whole night ahead of me, and I won't waste a single moment of it . . . I want tonight to be long, as long as my life . . ." 


For young Private Peaceful, looking back over his childhood while he is on night watch in the battlefields of the First World War, his memories are full of family life deep in the countryside: his mother, Charlie, Big Joe, and Molly, the love of his life. Too young to be enlisted, Thomas has followed his brother to war and now, every moment he spends thinking about his life, means another moment closer to danger.

ISBN: 978-0007486441

Publisher: Harper Collins Childrens Books

Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

The gruff and surly Mr Thomas Oakley is less than pleased when he is landed with a scrawny little city boy as a guest, but because it is compulsory that each villager takes in an evacuee he reluctantly agrees. It soon becomes obvious to Mister Tom that young Willie Beech is hiding something, and as the pair begin to form an unlikely bond and Willie grows in stature and in confidence he begins to forget the past. But when he has to return to war-torn London to face his mother again he retreats into his shy and awkward ways once more.

ISBN: 978-0141354804

Publisher: Puffin Classics




When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr


This semi-autobiographical and unforgettable story, of a Jewish family fleeing from Germany before the start of the Second World War, now reissued with its original cover illustration in this very special edition.
This internationally acclaimed story of one Jewish family’s flight from Hitler’s Germany has become a much-loved classic, and has been in print since its debut 45 years ago.
Suppose your country began to change. Suppose that without your noticing, it became dangerous for some people to live in Germany any longer. Suppose you found, to your complete surprise, that your own father was one of those people.
That is what happened to Anna in 1933. She was nine years old when it began, too busy to take much notice of political posters, but out of them glared the face of Adolf Hitler, the man who would soon change the whole of Europe – starting with her own small life.
One day, Anna’s father was missing. Then she herself and her brother Max were being rushed by their mother, in alarming secrecy, away from everything they knew – home and schoolmates and well-loved toys – right out of Germany…

ISBN:  978-0007274772

Publisher: Harper Collins Childrens Books


The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank


First published over sixty years ago, Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl has reached millions of young people throughout the world.
In July 1942, thirteen-year-old Anne Frank and her family, fleeing the occupation, went into hiding in an Amsterdam warehouse. Over the next two years Anne vividly describes in her diary the frustrations of living in such close quarters, and her thoughts, feelings and longings as she grows up. Her diary ends abruptly when, in August 1944, they were all betrayed.

ISBN: 978-0141315188
Publisher: Puffin

Monday, 6 November 2017

The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale

An infamous murder in Victorian London.

On 8th July 1895, thirteen-year-old Robert Coombes and his younger brother Nattie set out from their East London home to watch a cricket match. Over the next ten days they spent extragantly, visiting the theatre and eating out. The boys told neighbours their father had gone to sea, and their mother to visit family in Liverpool. But when a strange smell began to emanate from the house, the police were called. What they found threw the press into a frenzy - and the boys into a highly publicised trial.

Despite the notoriety this case attracted at the time Ms. Summerscale has taken this crime, which was little known to a modern readership, and developed it into this fascinating and absorbing account of matricide in Victorian London.

It is a thouroghly compelling read and I was gripped by the events that led these vulnerable and neglected boys to commit the shocking crime that they did.

Through meticulous research the author creates a powerfully informed and vivid description of events both before and after the extraordinary happenings which took place on 8th July 1895. Through wonderful storytelling the reader is transported back to London's East End to rural Australia via the courts and prisons of London.

Despite the grim nature of the facts, this is an uplifting and heartfelt historical narrative that tugged at my heartstrings through the redemptive power of the story contained within the pages of this book. Anyone who likes history or true crime will love this book and I highly recommend it.

ISBN: 978 1408854466

Publisher: Bloomsbury


About the Author:

Kate Summerscale is the author of the number one bestseller, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2008, the Galaxy British Book of the Year Award, a Richard and Judy Book Cub pick and adapted into a major ITV drama. Her first book, the bestselling The Queen of Whale Cay, won a Somerset Maugham award and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Biography Award. Her third book, Mrs Robinson's Disgrace, was a Sunday Times bestseller. Kate Summerscale was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2010. She lives in London.

Monday, 30 October 2017

A Horse Walks Into Bar by David Grossman

A comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience has come expecting an evening of amusement. Instead they see a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling, as a matter of choice, before their eyes. Dovaleh G, a veteran stand-up comic  - charming, erratic, repellent - exposes a wound he has been living with for years; a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between two  people who were dearest to him.

Flaying alive both himself and the people watching him, Dov provokes revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn't know whether to laugh or cry - and all this in the presence of a former childhood friend who is trying to understand why he's been summoned to this performance.

Winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2017, at 198 pages this is a very short but brilliant novel. Whilst I found this an excellent read in every way I am glad that it was not any longer because it is very intense and any longer would have been hard to bear.

Like the audience in the novel, I was expecting some humour. What we, and the audience get, is to witness the disintegration of a comedian on stage, and quite frankly, it is shockingly painful to observe. However, it is done with such humanity and with an anguished genius that I can easily envisage reading this book again.

Please don't be put off by the sombre nature of this book as it is well worth reading. Having never read anything quite like this book before I read it in one sitting. I really hope you will all read it.

Translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen

ISBN: 978 1784704223

Publisher: Vintage



About the Author:

David Grossman is the bestselling author of numerous works, which have been translated into thirty-six language. His most recent novels were To the End of the Land, described by Jacqueline Rose as 'without question one of the most powerful and moving novels I have ever read', and Falling Out of Time. He is the recipient of the French Chevalier de l'Ordre des Art et des Lettres and the 2010 Frankfurt Peace Prize.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, two young people notice one another.

They share a cup of coffee, a smile, an evening meal. They try not to hear the sound of bombs getting closer every night, the radio announcing new laws, the public executions.

Meanwhile, rumours are spreading of strange black doors in secret places across the city, doors that lead to London or San Francisco, Greece or Dubai. Someday soon, the time will come for this young couple to seek out one such door: joining the multitudes fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world.

From the Man Booker shortlisted author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist comes a journey crossing borders and continents, into a possible future. Exit West is a love story from the eye of the storm. It is a song of hope and compassion. It reaches towards something essential in humankind - something still alive, still breathing, an open hand and a thudding heart under all the rubble and dust.

This is a contemporary novel with both significance and relevance for modern times. Told from the perspective of refugees it provides an opportunity for the reader to understand the issues facing people who find themselves a long way from the place they call home and who frequently arrive in destinations where they are not made welcome.

The magical realism in this book is used to great effect and is designed to correspond with the feeling of some native born residents that refugees seem to arrive suddenly and from nowhere. This is an extremely clever device and very much enhances the main issues of the story.

However, the main thing that this book does is to allow the reader to empathise with the refugees and which makes this an extremely relevant book in today's current climate. We are able to understand the plight of refugees amidst our own current political and sociological situation.

This is a profound text which influences the reader and has the potential to make us understand how to be better people both as individuals and communities. This book deserves the accolades it has received and I would not be surprised if this does not appear on the school syllabus as there is so much to learn from it.

This is a slim volume with a massive significance and I encourage everyone to read this as I am sure that you will get as much from reading it as I have.

ISBN: 978 0241290088

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

 About the Author:

Mohsin Hamid writes regularly for The New York Times, the Guardian and the New York Review of Books, and is the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moth Smoke, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and Discontent and its Civilizations. Born and mostly raised in Lahore, he has since lived between Lahore, London and New York.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

In Nazi-occupied Holland, seventeen year old Noa saves a baby from a train bound for the concentration camps, fleeing with him into the snowy wilderness.

Passing through the woods is a German circus - a troupe of waifs and strays, led by the infamous Herr Neuroff. They agree to help Noa and the baby - on one condition.

To earn her keep, Noa must master the flying trapeze - under the tutorage of mysterious aerialist, Astrid. Soaring high above the crowds, Noa and Astrid must learn to trust one another - or plummet. But, as war closes in, Noa will earn that loyalty can be the most dangerous trait.

Based on real events, The Orphan's Tale is a spectacular story of love, sacrifice and courage.

This book absorbed me from the very first page and captivated me right through to the end with it's original portrayal of the events of World War II. The circus setting for this novel dealt with the very serious circumstances that war brought to occupied territories but within the outwardly colourful and vibrant setting of the circus.

The chapters alternate between the two main characters of Noa and Astrid. I must confess there were times I could not find their individual voices but I was so gripped by their story that this really did not seem to matter. It was very interesting to observe their relationship develop as the back story for both of these characters was heartbreaking. Their bravery was astonishing and I felt nothing but admiration for them.

Based on true events Ms Jenoff  successfully weaves fact into fiction and has created a thoroughly well researched and captivating read.

Ultimately, this is an uplifting story of survival that I could not wait to get back to between reading sessions. It is a heartfelt and memorable story that I could imagine reading for a second time - and there are very few books that I place in that category.

ISBN: 978 1848455368

Publisher: HQ

About the Author:

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her Master's in History from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.

Following her work at the Pentagon, Pam moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Pam developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.

Pam left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked for several years as a labor and employment attorney both at a firm and in-house in Philadelphia and now teaches law school at Rutgers.

Pam is the author of The Kommandant's Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, as well as The Winter Guest, The Diplomat's Wife, The Ambassadors Daughter, Almost Home, A Hidden Affair and The Things We Cherished. She also authored a short story in the anthology Grand Central: Original Postwar Stories of Love and Reunion. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

(from the authors website http://www.pamjenoff.com/author.cfm)

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Isma is free. After years spent raising her twin siblings in the wake of their mother's death, she resumes a dream long deferred - studying in America. But she can't stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London. Or their brother, Parvaiz, who's disappeared in pursuit of his own dream - to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters' lives. Handsome and privileged, he inhabits a London worlds away from  theirs. As the son of a powerful British Muslim politician, Eamonn has his own birthright to live up to - or defy. The fates of these two families are inextricably, devastatingly entwined in this searing novel that asks: what sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

A contemporary re-imagining of Sophocles' Antigone, Home Fire is an urgent, fiercely compelling story of loyalties torn apart when love and politics collide - confirming Kamila Shamsie as a master storyteller of our times.

Hidden between the monotone covers of the UK edition of this book lies a real gem. It is an original, thought-provoking and memorable story which deals with the contemporary issue of radicalisation.

Ms. Shamsie has created characters that are utterly believable. Five distinct character voices are woven together to produce a rich tapestry of atmospheric detail that a lesser novelist would not have attained. I have previously read novels where this multi narration merely makes for a disjointed telling of a story. However, with this book the method enhances the reading experience as each character adds a different dimension to the story.

Added to that a twist in the story at the very end and which contributes to a fine novel that I am certain means that this book will remain at the top of the bestseller list for a goodly while.

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017 this is an outstanding example of writing at its best and has elevated the author to one of my favourites. I have every intention of reading more by the very talented Ms. Shamsie.


ISBN: 9781408886779

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

About the Author:

Kamila Shamsie is the author of six novels: In the City by the Sea (shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize): Salt and Saffron: Kartography (also shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize): Broken Verses: Burnt Shadows (shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction): and most recently, A God in Every Stone, which was shortlisted for the Baileys Prize, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, Three of her novels have received awards from Pakistan's Academy of Letters. Kamila Shamsie is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was named a Granta Best of Young British Novelist in 2013. She grew up in Karachi and now lives in London.