talking about books

 ~ at home


books we read in April

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I rarely read books more than once – I am not a fast reader, and there is too much that I’ve never read to leave room for revisiting old stuff.  However, for some reason I made an exception for The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I came across my childhood paperback, with a beautiful cover illustration by Shirley Hughes, and remembered loving it as a child (although not as much, I think, as The Little Princess).  I felt annoyed with myself for not remembering any of the details, so decided to reread it.  It was remarkably rewarding to read: although written for children, there is nothing patronising or simplistic about the style.  It starts off as a good little mystery tale and turns into a fable about the redemptive power of friendship, nature and nurturing. Two frankly unappealing young protagonists grow healthy, kind and caring in the company of the third one, a simple country boy full of wisdom and kindness; the adults in charge of them remain somewhat mysterious.  I enjoyed it a lot.  I clearly remember, as a child, turning to the frontispiece in a Puffin book to see whether it was suitable for me.  In this edition, published in the early 1960’s, it sweetly says ‘Girls like it most, between the ages of nine and fourteen – and, be warned, keep your copy carefully for you will want to go back and read it over and over again.’ I read it when I was 8 or 9;  I wonder what your average 14-year-old girl would make of it these days?!


Nicky Bennison

Readers Retreat, Leicestershire Shared Reading

The Joy of Walking edited by Suzy Cripps 
The book is a collection of extracts from essays, novels and poems on the pleasures and healing effects of walking which clearly express the enjoyment and value   I have experienced from walking, particularly during the past year.
Pat Morrison

Poetry Breakfast, The Poetry Pharmacy

A Grace of Dandelions by Seymour Winters

A new author, this is an extraordinarily good novel and impossible to put down! Set in present day England, a very believable cast tackle some difficult environmental issues, with pretty explosive results! (Not in bookshops, so only available here.)

Caralyn Tottle

Poetry Breakfast, Aardvark Books

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
I loved this book and it is now doing the rounds in my family. A tale of poverty, alcohol addiction, its devastating effect on a family, exploitation and a young boy’s awareness of being gay in tough areas of 1980s Glasgow. Whilst this does not sound like a bundle of laughs, there were moments of real comedy and green shoots of hope. Beautifully written and absolutely heart rending in places. A wonderful book which I shall remember and reread often.

Brick Lane by Monica Ali
I read and enjoyed this book years ago and am currently rereading it. It does not feel dated at all and is a brilliant evocation of the displacement felt by a young Bangladeshi woman brought through marriage from a village in Bangladesh to central London and how she copes. If you haven’t read it, I thoroughly recommend.

Hilary Tilley

Talking about Books & Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

Miss Read

I feel that Miss Read is often overlooked and dismissed as slightly lightweight. I would beg to disagree. I admit she is my comfort reading for when the grimness of the world feels too much. Her world is safe, harking back to the 50s, 60s, 70s and, towards the end of the Fairacre series, the 80s. However, safe does not mean boring or frivolous. Her observations of village life are astute, sometimes acerbic and extremely funny. Her drawing of the fictional characters is so vivid that they really do come alive. The attention she pays to nature is absolutely beautiful and every time I read her, I go outside to notice and appreciate things anew. An aspect of her writing that I feel is often overlooked is her commentary on social situations such as education and the changes in village life as technology advances. They ring as true today as they did when she was writing. We so often feel that what we are experiencing is new, and unique to our time. Change is one thing that is guaranteed in life and it is so interesting to see how often these changes that we feel are negative are actually things that have been happening for decades. For example, when talking about the changes in farming she observes, through one of her characters, how the young people who drive the tractors and manage the machinery are actually just as talented as the older generation, it has just taken a different form. If you haven’t read her or have dismissed her in the past I urge you to give her another try coming from a different perspective. You will get humour, balm for your soul and astute, insightful observation all rolled into one.

Caroline Roseman

Slightly Foxed Literary Group

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Matt Haig has taken the well-known poem, The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, and created a story around it.
Nora tries to commit suicide but instead finds herself in a “library” where she can choose to sample a different life, the one she would have lived had she chosen ‘the road less travelled’. What if she had become a champion swimmer? What if she had pursued the idea of creating a band and touring all over the world? She visits different lives in turn and meets members of her family and friends. Does she ever find a life where she would have been happy? Does she regret some of her life choices? In which life will she choose to remain?
There are weak points in the story but the idea is good and I think could be the start of an interesting discussion.

Between the Stops – a Most Wonderful Memoir by Sandi Toksvig
I wanted to read this because I know many of the places on the number 12 bus route. Sandi starts her journey in Dulwich and we travel with her through Peckham and Camberwell then onwards past the Elephant & Castle and north over Westminster bridge to Oxford Circus.
At each stop she tells the reader something of the history of the area as well as telling snippets from her own life story and anecdotes and memories of people she has met. It is almost like hearing her talk in your ear, I could hear her voice and her chuckle as I read. An enjoyable and educational journey.
As a postscript, I did try and contact Sandi via her agent to ask why there was no mention of Muriel Spark living in Camberwell, but no reply so far.

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
This was a reread for book group, I read it last year and was so moved by it I wanted to discuss it with others.
Leon was born in 1971 to a single mother, Carol. The story opens in 1980 when Leon meets his new half-brother, Jake and his life then goes from bad to worse as he and Jake are taken into care and then split up when Jake is adopted. Told from Leon’s perspective, what could have been a real tragedy becomes instead a gritty story of humanity and compassion with both tenderness and humour interspersed with nostalgic reference to parts of 1981 such as Star Wars, the Dukes of Hazzard, Curly-Wurlys and the Handsworth riots. It has recently been dramatized and filmed for TV.

I contacted Kit de Waal and she generously offered to join our book group discussion on Zoom so we were able to hear from her first-hand about her experience of the Social Care system, growing up in Birmingham and recently visiting the film set.

Sarah Akhtar

National Women's Register, Trentham

Portraits by John Berger
74 short lives and works of seventy four artists, from the Chauvet cave painters (30,000 BC) to Randa Mdah (1983 -), a Palestinian artist. I’m going to read it again.
After a passage about Rembrandt’s Saint Matthew and the Angel in the Louvre, he writes, “Leave the museum. Go to the emergency department of a hospital. Probably in a basement because the X-ray units are best placed underground […].” Irresistible writing!

Albion ~ The Origins of the English Imagination by Peter Ackroyd
Five hundred pages of very wide scope, the sections ranging from Old English, Middle English and ending with Green England and Looking backwards. Including ‘A short history of Shakespeare’ (in eleven pages!) Another one I’ll be reading again.

Counting my Chickens … and Other Home Thoughts by Deborah Devonshire
I’ve read this at least three times and will read it again.
In his introduction Tom Stoppard concludes:
“Chatsworth, meanwhile, ‘is more alive than at any time in its history’. Well, we know why.”
Comment by uncle Harold MacMillan at the age of 90, bemoaning the complicated labyrinth of corridors at Chatsworth: “The trouble with this house is you have to throw double sixes to get out.”

Andrew James

Perfect by Rachel Joyce
A book set in 1972 when two seconds were added to time. It involves the impact of this on a young boy who could not understand how time could be changed. An accident at this moment, when his mother makes a mistake, profoundly affects his life and those of his friends and family. Maybe those two extra seconds were the cause or perhaps nothing really happened. A conundrum that the cleverest child in the school tries to resolve with the boy but we are never sure if his mother be irredeemably affected. But her behaviour certainly is. This becomes an absorbing book and the end is quite a revelation.

Light and Twilight by Edward Thomas
A small volume of fourteen of the poet Thomas’ essays and short stories. Very varied and some quite moving such as The Attempt which describes someone considering suicide. Not entirely convincing these days but maybe it was something he went through himself and perhaps these circumstances enabled him to emerge the other side. The whole volume is a quick read but entertaining nonetheless. Probably best consumed as such and to be accepted as an introduction to his impressive writing style which is revealed in his better-known books and poems.

Leaving Before the Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller
The fourth book of Alexandra Fuller’s biographical tales of her life and family. As usual the events she reveals are not a sequential stream of incidents or thoughts. Quite different from the rest of her books as this takes us often away from her unusual family chaos and much more into how things develop and the reasons why. She finds a way to leave home and eventually move away from Africa. This is a real challenge for her and the book is much more introspective than any of her others – amazingly philosophical but in a remarkably erudite way. I think this book gives us real insight into her perspectives when considering important decisions in her life and the unusual diaspora of aspects that make her the person she has become since early childhood. It is hard to believe she has exposed herself so rawly and so revealingly. Truly insightful and a very engaging book – but you need to have read the precedents to get the full value. We certainly have a new appreciation of her and additionally the relevance of her earlier volume, Scribbling the Cat.

Travel Light, Move Fast by Alexandra Fuller
Having read the earlier ‘awful book’ (according to her mother) focused on her mother I expected this to be the one focused on her father. He is certainly central to the tale but as usual it is so much more. As with all her books it involves her whole family with some revealing personal issues towards the end. Probably one of her more interesting books as you finally begin to understand the parental influences that shaped her own life as well as explaining how her father perceived the world; the reasons for their move to Rhodesia at a time of unrest and then on to Malawi with its own challenges near the Mozambiquan border which finally results in a more benign move to Zambia still with its own peculiarities but sounding more like home. Regrettably this is, currently, the last of the tours of her unusual family’s lives. Just hope it won’t be the last. If you do read her books I suggest you follow their published sequence, they help to appreciate certain references later on. Definitely a wonderful series.

Into the Heart of Borneo by Redmond O’Hanlon
They supposedly set out to voyage up various rivers into the interior of a tropical jungle hoping to reach the Tiban massif. Their failure to achieve that or to see a hoped-for Borneo rhinoceros means focus is more on the people they meet. Much recollection of banter with his colleagues and the partying at places they reach seemed to blend into each other – but probably because he focuses on how they themselves behaved. But that improved once he had dropped the puerile humour, dealing more with some more individual experiences. Occasionally he gave insightful perspectives on a genuinely interesting island. The blurb described the author as a naturalist but that remained mostly concealed except for the amazing snake revelations and he describes well the truly revolting leeches and ticks that seemed to ambush every step in the forests. He did have a useful bird book though. Unfortunately, not enough flavour of the island itself for me but other reader friends seem to adore this tale.

Donald Adams

We Need to Talk About Books, Craven Arms & Poetry Breakfast, Aardvark Books

Incendiary by Chris Cleave
I’ve started with this title because I found it thought-provoking and life-affirming, in a rather curious way. It takes the form of a letter written by a young woman to Osama bin Laden after a bomb kills her husband and son at a football match. I’m not sure of the style’s plausibility but, as she’s meant to be smart but uneducated, I decided to accept that she became more fluent as she continued to write. The aspect I enjoyed most was how she expressed many of her thoughts through snatches from tabloid headlines: ‘So if you saw both Londons Osama then tell me this. Which London is it that Allah especially hates? I’m asking because I don’t see how a tourist could hate both Londons. The SNEERING TOFFS London and the EVIL CRACK MUMS London I mean.’

The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder by J. W. Ironmonger
This is based on a bizarre premise and I think perhaps the less explained the better, as I really enjoyed seeing it unfold. It ranges over several decades and locations, with lots of intriguing background detail, and I was always eager to return to it. I found the style drily amusing and will just give an example of how it’s written: ‘Or we could go back further – to the day when we buried Libby the dog. I don’t look forward to telling the police about that day. It might be easier to go back even further, to the day Max swallowed the sixpence. That was the day I discovered I could see into the future. Or thought I could. Which is what mattered.’

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
Originally published in 1938, then republished by Persephone Books, this is light but fun, capturing the party side of the 1930s. The central character finds herself suddenly thrust into a hedonistic world she has only glimpsed at the cinema and grabs the chance to ‘live for a day’. The book was republished in 2000 and filmed in 2008 (as was Incendiary above), although the film has many changes and I didn’t think it a patch on the book. The preface to the book describes its path to publication and republication, and the extras on the DVD describe its transition to the screen – I found all that quite interesting, the quirks of fate on which these things depend and the fact that the film rights were sold to the same studio three times!

Marian Newell

Talking about Books & Slow Reading Group, Much Wenlock

Flaneuse by Lauren Elkin
In this book of essays, Lauren Elkin explores the relationships between women, creativity, and walking in the city. (An American by birth and upbringing, she claims walking in the city as something of a novelty). The word Flaneuse is adapted from the French 19th century concept of the male flaneur – a more or less artistic type who had the leisure to indulge in walking and watching (often women) as an activity in itself.
Paris sees chapters on Jean Rhys, Georges Sand and the film-maker Agnes Varda; Venice sees Beatrice Calle; London, Virginia Woolf. (Tokyo is a city that seems to defeat women walking, and the art referred to here is the film, Lost in Translation). Throughout the book, Elkin includes biographical episodes so by the end we have some idea of the life of the academic who has finally managed to adopt Paris and France as her home.
I enjoyed it very much, particularly the chapters on Paris, which is evidently Elkin’s great love. ‘Everywhere – the View from the Ground’, featuring Martha Gelhorn included some of Elkin’s most interesting thoughts: about place and home; escape and family; the pull of travel and the desire to re-invent oneself. Elkin does not gloss over the practical difficulties of walking in a foreign city for a woman, but celebrates the many varied artistic responses to walking itself.

On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming
I finally caught up with this at the request of a friend who wanted to see what I thought of it. I enjoyed it but it seemed to me quite artful and not to deliver the emotional punch it promised. There wasn’t to me much of a mystery to be solved. I thought it was very well written and I liked the passages on Cumming’s area of expertise, art history, and the impact that art has had on her life. I would have liked a bit more on that, on the impact of growing up the daughter of two artists, as well as with a mother who re-invented herself to leave her difficult childhood behind. How one deals with deceit could have been approached from a more aesthetically-informed way, for me.

The Story-Telling Animal – how stories make us human by Jonathan Gottschall
This was a very American book, full of exciting discoveries and ‘answers’, often derived from ‘the latest findings of neuroscience.’ I found a lot to interest me, and the book is well-referenced with a useful bibliography. Was I convinced? I didn’t need convincing that humans are story-telling animals, but I was interested in what is considered to be explanatory evidence. Gottschall teaches English and works across disciplines and writes very well, in that incisive ‘gee-whizz’ style!

Nutshell by Ian McEwen
This was another recommendation and I enjoyed it very much, even though it is rather a horrid tale. The perspective of the narrator – a near-term baby waiting to be born, was carried through with such conviction (and cleverness) that I was able to suspend disbelief. I tend to find McEwen a bit of a cold fish and I found the same with this book, although I can’t deny it was interesting.

Christine Leaman

Talking about Books & Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

The Silk Roads and The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan

The Silk Roads was first published in 2015 and is a superb account of how what we now call the Middle East was the centre of the known world over a thousand years ago when we in these islands were still in our dark ages. The book is a wonderful sweep of history and although readers may like to have Google maps or an atlas handy to check out the location some of the places you’ve never heard of, you will come away with a sense of awe at the knowledge and scholarship of this brilliant author. The Silk Roads were the various trade routes between east and west over hundreds of years and this book is not only a history but a celebration of that history. As well as the back story, the author takes us to 9/11, and the tragic consequences of the Iraq invasion and the West’s involvement.

In a thousand years or two, we (or someone, if humans still exist) will see the rise and fall of the British Empire in context, as we look at the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Persian, Byzantine, Mughal, Ottoman empires and the rest. I think it’s better to look on them as civilisations rather than Empires which is probably a better comparison tool.

The New Silk Roads brings us right up to date and is about the rise of Asia and China with its global ambitions, particularly through its Belt and Road Initiative. The first book described how the West moved East and now things are very much in the opposite direction. A salutary read which I would say is almost essential if you want to learn how the world picture is rapidly changing.

In Chimley Corner and A Parcel of ol’ Crams by Jan Stewer

From serious history to these books from my upbringing in Devon. They are out of print, sadly, but I have them and three others by this lovely whimsical and funny writer in Devonshire dialect. Written in the 1920s they are simple, amusing tales of life in the village of Muddlecombe where a trip to Exeter in the carrier’s cart was something of an adventure. Best read aloud with a Devonshire accent (I can still manage that), there are some wonderful dialect words which we still use in our family – a scummer is a proper mess; it gets dimpsy at twilight; and a Parcel of ‘ol Crams is a load of nonsense. I was gappy-mouthed reading the Silk Road books! Nostalgic and heart-warming delight.

Philip Browning

Talking about Books & Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
This book was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize in 2018, and it is historical fiction. So, why haven’t I read it before now? Frankly, I’ve no idea. But I’m so glad I caught up with it now!

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. Mr Hancock – distraught – decides to recoup his losses by putting it on public display.
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.
Will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?

It’s rare to find historical fiction so brave, so immersive, so utterly convincing. The rigour of Ms Gowar’s research shines through every page, yet she wears her erudition lightly, creating a dazzling and captivating 18th century world, with all its beauty and degradation, that we believe in without question. And then, to pair this with a dizzying dose of picaresque magic realism is pure genius. This is virtuoso writing entirely worthy of its Women’s Prize shortlisting. Bear in mind too that this is a debut! What might she write next?

Finally, I have to say that Angelica Neil is the most fascinating heroine I’ve encountered in a long time, and her transformation is a marvel! And dear Mr Hancock… I almost fell in love with him myself! 

A must read. A total joy.

The Most Precious of Cargoes by Jean-Claude Grumberg
Fairy tale? Folklore? A moral lesson? Take your pick. The Most Precious of Cargoes is all of these things and more. It tells the story of a poor woodcutter’s wife, who prays every day for a child of her own.

At the same time, Jewish parents on a prison train are unable to feed their twin babies so, hoping to save the life of one, the father wraps his daughter in a shawl and throws her from the train, where she is found by the wood cutter’s wife. Although she knows harbouring this baby could lead to her death, she takes the child home.
Set against the horrors of the Holocaust and told with a fairy tale-like lyricism, The Most Precious of Cargoes is a fable about family and redemption which reminds us that humanity can be found in the most inhumane of places.

The writing is spare, lyrical and compelling. For this the translator (Frank Wynne) must be congratulated as much as the author, I guess. The book was originally written in French by its Renaissance man author: Jean Claude Grumberg is writer, actor, and playwright. What talents!

This is a tiny novel. You’ll read it in a couple of hours. But it’s something of a gem. That we can be made to feel so much with so few words and sentences is remarkable. Its message is simple and stark. In this life, everybody suffers. Love, kindness and compassion can make it better.

Annie Garthwaite


The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
This book is about a small village on the coast inside the Arctic Circle, in the very north of Norway in the early 17th century. The able-bodied men of the village all die in a sudden storm when they are out fishing and the women are left to pick up the pieces and find ways to feed themselves and their families. The stronger and more independent minded women take on what is regarded as traditional men’s work such as fishing and butchery, some even daring to wear trousers to do it. They are managing to feed and clothe the villagers when a new governor arrives intending to make sure that all are god-fearing and regular attendees at church. In fact he turns out to have been employed because of his reputation as a witch hunter. The story is about his determination to find and burn any witches and to stamp out any indigenous beliefs/superstitions that he regards as un-godly, specifically any Sami traditions which the Norwegian king of the time was wanting reduced. If the women do not fit his idea of submissive and god-fearing lives then as far as he is concerned it must be because they are witches. That may sound rather bleak but the descriptions of the landscape, the food, the clothing, the housing and the inter-relationships of the strong-minded women are very interesting. Really it was the inter-relationships of the women and how they submit or do not submit to the traditional patriarchal norms of the time that I enjoyed most. I would like to read more from this author. This is Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s first book for adults but she has written a number of earlier books for children.

Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym
A gentle story about four people, two men and two women, working in an office in London, all close to retirement age. They have been working together in the same office for a long time but all keep themselves fairly much to themselves. All four live alone, two in rented bedsits and two in their own houses. The office work seems to be unskilled clerical work, almost unnecessary work, as even a senior manager at the women’s retiral lunch says he does not really know what they do. The story describes their relationships and how these change slightly when the two women have finally retired. The story describes the details of four lightly intertwined lives and how they interact with one another.

Fiona Berryman

Talking about Books, Much Wenlock

Dominion by C. J. Sansom

This is the most interesting book I have read recently. I have been listening to the radio a lot during lockdown and heard the Shardlake series, which I enjoyed. I decided to try a novel by Sansom and happened upon this one.

It is set in Britain in 1952, but we see a very different Britain under German rule. It imagines that the country surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. The Germans are still waging war against Russia and the British people are oppressed by authoritarian rule. The press and public broadcasters are all controlled and Beaverbrook, who is Prime Minister, does little to stand up for the rights of the British people. There is a resistance movement led by Churchill and increasing support for them in the face of greater constraints on the population.

The central character is David Fitzgerald, a civil servant who has become disillusioned with the government and is recruited to spy for the Resistance. His wife Sarah is a pacifist who disapproves of the violent methods resorted to by the Resistance, so he keeps his work a secret from her. When an old university friend, Frank Muncaster, is arrested and held in a Birmingham mental hospital, the Resistance task David with helping to rescue him. It appears that Frank may know secret information which will change the balance of power for the whole world, and the Americans are determined to get him to the USA.

In the midst of London’s Great Smog, the group of Resistance activists with David and Frank must get to the coast before they are captured by the Gestapo and Frank’s secret is revealed.

I found this a very exciting story, and I was totally involved by the twists and turns of the plot. It is a “What if” story and I found myself very thankful that it never happened.

Sue Whiston

Talking about Books, Much Wenlock

The World of Suzie Wong by Richard Mason
After an unsettling war, an English artist takes a room in a seedy hotel on the waterfront of Hong Kong in the 1950s. He is the only permanent resident as it is the base for the working girls who make a living from sailors from the visiting ships. The girls become his friends and he meets the illiterate but clever Suzie who becomes his friend, confidante and more….An insight to the British colonial expat lifestyle of the times. A great read.

Five Days in London May 1940 by John Lukacs
Most history books, especially those about WWII, seem to be 500+ pages and overwhelming. This one written by an American historian is only 200 and grippingly covers the five days immediately before Dunkirk just as Churchill became Prime Minister. ‘The hinge of fate – Churchill couldn’t win the war but didn’t lose it’. Having seen a lot of recent films on the subject this certainly fills in the gaps. What is fascinating is the detail around the feeling in Britain at this time facing the threat of invasion from Nazi Germany. The difference between public opinion and popular sentiment was not unlike the country facing the Covid pandemic. I want to read Margaret Macmillan on Versailles next or perhaps Leo McKinstry on Attlee and Churchill. However they are both mega tomes so maybe not…

A Chill in the Air by Iris Origo
This is a slim memoir covering the same period in Mussolini’s Italy. Iris Origa is Anglo American and married to an Italian aristocrat in Tuscany. She is very well connected (the then American ambassador is her godfather) and recounts what she sees and hears about Italy’s entry into the war.

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Published in the 1980s, the saga of a troubled childhood set in the coastal area and islands of the Carolinas is recounted when adult Tom Wingo spends time with his suicidal twin sister’s psychiatrist in New York. The American South is vivid and filmic and the New York City neighbourhoods feel exciting. Many recent books and films set in the Deep South have been enjoying success and this precedes them all. Pat Conroy was a prolific author of the era but seems to have all but vanished these days (except if you are in Charleston or Savannah). I couldn’t put it down.

Older Thrillers picked up during my last Pacific North West trip in 2019 from their wonderful mystery book shops ~

Murder in the Marais by Cara Black
This book has been on my heap for a while and seems to be the first of a long series. I was disappointed. Her narrative style contains strange non sequiturs and the Parisian location didn’t quite do it for me.

Redemption Street by Reed Farrel Coleman
I’d never previously heard of this author but will be reading more – this is the 2nd in a short series. A Jewish ex NYPD cop turned PI is drawn into investigating the death of an old school friend 16 years earlier up state in the Catskills. The intro sums up the appeal …..a flawed but credible protagonist with internal conflicts, a palpable location and a plot line that does not disappoint.

Jenny Newton

Talking about Books, Much Wenlock

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
A dystopian world where evolution is going backwards and where, to be pregnant, is to be in grave danger. I found this novel to be quite a page turner, especially towards the end. Louise Erdrich is a great writer who weaves aspects of her Native American heritage into many of her novels. No spoilers – give it a try!

The Odyssey of Homer by Richard Lattimore
Part of my ‘reading those works I have heard so much about and are referenced all the time’ list. I enjoyed it! A much easier read than the Iliad, though strangely not as compelling, maybe because most of the events were familiar, but still, good to read it in the ‘original’ (so to speak).

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
A re-read for me because the film came out on Netflix earlier this year and I wanted to remind myself of the novel, before watching the film! Still to do that, but I was reminded of how brilliant this book is. (It won the Man Booker in 2008). It is cleverly written and often very funny. A very raw, gritty and vibrant picture of life in India.

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller
I heard Claire Fuller speak at the Salisbury Literary Festival a couple of years ago and have only just got to my signed copy! I loved this for the pleasure of reading a fantastic story. Shades of Shirley Jackson, it is part crime thriller, part historical novel. It gives a compelling account of loneliness in its many forms and the quest to ‘belong’. It shows the kindness and the cruelty of people. It is also a real page turner, dark and full of unexplained episodes which occasionally become clear as the story progresses, but which sometimes don’t. Definitely recommend it.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shofookeh Azar
I am adding this, not because I loved it, but because it was an unusual read. It is set in Iran and recounts the events of the aftermath of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. It is largely told through magical realism, which I normally love but which I just couldn’t get into here. Still, an interesting read which gives an insight into a country and period of history I knew very little about (and I loved the cover design!)


Lusaka Book Club and Silverwood Book Group

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Beautifully written about an awful miscarriage of justice as a result of casual racism. Endorsed by Barack Obama, there are no easy answers to the novel’s three-way split and the innocent black man who goes to prison is still far too common a story.

The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee
A very strange book and I’m still not sure if I know what it’s about. No, I am sure ~ I don’t know! A man, a child, a woman ~ none of them related, but father, mother, child. A new state. A clean slate. No history. Many questions. Unsettling. But I couldn’t stop reading it.

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee
I was reminded to read this by the formation of the Slightly Foxed Literary Group (see Caroline Roseman’s piece, above). I loved this ~ brilliant writing, both rich but at the same time spare. I was enthralled by the innocence of those days, even as the Spanish Civil war loomed ever closer. Gorgeous. (I didn’t take to his selected poems though).

All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny
A bit nervous about this one as it set completely in Paris and I was afraid I’d miss Three Pines too much. But no ~ as good as ever, and let’s face it, how often does crime fiction make you cry? (Answer, with Louise Penny, quite often!) The Donna Leon of Canada. Start at the beginning of the series and if you haven’t read them yet, do join the club!

The Distance Between Us by Maggie O’Farrell
I’m filling in the gaps with some I’ve missed and may even read them all again in chronological order. Maggie O’Farrell is just a very good writer. This one explores an intense sibling relationship and how a childhood retaliation against bullying can have long lasting effects.

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
This is probably one of the most reviewed books in these posts ~ my two pennorth? I loved it. Cried. Felt humbled. Feel lucky. Am in awe of Douglas Stuart’s ability to write so well about something so awful.

Anna Dreda

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