Newsletter No 39 (December 20th, 2013)

Dear …,

Have a happy Christmas and best wishes for 2014.
Watching TV is not compulsory over the holidays. Use your sofa to read some interesting books.

Sincerely Yours, Curious Book Fans

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

Given how much I have admired Lionel Shriver’s other novels, it perhaps surprising that it has taken me nearly six months from the publication date to read her latest release, Big Brother. Spurred on by an engaging interview she gave at this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival, I eventually picked it up and have just finished devouring the novel. Devouring being the key word.

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Ammonites and Leaping Fish by Penelope Lively

“This is not quite a memoir. Rather it is the view from old age.” Ammonites and Leaping Fish is Penelope Lively’s third autobiographical work (the others are Oleander Jacaranda and A House Unlocked). Rather than a chronological account of her life, this volume contains 5 pieces of prose, mixing current reflections and anecdotes with past recollections.

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Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye

Lyndsay Faye’s latest book, Seven for a Secret, opens with an offering of two and a half pages of selected “flash terminology”, the street slang of 1840s New York, to prepare the reader for the historically authentic speech used by her characters. I liked it.

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An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Christopher Hadfield

In the beginning you float weightlessly through space with one of the world’s top astronauts, a Canadian who at the age of 9 looked up at the stars and decided that he wanted to be lost amongst them. Especially since that was when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon ‘It was no longer a distant, unknowable orb but a place where people walked, talked, worked and even slept.’

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The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is famous for taking the most ordinary and forgettable types of people and turning them into to extraordinary and unforgettable characters. She does this by starting with them in run of the mill situations and then she tosses in a twist to shake things up. It is almost as if she just sits back and watches how these people cope with what she’s thrown at them.

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By My Side by Alice Peterson

I think that to have to draw up a list of my top ten favourite books would be a virtually impossible task. However, if pushed to do so, after having read Alice Peterson’s latest book, By My Side, it would definitely find a place on that list. I can’t remember the last time that I was so moved by a book and unashamedly sobbed all the way through.

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Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich

When the chance to read Janet Evanovich’s latest Stephanie Plum novel, Takedown Twenty, arose I was first in line shouting “Me, me, me” in an entirely undignified way because Stephanie is an old friend of mine. It couldn’t be any other way after I’ve read 18 books about her and her hapless attempts to bring in the bad guys as a bail bond enforcer for her cousin Vinnie in the New Jersey town of Trenton.

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The 100 Most Pointless Arguments in the World by Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman

Yes, Pointless fans, it is that time of year again. With Christmas rapidly approaching, and the success of The 100 Most Pointless Things in the World demonstrating that fans of the BBC game show also like to read books, a second offering by Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman has been released – The 100 Most Pointless Arguments in the World.

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Peter the Great by Robert Massie

Peter the Great by Robert Massie is the the third work by the author that I have read. I chose to read Peter the Great however, not based on any existing interest in the tsar, aside from what I learnt in reading Catherine the Great, but rather because I enjoyed Massie’s writing so much that I wanted to read more by him.

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This Boy by Alan Johnson

In 1957, the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told a meeting of fellow Conservatives that most of the country had ‘never had it so good’. Alan Johnson’s moving autobiography This Boy describes life for a family that did not share in Britain’s widespread prosperity.

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The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory

This is the fourth novel in Philippa Gregory’s Cousins War series, which opened with The White Queen, the title of the recent BBC adaptation. Each novel tells the story of one of the women at the heart of the Cousins War, which we know better as the War of the Roses. The Kingmaker’s Daughter is the story of Anne Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwick, one of the key figures throughout the war.

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Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje, author of “The English Patient,” was born in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon). In 1954, at the age of 11, he left for England and in 1962 he moved to Canada. Only as an adult did Ondaatje go back to visit the island of his birth, which he called the “pendant off the ear of India.” While there, he investigated his family history through the places and people still there. This is his account of these visits.

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Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai

Simultaneously confusing and compelling, Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s 1985 novel Satantango, now translated by George Szirtes, is a dark and brooding story that will reward readers able to accept the lack of a concrete time and place to ground the story, and with the stamina to handle what is not so much a stream of consciousness, because this tale is too esoteric to be described as such, as a stream of richly layered description.

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I am Max Lamm by Raphael Brous

I am Max Lamm by Raphael Brous is a strange book and even when I got to the end of it I was still not entirely sure what I’d just read. The characters are deeply damaged but in some cases oddly endearing although the sporadic appearances of a cast of ghosts from Max’s past was a step too far on the overall weirdness scale for my liking.

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The Reunion by Amy Silver

Amy Silver’s latest book, The Reunion, is fabulous. It is the sort of book that hooks you in from the very first page and keeps you hooked until the very last. It is a potently moving story of a group of friends who were torn apart by a terrible tragedy almost twenty years ago. Now, many years later the friends are back together but can things ever get back to the way they were or has too much happened?

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The Truth About You by Susan Lewis

In Susan Lewis’ latest book, The Truth About You, Lainey Hollingsworth is determined to find exactly that – the truth about her past. Her mother, now deceased, never told her anything about her real father, and now that she is no longer around to ask, the only way to find out is for Lainey to travel to her native Italy and to the town where she was born.

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Devon Cornwall and Southwest England (Lonely Planet) by Oliver Berry

I bought this guide just before visiting Dartmoor and Cornwall for the first time in 2012. I would usually be content with borrowing a guidebook from the library, but as one of my sons lives in Bristol and I occasionally meet up with him in Bath, it seemed like a book worth buying since I would continue to use it in the future.

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The Medici Mirror by Melissa Bailey

Melissa Bailey’s The Medici Mirror is a novel about an architect, Johnny Carter, who discovers a mysterious mirror in a secret room under the Victorian show factory that he is renovating. The mirror fascinates and worries both Johnny and his assistant Tara, and Johnny’s new girlfriend Ophelia is sucked into its influence as well.

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