Archive > August 2013

This Boy

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This Boy, Alan Johnson, book reviewIn 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.

The conditions in which the one time Labour Home Secretary grew up would have shocked many people even at the time: no electricity, damp rooms, a cooker on the landing, for a long time no living room, and emptying buckets of urine in the morning because it had been too cold to go outside to the toilet during the night. This is no tale of Victorian poverty and squalor – this is 1960s west London, the London of the notorious unscrupulous landlord Peter Rachman, of race riots and where violence was commonplace.


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The Heist

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The Heist, Janet Evanovich,  Lee Goldberg, book reviewJanet Evanovich, the prolific author of the popular Stephanie Plum series has struck again. Not satisfied with producing the twentieth book in the Plum series this year, she has now teamed up with Monk screenwriter Lee Goldberg to start a new series featuring FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare and international con artist Nick Fox, starting with this book, The Heist. I had previously only read one Evanovich book, Wicked Business (part of her Lizzy and Diesel series) and found it to be gently amusing, but too maddeningly insubstantial to really lose myself in the story. Although a bit disappointed, I thought at the time that I should probably give her books another go, and the start of a new series seemed the perfect place to do so.

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Black Irish

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Black Irish, Stephan Talty, book reviewIn the far north of New York State sits the city of Buffalo, the “27th county of Ireland”. The south of city, working class and suffering from the closure of the local milling industry, has such a high proportion of Irish Americans living there that it has become known as simply “the county”, an area with a fierce sense of community and heritage, and an innate distrust of outsiders. In the county, where you are from is everything; families can object to other families simply because an ancestor several generations back came from the “wrong part” of Ireland. It is into this distinctive and atmospheric world that Stephan Talty takes us in his debut novel, Black Irish.


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Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

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Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, Robert K Massie, book reviewCatherine the Great was ruler of Russia in the eighteenth century. Born Princess Sophia of Anhalt-Herbst in 1729, she was brought to Russia by the Empress Elizabeth as bride to her nephew and heir, Peter. The marriage however was not happy, and when Peter ascended the throne and proved to be a poor Tsar, largely due to his idolisation of Frederick of Prussia, Russia’s enemy and ruler of Peter’s birthplace, Catherine staged a coup and became Empress, ushering in one of the golden periods of Russia’s history.

Catherine the Great by Robert Massie is not the first book on Romanov rulers by the author which I have read. Several years ago, having been fascinated by an exhibition on the last Tsars at Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland, I read and loved Nicholas and Alexandra.


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The House We Grew Up In

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The House We Grew Up in, Lisa Jewell, book review

Lisa Jewell is one of my favourite authors and I have just delighted in reading her latest book, The House We Grew Up In. It is an absorbing tale that tells the story of the Bird family who grew up in the house mentioned in the title.

Once they were a happy, thriving family; that was until a devastating tragedy befell them that they felt that they would never be able to cover from. From that day forward the family starts to be estranged from each other with each member choosing their own destructive course to follow.


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Satantango

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Satantango , Laszlo Krasznahorkai, book reviewSimultaneously 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.

Although my library is diverse, I tend to choose my reading matter based primarily on place, but also time; here the setting is clearly rural Hungary but the time is less clear and as I read I frequently allowed myself to become distracted as I tried to make sense of the fleeting details that might be a clue as to the time in which the story takes place.


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A Night on the Orient Express

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A Night on the Orient Express, Veronica Henry, book reviewThe luxury, romance and mystery of the Orient Express – what better way can there be to travel to Venice? Veronica Henry’s latest novel, A Night on the Orient Express really captures the essence of this legendary train. She tells four different stories of individuals and families who all have their own reasons for travelling in style towards the romantic destination of Venice.

Imogen is heading to Venice to collect a painting for her grandmother but there is a surprise in store. Stephanie is travelling with her new partner, Simon and his teenage children.


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The Price You Pay

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 The Price You Pay, Somnath Batabyal, book reviewYou might be forgiven to mistaking it all for a game, the trading of favours between cops and the media. But the problem is that it is very much a reality in today’s India, especially in Delhi, a city overrun by migrants from other states, offering quick anonymity to the criminal and a rat’s warren of hiding places. Batabyal, an ex-media person who now teaches film studies at SOAS, used his own experiences to spin the story of Abhishek Dutta, a rookie who broke into crime reporting with all the odds stacked against him.


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A Great and Glorious Adventure

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A Great and Glorious Adventure: A Military History of the Hundred Years War , Gordon Corrigan, book review“From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”

Most of us will be familiar with these rousing lines from Shakespeare’s Henry V, spoken on the eve of the battle of Agincourt. Less of us, I imagine, will be familiar with the background to the battle or why Henry was fighting there at all. Despite having an interest in history, I for one will confess to knowing little about the period, my knowledge of the Hundred Years War limited to the odd novel (such as Bernard Cornwell’s Harlequin, Azincourt and 1356) and seeing period re-enacters demonstrate the weapons of the era at various events I’ve attended. When I received a copy of A Great and Glorious Adventure: A Military History of the Hundred Years War by Gordon Corrigan in the post recently, this seemed an excellent opportunity to start filling in the gaps in my knowledge.


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I am Max Lamm

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I am Max Lamm, Raphael Brous, book reviewI 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 basic story is fairly simple and the moral of the story somewhat muddled. 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. Cut the ghosts and I’d have been more enthusiastic about the book. I fully expected to get to the end and discover Max was himself dead, so eager was I to have an explanation for the presence of quite so many spirits.


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Affliction

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Affliction by Laurell K Hamilton, book reviewBeing a US Marshall is not an easy job. Being a US Marshall is a world where you are a born necromancer with psychic powers, and Federal law has legalised the co-existence of vampires and were-animals (leopards, lions and tigers as well as wolves) alongside humans, makes for interesting times for Anita Blake. As a specialist investigator into preternatural crime she is essentially a legalised vampire-hunter: someone who seeks out (and where necessary kills) those supernatural beings who break humanity’s laws. Anita also has a strangely complicated love life, living as part of a threesome with two were-animals while also dating a powerful vampire. Local law enforcement accepts that she straddles the divide between human and non-human in her own strange way because she is such an effective investigator; outside of her home city of St Louis, she is seen a little differently.


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Wallis

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Wallis, Rebecca Dean, book reviewWallis by Rebecca Dean is a novelisation of the life of Wallis Simpson, from her childhood to the beginning of her affair with Prince Edward, later Edward VIII. Born Bessiewallis Warfield in Baltimore, Wallis had been divorced once already and was married for the second time when she met Edward. His later decision to abdicate in order to marry her cut him off from his family.

Wallis’s early life was not an easy one. Her father died when she was very young, and her mother struggled to make ends meet, as his family was not keen to help her out, although they did pay for Wallis’s education. Her first husband, Win Spencer, was in the navy, but it was not a happy marriage and ended in separation followed by divorce.


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