A ridiculous amount of coffee was consumed in the process of reviewing these books. Add some fuel if you'd like to keep me going!
Reviews By Me
How to be Animal, by Melanie Challenger
I’m really enjoying this book – will have the review done in another week or two…looks like being a ‘must read’…
A Tall History of Sugar, by Curdella Forbes
A Tall History of Sugar transports you to warm, colourful Jamaica, both in content and in style. It’s an antidote to depression, a book to escape with. Replete with lyricism on every page, it tells the story of Moshe Fisher, a boy born neither black nor white but blue. Moshe’s story is narrated by the girl who tries to protect him from the gaze of other people, which, significantly, is also coloured by his skin. This is a subtle book about racism in a post-colonial world, but it is also a beautiful, piercingly imaginative tale about transcendent love. The appearance of Moshe is a brilliant trope; a man with no definable skin colour cannot be a hostage to his history, but still he is.. …’ READ THE FULL REVIEW
Tragedy, the Greeks, and Us, by Simon Critchley
Tragedy, the Greeks and Us, by Simon Critchley, is a thought provoking, academic book about all that we have taken from Ancient Greek culture concerning our understanding of tragedy, and all that we have either forgotten, or never understood. The quote that appears at the front of the book says it all. We have cultivated ourselves on the foundations of Ancient Greek culture and civilisation, but we are, in the end, fakes unless we dig deeper and really get to grips with the particular lessons we could take away from tragedy, because first and foremost, tragedy is not really about disaster or a fall; it is about fate and what we do with it….. READ THE FULL REVIEW
Our Fathers by Rebecca Wait
Publication: January 23rd 2020
‘What kind of man kills his own family?’
A haunting novel set in the wild Outer Hebrides of Scotland
You can’t really read Our Fathers by Rebecca Wait and come away unscathed. This is one of those understated books that really gets under your skin. At first sight, it looks like a dark book; the cover is spectacular. Forebodingly dark and moody, it conjures up the sentiment of the novel. Being a story about a man who murders his family in cold blood, this is not a bedtime story or a jolly holiday ramble. But it is a book worth reading…How can Tommy, the child who survives, ever find a way of living with the past? That is the question this book asks. The answer is, he can’t, not really. But even as he replays the memory of that dreadful day and the few days that preceded it, the trauma doesn’t let him see it right. There is more than one secret in this tale and memory, so it seems, is quite deceptive. The past is a story we tell ourselves, says the narrator. Sooner or later you have to decide what kind of tale you want to hear, or what version of the story you can live with.
The Goodness Paradox
In the middle of the eighteenth century, a group of ‘wild children’ was discovered roaming the woodlands of Europe (and by wild I mean not Ibiza party wild, which would barely raise an eyebrow, but ‘savagely’ wild in the Tarzan sense). The discovery fuelled a debate already in progress about how people had evolved. At the heart of this debate was the ‘nature/nurture’ question: were we born with certain characteristics, which defined us as a species, or could we be conditioned by environment? The legend of Tarzan was lapped up by Victorians, providing us with one of the best-loved characters of popular fiction and a gut busting calling card. Were we innately wild or tame, savage or civilised, good or evil? READ THE FULL REVIEW
How Democracy Ends
‘Democratic politics,’ says Author David Runciman “has become an elaborate show. Mature, Western democracy is over the hill”. Mr Runciman is Professor of Politics at Cambridge and so he must be right. It is in fact hard to read this book without being persuaded that we are on the brink of democratic collapse. How weary a word has democracy actually become, and why is it over the hill?
A Sweet, Wild Note
Remember Hitchcock’s film, The Birds? Watch it and you’ll never hear a gull’s caw without picturing that scene – you know the one: where actress Tippi Hedren runs along with a seagull attached to her head? It terrified me even more than Psycho did. Perhaps a lunatic with a knife can do more damage than a bird and beak, but Hitchcock was right to home in on the gull… READ MORE HERE
In the Land of Pain
It is a strange business when you think that French literary icon Alphonse Daudet, whose stories about windmills and goats etc were being dutifully read by young French schoolchildren raised in the best Catholic tradition, actually spent most of his time hitting the brothels of Paris. And he did so with such enthusiasm that he contracted syphilis and had to spend the best part of his later years in ‘The Land of Pain’. This is the title of Daudet’s biography of suffering; he committed pain to paper in his final years, and renowned author Julian Barnes has translated it beautifully in this new edition.
READ MORE HERE
Educated by Tara Westover
This is a remarkable and brave book, remarkable because it gives a staggering insight into a mindset unfamiliar to most of us, and brave because it is incredibly difficult to share a shameful or traumatic family past with the world at large. It takes guts to tell the truth about your family…
The Holocaust is a difficult subject to write about. It is about reliving a human catastrophe at a period of history when all human feeling seemed to have evaporated in a miasma of nationalistic fervour. Then there is the personal trauma for those who lived through it all; the trauma will only pass away when the survivors pass on. And yet, there are those who had to live with them: their children. READ MORE HERE
The Lonely City
Falling apart in New York after a failed relationship, Olivia Laing lives through a period of intolerable loneliness in her latest book, The Lonely City. It is a cathartic read, as are most of Laing’s books. There are always revelations in her books — about human nature, Mother Nature and the forces that connect us to her…. READ MORE HERE
I feel compelled to call this book the Irish answer to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The protagonist of Slipping, by John Toomey, may not be a teenage Holden Caulfield but he’s still going through a crisis — and a mid-life one at that, which can be just as unpleasant as the hormone-induced manic ravings of Salinger’s hero.
Read the full review HERE
The Laws of Human Nature
Robert Greene, popular author of a range of books about power, war and seduction, gives us his latest work on the laws of human nature. The 600-page tome claims to give us ‘a kind of codebook for deciphering people’s behaviour.’ Does it deliver? Well in a way yes, although it should be noted that this is not an academic book but a kind of self-help book. Read more HERE
Books have been written about the lives of individual mathematicians, such as Euler, Newton and Turing, but ‘Significant Figures’ gathers together 25 of the great mathematical minds spanning the last two thousand years and brings them together in one book. Author and Professor Emeritus Ian Stewart looks at their lives, their genius and those eureka moments …Read more .HERE
Shapeshifters, as the title suggests, explores the many forms our bodies can take throughout the stages of our lives. From the crisis of puberty to sleep’s ‘Chamber of Dreams’, it takes the reader on a journey of discovery, recovery and acceptance. The author draws on literature and his own imagination to offer us a vision of what we cannot see but know is there, like memory, to the physical manifestations of little known metamorphoses which have fuelled our deepest fears. Read more HERE
On the pile in December, where we preview what we are reading and chew over what we’ve read, I said that this book was a story of running away and survival. I was wrong, really. It is about survival, but not about running away. Actually it is the most ‘stand up and face it’ book I have read about the chilling subject of child abuse. So what about following up with murder? How does that change things? Read more HERE
For a very long time, we did not understand the atom. The mysteries of science were locked within its invisible structure, and it would take centuries of philosophy, experimentation, analysis and synthesis before we finally got to the bottom of how the laws of physics interacted with matter. Once we did, there was no stopping progress. There still is no stopping progress, but how will it all pan out? READ MORE HERE
This collection of short stories has been compiled exclusively from work by female Pakistani authors. While the stories seem like a cry for the liberation of Pakistani women from the social constraints of their world, they are also in many ways stories without gender because the underlying themes are universal. READ MORE HERE
Guns, Germs & Steel
Guns, Germs and Steel is a book of Big History. You might even call it ‘macrohistory’ because it is examines the bigger picture rather than the detail. Author Jared Diamond does not focus on any particular historical era in this book; his is a more scientific view of human progress based on a multi-disciplinary approach..READ MORE HERE
The Christian Fallacy
This book, published by Red Door on July 20th, will make a few waves I suspect. The title The Christian Fallacy recalls Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God is not Great, but this book goes even further than Dawkins’ or Hitchens’ book, particularly where Christianity is concerned because it attacks its founding principle, the one on which all of Christian doctrine rests: Jesus. READ MORE HERE
Madame Bovary of the Suburbs
Madame Bovary of the Suburbs, a story that relates the life of one woman from childhood to death and includes the sort of incidental detail we would rather forget about but which tends to make up a life of triviality. Depressing, you might say, and quite honestly, it is, rather. But I still felt that I had to keep on reading it.. HERE
The Golden House
Salman Rushdie’s writing is so awash with references that reading can become a bit of a breathless ride as you are ushered from one random allusion to another, given only moments to absorb the underlying significance before Rushdie throws another one your way and sets you off on another tangent.
The Book of Dhaka
‘Despite what politicians the other side of the Atlantic may imagine these days, the fact is that climate change is a reality we are going to have to deal with sooner or later. In this collection of short stories based on particular cities, published by Comma Press, there is a new addition to the urban family…’
Read full review HERE
The Ravenmaster's Boy
The scene is set in Tudor England, 1527, in the reign of Henry VIII. Kit, the son of a baker, enters this historical novel on a plague cart “wedged between the smelly and already rotting corpses of the two people he loved best in the world”, his parents. This is The Ravenmaster’s Boy, by Mary Hoffman, author of the Stravaganza series, David and Shakespeare’s Ghost.
READ MORE HERE
The Book of Khartoum
‘This is not bedtime reading; there is a painful beauty to this collection but anger too for a past that can’t be changed. It isn’t without its message of hope, but you have to look hard between the lines to find it….’
Read my review here
Small Great Things
‘Jodi Picoult’s novel about racism is a case study on two levels. First there is the racism in the book: a deeply racist white couple refuse to let a black nurse take care of their newborn baby. The white baby dies in hospital and the black nurse is held responsible. Then there is the racism in the writing…’
Read full review HERE
The Book of Gaza
The short story is the sushi of the literary genre: bite-sized chunks of fiction that are easily digested, and also, I think, often underrated. They occupy the halfway ground between poetry and full-length fiction; they can linger in the mind longer than a novel, and deliver the emotional punch of a poem.
Read the full review here
‘Here is the gist: an Englishman named Smith, whose motives are secret, lands in New York in 1746 with a bill for payment of a thousand pounds, which he demands in cash money while rebuffing all attempts to reveal the use he’ll make of it.’ Read the full review here
The Book of Rio
When the lights of Brazil’s twelve World Cup Football stadiums are turned off, the city of Rio will settle back down into its usual routine. But behind the facade of Copacabana partying, samba rhythm and everything else that you normally associate with Rio, there is a sinister and surreal undercurrent – The Book of Rio, edited by Toni Marques and Kate Slade
Read full review here
“With a multifaceted narrative, diverse characters, and stunning historical detail, this book is completely absorbing. The author stirs together history, myth, political intrigue, and religious conflict to create a gripping, expertly researched story. Was it a curse, a medical condition, or the simple fears of local farmers that led to the legend of Count Dracula? See what you think after reading. Highly recommended.”
The Historical Novel Society