Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera

Marriage materialTo Arjan Banga, returning to the Black Country after the unexpected death of his father, his family’s corner shop represents everything he has tried to leave behind – a lethargic pace of life, insular rituals and ways of thinking. But when his mother insists on keeping the shop open, he finds himself being dragged back, forced into big decisions about his imminent marriage back in London and uncovering the history of his broken family – the elopement and mixed-race marriage of his aunt Surinder, the betrayals and loyalties, loves and regrets that have played out in the shop over more than fifty years.

This is an epic tale of family, love, and politics, spanning the second half of the twentieth century, and the start of the twenty-first. Told with humour, tenderness and insight, it manages to be both a unique and urgent survey of modern Britain.

Wow – really enjoyed this book. It’s heart-warming, funny, poignant and a wonderful insight into racial and racist Britain from 60s until present day.

Loved the chapters – each one a magazine sold at the Bains Stores – and mirroring a part of the story. Two strands to the story – one of Arjan returning to his parental home in Wolverhampton from London following his father’s death, the second following the story of two sisters in the Bain’s family in 1970s Wolverhampton.

The insight into Sikh family life is fascinating – the customs and superstitions, the cultural differences highlighted when Freya’s parents meet Arjan’s parents. It’s so positive and uplifting, with lots of emotional bits along the way.

Really enjoyed it and will hunt out his first book!


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Rowing after the White Whale by James Adair

RowingIn 2011 two friends, James Adair and Ben Stenning started their extraordinary journey to row across the Indian Ocean.  This was a dream they had concocted during university days, and after some years of normal living, decided to give up their London office jobs and actually live their dream.

The book is based on Adair’s journal of their 116 day journey and is inspired by Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick which they read to each other during their trip.  It’s a fascinating, funny read, James and Ben had never rowed before and they confessed they weren’t 100% sure how to work the GPS thing!  As if lack of experience wasn’t enough James had also contracted Guillain-Barre syndrome at the age of 14, which had locked his body into total paralysis for three months (while his mind had remained completely active) leaving him with paralysed feet. This was an unbelievable challenge to set them selves, and you can only imagine what their families and friends must’ve thought.

As the book explains “Their tale is one of moonbows and meteor showers, passing whales, thieving fish, lurking sharks and giant squid; it is part narrative adventure, part blue water history, part meditation on nature and part memoir.

It is a beautifully written account and what is truly inspiring is Adair’s ability to give the sense that if they managed to pull this off then anyone of us could, should we wish to experience what it feels like to be 1,500 miles from the nearest land!

The film ‘Clawhand’ is due out this autumn and is a documentary account based on Adair’s book.


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Miss Carter’s War by Sheila Hancock

HancockMarguerite Carter, half French/half British was part of SOE in France during WWII. Back in Britain she is one of first women to graduate from Cambridge, and begins teaching.

We follow her through the decades as she follows this passion, making a difference to the lives of many.

There are a few romances along the way (especially Jimmy), but she’s always remembering Marcel, the man she left behind in France. Will they ever be reunited?

This is a wonderful historical novel, and includes great social commentary about twentieth century Britain, including women’s rights, political activism, AIDS epidemic, and the education system. Quite epic!


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The Balloonist by James Long

BalloonistIt’s 1914 and Will Fraser leaves Scotland after his father’s death to get involved in the war in Europe. Following the death of his comrade Claude Tavernier, Fraser is missing for two years then resurfaces as Claude Taverner, becoming a balloon observer, flying above the battlefields directing guns from below.  Lots of interesting characters – from Hoffmann the American journalist, Tavernier’s wife Gabrielle and the frequent appearances of the King and Queen of Belgium. Ends with Fraser being offered a chance to help the war effort in USA. To be continued?  I hope so!

This is a first world war action adventure, with lots of military detail but it feels relevant and vibrant and you feel yourself carried away with the story. There’s also a believable romantic sideline, that doesn’t overwhelm the story.


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Better off dead by Tom Wood

woodVictor is an enigma, a killer for hire. Then a Russian mobster from his past calls asking for his help. His estranged daughter, a trainee lawyer in London, is in danger.

So begins Spooks style shenanigans, with a hero who is part Bourne, part Bond, and a plot with spies, thugs, assassinations, car chases, and just a tiny bit of Terminator style protecting of the witness. The twist is a little obvious – sorry! But will ‘hero’ save the girl/day and walk away alive?


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Keep quiet by Lisa Scottoline

keep quietDad lets his 16 year old son drive the family BMW on way home one night. In the dark, they hit and kill a jogger, and in a moment of panic and wanting to protect his son, they leave the scene. Both are wracked with guilt… but who will crack first.

This is a great little thriller, with lots of twists, punchy writing and short chapters that make you want to read on. Characters debate a lot about ethics, DUI law, family loyalties and more.

I kind of guessed the ending – but it’s a clever twist, the truth is brought to light.


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The book of strange new things by Michel Faber

StrangeChristian minister Peter, 33 is leaving his wife for a year for a job of a lifetime. USIC, a mysterious US company shrouded in mystery, send a group of people through space to Oasis, where Peter is employed to minister not to the workers, but to the indigenous people. He’s not sure what to expect but he knows his role is vital to the wellbeing to all on Oasis.

The Oasans are in awe of what they call ‘the book of strange new things’ – the Bible. This is a brilliantly conceived read. The communications between Peter and his wife Bea range from comical to desperate as she discovers she’s pregnant in a world that is slowly becoming more and more terrifying.

The novel changes tone from comedy, to desperation, and to Peter’s realisation that all he wants in life is to be with Bea. It had me hooked til the end. Excellent!


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The Bees by Laline Paull

BeesWell this novel is a difficult one to categorise… most of the characters are bees! Part nature study, part family drama, part thriller!

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey, and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. But Flora is not like other bees. Despite her ugliness she has talents that are not typical of her kin. While mutantbees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is removed from sanitation duty and is allowed to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. She also finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. But enemies are everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. And when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all her instinct to serve is overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce love that will lead to the unthinkable.

‘Wow’ is all I can say about this book! I read it lying on a garden swing in the summer sunshine (remember that anyone?) with real life bees flying around. I’ll never look at bees (or wasps) in the same way.


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The girl with all the gifts by M C Carey

GirlMelanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her ‘our little genius’. Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh. Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favourite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

Without giving too much of the plot away, the story is set in a post-apocalyptic Britain. Melanie and other children attend school classes, which seems normal enough on the surface, but it soon becomes apparent that something is not quite right, both with the children and with this school. We get hints of the nature of these differences early on, but it takes some time to learn what caused the apocalypse and how Melanie’s world reached this point.

This book is a real page turner and you’ll want to read it in one sitting!


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‘Bad Monkey’ and ‘Nature Girl’ by Carl Hiaasen

If you are a fan of crime novels but are maybe stuck in a rut, then welcome to the wonderful world of Carl Hiaasen! Novels are set in Florida, and usually have a series of unbelievable characters thrown into unbelievable situations.

Let’s start with Bad Monkey…

MonkeyWhen a severed arm is discovered by a couple on honeymoon in the Florida Keys, former police detective – now reluctant restaurant inspector – Andrew Yancy senses that something doesn’t add up. Determined to get his badge back, he undertakes an unofficial investigation of his own. Andrew’s search for the truth takes him to the Bahamas, where a local man, with the help of a very bad monkey (who allegedly worked on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) is doing everything in his power to prevent a developer from building a new tourist resort on the island, with deadly consequences.

I loved the wonderful descriptions of Yancy’s restaurant visits, the monkey mayhem, and the ridiculous lengths people will go to to avoid hooking up a limb when they are fishing!

Request Bad Monkey here

Nature Girl was a little different, but just as madcap!


Honey Santana -self-proclaimed queen of lost causes – has a Plan. She’s working on a scheme to help rid the world of irresponsibility, indifference and dinner-time telemarketers.

She’s also taking part-time telephonist Boyd Shreve and his less-than-enthusiastic mistress to Dismal Key – one of the Everglades’ Ten Thousand Islands – for a gentle lesson in civility.

What Honey doesn’t know is that lurking in the island’s undergrowth is Sammy Tigertail, half-blood Seminole Indian and wholly failed alligator wrestler, with death on his mind; and Honey’s deranged co-worker, Louis Piejack, now with most of his fingers surgically mis-attached to the wrong knuckles, and intent on revenge. A holiday to die for? In Hiaasen’s extraordinary universe, anything can happen …

Yes, you guessed it – ridiculous in the extreme but if you just go with the flow, you’ll enjoy!

Request Nature Girl here

Happy reading, Alison




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