If you’ve never read a Neil Gaiman and you wonder what all the fuss about, I think this book is the perfect place to start. We explore a fantastical alternative London in the company of a host of surprising characters, from the Earl of Earl’s court to the Angel Islington. There are terrifying villains (really, terrifying) and sinister goings-on; magic and wonder abounds.
Under the streets of London there’s a world most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, and pale girls in black velvet.
Richard Mayhew is a young businessman who is about to find out more than he bargained for about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his safe and predictable life and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and yet utterly bizarre.
There’s a girl named Door, an Angel called Islington, an Earl who holds Court on the carriage of a Tube train, a Beast in a labyrinth, and dangers and delights beyond imagining… And Richard, who only wants to go home, is to find a strange destiny waiting for him below the streets of his native city.
Another absolute treat from the queen of Regency romance. Longer then her average book, it’s a chance to lose yourself in her world for a good long time. As ever there are beautiful men and women, some also blessed with brains (and some decidedly not), assemblies, scheming, marriage plots… but this book manages to add into the mix badly-behaved dogs and a disastrous balloon flight.
What an unusual book! Someone recommended this to me, and it really is just a collection of reviews of perfumes. But I saw on the jacket a number of rave reviews from other authors & the press, which promised something rather special:
” One of the best books I have ever read… dazzlingly good” India Knight
“I loved it and bought it for all my friends. I have to say that this is certainly my favourite non-fiction book ever and is very likely my favourite book of all time! If I had to take only one book with me onto a desert island for an indefinite time, it would be this one.” Joanne Harris
“As if a light has been switched on in a murky room” Philip Hensher
And who picked it as their favourite book of 2008? None other than Hilary Mantel.
So I knew I was onto something interesting when I opened it – and oh my, it really is wonderful. It lists almost every possible perfume and gives a 2 word review (eg. “root-beer antiseptic”), stars out of five and a longer review. these longer reviews are where the real joy of the book begins. Bad perfumes get the most scathing drubbings I have ever read. A. A. Gill has nothing on these writers. Favourites however get the most glorious soaring write-ups, with fabulous comparisons to landscapes, foods & emotional states to help us poor mortals understand the complexity of the smells the authors can detect.
Interestingly, if you’ve read The Emperor of Scent (a best-selling biography a few years back), one author of this book is is the subject of it.
A dark detective story set in the world of late 1920s Paris art scene. The bars are full and the theatres fuller. Women are exploring new freedoms and artists are pushing the boundaries.
Private investigator Harris Stuyvesant has been asked to investigate a missing woman and begins to fear the worst. Haunted by past mistakes he is determined not to let another woman down.
This is a gripping crime story with several unpleasant contenders for the role of chief villain. Worth a read.
The shortlist comprises 6 books, chosen from a longlist of 13.
Joshua Ferris To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
Richard Flanagan The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Karen Joy Fowler We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Howard Jacobson J
Ali Smith How to be Both
Neel Mukherjee The Lives of Others (not in stock at present)
More details available on The Man Booker Prize website
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014.
Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling power. Combining unforgettably vivid characters and thrilling suspense, it is a beautiful, addictive triumph – a sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate.
Traditionally, the split between genre and literary fiction has been seen to be between those books which are led by the needs of the plot versus those which are led by the development of their characters. Clearly, it’s not a watertight distinction, but it can often hold broadly true.
This book spans the gap between the two styles of writing better than any I have previously read. The central character (damaged, grieving, unscrupulous and misleading) is a wonderful creation; the plot he finds himself enmeshed within is a delight.
I love this book, it’s a fabulous, occasionally infuriating, wholly engaging and big-hearted bruiser of a book. Read it!
Set in Stoke -on-Trent (The Potteries) & London, good movement between the two places.
Plot was well worked but I wish there had been more depth to the story, I thought it jumped forward in time too quickly in places, felt as if something was missing. What does anyone else think?
The characters are all well written, I had pictures of them in my mind, that always seems to help when reading.
Before I knew it I’d finished the book!
Reserve Balancing Act
The graphic novel format works brilliantly to portray the artist’s state of mind as he works for hours each day on paintings only later recognised to be masterpieces.
It is worth noting that the simple style of the drawings could mislead one to assume it’s suitable for children-but I would hesitate to share this book with a child. There are frequent references to sex and prostitution; but more than that the very visceral sadness and distress of Van Gogh is so strongly portrayed that it can be a challenging read. Don’t let that put you off as an adult though.
Overall a brilliantly touching and original look at a subject so many have already covered. Strongly recommended.
Tony Hoagland writes in a way which is very accessible and informal, but the poetry he creates is astounding. If you enjoy poetry at all, I can’t recommend this enough.
Strongly contemporary, using everyday imagery, tackling everything from the big issues to how there seem to be fewer crisps in a ‘big grab bag’ than there used to be (and that in a wonderful poem!).
The best poetry I’ve read this year.
I felt so strongly for some of the characters (and dearly wanted to kick others) that it was at times difficult to read. The depictions of jazz clubs in 1950s Glasgow made me long for a time machine!
It’s a hard-hitting book on sensitive topics and I suspect might not be too everyone’s tastes – but I would recommend anyone giving it a go.