Books I've enjoyed
I'm often asked to recommend books; I'll pin the ones I've enjoyed recently here. Please add your thoughts on any of the books I've pinned.
Hollinghurst is very good at capturing time and place, and putting characters into that milieu. This is about three gay men and the web between them, set between the London gay scene of clubbing decadence and a beautiful, prissy country counterpoint. It's exquisitely done; elegant writing and sharply observed characters. It has been criticised for its shallow characters, but that's not entirely fair - there are genuine emotions and hopes and fears portrayed here. I really enjoyed this.
This is billed as being like Gone Girl, and it is, superficially, in that it's about a superficially lovely marriage going wrong, and the consequences thereof. As with Gone Girl, neither protagonist is particularly likeable, and the book switches between the two unreliable narrators. It's a decent enough commuting/holiday read, but the denouement felt like a cop-out.
This is a book that's both an intriguing story and a deeply personal exploration by the author, Nicholas Shakespeare, of the story of his aunt's time in France during the Nazi occupation. Starting with fragments of family memories, Shakespeare starts unearthing Priscilla's journey, expecting to find one story and uncovering a difficult, challenging history instead. The writing is vivid and he's remarkably unjudgmental of his aunt's choices.
I loved this book: it's a clear-headed examination of actual risk vs perceived risk, and how the latter is (mis)informed by popular narratives. It unpacks how those narratives work and why you should always think beyond the headlines - because the picture they paint is usually wrong. Great stuff, well worth reading.
An absolutely fascinating and at times uncomfortable look at our sexual quirks, fetishes and preferences - how they might come about, how they're viewed in our wider culture, their histories, harm ... it's all there, and wrapped up and presented in a witty, erudite and quite personal narrative. Highly recommended.
Apple fanbois don't like this book. I thought it was a really good, solid piece of reporting that captures what it was like at Apple during the run-up to Steve Jobs's death and the challenges facing it in the post-Jobs era. It covers innovation, and lack thereof, issues with Foxconn, the patent wars and the change of management style in well-sourced, vivid detail. A must for those interested in the big tech players.
This is the best book I've read so far this year. Its author is a senior neurosurgeon, cantankerous and compassionate as appropriate. He tells, through stories of patients, a vivid narrative of the brain when it goes wrong. It both scared me and filled me with awe at the brain itself, and what can be done to treat its disorders. Fantastic book.
Anyone who's worked in print will recognise the milieu. Clements started at Vogue Australia as a receptionist, and rose to become its editor. It's a bit breathless in places, bordering on sycophantic, but that notwithstanding, her love of the brand and magazines, and enjoyment of the job is evident. There are fun descriptions of glam press trips and hobnobbing with the rich and self-obsessed. The writing clunks a bit, but it's engaging and revealing.
BBC reporter Ed Stourton has done some fine work throwing light on a particular aspect of the second world war in this book, which tells the stories of some of the people who escaped occupied France across the Pyrenees, and the people who helped them. As part of his research he walked the route, and that understanding of the hardships makes this all the more credible, and creditable.
This is intriguing, and well-executed: friendless, lonely Leila is getting to know every cranny of Tess's life before Tess commits suicide so that she can impersonate her online and thus cover up her death. Leila has been commissioned to do this by the charismatic, shadowy Adrian via a forum. But the inconsistencies and moral compromises eventually engulf Leila as she tried to find out what actually happened to Tess. Absolutely gripping.
This is the fourth Rivers of London book, and if you enjoyed the previous three, you'll like this one too. I love the matter of fact mix of routine, credibly portrayed policing and supernatural shenanigans - and there's a plot twist at the end that will have you gasping and waiting for the fifth book to be published.
The haemophilia that Queen Victoria passed on to her descendants - and which still pops up today in her extended family - has had profound effects, both for the European royals themselves and of course on history. This lively, intriguing book speculates on how the haemophilia gene arose in the first place and traces its impact over the past century or so. Fascinating stuff.
This is both the story of the murder of a spinster and how her killer was brought to a very final justice and a parable of its times - England, just after the war. It's a fascinating look at a very different time: postwar deprivation, how criminal justice functioned, how the war disrupted families, told through the prism of the shocking killing of Dagmar Petrzywalski. Much more gripping than you might expect from the sad, grubby, futile killing at its heart.
I loved this. It divides the London experience into themes - arriving, living, buying, dying, leaving, having fun etc and builds each chapter around one person (and I was amused and delighted to discover a friend among the Londoners featured). Beautifully observed and sympathetically written, if you're a Londoner, do read it.
A fascinating and occasionally uncomfortable look at "perversions" and fetishes, from homosexuality right through to paedophilia: how and why we're wired, how our kinks have been viewed over the ages and what does "normal" even mean when it comes to the vast, rich range of human kinks. Fascinating stuff, in a very readable package.
This is an excellent book, detailing the year a young doctor did when drafted to the Vietnam war. As well as conveying the relentless nightmare of dealing with the streams of hideously wounded and mercifully dead, Parrish also adds dashes of the blackest humour and also tells the story of his own mishaps and misdemeanours with care and compassion.
I loved this book: it's the belated fifth book in the wonderful Cazalet chronicles, and it moves the family forward into the 50s as they cope with the uncertainties of the postwar world. EJH is a wonderfully humane writer: even when her characters are behaving badly or idiotically, they're still sympathetically though unflinchingly drawn.
I love Elizabeth Jane Howard - she's a wonderful writer, good with both plot and character. This is based on her own experience of falling for a conman, and it's a brave book to have written as it exposes her vulnerability and mistakes through the central character, Daisy, who falls for a man who really isn't what he seems. It's quite chilling in parts; beautifully executed.
The latest Inspector Lynley novel, and while there's something comforting about settling down with a bunch of familiar characters, I can't help feeling that George is running out of steam with this series. The plot meanders along, complete with gaping holes, and there's a horribly contrived deus ex machina ending that takes too long to arrive and, IMHO, undermines the whole book as it's such a cop-out.Still, if you've enjoyed the other books, this is a good one to go on holiday with.
This caught my eye in a bookshop at Changi airport on my way back from Bali: it's a look at some of the people behind the drugs market in Bali, and it's not a pretty tale. The tone is very tabloid but it's nonetheless a decent piece of journalism that tells the stories of a number of key players, and if nothing else reminds us that Bali may look beautiful and peaceful, but it's pretty grubby under the surface.
Powerful; bleak and violent. I can't really say I enjoyed this novel about a journalist following the investigation into the murder of a young girl, but it's a brilliant piece of work. It pins down the setting - Yorkshire in the 70s - perfectly, with a forensic attention to detail, and the unravelling of the conspiracy and corruption at the heart of the police is superbly done. Not one to read after dark, though.
Or, how surfers created the trade in top-quality Thai weed. This is the fascinating tale, pulled together from the memories of some of the key players, of the trans-Pacific trade in weed. Ranging from southern California to Bali, Thailand and Cambodia, it's a vivid evocation of time and place - and a well-written evocation at that.
Bit of a curate's egg of a book: it's partly a fascinating diary of the lead-up to the dig that found Richard III's skeleton under a Leicester car park, which, it becomes clear, really was quite miraculous. Much of it is familiar history, from a devotedly Ricardian point of view. That's fine, as Richard III is much maligned, but the book suffers from Langley's singular lack of rigour and determination to paint Richard as an all-round good egg.