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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.

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It was the film poster for this that caught my eye. The film had dire reviews, but the book is excellent: it's the story of what is probably a huge miscarriage of justice after three young men were convicted of killing three little boys. It's also an object lesson in how local hysteria and self-interest can utterly skew the justice system, and a terrifying portrait of what can go wrong in American justice.

Full disclosure: I have a massive crush on Kevin Fong, and this book only increased it. This is fabulous - he looks at the extremes our bodies can take and how that's being applied in medical science. And as well as being a very cool subject, it's beautifully written. What's not to like?

I love Mary Roach's books; this, I think, is her best. It's a look at what happens to bodies after their owner has departed, from the cadavers donated to medical schools, crash test dummies, those used on body farms for forensic science, and everything in between. Not for the queasy, especially not the chapter about execution - the discussion of head transplants was really uncomfortable - but it displays a wonderful sense of genuine inquiry.

This was part of my reading-books-by-doctors, and I was less sure about this. Weston is a good, thoughtful writer, but her writing feels more painstaking and thus less immediate than some of her peers, and I think this lacks some of the humanity that comes through in other doctors' writings. Worth reading, though.

Mary Roach's books are always brilliant: she combines a bouncy, sparkling writing style with a sharply inquisitive mind and a genuine enthusiasm for the offbeat. This looks at space science and the effect of space on the human bodies that go there, which sounds esoteric but is actually completely riveting.

I've had a bit of a run of reading books by medics, and this is a good one; right up there with Do No Harm (see separate pin). It's broadly an autobiography from a neurosurgeon, but as with the best of these, it's also a consideration of the frailness of something we take for granted - ourselves. Great stuff, highly readable, if a little scary at times. It will give you a sense of what you don't want to die of.

I didn't love this as much as A Vision of Loveliness, even though it has the same sure touch in capturing time, place and character: it took me a while to get into it even though the milieu - a girls' school - should have captivated me immediately. Truth be told, it sags a bit in places, but once it grabbed me, I enjoyed it a lot.

This is both fascinating and chilling in equal measure, covering in some detail the rise of Amazon from cheeky upstart online bookseller to the behemoth it is today. What's really chilling is how deeply unpleasant Jeff Bezos seems to be - in a way that makes Steve Jobs look almost cuddly.

Brilliant book. It's Tom Keneally's account of how he came to write Schindler's List, and how the subsequent film came to be made. It's part autobiography, part historical research, part gossipy behind-the-scenes insight, and wholly readable.

This is a powerful account of the author's journey through the mental health system just as the old asylums were being closed, and it's also a powerful memoir of a dysfunctional family. It's both chilling and, ultimately, redemptive - not an easy read, but a worthwhile one.

Well-written, gossipy, elegant and great fun. Everett starts with his ramshackle childhood and makes a queen's progress through boarding school, Chelsea in the 70s, Paris, Hollywood, Miami and all the other tinselly, often tawdry locations of his life. He's got a sharp eye for detail and a lovely turn of phrase that manages to be both elegant and sympathetic.

  • Kate Bevan

    I've always liked him as an actor; I've admired his backing the sex workers of Soho and now I like him very much as a writer and chronicler of his times.

This is the final book in Helen Forrester's autobiographical quartet, and I think the most evocative, as it's not only a portrait of a young woman finding her feet after a sharply truncated childhood but also a clear-eyed portrait of Liverpool and its people as the second world war breaks out - a microcosm of much greater suffering, beautifully written.

This is the third volume of Helen Forrester's unsentimental autobiography, which sees her at 18 just starting to assert some independence. Clear-eyed, un-selfpitying, these books are IMHO among the best autobiographies I've ever read.

I loved The Sea Detective (see separate pin); this is Douglas-Home's second book featuring the eponymous oceanographer Cal McGill. It's a complex story of old, bad blood in a remote Scots town and is almost very good indeed. But the plot had just a few too many coincidences and thus clunked in places, and it doesn't quite pull off the excellence of the first book. That said, it's still a good read, and can be read as a standalone.

The second of Helen Forrester's autobiographical quartet picks up where the first finished. As with the first, it's a clear-eyed, vivid and unsentimental memoir, setting out just what real poverty is like. All the books have a strong narrative laced with real people, likeable and dislikeable. A modern classic.

This is the first of Helen Forrester's quartet about growing up in a big family in desperate poverty in Liverpool. Arguably the first "misery memoir", it's neither miserable nor prurient - it's a vivid portrait of what poverty before the welfare state and the NHS began, and should be read by any politician thinking of rolling back the welfare state and the NHS as a sharp reminder of how much we need them. A timely read now.

  • Natalie Lenton

    Forrester's memoirs are enchanting through a heart rendering mix of a brutal reality, hope and tenacious human spirit. Read these when approx 14yrs, friends were reading' Point Horror' & were mostly hand-puppets, sorry offspring, of staunch right wingers with heads in the sand...yes I still reel that one mother, a school governor, made me sit and watch her family & my friend eat their beefburgers whilst I went with nothing as I was standing by my veggie principals).

  • Natalie Lenton

    English teacher was proud of literary choice though. And our Government need to see sense!!

The final book in Glen Duncan's Werewolf trilogy is better than the middle book, Tallulah. It's lots of fun - bloodsplattered, tense, sharply funny, mildly erotic and has a good, strong, if silly narrative. Although it's apparently the last book, it does leave the door open for another in the series.

This isn't the literary fiction it thinks it is, but it's a good read. Liese, a British estate agent working for her uncle in Melbourne, starts sleeping with a customer, convincing him she's a sex worker. She takes him up on an invitation to go out to his isolated house out in the bush for a weekend, which is when things get a bit uncomfortable. This is interesting as it plays with the notion of what's a game and what's not, and of feeling in control.

  • Kate Bevan

    (continued) The end is a bit of a cop-out, but that notwithstanding, it's intriguing enough for me to have read it in one sitting.

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.