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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I love Boyd; this, his latest, is great. He's so good at seeing time and place through the eyes of his character, and in this he pulls off convincingly the first-person voice of his female protagonist, Amory. That said, she's quite masculine in many ways - her confidence as she moves in male-dominated worlds, her matter-of-factness about love and sex. This is one of Boyd's lives-told books, along the lines of Any Human Heart and The New Confessions, all of which take a first-person narrator

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It's billed as sci-fi, but it's more about moral quandaries, the power and impotence of the state and how or why individuals might be sacrificed for the greater good. A giant stone man, some 8ft tall, suddenly appears in the middle of Coventry, and then, while everyone is still wondering how and why it got there, it starts walking. It walks relentlessly in a straight line, destroying everything in its way, until it gets to its destination, while the authorities try and stop it. Meanwhile, t...

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Another lovely Linda Grant book that again looks at the effects of time on people. This is built around Alix, who has returned to Liverpool where her mother is dying and her brother's marriage is falling apart. She unexpectedly meets a man, who has his own demons from his past to deal with. This covers a lot of ground: Liverpool, Israel, Chicago, France, all vividly evoked. Wonderful book.

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I love Linda Grant. Her books explore the passing of time and how people change and yet stay the same. This is about a group of students at a new university in the 70s, vividly drawn and told through the eyes of Adele, following them through their naive student days and into reflective adulthood. Lovely, as all Grant's books are.

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Quite geeky but absolutely fascinating. Jamie Bartlett knows his stuff - he's spent a long time poking into the murky corners of the web finding out about the doxxers, the trolls, drug sellers, vigilantes and nutters. A great, unsettling, read.

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One of a good crop of recent science books from media science types. Alice Roberts knows her stuff, and her guide to the human body - how it develops from an embryo, the genetics that define us, our anatomy and biology - is a lovely, revealing read.

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Exquisite portrait of France at war, or rather, French people as the war causes upheavals small and large in their lives. The first part follows a handful of people fleeing Paris ahead of the Nazis. Each one is sympathetically but sharply drawn as they cope with what's befallen them. The second part is the story of a village and its people resentfully coping with occupation, collaborating and resisting the Nazis literally on their doorsteps. This is particularly poignant as its author was

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This is great - it's Wheen's unflinching deconstruction of some of the nonsense narratives that are so ubiquitous, from woo and quackery to moral panics and political spin. Wide-ranging, wel-written, thoughtful and great fun.

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This is sort of a cultural history of the 70s, although it's also Wheen's take on the decade which he views as a time of paranoia and mistrust. I'm not sure he really convinces with that thesis, which becomes the overarching theme connecting the essays. However, they stand on their own merits as gossipy, revealing takes on some of the big events of the decade - Nixon, Heath and others are all here.

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Linda Tirado was a blogger whose posts about her life as a hand-to-mouth working poor mother in the US went viral; this is the resulting book. It's an unflinching exposure of how impossibly tough it is to be poor in America - back to back insecure crappy jobs, small emergencies pushing her and her family into financial disaster, why the poor make apparently bad choices, how hard it is to get healthcare. She's very articulate, and she's not always easy to read. If you've read Barbara Ehrenrei...

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I like Curtis Sittenfeld; she's a good novelist who gets to the heart of her characters. This, famously, is based on the life of Laura Bush: It's the story of Alice, a bookish girl who grows up in the Midwest, becomes a library teacher and marries the charismatic Charlie. Most of the book is very good: humane, well-written and a strong, engaging narrative. But like many critics, the final section, when she and Charlie have moved in to the White House, just doesn't ring true in the way the re...

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Sarah Waters gets better and better. This is another accomplished book, set in a drearily genteel part of London where Frances and her mother, widowed by the first world war, are taking in lodgers to make ends meet. Leonard and Lilian are slightly common and are immediately disruptive, upsetting the routines of the house in small ways. This is a wonderful study of the tensions of people thrown together, and of how something momentous can be happening right under the oblivious noses of others...

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I loved this. Du Sautoy, a mathematician, elegantly sets out the history of an unsolved mystery of pure maths - the Riemann Hypothesis - and explains, via discussions of cryptography and the effect the Nazis had on German mathematics, why it's important. He makes some very abstract concepts understandable and even gripping. If you liked Fermat's Last Theorem, this is for you.

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A brilliantly articulated expression of anger at how so much preventative medicine is a waste of time and money from a GP tired of seeing resources spent on the well rather than the sick for political point-scoring. Statins, prostate and breast screening are subject to her ruthlessly analytical eye and found to be lacking. A great read; a must for anyone who uses the NHS.

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One of several boarding-school-hothouse novels I've read recently. Klein captures the sense of barely contained hysteria as tensions rise following the arrival of an aloof, mysterious new girl. With the unreliable narrator, there's a strong sense of the closed environment in which the most outlandish accusation - is Ernessa really a vampire? - starts to sound all too plausible. But is she? This is a good stab at updating the Gothic novel, with all its claustrophobia and fear.

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I really like McEwan's sparse style and this is just as good as his other novels. Fiona is a family court judge and here she's called on to make a decision about a teenager refusing life-saving treatment. It's a brilliant examination of the consequences of that, elegantly told. I couldn't put it down, and, as often with McEwan, the end takes the breath away. Loved it.

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This was better than I was expecting: it's what-happens-when-someone-steps-away-from-her-life book. Emily walks out one morning, leaving her husband and washing up in London's adland where she reinvents herself - until it all crashes down on her. I really enjoyed this.

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From the author of The Slap, this is just as good, but in a different way. It's one 24-hour period in the life of Ari - gay, Greek, Australian. There's a lot of sex and drugs in the authentic-feeling description of Ari's progress through a night out and despite the unlikeable characters and narrator, it's a great musing on Australia's assimilation of many cultures and the tensions between them. Beautifully written; very readable.

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A good and useful counterpart to the Snowden-as-hero mythology: Lucas has been writing about the intelligence services for years and draws on that experience to consider the damage done by Snowden's revelations. I tend to the view that he is a pawn of the Russians rather than the view that he's a hero: this is a thoughtful counterpoint to the unquestioning hero-worshipping of Snowden.

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An interesting collection of bits and pieces about buildings and places in London that have been lost. It's not a narrative - think rather a long Buzzfeed listicle to dip in and out of. The author picks out some gems and chucks lots of little facts into the mix. The choice is eclectic, and all the more interesting for that.

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An interesting and timely one: it's a woman's discussion of immunity, vaccination and health as she approached it after her son was born. It's in the form of musings and essays on health and captures the uncertainty some parents apparently feel about vaccination. A good read.

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This is great - the BBC's no-nonsense home editor's survey of Britain via 26 topics, presented from A-Z. Easton is a good writer and a perceptive man - I really enjoyed this.

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Not sure the material is as well-handled as it could have been. A woman whose daughter vanished years before is approached by someone who says her daughter is the reincarnation of the lost child. The manipulation of Beth is well described and Beth's desperation to believe is all to credible, but the resolution is a bit of a letdown and the central mystery - is it really Amy - left frustratingly hanging.

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Definitely not the literary sensation some of the reviews would have you believe. A woman and her nice husband go on hols; his daughter and her boyfriend join them. Cue unlikely, predictable and destructive lust. The author does the claustrophobia of being in a villa well, but I found it rather manipulative. Still, a strong enough narrative to have kept me reading. One for a holiday.

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This is a fascinating read as Ernst describes his childhood and entry into medicine and his original forays into altmed, which he set about with an earnest desire to find its evidential foundations. However, his scientific approach set off a shitstorm from the woo-merchants which he's clearly still bruised by. A great read.

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