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The Shock of the Fall

Warm, humourous and convincing portrayal of mental illness

A well-deserved Costa Book of the Year winner! The Shock of the Fall is a heart-warming, funny, wise and convincing portrayal of a young boy’s descent into mental illness, from an author who’s seen it all in his job as a mental health nurse. ‘I should say that I am not a nice person. Sometimes I try to be, but often I’m not.’ The opening line of The Shock of the Fall, sets the stage for the sad tale of Matthew, a nineteen year-old, pot smoking school drop-out with severe psychological problems, looking back at his childhood. A sort of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time for mental illness, with a slightly more adult tone.

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Crossing to Safety

Contemplative and exquisitely written

Another long forgotten but fabulous novel is Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner from 1987.  We meet two couples, Larry and Sally Morgan and Sid and Charity Lang, life-long loyal friends, soul mates, occasional competitors and mutual supporters. If you’re in the mood for a contemplative, tightly and exquisitely written novel, reach for Crossing to Safety.

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Mrs Bridge

Hilarious satire with a darker message

Over the past year or so I have stumbled upon two brilliant books, which, strangely enough, have a great deal in common. The first one, Mrs Bridge by Evan S. Connell, was featured on BBC Radio 4’s excellent programme Open Book. I read it in one gulp and it immediately joined my favourite-books list.

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The Life Before Us

Funny and moving best-selling French novel of the 20th century

The Life Before Us is a heart-breaking story narrated by Momo, a ten year-old Arab immigrant. Momo, who lives in an orphanage run by ex-prostitute Madame Rosa, has seen things no ten-year old should see and is far too advanced for his age. But despite his shrewdness, Momo is still a child. Darkly comical and wonderfully poignant, The Life Before Us, the best-selling French novel of the 20th century, deserves to join the ranks of rediscovered classics. Read full Review

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Canada

Beautiful and disturbing

You need a bit of patience to get into this book, Ford’s slow paced writing takes some getting used to, but do persist, it is a brilliant read. Canada is a profoundly moving and disturbing story about growing-up, deceit and survival, written by one of the giants of American contemporary literature, the Pulitzer Prize winning Richard Ford. Read full Review

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Sum: Tales from the Afterlives

Mind-blowing and very funny, a must-read.

Ever wondered what afterlife might be like? Sum: Tales from the Afterlives by neuroscientist and writer David Eagleman offers forty different mind-blowing hypotheses, some of them nightmarish, some of them appealing, most of them hilarious and all of them thought provoking. Read full Review

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Americanah

Another gem from Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Orange Prize winning book Half of A Yellow Sun was a magnificent read, a beautiful love story against the backdrop of the Biafran war, a terrible conflict I vividly remember from my childhood as totally incomprehensible…until I read this book. A truly amazing novel. Adichie casts the net wider in Americanah which spans three continents: America, Africa and Europe. Our heroine Ifemelu grows up in Nigeria’s capital Lagos with a mother lost to religion and an unhappy, underachieving father.

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How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Refreshingly different, funny and heart-breaking

Once in a while you come across a refreshingly unusual book, a book so utterly different that it inspires you to see novels in a new light. With its gaudy dust jacket and brazen title, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is such a book, and it is an excellent one at that. I was a big fan of Moshin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and this book is, in my opinion, equally good. Read full Review

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The Yellow Birds

Timely and tough, but beautifully written

Machine gunner and poet? Two absurdly contradictory roles. Kevin Powers is both, as well as an extremely talented author. A Michener Fellow of Poetry from the University of Texas at Austin, Powers served as a machine gunner in the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tal Afar in 2004 and 2005. His novel The Yellow Birds, inspired by his own experiences of war, is a superb book, heart wrenching, moving and beautifully written. Read full Review