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A Whole Life

A gentle lesson in living

An absolutely perfect little story about Austrian ‘mountain goat’ Andreas Egger, a salt-of-the-earth type of character whose quiet, lonely alpine village life turns out surprisingly satisfactory. His contentedness is of the old-fashioned kind, derived from a closeness to nature, work and acceptance of one’s destiny. A lesson in living and a heart-warming (but far from syrupy!) read which fans of John Williams’ Stoner will love.

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Fingersmith

Brilliantly unpredictable Victorian thriller

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time, widely considered to be Waters’ best, and recommended to me by tons of people. In true Sarah Waters’ fashion, Fingersmith twists and turns in completely unpredictable ways, it’s creepy, it’s seedy, it’s spooky and it’s the best thriller I’ve read for quite a while.

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Feeling academic? Here’s a list of reading about reading

A list doesn’t come more high-brow than this. If you’ve ever had the urge to get to the bottom of understanding books this offers an excellent selection of literature for you. No light beach reads here, but enough to keep you going for years and come out a scholar, and probably enjoy reading even more. Go on and tackle the literary heavyweights: Roland Barthes, Lucian Freud, Harold Bloom, James Wood, Michel Foucault etc.

So You Think You’re a Literary Critic? 19 Books for Understanding Literature by Richard Davies

 

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The Living and the Dead in Winsford

Thriller of the month

It is appropriate that, of any and all awards, The Living and the Dead in Winsford has won the Rosenkrantz award for best thriller of the year (2014). While this award might actually be in the name of Danish crime writer Palle Rosenkrantz, it is in fact reminiscent of that other Rosenkrantz: the compere of Guildenstern. The mystery, the crime and the repercussions are in tone more in keeping with the ambiguity of those other Danes, Hamlet’s betrayers.

We begin with a lone Swedish woman, and her dog, in England and isolated from everyone who knows her. What is she doing? What is she running from? Who is she? To say more would ruin the story and the gossamer threads that make up the web of her history. It requires your full participation and creativity as Nesser’s slow and anxious descriptions of her days on the moor make it the unique psychological thriller that it is. There are plenty of questions here and, despite the clear physical resolution, more questions linger after you have put the book back on its shelf. Nesser’s skill in delving into the psyche of our female narrator and his insidious suggestions of betrayal and disloyalty make it a worthy award winner, even if it were to be doubly awarded in another Rosenkrantz’ name.

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The End of Days

Too sad for words

This beautifully written, prize-winning novel should come with a warning: NOT SUITABLE IF FEELING LOW

It’s the story of a girl born in Austria-Hungary at the start of the 20th century and her five possible alternative lives. It’s structure is reminiscent of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, but, I think, more elegantly executed. The wars, famines and conflicts that dominated Central European history in the early part of the last century shape her different destinies and, as you’ve probably guessed, they are rarely happy ones. Suicides, famine, war – you name it. It’s a seriously depressing book that I found hard to enjoy (I can usually stomach sad books). That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s exquisitely written with an interesting premise – how coincidences shape our lives. It won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize earlier this year, a prize I rate highly. Still tempted… just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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The Lady in the Van

‘Pied-à-terre’ in the back garden

It’s no secret that we are great fans of Alan Bennett’s work – from The History Boys and The Madness of King George to Smut and The Uncommon Reader. His absolute precision, his careful thought and trademark subversive humour make him irresistible irrespective of the format he chooses to write in.

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Better World Book – saving the world, one book at a time

We are excited to have discovered this marvellous online site. “You buy. We donate” is their catchphrase. New and old books are available for free delivery around the world and for every book you buy, they donate one onwards (while endearingly thanking you profusely), enabling and enriching libraries in poorer countries. It has become our first port of call for online books. With £14 million raised for libraries and nearly 200 million books recycled, how can you not like it?

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Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Graphic novels - do they work?

I’ve long been intrigued by graphic novels (basically novels told in a comic strip format – although not necessarily funny…). Do they work or are they just for lazy readers? Persepolis is the autobiographical story of Marjane Satrapi growing up in Iran during the revolution. There’s definitely nothing funny about Satrapi’s claustrophobic, repressed and violent childhood – neighbours telling on each other, the secret police monitoring every move and Iraqi bombs dropping over Teheran.

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The Blue Flower

Historical fiction at it's best. A modern classic.

The Blue Flower is based on the true-life love story between the 18th century German philosopher and poet Georg Philipp Friedrich (Fritz) Freiherr von Hardenberg and a young girl, Sophie von Kühn. Sounds dreary? No, it’s not, actually! It’s a great book, thanks to Penelope Fitzgerald’s light, funny and authentic writing. No wonder her horde of fans include Jonathan Franzen, Allan Hollinghurst, Julian Barnes, James Wood…I could go on and on…who all hail this as a modern classic.

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