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102 English Things to Do

How to be English

To be enjoyed by English, Brits and non-Brits alike. This amusing collection of observations is part humorous analysis of being English (listen to the shipping forecast, be self-deprecating/ironic/ apologetic); part practical advice (decipher: ‘AONB’, cockney, ‘tea’, ‘be disgusted, Tunbridge wells’, and ‘Lord Lucan’); travel guide (browse Charing Cross road, experience Glynebourne/ Coronation Street/Notting Hill Carnival) and endearingly, proudly English (recite/sing alternatingly Invictus/ Jerusalem/be eccentric). Makes a lovely little gift too.

102 English Things to Do by Alex Quick is published by Old Street Publishing, 226 pages.

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13 Reasons Why

A contentious handling of teen suicide in the novel of the much hyped Netflix series

Hannah Baker is dead. She committed suicide two weeks ago, shocking her local community. But there are thirteen reasons why she died, and she wants Clay Jensen to know what they are. Her secrets call to him from beyond the grave, and what they reveal blows his world apart. The buzz around 13 Reasons Why has been huge. First published a decade ago, public interest has been reignited by the recent 13-part Netflix series, rocketing it into the bestseller charts.
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A Death in the Family

To Knausgaard or not to Knausgaard?

I have been holding off writing about the Norwegian publishing phenomenon Karl Ove Knausgaard until the other day, when I picked up the first volume in English translation and realised how well it travels. The press are awash with, mostly raving, reviews of his autobiographical novels and interviews with the author. Zadie Smith has said she needed them ‘like crack’.  Should you read them?

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A Fool, Free

A journey into the mind of a schizophrenic

A Fool, Free can best be described as a A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time for schizophrenia. It is the extraordinary story (allegedly fiction, but suspiciously similar to the authors own life) of Swedish/Norwegian Eli, a filmmaker and author, as she battles the many personas inhabiting her mind, medication (too much or too little) and nurses and doctors with a varying degree of understanding of how best to treat her. Four male voices, Espen, Emil, Prince Eugen and the rebellious Erik, the instigator of Eli’s most violent outbursts, controls Eli’s life. She wants to go through a sex change but doesn’t know which sex to choose. She oscillates from being forcibly hospitalised and heavily medicated to being a productive and successful filmmaker and author. A hugely enlightening look at a mental illness shrouded in myths and fear and probably as close as you’ll ever get in appreciating what goes on in the mind of a schizophrenic.

A Fool, Free by Beate Grimsrud is published by Head of Zeus, 496 pages.

 

 

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A Gentleman in Moscow

A Tsarist Count surviving in revolutionary Russia

It’s 1922. We are in Moscow’s most distinguished hotel and one of its permanent guests, the unrepentant aristocrat Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, has just been sentenced to a life in exile inside the hotel ‘never to set foot outside of The Metropol again.’ So starts A Gentleman in Moscow, a novel that it’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with, a true, yes I will say it, feel good story. It’s not going to change your life, but Amor Towels’ book (also author of Rules of Civility) will entertain and delight with wonderfully crafted characters and enviably elegant writing.

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A Hologram For The King

The perfect beach read

I’m discovering I have a soft spot for Dave Eggers and his ingenious way of writing about modern life. I very much enjoyed The Circle (Eggers’ satire on our obsession with technology and connectivity) and A Hologram for The King, set in the ghostly King Abdullah Economic City in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert, is just as good. A delightful, light and funny read to pack on your holiday. Can’t wait for his new book Heroes of the Frontier comes out in July!

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A Little Life

A profoundly moving novel about friendship in the twenty-first century

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A Scandalous Life

You couldn't have made it up

This incredible story of aristocratic beauty Lady Jane Digby and her escapades through the higher echelons of British, French, Austrian, German and Greek societies in the 1800s, is one of the more extraordinary biographies I’ve read. Born into wealth and privilege, the charismatic Jane Digby basically slept her way through Europe, starting with an English politician moving on to a German baron, an Austrian Prince, a Greek King and an Albainan General and many more, leaving behind her a trail of ex-husbands and children. Digby ends up in Syria as the wife of a bedouin sheik twenty years her junior. It’s an astounding story which would make a perfect film!

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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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