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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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Alias Grace

A chilling true-life murder mystery

Hot on the heals of a successful TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale comes a Netfilx adaptation of Alias Grace, another of Atwood’s best-selling novels. I’d take any excuse to re-read this excellent book, which is still as good today as it was in 1996. It’s based on the true story of Canadian domestic servant Grace Marks who in 1843, at the age of 16, was convicted of murdering her employer Mr Kinnear and fellow housekeeper Nancy Montgomery. Atwood’s interest in the case go beyond the murder, of course, and into the dark depths of women’s, particularly poor women’s, standing in society; the prejudices held against them, the sexual abuse and innuendo, the back-street abortions and the assumption that they are all liars. An absolutely riveting read.

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All Our Names

Idi Amin's Uganda and race relations in America, beautifully interweaved

All Our Names is the story of Isaac, a young African on the run from the political chaos of Idi Amin’s Uganda, and Helen, the social worker assigned to look after him when he arrives in America. Laden with emotional baggage, they embark on a controversial love affair. All Our Names is a quietly contemplative and beautifully constructed story with a window into the brutal world of African politics and race relations in America in the 1970s.

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All That Man Is

Nine disparate yet intertwined lives. Nine different ages of man.

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All the Light We Cannot See

A New York Times bestseller and winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

I loved this compelling, ambitious novel for several reasons: for Anthony Doerr’s ability to look afresh at this well-trodden period in history (World War II); for his ingenious plot and for his haunting, compelling prose and beautiful imagery. But mostly I loved it because it reminded me of the light and grace we are all capable of embodying. Doerr convinces the reader of the innate good in humanity, even at the most cruel and desolate of times.

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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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An Eagle in the Snow

Vivid and enthralling wartime tale wins coveted Children's Book Award

It is 1940. 10-year-old Barney and his mum are on the 11.50 train to London, all their worldly possessions contained in a suitcase on the overhead luggage rack. Bombed out of their home by the Luftwaffe, they are moving in with Barney’s aunty Mavis. But events on this journey will haunt them forever, as a mysterious travelling companion shares some chilling revelations. The Children’s Book Award is voted for entirely by children. This makes it an especially lovely accolade, and one that this year has been awarded to Michael Morpurgo, for An Eagle in the Snow.
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Animal Farm

Ostensibly a children’s fable about farm animals’ revolt against their (human) farmer, it is not only a parable of the Russian Revolution and the messy battle for power as Orwell intended, but also a cautionary satire that can be translated to other examples of dictatorships and government propaganda. No reading list should be without this singularly spectacular piece of work.

(11/12+ years)

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Animalium

Perfect present for animal lovers of all ages

This museum is unlike any you’ve visited before. Open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, its collection boasts an unrivalled catalogue of the world’s finest and most extraordinary creatures, with each exhibit in immaculate condition and presented in fantastic detail.

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Armadale

A contemporary of Thackeray, Trollope, Dickens and George Eliot, Wilkie Collins was not only at the forefront of the detective novel (The Moonstone) but, as the hugely successful author of mystery and the sensational novel, he was also the celebrity of the time.

Lesser known, but much like its more famous sibling The Woman in White,  the story revolves around the tangled threads of identity and destiny (though less saccharine than Collins’  The Two Destinies). Throw in a handful of revenge, and a femme fatal, and this thrilling nineteenth century ‘bestseller’ is hard to put down.

On an aside: The Woman in White is fantastic too and one of my favourites – read to perfection by Ian Holm. Sample Audible Here

(12+ years)