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At the Edge of the Orchard

Rushed plot, improbable ending

This is Tracy Chevalier’s eighth novel and I’ve been a huge fan of her work since reading Girl with a Pearl Earring in 1999. Sadly, At the Edge of the Orchard left me disappointed. The subject matter, as always with Chevalier, was meticulously researched and vividly portrayed, but the plot felt rather jumbled together, the ending somewhat improbable.

Set in 1838, James and Sadie Goodenough are pioneers trying to carve out a life in the inhospitable, stagnant swamplands of northwest Ohio. They and their 5 children work relentlessly planting apple trees in order to stake their claim on the land. We follow the family’s bleak journey full of horrific struggles over the next fifteen years.

The characters are sharply drawn and compelling with clear, individual voices and I loved the fact I was introduced to a subject and place I knew nothing about. Chevalier describes the sequoia trees and endless landscapes with rich intensity. But the plot seemed bumpy, rushed and overly melodramatic, the ending predictable and disappointing. However, Chevalier’s ability to evoke a period in history and take you to that very place is unsurpassed. The novel left me wanting to learn how to graft apple trees and experience the taste of a sweet Golden Pippin.

At the Edge of the Orchard is published by The Borough Press – HarperCollins, 300 pages.

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Autumn

The first post-Brexit novel

Scottish novelist Ali Smith published this Man Booker Prize short-listed novel set in the autumn of 2016, in the very same year and season that it explores. Its punch and originality comes not only from Smith’s playful, poetic and non-linear writing style but also from its contemporaneous nature. Autumn is a novel that examines the here and now as Smith tries to make some sense out of a badly fractured post-Brexit Britain.

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Bad Dad

High energy antics with a soft heart

BANG! WALLOP! CRUNCH! Bad Dad greets the reader with noisy fanfare. The hotly anticipated new book from David Walliams tells the story of a father and son’s struggle to escape the clutches of a local crime lord, and right ashameful wrong. A riot of car chases and madcap schemes, does it deserve its runaway success at the top of the bestseller charts?

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Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End

Surprisingly reassuring on a grim subject

I’m not sure how I’m going to convince you to read this book. Most of you will, understandably, want to look the other way. There are details about dying in Being Mortal that will make you shudder and stories about elderly people’s lives that will make you want to cry. But, for me, this book was an eye-opener and surprisingly reassuring, despite it’s grim subject matter.

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Between the World and Me

An eye-opener

Once in a blue moon you come across a book that changes your perspective. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ open letter to his 15-year-old son about race relations in America, is such a book. An eye-opening account that – at the risk of sounding patronising – everyone ‘should’ read.

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Blood River – A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart

Gripping tale about a journalist's trip down the Congo river

Blood River is the extraordinary story of journalist Tim Butcher’s brave journey down the Congo River in the footsteps of legendary H.M. Stanley. It’s the tale of  a country which has regressed, where traces of a civilisation (one built during the brutal Belgian King Leopold’s ‘reign’ of the country): train tracks, decrepit abandoned cities can be found if you scrape the earth. Fear lingers everywhere, to the extent that Congo’s inhabitants rely on the fast growing vegetable cassava as their main food, simply because they might be chased away from their homes any time.  Butcher’s passion for Congo and compassion for the Congolese shines through in his great writing. I read this book many years ago and it has stayed with me ever since and, I fear, is still as relevant today as it was in 2007. Gripping reading!

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Book series for kids

Every parent loves a book series. Keep your kids busy with these Bookstoker recommendations.

With Autumn upon us, and the nights drawing in, surely now is the time to get your kids cosily curled up with a book. Or two. Or preferably, a whole series, to keep them busy until Spring. With this in mind, we’ve cherry-picked a few, for discerning young minds.

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Brand New Ancients

Electrifying performance poet finds the majestic in ordinary life

Calling every teenager that thinks poetry is boring! Shelve your prejudices and open your mind to Kate Tempest, who honed her craft ‘rapping at strangers’ on night buses and all-night raves. In Brand New Ancients, she has created a poem in the tradition of the epic myths, and fused it with a tale of urban angst in south east London.

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Butterflies in November

Circinate adventure in Iceland

Perhaps Icelandic women are more forward thinking than the rest of us… or maybe they just aren’t?! Droll re-evaluations of what it means to be a woman, and an independent woman at that, in this quirky narrative of a road trip ‘into the wilderness’ after being simultaneously dumped by both lover and husband. Local insight: the irony being that there is only one road in Iceland, and it loops back on itself. Brilliant circular little adventure, full of the unnamed heroine’s sardonic wit and incongruous, but very human, weaknesses. The lack of moralising makes it a refreshing, light, read.

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Cakes in Space

Can Astra save her spaceship from mutant cupcakes?

This is a seriously bizarre children’s book. It reminds me of an activity I do with children to help them get ideas for a silly story. They pull a main character, setting and plot out of a hat, then try to weave them together into a story that makes some kind of sense.

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