What better way to kick off 2015 than with an excellent book by a mysterious writer? Italian author Elena Ferrante, whose real identity nobody knows, creates a perfect microcosm of childhood and adolescence in her book My Brilliant Friend, the first in a quartet. It’s a vibrant and violent coming-of-age story and a portrait of an intense friendship between two girls.
As you’re aware, I’m a big David Mitchell fan and I know many of you out there like him too. I’ve just finished his latest book, The Bone Clocks, and I’m left with mixed feelings. The book has moments of pure Mitchellesque brilliance: fast-paced dialogue, inventive characters and addictive plots. The first four parts (there are six) were compulsive reading; the last two might delight sci-fi lovers, but sadly didn’t quite work for me.
I have no idea how I missed this book when it first came out in 2011. Thankfully, a friend suggested I read it and what a hoot! I have been snorting, screaming, squealing with laughter, while my children have been watching me with increasing concern. How To Be A Woman is part memoir, part modern feminist manifesto, written by British journalist and TV presenter Caitlin Moran and the funniest and smartest book I have read in a long time.
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.
I never thought I’d get excited by a novel about botany, but The Signature of All Things proved me wrong. Firstly, Elizabeth Gilbert is an outstanding storyteller: funny, insightful and ambitious. Equally compelling is the novel’s unlikely heroine, Alma Whittaker, a multi-layered and unusual character and a woman with a brilliant scientific brain born in the wrong century.
Haruki Murakami is a rare creature: an author of literary fiction and hugely commercial, a Nobel Prize contender and a best seller. I was completely engrossed by his last book, 1Q84, a 1300 page, three volume magic realist ‘thriller’. Would his new novel Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage live up to my sky-high expectations? Not quite. It is a perfectly good book and if you are a long standing Murakami fan you would probably want to read it. If you are a Murakami virgin, I suggest you start with one of his other books, as I don’t think this is his best. Read full Review
The Paying Guests is a novel full of surprising twists and turns and nail-biting suspense. Revealing details of the story would ruin it for you so I won’t say much. What I can say is that it includes a steaming love story with a twist and a brutal murder against the backdrop of post-World War I London. The Paying Guests is a completely gripping book, the kind of novel you read while walking around and that keeps you awake into the night. Few contemporary authors can beat Sarah Waters in reconstructing the feel and atmosphere of a period in history. In The Paying Guests, she skilfully does it again.
I’ve made a list (in no particular order) of seven books that come to mind every time I think of classics. Most of these I read a while ago and some of them I have read several times, but all of them are brilliant. There is a wide variety, from stories about love and betrayal to dark outposts and surreal transformations, from very long to very short. Take your pick and enjoy!
An American Wild West family epic spanning five generations from the 1850s to present day, from cattle farming to oil bonanza via the American Civil War. This is a hard-core Western complete with scalp collecting natives, corrupt sheriffs and torture of various kinds. It’s not for the fainthearted, but a riveting read if you can stomach a bit of violence.
The Agony and the Ecstasy is a must read if you are travelling to Tuscany, Florence or Rome (your trip will be infinitely more interesting) or if you are remotely interested in art history or the Italian Renaissance. And even if you are none of the above, this is a worthwhile book. The Agony and the Ecstasy is the story of Michelangelo Buonarotti – Italian sculptor, painter, poet and architect – and a very enjoyable lesson in history. Read full Review