Book of the Month

December 2018

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

A gripping contemporary Gothic thriller from the bestselling author of the Dr Ruth Galloway mysteries: Susan Hill meets Gone Girl and Disclaimer.

Clare Cassidy is no stranger to tales of murder. As a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer R.M. Holland, she teaches a short course on them every year. Then Clare's life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an R.M. Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer's works somehow hold the key to the case.

Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then one day she notices some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn't hers...

Murder by the Book:  A Sensational Chapter in Victorian Crime by Claire Harman

Early in the morning of 6 May 1840, on a respectable Mayfair street, a footman answered the door to a panic-stricken maid from a nearby house.  Her elderly master, Lord William Russell, was lying in bed with his throat cut so deeply that the head was almost severed.

The whole of London, from monarch to street urchin, was gripped by the gory details of the Russell murder, but behind it was another story; a work of fiction, and a fierce debate about censorship and morality.  Several of the key literary figures of the day, including Dickens and Thackeray, were drawn into the controversy, and when Lord William's murderer claimed to have been inspired by the season's most sensational novel, it seemed that a great deal more was on trial than anyone could have guessed.

Bringing together much previously unpublished material from a wide range of sources, Claire Harman reveals the story of the notorious Russell murder case and its fascinating connections with the writers and literary culture of the day.  Gripping and eye-opening, Murder by the Book is the untold true story of a surprisingly literary crime.

November 2018

Melmoth by Sarah Perry

Twenty years ago Helen Franklin did something she cannot forgive herself for, and she has spent every day since barricading herself against its memory, but her sheltered life is about to change.

A strange manuscript has come into her possession.  It is filled with testimonies from the darkest chapters of human history, which all record sightings of a tall, silent woman in black, with unblinking eyes and bleeding feet: Melmoth, the loneliest being in the world.  Condemned to walk the Earth forever, she tries to beguile the guilty and lure them away for a lifetime wandering alongside her.

Everyone that Melmoth seeks out must make a choice:  To live with what they've done, or be led into the darkness.  Helen can't stop reading, or shake the feeling that someone is watching her.  As her past finally catches up with her, she too must choose which path to take.

Heimat:  A German Family Album by Nora Krug

Nora Krug grew up as a second-generation German after the end of the Second World War, struggling with a profound ambivalence towards her country's recent past.  Travelling as a teenager, her accent alone evoked raw emotions in the people she met, an anger she understood, and shared.

Seventeen years after leaving Germany for the US, Nora Krug decided she couldn't know who she was without confronting where she'd come from.  In 'Heimat,' she documents her journey investigating the lives of her family members under the Nazi regime, visually charting her way back to a country still tainted by war.

Beautifully illustrated and lyrically told, 'Heimat' is a powerful meditation on the search for cultural identity, and the meaning of history and home.

October 2018

The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah

Returning home after lunch one day, Hercule Poirot finds an angry woman waiting outside his front door. She demands to know why Poirot has sent her a letter accusing her of the murder of Barnabas Pandy, a man she has neither heard of nor ever met.

Poirot has also never heard of a Barnabas Pandy, and has accused nobody of murder. Shaken, he goes inside, only to find that he has a visitor waiting for him - a man who also claims also to have received a letter from Poirot that morning, accusing him of the murder of Barnabas Pandy.

Poirot wonders how many more letters of this sort have been sent in his name. Who sent them, and why? More importantly, who is Barnabas Pandy, is he dead, and, if so, was he murdered? And can Poirot find out the answers without putting more lives in danger?

The Runner:  Four Years Living and Running in the Wilderness by Markus Torgeby

As a teenager, Markus Torgeby turned out to be a very talented long-distance runner. It didn't take long before he was discovered by an enthusiastic coach who set very high goals. However, while Markus performed brilliantly in training, during competitions he often failed inexplicably.

The pressure of competition alongside the strain of caring for his MS-suffering mother took its toll, and when an injury put an end to Markus's running career, he lost his foothold in life. At just 20 years old, Markus moved to one of the most isolated and cold regions of northern Sweden. There he lived as a recluse for four years staying in a tent and braving the harsh Scandinavian winters. And he ran. His time alone would prove to be more than an escape and was in fact a search for a direction in life.

The Runner is a unique and powerful book: a portrait of an extraordinary man as well as a fascinating exploration of running and personal wellbeing.

September 2018

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

From the attic of a dilapidated English country house, she sees them - Cara first:  Dark and beautiful, clinging to a marble fountain of Cupid, and Peter, an Apollo.  It is 1969 and they are spending the summer in the rooms below hers while Frances writes a report on the follies in the garden for the absent American owner.  But she is distracted; beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she discovers a peephole which gives her access to her neighbours' private lives.

To Frances' surprise, Cara and Peter are keen to spend time with her.  It is the first occasion that she has had anybody to call a friend, and before long they are spending every day together, eating lavish dinners, drinking bottle after bottle of wine, and smoking cigarettes till the ash piles up on the crumbling furniture; Frances is dazzled.

But as the hot summer rolls lazily on, it becomes clear that not everything is right between Cara and Peter.  The stories that Cara tells don't quite add up - and as Frances becomes increasingly entangled in the lives of the glamorous, hedonistic couple, the boundaries between truth and lies, right and wrong, begin to blur.  Amid the decadence of that summer, a small crime brings on a bigger one, a crime so terrible that it will brand all their lives forever.

Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

Adam Hills is one of the most popular comedians in the UK, in addition to his stand-up, he took the UK by storm with his satirical news and talk show on Channel 4 – The Last Leg.  Now in its twelfth series, The Last Leg originally ran alongside the 2012 Paralympics and regularly attracts over 1.8 million viewers.

Best Foot Forward tells the story of a life spent in comedy.  From the early days of the Sydney Stand-Up scene, to hosting his own radio show in Adelaide, to touring the world and eventually landing on British TV.

Along the way Adam shares some childhood tales, a few backstage blunders, and encounters some fairly famous faces – from Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Connolly, to the guy that sang The Macarena. No, not that guy, the other guy.

It’s a lesson in following your heart, being positive, and discovering that what makes you different also makes you unique.

Adam Hills is an Australian comedian and radio and television presenter. He is best known in Australia for his role hosting the music quiz show Spicks and Specks and the talk show Adam Hills Tonight, and in Britain for hosting The Last Leg.

August 2018

A Long Island Story by Rock Gekoski

It is 1953, a heat wave is sweeping across America and the Grossmans - Ben, Addie and their two children - are moving their lives from the political heart of Washington DC to suburban Long Island.

Benny was a successful lawyer in the Department of Justice, but all that has come tumbling down. With the McCarthy era of paranoia, persecution and propaganda at its height, his past has come back to haunt him, forcing him to pack up his family and leave the capital behind.  With their future uncertain, life in Long Island starts to open old wounds for Ben and Addie, both start to wonder if they were meant for more, whether their future might look different than they planned, and whether their marriage - their family - is worth fighting for.

The stopping places:  A journey through gypsy Britain by Damian Le Bas

Damian Le Bas grew up on a diet of gypsy history.  His great-grandmother, Nan, would tell him stories of her childhood in the ancient Romany language; the places her family stopped and worked, the ways they lived, the superstitions and lores of their people.  But his own experience of life on the road was limited to Ford Transit journeys from West Sussex to Hampshire to sell flowers.  Longing to better understand his gypsy heritage, the history of the Romany in Britain and the rhythms of their life today, Damian set out on a journey to discover the old encampment sites known only to Travellers.

From winter frost to summer dawns, he travels the country to visit horse fairs, urban lay-bys and hidden gypsy churches. 'The Stopping Places' shines a light on a group of people and a way of life that has been often hidden and much maligned.

July 2018

84K by Claire North

Theo Miller knows the value of human life - to the very last penny.

Working in the Criminal Audit Office, he assesses each crime that crosses his desk and makes sure the correct debt to society is paid in full.

But when his ex-lover is killed, it's different.  This is one death he can't let become merely an entry on a balance sheet, because when the richest in the world are getting away with murder, sometimes the numbers just don't add up.

The Life of Stuff:  A Memoir About the Mess We Leave Behind

Only after her mother’s death does Susannah Walker discover how much of a hoarder she had become.  Over the following months, she has to sort through a dilapidated house filled to the brim with rubbish and treasures, in search of a woman she'd never really known or understood in life.  This is her last chance to piece together her mother’s story and make sense of their troubled relationship.  What emerges from the mess of scattered papers, discarded photographs and an extraordinary amount of stuff is the history of a sad and fractured family, haunted by dead children, divorce and alcohol.

The Life of Stuff is a deeply personal memoir about mourning and the shoring up of possessions against the losses and griefs of life, which also raises universal questions about what makes us the people we are.  What do our possessions say about us?  Why do we project such meaning onto them?  And what painful circumstances turn someone who loves their home and the stuff it contains into an incurable hoarder who ends their days in squalor?

June 2018

The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Nour is a young Syrian girl who has lost her father to cancer.  Wanting to be close to her relatives, Nour's mother - a cartographer who makes beautiful hand-painted maps - moves her family back to the city of Homs.  Nour's father was a real storyteller and he told her that the roots of the trees connect to the ground across the world. She knows they left her father in the ground back in America, so she starts telling him the ancient fable of Rawiya, whispering it into the ground so he might hear.

Syria is changing however, and it isn't long before protests and shelling destroy the peace of the quiet city.  As Nour begins her own journey as a refugee, she draws strength and inspiration from the voyage of Rawiya, who became apprenticed to the famous mapmaker, Al Idrisi, and who battled mythical creatures and endured epic battles in the attempt to compile the most accurate map of the world ever made.

The Map of Salt and Stars is a breathtakingly beautiful novel that illuminates the story of a country in turmoil, a tale of human resilience and the power of stories to transform.

The Feather Thief:  Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson

Who is Edwin Rist?  Genius?  Narcissist?  Felon? Mastermind?  Pawn?  Liar?

One summer evening in 2009, twenty-year-old musical prodigy Edwin Rist broke into the British Museum of Natural History.  Hours later, he slipped away with a suitcase full of rare bird specimens collected over the centuries from across the world, all featuring a dazzling array of priceless feathers.

Kirk Wallace Johnson was waist-deep in a river in New Mexico when he first heard about the heist, from his fly-fishing guide.  When he discovered that the thief evaded prison, and that half the birds were never recovered, Johnson embarked upon a worldwide investigation which led him deep into the fiercely secretive underground community obsessed with the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying.

May 2018

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

England, 1851:  William is a biologist and seed merchant, who sets out to build a new type of beehive, one that will give both him and his children honour and fame.

United States, 2007:  George is a beekeeper and fights an uphill battle against modern farming, but hopes that his son can be their salvation.

China, 2098:  Tao hand paints pollen onto the fruit trees now that the bees have long since disappeared. When Tao's young son is taken away by the authorities after a tragic accident - and is kept in the dark about his whereabouts and condition - she sets out on a gruelling journey to find out what happened to him.

Haunting, illuminating, and deftly written, The History of Bees joins these three very different narratives into one gripping and thought-provoking story that is just as much about the powerful relationships between children and parents as it is about our very relationship to nature and humanity. Inexpressibly moving and utterly haunting, it’s a book about the very real threat of ecological disaster and our attempts to remain connected in a changing, ever-more chaotic world.

Odd Girl Out:  An Autisitic Woman in a Neurotypical World by Laura James

What do you do when you wake up in your mid-40s and realise you've been living a lie your whole life?  Do you tell, or do you keep it to yourself? Laura James found out that she was autistic as an adult, after she had forged a career for herself, married twice and raised four children. This title tracks the year of Laura's life after she receives a definitive diagnosis from her doctor, as she learns that 'different' doesn't need to mean 'less' and how there is a place for all of us, and it's never too late to find it.

Laura draws on her professional and personal experiences and reflects on her life in the light of her diagnosis, which, for her, explains some of her differences; why, as a child, she felt happier spinning in circles than standing still and why she has always found it difficult to work in places with a lot of ambient noise.

Odd Girl Out gives a timely account from a woman negotiating the autistic spectrum, from a poignant and personal perspective.

April 2018

The Adulterants by Joe Dunthorne

Ray is not a bad guy.  Sure, he's just cheated on his heavily pregnant wife.  He secretly despises all of his friends.  His career as a freelance tech journalist is dismal, and he can't afford any of the hovels that pass for a first-time buyer's house, and he spends his afternoons churning out listicles in his pants, but Ray is about to learn that no matter how low you sink, things can always get worse.

Brace yourself for a wickedly funny look at the modern everyman.  The Adulterants is an uproarious tale of competitively sensitive men and catastrophic open marriages, riots on the streets of London and Internet righteousness, and one man's valiant quest to come of age in his thirties.  With lacerating wit and wry affection, Joe Dunthorne dissects the urban millennial psyche of a man too old to be an actual millennial.

The assassination of Gianni Versace:  Vulgar Favours by Maureen Orth

The basis for American Crime Story:  The Assassination of Gianni Versace, a 10-part drama series on BBC2, starring Penelope Cruz and Ricky Martin, this is the unforgettable account of a sociopath, his savage crimes, and the devastation he left in his wake.

In the glamorous and hedonistic fashion world of the 1990’s there was one world-famous name that everyone knew – Gianni Versace.  Vulgar Favours details the events that led to his murder at the hands of Andrew Cunanan on July 15th, 1997.

Maureen Orth, investigative journalist, was researching an article for Vanity Fair about the Miami Beach serial killer two days before Versace was brutally killed outside his mansion by Cunanan.  Drawing on over 400 interviews and thousands of pages of police reports, Orth recounts in gripping detail how Cunanan became one of America's most notorious serial killers, evading the police and leaving his other victims’ families in disarray.

March 2018

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

'Anatomy of a Scandal' centres on a high-profile marriage that begins to unravel when the husband is accused of a terrible crime.  Sophie is sure her husband, James, is innocent and desperately hopes to protect her precious family from the lies which might ruin them.  Kate is the barrister who will prosecute the case - she is equally certain that James is guilty and determined he will pay for his crimes.

A high-profile marriage thrust into the spotlight. A wife determined to keep her family safe.  A prosecutor who believes justice has been a long time coming. A scandal that will rock Westminster, and the women caught at the heart of it.

Forty Autumns:  A family's story of courage and survival on both sides of the Berlin Wall by Nina Willner

When Nina's mother Hanna was just 20 years old, she escaped to West Germany with nothing more than a small satchel and the clothes on her back.  It was the dawn of the Cold War.  Hanna left her parents, siblings and everything she had ever known behind.

'Forty Autumns' traces the dramatic lives of the family on both sides of the Iron Curtain.  Hanna eventually moved to America where she gave birth to Nina and her brother; years after Hanna's brave escape to the West, Nina found herself working as an Army Intelligence officer in Berlin, leading secret operations just miles away from the family her mother left behind all those years ago.

February 2018

The Gathering Dark by James Oswald

A truck driver loses control in central Edinburgh, ploughing into a crowded bus stop and spilling his vehicle's toxic load.  The consequences are devastating; DI Tony McLean witnesses the carnage.

Taking control of the investigation, he soon realises there is much that is deeply amiss - and everyone involved seems to have something to hide, but as McLean struggles to uncover who caused the tragedy, a greater crisis develops:  The new Chief Superintendent's son is missing, last seen in the area of the crash.

Elizabeth's Rival:  The Tumultuous Tale of Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester by Nicola Tallis

Cousin to Elizabeth I (although it's likely that they were far closer than that) and grandniece to Anne Boleyn, Lettice Knollys was destined to be a prominent figure at court. Her life would, however, be one of dizzying highs and pitiful lows; caught in a love triangle with Robert Dudley and Elizabeth I, banished from court, embroiled in treason, losing a husband to the executioner's axe and further husbands and children to war and sickness.

At different times Countess of Essex and Countess of Leicester, Lettice lived from the reign of Henry VIII through to Charles I and her story offers an extraordinary and intimate perspective on the history of the period.

January 2018

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Isma is free.  After years spent raising her twin siblings in the wake of their mother's death, she is finally studying in America, resuming a dream long deferred.  But she can't stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London - or their brother, Parvaiz, who's disappeared in pursuit of his own dream:  To prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters' lives.  Handsome and privileged, he inhabits a London that is worlds away from theirs.  As the son of a powerful British Muslim politician, Eamonn has his own birthright to live up to - or defy.  Is he to be her chance at love?  The means of Parvaiz's salvation?

Two families' fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined in this searing novel that asks:  What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

The Butchering Art:  Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris

The gripping story of a visionary British surgeon whose quest to unite science and medicine delivered us into the modern world - the safest time to be alive in human history.

In 'The Butchering Art', historian Lindsey Fitzharris recreates a critical turning point in the history of medicine, when Joseph Lister transformed surgery from a brutal, harrowing practice to the safe, vaunted profession we know today.  Victorian operating theatres were known as 'gateways of death', Fitzharris reminds us, since half of those who underwent surgery didn't survive the experience.  This was an era when a broken leg could lead to amputation, when surgeons often lacked university degrees, and were still known to ransack cemeteries to find cadavers.

With a novelist's eye for detail, Fitzharris brilliantly conjures up the grisly world of Victorian surgery, revealing how one of Britain's greatest medical minds finally brought centuries of savagery, sawing and gangrene to an end.

December 2017

Devils Day by Andrew Michael Hurley

Every autumn, John Pentecost returns to the farm where he grew up to help gather the sheep down from the moors for the winter.  Very little changes in the Endlands, but this year, his grandfather - the Gaffer - has died and John's new wife, Katherine, is accompanying him for the first time.

Each year, the Gaffer would redraw the boundary lines of the village, with pen and paper, but also through the remembrance of tales and timeless communal rituals, which keep the sheep safe from the Devil.  But as the farmers of the Endlands bury the Gaffer, and prepare to gather the sheep, they begin to wonder whether they've let the Devil in after all . . .

Ascent:  A life spent climbing on the edge by Chris Bonington

Ascent charts not only the many triumphs of Sir Chris Bonington in the climbing world - such as the Eiger, and the Himalaya - but also the struggles he has faced in his life bringing up a family, and maintaining a successful and loving marriage over the decades of travelling the world to conquer mountains.

In Ascent Chris also discusses his first wife (Wendy) who tragically passed away after a long battle with motor neuron disease  - his many years of caring for her, and then in his twilight years deciding to return to an iconic climb from his past - The Old Man of Hoy - to summit at the age of 80 years old. He has now also found love again amidst the sadness and grief.

November 2017

Bluebird, bluebird:  A Novel by Attica Locke

Southern fables usually go the other way around.  A white woman is killed or harmed in some way, real or imagined, and then, like the moon follows the sun, a black man ends up dead.  But when it comes to law and order, East Texas plays by its own rules - a fact that Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger working the backwoods towns of Highway 59, knows all too well.

Deeply ambivalent about his home state, he was the first in his family to get as far away from Texas as he could until duty called him home.  So when allegiance to his roots puts his job in jeopardy, he is drawn to a case in the small town of Lark, where two dead bodies washed up in the bayou.  First a black lawyer from Chicago and then, three days later, a local white woman, and it's stirred up a hornet's nest of resentment. Darren must solve the crimes - and save himself in the process - before Lark's long-simmering racial fault lines erupt.

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown - Scotland's largest second-hand bookshop.  It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving, with twisting corridors and roaring fires, and all set in a beautiful, rural town by the edge of the sea.  A book-lover's paradise? Well, almost!

In these wry and hilarious diaries, Shaun provides an inside look at the trials and tribulations of life in the book trade, from struggles with eccentric customers to wrangles with his own staff, who include the ski-suit-wearing, bin-foraging Nicky.  He takes us with him on buying trips to old estates and auction houses, recommends books (both lost classics and new discoveries), introduces us to the thrill of the unexpected find, and evokes the rhythms and charms of small-town life, always with a sharp and sympathetic eye.

October 2017

Exit West by Moshin Hamid

In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, Saeed and Nadia share a cup of coffee, and their story begins.  It will be a love story but also a story about war and a world in crisis, about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow.

Before too long, the time will come for Nadia and Saeed to leave their homeland. When the streets are no longer useable and all options are exhausted, this young couple will join the great outpouring of those fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world.

The choice by Edith Eger with EsmeĢ Schwall Weigand

In 1944, 16-year-old Edith Eger was sent to Auschwitz.  There she endured unimaginable experiences, including being made to dance for the infamous Josef Mengele.  Over the coming months, Edith's bravery helped her sister to survive, and led to her bunkmates rescuing her during a death march.

When their camp was finally liberated, Edith was pulled from a pile of bodies, barely alive.  In 'The Choice', Dr Edith Eger shares her experience of the Holocaust and the remarkable stories of those she has helped ever since.

September 2017

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia.  All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits.  When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North.

In Whitehead's razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form:  A dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven but its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants.

When in French:  Love in a second language by Lauren Collins

A language barrier is no match for love.  New Yorker journalist Lauren Collins discovers this first-hand when, in her early 30s, she moves to London and falls for Olivier, a Frenchman.  As their relationship begins to grow, Lauren senses that there are things she doesn't understand about Olivier, having never spoken to him in his mother tongue.

Soon, she finds herself adrift in French-speaking Geneva and embarks on learning French in her new surroundings while reflecting on her lifelong love affair with language and her own linguistic roots.

August 2017

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

The zoo is nearly empty as Joan and her four-year-old son soak up the last few moments of playtime. They are happy, and the day has been close to perfect, but what Joan sees as she hustles her son toward the exit gate minutes before closing time sends her sprinting back into the zoo, her child in her arms, and for the next three hours—the entire scope of the novel—she keeps on running.

Joan’s intimate knowledge of her son and of the zoo itself—the hidden pathways and under-renovation exhibits, the best spots on the carousel and overstocked snack machines—is all that keeps them a step ahead of danger.

A masterful thrill ride and an exploration of motherhood itself—from its tender moments of grace to its savage power—Fierce Kingdom asks where the boundary is between our animal instinct to survive and our human duty to protect one another.  For whom should a mother risk her life?

But Seriously by John McEnroe

He is one of the most controversial sportsmen in history and a legend of Open Era tennis.  But after reaching the top of his game; what came next?  A decade after his international number-one bestseller serious, John McEnroe is back and ready to talk.

Now the undisputed elder statesman of tennis, McEnroe has won over his critics as a matchless commentator and analyst at Wimbledon and other Grand Slam tournaments with outspoken views on the modern game and its top players.  He has continued to compete on the court, winning the ATP Champions Tour a record six times, and has travelled the globe to play in charity events.  More surprising have been the calls from TV producers, inviting John to riff on his famous hot temper in cult shows such as 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm;  and then there is his long-standing passion for American contemporary art.

In But Seriously John McEnroe confronts his demons and reveals his struggle to reinvent himself from ex-champion to father, broadcaster and author. The result is a richly personal account, blending anecdote and reflection in an inspirational re-evaluation of what it means to be, and stay, successful.

July 2017

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

A debut title from this award-winning author, it's a powerful tale that highlights the loneliness of life and the power - and changes - a little kindness can bring. 

Eleanor Oliphant is happy.   Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life; except, sometimes, everything.  One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted - while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she's avoided all her life.

Change can be good.  Change can be bad.  But surely any change is better than… fine?

The 100-year life:  Living and working in an age of longevity by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott

What will your 100-year life look like?  Does the thought of working for 60 or 70 years fill you with dread?  Or can you see the potential for a more stimulating future as a result of having so much extra time?  

Many of us have been raised on the traditional notion of a three-stage approach to our working lives: education, followed by work and then retirement. But this well-established pathway is already beginning to collapse - life expectancy is rising, final-salary pensions are vanishing, and increasing numbers of people are juggling multiple careers.  Whether you are 18, 45 or 60, you will need to do things very differently from previous generations and learn to structure your life in completely new ways, the 100-Year Life is here to help.

Drawing on the unique pairing of their experience in psychology and economics, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott offer a broad-ranging analysis as well as a raft of solutions, showing how to rethink your finances, your education, your career and your relationships and create a fulfilling 100-year life.

How can you fashion a career and life path that defines you and your values and creates a shifting balance between work and leisure?  What are the most effective ways of boosting your physical and mental health over a longer and more dynamic lifespan?  How can you make the most of your intangible assets - such as family and friends - as you build a productive, longer life?  In a multiple-stage life how can you learn to make the transitions that will be so crucial and experiment with new ways of living, working and learning?

Shortlisted for the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, The 100-Year Life is a wake-up call that describes what to expect and considers the choices and options that you will face.  It is also fundamentally a call to action for individuals, politicians, firms and governments and offers the clearest demonstration that a 100-year life can be a wonderful and inspiring one.

June 2017

The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet

Roland Barthes is knocked down in a Paris street by a laundry van.  It's February 1980 and he has just come from lunch with Francois Mitterrand, a slippery politician locked in a battle for the Presidency, Barthes dies soon afterwards.  History tells us it was an accident, but what if it were an assassination? What if Barthes was carrying a document of unbelievable, global importance?  A document explaining the seventh function of language - an idea so powerful it gives whoever masters it the ability to convince anyone, in any situation, to do anything.

Police Captain Jacques Bayard and his reluctant accomplice Simon Herzog set off on a chase that takes them from the corridors of power and academia to backstreet saunas and midnight rendezvous.  What they discover is a worldwide conspiracy involving the President, murderous Bulgarians and a secret international debating society.  In the world of intellectuals and politicians, everyone is a suspect, who can you trust when the idea of truth itself is at stake?

Mockingbird Songs:  My friendship with Harper Lee by Wayne Flynt

The violent racism of the American South drove Wayne Flynt away from his home state of Alabama, but the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's classic novel about courage, community and equality, inspired him to return in the early 1960s and craft a career documenting and teaching Alabama history.  His writing resonated with many Alabamians, in particular three sisters:  Louise, Alice and Nelle Harper Lee.  

Beginning with their first meeting in 1983, a mutual respect and affection for the state's history and literature matured into a deep friendship between two families who can trace their roots there back more than five generations.  Flynt and Nelle Harper Lee began writing to one another while she was living in New York - heartfelt, insightful and humorous letters in which they swapped stories, information and opinions on topics both personal and professional; their families, books, Alabama history and social values, health concerns, and even their fears and accomplishments.

May 2017

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence.  Lizzie Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism but she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol's housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war.  Soon his plans for a magnificent terrace built above the two-hundred-foot drop of the Gorge come under threat.

Diner believes that Lizzie's independent, questioning spirit must be coerced and subdued. She belongs to him:  law and custom confirm it, and she must live as he wants.  In a tense drama of public and private violence, resistance and terror, Diner's passion for Lizzie darkens until she finds herself dangerously alone.

The Spy who loved Castro by Marita Lorenz

Few can say they’ve seen some of the most significant moments of the twentieth century unravel before their eyes, Marita Lorenz is one of them.

Born in Germany at the outbreak of WWII, Marita was incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp as a child.  In 1959, she travelled to Cuba where she met and fell in love with Fidel Castro.  Yet upon fleeing to America, she was recruited by the CIA to assassinate the Fidel.  Torn by love and loyalty, she failed to slip him the lethal pills.

Her life would take many more twists and turns — including having a child with ex-dictator of Venezuela, Marcos Pérez Jiménez; testifying about the John G Kennedy assassination; and becoming a party girl for the New York Mafia, as well as a police informant.

Caught up in Cold War intrigue, espionage and conspiracy — this is Marita’s incredible true story of a young girl, turned spy.

April 2017

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne:

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery or at least that's what his adoptive parents tell him.  And he never will be. But if he isn't a real Avery, then who is he?

Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead.  At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from - and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country and much more.

In this, Boyne's most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man.  The Heart's Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.

Hidden Figures:  The untold story of the African American women who helped win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly.

Set amid the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA's African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America's space program.

Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as `Human Computers', calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements.  Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women.  Segregated from their white counterparts, these `colored computers' used pencil and paper to write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Moving from World War II through NASA's golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women's rights movement, Hidden Figures interweaves a rich history of mankind's greatest adventure with the intimate stories of five courageous women whose work forever changed the world.

March 2017

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Don't Trust This Book.  Don't Trust These People.  Don't Trust Yourself.  And whatever you do, DON'T give away that ending.  Behind Her Eyes has been called the new Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, this is one psychological thriller you will not want to miss. 

Since her husband walked out, Louise has made her son her world, supporting them both with her part-time job.  But all that changes when she meets David Young.  Successful and charming - Louise cannot believe a man like him would look at her twice let alone be attracted to her, but that all comes to a grinding halt when she meets his wife Adele.  Beautiful, elegant and sweet - Louise's new friend seems perfect in every way.  As she becomes obsessed by this flawless couple, entangled in the intricate web of their marriage, they each in turn, reach out to her.  But only when she gets to know them both does she begin to see the cracks; is David really is the man she thought she knew and is Adele as vulnerable as she appears?  Just what terrible secrets are they both hiding and how far will they go to keep them?

A Hope more Powerful than the Sea by Melissa Fleming

A young refugee's story of terror, love and survival, this is the story of Doaa, an ordinary girl from a village in Syria, who in 2015 became one of five hundred people crammed on to a fishing boat setting sail for Europe.  The boat was deliberately capsized, and of those five hundred people, eleven survived; they were rescued four days after the boat sank.  Doaa was one of them - her fiance Bassem, with whom she had fled, was not, he drowned in front of her.

Melissa Fleming, the Chief Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, heard about Doaa and the death of 489 of her fellow refugees on the day she was pulled out of the water.  She decided to fly to Crete to meet this extraordinary girl, who had rescued a toddler when she was nearly dead herself.  They struck an instant bond, and Melissa saw in Doaa the story of the war in Syria embodied by one young woman.

February 2017

Cast Iron by Peter May:

In 1989, a killer dumped the body of twenty-year-old Lucie Martin into a picturesque lake in the West of France.  Fourteen years later, during a summer heatwave, a drought exposed her remains - bleached bones amid the scorched mud and slime.  No one was ever convicted of her murder.

Now, forensic expert Enzo Macleod is reviewing this stone cold case - the toughest of those he has been challenged to solve.  When Enzo finds a flaw in the original evidence surrounding Lucie's murder, he opens a Pandora's box that not only raises old ghosts but endangers his entire family.

Dadland by Keggie Carew:

Winner of the Costa Biography Award for “Dadland”, Keggie Carew grew up under the spell of an unorthodox, enigmatic father.  An undercover guerrilla agent during the Second World War, in peacetime he lived on his wits and dazzling charm, but these were not always enough to sustain a family.

As his memory began to fail, Keggie embarked on a quest to unravel his story once and for all.  Dadland is that journey.  It takes us into shadowy corners of history, a madcap English childhood, the poignant breakdown of a family, the corridors of dementia and beyond.

January 2017

The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer

There's no safety in numbers . . . Eve Singer needs death.  With her career as a TV crime reporter flagging, she'll do anything to satisfy her ghoulish audience.

The killer needs death too.  He even advertises his macabre public performances, where he hopes to show the whole world the beauty of dying.

When he contacts Eve, she welcomes the chance to be first with the news from every gory scene. Until she realizes that the killer has two obsessions; one is public murder, the other is her.

Hello, is this planet Earth?  My view from the International Space Station by Tim Peake

Hello, is this planet Earth? takes readers on a mesmerizing tour of Tim's historic and inspirational six-month Principia mission.

Based on over 150 of Tim's stunning photographs that he took on board the international space station, many of which have not been seen before, this lavish collection showcases the beauty of earth from above, and is the perfect visual time capsule of Tim's remarkable trip, which captured the imaginations of millions of children and adults across the world.  The book can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, and comes with a personal commentary from Tim, full of his characteristic warmth and charm.

The book includes breath-taking aerial photos of cities illuminated at night, the northern lights and unforgettable vistas of oceans, mountains and deserts.  The title of the book is inspired by Tim's famous 'wrong number' dialled from space, when he accidentally misdialled a woman from the space station and inquired, 'Hello, is this planet Earth?'.

December 2016

Autumn by Ali Smith

An unconventional love story playing across the boundaries of time and history, from the 2015 Baileys Prize-winning author of How To Be Both.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness; that’s what it felt like for Keats in 1819.  How about Autumn 2016? Daniel is a century old.  Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future.  The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.  Love is won, love is lost.  Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness.  The seasons roll round, as ever.

Ali Smith's new novel is a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means.  This first in a seasonal quartet casts an eye over our own time:  Who are we?  What are we made of?

Shakespearian jeu d'esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s Pop art:  The centuries cast their eyes over our own history-making.   From the imagination of the peerless Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in timescale and light-footed through histories, and a story about ageing and time and love and stories themselves.  Here comes Autumn.

Keeping On Keeping On by Alan Bennett

'I seem to have banged on this year rather more than usual.  I make no apology for that, nor am I nervous that it will it make a jot of difference.  I shall still be thought to be kindly, cosy and essentially harmless.  I am in the pigeon-hole marked 'no threat' and were I to stab Judi Dench with a pitchfork I should still be a teddy bear.'

Alan Bennett's third collection of prose Keeping On Keeping On follows in the footsteps of the phenomenally successful Writing Home and Untold Stories, each published ten years apart.  This latest collection contains Bennett's peerless diaries 2005 to 2015, reflecting on a decade that saw four premieres at the National Theatre (The Habit of Art, People, Hymn and Cocktail Sticks), a West End double-bill transfer, and the films of The History Boys and The Lady in the Van.  

There's a provocative sermon on private education given before the University at King's College Chapel, Cambridge, and Baffled at a Bookcase offers a passionate defence of the public library.  The book also includes Denmark Hill, a darkly comic radio play set in suburban south London, as well as Bennett's reflections on a quarter of a century's collaboration with Nicholas Hytner.  This is an engaging, humane, sharp, funny and unforgettable record of life according to the inimitable Alan Bennett.

November 2016

Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves

In the dark days of a Shetland winter, torrential rain triggers a landslide that crosses the main Lerwick-Sumburgh road and sweeps down to the sea.  

At the burial of his old friend Magnus Tait, Jimmy Perez watches the flood of mud and peaty water smash through a croft house in its path.  Everyone thinks the croft is uninhabited, but in the wreckage he finds the body of a dark-haired woman wearing a red silk dress.  In his mind, she shares his Mediterranean ancestry and soon he becomes obsessed with tracing her identity.

Then it emerges that she was already dead before the landslide hit the house. Perez knows he must find out who she was, and how she died.

Colour bar:  The triumph of Seretse Khama and his nation by Susan Williams

The true story of a love which defied family, Apartheid, and empire - the inspiration for the major new feature film A United Kingdom, starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike.

London, 1947.  He was the heir to an African kingdom.  She was a white English insurance clerk. When they met and fell in love, it would change the world.  This is the inspiring true story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, whose marriage sent shockwaves through the establishment, defied an empire - and, finally, triumphed over the prejudices of their age.

“Reading the book, I realised that I had never seen an African love story of this cinematic scope. It spoke to me as an African, as a man, as a romantic” David Oyelowo

“A story of forgiveness and healing ... as relevant today as when the whole drama was being played out” Alexander McCall Smith

October 2016

When the floods came by Clare Morrall

In a world prone to violent flooding, Britain, ravaged 20 years earlier by a deadly virus, has been largely cut off from the rest of the world.  Survivors are few and far between, most of them infertile.  Children, the only hope for the future, are a rare commodity.

For 22-year-old Roza Polanski, life with her family in their isolated tower block is relatively comfortable.  She's safe and happy enough. But when a stranger called Aashay Kent arrives, everything changes.

At first he's a welcome addition, his magnetism drawing the Polanskis out of their shells, promising an alternative to a lonely existence but Roza can't shake the feeling that there's more to Aashay than he's letting on.  Is there more to life beyond their isolated bubble?  Is it true that children are being kidnapped?  And what will it cost to find out?

Clare Morrall, author of the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted "Astonishing Splashes of Colour", creates a startling vision of the future in a world not so very far from our own, and a thrilling story of suspense.

A beautiful question:  Finding natures deep design by Frank Wilczek

In this scientific tour de force, world-renowned physicist Frank Wilczek argues that beauty is at the heart of the logic of the universe, a principle that has guided his pioneering work in quantum physics.  As this book demonstrates, the human quest to find the beauty embodied in the universe connects all scientific pursuit from Pythagoras and Plato on to Galileo and Newton, Maxwell and Einstein.  Wilczek shows us just how deeply intertwined our ideas about beauty and art are with our scientific understanding of the cosmos.  

Gorgeously illustrated, A Beautiful Question is the culmination of Wilczek's life work and a mind-expanding book that combines the age-old human quest for beauty and the age-old human quest for truth.

September 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn't much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children.  While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted.  As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth:  Sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a new play by Jack Thorne, the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play received its world premiere in London's West End on 30th July 2016.

Girl in a band by Kim Gordon

Often described as aloof, Kim Gordon opens up as never before in 'Girl in a Band'. Telling the story of her family, her life in visual art, her move to New York City, the men in her life, her marriage, her relationship with her daughter, her music, and her band, this book is a rich and beautifully written memoir.

In Girl in a Band Kim Gordon, founding member of Sonic Youth and role model for a generation of women, tells her story.  She writes frankly about her route from girl to woman and pioneering icon within the music and art scene of New York City in the 1980s and 90s as well as marriage, motherhood, and independence.  Filled with the sights and sounds of a changing world and a remarkable life, Girl in a Band is a moving, evocative chronicle of an extraordinary artist.

August 2016

Wolf Lake:  A Novel by John Verdon

Could a nightmare be used as a murder weapon? That's the provocative question confronting homicide detective Dave Gurney in the thrilling new instalment in this series of international bestsellers.

Four people who live in different parts of the country and who seem to have little in common, report having had the same dream; a terrifying nightmare involving a bloody dagger with a carved wolf's head on the handle.  All four are subsequently found with their wrists cut - apparent suicides - and the weapon used in each case was a wolf's head dagger.  Police zero in quickly on Richard Hammond, a controversial psychologist who conducts hypnotherapy sessions at an old Adirondack inn called Wolf Lake Lodge.

Troubled by odd holes in the official approach to the case, Gurney begins his own investigation - an action that puts him in the crosshairs of not only an icy murderer and the local police but the darkest corner of the federal government.  As ruthless as the blizzard trapping him in the sinister eeriness of Wolf Lake, Gurney's enemies set out to keep him from the truth at any cost - including an all-out assault on the sanity of his beloved wife Madeleine.

With his emotional resources strained to the breaking point, Gurney must throw himself into a deadly battle of wits with the most frightening opponent he has ever faced.

Criminal:  The truth about why people do bad things by Tom Gash

There are two myths about crime:  In one, the criminal act is a selfish choice, and tough punishment the only solution.  In the other, the system is at fault, and perpetrators will change only when society reforms.  Both these narratives are wrong.

Interweaving conversations and stories of crime with findings from the latest research, Tom Gash dispels the myths that inform our views of crime, from the widespread misconception that poverty causes crime, to the belief that tough sentencing reduces it.  He examines the origins of criminal behaviour, the ebb and flow of crime across the last century, and the effectiveness of various government crack-downs - and in doing so reveals that crime is both less rational and much easier to reduce than many believe.  Can we suspend our knee-jerk reactions, let go of cherished myths and embrace the truth about crime?

July 2016

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

The Bennet sisters have been summoned from New York City.  Liz and Jane are good daughters.  They've come home to suburban Cincinnati to get their mother to stop feeding their father steak as he recovers from heart surgery, to tidy up the crumbling Tudor-style family home, and to wrench their three sisters from their various states of arrested development.

Once they are under the same roof, old patterns return fast.  Soon enough they are being berated for their single status, their only respite the early morning runs they escape on together.  For two successful women in their late thirties, it really is too much to bear.  That is, until the Lucas family's BBQ throws them in the way of some eligible single men . . .

Chip Bingley is not only a charming doctor, he's a reality TV star too.  But Chip's friend, haughty neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy, can barely stomach Cincinnati or its inhabitants.  Jane is entranced by Chip; Liz, sceptical of Darcy. As Liz is consumed by her father's mounting medical bills, her wayward sisters and Cousin Willie trying to stick his tongue down her throat, it isn't only the local chilli that will leave a bad aftertaste.  But where there are hearts that beat and mothers that push, the mysterious course of love will resolve itself in the most entertaining and unlikely of ways.

From the hand of Curtis Sittenfeld, Pride & Prejudice is catapulted into our modern world singing out with hilarity and truth.

Highlands:  Scotland’s wild heart by Stephen Moss; photos by Laurie Campbell

In the very north of Britain, far from the bustling cities and picturesque countryside to the south, lies Western Europe's greatest wilderness:  The Scottish Highlands.  This is a land shaped by the flow of ancient ice, where snow-capped mountains tower over ink-black lochs, Golden Eagles soar over heather-clad moors, and Red Deer stags engage in mortal combat for the right to win a mate.  Along the coast, sea cliffs and offshore islands teem with millions of seabirds, while the seas themselves are home to Basking Sharks, Orcas and Bottlenose Dolphins.

The Highlands may at first sight seem bleak and desolate, but they are also filled with secret wonders, from the ancient Caledonian pine forests to the vast Flow Country, and from the sheer granite cliffs of Handa to the mysterious depths of Loch Ness.  In this lavish companion to the BBC TV series Stephen Moss's thoughtful, authoritative text is accompanied by spectacular photography from Laurie Campbell.  Highlands:  Scotland's Wild Heart follows a year in the lives of a stellar cast of wild animals as they live, feed, breed and die in this beautiful, yet unforgiving landscape - a land where only the toughest survive.


Page last updated: 30 November 2018