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In 1837 William Avery, a naive lieutenant, is sent from Calcutta by the East India Company to find Xavier Mountstuart, India expert and novelist, who disappeared into the jungle. Avery is accompanied by the enigmatic and uncouth Jeremiah Blake. One cannot imagine a more mismatched duo, but they must bury their differences because they are caught up in a search that unearths too many unanswered questions and seems bound to end in failure. Why was Mountstuart so captivated by the Thugs, a murderous sect of Kali-worshippers who strangle innocent travellers by the roadside? Who is Jeremiah Blake and can he be trusted? Moreover, why is the whole enterprise shrouded in such secrecy? Fighting for their lives, the pair close in on their elusive quarry only to discover the horrifying truth behind their mission. This vivid, action-packed thriller is a perfect cold winter’s evening read!
This novel unflinchingly portrays the appalling brutality of imperial Japan’s construction of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway in the early 1940’s. Flanagan’s late father was a survivor of that atrocity, which took the lives of more than 12,000 Allied prisoners. However, Flanagan goes beyond ‘the suffering, the deaths, the sorrow, the abject, pathetic pointlessness of such immense suffering by so many’. What happens to his protagonist Dorrigo Evans, modelled on Australian war hero Edward Dunlop, before and after the war, matters as much as the hellish years of building the ‘Line’. He has a love affair with his uncle’s young bride while at training camp, which burns in his memory all his life, not least when he returns to a stiflingly conventional marriage. Although undoubtedly a hero in the war, interceding on behalf of his men no matter the risks to his own life, Evans is highly uncomfortable at being portrayed as such later in the long years of peace. Flanagan's evocative, superbly crafted novel is a magnificent examination of his inner conflict also exploring how hard it is to live after survival.
In the final volume of his Century trilogy, Ken Follett introduces us to five families who are brought together from across the world during the Cold War due to their passions and the conflicts they become involved in. Rebecca is a teacher from East Germany who is pursued by the Stasi, Walli, her younger brother, is a musician who aspires to escape East Berlin so he can join the flourishing music scene in Great Britain. Meanwhile in the USA, George Jakes and his girlfriend Verena become involved in the civil rights movement. George is a bright young lawyer who falls for Verena as they both embark on a journey to fight in the war against racism and protest against segregation together with Rev. Martin Luther King. Back in Moscow, Follett introduces us to Tania; a Russian activist who publishes an illegal news sheet. In the Kremlin, Tania’s brother Dimka, who works with the Communist party, does his best to disrupt her activities. Ken Follett transports his readers on many adventures around the world. In this volume of The Century, the scenario is constantly changing as his story shifts form the deep South of the U.S. to the limitless landscape of Siberia and from the shores of Cuba to London in the swinging sixties. Edge of Eternity is an exceptional novel about individuals fighting for freedom under the auspices of the world’s strongest powers.
John Grisham’s incendiary new novel Gray Mountain takes place in Meth County, Tennessee, one of the poorest regions of the South known as the Appalachians and the heart of Tennessee’s coal mining region. After suddenly losing her job as a three year associate due to the drastic cutbacks at a large New York law firm, Samantha Koffer offers to work and live in Meth as an unpaid intern at a legal aid clinic. As Samantha confronts her new clients and their problems, she learns about a side of law she never knew existed in a world far removed from her past life of big bonuses, chic lifestyles and sharp shooters. Samantha risks her life to give the people of Meth County a fighting chance against the abuses of the powerful mining company that runs the area. Gray Mountain is another riveting story of legal injustice, this time with a remarkable heroine who learns that there is more to life and the law than being a successful associate at a renowned city firm. This is an inspiring novel of legal courage and gripping suspense from one of America’s great storytellers!
In the depth of a Swedish winter, a young mother is found murdered behind her son’s nursery. As an investigative journalist, Annika Bengtzon, is often on the frontline of such news and arrives at the murder scene straightaway to cover all the gory details and look for any missing links. Halfway across the world, meanwhile, in the sweltering Kenyan heat, Annika’s husband, along with some other government colleagues, has been brutally kidnapped at a conference. Annika is torn between trying to free her husband and meet his brutal kidnappers’ demands or to help solve the young mother’s murder, which has escalated into a series of murders probably perpetrated by a serial killer. Annika’s anguish at her husband being kept hostage plus his eventual maiming by the kidnappers resonates with the recent tragic plight of hostages being held and subsequently beheaded. Marlund skilfully interweaves the narrative strands so that we not only witness the hostages’ brutal treatment and their fears about surviving, but also gain insight into their captors’ behaviour, as well as the helpless impotency of hostages’ families to free them, as seen through Annika’s eyes.
Northanger Abbey is the second release in the Austen Project, a challenge to six modern-day authors to write a re-imaging of Jane Austen’s major works. Best known for her crime fiction, McDermid chose this lighter of Austen’s works, changing the location to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. In McDermid’s version, the book-besotted heroine’s name has been shortened from Catherine to Cat, whose readings of the Twilight series and other vampire novels has stimulated her gothic take on life. Henry Tilney is still charming as a lawyer, Isabelle Thrope as devious and self-centered, and her brother Johnny perhaps even more obnoxious than Austen’s original character. Using an updated light and witty dialogue, McDermid follows the story scene by scene, unfolding the suspenseful, classic tale of innocence, friendship and young love, but adding her own contemporary twists at the end. As J.K. Rowling’s review noted, the re-worked novel ‘…shows that innocent, bookish girls in thrall to the supernatural have changed surprisingly little in two centuries.’ A lively read!
This penetrating and pertinent novel about children’s rights is a multifaceted exploration of hope and the tragic loss of it. Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge presiding over cases in the family court. She decides the future of each child under eighteen who enters her jurisdiction and often rules against parental wishes. Fiona is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude and sensitivity. Her success as a judge, however, is offset by marital strife mainly because she has dedicated her life to her work. There is also regret that she never found the time to have children and offer her husband the sexual passion he now threatens to find elsewhere. Into her court steps the complex case of a gifted seventeen year old, Adam Henry, who is suffering from leukaemia but he and his devout Jehovah Witness parents refuse an urgent blood transfusion to save his life because it goes against their biblical teaching. In the course of reaching a decision, Fiona visits Adam in hospital and this encounter awakens long buried feelings in Fionna as well as powerful new emotions in Adam. Fiona’s personal feelings influenced by her professionalism tragically fail to offer Adam hope for the future because she cannot integrate the two perspectives sufficiently and risk overstepping that boundary on Adam’s behalf which leads to fatal consequences.
Thirty-six-year-old Tsukuru Tazaki has always felt himself to be what he describes as ‘colourless,’ even during his adolescence when he was part of a close-knit group of five friends. This sense has followed him into middle age, emphasized by the fact that when he was at college, these close friends had suddenly, and with no reason, ostracized him from the group. This rejection has haunted him all these years, and encouraged by Sara, a potential girlfriend, he decides to return home to find out the unspoken cause so that he can move on with his life. Murakami’s newest novel examines the transition from adolescence to adulthood. His familiar themes of classical music, loneliness, food, alcohol and sex in all its multiple forms, both loving and brutal are there, but does not employ his trademark magical realism. Rather, the characters he creates are very real, their emotions and human frailties finely drawn in intimate detail. As Tsukuru meets each of his friends, he discovers they have moved on from the past and he recognizes that he too must let go of his old relationships and beliefs. Eloquently written and characteristically ambiguous, Murakami’s novel is open to hope as Tsukuru makes his journey to create new friendships and to begin a new life.
Us is the story of biochemist Douglas, his artistic wife, Conny, and their teenage son, Albie. With Albie all set to leave home for university and adult life, Douglas has planned a Grand Tour of Europe - one last family holiday together. But a few days before they are due to leave, Conny tells him it won't just be Albie leaving at the end of the summer, she is moving out too. Instead of cancelling the holiday, Douglas hopes that this might be the chance to win back his wife's love as well as regaining the closeness he once had with his son whom he now no longer understands. Nicholls is a writer of such talent who makes you laugh out loud while questioning the meaning of life. He examines love, youthfulness and ageing and the nature of the relationships we form during our lifetimes. Us analyses a family falling apart on holiday with philosophical depth as well as humour - a worthy successor to One Day!
This is the tale of Ajatashatru who is in fact more of a faker than a fakir. On a journey paid for by the hapless people of his Rajasthan village, Aja arrives in Paris with nothing more than a broken pair of police sunglasses and a fake 100-Euro note. His quest is to buy a bed of nails from IKEA, aptly named ‘Hertsyörbak’. After initiating a dangerous revenge vendetta by cheating on a taxi driver, Aja reaches IKEA, meets the love of his life in the café queue and hides in a wardrobe which is subsequently dispatched to England with him still inside. Aja finds himself on an adventurous journey through Europe with a group of illegal immigrants, a film star and a French woman for company. This book is a whirlwind of pure insanity, full of action, surprises and playful wit. Himself a former border guard, Puertolas cleverly combines the serious issue of illegal immigration with light-hearted entertainment - a great joy to read.
John Cleese really did not like his mother; that much is obvious. In this autobiography we witness his post-war, middle-class childhood which led to a privileged position right in the middle of the extraordinary changes to society that gathered force as the 1960’s progressed. Cleese’s memoir, presumably part one, only takes us up to the start of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, so there’s a lot about his childhood which seems to have been largely happy – apart from his mother-related anxieties. Cleese describes his schooldays, both as a pupil and teacher, before moving on to his early comedy career when he met a group of kindred spirits in the Cambridge Footlights. As well as being hilarious, Cleese’s anecdotes are a treat for more than one reason. One is his longstanding interest in psychology, particularly his fascination of the subconscious motives behind people’s behaviour – including his own. However, this book goes far beyond the account of one icon of comedy - it is a treasure trove for anyone studying the British comedy scene of the 1960’s when Cleese started working with people like Peter Sellers, Peter Cook, Ronnie Barker and the future Pythons in London. If you pick up So, Anyway… you are more or less guaranteed to annoy anyone else in the room by finding and reading out an amusing snippet every two or three minutes!
This groundbreaking narrative of humanity’s creation and evolution explores how biology and history have defined us and shaped our understanding of what it means to be ‘human’. One hundred thousand years ago, earth was inhabited by at least six different species of humans. Now there is only one, Homo sapiens. Harari ventures to explain, for example, how our species succeeded in the battle for dominance, why our foraging ancestors came together to create cities and kingdoms, how we came to believe in gods, nations and human rights and how we have come to be enslaved by bureaucracy, consumerism and the pursuit of happiness. Integrating history and science, Harari invites us to reconsider the accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas. Bold, wide-ranging and provocative, Sapiens challenges everything we thought we knew about being human: our beliefs, our actions, our power and our future, as an engaging study which paints a broad and informative picture.
With compelling stories from history, science and his own family, Lawrence Hill shows the physical and metaphorical value of blood which we all share, but is so often used to divide us. Hill charts how our understanding of blood has developed over the centuries, sharing a close-up view of William Harvey’s seventeenth century bloody dissection of a dog, as well as revealing how ideas of blood purity spawned rules about family connection, rights of citizenship and personal identity. Blood is everywhere splattered through the books of the Old Testament, the acts of Macbeth to the mudbloods of Harry Potter and the vampires of Twilight. Blood pulses through religions, literature, and the visual arts in this surprising and satisfying study, illustrating how blood fills our imagination just as fully as it fills our veins.
Climate change is happening, yet there is a lack of coordinated international response. Klein argues that this could be resolved through tough, fair, world-level regulation and that it is not humans or carbon that causes climate collapse, but the particular arrangement of these elements. The whole point of capitalism is to find resources and exploit them, but this ‘habit’ or behavior can be changed. Klein proposes ‘a politics based on reconnection’, one which involves real, ordinary, active humans working in properly modern, complex societies. Green industries, such as renewable energy and public transport, are all more labour intensive than their fossil-fuel equivalents, so this would also be a massive job creator as well as a community builder and source of hope. Klein resolutely investigates the dark side of unchecked capitalism and provides strong evidence and reasoning to help us shift into a worldview that focuses on regeneration instead of domination and depletion. A stimulating, provocative manifesto attempting to begin a global debate which we should all take part in!
Peeling away the layers of legend that have built around Beethoven’s life, Jan Swafford’s magnificent new biography shows how a child prodigy from an obscure corner of Germany came to write music that defines the modern age. Using sources never before referenced in English language biographies to reanimate the revolutionary ferment of Bonn where Beethoven grew up and which imbibed the Enlightenment ideals that would shape all his future work, Swafford traces Beethoven’s connection with Franz Joseph Haydn, his compositions of towering symphonies, intricate string quartets and piano sonatas which pushed the boundaries of this new instrument. Beethoven’s overcoming of financial hardship, unrequited love and his eventual deafness make for a biography of titanic passion and struggles. This surprisingly intimate and insightful study also provides readings into Beethoven’s key works allowing us to experience them as if for the first time. A musical must!
A.N. Wilson has once again turned his scholarly eye to the Victorian times (The Victorians) and written an authoritative and intimate biography of the woman who gave the era its name. Using previously unseen sources, he examines in Victoria, A Life Britain’s longest-ruling monarch, a woman so often portrayed as an old, somber, autocratic widow in black. She was, however, reveals Wilson in this revisionist view, an impassioned, humorous and singular woman who ruled for almost sixty-four years during a period of major changes in Britain, industrially, politically, scientifically and culturally. First examining her isolated childhood, coronation, her love of, marriage to and loss of Prince Albert, Wilson then delves into the reclusive years of her widowhood, ones during which she suffered from depression but at the same time formed her intimate friendship with her Highland servant, John Brown, while initiating sweeping political changes such as reforming the British army. In this skillfully written and highly readable biography, Wilson creates a critical yet masterful and original portrait of a woman whom he obviously both greatly respects and deeply admires.
In this groundbreaking, eclectic new work, Žižek argues that philosophical materialism in all its forms, which include scientific materialism and Deleuzian New Materialism, has failed the meet the key challenges of the modern world. Recent history has witnessed developments such as quantum physics and psychoanalysis as well as the failure of twentieth century communism. In the process, Western philosophy has lost its moorings. Žižek proposes a radical revision of our intellectual heritage: he offers dialectical materialism as the only true successor which Hegel coined speculative thinking. While focusing on how to overcome the transcendent approach without regressing to naïve, Pre-Kantian realism, Žižek offers a series of excursions into today’s political, artistic and ideological landscape with illustrations from the works of musician Arnold Schoenberg and the films of Ernst Lubtisch. Few thinkers capture the contradictions of contemporary capitalism as lucidly as Žižek does here.
You will not believe your eyes as this mind-boggling book reveals how colour distorts objects and creates illusions. Packed with amazing tricks, incredible facts, interactive flaps and stunning pop-ups, each page takes the reader to another level of illusion and reveals why your brain cannot understand what your eyes see. It includes a multi-use decoder with inbuilt 3D glasses - a fantastic novelty gift for kids at Christmas that will keep them entertained!
On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain toward the sleeping kingdom. The queen will decide her own future and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. This thrillingly imagined fairy tale weaves together threads of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and dark magic in Neil Gaiman’s inimitable style. Gleaming with glorious Chris Riddell illustrations enhanced with metallic ink, this is a spectacular and magical gift which will hold readers spellbound from start to finish.
It is a very special day for Douglas, who is blowing up balloons and impatiently waiting for his friends to come for his birthday party. They soon arrive, bringing all kinds of wonderful presents, but then his over-excited twin cousins appear. Felix and Mash have brought a rather large present, but being the overbearing young souls that they are, they set to unwrapping the present before Douglas can get a single paw on it. Upset, Douglas goes out to have a go on his pogo stick, but he comes a cropper and things just seem to go from bad to worse. Poor Douglas -can his special day be redeemed? David Melling is one of the UK's best-loved author-illustrators and his fifth book about Douglas the brown bear is as charming and funny as the first. It brilliantly combines imaginative illustrations with an endearing sense of what it is like to be a small child, facing disappointments and learning about the world.
Atop a mountain in Switzerland in a castle lair lives a scary dragon. At the foot of the mountain, in a little village, lives a young girl named Mimi. One day, Mimi finds a baby dragon in the woodshed which leads her to make a brave decision that could bring joy and peace to the village for years to come. This is a fabulously festive adventure from the wonderful War Horse and Why the Whales Came author Michael Morpurgo. Beautifully illustrated by Helen Stephens, Mimi and the Dragon is an irresistible combination of magic, adventure and Christmas cheer that all the family can share - an ideal stocking filler.
Reviews by Evelyn, Jayne, Liz, Michaela, Ruth and Sophie