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Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s keenly perceptive third novel examines racism, ambition and the changing face of global politics. At its centre is Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman, who after university has moved to America where she completes her postgraduate studies and achieves renown as the author of a blog on being black in the U.S. All the time, though, she is yearning for Obinze, her childhood sweetheart who never got the green card he was hoping for and had to settle for a harrowing stint working illegally in London before an attempted sham marriage leads to his deportation. His life improves when he returns to Lagos, but his new prosperity is based on kowtowing to the local big men. Eventually Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, now an ‘Americanah’, finding herself estranged from her home country, but also newly perceptive about it. Using an old-fashioned love story as her vehicle, Adichie has created a polished and insightful work looking at identity from many intriguing angles.
This vibrantly detailed and atmospheric historical novel takes the reader into the lives and roles of royal women during fifteenth century Britain where they were used primarily as marriage power pawns. When Henry VII succeeds to the throne in 1485 after the Battle of Bosworth, he creates the Welsh Tudor Dynasty in an attempt to unify a country divided by the War of the Roses (Lancastrian and York) for nearly two decades. He realizes he would have to marry a princess of the rival house - Elizabeth of York, but that Elizabeth has ambivalent feelings towards him while her mother still dreams of the missing York heir and his triumphant return. Elizabeth, herself, is torn between wifely duty to her new and resourceful husband and to the boy pretender to the throne who claims to be her lost brother. Philippa Gregory is excellent at creating the emotional inner lives of royal women and their households, while revealing the subtleties behind their complex allegiances and power plays. A great read!
In the early 1900’s near New York City, Coralie Sardie takes long night swims along the shores of Coney Island in the cold waters of the Hudson River. Her father, the owner of The Museum of Extraordinary Things, the island’s amusement park freak show, is using the swims as part of a marketing strategy to build up rumours of a monster in the waters and thus business for a new exhibit he will create. One night onshore, Coralie spies photographer, Eddie Cohen, taking pictures of moon-lit trees. He is a disenchanted Russian immigrant who has left his father and the Lower East Side Orthodox community. Coralie is love struck but she flees, never having dealt with the public outside the park. It is not until Eddie investigates the mystery behind a young girl’s disappearance after the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that their two worlds come together and love blossoms. Told in three narrative voices that offer a multiple perspective, Hoffman’s magical tale offers a cast of interesting quirky characters and pairs of romantic lovers. At the same time, the novel is a fascinating historical social commentary on the volatile days during developing New York City.
Siri Hustvedt, author of ‘What I Loved’ depicts the story of Harriet ‘Harry’ Burden, an obscure artist in her early sixties. Angry at the lack of recognition of her work from the New York art world, she embarks on an experiment and conceals her true identity behind three different male artists who exhibit her work as their own. When she unmasks herself, many people still refuse to believe that she is the artist behind these works. Burden’s involvement with the last of her ‘masks’ turns into a dangerous psychological game that ends with the man’s bizarre death. This intricately conceived, diabolical puzzle explores the way prejudice, fame, money and desire can deceive us. This novel is a tour de force that is as gripping as it is thought-provoking.
Every day Maria Dolz stops for breakfast at the same café. And every day she enjoys silently observing a certain couple, Luisa and Miguel, whom she secretly calls ‘The Perfect Couple’. She feels happy on seeing them so content, inwardly admiring their immaculate sense of style and their dignified demeanor. Then one day, they are no longer there and she feels obscurely bereft. It is only later when she stumbles across a newspaper photograph of the man lying stabbed in the street that she discovers who the couple actually is. When Luisa eventually returns to the café with her children who are then collected by a different man and Maria approaches her to offer her condolences, a complex entanglement begins which draws Maria into a drama which threatens her sense of reality. ‘The Infatuations’ is a metaphysical murder mystery and a stunningly original literary achievement concerned about unexpected turns of events and the terrible force of their consequences on human lives.
While Moscow jubilantly celebrates the Soviet Union’s victory over Hitler, gunshots ring out. A teenage girl and boy are found dead in the shadow of the Kremlin. These are no ordinary teenagers, but children of Russia’s most important leaders, who attend Moscow’s most exclusive school. The investigation is directed by Stalin himself, arresting youths from all over the city and forcing them to testify against their parents and friends. This terrifying witch-hunt soon unveils deep family secrets and illicit love affairs in a hidden world where even the smallest mistake can be punished with death. In this political thriller, historian Sebag Montefiore weaves fact and fiction into a compelling saga of sacrifice and survival, beneath which shines a compelling love story that masterfully explores our capacity for both loyalty and forgiveness.
Madeline Hart is a rising star in the British government: intelligent, beautiful and driven to succeed by an impoverished childhood which holds its own deceptions. She is also the lover of the Prime Minister, Jonathan Lancaster. When she disappears on the island of Corsica, it is clear that the kidnappers know about the affair and intend the PM to pay for his indiscretion which could cost him his career. Lancaster employs Gabriel Allon, assassin, art restorer and spy to find Madeline within seven days before she is executed. Gabriel’s search takes him from the criminal underworld of Marseilles, to the stately corridors of power in London and finally to Moscow, a city of secrets and violence where Madeline is just a pawn in a deadly attempt to ambush and kill Gabriel. This exciting, well written novel is a guaranteed page turner!
In a saga spanning the rituals of early Irish monks to the preparation of today’s Catholic children for their first confession, the ‘Dark Box’ blends an investigative narrative with personal experience to reveal confession’s immense power to both heal and to harm. Cornwall takes a hard, unflinching look at the eventful history and current state of confession from when the papacy first made one-on-one confession obligatory in the thirteenth and during the sixteenth century to prevent sexual solicitation of women. During the twentieth century, Pope Pius X in 1910 sought to protect the Catholic faithful by lowering the age of confession to seven years and insisting on weekly instead of annual confessions. As a result, in the decades that followed, the Catholic clergy had unprecedented access to children which led to widespread psychological oppression as well as sexual abuse. Confession is a crucial ritual offering absolution of sin and spiritual guidance. It also needs to be assessed on its efficacy in helping rather than harming psychological growth, which includes the freedom to develop independent thought. This book is a welcome analysis of an increasingly controversial often abusive Christian sacrament.
Not only was Adolf Hitler planning to conquer the western world, he was also planning to set up his own Führermuseum near Linz, Austria, and fill it with the finest art treasures in Europe. From 1933 to the end of World War II, his Kunstschutz (art protectors) plundered the museums and cultural buildings of the cities they captured, keeping the pieces of which the Fuhrer approved and often destroying those that he deemed rubbish. To protect these European cultural treasures, the Allies set up commissions, the most famous of which was the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) organization. Its American and British ‘Momuments Men’ raced against time across Europe and into former Nazi-held countries to rescue the works of art hidden away in tunnels, salt mines, and castles. Edinger’s book pursues these men’s impassioned mission to save thousands of years of European culture. While it is an historical account of the eleven-month period between D-Day and VE-Day, it also reads like an action thriller as the men piece together clues to reach and safely salvage the artworks before they are destroyed by Nazi greed or unintentional Allied blunders. The current film ‘Monuments Men’ is based on this fascinating expose.
This excellent exploration of Russians by former NPR Moscow correspondent Gregory Feifer draws on vivid personal stories that portray the forces which have shaped the Russian character for centuries. What is it in their history, their desires and their conception of themselves that baffles the West? Feifer corrects any pervasive misconceptions and makes it clear why President Putin still remains popular in Russia today. Traversing its landmass from North Caucasus to Arctic Siberia, this intimate study shows a rare portrait of a unique land of extremes whose forbidding geography and merciless climate has nevertheless produced some of the world’s greatest art forms and its most remarkable scientific advances. ‘Russians’ is a fascinating profile of a people who continue to challenge the West for the foreseeable future. This accessible, timely study is highly relevant for today’s political climate.
In Breakfast with Lucian, Geordie Greig, one of a few close friends who regularly had breakfast with the painter during the last years of his life, tells an insider’s account which is accessible, engaging and revealing of one of the twentieth century’s most fascinating, enigmatic and controversial artists. Greig who has studied his subject’s work at length, unravels the tangled threads of a life lived on Freud’s own uncompromising terms. Based on private conversations where Freud discussed everything from topics ranging from his first love to gambling debts and the paintings of Velazquez, to interviews with friends, lovers and some of the artist’s many children who have never before spoken publicly about their relationship with the painter, this study is a deeply personal memoir that is illuminated by a keen appreciation of Freud’s art. Fresh, entertaining and ultimately profound ‘Breakfast with Lucian’ is a quintessential portrait and one worthy of one of the greatest painters of our time.
In this exhilarating, erudite and lyrical study of the sea, Philip Hoare sets out to rediscover what we have barely noticed about it. He travels from England to the Azores, Sri Lanka and New Zealand, navigating his way through the ‘sea’ of human and natural history, commenting on sea birds and ravens as companions. Part memoir and part travelogue, Hoare encounters scientists, tattooed warriors, sperm whales and exotic creatures we all thought were extinct. In this unique but sometimes melancholy search of man’s relationship with the oceans, Hoare brings to life the human dramas played out over centuries on or beside the beach. A ‘must read’.
Is a promotion at work with a better salary of more value than time spent with one’s family? In a world as complex as ours, how do we choose between these bewildering oppositional enticements? Over the course of the twentieth century, economic values have become our trusted guide to decision making ranging from government policies to personal choices. But economics is not a perfect science and far from impartial. Its prime values of ownership, efficiency, cost benefits and self-interest threaten to usurp other values such as co-operatives, non-western finance and community initiatives. This thought provoking, intelligent and timely study draws our attention to these timeless ‘other’ values outside the scope of economics lest we should forget them.
In 1982, at the age of twenty, Nina Stibbe left her home in Leicestershire to work as a nanny in London. She had no idea how to cook, look after children or who the ‘weirdos’ who frequently visited were. Gloucester Crescent, NW1 was home in the 1980’s not only to her new employer, Mary-Kay Wilmers, editor of the ‘London Review of Books’, but also to Alan Bennett, theatre and opera director Jonathan Miller, biographer Claire Tomalin and novelist and playwright Michael Frayn. Nina had never heard of Alan Bennett or anyone else in Gloucester Crescent. ‘Love, Nina’ is the collection of witty letters she wrote home, providing a fascinating, irreverent glimpse of 80’s literary London. With a lively turn of phrase and a sublimely sharp ear for dialogue, her letters are fresh, honest, affectionate and addictively funny.
In this biography of the human brain, renowned neuroscientist, Dick Swaab, reveals how nearly everything about us, from our sexual orientation to our religious proclivities, is present in our neuronal circuits even before we are born. The short, engaging chapters combine fascinating and bizarre case studies and historical examples. Swaab explains what is happening in our brains at all stages of life, for example, when we are in the womb, the changes during adolescence, when we fall in love or contract Alzheimer’s. Provocative, opinionated and utterly convincing, he illuminates this complex organ’s role in shaping every aspect of human existence.
By the early 1980’s Barbara Taylor was a young activist and scholar, the prizewinning author of several feminist books and editor of two journals. However, she became increasingly self-destructive. As a result, she underwent a treatment of classical psychoanalysis. To begin with, she ‘felt gorgeous’, she wrote, until childhood demons threatened to overwhelm her. She drank, she left her job and popped pills ‘like a party drunk guzzling peanuts’ which led to her admittance into Friern psychiatric hospital in North London in 1988. Friern Mental Hospital was one of the last great Victorian asylums left and became quickly known throughout Europe as ‘a prestige institution to comfort and heal the human mind’ when it was opened in 1851. It was a pioneer in its approach of dealing with patients, called the ‘moral treatment’ in focusing on the patients’ social relationships with staff and fellow patients instead of putting them in straitjackets. But although reality could not quite fulfil this vision, Barbara Taylor is very positive and grateful about her time there. Her book is a piece of lived history in all senses – a powerful account of her battle with mental illness, set inside the wider story of the end of the asylum system in the UK.
This fun sticker activity atlas lets children learn about the world and its languages whilst learning English too! Bright, colourful maps of the main regions of the world feature countries, oceans, rivers, lakes and mountains labelled in English with two sticker spreads featuring key vocabulary. The sticker pictures are arranged in seven informative themes: animals, crops, food, industry, monuments, natural features and plants. Lists of the national languages of each region appear on each map.
Does Duck dazzle as much as the peacock? Does he dawdle like the tortoise, or does he dash like the hare? No, well what does Duck do? Does Duck...dare? This simple picture book features an amusing, alliterative animal story by Joyce Dunbar, beautifully complemented by Jane Massey’s lovingly crafted illustrations.
Caroline appears to be a carefree teenager on the outside, but inside she is deeply troubled. While visiting her dying grandmother, Caroline feels a compelling need to escape and to have a different kind of life. At that moment, her best friend encourages her to take a break from the sadness and go to a party, to live her life like a normal teenager. At this point, the book divides into two separate stories: in one, Caroline goes to the party and misses the last moments of her grandmother's life; and in the other, she stays with her family and receives her grandmother's farewell message. Caroline's relationships all depend on that instant: reconnection with a distant father, bonding with an angry sister, the spark felt after a new encounter, and even her virginity are all at stake. As she struggles with the grief she feels after her grandmother's death, the two possible scenarios explore how bonds are created and broken and how one decision can have a domino effect on one's life.
‘Ratburger’ is the fifth fantastically funny novel from David Walliams, one of the most popular children's authors in the UK. Eleven year old Zoe has started secondary school and things are not going well; she is poor, short and has red hair so she is bullied. She also has the misfortune of living with her lazy, malevolent stepmother, whilst her broken hearted dad spends most of his time at the pub. Her only solace is a much loved pet hamster, Gingernut, who she trains to dance and dreams of finding fame with, but he dies at the start of the story.Then when she finds a cute baby rat in her bedroom and strives to keep him safe from her stepmother and Burt the evil burger van driver, we are taken on a touching, occasionally gruesome adventure!
Reviews by Evelyn, Iva, Jayne, Liz, Michaela and Ruth