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Christmas Reading List 2015

A Happy Christmas and Prosperous New Year to all our Customers


Backman, Fredrik: A Man Called Ove, Sceptre, € 9.99

In this bestselling and delightfully quirky debut novel from Sweden, a grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door. Meet Ove, a man who spends his days checking on his neighbourhood, having staunch principles, strict routines and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbour from hell, but behind the cranky exterior there is a story of sadness. Since Ove’s beloved wife, Sonja, has died after an accident and he has been forced to retire early, life has lost all meaning and he has made arrangements to leave the world behind. So, when one morning a chatty young couple with two lively daughters move in next door, introducing themselves by accidentally flattening Ove’s letterbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of loss and love.

Doerr, Anthony: All the Light We Cannot See, Fourth Estate, € 10.99

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2015, this exquisitely realized novel tells the story of Marie-Laure, a French girl who goes blind at the age of six, and who flees with her father to Saint-Malo when the Germans occupy Paris in 1940. Marie-Laure’s blindness is convincingly represented, and she survives thanks to the steady love of her locksmith father, who builds scale models of the neighborhoods she must learn to negotiate with her cane. The concise yet beautifully evocative chapters alter between her story and that of a German orphan, Werner, destined to labour in the mines of the Ruhrgebiet, but whose genius with radios brings him to the attention of the Hitler Youth and eventually makes him an expert tracker of the Resistance. Anthony Doerr’s expansive, vivid writing threads a dazzling array of themes together: from molluscs to radios; diamonds to birds; locks to armies on the move; duty and fear, all of which ultimately twine satisfyingly together in this moving and memorable book.

Grisham, John: Rogue Lawyer, Hodder & Stoughton, € 26.49

John Grisham is back and this time with Sebastian Rudd. Rudd is a lawyer who takes the cases no one else wants. Whether it is a drug addict punk accused of murdering two girls or a homeowner who shoots at a SWAT team, he is prepared to defend them, since he believes that everyone is entitled to a fair trial. The consequences of taking these types of cases are often unexpected and mysterious. If his office were hit by a fire bomb, Sebastian cannot be sure whether the culprit is a drug dealer or a cop, nor does he care, until he is asked to represent a murder suspect by the name of Arch Swanger. Swanger is suspected of killing the twenty one year old daughter of the Assistant Chief of Police and tells Rudd a terrible secret, but as Sebastian soon discovers, this dangerous secret will threaten all that he holds close and dear. This fast-paced, engrossing read shows the master of the legal thriller at his very best.

James, Marlon: A Brief History of Seven Killings, Oneworld, € 11.99

The message of this book seems to be: Jamaica is a mother who eats her children. In Kingston, Jamaica everyone preys on the poor and the only way to get out is to prey on others. The novel starts before the 1976 election campaign and covers three decades of the unstable history of Jamaica with its stark poverty. When the islands biggest celebrity, Bob Marley, or ‘the Singer’, has returned to star in The One Love Peace Concert, some people want him dead and they almost succeed. The entire novel is told in the first person by a variety of voices: gangbangers and gang lords; a fourteen-year old illiterate who has just obtained her first gun; louche CIA agents; a Rolling Stone freelancer; two sisters, one of whom survives by changing her identity twice in order to escape the island. As you wallow in the depths and dregs with these characters, you sense the suffering into which they were born and begin to understand their Machiavellian existence. The plot is riveting, impressive and complex; the characters are so well drawn that they invade your dreams!

Jefferies, Dinah: The Tea Planter’s Wife, Penguin, € 10.99

When nineteen year old newlywed Gwendolyn arrives in 1920's Ceylon to join her much older husband, Laurence, the owner of a tea plantation, she is excited and looking forward to her new life. On her arrival, however, Laurence is distant, secretive and brooding while her youth and inexperience make her ill equipped to cope with their marriage and the household responsibilities she is expected to take on. With the arrival of Laurence’s spoilt and spiteful sister, Verity, Gwendolyn begins to feel increasingly isolated. Gwen nevertheless soon becomes pregnant, but in the delivery room she is faced with a harrowing choice which she must hide from Laurence at all costs. The smoldering tension of the novel builds until Gwen can no longer live with the lies and dark secrets that she uncovers at every turn, and is eventually forced to speak out. This atmospheric drama of jealousy, deception and guilt places the reader among the rich colours and scents of Ceylon during a time of political upheaval.

Lagercrantz, David: The Girl in the Spider’s Web, MacLehose Press, € 21.99

Hacker Lisbeth Salander returns in the newest addition to Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. The Girl in the Spider’s Web is written by journalist David Lagercrantz, who has taken up the story in this fourth novel. Mikael Blomkvist is desperate to have a story to retain his status on the Swedish political magazine Millennium and is contacted by a young man with information important to the United States’ security. Meanwhile Lisbeth Salander, working on a personal project, also becomes involved with the Hacker Republic and finds information tying together criminals, the National Security Agency and a technology company. She and Blomkvist find themselves working together to uncover a secret at the center of a spider’s web of cybercriminals and international government, each approaching it with a different agenda. Superheroes, sibling rivalry, espionage, stolen technology, autistic savants, and artificial intelligence are interwoven into a web of intrigue that breaks into fast-paced action and ends in a faceoff between the NSA and the Hacker Republic.

Bryson, Bill: The Road to Little Dribbling, Doubleday, € 26.49

Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson pottered about Britain, sticking his nose into every small corner of the Brits’ way of life. Notes from a Small Island is the best-selling British travel book ever and was voted in a BBC poll ‘the book that best represents Britain’, so a follow-up was inevitable. Bryson is older and grumpier now, but this just adds to the fun. He is still in love with Britain while lamenting a world that has become overly accommodating of stupidity. As with its predecessor, this book is stuffed with fascinating facts, each village lending him a tale of intrigue, inspiration or eccentricity. Nevertheless, Bryson feels that Britain has much changed, but then so has he and although he seems to have become more sensitive to change for the worse, he never loses his sense of humour. Be it public transport or British service, evil thoughts pop into his head and often out of his mouth, a thrill for those who regularly think such things but never dare express them. Nothing is funnier than Bill Bryson on the road. Be prepared for the total joy of bursting into unseemly laughter!

Dixon, Thomas: Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears, Oxford University Press, € 36.00

There is an erroneous myth about the British ‘stiff upper lip,’ of a nation of repressed emotions and inactive lachrymal glands which completely falsifies British emotional character. To counter the myth, Dixon charts six centuries of weeping Britons, and theories about them, from medieval mystics such as Margery Kempe, to the outpouring of emotions at the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. In between times, Dixon tracks the tears of Oliver Cromwell and Margaret Thatcher, not forgetting George III, Lord Nelson, Queen Victoria, Charles Darwin and Winston Churchill. The British have also been moved to tears by works of art, from the sentimental novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to Hollywood movies and TV talent shows. All these mappings of tears and feelings can now be rediscovered and readers may begin to see their own tears in a different light.

Harman, Claire: Charlotte Bronte: A Life, Viking, € 21.99

Writing in an era where such activity was not deemed as part of a woman’s life, Charlotte Bronte achieved fame initially under a male pseudonym. Harman’s new biography reveals that Charlotte’s life possessed all the drama and tragedy of a gothic tale. She shows how the new kind of heroine Charlotte created, intelligent, passionate and independent minded, developed out of her own life frustrations and early losses of beloved family members. Harman also reveals what it was like to part of an astonishing creative family. She shows how Charlotte will be remembered as someone who lived an extraordinarily rich and adventurous inner life only to die in childbirth, a time which should have heralded and delivered a joyous new chapter.

Miller, Andy: The Year of Reading Dangerously, Fourth Estate, € 13.90

n this laugh-out-loud memoir, Andy Miller quits his job for a year, making an ambitious vow to read fifty great books within that year. He devises a List of Betterment, ranging from the predictable (Moby Dick and Don Quixote) to the surprising (The Code of the Woosters and The Communist Manifesto) to the truly head-scratching (The Essential Silver Surfer, Vol. 1 and Krautrocksampler). His criteria for inclusion are books he has already read, loved and wants to read again, books he feels he should have read and books he has told people he has read but has not. In Anna Karenina he finds the perfect balance of art and entertainment, actually a book with all the other books within it. He discovers that Patrick Hamilton is the best read on a train and he falls so hard for Michel Houellebecq that he actually writes him a fan letter. This expedition is a heartfelt, humorous and honest examination of what it means to be a reader, plus a witty and insightful journey of discovery and soul-searching that celebrates the abiding, inspiring value of books.

Naylor, Ernest: Moonstruck, Oxford University Press, € 29.00

Throughout history, the influence of the full moon on humans and animals has featured in myths and folklore, such as the stories about werewolves. In Moonstruck, Ernest Naylor explores the myths concerning the influence of the moon, but through a range of fascinating examples, he illuminates how scientists are discovering the remarkable and real effects that the lunar cycle has, indirectly or directly, on many organisms. Breeding behavior among some marine animals has been demonstrated to be controlled by internal circalunar biological clocks to the point where daily and monthly lunar patterns of moon-generated tides are embedded in their genes. Intriguingly, moon-related behaviours are also found in dry land and fresh water species living far beyond the influence of any tides. Naylor suggests that since the advent of evolution on Earth, which occurred shortly after the formation of the Moon, animals developed adaptations to the lunar cycle. Naylor considers whether, if moon-clock genes occur in other animals, they may also exist in humans.

Peppiatt, Michael, Francis Bacon in Your Blood: A Memoir, Bloomsbury, € 36.00

In this intimate and deliberately discreet account, Bacon is shown close up; grand and petty, tender and treacherous in turn. This is a speaking portrait of the defining artist of our times. Fascinated by the artist’s brilliance and charisma, Peppiatt accompanied Bacon on his nightly rounds of prodigious drinking, seeing all aspects of Bacon’s ‘gilded gutter life’ and meeting everyone associated with him from Lucian Freud, Sonia Orwell, Andy Warhol and the Duke of Devonshire. He frequently discussed painting with Bacon and gradually Bacon became a sort of father figure to him. Through this close relationship, Peppiatt managed to record scores of their conversations ranging over aspects of the human condition. A must-read biography!

Sandbrook, Dominic: The Great British Dream Factory: The Strange History of our National Imagination, Allen Lane, € 36.00

Despite the demise of the British Empire, Britain can still legitimately claim superpower status in the area of popular culture. It is extraordinary to think that one British writer, J.K. Rowling has sold more than 400 million books, that the Beatles are still the bestselling musical group of all time and that only Shakespeare and the Bible have sold more copies than Agatha Christie’s novels. Sandbrook argues that no country on earth, relative to its size, has contributed more to the modern imagination. He suggests that entrepreneurship and the ‘self-made’ man drives certain individuals to experiment with artistic forms which promote economic and cultural progressiveness. Imagination rests on possibilities within cultural norms and in changing perceptions of them. The British possess that imagination in abundance.

Schama, Simon: The Face of Britain: The Nation through its Portraits, Penguin-Viking, € 44.00

In The Face of Britain, Simon Schama brings together his two great passions: British history and art history. The book examines the long exchange of glances that British portraits have given us over centuries. ’Through the image-maker, the subject, and the rest of us who get to look at them’, British portraits have enabled us to reflect upon the identity of Britain from its past to its present. The Face of Power, Love & Fame, the Face in the Mirror and the Faces of the People are some of the titles that Shama uses to describe the themes that he examines. The portraits he refers to evoke images of the mighty and the modest, of lovers and friends and of heroes and working people, whether Winston Churchill and his painter are ‘locked in a struggle of stares’ or the painter Thomas Gainsborough is watching his daughters run after a butterfly. These depictions of various individuals will alter the way we see ourselves as well as British history and the British. Thanks to Simon Schama, The Face of Britain challenges us to regard portraits and the portrayed in a whole new way.

Service, Robert: The End of the Cold War, 1985-1991, Macmillan, € 36.00

The Cold War had seemed like a permanent fixture in global politics and until its denouement, no Western or Soviet politician could predict that the struggle after decades of conflict over every aspect of security, politics, economics and ideas would end in their lifetimes. It was a sea change in world history that heralded the collapse of the Soviet Union. Drawing on pioneering archival research, Service’s enthralling new investigation of the final years of the Cold War focusses on the astonishing relationship among US President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, Secretary of State George Shultz, and the USSR’s last Foreign Affairs Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze. This small skillful group of people irreversibly transformed the global geopolitical landscape by finding new ways of communicating. Compelling and authoritative, this meticulously researched book is political history at its best.

Taraborrelli, Randy: Sinatra, Behind the Legend, Sidjwick & Jackson Press, € 21.95

Taraborrelli brings us the life and character of that ‘skinny kid from New Jersey’ with a voice and a dream. Apart from being one of the most charismatic and talented entertainers of the twentieth century, Frank Sinatra was also a volatile and loud-mouthed tough guy who had close ties to the ‘Mob’ and boasted friendships with the Kennedys. Among the women he loved were Ava Gardner, Mia Farrow and Marilyn Monroe. In addition to his romantic relationships, he was known to be a generous and loyal friend, a devoted father and son. Sinatra, Behind the Legend is an exhaustively researched account of a life spent full of excitement, danger and passion paying a sincere and honest tribute to a man ‘whose songs touched a chord in all of us’. Sinatra's story delivers a captivating portrait of the legend for a new age.

Donnelly, Jennifer: These Shallow Graves, Hot Key Books, € 14.49

In New York at the end of the nineteenth century, eligible young heiress Josephine Montfort is born into a world of old money, where women are merely trading pieces expected to live a quiet life of luxury and give birth to continue the family name. However, when Jo’s father dies and she begins to delve deeper into the mysteries of his demise, she begins to question the assumptions of high class society. Jo is compelled to uncover the truth, but escaping her gilded cage is both thrilling and hazardous. A chance encounter with Eddie Gallagher, a rookie newspaper reporter, shows Jo just how dangerous digging up her family’s past will be. Was Jo’s father’s death really accidental? Was it suicide, or worse, murder? This compelling mystery transports the reader to brightest and darkest corners of Victorian New York.

Graham, Oakley: 555 Sticker Fun Monsters, Top That Publishing, € 9.90

Here is a book for the kids to get stuck into. There are lots of stickers, from awful ogres to zombies and mad mummies which can be stuck into suitably ghastly scenes such as ghostly galleons and Frankenstein’s laboratory. Hours of terrific fun!

Napoli, Donna Jo: Treasury of Norse Mythology, National Geographic, € 25.00

This is a superb collection of Norse Myths which have been lyrically retold by award-winning author, Donna Jo Napoli. The stunning illustrations by Christina Balit make the gods, goddesses, heroes and monsters from the harsh northern lands come to life in a magical tableau of colour. Alongside tales of the mighty thunder god Thor, the trickster god Loki and ice giants, the reader is also provided with helpful facts, for example, an explanation of the Norse alphabet and a map of Scandinavia detailing the sea voyages of the Vikings. These exhilarating tales, brimming with intrigue, deceit, love and malice provide a fascinating glimpse into a fabulous lost world.

Nielsen, Susin: We Are All Made of Molecules, Andersen Press, € 19.35

Thirteen-year-old Stewart and fourteen-year-old Ashley could not be more different. Stewart is a geeky, intellectually gifted and socially inept boy who is coping with the loss of his mother while Ashley is a vain, shallow, self-obsessed fashionista who is still reeling from her parents’ divorce that was brought about by her father’s announcement that he is gay. When a serious relationship develops between Stewart’s father and Ashley’s mother, the two find themselves living under the same roof when their parents move in together. Narrated by both of them in alternate chapters, this laugh out loud, insightful take on the modern family will give readers much to think about, as the author unflinchingly tackles issues such as bullying, bigotry, tolerance, friendship, homophobia, death and what it means to be a family.

Reviews by Evelyn, Jayne, Liz, Michaela, Ruth and Sophie