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Bedford Park, in West London, was the world’s first garden suburb, a place that for a decade or two represented the future. Created in 1875 as part of an architectural counter-revolution and renewal, it housed a mix of eccentric artists and progressive thinkers. Into this mix comes Calhoun Kidd who has fled from Chicago and his domineering father. However, he enters London’s salon-society through the notorious newspaper editor, Frank Harris, whom he knew as a hotel clerk in America. Calhoun not only meets writers such as W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde and Joseph Conrad but also businessman Brian Binks, whose background is shady but who seems to know everybody in the City. When one day Kidd steps over the dead body of Binks on Acton Green, he finds himself the focus of London’s police investigation. As their prime suspect, he has no choice but to set out and reveal the identity of Bink’s killer in order to save his own neck. The spirit of the age is what makes Bedford Park so evocative with its host of vivid characters and London in a state of constant renewal. This satirical historical thriller is set in London’s first and original garden suburbs.
On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of Johannes Brandt, an illustrious merchant trader. While her new home appears splendorous, she does not feel welcomed however. When Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift, a miniature replica of their home, Nella’s world begins to change. She engages an elusive and enigmatic artist to furnish her gift and his tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in mysterious ways. This gift helps Nella penetrate the closed household, but as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand the escalating dangers facing them all. Enchanting and suspenseful, this is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and reality.
While The Cuckoo’s Calling saw the one-legged veteran, turned private detective, Cormoran Strike, navigating the perils of celebrity culture and high fashion, in The Silkworm he is confronted with the petty rivalries and grand egos of a ‘fictional’ London literary scene. Having published two difficult and obscene allegorical novels, troublesome author, Owen Quine, is missing and his wife, Leonora, and daughter, Orlando, would like Strike to bring him home. The dowdy Leonora is concerned that Owen’s disappearance has something to do with the manuscript of his latest roman à clef featuring a cast of literary enemies in a scandalous allegory with the unappealing title ‘Bombyx Mori’ (Latin for ‘silkworm’). Quine’s last sighting was at a famous restaurant having a very public row with his agent who declared the book unpublishable. When Quine is found brutally murdered, practically everyone in the publishing world has good reason to get rid of him. Galbraith (aka Rowling) weaves a pleasurably wicked literary murder mystery with all its attendant murky aspects of publishing politics into Strike’s personal and professional life.
A young Pakistani academic recounts his days sharing a cramped apartment in Aarhus, Denmark, with two unlikely roommates: Ravi his promiscuous and privileged best friend and wry observer of the human condition; and Karim, their fundamentalist Muslim landlord and taxi driver, whose apparent double life begins to intrigue his tenants. While Ravi finds his jaded outlook on life challenged when he falls in love with an unlikely Danish girl and the narrator also begins a complicated love affair of his own, they start to become suspicious of Karim’s apparent double life. When a terrorist attack takes place in town, all three find themselves embroiled in doubt, suspicion and perhaps even danger. Despite the seriousness of the topics covered, this is also a hilarious novel that will make you laugh out loud!
Stephen King, who brought us The Shining in 1977, has returned with Dan Torrance to give us a sequel. Dan is no longer a boy being tormented by the ghost of Overlook Hotel, but a man who now lives with the legacy of his father’s alcoholism and violence. In Doctor Sleep, Dan is occupied with the old people who are dying at a nursing home in a small New Hampshire town. Since his occupation is to comfort the old people, he receives the name Dr. Sleep. In this story, Dan comes to the defense of Abra Stone, a twelve-year-old girl whose soul is being sought after by demons of a tribe that from another world. In this sequel to The Shining, the long-lost demons of Dan’s past resurface and reignite a war with the foreign demons. While carrying out the daily routine of consoling the elderly in the home where he works, Dan’s aim is to see that Abra survives and the demons from the other world vanish. Just like the ghosts and demons from Stephen King’s The Shining, the antagonists in Doctor Sleep might just keep you up again late at night reading under your bed covers….
This may be the most poignant and unusual tale so far by master storyteller, Koontz. Due to an unusual disfigurement, Addison Goodheart is an outcast and lives alone underneath the city, exiled from a society that will destroy him if he is seen. He takes refuge in books, embracing their inner riches. At night, he leaves his hidden chambers and makes his way to into the central library through a network of storm drains and service tunnels. Here, he meets Gwyneth, a fugitive who must also hide her true appearance and for whom it is very difficult to trust anyone. Something like chance and nothing less than destiny brings them together in a fast approaching hour of reckoning. Koontz blends mystery, suspense and acute psychological insight into the human soul that is both chilling and emotionally fulfilling.
In a beach house not far from Sydney lives an elderly widow, Ruth Field. Ruth senses a tiger prowling around her isolated home as an apparition that foreshadows the arrival of a far more dangerous beast. A flesh-and-blood threat to Ruth comes in a friendlier disguise. A tall, exotic-looking stranger arrives unexpectedly one morning, introducing herself as Frida, a carer paid for by the government and allocated to assist Ruth with her daily tasks. Cheerful, capable, fascinating and, at first, kind, Frida soon insinuates her way into Ruth’s spare room and affections. The reader senses that something sinister is going on: Frida’s relationship with Ruth is a combination of large lies and small, important truths in which the power dynamic shifts by the second, touching and terrifying by turns. McFarlane expertly weaves Ruth's worsening memory lapses into the narrative, so that as Frida repeatedly challenges Ruth's version of events, Ruth also starts to doubt herself. What begins as a gentle portrait of seventy-five-year-old woman slipping towards dementia becomes a compelling thriller.
In the Ozark Mountains, sixteen-year-old Lucy Dane has lived haunted by a secret: why did her mother, Ree, disappear years ago from the tight-knit town of Henbane? It is not until after Lucy has graduated from high school and discovers the necklace of her slow-witted friend, Cheri, who has disappeared as well, that she begins to search for the lost women. The evidence she uncovers points to her kinfolk as the culprits and Lucy finds she is torn between ignoring the secrets kept by her relatives and revealing the truth that will split the family apart. The Weight of Blood is a gritty coming-of-age story in the genre of Southern Gothic. Told in multiple narratives, the story unfolds by revealing the events and developing the characters and their motivations. Many of the underlying themes are grim, such as child prostitution, murder and rape, but are balanced with the budding of young romance and the loyalty of friendship. It is Lucy's determination to persevere in finding the truth in spite of the horrific circumstances that makes this backwoods mystery/thriller such a compelling read.
The author offers a new reading of the beginning of the modern world and the role mathematics plays in its genesis. Amir brings to vivid life the various protagonists involved in the battle of infinitesimals without forsaking historical accuracy. We observe how a small mathematical disagreement about atomism became a contest over the nature of the heavens and the earth. Was the world entirely known and ruled by a divinely sanctioned divinity governed by rationality and hierarchy or was it part of a vast and mysterious cosmos ripe for exploration? The legitimacy of popes and kings based on the former authoritarian rationale gradually changed to modern beliefs of tolerance, human liberty and progressive science.
In Mirror Mirror, Blackburn presents a biting critique of narcissism and other vices of the overinflated self, giving us an accessible set of insights into a topic of immediate cultural concern. He draws on an eclectic range of texts from literature, psychology and philosophy and with a quiet lyrical sensitivity, he examines the ways in which not only a healthy self-respect and pride in one’s real achievements are necessary as a foundation for the respect of others, but also how it can tip into vanity, envy and hubris. He suggests we have lost the ability to distinguish between good and bad forms of self-concern and puts the heat on the richest one percent, but also on all of us and our foibles. A wise, witty and rewarding read.
After representing New York in the United States Senate, Hillary Rodham Clinton ran for presidential office in 2008. She was then offered the chance to serve the White House as U.S. Secretary of State. Clinton worked with President Obama to repair fractured alliances, wind down wars, address a global financial crisis and assist in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. She was also faced with rising competition in China and growing threats from Iran and North Korea. Hillary has travelled to one hundred and twelve countries and gained perspective on major trends from economic inequality to climate change. In addition, these memoirs also describe her case for human rights. As a potential candidate for the next president of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s chronicle is a must for those interested in potential leaders of the United States or for anyone who just enjoys a good read about a remarkable woman with interesting insights in modern global politics.
This impressive anthology is edited by Birdsong author, Sebastian Faulks, and Dr. Hope Wolf, Teaching Fellow in Life Writing at King's College London. Faulks writes: ‘Much of the most exciting and illuminating writing on the First World War is found in private, unpublished documents,’ which certainly proves to be the case in this anthology. While there are extracts from the writings of the famous such as T.E. Lawrence, Siegfried Sassoon and Sylvia Pankhurst among them, it is the testaments of ordinary people that have the most impact. Civilians recall Zeppelin raids, the work of women in munition factories and relief work trying to help desperate refugees fleeing the conflict. The collection includes stories from Russians, Germans, Indians and Americans, many of them set against a backdrop of hospitals, railway stations, refugee camps, factories and prison cells. This moving compilation of personal and defining moments offers a unique insight into the Great War as it was experienced.
In the spring of 1998, Matt Lewis was twenty-three and had just graduated from college when he accepted a job as a scientific observer on the deep-sea fishing vessel Sudur Havid. When the ship set sail from Cape Town for the South Georgian fishing grounds, the multinational crew of thirty-eight men included brothers, fathers and sons. Sixty days later, Lewis was standing on the drowned bodies of shipmates on the sagging floor of a sinking life raft. Last Man Off is Matt Lewis' story of that journey and its fateful consequences. It is a story that he waited to tell, yet the passing of time has only lent sharpness to his account which, sixteen years on, has a dreamlike precision. ‘I was waiting for more time to make the story less painful,’ said Lewis. This gripping, personal and chillingly real account is a truly dramatic tale of folly, courage, tragedy and survival in some of the most hostile conditions on the planet.
The real revolution in the arts took place not in the roaring 1920’s, but more quietly and intimately, in the shadow of cafés and cabarets of Montmartre during the first decade of the century. Sue Roe’s lively and engaging book suggests that even the greatest artists thrived best in such an artistic Milieu during this time. Many who congregated in this outpost of Paris were very young, had little money and were barely able to speak French. The cross-fertilization of painting, writing, music and dance produced a panorama of activity characterized by the works of Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck and Modigliani, the appearance of the Ballets Russes and the salons of Gertrude Stein. In Montmartre, Sue Roe vividly brings to life the bohemian world of art in Paris between 1900 and 1910.
Sims recounts the evocative story of a complex young man seeking to find his place and make his mark in the world. Using letter and diaries from Thoreau’s family, friends and students, Sims charts his coming of age within a family trying to keep its head above poverty in 1830’s America. Amidst the activities of skating and boating with Nathanial Hawthorne or launching with his brother, John Thoreau, their progressive school in Maine, Sims paints a sympathetic story of a sensitive, clever young writer struggling to express himself through communion with nature. Sims also explores Thoreau’s infatuation with a woman who rejected him and the role that may have played in his retreat into nature to live in a wooden cabin at Walden Pond. The strong influence of his mother and sisters, all passionate abolitionists, is also addressed, as well as other powerful cultural currents of his day.
Reviews by Evelyn, Jayne, Liz, Michaela, Ruth and Sophie