Monday, 30 September 2013

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw

From a mesmerising storyteller, this is a kaleidoscopic portrayal of the dazzling towers and bustling streets of Shanghai, and of how the new China, where age-old customs conflict with twenty-first-century ambitions, is reshaping the lives of millions.  Deeply involving and beautifully observed, Five Star Billionaire (2013) is a powerful story of success, failure and the blurred line between the two.

Hardback:  Opportunity can take many forms, nowhere more so than in Shanghai, the world's fastest-growing metropolis.

A TV talent show might catapult you to fame, only for you to be flung back down to obscurity; an identity card left on a crumb-covered cafe table could be a one-way ticket to deportation, or the first step towards the job of your dreams.

For five newcomers, this glittering megacity is the stage where fantasy can become reality.

Phoebe, without a job but armed with wisdom culled from self-help books, is determined to catch a rich man.

Gary is a pop star whose life is spinning violently out of control.

Justin withdraws from his powerful family and their real-estate empire in the hope of reconnecting with Yinghui, a former student activist turned successful businesswoman.

And all the while, the Five Star Billionaire himself pulls the strings of destiny, his lessons for success subtly but irrevocably shifting the dynamics of these disparate lives.

About the author:  Tash Aw was born in Taipei, in the Republic of China, and brought up in Malaysia.  He moved to England in his teens and now lives in London.  He is the author of The Harmony Silk Factory (2005), which was the winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Novel and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the prestigious 2007 International Impac Dublin Award and the Guardian First Book Prize.  He is also the author of Map of the Invisible World (2009).  Five Star Billionaire has been longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize.  Aw is now one of the most respected literary figures in Southeast Asia.

Rating:  3/5

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Servants: A Downstairs View of 20th-Century Britain by Lucy Lethbridge

Hardback:  No aspect of the twentieth-century home has expressed quite so eloquently the traditional English idea of the ordered life as the keeping of servants.

From the ostentatious luxury of the Edwardian rich to the middle-class housewives eking out a modest budget in order to keep a house-parlourmaid, the servant was the marker of social success.

Thousands of unseen, unheard household staff toiled in kitchens, parlours and country houses at the turn of the century, stirring eggs so that the yolks would be perfectly centred, ironing shoelaces and blacking grates.  A typical maid-of-all-work carried an estimated three tons of water up and down stairs every week.

The stories of below-stairs workers are the untold history of the last century, their fortunes a barometer of the twilight years of the landed estates, the development of new technologies, the changing place of both men and women and the radical shifts in domestic life.  

Spanning over a hundred years, Lucy Lethbridge brings to life through letters and diaries the voices of countless men and women who have been largely ignored by the historical record.  She also interviews former and current servants for their recollections of this waning profession.

From the quintessential liveried servant of 1900 to the self-service of the 1970s, these are stories of aspirations, ideals, hope and disappointment across the classes.

Sweeping in its scope, extensively researched and brilliantly observed, this book offers a fresh and intimate insight into an invisible population, a clamour of voices telling us what their lives were really like and opens a window onto British society from the Edwardian period to the present.  Servants (2013) is the most authoritative and comprehensive account yet of those who worked behind the scenes of twentieth-century Britain.

About the author:  Lucy Lethbridge has written for a number of publications and is also the author of several children's books, one of which, Who Was Ada Lovelace?, won the 2002 Blue Peter Award for non-fiction.  She lives in London.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Local History: A Handbook for Beginners by Philip Riden

From the book:  The aim of this second, fully revised, updated, re-written, 1998 edition of Riden's lively and well informed volume is to provide a simple introduction to the study of local history in England and Wales, provide a grounding in what local history is about and how it is studied.  

It is intended mainly for two types of reader.  The first are part-time amateur enthusiasts with no previous experience of historical research who are keen to discover something of the past around them.  The second are students in institutions such as schools, colleges and universities, especially those assessed by dissertation.

Riden's book has been written against a background of his own interest in local history - largely untutored - since his early teens;  twenty years' experience of teaching adults classes as a full-time tutor in a university extramural department as well as teaching undergraduates while working as a county editor for the Victoria County History.  Essentially, this book is based on practical first-hand experience.  

In this book, the reader will also find a clear, up-to-date guide to basic sources for local history, plus hints as to where to find out more.  Each chapter has a list of further reading although it does not aim to to list every possible source for a particular topic, nor does it describe everything to be found in a county record office.  It, nevertheless, concentrates on subjects which amateurs tend to be interested in, and material available in local libraries and record offices which they can use without encountering great technical problems.

Local History: A Handbook for Beginners (first published in 1983) is also ideal manual for teachers and part-time extramural students.

As in all books of this kind, Scotland is omitted, since its administrative and judicial history have created a separate system of records which cannot easily be dealt with alongside sources for England and Wales.

About the author:  Philip Riden is a Senior Research Fellow at Nene University College, Northampton, and County Editor of the Northamptonshire Victoria County History.  Mr Riden's own research interests lie in the field of British economic history between 1660 and 1914, and the history of Derbyshire.  He has published a number of books and articles on the history of the British iron industry in this period, while in Derbyshire his work has been focused mainly on the Derbyshire Record Society, of which he has been general editor since the society was established in 1977 and for which he had edited and co-edited about a dozen of its 33 hardback volumes.  He is also the author of two general textbooks on the study of local history.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

E-Book: The Slice of No 1 Celebration Storybook (Fifteen Years with Mma Ramotswe) by Alexander McCall Smith

Kindle:  In this delicious short collection to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the international phenomenon The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith's wise, generous heroine finds that dieting is not for everyone and sometimes it is simply better to be traditionally built, especially when there is cake to be had.

And when the Ladies' Club of Gaborone invites Mma Ramotswe as their keynote speaker, she reaches some thought-provoking conclusions about the problems - or otherwise - of ladies and men.

Also features reflections from the author on his much-loved series.

About the author:  Alexander McCall Smith is the author of over eighty books on a wide array of subjects.  For many years, he was Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh and served on national and international bioethics bodies.  Then in 1999 he achieved global recognition for his award-winning series The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, and thereafter has devoted his time to the writing of fiction, including the 44 Scotland Street, Isabel Dalhousie and Corduroy Mansions series.  His books have been translated into forty-six languages.  He lives in Edinburgh with his wife, Elizabeth, a doctor.

The Slice of No 1 Celebration Storybook (out today!) is priced at £0.99 on and $1.53 on  It is also available to download from Apple, Kobo and Google.

The next and fourteenth hardback in The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, will be out on 3 October 2013!

Rating:  5/5

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

English Local History: An Introduction by Dr Kate Tiller

Paperback:  This is a book for anyone wanting to explore local history in England.

It summarizes, in an accessible and authoritative way, current knowledge and approaches to English local history.

The principal sources of evidence available to local historians are introduced, and suggestions given as to how they can be used in a critical and informed way.

General themes and questions for each historical period, combined with specific case studies, highlight contrasting experiences, and indicate how the available raw materials can be pieced together effectively.

This book will be invaluable to all those who wish to understand more of the history around them, encouraged by the advice offered and by an added understanding of questions shared with their predecessors and present-day fellow local historians.

Complemented by over a hundred photographs, this book offers an excellent guide and introduction to discovering the history that surrounds us.

About the author:  Dr Kate Tiller is a Founding Fellow of Kellog College, University of Oxford, and Director of Studies in Local History at the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education.  Her academic fields are British social and local history, with particular research interests in English rural change post-1760, in the social history of landscape, and in religion and community in Britain since 1730.  She also writes on the academic practice of local history and continues to teach and examine for a range of graduate courses, and to supervise master's and DPhil students.  She is a keen sports fan, since 2001 the first woman member of the committee of Oxford University Rugby Football Club, and currently University Senior Member for OURFC.

English Local History: An Introduction was first published in 1992 and is seriously recommended to either undergraduate or adult history students.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Love this book!

Paperback:  An outrageously funny debut, Crazy Rich Asians (2013) is the story of three superrich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occur when Nicholas Young, heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia, brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season.

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nick, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry.

What she doesn't know is that Nick's family home happens to look like a palace, that she'll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia's most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back.

Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor beyond her imagination, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society;  Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines;  and Eleanor, Nick's formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about whom her son should - and should not - marry.

A romp through the Far East's most exclusive playgrounds - from the glittering penthouses of Shanghai to the private islands in the South China Sea - Crazy Rich Asians is an insider's look at the Asian jet set, a perfect depiction of the clash between old money and new money and between Overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese, and a fabulous novel about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily rich.

About the author:  Kevin Kwan was born and raised in Singapore.  He currently lives in Manhattan.

Introducing the personable author and his original and contemporary debut novel:

Rating:  5/5

Why Reading Is A Necessity

(August Burns Red)

Markus Zusak

Happy 1 September