Friday, 30 September 2016

The New Rector (Tales from Turnham Maples Series) by Rebecca Shaw

Paperback:  The small, gossipy English village of Turnham Malpas is the real protagonist of this entertaining first novel about life among the mannered, self-conscious British from Easter to Christmas of one year.

New to town is handsome married pastor Peter Harris, who soon will react to a rather selfish suicide, figure out who pulled some nasty pranks on the town spinster and solve the murder of a local schoolteacher.

The narrative is filled with drama, though the most dramatic writing has less to do with homicide than with the neurosis surrounding so-called ''proper'' behavior.

Isn't Suzy Meadows's dress, wonder the townspeople, a bit tight and flashy for a mourning widow? And who will occupy the murdered woman's house now that it's vacant?

With understanding and sympathy, English writer Shaw captures the tradition-bound, rural sensibility of people who ordinarily mean well but who have trouble communicating with each other.  Sending up the British stereotypes (the repressed spinster, the noble gardener) that Americans often relish, she seems to be writing with Yankee Anglophiles in mind.

The New Rector (1994) is the first book in the Tales from Turnham Maples series.

About the author:  Rebecca Shaw was a former school teacher and the bestselling author of many novels.  She lived with her husband in a beautiful Dorset village where she found plenty of inspiration for her stories about rural life.  Rebecca did not start writing until later in life, once her four children had left home.  She was inspiration to many who thought perhaps they had left things too late.  She spoke about her experiences as a writer at many writers conferences and meetings.
Rebecca sadly died on 7 September 2015.  During her lifetime Rebecca sold more than one million books.  She has been translated and sold in Denmark, Germany, Hungary and Norway.  She is also published in the United States.  All her books remain in print, which is a tribute to the enduring popularity of her work.

Rating:  5/5

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Paperback:  Monsieur Perdu can prescribe the perfect book for a broken heart.  But can he fix his own?

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary.  From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life.  Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls.  The only person he can't seem to heal through literature is himself;  he's still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared.  She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story.  Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country's rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.

Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop (2015) is a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people's lives.

The Little Paris Bookshop was translated from the German by Simon Pare.

About the author:  Born in 1973, Nina George is a journalist and the author of numerous bestselling novels, which have been translated into several languages.  The Little Paris Bookshop was a phenomenal top five bestseller in Germany and was first published around the world in 2015.  She is married to the writer Jens J Kramer and lives in Hamburg.  Her next book - The Little Breton Bistro - will be published in 2017.

Rating:  3/5

Alex (Commandant Camille Verhœven Trilogy Series) by Pierre Lemaitre

Paperback:  Alex, the first book in the Commandant Camille Verhœven Trilogy series, is the winner of the CWA International Dagger Award 2013, amidst much international acclaim and thereby catapulted Pierre Lemaitre's career into international limelight.

Alex Prevost - kidnapped, savagely beaten, suspended from the ceiling of an abandoned warehouse in a wooden cage - is running out of time.  Her abductor appears to want only to watch her die.  Apart from a shaky eyewitness report, Police Commandant Camille Verhœven has nothing to go on:  no suspects, no leads.

To find the young woman, the detective - a man with a tragic past and extraordinary abilities as an investigator - must first understand more about her.

Beautiful, tough, resourceful, always two steps ahead - the enigma that is Alex will keep Verhœven guessing till the bitter, bitter end.  Before long, saving Alex's life will be the least of Verhœven's considerable challenges.

The novel originally published in 2006 in the French language, won the "Prix du premier roman du festival de Cognac" - an award for the best debut crime novel.  This brought the novel national fame throughout France.

Alex is translated from the French by Frank Wynne.

About the author:  Pierre Lemaitre is a  Prix Goncourt-winning novelist and screenwriter, internationally renowned for the crime novels featuring the fictional character Commandant Camille Verhœven.  In November 2013, he was awarded the Prix Goncourt, France's top literary prize, for Au revoir là-haut, an epic about World War I.  The translation of another of his French novels, Camille, won the CWA International Dagger in 2015.  He worked as a teacher in literature and now devotes his time writing novels and screenplays.

Rating:  5/5

Sex And The Citadel: Intimate Life In A Changing Arab World by Shereen El Feki

Paperback:  If you really want to know a people, start by looking inside their bedrooms.

As political change sweeps the streets and squares, parliaments and presidential palaces of the Arab world, Shereen El Feki has been looking at upheaval a little closer to home - in the sexual lives of men and women in Egypt and across the region.  The result is an informative, insightful and engaging account of a highly sensitive, and still largely secret, aspect of Arab society.

Sex is entwined in religion and tradition, politics and economics, gender and generations, so it makes the perfect lens for examining the region's complex social landscape.  From pregnant virgins to desperate housewives, from fearless activists to religious firebrands, Sex and the Citadel takes a fresh look at the sexual history of the Arab region and gives us unique and timely insight into everyday lives in a part of the world that is changing in front of our very eyes.

Sex and the Citadel:  Intimate Life In A Changing Arab World (2013) has been shortlisted for the Guardian First Book award and longlisted for the Orwell Prize.

About the author:  Shereen El Feki is a British-Canadian-Egyptian academic and author, best known for her book, Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World. She is an  expert on the intersection of political and intimate rights in the Arab, and wider Islamic, world.

Shereen started her career in medical science, with a PhD in immunology from Trinity College, Cambridge, before going on to become a healthcare correspondent with The Economist and a presenter with Al Jazeera English.  She is the former vice-chair of the UN's Global Commission on HIV and the Law, as well as a TED global fellow.

Shereen is currently a visiting fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex.  She is also incoming professor of Global Practice at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto.  As a senior fellow with Promundo, under the aegis of UN Women, Shereen is also leading IMAGES-MENA, a pioneering study of men, masculinities and gender equality in four countries in the Arab region.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Blackwater (DI Nick Lowry) by James Henry

Hardback:  A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what's going on.  A psychotic is a guy who's just found out what's going on. - William S Burroughs

Blackwater (2016) is the new Essex-based crime series from the best-selling author of the DI Jack Frost prequels.

January 1983, Colchester CID

A new year brings new resolutions for Detective Inspector Nicholas Lowry.  With one eye on his approaching 40th birthday, he has given up his two greatest vices:  smoking and the police boxing team.  As a result the largest remaining threat to his health is now his junior colleague's reckless driving.

If Detective Constable Daniel Kenton's orange sports convertible is symbolic of his fast track through the ranks, then his accompanying swagger, foppish hairstyle and university education only augment his uniqueness in the department.  Yet regardless of this, it is not DC Kenton who is turning station heads.

WPC Jane Gabriel is the newest police recruit in Britain's oldest recorded town.  Despite a familial tie to top brass, Gabriel's striking beauty and profound youth have landed her with two obstacles:  a young male colleague who gives her too much attention and an older one who acts like she's not there.

January 1983, Blackwater Estuary

A new year brings a new danger to the Essex shoreline.  An illicit shipment bound for Colchester - 100 kilograms of powder that will frantically accelerate tensions in the historic town and leave its own murderous trace.

Lowry, Kenton and Gabriel must now develop a tolerance to one another and show their own substance to save Britain's oldest settlement from a new, unsettling enemy.

Perfectly structured, authentically bred from its bleak and watery setting, Blackwater gives us a new Essex reimagined as a noir landscape. - Lawrence Osborne

About the author:  James Henry is the pen name for James Gurbutt, who has written three prequels to R D Wingfield's popular Frost series.  He works in publishing and enjoys windsurfing and long lunches.

Rating:  5/5

Monday, 19 September 2016

A Different Class of Murder: The Story of Lord Lucan (Non-Fiction/True Crime) by Laura Thompson

Hardback:  Law!  What law can search into the remote abyss of Nature, what evidence can prove the unaccountable disaffections of wedlock?  Can a jury sum up the endless aversions that are rooted in our souls, or can a bench give judgment upon antipathies? - George Farquhar, The Beaux' Stratagem, 1707.

Do earls commit murder?

It is an incendiary question, in a country obsessed with class.  Why shouldn't a peer of the realm be a murderer, the same as anybody else?

Why not indeed;  yet murdering is something that they seldom do.

Domestic murder?  Not at all.

On 7 November 1974, a nanny named Sandra Rivett was bludgeoned to death in a Belgravia basement.  A second woman, Veronica, Countess of Lucan, was also attacked.  The man named in a coroner's court as the perpetrator of these crimes, Richard John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan, disappeared in the early hours of the following morning.  The case, solved in the eyes of the law, has retained its fascination ever since.

Laura Thompson, acclaimed biographer of Agatha Christie, narrates the story that led up to that cataclysmic event, and draws on her considerable forensic skills to re-examine the possible truths behind one of postwar Britain's most notorious murders.

The murder of Sandra Rivett symbolized, with an absolute clarity, the collision of worlds.  If Lord Lucan were guilty then he had killed with an aristocratic contemptuousness but also with a desperate, secretive brutishness.  If he had indeed made a failed attempt at domestic wife-murder, he had done so through lack of money.  An earl without means, like the 7th Earl of Lucan, was a peculiarly vulnerable creature, naked beneath his ermine.  But in the public consciousness his background became a confirmation of guilt.

For he had lived like a lord, even in 1974, traversing the terrain of Belgravia and Berkeley Square with all the old casual grandeur of his forebears.  He had looked like a lord, although the pockets of his Savile Row suits were filled only with IOUs.  Perhaps the difference between then and now is that, today, even the luxury of his aristocratic delusions would be impossible.  He was the last of his kind.  The murder of Sandra Rivett made that clear, too.

A Different Class of Murder (2014) is a portrait of an era, of an extraordinary cast of characters, of a mystery, of a modern myth.  Part social history, part detective story, it tells in masterly style one of the great tales of our collective living memory.

About the author:  Laura Thompson is author of Somerset Maugham Award-winning The Dogs:  A Personal History of Greyhound Racing (1995), Newmarket (2000), Life in a Cold Climate:  A Biography of Nancy Mitford (2003) and Agatha Christie:  An English Mystery (2007).

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

He Was My Working Week

Only In Naples (Non-Fiction) by Katherine Wilson

Hardback:  'See Naples and die,' said Goethe.  But Katherine Wilson saw Naples and started to live.

Katherine is fresh out of college when she arrives in naples to intern at the US Consulate.  There, she meets handsome, studious Salvatore, and finds herself enveloped by his family - in particular by his elegant, accomplished mother, Raffaella.  And it is here that Katherine's real education begins.

Immersed in Neapolitan culture, tradition and cooking, slowly and unexpectedly falling for Salvatore, and basking in Raffaella's company and guidance, Katherine discovers how to prepare meals that sing, from rich ragù to pasta al forno with bacon, béchamel and four kinds of cheese.  Through courtship, culture clashes, Sunday Mass, marriage and motherhood, Katherine slowly comes to appreciate carnale, the quintessentially Neapolitan sense of comfort and confidence in one's own skin.

Steeped in sunlight, wine and unforgettable food, Only in Naples (2016) is a love letter to a city, of lessons in food and famiglia, a coming-of-age story and a transporting account of learning to live the Italian way.

About the author:  Katherine Wilson was born and raised in Washington, DC and graduated from Princeton University.  She has lived in Italy for the past nineteen years, working in television, film and theatre.  Most recently, she acted in Giuseppe Tornatore's The Best Offer with Geoffrey Rush and Donald Sutherland.  She lives in Rome with her husband and two children.

Wild Man (True Story) by Alecia Simmonds

Paperback:  Wild Man (2015) is a work of narrative non-fiction.  It is a story of one man's tragic death that raises questions around love, madness, law, violence and masculinity.  The story is an intellectual journey.  It is a neo-journalism from the gates of hell, a study in modern Australia gothic, madness and horror.

In April 2012, a man was shot dead by police on a remote farm in New South Wales called the School of Happiness.  The victim, who was high on a cocktail of drugs and who suffered from mental illness, had been threatening attendees of a hippie festival with a crossbow and hunting knife.  When the police finally arrived, they tried to subdue him but, ultimately, fatal shots were fired.

In Wild Man, Alecia Simmonds follows the coronial inquest into the police killing.  She reveals what really happened that night and unravels the web of issues entangled in this fascinating, bizarre and, undoubtedly, tragic case:  a cultural clash between hippies and hunters;  drug use, violence, masculinity and psychosis.  She asks how family members, as well as police, came to work on the frontline of mental health.

This spectacular book is a clear-eyed at some of the most pressing problems facing contemporary Australia.

"With a lawyer's precision, an historian's sensibility and a storyteller's heart, Alecia Simmonds has written an important and necessary book.  In Simmonds, we have a new observer of the way our society functions." - Maggie Mackellar

About the author:  Alecia Simmonds is a regular writer for Fairfax Media’s Daily Life and a postdoctoral fellow in law at the University of Technology, Sydney.  Her columns have been published in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Arena, Womankind, and The Guardian.  Wild Man is her first book.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End (The Story of a Crime Series) by Leif G W Persson

Paperback:  Between Summer's Longing an Winter's End (2010)  is the first novel in a trilogy that has become the defining account of the unsolved 1986 assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme - an event that still haunts the collective Swedish memory.  It is acclaimed as one of the greatest Swedish crime novels of all time and is an award-winning Swedish classic.

Stockholm.  The dead of winter.  The temperature is already well below freezing.

A young American dies, falling from a tall building.  It appears to be a casual, self-inflicted death.  It should be an open-and-shut case.  But when Superintendent Lars Martin Johansson begins to delve beneath the layers of corruption, incompetence and violence that threaten to strangle the Stockholm police department, he uncovers a complex web of treachery, politics and espionage.

Johansson quickly realizes that there is nothing routine about this suicide as it soon takes him from domestic drama to the rotten heart of Sweden's government and the murder of the prime minister.

Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End is a riveting insider's combination of black satire, thriller, psychological drama, and police procedural about the biggest police investigation in recorded history.

The book is translated from the Swedish by Paul Norlen.

About the author:  Leif G W Persson is the Grand Master of Scandinavian crime fiction.  Over three decades, he has taken a scalpel to the political and social mores of Swedish society in his dark, complex and satirical crime novels.  His work melds the social realism of a Balzac or a Dickens with the hard-boiled street smarts of James Ellroy.

Born in 1945, Persson has had an extraordinary career.  At once Scandinavia's most renowned criminologist and leading psychological profiler, Persson has also served as an advisor to the Swedish Ministry of Justice.  Since 1991, he has been Professor at the National Swedish Police Board and is regularly consulted by media as the country's foremost expert on crime.  He is the author of nine novels.  Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End is the first to be translated into English.  His most recent novel, The Dying Detective (2016), was awarded Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year by the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers.

Rating:  3/5