We’re getting through books at a rate of knots at the moment? Are you? Yesterday we whipped through this little beauty from Chris Brookmyre:
It has a fantastic plot that twists and turns in all the right places and kept me guessing right up until the end. Focusing on new nanny Amanda, and the Temple family, we see a former actress, a famous professor and their three successful grown-up children, who all seem to have something terrible to hide.
Prior to Brookmyre, I worked my way through Hanya Yanagihara’s epic, traumatic novel, A Little Life.
It’s written beautifully, and tells the story of four college friends – from the moment they meet in college, right into their later years. Mainly about Jude, a young man who has suffered a terrible childhood, it shows us how events from our early years really do come to shape the adults we become. A devastating read, a tough read, but an important read.
Hands up if you’ve been planting potatoes this weekend. Here’s a photo of ours from a couple of years ago.
If you’re looking for a bit of veg growing advice, here’s a beautiful new book from Kew, and a great guide from the no-dig genius, Charles Dowding. Both available to order for home delivery.
£12.99 Hardback. Create your best vegetable garden ever with a few packets of seed and some fertile ground. In this book Kew’s Kitchen Gardener, Helena Dove, combines practical elements with inspiration and beauty. She shows how to grow some of the most popular staple crops such as tomatoes, potatoes, radishes and rocket, and also some more unusual exciting choices such as oca, tomatillo, seakale and yacon. She gives easy to follow instructions on how to be a successful vegetable gardener, plus 12 exciting projects to try throughout the year including forcing rhubarb, creating an asparagus border and growing in raised beds.
£14.99 Paperback. Charles Dowding draws on his years of experience to show how easy it is to start a new vegetable garden. Any plot – a building site, overgrown with weeds or unwanted lawn – can be turned into a beautiful and productive vegetable area. Charles’s no-nonsense and straightforward advice is the perfect starting point for the beginner or experienced gardener. With step-by-step guides to Planning and early stages, Clearing the ground, Mulch, Minimizing digging, Sowing and planting across the seasons, Growing in polytunnels and greenhouses, this book is filled with labour-saving ideas and the techniques that Charles uses to garden so successfully. Illustrated throughout with photos, and tales from Charles’s first year in his new vegetable garden.
City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert (Paperback) – Published 7th April. New York, 1940. Young, glamorous and inseparable, Vivian and Celia are chasing trouble from one end of the city to the other. But there is risk in all this play – that’s what makes it so fun, and so dangerous. Sometimes, the world may feel like it’s ending, but for Vivian and Celia, life is just beginning. City of Girls is about daring to break conventions and follow your desires: a celebration of glamour, resilience, growing up, and the joys of female friendship – and about the freedom that comes from finding a place you truly belong.
To Be Taught If Fortunate – Becky Chambers (Paperback) Published 9th April. At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, Ariadne goes on a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds fifteen light-years from Earth, she and her fellow crewmates sleep while in transit, and wake each time with different features. As they shift through both form and time, life on Earth has also changed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the wonders and dangers of her journey, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.
Redhead by the Side of the Road – Anne Tyler (Hardback) Published 9th April. An offbeat love story about mis-steps, second chances and the elusive art of human connection. Micah Mortimer isn’t the most polished person you’ll ever meet. His numerous sisters and in-laws regard him oddly but very fondly, but he has his ways and means of navigating the world. He measures out his days running errands for work, maintaining an impeccable cleaning regime and going for runs. He is content with the steady balance of his life. But then the order of things starts to tilt. His woman friend Cassia (he refuses to call anyone in her late thirties a ‘girlfriend’) tells him she’s facing eviction, and when a teenager shows up at Micah’s door claiming to be his son, Micah is confronted with another surprise he seems poorly equipped to handle. An intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who sometimes finds those around him just out of reach – and a love story about the differences that make us all unique.
Date with Danger – Julia Chapman (Paperback) The wait is over – Julia Chapman’s new Dales Detective Novel is out on the 2nd of April. ‘Hurray!’ we hear you all cry – hear hear we say. A fatal accident at Bruncliffe’s livestock auction mart leads auctioneer Harry Furness to call in detective duo Samson O’Brien and Delilah Metcalfe, but what starts as a simple health-and-safety investigation soon takes a sinister turn as they discover evidence that suggests murder. Meanwhile, Poacher Pete Ferris sets in motion a blackmail plot. Samson and Delilah find that their latest investigations are fraught with danger; a danger that will leave them fighting for their lives.
Trace Elements – Donna Leon (Hardback) In Donna Leon’s haunting twenty-ninth Brunetti novel, a woman’s cryptic dying words in a Venetian hospice lead Guido Brunetti to uncover a threat to the entire region. When Dottoressa Donato calls the Questura to report that a dying patient at the hospice wants to speak to the police, Commissario Guido Brunetti and his colleague, Claudia Griffoni, waste no time in responding. Brunetti promises he and Griffoni will look into what initially appears to be a private family tragedy. As she has done so often through her memorable characters and storytelling skill, Leon once again engages our sensibilities as to the differences between guilt and responsibility.
The Chain – Adrian McKinty (Paperback) Your phone rings. A stranger has kidnapped your child. To free them, you must abduct someone else’s child. Your child will be released when your victim’s parents kidnap another child. If any of these things do not happen, your child will be killed. Victim, survivor, abductor, criminal. You will become each one. You are now part of the chain. A scary, breathtaking, thrilling read – one you won’t be able to forget.
Blood and Sugar – Laura Shepherd-Robinson (Paperback) An unidentified body hangs upon a hook at Deptford Dock – tortured and branded with a slaver’s mark. Some days later, Captain Harry Corsham – a war hero embarking on a parliamentary career – is visited by the sister of an old friend. Her brother, passionate abolitionist Tad Archer, had been about to expose a secret that would cause irreparable damage to the British slaving industry. He’d said people were trying to kill him, and now he is missing . . . To discover what happened, Harry is forced to pick up the threads of his friend’s investigation, to delve into the heart of the conspiracy Tad had unearthed. His investigation threatens his political prospects, his family’s happiness, and forces a reckoning with his past. Can he survive the mortal dangers awaiting him in Deptford?
Joe Country – Mick Herron (Paperback) In Jackson Lamb thriller number 6, memories are stirring. All of them bad. Catherine Standish is buying booze again, Louisa Guy is raking over the ashes of lost love, and new recruit Lech Wicinski, whose sins make him outcast even among the slow horses, is determined to discover who destroyed his career, even if he tears his life apart in the process. With winter taking its grip, Jackson Lamb would sooner be left brooding in peace, but even he can’t ignore the dried blood on his carpets. When the man responsible breaks cover at last, Lamb sends the slow horses out to even the score. This time, they’re heading into joe country. And they’re not all coming home.
Fallen Angel – Chris Brookmyre (Paperback) To new nanny Amanda, the Temple family seem to have it all: the former actress; the famous professor; their three successful grown-up children. But like any family, beneath the hugs and smiles, there lurks far darker emotions. Sixteen years earlier, little Niamh Temple died while they were on holiday in Portugal. As Amanda joins the family for a reunion at their seaside villa, she begins to suspect one of them might be hiding something terrible, and suspicion is a dangerous thing.
Had enough of escaping into a fictional land of mystery? Feel the need to feed your brain with information? Here’s our pick of the most interesting non-fiction around at the moment.
The Future we Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis – Christiana Figueres (Hardback) A cautionary but optimistic book about the world’s changing climate and the fate of humanity. The authors outline two possible scenarios for our planet. In one, they describe what life on Earth will be like by 2050 if we fail to meet the Paris climate targets. In the other, they lay out what it will be like to live in a carbon neutral, regenerative world.
Our House is on Fire – Malena Ernman, Greta Thunberg, Beata Ernman, Svante Thunberg (Hardback) The profoundly moving story of how love, courage and determination brought Greta Thunberg’s family back from the brink. Greta’s devoted parents, and her young sister, struggled to cope when she stopped speaking and eating. They searched for answers, and began to see how their children’s suffering reached far beyond medical diagnoses. This crisis was not theirs alone: they were burned-out people on a burned-out planet. Our House is on Fire shows how, they found ways to strengthen, heal, and gain courage from the love they had for each other – and for the living world.
How to Argue with a Racist – Adam Rutherford (Hardback) A vital manifesto for a twenty-first century understanding of human evolution and variation, and a timely weapon against the misuse of science to justify bigotry.
The Meaning of Travel – Emily Thomas (Hardback) How can we think more deeply about travel? This question inspired Emily Thomas’ journey into the philosophy of travel. Part philosophical ramble, part travelogue, The Meaning of Travel begins in the Age of Discovery, when philosophers first started taking travel seriously. It meanders forward to consider Montaigne on otherness, John Locke on cannibals, and Henry Thoreau on wilderness. We discover the dark side of maps, how the philosophy of space fuelled mountain tourism, and why you should wash underwear in woodland cabins…
Homing – John Day (Paperback) As a boy, Jon Day was fascinated by pigeons, which he used to rescue from the streets of London. Twenty years later he moved away from the city centre to start a family. In moving house, he began to lose a sense of what it meant to feel at home. Returning to his childhood obsession with the birds, he built a coop in his garden and joined a local pigeon racing club. Homing delves into the curious world of pigeon fancying, explores the scientific mysteries of animal homing, and traces the cultural, political and philosophical meanings of home.
Surrounded by Idiots – Thomas Erikson (Paperback) Do you ever think you’re the only one making any sense? Or tried to reason with your partner with disastrous results? Do long, rambling answers drive you crazy? Or does your colleague’s abrasive manner get your back up? You are not alone. Communication expert and bestselling author, Thomas Erikson dedicated himself to understanding how people function and why we often struggle to connect with certain types of people. Originally published in Swedish in 2014, Surrounded by Idiots is already an international phenomenon, offering a simple, yet ground-breaking method for assessing the personalities of people we communicate with – in and out of the office – based on four personality types.
The Five – Hallie Rubenhold (Paperback) Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, and gives these victims of ‘Jack the Ripper’ their stories back.
Daughters of Chivalry – Kelcey Wilson-Lee (Paperback) A vibrant account of the five daughters of the great English king, Edward I. The lives of Eleanora, Joanna, Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth – ran the full gamut of experiences open to royal women in the Middle Ages. Drawing on a wide range of contemporary sources, Daughters of Chivalry offers a rich portrait of these spirited Plantagenet women. With their libraries of beautifully illustrated psalters and tales of romance, their rich silks and gleaming jewels, we follow these formidable women throughout their lives and see them – at long last – shine from out of the shadows, revealing what it was to be a princess in the Age of Chivalry.
Seeds of Science – Mark Lynas (Paperback) Mark Lynas was one of the original GM field wreckers. Back in the 1990s – working undercover with his colleagues in the environmental movement – he would descend on trial sites of genetically modified crops at night and hack them to pieces. Two decades later, most people around the world – from New York to China – still think that ‘GMO’ foods are bad for their health or likely to damage the environment. But Mark has changed his mind. This book explains why.
Wayfinding – Michael Bond (Hardback) The physical world is infinitely complex, yet most of us are able to find our way around it. We can walk through unfamiliar streets while maintaining a sense of direction, take shortcuts along paths we have never used and remember for many years places we have visited only once. These are remarkable achievements. In Wayfinding, Bond explores how we do it: how our brains make the ‘cognitive maps’ that keep us orientated, even in places that we don’t know.
Invisible Women – Caroline Criado Perez (Paperback) From government policy and medical research, to technology, workplaces, and the media. Invisible Women reveals how in a world built for and by men, we are systematically ignoring half of the population, often with disastrous consequences. This book brings together for the first time an impressive range of case studies, stories and new research from across the world that illustrates the hidden ways in which women are forgotten, and the profound impact this has on us all. Discover the shocking gender bias that affects our everyday lives.
If you’re the kind of person – like me – who enjoys a good long read, you might be looking for something to get fully involved with over the next few weeks in ‘lockdown’. So here are some great chunky books that kept us gripped for over 500 pages…..
Famously ‘A Suitable Boy’ used to be the longest book available in the English language – not sure if that’s still the case – but at 1504 pages long (!!!!!) it’s going to keep you occupied! I read it in two weeks whilst on a road trip holiday. It’s an epic tale of families, romance and political intrigue that never loses its power to delight and enchant. At the core is a love story: the tale of Lata and her mother’s attempts to find her a suitable husband, through love or through exacting maternal appraisal. At the same time, it’s the story of India, newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis. I learnt A LOT about India’s history through reading this novel, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
At 1088 pages, ‘4,3,2,1’ is still a pretty meaty read, but it’s one I never tire of recommending to my customers. I polished it off in a week because I couldn’t put it down. It follows the entire life of Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, who is born on March 3rd, 1947. Family fortunes diverge. Loves, friendships, and passions contrast. But it’s the structure and premise that brought real joy to me with this one – so I can’t give too much away….You’ll have to read it for yourself to discover its unique fascination.
‘The Goldfinch’ is another one of those great books that follows the lead character all the way from childhood into adulthood. And it’s 880 pages of gripping brilliance. Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, (largely absent) father, survives a horrific accident that tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he’s taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, he learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich, and the dusty antiques store where he works. Alienated and in love, his talisman painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
A few other favourites to mention: ‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’ by John Irving (720 pages), ‘The Corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen (672 pages), ‘Blind Assassin’ by Margaret Atwood (656 pages), ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ Barbara Kingsolver (640 pages), ‘Capital’ by John Lanchester (592 pages)
If you’re looking for some inspiration on what to order from your local bookshop, here are some of our top picks.
Roddy Doyle – Charlie Savage. This slim paperback is about a middle-aged Dubliner with an indefatigable wife, an exasperated daughter, a drinking buddy who’s realised that he’s been a woman all along … Compiled here for the first time, it’s a whole year’s worth of Roddy Doyle’s hilarious series for the Irish Independent.
Stacey Halls – The Foundling. Hardback. The new novel from the author of ‘The Familiars’. London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst, that Clara has died in care, she is astonished when she is told she has already claimed her.
Isabel Allende – A Long Petal of the Sea. Hardback. 1939, Spanish exiles arrive in Chile, the Second World War breaks out in Europe. Young doctor Victor Dalmau is caught up in the Spanish Civil War, a tragedy that leaves his life – and the fate of his country – forever changed. Together with his sister-in-law, the pianist Roser, he is forced out of his beloved Barcelona and into exile. They board a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda to Chile, the promised ‘long petal of sea and wine and snow’. There, they find themselves enmeshed in a rich web of characters who come together in love and tragedy over the course of four generations.
Jessie Burton – The Confession. Hardback. From the author of ‘The Miniaturist’. One winter’s afternoon on Hampstead Heath in 1980, Elise Morceau meets Constance Holden and quickly falls under her spell. Connie is bold and alluring, a successful writer whose novel is being turned into a major Hollywood film. Elise follows Connie to LA, a city of strange dreams and swimming pools and late-night gatherings of glamorous people. But whilst Connie thrives on the heat and electricity of this new world, Elise finds herself floundering. When she overhears a conversation at a party that turns everything on its head, Elise makes an impulsive decision that will change her life forever.
Toshikazu Kawaguchi – Before the Coffee Gets Cold. Paperback. In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a cafe which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time. In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the cafe’s time-travelling offer, in order to: confront the man who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer’s, to see their sister one last time, and to meet the daughter they never got the chance to know.
Ian McEwan – Machines Like Me. Paperback. In an alternative 1980s London, Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first batch of synthetic humans. With Miranda’s assistance, he co-designs Adam’s personality. This near-perfect human is beautiful, strong and clever – and soon a love triangle forms, which leads Charlie, Miranda and Adam to a profound moral dilemma. What makes us human?
Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other. Paperback. This is Britain as you’ve never read it. This is Britain as it has never been told. From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . .
Jeanine Cummins – American Dirt. Hardback. An unforgettable story of a mother and son’s attempt to cross the US-Mexico border. Described as ‘impossible to put down’ (Saturday Review) and ‘essential reading’ (Tracy Chevalier), it is a story that will leave you utterly changed. Yesterday, Lydia had a bookshop. Yesterday, Lydia was married to a journalist. Yesterday, she was with everyone she loved most in the world. Today, her eight-year-old son Luca is all she has left.
Jing-Jing Lee – How We Disappeared. Paperback. Singapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked. Only three survivors remain, one of them a tiny child. In a neighbouring village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di is shipped off to a Japanese military rape camp. In the year 2000, her mind is still haunted by her experiences there, but she has long been silent about her memories. It takes twelve-year-old Kevin, and the mumbled confession he overhears from his ailing grandmother, to set a journey into the unknown to discover the truth.
Gill Hornby – Miss Austen. Hardback. One of the best books that Limestone Books has ever read. A wonderful, original, emotionally complex novel that delves into why Cassandra Austen burned a treasure trove of letters written by her sister, Jane Austen – an act of destruction that has troubled academics for centuries. Written perfectly in the style of Austen herself.
Kate Atkinson – Big Sky. Paperback. Jackson Brodie has relocated to a quiet seaside village in North Yorkshire, in the occasional company of his recalcitrant teenage son Nathan and ageing Labrador Dido, both at the discretion of his former partner Julia. It’s a picturesque setting, but there’s something darker lurking behind the scenes. Jackson’s current job, gathering proof of an unfaithful husband for his suspicious wife, seems straightforward, but a chance encounter with a desperate man on a crumbling cliff leads him into a sinister network-and back into the path of someone from his past.
Sebastian Barry – A Thousand Moons. Hardback. Winona is a young Lakota orphan adopted by former soldiers Thomas McNulty and John Cole. Living with Thomas and John on the farm, she is educated and loved, forging a life for herself beyond the violence and dispossession of her past. But the fragile harmony of her unlikely family unit, in the aftermath of the Civil War, is soon threatened by a further traumatic event, one which Winona struggles to confront, let alone understand. A powerful, moving study of one woman’s journey, of her determination to write her own future, and of the enduring human capacity for love.
Tayari Jones – Silver Sparrow. Hardback. From the author of ‘An American Marriage’. A breathtaking tale of family secrets. ‘My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.’ This is the story of a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and the two teenage girls caught in the middle. James Witherspoon has two families, one public, the other a closely guarded secret. But when his daughters meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows the truth. Theirs is a relationship destined to explode.
Anne Enright – Actress. Hardback. This is the story of Irish theatre legend Katherine O’Dell, as told by her daughter Norah. Katherine’s life is a grand performance, with young Norah watching from the wings. But this romance between mother and daughter cannot survive Katherine’s past, or the world’s damage. As Norah uncovers her mother’s secrets, she acquires a few of her own. Brilliantly capturing the glamour of post-war America and the shabbiness of 1970s Dublin, Actress is an intensely moving, disturbing novel about mothers and daughters and the men in their lives.
Elizabeth Macneal – The Doll Factory. Paperback. The intoxicating story of one woman’s dreams of freedom in Victorian England and the man whose obsession threatens to destroy them forever. London. 1850. On a crowded street, the dollmaker Iris Whittle meets the artist Louis Frost. Louis, a painter, yearns to have his work displayed in the Royal Academy, and he is desperate for Iris to be his model. Iris agrees, on the condition that he teaches her to paint. Dreaming of freedom, Iris throws herself into a new life of art and love, unaware that she has caught the eye of a second man. For fans of The Miniaturist and The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock.
I’m sorry to say that Jane Fenwick is no longer able to meet readers and sign copies of her new book this coming Saturday, 29th of Feb. This event will be rescheduled for later in the year. Keep your eyes on our Facebook page and this website for updated info and dates.
So excited to be holding the second Limestone Books book club this week. I’ve got my notes ready and my pages marked. I’ve even baked a cake! Looking forward to some insightful discussion with all of our fabulous members.
All spaces are full, but if you’d like to read along with us, here are the books we’ve chosen for the year so far:
An American Marriage, Tayari Jones – Cloudstreet, Tim Winton – No Time For Goodbye, Linwood Barclay – Lady Sings the Blues, Billie Holiday – Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout – Wilding, Isabella Tree – The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham – The Sixteen Trees of the Somme, Lars Mytting – The Seeker, S G MacLean – The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo