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March 23
Agent Running in the Field by John Le Carre

agent running in the field
 

Agent Running in the Field is a well-crafted espionage thriller by a master non pareil of the genre.  If not one of his best, it falls short only of the high standards he himself set in masterpieces such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and it is still well ahead of the competition.

Nat, Anatoly, of mixed Scottish and Russian parentage, was a member of Britain’s Secret Service (referred to here as the Office), recruiting and running secret agents in various embassies all over Europe.  Returning after 25 years’ service abroad, he is expecting retirement but is offered an appointment as head of the Haven, a home-based Russian substation.  Nat plays badminton at his club, with a young man, Ed Shannon, who challenges  him at the game.  Nat befriends the young man, drinks beer with him and listens to Ed’s angry discourses on the current state of the world.  There is a young woman, Florence, at the Haven, who has set up a surveillance of a Russian oligarch in London, only to have it terminated from on high which leads to her resigning from her post. The Cold War has long since ended but Russia under Putin is a threat to liberal democracy. There is a high-level Russian spy in the Secret Service and it is Nat’s assignment to uncover the mole. In his investigations, Nat makes a trip to the Czech Republic, a wonderfully atmospheric set piece, to meet a former double agent, Arkady, who has turned again and returned to his old allegiances.  Arkady lives under maximum security in luxurious retirement where Nat plays badminton with him, on his private court, naturally.  This must surely be the only spy novel in which the game of badminton features so prominently. 

As always, the pleasure in reading a Le Carré book is in the nuts and bolts, the tradecraft, of the business of spying. The recruiting and management of agents by their handlers, the elaborate means of contact set up, the apparatus of modern surveillance, all are lovingly detailed. This is also the novel in which Le Carré, a committed European, expresses his anger at what in his opinion is the disaster that is Brexit. ‘Brexit is self-immolation.  The British public is being marched over a cliff by a bunch of rich elitist carpetbaggers posing as men of the people.’  The writer uses his command of the English language to deliver, conveniently through the mouths of characters in the novel, a furious, expletive-laden, bashing of the ‘sheer bloody lunacy of Brexit’.

Submitted by Vidya

Available as a book, eBook and audiobook

Reserve or download it here


March 09
Here We Are by Graham Swift

here we are
 

It is Brighton, 1959, and the theatre at the end of the pier is having its best summer season in years. Ronnie, a brilliant young magician, and Evie, his dazzling assistant, are top of the bill, drawing audiences each night. Meanwhile, Jack - Jack Robinson, as in 'before you can say' - is everyone's favourite compere, a born entertainer, holding the whole show together.

As the summer progresses, the off-stage drama between the three begins to overshadow their theatrical success, and events unfold which will have lasting consequences for all their futures.

In his newest novel, acclaimed author Graham Swift marries the erratic devastations of reality with the elusive probability of magic under the lights of vaudeville, a story of delicate illusions where what one chooses to believe can unearth the most revealing connections.

Submitted by Pete

Available as a book, eBook and audiobook

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March 06
Shadowplay by Joseph O'Connor

shadowplay
 

Love, greasepaint and the writing of Dracula – 1878, The Lyceum Theatre, London. Three extraordinary people begin their life together, a life that will be full of drama, transformation, passionate and painful devotion to art and to one another. 

Joseph O’Connor’s latest tale is a gripping reimagining of the real-life relationship between Bram Stoker and the two greatest stars of Victorian theatre, Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. 

Fresh from life in Dublin as a clerk, Bram may seem the least colourful of the trio but he is wrestling with dark demons in a new city, in a new marriage, and with his own literary aspirations. As he walks the London streets at night, streets haunted by the Ripper and the gossip which swirls around his friend Oscar Wilde, he finds new inspiration. But the Chief is determined that nothing will get in the way of his manager’s devotion to the Lyceum and to himself. And both men are enchanted by the beauty and boldness of the elusive Ellen.

A thoroughly enjoyable novel that tells the otherwise largely unknown story of the man behind Gothic horror's most enduring character.

Submitted by Pete

Available as a book, eBook, audiobook and spoken word CD 

Reserve or download it here​


March 06
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

the confessions of frannie langton
 

It’s 1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, goes on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning - slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth. But Frannie claims she cannot recall what happened that fateful evening, even if remembering could save her life. She doesn’t know how she came to be covered in the victims’ blood. 

Though her testimony may seal her conviction, the truth will unmask the perpetrators of crimes far beyond murder and indict the whole of English society itself.

A beautiful and haunting tale about one woman's fight to tell her story, The Confessions of Frannie Langton leads you through laudanum-laced dressing rooms and dark-as-night back alleys, into the enthralling heart of Georgian London.

Submitted by Pete

Available as a book, eBook and audiobook

Reserve or download it here​


March 06
Something to Live For by Richard Roper

something to live for
 

All Andrew wants is to be normal. He has the perfect wife and 2.4 children waiting at home for him after a long day. At least, that's what he's told people.

The truth is, his life isn't exactly as people think and his little white lie is about to catch up with him.

Because in all Andrew's efforts to fit in, he's forgotten one important thing: how to really live. And maybe, it's about time for him to start.

Andrew works for the council, helping to organise “paupers’ funerals” for people who die without friends or family. Their sad stories are inserted throughout the text, coming to life in a few short pages. Predominantly older and male, these are people who have, for whatever reason, dropped out of society. Particularly sad is the story of Alan and Beryl, a couple in love separated by depression.

The charming, touching story about a lonely man in his 40s (with a penchant for the music of Ella Fitzgerald) is firmly in the up-lit category of commercial fiction and a good choice for an easy beach read this summer.

Submitted by Pete

Available as a book and spoken word CD

Reserve a copy here​


February 26
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry

night boat to tangier
 

A novel ranked by the critics of the New York Times as one of the ten best books of 2019 merits attention.

A couple of ageing drug runners from Cork, Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond, wait at the ferry terminal at Algeciras in southern Spain for the arrival and departure of ferries from Tangier. They hope to find Dilly, who ran away to Spain from her parental home with Maurice after her mother died. She became a crusty, known as a perroflauta, which translates as a dog-and-flute in Spanish. On the 23rd of the month there is a crossing over of crusties, those in Spain leaving behind their dogs to be looked after by those returning from Morocco. The two men’s talking and reminiscing through the night, as they await the arrival, or non-arrival, of the girl Dilly, has drawn comparisons with Waiting for Godot. A better comparison is with the works of Irvine Welsh. Drug (and sex) fuelled memories fill their conversations, not existentialist angst. The English is wonderfully inventive, Spanish, which the two anti-heroes despite their involvement with the drug trade in Spain never learn, is absent. ‘I am fifty-one years old’ Maurice thinks, ‘and still at least halfways in love with meself …. you’d have to call it a f#cken achievement.’ Maurice and Charlie are no Vladimir and Estragon.

Submitted by Vidya

Available as a book and eBook

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February 26
Ask A Footballer by James Milner

ask a footballer
 

Ask a Footballer offers its readers a fresh, modern, and fast paced approach to the classic ‘autobiography’. As the title suggests, the novel is set up in a Question and Answer format; fans have asked and James Milner has answered. This format means it is a difficult book to get wrong, it offers its readers an insight into ‘every aspect of an elite footballer’s life’ and for a fan of the player or just of the game, whats not to love? Throughout the novel Milner dribbles past any potential controversy by refusing to mention certain names or provide damning details. Ask a Footballer is a safe book from one of Liverpool’s safest squad members. 

The book is full of genuinely interesting details and funny anecdotes. It includes everything from descriptions of post-match smoothies, which are measured according to the exact number of minutes a player has been on the pitch, to recollections of a tense dressing room before that Champions League final when Klopp pulled down his waistband to reveal a pair of CR7 boxer shorts. 

There are few voices that can speak with seventeen years worth of experience playing top flight football. The game itself, and everything that surrounds it, has changed drastically over the last two decades and this extensive timeline of Milner’s career also serves to showcase the evolution of football as a whole. Milner’s unique perspective means that he remembers the ‘old school attitudes’ of cleaning first-team players boots and little-to-no fitness analysis whilst also being able to comment on the current teething problems with VAR or the rise of nutrition and fitness micro-managing.

Ask a Footballer is a light and enjoyable read. James Milner emerges as a likeable, hardworking, and determined man who has the privilege of doing what he loves for a living. 

Submitted by Connie

Available as a book

Reserve a copy here


February 20
The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain

the stolen marriage.jpg
 

It’s 1943, and Tess, from Baltimore’s Little Italy, is eagerly anticipating her marriage to her physician fiancée Vincent. Her hopes are put on hold when Vincent heads off out of town to treat polio patients. On an impromptu excursion to Washington, D.C., Tess has too many martinis, resulting in a one-night stand with a chance acquaintance, called Henry, which results in a pregnancy. She looks to Henry for child support but he proposes marriage instead.

Once married to Henry and ensconced in his family mansion in Hickory, North Carolina, Tess gets a frosty reception from Henry’s mother, Miss Ruth, and his sister, Lucy, not to mention the other ladies of Hickory, especially Violet, who thought she was Henry’s fiancée.

Tess feels isolated and seeks out the friendship of a medium to help her make peace with many unquiet spirits: including the baby which did not make it to full-term. Tess trains as a nurse and gets involved in assisting with the polio epidemic.

There are hints and revelation of a back story about Henry but not until the end do we discover his secret.

This is a sweeping saga filled with loss and self-determination and sacrifice. Filled with many genuine and endearing characters I found it an easy read, as the blend of historical facts, suspense and great story telling is just right. The paranormal element adds a little of something different- a very enjoyable read.

 

Submitted by Paula

Available in hardback reserve your copy here

Available in paperback, reserve your copy here

Available as an eBook reserve your copy here​


February 17
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

the silence of the girls
 

This retelling of the Trojan War through the perspective of a female slave is a timely lesson in the importance of perspective. The novel centres on the experience of Briseis, a princess who was taken as a war prize for Achilles during the Trojan War. Briseis played an important role in Homer’s Iliad as the object of a dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon, which saw Achilles withdraw from the war for a significant period of time. Reframing stories to include the traditionally excluded female voice is becoming a popular concept but Barker does it with a poignancy and an intelligence that sets her apart. 

The Silence of the Girls often nods to the mythological but in a subtle and relevant manner. Throughout the book you are more likely to catch a glimpse of a god than meet one face to face, often leaving you questioning whether you even saw one at all. Much of the novels readability stems from it’s refreshing use of modern language. Readers are at the mercy of Barker’s powerful storytelling as she effortlessly evokes fear, sympathy, anger, and revulsion. 

The novel simmers with defiance at a world that treats women as commodities and spoils of war. Yet, amongst the vulgarity, violence, and vitriol the novel is peppered with small acts of kindness, female companionship, and surprising moments of tenderness. When the warrior ‘swift-footed Achilles’ asserts that, ‘grief is only ever as deep as the love it has replaced’ you realise that Barker has humanised those shadowy, distant figures who fought in this legendary conflict so long ago. 

The Silence of the Girls reminds us that women, throughout history, have always been worth listening to.

Submitted by Connie

Available as a book

Reserve a copy here​


February 13
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

 

Giovanni's Room.jpg 


One for my Baby was the original title for Giovanni’s Room and the slim intense novel had been rejected by his publisher Knopf Doubleday- not because it lacked fine writing but rather because it would do nothing to serve Baldwin’s reputation. This is because with his superb first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Baldwin was regarded as the authority on the “negro problem”. Knopf Doubleday believed that the homosexuality in Giovanni’s Room would alienate the “certain audience” who bought his books.

It was also muted how Baldwin could write such a novel. Wasn’t he black and queer and from poor-ass Harlem? What did he know about white expatriates carrying on with the French and Italians in post-World War II Paris? Baldwin explained that he populated Giovanni’s Room with white characters because he couldn’t bear the burden of writing about race issues and homosexuality in one book at that time.

Shame is one of the central subjects of Giovanni’s Room, (finally published in 1956) and recounts a tormented love affair in Paris between the American narrator, David, and Giovanni, an Italian bartender. But that’s not stating it strongly enough: the whole novel is a kind of anatomy of shame, of its roots and the myths that perpetuate it, of the damage it can do.

 

I loved how the book is set out in the first few pages: we know that David has abandoned Giovanni, we know that David’s ex-fiancée Hella has returned to the United States, and we know that Giovanni has been sentenced to die. If the first line is anything to go by, it’s going to be a treat: “I stand at the window of this great house in the south of France as night falls, the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life.”

 

Baldwin does not wish anyone to experience the pain and shame experienced by David and Giovanni but he would want everyone to have the freedom to truly experience love. And it is this freedom that permits Giovanni to be available to the joy and love David finally believes men can’t share with one another.

Baldwin always maintained he could not write about the dual agonies of racism and hatred of gay people in the one book. The book exposes many American fallacies, the prime one being that this gay love affair will leave David unscathed, and that he can simply move on with his life.

 

The novel now in 2020 has now stood the test of time and is recognised as a work of pure artistry.


Submitted by Paula

Available as a paperback reserve your copy here​

 

 

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