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Ringing with bell-clear writing, remarkable atmosphere and emotional honesty, Takis Würger’s Stella is a hauntingly gripping story of naive young love and duplicity in wartime Berlin. Innocent soul Friedrich grew up in Switzerland, with an alcoholic mother and somewhat eccentric father. In 1942 he takes the inadvisable decision to travel to Berlin to study art, where’s he’s entranced by Kristin, the model in his life drawing class, and a character who’s partly based on a real person. Kristin is bold, intoxicating and brilliantly evoked as a “warm and soft” enigma. “Would you call me Tink? Like Tinkerbell?” she asks of him. Friedrich obliges, of course, for “there was nothing I could refuse this woman,” and she fast becomes a permanent presence in his suite at the Grand Hotel. Their life of drinking and dancing in banned jazz clubs feels worlds away from the war, but as the months pass and the Nazi grip tightens, so the couple’s merrily enclaved existence darkens. Friedrich is disturbed to discover their mutual friend is in the SS, and perplexed by Kristin’s high connections. Then, after vanishing and returning with a shaven head and “dark welts on her neck”, she reveals that she’s Jewish, with more revelations to come. “I don’t know if it’s wrong to betray one human being to save another. I don’t know if it’s right to betray one human being to save another” Friedrich muses, and herein lies the heart of this powerfully melancholic story - fundamental moral questions swell beneath its simply-told surface.
Kehinde Andrews’ The New Age of Empire is an urgent, incisive analysis of the origins of Western Imperialism that lays bare its continued racist legacy. Pointing out that “we urgently need to destroy the myth that the West was founded on the three great revolutions of science, industry and politics”, the author makes a powerful argument for the need to “trace how genocide, slavery and colonialism are the key foundation stones upon which West was built.” Indeed, Andrews discusses how the West concocted scientific theories designed to “prove” its superiority, and shows how the Enlightenment provided “the intellectual basis for Western imperialism.” The chapter covering Kant’s “racial logic” is especially mind-blowing on this. While we might live in a different age, centuries-old ideologies run deep in what the author terms today’s “new age of Empire”, with their legacies persisting in the form of racial capitalism, colonial nostalgia (as exemplified by Trump’s “make America great again” slogan and Brexit’s promise to “take back control”), racial patriarchy, and the fallacy of post-racialism - “the delusion that we have moved beyond racism, that we are in a post-racial society.” This is a major, vital point - how can we truly obliterate racism if we pretend it’s been overcome? Answer: we cannot. In the author’s words, “As long as we delude ourselves with rebranding and tinkering at the margins we will never be able to address the issue of racism.” Framing some arguments in the context of COVID-19 (“the delusions of all being in it together, or that viruses do not discriminate, quickly fell apart as the evidence began to show that Covid-19 simply laid bare existing social inequalities”), and drawing on historic, scientific, philosophical, political and economic discourse, this debunks myths, challenges misplaced self-congratulation and is, quite simply, a must-read, wake-up call.
With a smart writing style that combines lyrical and thoughtful with sharp and pacy, this thriller reads like a zingy dream. Public Prosecutor Chastity Riley and friends are celebrating a birthday in a 20th floor hotel bar in Hamburg when armed men take the occupants hostage. Meet the fourth in the rather fabulous Chastity Riley series. Two linked stories separated by time sit side by side. Short sharp shocks of chapters fizz into being. Simone Buchholz packs a hefty wallop into a relatively small number of pages. Her books always kiss difference, and encourage thoughts to whip in new directions. It almost felt as though there were parts in hiding, yet it all slots together. I simply adore the short and biting chapter headings, join them all together and they almost form a story in their own right. Rachel Ward as translator has again done a cracking job. Can you tell that I love this yet! Simone Buchholz has a style all of her own, and I can highly recommend Hotel Cartagena.
With intense pace, an intriguing storyline, and fascinating characters, this is an incredibly readable crime thriller. When Sam Shephard starts to investigate a murder in Dunedin, New Zealand she soon realises that things aren't as obvious as they may first appear. This is such a fabulous series, with a vivid sense of place, great characters, and juicy crimes to solve, no-nonsense detective Sam Shephard often has to kick some serious ass. Do start with Overkill, and make your way through the series until you come to Bound, I’d advise starting at the beginning and reading in order just to enjoy the experience to its fullest. Sam appears to have mellowed just a tad, her relationship is evolving, but she is more than capable of standing up for herself when needed. The exchanges between Sam and her boss make me wince and then smirk if she manages to land a blow. Vanda Symon balances dramatic entertainment with penetrating storylines and Bound is another cracking and thoroughly enjoyable addition to a winner of a series.
Containing more than a smirk of humour, this is a bold, vibrant crime caper set in Uruguay. When Diego is released from prison he reluctantly agrees to hold up an armoured truck. Along the way we also meet a crooked lawyer, brutal psychopath, amateur con artist, and police inspector, two of whom are women and fighting to hold their own with the men. Award-winning author Mercedes Rosende from Uruguay is also a lawyer and journalist. Her writing is sharp and pointed yet rich and earthy. I initially felt as though I was observing from a distance, then as I got to know each character I edged closer and closer to the action. I found myself completely caught up in the words, the translation by Tim Gutteridge placed me within a country I don’t know, yet enabled me to feel a connection. I didn’t question, just sank completely into the storyline, and as the synopsis declares: “never, ever underestimate the women”. Hugely entertaining, Crocodile Tears is a full-on, fresh yet heady read.
If you want to escape reality for a while you can just throw yourself into this diverting mystery. Two women find themselves at Hare’s Landing in West Cork for very different reasons and join forces to investigate some strange links to the house, including two suspicious deaths and a missing persons case. A number of plot lines all rather gleefully twist together and once the main characters are together in Ireland the story really comes together. Sam Blake writes short intense chapters, encouraging thoughts to whip and spin. Rachel and Caroline investigate with determination, though I have to admit that Jasper the dog was my particular favourite! The hint of ghostly goings-on play with the atmosphere, but it is very much the humans in this tale that you need to keep an eye on. Entertaining and twisty, The Dark Room slots together to a satisfying end.
An incredibly smart, taut, and pacy crime thriller set in Norway. An unsolved kidnapping thrusts itself back into play when police officer Alexander Blix and investigative journalist and blogger Emma Ramm are caught up in an explosion on New Years Eve in Oslo. The Blix and Ramm Series is a blast of pure reading entertainment from Jorn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger, internationally best-selling Norwegian authors who joined forces to create this series. Death Deserved was a cracking start and Smoke Screen just cements this pair as a formidable writing duo. I also just want to do a shout out to translator Megan Turney, this is so easy to read that I didn’t stop to think that it was translated. The immediate hook at the start set my mind racing, and it didn’t let up until the end. Flashbacks are effectively used to highlight important back stories. The two main characters are independently interesting and capable of carrying the tale, and the links from each of their plot lines gradually fuse together to create an explosive end. Smoke Screen is an enthralling continuation in a series that I can highly recommend.
Taut, tenacious storytelling squeezes thoughts and feelings in this chilling read. Winterkill continues the Dark Iceland series in Iceland’s most northerly town as a snow storm hits. A 19 year old falls to her death, and a diary entry suggests that it wasn’t an accident while a man in a nursing home writes “she was murdered” on the wall of his room. This is the sixth and apparently last in a series that pulses with chilling atmosphere and energy. Translated from the French edition by David Warriner, he ensures Ragnar Jonasson’s trademark biting and uncomplicated style is allowed freedom to sing. Now an Inspector, Ari Thor Arason is as fascinating as ever. The storyline contains several strands, interesting characters, and Ari’s complicated relationships. This particular investigation has an unsettling and sad overtone, that lingers after finishing. Winterkill is a satisfying conclusion to a stimulating and readable series.
Why You Should Empower Yourself is an easy-to-read book about resilience, building confidence and turning negative thinking into positive action. This small hardback has the subtitle of ‘How to Make Lemonade when Life Gives You Lemons’ and is all about taking control of your life at a time of crisis. It packs a lot of helpful advice and ideas within its 200 pages, from self-care and digital detoxing to self-awareness and empowerment. Read how to create healthy lifestyle habits and boost your confidence. Challenge your preconceptions and think for yourself. Be disciplined as you work towards your goals. Look after your physical health, getting plenty of sleep and using meditation and breathing techniques to boost your wellbeing. There’s a strong focus on spending less time on social media - a particular interest area of the author. She discusses the importance of technology but also the benefits of regular downtime, while using the digital world as a tool when building your own brand. There’s also a chapter on gender equality and feminism, including women’s changing roles within society, and why it’s important to stand up for others as well as yourself. Why You Should Empower Yourself imparts important life lessons. It will help you to become more self-aware, face your flaws, see your own strengths and know your own worth. And, above all, bounce back when life doesn’t go quite the way you planned. A book that you’ll want to dip into again and again.
Shot-through with the author’s personal experiences as a coach, player and all-round football obsessive, Dominic Stevenson’s Get Your Head in the Game is a timely must-read for fans, players, coaches - the whole kit and caboodle of anyone involved with football. Sharing the experiences of internationally renowned players, figures from top clubs, trailblazers of the women’s game (and many more besides), and offering legions of insights into how sport and the mind could be reconnected, this might just make the beautiful game yet more beautiful - and transformative. Stevenson’s context will strike a powerful chord with fans: “Football is the universal leveller. It speaks in a way that no language does. It is poetry without the pontification, a novel without the concentration, and it changes the world in minutes.” What’s more, football’s “community spirit, the sense of comradeship and the provision of a social lifeline for those who may otherwise be alone are enormous, and they have great potential to be positively exploited for the greater good of society.” Despite these huge positives, mental health “is still an issue that doesn’t get the exposure it deserves, in spite of well-meaning link-ups between football clubs and mental health charities”, and the testimonies from players under pressure feeling they’ve failed even after playing for top clubs, and those blighted by injury and abuse, cut to the core. Then there’s the lack of support from clubs, and heart-breaking accounts of suicide attempts. The book also covers football’s efforts to become truly inclusive, acknowledging that while steps have been made, the game still has a long way to go before racism, homophobia, sexism and transphobia have been totally kicked out. Concluding with a range of tips for improving mental health in the context of football, and confident that “the glory days of football are still ahead of us”, this book is a game-changer.
Michael Dixon’s Time to Heal: Tales of a Country Doctor is a timely, spirited call-to-action to restore “humanity to medicine”, and comes highly recommended for readers who like autobiographies with bite, and for those interested in discovering what it’s really like to be a present-day GP - warts and all. Moreover, one hopes that it might also serve as a wider wake-up call - “every society should be judged by what it does for its weakest. We are one of the world’s wealthiest nations,” is not a statement to be ignored. The early chapters covering Dixon’s unusual route to becoming a doctor are wistfully witty - he made the move to medicine after reading Philosophy and Psychology at Oxford. On qualifying in 1984, he took up a GP post in Devon and embarked on a life-long learning journey. From these beginnings, and through his career, he sees that serving patients’ needs demands much more than merely prescribing medicine and programmes of treatment. Indeed, Dixon’s view that practicing medicine demands a holistic, human approach is at the core of his book: “above everything, we must value and refine our skills as healers over and above the pills and procedures that we may offer.” The importance of this becomes starkly clear when we consider that despite medical advances “life expectancy is no longer improving”, and Dixon firmly believes that the increasing epidemic of long-term diseases like depression, diabetes, dementia and cancer are “the result of our catastrophic failure to care for the environment, the planet, ourselves and each other.” These failures, he observes, have become even more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed the need for community connections and “the impact of social isolation”. Always honest, thoughtful and wise, I came away moved, enlightened, and hoping desperately that we see the kinds of social, community-focussed changes Dixon suggests, which are, in essence, centred around “rediscovering a common humanity.”
A really lovely, definitely quirky and uplifting tale that makes for a perfect pick-me-up read. While this could be read as a standalone it is actually a sequel, and I really do recommend first introducing yourself to the town of Coraloo and its inhabitants via The Death of Mungo Blackwell. Here, the focus moves to Roy and Margarette who have just become engaged. Their families are sworn enemies and either try to disrupt proceedings or lord it over their rivals. A mystery also flits between the pages, with Roy on the case. I really have fallen in love with Coraloo, it calls to me and is somewhere I’d love to visit if I could, even though as I’m not a citizen of the town and I’d be known as an ‘other’. The bizarre walks hand in hand with good old-fashioned hospitality. Lauren H Brandenburg balances sweet humour, crafty shenanigans, and glorious characters with an artful pen. There is something joyous about the The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson, it’s a little bit different, and a lot of fun.
A wonderfully atmospheric and engaging murder mystery set in the 1920’s, featuring a charismatic amateur sleuth. ‘The Art Fiasco’ is the latest in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series, which we included in our Book Series collection. Do start with The Jazz Files, it was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Historical Dagger Award, and this is a series that deserves to be savoured in order. Sitting three years after The Cairo Brief in 1924, Poppy visits Northumberland to celebrate her father’s birthday and finds herself embroiled in an investigation. Fiona Veitch Smith does a wonderful job of balancing cosy and charming with murder and mayhem. Behind the glitter and glitz the author examines class and child exploitation with care and consideration. The differing age groups work wonderfully together, and I just adore Aunt Dot. Poppy shines with vivacity, a romance hovers, while darkness threatens to overwhelm. The Art Fiasco really is a gloriously readable slice of historical crime fiction.
This memoir from a forensic scientist and cold case reviewer makes for absolutely fascinating, and rather chilling reading. Jim Fraser has had a 40 year career which has included the cases of Rachel Nickell and Damilola Taylor. Here he looks at the murder investigations which have been difficult to solve, and cases that remain controversial or unsolved. Bringing his knowledge and personal experience into play helps build a framework of awareness of the challenges faced by investigators. I could tell in the author’s note before I started reading that it is really important to the author that this memoir is not seen as gratuitous (though it is graphic). He is clear that the book “melds recollection with reflection… supplemented with research”. As someone who worked as a member of police staff for twenty years, I found parts made for uncomfortable reading. Jim Fraser is at times damning, highlighting the downfalls of the system. It is quite obvious that with financial restraints, different systems, and human foibles, mistakes will be made, and when a life is at stake it is hard to swallow. Murder Under the Microscope offers a compelling window into a world that most know little about.
A new Sherlock Holmes mystery and it's something to celebrate. Robert J Harris takes a fascinating step to the side and we experience London of 1942 where Crimson Jack is murdering women on the same dates as Jack the Ripper. This is very much a “tribute to the Universal Pictures Sherlock Holmes film series starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, which brought Holmes and Watson to wartime London” and interestingly Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself stated that placing the film in the modern setting “was a daring experiment which has succeeded admirably. Truly genius has no age”. A Study in Crimson (the title a lovely tribute to the original series) slides very nicely into the different time frame, feeling at once familiar and yet different enough to set it on its own path. Holmes and Watson are living together at Baker Street and the explanations as to the differences in time slot together. The mystery motivates Holmes, energises Watson, and leaves Lestrade hanging on their coattails. I thoroughly enjoyed this captivating start to a new series, felt completely at home and look forward to the next!
Detailed, interesting, and offering a personal insight into The Five Eyes intelligence community from the only man to have worked for both US and UK intelligence organisations while a citizen of each country. The Five Eyes alliance, comprising of the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, formed after the Second World War. Anthony R Wells believes that the intelligence institutions covered in this book have saved the free world. He says: “This book does not profess at all to be all-seeing and all-knowing”, he hopes that readers can: “make their own observations, draw their own conclusions, and come away with informed, educated, and non-biased and most certainly non-politicised views on intelligence in the modern era”. We read about the author’s experiences in chronological order over 50 years, covering a variety of threats, new opportunities, and technological advancements. It is quite clear that there is still much that we, the public, don’t know and shouldn’t know. Having said that, Between Five Eyes is an absolutely fascinating read for anyone interested in the intelligence community and wider world.
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eBooks have at last come of age and although you have been able to see if an eBook is available on a title by title basis on Lovereading for a while now, we also wanted to create a special section which features all of our eBook recommended reads.
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