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Each week our team of book lovers choose a selection of books they have loved and think deserve an extra shout out. Everyone fights to get theirs on the list. Here are this week’s faves…
The Old Bailey, 1826 and Frannie Langton stands in court accused of the brutal murder of her former master and mistress. But “there was love between me and her”, she tells the court as she relates her story from 1812, when she worked at Paradise plantation, Jamaica. With the skills of reading and writing “packed inside” her, “dangerous as gunpowder”, Frannie is taken to London and sent to work for a man named George Benham. His wife, the beautiful, eccentric Madame Marguerite Benham “stirred a feeling of wanting” in Frannie, and she becomes Madame’s lady’s maid and secretary - and more. But theirs is a complex, volatile relationship. “The truth is there was love as well as hate,” Frannie acknowledges. “The truth is, the love hurt worse”. Speaking at her trial, during which she recounts the inhumane racial experimentation undertaken by the master of Paradise, Frannie asks, “Sirs, I wonder...in the whole sum of human history, by what order have you white men been wrong more than you’ve been right?” She also questions the privileges and entitlements of gender: “how confident a man must be to write down his musings, expecting anybody else to be interested in reading them”. Ablaze with drama, detail, tension and wit, and wise on the nature of agency and freedom, this comes highly recommended for fans of Andrea Levy’s The Long Song, Marlon James’s The Book of Night Women and Sarah Waters. According to Frannie, “A novel is like a long, warm drink but a poem is a spike through the head”. By her definition, this novel is both these things - as potent as a poem, as addictive as a long, warm drink. Have a look at our Ambassador Book Buzz for The Confessions of Frannie Langton.
Beginning with the origins of gardens, this gloriously illustrated expedition through time and place begins in ancient Mesopotamia and explores the luscious gardens of the Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians. From here we move to Ancient Greece and Rome, to the beginnings of botany and Roman topiary. The coverage of the gardens of Islam is especially gratifying with the authors’ description of them as being “among the most sublime in the world - soothing, refreshing and deeply spiritual” borne out by the accompanying photography and images of ancient art, tiles, textiles and scripts. Later we enter the complex formalised gardens of 17th century France, celebrated as expressions of “French rationalism”, and then comes an unearthing of the founding of Kew Gardens, before we discover the history and charms of gardens of the Americas, China and Japan. Written by gardening history doyenne Penelope Hobhouse and celebrated writer Ambra Edwards, this is a dazzlingly informative labour of love.
With a sense of menace that fairly snaps at your heels, this is a truly fabulous read. You could step straight into Red Snow quite happily, but I recommend that you begin with the first in the series, Dark Pines. Here, reporter Tuva Moodyson tracks down a killer just as a blizzard hits the small Swedish town of Gavrik. Tuva is absolutely fabulous, she is a fast talking and thinking, no-nonsense lead, and her thoughts stride across the page. The town of Gavrik just has so much atmosphere, it scowls, simmers and plots in the background, actually, not so much in the background, it sits alongside Tuva as a main character. Will Dean writes so beautifully you can feel the black Grimberg liquorice scented energy of the place. In my mind, my thoughts, my feelings, I was there! The dark, twisty and somewhat quirky plot kept me on constant alert from start to finish. Red Snow is edgy, intricate, and right up there for me, this is Scandi-noir with brass knobs on!
A perfect stocking filler for anyone who likes a little spooky darkness to pay a visit at Christmas time. Twelve short stories are set in and around, or somehow connected to the Essex Witch Museum. If you haven’t yet explored the series, don’t worry, you can most certainly enter here. Can I just say that the cover is absolutely delightful, skulls and snowflakes sit perfectly alongside each other, as if they were always meant to be. Some of the stories tiptoe around Christmas, others stomp into it, all verge on the different though, and all have a certain chill factor. Syd Moore has a wonderfully light touch, humour sits alongside the macabre, and I was never quite sure what was going to come next. Can I just say that Doreen and her demonic Hoover was a particular favourite of mine! The Twelve Strange Days of Christmas really is a fabulous little book, full of the weird and wonderful I adored it!
Is it a cookbook? Is it a memoir? No, it’s a super genre-defying anthology that eloquently exemplifies the notion of “comfort food” in its most elemental form. As the author sets out in his introduction, “this is a story book with food in it, and, of course, that other essential embroidery for life, music.” What follows is a set of personal vignettes - stories about the author’s family, his food travel experiences, his professional insights - peppered with recipes that have accompanied pivotal life moments. One such recipe is “Pleasure and Pain Soup” that follows Warner’s recounting of a strange hangover experience that came in the gloomafter his father’s death. Sizzling with self-deprecating wit (“I just hope you find at least one thing, maybe two, that make the purchase worth it”, he addresses the reader) and humour (“If God is a vegan, well that’s me screwed”), this is a book to relish in a single cover-to-cover sitting, and to return to when in need of food-based consolation.
A deftly dark, creepy, and disturbing psychological thriller. Claire is determined to leave her husband Duncan who appears to be leading a double life. As events splinter and start to destroy their family, can Claire discover the truth? Claire narrates her own story, while Duncan’s is told, both characters and their tales left me with feelings of uncertainty. An underlying chilling atmosphere settled and began to grow as I read. Sharply focused before and after chapters ensured I was kept off balance and intrigued! Sophie Draper scattered hints and suggestions in my path, my mind started to fill gaps and my thoughts scurried off to pick over information. As I reached the ending I stopped, sat up and felt the need to start reading again from the beginning. I am quite sure that next time I pick up Magpie, a completely different reading experience will be awaiting me!