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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…
Sparked by the gargantuan global popularity of English Heritage’s The Victorian Way YouTube series, How to Cook the Victorian Way presents the life and recipes of the real Mrs Crocombe. Head cook at Audley End House from 1878 to 1884, her handwritten cookery book was passed down through her family and uniquely reveals the tastes and dining habits of Victorian Britons. With context on Audley End House, “one of the greatest houses of Jacobean England”, and absorbing detail on the kitchens of Mrs Crocombe’s era (the book is co-authored by Andrew Hann, head of the historians’ team at English Heritage), her recipes have been modernized by food historian Annie Gray, yet retain their authenticity. Some of them are familiar - pancakes, ginger beer, macaroni cheese, trifle and spotted dick - then there are more outlandish dishes too (to modern tastes, at least), such as mock turtle soup, larded sweetbreads and squab pie. This beautifully presented, meticulously researched compendium is a true treat for gourmands looking to expand their culinary repertoire - perfect for inspiring flamboyant Victorian ‘Come Dine with Me’ dinner parties.
This is a psychological thriller with real attitude, in fact, it might even be described as feisty. Meg and her daughter Grace are a true part of their community, the whole town is in shock when Meg is murdered and Grace discovered to be missing. Grace has been ill for years and may only have days to live without her medication, two local people desperate to save her, begin to investigate. This novel was inspired by the true life story of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard in the USA, can I suggest (insist!) that you don’t look it up until you’ve finished the book, I was very patient and I’m so glad that I waited! Each chapter either focuses on investigative journalist Jon, or neighbour Cara, and their individual tales open the storyline into a widescreen panorama. My thoughts sped in one direction and then another as I read, focusing on the small, the intimate, burrowing into the minds of the characters. Emily Elgar tells this intricate tale with assurance, suggesting, introducing, opening information for our reading minds to analyse. Grace is Gone is fascinating and thrilling tale, it becomes all the more haunting when you realise it's based on a true story.
Well! This is an absolute corker of a debut, different and intelligent, it wormed its way into my thoughts and then proceeded to hunt them down. Narrator Jane tells of her friendship with Marnie, and the seven lies that change that friendship forever. This is Jane’s chance to be honest, and if she had told the truth to start with, Marnie’s husband might still be alive. The introduction to each lie hits with hammer hard precision, there are truths waiting ready to trip you up. Elizabeth Kay has the ability to blur lines, and I found myself stopping, questioning, considering my thoughts. She quite simply made me look at things in a different way. I write notes as I read, and these were peppered with ‘Crikey!’, ‘Blimey!’, and an awful lot of exclamation marks! Provocative, thoughtful, and so very clever, Seven Lies deserves to be a huge hit. A debut of the month and a LoveReading Star Book, Seven Lies comes with a tremendous thumbs up from me.
“Forty-six days, thirteen states, 3000 miles”. Documenting the author’s solo coast-to-coast road-trip across America, David Reynolds’s Slow Road to San Francisco is an absolute joy. An entertaining blend of observation and commentary delivered with a luminous lightness of touch. Buckle up for read that’s radiant with the author’s wit, charm and keen eye for people and place - everything you’d want from an on-the-road companion. Beginning on the Atlantic Coast and winding up on San Francisco’s Pacific Coast - “because Europeans landed on the east coast of the landmass that they named America, and moved slowly west until they reached the other side” - the author’s journey across Route 50 documents edifying encounters that reveal as much about America and the world as they do about the individuals themselves. Though Route 50 is known as the loneliest road in America (and it’s one of the few remaining two-lane highways in the country), Reynolds is never short of people to talk to. Through conversations with bartenders, gas station attendants and motel staff, and the assorted personalities he meets in bars, cafés and museums along the route (among them war veterans, judges and friendly bikers), it truly feels like you’re on the road with him. Peeling back layers of Native American history, slave history and contemporary politics (everyone the author meets has something to say about Trump, and often Brexit too), usually with a glass of IPA to hand, this is life-affirming, enlightening stuff. Perhaps what stands out above all else is a generosity of spirit, both on the part of the people who freely share their time, opinions and tables with Reynolds, and on the part of the author himself. Like all the best road-trips, I didn’t want this ride to end.
Beautifully eloquent, well written, and somehow teetering right on the edge of being a crime novel even with a murder and two investigating detectives. When a young woman is murdered, a neighbour and retired teacher is arrested and quickly forged into a monster by the press and social media. One of the detectives recognises his former teacher and takes a step back into his childhood. This is a book that covers a number of subjects, it is both sharp and focused, and lyrically descriptive. While a murder sits at its heart, it looks into the shadows of hate, bullying and abuse. Patrick McGuinness has the ability in a few words to paint a vivid scene. New thoughts cracked open inside my head and I felt that not a word was wasted, even when “a third cup of tea” is poured. As I read I explored a variety of emotions and found myself entirely consumed by Throw Me to the Wolves. A Liz Pick of the Month, and a fabulously provocative and challenging read, I loved it.
Enthralling, chilling, challenging, and wonderfully readable, this story winds itself around a moment in history. In 1942 a fire started at Seacliff, classed as a lunatic asylum in New Zealand, and all but two of the patients in a female ward perished. C. D. Major uses the fire as a focus and begins the tale there. Edith was five years old when she arrived at the asylum, after the fire she is questioned and a new doctor begins to doubt the reasons for her being shut away from the outside world. Covering the years between 1927 and the 1940’s I found myself either fully immersed in ‘now’ or consumed by ‘before’. The plot itself twists, schemes, provokes, and ensures that this novel can’t be pigeon-holed by genre. The asylum sits brooding, biding its time, while the occupants become entangled and caught in the treatment and rules. Tension sweeps through the tale, and I found myself searching, questioning, hoping. Edith is a fascinating character, she is written with compassion and evoked so many emotions. The powerful ending made me exclaim, it truly spoke to me and has stayed in my thoughts. The author’s debut The Silent Hours was another emotional and impressive read and also comes as highly recommended. I have chosen The Other Girl as one of my Liz Robinson picks of the month, it has a haunting quality that ensures a compelling read.