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January 2020

Jo's Picks

Girl, Woman, Other

by Bernardine Evaristo

Winner of the Man Booker Award 2019. Co-winner but we will disregard that. GWO is in excess of 400 pages but how those pages fly and sing! Told from multiple points of view- that of 12 interconnected characters- primarily women of colour living in England- and spanning the 20th and 21st century. Sweeping and panoramic, offering a broad and diverse spectrum of these women's lives, the novel sizzles with energy. The voices captured here are unique, breathtaking, and ferocious. The introductory scene at the premiere of a play brackets both ends of the book and brings some of the characters full circle in a satisfying manner. A lack of punctuation allows the sentences to flow, duplicating the cadence of the characters' voices. Profoundly moving.


Magpie Murders

by Anthony Horowitz

Witty is my one-word summation of this whodunnit that feels like a classic mystery. That slightly nostalgic feeling (for books by Dorothy Sayers, P.D. James, Agatha Christie etc..) permeates the story and is helped along by Horowitz's mystery within a mystery plot line. Best-selling author Alan Conway, creator of the Poirot-ian, investigator Atticus Pund (there is an umlaut), has just delivered his new manuscript to his publisher. The first half of the book concerns this manuscript as we read along with his long-suffering editor, Susan Ryeland. (Alan Conway is a bit of a nightmare.)  Straightforward, right? But then everything goes pear-shaped. Now we are trying to solve a fictional murder which might just hold the clues to a real-life murder. Or does it?! This reads like a puzzle box inked on the page and an homage to the great mystery writers of the past.


The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

written & illustrated by Charlie Mackesy

Mackesy is a cartoonist (for The Spectator) and book illustrator. Masterfully he treads the thin line of sentimentality, landing fortunately on the side of poignant and heartfelt. This delightful little book is a fable which one can either devour with pure exhilaration or a deeper consideration, dipping in for a few pages or reading from beginning to end. The characters mentioned in the title are all charming, making their way through the joys and sorrows of life. The gorgeous illustrations are mostly in inked shades of grey, interspersed with splashes of vivid colour that delight the eye. There are echoes of Ernest Shepard's illustrations for Winnie the Pooh, and similarities to Pooh and Piglet's innocent wisdom too. Uplifted by small truths and universal experiences, leavened with humour, it could have smacked of Hallmark saccharine, but instead it charms.


Alice's Picks

Nothing to See Here

by Kevin Wilson

What a ride this book is! Lillian, a young woman who has gotten accustomed to a series of disappointments after a serious betrayal in high school, is enlisted by an old friend to be her nanny. She's never been a nanny before, but she has nothing to lose, so agrees - to take care of twins who spontaneously burst into flames when they are upset. Her old friend's husband is a politician who aims to be president, so he needs to "manage" these inflammatory children. As the story progresses, it becomes more and more emotionally engaged. Wilson is a very funny, sharp writer, using short, explosive sentences to develop the story. Excellent characters, a highly satiric and yet touching story - this is a surprising and hilarious read.


Loves You

by Sarah Gambito
(WW Norton)

This is a very affecting book, a book of poetry, with family recipes. Gambito writes a melange of the personal and the political in these poems, arranged in sections headed Umami, Sour, Salt, Bitter, and Sweet. It's a clever but not forced arrangement, and it results in an absolutely original collection. Food can be a source of pleasure as well as humiliation, integral to an idea of home and identity that can soothe as well as target. A painful, moving beauty of a book.


Anne-Marie's Picks

Arthur and the Golden Rope: Brownstone's Mythical Collection

written & illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton
(Flying Eye Books)

From the cramped vault of curiosities collected over millennia by the Brownstone family of adventurers and thrill-seekers, an elderly descendent beckons readers from his armchair to hear the tale of the first adventurer, Arthur. Described as the unlikeliest of heroes, young Arthur, bespectacled and small of stature, spent his days exploring the woods and collecting weird objects. He lived in a small Icelandic village wedged between mountain and sea and reliant on a great fire to beat back the cold and dark. One day a wolf named Fenrir, son of the Viking god Loki, attacked the village and extinguished the fire. Brave Arthur sets out on an Odyssean journey to find Thor, god of sky and thunder, who alone has the power to reignite it - a request Thor grants on condition that Arthur help him capture Fenrir. Author-illustrator Joe Todd-Stanton’s retelling of The Binding of Fenrir animates Norse mythology in a style which recalls the adventuring tales of Franco-Belgian comics such as Tintin. His artwork, rich in colour and detail, rewards astute observers with historical references and mysterious clues buried amongst Viking detritus, library bookshelves and maps on endpapers.


A Mouse Called Julian

written & illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton
(Flying Eye Books)

Like Arthur and the Golden Rope, Joe Todd Stanton’s picture book A Mouse Called Julian hooks readers with wonderfully detailed illustrations which beg to be lingered over. Written for younger readers, it tells the tale of Julian, a curmudgeonly mouse who lives on his own - just the way he likes it since all the animals above ground try to eat him and all those below only get in his way. A double-page spread depicts a vast, secret underground world of interconnected burrows populated by neighbourly rabbit, mole and badger families. Julian’s burrow sits alone in a corner, its only tunnel a means of avoidance rather than connection. One day social interaction is foisted upon Julian when a fox attacks his home and gets his big head stuck in Julian’s front window. When his efforts to dislodge the fox fail, Julian reluctantly shares his supper because he can’t bear the fox’s sad hungry eyes, and the pair end up talking long into the night. Julian’s kindness is eventually repaid in spades when the same fox saves him from a hungry barn owl, and thereafter, while the two still like to keep to themselves, occasionally Julian has a friend over for dinner.


Alice's Recommendations

Anne-Marie's Recommendations

Jo's Recommendations