Category Archives: Picador

The 2019 WAINWRIGHT GOLDEN BEER BOOK PRIZE SHORTLIST

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THE 2019 WAINWRIGHT GOLDEN BEER BOOK PRIZE SHORTLIST

At 9am on the 2nd July the shortlist for this year’s Wainwright Golden Beer Shortlist was announced. Now in its Sixth year, The Wainwright Book Prize is my favourite book prize of the year. This is a book prize which celebrates the best writing about nature, the outdoors and UK travel.

Never before has writing about nature and the great outdoors been so significant and important. Our landscape and the natural world is under increasing pressure from many areas. So how wonderful it is to see the Wainwright Book Prize grow year on year.

This year there are seven titles that make up the shortlist.

Underland by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton)
Wilding by Isabella Tree (Picador)
Time Song by Julia Blackburn (Jonathan Cape)
Our Place by Mark Cocker (Jonathan Cape)
Thinking On My Feet by Kate Humble (Aster)
Out Of The Woods by Luke Turner (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
The Easternmost House by Juliet Blaxland (Sandstone Press)

So lets take a closer look at the titles that make up this years outstanding shortlist:

UNDRLAND

Underland by Robert Macfarlane

(Hamish Hamilton)

Discover the hidden worlds beneath our feet…

In Underland, Robert Macfarlane takes us on a journey into the worlds beneath our feet. From the ice-blue depths of Greenland’s glaciers, to the underground networks by which trees communicate, from Bronze Age burial chambers to the rock art of remote Arctic sea-caves, this is a deep-time voyage into the planet’s past and future. Global in its geography, gripping in its voice and haunting in its implications, Underland is a work of huge range and power, and a remarkable new chapter in Macfarlane’s long-term exploration of landscape and the human heart.

I reviewed Underland in issue 34 of Word Gets Around.

Just imagine for one moment the world beneath your feet. In Underland best-selling writer Robert Macfarlane author of many books on our natural world including The Wild Places and Landmarks and also The Lost Words now takes us on an adventure deep underground. This is a book were past and its future are all here. From the Bronze Age burial chambers of the Mendips in Somerset to the glaziers of Greenland, the catacombs of Paris, Arctic sea caves to a point deep sunk hiding place where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years.

The much-anticipated sequel to The Old Ways Robert Macfarlane now takes the reader on an unforgettable voyage exploring our relationship with darkness and what lies beneath. There is wonder, loss, fear and hope deep within the pages of Underland.

‘Into the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save…’

It is hard to imagine a world that exits deep beneath us but that is exactly what there is. A truly remarkable book of discovery the reader will explore many themes including myth and literature as we travel the globe and discover a whole new world. Robert Macfarlane’s writing is both lyrical and breath-taking. A book that has opened even my eyes and will have a profound effect on how we see our precious world. The powerful cover was designed by the acclaimed artist and writer Stanley Donwood.

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Wilding by Isabella Tree

(Picador)

In Wilding, Isabella Tree tells the story of the ‘Knepp experiment’, a pioneering rewilding project in West Sussex, using free-roaming grazing animals to create new habitats for wildlife. Part gripping memoir, part fascinating account of the ecology of our countryside, Wilding is, above all, an inspiring story of hope.

Forced to accept that intensive farming on the heavy clay of their land at Knepp was economically unsustainable, Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell made a spectacular leap of faith: they decided to step back and let nature take over. Thanks to the introduction of free-roaming cattle, ponies, pigs and deer – proxies of the large animals that once roamed Britain – the 3,500 acre project has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife numbers and diversity in little over a decade.

Extremely rare species, including turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons, lesser spotted woodpeckers and purple emperor butterflies, are now breeding at Knepp, and populations of other species are rocketing. The Burrells’ degraded agricultural land has become a functioning ecosystem again, heaving with life – all by itself.

Personal and inspirational, Wilding is an astonishing account of the beauty and strength of nature, when it is given as much freedom as possible.

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Time Song: Searching for Doggerland by Julia Blackburn

(Jonathan Cape)

Julia Blackburn has always collected things that hold stories about the past, especially the very distant past: mammoth bones, little shells that happen to be two million years old, a flint shaped as a weapon long ago. Time Song brings many such stories together as it tells of the creation, the existence and the loss of a country now called Doggerland, a huge and fertile area that once connected the entire east coast of England with mainland Europe, until it was finally submerged by rising sea levels around 5000 BC.

Blackburn mixes fragments from her own life with a series of eighteen ‘songs’ and all sorts of stories about the places and the people she meets in her quest to get closer to an understanding of Doggerland. She sees the footprints of early humans fossilised in the soft mud of an estuary alongside the scattered pockmarks made by rain falling eight thousand years ago. She visits a cave where the remnants of a Neanderthal meal have turned to stone. In Denmark she sits beside Tollund Man who seems to be about to wake from a dream, even though he has lain in a peat bog since the start of the Iron Age.

Time Song reveals yet again, that Julia Blackburn is one of the most original writers in Britain, with each of its pages bringing a surprise, an epiphany, a phrase of such beauty and simple profundity you can only gasp.

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Our Place: Can We Save Britain’s Wildlife Before It Is Too Late? by Mark Cocker

(Jonathan Cape)

Environmental thought and politics have become parts of mainstream cultural life in Britain. The wish to protect wildlife is now a central goal for our society, but where did these ‘green’ ideas come from? And who created the cherished institutions, such as the National Trust or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, that are now so embedded in public life with millions of members?

From the flatlands of Norfolk to the tundra-like expanse of the Flow Country in northern Scotland, acclaimed writer on nature Mark Cocker sets out on a personal quest through the British countryside to find the answers to these questions.

He explores in intimate detail six special places that embody the history of conservation or whose fortunes allow us to understand why our landscape looks as it does today. We meet key characters who shaped the story of the British countryside – Victorian visionaries like Octavia Hill, founder of the National Trust, as well as brilliant naturalists such as Max Nicholson or Derek Ratcliffe, who helped build the very framework for all environmental effort.

This is a book that looks to the future as well as exploring the past. It asks searching questions like who owns the land and why? And who benefits from green policies? Above all it attempts to solve a puzzle: why do the British seem to love their countryside more than almost any other nation, yet they have come to live amid one of the most denatured landscapes on Earth? Radical, provocative and original, Our Place tackles some of the central issues of our time. Yet most important of all, it tries to map out how this overcrowded island of ours could be a place fit not just for human occupants but also for its billions of wild citizens.

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Thinking on My Feet: The small joy of putting one foot in front of another by Kate Humble

(Aster)

Thinking on My Feet tells the story of Kate’s walking year – shining a light on the benefits of this simple activity. Kate’s inspiring narrative not only records her walks (and runs) throughout a single year, but also charts her feelings and impressions throughout – capturing the perspectives that only a journey on foot allows – and shares the outcomes: a problem solved, a mood lifted, an idea or opportunity borne. As she explores the reasons why we walk, whether for creative energy, challenge and pleasure, or therapeutic benefits, Kate’s reflections and insights will encourage, motivate and spur readers into action.

Also featured are Kate’s walks with others who have discovered the magical, soothing effect of putting one foot in front of the other – the artist who walks to find inspiration for his next painting; the man who takes people battling with addiction to climb mountains; the woman who walked every footpath in Wales (3,700 miles) when she discovered she had cancer.

This book will inspire you to change your perspective by applying walking to your daily endeavours.

This is a book I am currently reading and thoroughly enjoying. I can see why so many people really took this book to their hearts.

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Out of the Woods by Luke Turner

(Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

After the disintegration of the most significant relationship of his life, the demons Luke Turner has been battling since childhood are quick to return – depression and guilt surrounding his identity as a bisexual man, experiences of sexual abuse, and the religious upbringing that was the cause of so much confusion. It is among the trees of London’s Epping Forest where he seeks refuge. But once a place of comfort, it now seems full of unexpected, elusive threats that trigger twisted reactions.

No stranger to compulsion, Luke finds himself drawn again and again to the woods, eager to uncover the strange secrets that may be buried there as he investigates an old family rumour of illicit behaviour. Away from a society that still struggles to cope with the complexities of masculinity and sexuality, Luke begins to accept the duality that has provoked so much unrest in his life – and reconcile the expectations of others with his own way of being.

OUT OF THE WOODS is a dazzling, devastating and highly original memoir about the irresistible yet double-edged potency of the forest, and the possibility of learning to find peace in the grey areas of life.

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The eEasternmost House by Juliet Blaxland

(Sandstone Press)

Within the next three years, Juliet Blaxland’s home will be demolished, and the land where it now stands will crumble into the North Sea. In her numbered days living in the Easternmost House, Juliet fights to maintain the rural ways she grew up with, re-connecting with the beauty, usefulness and erratic terror of the natural world.

The Easternmost House is a stunning memoir, describing a year on the Easternmost edge of England, and exploring how we can preserve delicate ecosystems and livelihoods in the face of rapid coastal erosion and environmental change.

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I really envy the judges trying to find a winner from this years incredible shortlist. Seven books that are all worthy winners.

This years winner will be announced on August 15th at the BBC Countryfile Live at Castle Howard, Yorkshire.

Last years winner was won by Adam Nicolson for The Seabirds Cry (William Collins).

Past Winners:

2014 – The Green Road into Trees: A Walk Through England by Hugh Thomson
2015 – Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field by John Lewis-Stempel
2016 – The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
2017 – Where Poppies Blow: The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War by John Lewis-Stempel
2018- The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicholson

The 2019 Judges:

Chair: Julia Bradbury

Waterstones Non-fiction buyer: Clement Knox

National Trust Publisher: Katie Bond

Publisher at Unbound and Blacklisted Podcast Host: John Mitchinson

The Urban Birder: David Lindo

Creative Partner for And Rising

Follow news about The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize on Twitter: @wainwrightprize

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Wilding: The return of nature to a British farm by Isabella Tree

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Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm by Isabella Tree

Summary:

In Wilding, Isabella Tree tells the story of the ‘Knepp experiment’, a pioneering rewilding project in West Sussex, using free-roaming grazing animals to create new habitats for wildlife. Part gripping memoir, part fascinating account of the ecology of our countryside, Wilding is, above all, an inspiring story of hope.

Forced to accept that intensive farming on the heavy clay of their land at Knepp was economically unsustainable, Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell made a spectacular leap of faith: they decided to step back and let nature take over. Thanks to the introduction of free-roaming cattle, ponies, pigs and deer – proxies of the large animals that once roamed Britain – the 3,500 acre project has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife numbers and diversity in little over a decade.

Extremely rare species, including turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons, lesser spotted woodpeckers and purple emperor butterflies, are now breeding at Knepp, and populations of other species are rocketing. The Burrells’ degraded agricultural land has become a functioning ecosystem again, heaving with life – all by itself.

Personal and inspirational, Wilding is an astonishing account of the beauty and strength of nature, when it is given as much freedom as possible.

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My review:

I could give Wilding by Isabella Tree so many plaudits. But inspirational and outstanding are just two. This is a story of how a 3,500-acre farm in Knepp in West Sussex owned by Isabella’s husband Charlie Burrell was returned to nature. I am so delighted to see this book now longlisted for the 2019 Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize.

The project on the farm started back in 2000 and the difference now is nothing short of incredible. From the intensive modern farming methods to the point where the farm was no longer a viable going concern and something had to be done to turn this around.

This was a risk but it was a risk well worth taking despite some complaints and objections they tore down the fences and slowly returned the farm to its past. They brought in a select breed of pigs as well as cattle and Exmoor ponies and let them roam free. The ‘rewilding’ of the farm was underway.

The UK has a whole has seen its wildlife plummet with some of our species flora and fauna close to extinction. What has been created on their farm is nothing short of incredible. To see what the farm has become today and the species that have now returned to the farm. Nightingales have returned to the farm where nationally they have crashed and Turtle Doves have started to return to the farm and Purple Emperor Butterflies have also been seen and are now breeding on the estate long with Orchids and other rare plants have been found. This is no coincidence.

This is a part memoir and also I believe a book of hope for the future of farming. A move away from the intensive agricultural policies of the past and what I liked was that Isabella talks about rewilding of farms and also that you can at the same time feed the populations of the world.

Wilding: The return of nature to a British farm is nothing short of astonishing and proves we can bring back nature to our countryside and also farm at the same time. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

The Shortlist for the 2019 Wainwright Golden Beer Prize will be announced at midday on the 2nd July.

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384 Pages.

Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm by Isabella Tree was published by Picador and was published in Paperback on 21st March 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

The Last Act of Love – Cathy Rentzenbrink

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The Last Act of Love – Cathy Rentzenbrink

2019 marks the 10th Anniversary of the Wellcome Book Prize. As part of the celebrations there is a Blog Tour and each of the winning books from 2009 to 2018. I am delighted today to bring you the winning book from 2016. The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink.

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This is the true story of Cathy’s brother Matt who in 1990 was hit by a car on the way home from a night out. As Matt lay in hospital just a few weeks before his GCSE results were to be announced Cathy and her parents sat beside Matt as he lay unconscious. Matt was never going to regain consciousness. Then as the hospital announced that there was no more that they could do for Matt they decided to take Matt home and for eight years they cared for him. Then the painful decision to apply to the courts to allow them to withdraw feeding him and allowing Matt to die.

This is an immensely powerful and moving memoir that tells the story of those years and the utterly heartbreaking decision to allow Matt to die. The pain and guilt must have been so overwhelming as hard as a decision as it was it was a decision to allow Matt to finally rest in peace and allow both parents and Cathy to grieve and start the long road to live again.

But for Cathy this was no easy journey, the grieving continued and depression sets in. Days when she thought she could cope but the depression was always in the background. It is not easy to write about someone so close to you and their death and how it hits you even years later always hoping for a miracle. Sadly, for Matt there was no miracle and left Cathy in a void. She sometimes believed it would have been better if it was her not Matt involved in the hit and run.

We are left to cope, they say with time it gets easier and life goes on? But the guilt remains. Why Matt and not me?

The Last Act of Love is devastatingly raw and powerful but also one of courage. Highly Recommended.

256 Pages.

@wellcomebkprize

Thank you to Charlotte Cooper (Midas PR) for the copy of The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink

The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink was published by Picador and was published on 2nd July 2015 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

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The Books that made my year – 2018

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As another year comes to a close we look back on 2018 and the news might be full of bad news but in the world of books it has been another great year. Sales are continuing to grow in both physical hard copy but audio books are also booming. This really is great news and added to this more independent books shops have opened during the year with the trend set to continue. With the high street struggling like never before it is just heartening to see the growth of sales in books. Just a few years ago some were saying the days of the hard copy book were doomed.

2018 will be a year that I will remember for years to come. So many great books have been read some sadly I have not had time to read and will miss this end of year review. I look back with great memories to take away from this year whether it the honour of being asked blog about some of the books and authors for The 2018 Jewish Book Festival to being invited to assist with a very special book On Courage: Stories of Victoria Cross and George Cross Holders a day surrounded by some of the bravest men and women. Real heroes. Also to be involved with The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize a book prize that is dedicated to books on natural history and the great outdoors. Then of course there was The Lost Words project I launched for Somerset Primary Schools in August which is still going to this very day. The generosity of many that made this a success. To those behind the scenes who helped and are still helping I could not have done this without you. To the many radio interviews not just in Somerset but across the UK and also in Europe. In the early part of the Summer I was invited to take a tour of The London Library which turned out to be an incredible experience a very special place that holds over one million books on over 17 miles of shelving. You walk in the footsteps of literary giants.

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So this brings me to my 15 books of 2018. The books that made my year. This was incredibly hard as so many could have made it in.

The choices are in no particular order so there is no number one book just the best of the year.

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Our House – Louise Candlish

(Simon & Schuster) 5th April 2018

Fi Lawson arrives home to find strangers moving into her house. The terror of knowing your life is about to be turned upside down and all the possessions of your life with Bram have gone and who are these people moving into the home they never had any intention of selling. Bram has made a dreadful mistake and there is a price to pay. Now there are score to settle. Both have secrets that they kept from each other.

Our House is a gripping domestic noir read that I recall racing through and kept up long into the night.

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All Among the Barley – Melissa Harrison

(Bloomsbury) – 23rd August 2018

With memories of The Great War still in the minds and memories of the community it casts a shadow across the fields as the autumn harvest approaches. It is 1933 the glamorous Constance arrives from London to write about the traditions of the Suffolk farming community. For Edie Mather adulthood is approaching and the arrival of Constance is seen by Edie to be everything she longs for. But there is something more to Constance than Edie thinks. This is a remarkable and powerful novel from the Costa Shortlisted author of Hawthorn Time.

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Three Things About Elsie – Joanna Cannon

(The Borough Press – 11th January 2018

With a Battenburg cover Three Things About Elsie is just a wonderful and delicious story. 84-Year-old Florence has had a fall and as she lies there waiting for help to come she wonders if some part of her past is come back. Florence lives in a flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly and she wonders if the new resident is who he claims to be as he died sixty years ago. It is a beautiful, charming and profound novel from the author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. Three Things About Elsie was longlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018.

 

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Something of His Art – Horatio Clare

(Little Toller Books) – 11th October 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

The year is 1705 and the yet unknown Johann Sebastian Bach is earning a living as a teacher and organist sets off on more than a 250 mile walk from Arnstadt to Lübeck to visit a composer. This was to be a pivotal time for the young J.S. Bach and this short book tells of his walk and Horatio Clare walks in his footsteps and re-traces that walk that was to change Bach’s life. Based on the BBC Radio 3 series of the same Horatio talks of the walk, the sights, and sounds and natural history that would have accompanied Bach on this epic adventure that would see him become the greatest composer.

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The Lost Letters of William Woolf – Helen Cullen

(Michael Joseph) – 12th July 2018

William Woolf works for the Dead Letters Depot in East London were he spends his days solving mysteries that include terrible hand writing, missing post codes, torn packages to name but a few. Then he discovers letters addressed to ‘My Great Love’ and suddenly life for William Woolf takes on a whole new perspective. These letters written by a woman to a man she has not met yet, and William now starts to think that he could be the man the letters are meant for. Now he must take on his biggest mystery to follow the clues in the letters and solve the biggest mystery of all. The human heart. This is a charming and romantic novel a wonderful debut. Shortlisted for the Newcomer of the Year – Irish Book Awards.

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The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood – John Lewis-Stempel

(Doubleday) – 8th March 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

For four years John Lewis-Stempel managed a mixed woodland of three and a half acres that is Cockshutt Wood and raised cows and pigs that had free reign through these woods. This is John’s month by month account of his last year managing the wood. Through the lives of the trees and the birds and animals that made this wood their home a sanctuary for the wildlife and also for the author. You are there through the changing seasons through to the final days of John’s management of the woods that became his spiritual home. This is a man in tune with the natural world and one of the country’s finest natural history writers. Longlisted for the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize 2018.

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Anatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

(Simon & Schuster) 11th January 2018

A scandal that will rock Westminster. This is a high profile marriage and James has been accused of a shocking crime and his wife Sophie believes in him and will protect the family. Kate on the other hand is the Barrister who believes he is guilty and will make sure he pays for the crimes he has committed.

This is an explosive thriller that will keep the reader on the edge of their chair until the very end. Superbly written with great characters. A story of marriage and power and who has it and how they use it. Totally absorbing and gripping.

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The Last Wilderness – Neil Ansell

(Tinder Press) – 8th February 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

Nature and solitude. Neil Ansell has spent the best part of his life walking the remote parts of Britain but here in The Last Wilderness he takes on the part of Scottish Highlands but doing so as he talks of his hearing loss and hoe this affects his love of the great outdoors and the birds he loved to hear that have now become silent. To be in the wilderness is to be at one with nature. It is indeed a love letter to both the wilderness and to the Highlands of Scotland. The wonderful rich writing of Neill Ansell almost makes you believe you are there walking in his footsteps. A treasure of a book. Shortlisted for The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize 2018.

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I Love You Too Much – Alicia Drake

(Picador) – 8th February 2018

A novel based in Paris and centred around Paul a quiet and lonely boy who is unloved. He spends his time watching those in his family and his rather glamourous mother Séverine and her musician boyfriend Gabriel. For a boy who closely observes his family and their daily lives, you just know one day he will see something he is not supposed to see.

Paul seeks the friendship of the not so quiet Scarlett and the patisseries of this part of Paris. Paul is crying out to be loved but what if love does not come his way. What then? This is a book I totally loved and still do to this day. So deserving to be read by a wider audience. It is deft and intelligent and so beautifully told. One book I would I would recommend.

 

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Erebus: A story of a Ship – Michael Palin

(Hutchinson Books) – 20th September 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

Michael Palin tells the story of the ill-fated journey of HMS Erebus and its crew that set sail for the arctic in search of the North West Passage. In 1845 it disappeared with HMS Terror along with their crews. What really happened? A story of the ship and its crew as Palin recounts the adventure and ultimately the biggest naval disaster. Together with photographs this makes for a remarkable read for anyone who has an interest in the sea or adventures.

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Dark Pines – Will Dean

(Point Blank) – 14th June 2018

An impressive debut by Will Dean. Dark Pines is dark, chilling and atmospheric. Set in an isolated Swedish town. An unsolved murder from two decades ago a deaf reporter trying to find a story that could make her career. Now Tuva needs to find the killer before she becomes the killers next target. But there are secrets in the pine woods were Tuva must venture. If she solves the crime she could find a way out of the small of Gavrik and finally make a name for herself. Dark Pines is the thriller that really beats all thrillers in 2018 and is the first in a series with Red Snow about to be released in January 2019. If I had to choose my book of the year Dark Pines would be that book. If you have not read Dark Pines and thrillers are your genre, then read it now!

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Owl Sense – Dr Miriam Darlington

(Guardian Faber Publishing) 8th February 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

I have been fascinated by Owls all my life and have been lucky to have travelled and seen many species of Owl in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean and I loved Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington she takes walks with her son seeking species of UK Owls. Then she travels into Europe from France to Spain, Serbia and Finland and close to the arctic lands of snow and ice. But this book not only is a story of a quest for Owls but her son Benji becomes very ill and then suddenly it is also a quest for a cure. Owl Sense brings to life the mysterious lives of Owls and what we are so fascinated with these mysterious birds.

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The Lingering – SJI Holliday

(Orenda Books) – 15th November 2018

This dark and creepy ghost story is best read during the dark hours as it really sets the tone. Though you might not want to switch the light off after.

Jack and Ali move have moved into a self-sufficient commune set in Rosalind House, the local village it is said is were witches roamed and the home itself has a dark and sinister past. But it is not long after they arrive that things start to happen. Now the residents and locals are nervous, something or someone is seeking retribution. But why? Terrifying and unnerving. The Lingering really had me spooked. Superbly written and a storyline that holds until the very end.

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Take Nothing With You – Patrick Gale

(Tinder Press) – 21st August 2018

Set in the 1970’s West-Super-Mare and only son Eustace has been signed up for Cello lessons by his mother. Music is an escape for Eustace and his lessons from his teacher he cannot get enough of. But it is his mother that is not sure of the glamorous teacher. Soon though it is lessons in life and love that take on whole new meanings for Eustace. This is beautifully told story of coming of age and finding out who you really are told with real compassion. A truly wonderful read.

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The Lost Words – Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris

(Hamish Hamilton) – 5th October 2017

(Non-fiction choice)

After everything this year, I could not leave The Lost Words out of my selection for the year. It has been the bedrock of my year.

Imagine a world where children no longer talk of Heron’s, Otters, Bluebells, Acorns, Conkers, Dandelion, Bramble to name but a few. Well there are around 50 words that The Oxford Dictionary for Children removed. What they did not reckon on was Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane. Here is the most beautiful book imaginable. In words spoken as Spell-Poems and paintings by the amazing Jackie Morris they both bring these words back to life.

Many people across the country have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds to bring this book in into Schools, care homes and hospitals. Even today many more are planned to launch. A truly remarkable book that has a life all of its own. And this story for Somerset has only just begun.

And so there we have it. As the old year ends and a new one is about to begin and so it starts all over again. It has been a pleasure and an honour to work with such incredible writers and publishers and I thank them all for their incredible work.

In 2019 I have some great plans ahead I am honoured to have been asked to be an official blogger for The Jewish Book Festival in early March. I will be podcasting through the year and hope to take the podcast on the road to talk to writers and may be a few publishers. I will be doing my usual book giveaways when time permits and also there will be The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize.

Have a happy and peaceful 2019 and remember “We read to know that we are not alone”. Books take us to places and to escape all the bad news of the day.

John

The Last Word Book Review

 

I Love You Too Much by Alicia Drake

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I Love You Too Much by Alicia Drake

Paris the eternal city of love. A city I have come to love ever since my first visit in the early 1980’s watching young couples in love walking hand in hand by the River Seine. What images this memory conjures.

I Love You Too Much is the debut novel by Alicia Drake (Picador) and the main character is Thirteen-year-old Paul who is somewhat shy and through his eyes we see his world and those adults who inhabit Pauls world. An extraordinary novel set to an extraordinary backdrop.

 

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Paul’s parents are on the cusp of divorce, from the mother is obsessed by shopping and a father who is obsessed by his looks and making sure he stays lean and handsome. But there is beauty in Paul’s life in fact it is everywhere. He cannot escape the beauty of the women that seem to be around his life. Paul though is not loved he is something of a loner, he is addicted to the wrong type of food that contains large amount of sugar or salt and he is overweight. Now he has a baby sister, as his mother has been seeing a guy who thinks he is a rock star and dresses like one! So now Paul is getting even less attention, so his addiction to sugary snacks increases.

You instantly feel sorry for Paul as his family are real achievers in life but Paul seems to fail in his studies much to his father’s chagrin. Paul would rather sit and eat and play computer games. There is going to be a court battle over custody of this unloved boy and yet it is Paul who will lose out no-matter who wins. What this boy wants more than anything is to be loved. In fact, he is silently crying out to be loved. All the signs are there, yet his self-effacing parents just don’t see it.

Paul finds solace in a new girl in School and Scarlett is a bit of a tear-away and does not seem to be bothered by anything or anyone. So a friendship is born and soon they are spending time together after school. You get the sense there is utter heartbreak coming sooner or later and how Alicia Drake draws the reader into Paul’s world.

Our protagonist likes to watch other people and not just within his own family but those that live just across the hall from their apartment. But one day Paul arrives at his father’s apartment and his word is destroyed by what he walks into. Something that shakes his world to its very core. This has effected Paul deeply. His life is shattered.

A family hell bent on seeking admiration of those around them yet this sad and lonely boy is caught up in their own sad Parisian lifestyle. There is evident within this powerful story of self-destruction but they are all too busy with their own lifestyles to see the pain that they create.

I have to say I absolutely loved I Love You Too Much by Alicia Drake. She has created such incredible characters and the pain of adolescence. A novel so powerful and so utterly heartbreaking. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

256 Pages.

Thank you to Picador Books for the advanced review copy of I Love You Too Much by Alicia Drake.

I Love You Too Much by Alicia Drake is published by Picador and was published on 8th February 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

This is Going to Hurt – Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

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This is Going to Hurt – Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

Anyone who uses the NHS marvels at the incredible work of the nurses and doctors who look after us, but what is it really like from the point of view of a junior doctor. Along comes Adam Kay with his laugh out loud This is Going to Hurt (Picador) that was released in early September. In recent weeks Adam has won the Books Are My Bag Non-Fiction Book of the Year, the Books Are My Bag Readers’ Choice Award and also Winner of Blackwell’s Debut Book of the Year. Not a bad return for a debut about a junior doctor. Actually it is just brilliant in every respect.

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There were times when I was reading this that I was laughing so much I had tears in my eyes not sure what my fellow passengers must have thought on my daily commute to and from work. But at the same time I had tears for very different reasons. Just the pure emotion and also heartbreaking. These are the diaries of Adam Kay when he was a junior doctor for six years.

I said to one of my bookish friends on Twitter that I was going to send a copy to Jeremy Hunt (Health Secretary), well I can now reveal here that I actually did just that, whether the book actually reached him personally is another matter. But I carried out my threat as I believe he and other government ministers should read this outstanding and brilliant book.

Here are his diary entries from 2004 to 2010 after which he gave up his job suddenly and very sadly.  Now he writes and my goodness does he write. Though Kay is extremely funny in his writing there is a very serious side to this book and he uses it to send a message to those in power and how the NHS is on the verge of collapse despite those in government denying this for their own agenda.

There is one part that has stayed with me and it is when Adam has just ended yet another very long shift on the wards and is so exhausted that he falls asleep in his car. He has not left the car park at the hospital. He is woken up by the registrar on Christmas Day asking why he is late for his next shift. Then he falls asleep at various points. If this does not get a message across as to just how hard these doctors and nurses are working and to the point of sheer mental and physical exhaustion, then nothing will. These dedicated people are not just human they are super human. They are there to put us back together when things go wrong for whatever reason.

I am not one for watching these medical dramas on TV as I have seen them working at first hand on my over recent years and to me each and every one is a hero and should treated as such.

If you read one book before the end of this year, please make it This is Going to Hurt I promise you will fall over laughing it will make you cry laughing and it will make you angry at the way the NHS is being managed. It is one of my 15 books of 2017. You will not be disappointed. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

288 Pages.

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay is published by Picador and was published on 7th September 2017 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

 

 

Meet the Author – Omar El Akkad – American War

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MEET THE AUTHOR

OMAR EL AKKAD – AMERICAN WAR

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During the recent Cheltenham Literature Festival, I was delighted to have been invited to meet with the journalist and author Omar El Akkad to talk about his novel American War which is about a second American War Civil War which breaks out in 2074 and how the novel came about, also we talk about his time as a journalist in Afghanistan and if his experiences as a journalist and if this was behind the idea for American War.

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I met Omar at the Queens Hotel in Cheltenham just a few hours before his appearance the Literature Festival and I began by asking Omar to give a brief outline to his novel American War.

OEA: American War is about a second American Civil War that takes place five to six decades from now. The America of that time is an America that is a very different place and the sea level has risen by 60 meters, so that means Florida and the Eastern Seaboard is no more. The Capital is now Columbus, Ohio not Washington and that 100 million people have moved inland from coastal areas and the government has imposed a ban on fossil fuels to halt climate change, but with some Southern States going against this what follows is a second Civil War.

What the Story is primarily about us a family called the Chestnuts that love on the edge of the Southern States, and what this does to the family especially Sarat Chestnut and how the war transforms her.

 

 JF: Where did the idea for your novel American War come from?

OEA: The idea came about when I was watching an interview on a news show and they were commenting on protests in Afghanistan about the American involvement and the question was being asked why do the Afghans hate us so much at the time American Special Forces had to carry out night time raids looking for insurgents and they would ransack houses looking for the insurgents while holding women and children at gunpoint and in Afghan culture this is seen as very offensive and so I thought I would transpose what has been happening to people on the other side of the world and bring it close to home.  

 

 JF: As a journalist you covered the war in Afghanistan, the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt as well as the military trials at Guantanamo Bay and the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri did these assignments give you the idea for American War in any way?

 OEA: The assignments did not play a role in the idea as a whole, the camps I witnessed clearly play a part in American War but the idea of American War was independent of journalism, but I had the idea to try and impose these exotic motivations on what is a primarily a peaceful part of the world but a lot of the experiences do work their way into the book, but the point of writing it was never related to journalism.

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 JF: In your novel the main character is Sarat Chestnut who is six-years-old when the war begins in 2074. How did you create the character that is Sarat and was your primary objective for the novel to have a lead character?

OEA: The character Sarat Chestnut arrived very quickly and when the image of the character showed up it changed the book, so when she arrived it predominantly became her story and even now I still think it is her story. While writing American War I lived with this character Sarat for years, I always knew the arc of the narrative going into writing the novel, I knew how it was going to start and I knew how it was going to end which was difficult as Sarat was living with me through the whole process and I knew how it was going to end. The story of Sarat is very much bang, bang but it is really the quiet moments in her story that will stay with me.

 

JF: As a journalist covering the war in Afghanistan you must have witnessed some appalling scenes, was this a defining moment for you deciding that you wanted to be a full-time writer?

OEA: Fiction was always my first home, I had a story first published when I was in Grade Three and that was it for me. This was what I wanted to do. I do not have a good answer to the question ‘Where are you from’ as I was born in Cairo and grew up in Qatar before moving to Canada and so that fiction tends to be a good home for people like me. Only when I moved to Canada did I realise that you could make a living out of being a writer, so while at college I got involved with the college newspaper and from there to a journalist with a newspaper as a job for the next ten years. I was sent to Afghanistan when I was still relatively young (25). I did think there would be this Hemmingway moment with dodging bullets but this was not the case. It was not the level of danger I was in but the level of privilege I was in, really I was a tourist, I got to go home and I could tell the stories or they would go untold. I had been asking for years to go then after attending training courses run for journalists heading to war zones which were run by former military personnel learning how to handle yourself while bullets and rockets are falling around you I then found out I was heading to Afghanistan.

 

 JF: Did you set out to write an apocalyptic vision of the future for a second American Civil War?

OEA: It had to be in America, it to be in the heart of the empire and currently the heart of the empire is America. I set about writing a book on the universal nature of revenge but it just so happened that three weeks after I finished writing the book Donald Trump announced he was running for president and it has been released at a time when there is very much a dystopian mind-set in America. There are people who think I started to write this book on 9th November 2016. The truth is there was never a vision of what is currently going on in the States. I actually started to write American War in 20014.

 

 JF: Fossils fuels are the reason behind the storyline what was the thinking behind the idea and were you making a statement through the story?

OEA: I was looking at analogies to the first civil war but then also looking at a very rich and commercial country that is America were the use of fossil fuels made some people very rich but at the same time destroyed many others. Many comments said that the second civil war would be fought over race not the environment. It is the idea of stubbornness and because we have always done it this way and that is why we are going to continue doing it this way. This is a mind-set so prevalent in the States and elsewhere.

 

 JF: One the aspects through your novel is the proliferation and use of Drones (The Birds) and what seemed their random use. Was the use of Drones in the book based on experiences in Afghanistan?

OEA: Under the Obama administration they used the term ‘targeted killing’ they would send drones to places such as Libya and try kill specific targets and every now and then they would miss and hit something like a wedding and this is what the military would term as ‘collateral damage’ so the use of drones (the birds) and the random killing of civilians by drones was used in the book and on American people.

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JF: With Sarat being turned into an Instrument of war and the terrible acts she commits do you want the reader to have sympathy for Sarat?

OEA: What I wanted more than anything by the time you got to the end of the book not the reader to like Sarat or to apologise for her, but to understand how she got to the place she was, when we about radicalisation or extremism we talk about people being exposed to that. We only get to know about these people at the finish line after they have done whatever horrible thing they are going to do. So by the time you get to the end of the book I don’t want you to like Sarat I just wanted to show the work that went onto creating that kind of person.  

 

JF: We moved on to talking about how Omar went about writing American War and his writing space at home.

OEA: Yes, when I wrote the book we were renting a house in Portland. One of the spare bedrooms became my writing space and the walls were covered in maps redrawn with new borders and also to pin ideas and even sea level measurements to the point of what the coast would look like after increases in sea levels of 1 or two meters and then even higher and then how the map of the United States would then look. There was also source documents that I later used in the book some of these I wrote as the book progressed.

 

JF: How many draughts of American War did you have to write?

OEA: By the time we went to print we were on draught number twelve, my editor is surgical. Though the finished book is extremely close to the first draught. When my editor first read it then bought it he said it was not perfect but it was special. What followed was just a cleaning up process than say a major change to the narrative. Writing for me is filled with anxiety like it is with many writers. The editing was ten times worse than writing the book. I chose to exclude all technology from the book so there are no smartphones in the narrative on American War.

 

 JF: What would you like the reader to away from American War at the end?

OEA: What I hope is empathy and to understand how people get to a place where they can do horrible things. Bad can be born but evil needs to be created and sometimes these can be really complex and we have an obligation to understand how people get to the place, if we are serious in eradicating these issues. Other than that the reader just reads a story of a character named Sarat Chestnut.

 

 JF: Looking ahead to the future are there plans for you to write a second novel and any plans for you to return to the field as a journalist?

OEA: Is there going to be a next book, well that decision is for others not just me. I have an idea that early last year the research has taken many months. I started writing in January this year then the book tour for American War started and everything went on the back burner. As for the journalism I still do some which includes book reviews and features. My wife and I had our first child a few weeks after the book came out and that has given me a different look at risk. But if I was asked to cover another conflict and if there was an important story to convey I would go as it is the most important form of journalism.

My grateful thanks to Omar El Akkad for taking the time during his short stay in the UK to talk to me about his debut novel American War and also to Emma Finnigan for her grateful help in setting up the interview.

American War is now available in Hardback through Amazon, Waterstones and all good bookshops.

The Good People by Hannah Kent

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The God People by Hannah Kent

From the author of the highly acclaimed novel Burial Rites comes her second novel The Good People and the idea for this book came while writing Burial Rites and confirms that Hannah Kent is a master storyteller.

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Set in 1820’s Ireland and has folklore at its heart, something that was prevalent in the 19th Century. The story is based in County Kerry in South West Ireland. Nóra Leahy’s husband Martin has just died in mysterious circumstances as he was not suffering an illness. He just died very suddenly. That same year they lost their daughter and as such they take in their four-year-old Grandson Micheál but he is disabled and cannot walk or speak and he has been kept hidden from public gaze, Nóra has hired Mary to care for Micheál but the whispers and gossip has already begun. Just what has caused young Micheál to go from being a happy and healthy young boy to one who is now disabled.

Coming into the story apart from Mary we have Nance Roche who is the local ‘healer’ but is seen otherwise by the village priest who is concerned about her actions and the affects it will have on the villagers. To the three women they now come to believe that Micheál is a ‘changeling’ he has been taken by the fairies. For Nóra going through a time of hardship and misfortune she cannot understand why life has turned against her home. Now Nance believes she can cure Micheál and bring him back from the fairies. This is a story that is steeped in Irish folklore and superstition. Hannah Kent’s meticulous research opens up a world from the past like looking through a window as it is so vivid and detailed. Each character has been brought to life that the reader becomes so deeply involved in the story that I found it was difficult to leave the story alone. This is not just a novel but is a history lesson as you learn of the hard life of the small communities, surviving on potatoes and Poitín and their local folklore all come to light in a deeply painful and heart-breaking novel.

As Nance goes about treating Micheál and the treatment using local remedies become more and more severe it becomes apparent to anyone reading that what is going on here is nothing short of madness. But remember this is the 19th Century and these small isolated communities are cut off from the rest of the world. Kent has brought to life a past long forgotten and how she has brought the past to life and the local language she brings to the reader is deep and rich.

The Good People is not a book to be taken lightly and it will shake your very emotions. This story is actually based a real event which makes reading it more personal. It has been a long time to wait for Kent’s second novel but the wait was worth the wait. It is beautifully written and if you have read Burial Rites you will know just how Kent paces her writing. This is no exception. A truly gifted writer.

Thank you to Kate Green for the advanced review copy.

The Good People by Hannah Kent is published by Picador and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

What is Not Yours is Not Yours

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

 

The Last Word Review

 Ambitious mix of short stories that are captivating and will catch your literary imagination. A gifted young writer.

 

Keys play an integral part in Helen Oyeyemi’s collection of short stories, in fact they are pivotal to all nine stories. Oyeyemi was named as one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists of 2013 now returns with What is Not Yours is Not Yours a fascinating and wondrous collection of stories that just plays with the reader’s imagination with stories akin to fairy stories and a strange and beautiful playful mix of stories and characters.

Starting with the first and my favourite story is ‘Books and Roses’ and starts as many fairy story might ‘Once upon a time in Catalonia a baby was found in a chapel.’ The story about two women both seeking those that should be closest to them but abandoned at birth. Central to this story is a key to a locked garden and to a library. This story is work of a genius, superbly written and conceived from start to finish.

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With each story involving secrets and locked doors and keys What is Not Yours is Not Yours is unique and fresh like nothing I have read before and I am a lover of short stories and many will treasure like me each one. Many will have a personal favourite and I will not spoil it for you about the remaining eight but they are just a short story aficionados dream a collection of masterful writing of searching, supernatural puppeteers and of sexuality all appear and there are tentative links with some characters appearing from one story to another, but the reader must pay attention to each story.

The beauty of Oyeyemi’s writing is that it shifts so eloquently from one story to the next seamlessly spellbound at every new story. Like a rather good bottle of wine you just savour every moment of each story to the last.

I have read What is Not Yours is Not Yours twice since receiving it a few months ago and I was truly absorbed in each story and left emotional both times at its end. My recommendation is go and but a copy on its release and I promise you will be captivated by each story and the characters you will encounter.

Credit must also go to Picador for the stunning finished copies that will be appearing in bookshops on its official release day, one of the most beautiful books I have come across, when you hold a copy in your hands you will not want to leave the bookshop with a copy.

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My thanks to Sophie Jonathan (Picador) for an advanced review copy.

What is Not yours is Not Yours written by Helen Oyeyemi and published by Picador on 21 April 2016. Available through Waterstones and all good bookshops

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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A LIttle Life

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Review Date: 1 August 2015

Author: Hanya Yanaihara

Release Date:  13 August 2015 (HB)

Publishers: Picador

ISBN –10: 1447294815

ISBN – 13: 978-1447294818

736pp

Available in Hardback and Kindle.

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The Last Word Review

Harrowing and disturbing account of child abuse that will leaves the reader shattered

This is only the second novel written by Hanya Yanagihara after The People in the Trees (2014). Remarkably this took Yanagihara around 20 years to write, this time round A Little Life took just 18 months from start to finish despite it being a mammoth 736 pages long.

This is a story of friendship and a harrowing account of child abuse and self-harm to the leading character. Do not be put off by this as there is more to this story that is also an emotional intelligent and a beautifully written novel that is set to become a modern day classic.

The story starts with four classmates in New York now venturing into the wide World and to start their respective careers. I thoroughly liked the way that Yanagihara introduces each of the four characters and their in-out friendships and relationships at times raw, but this is story that will stretch the boundaries this is humanity laid bare and will at times really test the reader.

As the story unfolds and Jude the lead character comes to the fore he is now a very successful lawyer in New York the story now takes on a much darker tale one that some will find very difficult and upsetting, at times I had to put the book down and catch my breath and think about what I have been reading. Here the story of Jude as a child and his memories being abandoned at birth exploited and abused by Monks, forced into child prostitution and then badly injured after he is taken captive and tried to escape the need to self-harm is one of desperation, I became quite attached to Jude some will think differently. He is mentally scarred and physically disabled. Yanagihara has written the book in a way that does not shy away from the horrors of child abuse and the consequences for the character and at times it is deeply harrowing. He is as he says ‘Trapped in a body he hates with a past he hates’ this is self-loathing as it can get. Yanagihara does not trap herself here as the story could become totally submersed with Jude, but in the end the main story line that comes out is one of love and compassion even tenderness that can only be found through the love of those that really do care and have his best interests at heart.

The beauty of the book for me lays in the first 70 pages, it leads you to think that this is just a story of four friends starting to make their way in life, some may find this slow considering the length of the book, but not me, it leads you in sucks you in even, it takes you on a journey then the who book then opens up to the reader.

Is this something that Yanagihara learnt from her first novel The People in The Trees time will tell but I have a feeling when this book is launched many will seek out her first novel and will be immersed in an outstanding debut novel. A Little Life is destined for greater things. As I write this Yanagihara’s A Little Life has been Long Listed for the 2015 Man Booker Prize and is more than a worthy winner now destined to become an all-time classic.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Meet the Author

Hanya Yanagihara

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Hanya Yanagihara is an editor at Conde Nast the author of The People in The Trees, a book which she says she started writing when she was 21, and which took her nearly 20 years to complete.

She started her career in New York working in the publicity department of Vintage Books working for a number of New York publishers. From 1998 to 2005 she edited The Asian Pacific American Journal, before joining Conde Nast Traveler in 2005. Her ‘Word of Mouth’ section was noninated for a National Magazine Award in 2007.

Yanaihara has edited several books and served as a New York Foundation for the Arts Literary Fellow in both 2001 and 2008. She currently lives in New York. A Little Life is her second novel and has now been Long Listed for the 2015 Man Booker Prize.        

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