Sky, Emma (2019) In a Time of Monsters: Travels Through a Middle East in Revolt. Atlantic Books. After serving time in Iraq as a political advisor Emma Sky found no homecoming in the UK and soon returns to the Middle East. In her travels (2011-2016) she bears witness to the Arab Spring, and to the failures of opposition movements to dislodge repressive regimes. She journeys across the region as a observer, storyteller and political commentator. She tells of pony trekking in Kyrgyzstan, visiting markets and mosques, dining with sheikhs and government ministers, meeting the marginalised and the fighters, and wandering the troubled zones. She has an emotional commitment to a region she understands well. This is not a travel book but a reflection on chaos, conflict and humanity. Revelatory. Rating: 9/10.
Griffiths, Elly (2019) The Stone Circle. Quercus. In this 11th book in the Dr Ruth Calloway mystery series (my first) a young girl’s bones are found on the site of a henge – a stone circle. When the body is identified as that of Margaret Lacey, a twelve-year-old girl who disappeared thirty years ago, the cold case is reopened. As the case progresses it harks back to an earlier child disappearance in the series. A compelling family-relationship drama and police procedural. I’m a fan. Can be read as a stand-alone. Rating: 8/10.
Orlean, Susan (2019) The Library Book. Atlantic Books. On the morning of 29 April 1986 the Los Angeles Public Library caught fire, in seven-hours destroying more than 400,000 books. Was it arson? This unsolved mystery of America’s largest library disaster is at the heart of Orlean’s memoir. As she re-examines the arson case, she lauds the history of the building and its plethora of eccentric staff and patrons, and explores the human story of books and libraries. A homage to the beloved role of the public library. Extraordinary. Rating: 9/10.
Hawkins, Danielle (2019) When it all went to custard. Harper Collins. Jenny’s husband’s infidelity turns her life into a spin – single parenthood, a job, and a farm – how will she balance them all? Her life doesn’t fall apart, but it is a challenge! If only the farm could pay its way and she could stay forever without the threat of her parents selling up to fund their retirement years. This engaging and relatable kiwi story is written with great skill, humour, and dialogue, with little bit of romance thrown in. Loved it. Rating: 8.5/10.
Byrski, Liz (2018) A Month of Sundays. Macmillan. Ros, Adele, Judy and Simone have for ten-years been members of an online bookclub. They have never met. On her retirement Adele invites the bookclub to join her in the Blue Mountains for a month of book-talking and leisure. They each choose a book to discuss that tells the others more about themselves. A optimistic story about treasured books, friendship and ageing with reflection. Rating: 8.5/10.
O’Connor, M.R. (2019) Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World. Affirm Press. Our ancestors spread across the world without instruments or maps. We used to be able to use featureless landscapes as a guide but now we rely on signposts, compasses, GPS technology, and smart phones. How have we lost our spatial orientation? O’Connor explores the research, and journeys to the Arctic, the Australian Outback, and the South Pacific to discover how ancients and indigenous peoples studied the earth and sky, and built songs, stories and myths to navigate their environment. Fascinating. Rating: 9/10.
Prior, Hazel (2019) Ellie and the Harp-Maker. Bantam Press. Housewife Ellie unexpectedly encounters harp-maker Dan, in a remote Exmoor workshop. Dan gifts Ellie a harp giving her small life new meaning and music. Dan’s exquisite Celtic harps and untraditional view of the world helps Ellie to discover love and the joys of living life more slowly. Sweetly lyrical and quirky. Rating: 8/10.
Alfon, Dov (2019) A Long Night in Paris. Maclehose Press. The abduction and murder of an Israeli tech engineer at Charles de Gaulle airport sets off a chain of events that include espionage, bureaucracy gone wrong, Chinese assassins, and a high body count. This action-packed spy thriller takes place over one very long day in Paris. Commissaire Jules Léger is called upon to organise the investigation, with the assistance of a mysterious Israeli security colonel Zeev Abadi and his female deputy Lieutenant Oriana Talmor. When Abadi realises the abduction is a case of mistaken identity intelligence and detective work lead them to the real target. Bestselling debut. Pacy with nice short chapters to keep your energy up. Rating: 8.5/10.
Kane, Jessica Francis (2019) Rules for Visiting. Penguin. At forty, gardener May is melancholy and root-bound. Her best friends are plants rather than people. May becomes inspired to reconnect with four friends from her past, so she sets out on an ‘odyssey’. This gentle little tale savours the joys of renewed friendships, visiting etiquette, encounters with the natural world, and finding peace. Uplifting. Rating: 8/10.