May Picks

Finlay, Alex (2021) Every Last Fear. Minotaur Books.

The suspicious deaths of his parents and young siblings, whilst holidaying in Mexico, brings Matt Pine to the attention of the FBI and once again propels him into the media spotlight. For a true-crime documentary has made his family infamous in their fight against the wrongful conviction of his older brother, currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his teenage girlfriend. When Matt returns to his hostile Nebraskan hometown for his family’s burial he must unearth the truth about their final days. Alternating between past and present this is a clever and twisty thriller told with precision and pathos. Standout must-read.

Rating: 8.5/10

Sandel, Michael J (2020) The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? Allen Lane.

We are in an age of winners and losers, where the credentialed few govern the uncredentialed many. An academic education has become the primary driver to opportunity. Societal inequality is fuelling populist protests and polarising our populace. Sandel argues the we must rethink and rebalance our attitudes to success and failure. Merit began its career as an empowering idea, but now we must find our way back from the harsh ethic of success that is driving us apart, to a more humble and generous public life. Persuasive.

Rating: 8.5/10

Haynes, Natalie (2020) Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths. Picador.

Natalie Haynes has spent her writing career rescuing demonised women of the ancient world. In this book she explores the one-sided narratives of ten of the most vilified and overlooked women in classical literature, including Pandora, Helen, The Amazons, Phaedra, and Medea. The male viewpoint has largely dismissed these women in favour of the “hero and his trophy”. Haynes singles out Euripides alone for praise, as a classical playwright who wrote strong and complex female roles (albeit roles performed by men). Fascinating and subversive.

Rating: 9/10

McConaughey, Matthew (2020) Greenlights. Headline.

I have always thought of Matthew McConaughey as a free spirit. The sharing of intimate memories and insights in his own voice encapsulates his unique approach to “livin”. This chronological memoir of his first 50 years is an illustrated narrative, recounting coming of age, adventure, acting and family life tales, alongside his philosophy of “greenlights” which has always signalled permission to move forward. Lots of McConaughyisms, but a positive take on how to live life to the fullest.

Rating: 8/10

Koval, Wally (2020) Accidentally Wes Anderson. Trapeze.

Taking Wes Anderson’s film aesthetic Koval travels the world to capture the most Anderson-like sites in their faded pastel and retro grandeur, telling the story behind each unique location. My most poignant Wes visual narrative in all its pink glory is Hotel Opera in Prague, made all the more moving because I have been there, but there are many more places that will catch the imagination. A visual adventure for the admirer of the whimsical and unexpected.

Rating: 8/10

Osman, Richard (2020) The Thursday Murder Club. Viking.

Elizabeth, Ron, Ibrahim and Joyce are a group of friends from the exclusive Cooper’s Chase Retirement Village who meet once a week to discuss unsolved crimes. When two brutal murders occur on their doorstep these senior sleuths set out to solve their first live homicide. A lively caper even if a long and convoluted way to catch the killer. A murder squad with future adventures in the wings, but not something I would try again.

Rating: 7.5/10

Dicker, Joël (2021) The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer. Maclehose Press.

In the summer of 1994 in the quiet Hamptons town of Orphea four people are murdered. Police officers Jesse Rosenberg and Derek Scott solve the case, but twenty years later Jesse is approached by journalist Stephanie Mailer who tells him they got it wrong. When Stephanie is found dead the case is reopened. What really happened in Orphea in 1994? Like Dicker’s earlier work The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair this is a complex and intimate thriller, with plenty of human interest, red herrings and twists. Enjoyable pace.

Rating: 8.5/10

Chapman, Jodie (2021) Another Life. M Joseph.

This is a multi-layered and intense love story that covers off love in its many guises – parental, brotherly, relationship and friendship. Nick and Anna live different kinds of lives, Anna is preparing for the End of Days in a tightly controlled religious community, while Nick is lost following the shocking death of his mother. From the beginning their relationship is destined to fail, but first love is often great love. In a non-linear plot we follow the protagonists from the 1980s until the present day. Poignant debut novel.

Rating: 8.5/10

Fraser, Jackie (2021) The Bookshop of Second Chances. Ballantine Books.

I love a good bookshop story. This romantic little tale was a bit of light relief in the midst of house selling this month. Thea escaping from a failed marriage travels to Scotland to take up a cottage and book collection inheritance. In her determination to turn her life around she takes on a job at the local antique bookshop and becomes just as enamoured of the bookshop’s gruff owner as she does of the small costal town. Charming.

Rating: 8/10

Macky, Peter (2020) A Kaiserbahnhof in Halbe: Restoring a 19th Century Railway Station in Germany. Livadia Publishers.

In 1865 the first receiver train station was build in Halbe, in Germany’s Spreewald, for the exclusive use of Prussia’s royal family, the Hohenzollerns. The history of the Halbe station is closely linked with the development of the Prussian railway system after 1838. New Zealander Peter Macky came across the derelict railway station on a summer cycling adventure in 2009, bought it and has restored it to its former glory over the past decade. A fascinating illustrated story about a building and its history and architecture, and above all a tenacious vision. Stunning.

Rating: 9/10

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