March Picks

Ypi, Lea (2021) Free: Coming of Age at the End of History. Allen Lane.

Politics professor Lea Ypi’s memoir describes her coming of age in the last European Stalinist outpost – Albania. As a young student she was in enthusiastic thrall of both Stalin and Albania’s dictator Enver Hoxha but as her politics develop her own family’s ‘biography’ changes her reality. After the fall of the Berlin Wall Albania’s slow transition left Lea increasingly disillusioned with the ideals of freedom and liberalism. Using her family as a device to dramatise her narrative, she tells an intimate and revelatory story of living through history. Highly readable.

Rating: 9/10

Herbert, Karen (2021) The River Mouth. Fremantle Press.

After fifteen-year-old Darren Davies was shot in the Weymouth River the killer was never found. Ten years on the police inform Sandra, his mother, that the DNA of her recently deceased best friend is a match for the DNA found under Darren’s fingernails. When the investigation into her son’s murder is reopened small town secrets and complicity are exposed. This story told in alternating chapters in the weeks before Darren’s death, and in the present day, is vividly set in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. A traumatic and complex crime debut.

Rating: 8/10

Chamberlain, Diane (2022) The Last House on the Street. Headline Review.

In 1965 Ellie Hockley joins her North Carolina county’s SCOPE summer program, to help Black Southerners register to vote, against vehement opposition from her family and friends. She falls in love with one of her fellow activists, a Black man. The prejudice of this period collides with the 2010 life of recently widowed architect Kayla Carter. Kayla has just moved into her new house, next door to Ellie’s childhood home, when she is threatened and disturbing things begin to happen. Who is trying to scare her? Why has Ellie, now 65, chosen to return? An ominous mystery about buried secrets.

Rating: 8/10

Margolyes, Miriam (2021) This Much is True. John Murray.

Miriam Margolyes in “the autumn of my life” has written a memoir with all the naughty and funny bits. She is a woman without secrets and her warm and open account of her life takes us on a dramatic adventure, with a cast of hundreds. Margolyes is one of Britain’s most prolific actors, whose career began with the Cambridge Footlights and has included drama, radio, voiceovers, Hollywood, and latterly documentaries. She won a Bafta for her performance in Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence. A memorable book with plenty of heart and independence of thought.

Rating: 9/10

Kwa, Mimi (2021) House of Kwa. ABC Books.

An epic family drama that spans four generations of the Kwa family, taking us from Southern China and Hong Kong, to Western Australia. Broadcast journalist Mimi Kwa’s father, Francis, was a younger child of a wealthy silk merchant’s third wife, one of 32 children. As a little boy Francis became caught up in the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. He was later sent to study in Australia by his independent and successful older sister, Theresa. In Australia Francis becomes very eccentric, marrying a woman with mental health issues – Mimi is the child of that union. An engaging, albeit often amusingly dark, memoir about family, leaving home, standing up, and facing the ghosts of generations past. Vivid.

Rating: 8.5/10

Griffiths, Elly (2021) The Midnight Hour. Quercus.

When ageing theatrical impresario Bert Billington is found poisoned his wife Verity is the immediately suspected, but Bert has a dark past and many enemies. Verity calls in newly minted private detectives Emma and Sam, to vie with the police to solve the crime. Then there is a second murder. This 1960’s mystery, the sixth in the Brighton mystery series, is a cosy Agatha Christie-paced crime novel. Stereotype breaking but with plenty of loose ends.

Rating: 7.5/10

King, Lily (2022) Five Tuesdays in Winter. Picador.

Lily King’s first short story collection is both profound and tender. From a tale of a teenage boy nurtured by two college boys whilst his parents are in the Dordogne, a widow escaping to the German seaside with her daughter on a holiday she can ill afford, a girl full of the romance of Jane Eyre babysitting at a turreted house with a fantasy hero, to a reticent bookseller feeling passion again. In King’s storytelling we inhabit the world of the vulnerable, and experience the rawness of coming-of-age and human relationships. Emotional and intimate.

Rating: 8.5/10

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