GROWN UPS by MARIAN KEYES

First up, confession time.

This is the first ever Marian Keyes I’ve read, which is a startling omission, right?

Fortunately, out running recently, I was listening to a BBC podcast called Fortunately (no, really) & Ms Keyes was being interviewed, and I was instantly sold.

What a great story this is, about 3 Irish brothers, and their wives, and their children, and their lives, and their lies, and their problems, and their fears, and everything else that makes up life.

The novel opens with an ill-judged remark by Cara, one of the sisters-in-law, and the whole family facade of happiness and affection starts to unravel. But – and here’s the “but” – we have to go back into recent family history to put the unravelling in context.

Ms Keyes cleverly builds up to a dénouement that we already know about. But then, of course, with the power of hindsight, we see things in a very different light.

The Casey family spends a lot of time together, sharing meals in Dublin, holidaying and partying, all of this bonhomie largely driven by Jessie, who loves the whole concept of happy families. As we travel through the months, watching the Caseys work and love and fight and party and eat and drink, the chaos and noise and tensions of family life are brilliantly captured.

Ms Keyes touches on some very important issues, about obsession and secrets, about denial and the need to change – to grow up. She writes with such empathy and obvious affection for her characters, that we, the readers, are immediately predisposed to like (most of) them.

Personal favourites are Johnny & Jessie’s delightfully articulate & precocious young children, who have some of the best lines in the book.

By the final chapters, I was deliberately slowing down my reading speed, because I didn’t want the novel to end.

Loved it.

Am officially a fan of Ms Keyes – a little late to the party, agreed, but better late than never.

The novel has just been published, in early February 2020, and you can order it right now!

Here you go:

THE HOLIDAY by T.M.LOGAN

The expression “I could not put this book down” isn’t one I very often use, because it needs to be kept for the real McCoy.

For a gripping page-turner that absorbs you and makes you want to read faster and faster to see what happens next, whilst simultaneously making you regret that you are racing through the book.

For a book like “The Holiday’, in other words.

This psychological thriller is as close to being un-put-down-able as anything I’ve read.

The premise is simple and pretty middle-class-British. 4 women, best friends since university, go away for a week’s holiday in the south of France, to celebrate their 40th birthday year. Their husbands and children accompany them – a group that has pretty much known each other for 2 decades.

They stay in a luxurious villa in a vineyard. The descriptions of the French countryside and the suffocating summer heat, of slow village life, of the food and the chilled wine – they are all gorgeous and you feel immersed in this French summer.

The story is told from the shifting perspective of the different people in this house party, but Kate is the main voice. Early on in the book, Kate suspects that her husband is having an affair, and that the “other woman” is one of her 3 best friends. She sets out to try and find out who. And why. And how.

The plot has so many twists and turns and surprises, that I certainly had no idea as to what was coming in the final pages of this fabulously gripping thriller.

And that’s about all I can tell you, because I would not want to spoil one iota of your pleasure, by letting drop any hints.

Super read.

If you haven’t read this book, you can buy it right now, using the link below.

You are in for a treat!

BANGKOK DAYS by LAWRENCE OSBORNE

Reading “Bangkok Days” whilst on holiday in Bangkok was a wonderful, border-line surreal experience, since it made me simultaneously embarrassed at how little I know the city, whilst also inspiring me to try and follow in Mr. Osborne’s steps.

Not with the drinking nor the dentistry (the original reason the author landed up in Bangkok) but for the long wanders through the city, leisurely exploring. Not the well known palaces and Wats, but everyday neighbourhoods.

This wonderful memoir was published in 2009, and although much of the city must have changed in the intervening decade, there is a timelessness to Mr. Osborne’s portrayal of a city that clearly fascinates him.

He explores Bangkok, usually on foot, and usually at night, seeing beauty in the ordinary, and finding stories in the most mundane of places:

“I preferred nights there…I grew to like the atmosphere of stale basil & exhausted marijuana which Bangkok seems to breathe out of invisible nostrils…”

The author wanders the streets, and drinks in bars, sometimes alone and sometimes in the company of fellow ex-pats. He explores the city with friends, men who have washed up in Thailand and then stay on, working, pretending to work, or simply just living there. It is a raffish, down-at-heel crowd, but seen through Mr. Osborne’s generous eye, there is genuine affection in his portrayal of these often lonely, often eccentric men.

Mr. Osborne clearly loves Bangkok, warts and all, and it is a tribute to his writing that I caught myself Googling places he mentions, planning to go and see for myself how the city has fared in the last 10 years or so.

I’m inspired, truly.

A wonderful book.

A wonderful tribute to a fascinating city.

Recommended, whether you know Bangkok well, or not at all.

Here’s a link to buy the book.

You’re very welcome.

NO ONE HOME by TIM WEAVER

Nothing like your kid sister leaving behind a big fat thriller she’s finished – and a hardback copy, to boot. Such a joy, in this Kindle world.

Let me state upfront that I haven’t read any books by Tim Weaver before.

Dunno if that somehow coloured my judgement.

Shortly after I’d plunged into the book, and asked Jane if this was a stand-alone story or part of a series, I enthusiastically decided that I’d finish this book and then go back and read all the earlier books in the David Raker series.

Now I’ve finally finished the book, I’m not sure I’ll bother.

This murder mystery was initially really gripping – a community of 9 neighbours in the hamlet of Blackgale has disappeared, totally and without leaving any trace whatsoever.

David Raker, the main protagonist, specialises in investigating cold cases of missing persons, taking up the trail long after the police have stopped investigating. He is engaged by the families of the 9 missing neighbours to try and solve this seemingly impossible conundrum.

By the end of the book, shame on me, I was bored and just wanted to find out if I‘d guessed correctly who dunnit.

I had, pretty much.

The first 100 pages or so are super gripping, and I raced through them, but somewhere, something changes and the pace slows down, and the detail gets too much and the repetition – well, it just repeats itself, and to be brutally honest, once I thought I’d figured it out, I just wanted the book to end. There are only so many descriptions of people walking through endless forests that a girl can take.

As Raker investigates the crime in Yorkshire, there is a parallel story of a murder investigation in 1970’s Los Angeles.

At some point, the 2 stories do eventually converge, but I respectfully suggest that Mr. Weaver could have axed the whole American narrative and his story would not have suffered an iota. Might have benefitted by being snappier.

The total disappearance of a group of people is an interesting premise. It’s sad that Mr. Weaver squandered his idea with way too much detail, lots of it superfluous to the main narrative.

FIFTY PLACES TO RUN BEFORE YOU DIE by CHRIS SANTELLA

Stretched out on my sofa, nursing a very painful torn meniscus that has seen me pull out of 2 marathons and one half marathon this winter season, guess what I’m reading?

One of my Christmas presents from my sister.

”Fifty places to run before you die.”

Talk about rubbing salt into the wound!

The text and photos of the 50 places to run – many of them in the US, but sadly none in India (where I live) – are enticing, to put it mildly.

There are temptations a plenty for an older runner like myself, who came to running late in life and is desperate to see/do/run/enjoy as much as possible – pause to curse the dratted torn meniscus…

Expert runners and athletes have picked their favourite places to run, and so they describe the courses with insider knowledge and affection. Many categories of runs are covered – marathons, ultras, 10ks and simple scenic trails. Since I want to start trail running, those are the photos over which I have lingered the most, just wishing I were fit enough to run in beautiful mountainous terrain.

This is a collective work, and each chapter ends with an “If you go” section, that includes tips on when to go, where to stay, and gives links to the race websites.

Personal favourites in the book, that made me dream the most?

The Big Five Marathon in our beloved South Africa.

The Antarctica Marathon – just because.

The Wall Marathon in China.

Such a great gift, and one that will keep me dreaming for as long as I’m fit enough to lace up my running shoes.

A shiny new year is as good as any time to dream and plan exciting adventures, so why not get hold of this lovely-looking book and set your 2020 goals?

Here’s the link, below, to order the book:

THE MARTIAN GIRL by ANDREW MARTIN

I started 2020 with this sensational book, and what an amazing tour de force it is. This is fiction writing at its finest, inter-weaving stories that take place 100 years apart, yet parallel each other and then converge.

At the start of “The Martian Girl”, we meet Jean, a young London-based woman in her late 30s who is having an affair with an older, married man called Coates (we never do learn his first name).

Their love affair is a strange mix of his seeming indifference and her need for affirmation and support for her project, which is writing the script for a one woman show. Jean is fascinated by the story of Kate French, a young mind-reader who toured the theatres and music halls of Victorian England until suddenly disappearing without trace.

The more Jean researches Kate’s story, the more she realises that a one-woman show won’t work, and that to do Kate justice, it should be a novel. Her increasing (21st century) interest in Kate parallels Kate’s own (19th century) increasing doubts about her mind-reading partner, as well as (21st century) Coates’ increasing instability and suspicion of his lover, Jean.

The novel is a dazzling mix of history, and the world of late 19th century theatre, of contemporary London and the city’s darker underbelly. It is dark, it is is humorous, it is sometimes graphically shocking, and it is oh-so-clever, with a final plot twist in the closing pages.

A great read.

Thoroughly recommended.

Here’s a link, should you decide to buy.

THE ETYMOLOGICAN by Mark Forsyth

Who would have thought that a book about language and the etymology of the English language would make you laugh out loud?

Welcome to the most stunning book I’ve read in 2019 (indeed, in quite a long time). “The Etymologican” is brilliant, entertaining, hugely informative and totally captivating.

Reading it is like sitting and listening to a delightfully clever and enthusiastic friend share his/her passionate hobby.

Quirky linguistic facts follow one after the other, as the clearly insatiably curious Mr. Forsyth explains the connections between words, across languages and history.

It is a dazzling tour de force, but without any hint of showing off. You feel Mr. Forsyth’s enthusiasm as he links one word to another, and his joy at sharing his discoveries.

Although the book is written in bite-sized chapters, I found it difficult not to devour it all in one go.

A book to be savoured, enjoyed and (in my case) definitely shared with anyone who will follow my book recommendations!

Seriously, dear reader, do yourself a favour and read this smashing book.

Here’s the link to order it:

And don’t forget to let me know what you thought of it.

LADY IN WAITING: MY EXTRAORDINARY LIFE IN THE SHADOW OF THE CROWN by ANNE GLENCONNER

First, I watched That BBC interview with Prince Andrew.

Then I watched Season 3 of The Crown.

And sandwiched between these 2 “royal” events, I read a just-published memoir, with lots of jolly stories about how super and smashing the royal family is.

And let me own up – this book is an immensely fun read.

This autobiography, written by the sprightly 87 year old Lady Anne Glenconner, is a rattling good read, galloping along at a fairly breathless pace, and entertaining us all the way.

Anne Glenconner has lived a life of great privilege, and also one of great sorrow, losing 2 of her sons when they were still young men – one to AIDS and the other to heroin addiction. She nursed her 3rd son back from a coma, after he was badly injured in a horrific motorbike accident.

But not once in her book is there a hint of self pity, neither about these heartbreaking personal tragedies, nor about her eccentric and erratic husband, Lord Colin Tennant. The author speaks in a brisk, no-nonsense voice, accepting life’s vicissitudes, and comes across as a thoroughly lovely, gutsy lady.

A close friend of the royal family, as a little girl the young Anne played with the current Queen and her sister, and was famously one of the Queen’s 6 ladies in waiting at her coronation:

Lady Glenconner’s life story truly is an amazing one, taking us from her family home, Holkham Hall, an 18th century Palladian style house on the Norfolk coast, to the tropical island of Mustique, which her husband bought on a whim, and turned into a party destination for the very rich and the very famous.

Lady Glenconner became Lady in Waiting to Princess Margaret, and is a loyal, staunch supporter of a royal who has garnered much negative press. It is interesting to see the “other”, unknown side of the Queen’s younger sister.

And if ever there was a delicious case of life imitating art, it was the visit of the actress Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Princess Margaret in The Crown, researching the part, that prompted Lady Glenconner to write her memoirs.

Neatly trying all the threads of an extraordinary life together.

A fun read, showing us a lifestyle that has gone for ever – just as we are all rediscovering it thanks to Netflix.

Here you go. The link to order this most enjoyable of memoirs:

DIAMOND DUST by Peter Lovesey

I have only fairly recently encountered the wonderful Peter Diamond detective series, so forgive me if I’m late to this particular appreciation society.

Diamond Dust, published in 2002, is the best and the most moving of Mr. Lovesey’s books that I’ve read so far.

This book, the 7th in the series, is an emotional read and one that I literally couldn’t put down.

For obvious reasons, I can’t & won’t plot-spoil, but trust me when I say that this is a gripping whodunit like no other.

There are twists and turns in the plot that had me fooled right until the end. There is emotion a-plenty, and the writer carries the reader along in a masterly mix of drama, murder, and raw human emotion.

That’s about all I can say without spoiling your enjoyment of this murder mystery.

Personally recommended.

AGENT RUNNING IN THE FIELD by JOHN LE CARRE

What an interesting read “Agent running in the field” is.

Not that one would expect anything less from John Le Carré, but this latest addition to the world of spy fiction has a powerful parallel leitmotiv running through the book, that drives the plot.

It is Brexit, and how Britain is in the midst of a crisis of her own making, a country seemingly adrift.

Alongside a well-crafted Le Carré story of intelligence work and political loyalties, there is the story of Brexit and of a morally impoverished country, seemingly weary of the whole mess.

The city of London, the backdrop for much of the book, seems exhausted and a bit down at heel.

Nat, a 47 year old intelligence officer, is symptomatic of the malaise – after years abroad, Nat is slightly out of step with the UK, with his employers, and with the political reality of Britain drifting aimlessly towards Brexit.

Intelligence work takes place in this powerful book, but it is not the glamorous cloak and dagger stuff of yore. There are no elegant, charismatic heroes. No worthy (or even unworthy) villains. Just a dusty, almost-forgotten office, ironically called the Haven, and budget cuts, and cheap car rentals, and an overweening feeling of exhaustion.

Mr. Le Carré, other than using a few anachronistic words like “swain” and “bobby”, speaks in an altogether different tone for much of this book. You can feel the author’s palpable anger with the whole Brexit mess, and with the venality and incompetence of politicians, both British and American.

Take this powerful statement from Nat:

“…I reply, stung by the suggestion that I’ve somehow failed to notice that the country’s in free fall. “A minority Tory cabinet of tenth-raters. A pig-ignorant foreign secretary who I’m supposed to be serving. Labour no better. The sheer bloody lunacy of Brexit.”

I loved an early review of the book, where it was gleefully pointed out that the quote unquote pig-ignorant foreign secretary is now the British PM.

Mr Le Carré also clearly revels in some of the earthier new language used to describe the sheer disastrous levels of British politics these days:

“Guy Brammel has come up with a grudgefuck theory,” he runs on, delighting in the term like a naughty boy. “Ever heard that one before? Grudgefuck?”

“I’m afraid not. Cluster only recently, and never grudge. I’ve been abroad too long.

Me neither. Thought I’d heard everything…”

Great read, lots of typical Le Carré twists and turns, right up until the closing paragraphs – which obviously I’m not going to reveal and therefore spoil things for you.

Hats off to a veteran writer for an impassioned, outspoken spy thriller.

You all know how to order online.

So here you go!