May Book Haul

Saturday, 25 May 2019


Whilst April's book haul was reasonable, May's is admittedly rather less so. But, with the final hand-in date of this year's essays taking place on the 28th, June will surely ensure an uninterrupted month of reading in which some of these books may even be looked at.


After seven years of marriage, the beautiful Lady Brenda Last is bored with life at Hetton Abbey, the Gothic mansion that is the pride and joy of her husband, Tony. She drifts into an affair with the shallow socialite John Beaver and forsakes Tony for the Belgravia set. Brilliantly combining tragedy, comedy and savage irony, 'A Handful of Dust' captures the irresponsible mood of the 'crazy and sterile generation' between the wars. The breakdown of the Last marriage is a painful, comic re-working of Waugh's own divorce, and a symbol of the disintegration of society.


Taking its cue from the arrest and legally enforced chemical castration of the mathematician Alan Turing, Murmur is the account of a man who responds to intolerable physical and mental stress with love, honour and a rigorous, unsentimental curiosity about the ways in which we perceive ourselves and the world. 


Hamburg, 1946. Thousands remain displaced in what is now the British Occupied Zone. Charged with overseeing the rebuilding of this devastated city and the de-Nazification of its defeated people, Colonel Lewis Morgan is requisitioned a fine house on the banks of the Elbe, where he will be joined by his grieving wife, Rachael, and only remaining son, Edmund. But rather than force its owners, a German widower and his traumatized daughter, to leave their home, Lewis insists that the two families live together. In this charged and claustrophobic atmosphere all must confront their true selves as enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal. The Aftermath is a stunning novel about our fiercest loyalties, our deepest desires and the transformative power of forgiveness.


When Isabel Archer, a beautiful, spirited American, is brought to Europe by her wealthy aunt Touchett, it is expected that she will soon marry. But Isabel, resolved to enjoy her freedom, does not hesitate to turn down two eligible suitors. Then she finds herself irresistibly drawn to Gilbert Osmond. Charming and cultivated, Osmond sees Isabel as a rich prize waiting to be taken.


Brisbane, 1983: A lost father, a mute brother, a mum in jail, a heroin dealer for a stepfather and a notorious criminal for a babysitter. It's not as if Eli's life isn't complicated enough already. But Eli's life is about to get a whole lot more serious. He's about to fall in love. And he has to break into prison on Christmas Day, to save his mum. A story of brotherhood, true love and the most unlikely of friendships, Boy Swallows Universe will be the most heartbreaking, joyous and exhilarating novel you will read all year.


One of Evelyn Waugh's most exuberant comedies, Scoop is a brilliantly irreverent satire of Fleet Street and its hectic pursuit of hot news. Lord Copper, newspaper magnate and proprietor of The Daily Beast, has always prided himself on his intuitive flair for spotting ace reporters. That is not to say he has not made the odd blunder, however, and may in a moment of weakness make another. Acting on a dinner party tip from Mrs Algernon Stitch, he feels convinced that he has hit on just the chap to cover a promising little war in the African Republic of Ishmaelia. But for, pale, ineffectual William Boot, editor of the Daily Beast's 'nature notes' column, being mistaken for a competent journalist may prove to be a fatal error...


In this groundbreaking biography of Eva Braun, German historian Heike B. Görtemaker delves into the startlingly neglected historical truth about Adolf Hitler’s mistress. More than just the vapid blonde of popular cliché, Eva Braun was a capricious but uncompromising, fiercely loyal companion to Hitler; theirs was a relationship that flew in the face of the Führer’s proclamations that Germany was his only bride. Görtemaker paints a portrait of Hitler and Braun’s life together with unnerving quotidian detail—Braun chose the movies screened at their mountaintop retreat (propaganda, of course); he dreamed of retiring with her to Linz one day after relinquishing his leadership to a younger man—while weaving their personal relationship throughout the fabric of one of history’s most devastating regimes. Though Braun gradually gained an unrivaled power within Hitler’s inner circle, her identity was kept a secret during the Third Reich, until the final days of the war. Faithful to the end, Braun committed suicide with Hitler in 1945, two days after their marriage. 


In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of color (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture. Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.


The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door. Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic. Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel. Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.


My name is Amrou Al-Kadhi – by day. By night, I am Glamrou, an empowered, confident and acerbic drag queen who wears seven-inch heels and says the things that nobody else dares to. Growing up in a strict Iraqi-British Muslim household, it didn’t take long for me to realise I was different. When I was ten years old, I announced to my family that I was in love with Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. The resultant fallout might best be described as something like the Iraqi version of Jeremy Kyle. And that was just the beginning. This is the story of how I got from there to here. You’ll read about my teenage obsession with marine biology, and how fluid aquatic life helped me understand my non-binary gender identity. You’ll read about my scholarship at Eton college, during which I wondered if I could forge a new identity as a British aristocrat (spoiler alert: it didn’t work). You’ll read about how I discovered the transformative powers of drag while at Cambridge university; about how I suffered a massive breakdown after I left, and very nearly lost my mind; and about how, after years of rage towards it, I finally began to understand Islam in a new, queer way. Most of all, this is a book about my mother, my first love, the most beautiful and glamorous woman I’ve ever known, the unknowing inspiration for my career as a drag queen – and a fierce, vociferous critic of anything that transgresses normal gender boundaries. It’s about how we lost and found each other, about forgiveness, understanding, hope – and the life-long search for belonging.


When Tess Durbeyfield is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D'Urbervilles and seek a portion of their family fortune, meeting her 'cousin' Alec proves to be her downfall. A very different man, Angel Clare, seems to offer her love and salvation, but Tess must choose whether to reveal her past or remain silent in the hope of a peaceful future.


The Jazz Age is in full swing, but it's passing Casiopea Tun by. She's too busy scrubbing floors in her wealthy grandfather's house to do anything more than dream of a life far from her dusty, small town in southern Mexico. A life she could call her own. This dream is impossible, distant as the stars - until the day Casiopea opens a curious chest in her grandfather's room and accidentally frees an ancient Mayan god of death. He offers her a deal: if Casiopea helps him recover his throne from his treacherous brother, he will grant her whatever she desires. Success will make her every dream come true, but failure will see her lost, for ever. In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed only with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey, from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City and deep into the darkness of Xibalba, the Mayan underworld.


Arresting and wonderful, The Accidental pans in on the Norfolk holiday home of the Smart family one hot summer. There, a beguiling stranger called Amber appears at the door bearing all sorts of unexpected gifts, trampling over family boundaries and sending each of the Smarts scurrying from the dark into the light. A novel about the ways that seemingly chance encounters irrevocably transform our understanding of ourselves, The Accidental explores the nature of truth, the role of fate and the power of storytelling.


The most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh's novels, Brideshead Revisited looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder's infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly-disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize only his spiritual and social distance from them.


Grayson Perry has been thinking about masculinity - what it is, how it operates, why little boys are thought to be made of slugs and snails - since he was a boy. Now, in this funny and necessary book, he turns round to look at men with a clear eye and ask, what sort of men would make the world a better place, for everyone? What would happen if we rethought the old, macho, outdated version of manhood, and embraced a different idea of what makes a man? Apart from giving up the coronary-inducing stress of always being 'right' and the vast new wardrobe options, the real benefit might be that a newly fitted masculinity will allow men to have better relationships - and that's happiness, right? Grayson Perry admits he's not immune from the stereotypes himself - as the psychoanalysts say, 'if you spot it, you've got it' - and his thoughts on everything from power to physical appearance, from emotions to a brand new Manifesto for Men, are shot through with honesty, tenderness and the belief that, for everyone to benefit, upgrading masculinity has to be something men decide to do themselves. They have nothing to lose but their hang-ups.


Expelled from Oxford for indecent behaviour, Paul Pennyfeather is oddly unsurprised to find himself qualifying for the position of schoolmaster at Llanabba Castle. His colleagues are an assortment of misfits, including Prendy (plagued by doubts) and captain Grimes, who is always in the soup (or just plain drunk). Then Sports Day arrives, and with it the delectable Margot Beste-Chetwynde, floating on a scented breeze. As the farce unfolds and the young run riot, no one is safe, least of all Paul. 


Celestial Bodies is set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman, where we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla who rejects all offers while waiting for her beloved, who has emigrated to Canada. These three women and their families witness Oman evolve from a traditional, slave-owning society slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, to the crossroads of its complex present. Elegantly structured and taut, Celestial Bodies is a coiled spring of a novel, telling of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.


On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born – a history whose epicentre is rooted in Vietnam – and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to the American moment, immersed as it is in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one's own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.


All Lina ever wanted was to be desired. How did she end up in a marriage with two children and a husband who wouldn't touch her? All Maggie wanted was to be understood. How did she end up in a relationship with her teacher and then in court, a hated pariah in her small town? All Sloane wanted was to be admired. How did she end up a sexual object of men, including her husband, who liked to watch her have sex with other men and women? Consequences are handed out to some but not to others. Three Women is a record of unmet needs, unspoken thoughts, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsessions that tests the boundaries of non-fiction.


Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken. But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home. While he devotes himself to his controversial medical trials, Louise finds herself increasingly discomfited by the strange tales her new maid tells of the fairies that hunt the land, searching for those they can steal away to their realm. Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last…


In a quest for treasure, a favourite party occupation, an assortment of characters, among them the struggling writer Adam Fenwick-Symes and the glamorous, aristocratic Nina Blount, hunt fast and furiously for ever greater sensations and the fulfillment of unconscious desires.


Carefree, revelatory and intimate, this selection of unpublished letters between the legendary Mitford sisters dances with wit, passion and heartbreak. The letters not only chronicle the idiosyncrasies of the twentieth century, but chart the stormy relationship between six uniquely gifted women. There's Nancy, the scalding wit and bestselling novelist; Pamela, who craved a quiet country life; Diana, the fascist jailed during the Second World War; Unity, whose obsession with Hitler led to her demise; Jessica, the runaway fighter for social change; and Deborah, the socialite who became Duchess of Devonshire.


Howards End is a novel by E. M. Forster about social conventions, codes of conduct and relationships in turn-of-the-century England. A strong-willed and intelligent woman refuses to allow the pretensions of her husband's smug English family to ruin her life.


Abby Graven is a dreamer. She dreams her way through her small, lonely life - hiding back at her parents, working at the grocery store. At night, she collects tabloid clippings that taunt her with Elise - her best friend, now Hollywood's hot new starlet. When a school reunion throws Elise in her path, Abby seizes her chance. With feverish certainty, she boards a one-way flight to LA to become Elise's assistant and enters her gauzy realm of film sets and glamorous actors. But behind Elise's glossy magazine veneer, she is drowning in Hollywood's vicious social cycle. Ever the devoted friend, Abby conceals her own burning desire for greatness. For she is smarter than Elise. More talented. A true artist. And as she edges closer to her own ambitions, Abby can see only one way to make her dream come true. Propelled by seductive, unstoppable force, The Paper Wasp slashes through the dark side of Hollywood and the treacherous intimacies of female friendship, pursuing a heroine of blazing artistic vision and blinding drive.


Head on over to http://bit.ly/2y7JSWV for these books, as well as all of the others featured in my reviews, complete with the added bonuses of free worldwide shipping and bringing a little joy to my life.

*Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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