Friday, 15 August 2014

Book Reviews: 15 August

The Lady reviews of the latest books available to buy or download now


Books-Aug15-DearDaughter-176DEAR DAUGHTER by Elizabeth Little (Harvill Secker, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
Narrator Janie Jenkins is a Paris Hilton with smarts. Sharp-tongued, bright and twisted, she has just been released from prison after serving 10 years for murdering her mother. Addled by drugs, drink and the psychological toll of solitary confi nement, she is unsure of her guilt or innocence.

But something does not sit right with her about the night of her mother’s death, so while in jail she has been planning for her release, when some real sleuthing can begin.

Janie follows the tiniest of clues to a small, tightknit mining community in the Black Mountains, where most of the eccentric people seem to be related, and everyone looks sinister.

This fast-paced, wisecracking novel, with an attractive yet repellent heroine who is completely up to date with social networking, is a thoroughly modern and amusing read.
Victoria Clark

Books-Aug01-BlackDogSummer-176BLACK DOG SUMMER by Miranda Sherry (Head of Zeus, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
Traumatised by her mother’s death, Gigi must abandon her home in the South African countryside to live with her extended family in Johannesburg’s opulent suburbs.

What Gigi does not know is that her mother is actually in a state midway between life and death, watching her family and friends coming to terms with the unexpected loss.

Crafting a colourful patchwork of memories and events in each character’s life, this tale of grief is sensitively and thoughtfully told. Although strewn with sadness and distress, it also has touches of hope. Exquisitely told and poignant.
Tsakani Brauer–Maxaeia

Books-Aug01-The-CalligraphyofDreams--176THE CALLIGRAPHY OF DREAMS by Juan Marsé, translated by Nick Caistor (MacLehose Press, £18.99; offer price, £15.99)
In the tense atmosphere of 1940s Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War, when the Fascist regime rules, young Ringo fights his way through adversity. Everything seems devoid of meaning – until he sees the city mentioned in a Hollywood film and begins to use his imagination to escape.

The narrative conveys a sense of secrecy, of the many anxious worlds of emotion into which the boy is propelled as he comes to know about Señora Mir, a seemingly tragic and tortured woman, and her cool daughter, Violeta. As he perceives more of his surroundings, his innocence is shattered. He gains the instinct of adults but is still very much at their mercy.

Capturing the city and era convincingly, this is a most human account of a dark period in Catalonia’s history and its profound signifi cance for one young person.
Philippa Williams


Books-Aug15-Thegunfightersdaughter-176The gunfighter’s daughter
BULLETPROOF VEST: THE BALLAD OF AN OUTLAW AND HIS DAUGHTER by Maria Venegas (Granta, £15.99; o‚ffer price, £13.99)
Maria Venegas’s memoir has a cinematic quality, with its panoramic descriptions of Mexican landscapes and pulse-raising action sequences. The soundtrack to her story is gunshots, folk music and screeching tyres. Its main players: her volatile, gun-toting father and religious-fanatic mother.

Wanted for murder, her father emigrated to the US illegally with his family, but later left them, returning home to a life of drink and shoot-outs. Even in absentia, Maria’s apá remains a de­fining in€fluence. The man who taught her never to back off‚ also made her stare down the barrel of his loaded gun, showing o‚ her ‘nerves of steel’ to his friends. But against expectations, Maria becomes a successful writer and actress in New York.

Years later, she visits the ageing outlaw at his ranch in Mexico, and father and daughter rediscover each other. These encounters make for some of the most powerful scenes in the book, as the once-invincible hardman begins to show signs of emotional and physical vulnerability.

This gripping account of bi-cultural identity and the dynamics between contrasting societies also zooms into family relationships and characters’ inner lives. Venegas handles her autobiographical material with a poet’s ear for rhythm and a novelist’s eye for plot and character development. Her quest to make peace with her past and shape her future results in a compelling read.
Juanita Coulson


CHARLES JAMES: BEYOND FASHION by Harold Koda and Jan Glier Reeder (Yale University Press, £35; offer price, £30)
Born in Britain and based in New York, Charles James was the first American couturier, achieving fame in the 1940s and 1950s for his sculptural gowns and exquisite tailoring.


This stylish illustrated book explores his life, traces his influences and showcases his work: the dramatic drapes, the revolutionary treatment of volume around hips, shoulders and hemlines, the bold use of colour. Images of his dresses – they still look striking, desirable and wearable today – are displayed alongside vintage photos of his high-profile clients and rarely seen sketches. A must for any fashionista’s coffee table.


MEN OF LETTERS by Duncan Barrett (AA Publishing, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
At the outbreak of the Great War a century ago, delivering the mail became harder as thousands of postmen volunteered to fight in the Army. Many chose to serve in their own unit, the 8th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Post Office Rifles). By the end of the war, over 12,000 men had served in one of its three line battalions, and 1,500 had been killed.

Drawing on the Post Office’s archives and the men’s private papers, Barrett recounts their story. As they found themselves on the front line, they came to rely on the postal service they were once part of for those all-important, moraleboosting letters and parcels from home.

This highly readable book illuminates the lives of the soldiers, giving an idea of how their shared profession helped them bond into close-knit fighting units. A first-class delivery.
Stephen Coulson

COVER YOUR EYES by Adèle Geras (Quercus, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
After an eight-year gap, Geras makes a superb comeback with this tale of female friendship set in the fashion world.

Aspiring journalist Megan and retired fashion designer Eva Conway are drawn together by their experiences, loves and losses. Megan has just come out of an intense love aff air, while Eva’s family is forcing her to leave her beloved home of 40 years. Both women will either give in to their fears, or fi nd a way to overcome them together. An intriguing tale.
Helena Gumley- Mason


Books-Aug15-AlarmGirl-176ALARM GIRL by Hannah Vincent (Myriad Editions, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Following their mother’s death, siblings Indigo and Robin are sent by their maternal grandparents in England to spend the summer with their father in South Africa – the start of a journey in search of belonging. An insightful exploration of childhood bereavement and emotional readjustment.
Anna Savva


  • BIRDSONG by Sebastian Faulks
  • GOODBYE TO ALL THAT by Robert Graves
  • POEMS by Wilfred Owen


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