PositiveThe Observer (UK)... engaging and thoroughly researched ... Low doesn’t stint on insider gossip, thanks to his unprecedented access to royal households, and he has perceptive things to say about power and responsibility too.
RaveThe Observer (UK)... fascinating and deeply researched ... The book works well as a companion to Tim Bouverie’s fine Appeasing Hitler, focusing less on the well-known events and figures of the era and more on the gentlemanly amateur diplomats of the day. Both appeasers and civilisers overrated their own abilities and underestimated the evils to which they – largely unwittingly – played handmaiden. This engaging book offers a warning from history that remains terrifyingly relevant today.
RaveThe Observer (UK)Masterly ... The challenge for any biographer is to delve into the apparent contradictions between the two Donnes ... Rundell has an engagingly idiosyncratic and playful style ... It suits her subject, who took delight in combining high learning with bawdy humour ... In Rundell, Donne has an authoritative and sympathetic chronicler. If Super-infinite is ultimately stronger on the thematic and literary than the historical – Rundell’s evocations of court and international intrigue are gripping, but veer away from the book’s protagonist – then its achievements are substantial enough to make any shortcomings seem petty. This fine book demands and rewards your fullest concentration, just as its subject does: a super-infinite amount, in fact.
RaveThe Observer (UK)Virtually every one features death and decay in some form, whether implicitly or explicitly, giving a profundity to tales that might otherwise feel less weighty than some of his earlier work ... The motifs may be decrepitude, decay and a slow march towards the inevitable, but there is also wry humour to be found throughout Blank Pages, an acknowledgment that death is no different whined about than withstood. This fine collection reaffirms MacLaverty’s place among the greatest short story writers of his generation.
RaveThe Observer (UK)The world depicted here can be a harsh and bleak one, but not without humanity and wit, which Taylor captures superbly ... one of this fine book’s many pleasures is the way in which its overlapping prose aptly complements the adrenaline rush of the city’s frantic daily ballet.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... brilliantly drawn, often grotesque characters make Trio Boyd’s funniest book since 1998’s Armadillo ... Boyd, a screenwriter and occasional director himself, beautifully captures the chaos and exhilaration of a shambolic film set, in which unforeseen disasters andskulduggery create their own opportunities and problems ... where Trio succeeds beautifully is in its creation of a phantasmagorical, dope- and alcohol-saturated world, in which Jimmy Webb’s MacArthur Park is always playing in the background.
PositiveThe Critic (UK)There is a rich vein of humour here ... There is a rich vein of humour here ... There is a wealth of gallows humour amongst his fellow inmates ... Yet for every grim laugh, there are more moments of frustration or dreadful fear, and the greatest punishment of all for Atkins was being parted from his young son Kit ... It feels like an awkwardly tacked-on attempt to find a universal truth in his experiences, but A Bit Of A Stretch is mostly extremely readable and horribly revelatory. It rattles along, avoiding self-indulgent navel-gazing or the temptation to gloat at the relative good fortune that Atkins enjoyed. Most people will finish this book and feel a profound sense of relief that they have not had the misfortune to spend the best part of a year inside this medieval and barbaric system, breathing, \'There, but for the grace of God, go I.\'
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Tomasz Jedrowski’s debut novel is an affecting and unusual romance, with a political undercurrent ... Jedrowski writes elegantly and evokes the emotional honesty that the lovers first thrive in, and then the grimly repressive machinery of the PUWP.
RaveThe Observer (UK)... [a] lucid and insightful study of linguistics ... Yet Don’t Believe A Word is too wise, and too personal, to be regarded as just another book on language: it entertains just as much as it informs ... Shariatmadari, a Guardian journalist, is excellent on the way in which class associations between language and an accent are immediately forged, just as there is no such thing as a classless, accentless use of language; everyone has an accent as a social identifier ... There are reminders of the gravity of language throughout, and how it distinguishes itself from \'lesser forms\' ... The odd section can be somewhat hard going, despite Shariatmadari’s obvious enthusiasm, but some good jokes make up for that ... above all, this is a generous and enthralling study of the basis of how we communicate.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)This is a book written with deep scholarship, but also with lightness and dexterity...with lyrical vibrancy ... It is the seamless melding of the personal and the universal that makes The Boundless Sea so compelling, as the reader meets explorers, brigands, religious fanatics and adventurers ... This book must be among the favourites of the year. It is rich, humorous and insightful, and Abulafia, emeritus professor of Mediterranean history at Cambridge, manages the art of letting his readers believe they are every bit as learned as he is for the happy days, or weeks, that reading this behemoth will take.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)...[a] hugely engaging novel ... Hart has worked with James Patterson before and he has inherited something of Patterson’s breathless knack for narrative and suspense; it helps that he is a far better writer. There is a rich vein of social satire throughout...and also a palpable sense of anger at the injustice visited upon the underclass by their oppressors. Hart has surely read James Bloodworth’s excellent exposé Hired, and his keenly detailed descriptions of the indignities visited upon worker drones are horribly compelling. It helps, though, that in Zinnia he has an empowered and charismatic heroine, battling sundry thugs and her own conscience with the same determined sangfroid. This is a fine and gripping read, a literary blockbuster with brains. Perhaps the anticlimactic ending lets it down slightly, but until then Hart manages to stimulate both the imagination and the viscera alike.
PositiveThe GuardianShort, gripping and consistently surprising ... ably explains how a stuffy bank clerk produced arguably the greatest children’s book ever written.
George R.R. Martin
MixedThe Observer\"To understand the disappointment with which Fire and Blood will inevitably be greeted by all but the most committed Martin aficionados, imagine Tolkien choosing to follow The Two Towers with an almost decade-long wait for a sequel, and releasing The Silmarillion in between. However, Fire and Blood must be judged on its own merits – that is, as a carefully conceived and exhaustive (to say nothing of exhausting) examination of a fantastical historical world ... At its most tedious, the book lists names for paragraphs on end. There will be a core group of Martin’s readers for whom the volume answers countless much-debated questions and riddles, but the average fan is less likely to care ... Nonetheless, there is much to enjoy here. Martin’s usual sense of richly irreverent humour is present throughout ... If this book took itself more seriously, it would become a chore to plough through; as it is, its author is clearly in on the joke ... At the very least, Fire and Blood will reward loyal devotees holding their breath for The Winds of Winter.\
MixedThe Times (UK)This undeniably intelligent and exhaustive (if at times exhausting) book makes a decent case for the rehabilitation of Annabella Milbanke as neither hapless victim nor vindictive harpy, and is filled with revealing anecdotes that make skilful use of new material ... However, it has none of the Byronic flair and vim that its subjects deserve. In temperament, the book is closer to the cautious, punctilious Annabella than the visionary brilliance of her husband or daughter. As Byron wrote: \'Truth is always strange; stranger than fiction.\' A dash more quixotic spirit would have lent this diligent account the panache to complement its undoubted authority.
PositiveThe ObserverAlthough Schott, whose first novel this is, cannot compare to PG \'Plum\' Wodehouse’s peerless ability with comic plotting and situation, his joy in manipulating language is certainly on a par—and an unexpected but welcome topical element gives the high jinks some added bite. The convoluted plot has many strands, none of them remotely realistic ... With the exception of one hysterically funny set piece involving Spode, the marching band of the Worcestershire Regiment and a herd of pigs, this is consistently witty rather than laugh-out-loud hilarious, but Schott excels with a series of similes and metaphors every bit as striking as those Wodehouse came up with ... this is still a delight to read. An especially nice, Schottian, touch is the appendix, explaining allusions and references, although there are plenty left unglossed for the connoisseur to appreciate. Although it’s coming out in time for Christmas, this homage to Plum is anything but duff.
PositiveThe GuardianNot only feels unusually credible for a suspense thriller, but has a clear social purpose...there is both a sharp journalistic attention to detail and genuine anger at how we, as a society, have become inured to the almost unimaginable suffering of others...Readers are unlikely to finish Firefly feeling the warm glow of escapism that a less sophisticated thriller might provide, but it offers something more important: a glimpse into a terrifying and random world in which there are few happy endings.
RaveThe Guardian\"... enthralling and inspirational ... Orlean moves smoothly between dealing with the fire and its aftermath, the life of the resurrected library today, and its foundation and subsequent history. Interesting facts leap out from virtually every page ... Orlean’s history of the library... throws up a plethora of unlikely but vivid characters ... Above all, this excellent book is an unashamed love letter to the public library system ... In this fine and heartfelt saga, [Orlean] repays a lifelong debt with both passion and elegance.\
PanThe Observer\"Those who have had the misfortune to come across a stranger masturbating in public usually feel a mixture of shock, revulsion and embarrassment. Much the same emotions are engendered when, on page three of James Frey’s much-awaited and largely autobiographical new novel, the protagonist, Jay, announces: \'Follow your heart and follow your cock.\' Over the course of the book’s unedifying length, there is a great deal about Jay’s cock, and its machinations, which is described in tedious detail. What is never supplied is a reason why the reader should engage with Frey’s pretentious and vacuous alter ego ... Frey has created a loathsome character whose antediluvian attitudes towards anyone who isn’t male, American and \'a writer\' make this an unappealing and old-fashioned wallow in glorifying empty masculine privilege. Were Harvey Weinstein not awaiting trial on charges of sexual assault, he would undoubtedly be first in line to buy the film rights ... The controversy behind A Million Little Pieces once threatened to derail Frey’s career. Fifteen years and many million sales later, the dreadful Katerina represents a new and, in its own perverse way, impressive attempt at career suicide. If this is to be his epitaph, let it at least be said of him that he followed his heart – and his cock.\
RaveThe GuardianLance Richardson’s splendidly readable and gossipy account of his life has a trump card to play—namely the relationship between Tommy and his photographer brother, David, who acted as a kind of artistic Boswell to his brother’s sartorial Johnson. Tommy died in 1992 of an AIDS-related illness, but David is still alive, and his cooperation enhances a gripping read that is as much social history as it is biography ... A lesser writer might have made the story of his downfall depressing, but Richardson has an eye for telling and hilarious details ... a fine match of author and subject. He writes with flair and erudition, making extensive use of interviews with David, and bringing something new to the evocation of an era that might seem overfamiliar and cliched to many. In fact, barring the absence of an index, it’s hard to find fault with this thoroughly enjoyable glimpse into high fashion and low life.
Jo Nesbø, Trans. by Don Bartlett
MixedThe GuardianOn its own terms, this is a 'fair and foul' crime novel with a vivid sense of place that will please Nesbø fans. But as an adaptation of Macbeth, it encourages us to hope that it might be something more special. In this, alas, it proves a slight disappointment ... Although there’s nothing wrong with Nesbø rewriting the Scottish play as a police procedural not a million miles away from his Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels, it neither offers a contemporary response to its source nor entirely succeeds as a beat-for-beat update ... Yet there are compensations. When Nesbø has the courage to move away from his source, the narrative and characters feel liberated ... Ultimately, this will appeal to Nesbø’s substantial and loyal readership and admirers of the Hogarth series ... It may be full of sound and fury, but this isn’t a tale told by an idiot.
RaveThe Observer (UK)\"This is a mighty, at times even monolithic, work that combines the multi-narrative approach of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas with a paean to the grandeur and wonder of trees that elegantly sidesteps pretension and overambition. Early comparisons to Moby-Dick are unfairly lofty, but this fine book can stand on its own ... As befits a book that spans centuries, there is a richness and allusiveness to the prose that reaches back as far as Thoreau’s Walden ... The book is long and could have done with an edit, and Powers’s ecological message, heartfelt though it is, might strike some readers as on the nose in place ... Nonetheless, when set against Powers’s greater achievements, these are but woodworm compared with the majestic redwood of a novel that he has constructed.\
RaveThe GuardianChekhov’s dramatic principle about guns – that if you have one hanging on the wall in the first act, it needs to go off at some point – is followed to the letter in Jennifer Clement’s superb new novel. There are a great number of guns in this book, all of which are described with clinical efficiency, and whenever they are fired, something bad happens. Yet there’s also a great deal of love here; amid the violence and hopelessness of gun-crazed contemporary America, humanity breaks through ... Clement’s spare, often oblique style makes this book feel like a great lost murder ballad by the likes of Johnny Cash or Nick Cave ... readers will feel conflicted by their own response to the horrors and wonders that they have encountered.
Robin Lane Fox
RaveThe Guardian“Lane Fox, himself no believer, has produced a comprehensive book likely to become the standard work on Augustine’s Confessions in the future.”