Exit West- Mohsin Hamid, was my major foray into the backlists during early July. The story of two refugees, Nadia and Saeed, from an un-named Middle? Near? Far? Eastern country who manage to flee to the West. The book is short, but packs in a lot of ideas and events .It speaks about war, conflict, refuees, culture, nationalism, sexism, Moslem social mores, family ties, the concept of home, and above all the fluidity of modern life in the troubled times of the 21st century. It’s a genre bending book, partly speculative fiction because of the mysterious doors through which refugees transit from one life to a new life in another country, which lends a magical realism to the story. And there’s plenty of realism in the gritty, dangerous, difficult life of refugees.

The book lingers in my mind, and will probably do so for some time to come. South Africa attracts many refugees from the continent, and their problems feature often in our news bulletins. The novel is definitely a book of and for our times.

North and South – Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell. I think this can be labelled My Reading Challenge of 2020! I’m proud to announce that I persevered to the long and exhausting end. Its an early Victorian novel, that contrasts the old, bucolic, peaceful country life of the South with the growing, bustling, rapidly industrializing life of the North, particularly in the textile industry. I grew very weary of the many chapters delving into the endless agonies of conscience, whether over religious beliefs, or over correct social behaviour for young, unattached, middle class ladies. Oh the paroxysms of tears, the fainting fits, the prostrations upon sofas! Thank goodness I live now. The restrictions placed upon Victorian women by society were legion, and a spirited woman like Margaret Hale had to constantly rein in her energetic passions.

Another spirited woman: Tannie Maria, resident of the Ladismith district, in the Little Karoo, in the Western Cape. She’s one of my favourite literary characters, down to earth with a heart as big as the Karoo sky. I love her Agony Aunt weekly column in the local paper and I love her cooking. I snacked constantly while reading the book – the constant talk of food made me hungry! That said, this is #3 in the series, and in a sense, Tannie M grows up – among other things she learns to change a car tire! But she also is exposed to contemporary and historical South African issues. This book has more substance than the other two, plus an action charged plot. I think it may be the best in the series to date.

I Re-read one of my lifelong favourites: Kim by Rudyard Kipling. Yet again, it enchanted me.

Exit West- Mohsin Hamid. A genre-bending novel, speculative fiction/magical realism /love story mixture that combines in a thought provoking story about refugees and global migration. Recommended.
North and South – Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell. A long, challenging read. But a fascinating portrait of social and industrial change during the early Victorian era.

Death on the Limpopo – Sally Andrew. Tannie Maria cooks and charms her way from the Little Karoo to the Limpopo. An action filled adventure, & the recipes are to die for. Heartily recommended.

Vows, Vendettas & a Little Black Dress – Kyra Davis. Ebook . Sophie Katz is on the hunt – someone shot her best friend Dena; hence the Vengeance in the title. And the LBD? The antidote to the planned Disneyland wedding featuring peach taffeta bridesmaids’ dresses. Oh the horror! Madness, mayhem, her sexy Russian boyfriend – hugely entertaining.
Kim – Rudyard Kipling. Master storyteller Kipling writes a wonderful book brimming with adventure, unforgettable characters and a panoramic background of the colourful, chaotic, turmoil of daily life in the India of the British Raj.

The Last Train to Zona Verde – Paul Theroux. A clear-eyed, pull-no-punches account of his journey through South Africa, Namibia & Angola. Published 2013. Definitely not a feel-good read, but a pretty accurate account about post-millenial Africa. Thanks to all the gods I don’t live in Angola.


indexI didn’t spend much time between the pages this month, due to ongoing eyesight problems, but I did read two print books : The Tim Winton memoir, and a re-read of Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant – Confessions of Cooking for one and Dining Alone; edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. It’s a collection of writing by foodie writers, and a perfect dipper (pun intended).
Other than this, it was the Kindle and the world of e -books, mainly Cozy Mysteries. A happy discovery was the Kirsten Weiss CMs. A prolific writer she has produced several series, and I preferred the Tea & Tarot mysteries She writes well and is thoroughly entertaining.
Another happy discovery was Whitney Dineen’s series ‘Relatively’ where Scottish heritage collides hilariously with the American mid-West; a feisty, trouble-making Granny McTavish makes a welcome change to the world of Cozies.
I read other Cozies, all e-books, but some were not to my taste, while others were too formulaic to merit a mention.


Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides. E-book. Twisty, very dark psychological novel with a shocking end reveal. In retrospect, the main character motivation was less than credible, but I must admit to being engrossed nonetheless.
(Steeped in Murder – Kirsten Weiss e-book)Gorgeous sunny, colourful Californian coastal settings, with a dash of Tarot readings threading through a Cozy Mystery set this book a step above others in the genre. For once, a well written cozy. Enjoyable.
Hostage to Fortune – Kirsten Weiss (e-book). #2 in the Tea & Tarot series. Also enjoyable.

Relatively Normal – Whitney Dineen and Relatively Sane – WD. (e-books) Quirky and funny.
The Wizard’s Butler – Nathan Lowell (e-book). The title hooked me. It got off to a good start, but lost momentum and the ending provided more questions than answers. Disappointing.


The Boy Behind the Curtain – Tim Winton. Fascinating insights into the man behind the fiction. A dedicated environmentalist, lifelong beach/surfer devotee. One of the best non-fiction reads of 2020, thus far. Not to be missed if you’re a TW fan, and NTBM if you’re interested in nature writing & the environment.
Zhoozsh!Jeremy & Jacqui Mansfield – a cheerful and slapdash cookbook, more of a family photo album, presented in a scrapbook format. The recipes feature simple, quick and one-pot dishes using (mostly) basic ingredients. Gourmet cooking – nope; camping cooking – yup. Have another dop* seems to be JMs catchphrase! Like I said: cheerful!*dop – tot/ drink


Theoretically, Lockdown is the perfect time to read – provided you can summon up the energy and concentrate. And then write up a blog review. In April I just didn’t manage it.
Literary Novels: The Bear – Andrew Krivak
Short Stories: A Manual for Cleaning Women – Lucia Berlin
Memoir: Cat Chat – Helene Thornton.
Humour: The Sophie Katz mystery romance series – Kyra Davis


What a marvelous book The Bear is! Its an account of the last two humans remaining on earth, post-apocalypse. We’re not in Mad Max territory. The story concerns a man and his young daughter, living a hunter-gatherer life ruled by the need for survival by living in harmony with the seasons, and the natural world. The characters are un-named, which adds to the mythic quality of the story. The father tells his daughter stories, about their own personal history, the stars, and stories about everything he knows. Which she in turn passes on. To whom? To the Bear. At the end of the human race, the last human regains the long-lost   gift of speaking to the animals. At last, all are in harmony.
The tone is quiet, sober, and elegiac. The ending had me in tears. Don’t be misled: this is not a miserable, depressing book. This may well be my Book of the Year, and I urge you not to miss it.
Lucia Berlin’s collection of stories. Is set in (mostly) TexMex and the SF Bay area, about women who struggle with alcoholic and drug dependent men, or their own alcohol dependency, plus poverty etc. The American underbelly well and truly exposed, but lightened with moments of grace, humanity, compassion, humour and the clarity of the writing. Rave rave rave. Don’t miss this collection!

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews was a terrific spy story. The perfidy of the Russian spymasters knows no bounds. Written by a man who claims many years service with the CIA – I’m surprised he was permitted to publish the book, it certainly has the flavour of truth about it. A cracking story. Despite the violence, deception, backstabbing and the tragic ending, I enjoyed the book.


The Barbara Kingsolver novel Unsheltered, was a heavy read. The inequalities of contemporary American capitalist, consumer society are contrasted with Communist Cuba’s s egalitarian life. A parallel story about a forgotten female Victorian botanist Mary Treat, who once lived in the same house (now crumbling into collapse) inhabited by the modern family. I dislike books with parallel story lines, which was the format of the novel. An unmitigated tale of family trauma and woe. I was not in the mood for BK’s issue driven approach. Not a good choice for Lockdown Reading.
I parked Ducks, Newburyport, after struggling with my unfamiliar Kindle and the stream of consciousness, unpunctuated, 1 000 page, narrative. I’ll have another crack at it when I’m less agitated and feeling stronger.
Once I came to terms with the Kindle, I explored the world of Cozy Mysteries. The books ranged from highly entertaining to horribly bad with a hefty slice in between. See below.

The Bear – Andrew Krivak. Described as an adult fable, but more mythic so far as I’m concerned. Beautifully written. Post-apocalyptic story of the last two humans on earth, and the natural world they live in. An unusual and thoughtful book. Highly recommended.
Red Sparrow – Jason Matthews. Uber-authentic spy thriller, written by retired long-time CIA official. A chilling thriller. You’ll be on the edge of your seat, and devastated by the ending. Recommended for thriller fans.
Unhoused – Barbara Kingsolver. Another hefty issue-driven novel, relating the many trials & tribulations of a middle-class American family struggling against poverty, insufficient wages, poor health care etc etc. Nothing but challenge & disaster piling up one after the other; a tale of unmitigated family trauma and woe.
The Art of Purring – David Michie. Basic Tibetan Buddhist teaching woven into a sweet story about HH the Dalai Lama’s Cat.
Pretty Is as Pretty Dies – Elizabeth Spann Craig. E-book. My first excursion into the world of cozy mysteries. Octogenarian Myrtle Clover solves two small town murders, lightened by touches of humour and quirky characters. A quick, easy read.
Sex, Murder and a Double Latte – Kyra Davis. Entertaining murder story, where the baddie copies plots from a novelist’s books. Novelist is the narrator and she’s in his sights. Urban setting, San Francisco, plenty of pizzaz. Also featuring an archetypal Jewish mother and a black, gay hairdresser. I intend to read more in the series.
Sex, Murder and a Double Latte – Kyra Davis . E-book
Obsession, Deceit and Really Dark Chocolate – Kyra Davis. E-book
Lust, Loathing & a Little Lip Gloss – Kyra Davis. E-book
Passion, Betrayal and Killer Highlights – Kyra Davis. E-book ; All four books are entertaining, sassy, sexy, fun reads. I can’t wait for my next Sophie Katz read!
Sweet Masterpiece – Connie Shelton. First in a long series of cozy mysteries, featuring a female sleuth who bakes as a hobby, and cleans up deceased estate house & crime scenes for a living. An Okay Read , but lacking the sparkle and naughty fun of the Kyra Davis Sophie Katz novels.


A Manual for Cleaning Women,. Collected stories of Lucia Berlin. Powerful, harrowing, brilliant exposure of America’s underbelly and the world of Latinos and the American Tex-Mex area. E-book.

Cat Chat – by Helene Thornton. LINK a delightful memoir of life and love in middle years; set in Provence so bags of good food & wine, Gallic charm and the happen -chance acquisition of a second husband and nine cats. Charming. Recommended read for cat lovers and Peter Mayle Provence fans.



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I never read Elizabeth Strout’s best seller Award winning novel My Name is Lucy Barton; after my excursion into Anything is Possible, which uses Lucy Barton as a reference point in the linked stories, I have crossed the Lucy Barton off my Want to Read List. I was staggered by the revelations that came out of the Anything is Possible stories! For goodness sake: the setting is the American Mid-West, the land of rolling cornfields, Mom and apple pie, not the cesspit of dark family secrets underlying one small, dusty, obscure town! My gosh: are there no normal families in Middle America? After my nasty shock between the covers of Anything is Possible (and she wasn’t kidding!) I have no desire to explore further.
Prior to the Strout, I’d read Zinzi Clemmons’ What We Lose, and had very mixed feelings about this novel. To me, it read more like a memoir than anything else, but then that’s a common feature of first novels. I wasn’t crazy about the experimental formatting, but on the plus side, was relieved the chapters were so short. The novel explores the dual strands of heritage and identity (Thandi’s Mum is a South African Coloured* woman, married to a successful American black) as played out in South Africa and Philadelphia. I found the section about Winnie Mandela opportunistic. The novel was praised to the skies both here and abroad, but I am not a member of that praise singing choir. However, I have to admit it was refreshing to read about Thandi’s wealthy, successful Coloured relatives living in Sandton which makes a change from the usual trope of downtrodden disadvantaged people.
*Please note in SA the term ‘Coloured’ refers to people of mixed race.
After these two unsatisfactory reads, Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet came as a relief, followed by joy. What a marvelous read! Set in Australia (of course), two rural families migrate to Perth at the end of WWII, and we follow their struggles, triumphs and tragedies to start over as city people. The book has been described as a masterpiece, and I agree. It’s a keeper, it has everything, vivid characters, ordinary people you can relate to, and also picnics: which I am partial to myself. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for many years, and it was worth the wait.
Finally I tackled Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jokha_al-Harthi;  a complex novel written by an Omani born but Western educated woman. I found the book challenging because it did not have a linear timeline or story line but notwithstanding the difficulties, I gained a tiny insight into the patriarchal society and kingdom, its history and its culture and traditions. An intoxicating blend of history, magic, myth and the arrival of the 21st century. The book made a refreshing change from the usual Western publishers run of the mill offerings.
Only four book reviews this month; what with Silly Season events, shopping and traveling I didn’t have that much time to read. But that’s okay: my TBR shelf waits patiently. Watch this space.
Wishing you a peaceful, happy New Year filled with more marvellous books.

Anything is Possible – Elizabeth Strout. I discover Middle America holds its quota of dark hidden family secrets. A well written novel, but I did not enjoy.
What we Lose – Zinzi Clemmons. So-so novel about an American girl coming to terms with her South African heritage, her mother’s death, and life in general. Again, I did not enjoy.
Cloudstreet – Tim Winton. Another 5-star read. Epic Australian family saga, unforgettable characters. Loved it.
Celestial Bodies – Jokha Alharthi. My first Omani novel – a complex story of 3 Omani girls dealing with patriarchy, tradition and the incursions of the modern world. Very different. I’m glad I tried the book and equally glad I’m not an Omani woman!



Dear Santa
I’ve been such an exemplary reader all year, I know I deserve a huge pile of lovely gift
-wrapped books under the tree on Christmas morning. No, really, I’m a model reader.
For example: I’ve returned my library books before due date; no fine for me in 2019!
My reading has not defaced any book with coffee stains, dog eared pages (horrors! Perish the thought) or chocolate smears, biscuits crumbs or chip remnants.
So please Santa, here’s a little list of what I’m hoping to find under the tree on Christmas morning. And once I’ve read them, I promise to donate them to my local Library.
Ducks, Newburyport – Lucy Ellmann
Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton), the 2019 Booker prize-winning novel and the eighth by Bernardine Evaristo

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead: A Novel – Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

And lastly:



Thanks for reading my letter, Santa.


The JM Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society was an inspirational read, from the point of giving a brilliant example of living wonderfully into old age – not that I’m aiming to go swimming in icy mid-winter ponds, but for illustrating the inestimable value of belonging to a group of true, female friends – no matter what the challenges. New York glitz and success comes off a very poor second best to British eccentricity and the English countryside.

British actress and comedienne Dawn French has written a wonderfully warm and funny novel : According to Yes. Just the thing for a cold Northern Hemisphere winter to put a smile on your dial and a warm glow in your heart. Works just as well down here in the hot, sweaty South!
In quieter vein was a re-read of a poetry collection by ex-Rhodesian John Eppel: Sonata for Matabeleland. Reading the evocative poems made me thoroughly nostalgic for my past life in that country, and long for the open bush and peaceful way of life that I took for granted so many years ago. A far cry indeed from the current wave of global protests.


Non-fiction Street Spirit : the Power of Protest, came as a surprise. I discovered that street protests have been wrecking our cities, globally, prior to 2017 the date of publication, and certainly vigorously this year.This has been a crowded year for protests: think Hong Kong, France, South America … South Africa, of course, there’s always a protest about something on the go.


The Night Rainbow – Claire King. Quirky happy/sad story of a 5 year old girl neglected by her grieving mother. Summer in the French countryside. Gorgeous writing. Recommended.
A Gap in the Hedge – Johan Vlok Louw . Brilliant, direct, clear writing. One of the best South African novels I’ve read for a long time. Highly recommended.

The Stranger Diaries – Elly Griffiths. A whodunnit with gothic and literary overtones. Mildly creepy. Enjoyable but not rave material.

The JM Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society – Barbara J Zitwer. New York born and bred architect Joey Rubin is sent to England on an assignment and meets a fabulous group of elderly ladies, the swimmers in the title. An enjoyable light read.

Women of the Dunes – Sarah Maine. Viking myth, Victorian mystery and a complicated family history come to fruition in the early 2000s in a tiny Scottish town in Scotland. Enjoyable.
According to Yes – Dawn French. Cornish cheer breaks through Upper East Side Manhattan ice; cheerful, charming and altogether delightful. An adventurous plot. Loved it!

Walking the Himalayas – Levison Wood. He writes vividly and I enjoyed reading about his heroic 1 700 mile trek throughout the Asian countries in that mountain area. Nomads, militias, farmers, traders, he meets them all. And survives a fearsome road accident in Nepal, but gamely returns post-surgery to resume his trek. He’s made of stern stuff, old LW: he’s a credit to the British Army.
Street Spirit – The Power of Protest and Mischief. By Steve Crawshaw. Coffee table format, and informative.

Sonata for Matabeleland – John Eppel . Nostalgic, reflective. Evocative .


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This has turned out to be a mostly non-Fiction month of reading. Not planned; happenchance.

The two best reads were The Swerve and Tim Winton’s Coastal Memoir. In my eyes, he can write no wrong. I swear if I found a copy of TW’s grocery list, I’d read it with rapt attention. An enchanting 113 pages about TW’s discovery and love of the ocean. I loved the book so much I’m on the lookout for my own copy.

As for The Swerve – well, Stephen Greenblatt won the National Book Award for this fascinating combo of history and philosophy. The section I most enjoyed were the chapters about the rascally Renaissance Popes. My word! They make modern scandals pale by comparison. As for the philosophy, Greenblatt recounts the gist of Lucretius’ mind-blowing ideas, from his poem On the Nature of Things. Plenty to think about, on many levels. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucretius

Amazon.com kept begging me to buy C J Box’s Western crime novels, so I borrowed one from the Library. Nope. Not for me. My heart belongs to Craig Johnson and Walt Longmire. And there’s the end of it. Absaroka County for me.



Ivy & Abe – Elizabeth Enfield. A love story with a difference. Ivy & Abe work through different incarnations experiencing permutations of love & couplehood.

Open Season – C J Box . Crime in Wyoming, but DNF .



The Swerve – Stephen Greenblatt. Dazzling, explosive.

Land’s Edge . A Coastal Memoir. – Tim Winton. What a marvelous read!
The Biology of Belief – Bruce H Lipton PhD. Accessible ideas about biochemistry, genetics, and Epigenetics. DNF




If you are a regular reader of my lit blog, you will have seen my rave review of the Tim Winton book earlier in August. I remain in the stratosphere of reading joy over the book. I’d like to read it again, to savour the language, the writing. TW is a superb masculine, muscular writer. He manages to avoid being macho, like my bete noir, Ernest Hemingway. I find his books so satisfying in terms of story, characters, setting, and powerful writing. Oh, that I could turn out the prose that he does. Not in this lifetime, not in a million years.
I read a much anticipated book  The Pine Islands, nominated for the 2019 Booker prize. It has an imaginative premiss resulting in a fresh, and unusual story – Japan and the Japanese seen through pedestrian German eyes. Middle aged Gilbert Silvester has an unsettling dream, prompting a midlife crises; he precipitately flees to Japan where he sets out to follow the footsteps of wandering seventeenth century poet, Basho’s  pilgrimage to the pine islands of Matsushima. En route he encounters Yosha, who’s looking for the best location to kill himself. They form an unlikely travel duo, covering Japan via rail. It’s a strange book, and one I will re-read later. I enjoyed the descriptions of the countryside, and I liked the book format, with its lovely blue and white crane design end papers. You’ve probably got to be a haiku fan, or a Japanophile to truly love the book.

I am very keen to read and promote South African books but can’t recommend Eve Mazzas Sex, Lies and Stellenbosch. Suzelle DIY announces on the cover: “A scandalous, saucy page -turner”. Whilst I would never have suspected SuzelleDIY to have hidden literary depths, she’s hit the nail on the head. Pun intended. Two chapters in, drowning in booze, bodies, sex and sleaze, I abandoned the book. Not for me. Not to my taste. You can’t win ‘em all.


The Shepherd’s Hut – Tim Winton. Brilliant. 10 stars wonderful. Reviewed on this blog.
The Pine Islands – Marion Poschmann. Translated from German by Jen Calleja. An unusual book, wonderfully imaginative. Surreal, but engaging.

The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village – Joanna Nell. Charming Australian novel about life, love, secrets, makeovers, families and golden years romance. A relaxing, easy read.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats – Jan-Phillip Sendker. An unusual and beautiful love story set in Burma. Sensitively and well written. Recommended.

Heaven, Hell and Mademoiselle – H C Carlton. The fashion world of Paris in the 1960s, written by an insider. An enjoyable blend of Sex in the City and The Devil Wears Prada. Viva the House of Chanel!
Don’t Run Whatever you do. My Adventures as a Safari Guide – Peter Allison. Young Aussie spends seven years in Botswana; title says it all. Narrow escapes and tall stories. Wildlife enthusiasts will love this one.

Sex, Lies & Stellenbosch – Eve Mazza. DNF. Did not enjoy.
Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney. Another DNF.

My Experimental Life – A J Jacobs. Quirky American Jewish writer tries Extraordinary life experiments, one per month, on himself! For example, one month he Outsources his Daily Life (basic daily tasks that can be accomplished on line) to two Indian companies. Hilarious. And his long-suffering wife deserves a medal.

HERE I AM – Johnathan Safan Foer

This is Foer’s third novel, and here he is indeed, in all his Jewish glory. He’s a Jewish writer who chronicles the trials and tribulations of his people with verve, style and boldness. Take the opening paragraph of his huge novel. Sentence two roars along for 19 lines, and chronicles the life of Isaac, ageing great-grandfather of the Bloch family, from birth, through his hard, tumultuous life through to his current status in America. So the reader is instantly immersed into the history and future fortunes of the Bloch family.

Parents Jacob and Julia live with their three sons: Sam on the brink of his Bar Mitzvah and troubled; Max with his quirky view of the world; and Benjy, he of the infinite number of questions concerning his ability to interpret the world. Sam’s bad behavior at school widens the already cracked stability of his parents’ marriage, and the fractures grow as the novel progresses The last member of the family is their incontinent dog Argus, another source of friction between the adults. Julia didn’t want him but nobly deals with Argus and the mess.

Jacob, meanwhile, has also transgressed, in an almost mirror image of Sam’s misdemeanor, and the fallout from this lays bare the couple’s inherent unhappiness.

There are significant secondary characters, notably Jacob’s visiting Israeli cousin Tamir, who’s hairy, large, and forthright. Tamir forces Jacob to confront his role as a Jew, which is a major theme in the novel. Then there’s Irv, Jacob’s father who says exactly what he likes, and denies Jacob the paternal affection and approbation he craves.

The story is propelled by long passages of dialogue, but also offers concentrated short chapters of impassioned polemic on Israel, the earthquake and the growing conflict leading to yet more war. All of which factors impinge into the Bloch’s family life.
Foer is very good at detailing the daily minutiae and rituals of American Jewish family life. Some of the passages were oh so familiar to me, regardless of geographical and cultural differences; others were not. And I was exposed to more information than I would have chosen on the topic of teen boys’ masturbation; however, those pages were contextual.
Foer gives us birth, life and death in the context of one Jewish family. Life in all its gritty glory, with all its complexity and challenges.

I was swept along by the story, engaged with the family Bloch. If you enjoy detailed family stories then you will probably enjoy the book. As a postscript I can say that I now understand the snide cracks about Jewish mothers. And I’m glad I didn’t have one!




My read of the month was undoubtedly The Overstory by Richard Powers, award winning American author. As ever, I am catching up on the Back List. This time it was well worth the wait. I’m in rave mode about the book. See my mid-March update post : https://wordpress.com/post/thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/726
Brit spy writer, Mick Herron does it again in London Rules. I’m an unabashed fan of his Jackson Lamb series. Lamb is repulsive in every possible way. He’s the slovenly, cruelly manipulative, lying boss of the reject spies department, housed in a suitably dreadful building called Slough House. Its refreshing to have a bunch of White Hats who could not possibly be put into the category of Squeaky Clean – no, amend that to any degree of clean, physically, mentally or careerwise. And yet, they succeed. In their own lunatic, hamfisted way. Herron gives us modern, urban life in London. It’s so authentically gritty you want to wash your hands after reading the book.
I took a short excursion to Venice, via Donna Leon’s latest Guido Brunetti mystery The Temptation of Forgiveness. I always enjoy her Venetian crime novels, as much for the setting and the characters as for the unfolding of the solution to the crime. In this case, all I will say is the solution to the drama was unexpected and there were some skilful red herrings planted en route.
And then there was my introduction to the wild, post-modern world of Donald Barthelme. 45 short stories, like nothing I have ever read before. Stunningly original. The closest I can get to describing my startled reaction is: imagine if the Surrealist artist Salvador Dali were to write stories? Displaced familiar objects, airborne human organs, distorted images, weird landscapes, we’ve all seen his work. And now for something completely different – read DB’s short stories prepare to be entertained, stunned, diverted and a hundred other emotions besides. If you’re in a Reading Rut, this is the shock treatment cure!
The Overstory – Richard Powers. Magnificent novel about the role of trees and humans on earth. Absorbing and engrossing. Not to be missed.
London Rules – Mick Herron. Terrific spy/terror attack novel . Suspense filled, and vastly entertaining. Recommended.

Down Cemetery Road – Mick Herron. #1 in Zoe Boehm series. Patchy in plot and characters; not in the same league as London Rules.

The Temptation of Forgiveness – Donna Leon. Venice, and the calm thoughtful mind of Guido Brunetti. Recommended.

The Convent – Maureen McCarthy. Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, Australia, plays a pivotal role in four generations of women. Intriguing and enjoyable.
Flying to America – Donald Barthelme. 45 hitherto unpublished short stories by one of America’s foremost post-modern writers. Extraordinary doesn’t do justice. Wow! Recommended.

Two books by the Australian writer Gerald Murnane, a writer I ‘ve long wanted to read. I’ve seen him labelled as Australia’s greatest writer, so I’m keen to try him. The books are slender, so I’ll probably read at least one in April.
And leaving the best until last The Binding by Bridget Collins. A reviewer on the first page says : The Binding is a dark chocolate slice of cake with a surprising, satisfying seam of raspberry running through it. (Tracy Chevalier). My mouth is watering, both lit and met; I can’t wait to dive in! watch this space in April!