Settle in with a series of moving short stories, or be inspired by a truly inclusive children’s book…
Nicole Krauss’s beguiling set of ten short stories are so rich and thought-provoking, upon completion you will want to start over again to mine them for any hidden meanings missed. This marvellous collection examines the role age, power, family, culture and gender expectations play in our relationships. A woman contemplates her future in an uneasy post-9/11 New York. A dancer obsesses over the face of an Iranian actor. A grandmother welcomes an unfamiliar lost husband into her home. A daughter moves into her late father’s flat to find a stranger living there. Krauss’ stories feel realistic yet parable-like, with humour, sex and the humdrum mixing with the uncanny. There is ambition in their detail and scope – touching on lives of all ages from Europe to Israel and the US. Along the way, Krauss asks challenging questions about what it means to be a man or a woman, and how we connect.
(Review by Tom Pilgrim)
Character is everything in this slow-burn mystery. Cal Hooper is a retired cop who has left Chicago and a broken marriage behind him, looking forward to a quiet life of fishing, hunting and fixing up a derelict house in the Irish countryside. He’s then approached by teenager Trey, who needs help investigating his missing older brother. The real protagonist here is the village itself, with its steady rain and the ever-present squawking of rooks in the trees. Overall, French holds the novel together well, delivering a rich set of complex characters along a gentle, if slow, pace. At times, character growth borders on sentimentality, with parallels between past and present made too obvious. Overall, this is a good read for those who like to take their time with atmospheric whodunnits.
(Review by Nicole Whitton)
Set between Sheffield and Leeds in the early 1970s, Toto Among The Murderers flips between the perspective of two young women fresh out of art school: the sensible Scottish Nel and her best friend Toto, a Wizard of Oz-inspired nickname given to the flighty Jude. The Seventies landscape full of free love, music and weed is certainly colourful, but there’s a darkness lurking. Sally J Morgan was inspired by her personal experience of being offered a lift by Fred and Rose West – who make a brief appearance in the book doing the same to Toto – and the backdrop is that of extreme violence towards women. While readable, the writing features a few too many clichés and the characters, particularly Toto, verge, in moments, on caricatures, but ultimately the two girls’ relationship is rather touching.
(Review by Prudence Wade)
Gattino is a scraggly stray cat who enters American author Mary Gaitskill’s life while on a writing retreat in Italy. Despite initial reluctance she rescues him and takes him home to America – but Gattino soon goes missing and Gaitskill embarks on a long, ultimately fruitless, search. Lost Cat started life as an essay and then became an 89-page memoir – something you could easily devour in a single sitting. However, much like Gaitskill attempt to avoid accepting the end of her time shared with Gattino, you might find yourself deliberately rationing pages, not wanting to reach the end. It might help to be a ‘cat person’, but Gaitskill’s search for her lost pet is as much about everything else the human heart searches for: connection, purpose, understanding, a definitive frame for love. Unpicking the strength of her feelings for Gattino means unpicking other meaningful relationships along the way, as she reflects on the challenges of fostering two city siblings dealt a tougher deal than her own. Gaitskill writes with honesty that feels at once sharp and intricate, raw and tender – it’s a gift.
(Review by Abi Jackson)
Children’s book of the week
5. Break The Mould: How To Take Your Place In The World by Sinéad Burke, illustrated by Natalie Byrne is published in paperback by Wren & Rook, Amazon
If you’ve ever worried about kids growing up in the digital age, where appearance is often, it seems, valued above accomplishments, this book is a brilliant beacon of hope. Dublin-born teacher and activist Sinéad Burke encourages young people to celebrate, not shy away from, what makes them different – be it race, gender, disability or anything else – to fiercely follow their dreams and use their voice to make the world a better place. Using practical activities and highlighting inspiring examples from game-changing people of all ages, including her own achievements – Burke is responsible for the introduction of the word ‘duine beag’, meaning little person, into the Irish language, and was the first little person to appear on the cover of Vogue – the author teaches children that what makes them unique can be a kind of superpower, if they use their perspective to challenge the status quo. For any youngster feeling the pressure to fit in rather than stand out (and who hasn’t felt that way?) Break The Mould is a wonderfully warm, uplifting and refreshing read.
(Review by Katie Wright)
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