Best Books for 2015

best-books-2015

It’s that time of year, the time when I remind people of all the books that I’ve been pushing on them over the last twelve months. The first nine are in no particular order: Continue reading

Mrs Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

miss-pettigrew-lives-for-a-day-winifred-watson

A few days ago I did a book versus film comparison of Winifred Watson’s charming comedy-of-manners, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. There’s lots to say about this book – the Cinderella re-telling, the themes of female friendship; and how to write witty and engaging dialogue.

I’m sure there were parts of the story that were truly scandalous when it was first published – start with the bed-hopping and casual cocaine references within the first dozen pages. There are parts that are scandalous now (racist remarks and comments about keeping women in line aren’t fit for modern audiences) but honestly, mow your damn lawn and sit the hell down* (and keep it in historical perspective while you’re there, peoples).

The film version of the story has possibly my favourite sets of all time (I want Miss LaFosse’s flat). It also has a brilliant soundtrack. But this is about the book so instead of a review, I’m giving some of my favourite passages from the book a new soundtrack.

Alive – Goldfrapp

“Miss Pettigrew had never in her life before dealt with a situation that needed such finesse.” Continue reading

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Untitled

There’s a lot to recommend Kathleen Winter’s debut novel, Annabel.

Set in 1968, in a remote coastal town in Labrador, Canada, a baby is born – neither obviously a girl nor a boy. Parents, Jacinta and Treadway, and midwife, Thomasina, keep the circumstances of the birth a secret. Treadway decides that the baby will live as a boy and names him Wayne, although the women both covertly mourn and nurture the boy’s female side.

“Whenever she imagined her child, grown up without interference from a judgmental world, she imagined its male and female halves as complementing each other, and as being secretly, almost magically powerful. It was the growing up part she did not want to imagine. The social part, the what will we tell everyone part, the part that asks how will we give this child so much love it will know no harm from the cruel reactions of people who do not understand.” Continue reading

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín

Do you ever feel like you’ve read a completely different book to everyone else, even though they had the same title? Such was the case with Nora Webster, by Colm Tóibín.

It’s true Irish misery porn (which I generally ‘enjoy’), and focuses on widow, Nora Webster. With four children and not enough money, Nora struggles to come to terms with her life, particularly in a small town full of well-meaning but stifling friends and acquaintances. Continue reading

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving

“Some unexplainable things are real.”

After finishing John Irving’s latest, Avenue of Mysteries, I’m left wondering, did Irving want us to read more deeply into particular elements of the story (notably the power-play between two Virgins {Mary and Guadalupe}, and a vaguely threatening mother-daughter team) or was the whole thing pure Irving folly?

I’m going with the later because fans will know they’re dealing with hallmark Irving – circuses, transvestites, the importance of reading, prostitutes, the meaning of faith and absentee mothers. Continue reading

Sous Chef by Michael Gibney

When I was little I was fascinated by film credits – that long, scrolling list of interesting-sounding jobs – gaffer, dolly grip, best boy, greensman, set dresser, charge scenic and so on. Then one day, I happened across a book at the library that picked-apart the movie business and explained what all of those people actually did. I don’t know whether it was a bland book or whether the tasks themselves are not that exciting, but every bit of glamour was sucked out of the movie-making business for me after reading that book (there seemed to be a lot of standing around, holding things).

Which brings me to Sous Chef by Michael Gibney. It’s a book about a day in the life of a sous chef. Although I can’t fault the writing, the book is almost a procedural text, explaining the roles of various people in the kitchen, equipment used, techniques and so on, complete with an extensive glossary. Although it’s a memoir, it’s written in the second-person – I understand why Gibney did this because it does bring the reader close but I found it a little irritating.

“Your fish blades have been replaced by a lone ten-inch Gyutou – ‘Excalibur’, an old favourite – and your cutting board is smaller now. A quartet of two-quart Cambros flanks the board, and whole carrots and cornichons breeze beneath your knife from left to right…” Continue reading

The top 32 from the Best Books of 2015 List of Lists

best-books-of-2015

Even more exciting (and wildly popular) than my 2014 List of Lists was my post on the Best of the Best. It was the books that appeared most frequently on all of the lists I listed. So before I have to write the words ‘best of the best’ and ‘list of lists’ again, here it is, the 2015 Commonly-Agreed-by-the-People-Who-Publish-Best-of-2015-Book-Lists-in-November top 32 books to add to your To-Be-Read stack. Continue reading