Thursday, 23 January 2014

Book Reviews: 24 January

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


Books-Jan24-ElizabethOfYork-176ELIZABETH OF YORK by Alison Weir (Random House, £20; offer price, £15.95)
This biography of Edward IV’s daughter neatly bridges Alison Weir’s previous books on the Plantagenets and Tudors.

Elizabeth went from princess to refugee twice, before marrying the victor of Bosworth Field, Henry VII – uniting the warring houses of Lancaster and York. Weir clearly explains these events while providing interesting sketches of 15th-century life.

Behind the book’s easy style there is some serious scholarship. Weir argues that, far from being passive, Elizabeth was more determined to wear the crown than any of her Yorkist relatives, revealing her failed scheme to marry Richard III, the usurper who had probably murdered her brothers, the princes in the Tower.
Stephen Coulson

Books-Jan24-CursesOfDesire-176GUISES OF DESIRE by Hilda Reilly (Dicatur Press, £8.99; no offer price available)
In 19th-century Vienna, Bertha Pappenheim becomes ill with a nervous disorder. She is treated by Dr Breuer with medicine, hypnosis and a new ‘talking therapy’. This novel is based on the true story of ‘Anna O’, whose case is reported by Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud in their 1895 Studies In Hysteria, one of the founding texts of psychoanalysis.

Reilly’s skilful writing and thorough research off er an empathetic portrayal of the vulnerable patient who had an abnormal attachment to the doctor who misdiagnosed her. Dark and distressing, but equally interesting, powerful, and educational.
Patricia Phillips

Books-Jan24-UnderWideStarrySky-176UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKY by Nancy Horan (Two Roads, £18.99; offer price, £14.99)
Taking its title from the poem on Robert Louis Stevenson's grave, this book explores the writer's relationship with his American wife.

Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne leaves behind her domesticated life in San Francisco in search of European art and adventure. She meets Stevenson, 10 years her junior, in France, and their tumultuous love story unfolds: decades of hardship and loss, laughter and frivolity. This is as dreamlike as an EM Forster novel – prepare to be transported.
Helena Gumley-Mason

Books-Jan24-LetticeVictoria-176LETTICE & VICTORIA by Susanna Johnston (Arcadia Books, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
The war between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law is taken to extremes in Johnston’s story of failed expectations.

Young, pretty Victoria shrugs in the face of convention, while her pretentious and meddlesome mother-in-law Lettice clings on with all her might. The characters’ concern with social appearances is well portrayed in Johnston’s exquisite sketches and in her depiction of taut, upper-middle-class relationships. Darkly comic and fast paced.
Louise Trask

Books-Jan24-ClaireOfSeaLight-176CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHT by Edwidge Danticat (Quercus, £14.99; offer price, £12.99)
When motherless Claire goes missing on her 17th birthday, the response in her Haitian village is one of concern. The story of her disappearance acquires the quality of a folk tale, as it is told through the lives of the locals.

Danticat intertwines the stories of loss told by the villagers to reveal a deep connection between them.
Jennie Cooper


Books-Jan24-TheNightGuest-176A tiger comes to tea
THE NIGHT GUEST by Fiona McFarlane Sceptre, £14.99; offer price, £11.99)
Old age isn’t for sissies – so said Bette Davis, but how many pensioners have to face a tiger in their twilight years?

That’s septuagenarian widow Ruth’s situation at the start of this novel, and while common sense tells her that the big cat she hears prowling her lounge at night isn’t real, she’s sure there’s something strange afoot. Nor is the animal the only uninvited guest to pitch up at Ruth’s New South Wales beachside home – although forthright Frida Young, a government-provided carer, is a more welcome presence.

As Frida insinuates herself into Ruth’s life, Ruth €finds her mind increasingly €filled with thoughts of the past, not least her missionary upbringing in Fiji. But while her girlhood memories are as vivid as ever, her grasp of the present grows ever more uncertain.

This is a slow-burning novel but one that you read with a growing frisson of unease at Ruth’s confusion (the word ‘dementia’ is never used). We are drawn so deeply into her world that we too €find it hard to distinguish the actual from the imagined – let alone friend from foe.

It is indeed something of a shame that the dots are ultimately joined. Nevertheless, this is an unusual and atmospheric debut from a highly talented young novelist.
Stephanie Cross


VELAZQUEZ, LAS MENINAS AND THE LATE ROYAL PORTRAITS by Javier Portús and Miguel Morán (Thames & Hudson, £34.95; offer price, £29.95)
Velázquez’s portraits of Philip IV of Spain’s children, known as Las Meninas, are among the most infl uential images of Western art. Picasso, for example, recreated Las Meninas in Cubist form. This book covers the period when Velázquez was at the peak of his powers (1650-1680), with women and children as his focus.


It brings together work from the Prado and other museums, such as the Louvre. Through the illustrations we can appreciate the composition, the penetrating gaze of the sitters, and the detail of the artist’s fl uid brushstrokes and richness of colour.
Hugh St Clair


THE EXAMINED LIFE by Stephen Grosz (Vintage, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
In a series of case studies from his decades of experience as a psychoanalyst, Grosz presents a perceptive account of psychoanalytic work and the relationship between patient and analyst.

In an insightful study of the intricacies of the human mind, he shows how a skilled analyst can help clients unravel complex unconscious behaviour patterns. Grosz strikes the right balance of professional detachment and compassion, coupled with humility and self-awareness: he is not afraid to acknowledge his mistakes, or how his own issues may colour his interpretations.

This is not intended as a self-help book, but it is still the most helpful book I have read in recent months.
Juanita Coulson

THE LITTLE OLD LADY WHO BROKE ALL THE RULES by Catharina Ingelman- Sundberg (Pan Books, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Martha Andersson, a 79-year-old retirement home resident, has no intention of ageing gracefully. Together with her closest friends, known as the League of Pensioners, she comes up with a plan to commit a robbery. Will the League succeed in their bold adventure, or will they fail miserably and end their days at the Diamond House retirement home?

This laughout- loud international bestseller will have you chuckling one minute and crying the next.


Books-Jan24-ViciousCircle-176VICIOUS CIRCLE by Wilbur Smith (Macmillan, £20; offer price, £18)
Dark, violent and uncomfortable, this novel shocks and challenges the reader. After a promising start, this fast-paced narrative sinks into using shock tactics and gore. But despite the weak plot and shallow characters, it kept me awake into the early hours.
Matthew Leopold


  • THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS by Isabel Allende
  • THE TURN OF THE SCREW by Henry James


A DELICATE TRUTH by John Le Carré, read by the author (Viking, £19.99; offer price, £17.99)
A counterterrorism operation in Gibraltar. The mission: to catch a jihadist arms dealer. This tale of conspiracy, conscience and duty is expertly narrated, voicing the characters convincingly. Utterly gripping.


As we approach Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January, Juanita Coulson rounds up some essential reading
Primo Levi's classic If This Is A Man (Abacus, £9.99), published in 1947, is one of the earliest Holocaust memoirs. Relating his Auschwitz experiences, Levi observes the interaction between oppressor and oppressed with his detached scientist’s eye. There have been many others since – and all are invaluable accounts.

The last generation of survivors is now putting pen to paper. Rita Braun’s Fragments Of My Life (iUniverse, £11.80) recalls her journey from an idyllic Polish childhood, through the horrors of the ghetto and prison, to her post-war life as a campaigner in Brazil. Braun’s survival was a mix of resilience, luck and her mother’s ever-present protection.

In After Auschwitz (Hodder & Stoughton, £7.99, out in February) Eva Schloss recounts how she too relied on a protective mother – and luck – to survive in the notorious camp.

But the aftershock of the Holocaust is also felt across generations. Pam Zinnemann-Hope’s collection of poems, On Cigarette Papers (Ward Wood Publishing, £8.99), recently adapted for BBC Radio 4, tries to reconstruct her parents’ and grandparents’ wartime lives, starting from the recipes her mother scribbled down while imprisoned.

Food and recipes also play a key role in Nick Barlay’s Scattered Ghosts (IB Tauris, £18.99), a quest for the painful stories of his Hungarian émigré parents and relatives.

With their personal observations, vivid detail and glimpses of hope and humanity, these books are a brave act of defiance against the Nazis’ attempt to silence and dehumanise their victims.

To read them is an act of remembrance.

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