Monday, 30 November -0001

Book Reviews: 3 July

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


Books-Jul03-TheWaterKnife-176The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi (Orbit, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
Since his awardwinning novel The Windup Girl, Bacigalupi has quickly asserted himself as a new force in ecotechnological science fiction. His latest is set in the United States of the near future, where a drought has led to a segregated zone structure. Water is an increasingly scarce commodity, and those who control the ancient rights of ownership are worth their weight in the new liquid gold.

Texas has become a wasteland, its citizens denied passage to neighbouring states. Phoenix teeters on the brink of collapse. Led by Catherine Case, a disturbing combination of analyst, businesswoman and oligarch, Las Vegas flourishes after an aggressive sequence of ‘water grabs’. Heading Case’s team is Angel Velasquez, a mercenary ‘water knife’. As he searches for the ancient water rights to Phoenix, Angel encounters journalist Lucy Monroe and young Texan migrant Maria Villarosa. What emerges is a thrilling neo-noir, which will quench the thirst of even the most avid reader.
Martyn Colebrook

Books-Jul03-DearStranger176DEAR STRANGER: Letters On The Subject Of Happiness by various authors (Michael Joseph, £14.99; offer price, £12.99)
Writers, bloggers and celebrities join forces in support of mentalhealth charity Mind in this inspiring book: a collection of letters to an imagined stranger that reveal what ‘happiness’ means to different people.

We are reminded of the life-changing impact depression can have, but also reassured that even in the darkest hour there is hope. The writers express their own personal experiences in an incredibly honest, brave and open way.

Entrepreneur Richard Branson insists that ‘happiness shouldn’t be a goal; it should be a habit’, while broadcaster Fiona Phillips writes, ‘My mum used to say, as long as you are happy, I am happy’ – a sentiment that will resonate with many parents. With contributors as varied as philosopher Alain de Botton, journalist Arianna Huffington and poet Helen Dunmore, these are beautifully written letters from the heart.

All profits from the sale of this book will be donated to Mind.
Patricia Marie

Books-Jul03-TimeToBeInEarnest-176TIME TO BE IN EARNEST: A Fragment Of Autobiography by PD James (Faber & Faber, £10; offer price, £9.50)
This snapshot of the late crime writer’s life in 1997 is not a chronological account, but rather her thoughts and musings, interspersed with her activities throughout that year.

Her voice is clearly heard – the sincerity of its tone suggests that what we get is indeed the real PD James. And what an intelligent, active and pleasant woman she is. Whether jumping on and off trains across Britain attending literary festivals or on publicity tours of the US , she is uncomplaining and interested in all that goes on around her. It’s no wonder that this remarkable woman created one of crime fiction’s greatest heroes.
Victoria Clark


Books-Jul03-BookOfTheWeek-590Love in a Cold War Climate
MOTHERLAND by Jo McMillan (John Murray, £16.99; offer price, £15.29)
It’s 1978 and, as the daughter of Tamworth’s only communist, Jess’s life isn’t that of your average 13-year-old. Her mother’s cupboards are stocked in readiness for Armageddon, the clocks in their living room are set to Moscow time and on Saturday mornings she sells the Morning Star to unresponsive passers-by. School isn’t much fun, either: ‘My peers thought “the class system” had something to do with school timetables,’ Jess despairs.

But then Jess’s widowed mother Eleanor is invited to spend the summer teaching in East Germany, a place where they can finally hope to fit in. And things begin to look even brighter when Eleanor meets widower Peter, while his daughter becomes a much-needed friend for Jess.

In its warm and witty portrait of offbeat motherdaughter relations, Motherland often recalls Nina Stibbe’s Man At The Helm. Jess’s gift for wry observations also gives rise to some wonderfully quotable lines: a brass band, for instance, is ‘the sound of miners squeezing stamina out of tubing’. But this is essentially a tragicomedy, and, over time, Peter and Eleanor’s romance fails to flourish, while Jess’s plans to defect to the GDR also hit the rocks. As one character observes, life – unlike communism – is ‘one thing you hadn’t planned after another’.
Stephanie Cross


TASCHEN’S FAVOURITE TV SHOWS: The Top Shows Of The Last 25 Years by Jürgen Müller (Taschen, £44.99; offer price, £39.99)
In recent years, television has come to eclipse the cinema as the leading form of popular entertainment. This is the golden age of the serial drama, with shows such as Mad Men and Game Of Thrones attracting vast global audiences, aided by new technologies that allow viewers to watch episodes at any time.


Packed with instantly recognisable stills, this book explores the individual talents and broader influences that went into producing some of the most successful shows of the past two-and-a-half decades, from early-1990s murder mystery Twin Peaks to today’s political drama House Of Cards (right). Informative and entertaining, like the box at its best.


FANTASTIC NIGHT by Stephan Zweig (Pushkin Press, £9.99; offer price, £9.49)
Austrian writer Stephan Zweig (1881-1942) was an undisputed master of the novella, widely read and translated during his lifetime. This is one of two paperbacks from Pushkin reissuing Anthea Bell’s translation of his short fiction. His tales zoom into the characters’ turbulent inner worlds and out again to encompass the arc of their lives and early- 20th-century Austrian society. The title story captures Vienna in all its splendour and squalor, as a hitherto emotionally numb aristocrat has an epiphany in the city’s less salubrious streets.

Zweig’s fluid, elegant prose depicts men and women in the grip of intense longing, both spiritual and sensual, and their liberation often comes from a discovery of compassion. A rediscovered classic.
Juanita Coulson

CURTAIN CALL by Anthony Quinn (Vintage, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
Set in mid-1930s London in the rackety world of theatre and art, this novel is not only well conceived, but gripping too. When successful actress Nina Land embarks upon an affair with married portraitist Stephen Wyley, she is unprepared for their assignation to be interrupted by an attempted murder. Thus an inevitable series of events is set in motion, where plot lines intersect and insecurities are exposed, thuggish blackshirts strut the streets and homosexuality is under cover. Not just a crime story, but a good long look at the memes of the time, this is an addictive read.


Our pick of this summer’s essential reading, no matter where you are enjoying a well-deserved break. By Victoria Clark


Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen (Vintage, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Four strangers find themselves on holiday on an island off the coast of Maine. Each needs to reconsider their life and over the course of the month friendships are made and relationships resolved. With wistful descriptions of the island and islanders, lobster bakes on the beach and sunsets over mountains, this is a quintessential American Dream holiday. Great Fun.

Portobello Roa d: lives of a neighbourhood by Julian Mash (Frances Lincoln, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
Underneath the veneer of hedge funders, boutiques and gym-fit wives lurk traces of the original Portobello rediscovered by Julian Mash. From the last costermongers in the vegetable market to the antiques traders and music scene, the author uncovers a distinctive world and vibe that could only belong to this street.

Silver Ley by Adrian Bell (Slightly Foxed, £17.50; offer price, £17)
Should your back start to ache after pulling weeds, spare a thought for Adrian Bell who, in 1921, set up as a farmer in Suffolk. This is the tale of his first year there. Filled with wonder and exuberance as he wrestles with recalcitrant heifers and attempts straight furrows with his plough, the story takes a bizarre twist when his family joins him from Chelsea. This is utterly enchanting.

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