Friday, 22 January 2016

Book Review: 22 January

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


books-dinosaursDINOSAURS ON OTHER PLANETS by Danielle McLaughlin (John Murray, £14.99; offer price, £12.99)
Award-winning Irish writer Danielle McLaughlin’s stories have appeared in such publications as The New Yorker. Although this is her first collection, it has none of the tentativeness of a debut – the narrative voice is assured and exact, each story’s atmosphere a compelling, selfcontained world.

Set in Ireland after the financial crash of 2008, her darkly beautiful tales unfold against a backdrop of uncertainty, where housing developments have turned into ghost towns. Her characters are isolated within families and relationships, living at close quarters with others but unable to connect. Mundane settings – suburban houses, office buildings, dilapidated gardens – are transformed into unsettling, alien landscapes through the eyes of their conflicted inhabitants.

The recurring theme of dead animals lends a nightmarish quality. Gardens and their boundaries with the natural world are recast as places of decay and danger. Mothers fail to communicate with their children: in The Art Of Foot-Binding, a teenager attempts to bind her feet in the Chinese manner while her changing body expands and her relationship with her mother explodes.

The title story is a masterclass in conveying family dynamics via telling details. Poetic imagery comes unexpectedly but naturally: a thaw after a heavy snowfall is ‘an unsilvering’. An exquisite collection from an exciting new voice in short fiction.
Juanita Coulson

books-able-sea-catABLE SEACAT SIMON : The Wartime Hero Of The High Seas by Lynne Barrett-Lee (Simon & Schuster, £9.99; offer price, £8.50)
The story of plucky orphaned kitten Simon, rescued from the docks of Hong Kong in 1948 to join the crew of HMS Amethyst, cannot fail to warm the cockles of even the coldest heart. In a tale based on real events, Barrett-Lee brilliantly reimagines the trials and tribulations of life on board through the eyes of her feline protagonist. Loyal and devoted, Simon will win readers over with his escapades, just as he charmed the crew of the ill-fated ship.

But, painstakingly researched, this is more than a heart-warming animal story: it is also an inspirational and informative tale, building up to an account of the horrifying Yangtze Incident in 1949, when the Amethyst came under attack from communist guns while guarding the British embassy. Many crew members were killed and others seriously injured, among them Simon, who went on to make a miraculous recovery and cheer up his fellow inmates in the ship’s sickbay.

His bravery and his remarkable journey are convincingly portrayed in Barrett-Lee’s writing – from malnourished stray to chief naval rat-catcher and war hero of international fame. This is great historical fiction – and a must for any cat lover.
Lilly Cox


books-book-of-the-weekTHE AGE OF EMPIRE: Britain’s Imperial Architecture From 1880-1930 by Clive Aslet (Aurum Press, £35; offer price, £31.50)
When London first became the ‘capital of the world’, in the 1870s, it didn’t look the part. Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Brussels – all had grand public buildings, planned around great spaces and avenues. But London looked ramshackle and Dickensian, with grimy Georgian slums clustered near ducal town houses.

The Age Of Empire is about the imperial mood in British architecture. It describes how a new kind of architecture transformed our big cities, particularly London, and those of the Empire, too. Instead of piecemeal buildings there were Grand Plans – like the rethinking of The Mall as a pomp-andcircumstance route for the Gold State Coach. Imperial architecture was bigger and more expressive, more weighed down with statues and symbols than polite Georgian buildings.

The grandeur of public building was matched by the extravagance of new commercial buildings. Grand hotels such as the Savoy, department stores – think Selfridges and Whiteleys – and gilt-and-velvet theatres. And the style spread across the Empire, to India and British Africa. There are colonnades and domes, statuary and symbols, particularly in Lutyens’s New Delhi.

It’s a story that needs this kind of glorious illustration and Aslet’s clever, witty, learningworn- lightly text. A completely delicious book.
Peter York


SITA RAM’S PAINTED VIEWS OF INDIA: Lord Hastings’s Journey From Calcutta To The Punjab, 1814-15 edited by JP Losty (Thames & Hudson, £35; offer price, £31.50)

Frances Rawdon, Marquess of Hastings, kept a detailed journal of his 17-month expedition as governorgeneral of Bengal and commander-in-chief. Meeting local rulers and inspecting British possessions, he travelled with his family and a vast entourage.

Among them was the artist Sita Ram, commissioned to create a visual record of the trip. Published here for the first time, with an edited version of the journal, his 200 watercolours capture imposing fortresses and palaces in an expressive style quite distinct from the ‘Company’ tradition prevalent at the time. There are panoramic views of grand buildings and river scenes, but also a few intimate portraits. A priceless combination of text and images: a unique insight into a lost world.



OUR SONG by Dani Atkins (Simon & Schuster, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Ally and David dated at university, but he is now married to Charlotte. Years later, they find themselves on the same hospital ward after Ally’s husband Joe has an accident and David suffers a heart attack. Charlotte and Ally are reluctant to revisit their past, but their lives become intertwined again when David needs a new heart.

Atkins’s characters come to life through clever flashbacks to their youth, and you are instantly sympathetic to their harrowing situation. With its spellbinding insight into friendship, family and the fragility of life, this real tear-jerker of a novel is captivating from start to finish.
Rebecca Maxted

A GAME FOR ALL THE FAMILY by Sophie Hannah (Hodder & Stoughton, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Justine has uprooted her family from the bustle and ruthlessness of London life to settle in seemingly more tranquil Devon. Shortly after the move she starts to receive threatening calls from an unknown voice, and her daughter Ellen develops an unhealthy obsession with a school friend called George.

No one can help Justine identify the anonymous caller, not even the police, and no one has ever heard of, or seen, George. Justine has to piece together the mysterious happenings and bodiless voices to uncover the truth about her past and who she is supposed to be.

A chilling and accomplished domestic thriller – the twists and turns make up for the slightly slow start.
Helena Gumley- Mason

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