Books, Reviews

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John Burnside - I Put a Spell on You

22 Apr 20144 stars

The writer's latest is a semi-memoir that partially explores the theory behind the practice

Probably by commercial necessity John Burnside’s I Put a Spell on You is being promoted as a memoir, the missing link between his earlier volumes A Lie About My Father and Waking Up in Toytown, but it is a far stranger and more haunting book than those…

BJ Novak - One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories

22 Apr 20144 stars

An impressive debut collection from the writer/producer/star of America's The Office

It's tempting to approach One More Thing as an attempt to cash in on BJ Novak's celebrity status. After all, how many writers get their own photograph on the cover of their debut book – a short story collection, no less. Novak, best known as Ryan from…

Simon Wroe - Chop Chop

22 Apr 20144 stars

An authentic and gradually sinister look at life in a busy kitchen

Told from the perspective of a novice commis chef, known only to us as 'monocle', Chop Chop exposes the closed world of the restaurant kitchen. An English lit graduate with literary aspirations, Monocle is an outsider in the hard-working, masculine…

Neil Williamson - The Moon King

22 Apr 20144 stars

A lunar-fixated fable with quality storytelling and a rich setting

The moon can lend magic to any story, and in this one writer Neil Williamson has literally tethered it to his island city of Glassholm. In this land the months are marked by its wax and wane, and the effect on the citizenry is a sort of mass-bipolar…

Anne Donovan - Gone Are The Leaves

22 Apr 20143 stars

A lyrical and poetic historical novel from the author of Buddha Da

Set in the castle of a Scottish laird and his French wife, Anne Donovan's third novel tracks the fate of two young people in the gentry's employment: Deirdre, apprentice to her seamstress mother; and Feilamort, an orphaned choir boy. With their…

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Leo Hollis - Cities Are Good For You

22 Apr 20143 stars

A heavyweight but accessible account of the evolution of the city

Over 150 cities come under the academic microscope of Leo Hollis in his heavyweight account of the evolution of the city. The 400-page work is largely accessible however thanks to Hollis inserting narrative drive to each of the sections, which serve as…

Teju Cole - Every Day is For the Thief

4 Apr 20144 stars

A powerful blend of fiction, memoir and travelogue set in modern Nigeria

Returning home for the first time in 15 years, the unnamed narrator of Teju Cole's novel Every Day is for the Thief plunges into the chaos and exhausting inefficiency of a Nigeria plagued by corruption. Bribes are disguised as tips while extortion and…

Peter Buwalda - Bonita Avenue

4 Apr 20144 stars

A compelling tale that grips from its innocuous start to its pitch-black conclusion

University Rector, judo champion and famed mathematician Siem Sigerius is slowly being driven mad with suspicions that his step-daughter's boyfriend may be pimping her out on an internet porn site. The boyfriend, meanwhile, is barely managing to control…

Daniela Sacerdoti - Take Me Home

28 Mar 20143 stars

A predictable chick-lit romance develops into a moving study in grief

Take Me Home begins like a predictable romantic comedy: the ditzy heroine Inary, the token sensible flatmate and the best-friend love interest. Then there’s a dramatic shift: bland London is left behind for the atmospheric hills of Glen Avich and…

Keir Alexander - The Ruby Slippers

28 Mar 20143 stars

A simple message and some good characterisation survive Alexander's soap opera plotting

The seemingly unconnected cast of characters living in Manhattan in Keir Alexander's multi-narrative novel are gradually drawn together by a pair of ruby slippers. Originally worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, they are discovered in old Rosa’s…

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Cilla & Rolf Börjlind - Spring Tide

28 Mar 20144 stars

An impressive thriller with sinister villains, surprising twists and likeable protagonists

When police college student Olivia Rönning is offered an old unsolved murder case as a class assignment, she can't resist it, and any plans she had for the summer break are soon put on hold as she is drawn into a complex mystery involving a pregnant…

Damon Galgut - Arctic Summer

28 Mar 20144 stars

An absorbing fictional biography of EM Forster, set around the time of A Passage to India

It's been 90 years since EM Forster – the author of classics A Room with a View and Howards End – published his final novel. Yet he remains one of the most influential and best-loved writers in the English language. Damon Galgut's new novel looks at the…

Alasdair Gray - Of Me and Others

27 Mar 20144 stars

A clear, invigorating and fun collection of assorted non-fictional works spanning Gray's life

Rather than take the traditional anecdotal approach to autobiography, Glasgow’s favourite polymath has spent the last few years assembling this collection of assorted non-fictional works spanning his life as a writer. Arranged roughly chronologically…

Lisa Appignanesi - Trials of Passion

27 Mar 20142 stars

A recounting of three historical murders that fails to rise above 'true crime' sensationalism

In Brighton, 1870, Christiana Edmunds distributes poisoned chocolates to cover up her desperate attempt to kill the wife of a doctor she was obsessed with. In Paris, ten years later, heart-broken Marie Biere shoots the lover who abandoned her, whom she…

Cara Hoffman - Be Safe I Love You

27 Mar 20144 stars

A brave, intelligent and unflinching war novel told from the perspective of a female soldier

Lauren Clay returns from Iraq apparently unharmed. But while she tries to reconnect with the friends and family she left, they begin to see that something is very wrong with Lauren. Her post-combat life is balanced with memories of her childhood, which…

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Louise Welsh - A Lovely Way to Burn

27 Mar 20143 stars

The first instalment in Welsh's Plague Times trilogy is a solid, pacy murder mystery

Stevie's boyfriend is dead. This in itself is not unusual: the 'sweats' pandemic is sweeping the globe and death is suddenly everywhere. What is unusual is the cryptic letter he left her in the tea caddy, and the mysterious package in the loft that his…

Tom Vowler - That Dark Remembered Day

27 Mar 20144 stars

A thoughtful and engrossing examination of war, masculinity, marriage and PTSD

Tom Vowler's third book is a thoughtful and engrossing examination of war, masculinity, marriage, and the scars that violent acts leave on a family and a community. The narrative switches between two timelines: in 2012, after a sudden violent outburst…

Samuel Best - Shop Front

19 Mar 20143 stars

A realistic if downbeat picture of aimless breadline existence, with a satisfying and plausible end

Ben had high hopes for his future after university, but as this story begins he is on a train heading to Linlithgow, facing the prospect of moving back in with his parents and paying his way with a minimum-wage job at ASDA. His rut deepens as he…

Rebecca Mead - The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot

19 Mar 20144 stars

A passionate celebration of the art of reading

Interweaving in-depth readings of George Eliot's classic novel Middlemarch with an exploration into Eliot's life, as well as reflections on Mead's personal history, The Road to Middlemarch is no dry academic study, but a complex and sensitive work of…

Alan Moore - Nemo: The Rose of Berlin / The Bojeffries Saga

5 Mar 20144 stars

Two new collections of the revered graphic novelist's witty, anarchic and heavily intertextual works

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin (Top Shelf/Knockabout) ●●●● is the second spin-off from the pages of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's highly literary, dazzlingly intertextual comic romp The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, once again featuring steam-punk…

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Gary Shteyngart – Little Failure

3 Mar 20144 stars

A truthful and humourous memoir from the author of Absurdistan and Super Sad True Love Story

‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad’. Philip Larkin’s most famous opening line doesn’t appear as an epigram for Gary Shteyngart’s memoir, but it wouldn’t be out of place. The novelist’s life, from early childhood in Soviet Russia to panic…

Joanna Bolouri - The List

28 Feb 20145 stars

A fearless approach to sex and romance that's a refreshing change from the Bridget Jones archetype

Move over Bridget Jones – Phoebe Henderson is in town. This fiery 30-something singleton is recently out of a relationship and has one thing in mind: sexual liberation; or more precisely, a list. A new year's resolution she intends to keep, the list…

Dan Rhodes – When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow

28 Feb 20143 stars

A broad farce focusing on an irascible character by the name of Richard Dawkins

Dan Rhodes provides several reasons as to why this, his sixth novel, is his first to be self-published. Mainly, it’s a case of speed – going down the traditional route would involve a year-long delay between completion and publication; now we can enjoy…

Adele Patrick (ed.) - 21 Revolutions

25 Feb 20144 stars

An eye-opening collection of art and writing from a who’s who of Scottish women creatives

21 Revolutions is the culmination of celebrations marking 21 years of the Glasgow Women’s Library. This ambitious coffee-table book is a success both in terms of the quality of its content and, perhaps more significantly, in the way it shines such a…

Helen Oyeyemi - Boy, Snow, Bird

21 Feb 20145 stars

Powerful intertwining of fairytale and reality is a bewitching book of beautiful and precise

Named as one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists in 2013, Helen Oyeyemi confidently justifies that accolade with her fifth novel, a powerful intertwining of fairytale and reality. Like all the best fairytales, its deceptively simple surface slowly…