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By Simply Books, May 15 2019 06:54PM

My first choice is All Among The Barley by Melissa Harrison. This is a beautifully observed story set deep in the English countryside during the inter-war years. The Great War casts a long shadow over both those who went to fight and those who stayed at home – the novel also foreshadows what is yet to come and the irreversible changes which are underway in a traditional farming community. The story is told through the eyes of Edie Mather, looking back at her younger fourteen-year-old self as she was in the Autumn of 1933. When charismatic and outspoken Constance FitzAllen arrives from London to write abut fading rural traditions, she shows an interest in Edie, showing her kindness she has never known before. But is this (unsettling) older woman quite what she seems?

This is an absorbing portrait of a lost way of life with wonderfully detailed descriptions of the land and nature woven into a gripping plot which also tackles some of the great themes of English life – class division, patriarchy, folklore and the rise on an insidious kind of fascism.

I am a huge fan of Kate Atkinson and our book books have all enjoyed her previous two novels Life After Life and A God In Ruins – both of which include storylines which explore the impact of the Second World War on those who experienced and survived it. Kate’s new book Transcription is also a period novel – on this occasion a story of wartime espionage. It’s 1940 and eighteen-year-old Juliet Armstrong is recruited to work for MI5 and tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers. With the war over Juliet presumes the events of those years are relegated to history. Ten years later, now a producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past and she feels herself once more under threat… This is a an intricate and compelling story with the thrill of espionage and the twists and turns of a mystery and all told with the wit, pave and verve which makes a new Kate Atkinson book such a treat!

And for the children…it’s thirty years since the first Percy The Park Keeper book was published and in celebration of this anniversary author/illustrator Nick Butterworth has created a delightful new Percy story: One Springy Day. Percy and his animal friends are playing hide-and-seek in the park. The fox has found a great hiding place in Percy’s workshop but when he falls into a pot of Very Strong Glue he finds himself in a very sticky situation! Is there anything his friends can do to help? This is a beautifully illustrated story told with Nick’s customary charm and humour.

By Simply Books, Apr 30 2019 03:17PM

Here's a quick look at what Andrew’s been reading and enjoying...

Julian Barnes’ new novel The Only Story opens with a question:

Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less and suffer the less?

And in many ways the tale that follows is an exploration and reflection on this central proposition. In characteristically spare and elegant prose Barnes narrates the story of a love affair between Paul and (the much older) Susan – starting in the 1960’s and spanning a period of 30 or more years. First love has lifelong consequences, but Paul doesn’t understand or foresee any of that at nineteen. At nineteen, he’s proud of the fact that his relationship flies in the face of social convention. But as the years pass, the demands that love places on Paul become far greater and more complex than he could possibly have anticipated. This is a sad and often beautiful tale – sharply observed and carefully crafted in Julian Barnes’ customary style, and with a fascination with the ‘slipperiness’ of memory that carries echoes of his Booker Prize winning The Sense of An Ending. Such a pleasure to read!

My other choice - The Melody by Jim Crace - is by another consummate stylist. Alfred Busi, famed in his town for his music and songs, is morning the recent death of his wife and quietly living out his days in the villa he has always called home. Then one night Busi is attacked by a creature he disturbs as it raids the contents of his larder. Busi is convinced that what assaulted him was no animal but a child - - and this belief soon fans the flames of an old rumour about an ancient race of people living outside the town, and a new controversy sparked by hostility to the town’s paupers. The people have had enough – it’s time these feral wastrels were dealt with…

The Melody has the feel of a fable for our times. Unsettling – and at times quite otherworldly – this is a poignant and subtle story about human nature, and will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

By Simply Books, May 9 2018 02:30PM

On Tuesday 24th April Sue, Isla and I went to Barnes, London to meet Judith Kerr, author of Katinka's Tale (one of this year's Simply Books Book Factor finalists) and many other famous children's story books. Isla and I are both year 5 book reviewers at Simply Books and had to apply and audtion for the chance to go. Before I went I had my breakfast (cereal and a smoothie).

As we arrived at the train station to meet Sue we were very excited and we had to travel on the train for two hours including having our second breakfast (we both had a fruit salad with yogurt and honey). When we got to Barnes we had lunch (a burger and chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream) and set off to Judith's house.

Judith's house was beautiful with an enormous wisteria weaving up the tall walls. As we walked up to the door Katinka (Judith's cat) crept up and as Judith had warned us that Katinka didn't usually like strangers we thought this was strange. Katinka started showing off, first she snuggled against the wall then she scratched the wisteria and finally she rolled over on to her back and lay there for a minute.

When we went in Judith greeted us and we went into one of her rooms. We sat down and started to ask her questions. I asked lots of questions such as what tips she could give me for writing and illustrating books and also which was her favourite cat Mog or Katinka? She said the best tip for writing books was to just have an idea and do it!

Judith signed the books we had taken (I took the Tiger Who Came to Tea which I've had since I was a baby) and then she took us up to her studio. I was surprised to see that Judith ran up the stairs like a cat and she is 94! Her studio was amazing!

When we went back downstairs we gave Katinka some cat toys and treats. Judith said goodbye and gave us each a Celebration. We did a final bit of filming and then headed back home on the train, on the way back we had a sandwich and a chocolate orange cake. I think all we did all day was eat, sit, walk, interview and a bit of running (to catch the train!)

I loved our day out and thank you very much to: Sue, Judith and everyone at Simply Books for arranging a purrrfect day!

Charlotte, Age 9, Simply Books Junior Book Reviewer

By Simply Books, Feb 8 2018 12:06PM

Cousins is a new novel by Salley Vickers. Her first novel, Miss Garnets Angel became an international word-of-mouth best seller and favourite amongst book clubs - indeed it was one of the first books we read here at Simply Books with our original reading group nearly 15 years ago. In Cousins, the author gives a spellbinding account of a family in distress - exposing the inner workings of one family (possibly every family!) with disconcerting clarity. While Tye and his cousin Cele are kindrid spirits who have grown up together. But their very closeness keep them at a troubled distance until one night of wreckless misadventure - the consequences of which engulf three generations, laying bare secrets that stretch back as far as the Second World War. A serious, mature book that is also compellingly enjoyable. Salley Vickers will be talking about Cousins - and her other writing - when she visits us at Simply Books on Thursday 1st March. If you would like to meet her, tickets are available here.

Sue absolutely loved this debut novel by Gail Honeyman, Elenor Oliphant is Completely Fine - a story about the worst and very best that people are capable of. By turns funny, brave and thought-provoking. Eleanor leads a simple life. Eleanor wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal for lunch every day and buys the same bottle of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except perhaps, everything. But one single act of kindness is set to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself.

This is an unusual, quirky book - a book to make you laugh and cry; a life-affirming story about lonliness and the transformative power of even the smallest acts of kindness - a worth winner of this year's COSTA First Novel of the Year Award.

And for the children ... The Pirates of Scurvy Sands is a new pirate adventure from author/illustrator Jonny Duddle following the hilarious voyages of the Jolley-Rodgers, the most intrepid pirates to sail the seven seas.

By Simply Books, Dec 11 2017 09:58AM

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is really a wonderful book. Drawn In simple, unfussy, prose this a warm and intimate portrait of both a marriage and a community. Olive Kitteridge is someone who might be best described as ‘a difficult woman’ – married to the personable and easy-going (if unambitious) owner of the local pharmacy. As the (now retired) teacher of maths at the local high school Olive knows (and is known by) generations of children in her small community on the shoreline of Maine, New England. The novel is written as a sequence of self-contained stories exploring the lives of the townspeople (young and old) – woven through these stories is a connection (sometimes slight, other times more significant) with Olive. There’s a deceptive simplicity to the language – but writing this good (and this compelling) is a rare thing and we should treasure it!

With Christmas just around the corner I thought I’d highlight a couple of this year’s quirky stocking fillers! First off… The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young is a delightful book about cows and how they live. The author and her family have been running their farm for over fifty years – she knows every one of her cattle by name and carries their monkey puzzle of a family tree ion her head! Turns out cows are as varied as people. They be highly intelligent or slow to understand, vain, considerate, proud, shy or inventive – this is an affectionate look at a hitherto secret world. Intriguing…you’ll never feel the same about a herd of cows again!

Becoming British has never been more complicated. Aside from meeting the various legal, financial and residential requirements applicants for British citizenship have (since 2005) been required to pass an official UK citizenship test – and it’s not as easy as you think! The ‘Call Yourself British’ Quiz Book is a compilation of 500 multiple-choice questions based on the UK Citizenship test to help measure just how British you jolly well are. Perfect for post-Christmas dinner entertainment. So for starters…Who is/was Richard Arkwright, Sake Dean Mahomet, John Petts and David Weir? What are the contents of the 1689 Bill of Rights? And why do British people keep pets (according to the Home Office!)?

And for the children….Oliver Jeffers new book Here We Are – Notes For Living On Planet Earth is a stunning picture book exploring what makes our planet and how we live in it. A visual treat and a wonderful book to share with any child.

By Simply Books, Nov 15 2017 08:00AM

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead tells the story of one woman's perilous journey of escape from slavery in pre-Civil War America. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, an existence made even more hellish as her status as an outcast among her fellow Africans. Approaching womanhood - where ever greater pain and danger threatens - she encounters Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia. Caesar tells her about the 'underground railway' and she takes the momentous decision to accompany him on his journey North. A harrowing, engrossing story - and a very timely examination of the dark side of American history.

By Simply Books, Oct 10 2017 07:00AM

Hannah Kent's debut novel Burial Rites - a book inspired by events surrounding the celebrated trial and execution of a young woman in late nineteenth century Iceland - was an award-winning international best seller. She has a wonderful talent for taking fragments of historical facts and breathing life into them through her fiction.

For her new book, The Good People, we are in rural Ireland 1825. As with her first book the author takes inspiration from true events - in this case of a trial of 'an old woman of very advanced age' of willful infanticide. This is one of several recorded cases of death and injury suffered as a consequence of trying to 'put the fairy' out of a child that has come to seen as a 'changeling' from the 'fairy world' of 'good people'. Mourning the death of her husband and daughter Nora hears rumours that her four year-old son Michael can no longer speak or walk - people are saying he's a 'changeling', bringing bad luck to the valley. In desperation Nora seeks a cure from the local 'keener' or 'handy woman' and is soon set on a course which will bring her into conflict with the Catholic Church and her own community.

Hannah Kent has a keen ear for the lilt and intonation of the villagers' conversation and gives us a fascinating and compelling picture of a community torn between on the one hand the folklore of a traditional belief in 'the fairy world', and on the other the authority of the Priest and the Church. Beautifully written book - a book to immerse yourself in!


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