What We're Reading - 7 February 2020

Opinion - Books Friday, 07 February 2020

The BookBrunch team reveal what's on their bedside tables


Julie Vuong
I’m thoroughly enjoying being led across dreamy waters by Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River (Doubleday). It’s the kind of atmospheric storytelling that commands attention; pulling up a chair and reading by firelight would be best. I’m half way through, and absorbed by this gothic style tale of the Thames and its inhabitants.

Neill Denny
The re-run of This Life on BBC4, with its tales of crime, heavy drinking and essentially screwed-up young lawyers, has been the perfect backdrop to consume Blood Orange, Harriet Tyce's debut thriller (Wildfire). With 10 years as a criminal barrister before she wrote this, incredibly her debut, she brings the unmistakeable whiff of authenticity to her depiction of the inner workings of the law; the amount of alcohol consumed by the (inevitably) flawed main character, a lawyer, is suitably heroic. I'm promised a major twist by the end, but I have no idea what it will be. Sobriety? I'm also not sure about the blood orange of the title, but I'm very much hoping it has nothing to do with that unfortunate Tory MP... Overall, I'm really enjoying it, and starting to question my long-standing aversion to the crime genre.

Lucy Nathan
One of my most joyful reading memories is getting the first three Farseer books by Robin Hobb for Christmas when I was 15, and devouring them over the course of a week. They are brilliant books. The main character, Fitz, is a royal bastard who is trained as an assassin. There is court intrigue, incredible mythology, countless stories of different sorts of love, a startlingly wonderful cast of characters, wolves, dragons, different sorts of magic - and all in a fantasy world that feels incredibly real. I have reread these books countless times despite their vast length, and I know I'll reread them again. Right now I'm half way through the second book, Royal Assassin (HarperVoyager), and sinking into it every day is absolute bliss.

Nicholas Clee
Simon Jenkins' A Short History of London (Viking) is as engaging and cogent as you would expect from this author. Jenkins focuses particularly on planning: you read a lot about roads, squares and buildings, and rather less about Londoners. He devotes more pages to the years since the end of the Second World War than to any other period, and one feels that dismay at what postwar developers have done to London is the aspect of the book that animated him most.

David Roche
The Binding (Borough Press) is Bridget Collins’ first adult book and the first number 1 for Borough Press, HarperFiction’s literary imprint. The premise is wonderful: an apprentice binder learns the trade from an aged pro and discovers that the books they craft are actually repositories for people’s unwanted memories. My chapter last night ended with a real jolt, and I’m only about quarter of the way through, so I am guessing that this is not a major plot spoiler - I suspect there is much more to come and I am really looking forward to galloping on. I would recommend reading the beautiful hardback for this story rather than the digital version, but read it nonetheless!

Jo Henry
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Oneworld) comes highly recommended - winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 and with quotes from Oprah and Obama, no less. Told through the viewpoints of the three protagonists, newly married couple Roy and Celestial and their best friend, Andre, it covers five years from when Roy is wrongly accused of rape and sentenced to 12 years in prison. When his sentence is quashed and he is released early, all hell breaks loose. Jones writes beautifully, and I loved the portrait of Roy and his story of wrongful incarceration. But Celestial felt rather one dimensional, and by the end it was difficult to sympathise with her dilemma.

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