Review Round-Up

Blog · Posted October 27, 2023

Our books team have brought together their recently read reviews. Read on to find out what they have been enjoying…

We are now into the colder seasons where you want to make a cup of tea, light the fire and curl up on the couch with a good book. Our books team have brought together a selection of their recently read books that they like to recommend for doing just that. Here is what they have selected for the most recent review-round-up…

Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward – Reviewed by Roz

Born into slavery, leant strength by her mother and tales of a warrior grandmother, sold by the owner who fathered her.  After a long and painful march south, Annis must navigate life in the household of a vicious new owner (shades of Miss Haversham).  But don’t let the grim subject put you off.  

Jesmyn Ward is a writer of remarkable talent – both beautiful and visceral, Let Us Descend grips from the first page to the last.  

Buy this book

The Bee Sting by Paul Murray – Reviewed by Roz

A glorious, Irish family saga. Packed with black humour, moments of edgy fear and violence, the story is told in four voices. Dickie Barnes had it all – successful business, beautiful wife, high-achieving children, but now the garage is failing, Imelda is distracted, grade A student Cass is binge-drinking and twelve year old PJ is preparing to run away from home.  

Murray skillfully reveals each character’s backstory, keeping his reader guessing throughout and weighing his words with sharp wit. A literary novel with the pace of a thriller. 

Buy this book

Unruly by David Mitchell – Reviewed by Jack

Opening with King Arthur – and the fact that he didn’t exist – David Mitchell lays out the timeline of England’s monarchy from the fall of the Roman Empire, through the Dark Ages of the Anglo-Saxons and the Norman conquest, all the way to Elizabeth I.

Most historians are unbiased to provide the facts in a neutral, educational format. David Mitchell, however, is not. The most page-turning and, ironically, educational parts of the book are when he really digs into the flaws and failings of these historical figures; which mostly hinge on what level of competence and downright nastiness they possessed.

A book that is as addictive to read as it seems it was to write.

Buy this book

Julia by Sandra Newman – Reviewed by Vivian (ex-Mainstreet Bookseller)

Sandra Newman’s retelling of Orwell’s 1984 from the perspective of Winston Smith’s lover Julia. Still frighteningly prescient, it fills in gaps and gives backstory to the original novel. Julia is beautiful and clever in a world where her only chance is to remain unnoticed. Instead, she becomes bait in a trap which can only lead to ‘Love’.

In a country where police judgement is being called into question by the government and civil liberties are insidiously eroded, ‘Julia’ shines a light on the ultimate fake news.

Buy this book

West Heart Kill by Dan McDorman – Reviewed by Vicky

It’s the July 4th weekend at West Heart Country Club, the inevitable storm hits and all the characters are assembled – the widower with a grudge, the caretaker who knows more than he should, the adulterous spouses and, of course, the private detective. But who hired him? Is everyone who they say they are? These questions, and many more, permeate this genre-bending thriller. 

A character not listed in the dramatis personae is you, the reader. Yes, you are a spectator at this gathering. At times you’ll feel so involved as to want to put in your order for a cocktail at the ‘sixers’. (Make mine a margarita.) 

The result is a truly original novel and a love letter to the genre. I’ve never read a book like it. One not to be missed by crime novel enthusiasts and mystery lovers.

Buy this book

Stay True by Hua Hsu – Reviewed by Sarah 

To describe Stay True as a coming-of-age memoir would not do it justice. As Hsu reflects on his time at Berkeley in the 1990s and his incredibly meaningful, but sadly brief, friendship with Ken, he looks at all of the small, seemingly mundane, moments that merge together to create the lives that we lead. 

Pulling together snippets of these moments, philosophical musings, music references, friendship, and grief, this book is an authentic scrapbook that shows how memories and friendships shape who we are. 

I had my heart broken and mended by this book, its poetic and tender observations leaving me with a newfound appreciation for my own friendships. 

Buy this book

The Food Detectives by Hisashi Kashiwai – Reviewed by Vicky

There’s an advert in Gourmet Monthly about the Kamogawa Diner. It doesn’t tell you where it is or give any contact details, but people who need it still manage to find it.

Nagare is the chef and his daughter Koishi heads up the detective agency, helping those who want to rediscover a flavour from their past. 

This book is filled with stories of nostalgia, lost loves, family and friendship. Provides a perfect escape from your worries.

Buy this book

Girls by Annet Schaap – Reviewed by Vicky 

A pithy collection of fairy tales, retold for modern times with new dark twists and turns. It’s not Rumplstiltskin’s name that needs to be remembered, Hansel and Gretel’s father is just plain neglectful, and sisterly jealousy changes the story of Bluebeard.

Read on for humour, horror and raw honesty…with suitably unsettling illustrations.

Buy this book

The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow – Reviewed by Vicky

Nate is going into his last year of primary school. He’s under a lot of pressure but his support system is dwindling – his mum is unreliable and his best friend has found someone new to hang out with. As he tries to keep his emotional ‘beast’ at bay, Nate finds solace in his writing. 

This is a beautiful story that pays testament to the power of books and celebrates inspirational teachers. I laughed, I cried and consumed this all too quickly.

Written entirely in blank verse, this is a pacy read and one for reluctant readers too. An unputdownable emotional rollercoaster.

Buy this book

Our booksellers always have recommendations up their sleeves.  Whether you’re in a slump and need a book to reignite your love of reading, need a recommendation for a family member, or some guidance on the best books for the children in your life, we’re here to help. Simply pop into the shop, give us a call or shoot us an email. Find out how to contact us HERE.

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