Archive for ‘Fiction’

November 30, 2021

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

by Team Riverside
Small things Like These book cover

Hardback, Faber and Faber, £10, out now

It is 1985 in a small town in Ireland, and Bill Furlong is flat out delivering coal and wood in the snow before Christmas.  As he, his wife and young daughters prepare for the holidays, he finds out by accident that something is wrong at the local convent.  Why are the girls he sees there distressed?

This is a perfect novella.  I bought it for someone else for Christmas but now have to keep it for myself, unfortunately for them.  Keegan writes the kind of sentences that make you stare at them to find out why they work so well.

Furlong “had come from nothing.  Less than nothing, some might say.  His mother, at the age of sixteen, had fallen pregnant while working as a domestic for Mrs Wilson, the Protestant widow who lived in the big house a few miles outside of town.  When his mother’s trouble became known, and her people made clear they’d have no more to do with her, Mrs Wilson, instead of giving his mother her walking papers, told her she should stay on, and keep her work”.  This makes Furlong unusual in his community, and also helps him to reflect on what is happening at the convent. 

The story responds to the scandals of the Magdalene Laundries and mother and baby homes in Ireland.  Furlong realises that something is not right, but what can he do?  The church is part of daily life, and to challenge it is dangerous.  A woman warns him: “Tis no affair of mine, you understand, but you know you’d want to watch over what you’d say about what’s there? Keep the enemy close, the bad dog with you and the good dog will not bite.  You know yourself”.

Small Things Like These helped me think about how we live alongside injustice, suffering and impunity every day, and decide not to see it or to do anything about it.  What might it take to end such collusion?  What happens when we finally allow ourselves to see that something treated as inevitable or invisible is unbearable? 

After reading Small Things Like These I had to read Belonging by Catherine Corless with Naomi Linehan, the true story of how an amateur historian helped expose the shocking story of the missing babies of the Tuam mother and baby home in the Republic of Ireland.  It is an outstanding account of how diligent research and campaigning can bring human rights violations to light, and hold to account those who have acted with impunity (see this detailed review in the Irish Independent – https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/books/book-reviews/catherine-corless-memoir-is-a-story-of-the-living-as-much-as-the-dead-40859120.html).  A colleague directed me to Motherbabyhome, an extraordinary work of conceptual and performance poetry by Kimberley Campanello which memorialises the 796 children who lost their lives, and is partly based on files provided by Corless to the poet (http://www.kimberlycampanello.com/motherbabyhome).  Seeing some of the archive documents found by Corless, alongside the names of some of the children involved, is moving.  These themes also recur throughout the excellent Quirke crime novel series by John Banville (writing as Benjamin Black).  Art like this helps us process what has happened, and what is happening.

Keegan’s book is full of small kindnesses as well as troubles.  The love in the family, who do not have much but are glad of what they do have, is uplifting.  A free bag of coal is left on the doorstep for those who can’t afford it, but then Furlong worries that he should not have accepted gifts from those who can’t afford to give them.  These are the ethics of everyday life.

Small Things Like These is not saccharine, just readable and relatable.  My main feeling after this is to re-read Ariel Dorfman’s Manifesto for Another World.  Make of that what you will.

Review by Bethan

November 27, 2021

Bestsellers 20th – 27th November

by Team Riverside

Frank Herbert – Dune

Piranesi – Susanna Clarke

Harper Lee – To Kill A Mockingbird

Jessica Harrison eds – The Penguin Book of Christmas Stories

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Sosuke Natsukawa – The Cat Who Saved Books

Sarah Moss – The Fell

Noor Murad, Yotam Ottolenghi – Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love

Elena Ferrante – The Lying Life of Adults

John Le Carre – Silverview

Sally Rooney – Beautiful World, Where Are You?

Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey – How Was That Built?

Merlin Sheldrake – Entangled Life

Amor Towles – The Lincoln Highway

Matt Haig – The Midnight Library

November 21, 2021

Bestsellers 14th November – 21st November

by Team Riverside

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Elizabeth Strout – Oh William!

John Banville – Snow

Taylor Jenkins Reid – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey – How Was That Built?

Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi – Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love

Harper Lee – To Kill A Mockingbird

Stanley Tucci – Taste: My Life Through Food

John Le Carre – Silverview

Frank Herbert – Dune

Nora Ephron – Heartburn

Rutger Bregman – Humankind: A Hopeful History

Susanna Clarke – Piranesi

Charlie Macksey – The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

November 20, 2021

The Fell by Sarah Moss

by Team Riverside
The Fell book cover

Hardback, Picador, £14.99, out now

A wildly tense but very thoughtful novel set during the lockdown of autumn 2020.

Kate, the single mother of teenage son Matt, is ordered to remain at home.  After several days, she feels that she cannot stand it for another minute.  Fell walking near her home is how she usually manages her mental health, and so she decides that a short walk has become essential.  She leaves home without telling her son or anyone else, although she is seen by her next door neighbour Alice who is shielding and unable to leave her house.  She plans to be quick but time passes and she does not come home.  Should her son call the police or rescue services?  What if she is arrested and charged, and cannot afford to pay the fine?  Alice faces the same dilemma, and Alice’s adult children (who have strong views about telling her what to do but seem not very helpful in practice) urge her to tell the police that Kate has illegally left the house.

Kate’s thinking will resonate with many: “She forgets everything these days, stands to reason that when you deprive people of external stimulus their brains slow down, almost a survival strategy, who could bear to be running on all cylinders and locked in like this, you’d go mad, poison yourself with your own fumes”.  While walking, she falls in an isolated spot, and cannot get home.  Dark falls.

The Fell is a very quick read but covers so many important human things.  What are our duties to each other in extreme situations?  How much can we prioritise our needs over those of others?

In addition to the voices of Kate, Matt and Alice, we hear from Rob the mountain rescue guide who is sent to find her.  Rob faces his own challenges: forced to leave his daughter to attend the rescue, she is unhappy and disappointed and is sure to let him know it.  Between these four perspectives, Moss delivers sensitive and relatable thoughts about how lockdowns and individual stay-at-home orders have played out in real life.  These lives touch and overlap and human connections happen.

I did not think I would ever want to read a pandemic novel during a pandemic: there is quite enough of all that going on in my real life without it spilling over into my leisure reading.  But The Fell is the best type of fiction.  It is compelling on its own terms, as I was desperate to find out what happened, but also useful in unpicking what the crisis means about us, as individuals, as communities, and as a society.  This is exactly what Moss is brilliant at, especially in Summerwater and Ghost Wall (see https://riversidebookshop.co.uk/2019/09/08/ghost-wall-by-sarah-moss/).  The Fell is helping me to process what’s going on, and work out what I think about it.

Review by Bethan

November 16, 2021

Somebody Loves You by Mona Arshi

by Team Riverside
Somebody Loves You book cover

Paperback, &Other Stories, £11.99, out now

As a child, Ruby stops speaking.  Her loving family don’t understand, but keep loving her anyway.  Her sister is tough and caring, her mother is sometimes ill and sometimes not, and the suburban neighbours are in and out, as are the Aunties and Biji (Ruby’s grandmother).

This sensitive short novel is a very quick read but you’ll want to linger over the language.  For fans of her poetry collections Small Hands and Dear Big Gods, Arshi’s fresh and illuminating prose will be no surprise.  The chapter titles make you feel like you’re reading a collection of prose poems (I particularly liked De-Catastrophisation (for beginners)) and the story flows easily and well.  It’s not a hard book to read but it’s a hard book to put down.  I read it in a single sitting.

The racism that Ruby and her family face runs throughout the book.  Despite dealing with traumatic things, Arshi’s sharp turns of phrase are often funny: “But I don’t believe my father is an elephant; he is most like a canary.  His main role in our family is to detect early signs of disturbance and then to flap his wings and warble a little.  Of course, usually no one takes notice, or if they notice it’s too late, but that isn’t, strictly speaking, the canary’s fault”.

The cover art is exquisite and echoes the importance of the garden to Ruby’s mother.  I could stare at it all day.

Somebody Loves You sings.  Read it and listen.

Review by Bethan

November 13, 2021

Bestsellers 6th – 13th November

by Team Riverside

Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey – How Was That Built?

Damon Galgut – The Promise

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Taylor Jenkins Reid – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Susanna Clarke – Piranesi

Frank Herbert – Dune

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Tom Chivers – London Clay

Florence Given – Women Don’t Owe You Pretty

Stanley Tucci – Taste: My Life Through Food

Sosuke Natsukawa – The Cat Who Saved Books

Tim Marshall – The Power of Geography

Various Authors – A Scandinavian Christmas: Festive Tales For a Nordic Noel

Nigel Slater – A Cook’s Book

George Orwell – 1984

November 6, 2021

Bestsellers 30th October – 6th November

by Team Riverside

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Stanley Tucci – Taste: My Life Through Food

Frank Herbert – Dune

Taylor Jenkins Reid – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Sathnam Sangera – Empireland

Elizabeth Strout – Oh William!

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Damon Galgut – The Promise

Shon Faye – The Transgender Issue

John Le Carre – Silverview

Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Bob Mortimer – And Away…

Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey – How Was That Built?

Abdulrazak Gurnah – Afterlives

October 30, 2021

Bestsellers 23rd – 30th October

by Team Riverside

Frank Herbert – Dune

Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey – How Was That Built?

Various Authors – A Scandinavian Christmas: Festive Tales For a Nordic Noel

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

John Preston – Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell

Jonathon Franzen – Crossroads

Lea Ypi – Free: Coming of Age at the End of History

Sally Rooney – Beautiful World, Where Are You?

Rutger Bregman – Humankind

Sosuke Natsukawa – The Cat Who Saved Books

Rachel Morrisroe, Steven Lenton – How To Grow a Unicorn

Stephanie Garnier – How to Live Like Your Cat

Ralph Ellison – Invisible Man

John Steinbeck – The Vigilante

Shon Faye – The Transgender Issue

October 29, 2021

There’s a Ghost in this House by Oliver Jeffers

by Team Riverside
There's a Ghost in this House

Hardback, HarperCollins, £20, out now

This is a delightful, mildly spooky picture book from the author of Lost and Found. 

There are supposed to be ghosts in our host’s large old house, but she has never seen them – can you?  With the help of tracing paper inserts and atmospheric photos, we can not only find the ghosts but also see the hijinks that they get up to.

It is a brilliant idea, and a timeless book.  It goes for funny rather than scary, and the ghosts are quite endearing.  You find yourself thinking that living in a haunted house might be quite jolly.

We have signed copies in store.  Happy Halloween!

Review by Bethan

October 23, 2021

Bestsellers 16th-23rd October

by Team Riverside

John le Carre – Silverview

Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey – How Was That Built?

Stanley Tucci – Taste: My Life Through Food

Sally Rooney – Beautiful World, Where Are You?

Elizabeth Strout – Oh William!

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Elena Ferrante – The Lying Life of Adults

Colm Toibin – The Magician

Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Suzanna Clarke – Piranesi

Rumaan Alam – Leave The World Behind

Yotam Ottolenghi, Noor Murad – Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Florence Given – Women Don’t Owe You Pretty

Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House

October 15, 2021

Bestsellers 9th – 15th October

by Team Riverside

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Yotam Ottolenghi, Noor Murad – Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Richard Osman – The Man Who Died Twice

Sally Rooney – Beautiful World, Where Are You?

Bob Mortimer – And Away…

Marion Billet – Busy London

Sosuke Natsukawa – The Cat Who Saved Books

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – Notes on Greif

Suzanna Clarke – Piranesi

Frank Herbert – Dune

Florence Given – Women Don’t Owe You Pretty

Judith Kerr – Mog the Forgetful Cat

Jeremy Paxman – Black Gold

Jonathon Franzen – Crossroads

October 9, 2021

Bestsellers 2nd – 9th October

by Team Riverside

Sally Rooney – Beautiful World, Where Are You

Richard Osman – The Man Who Died Twice

Karina Lickorish Quinn – The Dust Never Settles

Sosuke Natsukawa – The Cat Who Saved Books

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Shon Faye – The Transgender Issue

Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey – How Was That Built?

Merlin Sheldrake – Entangled Life

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Pat Barker – The Women of Troy

Stanley Tucci – Taste: My Life Through Food

William Boyd – Trio

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Bob Mortimer – And Away…

October 6, 2021

Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Daunt Books, £9.99, out now

Filthy Animals is the new collection of short stories from Booker Prize shortlisted writer Brandon Taylor, fans of his characteristically vivid prose and razor-sharp observations will not be disappointed by this stunning collection.

Taylor has a gift for portraying social discomfort in excruciating detail and this is perhaps best on display in the first story in the collection ‘Potluck’. Lionel, a character recovering from a suicide attempt becomes caught up in the world of Charles and Sophie, both dancers involved in an open relationship. Their encounters are ambiguous but powerful, affectionate but also distant and strange. In stories such as ‘Mass’ there is often an emphasis on the characters physicality, many of them are training to be professional dancers and there is an acute, Degas-like focus on their muscular bodies as a site for potential greatness and also a possible site of disaster. There is a kind of slipperiness throughout the book, many of the interactions between characters turn rapidly from friendly to hostile and back again. But love is always present, after so much anxiety and fraught relationships, the tenderness of ‘Anne of Cleves’ caught me off guard, it’s a beautifully realised story about a relationship blossoming between two women.

The stunning, cinematic quality of Taylor’s prose never fails, each story has a complete world within it, even when the characters fail to communicate verbally, the atmosphere is palpable. I recommend this book especially for fans of Lucia Berlin.

Review by Phoebe

October 2, 2021

Bestsellers 25th September to 2nd October

by Team Riverside

Sally Rooney – Beautiful World, Where Are You

Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey – How Was That Built?

Shon Faye – The Transgender Issue

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Richard Osman – The Man Who Died Twice

Tom Chivers – London Clay

Maggie O’Farrell – Hamnet

Suzannah Clarke – Piranesi

Frank Herbert – Dune

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – Notes on Grief

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Colson Whitehead – Harlem Shuffle

Bob Mortimer – And Away…

Marion Billet – Busy London

September 24, 2021

Bestsellers 17th-24th September

by Team Riverside

Sally Rooney – Beautiful World, Where Are You

Suzannah Clarke – Piranesi

Richard Osman – The Man Who Died Twice

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Frank Herbert – Dune

John Cooper Clarke – I Wanna Be Yours

Monique Roffey – The Mermaid of Black Conch

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Colm Toibin – The Magician

Nadifa Mohamed – The Fortune Men

Sally Rooney – Normal People

Eoin McLaughlin – The Hug

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and The Sun

September 9, 2021

Bestsellers 2nd to the 9th of September

by Team Riverside

Sally Rooney – Beautiful World, Where Are You

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Pat Barker – The Women of Troy

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and The Sun

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Emily St. John Mandel – The Glass Hotel

Caitlin Moran – More Than a Woman

Fran Lebowitz – The Fran Lebowitz Reader

Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Rutger Bregman – Humankind

Clare Chambers – Small Pleasures

Charlie Macksey – The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse

Merlin Sheldrake – Entangled Life

Sebastian Faulks – Snow Country

Elena Ferrante – The Lying Life of Adults

September 7, 2021

Signed copies of new Sally Rooney…

by Team Riverside
Sally Rooney book signed picture

… are going fast!

Come down to nab yours today.

August 31, 2021

Gemma Reeves visit

by Team Riverside
Gemma Reeves

We were delighted to meet Gemma Reeves today when she came in to sign copies of her novel Victoria Park, which is now out in paperback.

Victoria Park has been a bestseller in Riverside for some weeks now. It was lovely to meet Gemma and we wish her all the best with the book!

August 27, 2021

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura

by Team Riverside

Jonathon Cape, Hardback, £14.99, out now

The narrator of Katie Kitamura’s Intimacies is adrift in a sea of language. She works as a translator in the courts of The Hague, and her work, allowing others’ voices to flow through her own is mirrored in her personal relationships. She often acts as a cipher for the other characters, as she herself is uncertain of where she belongs, their voices are channelled through their interactions with her. At times the novel behaves like a series of monologues, many of them on the theme of violence.

A fellow translator relays an encounter she has translating for a man accused of being high up in a genocidal regime, a man is mysteriously attacked in the same neighbourhood where the protagonists’ friend lives. The sense of the narrative being troubled by violence intensifies when the narrator takes a job translating the testimony of a former dictator. Their interactions are tense and ambiguous, bureaucratic and yet laden with meaning.

Sometimes I felt as if I was observing the world of the novel through the protagonists’ eyes as she viewed the events, at once passive and watchful. Kitamura controls the pacing of the novel masterfully, and every interaction is flawlessly rendered, not one phrase is wasted. I would highly recommend Intimacies for fans of Rachel Cusk and Brandon Taylor.

Review by Phoebe

August 18, 2021

Emily Noble’s Disgrace by Mary Paulson-Ellis

by Team Riverside
Emily Noble's Disgrace

Hardback, Mantle, £16.99, out 19 August

Edinburgh’s seaside Portobello district in 2019, and Essie Pound is part of a specialist cleaning team clearing a flat after an elderly woman’s body is found two years after her death. Part of Essie’s job is to look out for objects in the flat that might explain more about who the person was and why she died.  But Essie gets pulled into a deeper mystery, one that takes her back into Portobello’s pasts as well as her own.  Investigating more formally is young police officer Emily Noble.  Their work is bound to coincide. 

Essie says: “Just like Isabella Dawson, my whole life is hidden.  From me.  And from everyone else too.  But not because I’ve buried it in someone else’s rubbish.  More because I don’t have anything or anyone to remind me of what it might have been.”

Mary Paulson-Ellis is a new crime and mystery author for me, but I will definitely be seeking out her other standalone novels (which feature some characters from this book).  I’m a fan of Elly Griffiths and Ann Cleeves, for their readable characters and good plots, and Paulson-Ellis definitely delivers on these.

Emily Noble’s Disgrace made me remember the excellent biography The Trauma Cleaner, in which author Sarah Krasnostein covers not only Sandra Pankhurst’s life in trauma cleaning but also her transition (https://wellcomebookprize.org/book/trauma-cleaner).

There are strong women characters, and reflections on women’s lives.  Some of the themes in the book make for hard reading – for example, suggested child death, and fat phobia.  But the story is compelling, the writing is strong, and I read this cover to cover in a day.

Review by Bethan

August 2, 2021

Arlo the Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep by Catherine Rayner

by Team Riverside
cover of Arlo, a picture book

Paperback, Macmillan, £7.99, out now

Lions need a lot of sleep, as everyone knows… but for Arlo it’s too hot, too cold, too prickly, too noisy.  Like everyone who struggles with their sleep, Arlo wonders if he will ever sleep again.

Catherine Rayner’s beautiful picture book sets the tone for a peaceful bedtime for small children.  Arlo’s friend Owl swoops down to offer advice on how to relax and get ready for a restful night.  Rayner’s exquisite pictures with their soothing but still vibrant colour palette give life to a simple and effective bedtime story.  The lions and owl are not cartoon or comic book, but are natural.

As a veteran struggler with sleep, I found this book comforting and helpful (and I am clearly about 40 years over the target audience age).  It’s helpful without being prescriptive or preachy. I would also be delighted to have any or all of these stunning pictures on my wall.

The only potential problem I foresee is tired parents and carers dozing off before any children who are being read to!  It’s a treat for the end of the day.

Review by Bethan

July 26, 2021

Summer Reading Promotion

by Team Riverside

Our Summer Reading Promotion is now on in store, get 4 books for the price of 3 (with the cheapest book free). We have titles available across Children’s, Fiction and Non-Fiction, see our full list of titles for purchase in the 4 for 3 promotion below:

Fiction
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

Girl Woman Other by Bernadine Evaristo

Troy by Stephen Fry

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain

I Am An Island by Tamsin Calidas

V For Victory by Lisa Evans

The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

Us Three by Ruth Jones

Actress by Anne Enright

V2 by Robert Harris

All Adults Here by Emma Straub

Summer by Ali Smith

Non-Fiction
The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Phillippa Perry

Agent Sonia by Ben Macintyre

Difficult Women by Helen Lewis

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

The Moth and the Mountain by Ed Caesar

Sicily ’43 by James Holland

Childrens
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charles Mackesy

The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke

Worst Holiday Ever by Charlie Higson

Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure by Jeff Kinney

The Puffin Keeper by Michael Morpurgo

Kay’s Anatomy by Adam Kay

June 28, 2021

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Picador, £14.99, out now

The Office of Historical Corrections

“…I loved the past of archives, but there was no era of the past I had any inclination to visit with my actual human body, being rather fond of it having at least minimal rights and protections”.  Cassie, the narrator of the title novella in The Office of Historical Corrections, is an officer at the new US Institute for Public History.  She goes out and about correcting historical inaccuracy in the Washington area, a new civil service style job.  But what happens when there is a total subversion or avoidance of truth, and some bodies are clearly in the firing line?

This is the best collection of short stories I’ve read in ages.  Every one is sharp and entertaining.  Claire is called out by a college colleague for wearing a Confederate flag bikini, but doubles down, and doubles down again – why?  Cecelia’s mother is determined to get recognition for her father’s wrongful imprisonment in Alcatraz, but a visit to the former prison with estranged family happens instead.  The end of Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain is one of my favourite endings to a short story. 

Roxane Gay calls Danielle Evans “the finest short story writer working today”, and I think she’s on to something.  Race, gender and grief feature over and over.  I think this collection will be read for years and years.                    

Review by Bethan

June 22, 2021

The Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee

by Team Riverside
The Great Mistake

Hardback, Granta, £14.99, out now

Andrew Green was ‘the father of Greater New York’, a founder of Central Park and the Public Library, the Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of Natural History among other things.  But he didn’t come from money, and he was shot and killed aged 83.  So how did he get to this point?  Who killed him and why?  And what was his great mistake?

The Great Mistake is a humane and very readable novel of one remarkable life.  You might wonder how you’d relate to Andrew Green, but his wish to live life and his decisions on what to do without in order to achieve his goals are very resonant.  “… after…the pyrotechnic accompaniments others put on to celebrate his achievements, he still went to bed with some version of the same concerns he had always had.  Who he was.  Who he should be.  Things he could have said or done”.

His intense and long relationship with a politician, Samuel, influences much, as does the death of his mother (a hard-working woman who always longed for time outside in green space, and didn’t get it).  He is repelled by his work as a young man on a post-slavery plantation in Trinidad, both while doing it and after, and this also affects his ambitions.  The role of reading and books in helping to form a life recurs throughout, as do questions over who has access to books and who does not.

Historic New York sprang up around me as I read. “He watched labourers returning home with dinner kettles.  Ragpickers bothering apple ladies.  Horses set to collapse under the products of commerce they had carried, back and forth, all day long.  New York didn’t set out to charm you.  It was like God that way”.

As well as learning about Andrew, we follow police Inspector McClusky who is investigating his murder, and we are introduced to yet another side of life in New York.  The Great Mistake is a satisfying read in many ways, as a life story, as a crime story, as an exploration of what’s important, and as a song for New York.  So enjoyable.

Review by Bethan

June 21, 2021

Assembly by Natasha Brown

by Team Riverside

Hamish Hamilton, Hardback, £12.99, out now

Assembly by Natasha Brown is more than deserving of the glowing reviews it has already received. It’s a slight volume, the plot unfolds over a series of fleeting but intense vignettes and each is crafted to perfection, not a single word is wasted. At times it feels reminiscent of prose poetry or maybe a sparse drama. The narrator is quiet and controlled but burns with quiet anger, acutely aware of the injustices that plague her. She is a black British woman who has found significant success in the corporate world but seemingly at significant psychological and physical cost to herself. She is often a vessel for other characters racist hang-ups, one colleague vents to her about his hatred of diversity initiatives, another calls her office phone to tell her her hair is ‘wild’ and her skin is ‘exotic’. She has a jovial posh boyfriend, who like her attended Oxford and the action unfolds as she anticipates attending his parents lavish anniversary party.

Recently a reviewer compared Assembly to Mrs. Dalloway, but I thought of Brandon Taylor whose novel Real Life has similarly exquisite prose and a protagonist who is out of place in their surroundings and also of The Great Gatsby, although while Natasha Brown’s protagonist is, like Nick Carraway, among the rich and powerful, she is not impressed. When I got to the last page I was sorry to finish Assembly I thoroughly recommend it.

Review by Phoebe

May 31, 2021

Current bestsellers

by Team Riverside
The Vanishing Half

Our bestsellers from 24 to 30 May:

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Nick Bradley – The Cat and the City

Julia Donaldson and Sharon King-Chai – Animalphabet

Anna Jones – One: Pot, Pan, Planet

Rob Biddulph – Show and Tell

Emily M Danforth – Plain Bad Heroines

Ece Temelkuran – Together

Virginia Woolf – Mrs Dalloway

Raynor Winn – The Wild Silence

Anthony Burgess – A Clockwork Orange

Siobhan Dowd – The London Eye Mystery

Andrew Sean Greer – Less

Jackie Kay – Bessie Smith

Seth Rogen – Yearbook

Nora Ephron – I Feel Bad About My Neck

Diane Cook – The New Wilderness

Audre Lorde – Your Silence Will Not Protect You

Jon Klassen – I Want My Hat Back

Madeline Miller – Circe

May 30, 2021

Lost in the Clouds by Tom Tinn-Disbury

by Team Riverside
Lost in the Clouds

Paperback, DK, £6.99, out now

Lost in the Clouds is a sensitive and useful picture book for young children about bereavement and grief.

Billy knows that his mum has died, and he likes to think of her as a cloud in the sky.  Sometimes Billy’s days with his dad are good, when they can have fun and still feel close to Mummy.  But sometimes the sky is dark and stormy and Mummy feels too distant, and Daddy feels distant too.  On a day just like this, Billy builds a tower to the sky to try to be closer to Mummy.

Warm and evocative illustrations show how grief can feel, and also demonstrate that joy and fun can still happen even amid great loss.

Although the story is from Billy’s perspective, his dad’s difficulties and kindnesses are manifest too.  “Daddy wasn’t quite the same on these days.  He would be quieter and his eyes would always be looking far away, as if he was trying to find Mummy in the distance somewhere”.

There are handy notes and further resources in the back of the book on helping children deal with grief.  For older children and adults, I always recommend Michael Rosen’s classic The Sad Book (https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/08/25/michael-rosens-sad-book-quentin-blake).   There is a very sympathetic cat who pops up throughout Lost in the Clouds, and is especially fine on the back cover, putting a paw out to test the weather for Billy and his dad.

Review by Bethan

May 25, 2021

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M Danforth

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Borough Press, £14.99, out now

This is the most enjoyable book I have read for ages.  It is a huge slab of gothic horror written with dash and spiky humour.  Danforth’s own website describes the book like this, and it’s not wrong: “Picnic at Hanging Rock + The Blair Witch Project x lesbians = Plain Bad Heroines” (https://www.emilymdanforth.com/pbh).

In 1902, at the exclusive Brookhants School for Girls in Rhode Island, two girls are gruesomely stung to death by wasps.  More deaths (inevitably) follow.  Is this related to a book that some of the girls have become obsessed with, in which Mary MacLane sets out her desire to live life to the full?

In parallel, we follow the present-day story of three women involved in making a Hollywood film about the happenings at Brookhants.

The opening pages show you immediately what’s in store.  There is a map which includes the Tricky Thicket and Spite Manor.  Part One is called I Await the Devil’s Coming.  There are unexpected footnotes and biting commentary from an unidentified narrator.  Cousin Charles, who chases one of the girls into the wood where she gets stung to death, is unpopular with the narrator: “Maybe some of the girls had, in fact, later said that he looked rakish and fine, but for now let’s discount their certainly incorrect opinions”.

Anyone who spent their early teens reading hugely long hardback horror novels as I did (I’m looking at you, special edition of The Stand) may well get a nostalgic feeling while reading this epic.  There are pleasing horror references for fans throughout, but they don’t detract from the unique atmosphere Danforth creates.

Plain Bad Heroines is pure escapism from page one.  A strong array of memorable LGBTQ women rampage throughout. Excellent.

Review by Bethan

May 24, 2021

Current bestsellers

by Team Riverside
Francesca Wade Square Haunting

Bestsellers from 17 to 23 May…

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Matt Haig – The Midnight Library

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Francesca Wade – Square Haunting

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and the Sun

Rutger Bregman – Humankind

Maggie O’Farrell – Hamnet

Clare Chambers – Small Pleasures

Nick Bradley – The Cat and the City

K L Kettle – The Boy I Am

Monique Roffey – The Mermaid of Black Conch

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Hilary Mantel – The Mirror and the Light

Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, Cass R Sunstein – Noise

David Baddiel – Jews Don’t Count

Deborah Levy – Real Estate

The Puffin Book of Funny Stories

John le Carré – Agent Running in the Field

Cressida Cowell – How to Train Your Dragon

Jhumpa Lahiri – Unaccustomed Earth

Tags: ,
May 16, 2021

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

by Team Riverside

Serpents Tail, Hardback, £14.99 out now

Detransition, Baby the first full-length novel from Torrey Peters is a chaotic and heartfelt whirlwind that asks what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a mother. Katrina, a recent divorcee has discovered she is pregnant, her boyfriend and employee, Ames, formerly Amy, hasn’t told her about his past where he lived as a transgender woman but wants to involve his ex-girlfriend Reese, also a transgender woman, in the mothering of their unborn child. Their lives become intertwined in a kind of queer soap opera, can Reese and Ames resolve their past? Can Katrina co-parent with Ames and Reese? Will Reese get to be mother like she has always wanted?

The novel is rigorously plotted, Reese and Amy’s past relationship is seamlessly interspersed with Katrina and Ames relationship in the present, Reese’s history also forms part of the narrative. Torrey Peters demonstrates enormous narrative skill, her digressions on subjects that range from juvenile elephants to Reese’s large cast of friends never feel tangential to the story. The novel feels epic and complex and funny, like a sort of queer Tristram Shandy, and I thoroughly enjoyed every page.

Review by Phoebe