Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sultry Summer Reading: The BBC Afternoon Bookclub for August

I'm in the middle of a reading marathon at the moment, as I'm one of the judges for the Costa First Novel Award. Over the next couple of months, I'm picking one of the books that I've particularly enjoyed as a selection for the Book Club - although my final shortlist selection has to remain a secret. There are very clear judging guidelines for the award - so just because I like a book, it may not make my final list...

As always, you can listen on iPlayer for the next week (until Aug 4th) - you'll need to fast-forward to about 1 hour 10 minutes into the show...

Here are this month's picks:
  • Brontorina by James Howe, illustrated by Randy Cecil (PB, £5.99, Templar)
    Publishing)When Brontorina Apatosaurus turns up at Madame Lucille’s Dance Academy for Girls and Boys, she dreams of being a dancer. And Mme Lucille tries to help. But after a ‘jeté’ incident, and a few close shaves with the other pupils (not to mention the piano), Mme Lucille realises more drastic steps are required to accommodate her biggest ballerina. A very original, exquisitely illustrated story of the power of dreams, inclusion and acceptance - and I particularly liked Mme Lucille's eye for a business opportunity at the end of the book!
  • The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit (HB, £18.99, Bloomsbury)
    Niki Segnit deserves several medals, not just for coming up with the concept of a flavour thesaurus, but also for the frightening amount of work, effort and scholarship distilled into this incredible reference book. Quite simply one of the most original - and inspiring - cookery books to have come out in recent years. Buy it for the cook who has everything, but also for anyone who loves to experiment in the kitchen. Like a real thesaurus, it's not designed to be read cover to cover, but dipping in provides so many useful ideas, recipes and inspirations of flavour combinations you might never have considered that I defy anyone not to run to the kitchen to try some of them out!
  • Death in Holy Orders by PD James (PB, £7.99, Penguin)

    One of our most venerable and respected crime writers, Phyllis Dorothy James (better known as PD James) was born in Oxford 90 years ago on August 3rd, and we've selected what Nicki considers one of her finest books to celebrate. Featuring James' reserved yet respected detective, the iconic Adam Dalgliesh, 'Death in Holy Orders' centres on a murder investigation at a remote closed monastic community in East Anglia. Well-plotted and atmospheric, PD James manages to recreate the unreality of the monastic life and religious hierarchy, in which values become distorted, and someone is driven to commit a desperate act. If you've never tried PD James before, raise a glass on August 3rd to say happy birthday, and settle down with this cracker.
  • A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah (PB, £7.99, Hodder - published 19 Aug)

    Sophie Hannah is one of our most talented contemporary writers. She is a bestselling author and poet, a published translator and an award-winning short story writer. Her latest novel "A Room Swept White" is one of her trademark psychological thrillers, featuring all the elements that have won her accolades for previous books: a complex plot, masterful storytelling, fresh, modern female characters and moral complexity. Here, TV producer Fliss Benson reluctantly (in the face of a very personal tragedy) agrees to work on a documentary involving cot death and the release of three mothers initially accused of the murder of their children. When one of the women dies, Fliss finds herself up against the police (including Hannah's regular police team of Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse) and a murderer who gets uncomfortably close to home. Forced to use all her guile and cunning to catch a murderer, there is a great (and genuinely scary) twist at the end.
  • Sabra Zoo by Mischa Hiller (PB, £10.99, Telegram Books)
    This is my Costa pick for this month. Sabra Zoo is a powerful, remarkable debut novel from an author to watch - Mischa Hiller. Set against the backdrop of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut in 1982, this novel - whlst not shying away from details of the event - nevertheless is a life-affirming story written with a lack of polemic and also admitable restraint. Through the eyes of translator Ivan - an 18-year old Danish-Palestinian who hangs around and assists a variety of Lebanese, Palestinian and Western medical volunteers in the camps - we watch events unfold with a grim inevitability. However, this book ultimately shows that ordinary people with courage, even in the midst of atrocity, can plot a path to a more hopeful future.

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