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The Dinner
The Dinner (Paperback)
Herman Koch
 
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Yes, it’s about a dinner at a restaurant in Amsterdam, where two couples meet to discuss the behaviour of their teenage sons. I’ll say no more about the story, but it very quickly becomes a no-holds-barred compelling family drama, with flashes of humour and a number of unsettling revelations. It would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall at this dinner!

Peter Robinson - 14/08/2013
A Foreign Country
A Foreign Country (Paperback)
Charles Cumming
 
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This is an espionage thriller that grips right from the start. Charles Cumming, author of five previous novels, has a keen sense of character and pacing, and he always brings something interesting and new to the genre. His 2011 novel, The Trinity Six, was an absorbing look at the Cambridge spy ring, and in this new novel the first female head of MI6 has disappeared six weeks before she is to take on the job, and a disgraced MI6 officer is given the chance to redeem himself by finding her. In the meantime, it is imperative that her disappearance remains a secret. Thrilling stuff.

Peter Robinson - 14/08/2013
Embellished: New Vintage
Karen Nicol
 
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This is a very new book, but already one of my favourites. Karen’s distinguished career has included working with designers, exhibiting her own textile art and teaching students. In this very modern and stylish book, she explains how thrifted finds and ancient sewing and embroidery techniques inform her work. It’s a stylish guide to the power and possibilities of textiles and has made me excited about sewing all over again.

Katie Allen - 04/10/2012
The Secret Garden
The Secret Garden (Paperback)
Frances Hodgson Burnett
 
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The story of Mary Lennox, the unloved, unloveable orphan warmed to life along with her secret garden, gave me one of my first female heroes. They should try moving her from the kiss-of-death Children’s Classics shelf, let her slug it out with the newcomers and see what happens.

Moira Young - 09/08/2012
Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford Dictionaries
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This is the version in two volumes, and is the one I use. It gives not only the meaning and spelling of the words, but dates for their earliest use – always so handy when picky people insist I have used an anachronism! No, seriously, it’s fascinating.

Lindsey Davis - 20/03/2012
Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas (Paperback)
David Mitchell
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Excellent Women
Excellent Women (Paperback)
Barbara Pym; Alexander McCall Smith
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Barbara Pym has been described as the Jane Austen of our times, and I would concur with this view. She created a whole world of people living rather mousy lives, illuminated with poignant detail. She is extremely funny in an understated way.

Alexander McCall Smith - 28/07/2011
The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby (Paperback)
F. Scott Fitzgerald
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I love the lyrical quality of the writing against the tightly constructed narrative.

Lauren Kate - 15/06/2012
Beauty: A Very Short Introduction
Roger Scruton
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Roger Scruton is a philosopher who writes on a wide range of subjects within aesthetics. His observations on art and music are profound and stated with great clarity.

Alexander McCall Smith - 28/07/2011
The Remains of the Day
Kazuo Ishiguro
 
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Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins played in the movie based on this novel, and they are truly great, but the movie fails anyway, because this novel does something a movie can't. The final crisis is a slip in narrative voice, a dissolution of syntax and diction as the butler admits his heart is breaking. This elegant and subtle voice, in its great formality and distance, allows the exploration of all that is most private in us, and its look back on a life wasted really is heartbreaking

David Vann - 26/09/2013
Birdsong
Birdsong (Paperback)
Sebastian Faulks
 
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The depth of emotion that this novel evokes is, for me, due in part to Faulks allowing the reader to really get to know his protagonist, Stephen Wraysford, in a civilian setting. Living and working in Amiens, Wraysford has a passionate adulterous affair with Isabelle Azaire and the knowledge of his love and loss provides the psychological background to his emotional detachment at the Front. Here, the oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere of the life of the men tunnelling under no man's land builds massive tension. The depiction of war is stunningly good, but it is also a novel about the redeeming power of love.

Judith Allnatt - 11/02/2014
A Long Long Way
A Long Long Way (Paperback)
Sebastian Barry
 
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For one long week, I travelled in a dark cloud, so moved was I by this book. This is the story of pint-sized Willie Dunne, a young Irishman who joins the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and goes off to fight in World War One. Caught in that great ash-heap of history, he also finds himself caught in the crossfire of the Easter Rising at home. Barry recreates a forgotten corner of Irish history, and along the way, crafts one of the great Great War novels. This is a lament for those caught in that “heaving swell of history”. Barry’s writing luminesces with the most intense beauty, but it is all the more remarkable because his writing does not flinch from the cruelty of the world. The book’s poetry is as harrowingly beautiful as any of the poetry from the Great War.

Paul Lynch - 09/05/2013
Mary
Mary (Hardback)
Vladimir Nabokov
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Get it in the recently issued Penguin Classics hardback series.

John Banville - 18/06/2012
England's Dreaming Tapes
Jon Savage
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Simply the transcripts of the interviews Savage conducted for the England's Dreaming book. What could have been a silly cash-in underscores Savage's enormous knowledge of and sensitivity to his subject.

Dylan Jones - 24/07/2012
Styles of Radical Will
Susan Sontag
 
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I don't think many people would think this is Sontag’s best book - it's a bit histrionic, especially the essay about Hanoi - but I can’t get over how elegant her style was, at only 36. I suppose every girl writer these days holds Woolf and Sontag somewhere amongst their heroes, and in this sense I’m typical. They’re just too great to deny. The essay on silence is my favourite.

Zadie Smith - 10/08/2012
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil...
E. L. Konigsburg
 
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A modern classic in the States, something of a cult title in the UK, this is a lovely tale of Claudia, who runs away from home, taking her little brother with her. And where do they end up? The Metropolitan Museum of Art, of course…

Marcus Sedgwick - 26/09/2013

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