#TuesdayBookBlog

‘Home’ by Amanda Berriman #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

home

Amazon.co.uk

Meet Jesika, aged four and a half. The most extraordinary narrator of 2018.

She lives in a flat with her mother and baby brother and she knows a lot. She knows their flat is high up and the stairs are smelly. She knows she shouldn’t draw on the peeling wallpaper or touch the broken window. And she knows she loves her mummy and baby brother Toby.

She does not know that their landlord is threatening to evict them and that Toby’s cough is going to get much worse. Or that Paige, her new best friend, has a secret that will explode their world.

This should be a thoroughly depressing read, but it is saved from being so by Jesika, the four-year-old narrator.

It isn’t easy to successfully write from a child’s point of view once you’re an adult, but Jesika feels really  authentic. Her misconceptions and misunderstandings really make you realise how confusing the things adults say can be, and you long for the grown-ups in her life to listen to her properly, to slow down and to realise that she’s confused and worried and scared.

Jesika’s love for her mum and brother is beautifully portrayed, and her visceral fear of being left is one of the strengths of the story. And while, as adults, readers understand what is going on completely, Jesika’s confusion adds to the tension and drama – there’s an almost physical reaction, wanting to protect Jesika and poor little Paige.

This is a timely portrayal too of the frustrations and stupidities involved in accessing services, particularly for the most vulnerable. Someone should be helping Jesika and her mum – they shouldn’t be in a mouldy, dangerous flat, at the mercy of an unscrupulous private landlord. It’s a damning portrayal of the times we live in.

Hard to read at times, but definitely one to read, I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ this, but Jesika will stay with me for a long time.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

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‘The Men’ by Fanny Calder #RBRT #TuesdayBookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘The Men’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Cover Image - The Men

Amazon.co.uk

A darkly brilliant debut novel by Fanny Calder, and arguably essential reading for the feminist hedonist woman in your life.

City life in the 1990s. Anonymous, intense, paradoxical and sometimes lonely. A young, haunted woman falls in love with a singer. She finds she has been consumed by the relationship and when it ends – as it inevitably does – she feels unable to quite rediscover herself.

Cities can draw you into even darker places, and she embarks on a series of intense relationships with thirteen men of very different types, from a rough sleeper to a millionaire, and from a transvestite to a leading politician. As she is propelled through a series of extraordinary adventures and wild parties she finds she begins to lose her own identity. Is there a way out?

A raw and unflinchingly honest narrative with stripped down language that is liberating and sometimes challenging. It is a tale of urban human connections crafted with no judgement or deep introspection – a window on the author’s own life at that time that will resonate and stay with you.

How refreshing to read something different, something honest and authentic. This is a book that is what it says it is – raw and unflinchingly honest. It follows the experiences of an unnamed woman as she moves from encounter to encounter and from relationship to relationship, making mistakes, getting into difficult situations, looking for something she can’t quite reach.

The relationships she has make for a compelling read, and one that is difficult at times. I found the first few episodes a little irritating to be honest and I wasn’t sure I was going to like the narrator or the book, but then, as things progressed, I warmed to her and became really engrossed in the narrative. She grows on you and you find yourself feeling angry with her, sorry for her, frustrated with her and happy for her when she does find joy and contentment.

I found her friendship with the transvestite and his boy really touching and a joy to read. She found with them, it seemed, a relationship that was real and good and good for her.

The author is a very talented writer, the writing here is beautifully done – well-crafted, measured, beautiful in places without being overblown. The writer knows how to build a scene, build characters without overdoing descriptions, unnecessary adjectives and tired, clichéd similes and metaphors – this is a writer with natural flair.

An unusual, intelligent and unsettling book. Very much recommended.

5 stars

 

‘The Confession’ by Jo Spain #tuesdaybookblog #bookreview #crime

confession

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Late one night a man walks into the luxurious home of disgraced banker Harry McNamara and his wife Julie. The man launches an unspeakably brutal attack on Harry as a horror-struck Julie watches, frozen by fear. It looks like Harry’s many sins – corruption, greed, betrayal – have finally caught up with him.

An hour later the intruder, JP Carney, hands himself in, confessing to the assault. The police have a victim, a suspect in custody and an eye-witness account, but Julie remains troubled.

Has Carney’s surrender really been driven by a guilty conscience or is this confession the first calculated move in a deadly game?

The opening of this book is a lesson in how to hook your reader – and is also not for the faint-hearted. It’s shocking, but not gratuitous, and brings you straight into the drama.

Told form varying points of view, we follow Julie as she meets and marries Harry, realises he’s not all he’s cracked up to be, but finds herself unable to give him up. We also follow JP, his troubling past, and discover what has led him to this crime.

There is also Alice, the detective assigned the case, who  knows there’s more to it than others want to believe, but who is frustrated at every turn, by both JP and by Julie.

This is a very well-written book, and one that is much more than a crime novel. There is much here about the complexities of love, loyalty and jealousy, there is also a good dose of social comment (without being preachy) and enough drama to keep you turning the pages.

I did feel, however, that there could have been more detail about Harry and Julie’s early relationship. It’s all a bit vague – how did he become so successful exactly? And I wanted more about Alice too. She’s a great character, funny, clever and interesting and I felt that she deserved much more room in this novel.

I was also a little disappointed by the ending. It didn’t feel that realistic to me.

That said, this is a really enjoyable read.

4 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘While You Sleep’ by Stephanie Merritt #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

sleep

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A house full of secrets…
The McBride house lies on a remote Scottish island, isolated and abandoned. A century ago, a young widow and her son died mysteriously there. Last year a local boy, visiting for a dare, disappeared without a trace.
A woman alone at night…
For Zoe Adams, the house offers an escape from her failing marriage. But when night falls, her peaceful retreat is disrupted—scratches at the door, strange voices—and Zoe is convinced she is being watched.
A threat that lurks in the shadows…
The locals tell Zoe the incidents are merely echoes of the house’s dark past. Zoe is sure the danger is all too real—but can she uncover the truth before she is silenced?

A remote Scottish island, a creepy house, the wind moaning, waves crashing, a terrifying legend and the kind of locals that all go silent when you walk into the pub – what more could you ask for?
Zoe is looking for peace and quiet and isolation so she can get her head together. A beautiful old house miles from anywhere seems ideal. But the house has a mysterious past and the locals are a bit cagey. Strange things begin to happen – but this isn’t bumps in the night and rattling chains; there’s a weird feeling in the house and Zoe’s dreams are vividly erotic and very unsettling.
But this is no Fifty Shades (thank goodness) and the sex is, on the whole, well-written. And what the writer does especially well is to weave a really suspenseful and at times terrifying tale. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the house, the isolation, the fear that Zoe feels are so well portrayed – you feel terrified for her.
I also liked the weaving of myth and history with the reality of the characters’’ present. It’s done really well, and there are two stories going on here, that of Zoe and that of Ailsa, the widow who died a century before. Ailsa’s story is fascinating – it could probably be a whole different novel in itself.
It’s truly a gripping read, well-paced, dark, but fun too if you like to be scared! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

four-and-a-half-stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

‘The Twelve-Mile Straight’ by Eleanor Henderson #tuesdaybookblog #bookreview

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Cotton County, Georgia, 1930: In a house full of secrets, two babies–one light-skinned, the other dark–are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Accused of raping Elma, field hand Genus Jackson is lynched and dragged behind a truck down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearest town. In the aftermath, the farm’s inhabitants are forced to contend with their complicity in a series of events that left a man dead and a family irrevocably fractured.

Despite the prying eyes and curious whispers of the townspeople, Elma begins to raise her babies as best she can, under the roof of her mercurial father, Juke, and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. But soon it becomes clear that the ties that bind all of them together are more intricate than any could have ever imagined. As startling revelations mount, a web of lies begins to collapse around the family, destabilizing their precarious world and forcing all to reckon with the painful truth.

New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Henderson has returned with an audacious American epic that combines the intimacy of a family drama with the staggering presence of a great Southern saga. Set in the years of the Depression and Prohibition, and tackling themes of racialized violence, social division, and financial crisis, The Twelve-Mile Straight is a startlingly timely, emotionally resonant, and magnificent tour de force.

In a world that seems to be moving backwards, with the rise of the far right in the US and here in the UK, this is a pertinent novel. We kid ourselves that we’ve moved so far, that we have achieved equality, but the prejudice and discrimination written here is unfortunately only too real almost a hundred years later.

Sharecropper’s daughter Elma gives birth to twins – one light-skinned, one dark. Not surprisingly, this garners a great deal of interest, and gossip, and the result is that field hand Genus, deemed to have raped Elma, is lynched.

But there’s more to the twins’ conception and birth than meets the eye. And Elma, her father Juke, and housekeeper Nan find themselves entangled in a web of lies and deceit.

The writing is so evocative – 1930’s Georgia is brought to life with a confident yet careful touch. The little details of everyday life really help set the scene and the poverty, the frustration and the dreadful unfairness are portrayed not always through dramatic events and tragedies, but through the every day constraints, degradation and brutality that one group of people inflict on another.

The narrative shifts viewpoints and we get to know the story from all the main characters which adds a depth to the novel and makes the reader feel involved and invested. Each characters feels real, and authentic, and their actions and reactions, their decisions, their mistakes and their desperation, carry the narrative along.

There are shadows of Harper Lee here, and Carson McCullers and Williams Faulkner – with writing that is sparse at times and as dry and barren as the Georgia fields in drought, at other times vibrant, full of colour and life.

This isn’t a pleasant, happy read. But it is an important one. Like Britain’s history of colonialism, the US has never seemed to really address its past, admit its guilt and make amends. That it isn’t too hard to imagine the events of this book happening still is a sad indictment of how little we’ve progressed. A must read.

5 stars

 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

Summer Reading Part 2 – some more recommendations #amreading #summerreads #TuesdayBookBlog

Following on from my previous post, here are some more recommendations for books to read while you’re enjoying this beautiful weather. As before, unlike some other lists that seem to appear this time of year, these books aren’t necessarily new; some are old favourites, some not so old.

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

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1917: When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, announce they have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when the great novelist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, endorses the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a sensation; their discovery offering something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript and a photograph in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story of the two young girls who mystified the world. As Olivia is drawn into events a century ago, she becomes aware of the past and the present intertwining, blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, will Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

A lovely book, with an almost dreamlike quality, based on a fascinating true story, the author weaves a lovely spell that draws you in and might even make you believe in fairies.

Perfect for a relaxing read on a summer’s day.

The Final Girls by Riley Sager

 final girls

FIRST THERE WERE THREE

The media calls them the Final Girls – Quincy, Sam, Lisa – the infamous group that no one wants to be part of. The sole survivors of three separate killing sprees, they are linked by their shared trauma.

THEN THERE WERE TWO

But when Lisa dies in mysterious circumstances and Sam shows up unannounced on her doorstep, Quincy must admit that she doesn’t really know anything about the other Final Girls. Can she trust them? Or…

CAN THERE ONLY EVER BE ONE?

All Quincy knows is one thing: she is next.

There are so many twists and turns here. Just when you think you’ve solved the mystery, that you know what the twist is, you realise you’re wrong. It’s skilfully done and makes this a real page-turner. There are some really tense moments, and genuine shocks and surprises. It’s a really intense, gripping and enjoyable read.

Afterlife by Marcus Sakey

Afterlife 

Between life and death lies an epic war, a relentless manhunt through two worlds…and an unforgettable love story.

The last thing FBI agent Will Brody remembers is the explosion—a thousand shards of glass surfing a lethal shock wave.

He wakes without a scratch.

The building is in ruins. His team is gone. Outside, Chicago is dark. Cars lie abandoned. No planes cross the sky. He’s relieved to spot other people—until he sees they’re carrying machetes.

Welcome to the afterlife.

Claire McCoy stands over the body of Will Brody. As head of an FBI task force, she hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks. A terrorist has claimed eighteen lives and thrown the nation into panic.

Against this horror, something reckless and beautiful happened. She fell in love…with Will Brody.

But the line between life and death is narrower than any of us suspect—and all that matters to Will and Claire is getting back to each other.

From the author of the million-copy bestselling Brilliance Trilogy comes a mind-bending thriller that explores our most haunting and fundamental question: What if death is just the beginning?

The writing is excellent, a joy to read. There is quite a lot of violence here, but, in my opinion, it isn’t gratuitous.  And the book is so clever and compelling.  An intelligent, different, imaginative and unusual book. Definitely recommended.

The House by Simon Lelic

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Whose story do YOU believe?

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.

So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake.

Because someone has just been murdered outside their back door.

AND NOW THE POLICE ARE WATCHING THEM.

You do have to work at this book, but that, I think, is part of its appeal. The protagonists are confused, and the reader is confused along with them. What lies behind the house, and their lives, is complex and twisted and surprising.  A really good read; gripping, complex, clever.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

todays

When Tom loses the love of his life, time travel seems like the only answer. . . what could possibly go wrong?

Elan Mastai’s breakthrough novel brings a whole new dimension to a classic love story.

So, the thing is, I come from the world we were supposed to have.

That means nothing to you, obviously, because you live here, in the crappy world we do have.

But it never should’ve turned out like this. And it’s all my fault – well, me and to a lesser extent my father.

And, yeah, I guess a little bit Penelope.

In both worlds, she’s the love of my life. But only a single version of her can exist.

I have one impossible chance to fix history’s greatest mistake and save this broken world.

Clever, well-written and intriguing. Tom is a great main character. Aware of his short-comings, he’s an honest narrator. The reader really feels his panic about what he’s done, the dawning reality of where he is and what his new life means. An unusual novel and very readable despite its complexity.

‘The Cottingley Secret’ by Hazel Gaynor #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

cottingley

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

1917: When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, announce they have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when the great novelist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, endorses the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a sensation; their discovery offering something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript and a photograph in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story of the two young girls who mystified the world. As Olivia is drawn into events a century ago, she becomes aware of the past and the present intertwining, blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, will Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

I love reading fiction based on history and I’d heard the fascinating story about the Cottingley fairies before, so was very keen to read this novel.

This is a really lovely book and a pleasure to read. The author treats Frances and Elsie with respect, sensitive always to the fact that these two girls were real people, and her retelling provides an explanation as to how and, perhaps more importantly, why, people were so ready to believe in fairies.

Frances is portrayed so authentically – her fear about the world in which she finds herself, her anxiety about her father, her unease as things develop out of her control. And Olivia, coping with grief and her own insecurities and fears about life, brings the story up to date, adding an extra depth and dimension to the story.

It’s slow-paced, almost gentle, but the story flows well and the tone is entirely appropriate for the subject. The settings are really well-drawn, without being bogged down in detail, particularly the beck at the bottom of the garden, where the sense of something magical is always rooted in reality.

If you like fast-paced drama with twists and turns then this probably isn’t the book for you. But I felt that the pace and the tone were ideally suited to the subject matter and the book weaves a lovely spell that draws you in and might even make you believe in fairies.

A lovely book for a relaxing read on a summer’s day.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

‘Tapestry of War’ by Jane MacKenzie @JaneFMackenzie #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

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From the deserts of North Africa, to the waters of Scotland, the Second World War touches the lives of two women from two very different worlds. In Alexandria, Fran finds her world turned upside down as Rommel’s forces advance on the idyllic shores of Egypt. The life of luxury and stability that she is used to is taken away as she finds herself having to deal with loss, heartache and political uncertainty. Meanwhile, in the Firth of Clyde, Catriona struggles between her quiet rural life and her dreams of nursing injured servicemen on the front lines. As the war rages on, the two women’s lives become intertwined – bringing love and friendship to both.

It’s always a real pleasure to read a novel with real, strong, intelligent, and likeable female lead characters, and here we have two. Fran is privileged, living in relative luxury in Alexandria, surrounded by the gentile society of Britons abroad. But she works for the local newspaper, and deals steadfastly with the changes that bring instability to her life. Catriona, on the wild Scottish island of Islay, couldn’t be any more different. But she too, working as a nurse, shows strength, intelligence and resilience.

Too often women like this are portrayed as perfect, as feisty (how I hate that word!), as lovable anomalies that other characters shake their heads at while smiling indulgently. Fran and Catriona are not like this at all. They are beautifully portrayed, warm and human. It’s a real pleasure to follow their stories.

The details of the war are explained really clearly in a way that never holds up the action of the novel. The relationships these two women develop, their friendships and family, are detailed with affection and honesty. I really cared about them, and what would happen to them.

The author has researched her settings well and it’s easy to picture the drinks parties on green lawns of big houses in Alexandria, the hustle and bustle of the city’s streets and bars, and the bleak, windswept beauty of the Scottish islands, but the description never gets in the way.

My only issue was that I felt the last few chapters were rather rushed, but aside from that this is a lovely novel, and was a pleasure to read.

5 stars

 

Summer Reading Part 1 – some recommendations #amreading #summerreads #TuesdayBookBlog

It’s June – and summer is (sort of) here. If you’re setting off on a holiday to the sun or just spending a few days in the garden (or probably indoors if you’re in the UK!) then you’re going to need some books to read. Here are my recommendations – unlike some other lists that seem to appear this time of year, these books aren’t necessarily new; some are old favourites, some not so old. More to follow shorty – I’ve read so many good books that ii want to share that there are too many recommendations for one post!

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

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Don’t Trust These People

Don’t Trust Yourself

And whatever you do, DON’T give away that ending…

Louise – Since her husband walked out, Louise has made her son her world, supporting them both with her part-time job. But all that changes when she meets…

David – Young, successful and charming – Louise cannot believe a man like him would look at her twice let alone be attracted to her. But that all comes to a grinding halt when she meets his wife…

Adele – Beautiful, elegant and sweet – Louise’s new friend seems perfect in every way. As she becomes obsessed by this flawless couple, entangled in the intricate web of their marriage, they each, in turn, reach out to her.

But only when she gets to know them both does she begin to see the cracks… Is David really the man she thought she knew and is Adele as vulnerable as she appears?
Just what terrible secrets are they both hiding and how far will they go to keep them?

This one has mixed reviews, so a bit of a ‘Marmite’ book, but I really liked it. Great for those who like a twist.

Mad by Chloe Esposito

mad

What if you could take the life you’d always wanted?

Alvie has always been in the shadow of her glamorous sister Beth.

So when she’s invited to her identical twin’s luxurious Sicilian villa, Alvie accepts.

Who wouldn’t want seven days in the sun?

With Beth’s hot husband, the cute baby, the fast car and of course, the money.

The thing is it’s all too good to let go . . . and her sister Beth isn’t the golden girl she appears.

It’s Alvie’s chance to steal the life that she deserves.

If she can get away with it.

Hilarious, mad, bad and dangerous. And ‘Bad’ will be out soon.

How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell 

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‘I was twenty-six years old and an associate beauty editor at Lucky, one of the top fashion magazines in America. That’s all that most people knew about me. But beneath the surface, I was full of secrets: I was a drug addict, for one. A pillhead. I was also an alcoholic-in-training who guzzled warm Veuve Clicquot after work alone in my boss’s office with the door closed; a conniving and manipulative uptown doctor-shopper; a salami-and-provolone-puking bulimic who spent a hundred dollars a day on binge foods when things got bad (and they got bad often); a weepy, wobbly, wildly hallucination-prone insomniac; a tweaky self-mutilator; a slutty and self-loathing downtown party girl; and – perhaps most of all – a lonely weirdo. But, you know, I had access to some really fantastic self-tanner.’

By the age of 15, Cat Marnell longed to work in the glamorous world of women’s magazines – but was also addicted to the ADHD meds prescribed by her father. Within 10 years she was living it up in New York as a beauty editor at Condé Nast, with a talent for ‘doctor-shopping’ that secured her a never-ending supply of prescribed amphetamines. Her life had become a twisted merry-go-round of parties and pills at night, while she struggled to hold down her high-profile job during the day.

Witty, magnetic and penetrating – prompting comparisons to Bret Easton Ellis and Charles Bukowski – Cat Marnell reveals essential truths about her generation, brilliantly uncovering the many aspects of being an addict with pin-sharp humour and beguiling style.

An entertaining, sometimes shocking, and completely honest autobiography.

The Lauras by Sara Taylor

Lauras

I didn’t realise my mother was a person until I was thirteen years old and she pulled me out of bed, put me in the back of her car, and we left home and my dad with no explanations. I thought that Ma was all that she was and all that she had ever wanted to be. I was wrong…

As Ma and Alex make their way from Virginia to California, each new state prompts stories and secrets of a life before Alex. Together they put to rest unsettled scores, heal old wounds, and search out lost friends. But Alex can’t forget the life they’ve left behind.

Clever, unusual, subtle,  deep and thought-provoking.

One other recommendation is for the outstanding ‘Dark Chapter’ by Winnie M. Li.

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This is a very dark story based on the author’s own experiences and some may find it upsetting. However, it is a hugely important book, written so well, and should be read widely. Maybe not for the beach though.

 

‘Good Vibrations – A Story of a Single 60s Mum’ by Margaret Halliday #RBRT #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

#RBRT Review Team

I reviewed ‘Good Vibrations’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

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Amazon.co.uk

Margaret Halliday’s second book, Good Vibrations: a Story of a Single 60s Mum tells the poignant tale of her harrowing and often hilarious experience of unmarried motherhood in pre-Abortion Act Scotland. 17-year-old Margaret’s Glaswegian romance results in unplanned pregnancy and heartbreak but she battles on overcoming all obstacles which will make you laugh, cry and sometimes scream.

Margaret’s story makes for a very interesting read and offers a real insight into how things were for young woman in the sixties.
She’s an intelligent girl, with a bright future, but she finds herself pregnant. With a supportive sister, she has somewhere to turn when she has to leave college and give up her dreams of a future in horticulture. But the baby’s father doesn’t want to know, and Margaret still wants the chance of a career, so she decides to give her baby up for adoption.
After the birth however, she has a change of heart, and the remainder of the book charts her struggle to provide for herself and her son, through a series of dodgy housekeeper positions, refuges and housemates.
Margaret’s bravery and determination to fend for herself come through really well and you’re rooting for her even when you’re willing her not to make the wrong decisions. The story really shows how difficult and dangerous it was for a single mother back then.
This has the potential to be such a great book. Margaret has a lovely voice, funny, clever and honest, but there isn’t enough detail here, and the text really needs a bit of reorganisation. There are some fabulous characters that need developing further. With some restructuring this would be so good, a really brave and important book. But it’s a little patchy at the moment. Well worth a read though.

3.5