Blink and you’ll miss it. That’s 2020 for me – and for you, too, I imagine. (I can’t be the only one looking at a sea of blank squares on the calendar and wondering how it’s the end of June already.) Although I’ve not motored through quite as many books as usual, I’m not short of gems to recommend. Dip in – there’s something for everyone on this shelf – and share your recommendations in the comments.
The Death of Downton Tabby – Mandy Morton
I love crime fiction. I love cats. Enter, Mandy Morton. The Death of Downton Tabby is the third instalment in The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency series, and had me in fits of giggles from start to finish. The town’s first literary festival – headlined by Downton Tabby and Charlene, Emmeline and Ann Brontë – is in full swing, and the No. 2 Feline Detective Agency has been hired to oversee security. But as the first day draws to a close, a killer strikes. Hettie and Tilly – aided by a crime tea or two – must work through the night to track down the killer. The Death of Downton Tabby is every bit as witty and original as earlier books in the series, and if you’re looking for a light-hearted read, this is undoubtedly it.
Step by Step – Simon Reeve
I picked up Simon Reeve’s bestselling memoir on what turned out to be my last trip to the library for months. Step by Step has all the ingredients for an armchair adventure: a generous helping of breakaway states few outsiders have visited; a heaped tablespoon of honesty and humility; and a sprinkling of utterly bizarre experiences (a game of polo with the corpse of a headless goat, anyone?). Simon Reeve charts his journey from leaving school with no qualifications to his name to taking a job in the Sunday Times’ post room and, years later, making travel documentaries for the BBC. While I was reading Step by Step, Simon Reeve’s latest series The Americas with Simon Reeve aired on BBC (and there’s no shortage of series in the iPlayer archives to see me through the next few months). I’d highly recommend both!
Hired – James Bloodworth
‘Hired is a book about the most precarious parts of Britain’s twenty-first century economy, and the new working class that toils away there. Much of what we like to call civilization – with all its consumer comforts – depends on the sweat of the people who feature in the pages of this book.’James Bloodworth, Hired, p. xix
We’ve (probably) all ordered something from Amazon – or several things, if your shopping tendencies have been anything like mine during lockdown. We’ve all spoken to call centre staff (and listened to – or put up with – the horrendous tunes that are blasted down the line while we’re on hold). Lots of us will have ordered a bite to eat via Uber or Deliveroo; a taste of normality while our favourite eateries remain closed. Come old age, many of us will depend on the state for social care. James Bloodworth deftly exposes the harsh realities of low wages, limited job security and zero-hours contracts. Hired, I’d argue, is even more relevant now than it was when it first hit the shelves in 2018. Thanks, Tess, for the recommendation!
The Five – Hallie Rubenhold
The Five lives up to the praise: it truly is, to quote Lucy Worsley, ‘devastatingly good’. Plus, when at least six of your book-loving pals have recommended it to you, you know you’re on to a winner. Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate and Mary Jane never met in life, yet they all met the same fate: a brutal death at the hands of a serial killer whose name has become far more widely known than any of his victims. Historian Hallie Rubenhold painstakingly retraces their footsteps, from cradle to grave, through the light times and the dark. I’m not usually one for history books, but this was something else.
‘The victims of Jack the Ripper were never “just prostitutes”; they were daughters, wives, mothers, sisters and lovers. They were women. They were human beings, and surely that, in itself, is enough.’Hallie Rubenhold, The Five, p. 348
After the End – Clare Mackintosh
After the End is a step away from Clare Mackintosh’s usual beat; a Jodi Picoult meets Sliding Doors, if you will. (Full disclosure: I was blubbing away by the end, so have tissues at the ready.) Pip and Max’s son, Dylan, is terminally ill. Together, they face the biggest decision of their lives – and they don’t agree. Clare Mackintosh unravels the consequences of Pip and Max’s decisions, and brings their emotions and those of their friends and family to the fore. What would their lives be like if their son had lived, at least for a little while longer? What would they be like if he’d died? What would you do, if, as the author once was, you were faced with this heart-wrenching decision?
Titles | April – June 2020
Unnatural Causes (Dr Richard Shepherd) / The Body in the Library (Agatha Christie) / Adèle (Leïla Slimani) / The Death of Downton Tabby (Mandy Morton) / Step by Step (Simon Reeve) / The Dark Side of the Mind (Kerry Daynes) / Hired (James Bloodworth) / The Five (Hallie Rubenhold) / After the End (Clare Mackintosh)