A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre

A Spy Among FriendsAfter reading two excellent novels in recent months about Soviet spies recruited at Cambridge University – ‘Sweet Tooth‘ by Ian McEwan and ‘Red Joan‘ by Jennie Rooney – I was intrigued by Ben Macintyre’s biography of Kim Philby, one of the Cambridge Five spies recruited by Arnold Deutsch in the mid-1930s. Philby worked for Britain’s secret intelligence service (SIS or MI6) during the Second World War and the early years of the Cold War before his activities as a double agent for the NKVD and KGB were finally uncovered in 1963.
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Little Egypt by Lesley Glaister

Little Egypt‘Little Egypt’ by Lesley Glaister tells the story of twin siblings, Isis and Osiris, and their childhood in the 1920s. Living in a large family home called Little Egypt, their eccentric parents, Evelyn and Arthur, set off to search for the fabled tomb of Herihor, leaving the twins in the care of their housekeeper Mary and their uncle Victor. Many decades later, Isis and Osiris are now in their nineties and still living in their derelict house which Isis cannot sell for fear of someone discovering what happened there all those years ago.

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Moranthology by Caitlin Moran

MoranthologyThe ingeniously titled ‘Moranthology’ is a collection of Caitlin Moran’s columns, reviews and interviews originally published in The Times. Following the success of her guide to modern feminism, ‘How To Be a Woman‘, this collection covers a broader range of topics including Boris Johnson, cannabis, tax, Doctor Who, holidays in Aberystwyth, burqas, World of Warcraft, party bags and pandas to name a few. Continue reading

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The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is one of the most interesting literary prizes but is also, unfortunately, one of the more overlooked. It probably hasn’t helped that the announcement of both the longlist and shortlist  has coincided with the announcement of the longlist and shortlist of the higher profile Women’s Prize for Fiction. The jury had a record number of entries to read before choosing this year’s shortlist which was revealed yesterday:

The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim (translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright)

A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard (translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett)

A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli (translated from the French by Sam Taylor)

The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke (translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch)

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa (translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder)

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami (translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell)
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The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

The Woman UpstairsLast summer, I read ‘The Last Life‘ by Claire Messud but gave it a mixed review.  I had expected a character-driven novel about French-Americans to be something I would really enjoy.  However, I didn’t really get on with it and I wanted to try Messud’s latest novel, ‘The Woman Upstairs’, so I could find out whether it was just that particular book which wasn’t for me or her work in general. Continue reading

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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The LowlandJhumpa Lahiri was one of my favourite new discoveries in 2013 so I have really been looking forward to reading her latest novel, ‘The Lowland’ which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year and has recently been longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. It tells the story of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, who grow up in Calcutta in the 1950s and 1960s. While Udayan’s involvement in an underground Communist movement ultimately results in his death, Subhash starts a new life in the United States, later marrying his widowed and pregnant sister-in-law, Gauri, and taking her with him back to New England. Continue reading

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Books in Prisons

The Ministry of Justice has recently banned prisoners in the UK from receiving books sent by friends and relatives.  According to the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, the new restrictions on parcels received by inmates are part of an “incentives and earned privileges” scheme and aims to prevent drugs and other illegal items being smuggled into prisons.

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