Arts

Book Reviews: The House of Birds a richly engaging read

Morgan McCarthy's new novel is The House Of Birds

FICTION

The House Of Birds by Morgan McCarthy, published in hardback by Tinder Press

READ beyond the initial awkwardness of childhood friends Kate and Oliver's tenuous romance and you're rewarded with a book that's richly engaging.

Kate has been left a house in leafy Oxford by a reclusive old aunt. Oliver has quit his job in the city and, with time on his hands, offers to oversee the renovation of what he remembers from a boyhood glimpse of exotic wallpaper as 'the house of birds'. Bedding down on an old mattress in the living room, while Kate is in New York for work, he discovers a folded-up handwritten diary stuffed within the carefully cut out pages of an old history book.

And so we meet Sophia, the narrator of this story within a story, who once lived in the house. As Oliver discovers more of her writing, he's drawn into an ancient dispute over the house, between Kate's family and the intimidating Calverts – and begins to rediscover himself in the dusty shell of the past. Not without some contrivances of plot, but when McCarthy is writing as Sophia, there's nothing you'd rather be reading.

Kate Whiting

 

Miss Jane by Brad Watson, published in hardback by Picador

WHEN Jane Chisolm was born on a farm in rural America, she was, as her doctor often told her, a 'normal girl'. There was only one thing that made her different – a genital birth defect, that made her incontinent and unable to have sex.

Growing up with a heartbroken and guilt-ridden mother, a distant father, a self-involved sister, and a condition that made socialising with other people tricky, Jane's childhood was never going to be easy. But thanks to her determined and curious nature, and the help of a kind doctor who took Jane under his wing, she survived.

This book tells the story of her early life and the obstacles she faced – an attempt to attend school, the impact of the Great Depression on her father's farm, his deteriorating mental health and her first romantic relationship. Watson drew on the story of his great-aunt for the novel. It's a beautiful portrait of a young girl trying to navigate a difficult life, and an honest story, that will bring you to tears more than once.

Sophie Herdman

 

Rather Be The Devil by Ian Rankin, published in hardback by Orion

DETECTIVE John Rebus has been retired for a couple of years, but is finding it difficult to let go. A case from the 1970s, in which socialite Maria Turquand was strangled in one of Edinburgh's upmarket hotels, is still preying on his mind.

No-one was ever found guilty of her murder, but an assault on a local gangster, a money laundering scam and a missing banker get Rebus thinking. Could they somehow be linked? And is his nemesis 'Big Ger' Cafferty involved?

The fact that he's no longer a police officer doesn't stop Rebus reopening the case and, with the help of his former colleagues, DI Siobhan Clark and Malcolm Fox, he's back in his element bending the rules and sticking two fingers up at the establishment. This may be Rebus's 21st outing, but this is a cleverly crafted tale and Ian Rankin's storytelling is as fresh as ever.

Catherine Small

 

NON-FICTION

The Trusted Executive: Nine Leadership Habits that Inspire Results, Relationships and Reputation, by John Blakey, published by Kogan Page

WHAT do DH Lawrence, Batman, The Matrix, corporate giants such as BP and Coleraine Olympic rower Alan Campbell have in common? That eclectic mix of poets, sports stars, movie and business giants all pop up in The Trusted Executive, a business book by John Blakey.

In a book neatly divided into three sections, Blakey first establishes his premise that trust – the most valuable commodity to a business – has been broken. Over subsequent chapters in section two he sets out his ‘three pillar model’ whereby Integrity, Ability and Benevolence combined can resurrect trustworthiness. Finally in section three we read how the three-pillar approach can have a positive effect on individuals and the wider business organisation.

It's a very readible, accessible book which can be digested in two or three sittings. The writing flows and each chapter heads down multiple tangents containing real-life case studies, the author's own personal experience and transcribed interviews with CEOs and other senior personnel from global firms such as John Lewis and Unilever.

Blakey loves an acronym and after reading The Trusted Executive you will know that a ZOUD is your ‘Zone of Uncomfortable Discussion’ a RAK is a ‘Random Act of Kindness’ and a TNT equals a ‘Tiny Noticeable Thing’ – such as a handwritten thank you note or birthday card to a colleague.

Coleraine rower Campbell, who Blakey has encountered on a couple of occasions, pops up in two case studies, adding a little bit of local colour to a highly readable and positive book.

Brendan Mulgrew

 

Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor, published in hardback by Canongate

THIS slim volume is a writer's last will and testament. In it, award-winning Australian novelist Cory Taylor, who died on July 5, takes stock of her life .

At the time of writing, 61-year-old Taylor knew she was dying of an untreatable brain cancer. In lucid, precise, unsentimental prose, she makes a powerful case for assisted dying, answers a series of questions that people always want to ask the dying, and reflects on the life she has lived and the imminent extinction that now awaits her.

She writes less about her current life, the obviously happy relationships she enjoys with her children and her husband Shin, focuses more on the unresolved tensions and disputes of her past, especially difficulties and disappointments with siblings and parents. Reconciliation is her dying wish.

One hopes that the composition of this clear-sighted essay helped to sustain her during the final phase of her life, just as its clear-sighted compassion might have something to teach any mortal. As she says, 'We are all just a millimetre away from death, all of the time, if only we knew it.'

Dan Brotzel

 

CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK

There's Not One by Jennifer Higgie, published in hardback by Scribble, priced £10.99

This vividly colourful debut from Jennifer Higgie is perfect for little people who are starting to learn about numbers, and their place in the world. You see, there's not one dog, there's not one star in the firmament, there's not one baked bean, there are zillions!

With 'one' carefully juxtaposed on the left-hand page, against 'the many' on the right, Higgie reels off a list of familiar elements from a child's world, adding... "There's not one you... Oops, yes there is!", which is bound to raise a giggle. Beautifully designed and such a simple, but effective concept, without verging into the mushy, Higgie's book is a fun and thought-provoking read, that will remind us all how unique we are - and yet, in this world more than ever before, it's better when we're together.

Kate Whiting

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