Independent Bookselling for Independent Minds
Expectation has the sort of pitch-perfect brilliance that feels effortless to read. Hooked from the first page, I became even more deeply immersed as the tale unfolded, tracing the lives of three friends across three decades. As the novel opens Hannah, Cate and Lissa have it all to play for. They are as young, hip and aspirational as the newly-gentrified area of London they inhabit. Ten years later, life has taken some interesting turns. New mum Cate is feeling the strain, while Hannah is desperate to conceive; Hannah has a chic apartment and rewarding career, but Lissa’s acting never quite got off the ground and she struggles to make her rent… Each wants what the other has, and the ties of friendship are tested. With warmth and compassion, Anna Hope explores how we navigate the space between the expectations we place on ourselves and reality – in a world where demands on us are increasingly complex – and the importance of taking good friends with us on this journey.
I’ve been hugely impressed with this collection of short stories, which much to my delight has taken me some way out of my reading comfort zone. The stories are sometimes magical, occasionally quite strange, and most definitely at odds with reality, yet, I was completely drawn into these worlds. The writing is compelling, rhythmic and the ideas woven through these contemporary fairy tales leave you with so much to think about. I’m in awe of Jen Campbell’s command of language, imagination and craftsmanship.
As the author sets out in his preface, the purpose of this hugely informative and entertaining book is to attempt an understanding of ‘why the North East remains one of the most distinctive parts of England’. I’m sure no native of the area would dispute this assertion, and in this vividly rendered, meticulously researched book Dan Jackson swoops and soars over crucial aspects of our region’s social, political, intellectual and industrial history. There emerges from its pages an affectionate but never sentimental portrait of a people uniquely shaped by their environment. It’s a must read for anyone interested in North East history from the Tees to the Tweed. Just wonderful.
The war reporter Marie Colvin was described in many different ways by many different people: courageous, inspirational, rebellious, driven, dedicated – a dedication that ultimately cost her her life in Homs, Syria in 2012 – and yet also vulnerable, self-obsessed, and with a yearning for security. Here, her friend and colleague Lindsey Hilsum weaves the threads of Marie’s complex character together, with a combination of investigation, analysis, and brilliant storytelling, into an extraordinary biography of an extraordinary woman.
This was easily my book of the year. At twenty-six, Whitney Brown’s career path is mapped out. That is, until chance brings dry-stone waller Jack to Washington DC. Fascinated by his craft, Whitney accepts an invitation to visit his home in Wales. Mere months later, she is working alongside him on the hill. Delighting in the physicality of the job (despite smashed fingers and bruised shins) and the shifting beauty of the Welsh countryside, Whitney discovers she need not be on native soil to feel a sense of homecoming. Between Stone and Sky is suffused by Whitney’s lively warmth, humour and originality. She deftly sketches the local topography by listing the gear changes required to navigate its valleys, revels in the local language and discovers the joy of elevenses. More than the delicate love story at its heart, Whitney’s is also a tale of finding harmony between body and soul, between the heft of stone, the inspiration of good friends and the joy of travel.
We were fortunate enough to welcome author Nicolette Perry to Cogito Books earlier this year to talk about this utterly fascinating and incredibly useful book. Based on years of scientific research and practice into the use of plants to enhance the way our brains work, the different sections give comprehensive advice on which plants to use to promote calm, sleep, energy and memory, and there are additional tips on using plants in everything from soothing creams to gorgeous recipes. If you’re interested in enhancing your mental (and physical) wellbeing in the New Year, then this is definitely the book to help you do it.
This is a richly atmospheric examination of an obsessive yet doomed love affair between two characters who are both utterly compromised by the corruption of the society in which they live. Frannie is born into slavery in Jamaica; the illegitimate daughter of a plantation owner she is educated only to aid him in the horrific ‘scientific’ experiments he carries out on his slaves. When Langton’s barbarism finally causes his wife to rid herself of him, he brings Frannie to London where he hands her over to George Benham, another whose dehumanising ‘scientific’ interests place her in further jeopardy. However, here Frannie becomes involved with Benham’s wife, Marguerite, whose unhappiness in the house of her controlling, cruel husband is threatening her sanity. Frannie and Meg’s relationship is a poignant plea by two women trying to find sanctuary, meaning and freedom when all agency is denied them. In this impressive and powerful novel, Sara Collins’ exploration of slavery is unflinching yet multi-faceted and in the character of Frannie she has created a flawed but fiercely courageous heroine.
I just loved this witty, literary take on a Gothic thriller, combined with pacey, contemporary police procedural. It’s a bold move on Elly Griffiths’ part but she most definitely pulls it off. The set-up is just perfect; an English teacher, Clare Cassidy is researching a Victorian writer, RM Holland whose ghost story The Stranger is the subject of one of her classes. However, real life intrudes in horrific fashion when bodies begin to turn up, murdered in identical ways to the victims in Holland’s story. So just how is Clare connected to the murders? DS Harbinder Kaur is assigned to investigate and immediately gets under Clare’s skin. Alternating between Harbinder, Clare and Georgia’s (Clare’s daughter) perspectives, Elly Griffiths creates a deepening mystery, with plenty of satisfying nods to the Gothic tradition, but which is also full of rather wonderfully sympathetic characters and a great line in warm, wise cracking humour. It’s an absolute delight.
Having read Thomas Williams’ Viking Britain earlier this year I was really looking forward to this companion volume exploring the fractured but enduring influence of the Vikings on London. The Viking raids on the city were numerous and violent and as in the rest of the country met with great resistance but also caused London to remake itself over time becoming ever closer to the city we recognise today. This beautifully written and vividly engaging book reveals to us the depths of the Viking influence on London and traces the ghosts of its presence in the modern city. It’s a feast of fascinating research for anyone interested in the history of our ever-evolving capital city.
‘Uplifting’ is the right word for this book on so many levels. Literally, Skybound describes Rebecca Loncraine’s love affair with flight as she discovers gliding, one year into remission from cancer. Emotionally, it brings her unexpected joy, and we delight with her as she soars in silence, reacquainting herself with her home valley from the sky. I loved Rebecca’s sketches of the birds who circle alongside her, and of the rugged mountains, rock and moss which form the backdrop to her flights. Skybound is a book of distilled beauty: a paean to the natural world; to the sky and to the birds who make it their element.
This book should be compulsory reading for absolutely everyone. It’s poignancy and beauty can be appreciated by anyone at any age; warm, wise and profoundly kind it follows a young boy and his animal friends on a gentle journey of self-discovery. Charlie Mackesy has combined his gorgeous illustrations with emotionally direct prose which taps into a well of kindness I think we’d all like to see more of in the world. I’m thinking of keeping this book permanently by my bedside as a constant source of spiritual balm.
Making the bold decision to cease farming and instead let nature take its own course on land that has been in the family for generations, Isabella Tree and her husband begin a revolutionary rewilding project. Sparking many a lively conversation in the bookshop this year, Wilding discusses how history has shaped the British mindset to farming and food production, its effect on the land and how alternative approaches do exist. Their estate is not prime agricultural land and earning a living was always a struggle, but left to its own devices the land flourishes with species of rare flora and fauna re-establishing a presence. A fantastic, closely observed, first-hand account of a new approach to land management.
This intense, beautifully wrought novel is set during the Napoleonic Wars and follows the attempts of soldier John Lacroix to recover from both the bodily injuries and the unacknowledged psychological damage he’s sustained during the army’s desperate retreat to Corunna. His journey is one which is both physical and emotional; as he sets out for the Western Isles of Scotland, trying and often failing to recall the terrifying events of his recent past. This is a remarkable and thought-provoking study of war induced trauma.
Alan Rusbridger was editor of The Guardian between 1995 and 2015. Part memoir, Breaking News gives us a raft of fascinating behind the scenes glimpses of some of the biggest stories of the era, but above all, this an extremely honest account of the personal and commercial challenges faced in delivering meaningful journalism against the constantly changing backdrop of the digital revolution. Written with authority, passion and also humility, Breaking News has a definite sense of significance and provides a real inspiration to strive for quality and truth in a world that is all too often filled with noise, vested interest and mediocrity.
This profound and original novel almost defies description, but its bold, beautiful language, innovative form and content are a rare treat indeed. It’s the story of a village, a family and a unique, imaginative child; the eponymous Lanny. Yet it’s also an attempt to capture all at once, our contemporary world and it’s more traditional roots and how one feeds into the other when a community’s fears and prejudices are brought to the fore when a child goes missing. The book interweaves elements reminiscent of a folk tale with incisive commentary on contemporary attitudes and behaviour to create a hybrid which is visionary, disturbing and totally unique.
An epic 2000 mile canoe journey down the Yukon river provides the narrative thread for this enticing and wide ranging exploration. The chinook, or king salmon that breed in the river are the headline focus but Weymouth delivers so much more. Stories from the individuals and communities who live in this raw environment, beautifully depicted landscapes, sharp wildlife observations and moments of adventure combine to make this a terrific window into one of the most remote regions of North America.
This is just the most magnificent treat for any fans of historical crime fiction. Set in Victorian Edinburgh’s medical community, the novel cleverly weaves together real historical figures and embryonic fictional investigative duo Will Raven and Sarah Fisher, in a deliciously addictive mystery. As Will and Sarah, drawn reluctantly together, begin to investigate the deaths of young women in the city’s notorious Old Town, we enter a wonderfully realised world of poverty, crime and a medical profession in its infancy; compelling yet terrifying at the same time. Full of great characters, fascinating historical detail and a rallying commentary on gender politics throughout, this is a fantastic start to a new crime series.
In this book, local archaeologist, historian and naturalist Max Adams looks at humanity’s relationship with some of the world’s most iconic trees and, in his typically engaging style, examines how much we rely on them for everything from food and shelter to medicine. The book is packed with fascinating facts and is sumptuously illustrated with beautiful photography and gorgeous botanical illustrations. Divided into six themed chapters detailing the many ways in which trees contribute to our daily lives it’s a wonderfully informative read and a great reference book for tree enthusiasts.
In June 1934, aged just 19, Laurie Lee set out on foot from his home in Gloucestershire with nothing but a rolled-up tent, a tin of treacle biscuits and a violin under his arm. It was the start of a two-year journey that would take him first to London and then south through a Spain that was on the verge of civil war. Lee’s language is lush and his prose as languorous as his stride, yet he has an eye for the kind of almost careless detail that most people would miss. The landscape is evoked in all its harsh, vibrant beauty, but it is the characters that he meets along the way which give the book its humanity and humour. This is a beautiful, yet un-romantic portrait of a long-forgotten Spain – I often wish I could discover it for the first time all over again!
Set in the 1990s, this impressive novel is full of intrigue and beautifully written subtleties. Spanning three generations, the story sifts to the surface family feuds and secrets that have long been buried in misguided attempts to dampen the trauma of war. It takes us from the steady rhythms and workings of a Norwegian homestead, to the rough, rugged shores of Shetland with its hidden grandeur and to the solitude of a unique woodland discovered during the Great War. Each place, vivid with detail, is linked to the mystery surrounding the death of the protagonist’s parents twenty years earlier. An ambitious plot delivered with real elegance.
As captivating as it is revolutionary, Circe is a bold reimagining of the witch-goddess best known for seducing Odysseus. Not considered pretty enough to be important, not ruthless enough to seize power, Circe lives a stunted life in the halls of her father Helios. That is, until she discovers she has a gift: witchcraft. It is not long before this gift lands her in trouble. So begins her exile – and her salvation – on the mystical island of Aiaia. We follow Circe’s bare feet as she wanders amongst Aiaia’s verdant woodlands and heady, herb-scented hillsides, watch as she heals, begins to flourish, grows powerful in her craft. The woman who stands tall, tame lioness at her side, and turns lascivious sailors into swine is practical, self-taught, sensitive, strong: a beacon of light for women navigating the seas of our own age.
I started to read this book and almost immediately it began acting as a wonderful uplifting tonic. It’s a disarmingly simple story of two friends, both very singular in their perspective and outlook on the world, yet happy in their own skins. We learn the ins and outs of Leonard and Hungry Paul’s families, work routines and their wonderfully low-key hopes and desires. Although very moving at times, this is the most heart-warming, gentle story where nothing dramatic actually happens, yet as a reader, you’re more than happy to spend time in the company of the two main characters and Ronan Hession’s mesmerising and often hilarious writing. I just loved this book; an object of quiet but total adoration.
Bookworm is a celebration of childhood reading and recreates that magical feeling, when as a child, you read a book by a new author for the first time. Told with Lucy Mangan’s warmth and humour, she shares an impressive reading list from toddler years to adolescence, demonstrating her well-earned status from which the book takes its title. Full of nostalgia, Bookworm explains the historical context of the cornerstones of children’s literature and interweaves entertaining author biographies. I guarantee by the end you’ll be seeking out old favourites to re-read or picking up titles you may have missed.
This is a tautly written, thematically rich, nuanced novella which is definitely one of the finest books to have been published this year. Teenager Silvie accompanies her draconian father and bullied mother into the wild Northumbrian hills, spending the summer attempting to re-create Iron Age living conditions in an experimental archaeology camp. But as the past begins to seep into the present, the characters head down an increasingly dark path towards a violence which becomes inevitable. With its masterful examination of nationalism, sexism, corruption and class, this book demonstrates why Sarah Moss is without doubt one of our greatest contemporary writers.
Fans of Ragnar Jonasson’s ‘Dark Iceland’ series are sure to love this new one. This time in place of Ari Thor just starting out in his police career, we have Hulda Hermannsdottir an experienced Reykjavik detective, being railroaded into early retirement by her unappreciative bosses. As Hulda begins what may be her final case, looking into the death of a young Russian immigrant, the past comes back to haunt her as things become more complex than they first appear. The effort to keep her investigation on track while dealing with her own family issues puts Hulda increasingly at risk, as she becomes more and more isolated from her work colleagues, who just want the case forgotten and her gone from the force. Superb crime fiction from one of Iceland’s rising stars.
This novel was one of the many highlights at this year’s Hexham Book Festival. A wise fable in itself this novel draws on the Icelandic sagas, both literally and figuratively, to create a compelling story about the transformative nature of experience born of trauma, when all we know and love is brutally taken from us. Based on the true story of a pirate raid on Iceland in 1627, we follow the fate of captive Asta, transported to Algiers and forced into slavery. It is here that she must build a new life with the help of the stories she tells, both as a reminder of her past and a relief from the suffering which threatens to overwhelm her.
Originally published in 1954 this super book provides a great introduction to the geology and journeys travelled by the humble pebble. Written in a relaxed conversational style, this is an engaging read which is simultaneously bursting with knowledge and practical tips for identifying and discovering the origins of pebbles. A pleasure to read in itself and useful as an ongoing reference, this book will really come into its own by enlivening so many walks with an extra dimension of awareness and curiosity.
This is the most brilliant book for anyone wanting to cook simple yet delicious vegetarian meals. The dishes cover everything from light fresh suppers to hearty stews and tasty tarts; all cooked in one roasting tin. The book is also helpfully divided into vegan and vegetarian sections with options to choose quick, medium or slow cooking depending on the time you have available. We’re huge fans of the book here at Cogito; so this one is definitely tried and tested!
Transcription tells the story of Juliet Armstrong, recruited to MI5 at the beginning of World War Two and who, ten years later, is unexpectedly confronted by the past that she had assumed had been left behind. I completely lost myself in the story, told with Atkinson’s trademark wisdom and flashes of dry humour, and in the ideas that the novel presents – those of identity, patriotism, sacrifice, and exactly what constitutes “real” in a world where so much is invented or imagined. This is definitely one to sink into but keep your wits about you!
This is a marvellously inspiring book which looks at the contributions made to our national life by the brilliant women of the north east. Some of the women who appear in these pages are already household names; Grace Darling, Josephine Butler and Gertrude Bell to name a few. However, there are less well known, but no less fascinating figures contained here about whom it’s a joy to read; the lives of seventeenth century feminist writer Mary Astell, original Blue Stocking Elizabeth Montagu and sociologist Harriet Martineau are particular personal favourites.
This is a vibrant, rich journey through the rainbow of colour – from Lead white to Vantablack via Naples yellow, Baker-Miller pink and Absinthe green. The history and stories behind each colour are often as alluring and captivating as the colours themselves, and there are some surprising anecdotes! Beautifully presented and thoroughly researched, this is a must for anyone interested in the art or science of colour, art and culture (or for anyone who just likes dipping into a gorgeous book!).
Kassia St Clair has also recently published The Golden Thread, celebrating the beauty and power of fabric in its many, many forms; this delightful book weaves a complex tapestry back through time.
This is a story that draws you in, consumes your attention, and remains with you. Cutting for Stone follows the lives of twins born in a mission hospital in Addis Ababa; it demonstrates the stark contrast between places with advanced medical care and those with virtually none. Verghese is a perceptive and skilled writer who builds rich detail and depth into the development of his characters and this has allowed him to create a captivating read that examines the complexities of human relationships and cultural influences. Cutting for Stone is a very human story told with precision, respect and emotion.
The Library of Ice explores different cultural perspectives on snow and ice, encompassing elements of travel memoir, social history, scientific review and artistic inspiration. From first hand experiences of harsh winters in Greenland and Iceland, to researching in the Bodleian Library, Campbell’s writing is considered, observant and reflective. This combined with her poetic language makes Library of Ice an extremely vivid and stimulating read, with the unusual variety of dimensions ensuring a broad appeal.
This remains one of my favourite reads of 2018: part historical novel, part fable and all imaginative brilliance. Set in late eighteenth century London (which the author brings alive in glorious period detail) it tells the story of merchant ship owner Jonah Hancock who is presented with what one of his ship’s captain’s swears is a genuine mermaid and therefore a guaranteed route to untold wealth. The interest shown by London in this great curiosity brings Mr Hancock into the orbit of the beautiful courtesan Angelica Neal. Their subsequent strangely realised marriage sets them both on a course of danger and self-discovery, as they come under a mysterious malign influence - is it the mermaid’s or a deeper internal malaise - and ultimately, will they both survive it? This novel is full of charm, humour and heartbreak, written with a love of language which leaps straight from the page.
Most of us probably haven’t given the science of sleep a great deal of thought, but Why We Sleep makes an extremely persuasive case for why we should. Walker contends that sleep should be considered as important as diet and exercise, and he certainly convinced me. Clear explanations of the various processes that occur whilst we sleep and demonstrations of their consequences make this usually overlooked subject exciting and significant. Read it and wake up to the power of sleep!
This novel is such an unexpected and original joy, it must go down as one of my most surprising yet rewarding reads this year. It’s the fictionalised account of the life of Marie Tussaud, founder of the famous waxwork museum which bears her name. Born Marie Grosholtz, and cruelly christened ‘Little’ her story is that of a completely remarkable character who will stay with you long after you’ve finished the book. The scope of the novel is both epic and intimate; encompassing the political upheaval and brutality of Revolutionary France while allowing us to become acquainted with Marie’s eccentric world and its inhabitants in wonderful often peculiar detail. Edward Carey’s writing is such a treat; vivid, humorous, compassionate and totally unique, as are his eerily charming illustrations.
This is a short but powerful story about a quiet, unassuming man who plants acorns every day, renewing the Provençal landscape where he lives. The intricate wood engravings that accompany the narrative further enhance the depth of meaning behind Giono’s simple tale and reinforce the importance of our relationship with nature. I’ve read this book several times this year and have been comforted and inspired by its message that even small acts of kindness can have a lasting and significant impact.
This year is the fortieth anniversary of legendary publisher Virago’s creation of their Modern Classics list; its ambition, to re-introduce readers to female authors whose work had become overlooked or neglected thus robbing us of this important tradition of female authorship. This celebratory book contains essays by exceptional writers describing their personal relationship with particular authors who feature in the Virago canon. There are wonderful pieces from Margaret Drabble and Sarah Dunant on Jane Austen and Daphne Du Maurier and, amongst my personal favourites, Rachel Cooke on Stevie Smith and Sarah Waters on Sylvia Townsend Warner. Absolute bliss from cover to cover.
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