Hexham Book Festival

The Accident on the A35 by Graeme Macrae Burnet

This is a beautifully written novel which slyly and quietly pushes at the boundaries of crime fiction. The traffic ‘accident’ of the title is the starting point for an investigation which very soon beguiles the reader into an emotional engagement with the characters; constantly undermining our desire to discover the perpetrator of the alleged crime. Centred around the acutely observed life of a small French town, with two exceptional character studies of the detective at the centre of the case, Georges Gorski and the victim’s teenage son Raymond, this novel is a genuine delight.

Nine Pints by Rose George

This is the absorbing, fascinating story of blood – the science, the myth, the cultural significance, the economics, and yes, the leeches. Rose George has travelled the world, from London to Cape Town, from Nepal to Canada, to uncover the good, the bad and the ugly about the substance that we all rely on to keep us alive, but which very few of us like to talk about and which is still taboo in many societies. A vital book in all senses of the word!

Frieda by Annabel Abbs

Behind every great man, so the saying goes, is a great woman. What the saying doesn’t add is that those women are too often forgotten, lost in the volumes of history or relegated to the footnotes. In this lushly written, beautifully crafted novel, Annabel Abbs redresses the balance for the ‘real Lady Chatterley’, Frieda von Richtofen, whose scandalous affair with a young D H Lawrence was the inspiration behind many of his most famous works. Frieda’s complex character is brought vividly to life, while the underlying debates about feminism and the nature of emancipation still resonate today.

With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix

Kathryn Mannix is a palliative care specialist, in this hugely compassionate book she tells the stories of 30 patients she has had the privilege to care for. The patients’ stories are told with clarity, feeling and the utmost humanity, as you can imagine, they are incredibly moving. Kathryn reflects on the finite nature of life, explores how people deal with death and emphasises how precious our time alive is. Her writing provides an inspiration for kindness to be present throughout life, to make the most of your life, and to have the courage to talk about death. This is an important book and reading it will make your life that bit richer.

The Valley at the Centre of the World by Malachy Tallack

Malachy Tallack's accomplished debut novel considers the lives of those living in four houses at the end of the road in a remote Shetland valley. The beautifully perceptive prose vividly describes the rhythms of life of this crofting community, deeply rooted in the landscape and working the land in tune with the changing weather. This is not a plot driven read but rather a subtler meditation that tenderly considers the nuances and layers of the characters’ relationships with one another and with themselves. I found the treatment of time particularly fascinating, how it alters our visions and interpretations, and shapes peoples' lives, despite passing and disappearing regardless of our efforts.

McMafia by Misha Glenny

Seriously ambitious in scope – “a journey through the world of international organised crime” – McMafia nonetheless delivers as promised, providing a view of crime on a mind-blowing scale, often with truly frightening state and institutional collusion. Despite the brutality of the topic, Glenny’s journalistic writing and the numerous first-hand insights add a light air that keep you reading at a lively rate. Fascinating but shocking.

Seeds of Science by Mark Lynas

A very well presented, honest and balanced review of the development and use of genetic modification in food. Lynas provides a keenly researched history of GM describing its development for various food applications but also brings a much more personal angle to the book by charting his own transformation from GM crop wrecker to advocate. This personal angle is further emphasised as he develops a discussion on the wider context of environmental policy, the risks of unintended consequences, the role of pragmatism and the importance of individual choice and opinion. Definitely a book to make you think.

Bookworm by Lucy Mangan

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 – I’m reading The Secret Garden!

Around the World in 80 Words by Paul Anthony Jones

Starting and finishing in London, Paul Anthony Jones travels around the world in search of 80 places that are now immortalised in the English language and uncovers the stories behind the words – from bedlam in Bethlehem to vaudeville in Vire, cravats in Zagreb to tuxedos in New York. This is a great ‘dip in and out of’ read that is always entertaining, informative and surprising. Even limericks aren’t quite as simple as you perhaps first thought!

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

This is a majestic re-imagining of the untold stories of Homer’s Iliad; Natalie Haynes soars and swoops over the epic poem, teasing out the stories of its female characters, both human and divine. We see the devastated remnants of the Trojan royal family; Hecabe, Polyxena, Andromache and Cassandra and hear their poignant stories. We read Penelope’s vivid, often angry missives to her errant husband Odysseus; always illustrative of her own resourcefulness and stoical humour. In Hayne’s hands the characters she lights upon provide an insightful examination of the toll exacted by warfare, on those who fight and those who must forge resistance of a different kind. As the muse Calliope states in the closing pages – “I have sung of the women, the women in the shadows. I have sung of the forgotten, the ignored, the untold”.

The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah

This radical and humbling story is about many personal transformations; from a borstal to becoming a University Chair of Creative Writing. Zephaniah rises above a life seemingly already mapped out for him by society. He charts painful family memories, gang pressure, petty crime and a glorious emergence alongside London’s reggae, ska and punk backdrop, as a performance poet in the early ‘80s. Zephaniah was also poet in residence at the chambers of Michael Mansfield QC at the time of the Stephen Lawrence case. Befriending Nelson Mandela, pushing political boundaries and even turning down an OBE; this book carries messages about the redemptive forces of poetry.

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