Book Reviews: Novels and Maps

This week has been pretty good on the book front. Not only have I read some good ones, I have also fulfilled a childhood dream of having an entire WALL OF BOOKS in my study:


Is there any feeling better than arranging all your books in order on shelves? I think not.

Other than arranging books, I’ve also been reading some of them. Here are my reviews of the books I’ve read this week.

We Used To Be Kings by Stewart Foster

We Used To Be Kings by Stewart FosterAn intriguing book, which I took home because it had a recommendation from Matt Haig on the back. (Those recommendation things are really important. I’ve taken home loads of books based on them, and skipped over a few that only had recommendations from the Daily Mail.)

We Used To Be Kings tells the story of a boy’s descent into madness. It’s Tom’s eighteenth birthday, and he’s been in a psychiatric institution for several years. He’s there because he still hears the voice of Jack, his dead brother, in his mind.

Desperate for a different life, Tom escapes, and the book follows him across the country, trying to find the beach he’d been to with his whole family before everything changed.

I liked it because it’s unusual. Foster’s writing style is interesting – it takes a little while to get used to, but once you’re a couple of chapters in you’ll no doubt be entranced by the strange and compelling tale of Tom and Jack Gagarin, who used to be Kings.

The Girl On The Landing by Paul Torday

The Girl on the Landing by Paul TordayPaul Torday, who also wrote Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, is well on the way to becoming one of my favourite authors.

Another descent-into-madness book (all this week’s novels have similar themes), The Girl on the Landing follows the story of Elizabeth and Michael, who have been married for ten years. Told from the alternating points of view of both spouses, it charts Michael’s growing confusion following an obsession with a strange painting he noticed when visiting a friend.

One of those brilliant stories that keeps you going Is it? No. Oh, but could it be… No, it couldn’t be… Oh, THAT’S it! all the way through, The Girl on the Landing is an excellent and highly recommended read.

When The Devil Holds The Candle by Karin Fossum

When the Devil Holds the Candle by Karin FossumI’ve been a fan of Fossum’s ever since I read Broken many years ago, and although I’ve yet to find another book of hers that strikes me as much as that one did, When the Devil Holds the Candle comes pretty close.

It’s a creepy, brilliant story told partially from the point of view of the antagonist, who – wait for it – is experiencing a descent into madness.

My books do seem to have weekly themes. I assure you it’s not deliberate. It just sort of seems to happen.

Andreas and Zipp are best friends. Inseparable and exclusive, they have done everything together since they were in primary school. Now they’re eighteen, and Andreas has disappeared. Everyone assumes that Zipp must know more than he’s telling – but does he? And what, if anything, does the strange woman who appears at the police station, spouting nonsensical warnings, have to do with it all?

The kind of book you won’t want to put down. I spent an extra fifteen minutes on the bus around London’s North Circular Road just so I could finish it.

Vargic’s Miscellany Of Curious Maps by Martin Vargic

Vargic's Miscellany of Curious Maps by Martin VargicThere were two books I bought myself as presents for when I’d finally finished the study (the room with the wall-to-wall bookshelves). This was one, and the other was the last book in this post.

I opened the box yesterday and reverently placed them on the coffee table.

And then I popped open a bottle of wine and lay on the sofa to read them.

Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps is a work of art. Beautiful, intricately designed, funny, sensitive, political, factual, interesting… the list goes on and on.

I bought it as a kind of coffee table curio, but that doesn’t begin to do it justice. It’s the kind of book I’ll undoubtedly be visiting again and again.

An Atlas Of Countries That Don’t Exist by Nick Middleton

An Atlas Of Countries That Don't Exist by Nick Middleton…and this was the other book I bought as a special study-finishing treat.

This book is fascinating. It’s pretty too, with an unusual design, which I like.

An Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist charts precisely what it describes in the title: disputed territories, places that used to be countries but have since been enveloped into others, and recently-declared areas such as Sealand.

If you’re at all interested in how borders are defined, the way we set up the world, and what constitutes a country, this book will be a very interesting read.

What have you read this week? What do you think I should read next? 

Do you have a book you’d like me to review? Drop me a line through the Contact form.


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