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Unsheltered by Barbara KingsolverA book for Christmas? (plus literary events from 10 Dec 2019)

Go on! Get a glass of wine and put your feet up. Thriller or quiz or something to read to the kids? Whether you ‘re looking for a challenge, some comfort or a complete escape, Angela J. Phillip offers some suggestions.

‘Unsheltered’ (2019) by Barbara Kingsolver
First of all – a challenge! No apologies here, this is a book to make us think. Every day we walk past people who have become homeless, thinking something like – there but for the grace of God go I. This is a story about a professional American family who are down on their luck and struggling (literally) to keep a roof over their heads. It is interwoven with a story from the past of a man who lived in the same place and who also struggled to keep his job and somewhere to live. The similarities of the two stories are set against the differences of the changing times. The stories are personal but the questions have fused into the one that almost dare not speak its name – is capitalism still a viable option?
Read my short review. Blue sky or global disaster? – review of Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver.

‘Me and my alien friend’ (2018) by Ed Boxall
And here is something for the kids although probably not just for them. I have always found that whenever I read a children’s book or go to watch a children’s film, it’s not just the kids who enjoy it. This is a book of illustrated poems that come from the heart (as do all Ed’s poems). “Loving the alien” and “a fantastic guide to friendship” are two of the readers’ comments that caught my eye. This is a book for all ages. Parents and grandparents will enjoy it as well as the little ones for whom it was intended – an ideal Christmas present.

‘The Charlotte Strain’ (2019) by Francis Booth
My name is Charley and I think I’m a clone. I think I had a mum but no dad.’
Aimed primarily at the new category of Young Adults (12 – 18 years), older adults, too, will appreciate this dystopian novel. Charley is 15 when the discovery of where she comes from throws her into an identity crisis that is almost unimaginable. Well, almost, but not quite because Charley copes in spectacular and impressive ways. This story is full of action, a page turner that pulls the reader through from beginning to end (and there is a follow-on book, that I bought and read immediately – The January Legacy). The ethics of cloning are raised and I thought, too, of Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro, another story of clones in the world. The reason for the clones’ existence in the two novels is completely different, but the ethics of whether such lives should continue pose similar questions.
Here is a promo vid for The WatchersThe Charlotte Strain is the first book in the series.

‘My name is Lucy Barton’ (2017) – Elizabeth Strout
The two main characters are women – a mother and her daughter but this novel is relevant for men, too, perhaps especially for men. The story is told from the daughter’s point of view. When Lucy, the daughter, is an adult, her mother comes to the hospital where she lies ill and as Lucy drifts in and out of consciousness, they talk. The mother won’t leave her side but the daughter, Lucy, remembers her childhood as a time when she was abused. Nothing is quite clear. Lucy remembers their talks some time later. Memories are clearly different for mother and daughter and time stretches between the times of thinking about them. But painful things need time before they can be brought to mind and that’s what these things feel like. A powerful story – its very ambiguity invests it with power. We return again and again to the things we cannot understand.

‘Slow Horses – Jackson Lamb Thriller 1’ (2017)  by Mick Herron
This new series of thrillers is attracting rave reviews, but I first heard about them  from my Australian friends who live in London. Strange really that in this world of  globally available news and reviews, word of mouth still influences me more than anything when choosing new authors to try. Anyway, in addition to the recommendation of my friends, Mick Herron has been described by the Sunday Times as ‘the UK’s new spy master’ and Slow Horses is about to be made into a TV series. Jackson Lamb and his cronies have been reassigned to jobs pushing paper after committing various sins to do with (amongst other things) drugs and drunkenness, but they are not content to be ‘slow horses’. When a boy is scheduled for a public beheading on the net, Jackson moves into action.

Mammoth general knowledge quiz book’ by Nick Holt
Last but not least, here is a quiz book for Christmas. Challenge the family to see who knows most or buy it to give as a gift. This is the best quiz book on the market and it’s by our own Nick Holt, landlord of the Stag Inn. If you’re after quizzes about football or music, he’s written those, too. For more of his offerings, please see Interview with Nick Holt.

If possible, please buy these books from the independent bookshops listed in the ‘Bookshops & Events’ list.
Unsheltered (2019) by Barbara Kingsolver
Me and my alien friend (2018)
by Ed Boxall
The Charlotte Strain (2019) by Francis Booth
My name is Lucy Barton (2017) by Elizabeth Strout
Slow Horses: Jackson Lamb thriller 1 (2017) by Mick Herron
The Mammoth General Knowledge Quiz Book (2019) by Nick Holt

Bookshops & Events

Bookbuster 39 Queens Rd, Hastings
Buddha Triangle Bookbuster Crimbo Banger
Saturday 14 December 6 – 8 pm hosted by Buddha Triangle & Bookbuster
Go to Bookbuster’s Facebook page to see more.

Printed Matter Bookshop 185 Queens Rd, Hastings TN34 1RG
Jan 2020: Book launch of Paul Anderson’s Suedeheads & film screening of Horace Ove’s ‘Reggae 1970’ at The Electric Palace Cinema, Old Town.
Please see Facebook page for details of other events.

The Bookkeeper Bookshop 1a Kings Rd, St Leonards
Come and look at the Bookkeeper Bookshop Facebook page to see more.

The Hare & Hawthorn Bookshop 
51 George St, Hastings Old Town
For more information see the Hare & Hawthorn Facebook page.

Well, folks, it’s nearly Christmas and I have only just started writing my cards. I hope that you are better organised than I am. Good luck.

Angela J. Phillip
I have a new website only just begun.
I would be thrilled if you signed up for my Newsletter  although this will be infrequent to begin with (and if you don’t like it, unsubscribe is always available).
Please see:

For a selection of other posts on my writing journey, please see

Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Thanks so much for reading and happy writing. Please get in touch with any comments or suggestions.

Angela J. Phillip


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Posted 09:00 Tuesday, Dec 10, 2019 In: Hastings Bookchat

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