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Book Review: Jewels of Allah: The Untold Story of Women in Iran by Dr Nina Ansary, Ph.D

“Iranian women have different perspectives and attitudes… yet they are united in the desire to be free to follow their own path. Every woman is a unique gemstone… and together they will change the course of history in their homeland.” Nina Ansary


jewelsofallah_smFor many in the West, the view of women in Iran is one of heavy censorship and inequality, of lives controlled by Conservative men and radical Ayatollahs.


It’s a view that has been formed not from first-hand information, but from (almost exclusively negative) media snapshots, which have consistently depicted Iran rife with hard-line division where women are treated as second-class citizens.


Jewels of Allah: The Untold Story of Women in Iran, then, is an astonishingly refreshing, timely and, at times, provocative roller coaster ride of a book which will shatter many of the West’s preconceived ideas by exploding the myth that Iranian women are ubiquitously oppressed.


Written by Dr Nina Ansary, Jewels of Allah reveals, in fact, that the audacious history of women in Iran is a maze, with unexpected twists and turns, gains and losses, triumphs and defeats’.


Determined to set the record straight, Ansary offers an insightful, informed and unique first-hand look at the strong flowering of feminism in Iran, which has existed and blossomed even under times of heavy Conservative control.


In particular, Jewels of Allah highlights the many actions that feminists in Iran have taken throughout history to push for women’s rights, despite the risk of harsh reprisals. It also examines their relationship with a capricious state and its multitude of political and ideological leaders.


Most of all, this gripping book shatters the long-held Western perceptions of subjugation – of Iranian women being marginalised citizens. And it highlights a systematic rise in Islamic Feminism, a movement that is challenging the traditional model of womanhood across Iran and the wider Muslim world, and also how Western feminists can help support it.


Undoubtedly, this book – written by one of the world’s leading authorities on the women’s movement in Iran, and one of its most respected political observers, will appeal to academics, students and the mainstream public interested in global affairs, the Middle East, women’s rights, feminism and Iran.


Iran is a story which never seems to truly leave the headlines, and its topicality never wanes. It is country that sparks fascination – and Jewels of Allah is a book that will educate and inform readers, helping them understand it better.

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Thoughts from an Orkney Librarian

by Stewart Bain

At a time when Amazon reviews and star-ratings have become devalued, how do we come across that very special book that will stay with us for a lifetime?  Orkney Library’s Senior Library Assistant Stewart Bain says trust your local librarian.


Profile picIt is impossible to remember every detail about all the books you have read. Some you vaguely recall; it was to do with a dinner lady winning thousands on the bingo and moving abroad; or, it was quite a big book and had a picture of a hefty man standing next to a Ford Anglia on the cover.


Others books are so forgettable they will leave your memory permanently the very second you read the last word. Then there are the books in which the people and places resonate with you to such an extent that they will stay with you forever.  This is the sort of book everyone wants to read, so how do you find it?


You may read books because they have been recommended to you. If a friend tells you they have just finished an amazing novel and you must read it, you will probably give it a go. You assume your friend is telling the truth and it isn’t some devious plan to see you waste several hours of your life as you plod through chapter after chapter of poorly written nonsense.


If you are not fortunate enough to have a friend to make reading recommendations, you may seek inspiration online. The internet is awash with book reviews, but can you trust them? In the old days it was easy, you just watched Late Review and three people who were clearly brainier than you would say clever things about the new Umberto Eco novel. However, in the digital age everyone can share their opinion on a book with the entire world.


Independent review sites can be a good starting point when you are looking for your next read. LoveReading is a site by book lovers for book lovers. It features recommendations and tools to help you find the book that is right for you. All the titles featured on LoveReading have been read and enjoyed by the people who run the site. However, if you want to see a balance of good and bad comments, you may decide to wade through the online book reviews on commercial sites. Be warned though, these could leave you more confused than enlightened.


For every positive review that ranks a new novel alongside the likes of To Kill a Mockingbird, you will find a negative one from a person who wouldn’t even tear the book up to line the bottom of the birdcage. The book Brenda from Paisley thinks is a page-turner, VexedTrevor94 thinks is a stomach-turner.  This can be terribly confusing, but to make matters worse these reviews may not even be real.


CCBv56raRecently the whole sock puppet scandal revealed the practice of authors using fake online profiles to not only give glowing praise to their own work, but also to dismiss the work of other writers. So if Brenda from Paisley and VexedTrevor94 are merely characters in The Case of the Fabricated 5-star Review by A.N. Author, who do you go to for advice on what to read next?


The answer, as it so often should be, to all sorts of questions, is the library.  Library staff have years of experience in helping readers to find the right books for them. There is no ulterior motive; they aren’t on commission; it makes no difference to a librarian if you borrow the complete works of Proust or the 19th volume of autobiography by Katie Price. People who work in libraries are there to assist you in choosing books; the only sock puppetry you will get in a library is to be found at 745.59224 #DeweyBanter.


In 2015 you don’t even have to visit the building for a library to help with your choice of reading material. Back in the day the only way to seek help from a librarian outside library opening hours was to ambush them in the beige slacks aisle of M&S or at the hairdresser as they had their bun riveted in place. Now libraries are online, answering queries through websites, e-mail and social media. You can even download books online with a library membership; it’s all very modern.


If you enjoy reading, and use the internet, you will be bombarded with publishers, publicists and authors trying to persuade you that their latest titles need to be top of your reading list. By the way authors, a DM on Twitter saying ‘Hi, thanks for following. You might like my new book The Ombudsman’s Harpsichord’ is likely to get you unfollowed quicker than you can type ‘I’ve got four bairns to feed’.


Libraries give you the information about authors and new books without the hard sell. There are no commercial interests, just a shared love of reading. One of the best things about libraries is that not only can they introduce you to new book by an author you haven’t read before, but, if you enjoyed it, they can also give you access to their previous titles. For free!


Often libraries can be a real hub of the community; readers meet, swap book titles they have enjoyed, gossip about the girl from the shoe shop who had an affair with the driving instructor, and ask the staff for help finding new authors.  Social media means more people than ever before can become part of these reading communities, regardless of where they live. There are even libraries attracting quite a sizeable global following online…


Orkney Library’s Senior Library Assistant Stewart Bain is chief Tweeter @OrkneyLibrary, which has reached 18,000 followers. He’ll be appearing on the ‘Your Perfect Match’ panel exploring the murky world of online reviews at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate on Friday 17 July.

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Top 10 Books 21 – 28 June 2015

Lovereading Top 10

All the Little Pieces All the Little Pieces
Jilliane Hoffman
June 2015 Book of the Month.
All the Little Pieces should come with a warning label: this is not a light easy read, it’s disturbing, sad, unsettling and… addictive. You are launched straight into the terrified thoughts of a young woman …
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You, Me and Other People You, Me and Other People
Fionnuala Kearney
A fabulous debut novel, You, Me and Other People is clever, wistful and endearing. Beth and Adam have been married for years, secrets also kept for years are set to rampage though and trample over their lives. In alternate chapters …
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My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises
Fredrik Backman
June 2015 Book of the Month.
Totally and utterly and completely gorgeous in every way, the thought of having to put this book down for even a second is inconceivable. The first few pages make you smile, make you laugh and …
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The Looking Glass House The Looking Glass House
Vanessa Tait
‘The Looking Glass House’ is a bright, bold work of fiction, simply told yet holding a complicated ring of truth. Alice Liddell, the young inspiration for Lewis Caroll is the great-grandmother of the author of this novel. Alice’s keepsakes have …
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Find Me Find Me
Laura van den Berg
June 2015 Debut of the Month.
A sensitive debut novel by a young American author, previously praised for her short stories, Find Me belongs to the somewhat topical recent school of hopeful dystopias and reminded me of both Sarah Pinborough’s The …
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The Man Who Watched Women The Man Who Watched Women
Michael Hjorth, Hans Rosenfeldt
Scandinavian crime fiction is well know for being dark, gritty and full of complex characters, The Man Who Watched Women sits confidently alongside its associates. The author pairing of Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt is well established, together they created …
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Royal Wedding The Princess Diaries 11 Royal Wedding The Princess Diaries 11
Meg Cabot
Mia Thermopolis is one of the most delightful fictional creations ever. Transformed in an instant from ordinary New York teen to princess, her adventures, recounted in Meg Cabot’s bestselling Princess Diaries series, charmed readers with their warmth and humour. Now …
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Proud My Autobiography Proud My Autobiography
Gareth Thomas
Winner of the Sports Book of the Year at the British Sports Book Awards 2015.
Winner of the Autobiography of the Year at the British Sports Book Awards 2015.
Shortlisted for the Rugby Book of the Year Award at the British Sports …
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Guy Martin: My Autobiography Guy Martin: My Autobiography
Guy Martin
Shortlisted for the Autobiography of the Year at the British Sports Book Awards 2015.
Find out what motivates Guy Martin to confront the dangers of road racing, you’ll experience the heart-stopping moments when things go wrong and can contrast this adrenaline …
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The Last 10 Seconds The Last 10 Seconds
Simon Kernick
Featured on The Book Show on Sky Arts on 6 May 2010.
Simon Kernick is fast becoming one of the top crime writers in Britain today and at Lovereading we have been fans for a long time. Here we have another …
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on Orkney is the setting for this original and intriguing novel, and an atmosphere of otherness pervades the story. Lennon brings together the original inhabitants of the village with Rab, a …
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Ask the Author: Kathleen Kent

By Vikki Patis

Historical fiction author Kathleen Kent spoke to me about her writing process.

KKentheadshotKathleen Kent is the author of three best-selling novels, The Heretic’s Daughter – recipient of the David J. Langum Sr. award for American historical fiction – The Traitor’s Wife, and The Outcasts (set in 1870 Texas), which was the recipient of the American Library Association’s 2014 top choice for Historical Fiction, as well as the recipient of a Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western fiction.  She has completed a fourth book, a contemporary crime novel, based on the short story, “Coincidences Can Kill You”, (Dallas Noir) to be published in 2016.  She resides in Dallas.

Kent grew up in a family of story-tellers, and remembers writing short stories from a very young age.

“I also read constantly, fiction, non-fiction, the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica, but my favorite books were usually historical fiction.  Mary Renault, and her books about the ancient world, being some of my favorites.  I went to college to study writing, but my father, being an imminently practical man, convinced me to change my course of study to business where I could, “always write on the side.”  So for twenty years, after college, I pursued a career in New York, first in commodities and then as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense doing defense conversion work in the Former Soviet Union, converting military plants to civilian use.  I loved my job, but the desire to write was always in the back of my mind.  I was almost fifty years old before I decided to take an early retirement and begin writing.  My first book, The Heretic’s Daughter, took five years to write, as I had to learn the craft of careful research as well as develop the art of writing in the long form.  My family was very encouraging in this transition, and I couldn’t have imagined making the courage to begin writing a novel without their help.”

Her tips for aspiring writers include managing your expectations.

“I think many people have the desire to write, and have a story, or stories, that they want to commit to paper.  The hardest thing for most people seems to be in just getting started. That, and the expectation that everything they write must be perfect, from inception to ending.  It’s helpful, I believe, to shift that expectation to a certainty that the initial efforts, the first few drafts, are supposed to be bad.  That’s how we improve in any endeavor.  The other difficulty seems to be in waiting for the mood, or the Muse, to strike and create an effortless flow of beautiful, meaningful words.  It does happen—but rarely.  The author Ann Patchett once said in a book conference speech (one titled The Muse and The Marketplace), that there is no one, true Muse, just hard work.  So hard work and being able to tolerate the day-to-day tedium, what I like to call facing The Tyranny Of The Blank Screen.”

Kent has just completed a book in a genre that’s completely new for her.

CG0s4m4WgAE5YzU“It’s a contemporary crime novel (title yet to be named) that’s based loosely on my short story in the crime anthology, Dallas Noir.  It was a scary thing making the leap into a whole new genre, but I think the creative fire thrives on risk. I’m thrilled to say that it will be published by Mulholland in the fall of 2016.”

During my fascination with the witch trials in early America, I stumbled across Kent, and instantly fell in love. One of the main characters in The Heretic’s Daughter and The Traitor’s Wife is Martha Carrier. I wanted to know why Kent chose to write about this fascinating woman.

“Martha Carrier, one of the 19 men and women hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692, is figure who loomed quite large in my life.  I first heard of her when I was about 8 years old visiting my maternal grandmother.  It was she who first told me of the Carrier family in 17th century New England, and of the hysteria that swept through the colonies.  When I asked her if Martha had, in fact, been a witch, she told me, “Sweetheart, there are no such things as witches, just ferocious women.”  From that moment on I was fascinated by Martha, and gathered research on the witch trials all through my childhood and into adulthood.  I always knew that if I was to write a book, it would have Martha Carrier as the central character.  She was courageous, standing up to her accusers, and going to her death rather than support the lie that she had contracted with the Devil to do ill in the world.  I admire her bravery, her wit and dedication to her family.”

She’s currently reading Kate Atkinson’s new book, A God In Ruins.

“I love her writing and read everything that she publishes.  I also read quite a bit of non-fiction as well, most recently the fascinating biography of the famous film director, Werner Herzog, A Guide For The Perplexed.”

After several years of author events, Kent has recently taken a break to finish her latest novel, but she imagines she’ll be doing more author talks when the novel is published next year. Keep an eye on her website for updates:

Kent’s novels are available on, the UK’s No1 book recommendation site.

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That’s China by Mark Kitto: A Book Review

That’s China is a gripping business memoir about a British entrepreneur’s daring attempt to force open China’s closed media.

That’s-China-Front_smSince the 1949 Communist takeover, the Chinese media has fallen under State ownership with a sole aim of promoting the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Historically, there has been little room for private enterprise; those who dared to provoke the authorities usually did so only once. But in the late 1990s, Mark Kitto – a former solider turned amateur journalist – attempted the impossible by launching a ‘That’s’ magazine franchise in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing.
Kittos’ debut book, China Cuckoo, published in 2009, describes his remarkable but ill-fated journey: He lost a fortune but found “a peaceful existence” in a 19th-Centiry mountaintop village.


Now, six years later, Kitto is back with the long-awaited prequel. That’s China (Forty-Six Books) reveals how he made his millions by building the most popular – and most profitable – English language publishing business in China.


Kitto’s story is a rollercoaster ride through the tumultuous twists and turns of Chinese business. No foreigner in modern times has come so close to the heart of the Chinese propaganda machine on their own terms, and no book has revealed the inner workings of China in quite this way.


Indeed, few foreigners boast Kitto’s in-depth knowledge of the country, and fewer are in an authoritative (and objective) position to share their experiences of China’s impenetrable media.


Told with Kitto’s trademark humour and unflinching honesty, That’s China is a fast-paced business saga that will appeal to mainstream audiences and the business-legal communities alike.


But That’s China is more than an entertaining read. It’s a glimpse into the mind of a true entrepreneur – life’s ambitious individuals whose drive and conviction refuse to wane despite overwhelmingly bleak odds. Kitto was variously fined (considerable amounts), blackmailed and libelled. He was dragged into China’s highest court. And yet he persevered. Foolhardy? Perhaps. Courageous? Absolutely.


By facing these hurdles head on and refusing to accept defeat, That’s China tells a story of human resilience and about the challenges of fitting in – of understanding – a hostile alien culture.

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Book Review. The Wife by Rosmini Shaari: (translated by Norma Othman)

There are some novels that tell a great tale and others that open your eyes and make you change the way you look at the world. Rosmini Shaari’s The Wife does both. Ostensibly a tragic and powerful love story full of heartbreak and lust, it is also a book about the role of Muslim women in modern society and how sexism, feminism and identity are dealt with within the culture on a daily basis.


The-Wife_front_smThe Wife is packed with high tension, drama and emotion making it a perfect summer read for women of all ages. Importantly, it draws heavily on Shaari’s own experiences as a modern, educated Muslim woman. This not only gives the book an authentic feel but adds weight to the complex issues within it, helping it to resonate with women across the globe.

Set in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, The Wife tells the tale of three professional women who have to reconcile the contradictions of modernity with the traditional Islamic conceptions of a woman’s role. First there is Sofia, a stoic and pragmatic woman with modern sensibilities, who is trapped playing the role of the traditional Muslim wife to her womanizing husband Halim.
Shaari demonstrates to readers what a brilliant writer she is when, in the first scene, Sofia confronts her husband’s young mistress, Nora, challenging her to know whether her husband truly loves her or not. Her warning to Nora that she herself might one day be easily replaced is something that haunts Nora throughout the book.
Sofia meanwhile needs to ask herself this – can she recapture her husband’s affections? And does she even want to? Matters are complicated further when the beautiful Wati arrives on the scene. How will all three women cope with their rivalries and desires? And who will take the prize in the end?

Although first and foremost a terrific read, The Wife’s take on female emancipation within Islamic cultures will be a hugely attractive – and controversial – subject matter to women across the globe. Rarely, if ever, has there been a novel by a Muslim woman that talks so openly about sexuality, heartbreak, love or lust.

Beautifully translated, it is a slice of literary fiction that goes beyond the scope of a usual novel and transforms the way people see and think about the world. What Khaled Hosseini has done for Afghanistan, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has done for Nigeria, so Rosmini Shaari has now done for Malaysia.

This is Shaari’s forth novel and follows the critical success of The Promise, Silk Scarf, and Dust.

This is undoubtedly Shaari’s best and most memorable book and will not disappoint.

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Individuals: Flash Fiction by Lao Mo : Book Review

Every so often, a book comes along that is so sublimely refreshing and different it is a pure joy to behold. That book is Individuals by Lao Mo. Individuals is a collection of flash fiction – stories under 1,000 words long – written by the Chinese founder and master of the nascent genre, Lao Mo. In total, 55 stories are contained in the book, combining humour and entertainment with a depth, intricacy and influence more commonly associated with their longer literary cousins.

Individuals-front-cover_smThe fact that these flash stories are brilliantly fun and masterly-crafted is what has driven this experimental format into becoming a world-wide phenomena.

Indeed, a key part of their charm is that they are so short. As they can be so easily dipped in and out of, they fulfill a craving for the time-poor reader.
Equally, that same reader knows what to expect – not long, laborious and wordy sentences, but punchy, succinct and often satirical fiction that lightens their day.

There is easily a similar amount of enjoyment to be gained from reading one of these mini stories – many of which have a kind of Aesop’s Fable feel to them – than from wading through an entire novel.

Take for example the humour and sense of story that can be found in Perfume:

Zhoa was born in the countryside… He had a big head and a small body… his family admitted he was a burden. The problem that kept [Zhoa’s] parents awake all night, however, was that he loved school. Once he’d scored his first 100 percent Zhoa never fell below ninety-nine. But a hundred percent in a test didn’t count for one percent in the fields. Hence his father called him a failure.

Or enjoy the wit in the English Corner, about a place where students are supposed to speak English to one another:

A student called Zhou met a student from his home village who taught him the line: “He isn’t heaven, he’s my brother.” This equates to our own saying: “Brotherly affection is as deep as the sea.”

The wryly funny vignettes are largely about the absurdities and ironies of life in China, and poke fun at professors, doctors, judges and careerists.
Already a hit with creative writing teachers, they are increasingly being held-up around the world as a model of perfect short-story writing.

Indeed, many believe that flash fiction is the truest and most difficult form of literature, demanding an extreme focus and precision often lacking in a lengthy novel.

With demand for the flash fiction genre now growing across the world, Individuals is the first book of its kind to hit the UK shelves, proving that brevity packs a big punch.

Although this way of structuring a book is largely new to western audiences, the originality of this book, the humour and short story format will make this book stand out and be a hit with all.

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Mid-June Summer Reading

What a Scorcher! – Summer Reading is Back! In the shade of a parasol or the glare of the sun, with the splashing of the pool or the lapping of the shore, at the bar with a beer or at the end of a day, sun-kissed and sipping a sundowner, nothing beats a good holiday book. But how do you choose what to take with you or to get for your other half? Fear not. Our Summer Reading category is here to help! Relax. Read. Refresh.


Best Before – July Pre-Publication Exclusives

Wouldn’t it be great if you could sneak a peek at new books before they were published? Oh wait. You can. Two top favourites are: The Looking Glass House by Vanessa Tait – From the great-granddaughter of Alice Liddell (yup, THE ‘Alice’) and just before Alice’s Day on 4 July, this is an imaginative and captivating tale of obsession and adventure. And Only We Know by Karen Perry – From the bestselling authors of The Boy That Never Was, a dark, dog-like shadow of childhood secrets blackens every page.



Maxim-ise your summer! – Maxim Jakubowski Recommends

The ‘Ringmaster of Reading’ our very own Literary Godfather, Maxim Jakubowski has singled out his summer stars for you this month. Leading you by the hand on a dark and delicious journey from the underworld of Tel Aviv to the glamour of Las Vegas with blood-curdling stops in South America and Scotland, this is a superb selection for your summer suitcase. See his choices here, or go right to his must reads:

The Cartel by Don Winlsow – Revenge, justice, obsession and the blurred lines in between. Can you take down the devil without losing your soul? Or In The Company of Sherlock Holmes edited by Laurie R King and Leslie Klinger – Holmes is where the heart is! A lovingly compiled collection of A-list authors writing newly imagined capers for the Baker Street sleuth.

Love eReading? – June’s eBooks of the Month

As more and more platforms for enjoying great writing come along, we are right there to tell you what’s hot. Check out and download this month’s star picks. We especially love: The Moonstone Legacy Trilogy by Diana De Gunzburg and Tony Wild – Beginning where Wilkie Collins’ classic The Moonstone left off, this is an action-packed adventurous tale with an added magical touch of the mystical dancing across the pages. A treat of three eBooks in one, with short punchy chapters and beautiful descriptive detailing make this extremely readable with a dramatic but fitting end to the adventures of The Moonstone.

See the shelf below for more of our fav-e-rites this month …


Liked that? Try THIS! – If you like you’ll love

So, you’ve finished a book you loved and don’t know where to look next. Now you do!

A real favourite this month is one that will appeal to any fan of Jo Nesbo. It’s called The Man Who Watched Women by writing duo Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt who penned TV scripts for Wallander and The Bridge. The novel is a slow burner of a read, it takes a little while to get used to the writing style, however it gradually catches fire and each page turned fans the flames. Intense, sinister and bleak, this is a captivating and dramatic read.

See more ‘like-for-like’ recommendations below.

If you like Cecelia Ahern or Jojo Moyes you’ll love The Thirty List by Eva Woods If you like Margaret Atwood you’ll love Find Me by Laura van den Berg If you like Philippa Gregory you’ll love Watch the Lady by Elizabeth Fremantle

If you like Robert Fabbri you’ll love Blood and Steel by Harry Sidebottom If you like Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls you’ll love Day Four by Sarah Lotz If you like Veronica Henry or Erica James you’ll love The Island Escape by Kerry Fisher

It would be a crime to miss these …

Three debuts have made the five strong shortlist for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award 2015. The public vote opens on 1st July and closes on 13th July at the Theakstons website. And you can have your say by public vote by visiting between 1 – 13 July. The award ceremony will take place at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate on 16 July.

Here is the full shortlist …


Summer Book Festival News

As well as the killer line up at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (16-19 July) in Harrogate why not, if you are in and around the New Forest 17 – 19 July, visit The Curious Arts Festival which is certain to be a treat for eye, ear and mind. Alternatively, try new festival Niddfest (24-26 July) dedicated to writing inspired by the great outdoors.

And that is June at Lovereading. We’ll be here with more ideas to feed the mind next month. In the meantime, if you have any news, reviews or opinions to share, get in touch via our twitter/facebook communities. We’d love to hear from you. And of course definitely don’t miss any of our brilliant, free to enter, prize draws to win oodles of book goodies.

P.S. Fans of Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster absolutely must find out more about Wake Up, Sir! by Jonathan Ames. This quirky, eccentric reimagining of the brilliant pairing will have you laughing (and we mean really laughing) out loud.

P.P.S. 55 years after the publication of seminal and profound novel To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAMB) Harper Lee is releasing Go Set a Watchman that features Scout and Atticus some 20 years on. To celebrate the publication of the new novel on 14 July 2015, we have copies of To Kill a Mockingbird along with an exclusive canvas bag and some postcards to give away to 5 lucky winners.

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July Book Festival News

This July sees 3 Great Book Festivals

CURIOUS ARTS FESTIVAL at Pylewell Park, New Forest 17-19 July


NIDDFEST LITERARY FESTIVAL at Pateley Bridge, North Yorks, 24-26 JULY 2015



The Curious Arts Festival – Pylewell Park, New Forest, 17-19 July

From bestsellers to book club favourites, the literary line up at Pylewell Park includes critically acclaimed writers of thrillers, history, crime, art, poetry, history, memoir and nature. Together with prize winning children’s fiction writers such as Piers Torday and high profile journalists including Kirsty Lang this eccentric literary garden party promises something for all culturally minded kids and adults of all tastes and ages.


Literary bestsellers David Nicholls, author of ONE DAY and US, Jojo Moyes, author of ME BEFORE YOU and THE ONE PLUS ONE, SJ Watson author of phenomenon BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP on his latest novel SECOND LIFE, Matt Haig on his new book REASONS TO STAY ALIVE, John Niven and Patrick Gale.

Literary luminaries Esther Freud, Polly Samson and Sarah Hall

Ones to watch with exciting fiction debuts and follow ups such as Sydney Padua, Stephen Kelman, Alex Christoffi, Simon Wroe, Alex Preston, Antonia Hodgeson, and Caroline Sandon

On history and politics – Rick Stroud, Misha Glenny, Tom Holland, and Wall Street Journal correspondent Simon Nixon

Childrens and young adult fiction writers David Baddiel on his new book The Parent Agency, Nicky Singer, John Burningham, Tim Clare, Hugh Powell and Piers Torday

Memoir and biographyDamian Barr, Lynn Barber and Katherine Norbury

Gardens experts Wade Graham, Christopher Woodward and Susan Campbell


A cast of emerging artists bursting onto the UK music scene will rub shoulders with some of rock’s elder statesmen.


Rapper and Radio 1 favourite George the Poet brings his unique sparkle of street savvy verse, alongside the front men from Razorlight, Phil Manzanera from Roxy Music and John Illsley from Dire Straits on Saturday. Also performing are indie rock quintet Amber Run, whose debut album 5am went straight into the UK album chart this month. Other rising stars include 18 year old Irish singer songwriter Shaefri, Canadian rock pop band Roads and indie popsters Flyte for whom 2015 is shaping to be a big year following the release of their first album and Radio 1 playlisting.


The comedy line up includes stars of TV and radio Mark Watson, Lucy Porter, Richard Herring, Simon Evans and singer of chart topping punk band Carter USM JB (Jim Bob) Morrison.


Other curiosities to charm and delight include:

  • Writing and poetry workshops, life drawing classes, storytelling for adults and children, bat walks, poetry workshops, puppet theatre making, mind reading, contortionists, and breathing lessons.
  • An Alice in Wonderland Tea Party
  • A ‘News and Views’ Breakfast Club for early birds hosted by BBC Radio 4 Front Row presenter Kirsty Lang
  • Curious Opera on Thursday 16th July performing Puccini’s Tosca. Separately ticketed this ‘up close’ opera experience takes place at dining tables in Pylewell Park’s magnificent grounds.
  • A pop up fine dining restaurant and a wide variety of gourmet food to go, a beautifully dressed cocktail bar from Fever-Tree as well as a tea room, juice bar and gelateria ice cream parlour.


The festival is also a rare chance to tour the private grounds of the Pylewell Park complete with 100 acres of pleasure gardens right on the Solent.
Tickets are available at All festival visitors are more than welcome to pitch a tent and stay on the estate during the festival (included in ticket price). Glamping tents can be booked through


The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate 16-19 July

The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, which runs over a long weekend from 16 to 19 July, is considered to be one of the best crime writing festivals in the world. This year’s Programming Chair is the author of the bestselling Shetland and Vera books, Ann Cleeves.


The killer line up reveals this year’s Special Guests; comedian Eddie Izzard in conversation with fellow stand-up and author Mark Billingham, satirist Rory Bremner will interview the giant of the genre – creator of Jack Reacher – Lee Child. Ann Cleeves will be in conversation with the New York Times bestselling author, Lisa Gardner.

Attendees are invited to join up to 80 of the world’s most celebrated crime authors ‘in conversation, in action and in the bar’.

From overseas, Icelandic crime sensation Arnaldur Indridason features, alongside the American author and New York Times bestseller, Sara Paretsky, who is credited with transforming the mystery genre through the creation of her female private eye, V I Warshawski. Paretsky will be in conversation with Val McDermid.

There will also be a TV Panel, featuring Yorkshire born Sally Wainwright, the BAFTA winning writer known for Happy Valley, Scott & Bailey, and Last Tango in Halifax. Also, author of the much-loved Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth books, M.C. Beaton will be in conversation with fellow Scot, comedian and presenter, Fred MacAulay.

The festival features a dedicated writing workshop, Creative Thursday, which this year focuses on script writing, featuring seminars led by TV and radio industry professionals.

Panels include ‘The Morality of Murder’ with Belinda Bauer, Jonathan Freedland and Nicci French, ‘Yorkshire Pride’ featuring local talent Peter Robinson, Steve Mosby, and Lee Child, and ‘The Black Art of Criticism’ with Anne Widdecombe, SJ Parris and Telegraph journalist, Jake Kerridge.

There’ll also be a special exclusive event on the ‘new’ Stieg Larsson book, exactly ten years after the publication of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, featuring Larsson’s original publisher and editor.

Simon Theakston, Executive Director, T&R Theakston said: “Each year I wonder how this unique celebration of the crime genre can throw up a new plot twist or bigger revelation than the previous year’s killer line up. 2015’s incredible programme is thanks to this year’s Programming Chair, Ann Cleeves.”

The event is one of the most important in the crime publishing calendar; agents, publishers, publicists and authors attend from all over Europe and the world.  It also features the 11th Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, one of the most prestigious awards of the genre. It is ranked as one of the top three literary festivals in the UK by The Guardian, and featured in The Independent’s ‘The 50 Best Festivals’.

Ann Cleeves has a long association with the Festival as its first Reader-in-Residence, she said: “This year we focus on crime fiction’s ability to take us to strange lands and to see familiar places in a new and unsettling way. From our comfortable base in North Yorkshire we’ll be travelling the globe. Throughout the weekend we’ll be sharing our passion for the best crime writing around. There’ll be intense debate during the panels and special guest conversations, arguments late into the night in the bar and fascinating discussions at a new innovation for 2015: our Thursday afternoon Readers’ Tea.”

For tickets, tel: 01423 562 303 or email:, visit:



NiddFest – a new festival celebrating nature in writing – have announced their inaugural programme of events set in the glorious landscape of the Yorkshire Dales. With up to 20 events spread out over the weekend of 24-26 July, the festival promises a thought-provoking weekend packed with talks, outdoor adventures and activities for all ages.

Highlights of the 2015 programme include the opening event, an exclusive evening with the festival’s patron and Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales. Over a light supper, and with musical accompaniment, our foremost poets will be sharing their favourite passages of nature writing and will be reading extracts from their own work. Award winning novelist Evie Wyld, whose second novel All The Birds, Singing has hit the short and long lists of every major prize this year, will be speaking on Saturday 25th July in the evening. Katherine Norbury – author of the acclaimed The Fish Ladder will be interviewed by top UK literary agent Clare Conville. Sunday 26th sees Jackie Bennett, gardener, journalist and author of The Writer’s Garden discussing 20 inspiring gardens created by our most famous writers, followed by TV chef and author Valentine Warner treating festival-goers to a revealing talk on nature’s bountiful larder and its inspiration in the kitchen. That morning will see a foraging event, with edible plants picked from Nidderdale’s hedgerows, to be included in a dish prepared by Valentine at his event. The festival closes with Herdwick Shepherd, James Rebanks, whose tale of life as a shepherd in the Lake District – The Shepherd’s Life – has been one of this year’s literary phenomenon.



Children of all ages are invited to participate at NiddFest with events to suit even the littlest visitors. Saturday 25 July will see a morning of arts, crafts and face painting, with ‘Best Bug’ awards for the cleverest crafters.

5-11 year olds will be invited to an exciting afternoon in the woods, including woodland games and activities, a lesson on building the perfect outdoor den and hot chocolate and marshmallows around the campfire. For families, a day trip to Studfold Adventure Trail is on offer. Set in a hidden valley in Upper Nidderdale, this full day adventure has a focus on bugs and all things creepy crawly!

Leading childrens’ authors Piers Torday and Michelle Harrison will be reading from their award winning books on Saturday 25 July. Michelle’s event will be followed by the prize giving for the NiddFest Poetry Prize, open to all Yorkshire schoolchildren. Winners will receive their awards from Carol Ann Duffy.



Visitors will be encouraged to step beyond the traditional festival venue and explore the dramatic landscape of Upper Nidderdale. Highlights from the outdoor programme including a morning of foraging with wild food expert Chris Bax, a walk along the banks of the river Nidd to learn about the fragile ecosystem, and a safari to the far reaches of Upper Nidderdale to explore the wild moorland, and a birding walk with Mark Cocker, following his talk on humankind’s relationship with birds.

Ticket prices vary with prices starting from just £7 per event and discounts for children under 18. All tickets will be available to purchase from the festival box office in Nidderdale from Friday 24th July. For more information and to view the full programme, please visit

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Mark Zuckerberg’s A Year of Books Reading Challenge

January 2015 Mark Zuckerberg CEO of Facebook posted the message below….

zukerberg‘My challenge for 2015 is to read a new book every other week — with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.

I’m excited for my reading challenge. I’ve found reading books very intellectually fulfilling. Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books.’ He has called this A Year of Books.

A year in books

To make it easy to follow Mark Zuckerberg’s selections we will be featuring them all on this blog post – and in time on a special category on the website.


Book 1 January: The End of Power by Moises Naim

The End of Power From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge isn’t What it Used to be argues that in every field of endeavor – business, religion, politics, and all matters of war and peace – power is no longer what it used to be.

The author deftly delineates the shifting global dynamics in control, authority and expertise between the traditionally dominant megaplayers and the newly ascendant micropowers.

Book 2 January: The Better Angels of Our Nature A History of Violence and Humanity by Steven Pinker

This title was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2012 and argues that, contrary to popular belief, humankind has become progressively less violent, over millenia and decades. Can violence really have declined?

The images of conflict we see daily on our screens from around the world suggest this is an almost obscene claim to be making. Extraordinarily, however, Steven Pinker shows violence within and between societies – both murder and warfare – really has declined from prehistory to today.

Book 3 February: Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh

Sudhir Venkatesh the young sociologist who became famous in Freakonomics (Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?) describes his time living with the gangs on the Southside of Chicago and answers another question: what’s it like to live in hell? In the Robert Taylor Homes projects on Chicago’s South Side, Sudhir befriends J.T., a gang leader for the Black Kings. As he slowly gains J.T.’s trust, one day, in order to convince Sudhir of his own CEO-like qualities, J.T. makes him leader of the gang…Why does J.T. make his henchmen, the ‘shorties’, stay in school? What is the difference between a ‘regular’ hustler and a ‘hype’ – and is Peanut telling him the truth about which she is? And, when the FBI finally starts cracking down on the Black Kings, is it time to get out – or is it too late?

Book 4 February: On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

In this bold, fascinating book, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear – fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what may be in your children’s air, food, mattresses, medicines, and vaccines. Reflecting on her own experience as a new mother, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. She extends a conversation with other mothers to meditations on Voltaire’s Candide, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors, and beyond. On Immunity is an inoculation against our fear and a moving account of how we are all interconnected – our bodies and our fates.

Book 5 March: Creativity, Inc. Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

As9780593070109-300x400 a young man, Ed Catmull had a dream: to make the world’s first computer-animated movie. He nurtured that dream first as a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, where many computer science pioneers got their start, and then forged an early partnership with George Lucas that led, indirectly, to his founding Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter in 1986. Nine years later and against all odds, Toy Story was released, changing animation forever. Since then, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, and WALL-E, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner twenty-seven Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Now, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques, honed over years, that have made Pixar so widely admired – and so profitable. Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation Studios – into the story meetings, the postmortems, and the ‘Braintrust’ sessions where art is born. It is, at heart, a book about how to build and sustain a creative culture-but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, ‘an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.’

Book 6 March: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn

9780226458120A good book may have the power to change the way we see the world, but a great book actually becomes part of our daily consciousness, pervading our thinking to the point that we take it for granted, and we forget how provocative and challenging its ideas once were-and still are. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is that kind of book. When it was first published in 1962, it was a landmark event in the history and philosophy of science. And fifty years later, it still has many lessons to teach. With The Structure of Scientific Revolutions , Kuhn challenged long-standing linear notions of scientific progress, arguing that transformative ideas don’t arise from the day-to-day, gradual process of experimentation and data accumulation, but that revolutions in science, those breakthrough moments that disrupt accepted thinking and offer unanticipated ideas, occur outside of normal science, as he called it. Though Kuhn was writing when physics ruled the sciences, his ideas on how scientific revolutions bring order to the anomalies that amass over time in research experiments are still instructive in our biotech age.  Newly designed, with an expanded index, this edition will be eagerly welcomed by the next generation of readers seeking to understand the history of our perspectives on science.


Book 7 April Rational Ritual Culture, Coordination and Common Knowledge Michael Suk-Young Chwe

9780691114712Why do Internet, financial service, and beer commercials dominate Super Bowl advertising? How do political ceremonies establish authority? Why does repetition characterize anthems and ritual speech? Why were circular forms favored for public festivals during the French Revolution? This book answers these questions using a single concept: common knowledge. Game theory shows that in order to coordinate its actions, a group of people must form common knowledge. Each person wants to participate only if others also participate. Members must have knowledge of each other, knowledge of that knowledge, knowledge of the knowledge of that knowledge, and so on. Michael Chwe applies this insight, with striking erudition, to analyze a range of rituals across history and cultures


Book 8 April Dealing with China Hank Poulson 

DEALING WITH CHINA takes the reader behind closed doors to witness the creation and evolution and future of China’s state-controlled capitalism. Hank Paulson has dealt with China unlike any other foreigner. As head of Goldman Sachs, Paulson had a pivotal role in opening up China to private enterprise. Then, as Treasury secretary, he created the Strategic Economic Dialogue with what is now the world’s second-largest economy. While negotiating with China on needed economic reforms, he safeguarded the teetering U.S. financial system. Over his career, Paulson has worked with scores of top Chinese leaders, including Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful man in decades. How can the West negotiate with and influence China given its authoritarian rule, its massive environmental concerns, and its huge population’s unrelenting demands for economic growth and security? Written in an anecdote-rich, page-turning style, DEALING WITH CHINA is certain to become the classic and definitive examination of unlocking, building, and engaging an economic superpower.


Book 9 May Orwell’s Revenge by Peter Huber

11160563_710041985771899_1625807478025891231_nIn an extraordinary demonstration of the emerging supermedium’s potential to engender new forms of creativity, Huber’s book boldly reimagines 1984 from the computer’s point of view. After first scanning all of Orwell’s writings into his personal computer, Huber used the machine to rewrite the book completely, for the most part using Orwell’s own language. Alternating fiction and non-fiction chapters, Huber advances Orwell’s plot to a surprising new conclusion while seamlessly interpolating his own explanations and arguments. The result is a fascinating utopian work which envisions a world at our fingertips of ever-increasing information, equal opportunity, and freedom of choice.

Book 10 May The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as “brave and bold,” this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a “call to action.”

Called “stunning” by Pulitzer Prize–winning historian David Levering Lewis, “invaluable” by the Daily Kos, “explosive” by Kirkus, and “profoundly necessary” by the Miami Herald, this updated and revised paperback edition of The New Jim Crow, now with a foreword by Cornel West, is a must-read for all people of conscience.

Book 11 June Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun

MuqaddimahThe first complete English translation of the introduction to a history of the world by the 14th-century Islamic scholar and statesman Ibn Khaldn. (from wikipedia) The Muqaddimah, also known as the Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun (Arabicمقدّمة ابن خلدون, meaning in English: Ibn Khaldun’s Introduction) or Ibn Khaldun’s Prolegomena (Greek: Προλεγόμενα), is a book written by the Tunisian, Arab, North African Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun in 1377 which records an early view of universal history. Some modern thinkers view it as the first work dealing with the philosophy of history or the social sciences of sociology,demography,historiography,cultural history, social darwinism, ecologist, marxism, darwinian and economics. The Muqaddimah also deals with Islamic theologypolitical theory and the natural sciences of biology and chemistry.

Book 12 June Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

9780099590088Nothing less than a history of humankind from when the first species known as “humans” evolved through to the modern day. Dealing with how and why humans became the dominant species, Yuval Noah Harari also seeks to show how our species adapted and changed throughout human history. Taking in everything from religion to science to capitalism – an exhilarating journey through human history.


Book 13 July The Player of Games by Iain M Banks

9781857231465Don’t pigeon hole Iain M Banks Culture novels as just Sci-fi novels  – they are just engrossing, political, thought provoking and mind opening. The Player of Games was a 2012 World Book Night selection. The Culture – a human/machine symbiotic society – has thrown up many great Game Players, and one of the greatest is Gurgeh. Jernau Morat Gurgeh. The Player of Games. Master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel and incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game…a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game, and with it the challenge of his life – and very possibly his death..

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