The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables
In a week in which it's been revealed that nearly two-thirds of young adults in the US are unaware that 6m Jews were killed in the Holocaust, it seems particularly appropriate to be listening to Hadley Freeman read her family memoir, House of Glass (HarperCollins). Originally from Poland, the Glass family moved to France in the 1930s, fleeing the pogroms. From there, her grandmother Sala travels on to the US to marry an American she barely knows at her oldest brother's behest. Sala's three brothers - industrialist Henri, patriot Jacques and Alex, couturier and friend of Dior and Chagall - remain in France, where they are engulfed in the horrors of the Second World War. Freeman, in an astonishing feat of investigative journalism, reveals their extraordinary stories as well as reaching an understanding of why her grandmother had always seemed so out of place in America.
Recommended to me by a friend, Wade Davis' Into The Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest has been a epic struggle, but I have been found wanting. Annoying, because I so wanted to like this book, about the doomed British attempt on Everest, which saw George Mallory and Sandy Irvine disappear from view tantalisingly close to the summit in 1924. It is even possible they reached the peak before they perished. I found the sections on British India, the carnage of the First World War and the murderous British invasion of Tibet in 1904 fascinating, but the highly-detailed accounts of the expedition itself, or rather the endless yak journeys preceding it, finally got too much. By page 267 the climbing had still yet to begin, and so, with much regret and 300 pages still to go, I folded my tent and tiptoed away.
Judging the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award in 2015, I was very taken with The White Van by Patrick Hoffman, who managed the impressive feat of writing hardboiled prose that was neither mimicked nor phoney. Hoffman is a private investigator as well as an author. The only other example of someone who has combined these careers who comes to mind is (the fictional) Paul Temple (oh yes, and there was Rupert Wilde, played by John Stride on TV in the Seventies) - but the characters in Hoffman's novels tend not to utter the exclamation "By Timothy!" In Clean Hands (Grove Press UK), they are formidable New York lawyers, kick-ass security consultants, Russian/Jewish mafiosi, and sinister government apparatchiks. Here, Hoffman's prose is spare, apparently functional, but with numerous, unobtrusive novelistic touches: he sees beyond the facades of these people, who in other hands would be two-dimensional. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in their company.
I had heard a lot of good things about Where the Crawdads Sing (Corsair) by Delia Owens and though it took me time to warm to it as I progressed, I loved it by the end. Kya is the 'Marsh Girl' whose family abandons her to bring herself up in the marshlands of North Carolina, forced to sell mussels she has collected to get by. She becomes a reject figure of mystique for the majority of the nearby town, though she educates herself and eventually writes acclaimed books about her beloved marshland which get published. Two boys figure in her life as she comes of age, and she becomes the chief murder suspect when the body of one of them is found at the bottom of the fire tower in the marshes. Characters you care about, a crafted plot that keeps you interested and curious. If anyone has any holiday left, I would recommend this.
I recently rewatched one of my favourite ever TV programmes, Band of Brothers, and have since become obsessed with finding out everything I can about Easy Company. I'm currently halfway through Beyond Band of Brothers (Ebury), the memoir by Major Dick Winters, and so far it's a cracking read. It's both full of pace and very carefully considered, and Winters' voice comes through very clearly on the page. It's a fascinating behind the scenes account of one of the most compelling stories of the Second World War that takes the company from a training camp in Georgia to England, before they parachuted into Normandy on D-Day, liberated the Netherlands, took part in the hideous Battle of the Bulge, and finally moved into Germany (taking in Hitler's Eagle's Nest while they were there), before ending the war in Austria. It's an astonishing story of bravery and the bonds between the soldiers that, in many cases, lasted for the rest of their lives.