The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables
Inga Vesper grew up in Germany, now lives in England, and has set her first novel The Long, Long Afternoon (Manilla Press) - convincingly, to me - in California in the late 1950s. Sunnylakes is an affluent suburb where the skies are cloudless, the lawns are immaculate, and the pill-popping wives are hiding dark secrets. It is also a place of casual cruelty to "the help" - Ruby, a smart young woman who just might be the ideal partner for Detective Mick Blanke in solving the mystery of why one of the housewives has vanished and left a pool of blood behind her. The dramas in the lives of Ruby and Mick - Vesper makes him sympathetic, but no more enlightened than you would expect a male cop to be in 1959 - are what lift this thriller above the ordinary.
I've been enjoying an excursion to Istanbul, 1842, when the Ottoman capital provided shelter for revolutionaries seeking the Sultan's support as well as the only Polish ambassador still in existence (which his country, after the Congress of Vienna, no longer was). Jason Goodwin's The Baklava Club (Faber in the UK, though my edition is the FSG hardback) is part of a very enjoyable series featuring the palace investigator, Yashim, and his good friend Ambassador Palewski. This story also features a dodgy Irish priest, a mysterious Russian woman and a cast of colourful and cosmopolitan characters chasing assassins and kidnappers through the bazaars and ports of the melting pot that was 19th century Istanbul.
I don't listen to a lot of audiobooks but A Promised Land (Penguin Audio), written and read by Barack Obama, seemed an obvious choice. I have been dipping in and out and, at nearly 30 hours, this has kept me ticking over since mid-November. My first thought was how could the US go from someone so inspirational, so emotionally intelligent, and so urbane to Donald Trump in one fell swoop? Obama's story of his university days, early career as a lawyer, hitting the road canvassing to launch his political career until being elected as a Senator, seems improbable enough. The ascent to the Presidency is totally fascinating, as are the challenges presented by the world's top job. History may not judge his record as quite living up to the hope and expectation that he promised, but the quality of the man compared to his successor, and his determination to do the right thing, is the White Cliffs of Dover vs Cheddar Gorge.
It took me a while to get through Cassandra At The Wedding by Dorothy Baker (Daunt Books - beautifully designed) but it was absolutely worth it. It's about the relationship between adult identical twins, Cassandra and Judith, and told from both of their perspectives as Cassandra comes home to attend Judith's wedding. The characterisation is meticulous and specific, and digs deeply into the minds of both twins as Cassandra attempts to stop the wedding, simultaneously afraid of the changes in her relationship with her sister and what Judith's choices say about her own life, and scathing about what Judith wants. The whole novel felt visceral: the heat, the alcohol, the troubled dynamics between the characters; and even though Cassandra frequently makes terrible decisions, there was a lot in it that I imagine everyone will relate to, wincing a little as they see their own darkest feelings laid out on the page.