Top Ten Non-Fiction Favourites

I saw this while blog-hopping on Tuesday, and the theme of this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is non-fiction books. So, somewhat late, but without any further ado, here’s my favourite non-fiction titles, in order of preference – well, today, anyway!

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1. The Hare With Amber Eyes – Edmund de Waal. I utterly adored this book. It made me wish I lived in Vienna at the turn of the century, and want to visit Odessa. Most of all, it made me want a netsuke collection. It’s the unbelievable, beautifully written story of a family’s history, told via the travels of the netsuke collection owned by the author’s ancestor, which the family, incredibly, managed to keep intact, through wars and international moves.

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2. The Missing – Andrew O’Hagan. This book was written in the immediate wake of the discovery of bodies at the home of Fred and Rose West in Gloucester. O’Hagan was particularly disturbed that some of the victims had never even been reported missing. The book investigates the myriad ways people can go missing, both voluntary and – mostly – involuntary. He reflects on a small boy who disappeared where he lived when he was a child just a few years older – it’s still unsolved, with no body, no suspects, nothing. At one point he visits the family of a boy, Lee Boxell, who went missing on his way to a football match. His room is untouched. They’ve had various alleged sightings of him over the years, all well-meaning, but ultimately false. There’s one part where Lee’s father talks of seeing a boy they’d been told looked like he could be Lee. His father went to the market stall in Brixton where the young man worked, “This boy was so like him…I was beginning to think maybe I should ask him to come and live with us; he was so like him. Just come here and be our son.” This part always makes me cry.

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3. Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil – John Berendt. This is ostensibly the story of an investigation into a murder in Savennah, Georgia, but it’s so much more. It’s a travelogue, and also a tale of all the bizarre people Berendt meets throughout his investigation. For some reason, I always think of Kevin Spacey’s House Of Cards voice reading the book to me (and for all I know, that’s totally the wrong accent!) Languid as a Southern summer, it’ll have you booking a holiday there and singing Johnny Mercer songs before you know it.

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4. The Kid Stays In The Picture – Robert Evans. Film producer, playboy, husband to seven women (including Ali McGraw, who famously left him and their son for Steve McQueen) – one of the last of “Old Hollywood” dishes the gossip in this autobiography. He started of as an actor, picked out because of his good looks (a bad one, he admits!) before going into production, working on The Godfather, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, and Love Story. He’s a funny and self-deprecating writer, and, now 84, can often be found on Quora, answering film-related questions.

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5. Justice: Crime, Trials And Punishment – Dominick Dunne. A notorious high-society gossip, Dunne’s job as columnist for Vanity Fair covering high-profile trials meant he got information from the most widespread sources, from waiters to aristocrats; nurses to lawyers. After the murder of his beloved daughter Dominique by her abusive ex-partner, he was voiciferous in his belief for more support and rights for victims’ families. He was also crucial to the re-opening of the murder of 15-year-old Martha Moxley, who was murdered by her neighbour Michael Skakel, a cousin of the Kennedys, in Greenwich, Connecticut.

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6. Courtesans – Katie Hickman. This is a fantastic book, about women who might have been regarded by other women as mere prostitutes. However, they were so much more. They were fashion icons and musicians; well-read and intelligent; and ran their own households, managing their own money, at a time when all women’s possessions became their husbands upon marriage. They held salons, and, yes, they slept with rich and powerful men, who would pay their bills, and buy them the latest dresses and hats, and the best jewellery. It’s a few years since I’ve read this, but it’s definitely time for a re-read. Fascinating stories about five different courtesans.

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7. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls – Peter Biskind. An encyclopedic account of the film industry in the 1970s, this is manna for anyone who enjoys gossip about film-making, and top directors and actors. From the hell that the filming of Apocalypse Now descended into, to the havoc that cocaine wrought on Hollywood, this book details the making of all the big films of the 70s – the last time directors called the shots, as opposed to the studio system – and the last time truly original films were made on a regular basis.

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8. Black Diamonds – Catherine Bailey. The story of the bizarre, feuding Fitzwilliam family, and their ancestral home, Wentworth House, which has 365 rooms, and is the biggest house in the UK. The family fortune came from coal, and a brief history of the coal industry is interspersed with tales of court cases, accusations of illegitimacy, and the burning of all the family documents in 1972, in an attempt to hide the scandals that Bailey nevertheless uncovered. A corker of a read for those interested in Edwardian history, and the end of the reign of the aristocrats.

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9. Joe Cinque’s Consolation – Helen Garner. I’m going to review this soon, but, in short, it is the Australian story of a bright, attractive law student, Anu Singh, and her friend, Madhavi Rao, who bought rohypnol and heroin, and murdered Anu’s boyfriend, Joe Cinque – who took an agonising weekend to die. She had told several of her friends of her intention to murder Joe, and even invited them all to a farewell dinner party. The innocent victim, however, was oblivious to her plans, and, incredibly, no one, despite them all being law students, contacted the authorities.

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10. The Invention Of Murder – Judith Flanders. This is a hefty, scholarly tome about how murder first became newsworthy in Victorian times, and also went on to be referred to in popular song, sketches and theatre. It tells the background story of many of the most infamous murders of the times – the most interesting part for me – and then their impact on the popular culture of the time. It demonstrates that our fascination with gruesome crimes is far from a recent development.

I was going to add the titles of the “also-rans” – the ones that almost made it, and probably would have on another day, with me in a different mood…But I decided that could be kept for another post, on another day.

Instead, I’m asking you: what non-fiction reads would you recommend?

Friday Finds

Back on the blogosphere, after being knocked sideways by a virus not long after New Year… and I’m still doing The TBR Double Dog Dare (which has provoked great amusement among my friends and family), with only a couple of temptations I couldn’t say no to. Anyway – hosted by Miz B at ShouldBeReading, Friday Finds gives you the opportunity to show off your latest acquisitions. As ARCs are allowed under the terms of the DDD I’ve been stalking NetGalley. And here’s what I’ve found…

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Blurb:

The compelling new psychological suspense novel featuring DI Lorraine Fisher, from the author of Until You’re Mine and Before You Die. Perfect for fans of S J Watson and Sophie Hannah.
Fleeing the terrors of her former life, Isabel has left England, and at last is beginning to feel safe.
Then a letter shatters her world, and she returns home determined not to let fear rule her life any more.
But she’s unable to shake off the feeling that someone who knows her better than she knows herself may be following her.
Watching. Waiting.
Ready to step back into her life and take control all over again.

Book courtesy of NetGalley.

My thoughts:

This looks great, as expected from Samantha Hayes, and once I’ve got through the backlog of reading, I’ll look forward to diving into it.

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Blurb:

Even the darkest secrets can’t stay buried forever…
Five figures gather round a shallow grave. They had all taken turns to dig. An adult-sized hole would have taken longer. An innocent life had been taken but the pact had been made. Their secrets would be buried, bound in blood …
Years later, a headmistress is found brutally strangled, the first in a spate of gruesome murders which shock the Black Country.
But when human remains are discovered at a former children’s home, disturbing secrets are also unearthed. D.I. Kim Stone fast realises she’s on the hunt for a twisted individual whose killing spree spans decades.
As the body count rises, Kim needs to stop the murderer before they strike again. But to catch the killer, can Kim confront the demons of her own past before it’s too late?

Book courtesy of NetGalley.

My thoughts:

This one is a book I’ve got to admit I had no clue about, ditto the author, but it just looks like the sort of book I’d read – I’m sure you all now what I mean by that. I also love the idea of the Black Country as a setting and the authors name-checked as comparable (Rachel Abbott, Val McDermid, Mark Billingham) are favourites of mine. It’s also another book with a female cop protagonist, which is great (if only there were as many female detective inspectors in real life as there are in fiction!)
This House of Grief

Blurb:

“Helen Garner is a great writer.”—Peter Carey
“Swift, beautiful, and relentless.”—Alice Sebold
“The Joan Didion of Australia”—Los Angeles Times
“Truthful, fearless, passionate.”—Kate Grenville

On the evening of 4 September 2005, Robert Farquharson, a separated husband, was driving his three sons home to their mother when his car plunged into a dam. The boys, aged ten, seven, and two, drowned. Was this an act of deliberate revenge or a tragic accident? The court case became Helen Garner’s obsession. She was in the courtroom every day of Farquharson’s trial and subsequent retrial, along with countless journalists and the families of both the accused and his former wife.

In this utterly compelling book, Helen Garner tells the story of a man and his broken life. At its core is a search for truth that takes author and reader through complex psychological terrain. Garner exposes, with great compassion, that truth and justice are as complex as human frailty and morality.

Book courtesy of NetGalley.

My thoughts:

I saw this on NetGalley, and realised I’d had the book title and author’s name in the back of my head after reading some really high praise somewhere on the blogosphere. I read a little of the book, and was struck by the author’s exceptionally clear, honest, unflinching prose. It led me to investigate her earlier works, one of which I ended up reading immediately. It was…

Joe Cinque's Consolation, A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law

Blurb:

A TRUE STORY OF DEATH, GRIEF AND THE LAW

In October 1997, a clever young law student at ANU made a bizarre plan to murder her devoted boyfriend after a dinner party at their house. Some of the dinner guests, most of them university students, had heard rumours of the plan. Nobody warned Joe Cinque. He died one Sunday, in his own bed, of a massive dose of Rohypnol and heroin. His girlfriend and her best friend were charged with murder.

Helen Garner followed the trials in the ACT Supreme Court. Compassionate but unflinching, this is a book about how and why Joe Cinque died. It probes the gap between ethics and the law; examines the helplessness of the courts in the face of what we think of as “evil”; and explores conscience, culpability, and the battered ideal of duty of care.

It is a masterwork from one of Australia’s greatest writers. 

Hands up – I did buy this!

My thoughts:

I read this book really quickly, absolutely unable to put it down. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I’m going to do my best to articulate my thoughts in a review very soon. Very disturbing, but an incredible read.

Last Kiss

Blurb:

A dark tale of deception and desire from the author of Red Ribbons and The Doll’s House

In a quiet suburb, a woman desperately clings to her sanity as a shadowy presence moves objects around her home.


In a hotel room across the city, an art dealer with a dubious sexual past is found butchered, his body arranged to mimic the Hangman card from the Tarot deck.

But what connects them?

When criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson is brought in to help investigate the murder, she finds herself plunged into a web of sexual power and evil which spreads from Dublin to Paris, and then to Rome.

Will Kate discover the identity of the killer before it’s too late to protect the innocent? But what separates the innocent from the guilty when the sins of the past can never be forgotten?

Courtesy of the author/publisher.

My thoughts:

I read a review of this by Sarah Ward at Crimepieces, and as the author kindly offered any other bloggers a copy of the book should they wish to review it, I snapped it up, as Sarah’s opinions are definitely worth listening to! It arrived today, just in time for a weekend’s reading. Sarah described this book as “creepy”, so as soon as I finish my current read (Liam McIlvanney’s All The Colours Of The Town), I’ll be diving into this…

Apologies for the hinky different sized fonts (my OCD when it comes to the written word means this is a massive irritant to me!) – it’s a consequence of stealing all the blurbs from GoodReads. They aren’t consistently sized – aaargh!

So, what do you think? Are any of these on your TBR list? Or have you read any already? All bookish thoughts and comments very welcome!