Saturday, May 07, 2016

2016 books. #31-35

To rise again at a decent hour, by Joshua Ferris. London: Penguin, 2014.

A book group book. Again, one I'd not have read otherwise; unusually, one I wouldn't have minded not reading.  A New York dentist is told by a patient that he's a member of a persecuted religious group.  He has a history of girlfriends (Catholic, Jewish) who are part of religious groups, and has mainly been in love with their entire families... But all of a sudden, someone's stealing his identity.... I really didn't enjoy reading this - but did enjoy the discussion.

You are dead, by Peter James [audiobook]. Read by Daniel Weyman. [Rearsby, Leics.]: WF Howes [n.d.]

A Roy Grace book.  A woman is abducted from an underground car park while on the phone with her fiancé; another woman's body is discovered near Hove Lagoon.  Meanwhile, Grace, Cleo and baby Noah are attempting to move house... It has a plot, and a good cast of characters; and a very gripping ending; but it really did lose me in the middle. This may have been because of a somewhat lacklustre reading; or a not-very-good middling plot; not sure..

Reacher said nothing: Lee Child and the making of  Make me, by Andy Martin. London: Transworld, 2015.

I loved this.  Andy Martin thought that writing a book about watching Lee Child (Jim Grant) write his 20th Reacher novel would be a good thing to do. He then found that if he didn't get onto the project within a week, he'd have missed the boat. If you're a Child/Reacher fan, this is a fascinating look at how the books get made.  I love the writing of the first chapter.  You bury a body, and have no idea who the bloke was, or how he'd pissed off the bad guys; you have no more idea than the reader, at time of writing, what's going to happen. And you don't go back...

Already dead, by Stephen Booth [audiobook]. Read by Mike Rogers. Oxford: ISIS, 2013.

Ben Cooper's still out recovering from the horrible death of his fiancée.  Diane Fry has been seconded in as a temporary sergeant. And a man's body has been found in a shallow runnel.  I'm really not sure about how the plot works out for this one, but I was also much more interested in the relationships; and in all cases, I was disappointed.  This book really didn't hang together for me. And it seems that Fry is much more akin to The Bridge's Saga Noren here than to anything we've seen in the past from her.  I'll read the next one, because the series has been pretty terrific so far; but this one really didn't work as far as I'm concerned...

The Burry Man's day, by Catriona McPherson. London: Constable and Robinson, 2006.

Dandy and her friend Daisy go to visit a schoolfriend, Frederica, (school nickname Buttercup) and her rather lovely American husband at his strange ancestral castle in Perthshire.  They're around for the Burry Man's fair - a weekend of fun, with a somewhat sinister figure at the middle of it; the Burry Man himself wears a suit made of plant burrs, and tours the local pubs drinking whisky.  This year, though, the Burry Man is behaving strangely, and then, once out of the suit, the man who has taken the part collapses and dies.  Dandy and friend Alec investigate, and discover all manner of local secrets.  Very entertaining.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

2016 books, #26-30

Bury your dead, by Louise Penny [audiobook]. Read by Adam Sims. Oxford: Isis, 2011.

Armand Gamache is in Québec City, recovering from the effects of his previous case. Jean-Guy Beauvoir is in Three Pines, doing the same.  Neither of them can resist an investigation, though, when it's presented to them; in Beauvoir's case, the conviction of Olivier in the previous book; in Gamache's, a centuries' old mystery culminating in a new murder.  But throughout both stories, there's an extra voice; the voice of young Agent Paul Morin, speaking from the grave.  All three mysteries come to a climax at the same time; it's a fascinating bit of storytelling and quite haunting, literally and figuratively. Brilliant.

The world of cycling according to G, by Geraint Thomas, written with Tom Fordyce. London: Quercus, 2015.

This is such a good book. Once I've reviewed it, I'll be returning it to the pile by the bed so I can dip into it again.  It's funny, all the way through.  It's informative - there are even diagrams to explain things like echelons. It has some brilliant anecdotes - the terrible things Geraint and Ed Clancy did to Mark Cavendish's strict diet, roasting lamb chops in front of Cav, etc.  And it shows both the pain of endurance cycling, and the reasons someone like G will get up in the morning with a cracked pelvis and go out there again.  Oh, and it really is so funny.  Read this book.

The disappeared, by M R Hall [audiobook]. Read by Sian Thomas. Bristol: Chivers/BBC Audiobooks, [n.d.]

Jenny Cooper is getting used to her job as Severn Valley's coroner; but then she has to deal with the distraught mother of a Muslim boy who has just had him declared dead. The police have written him off as a Jihadi; but Jenny feels the mother deserves an inquest into the disappearance given some of the suspicious circumstances.  Meanwhile Jenny's own teenage boy isn't wildly happy to be living with her, and she's torn between two potential relationships. Sian Thomas gives a good reading, and this is another excellent book by Hall.

Jacquard's web: how a hand-loom led to the birth of the information age, by James Essinger. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Serendipitous find while idly looking for weaving in the University Library's catalogue.  This is a fascinating book which takes you through the influence of Jacquard's punch-card weaving invention on Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, through the business calculators of the 19th century and through to the birth of companies like IBM and into the computer age.  At all stages, the author has dug out details of the explicit mentions of the Jacquard weaving process and its influence in information science.  For anyone interested in either subject, this book is fascinating and extremely readable.  Having spent a couple of days tracing Jacquard around Croix-Rousse last year (still haven't blogged the photos!), even more fascinating.

Extraordinary people, by Peter May. London: Quercus, 2006.

A new-to-me Peter May series - delighted to find I like this one too.  Enzo MacLeod lives in Cahors with daughter Sophie, and works as a professor of biology.  But his past history as a forensic scientist comes back to him with a wager made with a journalist that he'll solve the disappearance and suspected murder of a prominent politician ten years before.  The first clues to what happened to Jacques Gaillard come quickly, but they just reveal more puzzles, and as Enzo and Roger continue to investigate, they run into trouble from the authorities.  There's an interesting plot here which just fails to fall into Da Vince Code style occult conspiracy theory; and Enzo operating both as a scientist and an exasperated Dad is fun.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

2016 books, #21-25

The moth catcher, by Ann Cleeves [audiobook]. Read by Janine Birkett. Oxford: Isis, 2015.

Valley Farm is a tiny community, a big house and three luxury homes built on the land, lived in by wealthy people enjoying their early retirement and describing themselves as "retired hedonists".  The peace of the place is shattered when the young house-sitter at the big house, Patrick, is found dead by the side of the road.  Vera and her team investigate, and immediately find another body in the granny flat at the back of the house.  The only connection they can find between the two men is a fascination with moths.  As they dig into the history of the people in the new development, they find a great deal of boredom and dissatisfaction, and some very nasty secrets.  Janine Birkett does an excellent job with the different Durham/Newcastle/Northumbrian accents here.

Oh, and if you've already watched this in the TV series, still worth watching - unrecognisable.  I waited to finish listening to this to avoid plot spoilers - really needn't have bothered...

And the mountains echoed, by Khaled Hosseini. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Abdullah and his younger sister Pari live with their father and new stepmother in 1950s Afghanistan; until Pari is taken to live with a wealthy couple at the age of three and a half.  The book follows their lives, and that of their little brother Iqbal and their uncle Nabi; as well as the history of a Greek facial surgeon who comes to work in Afghanistan to repair the physical destruction caused by the war.  There are dark secrets here, too - and the savagery of poverty and war in Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora over sixty years.  This is an intensely moving book, but has many loose ends - characters appear and then disappear just as suddenly - and somehow doesn't quite satisfy.  (Quick disclaimer that I haven't read any others of Hosseini's novels and I suspect a few of the characters may appear elsewhere, so this may make a lot more sense to people who've read the other two.)  It does give a fascinating look into a country we mainly know for its destruction, though.

The yellow jersey club: inside the minds of the Tour de France winners, by Edward Pickering. London: Bantam, 2015.

The idea for this book is the collection of living Tour winners which were assembled by ASO for the centenary tour in 2002. Pickering then decided to look at the post-Mercx-era winners, and the result is a series of short profiles of 21 Tour winners since 1975.  Some, like Bernard Thévenet, are less known to people like me who've only come to the sport recently.  Some stories are mostly recounted by the rider's peers. Some, like Greg LeMond, can talk the hind leg off a donkey.  And there's the odd chapter, like the one on Chris Froome, which seems to have been assembled from clippings.  And Lance Armstrong gets a chapter, because there'd be a huge gap in the record if not; Pickering doesn't pull any punches about the sport's drug-soaked history, though.  Definitely worth a read, if only to confirm the impression that these guys are all ever so slightly mad.

After the Armistice ball, by Catriona McPherson. London: Constable, 2005.

The first book in a series featuring Dandy Gilver, a society woman somewhat buried in early 1920s Perthshire with her staid husband, and her two sons away at boarding school.  A friend in trouble makes appeal to Dandy to investigate a supposed diamond theft, and she seizes the opportunity.  The investigation soon takes a tragic turn, but Dandy and friend-of-the-family Alec become rapidly convinced that everyone has something to hide.  An excellent beginning to a series - have already reserved the next one...

The rider, by Tim Krabbé. Translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett. London: Bloomsbury International, 2003. Originally published in 1978.

This is the weirdest, simultaneously documentary and hallucinatory book, the story of a 150km race told in 150 or so pages.  Krabbé is an author and former chess champion who also took up cycle racing in his late 20s, and rode many races in Holland, Belgium and France.  In this case, the race is the fictional Tour du Mont Aigoual (reconstructed since by various publications). Every move in the race is relived, and then there are special appearances by heroes of the sport, cycling alongside Krabbé in fantasy moments.  This was nominated by The Guardian as the best cycling book ever; the only way I can describe it is as an existentialist novel on wheels... Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

2016 books, #16-20

The climb, by Chris Froome, with David Walsh. London: Penguin, 2015.

I enjoyed Cav's first autobiography (see last reviews post); but this one really is fascinating, mainly because Froome is always a bit of an enigma when you hear him in interview (other than Ned Boulting's great Sports stories documentary last year set mainly in South Africa and Kenya, which was lovely).  Froome takes us through his childhood in Kenya and South Africa - first in Kenya with his mother, and then later at boarding school in Johannesburg.  You realise quite how... different... his upbringing, and cycling experiences, are from the norm of UK and European riders. There's the story of his having sent an e-mail purporting to be from the Kenyan minister for sport to get himself into the 2007 World Championships as manager, team-leader and sole rider (and then felling a race official on the first corner of the time-trial); a heart-stopping story about his having nearly killed an old man who was coming out of an Italian off-licence; and the odd funny, never insulting, stories about team-mates.  (This, about the Sky Tenerife training camp: The rooms have small prison-cell TV sets that only trade in Spanish. There is nothing interesting to do and no distraction. We rely on each other for entertainment and, knowing just how entertaining we all are, we take the precaution of bringing box sets of television series.)  Over and over, there are the twin pillars of fairness, and hard work; Froome's passionate anti-doping stance comes through, as does his complete dedication to a goal.  There's a fair amount about the Wiggins/Froome rivalry here, but really, that's not what this book's about.  I like the fact that David Walsh (the man who worked so hard to expose Lance Armstrong over so many years) has a proper place on the title page - but he's let Froome speak here, and it's a funny, engaging, book about a very nice chap.

Career of evil, by Robert Galbraith. London: Sphere, 2015.

The third Cormoran Strike, and utterly true to form.  Robin receives a severed leg in a box; and discovers to her horror that there are potentially four people who might want to send such a thing to Strike. One motive is entirely personal; the other three accumulated in Strike's career of making himself unpopular with very nasty people. Strike and Robin investigate, while Robin's relationship and impending marriage to (the rather awful) Matthew also cause problems.  There are a couple of really horrific characters here, notably the dreadful Tempest, bullying and self-obsessed webmistress of a 'transabled' forum for apotemnophiliacs and those who wish to become disabled (this doesn't, as you'd imagine, go down well with Strike). Brilliant, occasionally scary, sometimes extremely funny, often moving; I think this series may be getting better as it goes on; but I'm a sucker for series where the characters' relationships and personalities are as strong as the plots.

Lifetime, by Liza Marklund [audiobook]. Read by India Fisher. Bath: AudioGO, [n.d.]

Journalist Annika Bengtson has separated from her husband; then she and her two kids only just escape a house fire.  Meanwhile, one of the most famous police officers in Sweden is found murdered in his bed, his 4-year-old son missing, his wife suspected of the crime which was committed with her police weapon.  Desperate to take her mind off her own troubles, Annika starts to investigate the police officer's killing - if the wife is innocent, as she claims, who could have abducted the child and murdered her husband?  As ever, Annika is unable to stay away from trouble... and the fact that the police think she might have torched her own flat isn't helping.  I do enjoy these - but I wonder if I'd sit down and read the books, rather than listening to the audiobooks - Annika annoys the hell out of me...

Rogue lawyer, by John Grisham. London: Hodder, 2015.

After Gray mountain, I was expecting something equally epic from this book; but this is effectively a set of short stories tied together by one character.  Sebastian Rudd is someone famous for defending the indefensible client, and is hated by the police, prosecutors and his ex-wife.  We see his custody battles for his small son interspersed by cases where defendants of various stripes appear. Rudd has ethics, but those ethics don't necessarily correspond with the law; and he is prepared to bend rules in what he regards as a rightful cause.  It's Grisham, so it's tremendously entertaining; but not one of his greats.

The black sun, by James Twining [audiobook]. Read by Andrew Wincott. Rearsby, Leics: Clipper/WF Howes, 2006.

In London, an Auschwitz survivor is murdered in hospital and the arm with his camp tattoo is removed; in Maryland, an Enigma machine is stolen; in Prague, mindless vandalism at a synagogue fails to conceal the theft of a Czech painting.  Tom Kirk becomes involved, and soon realises nothing's quite what it seems.  This started off fascinatingly, but it degenerates into the normal Nazi-gold type of conspiracy thriller, and is less interesting for that.  I'll carry on with this series, and hope the theme's different next time, as I do like Kirk and his sidekick.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

2016 books, #11-15

Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill [audiobook]. Read by David Thorpe.  Bath: Oakhill, 2010.

I wanted to read this because it was about cricket in America, and murder.  And it sort of is, and sort of isn't.  I really don't know what to say about this book other than that I'd hoped to enjoy it and eventually just sort of left, confused.  The fact I had to listen to the final disc twice, and still didn't work out what the author was intending to say maybe expresses either my lack of attention, or the lack of focus of this book...

This dark road to mercy, by Wiley Cash. London: Transworld, 2014.

I really wanted to love this book.  Cash's previous book, A land more kind than home, was a tour de force.  This sets itself up magnificently; a 12-year old and a 6-year old are put into a children's home in North Carolina; their loser dad abducts them; people are chasing the dad... But somehow it fails to deliver.  Having said that; this was a book-group book and we had so many things to talk about having read it...  And when I say I was disappointed - that's in comparison with the previous book which is quite astonishing.  This is still pretty good.

Boy racer: my journey to Tour de France record-breaker, by Mark Cavendish. Epub format. [Originally London: Ebury, 2010.]

Cav's first autobiography, written in 2009; and as opinionated and passionate (and occasionally chippy) as you might imagine if you've listened to any of his famously unpredictable post-race interviews. What I didn't necessarily expect was his ruthlessly realistic view of his own talents and how they match up to those of other sprinters; but he's someone who is always the first to praise his team's performance... This takes us through Cavendish's childhood, early racing, the Academy, and his first couple of really successful series with 9 Tour de France stage wins and the massive disappointment of being the only member of the UK Cycling team not to win a medal at Beijing. Cav's notorious photographic memory for every race is shown at its full advantage here - and his collaboration with Daniel Friebe (whose contribution is somewhat hidden in the credits at the very end) has made for a wonderfully readable book.

Sex, lies and handlebar tape: the remarkable life of Jacques Anquetil, the first five-times winner of the Tour de France, by Paul Howard. Edinburgh; London: Mainstream, 2008.

I had to get this out for the name - saw it in the bibliography at the end of another cycling book.  I didnt know much about Anquetil - his glory years were when I was a toddler - but he'd been the hero of my French penfriend's Dad, and one of those names who keeps coming up.  I can't say I particularly warmed to him as a person, which is probably why this has taken me months to read and I've only finished it now because it needs to be back to the University Library in a couple of weeks; but it's a fascinating story. Not least the fact that his daughter is also his step-granddaughter, the child of his stepdaughter - something the French penfriend's Dad didn't ever mention.  Anquetil's constant quest to avoid financial distress, even when he was earning hugely, and his seemingly unequivocal endorsement of doping, are alienating; but the book's a window of a world into the decade before Eddie Merckx's dominance and interesting from that point of view. If you like that sort of thing.

My family and other strangers: adventures in family history, by Jeremy Hardy. Ebpub format. [Originally London: Ebury, 2010.]

This is a lovely warm, funny book.  Hardy goes about investigating his family history in a somewhat haphazard way - perennially not really getting up in time to get a full day's research in, or being sidetracked by lunch; and this is endearing.  While he's toddling around graveyards failing to find stones, or being wildly enthusiastic about the research room at The National Archives, he's also reflecting on his own life, his family's (and thinks about family in general and how we make it, as his own daughter is adopted), and what it means to belong somewhere.  He explores Hitchin, and Arundel, and mentions many times that it would be much more helpful if he had an army of white-gloved helpers from Who do you think you are?  He also talks movingly about the deaths of Linda Smith and Humphrey Lyttleton, both very recent at the time of the book.  Many times, you're laughing with a lump in your throat. Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

2016 books, #6-10

Make me, by Lee Child [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Whitley Bay: Soundings, 2015.

Another excellent Jack Reacher book; I really don't know how he keeps up the standard, given that this is book 20.  Reacher's inner romantic is intrigued by the town of Mother's Rest; it has a railway station, so Reacher hops off at midnight to find out why the town got its name.  He meets a woman called Michelle Chang waiting for a work partner, who hasn't got off the train.  As the following day goes on, Reacher's curiosity about the origin of the town's name, and scouring of the streets for a monument, a gravestone or a museum, attract suspicion among this intensely rural community.  (Which is basically Standard Operating Procedure for anyone coming into contact with Reacher.)  As Reacher and Chang (ex FBI) start trying to find Chang's missing partner, the truth behind the grain-silo façade of Mother's Rest turns out to be something very strange, and then something very horrible indeed.  Lee Child's on top form here, riffing off the omnipresent "Reacher said nothing", and giving us a superb plot.

Land of second chances: the impossible rise of Rwanda's cycling team, by Tim Lewis. London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2014.

This was rated extremely highly by the guys at the wonderful Cycling Podcast in their round-up of the year's (or possibly the last couple of years') best books.  It starts with the presence of Adrien Niyonshuti in the mountain bike race at London 2012; and then goes back to look at Rwanda pre-genocide, during the genocide, and then during the reconstruction.  The beauty and the poverty of Rwanda come through so clearly; as does the evangelical zeal of the cycling fanatics of various nations who come together to try to help.  Initially, the aim is to produce indestructible, affordable coffee-carrying bicycles to help farmers get their produce to the processors earlier.  But then Team Rwanda was also born, and provided shelter, and the second chances mentioned to both the riders, many of whom had lost so many family members in the genocide, and the team coaches and staff, some of whom had... dubious... backgrounds they were trying to make amends for.  You learn about the Rwandan genocide, international development politics, cycling economics, and the enigmatic, wonderfully enlightened/completely dictatorial President Kigame.  You really don't need to be into cycling to read this book.

Greedy man in a hungry world: how (almost) everything you thought you knew about food is wrong, by Jay Rayner [audiobook]. Read by the author.  [S. l.: HarperCollins Audio, 2013.]

Rayner's on a tear, here. He's spent way too much time among pretentious foodies; so the targets are local food, seasonality, farmers' markets, small-is-beautiful, industrial-is-bad, supermarkets-are-evil, GMOs-are-going-to-kill-us-all semi-orthodoxy.  To be fair, he goes at it like Ben Goldacre, but a Ben Goldacre with a hangover who hasn't had lunch yet.  And it's all really interesting.  He visits large, carbon-neutral, water-neutral, large-scale agriculture in the US; he talks to researchers into farming in the developing world.  He looks at food miles versus the other elements of the carbon footprint and concludes that maybe certain areas of the world are just better at some of this stuff.  And it's also emotional (interlaced as it is with memories of his late mother), and entertaining; and he's looking at the ethics of the thing all the way through - I enjoyed this immensely; and Jay Rayner's another guy who really should read his own books.

Flying too high, by Kerry Greenwood.  Scottsdale, Ariz: Poisoned Pen Press, 2007.

The second of the Phryne Fisher books.  Phryne has started to put down roots in Melbourne, moving out to her own house with her maid Dot; she's approached by two clients simultaneously.  Mrs McNaughton is terrified her son, a flying-school owner, will murder her husband; and a child (the utterly delightfully phlegmatic Candida) is kidnapped from the family of a recent lottery winner.  Phryne sets out to solve both murders, using her wits, her own special sense of morality, her red Hispano-Suiza and a series of borrowed aeroplanes.  I love this series; the next one's on order already.

Gray mountain, by John Grisham. London: Hodder, 2015.

I always forget quite how good a storyteller Grisham is; particularly when he's up on his environmental, David-v-Goliath, high horse as he is here.  Samantha Kohler is a victim of the 2008 financial crash; she's told by her New York real estate law firm to intern somewhere else for a year, and they might be in a position to take her back. "Somewhere else" turns out to be Brady, Virginia, working in a law clinic for impoverished families dealing with repossession, domestic violence and the health consequences of the strip-mining industry.  Samantha meets environmental lawyer Donovan Gray, a fierce opponent of the mining companies since his land (the eponymous Gray Mountain) was destroyed, and grows to like him. Part of this book is charming; part is very scary. It's vintage Grisham.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

2016 books, #1-5

The pie at night: in search of the North at play, by Stuart Maconie. London: Ebury, 2015.

Mr Maconie does it again, with his combination of romance and realism.  Having looked at the industrial history of the North in Pies and prejudice several years ago, he's gone back to find out how the British, and particularly the Northern English, have fun.  Different chapters cover the industrial heritage industry (with a lovely section on Beamish Museum), football, bowls, going to the dogs, museums, music, theatre, walking, eating and drinking, and the different experience of North and South.  And while Bill Bryson might write a book like this and dip into snideness, Maconie has such a huge curiosity and affection for his subject and for the people he meets that there's no danger of that here.  Highly recommended.

The double eagle, by James Twining [audiobook].  Read by Andrew Wincott. Rearsby, Leics: WF Howes, 2006.

In Paris, the body of a priest is dumped into the Seine; but during the post-mortem, a coin is found in his body - a rare double eagle, a coin thought not to exist.  Jennifer Browne of the FBI is commissioned to investigate, and this leads to the discovery of a robbery at Fort Knox, and the possible involvement of Tom Kirk, an art thief and former CIA agent.  The mystery takes Browne and Kirk all over Europe, with a brilliant reveal at the Invalides back in Paris.  Very well plotted - I guessed part of the plot but then it twisted again - and a good reading from Wincott (even if it is a bit strange hearing Adam-from-the-Archers doing a variety of US accents...).

L'étranger [usually, English: The Outsider], par Albert Camus. PDF downloaded to Kindle [originally published Paris: Gallimard, 1942].

I was uncomfortable with the potential illegality of the PDF I used for this re-read; but honestly, not uncomfortable enough to go up into my loft over Christmas to dig out my college copy, and this was one of January's book group books.  I had forgotten quite how good this is.  I re-read it in French because I knew I'd remember so many fervently-memorised quotes that it would be wrong not to; and because the language is so simple, but also so luminous, so clear-cut.  Reading it again while watching The Bridge and Sherlock, I wondered whether Meursault was another person who was entirely involved in society while absolutely puzzled by the feelings and expectations of others.  I was wary of coming back to something I'd been so blown away by as a 16-year-old, and then as a 22-year-old, but I got more out of this book again at more than twice that age.  And, of course, one of the central themes of colonisation/oppression/unrest between les arabes and the prevailing authorities is sadly as prevalent now as it was in 1942.

The Meursault investigation, by Kamel Daoud. Translated from the French by John Cullen. London: Oneworld, 2015 [originally published as Meursault, contre-enquête, Oran, Algeria: Editions Barzakh, 2013].

Our other book group book for January (both this and L'étranger are short reads).  The brother of the "Arab on the beach" speaks, and gives him a name, Musa, and a family; and tells the story both of Musa's life and of his own.  From the first sentence Mama is still alive today (contrasting with Camus's Aujourd'hui, Maman est morte) there are parallels with L'étranger throughout.  Most notably a memorable rant about the non-existence of God, which is repeated almost word for word in a totally different context.  Daoud explores the complete anonymity of Meursault's victim and the non-white population of Algeria as a whole in the period; he creates a garrulous, not entirely reliable narrator with a powerful voice of his own; and the way that Algerian society has changed in the period between its emergence as a nation and presence, with the increasing domination of religion. While acknowledging that he doesn't have the narrative gift of the original book, which he has been trying to throw off all his life (and, indeed, this really wouldn't work as a standalone novel), Daoud has created a fascinating companion piece.

Day of Atonement, by Jay Rayner. Kindle edition. Originally published in 1998.

Two Jewish teenagers in Edgware, Mal and Solly, go into business to produce Solly's "Pollomatic", an invention which cooks and strains the stock for chicken soup in a new, faster way.  When they start to expand their business, though, they need a longer spoon to sup with their main backer, a very savvy and ruthless businessman.  Although they later marry, the friendship between Mal and Solly is the bedrock of this book, and there are themes of loyalty and betrayal, family, Jewish identity (or lack of) and, of course, food.  It's an extremely funny book, but the ending did see me crying on the Tube. I enjoyed Rayner's The Oyster House siege several years ago but enjoyed this even more. Brilliant read.