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Fifty Shades of Grey - book review

Newspapers say it’s ‘mummy porn’, friends dub it ‘chic lit’, some just call it a spanking good read. But is ’Fifty Shades of Grey’ actually any good? Tony Mallett thrashed his way through it.

Around Brussels in 80 Beers

Beer we go with a great book about bars and brews in Brussels

You’re in Belgium, the beer capital of the world. And the capital of that capital is Brussels. You want to try some great beers, so where do you start? With Around Brussels in 80 Beers, that’s where.

Penned by journalist Joe Stange and brewer Yvan De Baets, now of Brasserie de la Senne, this book is so useful and knowledgable we wished we’d written it.

Quite frankly, from a beer perspective, there’s not much point doing a whistle-stop-tour in this country, but this is a whet-your-whistle tour instead. So, with the aid of this worthy tome, take your time exploring some 80 bars that combine various atmospheres, great food (in some cases) and excellent craft beers.

Joe says he’s hoping to update the guide in the summer of this year (for example, the ‘new’ Moeder Lambic bar in Fontainas is not included) but, in the original edition, you’ll still find many bars and breweries you may have visited, plenty you’ve heard of but not got around to entering yet and some complete surprises.

Like good food and great ale, it’s easy to digest and, at €12.95, a steal. Pick it up at Sterling Books or by mail order (with no added shipping cost) at

As Joe and Yvan put it: ‘There is an up-and-coming generation of young proprietors rejecting the same-old corporate stuff and giving place of honour to craft beers on their menus and chalkboards.

“That is the subplot that runs throughout (the book). If this gives those heroes an extra little boost then we have done our job.”

Books about Brussels

Wallpaper City Guide Brussels

The magazine Wallpaper is universally and rightly renowned for being visually stunning and their city guides are no exception. The illustrations, while small, are very good and chosen with care and panache.

April readings at the English language bookstore in downtown Brussels

There are two readings coming up at Sterling this month, within a few days of each other.
Graphic novelist Karrie Fransman will be at the downtown book store on 20 April with Chris Pavone coming along on the 24th. Chris will be talking about his book The Expats, which will be reviewed on this page next month. Both start at 19:00.
April book reviews

With thanks to Sterling Books, this month’s selection is reviewed by Tony Mallett

Julian Barnes: The Sense of an Ending

Barnes won the 2011 Man Booker Prize with this relatively short novel and it’s easy to see why. Every word counts in this tale of a retired, calm and seemingly malice-free man forced to re-examine his past when prompted by a surprise letter from a lawyer.
We learn of two suicides in his early life, one meaningless to himself and his tight-knit group of friends (except philosophically), the other considerably less so and, with the arrival of the letter, Tony Webster is jolted into coming to terms with his past using the imperfect tool that is memory.
As he attempts to piece together a jigsaw made up of a long-ago ex-girlfriend, her mysterious mother, a bequest in a will and the untimely death of a young man he both loved and admired, Webster eventually discovers that memory, like nostalgia, isn’t what it used to be and that the past is mutable.

Dimitri Verhulst: The Misfortunates

Something of a modern-day classic in Flemish circles, this semi-autobiographical work has gained a wider audience since being translated into English. And, by God, it deserves it.
Young Dimmy is being dragged up in stale-beer-smelling squalor in the Flemish village of Arsendegem, surrounded by a father and uncles who aim to drink themselves into early graves, fail miserably to dodge bailiffs, fight with anyone who’s up for it and take pride in leaving the door open when they take a shit.
The lad’s mother has done a runner long ago, few of the family do any work and, when they do, every last bean they earn is spent down the pub to protect the family from what Dimmy’s dad calls the  ‘dangers of capitalism’.
The boy looks set to drown in this cesspit of uselessness, flanked by desperate (not to mention determined) alkies and the set-pieces that accompany Verhulst’s eventual growing up and escape are honest, brutal, surprisingly moving in places and, above all, absolutely bloody hilarious.

John Grisham: The Litigators

The master of the courtroom drama needs no introduction. The numerous finely crafted legal thrillers that he churns out endlessly have been read time-and-time again, adapted as movies and envied by lesser storytellers for years. While sticking to what he knows best, it has to be said that this novel is lighter than others Grisham’s penned, although no less clever, controlled or perfectly paced.
Harvard graduate David Zinc has worked in a huge Chicago law firm for five years and hates it. One day, he suddenly says ‘screw it!’, hits a downtown bar for breakfast and winds up shit-faced in the offices of Finley & Figg, run by two tired ambulance chasers specialising in injury claims and cheap divorces.
Neither has ever addressed a jury in federal court, nor has David for that matter, but they’re about to take on the might of Big Pharma...
This is rip-roaring stuff with a few good laughs along the way.

David Vann: Dirt
Vann’s third novel, the Sterling ‘Book of the Month’  for April, is making waves already. The story surrounds
22-year-old Galen, a complete misfit living with his skinflint mother, sexually tortured by his gorgeous cousin, arguing with his aunt, trying to be kind to his grandmother (who is now in a nursing home) and with no clue or experience of what life’s about or his place in it.
Set in a sun-baked US landscape and written in intense but sparse prose, it unravels its tale over a few hot, summer days during which Galen’s life is changed forever.
This is the real deal. And Vann is a major talent.


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