This week's bookcase includes reviews of Emma Beddington's memoir about trying to be French, We'll Always Have Paris, The Cauliflower by Nicola Barker, and Catherine Fletcher's biography of Florence's first Medici Duke, The Black Prince Of Florence

We'll Always Have Paris: A Memoir - Trying And Failing To Be French

Emma Beddington

We'll Always Have Paris is a memoir from journalist and award-winning blogger Emma Beddington. Obsessed with everything French since stumbling upon a copy of French Elle as a teenager, Beddington sets about doing all she can to leave her humble Yorkshire roots behind and embrace the French philosophy and way of life. She even eventually fulfils her lifelong dream of living in Paris, but can the reality live up to her expectations? Can it ever? Beddington's memoir is a sumptuous ode to Gallic philosophy, Parisian patisserie and French joie de vivre. But it is also a candid and poignant account of grief, loss, relationships and identity. A must-read for anyone who's ever lived, or thought about living, abroad, Francophile or otherwise.

The Cauliflower

Nicola Barker

Only one thing is for certain when reading Nicola Barker's latest and totally brilliant, yet unclassifiable novel – you have absolutely no idea which direction the story is heading in. Barker's writing is exuberant, chaotic and magical, but sometimes a little hard to follow. The Cauliflower is not for those who give up on books easily, but hold tight, you're in for a pretty epic ride. The novel concerns itself with Sri Ramakrishna, a 19th-century Indian mystic, who certainly doesn't like to be referred to as a "guru". The narrative jumps around, though is often told from the point of view of Ramakrishna's nephew. The story unfolds in fragments as the reader gleans half-told tales of magical India. Barker's writing is completely original and insightful and bursting full of spirituality. The novel is thoroughly enjoyable; however the narrative becomes slightly messy at times as Barker runs away with herself.

We Go Around In The Night And Are Consumed By Flames

Jules Grant

Stylistically similar to Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, the characters in Jules Grant's debut novel do not only speak in dialect, they narrate in it too. Set in Manchester's seedy crime underworld, We Go Around In The Night And Are Consumed By Flames follows the story of lesbian criminal Donna and her goddaughter Aurora. It's a common case of warring gangs, drugs, gun crime and murder, but uniquely it's presented from a distinctly female gaze, and although it's unflinching in its gritty portrayal of Manchester, there are funny moments and tender passages that take the reader by surprise. The author has created brilliantly layered characters, especially in Donna, the hard-bitten head of the Bronte Close Gang and the 10-year-old goddaughter left in her care. By alternating chapters between the two, Grant develops her plot with different perspectives on events that unfold at breakneck speed. It's a skilfully written story and impossible to put down, especially during tense confrontations. But while it's certainly a fast-moving crime thriller, for those unfamiliar with Mancunian slang, the language can sometimes feel undecipherable. Grant's book has it's fair share of violence and vengeance, but it's also a heartbreaking and tender read about love and the relationships that tie us together.

Sitting Ducks

Lisa Blower

For a topical read that packs a punch, this is an angry and unapologetic first novel from the prize-winning short-story writer Lisa Blower. Set over five days of the May 2010 General Election, the novel focuses on the Minton family from "Smoke-on-Trent" (Blower's hometown). The characters, once part of the local pottery industry, now fight for survival. The book's chapters are renamed "Rounds". Constance Minton is clinging on to the council house she has lived in for 73 years, while her wayward son Totty rails against everyone around him, including social workers, the job centre, and the ex-wife who is trying to get their two kids back. Much of the book's political bite is directed at the Conservatives' housing policies - including the "bedroom tax" and the mass sell-off of social housing to private landlords, who then convert streets of "houses" into broken bedsits. Sitting Ducks rejects the logic of aspiration and right-to-buy. "If you're not angry, you're not listening" says the novel's strapline. This is an Angry Young Woman to watch.