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30 Hidden Gems - Fantastic Fiction That Deserves to Be on Your Radar

With almost 200,000 books published each year in the UK alone, it’s no wonder plenty of brilliant books don’t always get the attention they deserve. Which is why we’ve curated this collection of ‘hidden gems’ - novels we love that were published in recent years and may have slipped beneath your reading radar.

For historical fiction packed with powerful authenticity, they don’t come more moving than A More Perfect Union. Sparked by the experiences of the author’s great-grandparents, this tells the soul-stirring story of the love between a Black slave in Virginia and an Irish immigrant who fled famine in 1848.

Lovers of inventive fiction with quirky charm would do well to check-out The Jeweller, a haunting novel set in West Wales, and Eggshells, a magical, unsettling, darkly funny Dublin-set story about an orphan whose parents told her she was a Changeling. Flames is another gem with an enchanting otherworldly aura courtesy of the curious curse that afflicts the main character and its Tasmanian setting. It’s the kind of well-told tale that lingers long, as is The Driveway Has Two Sides - a truly captivating, read-in-one-sitting triumph of short fiction. Set on a one-village island off Cape Cod, and centred around beautiful stranger Delilah whose arrival sends life-changing ripples through the gossipy community, it’s short in length, but big on impact.

If you fancy a dose of feel-good fiction to warm your heart, Sofia Lundberg’s The Red Address Book is a beautiful - and entertaining - journey through an elderly woman’s life, from her youth modelling in Paris, through fleeing to America following the outbreak of WWII, to her present-day life in Stockholm. Or for suspenseful, easy-to-read noir centred around a troubled domestic milieu, try Lies Behind the Ruin, in which a British couple’s dream of a new life in France sours like grapes left too long on the vine.

For thought-provoking female-centred novels, try Patsy, House of Beauty, Sarong Party Girls and The Mermaid of Black Conch. Telling very different stories, in very different styles, and variously set in the Caribbean, Colombia and Singapore, each of these pack real punch and are books I’ll return to over and over.

Historical page-turners, quirky contemporary novels, cutting comedies and lingering literary vignettes - there should be something for all tastes in this diverse collection of hidden gems. You might just discover your new favourite writer among these treasures. At the very least, we’re certain you’ll find a host of books you’ll want to thrust into the hands of all your book-loving friends.

The Driveway Has Two Sides

The Driveway Has Two Sides

Author: Sara Marchant Format: Paperback Release Date: 11/07/2018

Beautiful Delilah’s arrival on a one-village island off Cape Cod (“not the tropical breeze and swaying palm tree kind”, but the “sea gusts and unexpected hurricanes...Atlantic kind”) creates restless ripples among the islanders. She’s an outsider and, since this is the kind of place where everyone knows each other and each other’s business, Delilah is subject to the scrutiny and suspicions of locals who pass comment on all she does and how she does it. “She showed no sign of employment - or any sign of being independently wealthy”, and she even plants a garden at the front of her house. The front - such scandal! Delilah is alone but for occasional weekend visits from her boyfriend, until she becomes close to the island’s sheriff, who gives her gardening advice (and more), but it’s her unconventional, slow-to-emerge relationship with a reclusive neighbour - also the subject of gossip and wild speculation – that creates the most life-changing ripples. Tense, earthy, calmly commanding and written with refreshing clarity, this is a spellbinding triumph of short fiction.

Flames

Flames

Author: Robbie Arnott Format: Paperback Release Date: 01/08/2019

When Levi and Charlotte McAllister’s mother dies, she suffers the post-death fate experienced by many a McAllister woman. After cremation, she re-appears and bursts into flame on the lawn. Fearing his sister is headed for the same end, Levi swears to “bury her whole and still and cold”, which prompts Charlotte to flee southward “towards the bottom of the earth”. What follows is a cleverly twisting story that crackles with intrigue and invention as the lives of an assortment of compelling characters collide. There’s the wildly eccentric coffin maker Levi commissions to make Charlotte’s casket, and the hard-drinking female detective he employs to track her down. There’s the wombat-farmer slipping into insanity, and the young woman who works for him and changes Charlotte’s life. Raw and real, yet also suffused in otherworldly magic, the author has conjured an elemental mythological landscape alongside the true-world Tasmanian setting. I raced through these blistering pages, but this is a book I shall undoubtedly return to.

A More Perfect Union

A More Perfect Union

Author: Tammye Huf Format: Hardback Release Date: 15/10/2020

Based on her great-great grandparents’ experiences, Tammye Huf’s A More Perfect Union is a heart-rending, soul-stirring story of the love between a black slave and an Irish immigrant. A lucid, bold tale of the despicable brutality of slavery, personal conflicts, and a bond that will not be broken. Henry O’Toole fled Ireland in 1848 to escape the famine. On arriving in New York, “America stabs me with homesickness” and he can’t find a job - “Every day it’s the same. No Irish”. Compelled to flee the city, he changes his surname to the English-sounding ‘Taylor’ and heads to Virginia. House slave Sarah is separated from her Momma and brother when she’s sold as a “quick-cleaning-slave-who-don’t-get-sick”. She and Henry meet when he comes seeking work as a blacksmith at the plantation she’s been sold to. Here Henry is moved by the sound of slaves singing at night, while Sarah paces her hoe in the kitchen garden to “the rhythmic strike of the blacksmith’s hammer”. The stirring attraction between them is palpable, but theirs is a forbidden relationship - inter-racial marriage is illegal, and viewed as an abomination. What’s more, she’s owned by another man. The couple are in an excruciating situation, their complex personal conflicts evoked with shattering clarity. Sarah has to reconcile loving a man whose white skin represents her oppression, and she’s also ostracised by fellow slaves. Then there’s the searing exchange when Sarah sees Henry making neck rings and shackles. When he protests that he has no choice, that he needs to earn money, that he knows what it is to be shackled by poverty, Sarah’s response captures the despicable inhumanity of enslavement: “’I know you been through a hard, hungry life,’ she says. ‘I want you to understand that slave suffering is a different thing. When somebody owns you, there ain’t nothing they can’t do to you.’”  Both their voices are conjured with brilliant authenticity, and their story builds to an agonisingly edgy crescendo as the risks they take are as immense as their love. I cannot recommend this enough. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.

The Dissent of Annie Lang

The Dissent of Annie Lang

Author: Ros Franey Format: Paperback Release Date: 07/03/2019

Annie Lang is a “fanciful child”. She tells it like it is, with much wisdom in her apparent naïveté and questioning of adults’ illogical rules, which doesn’t sit well with her strict religious upbringing. Following the untimely death of her mother, Annie’s worst fear comes to pass when her father marries their “old stick” punishment-wielding housekeeper. But some light shines in the form of Annie’s young Sunday School teacher, Millie Blessing, who arrives wearing beautiful blue high-heeled shoes and whose presence is a literal blessing to Annie. Then Millie vanishes, Annie goes to study in France, time moves on. But on her return, Annie is horrified to learn that her brother is in a mental hospital and, soon enough, ”unquiet ghosts from the past” are also raised.  As the narrative shifts between the present-day (1932) and Annie’s childhood recollections and diaries, the novel is driven by her dedication to solving the mystery of Millie Blessing. While Annie’s distinctive voice and scrapes spark many smiles, this engrossing child’s perspective on adult misdemeanors also lays bare the rottenness of religious hypocrisy and male abuse of power. What an un-put-down-able tale this is. 

Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew

Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew

Author: Susan Fletcher Format: Paperback Release Date: 01/06/2017

This soulful portrait of a woman’s friendship with Van Gogh, imagined from letters exchanged between the artist and his brother, is a richly-rewarding reverie about longing, loneliness and renewing life. Jeanne is an outsider in her Provencal village. She and her husband, Charles, live in the warden’s cottage of a psychiatric hospital, which renders her “too close to lunacy” for the other wives to feel safe, while she also feels invisible to Charles. Jeanne had loved the joy of discovering “new, small pleasures”, but she and Charles have slept apart for twenty years, and life is “ordered, disciplined”. Then a Dutchman arrives, the asylum’s first new patient in years, and Jeanne is immediately drawn to him, to this red-haired artist who is “not like other men”. Disobeying her husband, Jeanne watches Vincent paint, and his presence, his art, his “strong unwashed smell” heighten her restlessness. “Where is my wife?” Charles wonders, noticing a change in Jeanne, and yet there she is, dressed in the dazzling sunshine-yellow dress she last wore in her youth, radiating the promise of being seen anew, and of living life afresh. The descriptions of Van Gogh’s familiar works (“yellow swirled stars...that seem to move above the little sleeping town”), and the Provencal landscape are glorious, while the unsettled landscape of Jeanne’s heart is evoked with affecting poignancy. Truly a novel to pore over and savour. ~ Joanne Owen

A Reckoning

A Reckoning

Author: Linda Spalding Format: Ebook Release Date: 05/03/2019

Abolitionism; farmer-turned-fugitive; shifting social and political sands - this companion to the author’s award-winning The Purchase is an epically-scaled feat of historical fiction. Virginia, 1855, and farmer John Dickinson’s fate and fortunes are on the downturn as the country shifts towards Civil War. John’s irresponsible brother has lost the family wealth, and now a Canadian outsider, “birdwatching abolitionist” Doctor Ross, is about to seal the dysfunctional family’s future. Ross, whose “desire to free slaves was about justice rather than virtue; he hated the slaver more than he loved the slave,” tells the farm’s slaves of “the glories of a country that is owned by England, where no fugitive law grabs you and sends you back down to bondage.” Ross also promises to “provide a compass and a knife and a map” and safety to those willing to take flight. Then, faced with cripplingly mounting debts and agitated slaves, and feeling “bedeviled by a sense of oncoming doom”, John and family are compelled to flee to the West aboard a wagon, enduring grave perils and personal demons as they journey in search of a new existence. Stylistically bold (no speech marks), meticulously detailed, and driven by a rich cast of characters (I particularly liked the folkloric story of young Martin and his bear companion), this novel calls for careful contemplation, and will reward readers who enjoy thoughtful historical epics.

The Jeweller

The Jeweller

Author: Caryl Lewis, Format: Paperback Release Date: 19/09/2019

Suffused in the haunting longings and losses of complex, compelling Mari, The Jeweller shines with mysterious originality. Mari is a market stallholder in a West Wales seaside town whose wares come from clearing the houses of the dead, and who spends hour after hour fashioning a perfect emerald. Throughout, the language is exquisitely vivid, the story dappled with shocking, jarring moments, such as when Mari is publicly accused of being responsible for a man’s death, and the depiction of her pet monkey’s degeneration. And then there’s the unexpected discovery that leads to a reunion that releases Mari to a new life. Gleaming with precise lyricism (kudos to translator Gwen Davies, who rendered it from the original Welsh), this mesmeric novel has a truly mythic quality.

Eggshells

Eggshells

Author: Caitriona Lally Format: Paperback Release Date: 20/09/2018

Vivian is one of life’s outsiders; an orphan oddity adrift from the world, whose parents told her she was a Changeling. She posts her aunt’s ashes to her aunt’s friends, and then to strangers from the phone book. She advertises for a friend who “Must Answer to Penelope: Pennies Need Not Apply.” Against the odds, a Penelope responds, and a bond is formed but still, Vivian wanders Dublin, doing the strange things that make perfect sense to her, but arouse alarm in others and the question, “Is everything, alright?”  This charming, unsettling, magical story about loneliness, reaching out, friendship and hope is laced with dark humour and whimsy. It is at once briskly amusing and deeply moving, and makes a marvellous companion to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

The Innocents

The Innocents

Author: Michael Crummey Format: Paperback Release Date: 20/08/2020

Beautiful, brutal and raw - I cannot praise Michael Crummey’s The Innocents highly enough. Set in an inhospitable isolated area of the Newfoundland coast in the nineteenth-century, it’s a remarkable Garden of Eden, Babes in the Wood masterwork in which we witness age-old nature-nurture conflicts ebb and flow as we observe two siblings living on the edge, in every sense. Through their poignant passages to adulthood we see humanity at its most elemental, and we’re compelled to consider what it means to become a human adult Siblings Evered and Ada have survived the loss of their mother and baby sister Martha, though Ada still hears and speaks to Martha. Now their father has died and there’s no one but them to remove his body from their home. No one but each other to ensure they survive. Equipped with very limited knowledge of the world, and facing perilous poverty, the siblings fish and cure their catch, as their father used to, but the catches come either in unmanageable excess, or not at all. They are never far from the ravages of starvation, or wild storms. As time passes, Ada and Evered derive secret knowledge from their bodies, as well as from infrequent interactions with outsiders. Once a year, men come to collect the sibling’s paltry cured fish, dropping off scant supplies as payment. Then there are chance visits from seamen surprised to find them living alone in this precarious way. The siblings assimilate new knowledge from these unexpected visitors – knowledge of brewing, hunting, history and human relationships - who in turn leave indelible marks on Ada and Evered, leaving them changed to the extent that “each in their own way was beginning to doubt their pairing was requisite to what they might want from life.” Inspired by a story the author found in local archives, this is an incredibly haunting novel – the language powerfully pure, the story uniquely thought-provoking.

Sarong Party Girls

Sarong Party Girls

Author: Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan Format: Paperback Release Date: 01/08/2019

Written in Singlish - “a tossed salad of the different languages and Chinese dialects that the country’s multiethnic population speaks” - this exhilarating novel follows brazen Jazzy’s mission to marry a wealthy “ang moh” (white) man. Almost 27, she warns her friends that ”if we don’t get married, engaged or even nail down a boyfriend soon—my god, we might as well go ahead and book a room at Singapore Casket… But luckily for us, we still have one big hope: ang moh guys”, because “if you wear a tight tight dress or short short skirt, these ang mohs will still steam over you”. To this end, Jazzy’s life is an intense cycle of spending her days working for a newspaper editor who likes to “rubba rubba” his employees, followed by long nights at fancy clubs. Through her predatory attitude and enduring of a whole lot of objectification, this novel is razor-sharp on male entitlement, inequality, racial stereotypes and global capitalism. Indeed, Jazzy wasn’t always a Sarong Party Girl herself: “I would see women who are so obviously going after guys just for status and really look down on them. What kind of woman is so pathetic to chase after a husband just for the kind of handbag, car or condo they can buy them?” And then one night, it seems that enough is enough. Jazzy has an epiphany at dawn after a one hell of a wake-up call night out. What a fresh, funny and wildly acerbic treat this is. Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.

House of Beauty

House of Beauty

Author: Melba Escobar Format: Hardback Release Date: 08/03/2018

Set in the author’s home city of Bogotá, Colombia, this absorbing, pacey women-centered novel has a brutal murder at its core, and offers sharply observed insights into corruption and double standards around class, gender and race, as seen through the eyes of two unforgettable female protagonists. Gripping, brutal, honest, insightful, this is smart crime fiction with social conscience. Karen has moved to the city to earn money to send home to her young son. She works at the high-end House of Beauty salon, playing the role of confidante alongside her waxing and massage services. When one of Karen’s clients, a teenage girl, is found dead, the girl’s mother turns to Karen for information since she was one of the last people to see the girl alive. Then there’s psychoanalyst Claire, another of Karen’s clients, who’s recently returned to Bogotá after living in France for years. The women’s inner and outer lives, their struggles, desires, and increasingly dangerous predicaments are explored and played-out against the salon backdrop and beyond, as Karen becomes embroiled in the city’s criminal underworld. The writing is smart, the story riveting, and the author is truly gifted at character portraiture, and incisive in her exposition of misogyny. ~ Joanne Owen

The Mermaid of Black Conch

The Mermaid of Black Conch

Author: Monique Roffey Format: Paperback Release Date: 02/04/2020

From the author of The White Woman on the Green Bicycle and Archipelago comes what might be Monique Roffey’s most ambitious and accomplished novel yet. It’s a feat of invention – a brilliant interweaving of mermaid myth and the effects of colonial legacies on modern life. The time and place is 1976 in a small fishing village on the island of Black Conch. David is out strumming his guitar, hoping for a catch when he attracts the attention of Aycaycia, a beautiful woman whom jealous wives cursed to live as a mermaid. Some weeks later Aycaycia is caught by American tourists out on a fishing trip. Seen as source of cash, she’s strung up by them, then rescued by David. While in his care, she begins to transform back into a woman.  Blending myth and history, magic and reality, this multi-voiced, multi-textured novel (it features journal excerpts and verse) tells a rich tale of love, jealousy and freedom, exposing racism, oppression and gender inequalities through its otherworldly cloak. Read our 'Book-aneers of the Caribbean' listicle to find more unforgettable books by Caribbean writers. Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.

The German Girl

The German Girl

Author: Armando Lucas Correa Format: Paperback Release Date: 21/09/2017

October 2017 Debut of the Month This ambitious and powerfully moving debut tells the true story of one of the lesser-known tragedies of WWII, when Jewish passengers aboard a transatlantic liner expecting to be given refuge in Cuba were refused entry.   Hannah Rosenthal lived an enviable life in Berlin until the Nazis took hold, but a ray of light comes when her family are successful in their scramble to secure tickets and visas to board the St Louis liner. The sense of the passengers’ initial hopeful elation – the brilliant descriptions of lavish balls and fine dining – rapidly plummets when news filters through that that the governments of Cuba, America, and Canada are planning to deny them entry. After days anchored off-shore, a mere handful of passengers are permitted to step onto Cuban soil. The few who are allowed to remain will be all but alone in a strange land, separated from their loved ones, in the knowledge that they’ll most likely return to meet their deaths. Slip forward to New York seven decades later and Hannah’s great niece, twelve-year-old Anna Rosen, receives a parcel that will lead her to Havana to learn heart-wrenching truths about her family’s past. A poignant story that needed to be told, told with much heart and humanity.  ~ Joanne Owen

A View of the Empire at Sunset

A View of the Empire at Sunset

Author: Caryl Phillips Format: Paperback Release Date: 21/06/2018

Read our 'Book-aneers of the Caribbean' listicle to find more unforgettable books by Caribbean writers. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.

Vintage 1954

Vintage 1954

Author: Antoine Laurain Format: Paperback Release Date: 20/06/2019

Romantic, wry and fragrant with the intoxicating bouquet of la vie Parisienne, this book will brighten the greyest of days with Gallic charme and enchantement. Paris, 2017, and Hubert invites a few associates to share a bottle of exquisite 1954 Beaujolais. Among his guests are American tourist Bob, and neighbour Julien. For Julien, 1954 has extra significance, for that was when an ancestor of his experienced “something extraordinary”. Namely, he sighted a flying saucer in a year that became known as “The Year of Flying Saucers” due to the prolific number of sightings. Next morning, each of Hubert’s guests themselves experience something extraordinary as they realise they’ve been transported to a Paris of the past, to a city in which citizens exchange lighthearted bonhomie on buses, and cafes allow patrons to “smoke with impunity”. Initially Bob amusingly muses that “despite globalisation, the French had not lost their soul!” Then it dawns on the wine-sharing group how they came to voyage through time: “when the flying saucer flew over, it changed the Saint-Antoine wine and since then whoever drinks it will go back to 1954”.    Despite enjoying a very pleasant sojourn in the past - encountering Audrey Hepburn in a bar, dining with Edith Piaf - the question is: how can they return to 2017? Driven by droll humour and romance, and with a miraculous climax, this is a fabulously full-bodied-book with crisply sweet undertones.

Patsy

Patsy

Author: Nicole Dennis-Benn Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/07/2019

As impactful as the author’s Montego Bay-set debut (Here Comes the Sun), this stirring novel sees Patsy fulfill her dream of leaving Jamaica (and Tru, her five-year-old daughter), to join Cicely, her best friend and secret lover, in Brooklyn. But when Patsy reaches her land of milk and honey a chasm gapes between her expectations and the actualities of being an undocumented immigrant: “The job that she had at the Ministry in Kingston was by far a more dignified job than cleaning houses, than wiping the assess of other people’s children, walking a dog and picking up shit.” And Cicely doesn’t live up to expectations, either. “Yuh don’t have to keep up di act wid me,” Patsy says to her friend, whose situation is less than the idyll she’d painted for Patsy. Meanwhile, with the passing of a decade, Tru is becoming her own young woman, defying convention by playing football with boys, and binding her breasts to keep them hidden. Across the ocean, and down the years, mother and daughter have more in common than either might imagine. Traversing generations and cultures, exposing white privilege and homophobia, exploring sexuality, the pressures of motherhood and the raw struggles of womanhood, Patsy’s plight of fleeing one cage for another, her search for peace and passion, makes for a profoundly stirring and highly readable novel. Read our 'Book-aneers of the Caribbean' listicle to find more unforgettable books by Caribbean writers. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers. Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.

Wrecker

Wrecker

Author: Noel O'Reilly Format: Hardback Release Date: 12/07/2018

Mary Blight, our unswervingly entertaining heroine, is a salty-talking, salty-acting woman. She picks over the corpses of those drowned off her craggy Cornish cove looking for treasures, such as the fine boots she pulls from a lady’s feet. And then she sees that the body’s earlobes are missing, leading to the national press reporting on the Porthmorvoren Cannibal, and someone saw blood around Mary’s mouth…But it’s Mary who takes in a washed-up stranger and nurses him back to health with the aid of Old Jinny’s curious cure. The man is a Methodist minister who decides to restore the cove to godliness and, observing Mary’s knowledge of the scriptures, he appoint her as Sunday School teacher, to the chagrin of the villagers who are familiar with Mary’s penchant for carnal pleasures. Mary throws herself into her new role but admits in typically honest fashion “I wanted Gideon to save me, but not so that I could kneel at the throne of King Jesus…I wanted him to help me flee the village so I could parade among all the smots in all my finery in a grand town”.  As the villagers scheme against Mary, a nation-wide search for a thief gathers pace, and all the while the writing crackles with energy and atmosphere, making this an exhilarating read with something of a Dickensian spirit in the vibrant characterisation.

Sharks in the Time of Saviours

Sharks in the Time of Saviours

Author: Kawai Strong Washburn Format: Hardback Release Date: 02/04/2020

Ancient gods and the elemental spirit of an island are interwoven with modern reality in this remarkable debut that begins with a family impoverished by the decline of the sugar cane industry. In the pounding, poetic words of Augie, the father of the household: ”I was once the sugarcane. I was the cane and clacking and the sugar-sweet smoke of the reaping season.” Amidst escalating money struggles, a shiver of sharks save seven-year-old Nainoa from drowning, which the family embrace as a sign from Hawai’i’s ancient gods, especially when Nainoa also seems to have been bestowed with healing powers. Throughout the writing is majestically powerful, from punch-packing phrases that slam you in the gut, to monumental descriptions that rise, crash, roar and swell like Big Island waves, not least when life unravels again after Nainoi – now a young adult - and his siblings leave the island for various parts of the USA. Sister Kaui captures one of the novel’s core themes when, relocated to San Diego, she speaks of being, “A person of here and there, and not belonging in either place.” Meanwhile, in Portland, struggling with his healing gift, and the failings of this gift, Nainoa recalls the shark incident and memories call to him: “Home. Come home.” With its sweeping sense of myth, this multi-voiced family saga is a brilliant, involving exposition of how the places we inhabit also inhabit us at bone-deep level. It rings and rages with the wrath, revival, healing and hope of its characters. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.

A Tall History of Sugar

A Tall History of Sugar

Author: Curdella Forbes Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/02/2021

Beginning in rural Jamaica in the late 1950s with the island on the verge of independence from Britain, A Tall History of Sugar is an all-consuming story of love, history and self-determination whose author, Curdella Forbes, possesses a majestic ability to evoke the big from the small. Rich details of dialogue, of time and place, of inner states and the outer world, intermesh with a sweeping sense of history, with its pertinent opening line referencing the state of contemporary Britain: “Long ago, when teachers were sent from Britain to teach in the grammar schools of the West Indian colonies (it was Great Britain then, not Little England, as it is now, after Brexit and the fall of empire)…” At the heart of this mythic tale is Moshe, whose appearance and biblical discovery as a baby in a twist of sea grape trees shrouds him in mystery, and elicits much mockery and fear. “With his pale skin, one sky-blue eye and one dark-brown eye…people said the boy just looked like sin. Big sin at work when he was made.” After spending his first years in the company of the childless woman who found him, Moshe forms an unbreakable bond with fellow outsider Arrienne. At school, “with the large girl sitting silently beside him, he felt that he would die of happiness.” While both Arrienne and Moshe excel in their studies, artistically gifted Moshe leaves his politically-engaged soul mate and arrives in England during the hot, fractious summer of 1976, where he hopes to find his birth father. His search takes him from Brixton, borough with a “thousand faces”, to Bristol, where he encounters the incongruity of former slave-owners being celebrated as hero philanthropists, with the urge to be close to Arrienne remaining a constant draw through all his experiences. Complex, compelling and luminously lyrical, this tells a powerful tale I know I’ll return to over and over. Read our 'Book-aneers of the Caribbean' listicle to find more unforgettable books by Caribbean writers. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.

The God Child

The God Child

Author: Nana Oforiatta Ayim Format: Paperback Release Date: 12/11/2020

From childhood in Germany and England to young womanhood in Ghana, this enthralling novel follows a steadfastly thoughtful Ghanaian forging her own identity in the face of fractured family ties, tragedy and colonial imperialism. Though of illustrious heritage, Maya’s childhood as an émigré is complex, uncomfortable and evoked with lyrical precision. Her beautiful mother is self-absorbed, always scented with “powdery luxury” and critical of Maya. ”It’s a pity my child did not take my beauty”, she tells her reflection before counselling Maya to “always look more than perfect. Not just good enough, but perfect”. And Maya receives conflicting messages from her father too. “Boys will not like you if you are too clever”, he tells her, while also criticising an eight out of ten mark: “Why not ten out of ten? You must always do your best.”  The arrival of cousin Kojo changes everything. His impassioned talk of Ghana fuels Maya’s understanding of her mother country, her parents, and her own identity. She observes that Kojo’s knowledge “gave him the power to upset the order of things,” leading her to wonder, “Could I learn these secrets and codes, even though I did not grow up in our country?” When she and Kojo are sent to schools in England, Maya experiences the racism of peers who “touched my hair and stroked my skin and passed me round on their laps like a doll”, and Kojo is bullied. No wonder then that he decides that, “this is nothing but a small shitty island that doesn’t work properly. It’s a cold wet Third World country, but they made us think they were all powerful.” Later back in Germany, Maya is maddened by the cultural imperialism of her education: “I could not think of much that was more frightening than fitting into this pinched-in sterile world.”  Maya’s story is at once arresting and nuanced, and suffused in an elegant sense of triumph when she returns to Ghana, where Kojo has been struggling to set-up a museum, and in time finds her voice and purpose through navigating a tangle of personal misfortune and cultural complexities.

You Don't Know Me

You Don't Know Me

Author: Imran Mahmood Format: Hardback Release Date: 04/05/2017

May 2017 eBook of the Month. At once a captivating courtroom drama, and a poignant personal story that explores social disadvantage and London gang culture from the unique perspective of an unforgettable narrator. An unnamed 21-year-old man is on trial for murder. He’s sacked his lawyer and is in the dock giving his own closing speech to the jury. “Bruv, I need to start telling it like it is,” he asserts, which is exactly what he does. The defendant’s speech is direct, gritty and heartfelt, and takes many “bus diversions” in order to give the jury the full contextual background he believes they need to come to the right verdict. His voice is charismatic and compelling, especially as he describes his tough childhood, and his love for girlfriend Kira, for whom he would do anything. “I don't remember choosing any of it,” the defendant remarks as he nears the end of his speech, and a lack of choice, and the spiraling, entrapping nature of the gangland world are at the heart of this incisively hard-hitting novel. We hear how kids as young as ten come to carry guns and drugs for gang leaders, how teenage girls are sold into a life of addiction and prostitution. And, through the narrator’s decision to tell it exactly as it is, we’re asked to consider the repercussions of a system in which the accused are often tried by juries who are nothing like themselves, and know nothing of their worlds. Indeed, the narrator concludes by asking the jury to “try and be me” when they deliver their verdict. This is crime fiction with conscience, and an utterly un-put-down-able debut that had me hooked from start to finish. ~ Joanne Owen

A People's History of Heaven

A People's History of Heaven

Author: Mathangi Subramanian Format: Hardback Release Date: 05/09/2019

What a remarkable novel this is. The life-affirming story of five young women who live in a Bangalore slum called Heaven. Their city used to be “more green than grey”, “a place where things grew,” and now “towering glass buildings sprouted in the grass where sheep used to graze”, and Heaven is about to be bulldozed. But not if this largely female community has anything to do with it. Indeed, they rise up as one, supporting each other, refusing to bow to the city government. The novel pivots around the lives of five friends. Dance-loving Deepa, who’s blind but whose friends support her passion. Banu, a political artist who “can do things that the rest of us can’t”. Transgender Joy, who was born to a mother who wished she was “unlucky enough to have a daughter.” Padma, “who knows all the ways a woman can be broken,” and is the only member of her family to receive an education. And queer Rukshana who wants “to be myself first.” Through poverty and injustice, the women remain strong and united, with each of their situations, hopes and desires painted with dynamic brushstrokes. Both their individual stories and their collective warrior spirit will move, inspire and enrich.

The Red Address Book

The Red Address Book

Author: Sofia Lundberg Format: Hardback Release Date: 24/01/2019

Doris lives a lonely life in Stockholm, her only human contact coming from daily carer visits and weekly Skype calls with her beloved grandniece Jenny, who lives in America. Since being given an address book by her dad as a child, Doris has kept a record of her life, noting all the people she’s loved, and all those she’s lost with “DEAD” written against their name. A smart dual narrative lays bare fascinating details of Doris’s life as she writes stories about her past for Jenny, with poignant developments also playing out in the present day narrative. We follow Doris as she’s sent to work for a wealthy Frenchwoman at the age of thirteen, a job that sets her on a path of exploration that continues through her life – modeling in Paris, meeting the love of her life, the outbreak of WWII, a reunion with her younger sister, a flight to America. Doris’s complex, rich life sees her crisscross the Atlantic, following her heart, experiencing near misses, loves lost, and loves re-found. When Doris is hospitalised, her life seems on the verge of crashing in both narratives, as Jenny makes her own journey across the Atlantic to be with the aunt she so loves.  The novel’s beautiful ending makes the soul sing, the heart swell and the tears fall, and so I shall leave the last word to Doris: “Don’t be afraid of life, Jenny. Live. Help yourself. Laugh. Life isn’t here to entertain; you have to entertain life. Seize opportunities whenever they come along, and make something good out of them.”

Lies Behind The Ruin

Lies Behind The Ruin

Author: Helen Matthews Format: Paperback Release Date: 25/04/2019

This highly readable slice of suspenseful noir sees a couple on the brink of losing everything. Emma thought she had it all with second husband Paul - a big house, new daughter Mollie, a fine step-dad for her son from her first marriage. But Paul’s been hiding things from her, not least the debts he’s been racking up, and the seriousness of his work situation. Forced to come clean (about some of his misdemeanors, at least) when he’s made redundant, they escape to the dilapidated French property Paul randomly bought during a holiday.   While Paul flits between France and London - ostensibly for work - resourceful Emma turns things around by making a go of a bar business in their new village. But her blossoming is thwarted when a glamorous stranger infiltrates her life and a hideous web of deceit, blackmail, entrapment and violence unravels with heart-pounding urgency that will have readers rooting for Emma every step of the way. This is a real read-in-one-sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of book.  

Land Of Love And Drowning

Land Of Love And Drowning

Author: Tiphanie Yanique Format: Paperback Release Date: 17/07/2020

Set in the early 1900s as the Virgin Islands shift from Danish to American rule, this is a sublime and thought-provoking novel. An epic family saga suffused in the islands’ complex history, and the strange magic of two sisters – Anette, who can see the future, and Eeona who possesses an extraordinary siren-like beauty. “Men will love me. It is the magic I have,” she remarks. Orphaned by the sinking of a ship, this captivating novel follows the sisters through sixty years. As they experience births, deaths, losses, loves, conflicts (and curses), sweeping change swells through their St Thomas homeland, shifting the sands around race and the land ownership. While their half-brother Jacob experiences institutionalised racism in the US Army, and witnesses segregation and the start of the Civil Rights Movement, back on the island Americans are busy buying up land and privatising beaches, giving rise to clashes between locals and incomers. It’s hard to believe this is Yanique’s debut. The writing is spellbinding, assured and invokes a desire to return to its world, and its themes are vitally important, not least the very relevant issue of outsiders making prime - and formally public - land inaccessible to locals. Read our 'Book-aneers of the Caribbean' listicle to find more unforgettable books by Caribbean writers. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.

Kids Like Us

Kids Like Us

Author: Hilary Reyl Format: Paperback Release Date: 30/10/2017

February 2018 Debut of the Month  |  In a Nutshell: All people have bubbles You’ll smile, you’ll gasp, you’ll root for main character Martin throughout and, while it’s only January, I strongly suspect that this radiant story about relishing memorable moments and making sense of the world will remain one of my Books of the Year. This exquisitely insightful, charming tale is all about the unforgettable voice of 16 year-old Proust-obsessed Martin, who’s in France where his mom is directing a movie. He has Asperger’s and struggles with personal pronouns. “Until I was eight years old, I called myself “you” because that's what everyone else called me, and I called other people "I" because that's what they called themselves", he explains. Like his favoured Proust protagonist, Martin lives through memories and through his devotion to fine detail - of taste, smells, landscape and faces. So, when he meets and falls for Alice, he views her as an incarnation of his favourite Proust heroine. While Martin’s relationships with Alice and the other new kids he encounters are far from straightforward, he moves beyond his Proustian absorption in things past and enriches the lives of many others as his own world expands. As one character realises with wry affection, Martin is “truly cool for a robot”.  ~ Joanne Owen

Montpelier Parade

Montpelier Parade

Author: Karl Geary Format: Hardback Release Date: 05/01/2017

Shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards 2017, First Novel Award Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2017. A deeply affecting debut about limitations and longing, lust and devotion between a working class boy and an enigmatic older woman.Dubliner Sonny first meets Vera while he’s helping his labourer dad work at her well-to-do Montpelier Parade house. He’s a directionless working class boy who thieves, fights and doesn’t fit in. His dad is a gambler and his mum works hard to keep their family afloat. Vera is beautiful, richer, older and English, and has no family, as far as Sonny is aware. A second chance encounter further arouses his fascination, and then she turns up at the butcher’s he works in and offers him odd job work. When Vera collapses, Sonny is the only one there to come to her rescue, while she, in turn, opens his eyes and heart to a hitherto hidden world of literature and art. Until meeting Vera, he “never had a book”, since “books were not meant for boys who cut meat”. Their relationship is evoked with sharp intensity, and a cutting awareness that this is transitory for them both. “I think years from now you’ll understand this and hate me for it”, Vera remarks as they lie in bed. The uncommon use of a second person narrative has a mesmerising and intensifying effect. Throughout we listen in on Sonny addressing himself; lonely, drifting, struggling, with an especially moving epiphany coming when he feels “sudden emotion” for his mother and plans to buy her “something nice”. This is a tender, tense coming-of-age story, with a masterfully executed denouement. ~ Joanne Owen The Costa Judges say: ‘A beautifully-written story about the pain and wonder of love found in unexpected places.’

Don't Look At Me Like That

Don't Look At Me Like That

Author: Diana Athill Format: Paperback Release Date: 05/12/2019

Acclaimed as an editor of unparalleled ingenuity, the late, great Diana Athill was herself a remarkable writer. Her memoirs and this - her only novel - are compelling, candid and affectingly meticulous, with a precise style reminiscent of Jean Rhys, whose work Athill edited and championed. Indeed, Meg, the main character here, with her self-critical wit, lodging house living and misfortune in matters of the heart is somewhat reminiscent of Rhys’s characters. The daughter of a poor pastor and distant mother, Meg found school “hateful and humiliating” and “knew that the adjectives most often used in connection with my name were ‘conceited’, ‘superior’ and ‘affected’”. But it’s here that Meg discovers her talent for drawing and befriends grown-up, glamorous, wealthy Roxane, to whom she remains complicatedly connected for many years. After attending art school in Oxford, Meg defies convention and moves to London where she finds some happiness in the chaos of a shared house.  While Meg becomes a sought-after illustrator, her existence always feels precariously unsettled. She falls in love with entirely the wrong man and their passionate affair renders her impotent in many regards. “Two sayings which I detest”, she declares: “You must face facts” and “You can’t have your cake and eat it’”. And herein lies Meg’s fundamental struggle to find ease (her needs and outlook are at odds with the world), which Athill explores to intense affect in this luminous coming-of-age treasure.

This Mortal Boy

This Mortal Boy

Author: Fiona Kidman Format: Paperback Release Date: 11/07/2019

Albert Black, known as Paddy, and later as the “jukebox killer”, was the penultimate person to be hanged in New Zealand at the age of twenty-five. Paddy came to New Zealand from Ireland, a sparky young man seeking a new life in a new land. Then, after killing another young man during a fight, a weighted court case sees him sentenced to death for murder. The events that led to the fatal stabbing are told from the engrossing and varied viewpoints of multiple witnesses, both on the stand and in real time. The lives of the jurors are explored too, their backgrounds, what makes them tick, how they’re biased against, or in favour of, the accused regardless of evidence or fact, from the “He’s an Irishman. Taking our girls,” comment of Wayne the gas fitter, to the sympathetic butcher who points out that “if someone’s not like you, you don’t want to know”. The ethics of the death penalty are explored too. As one juror remarks, “I cannot believe we’ve earned the right to decide who should live and who should die”, as is political history, the social history of Irish migrants forging new lives as ten-quid Poms, and the personal plight of Paddy’s mother back home who starts a petition and writes to the New Zealand High Commissioner and the Queen. As the case progresses (with prejudice against outsiders deftly explored and powerfully prescient), the novel lays bare how some individuals stand firm in their convictions  while others crumble, and how anyone’s convictions might crumble when circumstances collude and collide. A love story unfolds too, which takes an unexpected and deeply poignant turn.   Author Fiona Kidman is a highly-regarded recipient of many literary awards and honours in her native New Zealand and this affecting novel more than showcases her exquisite talent.

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