50+ Beautifully Written Books

Beauty might be in the eye of the beholder, but when it comes to beautifully-written books, it’s unlikely anyone will question the appeal of those included in this collection. These are novels that have got under our skin. Made us hold our breath and pause to take in the power of words made profound by their authors. These are novels whose characters we become deeply invested in. Whose worlds we might pine for when we reach the end. Yet their sway lingers long. Their impact remains. Their beauty doesn’t fade, whether it stems from bold lyricism or quiet lucidity.

Often the most beautifully written books are those that tackle the most heartrending subjects, with characters struggling to survive and restore humanity to the most terrible situations. Their beauty might be borne of the deepest pains, the most challenging circumstances, as in Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, Madhuri Vijay’s The Far Field, Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See, and Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale.

Then there are beautifully-written books that have almost otherworldly impact, as if conjured by their authors, such as Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane with its burrowing bittersweet exploration of childhood memories, and the haunting Marsh Girl of Where The Crawdads Sing. A personal favourite of this kind is Tuck Everlasting, ostensibly written for children, but a genuine speaks-to-all-ages, timeless tale about eternal life and forming lifelong friendships.

Our beauty-themed collection also highlights books charged with the power of ancient mythology, like Madeline Miller’s Circe, and the women-centred Trojan settings of Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls and Natalie Haynes’s A Thousand Ships. Mesmerising mythic writing set in more modern times comes courtesy of A Tall History of Sugar, The Shadow King and An Orchestra of Minorities.

We’ve also loved novels whose richly evoked social settings seep deep into the soul, such as the Shakespearean Hamnet, The Floating Theatre, and Zora Neale Hurston’s unforgettable American classic Their Eyes Were Watching God.

For clear contemporary writing with potent impact, try Edgar and Lucy, Montpelier Parade and The Heart’s Invisible Furies. Then there’s the raw, elemental power of The Innocents, Days of Anger and The Choke, while Lagos-set Black Sunday explores the nature and impact of beauty itself: “Beauty was a gift, but what was I to do with it?” Talking of gifts, the novels in this collection showcase a host of hugely gifted writers. What’s more, they’re also a gift to those who discover them…

The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner

Author: Khaled Hosseini Format: Paperback Release Date: 05/09/2011

Voted 2nd in the Books of the Decade by Lovereading readers. Voted as the Penguin/Orange Reading Group Book of the Year 2006 and 2007. This book seemed to come out of nowhere.  It was the first Afghan novel to be written in English and it became a word-of-mouth bestseller in no time at all.  Telling a tragic story of childhood jealousy and fear, it covers a bitter part of Afghan history in a painful tale that truly pulls at the heartstrings.  A brilliant book.  ~ Sarah Broadhurst   Richard Charkin, Executive Director of Publisher Bloomsbury, said: “We’re delighted that The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini has been selected by Lovereading as the number two title of the last Decade. We’re so pleased it continues to resonate with today’s readers and hope it will continue to do so for many decades to come.”

eBooks of the Month
A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Author: Khaled Hosseini Format: Trade Paperback Release Date: 22/05/2007

Winner of the Best Read of the Year at the Galaxy British Book Awards 2008.Reviewed on Richard & Judy on Wednesday 9 January 2008.If you like The Kite Runner you will love this second novel from Hosseini. This story follows the lives of two women in Afghanistan who are a generation apart and have had led quite different lives but by a twist of fate end up married to the same man. This is a novel about friendship and strength of character and is a compelling read.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Author: Zora Neale Hurston, Zadie Smith, Zadie Smith Format: Paperback Release Date: 03/05/2018

She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her . . . When sixteen-year-old Janie is caught kissing shiftless Johnny Taylor, her grandmother swiftly marries her off to an old man with sixty acres. Janie endures two stifling marriages before she finally meets the man of her dreams - who offers not diamonds, but a packet of flowering seeds. 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 Far Field

The Far Field

Author: Madhuri Vijay Format: Paperback Release Date: 02/01/2020

Thirty-year-old Shalini has lived a privileged life, but one beset by uncertainty. She was her erratic mother’s “little beast” and is struggling to come to terms with her tragic death. Adrift from work and the wider world, Shalini journeys to find Bashir, a travelling salesman she and her mother befriended through her childhood, tentatively hoping this will provide some understanding of her mother’s death. As Shalini’s journey unfolds in the present, a second narrative reveals her past with raw poignancy. On the road, Shalini’s faltering need to belong somewhere is revealed through her romantic imaginings of being part of a stranger’s family. And then, in Bashir’s remote Himalayan village, she becomes caught in a complex political situation, with the tangled conflict between her heart and conscience made powerfully palpable. While she feels “I had chosen this place, these people, this life, with its secrets and its violence, it’s hardness and its beauty”, Shalini recognises that she’s thrown Bashir’s family “into disarray with my invasion and my probing questions”. The writing is so exquisitely magnetic that I struggled to draw myself away from it, especially as Shalini’s story rose to an unexpected, pulse-quickening climax. This is the rare kind of novel that lingers long in the heart and mind, like a dream one feels compelled to return to. 

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All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr Format: Paperback Release Date: 23/04/2015

One of our Books of the Year 2015. May 2015 Book of the Month. Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. A big book in every way, powerful, intensely moving and awe inspiring.  It traces the lives of blind Marie and orphan Werner through World War II.  Werner is a whizz with fixing things and is pushed into Hitler’s Youth and on into the heart of the fighting until he lands up in St Malo on the Brittany coast where he meets Marie.  Marie has fled there from Paris as the Germans advanced.  The novel takes us through to the present.  It is an epic story of the horror of war, the suffering and endurance illuminated with many acts of kindness.  Beautifully written, it is a memorable, haunting tale.  Doerr is an author to note being chosen by Granta as one of 21 Best Young American Novelists of the moment. ~ Sarah Broadhurst

Books of the Month
The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman Format: Paperback Release Date: 10/04/2014

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed - within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.

eBooks of the Month
Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing

Author: Delia Owens Format: Paperback Release Date: 12/12/2019

Crossing genres in style, this just has to be one of my favourite novels of the year. Set in the marshlands of North Carolina, the majority of this story takes place in the 1950’s and 60’s. The prologue begins in 1969 with the body of Chase Andrews being found in the marsh. The first paragraph of the prologue introduces surprising beauty, the marsh simply sings, it settled into my mind and became a part of me. The central character is Kya, we meet her as a child, and the truth of her life is immediately apparent. As the novel moves backwards and forwards in time, Kya emerges as the Marsh Girl, and suspicion begins to hound her after the body is found. Author Delia Owens is a wildlife scientist who has worked in Africa and written non-fiction, this is her debut novel. Descriptions entered my mind in wafting movement, I fell in love with the marsh and the girl who lived there. Where the Crawdads Sing is truly touching, almost hauntingly beautiful, and opens a doorway to a different world. It has been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book and a Liz Robinson Pick of the Month.

Star Books
Miss Burma

Miss Burma

Author: Charmaine Craig Format: Hardback Release Date: 15/03/2018

Powerful, sweeping and elegantly composed, this compelling novel takes in Burma’s history from the 1940s to the 1960s and draws on the author’s personal history to remarkable effect. When Benny settles in Ragoon, part of the British Empire, he falls for Khin, who belongs to the persecuted Karen minority group, and they go into hiding when WWII erupts. The end of the war heralds fresh dangers when the nationalists take control. Then, when the Karen people – and other ethnic groups - are refused their desire to self-govern, a brutal, long-running civil war breaks out and Benny and Khin’s firstborn child - the first ever Miss Burma beauty queen - is thrust into a world of conflict, uncertainty and contradictions. The historical details are enlightening, yet this expansive, lyrical novel also explores universal themes - identity, desire, patriotism versus self-determinism - that transcend the particulars of time and place. This is an intensely illuminating, riveting accomplishment.  

eBooks of the Month
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.

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Small Pleasures

Small Pleasures

Author: Clare Chambers Format: Hardback Release Date: 09/07/2020

Hauntingly tender, and written with powerful grace, Clare Chambers’s Small Pleasures is an absolute joy from start to finish. It’s 1957 in suburban Kent, where Jean writes for a local newspaper with every aspect of her life still dominated by her contrary, controlling mother as Jean approaches forty. No post-work drinks with colleagues. No friends. No romance. Enter Gretchen Tilbury, an elegant Swiss woman who writes to the paper claiming her daughter was the result of a virgin birth. As Jean investigates the case, she becomes close to Gretchen, her kind, witty husband Howard, and the alleged miraculous daughter, all four of them finding comfortable joy in each other’s company. “You’ve stirred us out of our routine,” Howard remarks, to which Jean responds, “I would have thought it was the other way about.” While researching Gretchen’s youth, Jean inadvertently sends shockwaves through the Tilbury family when she reconnects Gretchen to a powerful figure from her past. At the same time, she and Howard find themselves falling for each other, both of them remaining faithful to Gretchen, graciously skirting their attraction - until it’s right to act. The novel features some of the most finely drawn, endearing characters I’ve encountered in recent contemporary fiction. For all her lonely frustration, Jean isn’t one to wallow. She’s pragmatic, with ripples of not-quite-regret lapping beneath her smooth, reasoned surface - a woman “who took pride in her ability to conceal unruly emotions.” Her domesticity pieces for the paper have something of Carrie Bradshaw’s musings about them, albeit without any in-your-face sex in the city (or the suburbs, in Jean’s case), with their apparently humdrum themes humorously paralleling soul-stirring events in her own life. Laying bare a quivering three-way tug between obligation, propriety and passion, and the inexplicable way thunderbolt-bonds are formed between similar-souled individuals, Jean’s conflicts and chance to love truly get under your skin. What a remarkable book, with a dagger-sharp climax that will pierce your heart.

Star Books
The Nightingale

The Nightingale

Author: Kristin Hannah Format: Paperback Release Date: 05/10/2017

Bravery, courage, fear and love in a time of war. Despite their differences, sisters Viann and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Viann is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Viann finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her. As the war progresses, the sisters' relationship and strength is tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Viann and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions. Vivid and exquisite in its illumination of a time and place that was filled with atrocities, but also humanity and strength, Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale will provoke thought and discussion that will have readers talking long after they finish reading.

The Heart's Invisible Furies

The Heart's Invisible Furies

Author: John Boyne Format: Paperback Release Date: 09/02/2017

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery or at least that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he?  Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead.  At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country and much more.  In this, Boyne's most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart's Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.

The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half

Author: Brit Bennett Format: Paperback Release Date: 29/04/2021

Supple and immersive, Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half is an epic, elegant story of sisters and mothers, of identity, and divisive racist and colourist mentalities that tear communities, families and individuals asunder. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful book, peppered with lines that latch (“When he visited, Desiree felt like a girl again, the years falling away like meat off the bone”), and an exquisitely crafted plot that threads generations through time, and across America - the Deep South, California, New York, and back.  “In Mallard, nobody married dark. Nobody left either.” But that’s exactly what identical twins Desiree and Stella do at the age of sixteen - they flee their “strange town” to start a new life in New Orleans. But after a time, Stella realises she can pass for white. After taking a job as a typist, she abandons Desiree for another new life as a white woman, eventually marrying her wealthy white boss who has no clue she’s black, and with whom she has a daughter who looks entirely white, to her relief. Meanwhile, Desiree’s path couldn’t be more different. She’s also married, with a “blueblack child”, and now, ten years after leaving, desperation forces her back to Mallard - she and her daughter need to escape domestic abuse. Through Stella’s fiercely emotive storyline we witness the most despicable bigotry when a Black family moves into her white neighbourhood. She’s agonisingly conflicted and tangled, especially when facing an unravelling of her fabricated identity. “She was one of the lucky ones. A husband who adored her, a happy daughter, a beautiful home. How could she complain about any of it?” And yet she’s desperately unfulfilled. Emptiness eats away at her; she feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere. As she says early on, she’s “split in two”. While following the sisters’ stories, Bennett brings in their daughters, and generations of secrets begin to bleed, creating a compelling, compassionate, consummately outstanding novel.

Star Books
Circe

Circe

Author: Madeline Miller Format: Hardback Release Date: 19/04/2018

The Song of Achilles was a beautiful and evocative retelling of a Greek myth which well deserved its praise and prize.  It is possible that this second offering is even better.  The language is poetic with not a word wasted, a real joy to read.  I remember Circe was one of the challenges met by Odysseus, the one who turned men into pigs.  The beautiful character who narrates this story is that same “wicked witch” but a far cry from how Homer portrayed her.  She is lovely, misunderstood, wilful and brilliant, a strong woman slowly growing into her power.  Many famous mythical figures pepper these pages; Jason, Prometheus, the Minator … but don’t worry if you haven’t heard of them all, this spellbinding story gives you all you need to know.  If you are familiar with the myths you will find new life in them in this enchanting retelling.  I really cannot praise it enough.  It is a special book, bridging romance, fantasy, poetic literature and feminist writing to create a work of high standard with wide appeal.  I loved it and I think you will too. 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.

eBooks of the Month
Days of Anger

Days of Anger

Author: Sylvie Germain Format: Paperback Release Date: 20/10/1993

Deep in the forests of Moran, far from civilization, live families of woodcutters and shepherds. A remote and beautiful world, it is a place where madness still reigns, murder occurs, and bloody punishments are delivered. What has happened to the body of the sensual and beautiful Catherine Corvol, wife of a rich landowner, killed not out of hatred but an excess of love? Around this central enigma, Germain has created a gothic enchantment, a dazzling rural fantasy rich in angels, obsession, and revenge where the reader is carried forward as much by the lyricism and strangeness of the language as by the macabre and fantastic turns of the plot.

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.

Star Books
Black Sunday

Black Sunday

Author: Tola Rotimi Abraham Format: Paperback Release Date: 06/08/2020

Set in Lagos, Nigeria, Tola Rotimi Abraham’s Black Sunday is a rich and accomplished coming-of-age debut that lays bare the hardships, heartaches and hopes of four siblings from 1996-2015. Twin sisters Bibike and Ariyke (“we were never stupid girls. We were bright with borrowed wisdom”) live a pretty contented life until their mother loses her job at the Ministry of Petroleum. With her sacking underpinned by broader political dealings, there’s nothing she can do to keep the family afloat but take-up a teaching post, which she hates. Later, when she leaves the family and the twins’ father loses their family home, they and their brothers are cared for by their Yoruba grandmother. With the narratives split between the four siblings, each of them must deal with abandonment and abuse as Lagos changes, and their lives take separate paths. The siblings’ intimate, affecting stories are wrapped-up in wider issues, such as church corruption and male exploitation of women. As Bibike notes, “Beauty was a gift, but what was I to do with it? It was fortunate to be beautiful and desired… But what is a girl’s beauty, but a man’s promise of reward? If beauty was a gift, it was not a gift to me, I could not eat my own beauty, I could not improve my life by beauty alone.” Meanwhile, Ariyke turns to religion. Universal emotions are also deftly handled, such as when their brother Peter comments “I think families who spend a lot of time arguing about the small stuff do it because they do not have the courage to talk about big things.” Fortunately for readers, Black Sunday is a brilliant book that has the courage to talk about the big things with honesty, humanity and beauty. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.

Debut Books of the Month
Edgar and Lucy

Edgar and Lucy

Author: Victor Lodato Format: Paperback Release Date: 13/12/2018

Lucy, Edgar and Florence are a fractured family dealing with the loss of Frank, a husband, a father and son whose body was never recovered. Lucy and Frank were both wild horses, with Edgar born into the throes of their frenetic relationship. Now he’s a drifting soul, an albino named after Edgar Allan Poe, stumbling through childhood under the protective eye of his grandmother, mystified by the behaviour of his hollowed mother, with her butcher boyfriend and perplexing remoteness. At once epic and intimate, and laced with affecting detail, this powerfully poetic work is suffused in acutely moving evocations of loss (“It was as if grief had impregnated her, the dark seed of it a living havoc in her belly”), and the satisfyingly complex story unwinds with un-put-down-able aplomb. I loved every perfectly-chosen, perfectly-placed word.

Books of the Month
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.’

eBooks of the Month
Hamnet

Hamnet

Author: Maggie O'Farrell Format: Paperback Release Date: 01/04/2021

Glorious, simply and beautifully glorious! Inspired by Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, this is the imagined story behind the writing of Hamlet, which was written between 1599 and 1601. Hamnet and Hamlet were apparently “entirely interchangeable in Stratford records in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries”. Maggie O’Farrell says she wanted to write this story for over thirty years. “What did it mean for a father to name a tragic hero after his ( ) son. What was this unusual act telling us?” The cover design is beautiful, it called to me. On opening, I slipped into and fell in love with this tale. Hamnet has an almost otherworldly feel, and yet is as earthy and believable as can be. Two time frames sit side by side, Hamnet becoming ill in 1596, and then the earlier story of Shakespeare and Agnes meeting and falling in love. The descriptions became clear bright images in my mind. I could feel the words, they echoed deep inside me, creating pools of emotion. I cried on finishing, all the feelings that Hamnet created slipped out of me and trickled down my cheeks. I adore Hamnet, it now sits on my list of favourite books, and will be one that I reread each year. Chosen as a Book of the Month, LoveReading Star Book, and Liz Pick of the Month.

Star Books
The Floating Theatre

The Floating Theatre

Author: Martha Conway Format: Hardback Release Date: 15/06/2017

June 2017 Book of the Month. Brimming with stunning writing and historical illuminations, this captivates the heart and enlightens the mind. It’s 1838 in pre-Civil War America, and the Ohio River snakes between the free states of the North, and the slave states of the South. Twenty-two-year-old May is her cousin Comfort’s “seamstress, dresser, and trunk packer. And a hundred other things as well” when the steamboat they’re on sinks. While actress Comfort is taken in by wealthy abolitionist Flora Howard, and hired to give speeches for her cause, there's no role for May. But being “quite independent in spirit”, as Flora describes her, and an exceptionally skilled seamstress, May finds work with Hugo and Helena's Floating Theatre, a fabulously evoked flatboat that travels up and down the river, coasting the border between the North and South.What follows is the captivating account of a young woman's serpentine navigation of ghosts from her past, secrets, betrayal, and love, at great personal risk, in a land split by slavery. Dazzling, involving, and immensely memorable, I was swept away by the flow of this remarkable novel. A 'Piece of Passion' from the Publisher... ‘A compelling, beautiful and passionate novel The Floating Theatre completely swept me away. With great skill Martha Conway immerses her readers in a time of great turmoil, skilfully weaving sumptuous historical detail into a brilliant narrative peopled with characters that in 1830s United States could only ever find a home on a theatrical riverboat sailing the country’s North-South divide.  And in May Bedloe she creates a heroine whose quiet strength and inquisitive nature makes for a page-turning read. A powerful, moving novel about compromise, courage, friendship and love, and one woman’s struggle to find her way in a world riddled with danger, The Floating Theatre is a story I knew I had to publish as soon as I read it. I hope you love this as much as I do.’ ~ Eleanor Dryden, Editor, Zaffre

eBooks of the Month
The Testaments

The Testaments

Author: Margaret Atwood Format: Paperback Release Date: 01/06/2020

And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light. When the van door slammed on Offred's future at the end of The Handmaid's Tale, readers had no way of telling what lay ahead. With The Testaments, the wait is over. Margaret Atwood's sequel picks up the story 15 years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead. 'Dear Readers: Everything you've ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we've been living in.' Margaret Atwood.

Audiobooks of the Month
The Silence of the Girls

The Silence of the Girls

Author: Pat Barker Format: Hardback Release Date: 30/08/2018

In The Iliad, the Trojan War is a battle between men over Helen, a stolen woman. The Silence of the Girls centres on another stolen woman, Briseis, queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms until Achilles pillaged her city, murdered her husband and made her his concubine. And she’s not the only one. Countless women have been snatched from their homes and face the same subjugation, and this powerful novel chimes with a chorus of women’s voices from all walks of life.  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. Briseis herself is an engaging narrator, her words vital, visceral and potent: “Blood, shit and brains – and there he is, the son of Peleus, half beast, half god, driving on to glory.” Her enforced move from queen to captive sees her fight for freedom in a blaze of witty, relatable commentary: “I’m supposed to just put up with it and say nothing, and if I do try to talk about it, it’s ‘Silence becomes a woman’”. And her disclosure that Achilles was called “the butcher” through a sea of oft-cited indulgent praise for him reveals a key thread of this novel. Namely, that accounts of history are often one-sided and therefore do not tell the entire truth. Gripping, smart and brilliantly imaginative, this is a richly relevant re-telling.

A Thousand Ships

A Thousand Ships

Author: Natalie Haynes Format: Hardback Release Date: 23/04/2019

Shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2020 In A Thousand Ships, broadcaster and classicist Natalie Haynes retells the story of the Trojan War from an all-female perspective, for fans of Madeline Miller and Pat Barker. This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of all of them. . . In the middle of the night, Creusa wakes to find her beloved Troy engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of brutal conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over, and the Greeks are victorious. Over the next few hours, the only life she has ever known will turn to ash . . . The devastating consequences of the fall of Troy stretch from Mount Olympus to Mount Ida, from the citadel of Troy to the distant Greek islands, and across oceans and sky in between. These are the stories of the women embroiled in that legendary war and its terrible aftermath, as well as the feud and the fatal decisions that started it all. . . Powerfully told from an all-female perspective, A Thousand Ships gives voices to the women, girls and goddesses who, for so long, have been silent.

The Island

The Island

Author: Victoria Hislop Format: Paperback (b Format) Release Date: 10/04/2006

A 2013 World Book Night selection. Winner of Newcomer of the Year at the Galaxy British Book Awards 2007.Something a bit different, a bit special. A well-researched family history which takes the present day characters back to Crete and the horrors of leprosy. From 1939 to today we follow a tragic and eventful story with believable characters and a believable storyline. I really enjoyed it. Incidentally she is Ian Hislop’s wife. Similar this month: Joseph Boyden, Rachel Hore.

eBooks of the Month
Greatest Hits

Greatest Hits

Author: Laura Barnett Format: Hardback Release Date: 15/06/2017

A powerfully lyrical day-in-the-life portrait of a successful singer-songwriter reflecting on the ebbs and flows of her life as she prepares her Greatest Hits release after long absence from the industry. Cass Wheeler has been a massive music star since the seventies, but withdrew from public life following personal tragedy. She’s now back in the studio to select songs for a profoundly personal compilation album. Each song she selects unleashes a swelling wave of memories, and so her life is laid bare, from childhood abandonment, to teen rebellion, and finding love and freedom with her bohemian aunt and uncle. And then comes the highs and lows of her music career, marriage and motherhood. At one point Cass is criticised for “her solipsism, her accursed tendency to look inside herself, rather than outwards to the world”, but it’s this tendency that underpins both the appeal of her songs, and that of the novel itself. The sentences hover and drift, for this is the nature of memory; this is how Cass’s restless mind reflects on the life she’s lived – successes, regrets, mistakes, and all – while she tries to make peace with herself, and to renew her life. The music culture of the seventies and eighties – the thrills, freedom, hedonism, and sexism - is vividly evoked, and the novel resounds with a mesmerising melody that is at once meditative and intense. ~ Joanne Owen In what is quite possibly a first the author Laura Barnett and folk singer song writer and mercury prize nominee Kathryn Williams have jointly written the lyrics to a new 16-song album.  Each of the novel's chapters begins with the words from a track on the album, 'Songs from the Novel Greatest Hits'. Click here to find out more and to find out how you can buy a copy of 'Songs from the Novel Greatest Hits'. A message from Laura Barnett: 'With my second novel, I really wanted to do something different by bringing music and fiction together... I was excited about expanding the reading experience beyond the page, and of bringing my character and her musical output to life.' July 2017 Book of the Month.

eBooks of the Month
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.

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The Shadow King

The Shadow King

Author: Maaza Mengiste Format: Paperback Release Date: 13/08/2020

From the detailed domestic scenes dappled with loss, love, hardship and hanging on, to sweeping waves of war, the rare power of Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King creeps up on you, catches you unaware, becomes compulsive in the manner of complex classics of the ancient world. It’s 1935 in Ethiopia and newly-orphaned Hirut is employed as a maid by an officer in Emperor Hailie Selassie’s army. In her previous life, Hirut’s father taught her to use a gun: “This, he says, you do not touch unless you are prepared. Prepared for what, she asks. He slips the bullet back into his pocket. Prepared to be something you are not.”  And this is what Hirut is prepared for when Ethiopia is invaded by Mussolini’s vengeful army. Not content to merely care for the wounded, she devises a plan and rouses women to rise up and fight. As they shift from being housewives, to nurses, to warriors, their stories are haunting, harrowing and stirring, and this novel confirms Mengiste’s status as a writer blessed with lyrical bravery and unique vision. 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.

Books of the Month
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.

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Tuck Everlasting

Tuck Everlasting

Author: Natalie Babbitt Format: Paperback Release Date: 02/04/2020

First published in 1975, this extraordinary story of the friendship between the gentle Tuck family and ten-year-old Winnie feels older than its years, but also of our age, in the magical way true classics do. The story is enthrallingly set-up by juxtaposing three apparently unconnected happenings during the “strange and breathless days” of a hot August. As the Prologue states, and as things turn out, “things can come together in strange ways.” Dissatisfied at home, Winnie longs to do “something that would make some kind of difference in the world.” Certain this will never happen “if I stay in here like this,” she explores her family’s wood and chances upon a “glorious” boy who stops Winnie in her tracks, and warns her against drinking from a spring. Winnie meets the boy’s family - the Tucks - and discovers a “big, dangerous secret” that must ever be revealed if their way of life is to be preserved, if the equilibrium of humanity is to be maintained, for the spring seems to have granted the Tucks everlasting life.  In their company, in their warm-hearted, higgledy-piggledy home, Winnie “discovered the wings she’d always wished she had”. For their part, the Tucks say she’s the best thing that’s happened to them in “at least eighty years.” Then, when a yellow-suited stranger seeks to disrupt the Tuck’s lives, Winnie bravely leaps on her opportunity to make a difference. Dazzlingly written (how about this for a description of sunset? “The sun was dropping fast now, a soft, red sliding egg yolk”), this is a wondrously wise story. Take Tuck’s remarks about the nature of life and death: “You can’t have living without dying. So you can’t call it living, what we got. We just are, we just be, like rocks beside the road.” With a bittersweet ending that brings tears to the eyes and warmth to the soul, I couldn’t love this book more. It’s that rare kind of tale that speaks of all things, to all ages.

The Choke

The Choke

Author: Sofie Laguna Format: Hardback Release Date: 28/03/2019

This haunting tale of a child’s faltering navigation of her poverty-stricken upbringing in rural Australia crackles with grit, beauty and poignant truths of the human heart. The world is a bleak and bewildering place for Justine. Born “back to front”, she also sees words the wrong way round. “My words were breech like me. Every year finished and I never caught up.” Abandoned by her mother and with her unhinged, unreliable father largely absent, she lives in poverty with her war-traumatised grandfather, Pop.  While Justine is isolated and neglected, she experiences some of life’s joys though her friendship with Michael, a bright spark of a boy who’s written off for his disabilities and cruelly known to his classmates as “spastic elastic”. Theirs is a truly life-affirming relationship, a beautiful bond built on understanding and kindness in Justine’s otherwise brutal world. Then there’s fellow outsider Aunty Rita, who lives in the city but offers Justine a helping hand, inviting her to call whenever she needs to, though Justine can’t decipher Rita’s phone numbers – Justine’s moments of light are typically quick to fade and flicker out. Emotionally isolated and disoriented by the dysfunctional adults in her life, Justine’s voice is acutely involving, her naïve perspective poignant with real-life rawness. What a feat of suspenseful and tautly lyrical storytelling this is, a moving story that ends on a note of bittersweet hope.

An Orchestra of Minorities

An Orchestra of Minorities

Author: Chigozie Obioma Format: Paperback Release Date: 13/08/2019

At once sweeping and intricate, this dazzling second novel by the author of Booker-shortlisted The Fishermen is stage-managed by an enthralling mythic narrative voice, an Igbo spirit whose physical host is our main protagonist, Chinonso. Chinonso and Ndali are fated from their first encounter when he persuades her not to throw herself to her death. They meet again and fall passionately in love but coming from wildly different worlds - he a chicken farmer, she wealthy and highly educated - their relationship is slammed by Ndali’s powerful family. Though humiliated by them, and advised by his uncle and friends to forget this apparently impossible love, Chinonso persists, taking monumental steps to improve his chance of being accepted as a suitable husband for Ndali. Far away, in an unfamiliar land, he’s faced with the despair of betrayal, then offered a fortifying hand of hope, “the rope that pulls a drowning man out of the deep sea and hauls him on to the deck of a boat”. Excruciatingly, though, he’s never far from the battering blows of fate. Brutally tragic, this raw and rich tale tells of the all-consuming nature of love, the perilous rising ripples of revenge and desperation, and the cost of holding on. It’s an acutely affecting storytelling masterwork. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.

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The Lauras

The Lauras

Author: Sara Taylor Format: Paperback Release Date: 06/04/2017

One of Our Books of the Year 2017 |  April 2017 Book of the Month. A captivating and subtly beautiful novel, where heart-catching surprises lie in wait. Alex recalls life on the road at the age of 13, a trip undertaken with Mom, where lessons are learned, and the truth within explored. The writing here is exquisite, the story evolves so simply, gradually revealing the complications that life has to offer. Sara Taylor placed me in the seat next to Alex, I joined this intimate, evocative journey meandering from the east to west coast of the USA, and I didn’t want it to end. The wonderfully sensitive writing creates blasts of feeling, and woke my awareness as prickles of revelation travelled up my arms from the page. These characters feel so touchingly real, Alex opened my eyes, I smiled, I ached, I wept. ‘The Lauras’ is an absolute delight of a read, and it touched my heart. ~ Liz Robinson Click here to download some Reading Group questions for The Lauras.

eBooks of the Month
We That Are Young

We That Are Young

Author: Preti Taneja Format: Paperback Release Date: 10/08/2017

Winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018 A darkly mesmerising and fascinating epic of a tale based in India, one that is all-consuming and fiercely beautiful. A family descends into a hellish nightmare when power, greed, and corruption begin to prowl through their lives. After his mother dies, Jivan returns home to his family and arrives to chaos. The first paragraph gently took hold of my thoughts, setting the departing view in my minds eye, setting my feet on the journey to India. I sank quickly and deeply into the page, Preti Taneja allows the words to sing, to explain, to show the world that Jivan is entering. I remained on edge, apprehensive, sometimes having to peek between my fingers as love and hate began a heady, swirling, burning dance, wrapping around one another until they became one. As a retelling of King Lear, it stands resolutely on its on merit and I almost didn’t want to mention the connection. ‘We That Are Young’ shocks, provokes, pushes and pulls at thoughts and feelings, it is also a ravishingly descriptive work of art. Featured in Episode 4 of the LoveReading Podcast

eBooks of the Month
The Portable Veblen

The Portable Veblen

Author: Elizabeth McKenzie Format: Paperback Release Date: 26/01/2017

One of our Books of the Year 2016. Whimsical yet sharp and perceptive, ‘The Portable Veblen’ is an absolute treat of a read. Veblen is eccentrically wonderful, she lives in California, is followed by a squirrel and has a fiancé (yes the order of the squirrel and fiancé is deliberate). Veblen is influenced by Thorstein Veblen, an American sociologist and economist, her fiancé Paul is apparently influenced by achievement and success, and is determined to rid Veblen’s attic of its noisy invader. Occasional photos, letters and little extras crop up through the book, making the journey from beginning to end feel even more intense and physically real. At times I felt as though I was floating directly above Veblen, connected yet apart, and able to pick up on the smallest but most significant details. Elizabeth McKenzie writes with a beautifully considered yet free hand, with my feelings ranging from amused to curious, frustrated to sympathetic, and I also fell in love with a squirrel. This is a book to keep near at hand, a book to love and to cherish, to savour and to treasure. Shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016. Explore our '80+ Books That Deliver a Hug' listicle for more feel-good or uplifting books.

eBooks of the Month
Precocious

Precocious

Author: Joanna Barnard Format: Paperback Release Date: 10/03/2016

Uncomfortable, sorrowful, challenging - yes Precocious is all of these, however it is also a memorable, powerful and fascinating read. Fiona reconnects with Henry, one of her teachers from Secondary School and starts to mentally revisit events from her younger years. Fiona herself tells the story, she is abrasive, different and insightful, it takes a little while to get used to how she darts around in her mind and in time. Don't be in too much of a rush to make your mind up about Fiona, her journey has to be experienced and there is understanding to be discovered. Joanna Barnard has skilfully, subtly and with great compassion written a gripping and provocative tale that deserves to be read. ~ Liz Robinson One of our Books of the Year 2015.

eBooks of the Month
Ithaca

Ithaca

Author: Alan McMonagle Format: Hardback Release Date: 09/03/2017

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2017. Provocative, sharply witty and rather beautiful, Ithaca is a breathtaking read. 11 year old Jason, full of attitude and bravado seeks to escape the here and now of the world around him. The first sentence, paragraph, then chapter, roared into my mind, Jason tells his own story, his personality doesn't just light up the page, it sets fire to it. All of the characters teeter on the edge of being larger than life, Alan McMonagle fills them full of vivid colour, and zips the bulging seams tight. Words ganged up into one  swaggering rioting mass and assaulted my senses. While laughing my soul weeped, while sitting in shock my fist pumped the air, I wanted to hug Jason tight, and as a piece of my heart broke apart, I handed it to him. ‘Ithaca’ filled me full of contrary feelings then gave them a good shake, what a wonderful, heart-breaking, mesmerising read this is. ~ Liz Robinson

eBooks of the Month
My Name is Leon

My Name is Leon

Author: Kit de Waal Format: Paperback Release Date: 06/04/2017

One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | Shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2017. This is such a gorgeously expressive novel, it just sings with intensity, and is impossible to put down. Nine year old Leon loves his little brother Jake and his mum, he looks after them both as best he can, when Leon and Jake have to go and live with Maureen, Leon hatches a plan. Kit de Waal writes with a beautiful, sincere energy, the simplicity of the tale told from Leon's point of view allows a complicated backdrop of emotions to shine through. At times my heart absolutely ached, yet there are also proper laughter blurting moments, and I just wanted to gather everybody up into a huge, squashy hug. The 80’s, with it’s curly wurlys, royal celebrations, and riots is the perfect setting. A gloriously motley collection of characters come to life, each and every one of them is indispensable, and each affected me in some way. ‘My Name is Leon’ is a stunning, eloquent, stinging paper-cut of a read, I fell in love with it, and in turn, it left me full of hope. Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016 Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.

eBooks of the Month
How Saints Die

How Saints Die

Author: Carmen Marcus Format: Hardback Release Date: 13/07/2017

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018 Gosh, this is provocative, powerful, and actually rather beautiful, I will admit to being completely bewitched. Ellie Fleck is ten years old, she lives with her father Peter on the North Yorkshire coast, her mother no longer lives with them. We spend time with Ellie, and the people around her, as she tries to understand what has happened.  Ellie’s words sing with intensity, a child’s words, spilling on to the page, yet they seared their way onto my soul, and remain there. She describes sounds, I tested them myself, hearing, seeing, feeling, right in the centre of my stomach. She views the unseen, hears what isn’t audible, tests herself and those she loves as she reaches for comprehension. Carmen Marcus has the lightest, yet hard-hitting touch, I have fallen completely under the spell of her writing. ‘How Saints Die’ made me feel, I felt every word, every sentence, and I highly recommend meeting, and getting to know Ellie Fleck. ~ Liz Robinson

eBooks of the Month
The Honours

The Honours

Author: Tim Clare Format: Paperback Release Date: 02/04/2015

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2016. April 2015 NewGen Debut of the Month. Quite simply breathtaking, it’s all too easy to become consumed by this beautifully written, vibrantly different and darkly rich fantasy. Spend 1935 with Delphine who is 12, as she hides in history, in war and battles, seeks out Mr Garforth the Head Gamekeeper and spends her time in hidden tunnels, woods and fields… away from Mother, Daddy and the confusion and mystery of the Society at Alderberen Hall. The author has the wonderful ability to paint a vividly full picture, it almost feels as though you’ve already seen the places he is describing and you’re welcoming them back into your minds eye. There are whispers and hints of what is to come, the writing pops and crackles in your head and heart, is this truth or is it imagination? Being unexpectedly invited into the inner thoughts of some of the characters pushes your thinking to scramble one way and then the other. As you reach the foothills of the ending, take a deep breath and look out, up and beyond; with the ability to keep you teetering on the edge of understanding, this is a stunning and beautifully moving debut novel. ~ Liz Robinson

eBooks of the Month
Whispers Through a Megaphone

Whispers Through a Megaphone

Author: Rachel Elliott Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/08/2016

A gentle, yet astute, edgy and absolutely delightful debut novel. Miriam fears her own emotions, Ralph runs away from his family and while Sadie shouts about her life all over social media, internal whispers refuse to remain buried. A profound sting of awareness comes as you contemplate the meaning of normal after peeking at the inner most thoughts and feelings of the characters. The characters feel so very real, they may on occasion frustrate, evoke sympathy or a laugh, it’s easy to feel a connection to them, to care about them. Rachel Elliott has a lovely light touch, yet she subtly prods and provokes your perception and understanding. Whispers Through a Megaphone (such a beautifully perfect title) is a quirk-filled slice of wonderful and I highly recommend it. ~ Liz Robinson Longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016.  A 'Piece of Passion' from the publisher... Debut novelist Rachel Elliott has created one of the most intriguing and loveable characters in contemporary British fiction in Miriam Delaney, a young woman who has been deeply damaged by her abusive dead mother. It would be understandable if a writer based a tormented, dark narrative around her very difficult life story. Instead, Elliott has written a whimsical, multi-layered tale that is as hilarious as it is moving and soulful.Whispers Through a Megaphone is a self-contained literary microcosm of the world we live in today, a world where we create amusing virtual personae on social media that have little connection with who we really are. Delightfully afloat on quirky humour and playful prose, Rachel Elliott portrays the inner confusion resulting from too much digital noise when all we crave and need is a bit of silence to protect our personal space. ~ Elena Lappin, Editor, ONE

eBooks of the Month
The Expatriates

The Expatriates

Author: Janice Y. K. Lee Format: Paperback Release Date: 09/02/2017

One of our Books of the Year 2016. A remarkably touching and quite, quite beautiful read. Set in Hong Kong, the prologue is teeming with people making their way to this remarkable city. Margaret, Mercy and Hilary are three expatriate women learning to survive heartache in a different and sometimes difficult world. Three distinct lives, at first separate, step closer to each other, then the links between the three women tighten, almost to choking point. Janice Y. K. Lee writes with an exquisite, startling intensity, she provokes thoughts and feelings into exploring identity, grief and a fluttering of possibilities. Hong Kong is breathtaking, with the mix of East and West acting as a vibrant backdrop to the intimate story of these women. There is a real depth and energy to the writing, yet the thread of compassion that weaves through the pages ensures a delicate balance. ‘The Expatriates’ is wonderfully fascinating, compelling and profound, and I absolutely loved it. ~ Liz Robinson

eBooks of the Month
The Redeemed

The Redeemed

Author: Tim Pears Format: Paperback Release Date: 13/06/2019

An absolutely exquisite moment in reading time, and one to cherish. Concentrating on Leo and Lottie, from the world at war in 1916 to survival beyond, this is the last in the ‘West Country Trilogy’, however, The Redeemed can easily be read as standalone as I’ve stepped straight into the final book and adored it. I will admit that I do desperately want to read the first two now, and believe I will be able to do so without feeling as though I have missed out on the reading journey. Tim Pears writes with wonderful clarity, small details create a fully painted picture, every word matters and is perfectly placed. Life on board the battlecruiser came to stark realistic life while back in the West Country the farming community committed to the cycle of life. Leo and Lottie live in their moment, in their time, yet their story feels gracefully ageless and everlasting. With joy and heartache waiting to be discovered The Redeemed is an eloquent, gorgeous and fully satisfying read, it is quite simply, beautiful.

The Glorious Heresies

The Glorious Heresies

Author: Lisa McInerney Format: Paperback Release Date: 31/12/2015

One of our Books of the Year 2016. Shortlisted for the Books Are My Bag Breakthrough Author Award 2016. Winner of the 2016 Desmond Elliott Prize. Winner of the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016. A quite simply sensational debut, one that reaches into the beastly heart of prostitution, drugs, and violence, and makes it relatable and so very very human. Set in Ireland, an accidental murder twists the lives of five Cork residents into warped disarray. The five stories nudge, then collide together as they become one. I found I had to re-read the first paragraph, it felt deliberate, a statement of intent, once I was used to the style, I quite simply devoured this stunning novel. Lisa McInerney writes with eloquent beauty, words either gang up together to punch and kick your thoughts, or they linger, waiting to kiss your soul. Lisa McInerney has a distinct and powerful voice, I found this beguiling, mesmerising and on occasion wonderfully shocking. ‘The Glorious Heresies’ made me giggle, made me sad, made me think, it basically spoke straight to my gut and I loved every earthy, raw second of it. Desmond Elliott Chair of judges Iain Pears said: “We knew we had found a major literary figure of the next generation when we made our choice last month – it’s good to see other prize judges have subsequently agreed with us. Lisa is a genuinely exciting writer – there is electricity running through her prose.” Margaret Mountford, Chair of the Baileys Prize Judges, said: “After a passionate discussion around a very strong shortlist, we chose Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies, a superbly original, compassionate novel that delivers insights into the very darkest of lives through humour and skilful storytelling. A fresh new voice and a wonderful winner".

eBooks of the Month
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman

Author: Denis Theriault Format: Paperback Release Date: 02/02/2017

Deceptively clever and utterly compelling, this beautifully written little book will continue to haunt your thoughts long after you've finished it. Set in Montreal, the world of Bilodo the postman is a simple one, but he regularly sneaks a peek into other peoples worlds by reading their handwritten letters; events take a darker turn as he deviates from voyeur into an obsessive usurper. The author uses Japanese haiku and tanka poetry to allow Bilodo to converse with the woman of his dreams; exquisite clusters of words will snag your attention and demand that you re-read them. This is essentially a book of love, of what might have been and of what could still come… One of our Books of the Year 2014.  Selected as a BBC Radio 2 Book Club title in September 2014.

eBooks of the Month
The Trick to Time

The Trick to Time

Author: Kit de Waal Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/07/2019

A very special and beautiful read that left my heart full of feelings. When she was young, Mona’s Dadda told her there was a trick to time, as she revisits the past can she reshape her future? Having fallen in love with Kit de Waal’s first novel My Name is Leon (do read it, it’s simply gorgeous), I just had to get myself a copy of The Trick to Time. I thought I would read a crafty few chapters before going out, however the words caught me to them and held on. I completely forgot I was meant to be leaving and was just a little late! I adore Kit de Waal’s writing, it reaches inside, to hidden depths of awareness I wasn’t even sure existed, and nudges them awake. She has a gift with words, seemingly simple, building thoughts and feelings until they develop into a heartfelt, vividly intense moving picture. As Mona visits the past, lives in the present, and looks to the future I found myself alongside her every step of the way. The Trick to Time is a book I will keep close to hand to reread again and again, and I imagine that I will discover a slightly different version each time I step inside the pages. Highly recommended, I have chosen it as one of my Liz Robinson picks of the month, and a LoveReading Star Book. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.

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Mrs Engels

Mrs Engels

Author: Gavin McCrea Format: Paperback Release Date: 11/02/2016

Shorlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2016. Longlisted for the HWA Goldsboro Debut Crown Award Longlist 2016. ‘Mrs Engels’ is a stimulating and rather glorious peek at the life of Lizzie Burns, who lived alongside and supported the two men who founded Marxism. Set between 1842 and 1878, Gavin McCrea has planted this story in fact, and then weaved a magical yet earthy tale. Lizzie Burns was a woman of practical strength and determination, she takes the reader into her confidence and tells her own story, and what an amazing tale it is! Gavin McCrea not only transported me back in time, he also had me hanging on to every single word that came out of Lizzie’s mouth. The language surprises on occasion, and may cause a raised eyebrow, it is so full of attitude and down to earth. The story flowed between Lizzie’s past and present, until it felt as though it was one moment in time. Lizzie Burns was a woman who would have been extraordinary today, the voice McCrea has created is startling, and this is a simply wonderful and entirely captivating debut. Chair of judges Iain Pears said: “McCrea has cleverly included just enough historical detail to set a very evocative scene, then lets his cast tell the story. The writing always surprises, his characters are compelling without having to be likeable and, as all of we judges noted, Mrs Engels is perhaps the most feminist novel we read for the Prize.” 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.

eBooks of the Month
Starve Acre

Starve Acre

Author: Andrew Michael Hurley Format: Paperback Release Date: 29/10/2020

So beautifully written, the chills prowl with unexpected menace to climb inside your thoughts, to lurk and provoke. Richard and Juliette’s son Ewan died at the age of 5, Juliette, convinced that her son is still in the house turns to a group of occultists, while Richard searches for the remains of a hangman’s oak tree opposite their home Starve Acre. Andrew Michael Hurley doesn’t waste a single word, each forms a web to create a picture as he captures the essence of a thought or thing. As the story grows, as the oak planted itself in my minds eye, the unsettling force of grief came to settle over everything. I sank into this tale and couldn’t leave, reading from the deep, dark and incredibly soulful first page through to the startling last in one heady afternoon. Folklore gathers in the background, grief preys on the unsuspecting, and a compelling story unfolds. Highly recommended, I have chosen Starve Acre as one of my picks of the month, and a LoveReading Star Book.

Star Books
The Beauty of the Wolf

The Beauty of the Wolf

Author: Wray Delaney Format: Paperback Release Date: 14/11/2019

My heart is full of love for this darkly beautiful and mind-twisting novel. Set in the time of Elizabeth I, a curse given in anguish and hate is set to run amok. At birth Beau is burdened with great beauty and is due to be the cause of the death of his father, while unrelated to the curse, Randa is born a mix of beast and human. And, so begins a story of the greatest highs and the lowest lows, of revenge and hope, love and despair. The first sentence sucked me in, and I was held in thrall throughout. This is a completely gorgeous blend of Shakespearean drama, the very darkest of fairy tales, and the simply wonderful pen of Wray Delaney. I felt a reassuring half-formed recognition as I read, yet at the same time, a prickle of awareness that I was an explorer, charting an entirely new world. I highly recommend The Beauty of the Wolf to anyone who hungers for a bite of difference, with a more than a twist of glorious darkness. I have chosen this as both a Liz Robinson Pick of the Month, and a LoveReading Star Book, it’s fierce, it’s wonderful, I adored it. 

Star Books
The Mercies

The Mercies

Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave Format: Paperback Release Date: 08/07/2021

Totally, completely, and utterly gorgeous, this is a beautifully written historical relationship tale with real bite. And can I just qualify the word relationship - this is about the relationships with family, community, fear, nature, as well as the more obvious love. A work of fiction inspired by history, the story begins on Christmas Eve in 1617 when a sudden and violent storm takes the lives of forty fishermen, leaving the stunned women folk learning to survive on their remote northerly Norwegian island. Still reeling from the tragedy, their lives turn in the most frightening direction when the King brings in sorcery laws and a commissioner is installed to root out evil. This is Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s debut adult novel, and I feel as though I have been waiting my reading life for it. The prologue hits with a huge sad inevitability. Kiran Millwood Hargrave writes with a sensitive and considerate pen, the descriptions are truly breathtaking. While there are some savage shocks in store, The Mercies is still a warm, thoughtful and touching read. Chosen as a Liz Robinson pick of the month, we also just had to include The Mercies as a LoveReading Star Book too. 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.

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The House at the Edge of the World

The House at the Edge of the World

Author: Julia Rochester Format: Paperback Release Date: 07/04/2016

Shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2016. Longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016. A wonderfully unconventional and thought-provoking read, where a mystery waiting to be solved shelters behind a penetrating and wryly emotional family tale. The first paragraph, short as it is, marks itself indelibly in your minds eye, it also encapsulates the detached and challenging personality of Morwenna, the narrator. The family from ‘The House at the Edge of the World’ hold ambivalent feelings towards each other and their home. As the story ponders the weight of family expectations it also peeks at the tricky complexity that is imagination versus recollection and how often the two blend into a murky uncertainty. Julia Rochester has a fascinating way with words, words to make you stop, think and consider, she captures your thought processes and then hurls them in an unexpected direction. This is an intelligent, discerning and surprising debut novel and deserves to be highly recommended. ~ Liz Robinson Desmond Elliott Chair of judges Iain Pears said: “Rochester’s writing is quite wonderful – she is particularly strong on her sense of place. She brings the landscape to life just as she does her characters. We all felt we were with them at key points in the book.”

eBooks of the Month
Here is the Beehive

Here is the Beehive

Author: Sarah Crossan Format: Hardback Release Date: 20/08/2020

Our September 2020 Book Club Recommendations. Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. Unique, provocative, and powerful, this is also a painfully exquisite and beautifully written book. Focusing on her affair with Connor, the harrowing and damaging emotions of loss, grief, and obsession overflow within Ana’s mind. A novel, yes, but not as you know it. Told in verse, Sarah Crossan writes as you might think. Thoughts flow, yet are spliced, splintered, hesitant, fractured. This is the first novel for adults from award winning Sarah Crossan, who was Ireland’s Children’s Literature Laureate (Laureate na nOg) for 2018-2020 and it has huge impact. Ana’s mind is an uncomfortably intimate place to be, thoughts ebb, flow, blast, rage. Each new unexpected bite of information hit me with raw overwhelming precision. As Ana unravelled, so did my feelings, and I positively ached for all involved. Will some people find this a difficult read due to the raw dark content, yes quite possibly, yet for me that is the wonder of this book. Every slicing emotion peels away another layer until you reach the core. Here is the Beehive has been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book and Liz Robinson Pick of the Month as for me this is a must-read.

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Inside the Beautiful Inside

Inside the Beautiful Inside

Author: Emily Bullock Format: Paperback Release Date: 29/10/2020

Spiralling down into darkness this fascinating and compelling historical novel is based on the true story of an inmate of Bethlam Royal Hospital (Bedlam) between 1800 to 1815. James Norris an American, was restrained, chained to a bar and confined in isolation for more than ten years, here Emily Bullock takes a look at possibilities and makes them fly. James tells his own tale, the words slinking, twisting, disappearing into the fog of his memory and thoughts. Bedlam broods its way through the centre of this story, with other inmates and the keepers affecting the atmosphere. As James visits the past in his mind, his relationship, role as seaman, and even Fletcher Christian, famous for his part in the mutiny on the Bounty all entwine to explain the man James has become. The writing sparked vivid details in my minds eye, and although my heart physically ached at times, there are also moments of hope to be found within the pages. Inside the Beautiful Inside is a rather special book, it opens a door and shines a penetrating light of awareness into the shadows of history. Highly recommended.  

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Throw Me to the Wolves

Throw Me to the Wolves

Author: Patrick McGuinness Format: Paperback Release Date: 27/08/2020

Beautifully eloquent, well written, and somehow teetering right on the edge of being a crime novel even with a murder and two investigating detectives. When a young woman is murdered, a neighbour and retired teacher is arrested and quickly forged into a monster by the press and social media. One of the detectives recognises his former teacher and takes a step back into his childhood. This is a book that covers a number of subjects, it is both sharp and focused, and lyrically descriptive. While a murder sits at its heart, it looks into the shadows of hate, bullying and abuse. Patrick McGuinness has the ability in a few words to paint a vivid scene. New thoughts cracked open inside my head and I felt that not a word was wasted, even when “a third cup of tea” is poured. As I read I explored a variety of emotions and found myself entirely consumed by Throw Me to the Wolves. A Liz  Pick of the Month, and a fabulously provocative and challenging read, I loved it. 

Liz Robinson's Picks of the Month
The Silver Road

The Silver Road

Author: Stina Jackson Format: Paperback Release Date: 05/09/2019

A hard-hitting punch of a crime thriller is waiting to be discovered, but also within the pages lies a provocative and emotionally stunning read too. This debut was the winner of the 2018 Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award, and believe me, I can completely understand why. Lelle has been driving the silver road looking for his missing daughter for three years, his endless search consumes his very being. Within the first page I knew I had fallen in love with the writing, which is exquisitely translated. The words connected with my very being, I could feel the words, look around me and see my surroundings.  Stina Jackson balances the dark and light quite beautifully, while tense and foreboding, there is also a silvery thread of hope to be found that thrums gently in the background. The cover of The Silver Road beckons, it leads to a read that emotionally connects, opens feelings and allows access to thoughts. Oh, and that ending… the ending sent goosebumps shivering down my arms. A highly recommended read indeed and one of my picks of the month.

eBooks of the Month
Stella

Stella

Author: Takis Wurger Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/03/2021

Ringing with bell-clear writing, remarkable atmosphere and emotional honesty, Takis Würger’s Stella is a hauntingly gripping story of naive young love and duplicity in wartime Berlin. Innocent soul Friedrich grew up in Switzerland, with an alcoholic mother and somewhat eccentric father. In 1942 he takes the inadvisable decision to travel to Berlin to study art, where’s he’s entranced by Kristin, the model in his life drawing class, and a character who’s partly based on a real person. Kristin is bold, intoxicating and brilliantly evoked as a “warm and soft” enigma. “Would you call me Tink? Like Tinkerbell?” she asks of him. Friedrich obliges, of course, for “there was nothing I could refuse this woman,” and she fast becomes a permanent presence in his suite at the Grand Hotel. Their life of drinking and dancing in banned jazz clubs feels worlds away from the war, but as the months pass and the Nazi grip tightens, so the couple’s merrily enclaved existence darkens. Friedrich is disturbed to discover their mutual friend is in the SS, and perplexed by Kristin’s high connections. Then, after vanishing and returning with a shaven head and “dark welts on her neck”, she reveals that she’s Jewish, with more revelations to come. “I don’t know if it’s wrong to betray one human being to save another. I don’t know if it’s right to betray one human being to save another” Friedrich muses, and herein lies the heart of this powerfully melancholic story - fundamental moral questions swell beneath its simply-told surface.

eBooks of the Month
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

Author: Cherie Jones Format: Hardback Release Date: 21/01/2021

Set in Barbados in 1984, Cherie Jones’s How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House undulates with ocean-pure, ocean-powerful writing. Telling the poignant stories of Bajan women struggling to survive the actions of abusive men who’ve veered violently off track, it’s an exceptional debut that deftly exposes the inequalities of race and gender that simmer beneath the island’s paradisal veneer. As a child, Lala’s grandmother guardian told her the cautionary tale of the one-armed sister who disobeyed her elders and ventured into the tunnels near their home at Baxter’s Beach. As a young woman, Lala braids the hair of white tourists who rent luxury beachfront villas while she cares for her baby and lives with her abusive, petty criminal husband Adan. When Adan bungles a burglary, he unleashes a succession of devastating events that results in two women losing the thing most dear to them. As a result, Adan is compelled to flee to his secret hideaway, and so the tunnels of the cautionary tale take on real-world significance. Demonstrating the deep-rooted extent of patriarchal control and abuse, the narrative slips back in time to tell the stories of Lala’s mother and grandmother. “Of course she did not leave him. What woman leaves a man for something she is likely to suffer at the hands of any other?” - tellingly this excerpt is applicable to all three generations. The author also explores the tangled relationships between these women, and the complexity of mother-daughter bonds, such as when Lala comments, of herself, “despite your best efforts, you are exactly like your mother”. And yet, at the same time, she misses her mother “more than ever”. Another powerful theme is that of the destructive underbelly of tourism - the fishing villages that “died in the birthing of the big houses, because rich tourists who visit for a few months each year do not wish to suffer the stink of market”, and the men who sell themselves to older white women, such as Tone the gigolo, Lala’s childhood love, who’s much more than he seems. What a novel. What execution. What a writer to watch.

Star Books
The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half

Author: Brit Bennett Format: Hardback Release Date: 11/06/2020

Supple and immersive, Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half is an epic, elegant story of sisters and mothers, of identity, and divisive racist and colourist mentalities that tear communities, families and individuals asunder. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful book, peppered with lines that latch (“When he visited, Desiree felt like a girl again, the years falling away like meat off the bone”), and an exquisitely crafted plot that threads generations through time, and across America - the Deep South, California, New York, and back.  “In Mallard, nobody married dark. Nobody left either.” But that’s exactly what identical twins Desiree and Stella do at the age of sixteen - they flee their “strange town” to start a new life in New Orleans. But after a time, Stella realises she can pass for white. After taking a job as a typist, she abandons Desiree for another new life as a white woman, eventually marrying her wealthy white boss who has no clue she’s black, and with whom she has a daughter who looks entirely white, to her relief. Meanwhile, Desiree’s path couldn’t be more different. She’s also married, with a “blueblack child”, and now, ten years after leaving, desperation forces her back to Mallard - she and her daughter need to escape domestic abuse. Through Stella’s fiercely emotive storyline we witness the most despicable bigotry when a Black family moves into her white neighbourhood. She’s agonisingly conflicted and tangled, especially when facing an unravelling of her fabricated identity. “She was one of the lucky ones. A husband who adored her, a happy daughter, a beautiful home. How could she complain about any of it?” And yet she’s desperately unfulfilled. Emptiness eats away at her; she feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere. As she says early on, she’s “split in two”. While following the sisters’ stories, Bennett brings in their daughters, and generations of secrets begin to bleed, creating a compelling, compassionate, consummately outstanding novel.

Star Books
The Bread the Devil Knead

The Bread the Devil Knead

Author: Lisa Allen-Agostini Format: Paperback Release Date: 20/05/2021

Written in its unforgettable protagonist’s captivating Trinidadian voice, Lisa-Allen Agostini’s The Bread the Devil Knead is an exceptionally immersive read that resonates with the heart-wrenching rawness of a women’s lifelong abuse at the hands of men, and the seeds of her future liberation. Every perfectly-placed word, every perfectly-formed sentence rings with truth and strikes deep. Port of Spain boutique manager Alethea is about to turn forty. Thankfully, though, there’s one thing she can count on, “and that is my looks. I going on forty but you would never know it, because every morning and night God spare life I does cleanse and tone and moisturise from head to foot.” But while she has her looks and is philosophical about reaching this life landmark (“is just a number and the face you does see staring back at you in the mirror not as important as the memories in the mind behind it”), the trouble with Alethea is that “most of the memories was bad”, while her present-day life sees her frequently abused by her partner. She finds some solace in the arms of her boss, though, and in books: “This is how I does see the world: by reading books. I does go to London, Hong Kong, Siberia, even, when I read a book. I does meet all kind of people. Learn all kinds of words. Live all kinds of lives. Thank God for books.” Then, when her adopted brother, now a priest, returns after decades away, she begins to take a new path as secrets are laid bare and ways through a dark and tangled forest come to light. Through Alethea’s complex, damaged character Agostini lays bare complex, potent truths about sexual and violent abuse, racism and colourism. Mixed race and light of skin, she’s subjected to prejudice: “because my skin light colour they feel like I feel I better than them. That is bullshit”, and “People in this island does always surprise to know it have poor white people, but though we skin was light and we hair was straight we wasn’t really white and we didn’t have a penny to we name.” And she also sees that “even after Independence, after Black Power, after all that. Is still a kind of racial, colour-conscious place where people who look like me does get through” while darker skinned people “doesn’t get one shit.” Raw and achingly beautiful, this really is remarkable.

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Sorrowland

Sorrowland

Author: Rivers Solomon Format: Hardback Release Date: 06/05/2021

From its arresting opening (“The child gushed out from twixt Vern’s legs ragged and smelling of salt. Slight, he was, and feeble as a promise”), Rivers Solomon’s Sorrowland is an exquisite fusion of folkloric atmosphere and raw human experience. Through the eyes of unforgettable, invincible Vern, and in luminously commanding language, Solomon explores racism, religion, misogyny and motherhood with magnificent boldness.  Fifteen-year-old Vern’s firstborn arrived in the world without his mother’s albinism and his father’s “yellow-bonedness”. His skin was “dark-dark, and Vern found it hard to believe that the African ancestry that begat such a hue had ever once been disrupted by whiteness.” And then comes his twin - two brothers, Howling and Feral, born in the woods beyond the Blessed Acres of Cain compound that Vern fled two months ago. With origins in the Black Power movement, the religious community’s survivalist ethos stands her in good stead for a life in the wild - “she always had a way of getting what she needed from the earth”. Years pass and Vern tells her now-toddler sons about Cainland’s history, about the “white doctors who came in the night to rob Black People for medical experimentation” as she notices strange shifts in her body - it heals from terrible burns and rotting infections. “A side effect of the poison they’d been giving her giving her since birth” she thinks, soon deciding they must leave the woods. This unfamiliar outside world “increased Howling’s surliness and transformed Feral’s sweet curiosity into spirited adventurousness”, and the trio attract as much bewildered attention as the world bewilders them. As Vern’s sickness intensifies so too does the creeping sense of pursuit, and rising love and lusts, to create a bizarre and beautiful book that’s entirely unbridled by convention.

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Stick No Bills

Stick No Bills

Author: Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw Format: Paperback Release Date: 29/10/2020

All twenty-two of the short stories included in Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw’s stunning Caribbean-set Stick No Bills are rich in atmosphere and thought-provoking observational detail. Cutting to the core of their characters’ states and situations, lingering long, and possessing the power of a Siren’s call to draw readers back for multiple readings, these stories are masterworks of the form. Vibrant with humanity and emotional ambiguities and truths, each story is a finely drawn vignette. The author’s characterisation is first-class; her painterly observations and details of place and psychological states profoundly affecting. Take 'Killing Time', for example, in which a young Trinidadian woman coins the term “lostfulness” to describe her uncertain state of being and relinquishes her dream of becoming a writer - the ending made my heart flip. Some of the stories are only a few paragraphs long, and yet these too bear tremendous power. 82, for example, unpacks an entire existence in its chain of 82 words. In these shortest pieces, Walcott-Hackshaw conveys the feeling of existing within particular moments with brilliant dynamism - fleeting flashes of thought, or poignant reflection, or anticipation of what will come next. The eponymous story, 'Stick No Bills', is an exquisite example of this, capturing as it does the cycle of life and motherhood as a woman ponders the imminent departures of her daughter and mother with heart-aching precision, and all prompted by observing a “stick no bills” notice on an ice factory she first saw during her childhood. While the stories exude multiple moods, together they form an exquisite whole, united by finely-threaded themes of family, loss, the passing of time, ponderings on the past, and possible futures.

Star Books
Foregone

Foregone

Author: Russell Banks Format: Paperback Release Date: 22/06/2021

It’s little wonder that Russell Banks has won major awards for his subtle, seductive novels, and Foregone - the author’s first new novel for a decade - also deserves a place among prize-winners. It features famous left-leaning Canadian American documentary filmmaker, Leonard Fife. He’s in his late-seventies and dying of cancer, with a live-in Haitian nurse and attentive wife. The book opens with Fife wondering why he’s agreed to be filmed for a final interview to discuss his life and work. His nurse reminds him it’s “because he’s famous for something to do with cinema, and famous people are required to make interviews”. In the ensuing interview, after the irritation of the production team setting-up (a team led by his former star-pupil), Fife makes a long, dark, unexpected confession, with the plot cleverly switching camera angles from Fife to those who are filming him - a smart device, effectively realised.  Taking in the history of US draft evaders who fled to Canada to escape serving in Vietnam (of which Fife was one of sixty-thousand), and written entirely in the present tense, Banks’s style is haunting, meditative and gripping, with its protagonist’s personal revelations striking compelling rhythmic, resonant beats.

eBooks of the Month
The Lantern Boats

The Lantern Boats

Author: Tessa Morris-Suzuki Format: Paperback Release Date: 06/04/2021

Beautifully-written, smoothly-readable, and waltzing with elegance and the intrigue of espionage, Tessa Morris-Suzuki’s The Lantern Boats is an accomplished work of historical fiction. Melding criss-crossing personal stories with the bigger-picture political climate of occupied Japan, it’s rich in details of time and place, with swathes of charisma that make single-sitting readings all but impossible to resist. Adding to the intrigue, the book’s characters are based on real people. The novel opens with an evocative scene describing the swell of the Sumida River illuminated by paper lanterns in a ritual for the dead, of which there are many as a result of the US firebombing raids that ended six years ago. Then we meet Kamiya Jun, a young war orphan with nothing - “no home, no family, no documents, no identity.” Being invisible makes him ideal spy material, and so he’s tasked by the Americans to spy on Vida Vidanto, a beautiful Japanese poet they suspect of being a communist spy. Meanwhile, part-Japanese, part-Scottish Elly Ruskin feels compelled to spy on Vida herself - she suspects her journalist husband, Fergus, of having an affair with the poet, and all while they’re in the process of adopting a child. The worlds of spy and spied-on intermesh powerfully when Fergus finds Vida’s strangled body, and then follows a gripping quick-fire succession of secrets unveiled, a tragic casualty, and hopeful beginnings.

Books of the Month
Fortune

Fortune

Author: Amanda Smyth Format: Paperback Release Date: 24/06/2021

From the exceptional author of Black Rock, Amanda Smyth’s Fortune is an absolute dazzler. Set in 1920s Trinidad, and based on real-life events, the novel is founded on exquisite storytelling. It’s measured in style, and panoramic in impact - though the writing is so finely accomplished its influence swells over time as the novel charts a universal story of desire and ambition, of love and lust, of all-but impossible battles with the external forces of nature. I relished every sentence, every considered word, every beat of a plot that pulses to the varied rhythms of its characters’ unsettled hearts. What’s more, it captures a nation on the cusp of monumental change - Trinidad’s earth-shattering shift to oil from its struggling sugar and cocoa industries. A chance encounter between handsome, charismatic Eddie Wade and Trinidadian business man Tito (lately down on his luck) leads them to hatch a plan to make their fortunes in oil. And the man who holds the key to their future fortunes is Sonny Chatterjee, a superstitious farmer whose cocoa estate is failing due to the abundance of oil oozing up through his soil. Sonny is reluctant to go into the oil business with anyone, and sceptical, as is his wife (“Who really need oil? Who want it? Not me, not you. You can eat oil?”), though she’s also angered by their escalating poverty. And so the two men convince Sonny, and they’re granted a lease to drill his land for a year. The very first meeting between Eddie and Tito’s wife Ada is charged with electricity. She’s a beautiful enigma, he’s like no one she’s never met, “he could have fallen out of the sky.” As the oil project progresses, the men battle sickness and set-backs until the black gold starts surging, as does the yearning between Ada and Eddie. Though ignorant of this, Tito unwittingly makes a premonitory statement, of sorts: “Ada has fire in her. A woman who has fire, if you love her, she’ll warm up your heart.” To which Eddie replies, “If you don’t she’ll burn down your house.” Tito laughs, “That’s exactly right, Eddie. She’ll burn down your house.” The way Ada and Eddie’s relationship buds from fascination, to lustful tension, to overwhelming desire, is exquisite: “Ada knew something was happening to her. The world was different. The hills were greener, the sky a painting of light.” A fatal accident on a neighbouring oil site causes Sonny to want to halt the drilling and sell up, but Tito and Eddie want to drill one more well before their lease is up. Enthralling and heart-stopping to the end, Fortune is a magnificent feat of fiction.

Star Books
Build Your House Around My Body

Build Your House Around My Body

Author: Violet Kupersmith Format: Hardback Release Date: 08/07/2021

Though complex, subtle, and rich in history and myth, Violet Kupersmith's Build Your House Around My Body makes an instantly potent impression. Her writing is at once measured and vivid, infused with the elemental power of Vietnamese folklore, and with the histories, fates and desires of its protagonists. Following the lives of two fearless women who both went missing (though decades apart - one in 1986, the other in 2011), and who both seek revenge, Build Your House Around My Body is hauntingly poetic, playful, and a puzzle, of sorts. A multi-layered Russian doll of a story with magic realist elements - ghosts, time travel, snake monsters. Indeed, the whole novel might be described as a coiled serpent that spirals and springs when you least expect it. Despite their very different backgrounds, the women are bound by the past, and by ancestors and ghosts. It’s a mystery, a mythic epic, a slippery history that defies classification, and I loved it.

Star Books
Unbury Our Dead with Song

Unbury Our Dead with Song

Author: Mukoma Wa Ngugi Format: Paperback Release Date: 22/06/2021

Setting out its stunning stall as “the story of how a Tizita musician stopped the Ethiopian-Eritrean war”, Mukoma Wa Ngugi’s Unbury Our Dead with Song casts a uniquely beguiling spell. Its narrator, tabloid journalist John Thandi Manfredi, has an engaging, down-to-earth style that shifts as he himself falls under the spell of tizita - usually translated as ‘nostalgia’, or ‘longing’, tizita is form of bluesy, folksy ballad music from Ethiopia and Eritrea. Through Manfredi we meet four musicians - The Diva, The Taliban Man, The Corporal and septuagenarian bartender Miriam - who are in Nairobi, Kenya, competing to be hailed the best tizita performer. Their music has Manfredi in their thrall, to the extent that he journeys to Ethiopia to discover more about them. During their meetings, Manfredi uncovers raw truths and secrets about each artist, and through them he learns to read the layers of life and longing he’s heard (and felt) in tizita performances: “I knew enough about telling stories - they were also about the storyteller,” he says. In this case, the four musicians have very different stories to tell - hugely different histories and longings - as imparted through their performances. Propelled by a subtly mounting sense of mystery and discovery to a stirring tizita soundtrack that plays out in your head, this captures the indefinable, almost magical, power of music and art to inspire awe - which is exactly what this novel does with sweeping verve.

eBooks of the Month
The Silence of Scheherazade

The Silence of Scheherazade

Author: Defne Suman Format: Hardback Release Date: 19/08/2021

Taking in the cultural complexities of the Ottoman Empire through the compelling, criss-crossing stories of Levantine, Greek, Turkish and Armenian characters, Defne Suman’s The Silence of Scheherazade is an astounding feat of historical fiction - tremendously ambitious, and dazzlingly realised through the author’s exquisitely-threaded plotting and lush storytelling. It’s September, 1905, and one moment seals the fates of four very different families. This is the moment Scheherazade is born in cosmopolitan Smyrna to a mother numbed by opium. Though her namesake is the legendary storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights, she’s mute. A silent girl who grows up to bear witness to the brutality that eventually besets her city - the death and destruction, the expulsion of communities, the impending outbreak of WWI, and the burning. The magic of the city is dazzlingly evoked and intertwined with both the socio-political context and the very moving, very personal stories of this novel’s vast cast of characters. This is a novel to savour, to be dazzled by, to learn from, and reflect on. It invites utter immersion. The LoveReading LitFest invited Defne to the festival to talk about The Silence of Scheherazade. You can view the event by subscribing to the LitFest programme for as little as £6 per month - or you can pay per view. For just £2, go, see Defne in conversation with Deborah Maclaren and find out why this is such a sumptuous tour de force of a book that everyone needs to read. Check out a preview of the event here.

Audiobooks of the Month
The Dragonfly Sea

The Dragonfly Sea

Author: Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor Format: Hardback Release Date: 02/09/2021

Sensuous, lyrical, and suffused in the natural world, especially a sense of the ebb and flow of the ocean, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s The Dragonfly Sea shimmers with passion, humanity, and quickening waves of history. And all this unfolds and undulates through tracing the journey of a young girl, Ayaana, forming a novel to take your time over, to luxuriate in and return to. It’s a rich banquet of beautiful words. Beginning on an Indian Ocean island in the Lamu Archipelago, off the coast of Kenya, fearless Ayaana and her mother live a kind of lonely, haunted existence. She has no father, nor a father figure, until a sailor comes into their lives. Without her mother’s approval, Muhidin becomes Ayaana’s friend and teacher. Her life reels and realigns in cycles, seeing her voyage to China with the promise of education and a different future. As her journey surges and ebbs, ebbs and surges, the author lays bare conflicts of the both personal and political kind (colonialism, radicalisation) with individuals and nations caught in the nets of global forces. Through loss and longing, there’s a sense of becoming whole again, finding refuge, and finding oneself.

Books of the Month

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