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Hot off the press! Check out the books we think are the best of the best this month!
A thrilling, riveting, and whip-smart novel that feels as though you are being served a slice of Cold War military history. When a CIA asset in East Germany is compromised, a team of unconventional warfare specialists are charged with extracting him. This is the first in the Snake Eater Chronicles by James Stejskal who spent 35 years in the US Army Special Forces and CIA. He is now an author (previously writing non-fiction), military historian, and conflict archaeologist. These stories are based in reality using his real-world experience and the author himself calls it “faction”. This is an absolutely fascinating read, all the cogs within the CIA and Special Forces machine spin into action. The Cold War history of Berlin, different characters, methods and processes are included and explained without upsetting the flow of what is a gripping story. I didn’t question, I quite simply read and believed. A Question of Time is a fabulous start to a series that promises to deliver in spades and it comes with a whopping thumbs up from me.
A powerful, eloquent, earthy and emotional novel about family, regret, hope, and redemption. Former footballing prodigy Danny Garvey returns home to manage the local football team, yet past secrets haunt the present. I simply fell into this novel, fell in love with both the writing and storyline, and similarly adored Welcome to the Heady Heights. David F Ross writes so beautifully, images spark into life, so vibrantly real they almost hurt. During the course of this novel I found myself roaring with laughter, high on feel-goods, then caught up in plummeting emotions that caused a physical ache… this is a novel with real heart. The direct thoughts of the other headline characters appear in italics, and boy does it create atmosphere. My head was full of the added information, creating a jigsaw, while searching for the missing pieces without realising it. The ending gave me full-on goosebumps, and I sat for a goodly while in contemplation after finishing. I want to shout from the rooftops about There’s Only One Danny Garvey, hand on heart it’s blimmin brilliant!
A gorgeously heart-felt and uplifting romance, just perfect if you’re in need of a pick-me-up read. Thirteen years after Didi’s first love left her, he is back in her life and the spark is still there. I can proudly announce that I read Jill Mansell’s debut all the way back in 1991 and have loved her books ever since. They just glow with feel-good warmth and are full of compassion, and kindness. At the heart of this novel friendship and the meaning of trust snuggle together within the setting of a beautiful Cotswold market town. Bestselling author Jill Mansell always covers the different generations in her novels with attention to detail, and the side stories are as interesting as the main romance. Jill Mansell is one of the most consistent romance writers out there, pick up one of her books and you’ll find a truly enjoyable read. Heartwarming and satisfying And Now You’re Back delivers a wonderful helping of love and romance.
Outrageously good reading entertainment awaits in this punchy, smirky, dark crime thriller set in Scotland. Ex-DI Ash Henderson from the Lateral Investigative and Review Unit finds himself working two cases after human remains are found in a garden that is collapsing into the sea. Ash has previously been central to two of the Oldcastle Novels by Stuart MacBride, do you need to have read the other Ash Henderson thrillers first? I really think you do, as though it is possible to read The Coffinmaker’s Garden as a standalone, you will miss out if you don’t know the back story. I threw all my thoughts and knowledge out of the window as I read and just enjoyed the spunky characters and blood-tingling plot. Spinning between the two investigations kept my armchair-sleuth thoughts from settling too deeply. Instead I rode the wave, fell for the repartee and characters, and found my eyebrows more than once shooting skywards. A round of applause to Stuart MacBride for ensuring a balance between the horror and tragedy of the storyline with the humour that peppers the pages (the inventive insults are hugely diverting). The Coffinmaker’s Garden played out in gloriously vivid colour in my mind, atmospheric and gripping, this is a corker of a read and comes with the LoveReading Star Book stamp of approval.
An intelligent, intricately plotted, and fabulously readable foray into The Second World War from a German perspective. Three men, Werner Nehmann from the Ministry of Propaganda, Georg Messner aide to Generaloberst Richthofen, and Wilhelm Schultz from the Military Intelligence Service, find themselves in the thick of the German attempt to capture Stalingrad. This is the fith book in Graham Hurley’s Spoils of War series, featuring historical and fictional characters from different countries. Here the focus is Germany and we delve into the minds of such historical figures as Goebbels and Richthofen. It is however, the three fictional characters, in particular Werner, who take centre stage. In the main the story remains at a distance from direct fighting, nonetheless I was left in no doubt as to the reality of conflict. The mysteries of propaganda and intelligence wield their shadowy magic. This an intimate story set on a huge scale, the personal stories of the characters really highlights the struggle of the individual during war. Last Flight to Stalingrad is a dynamic, commanding slice of historical fiction that I highly recommend as one of our LoveReading Star Books.
Discover a vividly seductive historical crime novel sitting within Victorian Edinburgh. A plan to discredit Dr James Simpson is afoot, while a bid by two of his employees to clear his name encounters a string of unsolved deaths. Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for award-winning author Chris Brookmyre and consultant anaesthetist Dr Marisa Haetzman. Research for her masters uncovered the material for this series which began with The Way of All Flesh. You could read this as a standalone novel, but I recommend starting at the beginning in order to fully enjoy this reading experience. The mix of fiction and fact is a fascinating one, with the historical background twisting and melding with intense vitality into the most compelling story. The social resistance to new medicine, the struggles of the woman’s movement, and individuals grasping for power confirms that the circles of humanity continue through the ages. The attraction between Will and Sarah adds to the energy rather than detracts, while the unknown voice that appears throughout builds suspense and intrigue before the full impact of the ending hits. The Art of Dying is a vivid, almost visual feast of a story that I can highly recommend.
A smart, fast-moving, and riveting crime thriller, make sure you set aside plenty of reading time as I didn’t want to put Trust down. Martin races to help girlfriend Mandy after checking his voicemail and hearing her scream before the call cuts off. Trust is the third in the Martin Scarsden series, the first and Chris Hammer’s debut Scrublands won the Crime Writers’ Association John Creasy New Blood Dagger in 2019. So far, each book has seen a different setting, starting in the Australian interior followed by a small coastal town with Silver, and now we enter Sydney. While a couple of previous characters crop up, Martin and Mandy are the main draw. You could potentially head straight into this and read it successfully as a standalone but for the best experience I really do recommend that you start with Scrublands. I feel as though a lot of unanswered questions from Martin and Mandy’s past are thoroughly and successfully covered here. The author’s background as a journalist can be felt as the corruption of power and privilege is examined in the most punchy way. This is a series you can really get your teeth into, intelligent and challenging, yet as readable as can be, I really do hope there is more to come. Trust is a fabulously suspense filled, powerful and pacy read that we just had to include as a LoveReading Star Book.
This intelligent, beautifully eloquent and powerful crime novel thoroughly provoked my feelings, and still remains in my thoughts. Mickey Fitzpatrick is a police officer patrolling the area she grew up in. Kensington in Philadelphia is known for drugs and sex workers, when a killer arrives on the streets, Mickey prays that her little sister doesn’t become a victim. The author Liz Moore has an intimate knowledge of the real Kensington, she has interviewed the people drawn there by drugs, written non fiction, and completed community work, she obviously cares a great deal for this neighbourhood and its people. Her novel set in Kensington has been a long time in the coming, she wanted to: “do this world justice”, to: “fairly represent”. As I started to read, the ‘list’ stopped me in my tracks, I read it again, pondered, and then moved on to the first two pages which hit my mind with a wallop and gave it a good shake. Mickey narrates her story, she is so clear, sharp, on point, and I could see, feel, taste her words. Kensington, Mickey and her family flooded my mind in short, fierce, expressive chapters of ‘then’ and ‘now’. I felt a connection to emotions, to this story, it truly spoke to me. I feel this novel will be one that I regularly return to, and I’ll take away something a little different each time. Long Bright River is a stunning read, it aches with poignant, vivid intensity and I absolutely loved it. There is no other option for me, than to choose it as a LoveReading Star Book.
A thoroughly modern, wonderfully readable and clever romantic comedy that acts as a perfect pick-me-up. Tom, Dick, and Harry (well actually it’s Tom, Richard, and Harriet but who could resist!) find themselves in the most awkward of situations when they start dating. Estranged father and son Tom and Richard don’t share the same surname and when Harriet decides to date them both, by the time they realise, love has already worked its magic. I was hooked from the very first sentence, an entertaining web is woven as each distinct voice tells their own side of the story. The age range of characters is handled beautifully and there are a few knotty intrigues to unravel along the way. Simon Brooker writes with a truly witty pen, I smiled, laughed, and even exclaimed out loud. There are also sweet notes, canny moments, and a penetrating blast of reality. I genuinely had no idea where this diverting tale was going and I just want to applaud the ending, for me it was perfectly placed. Three’s A Crowd is a romantic comedy with bite, it’s a glorious blend of sweet and sharp, and sits very nicely in our LoveReading Star Books.
Set in AD 74, Elodie Harper’s The Wolf Den tells the enthralling tale of Amara, a prostitute enslaved to Pompeii’s lupanar brothel. Serving a rich feast of historic atmosphere with all the pace of popular drama, fans of spicy historic fiction will be left longing to devour the second course of this trilogy - think TV show Harlots set in ancient Pompeii. Educated doctor’s daughter Amara once lived free, but the poverty that came in the wake of her father’s death led to enslavement to the Wolf Den brothel, where her cell is adorned with a picture of “a woman being taken from behind” and a terracotta lamp “modelled in the shape of a penis” (the real-life lupanar brothel is famed for its erotic frescos). By day, the she-wolves visit the women’s baths and stalk the streets to draw business to the Den. By night, “the brothel passes like a scene from Hades: the endless procession of drunken men, the smoke, the soot, angry shouting,” until Amara lies in her cell, “unable to sleep, suffocated by rage”. When fellow she-wolf Victoria says how lucky they are, Amara’s retort is characteristically sharp: “Here we all are…Four penniless slaves sucking off idiots for bread and olives. What a life.” And a life she refuses to settle for when “the desire to escape takes hold, its roots digging deep under her skin, breaking her apart.” Harper’s style is exhilaratingly direct, with images lingering long in the mind’s eye. You smell the oil lamps and temple incense, taste sticky figs, feel physical blows, and the dialogue packs powerful punch too. It’s a vivacious piece of work, and all underpinned by a woman’s longing for freedom.
If you’re looking for a unique, transportive, immensely satisfying read then I’ll wave frantically and recommend you stop right here. Laura agrees to assess Will to establish if he is still capable of living on his own, she begins to suspect that Will isn't suffering from dementia and that his strange story may actually be true. Keith Stuart is the author of the truly beautiful Days of Wonder and A Boy Made of Blocks, books that touch emotions, encourage thoughts, and cast a spellbinding atmosphere. I was hugely excited to read his latest and it effortlessly joins the others as particular favourites of mine. Each of his novels have been completely different, yet there is a thread of connection. He opens a door to a side of being human that you might not have seen and encourages emotions to flood your heart and soul. The Frequency of Us takes a step outside of what is known, edging into fantastical and I joined the story with trust and belief. Laura and Will formed a connection with each other and in turn with me. Two time frames allow access to the past, creating intrigue and a mystery that just begs to be solved. The ending really spoke to me and set my feelings free to soar. The Frequency of Us is a mesmerising read full of love and hope, and I’m thrilled to recommend it as one of our LoveReading Star Books.
Oh my word, as I sank into the pages of this brilliantly addictive psychological thriller I actually forgot that I was reviewing and just read for pure pleasure. Sisters Lori and Erin are travelling to a remote part of Fiji for a holiday, after an argument before the final inter-island flight, only one leaves on the small plane, which then goes missing. Lucy Clarke takes psychological thrillers to a whole new level. I adored You Let Me In, and The Castaways now ensures she is a must-read author for me. Set in two time frames, as the story progresses ‘Then’ inches, then hurtles towards ‘Now’. Each change in time frame felt like a hammer blow before I was immediately gathered up in the story again. The most exquisite tension builds and thrums with increasing intensity. The release of information is so clever, almost teasing, and I balanced on a razor sharp wire of awareness. I felt a deep connection with the sisters, their relationship was wonderfully complex yet tangible. If you love intelligent, yet hugely entertaining psychological thrillers, then put this to the top of your list. Chosen as a LoveReading Star Book, The Castaways really is the most compulsive, enthralling and beautifully written tale, it’s a 2021 sure-fire winner.
Who was Nick Carraway before he stepped into the world of The Great Gatsby? Michael Farris Smith sets out to explore these questions in Nick, a darkly absorbing, brilliantly accomplished literary undertaking provoked by the author’s complex relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. With themes of isolation and dislocated identity at its heart, this masterful novel opens in Paris when Nick leaves his lover to return to the horrors of war, ever conscious of death. Imagining his own demise, he wonders, “Who would be there to mourn?... Did anyone truly love him and did he love anyone?” Nick is also constantly consumed by an impulse to escape, juxtaposed with wondering what it is “know your place in the world”. Unable to find his lover when the war is over, and unable to bring himself to return to the family home, he transports himself to Frenchtown, New Orleans, with its drinking dens, whorehouses and vicious vendettas. The world over seems to be filled with folk floundering, people desperate to escape or obliterate their tattered lives, and time and time again Nick’s life entwines with fellow broken, lost souls. This curious magnetism is pertinently expressed by sick bartender Judah when he says, “if there’s one thing the lost are able to recognise it is the others who are just as wounded and wandering.” Ending on a radiant dawn epiphany scene, with Nick on the verge of moving East, this left me longing to re-visit The Great Gatsby, and keen to read the rest of Farris Smith’s novels.
A smart, enthralling historical thriller with real attitude, this LoveReading Star Book is the sixth in the Bruno Giordano series. Bruno is tasked by Sir Francis Walsingham to go under cover after he arrives with information about a plot to kill Queen Elizabeth and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots. What a cracking series this is, each book can easily be read as a standalone, but oh, you really would be missing out if you didn’t read them in order, so do start with Heresy if you are a newcomer. S. J. Parris creates delicious intrigue and suspense as Bruno embeds himself in the plot. She takes fact, and welding it to fiction forges a seamless and fascinating tale. I would like to go on record as saying that I adore Bruno, I felt as though he was beside me as he told his story, and I found myself leaning in to hear more. Digging deep into the corners of history, Execution is a pacy, fabulously entertaining story that I can highly recommend.
Another truly lovely and heart-warming romantic saga from the award-winning Dilly Court. When Kate arrives back in London from India in 1858, she determines to help the poor and opens a soup kitchen however rival gangs place her life in danger. Dilly Court opens up a world and allows entry for your reading pleasure as the settings come alive under her pen. Kate is bright, courageous, and determined to do the very best she can. There are several potential matches for Kate, who will you warm to? Romance is also on offer for a number of other characters which creates a delightful will-they-won’t-they atmosphere. Each character adds depth, even if only on the page for a moment. The tension is high with scoundrels and out-and-out villains trying to outwit each other. This novel really does fulfil all the requirements of a romantic saga. The Reluctant Heiress contains wonderful courtship, dastardly deeds, and plenty of family drama, ensuring a riveting read. If you'd like to read more about Dilly Court, do take a look at our LoveReading Loves Channel - Fall in Love with Dilly
A beautifully written, smart yet dark novel novel of suspense and tension. A family from a small nearly abandoned village in northern Sweden find themselves a target when rumours suggest that they own a fortune. I absolutely raved about Stina Jackson’s award-winning debut, The Silver Road, and this her second novel hits the just the right notes too. She has the ability to inject moments of light and hope within the darkness that holds the story in its grasp. Translated by Susan Beard, I could feel all the differences of Sweden yet felt entirely at home within the words. The background tale from 1998 begins to fill in the gaps in the present. A real sense of menace is created, and something unforgivable lurks, waiting to be found. The characters are as deep as the tone is dark, and I read with bated breath. The Last Snow cements Stina Jackson as an author to watch, this is a story that just thrums with foreboding atmosphere and demands to be read, highly recommended.
Oh wow, this is a stunningly readable supernatural crime horror. DS Jamila Patel and DC Jerry Pardoe investigate suspicious and unexplainable happenings in the sewers below London. The Children God Forgot includes the policing team from Ghost Virus, though you can easily read this as a standalone, which in my opinion is always the mark of a great book within a series. I love horror like this, it feels so real you could almost reach out and touch it (though you seriously wouldn’t want to!). While I didn’t want to run screaming, there is enough to make the hardiest of people wince and flinch. There is a goodly amount of horrific gore to be found within the pages including supernatural violence involving pregnancies. Graham Masterton has created a colourful and believable London, fabulously relatable characters, and a supernatural shockwave that carves its wave through both. A number of story lines converge, and meld into one cracking tale. There is a fine balance on hand, plenty of blood and guts yes, there is also fabulous writing, smirky humour, and thought-provoking themes waiting to be found. Raw and smart, the blast of horror from The Children God Forgot makes you wonder what the heck is beneath your feet. Loved it so much, it just has to sit as a LoveReading Star Book.
A cunning, creeping, slow-burning family drama. When Nina was diagnosed with a terminal illness, she asked her best friend Marie to fulfil her final wishes. As Marie steps forward into a life she has always envied and wanted, she discovers that Nina had some damaging secrets. Marie narrates, she’s not particularly loveable, or even likeable, and I really enjoyed how that made me doubt, question, and hold back from forming an opinion of her. It felt as though Marie was being honest with her feelings, but not her thoughts, and that created huge uncertainty. As the atmosphere and my suspicion settled, a change of direction elbowed its way in which added an extra dimension. The Last Wife almost slithers along, delivering bites of tension and suspense, ensuring an interesting read.
Our December 2020 Guest Editor “Take what you need from these pages; and most of all, enjoy what you do. Joy is such a vital part of creative writing – because if you don’t enjoy what you write, how can you expect anyone else to?” So begins Joanne Harris’s invaluably inspirational - and practical - Ten Things About Writing. Reading this book is rather like having a wise writer as a best friend, on hand to offer pragmatic and energising advice, with many unhelpful myths about writing crumbled, and an emphasis on the fact that writing is to be worked at, not something a wand can be waved at: “The ability to spin words into gold is a skill that comes from hard work, patience and lots of practice. Some people may have an aptitude; others will struggle to gain momentum.” I particularly loved the author’s unravelling of the myth of inspiration: “The idea that we must wait for the Muse to inspire us was invented by effete young Victorians who wanted an excuse to sit around doing nothing all day. Most of us don’t have that luxury, which means forgetting about the Muse and doing some actual footwork instead.” And this gem: “Don’t write because you want to be a writer. Write because you want to write.” In bracing style, Harris covers everything from doing proper research, finding your voice and effectual use of description (“If a passage doesn’t serve a purpose, it’s just pointless decoration. Kill it”), to drafting (“all first drafts are terrible... Just get on with it”), re-writing, and what to expect if you’re lucky enough to be published. And she doesn’t stop there, in the way that writing doesn’t either. She also covers dealing with fear, failure, rejection and writer’s block, with every stone turned and looked at from fresh angles, ending with an uplifting reminder that no matter how your writing journey turns out, “just writing is an act of bravery”. I’ll leave you with this typically droll nugget from the section on writing about women: “Top tip: real women very rarely think about their breasts at all – and certainly never in the way in which some male writers think they do.” I know this is a book I’ll keep coming back to, along with checking-in on the author’s #TenThings tweets.
Click to read our Q&A with Mark Adlington A book to fall totally and irretrievably in love with, Lion is full of the most gorgeous paintings, drawings, and sketches, and is absolutely stunning. The lion, an apex predator, is surely one of the most beautiful sights you can see. When I was 19 I found myself in Kenya, eyes wide, mouth open as I watched a lioness and three cubs at a water hole. It is something that is as clear to me now as it was then, so, when I saw this book was going to be published, I was first in the LoveReading queue. Here we journey together with Mark Adlington as he studies lions in East and Southern Africa. The foreword by the winner of the Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa and Co-Founder and Director of Operations at the Big Life Foundation, Richard Bonham, is effusive in its praise of Mark Adlington. It comes with a warning, that lions do not make good neighbours, and “where humans and wildlife compete, wildlife will surely lose”. However all is not: “doom and gloom… in the Amboseli ecosystem, by 2003 there were only 25 lions left… today, things have changed and the population has clawed itself back to over 200”. Mark has painted the progeny of the lions this programme has saved, and they appear in this dazzlingly impressive book. Mark describes meeting Richard and his wife Tara as a miracle: “I found myself invited to stay ‘in the most beautiful part of Kenya’ by a total stranger on the strength of a little sketch of a lion cub posted on instagram”. Mark also allows us access to his sketchbook musings (oh, the tortoise!), and finishes by saying that a world without the lion is unimaginable. What then follows is page after page of the most beautiful artwork, and this is where my mouth dropped open. Each piece is so full of character and movement, so vibrantly alive, that it brought tears to my eyes. The art is allowed to shine, no page numbers or captions to distract, you can simply sink into the beauty of the lion. So, Lion is a book to take pride of place on your bookshelves, a book to return to and open with wonder, to sit with eyes wide and heart open, to adore. Undoubtedly one of my personal books of the year, Lion just had to join our LoveReading Star Books and is of course one of my Liz Picks of the Month.
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All the books we feature on the site are featured because we think they deserve to stand out from the crowd of the many thousands of other titles published each month. However, sometimes in a month, we wish to give that little bit more emphasis to a title and to make it a 'Book of the Month'.
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