Hot off the press! Check out the books we think are the best of the best this month!
A scorching and beautifully written epic tale set in 1348, a time that sends a jagged screech of fingernails down the blackboard of history. Step away from the present into the midst of the Black Death, to overwhelming fear and confusion. The moated centre of one estate in Dorset appears to offer sanctuary, yet the treacherous play of human emotions wreaks havoc. I am a fan of Minette Walters, she has the ability to look behind and beyond the obvious, and she is eminently suited to this new genre. A lot of characters are introduced, yet there is no confusion, each was clear in my mind, known to me and vibrantly alive. The descriptions took me directly through the words and into this compelling story. ‘The Last Hours’ is the first of two novels, it quickly puts down roots and takes hold, ensuring a gripping, striking and remarkably readable tale.
An absorbing, twisting, uneasy reflection of a marriage, as it is being lived with an untold secret at its heart. Kate and Paul have been married for ten years, as they celebrate their anniversary Kate looks back to the time they met as children, and to what could lie ahead in their future. Holly Seddon has become a must-read author for me, each book has had different themes, even edged into different genres, yet the undeniable authenticity of each really shines through. Her writing feels heartfelt, honest, and she has the ability to create such tangible characters, I could turn to them, talk to them, explore their thoughts and feelings. I felt as though Kate was being candid as she spoke, yet information arrives gradually, slowly revealing truths, creating a feeling of uncertainty, building tension. I found myself holding my breath as the ending neared, wanting to know, yet almost afraid to reach for the answers. ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is a cracking read, stimulating, engaging and also rather beautiful, I loved it.
To those around her she was a loyal subject. In her heart she was a traitor. The Queen of the title is Elizabeth Mortimer 1371-1417, married to Sir Henry Percy (known as Hotspur) and upon his death to Thomas de Camoys. This is another of the author’s excellent retelling of the lives of medieval women. Written in the first person, this untangles history in a highly readable manner. It seems Elizabeth loved her first husband who assisted Henry IV to dethrone Richard II and was killed in battle. But in fact Elizabeth wanted her nephew, eight-year old Edmond, to become King but she kept this to herself. Upon Hotspur’s death he was pronounced a traitor and Elizabeth arrested. The King then gave her a choice, marry de Camoys or go into a nunnery. She married de Camoys, he was in his sixties, and the books ends with her settling into a harmonious relationship. I think the strength of this is that it is written in the first person, highly enjoyable.
Wonderfully chilling, this is another thrilling treat from E. Lockhart, author of We Were Liars. Two girls, in an intense relationship are both looking for escape but at what cost? When one disappears events suddenly become darker and we fall into a world of murder, fraud and villainy as identities are blurred and friendships crossed. There's a fine line between superhero and supervillain when someone needs to save herself. Lockhart's writing is edgy, fast paced and keeps you guessing until the end. Creepy, provocative and daring the protagonists (Jule and Imogen) continually leave you with a sense of unease as they draw you in not knowing what to believe and where the novel will take you next. We're looking in from the outside but Lockhart only lets you see what she wants you to before shocking you over and over with the sudden twists in events. Brilliant as always, E. Lockhart continues to enthrall with this, her latest thought-provoking novel.
I first came across the author with The Keep, a hypnotising duel-time, multi-narrative work. Then came her Pultizer Prize winning A Visit From the Goon Squad, an impressive novel which spans decades through the lives of complex characters. So I was really surprised to find this, her first 'historical' novel follows a linear pattern, a more conventional read than I was expecting, but nonetheless totally absorbing. Beginning in the Great Depression and closing at the end of WWII, it concentrates on Anna, her father and initially her very disabled sister. Her father is mixed up in organised crime, working for gangster Dexter Styles, whom Anna first meets when she is twelve, their paths cross dramatically again when she is in her twenties. She works as a diver in the Brooklyn Naval Yard, the first woman to do so, and we are presented with a heroine fighting for recognition and breaking the mould of what is expected for a young woman at that time. I loved it. Highly recommended.
May 2018 Book of the Month A tense, Hitchcockian psychological thriller in which nothing is as it seems, every truth might be a lie, and the past looms ever larger over the present, The Old You is a nail-bitingly modern slice of domestic noir. The Old You by Louise Voss A clever, gripping and thrilling tale that just demands to be read in one sitting. Lynn’s husband Ed has been diagnosed with Pick’s disease, a rare form of progressive dementia. As their world is turned upside down, odd things start to happen, and the past begins to cause waves in the present, causing Lynn to question her life and the man she married. Louise Voss writes with a cunning pen, snippets or huge wallops of information are slowly revealed, encouraging suspicion and turning thoughts on their head. I found my mind constantly ticking over and questioning everything. Lynn tells her own story, creating an immediate connection, yet it takes a while to get to know her, to understand her. ‘The Old You’ is a surprising, stimulating read, just be careful that it doesn’t lull you into false sense of security!
May 2018 Book of the Month Deliciously and thrillingly creepy, The Craftsman is an intensely gripping, superb read. Thirty years ago Larry Glassbrook confessed and was imprisoned for a series of child murders. Florence Lovelady was at the beginning of her career when she was involved in the case, now Larry is dead, however hauntingly similar events start to surface. The first chapter has huge impact, a mystifying and unexpected blast hit me full on, and then gently faded into the background. Set in two time frames, with thirty years between them, the story is brisk, and I loved the fact that you are expected to keep up. Sharon Bolton balances the knife edge between reality and extraordinary with a beautiful subtlety. This is just so, so readable, once in, I didn’t want to stop, and found myself reading into the small hours, be warned though, reading at night doubles the chill factor. As I raced through the final few chapters, I almost didn’t want the journey to end, yet the last few words sent the most delightful icy goosebumps snaking down my arms. I highly recommend stepping inside the pages, just give yourself up to the glory of the The Craftsman... this I have no doubt, will be one of my favourite reads of the year.
May 2018 Book of the Month An intimate, beautifully told, occasionally rambunctious tale set in 17th century England. Ursula Flight was born at an inauspicious time, she tells her own highly entertaining, yet poignant tale from birth. Ursula bounded from the page into wondrous life, I could feel her emotions, her wild, kind, impetuous nature spoke to me. Anna-Marie Crowhurst has created a vibrant, stunning setting for Ursula, the countryside of her childhood is so beautifully imagined, I found myself looking around, smelling, touching, feeling. Ursula’s own writing is scattered through the novel, her thoughts, letters and plays allow direct contact with her, as when she writes she is free, and unencumbered by the morals of the time. I have to admit to feeling a certain amount of disquiet as I read, one part of me was in the present, living life with Ursula, the other part was wondering what would become of this spirited young woman. A blistering darkness slices through ‘The Illumination of Ursula Flight’ taking its turn in the orbiting dance of life alongside the colour and passion, which creates a truly wonderful captivating read, and I loved it.
April 2018 Book of the Month “It’s a bit weird,” says Danny to James and indeed it is. Here are two thirty-six year old single young men who were once rival star scholars at an elite public boarding school now damaged. Danny was the scholarship student from a council estate, James an upper-class lad from wealthy parents. Both have sunk into a pit. How they got there and are desperately trying to climb out makes for a sensitive and highly compulsive read. Danny suffered loss and has been unable to get over the trauma, James had an “incident” which has left him brain damaged, he is now looked after by his restrictive parents. James is inadvertently responsible for Danny quitting his job and so hits upon the idea of being able to get away from his parents by having Danny look after him. A bit weird indeed. I truly loved this book, unusual for Mike Gayle and very special indeed.
April 2018 Book of the Month The nostalgic memoir of a young man, eldest of fourteen, growing up in 40s Wednesbury. The heartbreaking true account of his son struggling to come to terms with his father's dementia. A tribute to the unbreakable bond between father and son. 'At once a touching tribute to a beloved music-loving dad with Alzheimer’s and a poignant portrait of the love between a father and son, this written-from-the-heart memoir will warm the soul, and undoubtedly further the author’s magnificent endeavour to raise awareness of this devastating disease. Simon McDermott’s cherished dad, Ted, was born in the Black Country in 1936 and always loved singing. In his early twenties, following National Service, Ted seized an opportunity to air his voice publicly by becoming an announcer for Walsall Football Club, which provided him with plenty of opportunities to entertain the crowd, while coming up with ideas to draw more women to matches. Also enjoying stints as a Butlin’s redcoat and singing in clubs up and down the country, Ted never lost his love of music - not after settling down and working in a factory, and not after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2013. In fact, as Simon discovered during drives to calm his dad’s angry outbursts, singing has the power to bring back the old Ted. And so Simon posted a clip of his dad, the clip went viral and now, one single and full-length album later, Simon and Ted have raised over £150,000 for The Alzheimer’s Society. Peppered with moving and amusing family anecdotes from all stages of Ted’s life, and suffused in love and light through even the most harrowing moments, this heart-wrenchingly honest memoir is powerfully compelling, and should offer succour to others in similar situations.'
May 2018 Book of the Month Sixteen-year old Tamsin envies the life of the Davenports up in the Cliff House. Life is hard for her widowed mother supporting an unemployed brother and a dying grandfather. She craves the life of the rich family she spies on. Unknown to her they are highly dysfunctional. She develops a friendship with the daughter of a similar age and all is good. Of course it is not, and an unfortunate series of events blows their friendship apart. It does sound a bit light and fluffy but actually this is a gripping human drama which deals with real and tragic situations. There is no happy ending, no magic wand to make it all better, no perfect solution but what there is is a well-written page-turner. The flow of the story is well paced and very readable. The characters are damaged and needy but you can understand and sympathise with them. They are real people coping with grief and loss and failing. A very sad, yet thrilling read, highly recommended.
April 2018 Book of the Month A searingly honest memoir of the uplifting highs and crushing lows of a life spent policing on the front line. A Sunday Times top-five bestseller 'This is a remarkable book . . . profound and deeply moving . . . It has as much to tell us about mental illness as it does about policing' Alastair Stewart A candid, objective, cooly passionate, and often unsettling account of policing from a police officer. John Sutherland joined the Met in 1992 aged 22, we see snapshots of his life as an officer, as he progresses up the career ladder, as he deals with all the horrors and glory a life in blue has to offer. From the very first page my attention was sucked in whole, I come from a family of blue, married blue, and spent 20 years as a member of police support staff. Even then, I was on the edge of understanding, I didn't ever have to run towards danger, tell someone a loved one had died, sit with death, experience the bitter lows, the jubilant highs of being a police officer, yet John Sutherland takes you there. As we read we step in and out of a series of events that have all added up to create this man, it isn’t a glittery or gory descriptive feast, but it doesn't have to be, he simply and clearly gives you a connection, and an understanding that under that uniform is flesh and blood and feelings. One thing is abundantly clear, this man loves his job, he feels the continued effort is worth it, and yet it very nearly broke him. It is truly captivating, whether you nod, smile wryly, and wish he could have been your boss, or feel the shock and admiration as you learn what our police are exposed to day after day. ‘Blue A Memoir’ is a worthwhile and fascinating read, I really do recommend it with my heart and soul. John has written an epilogue to his story, which has been included in the paperback of ‘Blue A Memoir’. He speaks with his normal good sense, and he has the remarkable ability to put into words the thoughts and feelings so many officers struggle to properly articulate. He speaks from the heart, and his words made me cry. I wish him every success in his future, and whatever path he decides to explore, I’m quite sure to the many who know him, follow him on twitter, and read his blog, he will forever remain a true inspiration. Liz visited the Chiddingstone Castle Literary Fesitval where John Sutherland gave a talk. To read more about the festival, head over to her Blog Post.
Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2018 | In a nutshell: tense, super-suspenseful novel based on harrowing real life events After the Fire was inspired by the Waco siege in Texas 1993 when 82 members of the Branch Davidian sect and four US government agents died in a fire fight after a long siege. It’s not a fictionalised version, but Hill imagines life in the camp and as a survivor. Moonbeam, his central character, is beginning to doubt the teaching of Father John and to comprehend the methods he uses to control his followers. A survivor, she’s being coaxed to tell the story of the events that led up to that deadly confrontation with ‘The Authorities’. The tension rarely abates, and Hill makes readers empathise with Moonbeam’s confusion and fear. He also makes us desperate to discover the secrets she’s keeping, and long for her to achieve the freedom that’s always been denied. One of the most gripping and suspenseful books you’ll read all year.
Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2018 A feast of feel-good funniness and feminism that cleverly contrasts the impossible magic of movie romance with the heady complexities of real-life love. Talented actress Audrey (named after Hepburn) has just started working in an indie cinema where she begrudgingly serves gourmet hotdogs to the well-heeled inhabitants of Bridgely-upon-Thames alongside zombie-movie-maker and “player” Harry. When set a Critical Research project by her media studies teacher, Audrey decides to write about “why love is never like the movies”, and boy does she know about the devastating disappointments of real-life love, what with her mum seeking solace in alcohol as a result of her dad starting a new family with someone else, and her own experience with an ex who dumped her a week after she lost her virginity to him. No wonder, then, that Audrey’s left wondering what the point of love is, and the project excerpts that appear as chapter intros wittily expound her views. But this hard-held conviction is put to the test when Audrey agrees to play a “feminist freedom fighter zombie bride” in Harry’s new movie, and finds that she might just be falling for him. Tackling complex issues around relationships, sex, alcoholism and movie cliché madness with a nimble lightness of touch, this is contemporary YA at it’s finest: hilarious, heartfelt, and wholly recommended.
Shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2018 | April 2018 Book of the Month At once astonishingly detailed and succinctly incisive, this remarkably readable work lays bare the fascinating story of how China came to be the powerful country it presently is. “Nationalism matters in China, and what matters in China matters to us all,” and, the author argues, China’s “new nationalism” and present-day power can be traced back to the early twentieth century, and (perhaps surprisingly) to past weaknesses - to periods of invasion and partial subjugation when , for example, parts of major cities were governed by Britons, Japanese, Germans and Russians. With a keen and engaging interweaving of cultural history, the author explores the formation, development and trajectory of outside powers within China from the post-WWI era. Naturally, high-level politics is explored with scholarly sharpness, but this places people at its heart, relating lived experiences alongside policy shifts and grapples. Truly this is narrative history at its understand-the-past-to-understand-the-present best. ~ Joanne Owen
April 2018 Book of the Month Oh wow, this is a slicing, chilling, whammy of a read that has left me reeling. In 2015 an actress is abducted, the case has all the hallmarks of a murderer who was locked up in Broadmoor ten years previously, then a body appearing to link to the abduction and murders is found in Sweden. The second in the 'Roy and Castells' series continues with sharp, fast-paced drama. I really do recommend starting at the beginning with the fabulous ‘Block 46’, you need to get to know the characters, as to try to step into the middle of the storyline would be almost impossible. The translation is spot on, at no time did I stop to consider this originated in a different language. Set in two countries, and two storylines, with one story steadily advancing through the years, I found myself on full alert and at times racing to keep up. There are sections that are so horrifyingly descriptive they are almost impossible to read, yet the story is so gripping, it is impossible not to. Johana Gustawsson delivers morsel upon morsel of information, and stomach-churning shivers raced down my body. An inkling of what is happening zipped into my thoughts, however I couldn’t have even begun to imagine the final outcome. ‘Keeper’ isn’t an easy read, it isn’t meant to be, it is thought-provoking, challenging, and an absolute knock-out…I’m still in shock - highly recommended.
April 2018 Book of the Month In Solomon Creed we were introduced to a mysterious hero, a Jack Reacher/Superman cross with shades of Jason Bourne. This is his second adventure which, if you’ve not read the first you will certainly be compelled to do so after this. He is an unusual and involving hero who may or may not be linked to an ancient tomb some 4000 years old or the holocaust now 70 years ago. He has no memory but an inner drive to do things the reason for which he has no inkling. I love him. Here he knows he must save a boy and in doing so unearths a sinister plot with links to the German Reich and the end of the war. It opens with a gruesome murder of an old Jewish tailor and it is this man’s grandson Solomon must save. Along with the child’s mother they flee across France in search of three other Jews who survived with the old tailor. Wonderful chase scenes, near capture, many tense moments and lots of action before they do eventually find one of the other survivors. Now comes the twist as the plot is turned on its head and an extraordinary confession is revealed. Wonderful stuff. We learn lots more about Solomon. He has escaped a mental institution and is under the care of a Doctor Megellen who does seem awfully sinister! The plot thickens. Solomon has extraordinary mental abilities of memory and smell plus fighting skills and superfast reactions. There is indeed a great mystery surrounding the man which definitely draws you into wanting the next. Let’s hope it is not too long in coming. Hugely compelling and highly recommended. ~ Sarah Broadhurst
April 2018 Book of the Month | Longlisted for the UKLA 2018 Book Award | In a Nutshell: Alleged alien encounter inspired by true events | An utterly absorbing novel based on the real-life phenomenon of a group of Zimbabwean schoolchildren claiming to have experienced an extra-terrestrial encounter. With over fifty children asserting that they saw the same spaceship, and the same evil-eyed aliens, American psychiatrists have come to investigate. It could be a form of mass hysteria, but why are all the accounts and depictions so completely identical? How could so many kids tell the exact same lie for so long, and why would they lie? Alongside being gripped by the uniquely mysterious event at the heart of the novel, I was bowled over by the author’s mastery of multiple narratives. The intertwined lives of six young people affected by the encounter are explored in all their brutal complexities, and the novel’s real-life origins will surely draw in more reluctant readers. Magnetic, haunting, and richly rewarding.
What happens when all the personal information held by tech companies is no longer private? What happens when this code of ethics is broken? When everyone in your world - in the world – can know all your secrets? This thoroughly thought-provoking novel addresses such questions - and more - as it explores the all-encompassing impact of recent, emerging and conjectured future technology through a haunting and powerfully personal account of one woman’s life. It’s 1997 and, at the tender age of 17, Laura Bow has created a basic artificial intelligence, which she names Organon after a Kate Bush lyric. Organon begins life as Laura’s imaginary friend. This creation is her outlet, a vent, a means of dealing with the loss of her father who vanished when she was seven. As Laura grows older and gains more experiences and memories, for a time working at the tech company her father founded and sold shortly before he disappeared, so Organon grows with her. Much like a skilled human personal assistant, it informs and supports Laura through her life, managing what she needs to be aware of, filtering out the superfluous, and anticipating her needs. But, as new technologies are developed and companies create intelligences with far less morality programmed into them than Organon, millions of personal and political secrets are unleashed and the world is sent reeling to the brink of breakdown. Shifting forward in decades from 1997, the cleverly-spun narrative spans Laura’s entire life, from the early years of dial-up Internet, to a speculative future that serves as something of a wake-up call. Taking in artificial intelligence, human intelligence, love, loss, and meaningful memories, this novel might make you reflect on how much time you spend online, and what you do and disclose there. Above all, this is an absorbing story about humanity, making moral choices and living your best life with love and ethics.
April 2018 Book of the Month 'A gloriously uplifting story about love in all its forms from the Number One Sunday Times bestselling author of The Reading Group and Things I Want My Daughters to Know.' This author has certainly not lost her touch despite it being six years since her last book. This is warm, affectionate, engaging and insightful. Well written with well portrayed characters who interconnect with each other in a tale that grabs your interest from the first chapters and holds it to the satisfying final page. The story revolves around two women, young pregnant Tess who has just left her boyfriend and gone home to mum, and middle-aged Gigi who has just left her husband and needs to sort her life out. Her three kids have grown up and her marriage is stale. The person Tess loves most in her family is her grandmother Iris who is slipping away in a home. The same home houses Gigi’s father-in-law. Here then is a wonderful multi-generational cast. Mix them together, plus Gigi’s family, and you get a tale of real depth and emotion. The letters of the title are from Iris’ brother during and just after World War II plus some from her grandfather from the same period. They are poignant and affect Tess greatly. A wonderful read, highly recommended.
April 2018 Book of the Month A heart-wrenching and powerful YA story about friendship and finding yourself from award-winning, bestselling author, Gayle Forman The story is told over the course of one day with flash backs to the past to help us engage with the characters and understand what has brought them to this place and this moment in time. Through Harun we learn to understand love through his own loss and fears. The love he feels is alien and not acceptable within the society he lives in. He is ashamed, obsessed and utterly lost. Freya is a star in the making but is following a difficult path and is torn between the need for adoration and the ‘friends’ and sense of belonging she fears she will lose if she can no longer sing. Her lack of self-love is evident as she fears losing her voice will mean losing her place in the world and the acceptance she craves. Nathaniel is a tortured soul and his sadness pours from the pages as we slowly discover the tragedy that has driven him to New York. Each character is suffering their own pain and yet when they are brought together they find the strength to try a different path. But is friendship enough to heal the pain of the past? This is a tender, sad and yet uplifting tale that shows the power of friendship in times when we feel desperate and unable to find a solution. Three strangers come together and show that strength can be found with each and every one of us no matter what our individual troubles may be. That we too can find our way to a life we truly deserve when we are true to ourselves. Beautiful, tender and very important, Gayle Forman has yet again captured a coming of age take that will fill you with hope, love and courage.
March 2018 Book of the Month What a beautifully written, captivating, and soulful read this is. Detective Sergeant Joaquin Morales, newly transferred, begins to investigate the death of a women found in fishing nets out at sea. Catherine Day leaves Montreal for a remote fishing village, looking for answers about her birth mother. The Gaspe Peninsula sits centre stage in the story, remote, set apart, and yet intimately connected to the sea. I immediately fell headlong into the story, the seamless translation encourages the words to join together, creating a vividly stunning picture. Catherine tells her own tale, having such personal access allows a connection, yet she still feels hidden from view. Other peoples thoughts tumble freely over the pages, yet they belong, they anchor the story. I felt that the author Roxanne Bouchard has a profound connection to the sea, she loves it, respects it, yet the immense power simmers, occasionally rages in the background. I quite simply adored ‘We Were the Salt of the Sea’, refreshingly different, unpredictable, yet deeply rich and touching, it became a part of me.
A dramatic and oh so readable family tale, with enough tension playing through the pages to sink a battleship. Two years ago Ava vowed never to speak to her twin sister Zelda again, when an email arrives declaring Zelda dead, Ava can’t and won’t believe it, she returns home to the USA, to prove her scheming sister is in fact alive. It took a little while for me to warm to Ava, she shuns intimacy, yet is a fascinating soul. As I read and sank into the pages, I got to know the family, their flaws and quirks, what made them tick. Caite Dolan-Leach flays bare feelings and emotions, yet she writes with a beautifully compassionate hand. With emails and letters laying a trail for Ava to discover, my mind continuously raced away, puzzling over the clues. With suspense nipping at the heels of the storyline ‘Dead Letters’ is clever, twisty and entirely captivating read.
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