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Hot off the press! Check out the books we think are the best of the best this month!
A beautifully powerful read that sits in darkness, not an all-consuming menacing murk, but one with pinpricks of light that can be found and felt if you open yourself to the discovery. Stella McKeever is working on her final radio show, she is encouraging listeners to divulge their secrets and waiting another call from a man who claims he knows who murdered the pregnant woman in the city three weeks previously, but should some secrets stay secret? There are times when I think it might be slightly distracting to label a book with one specific genre and for me this is one of them. I know Call Me Star Girl is a psychological thriller, it certainly does thrill, it also made me feel a whole host of other emotions too. Louise Beech excels in writing about people, at their very best, very worst, and everything in between, so I’d rather not pop this book into a pigeon hole but let it fly. Each chapter is headed by a name, and either ‘then’, ‘now’ or ‘with’. I quickly settled into the story while getting to know the characters, they became entirely real to me as I explored the how and why of who they were. While suspicion cut through my thoughts, unexpected slices of deep, aching surprise were served, and there is one particular moment that will stay with me for a very long time. Call Me Star Girl explored my feelings, touched my heart, and is one of my picks of the month, it is a truly glorious read.
Bold, beautiful, provocative… and I mean provocative in the very best possible way. One compromising photo is all it takes for the lives of two families to be forever altered by the decisions made and actions taken. Each chapter is headed by a character and they tell their own story, the voices are distinctive and undeniably theirs, you could actually start to read without seeing the chapter heading and know within a few sentences who was talking to you. This story just feels so incredibly real, from the social media reaction to the human emotions on display, each moment could be happening to someone right now, at this very second. Emily Giffin writes with consideration and considerable empathy, yet she doesn’t shy away from the darker side of society. I felt I was being allowed to find my own way, to reach my own conclusions, and loved how my thoughts skittered in my mind. This is so incredibly readable, in the US it was a New York Times bestseller and deserves to be a bestseller in the UK too. All We Ever Wanted leapt into my head and then danced into my heart, I really, truly loved it.
I’ll let you into a secret, I have a bit of a reading crush on Natasha Solomons as she writes such beautifully observed and engaging books. Each time I am transported, and her previous title ‘The Song Collector’ was one of my books of the year in 2015. I’m more than happy to announce that ‘House of Gold’ is another triumph. Set between 1911 and 1917 this is a story that reads on an epic scale. Europe sits at the forefront as World War One marches forwards, and for one particular family the Goldbaum’s, their whole existence is fractured and forever altered. In such a huge arena we meet Greta who is sent from Austria to England to marry a distant cousin, her thoughts and feelings create a touchable, emotionally rich and moving story. I felt her pain, the ache of loneliness, and her relationship with her husband and brother are exquisitely realised. I just sat and read from start to finish in one wonderful afternoon. ’House of Gold’ is an absolute treasure, it made me feel, it made me think, it made me realise the knife edge on which humanity sits is razor-sharp indeed.
It’s no secret that I am a fan of Dinah Jefferies and this is as beautifully and vividly readable as one would expect. Slip back into history and join Belle Hatton who travels to Burma in 1936 to become a nightclub singer, accompanying her is a newspaper clipping suggesting her parents left Ragoon 25 years previously in mysterious circumstances. Two time frames sit side by side, in 1921 we meet Belle’s mother, lost and traumatised, while in 1936 Belle finds her life increasingly in danger. I adore the descriptive detailing, you can almost close your eyes and take in a deep breath of a bygone era. The colour of the place and people just pops with intensity. Belle begins a relationship with a man, yet it doesn’t take centre stage, it is important but certainly not the be all and end all of this particular story. There is one unforgettable moment, using an event from history that is shockingly dramatic and provocative, I saw with Belle’s eyes, felt the pain and fear. I feel as though I could pick up a Dinah Jefferies book without knowing the author and would instinctively know it was hers, each book is completely individual yet the style of the author remains. The Missing Sister is richly and expressively eye-catching, it swept me up into the pages, releasing me only at the very satisfying ending.
Does a Harlan Coben novel really need an introduction… if you’ve not read this wordsmith’s work before then yes, of course it does! I have to say that I am never disappointed, his are thrilling novels that you can completely disappear into as they spear emotions and provoke thoughts. In Run Away a father searches for his daughter, she ran, and he has been searching ever since, when he finds her, he and the rest of his much-loved family find themselves in terrible danger. The first chapter snared my imagination, you know when you fall so deeply into a book that nothing else exists, well that was me. Each character dove into my awareness, so clearly defined, I could hear them and feel for them, even if I feared them. I didn’t want to stop reading and so waved hello to the very early hours (tip: start in good time if you don’t want to pull an all-nighter!). Run Away is a pure, addictive reading feast for the eyes and mind, if you haven’t yet tried A Harlan Coben, now is the perfect time.
It’s 1950 and ten-year-old Michael is heading to Cape Cod for the summer. His train journey from Grand Central sets the tone, with the spectre of WWII looming large in a very real way as his memory streams images from train journeys he took in Germany, when it was essential to “keep your eyes shut and pretend you haven’t yet woken or that you’re already dead.” On arrival Michael stays with Richie and they strike up a bond with eccentric neighbour Edward Hooper, who’s depressed by his impotence as an artist, and his intellectually sharp wife Jo, who’s given to passionate, impetuous outbreaks. Personal loss, regrets, loneliness and hazy hopes are played out against a background of sweeping change (post-war transition; the beginning of the era of American consumerism) and the powerfully painted Cape Cod setting. In an era of quick digests and speedy swiping, this novel of depth and honesty stands as a testament to the potent value of taking one’s time.
At once lyrical and sparse, intimate and expansive, delicate and sharp, this collection is the final work of a late, great writer who understood and articulated the subtle complexities of the human heart in each of her novels, poems and stories. The themes here will be familiar to Dunmore aficionados – friendship, family, folk at life’s liminal junctures. Take Nina, whose tales portray a young woman teetering into a new phase of life. She’s a naïve and lonely seventeen-year-old living in a drab bedsit, unsure of what to do, but making do and on the brink - one hopes - of finding her place in the world. Indeed, many of these stories explore life’s big transitions, and how individuals live with such precariousness, as in “A Night Out”, a life-affirming tale of two widows’ unforeseen unity beneath the stars. There’s much tenderness too, characters who awaken affection, a personal favourite being glorious Auntie Binnie, an unassuming companion to an old lady who blooms as an artist later in life (“Portrait of Auntie Binbag, with Ribbons”). While Dunmore’s devotees will adore this treasure, I’d also recommend it wholeheartedly as an introduction to her exquisite writing.
What an addictive and powerful book this is, I gobbled it up in one heady sitting and then sat and had a good ponder as certain aspects of this read knocked at the door to my consciousness. Two people have spent the last twenty-two years trying to forget, but someone is determined, no matter what, that they will remember. The first few pages really set the scene in a simple yet clever way, then I was hit by a wallop of an opening. Each chapter is headed by a character and a date, two main time frames are explored, time is sliced, spliced, offering a doorway to answers. As I read my mind explored possibilities, evaluated decisions, examined each character, their thoughts, their feelings. C. J. Cook balances the plot beautifully, keeping it taut, yet encouraging exploration in the moment. ‘The Blame Game’ (which is an absolutely perfect title) is a dramatic, enthralling and ultimately very satisfying read.
A feverishly seductive story, it whispers, cajoles, beckons from history until the past forcefully assaults the present. When Ruth’s estranged father dies she returns to Edinburgh and discovers the hidden diary of her ancestor Thomas Erskine. Fascinated by his story Ruth finds herself in extraordinary danger when she starts to delve into the past. The prologue offers a warning, while the first chapter thoroughly sets the scene in 1760 as 10 year old Thomas witnesses a murder and sees the shadow of the dead man as it leaves the body. Barbara Erskine has based the story on her own family history, she paints a picture with a beautiful delicate balance and inner strength as the drama starts to unfold. Ruth’s story stands resolute in this time, and with a delicious shiver of fear I let the story take me where it willed. I always knew where I was, even as the past pushed ever closer. Spellbinding and gorgeously readable, as all becomes clear The Ghost Tree really is the most perfect title - highly recommended. Take a look at our Ambassador Book Buzz for The Ghost Tree.
Take a fascinating and oh so readable journey into the darker side of life, where you need to be able to see in the dark to have an understanding of it. This is the second in the ‘Chastity Riley series’, the first book Blue Night was one of my favourites from last year, so I was waiting for this with huge anticipation, and I can confirm that Beton Rouge is another wonderfully compelling read. State Prosecutor Chastity Riley is teamed with a new partner after a manager of a German magazine is found unconscious in a cage suffering torture wounds. The chapter headings are little lightening bolts of fabulous. Simone Buchholz, with Rachel Ward as translator, creates in less than 200 pages the most taut, incredible intensity. I adore her writing as it takes you into the misty half world between lyrical beauty and raw, grim necessity. Beton Rouge is a killer read, original, unusual and yet I felt that a part of it, in fact a part of Chastity, lodged itself deeply within my soul, it’s quite simply fabulous.
A sharp, dramatic and thrilling tale, prepare the edge of your seat as you might be spending some time there! Maggie wakes to living nightmare, her daughter died in the accident that placed Maggie in a coma, her husband has disappeared, and Maggie remembers nothing about the incident. The prologue in Crown Court, immediately sets the scene and encourages intrigue to run amok. The first few chapters, so short, yet so full of tension ensured my brain tasted and tested every word as I read. Nuala Ellwood intricately sews little pieces of information into the pages, just waiting for you to discover them. Letters appear every few chapters, heart-aching moments in time. I existed in two spaces, part of me just reading and thoroughly enjoying the story, the other exploring and examining thoughts and feelings in detail. Day of the Accident slams with impact, gave my brain a huge workout and is a thoroughly captivating read.
An engrossing thriller replete with family drama, psychological intrigue, cunningly-plotted deeds, authentically complex characters and a tree-lodged skeleton at its root. With a good job, adoring girlfriend, loyal mates and wealthy family, Toby is a privileged sort whose life implodes when he’s badly beaten by thieves who break into his Dublin apartment. Left with some speech and mobility impairment and memory loss, Toby decides to move into the rambling family home to be with his terminally ill genealogist uncle. Soon after, while Toby struggles with the trauma and effects of the beating, a skeleton is found inside an ancient wych elm in the garden, and it’s not long before detectives find a connection with Toby. The gritty, authentic portrayal of family dynamics centres around a set of bickering cousins, whose bitter teenage experiences rear their heads as a truly multi-layered mystery unfolds. Toby being a quintessential unreliable narrator adds further tension to the tale, with unexpected twists coming to the very end. This character-driven crime thriller sure packs a powerful paranoia-fuelled punch.
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