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There’s something about a debut. The team at LoveReading adore discovering a new favourite author. Can you imagine the blood, sweat, tears and love that has gone into the process of becoming an author? Here you can be in at the start and then recommend your favourites far and wide.
A blazing storm of a novel, big, bold, different, and so readable the words left the page and entered my entire being. The Ninth House was formed at Yale in 1898 to monitor the top eight secret societies using magic (of the deep and dark kind). When a murder darkens the door to Yale, newcomer to Ninth House Alex Stern investigates. This may be Leigh Bardugo’s debut adult novel, however she is already an award-winning young adult novelist (this is not intended for young teens). The plot sparks provocatively, the characters shine rather ferociously, and the fantasy elements just feel as real as real can be. As I read, the thought of this being a fantasy novel didn’t even cross my mind, I entered, I witnessed, I felt, I believed. The first few chapters slowly reeled me in, gradually releasing information until I was a part of my surroundings. Leigh Bardugo visits the past and steps forward into the present, hinting, suggesting, letting the reader form their opinion, come to their own conclusion. The fabulous ending left me hungering for more, there just has to be a sequel to Ninth House, which has the hallmark of must-read stamped all over it! Chosen as one of my picks of the month and also a LoveReading Star Book, I absolutely loved it!
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.
Set within the viciously violent reign of Jack the Ripper this is a historical crime novel with real attitude. When Susannah reads newspaper reports detailing a number of ferocious murders, she fears her new husband may be involved as he has been disappearing at night and returning bloodied and secretive. Goodness what a premise this is! While blood-soaked and brutally descriptive, it feels convincing and authentic rather than glorified and salacious. Clare Whitfield doesn’t hold back, but I felt she looked beyond the obvious violence with thoughtful consideration. Not only does she explore the Jack the Ripper case with this novel, she also highlights violence against women, abject poverty, and prejudice. Through the novel we are shown a glimpse of other lives, a connection begins to form before deliberately slicing away again to the main story. This is one of those books where there is no perfect shining light of a character to attach yourself to, life is a struggle, at times a battle, just to survive. Compelling, thought-provoking, and powerful, People of Abandoned Character has been chosen as a LoveReading Debut of the Month.
A gobble-it-up fiery and intense yet thoughtful debut novel about family, betrayal, and witchcraft. Opening the pathway to a fabulous historical fantasy series this calls out as a must-read for young adults. Set during the civil war in 17th century England, 15 year old Evey has to flee with her little sister Dill when her mother is murdered. As with all good young adult novels, it is perfectly easy to slide into and really enjoy as an adult too, particularly with the wonderful cover drawing you in. Touching history, it flies into fantasy, as author Finbar Hawkins examines the meaning of witch. Evey is a complex character and as she tells her own story she has the ability of self-reflection, even if she doesn’t always like what she sees. Witch is a read that fair on crackles with energy, it also encourages thoughts to both consider and soar and deservedly sits as one of our LoveReading debuts of the month.
Well! This is an absolute corker of a debut, different and intelligent, it wormed its way into my thoughts and then proceeded to hunt them down. Narrator Jane tells of her friendship with Marnie, and the seven lies that change that friendship forever. This is Jane’s chance to be honest, and if she had told the truth to start with, Marnie’s husband might still be alive. The introduction to each lie hits with hammer hard precision, there are truths waiting ready to trip you up. Elizabeth Kay has the ability to blur lines, and I found myself stopping, questioning, considering my thoughts. She quite simply made me look at things in a different way. I write notes as I read, and these were peppered with ‘Crikey!’, ‘Blimey!’, and an awful lot of exclamation marks! Provocative, thoughtful, and so very clever, Seven Lies deserves to be a huge hit. A debut of the month and a LoveReading Star Book, Seven Lies comes with a tremendous thumbs up from me.
Set within the viciously violent reign of Jack the Ripper this is a historical crime novel with real attitude. When Susannah reads newspaper reports detailing a number of ferocious murders, she fears her new husband may be involved as he has been disappearing at night and returning bloodied and secretive. Goodness what a premise this is! While blood-soaked and brutally descriptive, it feels convincing and authentic rather than glorified and salacious. Clare Whitfield doesn’t hold back, but I felt she looked beyond the obvious violence with thoughtful consideration. Not only does she explore the Jack the Ripper case with this novel, she also highlights violence against women, abject poverty, and prejudice. Through the novel we are shown a glimpse of other lives, a connection begins to form before deliberately slicing away again to the main story. This is one of those books where there is no perfect shining light of a character to attach yourself to, life is a struggle, at times a battle, just to survive. Compelling, thought-provoking, and powerful.
Our October 2020 Book Club Recommendation. Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. An absolutely charming and thoroughly entertaining mystery debut starring four septuagenarians. A real-life murder tickles the detective fancy of certain members from a well-to-do retirement village. Led by Elizabeth they sneakily make themselves indispensable to the investigating officers. I’m already working out who I would cast as Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron if this was made into a TV series. Each character in this amusing (yes it is charming and amusing even with a murder to solve) story is perfectly placed. There is a sense of ease, an inviting warmth, and a hint of old-fashioned, yet this story is actually bang up-to-date. A sharp edge to observations slices through any thoughts of cosy, while there is a gentle poking of fun at middle England. Richard Osman has created a wonderfully readable story that is the perfect introduction to a new series. I can't wait to see what comes next! The Thursday Murder Club has waltzed its way into my heart and the LoveReading Star Books list - highly recommended.
Written by counsellor, psychotherapist and clinical tutor Gill Frost, The Girls Within relates the moving case study of Vivian, a woman struggling with the impact of extreme childhood trauma. The tough subject is handled with extraordinary compassion, and written in a compellingly clear, warm style that will engage laypeople and psychotherapy professionals alike. While Vivian’s childhood experiences and resulting adulthood disorders are affectingly harrowing, the restorative twelve-year relationship between patient and therapist brings waves of joy. After a horrific childhood, Vivian went on to a nursing career with no signs of trauma until she and her husband began couple therapy. It was then Vivian first spoke of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse she suffered as a child, and began to experience flashbacks, seizures and dissociative identity disorder (DID). As the author explains, “Dissociating is something we all do at times when we are feeling uncomfortable or in pain, either physically or emotionally… in order to relieve the discomfort we would otherwise experience”, but in extreme cases like Vivian’s, “dissociation can evolve into dissociative identity disorder (DID).” This tells the story of two girls living within Vivian: six-year-old Little Vivvi (whose drawings are featured in the book) and teenage Izzy, and of the innovative therapies that spoke to Vivian during therapy, most notably Advanced Integrative Therapy, a form of “energy psychology” that holistically links body and mind, and draws on traditional knowledge like chakras. The twelve-year connection between patient and therapist recounted here is a complex, looping, juddering rollercoaster ride; a journey readers will feel deeply invested in, and much compassion for.
From childhood in Germany and England to young womanhood in Ghana, this enthralling novel follows a steadfastly thoughtful Ghanaian forging her own identity in the face of fractured family ties, tragedy and colonial imperialism. Though of illustrious heritage, Maya’s childhood as an émigré is complex, uncomfortable and evoked with lyrical precision. Her beautiful mother is self-absorbed, always scented with “powdery luxury” and critical of Maya. ”It’s a pity my child did not take my beauty”, she tells her reflection before counselling Maya to “always look more than perfect. Not just good enough, but perfect”. And Maya receives conflicting messages from her father too. “Boys will not like you if you are too clever”, he tells her, while also criticising an eight out of ten mark: “Why not ten out of ten? You must always do your best.” The arrival of cousin Kojo changes everything. His impassioned talk of Ghana fuels Maya’s understanding of her mother country, her parents, and her own identity. She observes that Kojo’s knowledge “gave him the power to upset the order of things,” leading her to wonder, “Could I learn these secrets and codes, even though I did not grow up in our country?” When she and Kojo are sent to schools in England, Maya experiences the racism of peers who “touched my hair and stroked my skin and passed me round on their laps like a doll”, and Kojo is bullied. No wonder then that he decides that, “this is nothing but a small shitty island that doesn’t work properly. It’s a cold wet Third World country, but they made us think they were all powerful.” Later back in Germany, Maya is maddened by the cultural imperialism of her education: “I could not think of much that was more frightening than fitting into this pinched-in sterile world.” Maya’s story is at once arresting and nuanced, and suffused in an elegant sense of triumph when she returns to Ghana, where Kojo has been struggling to set-up a museum, and in time finds her voice and purpose through navigating a tangle of personal misfortune and cultural complexities.
Our November 2020 Book Club Recommendation Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. A powerful, provocative, and darkly stunning debut. This is a book that tore my heart into pieces while simultaneously showing me the wonder of love and imagination. Romilly’s childhood is one of fame and isolation when her father includes her as the main character in his books for children. While the world believes the books lead you on a treasure hunt, a more private and heartbreaking journey awaits Romilly. This isn’t an easy read, but it is a beautiful one. Polly Crosby somehow balances some really difficult issues with a sense of wonder, she really does have the most eloquent pen. The prologue has huge impact, sweet, sharp, and bitter notes struck my awareness, and I reread the words before allowing them full access into my thoughts. I initially felt as though I was stepping into a half remembered mysterious photograph. As bites of reality began to appear, they caused a mental and physical ache for all that was lost and uneasy. As the ending settled, and I sat back and contemplated, and felt that it was the most pure and perfect conclusion. Romilly is so special, she has taken up residence inside my thoughts, and she is more than welcome to spend time there. The Illustrated Child is a vibrantly unique and thought-provoking read, it has been included as one of our LoveReading Star Books, and will sit as one of my favourite novels of the year.
Beginning with the author’s great, great grandmother Tory, who lived in Somerset “over 100 years before Edna brought me into the world,” Hold On Edna! recounts the remarkable story of Aneira “Nye” Thomas, the first baby to be delivered by the NHS. From learning that the “birth of the NHS received scant coverage” and was initially distrusted, to the author’s rousing reading of Michael Rosen’s “These are the Hands” poem at the NHS 70th anniversary event, this moving memoir is an absorbing mix of punch-packing family drama, and a powerful personal testament to Britain’s crowning achievement. Throughout, the author casts an edifying light on working class social history through her family story. For Tory and thousands like her, death was very much part of daily life. If you’re in a workhouse, struggling to feed your children, paying a “quack” to heal you in sickness was out of the question. It was Tory’s death that brought her widow and six children to South Wales to seek work in the pits. While further hardship followed, it was fortuitous that the author’s mother, Edna, left Wales to find work at the same time as her future father. Employed at the same London hospital, they fell in love but money troubles, mouths to feed and the outbreak of WWII brought them back to Wales. Through these same hard years, the couple’s compatriot Aneurin “Nye” Bevan had been devising a transformative plan for public health, leading to a Parliament bill “that would offer a state-wide health service" that was “to be free at the point of need; available to everyone, regardless of wealth or social standing.” And since “the man responsible for all this grew up not too far away,” Edna’s seventh child was movingly chosen to be the first child delivered by the NHS. Ready to give birth before the allotted time, Edna “held on… and then she pushed. I came barrelling into the world at a minute past midnight, the first baby to be born on the NHS”. A triumphant moment for a family who knew the toughest of times, and a triumph of transformative socialist policy.
Truly fascinating, this is one of the most surprising books I’ve read in a while. Seriously, I could rave on and on about it! Journey to what feels like an entirely different planet and explore the wonder of fungi. “Fungi provide a key to understanding the planet on which we live...Yet they live their lives largely hidden from view , and over 90% if their species remain undocumented.” Author Merlin Sheldrake caught and held my attention from the outset. I had to stop reading every so often just to contemplate the world that was opening up in front of me. I still feel gobsmacked days after reading it. Fungi has shaped our history and “the ability of fungi to digest plastic, explosives, pesticides and crude oil is being harnessed in breakthrough technologies, and the discovery that they connect plants in underground networks, the ‘wood wide web’, is transforming the way we understand ecosystems.” Entangled Life made me reconsider established thoughts and opened my eyes to new ones. I want to recommend it to everyone, for me it’s a genuine must-read and just had to be included on my list of Liz Picks of the Month and as a LoveReading Star Book.
Burning with an intense, provocative fire, this is a debut that doesn’t flinch from the troubled world it creates. 25 years ago, a 16 year old school girl and her teacher disappeared, now a journalist investigates the mystery at the heart of the boarding school. The prologue intrigues, answering a question while bursting open many more. I felt a seductive unsettling call and settled in. Three women sit centre stage in this story, the missing Louisa, her friend Victoria, and the journalist. I gained access to the school and sank into the heady highs and lows of teenage years. A veil of mystery covers Temple House, the school sits in both time periods, a chilling constant between the two. It is as much about the unsaid, the unseen, as it is what is revealed, and Rachel Donohue handles the balance with surety. The ending really spoke to me, it opened my thoughts and encouraged them to travel. I have no doubt that The Temple House Vanishing will stay with me for some time to come, it is an assured and compelling debut.
A thoughtful, stirring, and compassionate historical novel set during World War Two. Simone, the daughter of a Belgian First World War hero is best friends with Hava from a devout Jewish family, together they flee the advancing Nazi army in 1940. Inspired by the experiences of the author’s family members in Belgium, this is essentially a tale of what should be an uncomplicated friendship sitting within one of the most complex and horrifying times in world history. Author Christopher de Vinck introduced the reasons behind this book before Simone’s prologue slammed into my contemplations. Each chapter epigraph includes excerpts and memories that really do spread chills. It is interesting to note that those unattributed are from the author’s grandfather who was awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery and was in the Belgian Resistance before being captured. Christopher de Vinck brings the girls to vibrant life by noting the small things that make each of us unique. He doesn’t sit in judgement, he releases the horror and emotion of the full story, with lost innocence spearing awareness and encouraging my own thoughts to form. Ashes (what a penetrating title that is), is a provocative read and yet also full of love.
An absolute gift of a book, contained within is enough emotion to make your heart truly ache, possibly even break, yet also soar with love for nine year old Frankie. Frankie Appleton likes to design gates, gates to keep the bad things out, but bad things have already edged their way in. I have fallen in love with The Weight of Small Things. Julie Lancaster writes with a beautifully gentle yet devastating eloquence. Small, sharp slices of information lie in wait, delivered with such innocence, they are all the more powerful. Two time frames exist side by side, one sitting in the late 1980’s, while the other creeps forward from the past. Do keep an eye on the year that heads each chapter to avoid confusion. As I began to confirm the link between the two stories, my apprehension grew and my thoughts hesitated and reformed. Julie Lancaster deals with challenging subjects with sensitivity and care, yet this book holds such compelling power. While Frankie sits as the focus, two other women create the foundations to this story. At times this debut stings and it can be an uncomfortable read. Drips become rivulets and rush into torrents, yet all the time there is an irresistible charm contained within. Frankie has taken up residence in a corner of my heart, and she is most welcome there. She also climbs into our LoveReading Star Books. A Debut of the Month, The Weight of Small Things is a shattering read and yet it holds a piercing note of hope.
Our July 2020 Book Club Recommendation. Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. A completely divine and ultimately uplifting debut, I cried, I smiled, I laughed, I loved it. With the best intentions Andrew has told a fib which has grown to surround and become a part of him, his life is then thrown up in the air when he meets Peggy. Ahh, Andrew, I admit to completely falling for this shy, kind, thoughtful man. The first few pages had me smiling, humour finely balancing and holding hands with poignancy. Richard Roper has developed the most fabulous characters and one heck of an emotional setting, which he handles with beautiful sensitivity. As the story developed, I hoped, oh how I hoped for a happy ending but I really couldn’t tell what the final outcome was going to be. With heartache tempered by gentle good humour Something To Live For casts the warmest of glows. I have no doubt that it will be topping my favourite reads of the year. We adore this quirky must-read and have chosen it to sit as a Debut of the Month, Liz Pick, and LoveReading Star Book! Explore our '80+ Books That Deliver a Hug' listicle for more feel-good or uplifting books.
Set in the early 1900s as the Virgin Islands shift from Danish to American rule, this is a sublime and thought-provoking novel. An epic family saga suffused in the islands’ complex history, and the strange magic of two sisters – Anette, who can see the future, and Eeona who possesses an extraordinary siren-like beauty. “Men will love me. It is the magic I have,” she remarks. Orphaned by the sinking of a ship, this captivating novel follows the sisters through sixty years. As they experience births, deaths, losses, loves, conflicts (and curses), sweeping change swells through their St Thomas homeland, shifting the sands around race and the land ownership. While their half-brother Jacob experiences institutionalised racism in the US Army, and witnesses segregation and the start of the Civil Rights Movement, back on the island Americans are busy buying up land and privatising beaches, giving rise to clashes between locals and incomers. It’s hard to believe this is Yanique’s debut. The writing is spellbinding, assured and invokes a desire to return to its world, and its themes are vitally important, not least the very relevant issue of outsiders making prime - and formally public - land inaccessible to locals. Read our 'Book-aneers of the Caribbean' listicle to find more unforgettable books by Caribbean writers. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Fiercely gripping - and increasingly chilling as the horrifying truth uncoils - Rebecca Kelly’s debut thriller Monstrous Souls is an addictive hit for crime fiction fans. In 2001 Heidi was viciously attacked and left with no memory of what happened to her missing sister, Anna, and murdered best friend, Nina. Skip forward to 2016 (the plot flips between these two timeframes throughout), and when Heidi starts to recall fragments of what happened, she contacts Denise, a detective who worked on the case. To Denise, back in 2001, “this case, more than any other, has challenged her general goodwill towards her fellow man. And even though the perpetrator has remained anonymous, she has, over the months, grown to hate him with a passion.” There’s a creeping, bristling tension as Denise picks up the case and Heidi reconnects with Nina’s family. More memories emerge, along with signs of police cover-ups and corruption, and an increasing sense of danger. Heidi’s sense of survivor’s guilt is profoundly affecting, as is the portrayal of abusive male coercion. Interestingly the author has given a similar tone of voice to the different narrative strands, which means there’s a strong sense of her all-seeing perspective despite the novel’s separate first-person accounts. All in all, an accomplished crime thriller debut that’s as thought-provoking as it is page-turning.
Oh my word, this hits hard, and with so much power it almost took my breath away. Set in the future it focuses on an antibiotic crisis, no one over the age of 70 is allowed treatment and they are sent to hospitals called ‘The Waiting Rooms’. Although written before the current Covid 19 crisis, there is so much here you can connect to as a reader it feels as though this book was meant for these specific times. The first chapter is provocative, it shocked me and yet introduces the main character and book perfectly. As Kate searches for her birth mother, different time frames and countries sent my thoughts and feelings spinning. This is one of those books that doesn’t sit comfortably in one genre as it crosses from dystopian right through to family drama. It is perhaps best described as a speculative thriller, and boy did it make me reflect. I have been left thirsting for more information, for more knowledge and Eve Smith’s final words when she talks about the inspiration behind the novel are chilling indeed. The Waiting Rooms is a gutsy, thoughtful, fascinating read, and we have chosen it to feature as a LoveReading Debut of the Month.