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Looking to try something new? Check out our Debuts of the Month selection. You never know, one might become your favourite new author and a special discovery!
The book world has been excited about this debut for some time, and for good reason as it is such an intensely powerful and emotional read. Lex Gracie is Girl A, the girl who escaped the House of Horrors, as an adult she now has to confront the past all over again. This is a book that deserves your time, don’t rush, even though it is so good it calls for you to race through. Lex narrates, her clear concise words transferred to my thoughts with piercing clarity. Abigail Dean writes with a devastatingly eloquent pen, she examines the cause and effect of power, abuse, and trauma. When a book alters the patterns of your thoughts, if only for a short time, it deserves to be read, to be felt, even if those feelings are harrowing at times. When I reached the end, I slowed, stopped, and after a few moments returned to the last few chapters to read and again allow the words to enter and become fully absorbed in my heart. I’m not sure if everyone will follow the same fork in the path that I took as I read, and that is what makes this book so special, the reader will make their own decision as to where they step with Lex. A LoveReading Star Book, Girl A is challenging, thought-provoking and above all a beautifully compelling read.
Oh… my… word, this is one fabulous debut! I found a deceptively simple, and stark dystopian foray into a world blighted by bombs and sickness. Monster is completely alone until one day she finds a child. She becomes mother and passes on her knowledge, but are her mothering skills being received in the way she is expecting them to be? Told in the first person, Katie Hale has created short chapters where thoughts scatter, bounce, zigzag. I filed away feelings and emotions as I read, each within touching distance, lying in wait to prod and provoke. This feels honest, as though looking at a future just within grasp, or back to a history that has already happened. The feelings are raw, sometimes painful, yet relatable and believable. I found the premise of this novel absolutely fascinating, I explored interpretation of meaning, motherhood, and thoughts on the basic cycle of life. ‘My Name is Monster’ is poignant, moving and wonderfully different, it is also incredibly intimate, readable and surprisingly beautiful, I adored it. Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.
Our January 2021 Book Club Recommendation Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. A complete joy of a debut, bright, observational and incredibly intimate, this book has lodged itself in my heart. Take twelve independent yet linked stories over twelve months about people who are connected to a London park community. The focus changes with each month, allowing individual stories to shine, yet they add up to a vibrantly wonderful whole. Gemma Reeves is beautifully eloquent, she has the ability with a few words, to give you admittance to someone’s soul. While she creates penetrating access to each person, there isn’t always a conclusion, instead life carries on, suggesting potential pathways. I fell in love with this powerfully blended infusion of life. The variety of characters, in age, personality, and beliefs crackle with energy. A new character might wander in for a few moments and then star in the next tale. Some connections may be obvious and linger, others lightly touch before moving on. The stories themselves tug at heartstrings and encourage thoughts to roam, the ending is simply divine and brought tears to my eyes. Thought-provoking and emotionally intelligent, Victoria Park slips with glorious ease onto our LoveReading Star Books list and is a Liz Pick of the Month, it really is very special indeed.
Quirky yet insightful, bright yet wistful, amusing yet emotional… this is one heck of a thought-provoking and stimulating debut. When Rachel is told ‘everything happens for a reason’ after her son Luke is stillborn, she begins to search for proof, certain she is to blame. This is one of those books that doesn’t fit neatly into a genre, instead it straddles several, and actually stands quite rightly on its own two feet. Author Katie Allen is a journalist, and this story is deeply personal and painful to her, she said on twitter that after her baby died one person texted back: “everything happens for a reason”, and she had grappled with that ever since. Grief is a lonely and isolating place to be, yet this novel, while eye-opening, is also inclusive and encouraging. Letting her feelings out in a series of emails, Rachel is incredibly engaging, she took my hand and welcomed me into the pages. I quite honestly had no idea where this book was going to to take me, I didn’t try to guess and remained firmly in the the presence of the words as they entered my thoughts. Highly recommended and a LoveReading Star Book, Everything Happens for a Reason is full of contradictions that fuse into the most surprising, moving, and beautiful novel.
An exquisitely unsettling and fabulous blast of speculative fiction awaits in this provocative, hard-hitting debut novel. An unknown virus that only kills men hits Glasgow in 2025, as it spreads, confusion, lies, and heartbreak follows. As Christina Sweeney-Baird explains in her author’s note, she wrote The End of Men before Covid 19 affected the world. While the current pandemic remained tucked away in my thoughts as I read, this is very much a work of fiction and the focus lies with a female lead society coping with life during and after a pandemic. This is told on a world scale over five years and is set as a gathering of memories, as though this event has already come to pass and you are reading a piercing slice of history. This novel contains a huge number of characters, and I felt as though I was observing them at a distance. Having said that, some characters return throughout the book, and I formed more of a bond, felt more of a connection with them. Short chapters, headed by the day after the outbreak and name of the character ensured my focus remained sharp and on point. There are bubbles of humour to be found along the way, as well as the more obvious emotions. Yes this is so very close to what is happening right now, but it is different enough to make this novel more readable as a result. Joining our LoveReading Star Book collection, The End of Men is a powerful, thought-provoking read that is both epic in scale and intimate in memories
This smart psychological thriller slowly and intricately builds layers of tension into a wealthy, modern family setting. Alone at antenatal class after being let down by her family, Helen finds herself talking to Rachel. Rachel, unsettling, overly enthusiastic and inquisitive, begins to push her way into Helen’s life learning every little family secret. This is Katherine Faulkner’s debut, she is an award-winning journalist and Joint Head of News at The Times. The first few pages opened up ‘afterwards’, setting the tone of the story and ensuring that knowledge stayed with me throughout. Returning to ‘before’, I discovered a labyrinthine of snippets and tidbits of information as I read. They caught at the edge of my awareness, digging, pointing, creating suspense. I hovered on the edge of relationships, viewing rather than immersing myself in particular personalities. This lead to me wondering and questioning, investing in the storyline. On occasion I was confident that I knew what was happening, but I changed my mind several times! Even if you find that you are right, there are still surprises along the way. This book really does serve as a reminder that from the outside everything can appear perfect, but of course the inside can be an entirely different place. Encouraging you to stay alert and pay attention to the smallest of details, Greenwich Park is an intelligent and stimulating slow-burner of a read.
Carole Johnstone's Mirrorland is a creepingly compelling psychological thriller of the highest order - a dark, suspenseful debut with haunting atmosphere and pitch-perfect pacing as thirty-something Cat returns to her childhood home after a twelve-year absence when her twin sister El is reported missing at sea. As children, the sisters spent most of their time in Mirrorland, an imaginary world located beneath the pantry stairs. The girls also grew up with their mother telling them they were special identical twins. The egg separated late, “which meant we were more than just two halves of the same whole.” To Cal, this also meant El was “my exact opposite. My reflection. My Mirror Twin.” While the police and El’s husband Ross are certain El is dead, Cal is sure she’s still alive - who else would be leading her on a treasure hunt around Mirrorland? The trail of clues draws Cal back to their childhood with tremendous edge-of-seat tension, back to Clown Café, Princess Tower and Kakadu Jungle, where she and El used to encounter Mouse, the Witch, the Tooth Fairy and Bluebeard. Where they dreamed of meeting their imagined pirate king father in an imagined future. Following this trail forces Cal to peel back - and confront - layers of trauma from the past, to remember that “bad things happened in this house… but that was a lot easier to forget when I was an ocean away from its walls." Chillingly atmospheric, this un-put-down-able page-turner is perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn and Erin Kelly, with the magic realist elements created by the sisters’ fantasy world giving it extra edge.
A huggable, squeezable, gloriously uplifting debut and LoveReading Star Book that warmed my heart and made me smile. Amy Ashton sees beauty in things most people would throw away, her house is now overflowing with the items she has collected and bordering on dangerous. When she discovers a mystery that needs to be unravelled, she begins to confront her past. We meet a withdrawn and lonely Amy in the present, and then a second time frame joins the story, taking us back to 1998. Eleanor Ray releases information from the past with perfect timing, each new moment explaining and allowing access to Amy in the present. As each memory highlights a decision, my thoughts expanded and Amy began to take up residence in my heart. The surrounding characters are gorgeous (in particular Charles and his JCBs), and bring an energy that flows through the pages towards Amy. Radiating empathy and emotion Everything Is Beautiful is just what the world needs to take us forward into 2021.
This is a book that will keep you wonderfully off balance, it feels as though you are being trusted with an unsettling and dangerous secret. When Ada Howell turns 18 her wealthy godmother presents her with a gift that could allow her access to the world she she craves. The shocking aftermath of a sudden death appears to pave the way for her dreams, but the route she takes comes at a cost. Ada narrates, opening a disquieting window to her world and looking at herself without sentimentality. I felt that any feelings of compassion I had for Ada would have been slapped away and yet they remained. The nostalgic recollections and empathy she does have channel themselves into the house she grew up in and lost. Laura Vaughn has previously written for children and young adults, this is her first novel for adults. She writes with an understated eloquence, slowly allowing the intrigue and tension to build piece by delicate piece. There are a number of characters, each perfectly placed and adding to the feeling of claustrophobia that haunted the pages. I felt a shiver of foreboding as the ending began to slide into place, followed by satisfaction as I closed the last page. A well-written and rewarding read The Favour slips into shadowy thoughts and finds the darkness that dwells there.
A truly beautiful and powerful debut, it is haunted with exquisite emotion, but that emotion comes with an uplifting feeling of hope. Towards the end of the Second World War two people meet on a platform next to a train bound for Auschwitz, the exchange that takes place between them will have a bearing on their lives forever more. I entered this novel thinking I knew what to expect, I left having experienced an entirely unexpected read. Set in several time frames, While Paris Slept opens a sequence of doors as new aspects of the story emerge and converge. Each chapter is headed by one of the characters. Ruth Druart uses different points of view to great effect, ensuring each chapter took hold of my thoughts and retained my focus. I invested in each of the characters, the empathy on display here left the page and entered my heart. I would describe this as a positively emotional read, yes it features man’s inhumanity to man, but the intimacy of this particular story lies in a different direction. While Paris Slept is an intriguing, compelling story full of love and hope. It enters our LoveReading Star Books and comes with a highly recommended seal of approval.
Excuse me while I rave about this book, it’s so different, so powerful, so fabulous that I’m experiencing reading elation after finishing it. When Wolf Willeford meets Mrs Death, he becomes her scribe and travels with her to view humanity as it circulates from life to death. A renowned performance poet, this is Salena Godden’s debut novel. In 2018 a BBC Radio 4 documentary was broadcast as it followed the novel as it was written over twelve months. Containing poetry, chants, commentary, recollections, moments in time, and all within the most wonderful story, this is a recognisable yet totally unique take on death. Her words entered my thoughts and made me see, search, examine, they entered my heart and made me feel. Small intimate and intricate moments sit alongside huge stories that are all linked by death. My feelings span from humour to heartbreak, from darkness to light, and all the while the story flows with strength and beauty. This is a reading experience that I won’t forget and I just had to choose it as one of my Liz Picks of the Month and of course a LoveReading Star Book. Celebrating life and opening up questions on how we view death, Mrs Death Misses Death is a wake-up call of a book that I will be recommending far and wide.
Often eye-opening and heart-wrenching, always elegant and absorbing, Hafsa Zayyan’s We Are All Birds of Uganda is an outstanding debut that crosses continents, cultures and generations. Remarkable in its exploration of identity, family bonds, racism, colourism and the phenomenon of twice migration through characters who’ve moved from South Asia, to East Africa, to Europe, I read Sameer’s story in one sitting, utterly engrossed by his awakening from a state of unrest to finding new purpose as he redefines the nature of success. At 26, Leicester-born Cambridge graduate Sameer is flying high as a lawyer in London, and on track to fast track it to partner when he’s offered a post in Singapore. Life seems sweet, except for fearing what his parents will think of the move, the “filling a quota” remark made by a colleague, and a bullying new boss who excludes him from a social event because “you lot don’t drink”. Then comes news that one of his best friends since childhood has been left in a coma after a vicious attack, and Sameer begins to question everything - who he is, what he’s doing with his life, where he wants to be. Skipping back to 1945, we follow another Asian Ugandan voice via Hasan’s heartfelt letters to his deceased first wife. Through these we see colonialism through Hasan’s eyes. We read how the British “have crept up on us, unwittingly seeped through our skin and into our bones, and settled comfortably inside each of us like veins”, how they excluded Hasan from their Sports Club, and then comes the rise of anti-colonialism, a push for Ugandan independence, hostility towards and legislation against Asian Ugandans: “We are not natives and we are not Europeans.” Back in Sameer’s narrative, wealthy Mr Shah, a family friend, speaks of the betrayal of “being turfed out of the country in which you were born, the only country you’ve ever known, like you’re no one, like you’re nothing.” With his move to Singapore looming, Sameer decides to visit Mr Shah in Uganda to find out more about his family history, with monumental effects. Emotionally rich and deeply resonant, it’s no wonder this gem co-won the inaugural Merky Books New Writers' Prize.
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.
A fabulously entertaining absolute romp of a murder mystery set in 1940’s New York. Famous private detective Lillian Pentecost, and her assistant Willowjean Parker are hired to track down the murderer of a wealthy young widow who was bludgeoned to death with a crystal ball at a seance. This is the debut novel and first in the Pentecost and Parker series from Stephen Spotswood, who is an award-winning playwright, journalist, and theatre educator. He quite obviously knows how to tell one heck of a captivating story, and this sits somewhere between hard-boiled and cosy! The first sentence is a corker, and sets up Willowjean (Will) as the most engaging and one-of-a-kind narrator. This is very much a character-led story, the feeling of the time is created with dialogue, which snaps and crackles with energy. Both Lillian and Will are fascinating characters, with more than a few tricks hidden up their sleeves. With a locked-room mystery, wonderfully diverse central characters, and a cracking storyline, Fortune Favours the Dead is a dream of a read and has been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book.
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 that 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 incredibly 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, I concluded 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.
Fabulous First-time Fiction
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