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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!
An intriguing and thoughtful debut that pushes, prods, and provokes thoughts on social class, wealth and motherhood. Golden Oaks is a retreat that locates and looks after host females who act as surrogates for the extraordinarily rich, those who can’t or don’t want to carry their own child. Every move, every heartbeat of each host is monitored until they give birth. We follow the lives of four women, each with very different reasons for their involvement with the retreat known by the occupants as The Farm. For the first few chapters I sat on the edge, watching and learning, I then felt myself sliding into the pages, fully immersed, compelled to witness. Joanne Ramos has created a fascinating storyline, with intimate access to the thought processes of the four women ensuring I was able to observe the interaction, the assumptions, the decisions made. The Farm is a clever, challenging debut, and while set just in the future, is very much of our time.
An absolutely delightful story ready and waiting to wrap you up in a delicious blanket of warming feel-good. Ellie thinks she is happy, assumes she is happy, but a present from a harp-making stranger heralds change. Oh I did enjoy this story, told in alternate chapters by Ellie and Dan, I settled myself into a comfy spot and stayed there until I had finished. Dan introduces himself in the most simple and beautiful way, he is able to see through clutter to the heart of things and I have to admit to rather falling in love with him. Hazel Prior doesn’t spell things out for you, instead I felt that I was able to explore and encouraged to contemplate. The descriptions of Exmoor, nature, and colour are particularly special, and I now find myself taking the time to look properly, to really see, to feel, to smile. Ellie and the Harp Maker is truly lovely and rather special, if you feel like a hug, then read this book!
Beautifully and deliciously foreboding, this is an eloquent, thrilling treat of a read. Iris and Silas meet as construction begins for the Great Exhibition in 1850, for one it is an experience soon forgotten, for the other the beginning of a dangerous obsession. Members of the Pre-Raphelite Brotherhood gather, their ideals and connection to the Arts and Crafts movement fascinating to observe, particularly when compared to the logic and occupation of Silas. The Doll Factory won the Caledonia Novel Award 2018, and it is easy to see why it was immediately snapped up, the storyline while disturbing is enthralling and the descriptive detailing exquisite. Elizabeth MacNeal allows us intimate access to the thoughts and feelings of both Iris and Silas, opening a doorway to the potential and possible future of the story which succeeds in increasing the tension to almost unbearable levels. I felt a duty of care to both parties, wanting to warn, to ease, to prevent harm. As the story gathered me in and opened my eyes, I felt a shiver of chills gathering, forcing goosebumps down my arms. There is a darkness of the gothic variety to be found with The Doll Factory, it is also the most incredibly rewarding read and comes with a highly recommended stamp from me.
The Old Bailey, 1826 and Frannie Langton stands in court accused of the brutal murder of her former master and mistress. But “there was love between me and her”, she tells the court as she relates her story from 1812, when she worked at Paradise plantation, Jamaica. With the skills of reading and writing “packed inside” her, “dangerous as gunpowder”, Frannie is taken to London and sent to work for a man named George Benham. His wife, the beautiful, eccentric Madame Marguerite Benham “stirred a feeling of wanting” in Frannie, and she becomes Madame’s lady’s maid and secretary - and more. But theirs is a complex, volatile relationship. “The truth is there was love as well as hate,” Frannie acknowledges. “The truth is, the love hurt worse”. Speaking at her trial, during which she recounts the inhumane racial experimentation undertaken by the master of Paradise, Frannie asks, “Sirs, I wonder...in the whole sum of human history, by what order have you white men been wrong more than you’ve been right?” She also questions the privileges and entitlements of gender: “how confident a man must be to write down his musings, expecting anybody else to be interested in reading them”. Ablaze with drama, detail, tension and wit, and wise on the nature of agency and freedom, this comes highly recommended for fans of Andrea Levy’s The Long Song, Marlon James’s The Book of Night Women and Sarah Waters. According to Frannie, “A novel is like a long, warm drink but a poem is a spike through the head”. By her definition, this novel is both these things - as potent as a poem, as addictive as a long, warm drink. Have a look at our Ambassador Book Buzz for The Confessions of Frannie Langton.
Forthright, funny Ayesha harbours dreams of being a poet and occasionally performs at a literary lounge, but her ambitions are somewhat hampered by her new teaching job and familial pressure to get married, a pressure that’s intensified by her stunning younger cousin’s countless marriage proposals. But Ayesha is adamant that she doesn’t want an arranged marriage, even if it means she might be doomed to spinsterhood. Then, courtesy of her best friend and a conference at her mosque, a few twists of fate throw Ayesha into contact with hyper-critical, conservative Khalid, who dresses like a time-traveller from several centuries ago and is utterly under his wealthy mother’s control. Cue much friction, farcical funniness and genuine soul-searching as Ayesha and Khalid embark on complex, intersecting journeys of discovery. Alongside serving up a sparkling love story, this debut also tackles meaty issues, from the rampant islamophobia of Khaled’s abhorrent boss, to the sexism Ayesha stands up to. Indeed, the criss-crossing sub-plots - both gritty and comic - keep the pages turning, and make this a treat for fans of romance with extra bite.
I was completely and utterly consumed by this debut, it slowly took hold, crept into my thoughts, drew me in, and then refused to let me go. I really didn’t want to stop reading, and even now Cora Burns enters my mind and stops for a while. Cora Burns born in gaol and raised in a workhouse, finds herself in gaol once again before a scientist takes her on as a servant, just what exactly is his current experiment? The story starts in savage darkness, then spins forward in time before rolling between 1865, 1874 and 1885, slowly answering questions yet creating more. Carolyn Kirby has created the most deeply felt and amazing character in Cora (to me she isn’t a character but as real as real can be). There were times when I almost didn’t want to read her story, I wanted to shut my eyes, hum, and put my hands to my ears, and yet I simply couldn’t stop, the words haunted me, called to me, devoured me. The Conviction of Cora Burns enthralling, fascinating and so incredibly worthwhile, developed into the most unexpectedly fierce and beautiful read (I think you will understand if you step between the pages), and so just has to be one of my picks of the month.
A hard-hitting punch of a crime thriller is waiting to be discovered, but also within the pages lies a provocative and emotionally stunning read too. This debut was the winner of the 2018 Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award, and believe me, I can completely understand why. Lelle has been driving the silver road looking for his missing daughter for three years, his endless search consumes his very being. Within the first page I knew I had fallen in love with the writing, which is exquisitely translated. The words connected with my very being, I could feel the words, look around me and see my surroundings. Stina Jackson balances the dark and light quite beautifully, while tense and foreboding, there is also a silvery thread of hope to be found that thrums gently in the background. The cover of The Silver Road beckons, it leads to a read that emotionally connects, opens feelings and allows access to thoughts. Oh, and that ending… the ending sent goosebumps shivering down my arms. A highly recommended read indeed and one of my picks of the month.
An incredibly raw, at times difficult to read, quite gobsmacking debut. Cherry made me flinch, both physically and mentally, at times I had to look away and think of something else, yet the words continued to call to me. The author Nico Walker, as of 2019, is still in prison in the USA, he served as an army medic in Iraq, and returning home with severe PTSD started to rob banks to pay for his drug addiction. This story centres on a narrator who serves as an army medic in Iraq, and returning home with severe PTSD starts to rob banks to pay for his drug addiction (yes the same tale as the author). Let me be clear, this is a novel, yet the voice of the author is clearly heard, this is his story and he stamps his words, his very being on every single page. Hammer hard, quick firing sentences (with some choice language attached) shoot off of the page. There were times when I really didn’t like the narator, some of his life choices are difficult to understand, yet that is the whole point. The story turns full circle from the prologue, creating what feels like a never ending loop. This book made me ache, it often physically hurt to soak up the words, yet I would read it all again tomorrow, and so Cherry has to be one of my picks of the month.
A stunningly beautiful, courageous read, one that crosses through time to 1612, when witchcraft allegations went hand in hand with fear, power and corruption. This is a work of fiction based on real people, local residents, Pendle witches and all. Let me tell you about the cover of this book, which really is very gorgeous indeed. The green leaves sooth, with fiery bursts of orange-red and gold, I then noticed the fox, the ring, pendant, feather… and last of all, the noose, which of course once I had seen, reached out and became all I could see. I tell you this, because the cover reminds me of how I felt about the book, mysterious, yet almost gentle, I let the words take me, I felt myself floating, and then bites of uncertainty and disquiet started gnaw at my awareness. The persecution of the women hammered home while an otherworldly existence lodged itself in my thoughts, and remains there. Deceptively powerful, moving and provocative, Stacey Hall writes with an eloquent pen. Opening a window into a vivid feast of a read, as a debut novel The Familiars stands out from the crowd.
An eye-opening novel that feels like a blistering, witty, understanding-of-self travel diary, and an insight into 19 year old Erin’s soul. Erin travels around the top of the globe to Alaska, as she wants to burst the image of the rugged male explorer. I saw the synopsis for The Word For Woman is Wilderness and just had to read it as I’ve been to Alaska, and read various books set there, including Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer, based on the true story of a traveler who died while trying to live off the land. Erin has read the same books, feels the same pull by the wilderness, and she has been written so beautifully by Abi Andrews that she slipped into a state of reality in my mind. I adored travelling with Erin, she took me to familiar and sometimes entirely unexpected places. It took me a little while to settle in and feel the words, the pace, the tone. I was surprised by her observations, so pithy, so huge, so spot on, it feels at times as though her thoughts have been bottled, shaken, and then explode out of her. The Word for Woman is Wilderness is a beautifully surprising, clever, startling novel and I adored it.
This is the first of a trilogy and therefore must, of course, set the scene for those to come. It is about a cult that uses a beautiful old house on a Swedish island as its centre. The leader is Oswald, naturally unbelievably charismatic. Our heroine is Sofia, a sad lost girl suffering from a broken relationship and looking for a purpose in life. An obvious recruit. Oswald asks her to set up his library, an enticing offer. All goes well until winter sets in and brings the fog of the title. It also makes prisoners of those on the island. Then things get spooky. This is a long, slow read with little action but if you are interested in cults then you will find it fascinating.
Even in wartime the customer comes first at Marlow's department store. It's 1941 and young Lily Collins is starting work in Midlands department store Marlow's, whose gleaming facade has fascinated her since childhood. As the air raid sirens blare, Lily learns the ropes from her sophisticated boss Miss Frobisher alongside shy fellow junior Gladys. But her burgeoning friendship with young salesman Jim draws her into a swirl of secrets within the store. And with the war progressing to crisis point, Cedric Marlow and his staff must battle nightly bombings and the absence of loved ones to keep going. From a former writer of The Archers comes a novel that weaves together a powerful sense of community and a vivid evocation of a time when every man, woman and child was doing their bit.
Fabulous First-time Fiction
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