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This is it. The place for the greatest writing: stories that transcend all other ‘genres’. Literary fiction goes above and beyond any specific genre in order to deliver stories that strike at the heart of what it means to be human.
Random House presents the audiobook edition of The Overstory by Richard Powers, read by Suzanne Toren. The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond: An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers – each summoned in different ways by trees – are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest. There is a world alongside ours – vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.
Life is a lucrative business, as long as you play by the rules... Ambitious businesswoman Mae Yu runs Golden Oaks - a luxury retreat transforming the fertility industry. There, women get the very best of everything: organic meals, fitness trainers, daily massages and big money. Provided they dedicate themselves to producing the perfect baby. For someone else. Jane is a young immigrant in search of a better future. Stuck living in a cramped dorm with her baby daughter and her shrewd aunt Ate, she sees an unmissable chance to change her life. But at what cost? Perfect for fans of Celeste Ng, Margaret Atwood, Naomi Alderman, Sophie Mackintosh, Christine Dalcher and anyone who loved The Help or Orange Is the New Black.
Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2019 Moving between Ghana and London, Hold is an intimate coming-of-age novel. It's a story of friendship and family, shame and forgiveness; of learning what we should cling to, and when we need to let go. Two girls, two different worlds, one unexpected friendship. Belinda is everything a good Ghanaian housegirl should be. Diligent and uncomplaining, she knows exactly how to follow the rules. Amma has never been a great one for rule-keeping. And when her parents meet Belinda on a visit from England they suspect she might be just the shining example their wayward teenager daughter needs. So Belinda must leave behind her old life and travel to London to befriend a girl who shows no desire for her company. But in this bewildering city, surprises are waiting down every bus route, and when the cracks in Amma's defences open up, the secrets they have both been holding onto are brought into the light.
Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in the west of Ireland, but the similarities end there. In school, Connell is popular and well-liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation - awkward but electrifying - something life-changing begins. Normal People is a story of mutual fascination, friendship and love. It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find they can't.
Return to the world of the multi-million-copy bestselling Chocolat.... Vianne Rocher has settled down. Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the place that once rejected her, has finally become her home. With Rosette, her 'special' child, she runs her chocolate shop in the square, talks to her friends on the river, is part of the community. Even Reynaud, the priest, has become a friend. But when old Narcisse, the florist, dies, leaving a parcel of land to Rosette and a written confession to Reynaud, the life of the sleepy village is once more thrown into disarray. The arrival of Narcisse's relatives, the departure of an old friend and the opening of a mysterious new shop in the place of the florist's across the square - one that mirrors the chocolaterie, and has a strange appeal of its own - all seem to herald some kind of change: a confrontation, a turbulence - even, perhaps, a murder...
From the award-winning poet and playwright behind Barber Shop Chronicles, The Half-God of Rainfall is an epic story and a lyrical exploration of pride, power and female revenge. There is something about Demi. When this boy is angry, rain clouds gather. When he cries, rivers burst their banks and the first time he takes a shot on a basketball court, the deities of the land take note. His mother, Modupe, looks on with a mixture of pride and worry. From close encounters, she knows Gods often act like men: the same fragile egos, the same unpredictable fury and the same sense of entitlement to the bodies of mortals. She will sacrifice everything to protect her son, but she knows the Gods will one day tire of sports fans, their fickle allegiances and misdirected prayers. When that moment comes, it won’t matter how special he is. Only the women in Demi’s life, the mothers, daughters and Goddesses, will stand between him and a lightning bolt.
I remember my dreams but not where they start. Further back, I recall some of yesterday and the day before that. Then everything goes into a haze. Fragments of memories come looming back like red London buses in a pea-souper. Time plays funny tricks these days. I wait for the next memory. I wait and I wait. At 117 years old, Billy Binns is the oldest man in Europe and he knows his time is almost up. But Billy has a final wish: he wants to remember what love feels like one last time. As he looks back at the relationships that have shaped his flawed life - and the events that shaped the century - he recalls a life full of hope, mistakes, heartbreak and, above all, love.
The road to travel with Destination Russia is a long one: it takes many hours by train. But there is no time to be bored: the journey is a continuous discovery unveiling the true essence of this extraordinary country through encounters with ordinary people met in environments only cold in appearance but which, in reality, warm the heart. Destination Russia is, then, the narration of a string of unforgettable stories: the elderly lady travelling towards a remote archipelago in search of “hope” or Yashik, with his face marked by life, who already beyond the Arctic Circle, tells us he comes from North, the meeting with a cat (rather, a female cat) in the tundra, or the one with a couple of railway workers, living their love aboard the world’s longest railway line, or with the students of a school-museum. Even the one with an uncontaminated lake or simply with compartment mates on the train “where all of Russia travels”. The authors show us an extraordinary world through their eyes, a gaze that manifests all their love for this endless land, a passion as limitless as Russia itself, able to overcome geographical boundaries to reach the soul.
A poignant, thoughtful, and powerful standalone story from an author previously noted for his ‘Claymore Straker’ thriller series. There is most definitely a darkness to be found, some heart in mouth moments too, yet this centres on family, the things left unsaid and hidden. After the death of his father Ethan Schofield finds a manuscript detailing a life he didn’t know his father had experienced. It took a little while for me to settle in, to find my way, yet once I had, I found myself completely and utterly hooked. Two stories emerge and twist together… as Ethan finds his own life imploding, the manuscript travels alongside his story, revealing, testing, pushing. With his work as an engineer and scientist Paul E. Hardisty has travelled some of the worlds most remote areas, living with regimes and the chaos before war, all of his experience can be felt as the manuscript comes to vivid life. Turbulent Wake is moving, it caused me to ache deep inside, oh, and it is also a rather beautiful read too.
Oh I did enjoy this read, it was totally unexpected and sincerely lovely, as while I adored (and still adore) visiting the Narnia of C.S. Lewis, I had absolutely no idea of the truly fascinating love story that existed between him and Joy Davidman. The author introduces this novel with a note to the reader, inviting you to meet Joy Davidman, to explore her courage, and wonder at the woman who corresponded with Lewis before leaving America to make his world her home. Patti Callahan has obviously spent a huge amount of time in research, and that really comes across, as I read I felt, really felt that I was listening to Joy tell her own story. She is written in such a way that I could hear her, feel her pain, explore her hope, her commitment, she bares her soul and I rather fell in love her and her writing. Religion plays an important part, both of them found Christianity later in life, both were constantly testing and examining their faith, if like me you are a non-believer, please do not turn away, yes it is hugely important, yet approached with the most considered hand by Patti Callahan. They say truth is stranger than fiction, and oh how that resonates here, Becoming Mrs Lewis is a beautiful, engaging, eloquent read and highly recommended.
There is a space between life and death: it's called waxworks Born in Alsace in 1761, the unsightly, diminutive Marie Grosholtz is quickly nicknamed Little. Orphaned at the age of six, she finds employment in the household of reclusive anatomist, Dr Curtius. Her role soon surpasses that of mere servant as the eccentric doctor takes an interest in his newfound companion and begins to instruct her in the fine art of wax modelling. From the gutters of pre-revolutionary France to the luxury of the Palace of Versailles, from clutching the still-warm heads of Robespierre's Terror to finding something very like love, Little traces the improbable fortunes of a bloodstained crumb of a thing who went on to shape the world...
Gentle and pointed good humour abounds in this lovely read, Alexander McCall Smith excels in creating whimsical yet sharply observed novels with real heart. He was the winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize 2015 with Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party which I absolutely adored, and The Second Worst Restaurant in France certainly lived up to my expectations. Food writer Paul Stewart escapes to France to stay with his cousin Chloe in order to finish his latest book, however, located in the village is the restaurant aptly known as second worst in France. Within a few pages I had an understanding of Paul, he very simply makes himself known and acts as a perfect foil to Chloe, who on occasion rather steals the limelight! A whole host of wonderful characters enter the story as Paul’s livelihood is threatened and everything is thrown into a delightful muddle. The Second Worst Restaurant in France is a gorgeously easy read, I smiled, I laughed, and enjoyed every moment… PS I would love to see Chloe feature in her own story, what a woman!
A challenging and provocative read, with some hair-raising action. Rose Shaw is living with insomnia and trauma, when a diary unexpectedly lands in her possession she finds herself in serious trouble. The first few chapters really set the tone, as ‘before' plays out in gasp-inducing action, you may well find yourself camping out on the edge of your seat, waiting, waiting, waiting… When the moment comes, oh my! This story has more than its fair share of bigots which makes for uncomfortable reading. Other stories enter the fray, piercing feelings, creating biting tension. Perhaps best not to expect a factually accurate tale in terms of police procedure and there were times when my eyebrows nearly took flight, however for pure adrenaline, heightened emotions and drama, ‘Night by Night’ has it all. So settle down, pop disbelief to one side, just sink into the story and read!
In the midst of war, he found love In the midst of darkness, he found courage In the midst of tragedy, he found hope The Beekeeper of Aleppo What will you find from his story? Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo - until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape. But what Afra has seen is so terrible she has gone blind, and so they must embark on a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece towards an uncertain future in Britain. On the way, Nuri is sustained by the knowledge that waiting for them is Mustafa, his cousin and business partner, who has started an apiary and is teaching fellow refugees in Yorkshire to keep bees. As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world, they must confront not only the pain of their own unspeakable loss, but dangers that would overwhelm the bravest of souls. Above all - and perhaps this is the hardest thing they face - they must journey to find each other again. Moving, powerful, compassionate and beautifully written, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit. Told with deceptive simplicity, it is the kind of book that reminds us of the power of storytelling.
An atmospheric, stormy beauty of a read which made me positively ache for the characters. As Frances lies on her deathbed she revisits the summer of 1969 when she met Cara and Peter at an abandoned country house, as the summer progresses vulnerabilities are highlighted and tragedy strikes. Claire Fuller peels open the lives of the characters with exquisite care. Feelings spin and slice across the page, freedom, isolation, menace all tumbling together in an uncertain dance. The house is a hugely important part of the tale, creating a setting that alternates between forsaken and decadent. Whenever the story left Lyntons, whether to the village beyond or the Frances of now, I felt an easing of pressure, I was able to relax muscles sitting in tense anticipation. ‘Bitter Orange’ sets a chilling yet poignant stage and allows access to the memories of the past, the emotions are touchable, the ending so perfect it hurt. Featured in Episode 5 of the LoveReading Podcast
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!
Stop here to discover a terrific new voice in mystery and suspense, a voice owned by an established and truly eloquent author. Within a period of three weeks in 1993 the body of a young woman is discovered on the beach by teenagers Nell and Jude, then Jude disappears, twenty-five agonising years later Nell begins to uncover the truth. If you already love Dorothy Koomson, then you’re in for a real treat as she has combined her wonderful ability to observe human relationships with mystery and shivery suspense. The change in direction is beautifully subtle as her previous books have been moving this way and existing fans can still feel her unmistakable touch, yet she has opened the door to a whole new audience. Each short chapter remains very much in its moment as the story swings between the past and present. As I read and peeled each layer by exquisite layer I found surprises waiting to snare me, to make me exclaim and sit up. The characters are individual, fascinating (even when displaying hideous character traits), and Nell is an absolute delight to get to know. The Brighton Mermaid is a compelling, fabulously readable story full of energy and tenacity - highly recommended.
In the author’s alternate 1980s Britain (which he parallels with the current political climate), Britain has lost the Falklands War, Thatcher is fighting for her political life as Tony Benn’s socialism engenders feverish devotion from young voters, and the country is on the verge of leaving Europe. Alongside these tides of change Alan Turing has created a small quantity of expensive, advanced artificial humans called Adams and Eves. Enter our drifter protagonist, 32-year-old Charlie Friend, who blows most of his inheritance on an Adam. He and his younger girlfriend Miranda share in Adam’s co-creation, both of them having a hand in determining Adam’s personality. The first of many challenges come when Adam and Miranda have sex, which leaves Charlie angry and humiliated: “He was a bipedal vibrator and I was the very latest in cuckolds”. And then Adam betrays Miranda, revealing to Charlie that she’s been lying to him. Moral dilemmas and existential questions abound when it seems that Adam is in love with Miranda in a very human sense, a love that’s partly exhibited through his penning of thousands of heartfelt love haikus. Alongside the oft-explored questions around sentience and what it means to be human, this often entertaining novel provokes fresh thought through Miranda’s complicated, tragic past, the characters’ complex current love triangle, and the future she and Charlie might forge for themselves.
To some Kate Marsden (1859-1931) was an unsung female pioneer, a nurse who was so committed to eliminating leprosy that she travelled thousands of miles to investigate the disease in Siberia with the support of the Russian royal family. To others she was a fraudster who exaggerated her Siberian undertaking, a woman motivated by fame and a need to atone herself for illicit relations with a woman. This novel sees Marsden at the end of her life, haunted by fragmented memories. For Marsden, memory is “not a neatly packed trunk through which you may sift for items of interest. It is an unravelled ball of wool, tangled and confused.” Marsden’s account of her life here is indeed tangled and complex, poignant and fraught with disappointment. The flower she thinks holds leprosy-curing properties turns out to be “a soothing balm perhaps, but not the miracle I had been led to believe”. And then there’s her all-consuming love for Rose, whom she tries to protect: ”There’s no place in this world for us, you know that. We are judged and found unacceptable.” Part illuminating ode to an unsung heroine, part thought-provoking exploration of the nature of memory and legacy, this is a unique and captivating novel, and I am grateful to the author for evoking Kate Marsden’s story with such verve and tenderness.
A blast of a read, fast-paced and provocative. Laurie witnesses, then can’t help but investigate a horrifying incident, as events rocket beyond her control, violence follows her home. The first few pages sprint into heart-pumping action, my mind whirring, I then settled into the start of the story as it began six days earlier. I felt as though I was allowed to be a step ahead of Laurie, I was given a little more time to consider, consequently on occasion I wanted to shout a warning and almost stamp my feet in vexation as the tale unfolded, which added intensity to an already taut storyline. The sections set on the Underground were riveting, a real menace stalked the pages, dark and foreboding. I for one, will never ever want to be on my own down there! Toby Faber prodded and provoked my thoughts and feelings, deliberately muddying the waters of guilt and innocence, of standing in judgement. Close to the Edge is a thrilling ride, yet look beyond the obvious and you can find a challenging and stimulating read too.
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.
An extraordinarily readable and fascinating exploration of ourselves, of what it is to be human. This is a novel that feels completely unique, it is also one that made me consider, ponder, wonder. Open the pages and discover our Earth, yet different, it is 1990 and a British Police Inspector is called to investigate the killings of a species in the Delta, South America. I started to read and was immediately taken away from everything I knew, or thought I knew. Chris Beckett has created a world that is at once distinctively familiar and peculiar, the otherworldly aspect encouraged my thoughts to travel in unexpected directions while I viewed human interaction playing out in typical fashion. Police officer Ben is full of shade and contrast, I found the different strands that knitted and weaved together as the different characters came into play so intriuging. There is a subtlety at play here, the descriptive detail is beautiful, if a little unsettling at times, and I felt I was being allowed to discover the Delta at my own pace. ‘Beneath The World, A Sea’ is different, it is so different that I am still thinking about it, it stirred up feelings and has left them whirling.
A formally innovative work of modernist fiction, Virginia Woolf's The Waves is edited with an introduction by Kate Flint in Penguin Modern Classics. More than any of Virginia Woolf's other novels, The Waves conveys the full complexity and richness of human experience. Tracing the lives of a group of friends, The Waves follows their development from childhood to youth and middle age. While social events, individual achievements and disappointments form its narrative, the novel is most remarkable for the rich poetic language that expresses the inner life of its characters: their aspirations, their triumphs and regrets, their awareness of unity and isolation. Separately and together, they query the relationship of past to present, and the meaning of life itself. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) is regarded as a major 20th century author and essayist, a key figure in literary history as a feminist and modernist, and the centre of 'The Bloomsbury Group'. This informal collective of artists and writers, which included Lytton Strachey and Roger Fry, exerted a powerful influence over early twentieth-century British culture. Between 1925 and 1931 Virginia Woolf produced what are now regarded as her finest masterpieces, from Mrs Dalloway (1925) to the poetic and highly experimental novel The Waves (1931). She also maintained an astonishing output of literary criticism, short fiction, journalism and biography, including the playfully subversive Orlando (1928) and A Room of One's Own (1929) a passionate feminist essay. If you enjoyed The Waves, you might like Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, also available in Penguin Classics. 'A book of great beauty and a prose poem of genius' Stephen Spender 'Full of sensuous touches ... the sounds of her words can be velvet on the page' Maggie Gee, Daily Telegraph
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.
Wakenhyrst is a glorious darkly gothic feast of a read, and I really had no option other than to choose it as one of my picks of the month. Folklore and superstition are bound up in the Fens, Maud Steame has grown up there, surrounded by gossip, rumours and terrible secrets, will releasing her story set her free? Michelle Paver excels in quietly setting fear loose and disquiet scurrying free. Simply and beautifully descriptive, words leave the page and settle together to gradually create an entire picture. I found myself hooked, then completely snared as Maud’s life unfolds over 60 years revealing the very essence of her being. I feel deeply connected to Maud, and she continues to exist in my thoughts. Wakenhyrst is a fascinating, deeply emotional, and surprisingly beautiful read, I highly recommend stepping inside and setting your feelings free to explore.
The Moon Sister is the fifth epic story in the Seven Sisters series by the international number one bestseller Lucinda Riley. After the death of her father - Pa Salt, an elusive billionaire who adopted his six daughters from around the globe - Tiggy D'Apliese , trusting her instincts, moves to the remote wilds of Scotland. There she takes a job doing what she loves; caring for animals on the vast and isolated Kinnaird estate, employed by the enigmatic and troubled Laird, Charlie Kinnaird. Her decision alters her future irrevocably when Chilly, an ancient gipsy who has lived for years on the estate, tells her that not only does she possess a sixth sense, passed down from her ancestors, but it was foretold long ago that he would be the one to send her back home to Granada in Spain . . . In the shadow of the magnificent Alhambra, Tiggy discovers her connection to the fabled gypsy community of Sacromonte, who were forced to flee their homes during the civil war, and to `La Candela' the greatest flamenco dancer of her generation. From the Scottish Highlands and Spain, to South America and New York, Tiggy follows the trail back to her own exotic but complex past. And under the watchful eye of a gifted gypsy bruja she begins to embrace her own talent for healing. But when fate takes a hand, Tiggy must decide whether to stay with her new-found family or return to Kinnaird, and Charlie . . . The Moon Sister follows The Seven Sisters, The Storm Sister, The Shadow Sister and The Pearl Sister.
This is one of the best books that I have read in a long time. For sci-fi, thriller, adventure, futuristic the list of genres that can be applied to this novel is first class. It is similar in style to George Orwell's '1984', only this novel is more terrifying for those living in forty year's time in 2059. More aspects of the United Kingdom's citizens' lives are under Government control and society as we know it today is falling dangerously apart. The storyline follows the life of one such citizen, Toli, of the mishaps that befall her, how to deal with these with what little resources she has whist living in a soon to be dystopian society where friendship and family have all but disappeared, with survival of the fittest being the norm status of society. The black side of society is always present, always with her and the author's descriptive style of writing leaves the reader very glad that he/she is living at the present time and not in the future where life is cheap, death is common and anything goes. The storyline is excellent giving the reader the feeling of actually being part of the story, and book itself, apart from being a constant page turner from beginning to end, sets itself apart from similar books in that the book itself should be read in order to fully appreciate the story as it unfolds. If you only buy one book or read one book this year, then this is definitely the one to go for as it is a gripping definitely must read book. Catherine Bryce, A LoveReading Ambassador
Oh my, must-read needs to be stamped all over this book as it is 188 pages of simply wonderful storytelling, with each short chapter building to create a cohesive, biting, beautiful whole. Set in Romania in the 1970’s, Alina and her husband find themselves confronted by the secret service when her brother-in-law defects, can the hidden old folk ways be the answer to their problems? While this is a truly stunning read, it isn’t always comfortable or easy, there were occasions when I really flinched, took in a deep breath and closed my eyes, but each time I was drawn back in as I also smirked, laughed, felt wonder and had moments of real discovery. The first chapter sent my thoughts scuttling and seeking answers, did I believe, did I understand? Sophie van Llewyn is an award-winning flash fiction author, each chapter of ‘Bottled Goods’ is short, could almost exist in its own right, yet remove one and the entire story would fracture. The ending is utterly perfect, and had me sitting in contemplative silence. I want to shout about Bottled Goods from the rooftops, I adored this thought-provoking unique novella and have chosen it as one of my picks of the month.
A smirky, fabulously quirky, poignant novel and an absolute joy to read. It is 1980, Lizzie is 18, she starts a new job working for a dentist, moves into her own flat, and thinks she may have got herself a boyfriend (but isn’t entirely sure). Lizzie is a total delight, her courage, spirit and pithy observations mix into a heady cocktail alongside her apprehension and doubt. The other characters are beautifully realised in their own right, every utterance perfectly placed, it is difficult to pick just one out as when I called them forward in my mind, they clambered over each in a riot of energy. Nina Stibbe excels in the small, in fact the incy wincy details that are so beautifully observed you didn’t know they were missing until you read them, and could see and feel the entire picture. The understanding of human frailty and poignancy of human absurdity is so wonderfully explored. There is something compelling about the writing that lodged in my mind, and took up residence in my heart. I snorted (yes actually snorted) out loud with laughter and while heartache and break is never far away, thoroughly loved every word of Reasons To Be Cheerful which earns it one of my picks of the month… it’s just gorgeous!
This haunting tale of a child’s faltering navigation of her poverty-stricken upbringing in rural Australia crackles with grit, beauty and poignant truths of the human heart. The world is a bleak and bewildering place for Justine. Born “back to front”, she also sees words the wrong way round. “My words were breech like me. Every year finished and I never caught up.” Abandoned by her mother and with her unhinged, unreliable father largely absent, she lives in poverty with her war-traumatised grandfather, Pop. While Justine is isolated and neglected, she experiences some of life’s joys though her friendship with Michael, a bright spark of a boy who’s written off for his disabilities and cruelly known to his classmates as “spastic elastic”. Theirs is a truly life-affirming relationship, a beautiful bond built on understanding and kindness in Justine’s otherwise brutal world. Then there’s fellow outsider Aunty Rita, who lives in the city but offers Justine a helping hand, inviting her to call whenever she needs to, though Justine can’t decipher Rita’s phone numbers – Justine’s moments of light are typically quick to fade and flicker out. Emotionally isolated and disoriented by the dysfunctional adults in her life, Justine’s voice is acutely involving, her naïve perspective poignant with real-life rawness. What a feat of suspenseful and tautly lyrical storytelling this is, a moving story that ends on a note of bittersweet hope.
'An unapologetic novel of ideas which is also wise, funny and paced like a thriller' Observer The magnificent new novel by bestselling award-winning Kate Atkinson In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past for ever. Ten years later, now a producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence. Transcription is a work of rare depth and texture, a bravura modern novel of extraordinary power, wit and empathy. It is a triumphant work of fiction from one of this country's most exceptional writers. 'How vehemently most novelists will wish to produce a masterpiece as good' Telegraph
Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2019 Exploring themes of ownership and abandonment, Eleanor Anstruther's bestselling debut is a fictionalised account of the true story of Enid Campbell (1892-1964), granddaughter of the 8th Duke of Argyll. Interweaving one significant day in 1964 with a decade during the interwar period, A Perfect Explanation gets to the heart of what it is to be bound by gender, heritage and tradition, to fight, to lose, to fight again. In a world of privilege, truth remains the same; there are no heroes and villains, only people misunderstood. Here, in the pages of this extraordinary book where the unspoken is conveyed with vivid simplicity, lies a story that will leave you reeling.
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.
As eight-year-old girls, three friends made a marriage pact. Now approaching thirty, Dahlia is the only one who remains unmarried and the pressure to conform, to accept a husband, is crippling. Dahlia is desperate to be “unfettered by customs and bonds and the burden of ancestry”, and it’s clear to her that life is much easier for young boys who “would have freedoms my sister and I never contemplated...the freedom to live their lives without constant scrutiny...the freedom to not marry without shame or guilt.” While Dahlia has conformed to her parents’ idea of a suitable career, she remains steadfast in her refusal to marry a man she does not love, and still harbours a desire to pursue her artistic talents, while battling familial and peer pressure, while haunted by the abuse inflicted on her by a family friend. Dahlia’s intimate, introspective narrative evokes a sense of constriction and conflict with remarkable potency, and readers will applaud her courage and acts of defiance. Thought-provoking, long-lingering and simmering with the strength of the human spirit, this is a powerfully assured debut.
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.
Goosebumps still compete in a race down my arms when I think about The Snakes, it is remarkable, truly remarkable, so please just trust me when I say this is a must-read. Bea and Dan rent out their flat so they can travel, stopping off at her brother’s hotel in France on route. When Bea’s parents unexpectedly visit, Dan can’t understand why Bea has kept them at arms length and refused their financial help all of these years, surely it can’t hurt to get to know them? Sadie Jones is a master storyteller, apparently simple sentences gang together to create a slicing tension. There is a purity to the writing, even though the very darkest of human attributes are so wonderfully and tellingly observed as the tale unfolds. This isn’t a comfortable read, but gosh it’s compelling, I sat and read it in one heady afternoon. I felt on high alert, my mind unclouded as I tasted, tested, scrutinised both the thoughts of the characters, and my own. ‘The Snakes’ is powerful and provocative, not in a shouty, boastful way, it slid into my mind, creating and filling secret spaces, and when I reached the last few pages, and read the final words, I just stopped and sat in wondering heart-hammering silence. This is one of my picks of the month, in fact I already know that The Snakes will be one of my picks of the year.
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.
Unusual, stunning, stinging, a book to fall into, to flinch from, to be carried away by. When Bonnie and her family seek sanctuary in a cliff-top house, she meets Dominic who hides away in plain sight, both hurting and seeking a release, their lives collide. It took me a few pages to adjust to, and fall into sync with the glorious writing style, which felt as though it bypassed the page and instead reached straight into my mind. Fiona Vigo Marshall has the ability to describe things so richly and beautifully that sometimes it isn't immediately obvious that the subject itself isn't necessarily beautiful. The raw and elemental style, when linking with the lyrical descriptions allowed me to feel, really feel the words as they met inside me. Things that aren’t immediately obvious become obvious, so take patience by the hand, allow the story to wander at its own pace, release yourself to the exploration, and let the feelings created settle before moving on. ‘Find Me Falling’ is an emotional read, and while sometimes uncomfortable, is most definitely a reading journey worth taking, I loved it!
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 stunningly beautiful, courageous story, 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. Mysterious, yet almost gentle, I let the words take me, I felt myself floating, and then bites of uncertainty and disquiet started to 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 has created a beautifully eloquent tale. Opening a window into a vivid feast of a read, as a debut novel The Familiars stands out from the crowd.
If you could look at one life in two different ways, what would you see? Louis and Louise are separated by a single moment in time, a strike of chance that decided their future. The day they were born is when their story begun. In one, Louis David Alder is born a male. In the other, Louise Dawn Alder is born a female. Louis and Louise are the same in many ways - they have the same best friends, the same parents, the same dream of being a writer and leaving their hometown in Maine as soon as they can. But because of their gender, everything looks different. Certain things will happen in their lives to shape them, hurt them, build them back up again. But what will bring them back home?
A beautifully thought-provoking, poignant, readable tale, and while some scenes make for chilling reading, it is actually full of love and hope. Sally has deliberately hidden the truth of events from ten years ago from her daughter. When she meets Anthony and love appears to be within touching distance, Sally has to revisit the past before she can contemplate her future. Set in the past and the present Sally tells her own story, with time sliding forwards in ‘now’ and slipping mostly (but not always) in reverse in ‘then’. This almost gentle disclosure encouraged my thoughts to alter and expand, I really felt as though I was getting to know Sally personally, as though I was being allowed to uncover her feelings with her, by her side. Alison Booth writes with real empathy, there are moments that are difficult to take in, to understand, yet judgement doesn’t sit preaching, instead, I was encouraged to witness, to consider, to think. I felt a real connection with Sally and her family, probably because the feelings involved in the storyline felt palpable and honest. A Perfect Marriage may contain heartache, it is also a stirring and rewarding tale.
Insightful, International, Thought-provoking
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