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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.
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.
Molly Baker is living her best life. Thirty-eight years old, she lives on the twenty-five-acre Hope Farm in Buckinghamshire, surrounded by (mostly) four-legged friends and rolling hills. There's Anthony the anti-social sheep, Tina Turner the alpaca with attitude, and the definitely-not-miniature pig, Teacup. Molly runs the farm as an alternative school for kids who haven't thrived in mainstream education. It's full on, but she wouldn't have it any other way. So when the well-groomed Shelby Dacre turns up at Hope Farm asking to enrol his son Lucas, Molly isn't fazed. But Lucas is distant and soon Molly realises he might be more of a handful than she anticipated. And then there's the added problem that his dad is distractingly handsome. Molly has her beloved farm to think of - could letting Lucas and Shelby in be a terrible mistake, or the start of something wonderful? Feel-good, funny and an absolute must-read from the queen of romance Carole Matthews, Molly's story will make your heart sing. New starts and second chances abound in Happiness for Beginners.
A wonderfully provocative and emotionally beautiful read, where for one family, whether or not destiny exists becomes incredibly significant. We see snapshots in time, of compelling and expressive moments for Mukesh, Neha, Rakesh and Ba. Set in different time frames, and not told sequentially, we begin to see how events from the past create our future, yet is it destiny or free will that shape our movements, our decisions? Nikesh Shukla writes with a wonderfully light touch, yet he hits with hammer hard intensity. I laughed, I cried, I wondered at people’s propensity to hate, to fear, for violence. Each family member is so clearly and individually expressed, I particularly enjoyed getting to know Raks through the eyes of others, it actually made me feel more of a connection with him, for him. Poignant and stimulating, The One Who Wrote Destiny has an immense subtlety, the words dance across the page, before rising up from an unexpected direction to challenge thoughts and feelings - highly recommended.
As a young woman, Kiki lived and loved in Turkey, but returned to America after not taking to the isolated, ramshackle farm she and her husband moved to. Some thirty years on - single, widely read, worldly wise, but endowed with an endearing lack of pretension - Kiki connects deeper with her niece Reyna. When Reyna pulls out of driving for a criminal scheme her ex-con boyfriend is involved in, her act of defiance sets a succession of life-changing events in motion, waves that surge far and transform lives around the globe. The structure deftly weaves together different sets of people who are loosely linked by strands of shared experiences and events, such as the German travellers Kiki met on her former husband’s farm in Turkey. The stories of the various narrators are powerful, mesmeric and smoothly readable - I shall be seeking out everything this author has written.
A complete and absolute delight, this is a treasure of a read. Tom and his fifteen year old daughter Hannah believe in the magic of the theatre, of creating moments in time that live forever in the memory, when everything comes under threat, can magic prevail? This is one of those wonderful occasions where I just read for the pure spellbinding pleasure of reading. No notes, no overthinking, just cosying in a chair with a beautiful book. The first paragraph took my hand and welcomed me in. Keith Stuart takes ordinary and allows you to see wonder, captures the unimaginable and transforms it to touchable, greets heartache and encourages thoughtful contemplation… and his words are so gorgeously readable. Either Tom or Hannah head each chapter, their voices distinct, clear, vivid in my mind’s eye. Just as a note, I did cry, I had a little wobble as I read (you’ll know when you get there) and had to have a few minutes before I carried on reading, yet Days of Wonder is full of joy, hope, love and is a truly, deeply beautiful read - highly recommended.
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.
Step into another world, just on the edge of existence, a fairy tale if you will, but somehow sharper, more vivid, and quite startling as it draws on folklore and oh so human qualities and reactions. On a remote island called Neverness exists a village, we hear the story of the villagers, separate, together, living with and alongside a spellbinding natural world. The author Zoe Gilbert was the winner of the 2014 Costa Short Story Award and this is her debut novel. Each chapter is a story in its own right, yet each leads to the next and the next to make one complete tale. This is a book that tested, pushed and pulled me, as it speared my attention and hurled it aloft. I felt, really felt so many emotions, from deep aching sadness, to bounding wonder, through to discovering warm love in unexpected places. Zoe Gilbert has created a place apart, simple, wild, and stunningly beautifully yet be warned, it has a ferocious bite. If you look, really focus straight ahead, then take your thoughts to the corner of your eye and feel there, just behind you, you may just see a glimpse of Neverness. Or you could settle down, and allow Zoe Gilbert to guide you into a breathtaking world. Folk is one of my picks of the month and I have fallen rather deeply in love with it!
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.
20th Anniversary Edition When Griet’s father, a notable tile-maker, is blinded she goes to work for artist Vermeer to support her destitute family. She’s an outsider from the start, a poor Protestant in a well-to-do Catholic household who’s regarded with suspicion by her fellow staff, especially when she alone is entrusted to venture into the master’s studio. Soon enough Griet experiences the magic of artistic creation, of seeing colour anew, of seeing everything anew. But, as her passion for art is aroused so too is an ache of guilt as she grows ever distant from her family. Then there’s the attention and lusts of the handsome butcher’s son who seeks her hand in marriage, and the lascivious approaches of her master’s wealthy patron. The intrigue and tension of the Vermeer household, and the ebb and flow of life in a 17th century Dutch market town are described in painterly detail through Griet’s keenly observant eyes as a swelling scandal spills to the outside world from within the duplicitous household. At once a compelling page-turner and a tour de force of tension and coming-of-age turmoil, this novel remains a must-read for historical fiction fans some twenty years after publication.
Lou Clark knows too many things . . . She knows how many miles lie between her new home in New York and her new boyfriend Sam in London. She knows her employer is a good man and she knows his wife is keeping a secret from him. What Lou doesn't know is she's about to meet someone who's going to turn her whole life upside down. Because Josh will remind her so much of a man she used to know that it'll hurt. Lou won't know what to do next, but she knows that whatever she chooses is going to change everything. Follow Lou Clark's adventures in this spellbinding conclusion to the love story that captured 21 million hearts.
ONE LIFE. LIVED TWICE. Louis and Louise are the same person born in two different lives. They are separated only by the sex announced by the doctor and a final 'e'. They have the same best friends, the same red hair, the same dream of being a writer, the same excellent whistle. They both suffer one catastrophic night, with life-changing consequences. Thirteen years later, they are both coming home. A tender, insightful and timely novel about the things that bring us together - and those which separate us.
Five toasts. Five people. One lifetime. 'I'm here to remember - all that I have been and all that I will never be again.' At the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town sits 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He's alone, as usual -though tonight is anything but. Pull up a stool and charge your glass, because Maurice is finally ready to tell his story. Over the course of this evening, he will raise five toasts to the five people who have meant the most to him. Through these stories - of unspoken joy and regret, a secret tragedy kept hidden, a fierce love that never found its voice - the life of one man will be powerfully and poignantly laid bare. Heart-breaking and heart-warming all at once, the voice of Maurice Hannigan will stay with you long after all is said.
An absolutely exquisite moment in reading time, and one to cherish. Concentrating on Leo and Lottie, from the world at war in 1916 to survival beyond, this is the last in the ‘West Country Trilogy’, however, The Redeemed can easily be read as standalone as I’ve stepped straight into the final book and adored it. I will admit that I do desperately want to read the first two now, and believe I will be able to do so without feeling as though I have missed out on the reading journey. Tim Pears writes with wonderful clarity, small details create a fully painted picture, every word matters and is perfectly placed. Life on board the battlecruiser came to stark realistic life while back in the West Country the farming community committed to the cycle of life. Leo and Lottie live in their moment, in their time, yet their story feels gracefully ageless and everlasting. With joy and heartache waiting to be discovered The Redeemed is an eloquent, gorgeous and fully satisfying read, it is quite simply, beautiful.
Doris lives a lonely life in Stockholm, her only human contact coming from daily carer visits and weekly Skype calls with her beloved grandniece Jenny, who lives in America. Since being given an address book by her dad as a child, Doris has kept a record of her life, noting all the people she’s loved, and all those she’s lost with “DEAD” written against their name. A smart dual narrative lays bare fascinating details of Doris’s life as she writes stories about her past for Jenny, with poignant developments also playing out in the present day narrative. We follow Doris as she’s sent to work for a wealthy Frenchwoman at the age of thirteen, a job that sets her on a path of exploration that continues through her life – modeling in Paris, meeting the love of her life, the outbreak of WWII, a reunion with her younger sister, a flight to America. Doris’s complex, rich life sees her crisscross the Atlantic, following her heart, experiencing near misses, loves lost, and loves re-found. When Doris is hospitalised, her life seems on the verge of crashing in both narratives, as Jenny makes her own journey across the Atlantic to be with the aunt she so loves. The novel’s beautiful ending makes the soul sing, the heart swell and the tears fall, and so I shall leave the last word to Doris: “Don’t be afraid of life, Jenny. Live. Help yourself. Laugh. Life isn’t here to entertain; you have to entertain life. Seize opportunities whenever they come along, and make something good out of them.”
Everything changes for rural lad Emmett Farmer when a gloriously grouchy wise woman compels him to be her bookbinding apprentice. While this line of work is generally shrouded in superstitious fear, Emmett is shocked when his mentor explains that they “don’t make books to sell, boy. Selling books is wrong”. Rather, their gothically intriguing trade involves binding unwanted memories into books: ”Whatever people can’t bear to remember. Whatever they can’t live with. We take those memories and put them where they can’t do any more harm”. Most clients are wealthy; well-to-do gentlemen who have their servants and wives bound so they forget what wrongs their masters and husbands have done to them. No wonder then, that Emmett is horrified to discover a book bearing his own name, and so a tempestuous tangle of secrets unfurls. The novel is also fragrantly spiced with witty references to literary history and the novel as an art form: “It makes one wonder who would write them [novels]. People who enjoy imagining misery, I suppose. People who have no scruples about dishonesty”. Yet through the duplicity of her exquisitely crafted characters, and luminous storytelling, this novel’s author reveals truths of the human spirit in a most entertaining and absorbing fashion.
If ever there was a book to fall completely in love with, this is it. Grace Atherton keeps certain parts of her deeply buried from everyone, yet it is the revelation of a joint secret that causes her life as she knows it to stop, how can she possibly restart it again? The first few sentences told me I was in for a real treat, I was intrigued, delighted in the style of writing, and then the end of first chapter… it was completely unexpected and caused my stomach to squirm. While this is a book to read with joy, it isn’t a gooey ride, it made me flinch, question and delve into thoughts. Anstey Harris has conjured such beautiful descriptions, they created a fully realised and vivid picture in my mind. Music and friendship pay a hugely important part in this book, the joy of each deeply embedded in the page, the words releasing themselves into my soul. I will admit to knowing next to nothing about cellos and violins, yet somehow I felt as though I did, I understood, I felt, I loved each instrument. I absolutely adore The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton, it is completely magical and I suspect that each time I read it (it is a book to return to), a slightly different story will await me. Highly recommended and one of my picks of the month.
The new novel from Sunday Times bestselling author Josephine Cox - the master storyteller. With her family's fate resting on her shoulders, Evie learns her lessons in life fast. It's going to take a woman's courage to find a new beginning... One night, after her father gambles everything away, Evie and her family are forced to do a moonlight flit. It's a fresh start in the South, where no-one knows their name, and Evie desperately misses all they've left behind. Yet Evie's troubles are just beginning. Her mother, worn down by life, deserts them for a new man, and with her grandmother's sight failing, Evie must carry the burden of earning their keep. Holding the family together becomes harder when tragedy strikes at its heart, but there is hope on the horizon . . . Evie Carter just needs the courage to change the fortunes of her family.
A group of Derry friends are on the giddy verge of the rest of their lives. While much of their energy is expended on the opposite sex, smoking, drinking and hanging out at the Cave, their collective coming-of-age plays out against a backdrop of The Troubles - the hunger strike in Belfast prison, rioters on the streets of their petrol-scented city – and a soundtrack that includes post-punk visionaries like Joy Division, Gang of Four and Siouxsie and the Banshees. There aren’t many opportunities for any of the group, especially the girls among them, and so as the strike continues, and the violence escalates, and one of their friends is killed, Christy and Paddy take an irrevocable course of action. This multi-narrative novel is - by turns - humorous, hard-hitting, poignant and plentiful in period detail (music, clothes, poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunity for the working class). A distinct and powerful debut.
Best friends Holly and Roz tell each other everything. So when Holly gets a shot at her dream job after putting everything on hold to raise her daughter, she assumes Roz will be waiting to pop the champagne. But is she just imagining things or is Roz not quite as happy as she should be? And now she thinks about it, a few things don't quite add up... Perhaps it was a mistake to tell Roz all her secrets. Because it takes two to tango. But only one to start a war...
“Big sisters look after little sisters,” declares the mother of the two sisters at the centre of this fiercely enthralling novel and that’s taken to the extreme when big sister Korede helps little sister Ayoola dispose the body of the boyfriend she’s murdered. And not for the first time either. Femi is the third boyfriend to be killed by beautiful, untouchable Ayoola, and Korede can’t not come to her aid. “I am the older sister – I am responsible for Ayoola. That’s how it has always been. Ayoola would break a glass, and I would receive the blame for giving her the drink”. The writing is razor sharp, courtesy of Korede’s wry narration. She’s a mistress of observation and insight, all-seeing, all-knowing and - so it seems – all-loyal to her self-serving little sister. Ablaze with dark humour and strident originality, this wickedly explosive debut heralds the arrival of a smart new voice in contemporary fiction.
Oh, what a truly beautiful read this is, though do prepare for your heart to ache, weep, and possibly even break. For the last ten years, Oliver Loving has been lying in a hospital bed, paralysed and non-communicative, is he trapped in his own mind, can a new test release him? Everyone wants answers, they also want to know what happened ten years ago, on the night of the school dance in Bliss, Texas… and what caused the tragedy that took place there. The story focusses on Oliver, his mother Eve, and brother Charlie, and how one event has trapped them, has maimed them all. Stefan Merrill Block writes so thoughtfully, an almost gentle lyrical quality caresses the pages, yet he encourages searching questions, for you to travel deeper, to look further. This is an emotional read, the writing touched me, deep inside my heart, and a part of Oliver Loving will remain there. Almost otherworldly, yet raw and true and full of heart, Oliver Loving is profoundly moving, and captivating, I highly recommend stepping inside the pages, and becoming one with the story. Oliver Loving is one of my picks of the month.
Just gorgeous… this is an emotional and quite, quite beautiful read. After a particularly traumatic time at home, 13 year old Sal and her younger sister Peppa escape into the wilds of Scotland. Sal has spent a long time preparing, the wilderness beckons them, can they survive on their own? Sal tells their story, the first chapter is so clever, I started to realise what had been happening, and then a few carefully chosen, yet almost casually thrown away words, sent a shockwave running through me. I could clearly hear Sal’s voice, she is so individual and distinctive, her words entered my mind and expanded, filling my heart. Mick Kitson encourages the Scottish countryside to sing with intensity, while you can hear Sal, you can see and feel the clean and natural space she and Peppa find themselves in. Kindness flows from unexpected places, and love is behind every word shared by Sal, even in the darkness. Simple, beautiful, provocative yet touching, this is an outstanding debut, and a read I will return to again and again. Highly recommended and one of my picks of the month.
“Big sisters look after little sisters,” declares the mother of the two sisters at the centre of this fiercely enthralling story and that’s taken to the extreme when big sister Korede helps little sister Ayoola dispose the body of the boyfriend she’s murdered. And not for the first time either. Femi is the third boyfriend to be killed by beautiful, untouchable Ayoola, and Korede can’t not come to her aid. “I am the older sister – I am responsible for Ayoola. That’s how it has always been. Ayoola would break a glass, and I would receive the blame for giving her the drink”. The tale is razor sharp, courtesy of Korede’s wry narration. She’s a mistress of observation and insight, all-seeing, all-knowing and - so it seems – all-loyal to her self-serving little sister. Ablaze with dark humour and strident originality, this wickedly explosive debut heralds the arrival of a smart new voice in contemporary fiction.
A searing, sometimes painful, yet fully rich and fascinating story. 21-year-old student Frances, and her ex-girlfriend Bobbi are interviewed by Melissa about their spoken word performances. They are invited to enter Melissa’s world, they meet her actor husband, their friends, join parties, even a holiday, yet as friendships form and blossom, one particular relationship threatens all. Sally Rooney is beautifully observant, she sees beneath the skin, testing, sifting through thoughts and feelings. Frances is one of the most intriguing characters I have met, incredibly bright and witty, she places herself on the edge of things, and can be frustrating, vulnerable, yet sharply aware and considered. I found myself analysing my thoughts as this dance of nerves and feelings began to close. Conversations with Friends can be uncomfortable and comforting in equal measures, this isn’t a neatly bound experience, instead it’s complicated, riveting, exciting, and certainly doesn’t end with the final line.
Shortlisted for Costa First Novel Award 2018 Prima Magazine Best Books of the Year The Reading Agency Top Debuts of 2018 Emma did not go to war looking for love, but Adam is unlike any other. Under the secret shadow of trauma, Emma decides to leave Iraq and joins Adam to settle in Colorado. But isolation and fear find her, once again, when Adam is re-deployed. Torn between a deep fear for Adam's safety and a desire to be back there herself, Emma copes by throwing herself into a new role mentoring an Iraqi refugee family. But when Adam comes home, he brings the conflict back with him. Emma had considered the possibility that her husband might not come home from war. She had not considered that he might return a stranger.
Oh my, I have quite fallen in love with this absolutely glorious and spellbinding tale. A wonderful infusion of themes means ‘Attend’ quite rightly, refuses to be labelled. Set in Deptford, London the streets, houses, and locations are as eloquently described and important as the characters. Skirting the violent criminal underbelly of the town and exploring the struggle of addiction, the story hovers within touching distance of an unseen mysterious power that planted itself in my mind and continued to lurk and explore my thoughts and feelings. The enigmatic and almost otherworldly Deborah sits centre stage, acting as a magnet, weaving Sam and Anne into her story. ‘Attend’ has a deliciously dark fairytale quality that sits alongside the heartfelt realism of life quite beautifully. This is West Camel’s debut, his writing is alluring and sang out to me, I simply can't wait to see what comes next. I recommend Attend with every fibre of my being, it has must-read stamped all over it.
Lucy, Edgar and Florence are a fractured family dealing with the loss of Frank, a husband, a father and son whose body was never recovered. Lucy and Frank were both wild horses, with Edgar born into the throes of their frenetic relationship. Now he’s a drifting soul, an albino named after Edgar Allan Poe, stumbling through childhood under the protective eye of his grandmother, mystified by the behaviour of his hollowed mother, with her butcher boyfriend and perplexing remoteness. At once epic and intimate, and laced with affecting detail, this powerfully poetic work is suffused in acutely moving evocations of loss (“It was as if grief had impregnated her, the dark seed of it a living havoc in her belly”), and the satisfyingly complex story unwinds with un-put-down-able aplomb. I loved every perfectly-chosen, perfectly-placed word.
In post-war Tarabeg, two women are waiting for ambitious Michael Malone to return home. Rosie is the local schoolteacher and most people think she is promised to him. Just a few have guessed that he has secretly begun to woo Sarah, whose brutal fisherman father would kill her if he knew. Both Rosie and Sarah love Michael, both hope to become his wife and their lives will interweave in a tale of tangled secrets, old promises and new feuds. Michael Malone's choice will have fateful consequences for everyone - especially, in due course, for his young daughter.
Thirty very different pieces about extraordinary women, keenly observed and astute. They cover the spectrum from triumphant to pathetic, sad to humorous, surprising to surreal. There is the woman who unravels, another who grows wings, one who secretly paints her grass green, one talks to ducks, one slips through a timeless crack and another is put on a shelf. Some will irritate, others make you laugh or cry. Do not consume too many together else you will lose the flavour. I would believe it to be a good bedtime listen, enjoy two or three a night and take the next day pondering and digesting them before the next batch.
Insightful, International, Thought-provoking
Literary fiction is a bit of a “catch-all” phrase. Some call it “Serious Fiction” but we prefer to think of it as all of the greatest stories ever told, all in one place. This is where you will find literary classics from literary masters past and present.
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