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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.
A debut novel to read slowly, to savour, to adore. Yes, this is a rather special and beautiful read, and I want to climb a few rooftops to shout about it. Missy Carmichael is lonely, she lives by herself in a huge house, when opportunities arise for friendship and more, can she reach out and take them? I admit to having fallen in love with Missy, she isn’t perfect and she makes mistakes (who doesn’t!), yet there is something about her that tiptoed into my heart and soul and has taken up residence. So often we just see a snapshot of someone, a moment or period in their life, however not here. Beth Morrey has not only brought her to life, but by also dipping into the past, we discover the gems that make Missy, well, Missy! The surrounding characters are a wonderfully quirky bunch, and Bob is an absolute delight. I laughed and I cried (oh how I cried). Saving Missy meanders gently, poignantly, beautifully, to what was for me, a perfect ending. I adored meeting Missy and so have chosen this lovely debut novel as one of our star books.
Burning with an intense, provocative fire, this is a debut that doesn’t flinch from the troubled world it creates. 25 years ago, a 16 year old school girl and her teacher disappeared, now a journalist investigates the mystery at the heart of the boarding school. The prologue intrigues, answering a question while bursting open many more. I felt a seductive unsettling call and settled in. Three women sit centre stage in this story, the missing Louisa, her friend Victoria, and the journalist. I gained access to the school and sank into the heady highs and lows of teenage years. A veil of mystery covers Temple House, the school sits in both time periods, a chilling constant between the two. It is as much about the unsaid, the unseen, as it is what is revealed, and Rachel Donohue handles the balance with surety. The ending really spoke to me, it opened my thoughts and encouraged them to travel. I have no doubt that The Temple House Vanishing will stay with me for some time to come, it is an assured and compelling debut.
Beginning in rural Jamaica in the late 1950s with the island on the verge of independence from Britain, A Tall History of Sugar is an all-consuming story of love, history and self-determination whose author, Curdella Forbes, possesses a majestic ability to evoke the big from the small. Rich details of dialogue, of time and place, of inner states and the outer world, intermesh with a sweeping sense of history, with its pertinent opening line referencing the state of contemporary Britain: “Long ago, when teachers were sent from Britain to teach in the grammar schools of the West Indian colonies (it was Great Britain then, not Little England, as it is now, after Brexit and the fall of empire)…” At the heart of this mythic tale is Moshe, whose appearance and biblical discovery as a baby in a twist of sea grape trees shrouds him in mystery, and elicits much mockery and fear. “With his pale skin, one sky-blue eye and one dark-brown eye…people said the boy just looked like sin. Big sin at work when he was made.” After spending his first years in the company of the childless woman who found him, Moshe forms an unbreakable bond with fellow outsider Arrienne. At school, “with the large girl sitting silently beside him, he felt that he would die of happiness.” While both Arrienne and Moshe excel in their studies, artistically gifted Moshe leaves his politically-engaged soul mate and arrives in England during the hot, fractious summer of 1976, where he hopes to find his birth father. His search takes him from Brixton, borough with a “thousand faces”, to Bristol, where he encounters the incongruity of former slave-owners being celebrated as hero philanthropists, with the urge to be close to Arrienne remaining a constant draw through all his experiences. Complex, compelling and luminously lyrical, this tells a powerful tale I know I’ll return to over and over.
An affectionate, heartfelt, uplifting novel about the wonders of friendship and having a dream. Spend a full day at the 24-hour Cafe in London, meet the staff, and the customers too, sit for a while, observe, enjoy. I adored Libby Page’s first novel The Lido, rest assured this is equally as gorgeous, and a truly lovely, lovely read. The story unfolds beautifully, starting at midnight we meet Hannah and Mona, friends, flatmates, and waitresses who will be working double shifts to cover the 24 hours. Stella’s cafe is a little community in its own right, small stories are contained within, with perfectly observed characters entering and exiting the cafe. I felt so invested in all of them, yet it is the two waiting staff who really touched me. As Hannah’s shift comes to an end and Mona’s starts, this simple, yet full and rich story opens up and flies. The 24-Hour Cafe is full of compassion and warmth, yet it doesn’t shy away from the darker side of life. It has been chosen as a Liz Robinson Pick of the Month because it celebrates friendship and dreams in the best possible way.
Sofia, Bulgaria, a landlocked city in southern Europe, stirs with hope and impending upheaval. Soviet buildings crumble, wind scatters sand from the far south, and political protesters flood the streets with song. In this atmosphere of disquiet, an American teacher navigates a life transformed by the discovery and loss of love. As he prepares to leave the place he’s come to call home, he grapples with the intimate encounters that have marked his years abroad, each bearing uncanny reminders of his past. A queer student’s confession recalls his own first love, a stranger’s seduction devolves into paternal sadism, and a romance with a younger man opens, and heals, old wounds. Each echo reveals startling insights about what it means to seek connection: with those we love, with the places we inhabit, and with our own fugitive selves. Cleanness revisits and expands the world of Garth Greenwell’s beloved debut, What Belongs to You, declared ‘an instant classic’ by the New York Times Book Review. In exacting, elegant prose, Greenwell transcribes the strange dialects of desire, cementing his stature as one of our most vital living writers.
Mae has watched as her three older sisters have gone through the process of finding their place in the world and faced the challenges of parenthood head on. Now ready to spread her wings beyond her close-knit family, Mae is ready to take the world by storm. But a series of events will shake the strong self-belief Mae has always had in herself and will leave her questioning where it is she really fits in. The Amir sisters will need to draw on all the love they have for each other, if they are going to navigate the challenges life has to throw at them and help Mae along the path to self-discovery.
An incredibly engaging, fascinating, and rather beautiful read, this book will stay with me for some time. A couple seek refuge after the Spanish Civil War and end up in Chile, where years later they again face exile. Covering the period from 1938 through to 1994, this is a story that crosses continents, examines topics such as fascism, war, and migration, yet is as intimate as intimate can be. I entered and thought no more about the fact that this was translated from Spanish by Nick Caister and Amanda Hopkinson, it is so clearly, simply, and fabulously done. Within the first few pages there were tears in my eyes. I couldn’t stop reading, thoughtful and sensitive, yet not afraid to focus on unbearable sorrow, this feels as though it could be a biography. As Isabelle Allende explains in the acknowledgments, while this is a novel, with fictional characters (though based on people she has known), the historical events and people are real. She says: “This book wrote itself, as if it had been dictated to me” and I truly felt that. A Long Petal of the Sea opened my eyes and my heart, and has left me wanting to know more. Coming as highly recommended by me, it has also been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book.
New York Times bestselling author Tessa Bailey returns with a unique, sexy romantic comedy about a young married couple whose rocky relationship needs a serious renovation... Rosie and Dominic Vega are the perfect couple: high school sweethearts, best friends, madly in love. Well, they used to be anyway. Now Rosie's lucky to get a caveman grunt from the ex-soldier every time she walks in the door. Dom is faithful and a great provider, but the man she fell in love with ten years ago is nowhere to be found. When her girlfriends encourage Rosie to demand more out of life and pursue her dream of opening a restaurant, she decides to demand more out of love, too. Three words: marriage boot camp. Never in a million years did Rosie believe her stoic, too-manly-to-emote husband would actually agree to relationship rehab with a weed-smoking hippie. Dom talking about feelings? Sitting on pillows? Communing with nature? Learning love languages? Nope. But to her surprise, he's all in, and it forces her to admit her own role in their cracked foundation. As they complete one ridiculous-yet surprisingly helpful-assignment after another, their remodeled relationship gets stronger than ever. Except just as they're getting back on track, Rosie discovers Dom has a secret... and it could demolish everything.
This intelligent, beautifully eloquent and powerful crime novel thoroughly provoked my feelings, and still remains in my thoughts. Mickey Fitzpatrick is a police officer patrolling the area she grew up in. Kensington in Philadelphia is known for drugs and sex workers, when a killer arrives on the streets, Mickey prays that her little sister doesn’t become a victim. The author Liz Moore has an intimate knowledge of the real Kensington, she has interviewed the people drawn there by drugs, written non fiction, and completed community work, she obviously cares a great deal for this neighbourhood and its people. Her novel set in Kensington has been a long time in the coming, she wanted to: “do this world justice”, to: “fairly represent”. As I started to read, the ‘list’ stopped me in my tracks, I read it again, pondered, and then moved on to the first two pages which hit my mind with a wallop and gave it a good shake. Mickey narrates her story, she is so clear, sharp, on point, and I could see, feel, taste her words. Kensington, Mickey and her family flooded my mind in short, fierce, expressive chapters of ‘then’ and ‘now’. I felt a connection to emotions, to this story, it truly spoke to me. I feel this novel will be one that I regularly return to, and I’ll take away something a little different each time. Long Bright River is a stunning read, it aches with poignant, vivid intensity and I absolutely loved it. There is no other option for me, than to choose it as a LoveReading Star Book, and a Liz Robinson Pick of the Month.
A lovely, heartfelt, oh so readable and occasionally quirky story containing huge empathy and thoughtfulness. Two teenagers, refugees without their parents, set off from Syria in the hopes of reaching the UK. I am a huge fan of Gavin Extence, as he has the ability to write with an incredibly light touch while exploring hugely provocative topics. His books often contain a waft of magic, not hocus pocus exactly, but something that makes you stop and think. The story here is told by 19-year-old Zain, older brother to 14-year-old Mohammed, and we meet them as they begin the swim from Turkey to Greece. Simply told, the words hit my thoughts with hammer-hard intensity, and yet there were smiles on hand too. There is a gentle compassion to be found in Zain, and as I read, I took him, and his football-loving brother to my heart. All I will say about the third absolutely fabulous character in this tale is that I won’t forget him! ‘The End of Time’ doesn’t preach, it lets you discover thoughts and feelings for yourself, it just exists, as it is, as the most wonderfully compelling and beautiful story. I have chosen ‘The End of Time’ as one of my Liz Robinson picks of the month - it has a massive tick in the 'fabulous read' box from me. Gavin Extence is our author in the picture for July 2019, do take a look at the photos he chose in answer to our questions. Read our Putting Authors in the Picture blog post with Gavin.
Well, this is one seriously addictive and fabulous read. Now that I have finished I feel bereft, exhilarated, and have one humdinger of a book hangover. Set in London, it is 1863 and private detective Bridie Devine is on the case of a stolen child. The prologue hooked me as surely as a fish on a line, I gaped, wondered, and leaned in for more. Descriptions opened with vivid intensity in my mind, creating the most glorious views. There is something about Jess Kidd’s writing that speaks directly to my soul, she knows how to lull, tickle, burn. She created a stinging tension, on a number of occasions leaving me hanging while popping into the past. I have to say that Bridie Devine is one of the most fabulous characters I’ve come across. She has taken up a somewhat boisterous lodging in my mind and she’s more than welcome! Information swirled around, making my thoughts whirl, adding to the torrent that I knew was surely coming. And oh, that ending! Things in Jars is a Victorian detective story with a difference, it crosses genres and set light to my imagination. It has been added to my list of favourite books. Bridie Devine to my list of favourite detectives. Jess Kidd has been confirmed on my list of favourite authors. Things in Jars is LoveReading Star Book, Book of the Month, and Liz Robinson Pick of the Month… Need I say more?
Thirty-year-old Shalini has lived a privileged life, but one beset by uncertainty. She was her erratic mother’s “little beast” and is struggling to come to terms with her tragic death. Adrift from work and the wider world, Shalini journeys to find Bashir, a travelling salesman she and her mother befriended through her childhood, tentatively hoping this will provide some understanding of her mother’s death. As Shalini’s journey unfolds in the present, a second narrative reveals her past with raw poignancy. On the road, Shalini’s faltering need to belong somewhere is revealed through her romantic imaginings of being part of a stranger’s family. And then, in Bashir’s remote Himalayan village, she becomes caught in a complex political situation, with the tangled conflict between her heart and conscience made powerfully palpable. While she feels “I had chosen this place, these people, this life, with its secrets and its violence, it’s hardness and its beauty”, Shalini recognises that she’s thrown Bashir’s family “into disarray with my invasion and my probing questions”. The writing is so exquisitely magnetic that I struggled to draw myself away from it, especially as Shalini’s story rose to an unexpected, pulse-quickening climax. This is the rare kind of novel that lingers long in the heart and mind, like a dream one feels compelled to return to.
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.
Why not have a look at our monthly featured titles for inspiration? Revisit old friends? Discover new ones? Or finally read that book that your friends have been banging on about for ages? Whatever your reasons, settle down with your favourite tipple, unwind and open your mind with the home-spun brilliance of authors like Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, David Nicholls and Zadie Smith; or those from further afield: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murakami, Ben Okri, Jostein Gaarder and so many more. There are obviously so many to choose from, you could get lost in the Sea of Choices.