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Welcome to the present, here we have some fabulous reads set in the modern era. From provocative to beautiful, open your heart and mind and discover strong, believable stories that hammer at your awareness and cause thoughts to hesitate, develop, and flow.
From the author of the divinely dark The Binding and several acclaimed novels for young adults, Bridget Collins’s The Betrayals murmurs with menace and the mystery of the grand jeu, an arcane intellectual game that melds music, maths, poetry and philosophy. The novel’s world - at once familiar and strange - is conjured with crystalline clarity and populated by a cast of distinctly charismatic characters. Set in an unnamed disintegrating European country in the 1930s, the story begins when thirty-two-year-old Leo is removed from his post as Minister for Culture and exiled to his former academy, the exclusive Montverre. Here the nation’s cleverest are schooled in the art of the grand jeu, and here Leo is forced to face tragedy from his past as he forms an unsettling connection with the academy’s new female Magister Ludi. Part homage to Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, this boasts a compellingly jolting plot that will keep readers on their toes, and a delicious dénouement - it’s a delight for lovers of literary conundrums. Find out more about Bridget Collins in our 'Putting Authors in the Picture' blog!
From childhood in Germany and England to young womanhood in Ghana, this enthralling novel follows a steadfastly thoughtful Ghanaian forging her own identity in the face of fractured family ties, tragedy and colonial imperialism. Though of illustrious heritage, Maya’s childhood as an émigré is complex, uncomfortable and evoked with lyrical precision. Her beautiful mother is self-absorbed, always scented with “powdery luxury” and critical of Maya. ”It’s a pity my child did not take my beauty”, she tells her reflection before counselling Maya to “always look more than perfect. Not just good enough, but perfect”. And Maya receives conflicting messages from her father too. “Boys will not like you if you are too clever”, he tells her, while also criticising an eight out of ten mark: “Why not ten out of ten? You must always do your best.” The arrival of cousin Kojo changes everything. His impassioned talk of Ghana fuels Maya’s understanding of her mother country, her parents, and her own identity. She observes that Kojo’s knowledge “gave him the power to upset the order of things,” leading her to wonder, “Could I learn these secrets and codes, even though I did not grow up in our country?” When she and Kojo are sent to schools in England, Maya experiences the racism of peers who “touched my hair and stroked my skin and passed me round on their laps like a doll”, and Kojo is bullied. No wonder then that he decides that, “this is nothing but a small shitty island that doesn’t work properly. It’s a cold wet Third World country, but they made us think they were all powerful.” Later back in Germany, Maya is maddened by the cultural imperialism of her education: “I could not think of much that was more frightening than fitting into this pinched-in sterile world.” Maya’s story is at once arresting and nuanced, and suffused in an elegant sense of triumph when she returns to Ghana, where Kojo has been struggling to set-up a museum, and in time finds her voice and purpose through navigating a tangle of personal misfortune and cultural complexities.
Beginning with an address to Anansi, the trickster story teller god of African folklore, (“Anansi, your four gifts raised to nyame granted you no power over the stories I tell”), Derek Owusu’s That Reminds Me is a one-of-a-kind reading experience. K’s story will break your heart, and heal it. And Owusu’s writing will leave you stunned - it’s that unique, that honest, that impactful. K is a working-class boy born to Ghanaian parents in Tottenham. Fostered as a child, he’s relocated to an unfamiliar rural environment, where there are woods and fields instead of flats and video shops. When he returns to London at the age of eleven, the city has become alien to him - and his birth parents have too. Once again K must re-find himself. Piece himself together, and perhaps find friendship and love along with his identity. Told through K’s fragmented memories, this is an exceptional coming-of-age story that lingers long in the soul. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Hugely entertaining in a wonderfully witty and gentle way, this forms part of the 44 Scotland Street Series. While you could read A Promise of Ankles as a standalone novel and be perfectly and completely happy, you would be missing out on forming a relationship with the rest of series. From young Bertie (what a joy he is), through to student Torquil, and the Duke of Johannesburg, the variety of residents that greet you ensures an engaging read. As is the case with all of his books, the beauty of this read is in the detail. Alexander McCall Smith exquisitely places the finer points, delivering a lightness of touch that hits with precision. The detail matters, expanding and filling the space, allowing feelings freedom to mutter against Irene and delight in Cyril. By the way, the title is gorgeous, and connected to a certain someone, all will become clear! Chosen as a LoveReading star book, A Promise of Ankles delivers real life with a little extra sparkle and is the most lovely reading experience.
This really is the most gorgeous read, it’s poignant, almost unassuming and gentle, yet capable of capturing and causing emotions to expand and explore. It’s 1977 and Calista joins a film set to act as interpreter for Hollywood director Billy Wilder. As Calista begins to experience the wider world, Wilder is aging and his influence is subsiding. Two tales are on offer here, the coming of age and waning star stories entwine and flow as one. Some Like It Hot, directed by Wilder is one of my all-time favourite films, so I was intrigued by the premise of this blend of fact and fiction. Jonathan Coe delves into the life of this influential and talented director, the acknowledgements and sources establish his research and recognise the specific incidents and quotations from Wilder. While the director is fascinating and absolutely compelling, it is Calista, as she remembers her past and looks to her future who allowed my thoughts to reach out and settle with new awareness. I really wasn’t expecting the last line, and it landed with exquisite delicacy and made me cry. I have quite fallen in love with Mr Wilder and Me, it sits as both a Liz Pick of the Month and LoveReading Star Book too.
Our November 2020 Book Club Recommendation Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. A powerful, provocative, and darkly stunning debut. This is a book that tore my heart into pieces while simultaneously showing me the wonder of love and imagination. Romilly’s childhood is one of fame and isolation when her father includes her as the main character in his books for children. While the world believes that the books lead you on a treasure hunt, a more private and heartbreaking journey awaits Romilly. This isn’t an easy read, but it is a beautiful one. Polly Crosby somehow balances some incredibly difficult issues with a sense of wonder, she really does have the most eloquent pen. The prologue has huge impact, sweet, sharp, and bitter notes struck my awareness, and I reread the words before allowing them full access into my thoughts. I initially felt as though I was stepping into a half remembered mysterious photograph. As bites of reality began to appear, they caused a mental and physical ache for all that was lost and uneasy. As the ending settled and I sat back and contemplated, I concluded that it was the most pure and perfect conclusion. Romilly is so special, she has taken up residence inside my thoughts, and she is more than welcome to spend time there. The Illustrated Child is a vibrantly unique and thought-provoking read, it has been included as one of our LoveReading Star Books, and will sit as one of my favourite novels of the year.
Discover the most deliciously chilling and foreboding contemporary Norwegian folklore-filled tale. When Lexi joins an English family in Norway as their nanny, she discovers the past holds worrying secrets, and an alarming presence haunts the here and now. The prologue beautifully set the tone and it stayed with me as I continued to read. As Lexi narrated her own tale I experienced glimpses of the world in-between. An essence of ancient sits on the edge of awareness and slips into thoughts, into dreams. The descriptions of the wilderness set me down on the forested floor and a wire noose of tension began to close. The Nesting is fabulously modern, yet overflowing with suspense and gothic atmosphere. It is a book to savour and I have fallen in love with this tale, not only is it a Liz Pick of the Month, it also slips into our LoveReading Star Books too.
I just wanted them to stop wittering at me, eat vegetables without complaining, let me go to the loo in peace and learn to make a decent gin and tonic. It genuinely never occurred to me when they were little that this would ever end – an eternity of Teletubbies and Duplo and In The Night Bastarding Garden and screaming, never an end in sight. But now there is. And despite the busybody old women who used to pop up whenever I was having a bad day and tell me I would miss these days when they were over, I don’t miss those days at all. I have literally never stood wistfully in the supermarket and thought ‘Oh, how I wish someone was trailing behind me constantly whining ‘Mummy, can I have, Mummy can I have?’ while another precious moppet tries to climb out the trolley so they land on their head and we end up in A&E. Again. Mummy has been a wife and mother for so long that she’s a little bit lost. And despite her best efforts, her precious moppets still don’t know the location of the laundry basket, the difference between being bored and being hungry, or that saying ‘I can’t find it Mummy’ is not the same as actually looking for it. Amidst the chaos of A-Levels and driving tests, she’s doing her best to keep her family afloat, even if everybody is set on drifting off in different directions, and that one of those directions is to make yet another bloody snack. She’s feeling overwhelmed and under appreciated, and the only thing that Mummy knows for sure is that the bigger the kids, the bigger the drink
The first novel from the award-winning, bestselling author of Everything I Know About Love Narrated by Holliday Grainger, star of Lady Chatterley's Lover, Tell it to the Bees and Animals. Nina Dean has arrived at her early thirties as a successful food writer with loving friends and family, plus a new home and neighbourhood. When she meets Max, a beguiling romantic hero who tells her on date one that he's going to marry her, it feels like all is going to plan. A new relationship couldn't have come at a better time - her thirties have not been the liberating, uncomplicated experience she was sold. Everywhere she turns, she is reminded of time passing and opportunities dwindling. Friendships are fading, ex-boyfriends are moving on and, worse, everyone's moving to the suburbs. There's no solace to be found in her family, with a mum who's caught in a baffling mid-life makeover and a beloved dad who is vanishing in slow-motion into dementia. Dolly Alderton's debut novel is funny and tender, filled with whip-smart observations about relationships, family, memory, and how we live now.
A hugely dramatic, intimate and yet expansive family saga that comes with ‘LoveReading Highly Recommended’ stamp, stamped, stamped all over it. Kittiwake, a Cornish holiday mansion originally bought by American heiress Peggy in the late 1940’s, has been handed down through the family. In 2018 the property has been returned to its former glory and a hugely elaborate party is planned, yet echoes of the past have come to haunt the present. The half page prologue most definitely intrigues, it captured my attention and left me wanting more. The story slinks around in time, fleshing out events while creating more questions and all the time singing with lush vibrancy. With several individuals highlighted and featuring throughout the story, Jenny Eclair also turns a short spotlight on other family members. She has created the most beautifully observed characters, small details form an inner core and in a few sentences I felt I knew every last atom of them, and yet, and yet… they were still capable of surprising me. Circles of consequences spiral together and shape the most wonderfully readable story. I gobbled up the words, loved every minute, and the ending sent a shiver of goosebumps down my arms. Inheritance is a story that whispers, suggests, cajoles, sings, shrieks and it is a thoroughly amusing, entertaining, yet also fiercely emotion-packed read.
Everything she touches breaks . . . Nell Ballard is a runaway. A former foster child with a dark secret she is desperate to keep, all Nell wants is to find a place she can belong. So when a job comes up at Starling Villas, home to the enigmatic Robin Wilder, she seizes the opportunity with both hands. But her new lodgings may not be the safe haven that she was hoping for. Her employer lives by a set of rigid rules and she soon sees that he is hiding secrets of his own. But is Nell’s arrival at the Villas really the coincidence it seems? After all, she knows more than most how fragile people can be – and how easy they can be to break . . . A dark, contemporary psychological thriller with a modern Gothic twist from an award-winning and critically acclaimed writer who has been compared to Ruth Rendell, P. D. James and Val McDermid. Rebecca meets The Handmaid’s Tale in Sarah Hilary’s standalone breakout novel.
A thoughtfully intricate and fascinating novel which tells two stories in a most unusual way. Yoel Blum, grandfather and famous Israeli author, travels to Amsterdam and finds that everything he thought he knew about himself has been turned on its head. Setting forth into the history of his family and the Jewish community within Amsterdam during World War Two, Yoel Blum begins to understand himself and his relationships. This isn't a loud or boisterous tale, yet the clarity is piercing. The detail of the underground networks hiding Jewish children in the Second World War is full of impact. Emuna Elon has the most beautiful way with words, her descriptions took me by the hand and led me into their very midst. There are no speech marks or indications of changing time frames, however I never felt out of place. The translation from Hebrew has been completed with great skill by Anthony Berris and Linda Yechiel. Chosen as a Liz Robinson pick of the month, this is a novel to read slowly, to experience, to become a part of. House on Endless Waters is a beautifully eloquent family mystery highlighting human tragedy and resilience.
Oh… my… word, this is one fabulous debut! I found a deceptively simple, and stark dystopian foray into a world blighted by bombs and sickness. Monster is completely alone until one day she finds a child. She becomes mother and passes on her knowledge, but are her mothering skills being received in the way she is expecting them to be? Told in the first person, Katie Hale has created short chapters where thoughts scatter, bounce, zigzag. I filed away feelings and emotions as I read, each within touching distance, lying in wait to prod and provoke. This feels honest, as though looking at a future just within grasp, or back to a history that has already happened. The feelings are raw, sometimes painful, yet relatable and believable. I found the premise of this novel absolutely fascinating, I explored interpretation of meaning, motherhood, and thoughts on the basic cycle of life. ‘My Name is Monster’ is poignant, moving and wonderfully different, it is also incredibly intimate, readable and surprisingly beautiful, I adored it. Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.
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.
THE STUNNING FINAL INSTALMENT OF THE MILLION-COPY BESTSELLING DARK ICELAND SERIES When the body of a nineteen-year-old girl is found on the main street of Siglufjoerdur, Police Inspector Ari Thor battles a violent Icelandic storm in an increasingly dangerous hunt for her killer ... The chilling, claustrophobic finale to the international bestselling Dark Iceland series. Easter weekend is approaching, and snow is gently falling in Siglufjoerdur, the northernmost town in Iceland, as crowds of tourists arrive to visit the majestic ski slopes. Ari Thor Arason is now a police inspector, but he's separated from his girlfriend, who lives in Sweden with their three-year-old son. A family reunion is planned for the holiday, but a violent blizzard is threatening and there is an unsettling chill in the air. Three days before Easter, a nineteen-year-old local girl falls to her death from the balcony of a house on the main street. A perplexing entry in her diary suggests that this may not be an accident, and when an old man in a local nursing home writes 'She was murdered' again and again on the wall of his room, there is every suggestion that something more sinister lies at the heart of her death... As the extreme weather closes in, cutting the power and access to Siglufjoerdur, Ari Thor must piece together the puzzle to reveal a horrible truth ... one that will leave no one unscathed. Chilling, claustrophobic and disturbing, Winterkill marks the startling conclusion to the million-copy bestselling Dark Iceland series and cements Ragnar Jonasson as one of the most exciting authors in crime fiction.
So beautifully written, the chills prowl with unexpected menace to climb inside your thoughts, to lurk and provoke. Richard and Juliette’s son Ewan died at the age of 5, Juliette, convinced that her son is still in the house turns to a group of occultists, while Richard searches for the remains of a hangman’s oak tree opposite their home Starve Acre. Andrew Michael Hurley doesn’t waste a single word, each forms a web to create a picture as he captures the essence of a thought or thing. As the story grows, as the oak planted itself in my minds eye, the unsettling force of grief came to settle over everything. I sank into this tale and couldn’t leave, reading from the deep, dark and incredibly soulful first page through to the startling last in one heady afternoon. Folklore gathers in the background, grief preys on the unsuspecting, and a compelling story unfolds. Highly recommended, I have chosen Starve Acre as one of my picks of the month, and a LoveReading Star Book.
Set in 1980s Atlanta, Tayari Jones’s Silver Sparrow is a rich tour de force that sparkles with wit, warmth and candid lyricism. Exploring the weight of secrets and the complexities of love and family life through the compelling coming of age stories of sisters estranged by their father’s bigamy, this novel lingers long in the soul. “The truth is a strange thing. Like pornography, you know when you see it.” This potent proclamation cuts to the novel’s core, for Dana and her mother Gwen are the other wife, the other daughter, of bigamist James, and they know this truth while his first wife and daughter remain oblivious. Upset when James tells her that being his second daughter “You are the one that’s a secret,” Gwen poignantly informs Dana that rather than being secret, she’s simply “unknown. That little girl there doesn’t know she has a sister. You know everything.” Knowledge that she possesses the truth offers Dana consolation, of sorts. While James’s other family is financially better off, both wives have a distinct lack of agency. Indeed, the novel is sharp on showing how women often have to make their lives from what men decide, such as when Gwen remarks that when you’re four weeks late, “All you can do is give him the news and let him decide if he is going to leave or if he is going to stay.” The novel is also powerful on elemental love and the nature of memory, such as Dana’s response to being gifted a fur coat her father won in a card game: “To this day and for the rest of my life I will always have a soft spot for a man with rum on his breath.” In time, during her own tempestuous teenage years, Dana orchestrates encounters with her sister and they become friends, with tension rising as the secret threatens to detonate. With finely drawn, flawed characters that pull readers’ loyalties in different directions, this commanding, compassionate novel confirms the author’s exceptional gifts. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
A fascinating, and uniquely spellbinding tale that examines life and death, choices and decisions, and encourages thoughts to both reflect and soar. Dawn survives a plane crash and is offered a ticket to wherever she needs to go, that choice sparks two possible futures. I obviously adored this book as it joins my Liz Picks of the month, if you go in unprepared though you may have mixed feelings. Before you start, please note that if you enter just expecting a relationship tale, then you should be prepared to discover, and learn, much much more. This gorgeous read comes with a healthy helping of Egyptology, you’ll learn about hieroglyphs, spells, and translations, all of which I gobbled up. This information does almost dissect the main two stories, occasionally creating a jagged edge, but I found it allowed me time to slow down, to think, to really examine the thoughts that this story was sparking in me. This is a tale that looks at death, and speaks of death in a connected way that perhaps we don’t allow ourselves to do. The Book of Two Ways is both provocative and reflective, joyous and sad, and it’s one that I certainly won’t forget in a hurry.
Sittenfeld's wryly hilarious and insightful new collection, HELP YOURSELF, illuminates human experience and gracefully upends our assumptions about class and race, envy and disappointment, gender dynamics and celebrity. Suburban friends fall out after a racist encounter at a birthday party is caught on video and posted on Facebook; an illustrious Manhattan film crew are victims of their own snobbery when they underestimate a pre-school teacher from the Mid-West; and a group of young writers fight about love and narrative style as they compete for a prestigious bursary. Connecting each of these three stories is Sittenfeld's truthful yet merciless eye, as her characters stagger from awkwardness, to humiliation and, if they're lucky, to reconciliation. Full of tenderness and compassion, this dazzling collection celebrates our humanity in all its pettiness and glory.
Published to coincide with the 124th anniversary of F. Scott Fitzgerald's birth Enigmatic, intriguing and fabulously wealthy, Jay Gatsby throws lavish parties at his West Egg mansion to impress Daisy Buchanan, the object of his obsession, now married to bullish Tom Buchanan. Over a Long Island summer, his neighbour Nick Carraway, a writer and a cousin to Daisy, looks on as Gatsby and Daisy’s affair deepens. Tragedy looms in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, frequently named among the best novels of the twentieth century. This new edition includes a foreword by critically acclaimed novelist Michael Farris Smith, as well as an exclusive extract of his forthcoming novel, NICK, which imagines narrator Nick Carraway’s life before The Great Gatsby.
What an absolutely chilling and incredibly gripping tale this is! When Freya’s husband dies, her neighbour Mark begins to plot and plan his way into her life. The first chapter pulled me up short, it had so much power, the words in themselves so quiet, yet they hurled a storm of awareness at me. Focusing on either Freya or Mark the penetrating storyline had the ability to both draw me in and cause consternation. Stevie Davies has a beautifully twisted pen, her writing really spoke to me. The little things matter, they build to create the most unnerving picture of obsession and I almost wanted to read while hiding behind a cushion. Yet this isn’t an obvious in-your-face fright-fest, it is a thoughtfully observed piece with fully formed characters. Sliding its way rather stealthily into thoughts, The Party Wall is an intense, stimulating read. I didn’t want to put it down, and have chosen this novel as one of my Liz Picks of the Month.
Friends forever is a difficult promise to keep... Meet Lana, Judith and Catrin. Best friends since primary school when they swore an oath on a Curly Wurly wrapper that they would always be there for each other, come what may. After the trip of a lifetime, the three girls are closer than ever. But an unexpected turn of events shakes the foundation of their friendship to its core, leaving their future in doubt - there's simply too much to forgive, let alone forget. An innocent childhood promise they once made now seems impossible to keep.... Packed with all the heart and empathy that made Ruth's name as a screenwriter and now author, Us Three is a funny, moving and uplifting novel about life's complications, the power of friendship and how it defines us all. Prepare to meet characters you'll feel you've known all your life - prepare to meet Us Three.