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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.
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.
Written by former Labour MP and leading Anti-Apartheid and Anti-Nazi League campaigner Peter Hain, The Rhino Conspiracy is a true page-turner. A thriller that resonates with conscience, timeliness and deep knowledge of South African politics and wildlife. The book’s backdrop is a political landscape in which a corrupt South African government has chosen to overlook lucrative rhino poaching. In the words of Mkhize, a young ranger, “It’s war out there. Those bastards have AK-47 assault rifles. They don’t mess about. To get those rhino horns they will murder anybody, destroy anything.” But he recognizes deep complexities too: “Wildlife is seen as something for rich whites, so poachers can be seen as sort of Robin Hoods. Kill a poacher and you can turn these communities against wildlife protection.” This corruption has led a veteran freedom fighter to break his lifelong ties with the ANC. He wants to bring about change: “The Veteran had a responsibility – no, a duty – to act.” But he needs “help from a younger protégé. Someone to do the legwork, to be out there reporting back to him.” Enter Thandi, a young woman who was “Born Free but not a Born Forget’”. Unlike most of her peers, she knows history, and is inspired by Mandela and his ANC comrades, stirred by their “courage, determination and passionate commitment to democracy, to human rights, to social justice.” Having recently been on safari with Mkhize and struck up a bond with him, they both attend the Veteran’s political event and sign-up to his cause. The work is highly risky, and becomes riskier still as they uncover corruption on an international scale, with multiple individuals embroiled. The narratives move smoothly between different characters and perspectives, making for a tensely enthralling ride. Passionate and pacey throughout, The Rhino Conspiracy is also underpinned by a vital commentary on the nature of bringing about change. In the words of the Veteran, “Big change never came solely from within the system, but from external force as well.”
Beautifully eloquent, well written, and somehow teetering right on the edge of being a crime novel even with a murder and two investigating detectives. When a young woman is murdered, a neighbour and retired teacher is arrested and quickly forged into a monster by the press and social media. One of the detectives recognises his former teacher and takes a step back into his childhood. This is a book that covers a number of subjects, it is both sharp and focused, and lyrically descriptive. While a murder sits at its heart, it looks into the shadows of hate, bullying and abuse. Patrick McGuinness has the ability in a few words to paint a vivid scene. New thoughts cracked open inside my head and I felt that not a word was wasted, even when “a third cup of tea” is poured. As I read I explored a variety of emotions and found myself entirely consumed by Throw Me to the Wolves. A Liz Pick of the Month, and a fabulously provocative and challenging read, I loved it.
A blistering, deep and provocative novel containing moments of heartbreaking emotion and poignant humour. Fran leaves the city and returns to her childhood home in Australia to take care of her Dad. Memories rush back in, but then a devastating bush fire takes hold. The plot and location are as different as different can be when compared to her previous book Worst Case Scenario (a LoveReading Star Book), however I could still feel the distinctive style of Helen FitzGerald. She could plonk her next story on Mars and I would be desperate to read it, this is a writer that as a reader, I would follow anywhere. I just want to mention the stunning cover while I’m here, you’ll find out about it after you’ve finished reading the book, just take a good look before you start. The first chapter hits hard, straight into the middle of chaos, the impact was huge. Set over ten days, we travel with Fran as she returns to Ash Mountain, then back and forwards in time, dropping into her memories before marching on towards the fire. The intimacy of Fran’s life and searing shock of the fire made me shiver and flinch. This is 211 pages of truly fabulous writing, and an all-consuming read. Ash Mountain buffeted my thoughts and smashed my emotions, but oh my, it will be a book I will never forget. Chosen as a Liz Robinson Pick of the Month and a LoveReading Star Book, I really can’t praise it highly enough.
Our September 2020 Book Club Recommendations. Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. Unique, provocative, and powerful, this is also a painfully exquisite and beautifully written book. Focusing on her affair with Connor, the harrowing and damaging emotions of loss, grief, and obsession overflow within Ana’s mind. A novel, yes, but not as you know it. Told in verse, Sarah Crossan writes as you might think. Thoughts flow, yet are spliced, splintered, hesitant, fractured. This is the first novel for adults from award winning Sarah Crossan, who was Ireland’s Children’s Literature Laureate (Laureate na nOg) for 2018-2020 and it has huge impact. Ana’s mind is an uncomfortably intimate place to be, thoughts ebb, flow, blast, rage. Each new unexpected bite of information hit me with raw overwhelming precision. As Ana unravelled, so did my feelings, and I positively ached for all involved. Will some people find this a difficult read due to the raw dark content, yes quite possibly, yet for me that is the wonder of this book. Every slicing emotion peels away another layer until you reach the core. Here is the Beehive has been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book and Liz Robinson Pick of the Month as for me this is a must-read.
Dazzlingly original, Cassondra Windwalker’s Idle Hands crackles with wit and the real-world traumas of a family whose lives change course courtesy of divine intervention from the devil. It’s a veritable feast of the imagination, and a feat of thought-provoking story-telling that will surely appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman. After an abusive marriage, Purdie makes the tough and brave decision to leave her husband to start a fresh life. It’s a heart-breaking move, made harder by her children’s questions: “Your daddy had a choice of his own to make, and he didn’t choose us,” she explains. “But I am choosing you. I am choosing you above everything. We’re going to build a new life, and it’s going to be beautiful.” Purdie makes this happen, but when tragedy hits years later, she’s led to question the paths she’s taken, and tormented by harrowing “what-ifs” and “if-onlys”. Desperate to shield her family and safeguard their future, she makes a deal with the devil, a philosophical puppet master who now pulls the strings of Purdie’s life. This is a cunningly-told tale of stark dichotomies – between voices and viewpoints, between domestic experience and metaphysical speculation. It shows how we grapple with rationalising decisions and notions of freewill and fate. Every bit as provocative and playful as the devil him (or her) self, this is a daring blast of a book.
A beautiful and inspiring story that is full of hope. Nora Seed enters The Midnight Library and is given the opportunity to experience how her life could have turned out, answering her "what ifs?" and undoing each regret she has in search of the perfect life. An open and heartfelt tale from the briliant, emotionally cognizant Matt Haig, The Midnight Library is an entertaining story with a soul and very important lesson to share.
Bea's five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is slowly wasting away. The smog and pollution of the overdeveloped, overpopulated metropolis they call home is ravaging her lungs. Bea knows she cannot stay in the City, but there is only one alternative: The Wilderness State. Mankind has never been allowed to venture into this vast expanse of untamed land. Until now. Bea and Agnes join eighteen other volunteers who agree to take part in a radical experiment. They must slowly learn how to live in the unpredictable, often dangerous Wilderness, leaving no trace on their surroundings in their quest to survive. But as Agnes embraces this new existence, Bea realises that saving her daughter's life might mean losing her in ways she hadn't foreseen. At once a blazing lament of our contempt for nature and a deeply humane portrayal of motherhood, The New Wilderness is an extraordinary, urgent novel from a celebrated new literary voice.
Set in Lagos, Nigeria, Tola Rotimi Abraham’s Black Sunday is a rich and accomplished coming-of-age debut that lays bare the hardships, heartaches and hopes of four siblings from 1996-2015. Twin sisters Bibike and Ariyke (“we were never stupid girls. We were bright with borrowed wisdom”) live a pretty contented life until their mother loses her job at the Ministry of Petroleum. With her sacking underpinned by broader political dealings, there’s nothing she can do to keep the family afloat but take-up a teaching post, which she hates. Later, when she leaves the family and the twins’ father loses their family home, they and their brothers are cared for by their Yoruba grandmother. With the narratives split between the four siblings, each of them must deal with abandonment and abuse as Lagos changes, and their lives take separate paths. The siblings’ intimate, affecting stories are wrapped-up in wider issues, such as church corruption and male exploitation of women. As Bibike notes, “Beauty was a gift, but what was I to do with it? It was fortunate to be beautiful and desired… But what is a girl’s beauty, but a man’s promise of reward? If beauty was a gift, it was not a gift to me, I could not eat my own beauty, I could not improve my life by beauty alone.” Meanwhile, Ariyke turns to religion. Universal emotions are also deftly handled, such as when their brother Peter comments “I think families who spend a lot of time arguing about the small stuff do it because they do not have the courage to talk about big things.” Fortunately for readers, Black Sunday is a brilliant book that has the courage to talk about the big things with honesty, humanity and beauty. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
An absolute gift of a book, contained within is enough emotion to make your heart truly ache, possibly even break, yet also soar with love for nine year old Frankie. Frankie Appleton likes to design gates, gates to keep the bad things out, but bad things have already edged their way in. I have fallen in love with The Weight of Small Things. Julie Lancaster writes with a beautifully gentle yet devastating eloquence. Small, sharp slices of information lie in wait, delivered with such innocence, they are all the more powerful. Two time frames exist side by side, one sitting in the late 1980’s, while the other creeps forward from the past. Do keep an eye on the year that heads each chapter to avoid confusion. As I began to confirm the link between the two stories, my apprehension grew and my thoughts hesitated and reformed. Julie Lancaster deals with challenging subjects with sensitivity and care, yet this book holds such compelling power. While Frankie sits as the focus, two other women create the foundations to this story. At times this debut stings and it can be an uncomfortable read. Drips become rivulets and rush into torrents, yet all the time there is an irresistible charm contained within. Frankie has taken up residence in a corner of my heart, and she is most welcome there. She also climbs into our LoveReading Star Books. A Debut of the Month, The Weight of Small Things is a shattering read and yet it holds a piercing note of hope.
One life-changing summer Charlie meets Fran... In 1997, Charlie Lewis is the kind of boy you don't remember in the school photograph. His exams have not gone well. At home he is looking after his father, when surely it should be the other way round, and if he thinks about the future at all, it is with a kind of dread. Then Fran Fisher bursts into his life and despite himself, Charlie begins to hope. But if Charlie wants to be with Fran, he must take on a challenge that could lose him the respect of his friends and require him to become a different person. He must join the Company. And if the Company sounds like a cult, the truth is even more appalling. The price of hope, it seems, is Shakespeare. Poignant, funny, enchanting, devastating, Sweet Sorrow is a tragicomedy about the rocky path to adulthood and the confusion of family life, a celebration of the reviving power of friendship and that brief, searing explosion of first love that can only be looked at directly after it has burned out.
Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020 Rachel and Eliza are planning their future together. One night in bed Rachel wakes up terrified and tells Eliza that an ant has crawled into her eye and is stuck there. Rachel is certain; Eliza, a scientist, is sceptical. Suddenly their entire relationship is called into question. What follows is a uniquely imaginitive sequence of interlinked stories ranging across time, place and perspective to form a sparkling philosophical tale of love, lost and found across the universe.