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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!
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.
‘Mann Alone’, is an apocalyptic fiction story about the Isle of Man and how the people on the island work to try and protect themselves in the face of an international pandemic that appears to have a 100% death rate. As with all pandemic fiction read in 2020/2021 you can’t help but relate it to the times we’re living in. I was interested to read a smaller island narrative perspective of a pandemic as opposed to the bigger action-style storylines that always seem to focus on larger countries. The reader is brought into the story very quickly, with the new ultra pneumonia virus cases being the immediate focus. I did find the early speech a bit unnatural, the initial scene setting and characterisation a bit blunt. I personally prefer a narrative where we are perhaps shown who’s who instead being told: “Dr. Vihan Sing barged through a door with ‘Chief Exec. Health and Social Services’ on it, a job that could have been his” or something. Perhaps another area that could be looked at to make the overall book more polished is a slight overuse of the word ‘said’, again it’s my personal reading preference but I like a more varied writing style. The plotline itself is interesting and, as I have never been to the Isle of Man, I learnt a lot about the Island. As I said, I think that the author has had a great and unique idea, focusing on a smaller island instead of the more typical America or England focus. Twists and conflicts kept things entertaining as the country worked to protect itself and humanity against this deadly virus. I was intrigued to know what would happen to the people on the island and whether everyone would be able to put their self-interest aside for the sake of the future of humanity. I think that this is a quick and enjoyable read.
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.
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.
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.
Still Crazy is a very enjoyable book focusing on the lives of two main characters, Melanie and Phil. The story moves backwards and forwards across a number of decades alternately between Melanie and Phil’s side of the story. It tells of how they met at Cambridge University and what happened to them personally over a number of years. The book is extremely well written and the characters are very likeable. It is interesting to watch them mature over the years and how their perspective on life changes. At some points, it reminded me of the ‘Sliding Doors’ film as they both do a lot of reflecting on how their lives would have turned out if they’d made different decisions. Having said this, there are a lot of funny moments in this book and I was laughing out loud a few times. It really was a fantastic read and I hope that the author writes some more books as I would absolutely love to read them! Nicola Coen, A LoveReading Ambassador
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
Cassidy is running away from his past on Alabama Chrome, but his ghosts never leave. With little other than his campervan, he doesn’t seem to settle anywhere. But a snowstorm changes all that, bringing Cassidy into contact with Lark, and a community he might be able to feel at home in. With more complications on the way, from an inscrutable new waitress and the arrival of a reality TV host with a full crew in tow to shoot a new TV show, will Cassidy be able to share his truth, or will he return to the road? A story that will bring your emotions to the front but in an enjoyable way. Alabama Chrome is written from the first person perspective of Cassidy; he shares the life of a small, close-knit community, featuring family bonds, the looming presence of domestic violence as well as a critique on reality TV. I was intrigued by the story throughout and I found the characters to be very well-rounded, with each past event revealed adding nuance and believability to the story. The author definitely has a detailed knowledge of people, their quirks, traits and behaviours and is good at crafting believable characters that evoke sympathy and empathy.