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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.
A powerful, eloquent, earthy and emotional novel about family, regret, hope, and redemption. Former footballing prodigy Danny Garvey returns home to manage the local football team, yet past secrets haunt the present. I simply fell into this novel, fell in love with both the writing and storyline, and similarly adored Welcome to the Heady Heights. David F Ross writes so beautifully, images spark into life, so vibrantly real they almost hurt. During the course of this novel I found myself roaring with laughter, high on feel-goods, then caught up in plummeting emotions that caused a physical ache… this is a novel with real heart. The direct thoughts of the other headline characters appear in italics, and boy does it create atmosphere. My head was full of the added information, creating a jigsaw, while searching for the missing pieces without realising it. The ending gave me full-on goosebumps, and I sat for a goodly while in contemplation after finishing. I want to shout from the rooftops about There’s Only One Danny Garvey, hand on heart it’s blimmin brilliant!
Thando Mgqolozana’s A Man Who is Not A Man is a coming-of-age tour de force. The writing is exceptional - always muscular, often raw, occasionally wry - as it explores masculinity through a young man’s journey to selfhood in the wake of a rite of passage that goes devastatingly wrong. After going off the rails in Cape Town, Lumkile resolves to put his days of drugs, theft and violence behind him when he moves to his mother’s rural village. Here he “went clean” and “decided to make something of myself”, and it’s not long before “Item One on my grand plan was just around the corner”. Namely, Lumkile begins the initiation process that will lead to his circumcision, to his journey to manhood. Above almost everything, he’s warned by elders to avoid hospital at all costs, for that would mean failure and “there is no living space for failed men in our society. Either you become a man in the expected way, or you are no one at all.” After being circumcised, he remains alone in the mountains, alone with his “burning agony”, alone with the stench of putrefying flesh - such is his fear of the shame and social ostracism seeking medical assistance would bring. Lumkile’s resistance to hospitalisation is incredibly harrowing, and there’s little respite when he’s admitted and continues to suffer in silence. But through surviving this physically and mentally excruciating experience, he summons the strength to speak out, realising that “Survival starts from within... As a so-called failed man, I have had to gain a new understanding of myself in context...My self-image is no longer dependent on what my society thinks of me but what I think of it.” Powerful stuff from an exceptional writer.
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.
Katie Hale is our January 2020 Debut Author of the Month. Click to find out more about Katie on our blog. 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.
Our January 2021 Book Club Recommendation Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. A complete joy of a debut, bright, observational and incredibly intimate, this book has lodged itself in my heart. Take twelve independent yet linked stories over twelve months about people who are connected to a London park community. The focus changes with each month, allowing individual stories to shine, yet they add up to a vibrantly wonderful whole. Gemma Reeves is beautifully eloquent, she has the ability with a few words, to give you admittance to someone’s soul. While she creates penetrating access to each person, there isn’t always a conclusion, instead life carries on, suggesting potential pathways. I fell in love with this powerfully blended infusion of life. The variety of characters, in age, personality, and beliefs crackle with energy. A new character might wander in for a few moments and then star in the next tale. Some connections may be obvious and linger, others lightly touch before moving on. The stories themselves tug at heartstrings and encourage thoughts to roam, the ending is simply divine and brought tears to my eyes. Thought-provoking and emotionally intelligent, Victoria Park slips with glorious ease onto our LoveReading Star Books list and is a Liz Pick of the Month, it really is very special indeed.
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.
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.
Hauntingly beautiful and full of slicing suspense, this contemporary thriller twisted itself into my thoughts and still hasn’t let go. 17 year old runaway and former foster child Nell Ballard finds herself in London on the doorstop of a new opportunity, but a dark secret is keeping her company. Sarah Hilary is well known for her outstanding DI Marnie Rome crime series (one of my favourites) and this is her first standalone novel. The writing is unmistakably her, yet travels in a different direction. She was inspired by Rebecca and The Handmaid’s Tale and her publisher perfectly describes Fragile as a: “psychological thriller with a modern Gothic twist”. She tackles subjects such as child exploitation and homelessness, opening a door and allowing apprehension and awareness in. She has the ability to look between, into the forgotten spaces, either in the outside world or within our own minds, and she successfully reveals what most of us are unable at first to see. There was an almost gentle poetic quality to the words before they ganged together to create uncertainty, concern, and tension. At times, as the quiet moments soothed my thoughts, I was lulled into a feeling of calm. The ending, oh that ending, it hit home hard, and I had to read it again, just to allow it to sink in. Fragile is an achingly dark, wonderfully atmospheric novel, and I will more than happily climb a few rooftops to shout about it.
Quirky yet insightful, bright yet wistful, amusing yet emotional… this is one heck of a thought-provoking and stimulating debut. When Rachel is told ‘everything happens for a reason’ after her son Luke is stillborn, she begins to search for proof, certain she is to blame. This is one of those books that doesn’t fit neatly into a genre, instead it straddles several, and actually stands quite rightly on its own two feet. Author Katie Allen is a journalist, and this story is deeply personal and painful to her, she said on twitter that after her baby died one person texted back: “everything happens for a reason”, and she had grappled with that ever since. Grief is a lonely and isolating place to be, yet this novel, while eye-opening, is also inclusive and encouraging. Letting her feelings out in a series of emails, Rachel is incredibly engaging, she took my hand and welcomed me into the pages. I quite honestly had no idea where this book was going to to take me, I didn’t try to guess and remained firmly in the the presence of the words as they entered my thoughts. Highly recommended and a LoveReading Star Book, Everything Happens for a Reason is full of contradictions that fuse into the most surprising, moving, and beautiful novel.
Within the boroughs of London, nestled among its streets, hides another city, filled with magic. 'Magic and love. Love and magic. They destroy everything in the end ...' Anna's Aunt has always warned her of the dangers of magic. Its twists. Its knots. Its deadly consequences. Now Anna counts down the days to the ceremony that will bind her magic forever. Until she meets Effie and Attis. They open her eyes to a London she never knew existed. A shop that sells memories. A secret library where the librarian feeds off words. A club where revellers lose themselves in a haze of spells. But as she is swept deeper into this world, Anna begins to wonder if her Aunt was right all along. Is her magic a gift ... or a curse?
“For the last thirty-two years, you’ve not once trotted out for a run around the block. And now you tell me with a straight face that you want to run a marathon.” So begins this scathingly amusing novel that sees 64-year-old Remington - recently forced to retire early after an unsavoury employment tribunal – develop an unhealthy obsession with extreme exercise and his hideously competitive trainer, Bambi. Remington’s wife, sixty-year-old Serenata has always been a solitary exerciser (“I find large numbers of people doing the same thing in one place a little repulsive”), so the fact that her “husband had joined the mindless lookalikes of the swollen herd” comes as a shock, and an insensitive affront too, given that she was recently compelled to give up a lifetime of running after a diagnosis of osteoarthritis in both knees. Their spiteful bickering begins immediately, with neither party displaying themselves in a favourable light. Indeed, both characters are largely unlikeable, which makes their sniping all the more entertaining. Remington bemoans accusations of privilege, thus revealing said privilege: “I’m a little tired of being told how ‘privileged’ I am... How as a member of the ‘straight white patriarchy’ I have all the power. I’m supposedly so omnipotent, but I live in fear, less like a man than a mouse.” After (eventually) crossing the finish line of his first marathon, Remington signs-up for a gruelling triathlon, with his farcical persistence in spite of serious incidents and injuries making this novel both hilarious and excruciatingly cringe-worthy, albeit with an unexpectedly bittersweet upshot.
Carole Johnstone's Mirrorland is a creepingly compelling psychological thriller of the highest order - a dark, suspenseful debut with haunting atmosphere and pitch-perfect pacing as thirty-something Cat returns to her childhood home after a twelve-year absence when her twin sister El is reported missing at sea. As children, the sisters spent most of their time in Mirrorland, an imaginary world located beneath the pantry stairs. The girls also grew up with their mother telling them they were special identical twins. The egg separated late, “which meant we were more than just two halves of the same whole.” To Cal, this also meant El was “my exact opposite. My reflection. My Mirror Twin.” While the police and El’s husband Ross are certain El is dead, Cal is sure she’s still alive - who else would be leading her on a treasure hunt around Mirrorland? The trail of clues draws Cal back to their childhood with tremendous edge-of-seat tension, back to Clown Café, Princess Tower and Kakadu Jungle, where she and El used to encounter Mouse, the Witch, the Tooth Fairy and Bluebeard. Where they dreamed of meeting their imagined pirate king father in an imagined future. Following this trail forces Cal to peel back - and confront - layers of trauma from the past, to remember that “bad things happened in this house… but that was a lot easier to forget when I was an ocean away from its walls." Chillingly atmospheric, this un-put-down-able page-turner is perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn and Erin Kelly, with the magic realist elements created by the sisters’ fantasy world giving it extra edge.
Glorious, simply and beautifully glorious! Inspired by Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, this is the imagined story behind the writing of Hamlet, which was written between 1599 and 1601. Hamnet and Hamlet were apparently “entirely interchangeable in Stratford records in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries”. Maggie O’Farrell says she wanted to write this story for over thirty years. “What did it mean for a father to name a tragic hero after his ( ) son. What was this unusual act telling us?” The cover design is beautiful, it called to me. On opening, I slipped into and fell in love with this tale. Hamnet has an almost otherworldly feel, and yet is as earthy and believable as can be. Two time frames sit side by side, Hamnet becoming ill in 1596, and then the earlier story of Shakespeare and Agnes meeting and falling in love. The descriptions became clear bright images in my mind. I could feel the words, they echoed deep inside me, creating pools of emotion. I cried on finishing, all the feelings that Hamnet created slipped out of me and trickled down my cheeks. I adore Hamnet, it now sits on my list of favourite books, and will be one that I reread each year. Chosen as a Book of the Month, LoveReading Star Book, and Liz Pick of the Month.
If you’re looking for a unique, transportive, immensely satisfying read then I’ll wave frantically and recommend you stop right here. Laura agrees to assess Will to establish if he is still capable of living on his own, she begins to suspect that Will isn't suffering from dementia and that his strange story may actually be true. Keith Stuart is the author of the truly beautiful Days of Wonder and A Boy Made of Blocks, books that touch emotions, encourage thoughts, and cast a spellbinding atmosphere. I was hugely excited to read his latest and it effortlessly joins the others as particular favourites of mine. Each of his novels have been completely different, yet there is a thread of connection. He opens a door to a side of being human that you might not have seen and encourages emotions to flood your heart and soul. The Frequency of Us takes a step outside of what is known, edging into fantastical and I joined the story with trust and belief. Laura and Will formed a connection with each other and in turn with me. Two time frames allow access to the past, creating intrigue and a mystery that just begs to be solved. The ending really spoke to me and set my feelings free to soar. The Frequency of Us is a mesmerising read full of love and hope, and I’m thrilled to recommend it as one of our LoveReading Star Books.
The dazzling new novel from Richard & Judy book club author Catherine Isaac, The World at my Feet is a story about the transforming power of love, as one woman journeys to uncover the past and reshape her future. The secrets that bind us can also tear us apart... 1990. Harriet is a journalist. Her job takes her to dangerous places, where she asks questions and tries to make a difference. But when she is sent to Romania, to the state orphanages the world is only just learning about, she is forced to rethink her most important rule. 2018. Ellie is a gardener. Her garden is her sanctuary, her pride and joy. But, though she spends long days outdoors, she hasn't set foot beyond her gate for far too long. Now someone enters her life who could finally be the reason she needs to overcome her fears. From post-revolution Romania to the idyllic English countryside, The World at My Feet is the story of two women, two worlds, and a journey of self-discovery that spans a lifetime.
What if Jesus had married? What kind of woman would he marry? Who would marry him? These questions are at the heart of Sue Monk Kidd’s sweepingly inventive The Book of Longings. Ana, with her “turbulent black curls and eyes the colour of rainclouds” and a narrative voice that sweeps you up in its bold passion, was born into a wealthy Galilean family. Sharp-minded and a gifted writer, Ana secretly transcribes the stories of matriarchs in the scriptures, women omitted from the records: “To be ignored, to be forgotten, this was the worst sadness of all. I swore an oath to set down their accomplishments and praise their flourishings, no matter how small. I would be a chronicler of lost stories.” Ana seems destined to marry an elderly widower to further her father’s career (he’s the closest adviser to Herod Antipas, whom Ana despises), until she encounters eighteen-year-old Jesus and is emboldened and aroused by his revolutionary ideas: “I called him Beloved and he, laughing, called me Little Thunder.” Jesus understands Ana’s longings, her “life begging to be born,” and she loves his kindness, his capacity for listening. Of course, we know how the real-life narrative plays out, but this affecting story gets under the skin as familiar events unfold through Ana’s eyes, as a proto-feminist, as wife of Jesus, as sister of Judas. 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 is a book that will keep you wonderfully off balance, it feels as though you are being trusted with an unsettling and dangerous secret. When Ada Howell turns 18 her wealthy godmother presents her with a gift that could allow her access to the world she she craves. The shocking aftermath of a sudden death appears to pave the way for her dreams, but the route she takes comes at a cost. Ada narrates, opening a disquieting window to her world and looking at herself without sentimentality. I felt that any feelings of compassion I had for Ada would have been slapped away and yet they remained. The nostalgic recollections and empathy she does have channel themselves into the house she grew up in and lost. Laura Vaughn has previously written for children and young adults, this is her first novel for adults. She writes with an understated eloquence, slowly allowing the intrigue and tension to build piece by delicate piece. There are a number of characters, each perfectly placed and adding to the feeling of claustrophobia that haunted the pages. I felt a shiver of foreboding as the ending began to slide into place, followed by satisfaction as I closed the last page. A well-written and rewarding read The Favour slips into shadowy thoughts and finds the darkness that dwells there.
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.
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. Explore our '80+ Books That Deliver a Hug' listicle for more feel-good or uplifting books.