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This is where you will find stunning books from literary masters past and present. Literary fiction doesn’t just mean good or valued, as brilliant writing can be found in any genre. These are serious stories with high artistic qualities that strike at the heart of what it is to be human.
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.
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.
Thirty beautiful short stories written for Christmas sit within the pages of this book. George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) from Orkney, wrote these tales during the 1970’s and 80’s, and yet they somehow sit outside of time. As William S. Peterson says in the introduction: “Some of them are set in the ancient or medieval world; others seem to be taking place in the early twentieth century. Always, however, he insists upon collapsing the dissecting between the present and a shadowy past…”. Sometimes Christmas is obvious, while at others there is just a whisper as they sit within the Advent season, but these stories hold tradition, myth, childhood, family, and what it is to be human during this time of year. The wood and lino cuts are an additional treat. A story that is a particular favourite of mine is Dialogue at the Year’s End which sent a shiver of goosebumps cascading down my arms with the kiss of a fairytale, and brought a tear to my eye. Christmas Stories is the most lovely festive treasure, and would make a lovely stocking filler as it brings alive the human spirit and joy of Christmas.
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.
Based on her great-great grandparents’ experiences, Tammye Huf’s A More Perfect Union is a heart-rending, soul-stirring story of the love between a black slave and an Irish immigrant. A lucid, bold tale of the despicable brutality of slavery, personal conflicts, and a bond that will not be broken. Henry O’Toole fled Ireland in 1848 to escape the famine. On arriving in New York, “America stabs me with homesickness” and he can’t find a job - “Every day it’s the same. No Irish”. Compelled to flee the city, he changes his surname to the English-sounding ‘Taylor’ and heads to Virginia. House slave Sarah is separated from her Momma and brother when she’s sold as a “quick-cleaning-slave-who-don’t-get-sick”. She and Henry meet when he comes seeking work as a blacksmith at the plantation she’s been sold to. Here Henry is moved by the sound of slaves singing at night, while Sarah paces her hoe in the kitchen garden to “the rhythmic strike of the blacksmith’s hammer”. The stirring attraction between them is palpable, but theirs is a forbidden relationship - inter-racial marriage is illegal, and viewed as an abomination. What’s more, she’s owned by another man. The couple are in an excruciating situation, their complex personal conflicts evoked with shattering clarity. Sarah has to reconcile loving a man whose white skin represents her oppression, and she’s also ostracised by fellow slaves. Then there’s the searing exchange when Sarah sees Henry making neck rings and shackles. When he protests that he has no choice, that he needs to earn money, that he knows what it is to be shackled by poverty, Sarah’s response captures the despicable inhumanity of enslavement: “’I know you been through a hard, hungry life,’ she says. ‘I want you to understand that slave suffering is a different thing. When somebody owns you, there ain’t nothing they can’t do to you.’” Both their voices are conjured with brilliant authenticity, and their story builds to an agonisingly edgy crescendo as the risks they take are as immense as their love. I cannot recommend this enough. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
'The Woman of Stencils' is the title of the tenth story in Marianne Price's book of 22 short stories. As a West End actor and singer brought up in North London, the author draws on her very varied life experiences as well as her prolific imagination to enrich her writing of these exceptionally wry and moving tales. The common theme to all is that of loss, or perceived loss, of something or someone, and the very profound and lasting effect that can have. A few of the stories, such as 'Remember, Remember' and 'The All Too Perfect Teddy Bear' deal with the loss of a child in a very dark and ghostly way, so that they read like horror stories, guaranteed to have the hairs on the back of the reader's head up on end. Far more laid back are the stories dealing with the fragility of romantic attachments, whilst the saddest and most poignant are those dealing with lost youth and time. All the stories have a surrealism about them, are thought provoking and compelling. Perhaps the most memorable in the collection are the stories with a theatrical backdrop, where the characters and scene setting are particularly realistic and well drawn, since performing has been the natural environment of the author for so much of her life but every story will resonate with and be appreciated by the reader. We look forward to more soon. Drena Irish, A LoveReading Ambassador
Disaster is only a handful of words away. And they are already being spoken... An abused young boy craves the affection of his crusading mother, who brutally rejects him in favour of cultivating the dependence of lonely and desperate strangers. Acolytes who will, when promised emancipation from their suffering, cater to her every bizarre and catastrophic whim without question. Poignant, harrowing and humorous, this poetic, bitter-sweet, dreamlike fable examines the corrosive pain of social isolation and emotional vulnerability, the devastating fragility of devotion and the power of love to transport us to perfect, imperfect and dangerously unpredictable places.
A seriously beautiful, absolute treasure of a book which is just as magical and bewitching as its big sister The Lost Words. Read, chant, feel each spell-poem by Robert Macfarlane and sink into the artwork by Jackie Morris, each giving life to the other. I was haunting my postbox waiting for this to arrive, suitable for any age it would be the perfect present for any lover of our natural world. It isn’t in the slightest bit fluffy (as the barn owl declares), instead you’ll find the most vibrantly real and alive book awaits you. Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane make the most wonderful combination of words and pictures together, each part without the other would be lost, together they just create magic. The fox, both city and countryside dweller is the perfect start, the jackdaw leapt into my heart and was conjured in front of me, while the last spell sent a shiver skittering down my arms. This is a book to tell your friends about, I’ve read the poems to family and friends and I will be thrilled when I see it on their bookshelves. Yes, of course I adored it, once again I have lost my heart to a creation of the team behind The Lost Words. It just had to be one of my picks of the month, and a LoveReading star book too, it really is that gorgeous.
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.
Fake is the intriguing story of James Cowper, an art dealer grappling to recover his work and married life after misdemeanors including theft and gambling which take place before the start of the book. I found James quite endearing throughout, his dry humour and quite optimistic outlook despite his circumstances made me quite fond of him. The plot, without going into too much detail reminded me of a Harold Pinter play, the author does very well at creating a tense and uncertain atmosphere in Delancey Street, a home that’s supposed to be a space of refuge. This unease builds and, even though you can feel where it’s going you don’t quite know how bad the fallout would be. The general unlikeability of Bruce demonstrated how good the author is at developing characters, and I felt differently towards each of them.As more of the plot is revealed those feelings towards all of the characters changed too. I wouldn’t say any of the characters are likeable, they all have their flaws, but you get to know them in a great amount of detail. This is a book that I think readers could find farcical, as one comically bad situation develops into another. I actually found Fake to be quite tension-filled, with the uncertainty and uncomfortable feeling of the living situation at Delancey Street leaching out of the pages and giving me slight anxiety about how everything was going to turn out in the end. This was an absorbing read and I’ll look out for more books from this author in the future.
Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has. In his notebooks, day after day, he makes a clear and careful record of its wonders: the labyrinth of halls, the thousands upon thousands of statues, the tides that thunder up staircases, the clouds that move in slow procession through the upper halls. On Tuesdays and Fridays Piranesi sees his friend, the Other. At other times he brings tributes of food to the Dead. But mostly, he is alone. Messages begin to appear, scratched out in chalk on the pavements. There is someone new in the House. But who are they and what do they want? Are they a friend or do they bring destruction and madness as the Other claims? Lost texts must be found; secrets must be uncovered. The world that Piranesi thought he knew is becoming strange and dangerous. The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.