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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.
Hauntingly tender, and written with powerful grace, Clare Chambers’s Small Pleasures is an absolute joy from start to finish. It’s 1957 in suburban Kent, where Jean writes for a local newspaper with every aspect of her life still dominated by her contrary, controlling mother as Jean approaches forty. No post-work drinks with colleagues. No friends. No romance. Enter Gretchen Tilbury, an elegant Swiss woman who writes to the paper claiming her daughter was the result of a virgin birth. As Jean investigates the case, she becomes close to Gretchen, her kind, witty husband Howard, and the alleged miraculous daughter, all four of them finding comfortable joy in each other’s company. “You’ve stirred us out of our routine,” Howard remarks, to which Jean responds, “I would have thought it was the other way about.” While researching Gretchen’s youth, Jean inadvertently sends shockwaves through the Tilbury family when she reconnects Gretchen to a powerful figure from her past. At the same time, she and Howard find themselves falling for each other, both of them remaining faithful to Gretchen, graciously skirting their attraction - until it’s right to act. The novel features some of the most finely drawn, endearing characters I’ve encountered in recent contemporary fiction. For all her lonely frustration, Jean isn’t one to wallow. She’s pragmatic, with ripples of not-quite-regret lapping beneath her smooth, reasoned surface - a woman “who took pride in her ability to conceal unruly emotions.” Her domesticity pieces for the paper have something of Carrie Bradshaw’s musings about them, albeit without any in-your-face sex in the city (or the suburbs, in Jean’s case), with their apparently humdrum themes humorously paralleling soul-stirring events in her own life. Laying bare a quivering three-way tug between obligation, propriety and passion, and the inexplicable way thunderbolt-bonds are formed between similar-souled individuals, Jean’s conflicts and chance to love truly get under your skin. What a remarkable book, with a dagger-sharp climax that will pierce your heart.
A heart-breaking, unforgettable and incredible story that will stay with you long after you've finished it. It is difficult to believe it's a debut as you read the travails of young Shuggie, his alcoholic mother Agnes and see inside their dysfunctional family life in 1980s working-class Glasgow. It's a powerful story with unflinching honesty that will no doubt make you cry. It shows the power of love and despite the bleak subject matter, it's incredibly tender, hopeful and oh so readable. It's a triumph.
“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.
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.
At seven years old, Nainoa falls into the sea and a shark takes him in its jaws - only to return him, unharmed, to his parents. For the next thirty years Noa and his siblings struggle with life in the shadow of this miracle. Sharks in the Time of Saviours is a brilliantly original and inventive novel, the sweeping story of a family living in poverty among the remnants of Hawai'i's mythic past and the wreckage of the American dream.
Reeling with edge-of-your-seat atmosphere and the entangled lives, lusts and obsessions of three compelling characters involved in a unique ménage à trois (of sorts), Helen McClory’s Bitterhall is a brilliantly unnerving novel that explores the liminal blurring of inner life with outer reality. Narrated by the three characters in intense, short, tight episodes, their lives begin to unravel due to the eerie influence of a nineteenth-century diary, with matters coming to an irreversible, bewildering crescendo at a decadent Halloween party. Daniel Lightfoot’s voice opens the book, breaking the metafictional fourth wall by addressing readers direct: “I want you to love me, if I’m being honest. That’s why I start so gently, in the garden, in the present tense. A good story begins tipsily in a garden, and carries on through well-proportioned rooms in the past tense in which blood is being spilled and was spilled.” His work involves futuristic 3D printing technology that aims to “copy important rare objects from all over the world to create replicas, mostly for museums.” He wants to “keep the old things safe... To save the past, but let people in.” Another link to the past is the nineteenth-century diary he’s reading, an intriguing document written by James Lennoxlove, the ancestor of his best friend. The diary finds its way to Daniel’s new flatmate, Tom, who can’t put it down and obsesses over Lennoxlove. Both Daniel and Tom’s girlfriend Órla notice a strange shift in Tom, the extent of which is revealed though Tom’s haunted, tormented narrative, and all three accounts of the Halloween party. Laced with Daniel’s dry wit alongside the growing confusion and creeping sense of madness (“Whatever I had done, I had done with my socks on”), this shrewdly-written read rises to a gripping, question-raising climax.
With love and family sitting centre stage, this is an emotionally intelligent and beautiful story. Reclusive 51 year old twins Jeanie and Julius find their lives in disarray when their mother dies and secrets spill forth. At LoveReading we have adored Claire Fuller’s novels since her debut Our Endless Numbered Days which won the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2015. I love her writing style, she has the ability to take you to known yet entirely unexpected places within the human soul and your own subconscious. Her descriptions almost hurt as they land with apparently effortless precision. This has a seemingly simple premise, yet it thoroughly provokes thoughts and contemplation. The words danced into my mind, and pieces of my heart cracked and broke away. A wonderful balance is maintained as hope is allowed to remain within touching distance. These are characters that will stay with me, this is a story that I will return to. Unsettled Ground evokes raw emotions and yet it is a thoughtfully compassionate and gorgeous story. Highly recommended.
Our April 2021 Book Club Recommendation Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. With love and family sitting centre stage, this is an emotionally intelligent and beautiful novel. Reclusive 51 year old twins Jeanie and Julius find their lives in disarray when their mother dies and secrets spill forth. At LoveReading we have adored Claire Fuller’s novels since her debut Our Endless Numbered Days which won the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2015. I love her writing style, she has the ability to take you to known yet entirely unexpected places within the human soul and your own subconscious. Her descriptions almost hurt as they land with apparently effortless precision. This has a seemingly simple premise, yet it thoroughly provokes thoughts and contemplation. The words danced from the pages into my mind, and pieces of my heart cracked and broke away. A wonderful balance is maintained as hope is allowed to remain within touching distance. These are characters that will stay with me, this is a story that I will return to. Unsettled Ground evokes raw emotions and yet it is a thoughtfully compassionate and gorgeous read. Highly recommended and a LoveReading Star Book.
Brought to you by Penguin. Kai lives in a mixed-race family on a rural council estate in Somerset where he and his three older sisters have three different dads, and his mum is being led into crack addiction by his petty-thief father. He idolises his dad, adores his friend Saffie and the school rabbit Flopsy, and is full of ambition to be the fastest runner in Middledown Primary. He and Saffie build a secret world of friendship in the school garden. But Kai's natural optimism, imagination and energy run up against adult behaviour he doesn't understand: his parents' on-and-off romance, his dad's increasing addiction and the limitations of poverty. Despite the people who try to look out for him, notably his loving Nanny Sheila and his big sister Leah, Kai's life drifts towards a tragedy from which it is hard for him to recover. The refuge he seeks in his love of nature, and the wild rabbits who have made their burrows in the woods, may not be refuge enough. Karla Neblett has created a vivid language that is both crafted and raw to tell a story of class, race and how our society fails working class young men.
WOW! What a fabulous and enjoyable read - read it in one sitting as needed to know what happened next. A tale of time travel from 2020 to 1982 - and back again. Following the story of Tom when he meets Beth - such detail in lives during the pandemic of 2020 and lives in 1982. Don't want to give too much of the story away - can't recommended it highly enough. I have just ordered one of her other books I am so impressed. Jayne Burton, A LoveReading Ambassador
‘Shakey’s Madness’ is a well-researched and well rounded argument around the “real” author of ‘The First Folio’. Using academic resources including The Folger Shakespeare Library, The author sets out his hypothesis that the real author of the work currently attributed to William Shakespeare may have experienced bipolar, and this information may help us to uncover the true author of these Elizabethan plays and sonnets. I can’t say I’ve ever particularly doubted that Shakespeare’s work was written by William Shakespeare; that is I was familiar with the theory that they were written by someone else, it had just never interested me enough to look into it. I was curious about ‘Shakey’s Madness’ as a neutral observer, and I found that the author formed his arguments in a way that was entertaining and interesting. It reminded me of a university essay, with references to academics and further sources but I found it easy to follow along with. I feel this would be an interesting read regardless of which side of this particular argument you fall. Perhaps slightly conspiratorial in nature, and in the end left for the reader to decide if we agree with the argument put in front of us. I think that this book is an interesting one to ponder for those looking to learn more about the Oxfordian arguments as well as those looking for more evidence to support that theory. You might also learn something about the nuanced disorder of bipolar along the way.
Also Available as an eBook. If you thought that crossing the Mediterranean Sea or the English Channel was the most dangerous part of a refugee's journey to freedom, then you need to read this book, 'The Bodies That Move' by Bunye Ngene. The author spares no-one's feelings in chronicling the systematically inhumane treatment of the displaced by unscrupulous people traffickers and presents a powerful argument to wealthier and more stable regimes to deal with this shameful and destabilising practice with far more rigour and compassion than at present. The story follows Nosa, a young, presentable and university-educated Nigerian, who, because of the corruption in his home country, is persuaded by a former classmate to make the journey to Europe, a better life and earning power to keep his mother and younger siblings from poverty. Though far from cheap, he borrows the money necessary to fund his passage and sets out in high hopes of reaching Italy in three weeks. His optimism however is short-lived and hunger, lack of sleep and hygiene facilities and cramped travelling conditions soon become the norm. But this is just the start of what Nosa will experience before he has even left Nigeria. The gradual wearing away of all civilised standards is shocking to read. The rape of the female travellers, the beatings, enforced work (slavery in other words), starvation and the callous abandonment of all whose 'agents' have not paved the way across the Sahara Desert or war-torn Libya become everyday occurrences, not even raising an eyebrow in the end. But Nosa is one of the 'lucky' ones, reaching the coast after three months of hell, eventually boarding an inflatable with no life jacket and being picked up by European coastguards. He has achieved his aim and gained what? Europe's record of the treatment of refugees is nothing to write home about, quite literally. To say I enjoyed reading this book would be untrue but I'm very glad I did and I would encourage you to as well. Drena Irish, A LoveReading Ambassador
‘The People of Ostrich Mountain’ is a story that spans generations. We first follow Wambũi as she goes to school in the backdrop of the 1950s Mau Mau war, her impressive mathematics skills and intelligence earning her a place in a prestigious boarding school and nurtured by her teacher, Eileen Atwood. The years progress and we follow Wambũi and Eileen’s lives as well as the lives of Wambũi’s children. This is the story of how an intelligent young girl and a compassionate teacher pave the way for generations of success. I loved reading this well crafted story, each character was brought vibrantly to life and I relished spending time with each character. ‘The People of Ostrich Mountain’ is beautifully written and introduced me to Mau Mau history, a history I was unaware of until now. While navigating the serious issues such as race, gender and immigration, with each character having their own struggles and experiences, I feel the main emphasis throughout the story is on community, goodwill and humanity. This is a book you can relax into, a family and friendship story that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and would highly recommend.
This was a wonderful read but also a difficult title to categorise as it covers many subjects throughout its pages.The author writes with humour and realism whilst conjuring up a magical experience to take readers on. I was drawn in from the prologue and being of a similar age to the author found myself nodding in agreement at various reminiscences. The pairing of Casey and Danny as childhood friends was brilliantly observed with the way they spoke, argued, joked and cried together as they overcame often insurmountable obstacles during the journey. Like Casey I, too, was unsure how the trip would work-if it could work-with the third traveller but it added a positive poignant dimension to the story. I was in admiration of the historical paragraphs relating to each country the trio passed through but it ultimately was a way that helped break the ice between Casey and Ari. It also made for interesting reading and I felt I learned a lot! Alice was a great addition to the storyline and I was sad to see her go before the trip ended. She had been through so much for a second hand ice cream van! However by using other modes of transport other characters could then be brought in subtlety to continue the rich pattern of different cultures and languages. If you are looking for a thought-provoking read covering friendships, relationships and travel tips then look no further. An absolutely fantastic debut novel. Caroline Highy, A LoveReading Ambassador
Step into another world, just on the edge of existence, a fairy tale if you will, but somehow sharper, more vivid, and quite startling as it draws on folklore and oh so human qualities and reactions. On a remote island called Neverness exists a village, we hear the story of the villagers, separate, together, living with and alongside a spellbinding natural world. The author Zoe Gilbert was the winner of the 2014 Costa Short Story Award and this is her debut novel. Each chapter is a story in its own right, yet each leads to the next and the next to make one complete tale. This is a book that tested, pushed and pulled me, as it speared my attention and hurled it aloft. I felt, really felt so many emotions, from deep aching sadness, to bounding wonder, through to discovering warm love in unexpected places. Zoe Gilbert has created a place apart, simple, wild, and stunningly beautifully yet be warned, it has a ferocious bite. If you look, really focus straight ahead, then take your thoughts to the corner of your eye and feel there, just behind you, you may just see a glimpse of Neverness. Or you could settle down, and allow Zoe Gilbert to guide you into a breathtaking world. Folk is one of my picks of the month and I have fallen rather deeply in love with it!
Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2019 When your mother considers another country home, it's hard to know where you belong. When the people you live among can't pronounce your name, it's hard to know exactly who you are. And when your body no longer feels like your own, it's hard to understand your place in the world. This is a novel of growing up between cultures, of finding your space within them and of learning to live in a traumatized body. Our stubborn archivist tells her story through history, through family conversations, through the eyes of her mother, her grandmother and her aunt and slowly she begins to emerge into the world, defining her own sense of identity.
Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2002. Pi’s family is moving their zoo when the boat sinks and 16-year old Pi is left afloat in a lifeboat with four animals that includes a tiger. Up to that point the book is slow to get into but persevere for this unique work is stunning. It’s brutal, hopeful, humorous, philosophical, almost implausible and yet strangely believable. A tale that will remain with you for a very long time and deserves another read. Comparison: Mark Haddon (The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time), Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife), Aravind Adiga (The White Tiger). The Life of Pi is now a major motion picture from Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee and opens in the UK on 20 December 2012.
Ablaze with the raw struggles and hopefulness of humanity, and delivered in dazzling style, Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom crosses generations and continents, and entwines the personal struggles of a young woman trying to recover from grief and familial pain in the context of being an immigrant family in the American South. Gifty works as a scientist in California, studying addiction in mice, wondering whether her optogenetics research might “work on people who need it most”, as in “Could it get a brother to set down a needle? Could it get a mother out of bed?” Narratives of her present and various pasts are elegantly interwoven - Gifty and her brother Nana’s religious upbringing in racist Alabama amidst their parent’s escalating arguments (their father hadn’t wanted to leave Ghana); Gifty’s academic progress; Nana’s fatal heroin overdose. Now only Gifty and her mother remain in America, and her mother is deeply depressed: “My mother, in her bed, infinitely still, was wild inside,” and still Gifty feels “I would always have something to prove and nothing but blazing brilliance would be enough to prove it.” The charting of Nana’s decline from promising basketball player to addict after an on-court accident is heartbreakingly affecting, as is their mother’s descent into depression and Gifty’s persistent sense of shame and pain at what happened to her brother, with her life’s work being an attempt to understand it all. This eloquent, incisive novel seeps into the soul and reveals raw truths about grief and healing deep wounds.
Opening like an early Tom Waits barstool-tale, The Motel Life tells the story of two brothers, Frank and Jerry Lee. Taking to the road in an attempt to escape the hit and run accident caused by Jerry Lee, the novel goes back to tell the story of their unhappy lives. With intense feeling and compassion, Vlautin explores the frustrations and failed dreams of the two brothers - one a natural storyteller, the other an artist - and renders perfectly the sense of entrapment they feel. Will the kid's death shock them out of their torpor or send them ever deeper into trouble? Can Annie James, a girl from their past, offer them any sort of redemption, however slim? Interspersed with drawings that come to form an integral part of the narrative, The Motel Life is a poetic, moving, beautifully naive and tragic fictional debut. Alongside such seminal works as Annie Proulx's Postcards, Raymond Carver's What we talk about when we talk about love and Denis Johnson's Jesus's Son, it should come to be seen as a classic of downbeat American prose.
If you know Vanity Fair then the name Becky Sharp will immediately conjure images of a ruthless, immoral, and selfish social climber, and one of literatures most fascinating characters. At the time she was one of the first female leads and for her to be so ambitious and manipulative, well! Thackeray wrote a novel with flawed characters, cutting social commentary, along with the reality of being human and existing in a not so perfect world. Visit our '50 Classics Everyone Should Read' collection to discover more classic titles.
‘Presence, the Play’ is a lyrical story of the stage interwoven with a tale of spirituality. Script, An Estillyen monk and brother in their Sacred Order of Storytellers has an accident on the opening night of his play, ‘Presence’, leaving him in a coma, and working his way through mystical adventures in a dream-like world. I found this novel highly descriptive and it is clear through the references to many famous literary works that the author is either very well read or conducted extensive research for this novel. There are references throughout and a list at the back of the book with all of the literary titles quoted. I understand and can agree with the connection made between ‘Presence’ and C.S Lewis in the synopsis, as we travel with Script through a strange and mystical other world that, much like Narnia, has religious connotations at its heart. ‘Presence’ is an interesting story with plenty of drama throughout that encourages the reader to celebrate the power of stories, as well as take the time to be “present” in the world around us, a pertinent theme and lesson in today’s ever increasing social media age. An entertaining and well-written novel with a cast of brilliant characters that focuses on the importance of the arts Leading by example with brilliant storytelling, adventure and plenty to ponder over. I think that this book would have a wide appeal and I would definitely recommend it. Charlotte Walker, A LoveReading Ambassador
March 2011 Guest Editor Robert Goddard on The Woman in White... There’s just such a lot to enjoy and admire in this ground-breaking work of mystery and suspense. It was one of my inspirations for trying my hand at novel-writing in the first place. When The Woman in White was published in 1860, it was an instant success. No-one else had ever dared to cram quite so much intrigue into a plot, not least because it’s an extremely difficult thing to do. But Collins brushes the difficulty aside, throws in memorable characters and carries the whole thing off with the aplomb of the master he was. Genius! __________________________________________ Turn mobile detective with the hidden object puzzler. Developed by Freeze Tag Inc. Woman in White has been adapted from Wilkie Collins’ 19th century novel and is available to download now from the App Store, priced £0.69 for iPhone®/iPod® touch and £1.99 for iPad® HD. Just click the button below. Visit our '50 Classics Everyone Should Read' collection to discover more classic titles.
A formally innovative work of modernist fiction, Virginia Woolf's The Waves is edited with an introduction by Kate Flint in Penguin Modern Classics. More than any of Virginia Woolf's other novels, The Waves conveys the full complexity and richness of human experience. Tracing the lives of a group of friends, The Waves follows their development from childhood to youth and middle age. While social events, individual achievements and disappointments form its narrative, the novel is most remarkable for the rich poetic language that expresses the inner life of its characters: their aspirations, their triumphs and regrets, their awareness of unity and isolation. Separately and together, they query the relationship of past to present, and the meaning of life itself. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) is regarded as a major 20th century author and essayist, a key figure in literary history as a feminist and modernist, and the centre of 'The Bloomsbury Group'. This informal collective of artists and writers, which included Lytton Strachey and Roger Fry, exerted a powerful influence over early twentieth-century British culture. Between 1925 and 1931 Virginia Woolf produced what are now regarded as her finest masterpieces, from Mrs Dalloway (1925) to the poetic and highly experimental novel The Waves (1931). She also maintained an astonishing output of literary criticism, short fiction, journalism and biography, including the playfully subversive Orlando (1928) and A Room of One's Own (1929) a passionate feminist essay. If you enjoyed The Waves, you might like Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, also available in Penguin Classics. 'A book of great beauty and a prose poem of genius' Stephen Spender 'Full of sensuous touches ... the sounds of her words can be velvet on the page' Maggie Gee, Daily Telegraph
One of One of Will Self's favourite books. On a June morning in 1923, Clarissa Dalloway is preparing for a party and remembering her past. Elsewhere in London, Septimus Smith is suffering from shell-shock and on the brink of madness. Their days interweave and their lives converge as the party reaches its glittering climax.
I first saw the musical, then read the book, and let me just put this out there, Les Miserables is long, and even with a relatively simple plot, not a particularly easy read. Having said that, I am glad that I read it, but am going to whisper this... I prefer the musical (and now I’m ducking). Visit our '50 Classics Everyone Should Read' collection to discover more classic titles.