All relationships have their ups and downs, whether it’s struggles with a partner or difficulties in the family. Our Relationship Stories section shows the unique features of relationships in gloriously written technicolour.
Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2018 | In a nutshell: the unforgettable story of a girl with no memory. Can there ever have been a heroine like Flora Banks? She’s 17 when the book opens, but an accident aged 10 has left her with no short term memory. Then a secret kiss on the beach – with her only friend’s boyfriend – lodges in her mind. Inspired, she sets off alone to follow him, a heart-stopping journey that takes her deep into the Arctic landscapes of Norway, scribbled messages she writes to herself on her arms her only reassurance or guide. Flora does find out the truth about the boy and about herself, but she needs all her courage. A unique mix, part coming-of-age, part psychological thriller, with an almost fairy-tale setting, this is a story that readers will want to read more than once, and one they will want to share with friends too. Unforgettable!
A scorching and beautifully written epic tale set in 1348, a time that sends a jagged screech of fingernails down the blackboard of history. Step away from the present into the midst of the Black Death, to overwhelming fear and confusion. The moated centre of one estate in Dorset appears to offer sanctuary, yet the treacherous play of human emotions wreaks havoc. I am a fan of Minette Walters, she has the ability to look behind and beyond the obvious, and she is eminently suited to this new genre. A lot of characters are introduced, yet there is no confusion, each was clear in my mind, known to me and vibrantly alive. The descriptions took me directly through the words and into this compelling story. ‘The Last Hours’ is the first of two novels, it quickly puts down roots and takes hold, ensuring a gripping, striking and remarkably readable tale. ~ Liz Robinson
May 2018 Book of the Month An intimate, beautifully told, occasionally rambunctious tale set in 17th century England. Ursula Flight was born at an inauspicious time, she tells her own highly entertaining, yet poignant tale from birth. Ursula bounded from the page into wondrous life, I could feel her emotions, her wild, kind, impetuous nature spoke to me. Anna-Marie Crowhurst has created a vibrant, stunning setting for Ursula, the countryside of her childhood is so beautifully imagined, I found myself looking around, smelling, touching, feeling. Ursula’s own writing is scattered through the novel, her thoughts, letters and plays allow direct contact with her, as when she writes she is free, and unencumbered by the morals of the time. I have to admit to feeling a certain amount of disquiet as I read, one part of me was in the present, living life with Ursula, the other part was wondering what would become of this spirited young woman. A blistering darkness slices through ‘The Illumination of Ursula Flight’ taking its turn in the orbiting dance of life alongside the colour and passion, which creates a truly wonderful captivating read, and I loved it.
Tilly Frost has grown up reading her grandmother's bestselling romance novels - so when the one and only Beatrix Frost is taken ill, Tilly finishes writing her latest work. Then Tilly agrees to start the next book. But what is her gran hiding from her? And how can Tilly write a heart-pounding romance when she's never been in love? Can she turn her school crush into something more? One thing Tilly should know is that the course of true love never did run smooth... If you liked FANGIRL, you'll love this!
April 2018 Book of the Month “It’s a bit weird,” says Danny to James and indeed it is. Here are two thirty-six year old single young men who were once rival star scholars at an elite public boarding school now damaged. Danny was the scholarship student from a council estate, James an upper-class lad from wealthy parents. Both have sunk into a pit. How they got there and are desperately trying to climb out makes for a sensitive and highly compulsive read. Danny suffered loss and has been unable to get over the trauma, James had an “incident” which has left him brain damaged, he is now looked after by his restrictive parents. James is inadvertently responsible for Danny quitting his job and so hits upon the idea of being able to get away from his parents by having Danny look after him. A bit weird indeed. I truly loved this book, unusual for Mike Gayle and very special indeed.
May 2018 Debut of the Month A poignant, inspiring debut to really immerse yourself in, to feel and become a part of. Hero De Vera originally from the Philippines, joins her Uncle and his family in California, she arrives with secrets, and enters a house with secrets, can the family unite as one? The prologue sets the stage, another woman, not Hero, speaks. Elaine Castillo placed me entirely into an unknown world, her words took me there so completely I felt empathy, warmth, remorse resonating through me. Each central character has a distinctive voice, the different women take centre stage, strong, vibrant, hurting, resilient. The feeling of not belonging, of fear, sat uncomfortably within me, slicing through my thoughts. I felt as though I was being told a direct recollection of events, as though I was sitting by their side, listening, and becoming one with the words. Provoking thoughts and feelings ‘America is not the Heart’ is a fascinating, often painful, yet entirely stimulating read. ~ Liz Robinson
Henry dies on page 11 in a dreadful cycling accident. Grace is waiting for him to join her viewing another house. Their life together stretching out in front of them is cut dead. Grace is forced to cope and it is that coping and healing that this highly accomplished author leaves us through. There has to be a buried secret, it is that sort of book, but the secret, when revealed, is totally unexpected by all parties except Henry’s parents. They have long buried it and are loathe to face it. Now, of course, the twist unwinds and Grace has a dilemma. Then another complication arises. As the story progresses and you run with it, you are forced to turn the pages faster and faster to an unexpected conclusion with a neat little twist on the penultimate page. Nice one.
An absorbing, twisting, uneasy reflection of a marriage, as it is being lived with an untold secret at its heart. Kate and Paul have been married for ten years, as they celebrate their anniversary Kate looks back to the time they met as children, and to what could lie ahead in their future. Holly Seddon has become a must-read author for me, each book has had different themes, even edged into different genres, yet the undeniable authenticity of each really shines through. Her writing feels heartfelt, honest, and she has the ability to create such tangible characters, I could turn to them, talk to them, explore their thoughts and feelings. I felt as though Kate was being candid as she spoke, yet information arrives gradually, slowly revealing truths, creating a feeling of uncertainty, building tension. I found myself holding my breath as the ending neared, wanting to know, yet almost afraid to reach for the answers. ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is a cracking read, stimulating, engaging and also rather beautiful, I loved it.
A striking, rambunctious, Tom Ripley-ish debut about cuckoos in the family nest, the death of colonial Rhodesia and the bloody birth of corrupt Zimbabwe. This is a slow and challenging read about the change of Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. It centres on an orphan boy, Zamani, who longs to be accepted as the “son” of his surrogate family with whom he lodges. Their natural son, Bukhosi, has disappeared during the internal struggle between rival supporters of Mugabe and Nkomo which followed independence. The boy’s father won’t talk about his past but Zamani needs the details filled in so he can feel he belongs and also to hopefully help him find Bukhosi. He plies the man with whisky to get him to talk and so the background unfolds. In a novel of genocide there is a great deal of violence and actually little historical detail. The concentration is on the effect of the conflict on individual lives in a tale of deceit and deception. Horrific stuff. ~ Sarah Broadhurst
To those around her she was a loyal subject. In her heart she was a traitor. The Queen of the title is Elizabeth Mortimer 1371-1417, married to Sir Henry Percy (known as Hotspur) and upon his death to Thomas de Camoys. This is another of the author’s excellent retelling of the lives of medieval women. Written in the first person, this untangles history in a highly readable manner. It seems Elizabeth loved her first husband who assisted Henry IV to dethrone Richard II and was killed in battle. But in fact Elizabeth wanted her nephew, eight-year old Edmond, to become King but she kept this to herself. Upon Hotspur’s death he was pronounced a traitor and Elizabeth arrested. The King then gave her a choice, marry de Camoys or go into a nunnery. She married de Camoys, he was in his sixties, and the books ends with her settling into a harmonious relationship. I think the strength of this is that it is written in the first person, highly enjoyable. ~ Sarah Broadhurst
Wonderfully chilling, this is another thrilling treat from E. Lockhart, author of We Were Liars. Two girls, in an intense relationship are both looking for escape but at what cost? When one disappears events suddenly become darker and we fall into a world of murder, fraud and villainy as identities are blurred and friendships crossed. There's a fine line between superhero and supervillain when someone needs to save herself. Lockhart's writing is edgy, fast paced and keeps you guessing until the end. Creepy, provocative and daring the protagonists (Jule and Imogen) continually leave you with a sense of unease as they draw you in not knowing what to believe and where the novel will take you next. We're looking in from the outside but Lockhart only lets you see what she wants you to before shocking you over and over with the sudden twists in events. Brilliant as always, E. Lockhart continues to enthrall with this, her latest thought provoking novel. ~ Shelley Fallows
An entertaining and readable foray into a fascinating veiled world, this is the third novel in the Diplomatic Crime Series and can easily be read as a standalone. Set in a duel time frame, in the present Diplomat Jess Turner and DI Tom Sangster are in London for the visit of the Chinese Premier, while in the past Marianne Henderson finds herself in the firing line when she discovers the British Ambassador dead in a Shanghai hotel room. Author Jean Harrod was a British diplomat and has lived and worked in China, her voice rings with authenticity and she has the ability to take you into her world. Parallel lines run between Jess and Marianne creating tension and I sat with my thoughts, waiting, on alert. I worried for Jess and Marianne, and was reluctant to trust anyone! The ending of ‘Missing in Shanghai’ rather rushed towards me to wrap up proceedings, though I was pleased to see that the door is left open for a return.
A white teenage girl clashes with her new black stepmother in this debut reading group thriller Prepare yourself, this is a slicing, clever, wonderfully captivating tale ready to twist thoughts, to skewer feelings. Thomas falls in love with Darling, his 16 year old daughter Lola is horrified, each woman is determined not to lose Thomas. The intriguing prologue immediately hooked my attention, my eyebrows raised, my eyes opened wide, my mind gasped. We hear from both Darling and Lola, each so different, so vibrantly alive with conviction. Darling’s voice is rich and full of flavour, I could close my eyes and still hear her, while Lola is sharp with a head full of thoughts, brittle, yet flaming, fiery. I found myself reading faster, wanting to gobble up the pages, yet was determined not to miss a single word. By the time awareness started to prickle my consciousness, by the time understanding crashed in around me, I was on a non-stop collision course with the end. ‘Darling’ is a powerful read, a vibrant, punchy, thoughtful wow of a read, and I loved it. ~ Liz Robinson
`The American girl has the advantage of her English sister in that she possesses all that the other lacks...' - Titled Americans On 6th November 1895, the young and brilliant heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt wedded the near-bankrupt Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough. A dazzling yet miserable match was made - one which glittered above all others for high society's unofficial marriage brokers who, in a single year, initiated and manipulated a series of spectacular transatlantic pairings. Injecting millions of dollars into the ailing aristocracy; fame, money, power and prestige were all at play. Characterised by scandal, illicit affairs, spurned loves and unexpected deaths, The Million Dollar Duchesses reveals the machinations which led to these most influential matches between America's heiresses and Britain's elite. The Gilded Age was a tumultuous period for society's most eligible.
From the bestselling author of The Keeper of Lost Things, Ruth Hogan, comes another irresistible novel of unexpected friendships, second chances ... and dark secrets. Gloriously gorgeous in every way. After tragedy crashed into her life, Masha often sits on the bottom of the pool at the local lido, unable to look forward, to join in. Sally Red Shoes and Kitty Muriel nudge Masha’s awareness, and life begins to look interesting again. I absolutely adored ‘The Keeper of Lost Things’ which was one of my books of the year 2017, so looked forward with relish to Ruth Hogan’s next offering. ‘The Particular Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes’ is just as special, and cements this particular author as one of my firm favourites. Ruth Hogan has the very special ability to look beyond the veil of unremarkable to find a sometimes painful, yet beautifully quirky existence. Each character (and I include the dogs in this), is fully realised and absolutely essential to the storyline. Kitty and Sally are so stuffed full of life I found myself wanting them in my life too. Words such as enchanting, captivating, and charming are spilling out of my mind, yet this is not a sickly sweet tale, also added to the mix are poignant, emotional, heart-ache…and I both laughed and cried, sometimes at the same time. Quite simply, ‘The Particular Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes’ is a must-read, and I adored every single second of it. ~ Liz Robinson
'If you like Jodi Picoult try Melissa Hill' Woman and Home Good mother or bad ... who decides?' With clever writing, this provocative tale is just so, so readable. Rosie can’t have her childhood vaccinations due to a medical condition, while Clara’s parents have decided not to vaccinate for personal reasons. When measles strikes both girls, is anyone to blame, and will life ever be the same again? Melissa Hill writes in such a compassionate and measured way, neither judging nor condemning, yet she brings this highly sensitive and volatile subject vibrantly to life. Mums Kate and Madeline take centre stage, allowing you an insight to their parenting decisions. I changed my mind as I read, thoughts flowing one way, then the other, understanding choices, questioning opinions, and thoroughly becoming part of this tale. ‘Keep You Safe’ lights the touch paper to a dramatic finale, all the while allowing you to make up your own mind, creating an absorbing, fascinating novel.
Deceptively clever and utterly compelling, this beautifully written little book will continue to haunt your thoughts long after you've finished it. Set in Montreal, the world of Bilodo the postman is a simple one, but he regularly sneaks a peek into other peoples worlds by reading their handwritten letters; events take a darker turn as he deviates from voyeur into an obsessive usurper. The author uses Japanese haiku and tanka poetry to allow Bilodo to converse with the woman of his dreams; exquisite clusters of words will snag your attention and demand that you re-read them. This is essentially a book of love, of what might have been and of what could still come… One of our Books of the Year 2014. Selected as a BBC Radio 2 Book Club title in September 2014.
Explore in ‘Chance Developments’ five charming and poignant short stories. I absolutely adore the premise for this little book and the cover just invites you in. Alexander McCall Smith has imagined a background tale to the five black and white photos that appear at the beginning of each short story. The photos are eloquent and moving, the stories delve deeply into possibilities, love and friendship, joy and melancholy. From Sister Flora to a circus performer, each story is a small snapshot of what might have been, and as I read, I found myself drawn back to the photo, to look again and ponder. Alexander McCall Smith has transformed five forgotten photos into a discovery of delight. ~ Liz Robinson May 2017 Book of the Month. Click here to read an exclusive interview with Alexander McCall Smith by Mary Hogarth. A 'Piece of Passion' from the publisher... 'If you come across an old photograph what do you think about the people staring back out at you? Maybe that they are just anonymous people from another age, as if from another planet. Or do you, like McCall Smith, hear their voices, know their names, sense their hopes and dreams and imagine how their lives might have turned out.Blessed with a wonderful, humane imagination, McCall Smith brilliantly constructs paths for these forgotten people - some joyous, others bumpy and winding, all with unexpected twists and turns. An astonishing achievement: original and moving.' ~ Neville Moir, Editor of Chance Developments
Aisling is 28, and she's a complete ... Aisling. Living `Down Home' with Mammy and Daddy, she commutes to her good pensionable job in Dublin and stays two nights a week with her boyfriend of seven years, John. But Aisling wants more. She wants the ring on her finger. She wants the hen with the willy straws. She wants the grand big house with the utility room of her dreams. When a week in Tenerife doesn't result in a proposal, Aisling decides she's had enough. It's time for a change. A new start, a love triangle (well, more of a square) and some home truths force Aisling out of her comfort zone and into a life she never imagined.
'Katherine Heiny's work does something magical: elevates the mundane so that it has the stakes of a mystery novel, gives women's interior lives the gravity they so richly deserve - and makes you laugh along the way' Lena Dunham In the title story, we meet Maya, who is torn between her wryly funny boyfriend and the allure of her veterinarian. In Andorra, a woman's lover calls her every Thursday as he drives to meet his wife at marriage counselling. How to Give the Wrong Impression shows us a woman pining for her roommate, a man who will hold her hand but then tell her that her palm is sweaty. In The Dive Bar a girl agrees to have a drink with her married lover's wife. Revisiting Maya in several stories, chronicling her various states of love, this is a collection about how we are unfaithful to each other, both wilfully and unwittingly. Populated with unwelcome house guests, disastrous birthday parties, needy but loyal friends, and flirtatious older men, the stories are emotionally astute, sexy, and disarming-and they introduce us to a tart, and marvellous, new voice.
Shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018 Category Winner for the Costa Book Awards 2017, First Novel Award June 2017 Debut of the Month. It is the standard reply when people ask, “How are you?” ....you say “I’m fine.” Well, Eleanor is most definitely not fine and has not been since she was 10 years old. Shifted from one foster home to another, she does eventually go to university where she ends up in an abusive relationship. On graduation she gets a job in the accounts department of a graphic designer and there she is when we meet her, aged 31 and desperately lonely. Eleanor is on the spectrum with her life overshadowed by some dreadful childhood tragedy which has left her face badly scarred. She keeps her head down at work and spends the weekends with two bottles of vodka. She speaks to her mother on the telephone on a Wednesday and dreads the call. We are uncertain as to whether her mother is in prison or an asylum. Life ticks by until her works’ computer needs attention and enter one geeky IT man. How he and others break down her barriers is beautifully done. Very slowly we learn more about Eleanor and her past. Very slowly a future develops but once the geek (Raymond) arrives the novel is by no means slow. It becomes a page-turning, compulsive read of great charm.
February 2018 Book of the Month. A deliciously readable, entertaining and enjoyable novel from Katie Fforde. Fran leaves her life behind for a dilapidated farm in the Cotswolds, she has just one year to make it a success. I always rub my hands with glee when I pick up Katie Fforde’s new novels, I create some ‘me time’, and settle down to relax and sink into the pages. ‘A Country Escape’ flows so beautifully I forgot myself and where I was, I just became at one with the book and immersed myself completely in Fran’s world. Katie Fforde has a wonderfully light touch, I always feel I am in trusted hands, all of her characters are fascinating, relatable, and (mostly!) likeable. A Country Escape is quite simply, captivating, charming, and an absolute delight.
A dynamic, dramatic, and deliciously entertaining tale exposing friendship flaws, secrets and lies. Sophie, Emily, Amy, and Melissa go away for a weekend break once a year, and we see how their lives change for both better and worse between 1997 and 2012. These are women who make mistakes, occasionally get it wrong as well as right, and rely on their friends for advice, help, and love. Helen Warner allows direct access to the holidays, the rest of the year remains either hidden or briefly reviewed, ensuring the story just whizzes along. The movement through the years allows you to quickly form a relationship with these women, it also raises questions, and suspicions. While I found myself occasionally tutting and frustrated, I also celebrated, smiled and laughed, and then in the next moment my heart ached for them. ‘The Story of Our Lives’ is so readable, it beckons you in, and then gathers you up in an intimate, weaving dance of friendship… what a fascinating, lovely read this is.
March 2018 Book of the Month “To believe, to obey, to fight” is the new prayer of Mussolini’s Italy in 1936. We are in Fosso, a town in the rural district of Veneto on the fertile plains where food is plentiful until the Germans and then the partisans help themselves. Maria, our protagonist, helps run the local grocer with her husband Achille, until he is imprisoned for black-marketeering. She needs to keep her family of 5 children alive and safe until her husband is released… or not. She will do anything to protect and fight for her children, anything to keep them safe, fed and alive. Coming from a large family herself she is not afraid of hard work. So we live with her through the war to the 1950s, through times of dreadful hardship and fear to new beginnings. Laced with the feel of Italy, its food, traditions and scenic splendour, this is a very fine novel indeed. Stylish and beautifully archaic in its writing, it has a hypnotic quality, difficult to draw yourself away from. Highly recommended.
Sarah and Phil have a healthy 17 year old boy, James, and a severely disabled, mute, wheelchair-bound 14 year old daughter, Lauren. A chance glance at a medical report alerts Phil to Lauren's blood-type and he wonders how it fits with his and Sarah's. A genetic test reveals her not to be their daughter. Now all sorts of different authorities step in, their birth-daughter is found and the other family informed: a divorced mother, Anne, with a single child, Rosie. The first half of the tale is in dual narrative from Sarah and Phil's point of view, the second in four voices adding Anne and Rosie to the mix. You can imagine the emotional turmoil that ensues, the terrible choices, the complex reactions and the dilemma of not knowing what is best for whom. It delves into family values, marriage, trust, love and loyalty. The whole unthinkable situation is powerfully explored. A very accomplished first novel. Highly recommended.
Uplifting and delightful, The Year That Changed Everything is another gorgeous read from Cathy Kelly. Three women have three milestone birthdays on the same day, they don’t know each other, yet a featherlight connection binds them together. In one day, the day of their birthdays, a bombshell shatters the life Callie knew, Sam’s waters break but she might not be ready for motherhood, while Ginger is forced to reconsider who she wants to be. These women aren’t perfect, they make mistakes, yet they are just so likeable and relatable I would be more than happy to be their friend... to hug, to console, to cheer them on. I just adore Cathy Kelly’s books, she writes with a lovely warmth and kindness, beautifully engages with women across the years, and doesn’t shy away from reality. I found myself sinking into a delicious story that wrapped itself around me, and even with heart-ache along the way, The Year That Changed Everything is ultimately a captivating, enjoyable, feel-good read.
March 2018 Debut of the Month Just gorgeous… this is an emotional and quite, quite beautiful read. After a particularly traumatic time at home, 13 year old Sal and her younger sister Peppa escape into the wilds of Scotland. Sal has spent a long time preparing, the wilderness beckons them, can they survive on their own? Sal tells their story, the first chapter is so clever, I started to realise what had been happening, and then a few carefully chosen, yet almost casually thrown away words, sent a shockwave running through me. I could clearly hear Sal’s voice, she is so individual and distinctive, her words entered my mind and expanded, filling my heart. Mick Kitson encourages the Scottish countryside to sing with intensity, while you can hear Sal, you can see and feel the clean and natural space she and Peppa find themselves in. Kindness flows from unexpected places, and love is behind every word shared by Sal, even in the darkness. Simple, beautiful, provocative yet touching, this is an outstanding debut, and a read I will return to again and again. Highly recommended.
April 2018 Book of the Month The intriguing title more than delivers in this entirely captivating read. Three stories belonging to Emma, Stella and Lizzie, fuse together into one. Emma lives life constantly balanced on the edge of fear, 14 year old Stella believes her mum has a secret, while student Lizzie finds herself living in a nightmare. The present is told by Stella and Emma, I felt thoughts, emotions, an intimate connection, while in the past Lizzie is kept at a slight distance. Sanjida Kay gradually releases information, yet there is so much I still didn’t know, I had several flashes of realisation, yet they weren’t the whole, just a part of the story. My mind was taken in unexpected directions, and on occasion my expectations were sliced in half and set on a new path. As the last chapter rushed towards me, then the epilogue concluded, it felt like a strange unsettled calm after a storm, and while the ending may leave some undecided, personally I loved it! ‘My Mother’s Secret’ has the ability to surprise, to worm inside thoughts, to provoke, and I found it a compelling, thoroughly entertaining story.
April 2018 Debut of the Month Ahh, this is just so, so lovely… a debut that made me smile, weep, and smile some more. Rosemary is 86, she has lived in Brixton all her life, watching as Brixton has changed a building at a time, from fruit and veg shops to trendy bars. 26 year old journalist Kate is surrounded by people, yet feels completely and utterly alone, when the local lido is threatened by closure, an alliance and unexpected friendship is formed. Libby Page has a lovely quick-witted, gently quirky writing style, surprising me with observations and unexpected detail (adored the fox!). I loved travelling through memories, getting to know Rosemary and Kate, and seeing the small snapshots of the lives they touch. While it is a truly beautiful read, part of the beauty is in the emotion I felt, pain and heartache is embraced, hugged, soothed. ‘The Lido’ is a deliciously warm and entertaining slice of wonderful, and I absolutely adored it.
A wonderfully provocative and emotionally beautiful read, where for one family, whether or not destiny exists becomes incredibly significant. We see snapshots in time, of compelling and expressive moments for Mukesh, Neha, Rakesh and Ba. Set in different time frames, and not told sequentially, we begin to see how events from the past create our future, yet is it destiny or free will that shape our movements, our decisions? Nikesh Shukla writes with a wonderfully light touch, yet he hits with hammer hard intensity. I laughed, I cried, I wondered at people’s propensity to hate, to fear, for violence. Each family member is so clearly and individually expressed, I particularly enjoyed getting to know Raks through the eyes of others, it actually made me feel more of a connection with him, for him. Poignant and stimulating, The One Who Wrote Destiny has an immense subtlety, the words dance across the page, before rising up from an unexpected direction to challenge thoughts and feelings - highly recommended. ~ Liz Robinson
A dramatic and oh so readable family tale, with enough tension playing through the pages to sink a battleship. Two years ago Ava vowed never to speak to her twin sister Zelda again, when an email arrives declaring Zelda dead, Ava can’t and won’t believe it, she returns home to the USA, to prove her scheming sister is in fact alive. It took a little while for me to warm to Ava, she shuns intimacy, yet is a fascinating soul. As I read and sank into the pages, I got to know the family, their flaws and quirks, what made them tick. Caite Dolan-Leach flays bare feelings and emotions, yet she writes with a beautifully compassionate hand. With emails and letters laying a trail for Ava to discover, my mind continuously raced away, puzzling over the clues. With suspense nipping at the heels of the storyline ‘Dead Letters’ is clever, twisty and entirely captivating read.
Two voices: a damaged mother, Josephine, remembering her past and failing to cope with the present, and her 10 year old daughter Claire, on the cusp of puberty, who takes good care of her younger brother Thomas. The publisher tells us of a dark secret which we discover on page 81, but 155 pages later it is all turned on it’s head and poor Josephine sinks into despair. She comes from a large Irish family of six siblings and has married a truly lovely man, Michael, but her drinking and depression defeat even him. Claire describes her life in minute detail and other than reacting to her mother’s mood swings she has little idea how tortured her mother is. Josephine gives us the storyline, her childhood, fleeing home, surviving in London, meeting her husband, having her children. Alcohol becomes her crutch and obviously her enemy till eventually she is forced to face her past. An interesting study of mental illness, the contrast of the two voices drives this novel forward to its bitter-sweet conclusion.
April 2018 Debut of the Month Oh my word, this is an eyebrow raising, mouth openingly good read. A contemporary tale about three women, muddling and battling their way through this world as best they can. Emotional growing pains can occur at any age, life doesn't run smoothly, and these three women hold out the hand of friendship to all of us. We see and feel deeply hidden thoughts, witness shockingly embarrassing moments, and I found myself wincing at their pain, snorting with laughter, and cheering them on. Dawn O’Porter has written a stonkingly good read, I stayed up well past my bedtime into the early hours in order to finish it in one sitting. My feelings went into free fall and occasionally tied themselves up in knots as I read. ‘The Cows’ slams with impact, slaps adversity in the face, and offers supportive understanding in our modern world. Highly recommended!
Just gorgeous, this is a story to shine a light in the darkness, even in moments of despair. Constantinople in 1921 is a confusing, often frightening place to be, in the first few pages, two reports from 1918, perfectly sum up the two opposing sides, each report almost interchangeable. Nur’s house is in the hands of the British and being used as a hospital, she finds her thoughts on the occupiers altering and conflicted when she takes an orphan in her care to be treated by George Munroe. Five separate yet entwined stories exist side by side, different time frames ensure the past spears the present, while the future whispers to the past. Lucy Foley has developed a beautiful writing style, the vivid colour stamps its impression on the pages, conjuring taste, touch, smells and sounds, as well as creating a feast for your eyes. As the book began to come to a close, it felt as though two trains were on an inevitable collision course. The sweeping horror of war and occupation, both momentous and insidious, is clearly felt, yet it is the intimate, the individual connections, that were the highlight of this read for me. ‘Last Letter from Istanbul’ caresses, sparks and skewers thoughts and feelings, it is a truly penetrating and captivating read - highly recommended.
Powerful, sweeping and elegantly composed, this compelling novel takes in Burma’s history from the 1940s to the 1960s and draws on the author’s personal history to remarkable effect. When Benny settles in Ragoon, part of the British Empire, he falls for Khin, who belongs to the persecuted Karen minority group, and they go into hiding when WWII erupts. The end of the war heralds fresh dangers when the nationalists take control. Then, when the Karen people – and other ethnic groups - are refused their desire to self-govern, a brutal, long-running civil war breaks out and Benny and Khin’s firstborn child - the first ever Miss Burma beauty queen - is thrust into a world of conflict, uncertainty and contradictions. The historical details are enlightening, yet this expansive, lyrical novel also explores universal themes - identity, desire, patriotism versus self-determinism - that transcend the particulars of time and place. This is an intensely illuminating, riveting accomplishment.
Three short stories with the link the Cornish village of Pendruggan. Fern has used characters from her previous Cornish novels so those familiar with her work will feel at home. Those new to her work are not left to flounder for sufficient back story is given. The first, A Cornish Carol, is a modern day Christmas Carol, this is followed by The Beach Cabin where a London married couple sort out their lives and The Stolen Weekend closes the book. It tells us of a couple of female friends escaping to London but missing the events of the village. Warm, funny and engaging the collection is perfect with on a cold winter evening, to be transported to the sun, golden beaches and a lovely welcoming group of individuals.
February 2018 Book of the Month. Another joyful hug of a read from Katie Fforde, what more could you want, than to settle down with her latest book! Philly, Lorna and Anthea, all wonderful ladies, in various stages of their lives, sit centre stage in this delightful story. Set in a friendly community, with a garden to restore, will love pay a fleeting visit or settle in for a longer stay? As to be expected, the three main characters are surrounded by a lovely cast of friends, as life throws gravel, pebbles, and socking great boulders in their path. Katie Fforde has the wonderful ability to put a smile on my face, and I feel re-energised and ready to face the world again when I finish her lovely tales. To be honest, her stories speak for themselves, I really only need to tell you that the latest Katie Fforde is out, and it’s the warm and very charming ‘A Secret Garden’. Click here to read an exclusive interview with Katie Fforde by Mary Hogarth.
An emotional, touching and provocative novel highlighting the effects and impact of motor neurone disease. Concert pianist Richard is diagnosed with ALS (motor neurone disease), the progressive paralysis begins with his right hand, no longer able to work, unable to use his arms, his condition quickly deteriorates, and his ex-wife Karina and estranged daughter Grace find themselves stepping back into the picture. Lisa Genova writes with incredible sensitivity, the words can be factual, blunt, yet the almost diary like feel allows the feelings to take centre stage. Focusing on Richard and Karina, on living with dying, memories, triumphs and regrets scatter the pages. Both have cause for remorse, both display unlikeable attributes, and yet, and yet… This isn’t a fairytale, I knew there wasn’t going to be a happy ending, yet I was surprised at the amount of love and hope between the pages. ‘Every Note Played’ is powerful, stark, and strangely beautiful, I truly loved it ~ Liz Robinson
This gorgeously intense and fully fledged dystopian fantasy series continues in fine style with The Song Rising. Paige has risen through the ranks as she tries to combat the hell that precious few know about or even believe is forming, will the rest of the clairvoyants back or denounce her? I’m in awe at how incredibly rounded and complete this world is. The intricate layers not only ripple inwards to allow intimate access, they also begin to advance further afield, widening our viewpoint. Paige really is a role model for our times, willing to step forward for what she believes in, and although set in a reimagined England, comparisons can easily be made to the world around us. Told in the first person, I could feel Paige, rely on her, admire her, particularly when things went awry. I really didn’t want this third instalment to end, and I wait with baited breath for the next in the epic 'The Bone Season' series. The Song Rising was everything I have come to expect from Samantha Shannon, richly imagined, thrillingly exciting, and a humdinger of a read - highly recommended. ~ Liz Robinson
Oh, what a truly beautiful read this is, though do prepare for your heart to ache, weep, and possibly even break. For the last ten years, Oliver Loving has been lying in a hospital bed, paralysed and non-communicative, is he trapped in his own mind, can a new test release him? Everyone wants answers, they also want to know what happened ten years ago, on the night of the school dance in Bliss, Texas… and what caused the tragedy that took place there. The story focusses on Oliver, his mother Eve, and brother Charlie, and how one event has trapped them, has maimed them all. Stefan Merrill Block writes so thoughtfully, an almost gentle lyrical quality caresses the pages, yet he encourages searching questions, for you to travel deeper, to look further. This is an emotional read, the writing touched me, deep inside my heart, and a part of Oliver Loving will remain there. Almost otherworldly, yet raw and true and full of heart, Oliver Loving is profoundly moving, and captivating, I highly recommend stepping inside the pages, and becoming one with the story. ~ Liz Robinson
Set in modern India, this remarkable novel lays bare potent – and harrowing – universal truths about toxic masculinity and the physical and psychological abuse of women that’s often silenced, ignored or unnoticed. “I am the woman who asked for tenderness and was raped in return. I am the woman who has done her sentence. I am the woman who still believes, broken-heartedly in love”, so states the unnamed protagonist, an educated young woman whose every freedom is curtailed when she marries a university professor. Her silencing begins immediately, when they move to “a strange town that does not speak any of her mother tongues” and he begins to control every aspect of her life. “Come off Facebook”, he orders. When she dares question him, the punch line is dealt: if she loves him, she will do as he asks. Soon after, he takes control of her email account too, and she makes herself blank, plain, for plainness “will prevent arguments”. She tells her parents, but the shame of a broken marriage must be avoided above all else, even though he rapes to disable her, even though her abuse and isolation is all consuming. But, while he ridicules her writing, and accuses her of being mad, she writes in secret as an act of defiance, and she has a hidden weapon in her arsenal. Stylistically, at times this put me in mind of the brilliant Jean Rhys. The writing is precise, intense, brutally honest, and analytical, and the unforgettable narrator reveals truths that need to be told, gives voice to thousands of women who need to be heard. Courageous and clever, this offers incomparably powerful insights into the manifold means by which men abuse women, and the complex dynamics of abusive relationships. ~ Joanne Owen
Sail Away is a light-hearted Mystery set aboard a cruise ship written by actress and author Celia Imrie. Suzy the once famous actress is struggling to find work and accepts a role in a suspiciously amateur production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ with a small acting troupe that leaves her stranded in Zurich with her bank balanced cleaned out, with a job on a cruise ship her only option. Meanwhile, Amanda is preparing to downsize. As the removal van is pulling away from her new home, disaster! The purchase of her new flat has fallen through. Her two fully grown children can’t see past the end of their own noses to help offer any kind of support, leaving Amanda homeless. Thankfully a resolution is found but there is a delay of a few weeks before Amanda can move in, the perfect amount of time to (rightfully, in my opinion) spend some of the money set aside for her children from the sale on a holiday until she has somewhere to live. The stories of these two strangers become intertwined on the Blue Mermaid, a cruise ship that is larger than a small town, with just as many people on board. In an Oscar Wilde-esque case of mistaken identity takes place with a more serious crime and mystery undertone. The plot contains a number of twists and turns which leaves you guessing all of the particular nuances until the very end. The cruise ship is filled with a variety of nice and not so nice characters in order to diversify the story and offer some extra detail. In all, I enjoyed the book and would recommend. ~ Charlotte Walker
My goodness me did these two have a passion, a chemistry that burned so bright it was painful to behold. They, Lucy and Gabe, met on 11 September 2001 in New York as the world changed and so did their lives. We follow them through Lucy’s conversation with Gabe over thirteen years as each has a dream that needs to be fulfilled, a dream of doing something important in the world. Together or separately they know not but follow that dream they must. We discover a lot about Lucy’s life, little about Gabe’s except when it crosses Lucy’s. She marries Darren, has two children, is happy and loves him. But there are many types of love and the one that burns for Gabe is wild fire and will not die. This is extraordinarily romantic, the stuff that goose bumps are made of and a joy to read. Evocative, moving and intense it is a very impressive work. The author has written several children’s book, this is her first adult novel. If you like Jill Santopolo you might also like to read books by Lisa Jewell, Jojo Moyes and David Nicholls.
Bullied by the kitchen maids, Kitty is soon taken under Lady Arabella's wing and for the first time in her life Kitty dares to hope. Kitty will do anything for her mistress but her loyalty is severely tested as all their lives are thrown into turmoil and Kitty faces a life of poverty and hardship in the slums of the East End once more ...
A spellbinding collection of short stories from the Man Booker Prize shortlisted author of History of Wolves.
Tuesday's child is full of grace ... Pious young Grace Kettle escapes the world of her unsavoury and bullying father to train to be a nun. Her faith is tested and she is driven to make a scandalous and life-changing choice - one she may well spend the rest of her days seeking forgiveness for.
Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018 A gorgeously expressive, intriguing, and compelling tale… it powered into my thoughts and turned them upside down. A woman in Paris dealing with memory loss, tells her own story during a Parisian summer. As the tale progresses thoughts, feelings, friendships splinter, shatter, like a glass mirror, then puddle together again to form a different reflection. I wasn’t sure what to expect before I started reading, I adored the first sentence and settled in for a fascinating read. Andrew Meehan writes beautifully, time feels somehow irrelevant as the story corkscrews into place. I bobbed along on the current, twisting through the pages, feeling a sense of energy, of knowing, yet at the same time incredible innocence. I smirked, scowled, winced, I pondered, I really felt the words. ‘One Star Awake’ is quite simply, a fabulous read, one question to ask, can you find yourself if you’re still lost? ~ Liz Robinson
Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018 A searing, sometimes painful, yet fully rich and fascinating read. 21 year old student Frances, and her ex-girlfriend Bobbi are interviewed by Melissa about their spoken word performances. They are invited to enter Melissa’s world, they meet her actor husband, their friends, join parties, even a holiday, yet as friendships form and blossom, one particular relationship threatens all. Sally Rooney writes with a beautifully observant pen, she sees beneath the skin, testing, sifting through thoughts and feelings. Frances is one of the most intriguing characters I have met, incredibly bright and witty, she places herself on the edge of things, and can be frustrating, vulnerable, yet sharply aware and considered. I found myself analysing my thoughts as this dance of nerves and feelings began to close. ‘Conversations with Friends’ can be uncomfortable and comforting in equal measures, this isn’t a neatly bound experience, instead it’s complicated, riveting, exciting, and certainly doesn’t end when the final page is turned.
Makes the World Go Around
More than just romance, Relationship Stories can really strike a chord with us, at every stage of life. Just like relationships themselves, these books and there authors come in all shapes, sizes, atmospheres and aspirations. So, if something was missing from your last relationship read … we’ll help you find it in your next one! Here you’ll find the warm and the wise (Maeve Binchy, Cathy Kelly, Rosamunde Pilcher), the deliciously sexy (Jilly Cooper, Veronica Henry), the humourous and honest (Nick Hornby), the insightful (Joanna Trollope) and the … Perhaps, though you’re looking for a new relationship? Why not try our’ Author Like for Like’ tool or make a date with our Book of the Month recommendations and find your perfect match … for now, at least!
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