Speculative Fiction

The Last White Man

The Last White Man

Author: Mohsin Hamid Format: Hardback Release Date: 11/08/2022

With an opening scene reminiscent of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Mohsin Hamid’s The Last White Man is consummately compelling from its arresting first line: “One morning Anders, a white man, woke up to find he had turned a deep and undeniable brown”. Though Anders initially only discloses this to Oona, his long-time friend and new lover, it soon emerges that Anders is not the only person to have undergone this metamorphosis, though his boss still reacts with a revealingly blunt one-liner: “I would have killed myself.” As “it seemed people were continuing to change, white people becoming dark”, there’s growing unrest. People stockpile food and riot as “pale-skinned militants, some dressed almost like soldiers” take to the streets. Meanwhile, Anders’ darkness disturbs his dying father, but he comes to realise, bittersweetly, that “whatever Anders was, whatever his skin was, he was still his father’s son, and still his mother’s son.” The writing is exquisite - muscular, and supremely paced as it undulates between intensity and characters’ reflecting on who they are, and who and what matters to them. It’s about seeing, accepting and living together as one, with Oona’s transformation revealing much of the novel’s prescient roots. Though her change leaves her melancholic and in a state of mourning for part of herself, she also realises that she’d long been harbouring a desire to escape, to shed her skin, and now she can “abandon the confinement of the past” and grow, “unfettered.” It’s also noted how the population comes to being “better able to tell one dark person from another.” Ending on a note of hope, The Last White Man casts a timely, empathetic, powerfully thought-provoking spell.

Star Books
Never

Never

Author: Ken Follett Format: Paperback Release Date: 07/07/2022

Expertly researched, visionary in scale and the first contemporary novel in over a decade from international number one bestseller Ken Follett, NEVER is more than a thriller. It imagines a scenario we all hope never comes true, one which will keep you transfixed until the final page . . . A stolen US army drone. A shrinking oasis in the Sahara Desert. A secret stash of deadly chemicals. Each is a threat to the stability of the world but individually are problems that can be overcome. In the diplomatic arena though, everyone will have a different way of dealing with such a threat. And when those in charge disagree and refuse to back down, it will kick off an international chain reaction with potentially catastrophic consequences: a world edging closer to war... Now three people must work tirelessly and with the utmost skill to stop that from happening: A spy working undercover with jihadists. A brilliant Chinese spymaster. A US president beleaguered by a populist rival for the next election. The only question is, in a game of brinksmanship can the inevitable ever be stopped? 

Audiobooks of the Month
The Measure

The Measure

Author: Nikki Erlick Format: Hardback Release Date: 07/07/2022

Every adult on earth suddenly shares the same surreal experience, when overnight a box arrives on the doorstep of everyone aged 22 and older across the world. The measure of your life lies within. Each person is presented with a string of a different length, and the string determines how long you have left on Earth. Would you open the box? It's a brilliant concept, brilliantly written, brilliantly realised dystopian world which pits "long-stringers" against "short-tringers", fear drives the divides in society as people struggle to come to terms with the new reality. By a debut author who we are sure will be one to watch, The Measure is a fantastic first outing for Nikki Erlick. As the world comes to terms with their fates, we follow the lives of eight ordinary people finding and fighting their way through the fear. We meet the unforgettable cast of characters and as the months fly by we come to root for them, care for them and understand their interconnectedness. A beautiful story about family, friendship, hope, fate and destiny that encourages us to live life to the fullest. We care for the couple who are deeply in love: long-stringer Nina and short-stringer Maura. We mourn for architect Ben whose girlfriend left him when she found out about his short-string, for Hank, the doctor who saves everyone apart from himself. For Javier and Jack the best friends, the soldiers who have been through everything together. The lives of the main characters are all set against the backdrop of Anthony Rollins the blue blooded congressman from Virginia who sees the arrival of the strings as a blessing from God and uses them to create fear and uncertainty to bolster his campaign. It's a timely, page-turning triumph and I can't recommend it enough.

The Final Strife

The Final Strife

Author: Saara El-Arifi Format: Hardback Release Date: 23/06/2022

A debut that sings, in fact roars with strong vibrant themes, beautiful storytelling, and fabulous characters. Three women sit centre stage as the trials begin to find the next rulers of the Empire, each has different coloured blood and were born to very different roles. This is the first in the The Final Strife series, and Author Saara El-Arifi has created the most compelling world with roots in Ghanian folklore and Arabian myths. A vivid energy crackles into life from the start. The sense of place is immense, I saw, I felt, I believed. The three very different young women who lead in the story, in such different ways, have fascinating characters. The story flows through some thought-provoking topics, from oppression and rebellion through to drug addiction. Love can be found in its many guises including friendship as well as romance. While tyranny rules, this in an inclusive land in terms of relationships and diversity. I would say this is definitely not for younger teens due to content, but is suitable for those heading towards their twenties as well as adults. This first book sets up the continuing story rather wonderfully and I can’t wait to see where we head next. A LoveReading Star Book and Liz Pick of the Month, The Final Strife, so very clever, bold and provocative has set aflame a new world that promises much, highly recommended.

Star Books
When Women Were Dragons

When Women Were Dragons

Format: Hardback Release Date: 03/05/2022

Otherworldly, yet rooted in patriarchal realities, Kelly Barnhill‘s When Women Were Dragons is a storytelling masterwork. Set from the 1950s, it presents a magnificent maelstrom of fire-breathing women who refuse to keep quiet, exposing the trauma of enforced silence, and shining a blazing light on how vital it is to transcend imposed shame and live your own way. “I was four years old when I first saw a dragon. I was four years old when I first learned to be silent about dragons. Perhaps this is how we learn silence — an absence of words, an absence of context, a hole in the universe where the truth should be”. So shares Alex, the narrator of this brilliant novel, who lives at a time when adults remember the “mass dragoning” of women that occurred on 25th April 1955, but never mention it. Alex’s aunt Marla was among those who rose up and transformed into a dragon, but it’s as if she never existed. Marla is never spoken of again - not by Alex’s sick mother, and not by Alex’s father, who leaves her to raise Marla’s daughter Beatrice. Before her transformation and vanishing, Marla told Alex that, “All women are magic. Literally all of us. It’s in our nature. It’s best you learn that now”. Fearing little Beatrice won’t be able to resist her powerful urges to dragon, Alex shuns any such notions, and silences Beatrice’s talk of dragons. But librarian Mrs Gyzinska, who supports Alex’s plan to become a mathematician, shares her learned insights, and frames the phenomenon of dragoning in the context of patriarchy: “There are people who have problems with women, and alas, many of them are also women. That is because of something called the patriarchy… an unnecessary and oppressive obstacle, and best disposed of as soon as possible.” As Alex grapples with tremendous conflicts and prejudice, we’re presented with a spectacular prom scene, a tense but glorious reunion, a beautiful love of a lifetime, and glorious sisterhood. What a story.

Star Books
The Liberation's Child

The Liberation's Child

Author: Lucy Cruickshanks Format: Paperback Release Date: 07/04/2022

This is Britain – but not as we know it. The country is reeling in the aftermath of the Free and Equal Britain (FEB) movement, a political regime that dismantled the structures of society and brought about the unjust killing of millions of citizens. Dom and Thea, two survivors trying to move on with their lives, face a race against time to discover the truth behind a child trafficking ring somehow connected to FEB-era politicians. Their desperation is present at every turn of this haunting fiction. Every move they make is riddled with tension; who is watching over them? Who can really be trusted? Cruickshanks' prose is beautifully taut – not a word is wasted – and her short, punchy paragraphs add pace to the thriller when it’s most needed. The narrative shifts between Thea’s and Dom’s stories with ease, both characters and their tragic pasts treated with emotional sensitivity rather than pity. Their resilience and integrity shine in an otherwise corrupt world – it’s impossible to not get swept along with them and their cause. The Liberation’s Child is dystopian fiction at its finest…but don’t be fooled. Although this version of London may be far removed from any modern reality, the unnerving themes that lie at the heart of this harrowing story - human trafficking, political unrest and genocide – will undoubtedly strike a chord with many.

Wild and Wicked Things

Wild and Wicked Things

Author: Francesca May Format: Hardback Release Date: 31/03/2022

Darkly suggestive and consuming, this historical fantasy novel offers a nod to The Great Gatsby. Annie Mason finds herself in an unknown world of blood magic and murder when she investigates her inheritance. This is set just after the First World War, where witchcraft, which had a huge influence in the war, has been all but banned. At the beginning I wondered if I had entered a realm already formed as I found myself hesitating and searching for information that wasn’t immediately available. However, I soon settled in and immersed myself in the stormy and decadent atmosphere, where the urge to live as large a life as possible after the effects of the war hits hard. The plot bubbled along in the background as the characters took centre stage. While Annie and Emmeline throbbed with energy as they explored their feelings for each other, the secondly characters added real depth and flavour before pulling the story together. Author Francesca May successfully evokes the excess of the time, and also balances the abuse, dark magic, and violence that can be found in the story with the innocence of Annie, love and friendship. Chosen as a Liz Pick of the Month, Wild and Wicked Things successfully steals into thoughts and thoroughly provokes feelings.

Liz Robinson's Picks of the Month
Fragmented Souls

Fragmented Souls

Author: Kasha Ross Format: Paperback Release Date: 05/03/2022

‘Fragmented Souls’ by Kasha Ross is a dystopian YA fantasy story set in a brutal world that almost mixes The Hunger Games and Fight Club. A natural disaster, the emittance of a gas only deadly to humans, decimates the population. Now, those who remain live in dark times, where the main leaders impose weekly fights between gangs of the poverty ridden populace. Told from the perspective of Harley, the main character and leader of her young gang, and Jimmy, her best friend, the reader sees the tyrannical “Big Three” threaten Harley and those she loves. As the plot escalates, Harley and Jimmy get closer and he and all of her friends may have to risk everything to save Harley’s younger brother. A motley crew of pick-pockets, fighters, healers and more, each of the characters have their own quirks and talents, with distinct personalities to get to know, to add lighter moments, and to help the gang as they try to track down Harley’s brother J. The prologue shows the start of this tyrannical and violent world, and intrigued me immediately. I was curious to figure out exactly how the characters in the prologue are connected to the teens in the rest of the story. The incorporation of the supernatural with Harley’s unique characteristics is subtle throughout the book, I enjoyed this additional element and found that it was interwoven in a way that complimented the rest of the plot.  As perhaps might be expected, there’s a love triangle theme that plays out as the gang work to find J. which I thought provided another facet to the story and allowed for softer moments amongst the violence of the setting and the action. ‘Fragmented Souls’ came to a dramatic conclusion and left me with a few questions and eager to know when I might be able to discover the answers.  Charlotte Walker, A LoveReading Ambassador

Indie Books We Love
The School for Good Mothers

The School for Good Mothers

Author: Jessamine Chan Format: Hardback Release Date: 03/03/2022

THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER  'We have your daughter' Frida Liu is a struggling mother. She remembers taking Harriet from her cot and changing her nappy. She remembers giving her a morning bottle. They'd been up since four am. Frida just had to finish the article in front of her. But she'd left a file on her desk at work. What would happen if she retrieved it and came back in an hour? She was so sure it would be okay. Now, the state has decided that Frida is not fit to care for her daughter. That she must be re-trained. Soon, mothers everywhere will be re-educated. Will their mistakes cost them everything? The School for Good Mothers is an explosive and thrilling novel about love and the pressures of perfectionism, parenthood and privilege.

Terminus

Terminus

Author: Proto Dagg Format: Ebook Release Date: 22/02/2022

An immensely clever and entertaining speculative fiction story. Following a drug fuelled uprising the city of Terminus is broken down into districts with varying levels of safety. The wealthy, well-off and elite reside in the ‘Green Zone’ and so we make our way down through society and into the ‘Yellow Zone’ and the lawless ‘Red Zones’, where gangs rule supreme and criminality is rife and unchecked. The drug in the centre of this, in a brilliantly thought out play on words, is Power, which itself mutates through each zone, away from the wealth and access to the purer product, (“Every middleman takes a letter, so what you typically get on the streets is “Pow.” Another cut down is “Po,” and finally, stepped-to-death “P.”). I really loved how ‘Power’ is used to reference the drug while also referencing the societal structures of Terminus, the double meanings throughout the book are very cleverly thought out. When Matt sees Priya across a nightclub, he is allured by the new product she and her group are offering as well as her beauty. This sends him on a journey that allows him to fight his addiction to Power as well be a part of sharing something that could topple life as they know it in the city: Peace. There’s a whole cast of colourful characters, from Billy, the quirky driver to Javier, the typical Wolf of Wall Street business shark and the illusive Peacemaker, but first appearances can be misleading. With religious imagery, relationship stories, action and peril, there’s so much in ‘Terminus’ to explore. This is a really cleverly written story that will draw you in and allow you to find hidden meaning and parallels wherever you choose to look, or simply be a fantastic and enjoyable speculative read. Charlotte Walker, A LoveReading Ambassador

Indie Books We Love
Off-Target

Off-Target

Author: Eve Smith Format: Paperback Release Date: 17/02/2022

When a writer’s work is compared to Michael Crichton’s, there’s reason to sit up and pay attention whenever a new title from said author drops. Having proved her ability to spin a clever speculative tale with her debut The Waiting Rooms, which was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize First Novel and longlisted for the Not The Booker Prize, her second release will only consolidate her reputation further. In Off-Target she takes us to the near future and toys with ideas around fertility treatments and gene adaptation. The subject of Off-Target is Susan who, after a fling, gets pregnant after years of trying to conceive. Her attempts to conceal this from her partner lead her to take steps to tinker with the genetic makeup of her child. But there are dangers to playing God – also known as ‘off target’ effects – that could have devastating consequences. A cautionary tale that’s full of thrills, it will leave you considering our current science and the possibilities we may face.

The Chosen Twelve

The Chosen Twelve

Author: James Breakwell Format: Paperback Release Date: 20/01/2022

Welcome to an entertaining wild ride, stuffed full of action and spiky humour. 22 humans remain on a ship set to colonise a planet, the robots have to decide which of the humans will fill the 12 seats to the surface. The publishers have declared this as The Hunger Games meets The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and while I could most definitely sense the connection, for me this had a sentient Robot Wars (but with the robots in the driving seat) come Lord of the Flies vibe. And yet, even with these four comparisons rushing around this is a resoundingly individual novel. The dedication is entirely fabulous, and aims its own kick. The mix of robots and age old children makes for an intruiging dystopian premise. It took a little while for me to settle in, and to actually engage with all of the characters as the focus of each is so narrow. Spenser was by far my favourite though, adored him! James Breakwell is known for his humour and that definitely makes itself known here with a decided edge. If you’re looking for something a little different, then head this way. The Chosen Twelve is a quirky, high-energy, surprisingly thoughtful novel and I’ve chosen it as one of my Liz Picks of the Month.  

Liz Robinson's Picks of the Month