Hot off the press! Check out the books we think are the best of the best this month!
Greed, envy, covetousness, lust, anger - Karen Hamilton’s The Ex-Husband is an enthralling, exquisitely plotted thriller that gets to the heart of a host of base human drives, pretty much running the gamut of the seven deadly sins. Sam and Charlotte loved the good things in life - luxury locations, jewellery, villas, yachts - but as cruise ship workers (he a croupier, she in retail and, later, events), their wages don’t bring them the lifestyle they feel they deserve. So, when Charlotte is seduced by Sam and they marry, they hatch dozens of seemingly harmless plans to relieve wealthy passengers of their money and luxury possessions. Years later, now separated and trying to move on, Charlotte’s past comes back to haunt her big style while on a new job aboard an ultra-swish private yacht in the Caribbean. The sense of closing in and conspiracy is feverishly, cleverly created as a tsunami of twists leads to a thrilling, unexpected finale. Hamilton has a huge talent for page-turning plotting, and her psychological insights are as sharp as a pair of luxury Louboutin stilettos.
With sharp stinging humour and a bleakly dark plot this is a book to propel thoughts into a confrontational abyss. When Maeve considers changing her relationship with alcohol along with her need to murder men, and can't find the help she requires, she begins a support group for psychopaths. Every time you think Will Carver has pushed reading boundaries as far as he can go, along comes the next book. I’ve read a lot of thrillers and crime books over the years and I don’t think anything has made me flinch as much as this one. Here he took me to the edge of reasonable and with a great big shove sent me sprawling out into the unknown. It’s so deliberate, so combative, and yet it also feels desperately sad too. There were parts of this read that I absolutely flew through, others packed such a punch that I had to take a break before carrying on. The plot not only feels antagonistic, the characters also reach though your thoughts to what lies behind and beneath. Psychopaths Anonymous is so in-your-face it’s almost claustrophobic, it’s also a compulsive and unforgettable reading experience.
Gritty, authentic and inspirational, Jennifer Mathieu’s Bad Girls Never Say Die explores the tangled aftermath of an assault with incredible power. There’s tragedy, there’s heartache and, above all, tremendous love felt through this story of a young woman who bravely resolves to forge her own path (“I refuse to live my life for someone else”). In short, it’s the perfect coming of age novel. Like SE Hinton’s The Outsiders (on which this is based), Bad Girls Never Say Die is set in the sixties against a backdrop of deep social divide. Evie and her friends are from the wrong side of the tracks - bad girls who are seen as “trash.” But when Evie is assaulted by a rich kid, she’s saved by one of his kind - beautiful, wealthy Diane, but her sisterly action has tragic consequences. Though set some decades ago, the themes of Bad Girls Never Say Die remain as resonant today - class division, class conflict, and the bad that comes from making judgements on the basis of background and appearance. Then there’s the friendship, peer pressure, loyalty, and falling in love. The unfair family expectations, troubled home-lives, and the fact that it’s “different for boys”, who are afforded greater far freedoms than girls. Gripping, relatable and emotionally engaging, Bad Girls Never Say Die is a triumph.
Whoopee, isn’t this just the bee’s knees of a murder mystery! I’ll stop with the 1920’s slang now, but seriously, this really does rather beautifully conjure up the years after World War One. Sleuth and reporter Poppy investigates the death of a female scientist in Oxford. I have just adored every one of the Poppy Denby Investigates series which began with the Crime Writers’ Association Endeavour Historical Dagger Award shortlisted The Jazz Files, a wonderful historical mystery that I described as: “supplying oodles of 1920’s fizz and fun alongside a firm foundation from the suffragette movement and scars of the First World War”. These books could be classed as cosy as well as historical crime, but I’d say the cosy comes with a good twist of provocative nudges and digs. The Crystal Crypt is the sixth to feature Poppy, is it the last? Potentially, as a few of the loose ends from the series are rather nicely tied up. Poppy really does know her onions (sorry, sorry, definitely no more 1920’s sayings from me), she’s likeable, bright, and forward-thinking. The surrounding characters are fabulous too, though a favourite of mine has to be the wonderfully witty Rollo Rolandson. Fiona Veitch Smith encourages the plot to sing, while allowing the reader to investigate not only the crime, but also the social and political issues of the time. The Crystal Crypt is a wonderfully entertaining, vivid, yet thoughtful historical murder mystery that I can most definitely recommend.
OK let’s be clear, Her Majesty, the Queen, does not investigate. At least, not as far as we know. Bennett is very clear about this. She explains on her website and elsewhere, that this book, together with The Windsor Knot, the first in what is now a wonderful series, are works of fiction. They are made up for our reading pleasure. But. What if Her Majesty did? As Bennett has written, “If the Queen wanted to, she would make a great detective, with access to any expert she wants and a deep understanding of her world of politics and palaces,” where, of course, all the real crimes take place. The monarch Marple is of course an utterly wonderful idea, and Bennett is such a talented writer and storyteller that the suspension of disbelief is effortless as she draws you into a world that soon moves from seeming all too possible to become delightfully credible. A Three Dog Problem is centred on the mysterious appearance of a painting of the Royal Yacht Britannia in a Royal Naval exhibition and a body floating in a palace swimming pool, but really it doesn’t matter what the story is about. The true pleasure in this is that Bennett has really thought through how Her Majesty might actually conduct an investigation, then packed it with authentic details and more twists and turns than a palace intrigue, and created the unforgettable character of Rozie, Her Majesty’s trusted and ingenious Private Secretary, the Watson or Mma Makutsi to the Queen’s Holmes or Mma Ramotswe. Not since another authorial Bennett wrote The Uncommon Reader has our reigning monarch been so charmingly and affectionately portrayed in print and S.J. Bennett has surely put herself in the running for an MBE for “services to Royal literary inventiveness.” It is an honest-to-goodness, laugh out loud, wonder of a book filled with regal delight.
Eleven guests. Three nights. One murderer... This is the haunting and atmospheric new thriller from rising star of crime fiction, Rachael Blok. In a gorgeous mansion in the Hertfordshire countryside, sisters Lois and Ebba prepare to launch their new venture. Archipelago is an exploitation-free tech company whose virtual reality game promises to unite the worlds of technology, politics and the environment. Invited to the launch party are their investors: current and ex-politicians, international business moguls and activists, one of whom - Marieke - has been receiving online abuse and death threats for her views on eco-politics. DCI Maarten Jansen has been summoned to join the house party. He is sure the threats are from online trolls with nothing better to do - he's only offering police protection because his boss wants to put the VIP guests at ease. But when eight of the guests are involved in a suspicious helicopter crash, Maarten starts to uncover long-buried secrets - and a murderer in their midst...
Any new story by Minette Walters is grounds for great rejoicing and The Swift and The Harrier, her fourth historical fiction, is an impeccable stand alone that, from the opening eight words “As the hour for the priests’ execution approached…” holds you in its thrall until the very last word of the final line. Set 1642, in Dorset, tensions between friends and neighbours reflect the mood of the nation, as allegiance to the King and Crown confronts the rising tide of Parliamentarianism and bloody war stalks the land. Jayne Swift is a trained and talented physician, from a loyal Royalist family, who heals without fear or favour. Dedicated to treating the sick and injured whatever their belief or politics, she wins the respect of all who know her through her diligence and professionalism, at a time when female physicians were barred from formal practise, and so being to medicine, albeit in fiction, what Sofonisba Anguisolla was, in reality, to art a century before. As counterpoint to Swift’s openness and straightforward morality is William Harrier, whose mysterious appearances, and apparent duplicity, mark him as a connected but untrustworthy character, for whom the war is but a means to achieve a greater good. Impressively imagined and so beautifully written, The Swift and the Harrier is a perfect story, full of Walters’ trademark sense of place and time, with characters that are so fully formed and natural you feel you know them, and all wrapped in a story so well drawn that the images it creates in your imagination will endure long after you finished reading it. It is a complete, perfect, triumph of a tale.
Edited by Kate and Sarah Beal, the industry innovators behind Muswell Press, writer and poet Golnoosh Nour, and editor Matt Bates, who curates the publisher’s LGBTQI+ list, Queer Life, Queer Love is the glorious result of a global call-out for original submissions. Keen to not only push "the boundaries of gender and sexuality, but also the boundaries of literature itself," no constraints were set on the form submissions might take. And the result is a triumph - a showcase of variously stirring, subversive, intoxicating and moving poetry and prose, short stories and narrative non-fiction that delivers the anthology’s desire to “honour a young, lost, queer life”, “to create more space to encourage and salute the diversity of queer writing, and to celebrate the richness of queer life experience”. Among the anthology’s engaging non-fiction offerings we have Jonathan Kemp’s piece on identity and the early 1990s re-appropriation of the word “queer” as a “critical and disruptive force rather than a stinging insult”. Then there’s Sal Harris’ beautifully inventive writing on transition - its meaning, its reasons, its magic - and Katlego Kai Kolanyane-Kesupile’s punch-packing piece on being a Black transgender woman. The fiction and poetry is every bit as dazzling and varied, too - a striking, shifting kaleidoscope of lived experiences and wisdom that speaks to the soul. Brilliantly curated, the dynamic, diverse writings in Queer Life, Queer Love will have readers in their thrall.
It has been 15 years since award-winning Finnish copywriter Tuomainen launched his career as an author and in that time he has delighted readers and critics with 6 books that have seen him hailed by The Times as “the funniest writer in Europe,” and “the King of Helsinki Noir” by the Finnish press. It’s hard to really capture and express just how brilliant this man’s writing is, but imagine, if you will, Ian Rankin’s gift for crime thrillers channelled through the skew-wiff comic genius of Christopher Brookmyre, or to put it another way, think of Carl Hiaasen in thermals, Mukluks and a big, down parka for, yes, he is that good. To even think that there might be a tale to be told of a staid insurance actuary inheriting a problematic adventure park takes courage. To then be able to grip readers' imaginations for three hundred pages, to make them laugh so hard they soak the pages of the book by squirting tea from their nose and then make them weep so fiercely that the tears trickle down their thighs, takes huge talent. But there is also nigh-on writing genius here as, woven into what is essentially a crime thriller, albeit a raucous, rip-roaring comic one, is a genuine sense of pathos, a real understanding and expression of human frailties, the random doubts and failures, that make The Rabbit Factor such a wonderfully engaging and enduringly humane read. Be in no doubt, this is quality, top drawer, writing and storytelling of the sort that makes you feel good to be alive and oh-so-grateful to be literate.
In this her third dystopian thriller, Dalcher gives another chilling look into an alternative future where a woman and her daughter seek refuge in a women-only colony after the country sinks into total economic collapse. Darker than her other reads, but still female-centric and speculative, this tells the tale of widowed Miranda Reynolds and her sixteen-year-old Emma whose only hope for survival is Femlandia, a male-free colony set up decades earlier by Miranda's estranged mother. It's another twisty turny rollercoaster ride of emotion and thought-provoking themes. It's raw, it's disturbing in places, the characters are incredibly flawed and I flew through it at pace. Pulled in from the very first few pages and hooked until the end, for me Dalcher is firmly becoming the queen of speculative fiction.
A simply joyous and magical relationship story to brighten up the darkest of times. Carmen’s sister Sofia comes to her somewhat reluctant rescue when Carmen is made redundant. The Christmas Bookshop goes to the top of my favourite books by Jenny Colgan, she is one of the most consistently fabulous romance writers out there, and if I need a boost I know just where to head. Yes there’s romance, you’ll also find intruiging family relationships and inviting new friendships. When we meet Carmen she’s not at her best, she’s definitely not perfect (who is!), and because she’s multi-dimensional it adds extra layers to this Christmas tale. I particularly loved the cast of characters, even the smallest part has depth, and then of course there is the Bookshop, which is divinely intriguing and welcoming. Edinburgh becomes a winter wonderland, with snow, beautifully decorated shops, and even if you’ve never been, the descriptions ensure a spellbinding sparkle. With a plot that weaves and twists its magical course with charm, The Christmas Bookshop is a truly lovely festive romance, and we’ve added it to our Star Book collection.
An absolute beaut of a debut which we get to enjoy thanks to Vintage, 21 years after its debut in the US. The book opens in Spring 1940 with a dead child, raped, killed and abandoned by the roadside in the small town of Bigelow, Arkansas. An event from which the family and the town would never recover. Pearl’s heart broke that day when she lost her Jude, and so did mine. We fast forward to Spring 1955 as we are introduced to Sugar who arrives in the small southern town like a storm with her red lips, in her red high heels and blond wig. She was labelled right then and there. Abandoned at birth by her mother, and raised in a brothel, Sugar has been to hell and back and comes Bigelow to settle. In spite of their differences, Sugar bonds with her god-fearing, pious next door neighbour Pearl over sweet potato pie and pain. It’s a beautifully crafted journey of love, of loss, of understanding, of friendship, of rehabilitation. It’s a reawakening, an unforgettable one of two incredible characters who you come to care for deeply and I for one cannot wait for the sequel This Bitter Earth, published in summer 2022.
From the author of the divinely dark The Binding and several acclaimed novels for young adults, Bridget Collins’s The Betrayals murmurs with menace and the mystery of the grand jeu, an arcane intellectual game that melds music, maths, poetry and philosophy. The novel’s world - at once familiar and strange - is conjured with crystalline clarity and populated by a cast of distinctly charismatic characters. Set in an unnamed disintegrating European country in the 1930s, the story begins when thirty-two-year-old Leo is removed from his post as Minister for Culture and exiled to his former academy, the exclusive Montverre. Here the nation’s cleverest are schooled in the art of the grand jeu, and here Leo is forced to face tragedy from his past as he forms an unsettling connection with the academy’s new female Magister Ludi. Part homage to Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, this boasts a compellingly jolting plot that will keep readers on their toes, and a delicious dénouement - it’s a delight for lovers of literary conundrums. Find out more about Bridget Collins in our 'Putting Authors in the Picture' blog!
When ship’s surgeon Gulliver sets off across the seas in search of adventure he has little idea what he will find. His two greatest discoveries are the countries of Lilliput and Brobdingnag. In Lilliput he finds a population of tiny people to whom he appears as a giant while in Brobdingnag the roles are reversed: Gulliver is tiny and Brobdingnags are giants. Swift uses Gulliver’s descriptions of his experiences in these contrasting countries to write a satirical commentary on his own society. His use of Gulliver’s altered relative size gives great scope for studying everyday events in a new way and makes a fine vantage point for telling the contrasting stories. Gulliver is an iconic figure in literature. Read aloud, this abridged edition with is impressionistic yet detailed illustrations by Robert Ingpen will make an excellent way to introduce the story about him to young readers.
Wisely comic, soul-searchingly tender, and defiantly unsentimental, Bryan Washington’s Memorial is a brilliant bittersweet debut. Really it’s a story of many things that matter most in life, when it comes down to it - family, emotional closeness, physical closeness, the urge to break free, and the compulsion to return. It’s also about the unexpected experiences and discoveries that come in the wake of strangers being thrown together, in this case when Mike finds out his estranged father is dying as his mother is due to stay with him, and as his two-year relationship teeters into fizzling-out territory While Mike heads to Osaka, boyfriend Benson plays host to Mike’s mother in Houston. Benson’s never met straight-talking Mitsuko, but little by little they form an unlikely and profound bond. Meanwhile, after meandering memories and feeling the strange melancholia of being reunited with his dying, distant dad, Mike is transformed by his Osaka experience. Through all this richness, Memorial is an absorbing, funny, stirring achievement told in lucid, elegant style.
Rich with romance, mystery and family drama, Elisabeth Gifford’s A Woman Made of Snow is a delicious treat for readers who like their historic fiction seasoned with haunting atmosphere. It’s 1949 and Caro and Alasdair Gillan are newly married Cambridge graduates living near his Scottish family home. Though elegant, crumbling Kelly Castle has seen better days, and hides many secrets, as Caro discovers when she accepts her mother-in-law’s suggestion that she research the Gillan family history. Her academic career curtailed when she falls pregnant soon after marriage, Caro is glad to have something to occupy her mind, and the mystery of a missing bride is certainly intriguing. The woman in question was married to Alasdair’s great-grandfather, Oliver, whom we meet when the narrative slips back to the late 1800s. As a boy, Oliver resolved to explore the frozen north, and later read medicine at Edinburgh University. Then, as broken-hearted young man, Oliver signs up to board a ship bound for the Arctic. In the present, as a shocking find is made in the castle grounds, there are tensions between Caro and Alasdair’s family - she’s not the kind of woman they’d envisaged him marrying, yet she is the kind of woman who can uncover Oliver’s past, not least when she finds the diary of his voyage aboard the Narwhal whaling ship and pieces together a tragic and beautiful tale of love that exposes abhorrent Western notions of “savages”. With a fine evocation of time, place, and Inuit society, A Woman Made of a Snow is a moving, captivating read.
The gripping new thriller from the No.1 Sunday Times bestseller Jeffery Deaver Twist left. Unique Investigator Colter Shaw is searching for the answer to his father's final, posthumous riddle. It will lead him to evidence that will topple the secretive espionage company, BlackBridge. Twist right. He believes BlackBridge to be responsible for his father's murder and brother's disappearance. They can outmanoeuvre anyone, as the long trail of bodies behind them can confirm. But they haven't yet met Colter Shaw. Don't slip up. This time the stakes are huge - the fate of a nation is in Colter's hands. He must find the solution as to why his father died - but to do that he needs to stay alive...
Nina George Dean on the surface has it all. Fantastic friends, a new home all of her own, a successful career as a food writer and a loving family. Saying that, her thirties thus far haven't been all they were cracked up to be...and so she decides to dive into online dating. This is a funny observational debut novel by Dolly Alderton, a voice we recognise from her best-selling memoir Everything I Know About Love and her podcast The High Low. But it's fresh, it's so relatable, so real. We've all been through it or know someone who has - and because of that it's so heartfelt and sad and tender and true. But funny; I chuckled, laughed and nodded along on every step of Nina's journey. And it's not an easy journey as love interest Max isn't quite what she hoped he'd be with his good looks and prepackaged charm and we hope she doesn't fall hard when after two hours she "wants to touch his face which looked like it belonged to a Viking warrior". Her doting dad shows more and more signs of dementia, and her friendships drift as friends become consumed with kids, love and moving out to the 'burbs. Whatever decade you're in, this will serve as a witty warning, a reeling realisation or a magnificent memory and I can't recommend it enough.
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