Hot off the press! Check out the books we think are the best of the best this month!
Forna has taken her own experiences of sexism and racism that she experienced as a woman from Sierra Leone living in the US on which to base this novel. This has created a powerful depiction of the oppression and cruelty meted out to women who are different from a society’s accepted roles. Set in the patriarchal fantasy world of Otera, this is based in an ancient kingdom, where a woman’s worth is only as good as her proven purity. This purity is proven by the woman being made to bleed – in a brutal ceremony when they reach the age of 16. When Deka bleeds gold this is deemed the colour of impurity, and she is declared a demon. Not only is she thrust out of the home and society she has known since birth, but she is also subjected to unspeakable acts of brutality and violence by the ruling priesthood. The fact Deka does not die from all the brutality gives one hope she is different and may have some role in the future of Otera. This proves so – Deka is rescued and taken to a training ground for women where she finds a friendship and sisterhood amongst others also found to be impure. As they train the ‘impure’ girls are paired with soldiers from the Imperial jatu fighting force – and some form deep and lasting friendships with their partners. The characters here are hugely diverse with Black, Asian and Brown main, and minor characters, with a recognition of diverse sexuality too. The power of this novel is in the strong, horrifying but ultimately hopeful end of this story. There is much violence – in both punitive killing and re-killings of demons by the priests, but also in the violent backstories of some of the girls (including an instance of rape.) The book explores themes of feminist possibility whilst being based in a fantasy world taking inspiration from ancient West African culture. A powerful read, not for the faint-hearted but very definitely giving hope for the future, showing that there is a place to be whatever you wish to be – homemaker or fighter. This is a strong start to what promises to be a trilogy.
A thrilling, riveting, and whip-smart novel that feels as though you are being served a slice of Cold War military history. When a CIA asset in East Germany is compromised, a team of unconventional warfare specialists are charged with extracting him. This is the first in the Snake Eater Chronicles by James Stejskal who spent 35 years in the US Army Special Forces and CIA. He is now an author (previously writing non-fiction), military historian, and conflict archaeologist. These stories are based in reality using his real-world experience and the author himself calls it “faction”. This is an absolutely fascinating read, all the cogs within the CIA and Special Forces machine spin into action. The Cold War history of Berlin, different characters, methods and processes are included and explained without upsetting the flow of what is a gripping story. I didn’t question, I quite simply read and believed. A Question of Time is a fabulous start to a series that promises to deliver in spades and it comes with a whopping thumbs up from me.
A blistering, gripping, and absolutely fascinating novel. Set aside plenty of quality time as I was consumed, and read it all in one heady, breathtaking go. It’s based on the true story of Nancy Wake, named by the Gestapo as The White Mouse, as she evaded their capture by slipping through check points in France during The Second World War. It is almost impossible to comprehend the wartime life of Nancy, it feels as though all of it is brilliant but astonishing fiction. Darby Kealey and Imogen Robertson have created a living, breathing, headstrong woman and I shook my head in wonder and shock at some of her escapades. She’s not perfect, she makes mistakes and at times appears somewhat gung-ho, with no apparent regard for the safety of herself or her team, yet this woman was quite simply incredible. The authors have made changes to timelines and invented some episodes which they fully explain in the Historical Notes. A major film production is underway, and I recommend reading the book just as soon as you can (before the film) as it is fabulous. Nancy Wake has entered my heart, and we just had to choose Liberation as a LoveReading Star Book. Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.
An emotionally powerful and riveting family drama, combining razor-sharp suspense and the meaning of forgiveness. Claudia Winters, along with her mother and daughter, leave their old life far behind them but as they begin to settle into a new community, the past isn’t as far away as they had hoped. Susan Lewis has written over 40 novels, they are always so readable, she really is the most wonderfully consistent writer. If you have read any of her previous books, you will rediscover a couple of your favourite characters have returned. The joy here though, is that if this your first foray, there is no need to feel disconcerted as you need no prior knowledge. I simply allowed myself to fall into pages and the main storyline swirled beautifully around Claudia, Marcy, and Jasmine. Occasional letters appeared through the novel and sliced through the harmony that was beginning to build. Not knowing when the letters were written ensured that tension increased and remained as the tale developed. As information was released, my thoughts turned in a new direction and the meaning of the title became clear. Full of love and compassion, Forgive Me is a thoughtfully observed and truly satisfying novel.
A powerful, eloquent, earthy and emotional novel about family, regret, hope, and redemption. Former footballing prodigy Danny Garvey returns home to manage the local football team, yet past secrets haunt the present. I simply fell into this novel, fell in love with both the writing and storyline, and similarly adored Welcome to the Heady Heights. David F Ross writes so beautifully, images spark into life, so vibrantly real they almost hurt. During the course of this novel I found myself roaring with laughter, high on feel-goods, then caught up in plummeting emotions that caused a physical ache… this is a novel with real heart. The direct thoughts of the other headline characters appear in italics, and boy does it create atmosphere. My head was full of the added information, creating a jigsaw, while searching for the missing pieces without realising it. The ending gave me full-on goosebumps, and I sat for a goodly while in contemplation after finishing. I want to shout from the rooftops about There’s Only One Danny Garvey, hand on heart it’s blimmin brilliant!
A gorgeously heart-felt and uplifting romance, just perfect if you’re in need of a pick-me-up read. Thirteen years after Didi’s first love left her, he is back in her life and the spark is still there. I can proudly announce that I read Jill Mansell’s debut all the way back in 1991 and have loved her books ever since. They just glow with feel-good warmth and are full of compassion, and kindness. At the heart of this novel friendship and the meaning of trust snuggle together within the setting of a beautiful Cotswold market town. Bestselling author Jill Mansell always covers the different generations in her novels with attention to detail, and the side stories are as interesting as the main romance. Jill Mansell is one of the most consistent romance writers out there, pick up one of her books and you’ll find a truly enjoyable read. Heartwarming and satisfying And Now You’re Back delivers a wonderful helping of love and romance.
Emotionally haunting, dramatic and provocative, yet ultimately this is a novel full of hope. On the day the car collides with a wall, five sets of parents attend hospital not knowing if their child has survived. What follows isn’t an easy read emotionally as death, turmoil and loss features heavily, but… but… I was completely gripped and couldn’t stop turning the pages. Caroline Bond introduces the characters perfectly, I immediately felt as though I knew everyone. The interplay feels so very real and as the book skips backwards and forwards again, understanding of the personalities, relationships, and secrets seeped into my awareness. There is a thoughtful balance to this novel, no judgement is made by the author, rather she encourages contemplation. The drama sweeps across the stage, the readability factor is huge, and still One Split Second is full of empathy and compassion, earning it a place as a LoveReading Book of the Month.
Discover a vividly seductive historical crime novel sitting within Victorian Edinburgh. A plan to discredit Dr James Simpson is afoot, while a bid by two of his employees to clear his name encounters a string of unsolved deaths. Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for award-winning author Chris Brookmyre and consultant anaesthetist Dr Marisa Haetzman. Research for her masters uncovered the material for this series which began with The Way of All Flesh. You could read this as a standalone novel, but I recommend starting at the beginning in order to fully enjoy this reading experience. The mix of fiction and fact is a fascinating one, with the historical background twisting and melding with intense vitality into the most compelling story. The social resistance to new medicine, the struggles of the woman’s movement, and individuals grasping for power confirms that the circles of humanity continue through the ages. The attraction between Will and Sarah adds to the energy rather than detracts, while the unknown voice that appears throughout builds suspense and intrigue before the full impact of the ending hits. The Art of Dying is a vivid, almost visual feast of a story that I can highly recommend.
This intelligent, beautifully eloquent and powerful crime novel thoroughly provoked my feelings, and still remains in my thoughts. Mickey Fitzpatrick is a police officer patrolling the area she grew up in. Kensington in Philadelphia is known for drugs and sex workers, when a killer arrives on the streets, Mickey prays that her little sister doesn’t become a victim. The author Liz Moore has an intimate knowledge of the real Kensington, she has interviewed the people drawn there by drugs, written non fiction, and completed community work, she obviously cares a great deal for this neighbourhood and its people. Her novel set in Kensington has been a long time in the coming, she wanted to: “do this world justice”, to: “fairly represent”. As I started to read, the ‘list’ stopped me in my tracks, I read it again, pondered, and then moved on to the first two pages which hit my mind with a wallop and gave it a good shake. Mickey narrates her story, she is so clear, sharp, on point, and I could see, feel, taste her words. Kensington, Mickey and her family flooded my mind in short, fierce, expressive chapters of ‘then’ and ‘now’. I felt a connection to emotions, to this story, it truly spoke to me. I feel this novel will be one that I regularly return to, and I’ll take away something a little different each time. Long Bright River is a stunning read, it aches with poignant, vivid intensity and I absolutely loved it. There is no other option for me, than to choose it as a LoveReading Star Book.
Our December 2020 Guest Editor “Take what you need from these pages; and most of all, enjoy what you do. Joy is such a vital part of creative writing – because if you don’t enjoy what you write, how can you expect anyone else to?” So begins Joanne Harris’s invaluably inspirational - and practical - Ten Things About Writing. Reading this book is rather like having a wise writer as a best friend, on hand to offer pragmatic and energising advice, with many unhelpful myths about writing crumbled, and an emphasis on the fact that writing is to be worked at, not something a wand can be waved at: “The ability to spin words into gold is a skill that comes from hard work, patience and lots of practice. Some people may have an aptitude; others will struggle to gain momentum.” I particularly loved the author’s unravelling of the myth of inspiration: “The idea that we must wait for the Muse to inspire us was invented by effete young Victorians who wanted an excuse to sit around doing nothing all day. Most of us don’t have that luxury, which means forgetting about the Muse and doing some actual footwork instead.” And this gem: “Don’t write because you want to be a writer. Write because you want to write.” In bracing style, Harris covers everything from doing proper research, finding your voice and effectual use of description (“If a passage doesn’t serve a purpose, it’s just pointless decoration. Kill it”), to drafting (“all first drafts are terrible... Just get on with it”), re-writing, and what to expect if you’re lucky enough to be published. And she doesn’t stop there, in the way that writing doesn’t either. She also covers dealing with fear, failure, rejection and writer’s block, with every stone turned and looked at from fresh angles, ending with an uplifting reminder that no matter how your writing journey turns out, “just writing is an act of bravery”. I’ll leave you with this typically droll nugget from the section on writing about women: “Top tip: real women very rarely think about their breasts at all – and certainly never in the way in which some male writers think they do.” I know this is a book I’ll keep coming back to, along with checking-in on the author’s #TenThings tweets. The LoveReading LitFest invited Joanne Harris to the festival to give a Masterclass on writing, pegged to her book, Ten Things About Writing. You can view the event by subscribing to the LitFest programme for as little as £6 per month - or you can pay per view. For just £2, go, see Joanne in conversation with Paul Blezard and find out the tips of the trade. It's a must watch for any budding writer or avid reader.
A cunning, creeping, slow-burning family drama. When Nina was diagnosed with a terminal illness, she asked her best friend Marie to fulfil her final wishes. As Marie steps forward into a life she has always envied and wanted, she discovers that Nina had some damaging secrets. Marie narrates, she’s not particularly loveable, or even likeable, and I really enjoyed how that made me doubt, question, and hold back from forming an opinion of her. It felt as though Marie was being honest with her feelings, but not her thoughts, and that created huge uncertainty. As the atmosphere and my suspicion settled, a change of direction elbowed its way in which added an extra dimension. The Last Wife almost slithers along, delivering bites of tension and suspense, ensuring an interesting read.
Click to read our Q&A with Mark Adlington A book to fall totally and irretrievably in love with, Lion is full of the most gorgeous paintings, drawings, and sketches, and is absolutely stunning. The lion, an apex predator, is surely one of the most beautiful sights you can see. When I was 19 I found myself in Kenya, eyes wide, mouth open as I watched a lioness and three cubs at a water hole. It is something that is as clear to me now as it was then, so, when I saw this book was going to be published, I was first in the LoveReading queue. Here we journey together with Mark Adlington as he studies lions in East and Southern Africa. The foreword by the winner of the Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa and Co-Founder and Director of Operations at the Big Life Foundation, Richard Bonham, is effusive in its praise of Mark Adlington. It comes with a warning, that lions do not make good neighbours, and “where humans and wildlife compete, wildlife will surely lose”. However all is not: “doom and gloom… in the Amboseli ecosystem, by 2003 there were only 25 lions left… today, things have changed and the population has clawed itself back to over 200”. Mark has painted the progeny of the lions this programme has saved, and they appear in this dazzlingly impressive book. Mark describes meeting Richard and his wife Tara as a miracle: “I found myself invited to stay ‘in the most beautiful part of Kenya’ by a total stranger on the strength of a little sketch of a lion cub posted on instagram”. Mark also allows us access to his sketchbook musings (oh, the tortoise!), and finishes by saying that a world without the lion is unimaginable. What then follows is page after page of the most beautiful artwork, and this is where my mouth dropped open. Each piece is so full of character and movement, so vibrantly alive, that it brought tears to my eyes. The art is allowed to shine, no page numbers or captions to distract, you can simply sink into the beauty of the lion. So, Lion is a book to take pride of place on your bookshelves, a book to return to and open with wonder, to sit with eyes wide and heart open, to adore. Undoubtedly one of my personal books of the year, Lion just had to join our LoveReading Star Books and is of course one of my Liz Picks of the Month.