Did you know that the first recorded reading groups were among women working in factories in the nineteenth century? And now, according to research undertaken a few years ago, there are tens of thousands of groups meeting regularly in the UK reading everything from literary classics to technical manuals! Of course, if you are in a book group, choosing what to read next can be a serious matter as not every book has subject matter that can really be discussed. So to help you LoveReading has decided to lend a hand by, each month, selecting a number of books we feel are perfect and will give your group a rewarding discussion as well as a rewarding read.
This gloriously bittersweet and intensely dark novel swims into the very depths of emotion and takes you with it. Tartelin’s new job on near deserted island Dohhalund off the East Anglian coast tests her own grief and the secrets of her employers past. Polly Crosby’s debut novel was the stunning LoveReading Star Book The Illustrated Child. This, her second novel more than lived up to my high expectations, Polly Crosby is most definitely an author to watch. She isn't afraid to slice open, peel back and expose layers of pain, and she does so in the most beautifully eloquent way. I advise taking your time with this novel, step into and soak up the words. A hushed quiet descends, and yet the island, the tone, the words, create a powerful and vivid reality. A sense of unease kept me company as I read, alongside that unease something else embraced me in welcome as I settled in and explored with Tartelin. The two time frames shimmered and almost flexed into one as I read. The story hides, remaining watchful and patient before revealing itself, and oh, that ending! Captivating and uniquely atmospheric, The Unravelling has been chosen as both a LoveReading Star Book and Liz Pick of the Month.
This thought-provoking and exquisitely written novel has touched my heart. In 1923, Esme Nicholls travels to Cornwall in the hope of learning more about her husband who died in the First World War. This is the first book I’ve read by Caroline Scott, and it won’t be my last. Her debut The Photographer of the Lost set in 1921 was a BBC Radio 2 Book Club Pick, and When I Come Home Again set in 1918, was one of The Times Best books of 2020. The Visitors is so eloquently emotional and earthy it will stay with me for some time. The Cornish setting just sings, the house full of former soldiers where Esme stays made me feel welcome. The garden and natural surroundings soothe and act as a foil for the feelings of the people who reside there. Diary entries and articles add hidden thoughts and an awareness of the war. I adored the ending, the closing information so simply imparted, yet so satisfying and fulfilling, made me smile. The Visitors is beautifully expressive and heartfelt, and I’ve chosen this gorgeous novel as both a LoveReading Star Book and Liz Pick of the Month.
This emotionally intelligent and perceptive novel is hand-on-heart gorgeous. Diana finds herself alone in the Galapagos during the early months of the pandemic while her surgeon boyfriend is back in New York. This is Jodi Picoult at her best, what seems like a simple tale is full of richly beautiful and provocative imaginings. The natural world, our world, sings with celebration. The torment of the pandemic echoes with heartbreak. Relationships, love, awareness of self, the focus is intimate and penetrating and yet feels immense and inclusive to all. I experienced a meaningful connection with the characters and plot, as though I was a part of this story somewhere in the world. And though I had that awareness, the author has the magical ability to open your thoughts and then send them in an entirely unexpected and breathtaking direction. I absolutely adored this book and felt as though it had been written just for me, and yet also for everyone. It connects us all in a time of uncertainty and fear. In a welcoming arms-open-wide hug, the Author’s Note from March 2021 explains her writing story during Covid-19. Charting the raw immeasurable pain of the pandemic, and yet also administering hope and love, Wish You Were Here sits as a LoveReading Star Book and Liz Pick of the Month.
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.
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.
Through the finely-nuanced narratives of three Black women from very different backgrounds, Lola Akinmade Åkerström's In Every Mirror She’s Black is a remarkable feat of fiction. Teeming with hope, desire, struggle and love, this powerful page-turner pulls no punches as its engagingly three-dimensional characters strive for better lives in a world that makes it anything but easy for them to be themselves. It also dismantles any notion of there being a monolithic Black culture, and lays bare the unjust multiple standards by which Black women are judged - and all this through dazzling story-telling that will leave readers desperate to read the author’s next novel. The three female protagonists are linked by one wealthy man - Jonny Lundin, born into one of Sweden’s most privileged families, and CEO of the country’s biggest marketing company. Bored and frustrated by work, and by the men she meets on US dating apps, award-winning marketing executive Kemi is ripe for change when Jonny invites her to become his new Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion. While on a flight to woo Kemi from America to Stockholm, Jonny encounters Brittany, a former model who now works as a first-class flight attendant. Initially dismissive of Jonny’s attention, she finds herself drawn to him - he seems to worship the ground she walks on, and lavishes her with unimaginable devotion and wealth. Then there’s refugee Muna, who lost her mother and younger brother during a treacherous sea crossing, and now works as a cleaner in Jonny’s office, while dreaming of becoming an accountant and having a group of good friends. True to life, the women variously make mistakes, face excruciating decisions, and long to feel fulfilled. Their finely-drawn stories are equally as engaging as they struggle to feel at home in a city that’s supposedly egalitarian, but turns out to be rife with implicit racism, tokenism, and injurious stereotyping. Riveting, moving and stirring (with punch-packing endings you won’t see coming), In Every Mirror She’s Black is a magnificent must-read.
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.
Critically acclaimed novelist Michael Farris Smith pulls Nick Carraway out of the shadows and into the spotlight in this exhilarating imagination of his life before The Great Gatsby. Before Nick Carraway moved to West Egg and into Gatsby’s world, he was at the centre of a very different story – one taking place along the trenches and deep within the tunnels of World War I. Floundering in the wake of the destruction he witnessed first-hand, Nick delays his return home, hoping to escape the questions he cannot answer about the horrors of war. Instead, he embarks on a transcontinental redemptive journey that takes him from a whirlwind Paris romance – doomed from the very beginning – to the dizzying frenzy of New Orleans, rife with its own flavour of debauchery and violence. An epic portrait of a truly singular era and a sweeping, romantic story of self-discovery, this rich and imaginative novel breathes new life into a character that many know only from the periphery. Charged with enough alcohol, heartbreak, and profound yearning to transfix even the heartiest of golden age scribes, Nick reveals the man behind the narrator who has captivated readers for decades.
This is the story of a murderer. A stolen child. Revenge. This is the story of Ted, who lives with his daughter Lauren and his cat Olivia in an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street. All these things are true. And yet some of them are lies. You think you know what's inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you've read this story before. In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, something lies buried. But it's not what you think...
An absolute little treasure! After the death of his grandfather, Rintaro finds himself on an adventure with Tiger the talking cat, to help books that desperately need saving. This incredibly quirky and beautiful novel highlights the importance of books, friendship, and self-belief. The simplicity of the story highlights the warmth, the love, and the true power of books. It also encouraged me to explore my own relationship with books. Sosuke Natsukawa painted images straight into my thoughts, simple, clear, vividly bright, they still sit in my minds eye. A shout out to the translation by Louise Heal Kawai, as I felt as though I was reading the original Japanese version. If you, like me, think of books as being more than words on paper, if you talk to them and pat them, are moved by them and have thoughts altered by them, then I recommend The Cat Who Saved Books with my heart and soul. Chosen as one of my Liz Picks of the Month, it really would make the perfect gift, either for you, or another book-lover in your life.
When Orenda Books decides to back an author, whether they write in - or are translated into - English, it’s wise to pay attention as they have an uncanny knack for finding and signing up writers of great quality in publishing’s busiest and most competitive genre. Rod Reynolds is no exception. Having gained plaudits aplenty for his excellent Charlie Yates 1940’s noir series; The Dark Inside, Black Night Falling and Cold Desert Sky, Reynolds then diverted to the brutal London-based stand-alone thriller, Blood Red City, and gained a long-listing for the CWA Steel Dagger for his troubles. Pivoting ‘back to black’ with Black Reed Bay, Reynolds introduces us to his newest creation, Detective Casey “Big Case” Wray, through a superbly crafted contemporary who-why-how-dunnit. Set in the fictitious Hampstead County - which bears a striking resemblance to Nassau County N.Y - on Long Island, with windswept Atlantic beaches and the cookie cutter beachfront McMansions of a comfortable community, each scene is imbued with a sense of location so real, you can feel the salt spray and neighbourly judgment sting your skin. On the face of it it’s a standard crime/thriller narrative: something bad happens and the police investigate. For some the female victim trope will rankle, but the story and cast are introduced with such nuance and style and then, credentials established, around the 100 page mark Reynolds moves up through the gears to deliver a beautifully paced, smartly plotted read that really delivers. And Wray? Well she is the real star of the story. Somewhere between Frances McDormand’s “Marge Gunderson” in Fargo and Helen Mirren as “Jane Tennison” in Prime Suspect; too good a human and too big hearted to be hard boiled, but à point cynical and with a great store of whip-crack one-liners. Mark these words, Reynolds is going to good places fast if he can repeat the magic of Black Reed Bay in his next few books. Join in and get reading, it’s going to be quite the journey.
Subtle and smart yet intense and thrilling, this story builds with each turn revealing another set of steps in front of you. Within a corner of London a murder sets questions hunting through secrets and the past. I was caught sleeping at the start and was given a huge shove, from that moment on my attention didn’t waver. This is all about the characters, yet the beautifully intricate plot more than holds its own. What Paula Hawkins does so successfully, is to allow you to see the inner being of people, the shadows that dwell within, without ever losing connection with their humanity. Every person in this story feels authentic, relatable, and that dreaded word, normal. It made me question what I would do in the same circumstances, could this in fact, be me. Oh, and just as an aside, great map! A Star Book and Liz Pick of the Month, A Slow Fire Burning wanders through the everyday, before reaching under the surface and pulling out darkness.