Have you run out of books by your favourite author? Do you need new ideas for your book club? Perhaps you’re looking for a gift, a holiday read, a challenge or a neglected classic. You’ve come to the right place.
There’s nothing worse than being without a good book. We are always happy to recommend books we have loved or make suggestions based on your favourites. Here are a few books that have impressed us recently.
Lottie and Quentin’s marriage is on the rocks and so are their livelihoods. Lottie decides they should rent out their lovely London home and decamp to Devon for a financial regroup. Their children – Lottie’s mixed race son Xan from a youthful brief encounter and two young daughters from the marriage – are not happy. Quentin is appalled at the move but as the guilty party has lost his moral authority. Living in an unheated ramshackle house in the West Country comes as a shock to them all – the fact that it was the site of a gruesome murder doesn’t help. An enjoyable undemanding read that also raises some interesting aspects of human behaviour and how events force us to evolve.
Aidan Waits is a detective condemned to the night shift with a partner he detests – the feeling is mutual. Disgrace and scandal have halted his career. He hangs onto his job by his fingertips while his partner Sutty glories in the misery of the poor souls they encounter in the dark hours and dark places of the restless city (Manchester). Joseph Knox introduced Waits in his first novel Sirens (available in paperback, 8.99) but this one is even better. A clever original and engrossing read.
Horace Hopper, a 21 year old ranch hand born half Native American and half Irish, is desperately trying to escape his own stifling sense of failure.
He works on a ranch owned by Mr and Mr Reese who love and trust him, but Horace needs to prove himself worthy of their trust and becomes Hector Hidalgo, a Mexican championship boxer. Only Hector is not Mexican, can’t speak Spanish and hates Mexican food. His loneliness cripples him and serves only to accentuate his feelings of unworthiness.
This is a brutal yet surprisingly tender story which will is one of Willy Vlautin’s best.
Amazons by John Man
This is a tremendously enjoyable ride through the legends, lands and lives of the Amazons – the real ones. The idea of a society of warrior women has endured for 2,500 years. Recent archaeological discoveries have confirmed their existence; although not quite matching the classical images that we have inherited.
John Man is a writer with a firm grip on his subject, and the provable facts gained from new research are just as astonishing as the myths he debunks. Man is also a storyteller of great skill, whose writing illuminates lost cultures and brings individual figures to life with
intimacy and wit. I gladly followed him on epic journeys across Europe, Central Asia and South America, and across time to meet the feared enemies of Ancient Greece and the Kurdish women warriors fighting in Syria and Iraq today. A truly fascinating book.
Dark Pines by Will Dean
Gavrik is an isolated town on the edge of the 600 square kilometre Utgard Forest in Sweden. Its local paper ‘Gavrik Posta’ has a deaf reporter, Tuva Moodyson. She is sent out to cover the story of a body
found with gunshot wounds in the forest. Nothing especially odd about that – Gavrik is a hunting community and accidents happen. However, this
body has its eyes gouged out and not by an elk.
Dark Pines is extraordinarily well written. Utgard itself is a dark and brooding character full of mysterious corners and surprises. Tuva’s deafness and her daily battle with hearing aid batteries and those who doubt her ability to do her job are objectively reported. Dark Pines is the first in a series by Will Dean (an English writer) featuring Tuva and I am looking forward to the sequel.
Lullaby by Leila Slimani
Right from the start we know that the children have been murdered bytheir nanny, Louise.
Paul and Myriam are a successful Parisian couple; he in the music industry, she as a lawyer. When the couple’s two children come along in quick succession, Myriam loses her sense of self and returns to work.
This is when an ageless doll-like widow with fastidious manners enters their life and becomes indispensable. However, soon mistrust and jealousies seep into this fragile family and results in tragedy.
Set in Istanbul and Oxford from the 1980s to the present, this novel delves into the history of three young women and their rebellious university professor. Peri, a wealthy Turkish housewife and mother, has her handbag snatched as she is stalled in traffic en route to a dinner party and a photograph of the four falls to the ground. Memories of the past that she has tried to put behind her emerge to envelop her throughout the lavish dinner party. Peri tries to resolve the painful issues that have haunted her since the scandal that tore their friendship apart while the party guests are caught up in the complexities of life in a strife torn Turkey.
Beginning in a small town in Switzerland just after the war, Rose Tremain’s novel tells the story of Gustav, the son of a dead and disgraced policeman, and his deep friendship with Anton, a musical prodigy whose parent are wealthy Jews. Anton however is self-centred and takes Gustav – often lonely- for granted. A subtle understated book that leaves an indelible mark.
Set in 1666 a momentous year for London this is a rollicking historical thriller. After the restoration Royalists and Republicans uneasily have to come to terms with their respective pasts. Charles II’s ministers remain acutely aware of threats and plots when, in the aftermath of the Great Fire, a body is found ritually slain, a minor government functionary, himself the son of a Republican, is given the task of investigation.
This is a beautifully written tale of devotion set in the midst of the American Civil War and Indian Wars. We follow two boys, Thomas McNulty and John Cole, who meet and travel together to find work, eventually joining the army. As they grow to adulthood their bond allows them to find their way through the fearful experiences of war to seek a peaceful life. Despite the hardships and separations of the wars, the two men cling to the truth of human connection to create a future worth fighting for. Days Without End is a moving and memorable novel about how strangers can become family to one another.
Machiavellian political schemes and sorcery unite in this lively novel set in Regency London. Zacharias Wythe is the first African-born Sorcerer Royal and among his colleagues are those determined to oust him. Prunella Gentleman is an orphan with unexpected gifts, and a single-minded social climber. Cho throws her characters in a good deal of trouble and clearly relishes the witty language of the time. Her plot is satisfyingly fast paced, demanding duplicity and nerve from Zacharias and Prunella. Good clean fun! Refreshing escapism for adults and ideal for post-Potter teens.
Plum is not quite herself. Part of her is Alicia, the perfect woman she will be when she is thin. Part of her is Kitty, her magazine editor boss in whose guise she answers emails from troubled teenage girls. In between she is Plum: shy, 300lb and subsisting on calorie-controlled meals that do not satisfy her. She lives a quiet life in Brooklyn, so why is she being followed?
Meanwhile, a mysterious guerrilla group calling itself ‘Jennifer’ causes uproar, avenging crimes against women and battling misogynist mainstream culture. As Plum is drawn into the wider world she discovers what she’s really made of. Everyday sexism is no longer tolerated in this gripping, witty and thoroughly enjoyable read.
This fantastic novel centres on the first eight black cops hired in Atlanta in 1948. This is considered an experiment and to say the least, it’s awkward. These cops are stymied – they can’t arrest white suspects, they can’t drive a squad car, they must operate out of a dingy basement. Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith are the main characters, two cops trying to do their job but hampered on all sides. They find the body of a black woman who was last seen in the company of a white man. No-one seems interested in finding her murderer except these two and they have to investigate ‘off the books’. Politics, murder and violence combine in the segregated streets of Atlanta when a man is attacked for straying into the wrong area. A wonderful gritty novel that really gets the heart racing and the blood pulsing through your veins. Superb!
Find a comfortable chair and turn off your phone; this gripping thriller demands your full attention. The Pope has died and over a hundred cardinals have travelled from around the world to vote for his successor. One among them must be chosen to lead the faith. They must choose wisely, they must show a unified face to the world, but within the conclave are wildly disparate agendas vying for support. Cardinal Lomeli, who must preside over the conclave and all its factions, has his own questions and doubts about the cardinals. Harris conjures a world of secrets, shifting allegiances and ambition as he plunges us into the fascinating rituals of faith and politics.
In 1746 Englishman Richard Smith arrives at the office of a New York merchant with a bill for £1,000. Whilst waiting for his money he attempts to hide the true nature of his visit without strictly lying. But what is the true nature of his visit? This is the New York of 1746 30 years before the revolution, a colonial outpost built around a fort and ruled by trading forces. Whilst waiting for his bill to clear Smith becomes increasingly suspect: is he a conman, spy, a seducer? Real characters rub shoulders with imaginary ones and they all live and breathe with conviction. A wonderful novel and top of my list this year.
This book grips from the start. Unknown artist Scott Burroughs is offered a ride from Martha’s Vineyard to New York on a private plane, a step up from his usual ferry journey. When the plane crashes minutes after take-off, Scott manages the extraordinary feat of swimming miles back to shore, saving another passenger’s life in the process.
This is only the start of the action in this thrilling novel. Scott and his fellow survivor are emotionally engaging, making the mystery of the crash all the more compelling as we follow its effect on their lives.
How much do you know about your microbes? New research is starting to show just how important the environment of our gut really is, and how many health issues it has the power to change. The bacteria and fungi residing within us have often been overlooked, but Collen explores how they can have far-reaching effects on the recent health crises in western society such as obesity, allergies and digestive disorders.
More illuminating and beneficial than a diet book, 10% Human could have a long-term impact on how you manage your health. Understanding the changes in medical thought and practice over the past century places the research in context as new information about the human body comes to light. This book reminds us that we are still getting to know ourselves, and asks us to live in harmony with the microbe communities we are home to.
Oliver Otway Orme, lapsed painter, kleptomaniac, self deprecating
Tracy Chevalier’s latest novel is excellent. Set initially in Ohio in the mid-1800s, it draws the reader into the world of a dysfunctional settler family. Life for the Goodenoughs as they attempt to scrape an apple orchard from the cloying mud of the Black Swamp is challenging both physically and emotionally. This story dexterously weaves the lives of historical figures from that era (Johnny Appleseed, William Loeb) with those of the fictional family. James and Sadie are tough and frequently cruel, as are some of their five surviving children. Robert and Martha are the exceptions, kinder and more considerate. These siblings become the central characters as they in turn travel further through America in search of escape from the horror or their past and hoping for a better future.
This entrancing novel weaves magical and mundane threads into a compelling tale of human and botanical family history. On her death, the descendants of Oleander Gardener each inherit a seed pod, rumoured to bestow enlightenment and death at the same moment. For unhappy Bryony, her spiky cousins Charlie and Clem and their childhood friend Fleur, the pods are reminders of the quest that lured their parents to their death. For their partners and children this inheritance is a catalyst for a series of questions and crises that will change the family tree. With memorable characters and exciting ideas, this novel leads the reader into the bewitching tangle of human desires and the mysterious power of plant life.
Steve Coogan’s autobiography is funny, sharply written and thought-provoking. In the remarkable account of his risky but successful legal action he exposes the appalling confidence trickery by which the tabloids procure their stories. Writing about filming Philomena having been raised Catholic, he considers the nuances of shame, forgiveness and community.
Running throughout the book is Coogan’s search for the confidence to follow a professional calling at odds with an upbringing he clearly cherishes. Exploring the shifting British experience since the 1960s with critical affection, Coogan invites the reader to consider their own values and ideals.
This book is a pleasure to read and a valuable guide for parents. It is written by Merinda D’Aprano, the head teacher of Notre Dame in Cobham, with contributions from parenting specialist Elizabeth O’Shea. It offers a balanced view of education, an insight into how schools work, and practical ways to communicate well with children of all ages.
The book explores the challenges school can bring while offering parents simple strategies for coping with difficult situations and turning them into opportunities for learning. It aims to support parents in helping their child balance confidence, independence, cooperation and enjoyment throughout their education and beyond. Ideal summer reading to prepare for a new school year.
The thousand apartments of a forty-storey apartment block are now full. Two thousand residents form bonds and exclusions at decadent parties; Dr Robert Laing of the 25th floor plays squash with Anthony Royal, the building’s architect who occupies the 40th floor penthouse. Behind the social veneers and privileges of high-rise life, chaos looms.
Soon the separate floors and elevators, the swimming pools and garbage chutes become focal points for increasingly aggressive outbursts. Class snobbery mutates into gang loyalty and violence reigns at night. The residents dig in deeper, unleashing their desires. As the high-tech props of civilization begin to fall, the residents prepare for a dark and dirty war within their walls. Ballard creates a sense of mounting malevolence and reckless destruction in this gripping novel. The film directed by Ben Wheatley is released on DVD in July.
A 19th century whaling ship, The Volunteer, sets sail with a killer aboard. The harpooner Henry Drax exists in a world of violence and perversity where murder happens on a whim. Patrick Sumner, a former army surgeon, is a faint ray of grace and humanity in this grippingly horrific tale set in the freezing Arctic Circle. This is a fantastic read which makes The Revenant look like a walk in the park.
Cure is a fascinating and balanced book exploring the impact of the mind on the body’s health. Marchant considers global research from a wide spectrum of conditions and behaviours, with insights into the results and possibilities for the future of healthcare. Marchant also shows the resistance to change from pharmaceutical companies and other influential voices. She explains the expensive and widespread use of unnecessary procedures and potent medications, and meets innovators pioneering less invasive, more individually appropriate care. Cure will give you a greater understanding and appreciation of the connections between your mind, body and society. It deserves to be an influential book.
A charming debut novel and a wonderful start to a new series. We meet Inspector Ashwin Chopra on the day of his retirement from Mumbai Police. But two things happen on this day to prevent things from going smoothly. Firstly, Inspector Chopra inherits Ganesh, a baby elephant who is delivered to the courtyard of his apartment building, and then there is the mysterious death of a young boy, which no one wants to investigate. I wholeheartedly recommend this book for readers who want a little light escapism and especially for anyone who loves elephants.
This scope of this novel is greater than the title suggests. Sophie Stark is a socially awkward but gifted young filmmaker in New York who inspires love, curiosity, anger and bewilderment in her lovers, brother, film subjects and colleagues. Told in segments by those people, the novel delivers much more than it promises by plunging the reader into the lives and minds of this interesting group of individuals who each have their time close to Sophie, and are each changed by it. An absorbing, modern approach to a character to intensifies the lives of those around her.
No run of the mill crime novel but a nuanced and credible insight into the complex hierarchies within London’s police force. The location of the book is a rundown London suburb and you get a real sense of the multicultural melting pot that forms the neighbourhood. There is a clash between the established communities and the newcomers who have a folorn hope in a promised British justice system. Kate London spent time working in the Met and it shines through in this strong debut.
Be prepared for your pulse to race as you read this vivid debut novel. During a blizzard in the Upper Midwest, sixteen year old Percy searches for her missing mother at a local meth lab. She finds dealer Shelton unconscious with a young woman and, upstairs and unexpected, a desperately neglected baby. Percy takes the baby and journeys into the snow in search of help from the one friend she can rely on. Meanwhile Shelton sets out to hunt them down with his crew of addled mercenaries. Percy and Shelton are compelling, complex characters and the reader is plunged deep into their dangerous world.
Rain is an authentic account of a young man’s experience of soldiering and the war in Afghanistan. As an officer just out of Sandhurst, Tom Chamberlain is sent to Helmand Province, where his training and the bonds formed between soldiers are tested to the extreme. The culture shock of returning home for R&R, re-entering civilian life with a military mindset, is truthfully portrayed before Tom is sent out once more to complete his tour. Whatever your political views about this war, Rain brings home the sheer extent of the physical, intellectual and emotional realities faced every day by those on the ground.
Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads by Paul Theroux
Most travel books, Theroux reminds us, are written by someone who chooses a far-flung destination, stays there for a month or so and comes home to type and curate their impressions. Until now Theroux has done the same. In this book Theroux takes us on a different kind of journey, entering foreign territory while staying at home in the USA. Driving between his Massachusetts home and the Deep South, Theroux returns again and again, drawn by his connection with people who help explain their region to him. Each visit builds another layer into his narrative and understanding. Politically overlooked and underfunded, culturally potent and with communities full of contradictions, the realities of small town and rural life are often shocking, always fascinating. Theroux’s Deep South is an excellent book.
A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
This deceptively gentle book has a dignity and weight that steals over the reader, so that one cannot help but slow down and consider one’s own ‘whole life’. Following Andreas Egger from his boyhood to his death, through a life spent mainly in a small Austrian Alpine village, the novel still manages to encompass the major shifts of the twentieth century. Love, war, nature, work, community and home are themes that flow through the book in a style that does not over-dramatize. The events and experiences of Egger’s life are more powerfully felt through this skilled restraint, and this is one short novel that creates and fills a space in the mind.
The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall
Immersed in her work monitoring wolves in Idaho for almost ten years, Rachel Caine has distanced herself from her troublesome family. Now, hired by the Earl of Annerdale to reintroduce the Grey Wolf onto his Cumbria estate, Rachel comes back to reconnect with her past and to escape a looming personal decision tied to her Idaho life.
This is an engrossing novel in which Sarah Hall explores the tangled agendas and emotions around the reintroduction of wolves to the UK, weaving this interesting and timely subject into the lives of her vivid characters. The tentative and passionate ways in which people bond are beautifully evoked, and Hall writes powerfully about how we establish our pack, whether animal or human.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
This is a companion novel to Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and in my view a far more satisfactory accomplishment. In Life After Life the author toyed with time and created several different timelines and narratives for her main character Ursula Todd. In A God in Ruins the focus is on Teddy, Ursula’s brother and his life as an RAF Halifax pilot who is marked forever, not surprisingly, by that experience. Atkinson does bend time; she switches back and forth to different eras of Teddy’s life from chapter to chapter and it’s a technique that works well, giving us the fullest picture of the man. Teddy lives a very long life and this is such a rewarding book.
What the **** is normal? by Francesca Martinez
This warm-hearted and funny autobiography by award-winning comedian Francesca Martinez is more than a life story. It is a much-needed injection of rational thinking about contemporary identity and culture. What is normal, and what does the idea of normality do to us? Martinez tells a good story and her cultural critiques are immensely readable and uplifting. This is a book to thrust into the hands of teenagers and adults alike to promote the self-confidence that comes from rejecting our inner critic and revelling in the many joys of life.
I Refuse by Per Petterson
This is a novel of family and friendship, set in a rural Norwegian landscape. It follows Tommy, who is abandoned by his family in stages starting at the age of 13, and whose strong bond with his only friend Jim is broken at the age of 18. Tommy’s emotional isolation and the violence he experiences are illuminated by Per Petterson’s sparse and minimalistic writing. A wonderful book.
Absolute Pandemonium: A Memoir by Brian Blessed
If you don’t already feel instantly happier when you think of Brian Blessed, you will after reading this book. Spoken rather than written, it is part autobiography, part bear hug. Blessed is loud and rambunctious, and there are plenty of entertaining anecdotes from his acting career, but what is most overwhelming is not his volume. What shines from the pages is his genuine delight, his optimism and his achievements as an actor, explorer and mountaineer. Blessed looms larger than Everest and is a welcome antidote to the weary cynicism and ingratitude that often surrounds us. He is a bearded beacon of light to cheer you through the dark winter months.
This is the third in the Cormoran Strike series and is equally as enjoyable as the first two. The story starts when a package is delivered to Cormoran’s office containing a severed leg of an unknown woman. This time it’s extremely personal with someone holding a grudge against Cormoran attempting to implicate him in a murder. The great joy in these books is the developing relationship and the elaborate dance between Cormoran and his colleague Robin. The last page leaves you impatiently longing for the next instalment. Brilliant!
It’s Christmas 1932 and Andrew Bankson, half-crazed with loneliness after years studying a tribe on a river in New Guinea, meets two fellow anthropologists who have been avoiding him. Nell Stone (based on real anthropologist Margaret Mead) and her volatile husband Fen were wary of trespassing on Bankson’s territory, but he willingly finds them a new tribe on the same river, eager for the company of his peers.
Stone’s recent book has brought her notoriety at home, and when Bankson meets her she is physically and emotionally damaged by her recent tribal experience. Fen, by contrast, is bullish and competitive. As the mysteries of their past are revealed, Bankson’s connection with Stone deepens and Fen’s secret threatens to endanger them all. This is a glorious book, capturing the elation of intellectual discovery, the frailty of social structures and the sensuality of human connection.
If you have ever struck up a conversation with a stranger while travelling, this chilling novel may cause you to think again! A well written story which grips the reader in its intricate web of lies and evil plotss. Despite the cold calculating actions of the female characters one cannot but feel some sympathy for them.
After a devastating bear attack on a trapping expedition in the Rocky Mountains in 1823, Hugh Glass is robbed and abandoned by his two companions. They expect him to die. He doesn’t. Glass’s ingenuity is thrilling; left without weapons or food he survives in the wilderness, determined to take revenge on the men he considers his murderers. The chaos of the race for new trade routes in the unexplored interior of the USA forms a fascinating background to Glass’s vendetta. Based on real events, The Revenant is being made into a film starring Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Having been riveted by Marlon James’ previous novel, The Book of Night Women, I was delighted that A Brief History of Seven Killings was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize . James is a masterful writer, amply rewarding the dedication he demands from his readers. The action begins in Jamaica. Bob Marley is experiencing global superstardom but narrowly avoids assassination, gang warfare is rife in the ghettos, and the CIA is in town. Don’t be daunted by James’s epic cast of characters; this novel is utterly absorbing.
A Little Life begins as a story about four boys who become best friends in college in Massachusetts, and then move to New York to pursue their different careers in which they are all improbably successful. They are Malcolm the architect, JB the artist, Willem the actor and Jude the lawyer.
As the book continues we learn about their different backgrounds and families – with the exception of Jude, who won’t talk about his. Jude’s past is doled out in memory flashbacks throughout the book, mingled with present day horrors that are the result of the events of Jude’s first years. Shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, this is a moving and gripping read.
Melissa Harrison starts her story on a road, a tribal track later paved by the Romans. After they left it became a drover’s road, then a turnpike and finally an A road. Harrison brings this ancient Britain into view; as we walk along so we learn the old ways of understanding and working the land. She is adept at portraying the glow and the grind of rural life provided by landscapes and family traditions. A deep seam of melancholy runs through Harrison’s writing that echoes Hardy. Beautiful and memorable.
Peter Leigh is a Christian missionary selected to bring the word of God to a new people, leaving behind his beloved wife Bea. His journey is to Oasis, a planet light-years from Earth, whose native inhabitants are surprisingly hungry for his ‘Book of Strange New Things’.
Peter’s fellow humans have more practical concerns, researching the planet’s resources. As Peter draws closer to his new Jesus Lover friends, communications from Bea show the strain she is under and raise questions about the implications of Earth’s activity on Oasis.
Michel Faber has the rare talent of making the otherworldly feel tangible to his readers, so that we follow his remarkable imaginative vision with enthusiasm. The sense of the uncanny is filtered through Peter’s thoughts and experiences, as he faces an irreversible decision about love, faith and the future.
This biography introduces us to a woman who was a contemporary of Queen Victoria but remained largely unknown in the west despite being Empress Dowager for nearly four decades.
She entered the Forbidden City in 1852 at age 16 as a low ranking concubine to Emperor Xianfeng, and gave birth to a son. After the Emperor’s death her 3 year old son became Emperor , allowing her to become Empress Dowager Cixi.
As Empress Dowager she brought medieval China into the modern age, built railroads and opened China’s ports to western trade. She abolished foot binding but was also thought to have murdered her son and nephew. This book is a fascinating journey into a world we know little about.
This is Will Cohu’s first novel although he has written several books about nature. This shows in his lyrical description of the Lincolnshire landscape. On a freezing winter’s morning in 1985 Norman Tanner kills his workmate Brian and believes he will never be found out. But Norman doesn’t know how he his caught up in a story that stretches back to the Victorian summer of 1875, when two travellers walking across the Lincolnshire Wolds end up in Southby, a village riven with dark secrets. I loved this book.
On the Paris paddle-steamer back to his provincial home, young Frederic Moreau sees and instantly loves a married woman and contrives an acquaintance with her charismatic husband to remain close to her. His own dreams of professional success, his loyalty to his friends, and the real chances of advancement that come his way are all placed second to his great love for Madame Arnoux. Flaubert’s compelling tale of the ideals and impotence of youthful passion in love and politics is set against the Revolution of 1848. Written with dry humour and realism in contrast to the more florid romances of his day, Flaubert perfectly captures the timeless follies of youth.
Laird Hunt is the author of six novels, but this is the first to be published in the UK. I was gripped from the first page by his concise and affecting prose. Hunt gives us the voice of a soldier who has left home to fight for the Union in the American Civil War. A lethal shot, braver and more ruthless than most, an impulsive act of kindness leads our narrator to be known as Gallant Ash, a name of legends and song. But Gallant Ash has a secret running deep through each act of battle and survival. It’s a secret well worth discovering for yourself. I couldn’t put this book down.
Few writers can make the reader feel they are in a place along with the characters who live there. Tom Bouman achieves this in a great, sinister and surprising debut. The characters felt real and I cared what happened to them, and each page revealed a new layer to the ever twisting plot. The setting is rural northeastern Pennsylvania during a March thaw when things buried in the snow all winter are revealed. I was bereft when I finished this book.
In London, Shyama and her younger partner Toby want to have a child together, but at forty-four she is running out of options. They travel to India to explore surrogacy at a respected clinic, meeting Mala, a young woman unsatisfied with the restrictions of village life and her cold marriage. Meanwhile Shyama’s ninteen year old daughter Tara is unhappy about their plans and her ageing parents have their own battles to fight.
Syal creates the intimate feel of family life and close friendships, ranging between London and India with its traditional villages, fast-changing cities and exhausting bureaucracy. This intimacy makes her exploration of the global financial politics of fertility more powerful and thought-provoking, as well as emotionally affecting. This is a warm-hearted novel told with Syal’s irrepressible humour and filled with lively, spirited characters.
The novel is set in the village of Orient, a rural community on the tip of Long Island. It’s a story of natives versus outsiders arriving every summer to upset the status quo.
The arrival of Mills, a grubby 19 year old Californian drifter and foster kid sends the whole neighbourhood into a frenzy of gossip and suspicion especially when the bodies of the long standing residents start piling up.
This is a really suspenseful murder mystery story with an unexpected twist at the end. A perfect summer read.
This is a bewitching collection of short stories. A woman working in a chip shop becomes radiantly Elvis as a consequence of being touched by love and attention. A child turns to the jackalope, or antlered rabbit, to save her home and her father’s dignity. Magic feels real.
Readman’s imaginative tales are firmly rooted in real experience, and fiercely relevant. She delivers thought-provoking angles on human relationships, modern society and values. Her stories linger in the mind. Worth reading!
Our female protagonist is Jake Whyte, who lives alone on an unnamed island off the English coast tending sheep with only a dog, Dog, for company. We first meet her on a sheep station in the Australian outback where she is the only female sheep shearer amongst a whole bunch of ‘blokes’ and one of the best. Jake has a past which slowly reveals itself to us. The chapters from the island progress as a straightforward narrative while her life in Australia unfolds in reverse revealing a bullied child, a former teenage streetwalker and an accomplished sheep farmer and sole resident on a forbidding, rainy wind swept island. The story is compelling, the structure ambitious and the imagery vivid. One of my favourite reads so far.
The King in the North by Max Adams
Oswald of Northumbria, after a youth spent in exile, returned to the north to claim his throne through battle and, according to Bede, the blessing of Heaven.
Archaeologist and biographer Max Adams creates a vivid picture of 7th century Britain, handling the often contradictory source material with energy, intelligence and wit. In his brief but brilliant career Oswald won the loyalty of many and became a cult figure after his death, with miracles springing up from the ground where he was slain.
Oswald was the inspiration for Tolkien’s Aragorn and for Beowulf, and this book is both a compelling history of Dark Ages Britain and a charismatic portrait of a legendary warrior king.
Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips
Struggling to survive the Great Depression in a Chicago suburb are the Eichers; Asta , her three children and Duty, their dog. When Harry Powers arrives you know that evil has entered their lives. Most of the characters in this book were real people. Originally a Dutch-American immigrant called Harm Drench, Powers found his victims through the lonely hearts clubs popular at the time. He boasted of wealth and slowly worked around to the subject of marriage. The Eichers were among his last victims, and his undoing. Discovering a cache of his love letters kept by Mrs Eicher, the police traced him to Clarksburg, West Virginia, where they found the Eichers and another woman buried in the hamlet of Quiet Dell. No one knows how many women he killed. Powers was tried and convicted in 1931 and hanged in 1932. The real horror of this book lies in the odd little details; Powers’ villainy seeps out in ways at first troubling and finally terrifying. You will not forget Harry Powers.
The Buried Giant is a story of myth, legend, allegory and adventure. Ishiguro is a writer whose language stirs you to your emotional core. He is in touch with the sadder and more poignant losses of life which he incorporates with powerful subtlety. Essentially he write of mankind’s contradictions and he accesses our deepest fears and dearest desires. His prose, as always, is beautiful. This novel is set in England’s dark ages just after the reign of King Arthur. I loved it – read it and see if you agree!
Anne Tyler has the knack of creating ordinary people living, for the most part, ordinary lives and producing an interesting story. Tyler reinforces what we should all know, i.e. that family history has a way of being altered in the retelling. The themes of wanting to belong, wanting to be special, sibling rivalry and class rivalry are woven together rather wonderfully.
Venetia Stanley is the most renowned beauty in seventeenth-century London. Van Dyck has painted her, Ben Jonson has penned lines to her, and society has made way for her. As Venetia approaches middle age, society’s gaze narrows into scrutiny. Could the mysterious Viper Wine save her face and her reputation?
Venetia’s husband, Sir Kenelm Digby, has a mind through which all the genius of the ages flows without borders. He glimpses technology from the future in his alchemical, philosophical explorations. Kenelm does not fear change in Venetia; he loves her. However his refusal to use his own arts to preserve Venetia’s beauty makes her more determined to seek out Viper Wine by any means necessary.
This debut novel is bold and energetic, confidently making historical events the crucible for a wider exploration of ideas about the risks and rewards of eternal beauty.
Mr Heming is a dedicated estate agent. He is more dedicated than you could imagine. Acquisitive from his youth, Mr Heming has kept the keys to every house he has ever sold. He might have breakfast in your kitchen and read your mail, but you would not know this. Few people really know Mr Heming, but he will change some people’s lives forever. Phil Hogan’s darkly humorous psychological thriller will keep you gripped, and itching to call a locksmith.
Theo is the 10 year old son of a major English rock star. It’s the mid to late 1980s (important news arrives on a fax machine). Theo lives in a gothic Long Island pile (rumoured to have inspired The Great Gatsby) where his father has left him with his grandfather as a useless minder. This is a really unusual novel that takes us inside the mind of a child left to his own devices. The reader is given an intimate look into the observations and sensations of Theo, the only child among a motley crew of narcissistic music world adults. A lot happens to Theo during the days tracked in the book. While much of this is disturbing, his ability to cope is affirming, and we are shown an inside view into the fragments that will shape Theo into a man. A really well written debut.
Philip Parker writes with energy and wit, which suits his subject and makes his epic journey through the history of the Viking people an engaging read. He revels in relating the legends surrounding the Vikings, while using archaeological evidence and a thorough knowledge of world history and its driving forces to tease out the most likely reality at the heart of the tales. The Northmen’s Fury is rich in information, insight and entertainment.
The story of a twisted revenge initiated under the guise of friendship. Emma and Nina become friends at Nina’s instigation despite the differences in their life stages and financial situations. Nina seems kind and concerned for Emma, but this is a disguise for her malevolent intentions and actions. The tension builds and holds the reader in a tight grip waiting to discover just what chilling end the book will deliver.
If the Oscar-winning film ‘The Madness of King George’ appealed to you then you will love this book. It brilliantly brings across the dysfunctional home life of King George III and Queen Charlotte, and sympathetically portrays the characters of this large family, including George’s preference for his six daughters and pathological dislike of his firstborn son, the dashing Prince of Wales. A thoroughly enjoyable read.
With each successive book in the Shardlake series C J Sansom just gets better and better. He opens with the main character’s story and dedicates the following chapters to additional characters, perpetrators and sub-plobs, returning to Matthew Shardlake to weave all the various strands together. Shardlake is a great character; nice enough to make you care, flawed enough to keep you interested. As ever the tumult between Catholics and Protestants is at the core of the story. His Protestant and Catholic councillors are engaged in a final decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government of Henry’s successor, eight year old Prince Edward. Thrilling and absolutely satisfying (except it leaves the reader longing for the next installment).
Biddy Leigh, a young under cook at Mawston Hall, Lancashire has her life thrown into chaos when her (elderly) master takes a new (young) wife. Forced through her mistress’s shenanigans to decamp for the continent Biddy and her fellow servants Loveday, a slave forced to work as a footman, and the sinister Ozias Pars must use all their wits to prevent themselves becoming embroiled in a murderous conspiracy. What sets this book apart is the emphasis on food. Each chapter starts with an authentic eighteenth century recipe which are fascinating (and often disgusting). A really captivating debut.
Elizabeth is Missing is narrated by Maud who escapes from her carers and daughter Helen to buy peach slices, and lots of them. She is suffering from dementia and discovers an old compact mirror from 70 years ago at the bottom of her friend’s garden. This is the beginning of the two mysteries in this story; the disappearance of Elizabeth and the mystery of what happened to her older sister Sukie, who went missing in postwar London. This book very cleverly combines crime and fiction, is very quirky with an understated sense of humour. A jolly good read!
A first novel by playwright Laline Paull, this book is delightful and intriguing. The reader is drawn into the world of Flora 717, a sanitation worker in the complex and highly regulated world of the beehive. The story of her rebellion and mission to save her hive from dangers both external and internal is wonderful.
While this debut novel draws upon historic references, this is no dry account of a debtor’s prison but a story of a life in peril, a man at a turning point of hope and despair. Set in the notorious Marshalsea prison in 1727 the attention to detail is meticulous. The final outcome is perhaps not wholly unexpected but there are some surprises which blindside the reader and colour the story. A really good read!
Set in 19th century India under the rule of the East India Company, Xavier Mountstuart, the famous novelist, is missing.
Young and naive junior officer William Avery is sent to find him in the company of special agent Jeremiah Blake.
This unlikely couple travel into the depth of the jungle where the “Strangler Vines” grow and where they come across the “Thugs”, worshippers of Kali, who murder innocent travellers by the roadside. Has Xavier Mountstuart fallen victim to these Kali worshippers?
This is a fabulous mix of adventure and historical fiction, an interesting depiction of the British in the Raj but also a fascinating look at the traditions and cultures in India at that time.
This book represents the pinnacle of Renault’s career. It traces the last years of Alexander the Great’s life through the eyes of Bagoas who is a brilliant narrator. Abducted and gelded as a boy Bagoas is sold as a courtesan to King Darius of Persia but finds freedom with Alexander after the Macedon army conquers his homeland. Bagoas is always believable and sympathetic – his Persian background allows him to see the king and his Macedonians through the questioning eyes of an alien.
This novel is compelling and chilling, but enlivened by humour and imagination. In little over a day the virulent Georgia Flu has wiped out over 99% of the world’s population. Twenty years later, the Travelling Symphony performs Shakespeare to settlements of survivors who tell strange tales of a prophet. Mandel’s pandemic is utterly believable, and as she skilfully weaves in stories from the past we see how the lives and passions of those lost continue to echo in the wasteland and shape the new world.
In April 1927 the Mississippi River is rising, threatening to flood the town of Hobnob. Deep in the woods, Dixie Clay makes bootleg whiskey, nurses her secret and shoots when she has to.
While hunting bootleggers, prohibition agent Ingersoll finds himself unable to abandon an orphaned baby, a child who draws he and Dixie closer together. Meanwhile Dixie’s outlaw husband is playing his own dangerous game as the waters rise and pressure mounts throughout the South.
Wonderfully atmospheric and thrilling, this novel has an emotional depth that lingers in the mind. Beautifully written and worth your attention!
Nella Oortman arrives at a grand house in Amsterdam as the 18 year old bride of illustrious trader Johannes Brandt. Her presence in the house is set to disturb the balance of power of its current chatelaine, Marin, Johannes’ elder irascible sister. When Nella is presented with a cabinet sized replica of her home as a wedding gift from her largely absent husband, she starts to uncover a set of household secrets which threaten to disturb the equilibrium of the house forever. Magical and atmospheric – a beautifully told debut.
Fiona Maye is a high court judge in the family court, respected and admired. Her professional life is well organised and she is noted for the balanced, considered nature of her rulings. This is not reflected in the turmoil of her personal life. Almost sixty and childless, she is feeling a growing regret for this state. When her husband suddenly announces he wants to indulge in an affair she is devastated. Jack leaves their home and Fiona throws herself into her work. She is tasked with a highly sensitive case of a beautiful young man and his faith based refusal of life saving medical treatment. Having visited him in hospital, Fiona becomes personally involved with far reaching consequences.
It’s hard not to be swept along by this book. The novel’s main character, Danny, strives to bridge two worlds – a migrant working class home and an elite boys’ school in order to achieve his goal of Olympic swimming glory. The novel looks at what it takes to dream, to be driven to achieve, to fall and to fail. The story is within us all. Failure and the slow recover from a life shattering moment. The writing is raw, challenging and unsettling but that is what makes this book so compelling!
Struan is a well-read but inexperienced teenager leaving Scotland for the first time to work as a live-in carer for a writer left immobilized by a stroke. Phillip Prys’s Hampstead milieu and privileged dysfunctional family are baffling to Struan but gradually he starts to adapt to their world as much as he recoils from it. The decency of the Scottish boy is convincing and well-sustained and readers will empathize with him and haggle over the inconsiderate, egotistical and grasping nature of others. We loved this book!
I read The Lemon Grove far from a beach or a pool and it’s a thoroughly absorbing book. While the novel deals with feelings of sexual desire in a middle aged woman for her teenage daughter’s new boyfriend this is not a book that will titillate you. It is, rather, an extremely well written and frank look at the dangers of inappropriate desire and the potential damage it can lead to, and it will make you feel uncomfortable. Incredibly accomplished (and only 200 pages!).
In Times of Fading Light is a sweeping family saga that focuses on three generations of the Umnitzer family. It follows three distinct timelines, the grandparents, convinced communists, their son banished to Siberia and the grandson who defects to the West.
Eugen Ruge’s novel lets the reader experience the atmosphere of political upheaval and is also the story of a country fading away.
The Nigerian author’s third novel is an international, multicultural love story. It tells the tale of teenage sweethearts Ifemelu and Obinze. They had hoped to be together always but are separated by life events. Ifemelu moves to live and study in the USA. There she discovers the reality of being a black African in a culture that is conflicted about race. Life is not as she imagined from all the novels she devoured and TV shows she loved to watch. She writes a blog about her experiences, which leads her back to her roots in Lagos. Obinze ends up living as an illegal immigrant in London. He learns to survive in difficult situations before he too returns to Lagos and becomes a very successful businessman. They reunite in Lagos to fulfill their youthful dreams. The vivid language and unflinching depiction of life as an African immigrant weave a tale of love, hope and determination to succeed.
The world of ballet revealed in Maggie Shipstead’s novel is fascinating. Joan, an ambitious member of the corps de ballet, helps the Russian Star Arslan Rusakov to defect in 1975. Their subsequent love affair dies out, and with it Joan’s dreams of success. She marries her childhood friend and moves to a different life in California. Eventually she opens a ballet school there. The discovery that her son is a very talented dancer brings her former lover back into her life with dramatic consequences.
Ace, King, Knave by Maria McCann
Maria McCann writes with great insight, skill and relish. Her mastery of historical detail and tone immerses the reader in the world of her story. Eighteenth-century London comes alive with all its danger and dirt. The voices of gambler and gin-dealer Betsy-Ann and the grave-robber she lives with come spiced with slang.
Elsewhere in polite Bath society, the excitement of a good marriage makes Sophia all the more determined to conquer her ‘little weakness’. Both Sophia and Betsy-Ann desire a fresh start, but as terrible betrayals come to light and their lives begin to intertwine, nothing is certain but the need for action. McCann delivers a tremendously pacey and exciting read.
This vivid scientific adventure takes us deep into the heart of the universe and ourselves. Shubin’s coherent narrative from the Big Bang onwards reveals how our own atoms, organs, bodies and behaviour are connected to the wider life of the universe. In doing so he also tells the story of science itself, from the first natural philosophers to his own field work in palaeontology. The feat of making 13.7 billion years of atomic activity comprehensible is impressive, but Shubin’s book is also the kind of enjoyable, thought-provoking read that any curious mind will relish.
An engagingly written and starkly revealing novel about the theft of girls from Mexican villages by drug cartels. Ladydi is our spirited narrator, growing into womanhood in a land where beauty is dangerous and must be concealed.
Here is Jennifer Clement’s article about the fact behind her fiction
Based on the tragic and harrowing story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman executed in Iceland in 1829. This is an emotionally draining and compelling novel with a genuine feel for time and place. The reader can feel, taste, smell the scenes and characters. The claustrophic and dirt-packed squalor of the crofts, the isolation and characters allow the reader a glimpse of history. Masterful and chilling.
Rupert Thomson in this novel has created a singularly extraordinary world – 17th century Florence as rich in detail and atmosphere as it is in intrigue and emotion. Zummo, the creator of exquisite but gruesome plague scenes sculpted in wax is unquestionable an artist for his times.
A ravishing spellbinding novel.
In the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of North West London, 19 year old Chani and 20 year old Baruch are almost strangers and about to be married.
This engaging novel explores how faith, devotion and community can shape and challenge our relationships. It’s a thought-provoking and often humorous book, accessible to anyone who has had a difference of opinion with their beloved. Following several characters with glimpses into their past, the book is filled with secrets, hopes and difficult choices.
Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty
A gripping novel, suspense filled and chilling. The ease with which a successful, happy life can spiral out of control is disturbing. Yvonne Carmichael destroys her world by indulging in an impulsive act of adultery. The repercussions are far reaching and unimaginable. An excellent read!
Longbourn by Jo Baker
This is an incredibly successful novel; skilful, interesting and evocative. Jo Baker sets her tale of serving life around Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Her insights into Longbourn life are very satisfying, but Baker’s novel has an authentic voice of its own and real integrity. Baker creates nuanced characters whose stories interest us just as much as the familiar doings of the Bennets. When a new manservant arrives at Longbourn and Mr Bingley brings a host of new faces to the neighbourhood, Sarah, a maid, faces upheavals and choices that will change her life and Mrs Hill turns out to have a dramatic tale of her own. For Austen fans, Baker’s revelation of what Mr Collins’s visit means for the servants at Longbourn, and what it takes to get the Bennet family ready for the Netherfield Ball, will be a real delight.
The Good House by Ann Leary
Ann Leary was an alcoholic and her main character Hildy Good is an alcoholic in denial – she’s both disgusting and heart breaking. We like Hildy and believe her until we realise she is not a reliable narrator. Her penchant for alcohol takes over, challenging us to decipher what is real and what imagined in her observations. Leary does a fine job drawing the reader into Hildy’s world and her addiction and this book is extremely compelling. Although the subject matter is dark it’s hugely enjoyable!
The Outline of Love by Megan McCarthy
An excellent second novel by author Megan McCarthy. This beautifully portrays the awakening of young Persephone Triebold. She moves from the relative isolation of the Scottish Highlands to study in London. Persephone is naive and inexperienced, she is anxiously seeking friendship and love. By becoming part of celebrity author Leo Ford’s circle she believes she has finally found it. Even though they become intimate, Leo keeps his past hidden. The truth with the revelation of his humanity becomes part of her growing up. An evocative and engaging read.
Snapper by Brian Kimberling
This is an unusual debut novel, loosely based on personal history, Kimberling has given us a highly entertaining look at life in the heartland, rural Indiana. It is a coming of age novel but the age is a twenty-something capturing the tragi-humorous events in his fictional life. Desperately in love with the elusive Lola, he stumbles between this unrequited love for her and his love of birdwatching. A quirky really enjoyable read.
The Passage of Power – Robert Caro.
Recommended by regular customer and reviewer Mr Pincus
Can you remember where you were when JFK was assassinated 50 years agon on 22nd November 1963? Or are you American? Or are you a lover of biographies or history?
Then this stand alone fourth volume of Lyndon Johnson’s biography, which charts his transition from powerless Vice-President to masterly President, is for you.
Robert Caro’s work on LBJ is magisterial, insightful and up front and personal on how LBJ managed the transition post the assassination and kept on with the Kennedy Administration’s programme and much more.
You can almost feel the Harvard versus Texan hatred for LBJ yet understand how this Master of the Senate delivered more on Civil Rights and Social Justice than the Kennedys ever could.
This is the finest and best written biography I have ever read but BEWARE! If you become hooked on this you may have to read the earlier three volumes. They tell you more about how American politics work to this day than you ever knew.
At £35 (less than the price of a takeaway) it’s great food for the brain! Guaranteed by George Pincus.
The Cook – Wayne Macauley
This is an original and unforgettable novel. At seventeen Zac chooses to learn to cook at a rehabilitation centre, the alternative to a young offender’s institute. Zac’s hypnotic narrative voice and evocative descriptions of gourmet food create a trance-like reading experience, gradually leading us into Zac’s darkness. His growing ambition, skill and obsession are riveting. The author takes a sharp knife to capitalist excess and snobbery.
A must-read for brave foodies and fans of strong new voices in contemporary fiction. Jamie Oliver would not approve.
Three Houses – Angela Thirkell
Escape into the warm nostalgic delights of Angela Thirkell’s memoir of childhood. Angela Thirkell was the granddaughter of Edward Burne-Jones and the cousin of Rudyard Kipling. She was a prolific and successful author. In Three Houses she casts her wit and sharp observation back to her early years among uncomfortable pre-Raphaelite furniture, evoking the mischief, innocence and magic of childhood. Filled with fascinating glimpses into the privileged world of artistic and literary London and the English coast, this an enchanting, characterful book.
Seating Arrangements – Maggie ShipsteadThis is Shipstead’s debut and it’s beautiful, clever and brilliant. The novel takes place in New England around a summer wedding – Winn Van Meter and his family open their summer home to wedding guests and the chaos they bring. It’s an exploration of social rules and unfulfilled desires in this witty pitch perfect novel – look no further for your ideal summer read. I loved this book from the first paragraph!
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter – Tom Franklin
This is a fantastic, atmospheric novel set in rural Mississippi. The disappearance of a local landowner’s daughter brings old crimes, friendships, betrayals and secrets to the surface. A gripping and satisfying read.
The Bellwether Revivals – Benjamin Wood
Benjamin Wood’s first novel is a very good book indeed with nods to Brideshead Revisited and The Secret History. Wood’s prose flows and he slowly unwraps the story of a musical genius, every chapter another layer of dark intrigue. I’m quite sure this book will establish Benjamin Wood as one of our most exciting writers and I eagerly anticipate his next novel.
Lolly Willowes – Sylvia Townsend Warner
Surprises can come at any time. Even the most reliable person can do something wholly unexpected. So, in Lolly Willowes, our heroine rebels after decades of respectability as a maiden aunt to find and follow her true vocation. Defying her family, and staking her future on a name in a guide book, Lolly’s new life unfolds with the help of a very unrespectable agent.
Sylvia Townsend Warner is a wonderful, verstaile writer, not widely known but passionately loved by her readers. She calls up scenes and characters with wit and affection, and her mastery of language is revealed in phrases that delight, shock, and linger in the mind.
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
Well written with cleverly constructed characters – the story grips you by the neck and doesn’t let go! Nothing is what it seems in this absorbing novel – one after another my preconceptions were overturned right up to the end. You might loathe all the characters but you won’t be able to put it down. Quite a feat!
High Rising – Angela Thirkell
Angela Thirkell had a genius for comedy. Her wickedly sharp observations are delivered with a masterful command of language. High Rising from 1933 gives a fascinating and funny peek into English country life between the wars. Her boisterous characters cannot quite contain themselves within the established social hierarchies.
High Rising is a cure for the winter blues, and an excellent tonic for any time of year.
The Golden Mean – Annabel Lyon
This story is told through the voice of Aristotle who returns to Macedonia and is appointed tutor to the young Alexander and it works brilliantly. This is the first book I’ve read in a very long time that adds something fresh and compelling to the story of Alexander. Annabely Lyon has obviously done a lot of research but this book wears it lightly.
Mao’s Great Famine – Frank Dikotter
Devastating and unyielding, yet a hugely engaging read. Dikotter’s painstaking research and commitment to uncovering the true extent of destruction caused by Mao’s actions is combined expertly with a captivating narrative that projects the author’s obvious passion for the subject matter. In my opinion this is one of the most important modern historical books ever written and a vital read on one of history’s lesser known catastrophes.
The Stockholm Octavo – Karen Engelmann
This is a fabulous novel and you do not have to be Swedish or a lover of cards or fans to enjoy it! A rich cocktail of history, politics and cards make this a compelling crime thriller. It’s exciting and different to get lost in 18th century Stockholm.