Fiction recommendations and reviews

The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos

We think: definitely not one for the unpublished novels shelf!

In the small town of Crozon in Brittany, a library houses manuscripts that were rejected for publication: the faded dreams of aspiring writers. Visiting while on holiday, young editor Delphine Despero is thrilled to discover a novel so powerful that she feels compelled to bring it back to Paris to publish it. The book is a sensation, prompting fevered interest in the identity of its author - apparently one Henri Pick, a now-deceased pizza chef from Crozon.

Sceptics cry that the whole thing is a hoax: how could this man have written such a masterpiece? An obstinate journalist, Jean-Michel Rouche, heads to Brittany to investigate. By turns farcical and moving, The Mystery of Henri Pick is a fast-paced comic mystery enriched by a deep love of books - and of the authors who write them.

Sorry for the Dead by Nicola Upson

We think: why not start a new series during Lockdown 2?

It's not unusual for customers to ask for 'local' crime (fictional rather than true!) and Nicola Upson's 'Sorry for the Dead' hits the jackpot, set primarily in East Sussex during the First World War.

Summer, 1915: a young woman falls to her death at Charleston Farmhouse on the Sussex Downs. But was it an accident? Twenty years later, Josephine Tey is faced with the accusation that it was murder, and that she was complicit in the crime. Can she clear her name and uncover the truth, exposing the darkest secrets of that apparently idyllic summer?

From the author of An Expert in Murder, Sorry for the Dead is the eighth, perfectly plotted instalment in the series featuring Golden Age crime writer Josephine Tey as its fictionalised protagonist. Brimming with wit, authentic period feel and impeccable narrative drive, Upson’s novel cements her place as a master of historical suspense.

 

Don't be put off by the fact that this is the eighth outing for Josephine Tey (there is a 9th just out in hardback). It works as a standalone story but if you like it, why not start at the beginning with' An Expert in Murder' and work your way through.

 

Plus, if you're interested in the real-life Josephine Tey, why not try her 1951 'The Daughter of Time' in which a 'modern day' police officer investigates the crimes of Richard III.   

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley

We think: a wintry novel on many levels

An unsettling read - perfect as the nights draw in!

The worst thing possible has happened. Richard and Juliette Willoughby's son, Ewan, has died suddenly at the age of five. Starve Acre, their house by the moors, was to be full of life, but is now a haunted place.
Juliette, convinced Ewan still lives there in some form, seeks the help of the Beacons, a seemingly benevolent group of occultists. Richard, to try and keep the boy out of his mind, has turned his attention to the field opposite the house, where he patiently digs the barren dirt in search of a legendary oak tree...


The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

We think: powerful, beautiful writing

Ethiopia. 1935. With the threat of Mussolini's army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid.

Her new employer, Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie's army, rushes to mobilise his strongest men before the Italians invade. Hirut and the other women long to do more than care for the wounded and bury the dead. When Emperor Haile Selassie goes into exile and Ethiopia quickly loses hope, it is Hirut who offers a plan to maintain morale.

She helps disguise a gentle peasant as the emperor and soon becomes his guard, inspiring other women to take up arms. But how could she have predicted her own personal war, still to come, as a prisoner of one of Italy's most vicious officers?

 

Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, The Shadow King is a gorgeously crafted and unputdownable exploration of female power and what it means to be a woman at war.


A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

We think: a book that lingers in the mind

A new perspective on the Greek myths: Natalie Haynes pens evocative portraits of the women of the Trojan War. Her premise: 'that the women who survive (or don't survive) a war are equally heroic as their menfolk' underpins a fast-paced and intelligent narrative.

 

Haynes convincingly evokes the strength and suffering of the women involved on both sides of the conflict as well as the malice and caprice of the gods. The themes are timeless - her depiction of the depleted female inhabitants of Troy awaiting their fate on the beach is harrowing and resonant of modern conflicts. 

In case you are wondering, 'A Thousand Ships' is very different from two recent re-tellings of the Greek myths, 'Circe' (Madeline Miller) and 'The Silence of the Girls' (Pat Barker). 


The Golden Rule by Amanda Craig

We think: twists, turns and moral dilemmas - a great read

We were really sorry that Amanda wasn't able to introduce The Golden Rule at our July Literary Lounge. Hopefully she will be able to visit us in the future but we do at least have signed copies of her new novel available.

When Hannah is invited into the First-Class carriage of the London to Penzance train by Jinni, she walks into a spider’s web. Now a poor young single mother, Hannah once escaped Cornwall to go to university. But once she married Jake and had his child, her dreams were crushed into bitter disillusion. Her husband has left her for Eve, rich and childless, and Hannah has been surviving by becoming a cleaner in London. Jinni is equally angry and bitter, and in the course of their journey the two women agree to murder each other’s husbands. After all, they are strangers on a train – who could possibly connect them?

Sharp, contemporary and a terrific page-turner - order your copy now!


A Theatre for Dreamers by Polly Samson

We think: why not transport yourself to a Greek Island?

Polly was due to introduce her latest novel, A Theatre for Dreamers, at our May Literary Lounge. Hopefully, we will be able to welcome her when life gets back to normal. In the meantime, enjoy her wonderful new book.

 

1960. The world is dancing on the edge of revolution, and nowhere more so than on the Greek island of Hydra, where a circle of poets, painters and musicians live tangled lives, ruled by the writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston, troubled king and queen of bohemia. Forming within this circle is a triangle: its points the magnetic, destructive writer Axel Jensen, his dazzling wife Marianne Ihlen, and a young Canadian poet named Leonard Cohen.

Into their midst arrives teenage Erica, with little more than a bundle of blank notebooks and her grief for her mother. Settling on the periphery of this circle, she watches, entranced and disquieted, as a paradise unravels.

Burning with the heat and light of Greece, A Theatre for Dreamers is a spellbinding novel about utopian dreams and innocence lost – and the wars waged between men and women on the battlegrounds of genius.

Women's Prize for Fiction 2020

Which do you think should win? Call/email to order titles.

The 2020 shortlist is as follows:

  • Dominicana by Angie Cruz

  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

  • The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

  • Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell

  • Weather by Jenny Offill

Chair of the Judges, Martha Lane Fox, on announcing the shortlist: “We are all living in challenging, sad and complex times so incredible stories provide hope, a moment of escape and a point of connection now more than ever. Choosing the shortlist was tough – we went slowly and carefully and passions ran high – just as you would want in such a process. But we are all so proud of these books – all readers will find solace if they pick one up.”

The winner will be announced on 9 September.

You Will be Safe Here by Damian Barr

We think: immersive and eye-opening

A gripping and heart-breaking story set in South Africa where two mothers - a century apart - must fight for their sons, unaware their fates are inextricably linked.

Orange Free State, 1901. At the height of the Boer War, Sarah van der Watt and her six-year-old son Fred can only watch as the British burn their farm. 
The polite invaders cart them off to Bloemfontein Concentration Camp promising you will be safe here.

Johannesburg, 2010. Sixteen-year-old Willem is an outsider who just wants to be left alone with his Harry Potter books and Britney, his beloved pug.
Worried he's turning out soft, his Ma and her new boyfriend send him to New Dawn Safari Camp, where they 'make men out of boys.' Guaranteed. The red earth of the veldt keeps countless secrets whether beaten by the blistering sun or stretching out beneath starlit stillness.

But no secret can stay buried forever.

How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee

We think: an important new voice in historical fiction

Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2020

 

Singapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked. Only three survivors remain, one of them a tiny child.
In a neighbouring village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di is bundled into the back of a troop carrier and shipped off to a Japanese military brothel. In the year 2000, her mind is still haunted by her experiences there, but she has long been silent about her memories of that time.

Weaving together two timelines and two life-changing secrets, How We Disappeared is an evocative and profoundly moving  novel.

Daisy Jones & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid

We think: frustratingly good (you'll want them to be a real band!)

They were the new icons of rock and roll, fated to burn bright and not fade away...

 

Daisy, force of nature, brilliant songwriter and drug addict joins The Six, a band heading for the top in a hedonistic haze of sex, drugs, rock and roll. The result is legendary and explosive.

Written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the 1970s, chronicling their rise to stardom and hitherto unexplained split, Reid's novel rings so true that you'll wish you could listen to the band's hits!

Middle England by Jonathan Coe

We think: Brexit - funny? Give it a try!

Moving from 2010 to 2018, the vivid characters of Middle England expose and explore the schisms caused by the Brexit debate in this funny and thoughtful 'state of the nation' novel.  Winner of the Costa fiction award 2019, Middle England presents both sides of the argument through ordinary lives with humour and compassion.

The Binding by Bridget Collins

We think: Barnett's book of the year! 

In Emmett Farmer's world, books are the feared receptacles of the memories 'bound' into them. Experiences are erased and secrets are hidden. Collins' prose is magical, immersing the reader in a world that is strange yet familiar, real but constantly shifting. The most original and captivating novel this reviewer has read in a long time!

Cilka's Journey by Heather Morris

We think: fitting sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Having survived Auschwitz due to her youth and beauty, Cilka's liberation is short-lived as she is sent to a Siberian gulag for collaborating with the enemy. This heart-rending novel follows her unimaginable struggle to survive and ultimately find love.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

We think: lives up to expectation

Riveting sequel to Margaret Atwood's dystopian classic, The Handmaid's Tale.  Fast-paced and narrated from three different perspectives (the testaments), the novel takes us into the heart of Gilead which is beginning to rot from within...

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

We think: atmospheric and original - so good we can't wait for her next novel!

Frannie Langton's 'confessions' encompassing life as a plantation house slave, abandonment and love in Georgian London and trial for murder at the Old Bailey are the framework for this accomplished and gripping novel. Fantastic period detail and a compelling heroine combine in an engrossing page-turner.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

We think: fast paced and funny

It's perfectly normal for sisters to help each other out, though disposing of dead bodies would stretch any relationship! This darkly funny debut novel opens with Korede cleaning up after her sister who has an inconvenient habit of killing her boyfriends...what happens when the love lives of the sisters intersect?

Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls

We think: look no further for a perfect summer read

Nostalgic, bittersweet and funny tale of one teenager's life-changing summer, celebrating friendship and first love. We've all been there...

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

We think: a fresh look at an old tale 

'Great Achilles. Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles...How the epithets pile up. We never called him any of those things; we called him the 'butcher'.'

Pat Barker imagines the untold story of the women at the heart of history's greatest epic. Timeless themes resonate through the voice of her narrator, Briseis, a pawn in the machinations of the Greek warriors.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

We think: worthy winner but check out the rest of the short list in Latest News  

According to the judges, this is an 'exquisitely intimate portrait of a marriage shattered by racial injustice...a story of love, loss and loyalty, the resilience of the human spirit painted on a big political canvas'. Not to mention the fact that the Obamas apparently loved it... 

Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson

We think: funny and thought-provoking

'Artificial intelligence is not sentimental - it is biased towards best possible outcomes. The human race is not a best possible outcome'. So says one of the key characters in this darkly entertaining novel which grapples with future prospects for humanity.  

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

We think: incredibly powerful story, sensitively told

Novel based on the memories of Dita Kraus who, aged 14, became the secret 'librarian' of Auschwitz, custodian of a handful of illegal books. A moving testimony to the power of the written word which transcends the misery of life in the camps. 

Circe by Madeline Miller

We think: you'll be lost like Odysseus in Circe's world of sorcery!

Epic tale of ancient magic by prize-winning author. Narrated by Circe, the witch from Homer's Odyssey, this literary novel is a shimmering, captivating read that enchants like its eponymous heroine.

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by Kate Atkinson

We think: Atkinson at her best - well crafted and entertaining

In 1940, eighteen year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage...ten years later, a bill of reckoning is due when she realises that all actions have consequences. Funny, pacy and a great read. 

The Department of Sensitive Crimes
by Alexander McCall Smith

We think: a relaxing antidote to Nordic Noir!

Introducing Ulf Varg, head of the Sensitive Crimes Squad, tasked with solving cases that other detectives can't or won't handle. A funny, light-hearted and gentle foray into crime fiction in these turbulent times! 

Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting

We think: a beautifully intricate and moving tale - keeping its secrets to the end

Edvard's desperate quest to unlock a buried family secret takes him from Norway to the Shetlands and the battlefields of France to discover a very unusual inheritance. 

A surprising page-turner of a novel from one of Norway's leading authors. 

The Only Story by Julian Barnes

We think: elegant, heart-felt and sophisticated - from an old master

19 year old Paul navigates an unconventional relationship in Julian Barnes' acclaimed new novel which explores the question: 'Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less and suffer the less?'

Is it even possible to choose?

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

We think: a "weird and wonderful" debut novel already getting great reviews

Gretel's estrangement from her mother comes to an end with a chance phone call - and there is nothing for Gretel to do but to wade deeper into her past, where family secrets and aged prophesies all come tragically alive.

The Wall by John Lanchester

We think: a thought-provoking modern fable

An island nation surrounds itself with an enormous concrete barrier. 'Defenders' protect The Wall from rising seas and attacks from the 'Others' trapped outside.

"A kafkaesque nightmare whose richly-imagined world is very different from our own yet all too familiar." London Review of Books

The Wolf and the Watchman by Scott Johnson

We think: a historical thriller with Nordic Noir overtones

Scandinavia's latest literary star draws the reader into the atmosphere of 18th century Sweden with this bloody and enthralling historical thriller.

Not for the faint-hearted!

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