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 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).
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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?
'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.
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...
'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.
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.
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!
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?'
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.