Fiction - new or old - that we think is well worth reading
Under the Wave at Waimea by Paul Theroux
We think: immerse yourself in Hawaii surfing culture
Joe Sharkey knows he is passed his prime. Now in his sixties, the younger surfers around the breaks on the north shore of Oahu still revere him as the once-legendary 'Shark', but his sponsors have moved on and Joe wonders what new future awaits him on the horizon. Uninterrupted quality time with the ocean, he hopes.
Life has other plans. When he accidentally hits and kills a man near Waimea while drunk-driving, he fears he will never rebound. Under the direction of his stubbornly loyal girlfriend Olive, he throws himself into uncovering his victim's story.
Set on the stunning Hawaiian coast, Theroux captures the glory and nostalgia of looking back at a rich and adventurous past, whilst learning to ride out life's next unexpected wave.
More recommendations from our archives...
Fiction recommendations and reviews
Kitchenly 434 by Alan Warner
We think: was Sussex really this rock'n'roll?
The late 70s: the country is on the cusp of the arrival of Thatcher as Prime Minister, and Marko Morrell, guitarist in Fear Taker, is one of the biggest rock stars on the planet. His 'demanding' lifestyle means he is frequently in absentia at Kitchenly Mill Race, his idyllic country retreat; and so his butler (or 'help'), Crofton Park runs the estate. One day, two young girls arrive looking for Marko clutching their copies of Fear Taker LPs and Crofton finds himself on a romantic misadventure involving a soiled carpet, a bed of roses, a classic car and a fine pair of stockings. All of which leads to the tragi-comic unravelling of the fantasies he has been living by.
A novel about delusional male behaviour, opening and closing curtains, (a lack of) self-awareness, loneliness and 'getting it together in the country', Kitchenly 434 is a magnificent novel about the Golden Age of Rock in the bucolic English countryside
A year without Summer by Guinevere Glaisfurd
We think: A convincing vision of the past
The Year Without Summer is the story of six separate lives, connected only by an event many thousands of miles away. The year is 1815 and Indonesia's Mount Tambora explodes in a cataclysmic eruption, killing thousands. As the ash cloud rises and covers the sun, the seasons will fail. The narrative weave stretches from Switzerland, where Mary Shelley finds dark inspiration as thousands of famine refugees stream past her door, to Suffolk, where the ambitious and lovesick painter John Constable struggles to reconcile the idyllic England he paints with the misery that surrounds him. Rebellion is in the air.
The Survivors by Jane Harper
We think: Wonderfully atmospheric escapism
desolate Tasmanian beach community provides an atmospheric backdrop for a tightly woven crime mystery.
Kieran Elliott's life changed forever on a single day when a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that haunts him still resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal town he once called home. Kieran's parents are struggling in a community which is bound, for better or worse, to the sea that is both a lifeline and a threat. Between them all is his absent brother Finn. When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge in the murder investigation that follows. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away...
Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid
We think: modern spin on 19th century novel of manners
When Emira is apprehended at a supermarket for 'kidnapping' the white child she's actually babysitting, it sets off an explosive chain of events. Her employer Alix, a feminist blogger with the best of intentions, resolves to make things right. But Emira herself is aimless, broke and wary of Alix's desire to help.
When a surprising connection emerges between the two women, it sends them on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know - about themselves, each other, and the messy dynamics of privilege
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
We think: raw, unflinching, unmissable
Douglas Stuart's debut novel, winner of this year's Booker Prize, will draw you into a world of grim poverty in 1980s Glasgow.
Agnes Bain has always dreamed of greater things - but, abandoned by her philandering husband, Agnes and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves.
Her son, Shuggie, holds out hope the longest. But Shuggie has problems of his own and is 'no right'...
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?
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.
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...
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.
'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
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 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 they are strangers on a train – who could possibly connect them?
Sharp, contemporary and a terrific page-turner!
A Theatre for Dreamers by Polly Samson
We think: why not transport yourself to a Greek Island?
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. Forming within this circle is a triangle: its points a magnetic, destructive writer, his dazzling wife 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...
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.
You Will be Safe Here by Damian Barr
We think: immersive and eye-opening
A gripping, heart-breaking story set in South Africa where two mothers - a century apart - must fight for their sons, unaware their fates are inextricably linked.
At the height of the Boer War, Sarah and her six-year-old son Fred can only watch as the British burn their farm. 100 years on, sixteen-year-old Willem is an outsider who just wants to be left alone with his books and his beloved pug but his Ma sends him to New Dawn Safari Camp, where they 'make men out of boys.'
The red earth of the veldt keeps countless secrets, 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
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.
Transcription 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!