12/6/2021
The Warlow Experiment

The Warlow Experiment

An intense claustrophobic and uneasy fascination surround the hook of this story - a kind of extreme English country house upstairs/downstairs narrative. Class struggle, power subversion and obsession stalk the floors of Moreham House. I found it a gripping read and ultimately quite devastating.

11/29/2021
Washington Black

Washington Black

Starting in the terrible plantation society of Barbados, this epic ride takes in the Arctic, London, Amsterdam and Morocco. It's an amazing journey at a great pace in great company and I loved every minute. A tour de force.

11/22/2021
Winter in Sokcho

Winter in Sokcho

I found this a quietly intense read. The cold, bleak realism of the out of season seaside town on the border of North and South Korea is the perfect setting for a disquieting exploration of identity. The young woman at the centre fights to see and be seen, working through the opposing pressures of modern and traditional societies; French and Korean culture; body image and desire. Beautiful, disturbing and very real.

11/15/2021
Paul

Paul

Taking inspiration from Gauguin's travel journal, Noa Noa, this dreamlike and unsettling novel puts a modern spin on an old story - a vulnerable young woman places her trust in a more worldly, controlling man. Frances's passive acceptance may test some readers, but this is an affecting book, full of powerful imagery and worth staying with all the way. One for the top of the TBR list!

11/8/2021
My Darling from the Lions

My Darling from the Lions

Fascinating poetry, full of grit and astute observation. Each poem has a vivid story to tell, sometimes funny, sometimes outrageous, always insightful and politically aware. You feel disarmed as the poems take stabs at life’s messy muddle and the evils of society. This is a razor-sharp collage enlightened with comedy and wide-awake reflection.

11/1/2021
Permafrost

Permafrost

A brisk novel that perfectly captures the essence and mood of a woman adrift, as she seeks solace in sexual encounters and thoughts of suicide. Moving between Barcelona, Belgium and Scotland, there is no real sense of place or plot, but a narrative - of family, love and societal expectations - that is intense, dark and acerbic. This is a short book with short chapters, yet at no point is the reader made to feel short-changed.

10/25/2021
Checkout 19

Checkout 19

This collection of auto-fictional anecdotes of growing up is narrated in a stream of consciousness, peppered with digressions and fascinating insights into the mundane realities of living, reminiscent of the Irish literary genre. The intimate writing style can become mesmerising, needing much concentration on the reader’s part, but it packs a strong emotional punch. In fact, I reckon it’s a fascinating way to getting inside another person’s mind.

10/18/2021
A Net for Small Fishes

A Net for Small Fishes

Set during a time when women had little or no agency, this story of an infamous scandal comes from the perspective of a woman who was involved. Jacobean London is vividly evoked in all its glitter and grime and Anne Turner, a compelling narrator, is portrayed without judgement. There's nothing like immersing yourself into another person's life, I was riveted from page one right to the bitter end - a treat for all fans of historical fiction.

10/11/2021
Love in Colour

Love in Colour

What a treat this book is - firecrackers of girl power across the ages! Inventive reworkings of myths from around the world, suffused with the power of female wisdom, along with a handful of the author’s own. Together with her notes on the origins and her inspirations, the hallmark is Babalola's personal inheritance of indominatable love. Great bedtime stuff but your light won't go out till you've finished that last tale!

10/4/2021
The Family Tree

The Family Tree

In just a moment life can change. In this inter-generational muslim family, fraught relationships and costly life choices eventually take their toll. Heartfelt and intense from the start, this story, un-flinching in the telling, balances the ordinariness of everyday life with the extraordinary and consequential effects of sudden loss. Snippets of humour blend with the backdrop of struggle in the hope of bringing love and truthful connection.

9/27/2021
Unsettled Ground

Unsettled Ground

Get ready for a deftly written story which dispels any illusion of a rural idyll. Focusing more on the folk than the flora and fauna - inadequate housing, lack of jobs and limited public transport are the reality. Beautiful, suspenseful and deeply moving, if like me, you are a reader who likes a book that grips whilst making you think, this is it.

9/20/2021
Hot Stew

Hot Stew

At its heart is the eviction of a group of female sex workers from their Soho brothel. Yet this multi-layered, multi-character story is far richer than its back page description suggests. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, the narrative threads slowly come together as each character's backstory is revealed. I was expecting a sex novel, but instead discovered a surprisingly opulent tale of friendship and courage rivalling bureaucratic greed.

9/13/2021
Memoirs of a Polar Bear

Memoirs of a Polar Bear

This is a book to take your time over and let yourself be consumed by the stories of three generations of polar bears, each of them living side by side with their human counterparts, fully co-existing in civilian life. The tale begins with the grandmother's experiences in the Soviet Union and as it evolves you'll become increasingly beguiled by its strange beauty, enhanced by a wonderful translation.

9/6/2021
Disappearing Earth

Disappearing Earth

Think of a flower: the stem is the crime of the abduction of two sisters and the petals are the lives of residents in the city of Petropavlovsk and town of Kamchatsky who are tentatively involved with the main story. It's written in such a way you feel you're snooping into the lives of others which I find a bit uncomfortable. But a very interesting concept with an intriguing ending - so hang on in there.

8/30/2021
Who They Was

Who They Was

Nineteen year old student Gabriel indulges in extreme violence and crime ‘just for the fun of it’. The prison scenes are particularly brutal. I found this a difficult read not just for the content, but also for the dialect used. Having said that, there are some beautiful descriptive passages. It is worth the effort required to enter this other world - if only for as long as it takes to read the book. A debut novel and an author to watch.

8/23/2021
The First Woman

The First Woman

Kirabo is part of the first generation to begin breaking free from a class system in which men have total dominance over women and children. In this coming-of-age novel, she is shocked to find her beloved grandfather has a secret past that she could never imagine. And who is her mother? At times funny, very moving and always loveable this story will find a place in your heart. I loved it.

8/16/2021
Citadel

Citadel

The lives of two very different women are captured in poetry form. Spanning five hundred years, the women are linked through verse as their stories play out in their respective homelands of England and Spain. Although the ambiguity of the verse made this an intellectually challenging read, it was nevertheless easy to enjoy the beautifully descriptive language of this collection.

8/9/2021
Baba Dunja’s Last Love

Baba Dunja’s Last Love

Even though I’m left with questions regarding plot and purpose I could only admire and love the main character, Baba Dunja, for her drive and determination to have her home in the place she loves the most. She creates an almost magical world in which the living and the dead are both real and seem to support each other. Mixed with humour and compassion it makes a very enjoyable read.

8/2/2021
If I Had Your Face

If I Had Your Face

For a woman of low status to survive in Seoul, the cultural norms dictate that their face must be their fortune. Like an ironic take on the tale of The Little Mermaid – exploitation and pressure to undergo painful cosmetic surgery follows. This bold chronicle of four women delivered an insightful and provocative look at the universal obsession with ‘looks’ and the objectification of women the world over. For me - a bleak yet compelling read.

7/26/2021
Little Blue Encyclopedia

Little Blue Encyclopedia

This story of a transwoman's grief for her friend, Vivian, is uniquely structured and unashamedly honest. Akin to a love letter, the grieving woman pays homage to Vivian through a series of encyclopedia entries based upon her favourite TV series. Through the narrator's writing, we learn about her life as a transwoman, as well as the colourful life led by Vivian. While loss is the backbone of the story, the author offers the reader so much more.

7/19/2021
How Beautiful We Were

How Beautiful We Were

What impressed me in this book were the different perspectives. They clarify the impact of an environmental disaster on ordinary African people: powerless children, wise elders and the generation of the girl Thula, that intends to take action. I didn’t feel uplifted after reading this, but moved, frustrated and angry at the American oil company that preys on the land and the villagers' homes, like a swarm of locusts on a wheatfield.

7/12/2021
Sex and Vanity

Sex and Vanity

A romping homage to E.M. Forster’s ‘A Room with a View’, this book pokes fun at the impossibly wealthy, whilst peeling away the layers of elitism and racism in a world far beyond the imaginings of most readers. Loaded with ridiculous opulence, and name-drops galore (with footnotes to explain them in some cases), it’s easy beach reading that left me hankering for a re-watch of the old Merchant Ivory film.

7/5/2021
Human Acts

Human Acts

The toxic fallout of cruelty and suffering is unflinchingly portrayed. We are the witnesses of massacre and degradation and it is as if the sentences have nerve endings and we too feel the pain. Told from the viewpoint of different characters, the writing lacerates and haunts, questioning humanity and implicating everyone. This is harrowing storytelling and yet compulsively readable and deeply resonant.

6/28/2021
Reality, and Other Stories

Reality, and Other Stories

Eight entertainingly creepy short stories. A ghost looks for a phone signal, a woman is stranded in what seems to be the Big Brother house, text messages are sent from beyond the grave and a selfie stick has evil powers. Not a cobweb in sight as technology meets the paranormal!

6/21/2021
The Illness Lesson

The Illness Lesson

An atmospheric novel involving an experimental girls' school. A stress related skin condition, an unscrupulous doctor, flocks of mysterious red birds and a fraught father/daughter relationship add to the mix. At times, this is difficult to read with a disturbing subplot of possible abuse. But recommended for an unusual and thought-provoking experience.

6/14/2021
Reproduction

Reproduction

What makes a family? This ambitious novel has an innovative experimental structure, including intertextual play, song lyrics, rap and slang, with the emphasis on character rather than plot. It’s a transformative style of storytelling which gives a fresh spin on topical themes of multiculturalism, race, me-too, and white privilege, guaranteed to challenge your expectations - if not your perceptions.

6/7/2021
Scabby Queen

Scabby Queen

Take a canvas, add daubs of Citizen Smith, splatters of a rousing pop anthem and frame with It's a Wonderful Life. Not only a portrait of a complex and divisive woman, but a story with plenty to say about society, gender and celebrity. The narrative comes from multiple perspectives, drawing the reader into the lives of all the characters, even those for whom Clio Campbell was a chance encounter. I don't normally do politics, but I loved this.

5/31/2021
Boy Parts

Boy Parts

Being a professional society photographer should be a 'nice' occupation. But that’s not how Irina sees it. She has to make artful creations which become ever more violent. Vivid descriptions of the drug scene and night life of Newcastle make this a tough read, but hang on in there for the enduring friendship between Irina and her friend Flo. However it is compulsively readable even as you may hate what you read.

5/24/2021
This is Happiness

This is Happiness

Noel drops out of the seminary and returns to sleepy Faha. The coming of 'the electricity' brings lodger Christy. Whilst Noel looks for his first love Christy seeks out an old love to make amends. An enchanting picture of village life where nothing happens quickly and every person, however odd, is accepted. Warm and wonderful.

5/17/2021
Heartbreaker

Heartbreaker

Three starkly different but linked characters narrate the story of Billie Jean's life. They use a conversational tone that is punctuated with dark and sometimes comedic wit. Her inexplicable arrival to an isolated and strange town locked in its own disturbed dysfunctional bubble, triggers tragic events and betrayals that affect everyone. Her sudden and mysterious departure however heralds, in contradiction, the hope of redemption and healing.

5/10/2021
In the Shadow of the Banyan

In the Shadow of the Banyan

Set in Cambodia during the regime of the Khmer Rouge, this book hits its stride at around midpoint. Raani's narrative deploys a vocabulary that belies her age, yet retains a child's curiosity and innocence. Her descriptions of the natural world are beautiful and vivid, contrasting sharply with later depictions of human deprivation, cruelty and violence. Few stories have moved me to tears, but this saga of human resilience almost succeeded.

5/3/2021
Real Life

Real Life

Wallace has escaped his abusive small town past in the south by travelling light years to study in the Midwest. But what should feel like a success brings unhappiness and frustration with the underlying racism he encounters every day in his tutors, fellow students and even his so called friends. The atmospheric writing creates a tension that simmers in the heat of summer by the lake. I was totally immersed in this beautifully crafted novel.

4/26/2021
Friend

Friend

A beautiful insight into the life and mores of a communist society. I followed a judge who has been asked to settle a divorce between a young couple, but hesitates to do so to protect their young child. The judge’s search into the possibilities and limits of giving a helping hand made me reflect on the importance of the individual versus the interests of society. Alternately compassionate, moralistic, flowery, but above all so human.

4/19/2021
A Season on Earth

A Season on Earth

Plagued by sexual obsession, fantasies and guilt, an imaginative Melbourne teenager grows up in a narrow-minded and old-fashioned Catholic environment. Adrian's thoughts and dreams are so over the top that they sometimes become funny. But I did wonder if he ever could be happy in the 'real' world.

4/12/2021
The Death of Vivek Oji

The Death of Vivek Oji

This authentic novel is based on the autobiographical experience of growing up and identifying as genderfluid in Aba, Nigeria. The intense emotion of losing Vivek washes all shades of outrage and guilt into a single portrait of a beautiful soul. A heart-wrenching universal experience of being diminished by the death of a child and friend who was never truly understood. Prepare yourself for a deeply immersive read in every way.

4/5/2021
Burnt Sugar

Burnt Sugar

This candid portrayal of a fraught mother-daughter relationship is unflinching in its details of bad mothering and childhood neglect, as narrated by the daughter. There is acerbic black comedy amidst the bitterness, and vivid sensual descriptions as potent and spicy as a hot curry, but some readers may be disturbed by the voyeuristic descriptions of female bodily functions.

3/29/2021
Cleanness

Cleanness

Thrumming with life’s questions, we watch the narrator wrestle in shameless clarity with his own intimate desires, inviting us in and yet held at arm’s length by his sense of private pain. Stand-alone chapters magnify and crystallise his raw anguish and alienation. An unsettling, illuminating exploration of love and anonymity; fear and solitude, crafted in heat-seeking prose.

3/22/2021
Don't Call Us Dead

Don't Call Us Dead

A powerful collection shaping raw emotions into fierce and jagged poetry which deals with being both gay and black in the USA. Though there is much about HIV/AIDS, prejudice and police brutality here there is also a lot of love and tenderness.

3/15/2021
Pine

Pine

I found this a mysterious, atmospheric and moving story about Lauren, a young girl and her alcoholic father, living in a remote spot in the rugged Highlands. Lauren misses her unconventional mother who disappeared when Lauren was just a small child. She has few friends and when one of them goes missing in the woods strange things happen ... And that's what grabbed me, drew me in and I was hooked.

3/8/2021
Deacon King Kong

Deacon King Kong

A drug dealer is shot in the Cause Houses housing project in New York in 1969, the gunman an elderly drunk and church deacon who taught him baseball. There is violence, poverty and racism here - but it’s also warm and funny. The story reveals that everybody - blacks, whites, Italians, Spanish, church goers and criminals - are united by a shared history and common humanity and they are all described with humour and affection.

3/1/2021
The Sea Cloak

The Sea Cloak

Beautifully written stories which at times take on an almost ethereal quality. The joy of living overwhelms the feeling of frustration and fear in an oppressive occupation. Family life and the love of the Palestinian homeland are all important and the book gives us a rare insight into what it must be like to live in Gaza today. One to put onto your 'must read' pile.

2/22/2021
One Year of Ugly

One Year of Ugly

My eyes were on stalks as I read this story about a family of Venezuelan illegal immigrants living under the radar in Trinidad. The romance between Yola and Román is tenderly portrayed, the lush beauty of the island vividly evoked. Bawdy and irreverent? Perhaps. Nevertheless, it's a rare treat of a book which tackles some weighty issues in a very entertaining way.

2/15/2021
An Unkindness of Ghosts

An Unkindness of Ghosts

An invented future world becomes an incisive commentary on the unequal history of our real world - the decks of the spaceship are literally stratified. This analysis of the multigenerational trauma of a slave society - and how people cope with it and even rebel – will draw you in with its empathy. It’s also a fast adventure story with strong, unexpected characters who will change preconceptions about gender and sexuality.

2/8/2021
Of Strangers and Bees

Of Strangers and Bees

The three-stranded narrative is told from the perspective of three different characters: an exiled Uzbek writer, an ancient magical dervish, and a honey bee. I found the complexity of the structure challenging at times, as the connection between the separate stories wasn't immediately obvious. Yet as the tales began to overlap, I willingly accompanied the Uzbek writer on his quest for answers; as eager to discover the truth as he.

2/1/2021
Escape Routes

Escape Routes

I loved these surreal and quirky short stories. Naomi Ishiguro has the knack of making the dream-like seem remarkably normal and feasible.

1/25/2021
Such a Fun Age

Such a Fun Age

Confident, fast and easy – and also very unsettling. Surface embarrassments become deeper self-deceptions as white wokeness gets satirised pretty comprehensively in a plot that will keep you guessing. The 3-year-old is written brilliantly too – I’d like a sequel about her growing up.

1/18/2021
Piranisi

Piranisi

Piranisi shares his castle home with the sea, the birds, the fish, the statues, the skeletons and one other person simply named the ‘Other’. However, times are changing and strange things are happening: they may no longer be alone. A magical, beautiful and atmospheric novel with a revelatory ending. One to read as much for the writing as the story. I absolutely loved it.

1/11/2021
A Girl Made of Air

A Girl Made of Air

Roll up for a magical mystical tour with the travelling circus! The unusual hybrid of genres reflects the weird and wonderful circus acts and the dual life of the performing artistes. Dickensian melodrama blends with Gothic fable, myth and folklore, whilst underneath the glamour of the Big Top and the spell of the dreamlike prose lie nightmare topics - suicide, sexual abuse and childhood neglect - so best not to read before bedtime.

1/4/2021
To Calais, In Ordinary Time

To Calais, In Ordinary Time

This book is a time machine. It's like stepping into the pages if an illustrated medieval Book of Hours. A peasant, a serf, a highborn lady and a knight embark on a journey with a group of archers, a captive and a notary. Each carries their own guilt, passion and ambition. Each sheds their role in a feudal society along the way. But the Black Death is coming to meet them. A compelling tale - and I found the language quickly became familiar.

12/28/2020
I Wish You All the Best

I Wish You All the Best

This book starts with a bang when Ben comes out to their parents and it all goes much, much worse than they imagined. The anxiety and pain of working out who you are and how you fit in - if you’ve forgotten how intense getting through adolescence is, this book will bring it all back. The gentle romance and the warmth of more enby-accepting adults offset the tough start.