12/5/2022
Bad Eminence

Bad Eminence

This is a rabbit-hole of a read, full of playful digressions that question the fabric of reality. The experience is one of artful disorientation, as we are led by the blackly humorous, misanthropic narration of self-aware narcissist Vanessa, a literary translator, through corridors of an abduction mystery intercut with philosophical meditation, product placement and holiday snapshots. A surreal trickster of a book that defies categorisation.

11/28/2022
Of Saints and Miracles

Of Saints and Miracles

Although very loosely taking its lead from crime fiction, this book is more a pastoral hymn to the interconnectedness of things. As outcast villager Marcelino goes into hiding, we move through a fully realised Spanish countryside, created through myth, fable and rural rhythms, and the intermingling of past and present. This is a mindful reading experience, poetic and lyrical: each word combination is to be savoured.

11/21/2022
The Bread the Devil Knead

The Bread the Devil Knead

I really enjoyed the authentic voice of Alethea in this novel. Despite the terrible life she has, there is hope to be found in friendship and the strong bond of family. Her love for her work in a clothes shop gives her a new perspective to escape her abusive boyfriend. But even so, I found the scenes of abuse tough to read.

11/14/2022
The Girl with the Green Eyes

The Girl with the Green Eyes

What if the reason you felt you didn't fit in was because you were engineered that way? This novel follows Bella: the result of a eugenics program creating designer babies. Through twists and turns and flashbacks to her childhood, we learn about the sinister undertones of her early years, and why, as an adult, she is running. This is a fast paced thrill of a book, with some real ethical dilemmas at its heart.

11/7/2022
Issac and the Egg

Issac and the Egg

This is a hugely emotional read that will seep into your every waking moment – and maybe even your dreams. It's suffused with warmth and sadness but pockets of real humour bring light in the darkness. The overriding feeling is one of love, which shines as a beacon through Isaac's pain and loss. But what about the story – and who or what is the egg? Impossible to describe in a few words – so please just read the book and discover for yourself.

10/31/2022
The Raptures

The Raptures

When children begin falling sick in a rural community, a multitude of conflicts are scratched wide-open. Told largely through the eyes of 11 year old Hannah, this entertaining and empathetic read pulls you in many directions: from the sadness and horror of illness to the rich humour of early Nineties pop culture. A ghost story, a study of the end of childhood, and an examination of faith in Northern Ireland, this is a vivid and exhilarating read.

10/24/2022
The School for Good Mothers

The School for Good Mothers

This is a raw and provocative read set in a near future where the state punishes mothers deemed to be unsuitable. To win their children back, mothers must be retrained in a harsh and dehumanising institution. Both emotional and disturbing, the thrilling and involving plot is set against the prejudices of society and the pressures of parenting. Parents, you may lose sleep over this book.

10/17/2022
How High We Go in the Dark

How High We Go in the Dark

Spanning thousands of years and numerous and diverse locations, this is the story of a deadly virus and its implications for the future of the human race. Told through a myriad of inter-linked stories which are at times tender, often desperately sad and always dark and probing, this novel explores death and grief and our responsibilities for one another and our planet.

10/10/2022
Assembly

Assembly

Prepare yourself for a powerful and philosophical read with a fusion of narrative styles. Addressing identity, gender, race and class, it explores too how the ghost of Empire still haunts Britain and the impact this has on the life of a high-achieving black woman. Despite its brevity, this is a book which speaks volumes, easily read in one sitting and perhaps the better for it.

10/3/2022
Somebody Loves You

Somebody Loves You

Beautifully rendered and wryly observed, this novel touches on family, mental illness and the therapeutic properties of gardening. The broken, fragmented narrative brings to mind a cubist painting, but this is a portrait with surprising detail and depth; a powerful coming-of-age story which rewards the reader with the rich interior world of a mute girl.

9/26/2022
Burntcoat

Burntcoat

I really engaged with this beautifully written, poetic tale of survival and death during a pandemic (not Covid). It’s hard to say that I enjoyed it because it is distressing but also uplifting in many ways. Be prepared for detailed sex scenes, delivered in forthright, language, from a woman’s point of view.

9/19/2022
The Only Good Indians

The Only Good Indians

This book is a Jacobean bloodbath driven by a supernatural Elk seeking retribution from the Indian community. The light-touch but intimate feel of Native American life, with all its heritage or baggage, brings home the failings and longings of the human characters, as the animal spirit reeks its revenge. A haunting, unusual and brutal novel.

9/12/2022
The Other Black Girl

The Other Black Girl

Genre-wise, this is difficult to pin down. It moves from witty office politics to chilling social commentary on racial microaggressions, spinning into a creepy magical realism/science fiction thriller! I actually had to read it twice to really grasp what was going on, but I was gripped both times!

9/5/2022
Nightbitch

Nightbitch

Subversive and powerful, this one grabs you by the throat. A young artist navigates her way through the complexities and traumas of motherhood and the physical and mental changes that threaten to overwhelm her. Mysticism and the folklore of her Appalation heritage influence her decisions in this quirky and outrageous tale. The read is intimate and graphic, earthy and darkly funny. The, at times, surreal narrative pulls no punches.

8/29/2022
Our Lady of the Nile

Our Lady of the Nile

Set in a young ladies' finishing school in the remote hills of Rwanda, increasing racial tensions reflect national attitudes. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, there are many moments of humour. Girls will be girls, and I was charmed by them and by this remarkable novel.

8/22/2022
The Disaster Tourist

The Disaster Tourist

A surreal thriller combined with a satirical commentary on modern capitalism, environmental exploitation and the nature of tourism. Yona works for a travel company organising trips to disaster zones, but when she ends up on one of their holidays to an island off Vietnam, she finds that things are not quite as they seem. An original and intriguing story that holds you in its grip as ever increasing danger draws it towards a climax.

8/15/2022
The Coven

The Coven

This is an urgent, dark and vividly told adventure which will drawn you in for a provocative thrill ride. Set in an alternate reality where magic is real and witches are violently persecuted, the story follows two witches coming to terms with their power and discovering their responsibility in establishing a just society.

8/8/2022
Winter Counts

Winter Counts

A propulsive read. We follow local vigilante Virgil in his attempts to cleanse the Rosebud Reservation of drug gangs. Vivid descriptions of Native American spirituality are mixed with hard-boiled noir, as Virgil navigates the conflicting elements of his identity. The combination is memorable, delivering both the punch of a crime thriller, and an enlightening insight into systemic challenges facing contemporary indigenous American life.

8/1/2022
Rabbits

Rabbits

A parallel story to the podcast of the same name, this novel is an edge of your seat thrill ride through the worlds of a dark and mysterious alternate reality game. With a backdrop of pop culture references and vintage tech, cryptic clues are gathered and solved moving the game forward and as things begin to get scary, the boundaries between play, reality and possibility become blurred.

7/25/2022
The Boat People

The Boat People

Mahindan and his young son, Sellian, flee their war-torn homeland of Sri Lanka and board a boat to Canada, hoping for a better life there. As Mahindan waits in jail for his lawyer and the adjudicator to decide his future, Sellian is taken into foster care where he begins a new life in a democratic society. This candid insight into the desperation of asylum seekers was sobering, so be prepared to be moved by this timely tale, just as I was.

7/18/2022
Minor Detail

Minor Detail

This book explores the minutiae of life under occupation, making the reader feel the fears, frustrations and brutalities. It confronts you with war's atrocities and is brave enough to withhold narrative judgment to allow you to make up your own mind. Uncomfortable and at times harrowing, yet ultimately an important novel about the forgotten voices in war that deserve to be heard.

7/11/2022
Domestic Bliss and Other Disasters

Domestic Bliss and Other Disasters

Sally tells the story of her mid-life antics involving her 'creative' son, her overwhelmed new-mum daughter, her politician spouse, a rat-catching lodger, two long-standing friends, and a neighbour with an unhealthy interest in rhubarb leaves. Sally's life is all wrapped up in a comical coat of witty observation and good old-fashioned British humour guaranteed to raise a smile (and an eyebrow).

7/4/2022
Death Drives an Audi

Death Drives an Audi

A dark vein of satire definitely hits the mark in this road trip novel. A journey of self-discovery is peppered with screwball surrealistic descriptions of the minutiae of life that is absurd, tender and indignant. The social reality is the beating heart of this light yet thoughtful read, enhanced by the needling, genuine friendship of the characters and some colourful writing.

6/27/2022
The Last One

The Last One

Told through repeated refrains like a prayer recital or affirmation, this is a fast, lyrical read. Each short chapter finds narrator Fatima, French of Algerian descent, examining the different, often conflicting, layers of her identity and the rules structuring her world – her faith, sexuality and family. Fatima’s generous honesty carries us with her, and makes for a sometimes abrasive, exhilarating and enlightening sharing of experience.

6/20/2022
Address Book

Address Book

This book is one of the most tender and warm I have read in ages. Seven different people in different periods from 1891 to 2021 - it’s life-affirming, accepting and erotic even when dealing with grief. Quietly brilliant – and you’ll never take a mattress for granted again.

6/13/2022
Winchelsea

Winchelsea

This novel has all the ingredients of a swashbuckling tale of smuggling and conspiracy with a twist. Diamonds in the rough, flashing swords and smoking muskets, romances and a rather surprising main character. I got a kick from the atmosphere and the action.

6/6/2022
The Transformation

The Transformation

Reading this book is like walking into a mighty and overwhelming landscape. It also made me very, very frozen. But soon, glimpses of hope and warmth and love come through, tiny and not easily achieved. Navarana, a young Inuit girl, has the spirit of an ice bear, her strength from the old religion and a helper in a gentle Irish monk. But can she save a way of life?

5/30/2022
Wretchedness

Wretchedness

A heart-stopping and head-scratching dizzying array of voices and timelines, submerged in pain, addiction and desperation. In dense, chapter-length paragraphs the language clashes and trembles with unremitting bleakness. An uncomfortable howl of defiance from the neglected, abused and voiceless, but despite the gritty storyline, the language is almost musical and the story mesmerising.

5/23/2022
Doggerland

Doggerland

Set in an unspecified future, on a vast, corroding windfarm far out in the North Sea, this is a poetic, claustrophobic read. Above sea-level, we follow the storm-blasted routines of the boy and the old man, maintenance workers imprisoned by wind turbines and each other. Below the surface, the book plays out on a different timeline, elegantly charting geological periods and the fluidity of landmass. The result is affecting and quietly profound.

5/16/2022
Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People

Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People

A novel for readers who like a challenge. It certainly asked a lot of me. The witty intervals reminded me of the stand up comedy of ‘Live at the Apollo’ and made this fat brick of a satire of modern Nigeria more than worth the effort. Like the discussion about a new name for the Minister. Or the fantastic abbreviations for everything. But it’s a complex story which also criticizes political corruption, child abuse and self interest.

5/9/2022
Three Rooms

Three Rooms

What at first appears to be a novel about the problems of a self-involved millennial, slowly becomes a novel about politics, class, race and privilege. This was a story that knew exactly how to push my buttons, candidly observed and feeling very true to life. Certainly a book which will divide opinion, but I found myself rooting for this young woman of colour, striving to find her place.

5/2/2022
Captain Jesus

Captain Jesus

Marie the teenager and Marie the wife and mother links the two strands of this story of how ordinary people cope with great loss. The more recent strand is narrated by one of the children as he tries to understand what is going on in the adult world. This book gains in intensity as the two stories are pulled closer together. A powerful mix of the everyday and the tragic, you will be drawn into this family making small steps towards recovery.

4/25/2022
Recursion

Recursion

If you could change your past, would you? That's the question at the heart of this rip-roaring speculative novel exploring memory, grief, consequences and death. Just when you think you have a grip on the story it suddenly confounds as you hurtle towards another disaster, leaving you wondering just how are the characters going to escape. A breathless and breath-taking read that will have you racing through the pages.

4/18/2022
Foolish Heroines

Foolish Heroines

This bizarre story combining domestic drama with a liberal sprinkling of magical realism makes for an entertaining read. Following a disparate group of women as they embark on journeys of discovery, empowerment and friendship, it yanks the reader into their lives and any resistance soon becomes futile. Absurd though it may be, it is also funny, uplifting and refreshingly different. By the end of the book I too felt like I was one of the gang.

4/11/2022
Betty

Betty

Heartbreaking, but what a brave girl Betty is. She doesn’t let her life be ruined by her strong, but scarred mother, or her schoolmates who call her names because of her Native American heritage. I found it shocking how in the sixties even teachers treat her abominably. Luckily she has a loving Cherokee father who teaches her all about respect for nature, and she has her siblings - who are firmly on her side. A beautiful coming-of-age story.

4/4/2022
Supper Club

Supper Club

Discomforting with delicious morsels, this coming of age novel is set across two formative times from protagonist Roberta’s life: the abusive, domineering relationships she experiences with men as an undergraduate, and self-assertion through food and friendship in her late twenties. Cusp-of-adulthood millennial uncertainty finds release in the physically evocative food writing. A searching, hedonistically appetising read.

3/28/2022
Cwen

Cwen

This earthy magical and cleverly woven tale is interspersed with historical facts and mythologies. It is a gutsy read laced with literary references to environmental and feminist concerns. Radical and bold it tells with intensity of a disappearance and uses court transcripts from the investigation to reveal a cast of diverse women who are driven to develop a new and more meaningful community. It's a unique reimagining of how our world could be.

3/21/2022
Leave the World Behind

Leave the World Behind

A compelling read, fuelled by uncertainty and a multiplying sense of dread, this is end of the world via Airbnb. A family from Brooklyn hope to spend a week getting away from it all in a remote Long Island holiday home when an unnamed, unknown, cataclysmic event occurs. Smartphones remain dead, and in the resulting void of information, unease shifts to terror. A seductive nightmare of a book, both surreal and disturbingly plausible.

3/14/2022
Easy Meat

Easy Meat

This is a gritty snapshot of a young Welshman's desire to overcome barriers and change himself for the better. I empathised with his struggles and frustrations, grimacing as another challenge dragged him down, but cheered as he found a way to pull himself through. A brief and unflinching slice of Valley life with a unique voice.

3/7/2022
Femlandia

Femlandia

When society dissolves Miranda and her teenage daughter must abandon their previous existence and find a way to survive. As the sanctuary they find at a women’s commune grows increasingly uneasy, I found a dreadful fascination in the sinister atmosphere. This is a tense, provocative read which explores feminism, motherhood, belonging and power.

2/28/2022
The Memory Police

The Memory Police

Told by an unnamed narrator, and taking place on a remote island, this dystopian fable is both generously accessible and beguilingly enigmatic. Despite the title suggesting otherwise, the focus of the book is the personal, physical experience of oppression and loss, rather than the machinations of the totalitarian Memory Police. Breathtakingly beautiful even at its most hauntingly destructive, this gently shattering read is unforgettable.

2/21/2022
Exit Management

Exit Management

A book that will grasp you in its cold grip. Controlling Lauren, determined to succeed but haunted by her past, meets Cal, a loser drifting through life with only his friendship with elderly Jozsef to keep him going. There’s an unease in the dark beauty of the language, the fragmented sentences and unpunctuated dialogue, though the book is not without hope and compassion. An emotionally thrilling and psychologically probing read.

2/14/2022
A Long Way from Douala

A Long Way from Douala

I found this book to be a compassionate coming-of-age journey through a richly described Cameroon. I enjoyed reading about a whole host of colourful characters from grief-stricken parents to corrupt police and shady people smugglers. I felt the ever-present threat of Boko Haram but laughed at the developing relationship between two friends as they navigate through a country in turmoil and search for their runaway brother.

2/7/2022
Night Theatre

Night Theatre

This gripping and tense novel is beautifully written and kept me engaged throughout. While the plot driver might be fantastical - a murdered family returns from the afterlife and has one night for a surgeon to heal their wounds - this story is grounded in reality. The exasperation of the surgeon at his limited equipment and the desperation of the parents wishing to save their children had me racing through to the end.

1/31/2022
The Stubborn Archivist

The Stubborn Archivist

The book’s Stubborn Archivist is a young woman born into a mix of cultures and trying to work out her identity. I loved the beautifully written prose and jumping between time periods and perspectives of characters, in new and unfamiliar surroundings, kept the pace moving swiftly along. An enjoyable and insightful read.

1/24/2022
Memorial

Memorial

When a crisis throws them apart, two men at a crossroads in their relationship reflect on their lives and dysfunctional relationships with their respective families. Both wise in its reflectiveness and unsettling in the lack of answers it provides, this is authentic, contemporary storytelling, told with stunning honestly, wry humour and frank, uncompromising use of language.

1/17/2022
The Mermaid and the Conch

The Mermaid and the Conch

Told through multiple voices, this is a story of human emotion, intertwined with indigenous myth and more recent, very real, history, where the arrival of mermaid Aycayia to the island of Black Conch is the catalyst for some monumental changes. For all the pain and loneliness of the book, I found it was the sense of connection and potential for positive change that Aycayia sets in motion that stayed with me. A sensual, hypnotic and riveting read.

1/10/2022
Good Citizens Need Not Fear

Good Citizens Need Not Fear

The crumbling of the Soviet Union is reflected in the the decaying tower blocks of the Ukraine, but this is no grim slice-of-realism record. You know from the start that these lovable characters will win through with gritty determination in spite of the black absurdities of their circumstances. Just a few small episodes in their lives have enough authenticity and emotion to fill your soul.

1/3/2022
Afterlives

Afterlives

In a largely forgotten theatre of war, this powerful and epic account of brutal oppression during the German Colonial campaigns in East Africa weaves history and fictional characters in an intricate tapestry. The deeply personal stories of the resilience of the uprooted and exploited African people balance the more journalistic style used to describe the disturbing scenes of atrocities and reprisals. Beautiful, sad and unforgettable.

12/27/2021
After Beth

After Beth

This story of ‘a mother’s worst nightmare’ will wrench at the guts of any parent. I was impressed by the author’s skill in writing so movingly about bereavement without the least cloying or maudlin sentiment. It is not a depressing read, despite the subject, and I am sure that reading about how the mother gets through the stages of grief could be a consoling process for someone going through a similar experience.