Moss Witch and Other Stories

A ground-breaking collection of short stories evolving through conversations with scientists. Each one is a fusion of narrative and science. I found them a stimulating mix of natural history, geology, physics, medicine and astronomy with contemporary fiction, myth and folklore. The scientists complement each story with a scientific analysis including their reactions to the author's creative interpretations. Will appeal to the curious reader.

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The Summer We Got Free

Since the death of her twin Geo, Ava – once a vibrant child and brilliant artist – lives a colourless existence. She and her family subsist in a greyness of perpetual grief; ostracised and persecuted by their local church. Then, 17 years later, a stranger arrives. This story feels like reading a painting - shaded with mystery, loss, racial prejudice, and gay love - experiencing with Ava and her family a rediscovery of the vivid colours of life.

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Deaf at Spiral Park

A original, surreal and philosophical debut novel exploring what it is that makes us human. A bear leaves his forest home and takes a series of jobs in an unnamed city. We meet a diverse and bizarre cast of characters who get drawn into his complex world including a recruitment consultant who suffers from recurring death! Some very disturbing scenes but also some very funny ones in particular those involving the absurdities of office life!

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Girl with all the Gifts

Post-apocalyptic England is a disturbing place overrun with infected monsters, the grimly named Hungries. As the last remaining humans tread their dangerous course home, there is one central complication to their group dynamic: Melanie. I fell in love with this little hybrid girl who is part monster yet with a very human heart. Thrilling, disturbing and heartbreaking in equal measure, it kept me thinking long after the final page was turned.

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SOUND

This book is a real one-off. I couldn't get into it for a long time and then it gradually started to make sense. Think stream-of-consciousness written as a music score or a play with narrative mixed in. Highly original in style, challenging and different from anything I've ever read before. It's certainly weird; whether it's also wonderful is for you to decide.

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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

This tale of family dynamics begins with comic undertones which are jolted by a shift in perception a quarter of the way in. The silence, self-delusion and guilt of family life find echoes in dysfunctional relationships between humans and animals. Inspired by real-life experiments in the 1930s, this book explores issues of ethics, nature/nurture and animal rights - lots for reading groups to discuss, but could be distressing for some readers.

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If I Close My Eyes Now

Filtered through childhood eyes, this story of incest, exploitation and corruption in high places is told in deceptively simple prose. The back story of Brazil as it lurches into the developing world permeates the whole book and provides a haunting back-drop to unlikely friendships in a time of innocence and hope.

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Mr Loverman

A funny and touching love story of two men whose lifelong secret affair is shared with the reader. Barrington 'Barry' Walker and his partner Morris are two lovable characters who seized my attention from the very first page. Beneath Barry's swagger lies a serious undercurrent of racial and sexual prejudice which shapes his character and makes his battles ever more poignant and heartfelt.

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Prayers for the Stolen

It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to be young and poor and growing up in a Mexico which regards young women as commodities to be traded. However, this book took me right there whether I wanted or imagined it or not. I was gripped from start to finish.

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The Machine

Is it possible to reprogramme a brain that has been damaged by dementia or post traumatic stress disorder? This modern Gothic tale is a chilling warning of might go wrong when we attempt to 'play God' with the mind. The claustrophobic and ominous background of a society breaking down through the effects of global warming helps to make this an emotionally charged reading experience. The shock ending will make you want to read this novel twice.

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Rustication

Although graphic and explicit at times this is nevertheless a compelling Victorian gothic style novel. A gloomy winter countryside is the atmospheric setting for a story of increasing intrigue and suspicions with lurid letters and gruesome acts culminating in a particularly nasty murder.

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One Three One: A Time-shifting Gnostic Hooligan Road Novel

If Dr Who was a football fan, this is exactly the kind of journey that would happen to him. It's a bit like a dope fiend stealing Harry Potter's invisibility cloak or bungee jumping through time portals from one completely insane world to another. Or like travelling through Sardinia with Lawrence of Arabia, instead of the author of Lady Chatterley's Lover. Ken Russell, we need you to make this book into a film.

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Norwegian by Night

Sheldon Horowitz is a grumpy 82 year old ex-marine, haunted by his past, who moves from New York to Oslo to live with his granddaughter. When he rescues a young Balkan boy from a murder scene, they go on the run from the killer. Take a Scandi-noir chase novel, add in crisp deadpan humour, nostalgia, grief, dementia and a touch of Huckleberry Finn. Out comes a compelling, multilayered, rich and haunting thriller about age, regret and survival.

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Butterflies in November

A woman, dumped by her husband whose mistress is pregnant, takes a road trip around Iceland with the four year old deaf son of her friend. The protagonist is engaging and the relationship she builds with the child is endearing. This is an unusual road trip story, funny and sweet and charmingly odd!

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Navada

This straight-talking portrayal of Maria's life as a transsexual is set against the backdrop of drugs and stereotypes in New York city. We meet her during a period of transition; playing witness to her inner struggles to accept her new identity as a woman. My eyes were opened to the endless turmoil faced by transsexual men and women and their daily fight to gain acceptance from others in order to find peace with who they truly are.

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Sworn Virgin

This fascinating insight into Albanian culture is a gripping, metamorphic tale. The themes of culture, gender, identity and family are explored with real understanding and piercing authenticity in this tender and arrestingly original novel.

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In Bloom

Fifteen year old Francis is diagnosed with leukaemia. How is it possible to find humour in this situation? Amazingly, this book does. Some readers may find the treatment details disturbing but it’s emotionally honest and very good on family relationships - and Francis will make you laugh. Aimed at young adults, but not exclusively. All ages will get something from it. A very sad but also a very funny and optimistic read.

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Eat My Heart Out

In this darkly comic, post-feminist satire on women behaving badly, Pilger uses deliberately offensive and cringe-worthy scenes to show how so-called 'empowered', yet self-harming female media icons make it difficult for girls to find positive role models, leaving them caught between the housewife and the whore. Ignore the misleading cover illustration, this is not a tale of SM eroticism, but a hard hitting antidote to saccharine chick lit.

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Seoul Survivors

Seoul may be one of the few places on earth to escape an asteroid speeding towards us, but life there is far from safe. Genetic engineering on an horrific scale, drugs, deceit, perverted sex, this frenetic account is not for the squeamish. Most characters are deeply unpleasant, and deserve all they get, but I did feel for those innocents who though they may escape Lucifer's Hammer, are snared unwittingly in a deadly trap.

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Bombora

Angst-filled tangle of gay love, loss, reunion, reconciliation and forgiveness, but also a tale of loyalty and relationships within families. Written with dry humour and passages of lyrical prose, the first person narrative is shared between the three main characters keeping the reader focussed on the consequence of actions and decisions which is often complex and intense.

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Shop Front

A stunning first novel by a very talented author. This is a must read for anyone who wants to understand masculinity, Scotland and the way out of the traps that men sometimes let themselves fall into because they have to prove that they are 'real men' - whatever that means. Samuel Best's writing is perceptive, enthralling and stylish. I cannot wait for his next novel.

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Claire of the Sea Light

The focus of these lyrical, inter-linked stories shifts from a missing girl to individual members of a community who become drawn into the search for her. A contemporary Haitian setting along with each character’s back story, where rich and poor alike experience personal tragedy, make this an unflinching portrayal of a town bowed by loss but united with hope.

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She Rises

An 18th century seafaring adventure with a great deal of nautical detail and 'on board' brutality. On land, there's romance, intrigue and tragedy and eventually the two strands collide to form one personality. Brilliantly descriptive of the port of Harwich. An atmospheric and intriguing debut.

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Back to Back

Certain words sprang to mind when I finished this story - vulgar, sad, angry and disturbed. It makes no difference where a child is born or under what circumstances - all children need a mother's love. Ella, Thomas and the twins didn't. They had Kathe, a mother who was selfish, political and unloving. Yes, life was difficult in East Germany but made more so with Kathe's coldness to her children which led to a tragic ending.

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It's The Stars Will Be Our Lamps

With the all seeing, omnipresent Puca as our guide, this story - a modern retelling of an ancient Irish tale - weaves a mystical and vivid path, meeting along the way a miscellany of characters. There's danger fused with dark humour, sentences dripping colour and manages to be both wicked and fun at the same time.

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Time on my Hands

I took time to get into this story of young boys emulating the Italian Red Brigades. At first I couldn't believe that eleven year old's could think and act so politically, so strategically, but the horror grew and engulfed my disbelief. We know that children can be cruel but the calculation behind the dark cruelty of these incipient serial killers was especially chilling. A tough haunting read.

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The Hunger and the Howling of Killian Lone

Obsession, bullying and self-harm are daily ingredients in the rise of a young chef in a London restaurant. Add a touch of black magic (and I don't mean pepper...) and you have a grotesque tale of ambition and twisted sensuality. Guaranteed to leave a strong after-taste!

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Revenge

A series of lyrical and beautiful interlinked stories that are simply a joy to read. The skill with which the stories are interwoven, so that preceding stories become fiction in the later stories creates a beauty that is truly enthralling. The tranquillity of the writing adds to the disturbing nature of the stories. This is a book not to be missed.

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The Distance

An authentic thriller of multiple layers which reveal unexpected connections in a very satisfying way. But what makes this debut novel leap from the genre shelves is the central lead Karla, or is it Charlotte? Karla is a superb creation - written so convincingly that you can't get her out of your head and will gladly follow her anywhere. The whole is a terrifying, tension-fuelled race against time that will grip you by the throat.

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The Dig

A hauntingly beautiful but brutally honest and shocking account of rural Wales. It captures the inner tensions of rural hardship, isolation and the survival of those that live solely off the land. A memorable read, but certainly no amusing countryside idyll.

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At the Time of Partition

One woman's experience of the partition of India in 1947, told in verse. The traumatic experience is made even more tragic by the loss of the widow's brain damaged son somewhere on the trek from their home in India to the newly established Pakistan. Beautifully and movingly written by an award winning poet. Definitely one to read again and again.

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The Honey Guide

A dead prostitute. A detective with baggage, enemies and a charming sidekick. A twisting plot, breathless conclusion. We've been here before surely? Well no, because this is Nairobi, memories of the US Embassy bomb still fresh, in the grip of a violent election, tribal and racial rivalries erupting. Add child trafficking and female genital mutilation and things are different. Not your usual whodunit, but one I needed to get to the bottom of.

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The Dead Lake

A really curious mixture of the magic and mischief of Russian fairytale with the stark every day reality of a family living and working in a tiny, isolated community, chosen as the location for nuclear testing. Yerzhan's story - his musical gift, his love for his beautiful cousin and the irreversible act of bravado which delivers dark and twisted consequences - will haunt you long after you finish this short but perfectly executed tale.

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Malarky

Don’t be fooled by the comic eccentricities of Irish rural life depicted in the narrator’s inner monologues. Referring to herself as 'Our Woman' and her dull clod of a husband as 'Himself', this middle-aged Irish farmer's wife has her resilience worn away by grief and disappointment, tripping the narrative over into much darker and surreal territory. A modern day Molly Bloom, 'Our Woman' is a character whose voice you won’t easily forget.

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Dot

One family, three women of different ages with different personalities doesn't lead to a very conducive home life for daughter, Dot - but she muddles through. A sad but strangely enchanting story with each chapter moving through life and time. The chapters help us to understand why the family, their lovers and friends behave, react and adapt to the circumstances they face. Really nice read with a heart-stopping conclusion.

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The Round House

You will carry Joe around with you for a long time. His world changes suddenly when his mother is raped on their reservation. Although overwhelming at times, the story is lifted by warm humour, brilliant characters and strong friendships. I learnt a lot about the plight of contemporary Native Americans.

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Young Blood

Sifiso Mzobe is South Africa's answer to Irvine Welsh or Alan Bissett. He takes the lives of young men in Umlozi, one of Durban's roughest townships and, in beautiful, sympathetic prose, he makes us understand what it is that drives young men like Sipho, Vusi and Musa into a life of crime. And he makes us understand the dreadful consequences if they are not able to break free and take their lives into their own hands.

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Paradises

What struck me most about this story set in present day Buenos Aires was the passivity of its young female narrator whose life appears to be a series of interactions with characters from the fringes of society. Yet this is not a depressing read; I was drawn to a woman who, though lacking any moral compass, could make me smile with her wryly humorous observations.

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The Lemon Grove

This one packs one punch after another - intense, bruising and teetering on the edge. It's impossible to remain impartial - but whom can you trust? Expect oscillating sympathies, a tortured twist of emotion and expectation - and lots of sex. What's more, I didn't see that final fatal blow coming at all.

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The Quiddity of Will Self

A whirligig of a novel, one that refuses to sit down. There is invention, fun and exuberance in abundance. What sets out as an apparent mystery centred on the enigmatic Will Self Club and the death of Sylvie, soon heads off on its bizarre journey. If nothing else you have to admire the verve of this book. And not just for fans of Will Self.

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Almost English

If you were embarrassed by your family as a teenager then spare a thought for Marina driven to a disastrous experiment by her rather pathetic mother and a host of elderly Hungarian relatives. Funny and touching on one level, but at another this is an exploration of secrecy and the damage it can do to a family. Each member has her secrets - what might their unraveling bring? I was left wanting to know.

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Chasing the King of Hearts

Written in a series of brief, headed chapters, this is a novel of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942, and its aftermath. Izolda is Jewish but doesn't look it, and expends a lot of effort trying to conceal her identity. Her husband is caught by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz, and Izolda sets out to find and release him, but eventually also ends up in the camp. The author manages to convey the horrors of that time, but in a superbly understated way.

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Quesadillas

An entertaining satire on political corruption in 1980’s Mexico, where rampant inflation has stricken even middle-class families with extreme poverty. Narrated from the offbeat perspective of the adolescent Orestes, one of seven siblings fighting for his share of the meagre food rations, this picaresque coming-of-age story goes from the absurdist to the totally surreal, engaging the reader without sentimentality. Be prepared for strong language.

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Isabel's Skin

A quiet London book-valuer visits rural Somerset, and makes a nightmarish discovery that immediately alters his life. This is a quirky, psychological, gothic novel that has enough suspense to make your skin crawl, although unusually short for this descriptive style of genre.

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The Son

A three-strand narrative drives this epic novel about a Texan family dynasty, cutting to and fro across five generations. Initially I found the different viewpoints jarred, interrupting an otherwise fascinating story, but I soon became absorbed. Graphically recounted scenes of rape, murder and torture make a strong constitution essential to read this story.

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The Ghost Bride

I really enjoyed this book and its enthralling mix of history, culture, and the supernatural. Set in 1890's Malaya (modern day Malaysia) the vividly described places and characters drew me in to the story and I felt as if I was journeying with the main character, Li Lan, as she tries to navigate life not just in the real world, but also in the spirit world. The resulting adventure was both thrilling and ingenious.

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A Tale for the Time Being

A Zen novel about quantum mechanics, travelling across time, experience, geographical locations, and a whole range of ethical questions which will make you pause for thought more than once. If only so that you can be sure that you understand what is going on. But if you stick with this story, you will learn something about the world in which you live, and the possibilities that may arise from the decisions that you take on a daily basis.

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The Testament of Mary

Here is a challenge to the generally accepted view of Mary the mother of Jesus. Some will find it shocking, others refreshing. Though not what her minders want to hear, Mary tells her own story and that of her son in a short powerful narrative, intense and compelling. I was deeply moved, even more so as the mother of a son. I was also prompted to think about truth - is my truth your fiction?

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We Need New Names

Initially I didn't think I was going to like this book, with its strangely-named characters: Bastard, Godknows, Bornfree .... The first half is set in Zimbabwe (unnamed), but when the narrator, Darling, moves to America to live with her aunt, the writing seems to gain a fresh intensity. In Detroit, Darling struggles with her feelings for her native land as she adapts to life in the USA. This latter part of the book is very moving indeed.

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The Luminaries

Set in New Zealand during the 1866 Gold Rush, this is an intricately plotted and intensely atmospheric novel with a huge cast, who each tell their own stories. A perfect format with a writing style which accurately reflects the period. Built round an astrological calendar, expect a murder mystery, an adventure story and a romance to keep you intrigued to the end when all is revealed. Winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize.

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The Man Who Rained

Poetic, heart-breaking and life-affirming, this timeless fairy tale asks what makes us who we are. Is love possible when a storm lives within you? What does your life mean when you betray your roots? And can you ever put down roots if you always yearn for new skies?

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The Death of Bees

Despite being a heartbreaking story of abuse and neglect you will smile at the dark humour and the wicked, razor sharp observations and find yourself emotionally involved as this compelling story unfolds. There is no sentimentality in the writing as the characters' voices grab and immerse you in the horrors of their lives. A gritty, sad tale of abandonment that somehow still leaves you filled with laughter and hope.

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All Woman and Springtime

Two North Korean orphaned girls become close friends as they mature, but this is no ordinary coming-of-age plot. By the end of the novel, the title has become a sad irony, as the girls are exploited, betrayed, and trafficked into prostitution. Though this story is very painful to read, with its harrowing and graphic details of sexual degradation, it commands the reader's empathy in bearing witness to the vile international sex trade.

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The Crane Wife

At the centre of this tale is an enigmatic, uplifting love story. Following a dramatic, magical experience George's life is transformed by mysterious Kumiko. Dreamlike, often beautifully told, sprinkled with tenderness and humour, The Crane Wife is a heartwarming story.

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The Tragedy of Arthur

A clever novel about a 'lost' play supposedly by Shakespeare. Arthur Phillips, a convicted forger, gives the 'original' of the play to Arthur, his son, to publish. In a lengthy 'biographical' introduction to the play, which appears as part of the book, we are drawn into the puzzle of whether or not the play is genuine! It's so easy to forget that this is actually fiction and the author is playing games with the reader! Ingenious and unusual.

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Love Sex Travel Musik

Rodge Glass is one of the modern masters of the short story. He calls this collection 'stories for the Easyjet generation'. But they are much more than that. They are meditations on the kind of lives that we lead, the mistakes that we make, and the love that we are able to offer to each other. This is a life-affirming book, even when Glass is contemplating the disasters we may have to confront. Read this. Choose life.

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Under Your Skin

A psychological thriller with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing to the very end. A real holiday page turner which demands your time and attention, just like a gripping Friday TV drama. Crack open a bottle of wine, open a bag of nuts and enjoy!

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Secrecy

This novel is an interesting mixture of love, violence, intrigue and most importantly the search for perfection in art. The setting is post Renaissance Florence in 1691 and the reader will learn much about a period before the Enlightenment. Written with elegance, the atmosphere of danger and persecution is brilliantly conveyed. A real departure from the author's usual style and subject matter.

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In Praise of Hatred

A traumatic read that delivers a message of tolerance as our female narrator grows from timid student to hardened militant in a time of political turbulence and fanaticism in Syria. The main characters are gloriously vivacious and the narrative powerfully depicts the corrosive effects of sectarian prejudice. We experience religious fervour as it is pitted against erotic awakening and understand how hate can feel as passionate a force as love.

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The Shining Girls

Harper's overwhelming thirst for murder in this unconventional time-travelling crime novel is frightening and prolific. Look out for Kirby, the young girl whose appetite for life and stubbornness to find out the truth is commendable if a little reckless. Not the easiest book to read due to frequent time and character shifts so some concentration is required. However - a well-thought out plot and the finale is certainly worth the wait.

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How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

On the surface, this is the archetypal rags to riches, boy meets girl story, but it is also a vividly honest morality tale and social satire. Written in the second person and historical present, the author draws 'you', the reader, into the unfolding drama, with its pretence of being a motivational 'get-rich' guide. It has the effect of being totally involving, cleverly undermining any preconceptions about the 'otherness' of a foreign culture.

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Y

This is a story about family, and who did what, and why. Through it we meet many flawed characters but most important is Shannon, a young girl abandoned at birth, who understandably needs, desperately, to know more about herself and her history. Set on Vancouver Island the book is funny, unsettling, emotional and written in such a wonderfully warm, engaging way that I felt bereft as I reached the end knowing I was saying goodbye to Shannon.|

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Horses of God

From beyond the grave the narrator, Yachine, recounts his impoverished but innocent childhood in a Casablanca shanty town, a life of squalor and football. Then Sheikh Abu Zoubeir enters his life and the innocence is lost forever as Yachine is slowly transformed into a suicide bomber. This is often a harrowing read, especially towards the book's climax but, in terms of understanding the mindset of a suicide bomber, I doubt there has been better.

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The Art of Fielding

Finished this book wishing for more - an absolutely mesmerising and seductive account of baseball, friendship, love, success and failure at a small university in mid-western USA. The characters of Henry, Schwartzy, 'Buddha', Pella and president Affenlight weedle themselves into your heart - guaranteed. And how fascinating is baseball! My book of the year, if not the decade.

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The Taliban Cricket Club

In the UK we moan about austerity and the breaching of our human rights. But we have no reason to complain compared to life in Afghanistan during the 1990s where freedom of speech, incorrect clothing or improper relationships could result in death. This novel shows the cruelty of the human race in all its entirety. However, there is a chink of light in the form of a lone female, Rukhsana and her love of cricket and her desire to be free.

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Flirting at the Funeral

A serious yet entertaining book where the past reverberates against the present, with themes of personal and political loyalty and grudging compromises. This is a powerful, raging novel with a distinctive style and unusual use of dialogue where the characters answer questions that weren’t asked and ignore the ones that were. Full of tragi-comic interaction that inspires an intense reaction from the reader.

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Sightlines

An astonishing, beautifully written account of the effect that nature has on our lives, both through the world in which we live, and the world that lives within us. This book is lyrical, insightful, offering explanations of our world and the way we live that are thought-provoking in their intensity. Everyone should read it.

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Seating Arrrangements

Gather a crowd of family and old friends together in the days leading up to a wedding and you get this - a story of misunderstandings, mistakes, regrets, not quite forgotten rivalry and awkward situations. Infused with humour and a cast of flawed characters it makes for an engaging wry comedy about people and lifestyle.

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HHhH

Just as you try to classify it, Laurent Binet ducks and sends you off on a tangential line of thought you couldn't have dreamed up. Historical, action novel? No, too deconstructed for that. The psychology of the architect of the Holocaust? No, it's about his killers. Identifying with the soul of Prague? Well, if we could ever learn the lessons of history ... Don't try, just let yourself be captivated.

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The Last Girlfriend on Earth

Suppose all the men on earth thought like American College boys? Then these weird and wonderful love stories might just come true and the world might be well lost for love: at least until commitment appears on the horizon. Simon Rich was a new author to me and thank goodness he's written lots more as he's seriously addictive.

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Kimberley's Capital Punishment

This surreal, dark comedy starts in a London park in the middle of the story, ends four different ways, and never once pulls its punches. It's free-wheeling, out of control, grim, gross, wry, and very British.

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Days of the Bagnold Summer

This graphic novel tells the story of 15-year old Daniel and his single mum Sue and follows their day-to-day existence during one long summer school holiday spent at home. The sharply observed dialogue and hugely expressive drawings made me smile with recognition as well as cringing at the awkward things both adults and teenagers say and do. A poignant, perceptive read.

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Toploader

This is an object lesson. Never lose a washing machine in a war-zone. Who knows what the assorted collection of criminals, spies, maniacs and journalists who inhabit this fictional country will think has happened. But they certainly won't guess the truth. And then you have to consider the exploding donkeys. A laugh aloud satire on a crazy world.

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When the Night

Suspenseful love story dovetails around two intersecting moments, fifteen years apart. Forget lovey-dovey romance, the power struggle between taciturn mountain guide Manfred and Marina, a mother failing to cope, is as hard-edged as its icy Dolomite setting. Told from both viewpoints, the tussle of alternating voices can be unsettling, but guaranteed to hit the spot if you prefer your passion highly charged and deeply psychological.

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Bird Brain

This is a frivolous, tongue-in-cheek story full of astute satire, wry social observation and some very good jokes. Centred on the traditional shooting fraternity, the reader is left to make up their own mind about the correct balance between shooting for fun and animal rights. You will thoroughly enjoy the characterisation of the animals which is excellent and somehow spookily realistic.

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The Lifeboat

A moral dilemma: how far would you go to ensure your survival on a leaking overcrowded lifeboat? It’s 1914 and a young newlywed stands trial after surviving the explosion of an ocean liner and three weeks lost at sea. Not a summer cruise read for those who suffer sea sickness.

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The Children's Hospital

A 'state of the art' children's hospital and its occupants survive unscathed after the world is destroyed by a massive flood. The novel is narrated through the eyes of a young medical student with a tragic background and involves a huge cast of characters, heavenly angels, miracles and a vast amount of medical information. An incredible and frankly overwhelming read from a very gifted author. Well worth the time and effort.

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Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather

It’s an ill wind, as they say, that blows no good, but this time an ice storm does even more: mending a broken marriage, healing neighbourly rifts and generally acting as a ploy by Cupid – even for fish! This whimsical tale is a cheerful tonic for those cold wintry days, when Spring still seems a long way off.

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Stonemouth

Five years earlier Stewart Gilmour had ingloriously fled Stonemouth, only just escaping the vengeance of the town's most violent family. Now he's back - with grudged permission and a time limit - for the funeral of the same family's patriarch. Interesting scenario. There are moments of high tension; there is violence, but also lots of humour as you would expect from Iain Banks. I had doubts early on, but in the end really enjoyed this book.

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Honour

The story traces the Kurdish-Turkish Topraks family across three generations and from the Euphrates to the Thames, twisting and lurching and dancing around tragedy all the time. It's like watching a moth circling a flame - painful, casting long shadows, but impossible to look away.

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My Elvis Blackout

Like a blast of air these stories or brief episodes of an alternate, parallel Elvis Presley are sure to freshen up your reading. Laced with humour, blackly comic and fun they are often strange, twisted and riotous and make for a very different, exuberant read.

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How the Trouble Started

Eight-year-old Donald rides his bike into a toddler who subsequently dies – resulting in life-changing consequences. Now 16, Donald is needy and consumed with guilt over what happened when he was a child. His decision to befriend an eight-year old, equally vulnerable, boy is hugely worrying. His story delivers an unnerving, thought-provoking read – directly from inside the mind of a lonely teenager.

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After Such Kindness

Much has already been written about the relationship between Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell, his inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, but this in no way detracts from the merits of this novel which covers the same ground. Readers today will find the relationship extremely disturbing. You may not like the characters but you will certainly believe in them and the rarified Oxford atmosphere in which they live. A compulsive read.

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Jammy Dodger

We're in 1980's Belfast the but the only terrorist in this story has literary revenge in mind. A really funny tale about growing up after University, outwitting the hands that feed you (aka Arts Council minions), the city's 'arts' scene, a poetical scam and a giant rabbit. Poetry lovers may be shocked but if you're a biscuit connoisseur this book is for you. A warning though, you may never want to drink milk again.

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The Plaza

Gang warfare in the town of Juarez. The violence is relentless, the pace frenetic and the condemnation of the authorities searing. I found the short chapters, the choppy writing style and the constantly changing viewpoint unsettling and disturbing. This is a brutal, powerful and thought-provoking novel.

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Stranded

Recently divorced Esther, mother of Daisy sets off alone on a backpacking trip to Malaysia. Her short lived joy turns to horror when she becomes stranded on a desert island. This easy and entertaining travel thriller builds slowly via two narrators and delivered a couple of twists and turns I wasn’t expecting.

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The Democrat

This tale of Thomas Muir is unbelievable, except for the fact that it's based on complete truth. Muir was transported to Australia in 1793 for urging that everyone should have the vote. To tell any more would spoil the experience - but expect adventure, excitement and a rollicking good ride. All you have to do is remember that this novel is the real story of Scotland's Nelson Mandela.

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Seldom Seen

In this assured debut, we see 1980’s rural Suffolk through the eyes of an angst-ridden teenager. Family feuds and long-buried secrets play out against the backdrop of a changing landscape. A convincing portrayal of life in a small village and a welcome departure from all the twee novels that uphold the rural idyll.

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Hope: A Tragedy

In this allegorical take on Jewish neurosis and survivor guilt, Auslander treads a fine line between iconoclasm and tasteless irreverence, but his ironic humour saves the satire from offensiveness. The novel’s style and characterisation has all the surreal flavour of a Woody Allen stand up routine and if you appreciate black comedy and Jewish humour, you’ll love this – just don’t hope for a happy ending!

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Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

This complex retelling of an old Slavic myth is witty, thought provoking and ultimately optimistic. I do wonder if only women will appreciate Baba Yaga, but hope that men will at least try a novel which is quite unlike any other I have ever read.

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Girls Can't Make Gun Noises

Four words easily describe this novel: laugh-out-loud-funny. Set in the South Wales Valleys in the 1970s, it’s a real tonic for the stresses of every-day life in today's world. Written in the authentic voice of young Gwyn, and crammed with topical references and popular culture, it delivers a real nostalgia trip back to the decade of the Bionic Man and Hawaii Five-O, through the eyes of a six-year-old. Pure indulgence.

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If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead

A wonderful, totally bonkers John Buchan pastiche - but with women. And remember that if anyone ever asks you to set out with your best friends to make yourself King of Albania, refuse. Just don't agree, unless they offer you a circus troupe, Mata Hari, a hero from a John Buchan novel and a camel. Even then, run like hell, especially if they leave out the camel.

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Swimming Home

A very short novel spanning a one week villa holiday of a British group in France. The setting is idyllic and the author's language sparkles like the sun on the sea. However, for this group, happiness is an unlikely outcome. A novel to be relished for the language and the style. Very highly recommended and has been shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker prize

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Blackbirds

I can't tell you too much about Blackbirds without spoiling its many, dark, surprises. But I will say that it's so fast and funny, that if, like me, you read this novel too quickly you're going to get very confused as the author does like flashbacks and uses them to great effect. So pace yourself and enjoy the ride.

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The Dinner

Brothers and their wives meet for dinner. What could be nicer? But none of these four are sympathetic characters, and as the story unfolded the less I liked them, especially the narrator. In conspiring to 'help' his son he reveals his own twisted view of life. A veneer of very polite society over something much darker. I kept reading because I kept thinking, would I do that?

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The Method

Thirty-four-year old scientist, Mia Holl, faces charges of anti-Method activities in this futurist 'Big Brother' style thriller. Mia is a strong and resilient character; I both admired and felt great empathy for her as she valiantly defends her deceased brother's honour with punishable consequences.

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Pao

What a warm and funny book with such wonderfully evocative descriptions of the island peopled with such engaging characters. I learnt a lot about the history and politics of Jamaica but there was never a dull moment as I watched Pao grow up, take over the family 'business', and develop into a complex yet moral man.

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The Finno-Ugrian Vampire

If you've ever felt like the outsider, even within your own family, Jerne's tale will resonate like struck crystal. Gawkily unpredictable and meandering, wry and clever and vivid, this is not the vampire story you're expecting.

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Madame Mephisto

A family split between Poland and London, between Catholicism and amorality. Just simmer gently. Now throw marijuana, cooking and incest into the mix. Bring to the boil. Add IVF treatment, the resulting baby and a cataclysmic event. Then see who has to take responsibility ... and read this book.

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Gold

'Gold' explores huge themes including love, ambition, duty and loss against a background of Olympic cycling. The novel really worked for me as I both believed in and cared about Zoe, Sophie, Jack, Kate and Tom and their dilemmas. Interestingly opinion on Amazon is really polarised. I do urge you to read it and make up your own mind.

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Babylon Steel

This is a fun fantasy novel. The heroine Babylon has a past; as a God and an Avatar on a different planet from which she had to flee. Now she runs a brothel on Scalentine where a mixture of races and species live in harmony. But Babylon's past is now catching up with her and she must return to settle old scores. The writing is lively and the descriptions of the creations brilliantly imaginative. Worth trying for something totally different.

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Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie

If you are a connoisseur of spam emails and internet adverts, like to read ‘belle de jour’ type sexploits, have a broad vocabulary and an interest in modern art and artists, then this is the book for you. It is all delivered with wicked humour and a happy disregard for all the usual conventions of the novel. Prepare to be shocked, titillated, amused or confused depending on your tastes and your previous encounters with ‘abstract literature’.

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Becoming Nancy

Am I gay? Am I not? Can I be? All David's questions are answered in this funny yet gritty novel. The Summer of Love has well and truly passed and David is having to come to terms with his sexuality in hard-nosed, homophobic and racist 70s' Britain. I didn't think I could read a novel that dealt with being gay in such an open, funny and at times realistic way. My favourite character? Aunty Val - she is me and I am her. Fabulous book.

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The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals

A sunny day, a sumptuous picnic and a pretty girl in a yellow dress spell disaster for a young undertaker when he makes a proposal of marriage he instantly regrets. The 1920's rural Welsh setting and a cast of engaging characters combine to suggest a confection of quaintness and charm. And although the plot is driven by the discovery of a dark secret, it is handled with great sensitivity and lightness of touch. A memorable read.

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The Mill for Grinding Old People Young

An insight into the lives revolving around Belfast’s shipping ports in the 1830s is provided courtesy of feisty young narrator Gilbert Rice. The uncertainties of the industrial age are mirrored in Gilbert’s tumultuous love affair with Polish barmaid Maria. The foreboding in the air as Belfast struggles with tensions old and new is palpable, and I was drawn, effortlessly, into a bygone age of insurgency.

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The Other Child

Two brutal murders in a Yorkshire seaside resort seem to be connected, but the police investigation stalls until a terrible family secret that has haunted two generations is uncovered. This bestselling German author has created a convincing local atmosphere as the background to a psychological thriller with all the red herrings and blind alleys you would expect in a classic English detective story. A compulsive read!

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This is Life

Based in Paris, love at first sight is the norm in this scatty, madcap comic novel. Full of irony and dark humour, the author pokes fun at performance art and the French political scene, leaving you none the wiser about whether life imitates art or the other way round. You find yourself willingly suspending disbelief in this skillfully wrought furiously paced farce.

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Bring Me the Head of Ryan Giggs

Sheer genius. Mikey Wilson will stay with you. A tale of male bonding, talent, rivalry, loyalty, jealousy, hopes, disappointments, coping and not coping, set to the background of the mighty Man Utd team of 1992 - Beckham, Scholes and, of course, Ryan Giggs. Even if you hate football, you will not want to miss reading this book. That is, if you have any interest in the male psyche. Rodge Glass, he shoots, he scores. A triumph.

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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Follow in the poignant footsteps of Harold, a humble ordinary elderly man, who on impulse sets out on an extraordinary walking pilgrimage from Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed. As you trek through his metaphorical journey of missed opportunities, mistakes, and regrets; you reflect on your own life choices and the impact you may have had on other people.

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Tell the Wolves I'm Home

June loves her sister who is growing up too fast and her uncle who is dying of AIDS. How can she come to terms with her loneliness? And can any love be the wrong kind? This sensitive and compassionate story took me right back to my teenage years.

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The She-Devil in the Mirror

A woman is murdered in front of her children – who knows why or by whom? I loved the originality, pace, suspense and black humour of this shocking tale and learned a lot about life in post civil-war San Salvador through the non-stop gossip of ‘best friend’ Laura.

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1222

Yet another excellent Nordic crime novel: 1222 triumphantly updates 'the locked train' mystery for the terrorist age. Expect a read full of old-fashioned suspense of the best kind and a ballsy heroine in the shape of retired police inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen.

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Apocalypse for Beginners

Journeys of friendship and self discovery drizzled with a hint of sweetness and quirkiness all make for a pleasant read. The blend of characters, moving between the Canadian, US and Japanese settings is perfect to lighten the mood when you've some time to yourself.

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Deloume Road

A lyrical debut novel set in a remote, sleepy Vancouver Island community, you will find yourself drawn into the world of a diverse cast of characters who have many hidden secrets and emotions and whose lives are intertwined with that of Gerald Deloume, the town's long dead founder. This all leads to a somewhat horrifying climax. An undemanding but gripping read - at times I felt I was there and could feel the heat and smell the smells!

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February

February snow and ice drift through this exploration of loss as widow Helen recalls life with her husband and family, lives in the present and tries to look forward. Rooted in a real-life tragedy, and written in episodic style, each chapter is almost a short story in itself. Memory and imagination build to the moment of her husband's violent death, as grief and endurance are both lyrically and plainly described. Will hope win out?

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The End

Six tangled lives from an Italian immigrant community in 1950's Ohio weave back and forth over time until drawn together by the events of a single day. I had to push myself to connect with certain characters - think creepy jeweller, elderly abortionist - and skewed time periods. But if you relish an intense and challenging read with spiritual overtones, this vivid, poetic epic could leave you moved and amazed. Not your average beach read!

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Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

Budo is an imaginary friend, who provides company and support to the one person who can see and hear him - 8 year old Max who has Asperger’s. When Max is kidnapped it is up to Budo to save him, but how? And can Budo discover why he exists along the way? Told with such engaging charm and poignancy, the reader turns each page with feelings of worry for the welfare of Max and dread about the outcome. An original and thought-provoking read.

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Pomegranate Sky

I loved this book. It gives you real insight into the world of educated middle class Iranians in the early 21st century. We are so used to the Iranians we meet in the UK that we do not realise how hard it is to live under their political regime at home. A joy to read.

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Rendezvous by Esther Verhoef

Rich Dutch businessman, Eric, pursues his 'Grand Design' dream of renovating a run-down country estate in Bordeaux; poor dutiful hausfrau Simone looks after their kids and cooks huge lunches for the gang of workmen. When she exchanges glances with young Michel, a working class Adonis on the team, her dull, safe world experiences a French revolution - can this be love? Now read on: bags of atmosphere and some good recipes...

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Voice of America by E C Osondu

The author's Nigerian roots are clearly portrayed through the myriad of characters featured in this short story collection. Set in Nigeria and America, tales of men and women, boys and girls are played out in a hard-hitting manner with a common factor present in each story: disillusionment. I warmed to each unique character as they battle for a better life; a far cry from the American dream.

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How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

Let the SF wash over you and you will enjoy the moving, sad and funny story of a man searching for his father, lost in time. If however you enjoy mind-bending SF, you will love reflecting on concepts of time, memory and identity. And, if that's not enough, it's a page-turner as well!

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The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice by Chris Ewan

This 4th title in The Good Thief’s Guide series is the 1st that I’ve read; it works well as a stand-alone novel and has made me want to read the others. Crime novelist and career thief, Charlie Howard’s life is disrupted by a mysterious woman who draws him into a frantic, eventful, caper involving bombs, assassins, and casinos. This is quick, witty, funny, bursting with suspense and surprises, and has a wonderful sense of place.

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Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga

Full of social observation, this is a moral tale containing both tragedy and comedy. It takes some time for the characters to establish themselves, but stick with them and they will keep you guessing to the last pages about how their dilemma is resolved.

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The Children’s Book by A S Byatt

Children's author, Olive Wellwood, creates a golden Edwardian story book world for her children at Todefright where the adults discuss socialism, free love and emancipation. But life is not as it seems. Olive's personality crushes her children and the parents' unconventional sexual lives rupture the family's security. The children become casualties of parental selfishness and the horrors of war. A rich book for serious-minded readers to relish.

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Burning Bright by Ron Rash

Full of shocking surprises, this hard-hitting collection of short stories gives a candid portrayal of the hardships experienced by its cast of characters. The limits of human endurance are tested, with the characters acting oftentimes irrationally and immorally in moments of extreme provocation. Indeed, when I began to feel sympathy for their iniquitous behaviour, it left me questioning the accuracy of my own moral judgement.

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Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi

Written as a testimonial, Pereira represents a personification of political conscience. I was captivated by his reluctant political awakening in late 1930’s Portugal and by his reckless final act of rebellion. This is a concise, intense, original novel; a surprisingly thrilling page-turner given the weight of its subject matter. An enthralling and somehow menacing read.

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7 Ways to Kill a Cat by Matias Nespolo

Like a dog with a meaty bone, this book grabs you and doesn't let go from start to finish. Harsh and often tragic life in the Buenos Aires barrio is depicted through Gringo. On the cusp of adulthood, facing choices but drawn inevitably to the gangs, drugs and prostitution that corrupt the streets where Gringo lives, he doesn't stand a chance.

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The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington

Just the book for a dark, scary night. Witches, necromancers, ghosts, skeletons, graveyards, a depraved Inquisitor, monsters and skeletons. What more could you ask? Oh yes, a sort of love story, and a tale of the astonishing commitment of friends. And did I mention the stark naked vampires?

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The Roost by Neil Butler

Drink drugs and sex seem to rule the lives of a group of Shetland secondary school students. They think they are worldly but relationships are so tricky, and the isolation and magic of the islands complicate everything. Sharp perceptive and scary, these linked stories of angst should carry a worry warning for readers with a teen or preteen in the family, but read them anyway for a reminder of what it's like to be that young.

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Unspoken by Gerard Stembridge

Real life historical figures mingle with fictitious characters to illustrate the impact of the coming of television on Irish culture and society. Part intimate family saga, part social documentary, this is an unsentimental but affectionate chronicle of life in the Irish Republic during the Sixties, before the Celtic Tiger roared. Moving without being searing.

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The Appointment by Herta Muller

The innocuous title refers to a summons by Romania’s secret police; the charge prostitution. Delivered in a stream of consciousness during a tram ride to ‘the appointment’, the narrator is a seamstress caught sewing marriage proposals into suits destined for Italy, to escape an oppressive regime. Full of claustrophic anxiety, it is an exploration of the human soul in a state of helplessness. The ending felt ambiguous, or am I being irrational?

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Solace by Belinda McKeon

Moving story of one Irish family's ordinary loves, extraordinary tragedy, and almost complete inability to talk to each other about anything important. Thank goodness for the ray of hope at the end of this beautifully written novel.

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Long Lies the Shadow by Gerda Pearce

A first novel set in post apartheid South Africa with continuous flashbacks to the brutal apartheid era. This is a very complex and atmospheric tale of family secrets, relationships, friends, love, loss and tragedy. The characters are alive and appealing and the reader becomes totally engrossed in their fate. It is not a happy reading experience but definitely a memorable one.

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Turn of the Mind by Alice LaPlante

Like Jennifer's own mind, the writing is fragmented, told in the first person and broken up with diary entries and flashbacks. Once you get used to the style it's effective at depicting the demise of an intelligent woman, suffering from dementia, suspected of murdering her best friend. Although a little too slow to be a thriller it is certainly fascinating to see the crime unravelling through Jennifer's brief lucid moments and memories.

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English Slacker by Chris Morten

18-year-old Chambers, looking forward to one last summer of freedom with his mates, struggles to cope with the apparent suicide of his friend Colin. Don't expect straight answers as this likeable anti-hero appears to be losing his grip on reality, possibly due to the frequent influence of cannabis, alcohol and tobacco. So, yeah, chill, go with the flow and take yourself back to just bumming around, being a teenager.

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Everyone knows that the circus is magic, but Le Cirque des Reves is more magic than most. It is the setting for a duel, for a love affair and for a game that pulls thousands into its orbit, and puts lives at risk. It is a story of the unwisdom of the wise, and the ability of the ordinary to rescue the extraordinary, and a story of the fragility of magic when two wizards enter a competition just to prove a point.

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Pure by Andrew Miller

It's a dirty job - but somebody's got to do it. It's 1785 and Jean-Baptiste is raring to go: his first big project is to clear out the oldest cemetery in Paris. Overflowing burial pits are creating a health hazard and a palpable stink around Les Halles. The young engineer's project is a nifty metaphor for the much more momentous clear-out that'll soon shake France to its core. Not for the squeamish, it's grisly, gripping - et magnifique!

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Spurious by Lars Iyer

A tale of philosophy and damp! This book is totally bizarre and quite surreal but oddly thought-provoking and strangely I even found it quite touching. You will either love it or hate it.

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Jude in London by Julian Gough

Suspend your disbelief and hold tight for a surreal dash through 21st century London in the company of Jude, the Irish orphan, and his Salmon of Knowledge. He's on a quest, but it's often his last worry as anything weird can, and does, happen. I laughed at grotesque set-piece parodies, from hedge funds to the Turner prize, and had to stop myself rushing ahead in order to find and enjoy all the jokes. Well, I think I found them all ...

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Pretty Little Dead Things by Gary McMahon

For a fledging writer this is great. The plot line is imaginative and full of twists, just the thing to keep you turning the pages. I am not usually a fan of horror, but this was a winner, I am going to read more of this author. Don't read this if you are expecting the current popular horror romance story, buit you will be ok if you don't like too much gore and enjoy suspense and dramatically unfolding plots with a nod to the crime genre.

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Ever Fallen in Love by Zoe Strachan

Have you noticed how friendships formed at university can endure and then wreck the rest of your life? This is a tale told in flashback of such a friendship, a story of unfulfilled potential, possible unrequited love and a dreadful tragedy reverberating through the lives of the survivors. It's also written with great understanding and compassion. You will not be able to put this book down until you have finished it.

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Poppadom Preach by Almas Khan

Dilly's story was both hilarious and sad. I felt so frustrated for her as she kept on trying to escape the stifling confines of her family. This novel was so real to me I kept forgetting it was fiction!

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The Most Intimate Place by Rosemary Furber

This demanding novel, about a young reporter hoping to uncover a Church of England sex scandal, has a bit of everything. It's funny, sexy, violent and sad. Patrick is a very appealing hero and the other characters are larger than life. The best bits are the really witty conversations. Interesting Biblical studies add weight and are a good contrast to the overall anti organised religion theme. A unusual and enjoyable read with a tragic end.

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The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry

Defying classification this complex, imaginative and clever book will at turns leave you dazzled and confused. A nod to gothic fantasy and noir the main protagonist, an unlikely detective sets out to uncover the mystery of the disappearance of a city's alarm clocks and more bizarrely the 12th November! Skipping between dreams and reality, a novel to savour for its invention.

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City of Bohane by Kevin Barry

If James Joyce had written a futuristic thriller it would probably have been a lot like this. Bohane, Ireland, in mid 21st century is a vision of Hell, with rival factions preparing to fight turf wars to wrest control of the city from long-time godfather, Logan Hartnett. Packed with highly original characters and rich in language, this is a violent yet often funny rollercoaster of a read. It's is a book that stretches the boundaries of fiction.

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The Cry of the Go-Away Bird by Andrea Eames

As Mugabe’s reign turns sour, life in Zimbabwe changes for everyone, not least for Elise who has enjoyed an idyllic childhood on a white owned farm. I loved this memoir-like novel, its humour, tension and horror. I couldn't put it down.

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The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis

Keith was in the vanguard of the sexual revolution of 1970. Or, looking back years later, was he? Men Behaving Badly meets QI on Eng Lit in this witty and moving novel.

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Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Nazi Germany isn't the safest place for a jazz band, especially when the line up includes half-African Heiro, Paul - blond, blue-eyed but Jewish - plus Sid and Chip, two black Americans. Tune in to Sid's rambling tale and be rewarded with an unusual read as he tells the story of the Hot-Time Swingers. What becomes of them as the 'housepainter's Boots' march into Berlin and Paris makes an edgy, funny read.

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Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch

We are initially thrown into the murky world of the squalor of Dickensian London complete with outsize characters and even a scruffy young boy, Jaffy, as the star of the story. But before long though we embark on an exciting adventure on the high seas hunting whales and capturing a 'dragon' to be shipped to London. Abruptly though the pace changes as things don't go to plan and in the darkening mood we fear for the life of our hero.

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Whichbook user recommendations

We have just made two novels recommended by Whichbook users live on whichbook.net – proof that we do welcome (and act upon) your suggestions. Marvellous Hairy by Mark A Raynor was recommended by cover illustrator, Max Tundra and H10N1 was suggested by the author, Marsha Cornelius. You can find both these titles by clicking on the Authors tab on the Whichbook homepage and finding each author by surname. If you have a suggestion yourself – please get in touch via the Contact page on the website. Just to remind you - we can only consider novels and poetry for Whichbook.

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A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Fasten your seatbelts! This is cool, funny and tragic and you need to keep your wits about you. The rollercoaster lives of Egan's characters whiz forward and back in time and place, taking in African safaris and Neapolitan culture, genocidal generals and the whole US sex, drugs and rock-and-roll scene. Ambitious and surprising.

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Finch by Jeff Vandermeer

Immerse yourself in this Noirest of steampunk if you dare . In a city occupied by a fungal race, many are forced to collaborate. Finch is a reluctant detective who uncovers much more than who killed whom. His world is claustrophobic, dark and oppressive and you need a strong stomach to read on. But the page-turning plot, the vividness of the setting and the beauty of the elliptical writing make it compelling.

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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Here’s an interesting concept: Rose has a unique ability – she can taste human emotions by eating cooked food. At first the story seemed a little lacklustre – bit like the cake without the lemon. But everything went up a gear with Rose’s father’s revelation – any negativity on my part was brushed aside and I was hooked. Although if anyone can work out what happened to her brother, please let me know ….

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The Convent by Panos Karnezis

Just what sort of a miracle is the baby found outside a remote Spanish convent? One that allows for a gentle but inexorable examination of belief, passion, ambition, bigotry, kindness and diplomacy and other, all too human, traits. The Convent is a remarkable novel but not, perhaps, for those that would prefer doctrine to remain accepted rather than examined. Would make a great reading group title.

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C by Tom McCarthy

This was a most intriguing and frustrating book. I was fascinated by the way the development of communication paralleled Serge's strange life story but felt at times that he was as much a cypher as any of the signals and codes the book describes. Inspite of this, I enjoyed the book for the brilliance of its descriptions and its chilling even eerie view of life.

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Diamond Star Halo by Tiffany Murray

Musicians flock to the Welsh idyll that is Rock Farm, laying down tracks at the farm’s studio. Halo Llewellyn heads a cast of colourful characters, and with a heroine called Halo, this novel was never going to be conventional. I was seduced by the rock and roll lifestyle of the Llewellyn’s, falling headfirst into Halo’s story and travelling alongside her on her journey from childhood to maturity.

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Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai

This a gruesome tale of a family massacre set against a background of sustained and condoned abuse of female children. Freelance social worker Simran Singh is an engaging heroine, although being middle aged and unmarried, she is an outsider in Indian society - which adds an extra dimension to the story. An exceptionally atmospheric and tantalising novel and deserving winner of the 2010 Costa First Novel Award.

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The Madman of Freedom Square by Hassan Blasim

Fantastical and macabre tales set in Iraq or following exiles as they attempt to build a new life. Inevitable violence and sexual references assault the reader, but nevertheless, there is a weird kind of humour that enables these disturbing stories to be read and even enjoyed.

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Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Arctic Norway comes eerily to life in this broodingly atmospheric ghost story. Subtle in its execution it draws the reader deeper and deeper into the story until you can feel the intense pressure of the endless dark days and nights. You'll hear every breath, every creak and feel every shadow and before long you'll be there on your own with your senses playing havoc with your mind.

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Pub Walks in Underhill Country by Nat Segnit

Although written as if a guide to 15 local walks this is actually an unusual and amusing novel. Graham Underhill is an avid rambler and its his rather pompous voice that accompanies the reader on each foray into the countryside. Blind to the infidelities of his young, beautiful Bengali wife, Graham's personal life increasingly pervades his pedantic narrative and you can't help but join each walk just to hear the next installment of his life.

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Help us to publicise Whichbook

Well, we got the whole site up and running, no major glitches, borrow and buy following through, covers looking fab – and we completely forgot about all you supportive souls who want to link to us. We had some Flash banners with the old blue and yellow site design still lingering on the Opening the Book site where nobody would think to find them and that was all. No-one could accuse us of being too marketing-led! Fortunately some of you out there are more savvy – especially in Scotland, I have to say, the Scots picked up on this quicker than anyone else.


Concepts, wording and designs have been batted back and forth and we can now offer a range of banners – choose your preferred size and text or ring the changes. We’ve also done some simple downloadable posters for anyone with physical as well as digital promotional opportunities – yes, libraries in Scotland asked for this too. The blue text on white background makes them really light on ink consumption so you can print at A4 or A3.


If anyone else out there spots any other really obvious omissions, please do get in touch! Next time we launch something I’ll phone a few friends in Scotland first ...


You can find these resources on our new Downloads page

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The new Whichbook

Lots of whichbook users were getting frustrated that when they found that elusive great-looking read, they couldn’t bookmark it, save it or find it ever again. People were juggling the sliders trying to make the same book come up in the results! That can be difficult if you’ve chosen a popular combination as we try to offer you a different choice every time. We can now announce such frustrations and irritations are a thing of the past. On the new whichbook you can save any book at any time. You can save a whole list if you like. Just sign in and do it through whichbook or Facebook – easy-peasy.


Not only can you save it, you can share it with friends and colleagues. Found a book you think is just right for someone else? Send them the link by email or Facebook. Come across a comment that made you laugh? Share the joke...

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The Only Glow of the Day by Martin Malone

Dublin 1863, and pregnant 18 year-old, Rosanna Doyle, prepares to follow her boyfriend to his army camp in the Curragh. The reader instinctively fears the worst for her and, sure enough, the worst is what she finds. This bleak, but sublimely written book, packs a great deal of incident into its short length, not least a brutal murder. However, its the indomitable spirit of Rosanna that is the essence of the book and will have the reader rooting for her from start to finish.

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Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto by Maile Chapman

American nurse Sunny Taylor works at Suvanto convalescence hospital. Here, she takes care of the ‘up patients’ – a group of wealthy women who seek respite at Suvanto during the cruel Finnish winter months. At first, this appears to be a harmless story of pampered ladies who are allowed to indulge in their ailments under the protection of Sunny and her charge nurses. However, without really noticing, this very subtly becomes a rather unnerving tale, which, at the end, left me questioning things I had previously taken for granted.

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Down to the Dirt by Joel Thomas Hynes

Hugely funny to begin with as Keith and his friends relate one escapade after another but as events become more serious so the story becomes much darker. This is a searing account of a teenager fighting fate and his own nature.

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About the Author by John Colapinto

Cal Cunningham is a great comic creation - a nasty, conniving little creep, but somehow you are on his side. It seems that every attempt that he makes to get himself out of trouble only mires him further in an unspeakable mess. And it could not happen to a more deserving person - except, that is, most of the other sleazeball characters in the book, of whom there are many. Enjoy, and be glad that you are not Cal Cunningham.

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Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

Mr Chartwell takes the form of an anthropomorphic black dog. But this is no cute shaggy dog story. The black dog in question is the metaphor used by Winston Churchill when referring to his depression. This unique and absurdly witty novel takes on a serious subject, and the level at which you read it from will depend on the extent you empathise with this condition.

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A Fair Maiden by Joyce Carol Oates

Young and under-appreciated summer nanny, Katya Spivak, is flattered by the advances of elderly gentleman Marcus Kidder. But is the relationship that grows between them a tragic fairy-tale of soul mates born at the wrong time or a sinister manipulation of loneliness, beauty and wealth? With rapidly rising stakes I wanted to believe in the best of human nature, but feared the worst.

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A Different Sky by Meira Chand

A book of contrasts as cultures collide against a backdrop of Singapore during WW2. Theres no shying away from the graphic reality of the horrors and violence of war and political unrest, and its an unsettling read at times. But with strong characters and sparks of hope for the future, it grips the reader like a vice.

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The Clay Dreaming by Ed Hillyer

Drawing its inspiration from the almost forgotten Australian Aborigine cricket team that toured England in 1868, it is the tale of Brippoki’s quest and his curious friendship with Sarah that is at the heart of this book. Highly atmospheric in the description of Victorian London’s backstreets and the hallucinogenic episodes of aboriginal ‘Dreaming’, this is a complex, vibrant tale that blends historical intrigue, religious fanaticism, travel and sport into a multi-layered, unconventional book. Not an easy read with every page full to bursting with historical detail and full drawn characters and yet every single word earns its place as you are immersed in hapless Brippoki’s desperate sadness.

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And My See-through Heart by Veronique Ovalde

This novel takes the reader on a surreal journey through the life of a man who has been suddenly and inexplicably bereaved. The author plays with magical realism and red herrings as doped up passive protagonist, Lancelot, tries to discover what happened to his exotic wife Irina. Frozen inside, just like his surroundings, his third person account is bizarre, jealous and violently emotional, skewing the reader off course with a surprising solution to the mystery. As with an onion there is always one more layer to be peeled away before the stinging truth is finally revealed.

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London Triptych by Jonathan Kemp

A very unusual novel describing and linking the lives of three gay men, spanning the years from the 1890s to the 1990s and set in the same geographical areas in the City of London. The narrative follows the changes in the law and attitude toward homosexuality during this period and how these affect the lives of the characters who are vivid and realistic. The story also benefits by the inclusion of actual historical figures and incidents. The brilliance of the writing is the key feature of this debut - a very worthwhile and thought provoking read.

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The Art of Being Dead by Stephen Clayton

Kieran is not someone that you would wish to meet on a dark night anywhere, let alone having him barge into your flat demanding sanctuary. But this is what happens to Jonathan.
This is a deeply disturbing tale about a quiet young man who gets out of his depth (or does he?) and how events spiral out of control (or do they?) Is Jonathan really that boring and stupid? Or is he manipulating Kieran and his other friends out of some deep, existential angst?
A book to make you brood about the dark recesses of the human soul.

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Gabriel's Angel by Mark A Radcliffe

What if Purgatory has been replaced by group therapy sessions? And a return to Earth is on offer for the comatose as well as Heaven or Hell? For Gabriel this reality means a mix of Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes - complete with contract killer - and Love Actually - including the aging rock singer. Very, very funny and extremely touching, this is my book of the year so far by miles and, as it's December, everyone will be getting it for Christmas.

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The Mayor's Tongue by Nathaniel Rich

This playful but clever short novel reminds me somewhat of bubble and squeak - parallel plots, dialogue, imagery and characters all cooked together to make a tasty meal. Although technically an easy read, concentration is a must to get your head around the characters (think Dickens at his most descriptive) and how they fit together. The two stories, whilst totally different, both involve the ultimate quest - the search for love. The ending is a treat and completely unexpected for all concerned.

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Wanting by Richard Flanagan

I was puzzled by this book at first. How could Charles Dickens' failing marriage be connected to the subjugation of the Aboriginal inhabitants of Van Diemens Land? His link with ex-Governor Sir John Franklin's widow is tenuous, though it leads to momentous events for him. But as I read on, the connection became clear: it is the danger and destruction brought about by passion, both private and public. While Dickens indulges his passion in pursuit of a young actress, Victorian Empire builders indulge theirs in attempting to create a White Christian society in the Pacific. The Franklins' suppressed passion for a young native girl brings about their disgrace and her downfall, and the passions of the hapless Aborigines are annihilated. While this novel has a sombre theme, I found it compelling, with flashes of beauty and high spirits lifting the mood.

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The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

The human instinct to survive is played out to the upmost in this bleak, yet poignant tale. Mary, alongside her beau Travis, leads a small group of survivors as they defend themselves against the hordes of unconsecrated villagers who strive to infect them. I was captivated by this love story which manages to be both warm and creepy at the same time!

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Piper by Helen McCabe

This book is psychological horror at its very best with a chilling gothic twist. The atmosphere of menace is powerful throughout and the contrast between poverty stricken rural Romania and affluent urban USA is brilliantly conveyed. But evil is not particular as to where it strikes and is unstoppable throughout time. Be afraid, be very afraid!

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Faithful Place by Tana French

Tough Dublin cop Frank Mackey finds himself reluctantly back in the bosom of the family he escaped twenty years ago. As he investigates the murder of a long-dead girl, other skeletons emerge from his own cupboard ... Domestic violence, sibling rivalry, great craic surrounding a pretty good murder mystery - a rich brew, black and bitter as a pint of Guinness.

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The Old Romantic by Louise Dean

This dark comic novel pokes a stick at three generations in conflict. The observations are both humorous and poignant. I can guarantee it will make you examine your own family relationships and personal values in life.

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Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed

At times a harrowing experience but ultimately uplifting for Jama's story is one of survival, family and determination. Leaving his Somali home following the death of his mother, Jama begins his quest to find his father. Having to contend with the Italian occupation of Abyssinia in the 1930s and the dangers that come from being a young boy alone in the world, Jama's journey is a perilous one. An eye opener to the African experience of the Italian occupation and to life as a refugee.

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The Swimmer by Roma Tearne

A hauntingly atmospheric love story that offers so much more. The topical themes of asylum seekers and terrorism fears make bleak reading at times, but it is so beautifully written that you can’t help but be drawn in. The sadness is justified but there are enough unexpected twists to leave you with of hope for the future - and I'm left feeling so glad to have experienced this book.

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Nimrod's Shadow by Chris Paling

This is not a simple whodunit. Amongst the characters, there is less searching for the murderer and more questing for personal fulfilment. The quirky sense of humour surprised me and encouraged me to read on and find a deeper meaning in the story.

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The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu

Imagine waking up to find you can no longer speak your own language. Thats the situation Li Jing finds himself in at the start of this culture-clash tale. Hectic, steamy Shanghai is beautifully evoked as Li Jing and American visitor, Rosalyn, are drawn to each other by their shared inability to express themselves in Chinese. An array of well-drawn, sympathetic Chinese and ex-pat characters and an intriguing set up make this a very readable, atmospheric treat.

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Hereditation by James Smythe

Must the sins of the fathers be passed down each generation - or can the two Sloane brothers escape the cycle of infidelity and fatherless children revealed in their family records? This is a family cursed from when its ancestors landed in the New World, with wicked skeletons and black sheep worthy of a Greek tragedy. A darkly surreal tale in the Cohen Brothers tradition.

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The Cry of the Sloth by Sam Savage

Central here is the farcical, dark humour of a self-deluded, struggling novelist running a small literary magazine, whilst his personal life disintegrates around him under mounting debt. This is an epistolary novel told in a series of random letters (penned by the novelist) to various correspondents. The tone is self-deprecating and satirical, and seems likely to achieve a small cult following amongst the disaffected.

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The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

If you like the themes and talk of the new India spelled out for you in a gentle, funny, accessible way, and if you want the goondas to meet their just desserts, then this is for you. Vish Puri, founder and managing director of Most Private Investigators Ltd makes his debut in what will surely be the first of many cases.

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Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato

Written in Mathilda’s teenage voice, this is her very candid account of trying to come to terms with her sister’s death and its aftermath. While on her ‘island of grief’ she searches for the truth as well as negotiating life, which ultimately leads to her finding herself. Her matter-of-fact, and sometimes bittingly humorous, observations and actions come across as simplified, but at the same time enlightening. Makes for an interesting and bold read.

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The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner

Six alcohol-fuelled twenty-somethings plus one holiday equals a cracking weekend read. Down and dirty, perfectly pitched dialogue completes this addictive story of female friendship.

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Feed by Mira Grant

Imagine a dystopian world where whole areas are abandoned to the undead, and the living have the zombie virus sleeping inside them. Add a close knit, crazy team of blogging journalists who love to take risks, covering a Presidential election complete with the dirtiest of tricks. With plenty of zombie action to keep Zombiephiles happy, this is also a fast paced thriller with a technological slant, written in several voices, sometimes chilling, sometimes lyrical. So if you havent given in to the lure of the undead yet, take the plunge now!

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Falling Through Clouds by Anna Chilvers

A compelling update of a medieval romance, which kept me reading not just for the suspense but also for the moving love story. If youve no idea of the novels basis (the story of Sir Gawain and the green knight), it wont interfere at all with your enjoyment, but should increase its unpredictability.

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Blind Sunflowers by Alberto Mendez

Through four beautifully written, loosely connected stories of the Spanish Civil War, I experienced the full impact of the futility, sadness, stupidity and wastefulness of conflict. These powerful and passionate tales show us life from the losers point of view but also make us feel the indifference to life that brutalises the victors. A very moving read.

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Butterfly Soup by Jan Marsh

A classic murder mystery, where the heroine, in this case a gay counsellor, investigates to prove her client innocent. In spite of discouragement from friends, family and fellow professionals Gabrielle wins the day against the baddies at some risk to herself. Exotic surroundings are provided by the New Zealand countryside and some interesting Maori touches add local interest. Short enough to be enjoyed at one sitting.

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Valeria's Last Stand by Marc Fitten

Spinster Valeria, 68, approves of nothing and nobody until she falls for the village potter but she has a feisty rival in Ibolya, 58, the inn-keeper who flaunts her breasts to increase beer sales! This love triangle is the talk of the village until the arrival of an ambitious chimney sweep further complicates matters. Light, highly entertaining and proof that you are never too old for love.

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Sixteen Shades of Crazy by Rachel Trezise

Ellie is one of three ‘wives’ of Welsh wannabe superband, The Boobs. The arrival of English drug dealer, Johnny, in Aberalaw changes her life for ever. This book made me laugh, made me gasp, made me want to cut my throat – but it gripped me to the last page.

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Bumping by Tony Bianchi

What is it that links an old Californian ladybird miner, a lock-picking teenager, a commuter who bumps into an old school adversary, a mum obsessed by Relocation, Relocation and number 17 Coble Court, Newcastle? In this book three separate, distinctively told stories interweave to reveal unexpected and catastrophic connections between seemingly unrelated people. The books soaked in Tyneside atmosphere and will appeal to sharp-eyed readers adept at spotting clues and joining the dots.

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Serena by Ron Rash

Surprisingly addictive, this bleak and bloody tale teases with the playful humour of the loggers alongside cruel and calculating plots for murder and revenge. Rich descriptions of the terrain and wildlife blend happily with the intriguing, often ruthless characters that kept me hooked throughout.

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Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

In the overbearing heat of an Australian summer, Laura Wishart has gone missing from the small mining town of Corrigan. Charlie knows that she is dead. Trying to find out why brings Charlie face to face with his neighbours capacity for violence, prejudice and abuse. Its the summer that, in a turmoil of desperate questioning, puerile humour and life-sustaining friendship, Charlie becomes a man.

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Wetlands by Charlotte Roche

18 year old Helen is in hospital as a result of an injury inflicted by herself during a delicate shaving operation. While in hospital, she relates her theories on female hygiene (or lack of), sex and every intimate bodily function and the fluids that accompany them. Readers beware. This book is extremely explicit and some of the descriptions cross into a territory not usually explored in literature. But if you’re up for it, you’ll find that Helen an unusual heroine who comes across as brave, funny, likeable but ultimately perhaps a little sad. A disgustingly enjoyable book!

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Jia - a Novel of North Korea by Hyejin Kim

Intelligence, decency, even good looks and talent count for very little in modern North Korea unless you are accepted as part of the ruling elite. An understated look at life for the vast majority both in their home country and as refugees in China. Highly recommended unless you cant do without a happy ending.

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The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

This sleek and steady Scandinavian novel slowly builds the tension as it unveils a future that seems terrifyingly believable – a world where older men and women are dispensable and human organs are harvested for more deserving people. The fact that there are no real villains makes this all the more frightening, for everyone involved is simply doing their job. There are occasional moments of lightness, but this is mostly a disturbing and hauntingly moving story that I could not put down.

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American Rust by Philipp Meyer

This could have been just another novel on the decay of industrial America. But although the tale of Isaac and Billy is bleak and shocking I was riveted by their story and read the last half of the book in one sitting - I just had to know what happened to them! There are wonderful descriptions of both the industrial decay and the natural world around it. Highly recommended.

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One Day by David Nicholls

This is a book just begging for a film treatment and after a few pages you may find yourself mentally casting the main characters. It covers two decades of a will they/wont they, bittersweet relationship - a feel-good romcom, with the emphasis on comedy, like a British version of When Harry Met Sally. If you enjoyed that film (and who didn't?) you will love this, but be prepared for tears as well as laughter.

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City of Ghosts by Bali Rai

A story about love, loss and the desire to belong at any cost. Three men face very different destinies. This book blends magic realism, the horror of war, the chequered history of colonialism and the scents and sounds of the city of Amritsar into an ambitious narrative. The reader needs to suspend their disbelief and revel in the rich descriptive passages which evoke India and the tragedy of an alienated nation through the ghosts of the past.

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The Maid by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Nanase can read people's minds: a secret she will go to any lengths to protect. Privy to the thoughts of the families Nanase works for as a maid, unremarkable domestic scenes are merely a thin veil over a turmoil of lust, shame, jealously and hatred. Short but hard hitting, each chapter takes us deeper into the darkness of the human psyche. It's a disturbing journey.

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Freshers by Joanna Davies

A youthful, raucous rite of passage story about three Welsh first year students in 1990's Aberystwyth. Delving into the darker sides of student life we get everything from simple drunken debauchery through to adultery, abortion and suicide. Moments of humour lift the tone, but this is not for the fainthearted, or for any parent who has recently waved their child off to university!

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The House of Rajani by Alon Hilu

Who will you believe when you are presented with these two diaries written in parallel - the Jewish man who cheats on his wife or the Arab boy who says that he can see into the future? This historical tale of love and betrayal symbolises the 20th century conflict, fought over land, between Jews and Arabs. A read full of rich and lush description.

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The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds

Poets, lunatics, an inventor and a girl on the cusp of womanhood make their way blindly (or searchingly) through the maze of life. I relished the poetic language and rich imagery, really felt for the characters and reached the end wondering what it all amounted to: what are the boundaries between creativity and madness, love and self, health and sickness? If you love 19th century poetry, you will also enjoy this insight into the private lives of John Clare and Alfred Tennyson.

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The Rat Killer by Alexander Terekhov

A surreal, funny and thought-provoking view of modern, small town Russia through the eyes of a young man who may be ratcatcher, or a PhD student or an assassin - or none of these. Just enjoy the flow and make your own mind up if you can!

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The Infinities by John Banville

The immortals, in the form of Hermes and Zeus, amuse themselves playing with the feelings of the members and friends of the Godley family, gathered to wait for the expected death of the patriarch, Adam. Communication is not this family's strong point. There is an uneasy drifting quality to all of their lives, though for different reasons. This book reads like a summer's day – warm, lilting, hazy, insubstantial. There are a few dark clouds on the horizon, but they don't present a serious threat.

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Fire on the Mountain by Terry Bisson

What if abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry had succeeded? Imagine Afro American astronauts landing on Mars and a utopian Black nation, Nova Africa, thriving in the Deep South! This book uses a blend of nineteenth century letters, ex-slave narratives and science fiction to turn US history upside down. It's a book that that will keep you glued to the page and greedy for more.

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Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo by Julia Stuart

A very unusual story set in the enclosed world of the Tower of London. Eccentric, but believable characters all of whom are suffering from varying degrees of loneliness, including the Queen's equerry. Add to this mix an assortment of exotic and neurotic animals and the fun really begins. The sub-plots of the clergyman who writes erotic fiction and the search for love in the London Underground lost property office are amusing and touching. An optimistic, enjoyable and very funny read.

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Jerusalem by Patrick Neate

At once blisteringly funny and extremely disturbing, the action richochets between 1900 (Boer war concentration camp, Gloucestershire morris dancing) and 2008 (New Labours African initiative in the fictional dictatorship of Zambawi and Londons high priest of urban cool), examining what it means to be English through the eyes of both English and Africans. Very highly recommended.

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Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor

These disjointed stories of drug and alcohol addicts might seem hard-going to begin with. But you get to see the human face behind the statistics and, as the characters find their voice, the tales coalesce and won't let you go. Behind all the misery and hopelessness, a picture emerges: the spiral which links the opium grower, the soldier in the killing fields of Afghanistan and the addict. It all builds to a stunning canvas and makes for uncomfortable but unforgettable reading.

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The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson

I was completely captivated by this gentle and thoughtful novel about a young man and an elephant. Themes of sexuality, humanity and confinement along with a wonderfully evoked 18th century setting make this more than just another animal story or indeed, another love story. A remarkable and rewarding reading experience.

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Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill by Dimitri Verhulst

This quirky little tale of a widow's love for her husband, stray dogs, table football and classical music set in a village full of interesting characters is an absolute joy to read. Poignant and hugely entertaining, its sombre themes of loss and ageing are handled in a hugely agreeable way.

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Brixton Beach by Roma Tearne

It is difficult to do justice to this novel in a few lines. The story begins in Sri Lanka - beautiful, but torn apart by racial and civil strife and then moves to London where the Sri Lankans struggle to assimilate into an alien culture. A book with everything - great story, beautiful descriptions; the words glow like jewels on every page. The interesting and diverse characters are totally believable. All in all, a wonderful reading experience - but, be warned, have your box of tissues ready.

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A Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven by Karl O Knausgaard

Odd, but enthralling description of the history and decline of angels as seen through the eyes of Antinous Bellori, who meets an angel as a boy. And then you get the cherubim guarding Eden from the evicted Adam and Eve, Cain murdering Abel, a drunken Noah after the flood, Abraham and the meeting at the oak trees of Mamre, Lot fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah and then leaping a few hundred years at least to Ezekiel and his dry bones. You don't have to know the Old Testament to enjoy this book, but you will know a lot about the Old Testament after reading it.

And none of this gives the story away. Although why it ends up in Norway is anyone's guess.

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Homesick by Eshkol Nevo

At first you might think that this group of characters share a neighbourhood and nothing else, but as the author brings us inside their experiences, you can't help but see the connections instead of the differences. This is no happy ever after fairytale, but a story where relationships gain strength because the people in them choose to work at finding ways to be happy together. It's a warm and sunny read, which builds a richly textured big picture from the details of everyday life.

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The Truth Commissioner by David Park

Episodes from the lives of four very different men weave together to reveal what happened to disappeared Belfast teenager, Connor Walshe. These are men guilty of corruption and brutality, but I was quickly drawn into tender sympathy with all four. Their deeply personal vulnerabilities, strengths and desires will determine whether Connor's family will finally hear the truth.

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The Dirty South by Alex Wheatle

You might guess a novel of Brixton, drugs and crime would be a recital of gang violence and race politics. Yes, the life-on-the-street background is there, but from the start you are inside Dennis's head. It's his awareness of loving relationships that others are deprived of, his romantic longing for true love, and his agonising over taking revenge for his friend Noel's death, that make him much more than a two-dimensional badman.

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Little Hut of Leaping Fishes by Chiew-Siah Tei

I quickly got used to the unusual, staccato style of prose in this book as I became totally immersed in the life of Mingzhi. Bound from birth by filial responsibilities, he silently shies away from his Opium-growing grandfather, hoping that his education will allow him a way out, a new opportunity to search for truth and justice. This coming of age family saga brings to life late 19th century China, where the new and frightening Western influences clash violently with centuries of tradition, ritual and expectation.

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Blank Gaze by Jose Luis Peixoto

The harsh lives of the inhabitants of an impoverished Portuguese village are played out in this dark tale. Multiple narrative voices lend a poetic, if sometimes claustrophobic, commonality to their experiences. Not always an easy read, but stick with it and you will be rewarded by a beautiful if unusual story of fate, love and death throughout the generations.

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Joseph's Box by Suhayl Saadi

Two bereaved people find a box floating in the River Clyde by the Erskine Bridge. It is opened when Alex plays his lute. And then the adventure begins, taking in Scotland, Sicily, the Himalayas and Lincolnshire. Think Homer's Odyssey, Joyce's Ulysses or Alice in Wonderland, the Box of Delights or the Mahabharata. Or rather forget the comparisons, and wallow in the beauty of the language, and the breathtaking virtuosity of the story. Oh, and Joseph who made the box is the father of a famous carpenter - which gives nothing away.

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Ghosts and Lightning by Trevor Byrne

Plot? What plot? Denny and his dodgy friends bum aimlessly round the seedier parts of Dublin in this episodic, shaggy-dog story. Boozy, druggy and spectacularly profane, it's also a funny, touching and sometimes poetic account of how Denny tries to cope with the sudden death of his much-loved 'ma'.

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Wow! It begins as a gently humorous commentary on class and society with loads of interesting philosophical ruminations - almost becomes a chick lit for the over 50s and then ...! Just keep reading until the Japanese tenant appears - after that you won't be able to put it down. And what an ending.

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Bone China by Roma Tearne

A lyrical and haunting tale of three generations fragmented by civil strife and the shock of migration. The genteel Grace De Silva faces upheaval as Ceylon is torn apart by independence and her children are compelled to seek a new life in austere England. Lost loves, secret sorrows and the search for cultural identity make up the sights and sounds of this novel. It is a feast for the senses playing on the reader's emotions like a beautiful concerto.

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This Breathing World by Jose Luis de Juan

As you are whisked between ancient Rome and 1950's Harvard be prepared to have all your ideas about history, literature and (especially) time severely challenged by this blackly comic yet murderous novel.

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Chez Moi by Agnes Desarthe

A sensory feast spills from the pages of this tale of a woman on the run who opens up a restaurant in her home in Paris. She hoards away the secrets and lies of her former life as she stumbles through the early stages of her new one, with a little help from some local misfits. Although there is the sense, at first, that this could be simply fluffy chick-lit, instead it becomes a quite serious and engrossing story of a life of nonconformity and self discovery.

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Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

You will never have read anything quite like this, and not to read it means that you will miss out. The writing is superb, poetic, epic, enthralling. The story is a terrifying, breathtaking, adventure and love story, set in a Los Angeles plagued by murderous gangs of werewolves. And you will never guess the ending.

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A Kind of Vanishing by Lesley Thomson

I didn't like Alice, an unpleasant child, and I couldn't tell where she'd gone. I did like Eleanor, but she disappeared as well. And then one of them came back. The how and the where dance around with the who and the why to leave you dizzy and confused, certain that you know but then ultimately wrong. I was held in thrall by the developing story, never quite believing what I read until all the questions were answered and the truth was revealed.

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The End of the Alphabet by C S Richardson

What would you do if you were given only weeks to live? Ambrose and Zapporas answer is to revisit cities which have meant a lot to them during nearly thirty years of happy marriage. A series of vignettes, some funny, some poignant, build into a touching, satisfying portrait of two loveable people. I loved this elegant little gem.

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Enemy of the Good by Michael Arditti

The book's title (a quote from Voltaire) reflects the message that, like the road to hell, following a path of religious extremism leads to the corruption of good intentions. This is a compassionate page-turner of a story, covering the full spectrum of the conflicts that confront our modern multi-cultural, multi-faith society. It will force you to confront your own beliefs and prejudices, while keeping your interest in the fate of the characters to the very end.

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Sold by Patricia McCormick

Heart rending but poignantly lyrical account of a young Nepalese hill girl sold into sexual slavery. The small comforts of 13 year old Lakshmi's spartan home life are replaced by a living nightmare as she is exposed to the soul destroying environment of Happiness House and the unspeakable cruelties of Mumtaz. This is a difficult, emotional journey told in simple, staccato chapters that leave the reader sick at heart and longing for hope in the midst of human misery. It gives victims of sexual exploitation a powerful voice that speaks long after the book has been closed.

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The Prophet Murders by Mehnet Murat Somer

Is someone murdering transvestites in Istanbul? And does anyone care? Darkly funny, exciting and different, the book was so good I could even cope with the computer speak - yes the heroine is a techie as well as a transvestite and businessman.

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Beyond the Great Indoors by Ingvar Ambjørnsen

Two middle-aged guys living together and you realise they both have big problems - anxietes about venturing out of the house, even answering the phone. An optimistic tale of how awkward and damaged human beings can help each other - with some great comic moments.

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9987 by Nik Jones

This first novel by Nik Jones is violent, vicious, nasty and utterly bleak. However, despite all this, the absolute brilliance of the writing makes it an enjoyable, exciting and even amusing read! The picture of the unnamed, unloved hero going quietly mad among his DVDs will linger long in the mind. Will you ever risk entering a DVD rental shop again?

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Black Orchids by Gillian Slovo

This is a family saga that travels from Ceylon in the 1940s to England in the 1950s and beyond. That racism was rife goes without saying, but this doesn't swamp the story, in fact it's the inner family wrangling that takes up much of the book. There are no huge surprises, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's quite simply a rattling good read, best enjoyed on a Sunday afternoon with a nice cup of tea.

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A Vengeful Longing by R N Morris

Three gruesome murders in the stifling summer heat of 1860's St Petersburg: Porfiry Petrovich is convinced there’s a connection but just what this is keeps him and us guessing right up to the last chapter when all is revealed. You certainly don't have to have read Crime and Punishment to enjoy this intelligent and atmospheric crime novel; if you have, there's an added pleasure in seeing Dostoyevsky's engaging, brilliant and very human detective exercise his forensic and psychological skills again.

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The Bird Room by Chris Killen

From its voyeuristic cover to its snappy, sexy, humorous style Killen's debut novel is a spiky modernist take on the effects of technology on relationships. Characters agonise about art, love, the pain of rejection, identity and sex. Love is as fragile as a pane of glass that shatters at the first impact. The reader gets caught in the game as flashback techniques play with perception. How the book is viewed depends on what the reader sees through the looking glass but it is a compulsive, surprising journey rather like watching a film of awkward relationships through a camera lens.

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The Disappeared by Kim Echlin

Densely poetic, this daring novel traces a story of love and desire from Montreal to Phnom Penh. The brutalities and horror of war and genocide are balanced by a young girl's intense desire for, and love affair with, a Cambodian refugee and musician. After losing him once when he returns, alone, to Cambodia she makes the journey herself ten years later, only to suffer a greater loss there than she could possibly have imagined. A beautiful, haunting book.

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Mystery Man by Colin Bateman

This book is hilarious, I loved it. Take a hypochondriac book dealer with OCD and combine him with Miss Marple and what do you get? The manic owner of a mystery bookshop in Belfast, next door to a missing private detective, who finds that cases keep walking in on him. So does his new girlfriend, with adventures he is too timid to enjoy. And if you are a vintage film freak, watch out for the last line.

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All Shall be Well; and All Shall be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall be Well by Tod Wodicka

A strange mix of the offbeat and the commonplace, this has an unusual flavour. Burt is into medieval re-enactment but his life falls apart when his wife becomes terminally ill. I found Burt a very frustrating and pathetic character, but also one who you can sympathise with. Unexpectedly moving.

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Once Upon a Time in England by Helen Walsh

Set in 1970's Warrington, this is a beautifully written, intense, absorbing story. As well as bringing to the fore many social issues of the time, it also delves into the complexities of family dynamics. The characters' journeys are wholly believable and I rode alongside them, even though the trip comes to a gut-wrenching finale.

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Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou

Once I had tuned in to the unhinged narrative style with increasingly hysterical repetitions, I was swept into this story with no full stops on the page or boundaries to subjects under discussion in the narrator's head. Both satirical and thought provoking, this is a graphic and alcohol fuelled insight into the lives of those who pass through a less than salubrious Congolese bar.

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Submarine by Joe Dunthorne

A first novel written by a Welsh poet and not at all what I expected - not many books make me laugh out loud but this one did! It's the story of Oliver, a teenager, full of angst, self obsession and curiosity and part of a dysfunctional family. Oliver is a cross between Adrian Mole, Christopher (Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime) and Holden Caulfield. A definite edge there along with the humour.

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Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Set in a Swedish sink estate, this vampire novel is both chilling and gruesome but is also a true page-turner, guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. The violence is frequent, terrifying and graphic (certainly not a read for the faint-hearted. However, alongside all that is a very tender, burgeoning relationship between Oskar and Eli. The large cast of supporting characters, some of whom will make your skin crawl, will make you look at any new neighbours in a different light as this novel makes its way to a very explosive climax. One to read with the lights on!

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Lost Bodies by Francois Gantheret

A tragic story of love and betrayal set in an unnamed repressive North African country with beautiful descriptions of the desert setting. Well told intrigue and devious plots combine to create a slow burning fuse of revelation; the characters are both strong and resourceful as they battle against relentless prison brutality. A very short novel but one in which every word matters.

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The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson

At the heart of this tale is a bizarre but beautifully written romance with a twist. Against a backdrop of dystopian worlds, Billie and Spike search, time after time, for a life and love together. Packed around that romance is a science fiction novel, full of eco-warnings, philosophising, and a touch of satire. As the revelations slowly unfolded, this novel enticed and drew me through its satisfyingly complex and unexpected story.

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Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong

Meet the Morse and Lewis of Shanghai in an unusual whodunit. Clever, arty, neurotic Inspector Chen and his practical, down-to-earth sidekick Yu make engaging heroes. I'm not usually a big fan of crime novels but this is a cracker, full of fascinating insights into Shanghai life. I got a real sense of the characters' lives: where they live, what they wear and, especially, what they eat - both droolingly delicious and gruesomely disgusting. A sumptuous Chinese banquet of a novel.

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Lottery by Patricia Wood

This is my feelgood read of the year. A delightful tale of Perry - who is not retarded, just slow, as he tells everyone - and his lottery win. The story never ducks the hard bits, but Perry still comes out smiling.

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Blood Kin by Ceridwen Dovey

Following a coup in an unnamed country this book tells the story through six characters all caught up in the unrest. As the story unravels the relationships between the six become more fraught and tense as the prospect of power combined with ever more impulsive greed and vengeance takes hold. It is a story simply but effectively told with its own unique rhythm, drawing the reader into the mind of each of the characters with an almost hypnotic quality.

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Wounded by Percival Everett

This book offers much more than it seems on first impression - as a tale about a hate crime in a small town encompasses personal and family conflict, as well as a budding romance. The murder of a gay man sets off a chain of events forcing horse-trainer John Hunt and others to confront their feelings about homosexuality. This is a violent novel in many ways but also a love story showing the growth of John and Morgan’s relationship, and there are a few flashes of American-style quirky humour - look out for the mule! It's a gripping read that doesn't pull any punches.

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The Electric Church by Jeff Somers

This fast-paced easy-read book will appeal to sci-fi fans and more. Living in a grim, realistic future, ruthless assassin Avery Cates boasts that he has killed 26 times in his 27 years and is fast adding to his tally. A mesmerising plot absorbs and entices you to empathise with Cates, the homicidal 'good guy'. With language and settings that are truly nitty-gritty, you are left in no doubt that Cates is a man with definite beliefs.

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The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

This book takes you into quite another world. A world of close family, of a strange and knowing breed of dog, of jealousy, love and murder. I have never read anything quite like it and I really didn't want to finish it - even though I was desperate to find out what happens. Beautifully written and totally unforgettable.

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Guantanamo: A Novel by Dorothea Dieckmann

Harder hitting than a documentary, this story of a detainee will disturb and challenge you. But the writing is so intense that you won't be able to put it down.

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The Extra Large Medium by Helen Slavin

Annie can see dead people, all wearing chocolate brown. What's worse, they are very assertively communicative and can ruin Annie's life in ways no one would ever imagine. Very dark, very funny and told from several perspectives this is a book to read at one concentrated go - and then to think about for a long time afterwards.

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Buenas Noches Buenos Aires by Gilbert Adair

A whimsical take on the gay scene of Paris in the early 1980s. Laugh out loud funny in parts, intensely poignant in others – and very sexually graphic. The story takes a dramatic turn in narrative to touch on Aids and its fatal consequences. Gideon's final decision left me speechless - I wonder how it will leave you?

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A Choreographer's Cartography by Raman Mundair

Roam from Shetland to India via a sexual encounter in Blackpool. Discover the joys of bhangra and the shoormal. Find out about Queen Victoria and her Sikh bodyguard. Or why the waltz is subversive. Go on a poetic joyride, a dance of compassionate anger and sensual sensitivity. Or simply sit back, let the language flow over you and enjoy.

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Salvage by Jane F Kotapish

I really didn't think this book would be my kind of read but I found it enthralling. The narrator leaves a successful life in New York to live in small town Virginia and, as the book unfolds, we discover what has caused her abrupt departure. A diary of relationships - we learn of her childhood and life with her mother as well as eavesdropping on conversations with her dead sister – both disquieting and eccentric. In the end, a thoroughly worthwhile read which has that rare quality of combining humour with pathos.

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The Days of Judy B by Rose Heiney

Judy Bishop leads parallel lives: the successful fun loving celebrity socialite and the overweight depressive, frustrated in love, life and career. We follow her conflict alternately through her weekly lifestyle column and through glimpses of the truth which lie behind it.
This is a very funny book with an underlying pathos which gives the novel an unexpected depth and poignancy.

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Lost Bodies by Francois Gantheret

A tragic story of love and betrayal set in an unnamed repressive North African country with beautiful descriptions of the desert setting. Well told intrigue and devious plots combine to create a slow burning fuse of revelation; the characters are both strong and resourceful as they battle against relentless prison brutality. A very short novel but one in which every word matters.

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Broken by Daniel Clay

This is a very realistic novel set on a small estate in the South of England. It deals with how people impinge on each other's lives, with often unimaginable consequences, sometimes driving each other to desperate acts. Yet at the same time it is full of humour and quirkiness. The action is described through the eyes of Skunk, a 12-year-old who doesn't always recognise reality in its true horror. If you're a fan of TV soaps which often portray extremes of behaviour, with occasional moments of bleak humour, then you should enjoy this.

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Benny and Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti

Treat yourself to this quirky romantic comedy, guaranteed to lift your spirits with its feel-good factor. It's the familiar women from Venus, men from Mars plot, but told from both points of view, with a down to earth honesty and a refreshing absence of chick-lit smaltz.

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Monster Love by Carol Topolski

I found this tabloid-like sequence of testimonies from people affected by the abuse and murder of a child a harrowing read. You really do get inside the head of monsters. A brave novel about the ultimate taboo.

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A Deal with the Devil by Martin Suter

Not as straightforward as it first may appear. This story is a fast-paced mystery set in Switzerland where the characters come in and out of the action often to leave clues to the reader as to the mysterious goings-on. It may leave you guessing or confused but definitely intrigued.

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Lost Paradise by Cees Nooteboom

At first this seems to be a book of two unconnected halves. What possible link is there between two Brazilian girls travelling in Australia in search of Aboriginal culture and a journalist seeking to lose weight in an Alpine spa? Answer: angels. The result is a delightful mix of travel, art, literature, life and Milton’s Paradise Lost all in 151 pages – and every one of them charming, light and serious all at the same time.

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The Claude Glass by Tom Bullough

Two small boys are growing up with their hippy farmer parents in rural Wales and meet Andrew, son of a neighbouring farmer whose life is very different from theirs. He lives in rags, sleeps with the dogs and survives on scraps from the table. Half fairytale, half poem, this evocative novel deals with the relationship between the three boys and delivers a haunting portrait of the extremes of rural life.

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The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

A wonderful mix of Victorian gothic and fantasy crime. Very fast, very funny and quite unbelievable (I think) and much better than its cover.

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The Law of Dreams by Peter Behrens

Possibly the most powerful book I've read for many years – but it's neither pleasant nor comfortable. The historical detail is spot on and the language is appropriately coarse - both combine to immerse the reader in the world of young Fergus. His is a life of unthinkable harshness. We feel his sadness and love for all those he has lost, both man and animal, keenly.

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

With glowing reviews from Stephen King and Harlen Coben, this assured psychological thriller is up with the best of its kind. Steeped in small-town suffocating atmosphere, with dysfunctional families on every corner, the plot includes vivid descriptions of teenage sex, bullying, drug and alcohol abuse and self-harm. This disturbing, heady mixture is the background to the hunt for a murderer with a macabre killer's signature.

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The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

This story centres on the relationship between a porn star who receives horrific burns in a car accident and a sculptress who claims that they were lovers in a previous life. Gothic horror/boys' own adventure/ medieval romance - unlike any book I've ever read, it simply defies categorisation, and if you can make it beyond the gore of the early chapters you are in for an absolute treat.

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A Fraction Of The Whole by Steve Toltz

This is a huge novel in terms of both size and breadth of content - it includes fire, prison escapes, fraud, murder, gunrunning and brothel keeping. It's not a traditional family saga but this biographical story is related by father and son in both real time and in reminiscence. A book not to be taken too seriously. It's very funny. I absolutely loved it. However, be warned, the author never uses one word if he can use ten!

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My Best Friend Has Issues by Laura Marney

How to describe it? Bridget Jones's fat girl angst meets a Moll Flanders romp through the fleshpots of Barcelona. There's lots of flesh and most of the characters are completely potty. And throw in a pinch of Becky Sharp to get a feel for the scheming amorality of it all. The only blameless character is Juegita, the dog, and even she managed to get up the duff somehow.

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The Resurrectionist by James Bradley

This is a very gruesome book - definitely not for the fainthearted. But if you can get past the gore it's a fascinating if bleak tale - and it definitely doesn't go where you expect it to.

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After River by Donna Milner

A sensitive but fast-moving plot of what happens when a happy-as-the-Waltons Canadian farming family is invaded by the Sixties - Vietnam, drugs and sexual freedom. Then, in the present, a reflective healing process for the wounds that the uncertainties and openness of that decade inflicted.

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The Red Book by Meaghan Delahunt

Be prepared to be angry and deeply moved. This is a book about a monstrous, avoidable, criminal catastrophe. But it is also about three people from disparate backgrounds - Scotland, India and Australia - struggling to confront their demons and redeem their lives. In other words, a song in praise of the human spirit and its unending capacity to rise above terrible circumstances.

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Fault Lines by Nancy Huston

Snapshots of life of four generations of the same family, seen through 6 year-old eyes. Concentration is needed as the book starts in 2004 and works back to 1945 via 1962 and 1982, so I found myself continually flicking back to check what was what- but it's well worth any effort. Particularly recommended for reading groups interested in the nature versus nurture debate; NOT recommended for those who prefer to take a rosy view of children.

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Tale of a Certain Orient by Milton Hatoum

What a strange but moving story. As I slowly found out more and more about Emilie and her life, I became lost in a harsh but eerie world in the heart of the Amazon and in Emilie's struggle with life, with love and with her nearest and dearest. But don't be put off - I laughed often with this wonderful, warring and loving family.

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The Private Lives of Pippa Lee by Rebecca Miller

The safe world of Pippa Lee, married to a charismatic New York publisher 30 years her senior, begins to unravel when they move to Marigold Village Retirement Community. Banish all thoughts of cocoa and slippers from then on - a kaleidoscopic journey through sex, drugs, teenage rebellion and the rest will definitely appeal to the wild child!

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Kill Your Friends by John Niven

Steven Stelfox - a totally evil immoral scheming villain with no redemptive features. So why did I find myself willing him on to success? This is a superbly funny expose of the music industry - can it really be this bad? - which I thoroughly enjoyed even when I was gasping at the sheer audacity of this man's idea of career progression.

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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

An old-fashioned circus novel with plenty of action and excitement but few if any laughs and a love interest which is fraught with danger. The circus is something you either love or hate and your reaction to this novel will be influenced by these feelings – if you're squeamish about the treatment of performing animals, this might not be for you. Good descriptions of desperate men living through the economic turmoil of the American depression. A brutal era, powerfully drawn.

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A Deal with the Devil by Martin Suter

Not as straight forward as it first may appear. This story is a fast-paced mystery set in Switzerland where the characters come in and out of the action often to leave clues to the reader as to the mysterious goings-on. It will either leave you guessing or confused but, for sure, you will be intrigued.

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Just Like Tomorrow by Faiza Guene

You can't help but love Doria as she delivers her take on life on a Paris housing estate. Her future could seem rather bleak - her father has cleared off back to Morocco, she's going nowhere at school and her best friends are a druggy and a psychologist - but Doria doesn't let this get her down. Her voice is upbeat and funny but never cruel - and she sees through hypocrisy with a wisdom beyond her 15 years. Try this and she could just become your new best friend.

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Angelglass by David Barnett

Shifting and vivid, the story moves from present day to XVI century Prague and from gripping eco-thriller to lush historical novel. In both periods, an amnesiac tries to work out who he is and whom he can trust. You'll feel bereft each time you leave a time frame only to get engrossed as soon as you enter the next. An element of fantasy in the plot should not put off readers who do not usually read this type of book.

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Londonstani by Gautam Malkani

Testosterone laden angst amongst Brit-Asian youth in West London. Definitely one for hip young things - and for everyone else into flash cars, gangsta rap and bling, persist with the rudeboy slang and dive in.

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Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiongo

A true political satire, set in an imaginary African country but with parallels to so many others in many parts of the world. It's funny, witty, very human and yet monumental in scale. Be prepared for the long haul but be ready to enjoy it - I certainly did.

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Voices by Arnaldur Indridason

Just give in and drown yourself in the dark side of life on the dark island of Iceland at the darkest time of year. This book just grabs you, chews you up, and spits you out at the end. You may be older and wiser for the experience - or maybe not?

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The Minutes of the Lazarus Club by Tony Pollard

If you are a fan of 'what if' historical novels then you will love The Lazarus Club where Brunel and other inventor/scientists like him meet philosophers, business men and Byron's grandson, in order to see just how far knowledge can be extended. A great Gothic thriller with lots of murders and, for me, a truly surprise ending.

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Fresh by Mark McNay

A breathtaking first novel written in Scots - a tour de force. Humour, pathos, drama and a chicken factory. And Ae wisnae expectin het tae end the way it did.

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By The Time You Read This by Lola Jaye

From the age of 12 Lois depends on her late father's bequest: a 'manual' intended by him to see her through life to 30. This might have been a very sentimental novel but bold, often wrong-headed Lois makes sure it isn't. Okay so you'll be able to spot where she (and Dad) are making mistakes but that's part of the fun. Sit back and enjoy - secure in the knowledge that you've spotted Mr Right long before she has.

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The Digital Plague by Jeff Somers

A hard-hitting and gritty follow up to The Electric Church - the violence is full on and the body count is huge! Pure entertainment though and cult reading for fans of hard-edged sci fi.

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The Pirates Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson

All the passion, heat and colour of a swashbuckling saga await you within the pages of this novel. Set in the tropical paradise of Jamaica, this is romantic escapism with a satisfying filling of history and evocative atmosphere.

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Angelglass by David Bartlett

Shifting and vivid, the story moves from present day to XVI century Prague and from gripping eco-thriller to lush historical novel. In both periods, an amnesiac tries to work out who he is and whom he can trust. You'll feel bereft each time you leave a time frame only to get engrossed as soon as you enter the next. An element of fantasy in the plot should not put off readers who do not like the genre.

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The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling

Rude awakening for wife of Victorian bookbinder crippled by arthritis, who turns to binding the specialist pornography of reactionary scientists to keep family and home together. Plenty of authentic London grime and squalor for anyone into period detail, not to mention the esoteric tastes of the aristocracy, but be prepared to be uplifted by a thoroughly modern heroine.

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Like Heaven by Niala Maharaj

Ved Saran is a self-made businessman living in Trinidad. His honesty proves a disappointment to his greedy, manipulative, tight-knit family. Local dialect peppers the conversations but the narrative is such an easy read you won't find this a problem. Characters who inspire empathy and an evocative setting make for a pleasant and enjoyable reading experience. You'll be heading for the travel agents to book a Caribbean holiday.

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The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams

This story resembles the life cycle of a moth – there are many layers, often exposing a darker side before transforming itself into something of beauty. The two sisters in the novel are vastly different - one is quiet, hermit-like, unassuming and very naive; the other is gregarious, outspoken but extremely selfish. The story explores their interaction and flits between the past and the present. A must-read book full of heartache, suspense, love – and you'll learn something of the study moths and butterflies.

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The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by W G Dahlquist

This is a gothic fantasy thriller packaged in a big, big book. So set some time aside for it because I guarantee you won't be able put it down. A sort of 'Fingersmith' meets 'Frankenstein' with touches of black humour that are entirely 21st century.

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Day by A L Kennedy

Alfred Day - a young man caught up in conflict. A sort of cross between the Good Soldier Svejk and Oedipus, with a dash of Dad's Army. And that's not to mention the rest of his crew, who have escaped from - who knows? But they are all completely bonkers. And then there's Joyce, with whom he has a not so brief encounter.

There is nothing quite like this book, so if you're up for a reading adventure, give it a go.

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The Keep by Jennifer Egan

I expected a darker, grown-up version of a fairytale from this book set in a gloomy castle in the forest, but actually got much more than that. The atmosphere drew me in, particularly towards the very tense end to part 2 and the two parallel stories in Europe and America kept me intrigued as I tried to work out their connection.

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The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall

Set in a post-apocalyptic England which is struggling to survive, there is no power, no food and the government has crumbled. Sister is searching for a better life and seeks out a community of women living self-sufficiently in the hills. This is her story.

This world is closer to our current reality than I care to think, and it had me spellbound. The story is fast paced and not your usual science fiction fare. Thought provoking, disturbing and enjoyably addictive.

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