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The Complaints
(Paperback)
Ian Rankin
You may be disappointed if you thought Malcolm Fox, Rankin’s latest protagonist, is a duplicate of Inspector Rebus. Sure he’s middle-aged and grumpy, but he’s teetotal and enjoys his work: he is ‘The Complaints’, policing the police with Internal Affairs. But like Rebus, ‘Foxy’ works a case to the end, which is just as well, since two have simultaneously landed in his lap. A colleague’s credit card details have been logged on a [ahem] questionable website and his sister’s good-for-nothing boyfriend has been found murdered. It wouldn’t be Rankin if the two weren’t linked now would it? - James
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The Sisters Brothers
(Paperback)
Patrick deWitt
If Cormac McCarthy suddenly developed a sense of humour, or the Coen Brothers decided to adapt Cervantes’ Don Quixote, The Sisters Brothers is what you might get. Eli Sisters is an unhappy man. He’s unhappy with his new horse, Tub. He’s unhappy about his lack of a wife. But mostly, he’s unhappy with his line of work. With his brother Charlie, he is one half of the notorious Sisters Brothers. At the height of the great Californian Gold Rush, the brothers have been tasked with the assassination of a particular prospector, the wonderfully named Hermann Kermit Warm. Along the way the bickering brothers meet a carousel of strange characters and odd situations, all of which lead Eli to question his sorry lot in life. - Christopher
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The Last Hundred Days
(Paperback)
Patrick McGuinness
This is a fictionalised account of the final days of communism in Romania. McGuiness tells the story of an English Professor who has found himself teaching at a Bucharest university in late 1989. He arrives into a totalitarian communist state led by the brainless Nicolae Ceaucescu and his sinister ‘Securitate’. In 100 days time the Ceaucescus will be dead and Romanians will be caught up in a bloody revolution. This novel tells the story of the months leading up to that day. Having been to Romania several times I found so much I could identify with in this novel about the people and their wit, warmth and cynicism! - Andrew
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Neverwhere
(Paperback)
Neil Gaiman
You’d think helping a clearly distressed, injured girl out of a cold night, there’d be better thanks than suddenly becoming invisible to your colleagues and losing your flat to some more people who can’t seem to see you. Unfortunately for Richard, this girl is Door, from London Below, and on the run from some truly fantastical characters. So in order to get his life back, he will have to work on some serious suspension of disbelief. Unlike the reader, because Neil Gaiman’s softly quirky and yet darkly edgy voice makes all of it sound like everyday occurrences to us. Of course there’s a Floating Market in Harrods! You’ll never take the tube quite the same way again. - Julia
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Bad Monkeys
(Paperback)
Matt Ruff
The set-up is basic: Jane is an operative for the Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons, aka Bad Monkeys. Or is she? Surreality ensues. They’re not half lying about what it says on the back: The Silence of the Lambs meets The Matrix just about hits the nail on the head! A rollercoaster read of the best kind; head-turningly pacy, light of touch, and leaving you wanting just that little bit more without giving you a frustrating ending. If you get a chance to pick up any of Ruff’s other books, do! (Fool on the Hill is actually my favourite, but sadly out of print.) - Julia
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Gilead
(Paperback)
Marilynne Robinson
A deceptively simple book on the surface, this fictional memoir by the Reverend John Ames. I tend to be a lot more interested in characters than plot, so the fact that nothing much happens doesn't bother me in the slightest, because it's a beautiful, reflective, exploratory piece that gives the reader much food for thought and leaves them with a sense that the world is a pretty grand place, all things considered. It's such a laden word and generally best avoided, but I would actually describe this book as life-affirming. Don't be put off because it may seem religious; I'm not and am rather wary of the possibility - Robinson's philosophical points are universal. - Julia
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The Graveyard Book
(Paperback)
Neil Gaiman; Dave McKean
Much more than a simple (albeit enormously clever) retelling of Kipling’s The Jungle Book transplanted into a cemetery, The Graveyard Book is the story of a human boy called Nobody Owens, Bod for short, who is taken in and raised by ghosts after his family is killed by the mysterious man Jack. Who is, in fact, still on Bod’s case, so when Bod begins to venture out of the graveyard, the boy’s protectors—among them a werewolf and what sounds suspiciously like a vampire—have their work cut out for them. In essence, this is a book about families and growing up, scary bits included. Darkly witty, gently creepy, and delicately enhanced by some choice Chris Riddell illustrations (or Dave McKean ones if you pick up the adult edition!), the book can almost be read as individual short stories - further proof of just how skilled a writer Neil Gaiman is. - Julia
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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
(Hardback)
Ayana Mathis
I have a very short attention span for anything that isn't crime fiction but this may have changed my reading habits. Hattie is the matriarch of a large family. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one character, beginning with Hattie and then following the lives of her childrenand a grandchild from the 1920s to the present day. It is not a novel in the traditional sense, more like a collection of short stories where you catch a small glimpse of each life. It is a beautiful, melancholy and very self assured debut. My only criticism would be that it leaves you wishing you knew more about each character as the time spent with each is very short and they are all equally intriguing. - Rebecca
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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
(Paperback)
Jonathan Safran Foer
Precocious eight-year-olds who don’t sound like eight-year-olds at all are annoying. And yet here is Oscar, who is exactly that, and you just fall love with him. His search for his father becomes more heart-rending with every revealed twist, until it finally breaks you. In a good way. Foer plays with both narrative and layout conventions and it makes the book one of those you want to hand on down to not only your nearest and dearest, but random strangers. Seldom have I been so engaged and invested in a character’s fate. Oscar’s story and his relationships with those around him are invariably touching and it all stays with you for a long time afterwards. - Julia
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The Magicians: Book 1
(Paperback)
Lev Grossman
A brilliant cross between Harry Potter, Narnia and Brideshead Revisited, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is one of the most brilliant fantasy novels I’ve read in years. The story may sound familiar – boy discovers magic exists and enrols in a magical college – but the characters are so complex and vivid and the world they inhabit is so rigorously and intricately realised that it feels like you’re reading something wholly original. A must-read for anyone who’s ever wished magic was real.- Adam
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The Corrections
(Paperback)
Jonathan Franzen
The Corrections tells the story of the Lambert family, the mother of which is desperate to gather her adult children together for one last Christmas before their father succumbs to Parkinson’s. Each chapter focuses on one character, and they’re some of the most interesting, complex characters that I’ve ever read, especially the eldest child Gary, who refuses to admit to his wife and himself that he’s suffering from depression, and their mother Enid, who in her seventies is only just realising she’s wasted her life. The novel is very sad, but it’s so well written that it never becomes melodramatic – it’s a story about what it’s like for ordinary people to live in our times, and it captures the main concerns of our age perfectly. - Adam
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Moon Lake
(Paperback)
Eudora Welty
“All around swam the fireflies. Clouds of them, trees of them, islands of them floating, a lower order of brightness(…)The stars barely showed their place in the pale sky – small and far from this bright world.” This is so short; it almost seems like reading a dream. I’ve gotten into the bad habit of skim reading but this made me slow down. Long, hot, hazy Southern days are perfectly mirrored in the rhythms and cadences of the language. It is a fantastic account of the odd, surreal limbo between childhood and adulthood. - Rebecca
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The Tin Roof Blowdown
(Paperback)
James Lee Burke
Number ten in the Times all time greatest crime writers, the accolade is not undeserved. Born in Texas and the son of a gas fitter, his life has influenced his work, from land surveying for the oil industry to reporting to working with LA gangs as a social worker. New Orleans detective, Dave Robicheaux could have easily fallen into cliché - an alcoholic with unhappy relationships and a healthy disregard for his superiors - but Burkes writing lifts him above the norm. Brutal at times, but no less sensitive for it, he writes lyrically about the chaos of everyday life. The criminals, the victims, the system - there is no good or evil, only shades of grey in Robicheaux’s sweat soaked and corrupt south. Tin Roof Blowdown, encapsulates everything good about Burkes writing. Set during, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he brings to life the full Hellish and apocalyptic series of events that you can scarcely believe were allowed to happen in the most powerful country on the planet. It is an angry novel and a political cry against moral bankruptcy and tragic negligence. - Rebecca
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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier ...
(Paperback)
Michael Chabon
Joe Kavalier, having escaped the Nazi occupation of Prague via Lithuania and Japan (with a little escapade with a Golem thrown in) finally gets some rest in New York. His bed fellow is his cousin, Sam Clay: a failed comic artist, but gifted with imagination and a brash charm. Together, the boys write their own superhero, The Escapist! They make their names and their fortunes, but Joe is conflicted. What good can the Escapist do against the prospect of a real war? How can he help his family back in Prague? Chabon’s playful, heartbreaking tale won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I really felt for the boys, and their rogues’ gallery of supporting characters. I actually lost sleep to lamplight readings, just as I did aged ten, with the exploits of Batman and Spiderman spread in front of me. - Christopher
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The Mayor of Casterbridge
(Paperback)
Thomas Hardy
Ever thought about selling your wife? At a country fair in 19th century Wessex, Michael Henchard – brimming with alcohol – trades his wife and baby daughter for five guineas to a sailor. Nineteen years later and now Mayor of Casterbridge, the now teetotal Henchard is haunted by the wrong he cannot right. That is, until, his now-impoverished wife and daughter arrive in town. Although difficult to empathise with, Henchard’s strength in character makes for compelling reading, whilst the richly detailed prose consistently capture the reader’s affections. Classic Hardy. - James
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The Power of the Dog
(Paperback)
Don Winslow
If you find yourself wishing the Wire had never ended and fruitlessly surfing the channels for a satisfactory replacement, look no further. There are a few great books that fill the void but none better, in my opinion, than The Power of the Dog. Taking the drug war to South America, it follows the lives and exploits of CIA agents, drug barons and everyone else caught up in between. Winslow is not especially well known over here but is steadily building a cult following. Read him first before everyone jumps on the bandwagon. - Rebecca
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