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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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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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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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Invisible Cities
(Paperback)
Italo Calvino; William Weaver
The framing story of Invisible Cities is slight - Marco Polo describes the fantastic imaginary cities that he has supposedly visited on his travels to Kublai Khan - but these descriptions, most of which are no less than a page - are beautiful, lyrical gems of prose. Calvino uses this device to explore the various ways in which humans interact with their surroundings and each other, resulting in a book which is profound, moving and a perfect balance between form and content. - Adam
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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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Northline: A Novel
(Paperback)
Willy Vlautin
Willy Vlautin is sadly under read as an author but better known as the front man of Richmond Fontaine. In both his music and his writing he tells tales of people on the edge - drifters, grifters, losers and lost souls all across small town America. Northline tells of a burned out, pregnant woman on the run from an abusive ex who finds solace in talking to an imaginary Paul Newman. Vlautin’s novels are almost unbearably melancholic with simple stories compellingly told. Although they could be considered bleak he writes with such understanding and warmth, you find yourself uplifted by the both the banality and beauty of the world that he describes. - Rebecca
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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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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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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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And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their...
(Paperback)
Jack Kerouac; William S. Burroughs
In 1944, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac were both arrested: following the murder of their friend, they failed to inform the police after another of their friends confessed to the killing. And the Hippos… is a fictionalised account of the events leading up to the murder; of a hedonistic summer in wartime New York, drifting through apartments, bars, parties and ultimately, towards the crime itself. Unpublished for sixty years, this hardboiled, pulp crime novel is not only an insight into the literary development of the Beat Generation and its authors, but an under-read classic of the crime genre. - Josh
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Selected Poems
(Paperback)
Frank O'Hara; Donald Allen
I've never thought about who my favourite poet is, but if I did I'd have to consider Frank O'Hara. Writing in the mid-20th century, his poems are concerned with art and modernity, film stars and cocktail bars, all explored with lush lyricism and self-awareness. Have a look at the intensely vulnerable 'Meditations in an Emergency' and the swooning, gorgeous love poem 'Having a Coke With You' to see just how remarkable he was. - Adam
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Our Fathers
(Paperback)
Andrew O'Hagan
Shortlisted for the Booker back in 1999, I think this is a good novel to read in our current political climate. Told from the perspective of Jamie, returning from his English exile to see his dying grandfather. A big man in Scottish socialism after the war he believed firmly in the power of the high rise, bringing social housing and fresh air to the poor, dreaming of equality for all workers. On Jamie’s return, the flats are being torn down around him. It is not just a novel of a family and the death of an individual, but concerns the death of idealism. I think it’s a vitally important novel to read now, whatever your political views. Lyrically written, it is both an angry and melancholic rumination on what we accept as our social responsibility, and the legacy we choose to leave behind. Chavs by Owen Jones is an excellent companion piece and you could also try The Ragged Trouser Philanthropists by Robert Tressell. - Rebecca
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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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