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The Complaints
The Complaints (Paperback)
Ian Rankin
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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
The Sisters Brothers
Patrick deWitt
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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
The Last Hundred Days
Patrick McGuinness
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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
Bad Monkeys
Bad Monkeys (Paperback)
Matt Ruff
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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
Neverwhere
Neverwhere (Paperback)
Neil Gaiman
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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
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Ayana Mathis
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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
The Graveyard Book
The Graveyard Book (Paperback)
Neil Gaiman; Chris Riddell
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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
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Jonathan Safran Foer
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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
Stormbreaker
Stormbreaker (Paperback)
Anthony Horowitz
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Orphaned under what turn out to be mysterious circumstances and subsequently having grown up with an uncle who is actually something quite different than the bank supervisor he said he was, 14 year old Alex Rider finds himself drafted into MI6 service—unofficially, naturally. Sounds like the ultimate adventure, right? But soon the missions become more dangerous and the stakes more personal than Alex may be ready for…. I love these books because they are no-frills, straight-up adventure daydreams just like I had when I was bored in class and staring out the window. The action is relentless, and while the stories do all follow a comfortably familiar formula, Alex is such a sympathetic character that you can’t help but feel for him time and again, especially when he starts riling against The Powers That Be (which is saying something coming from someone who doesn’t generally gel with younger teenagers). Plus, there’s always a bad pun near the end about the baddie’s demise and you really can’t argue with that. – Julia
Bad Faith: A History of Family and...
Carmen Callil
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The sheer volume of work on WWII often makes it difficult to choose what to read. Bad Faith is a sobering account of life in France under German and Vichy rule. Focusing on the life of Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, it gives great insight into how petty prejudices, weaknesses and seemingly insignificant acts of normal human beings, can have devastating consequences. Pellepoix is truly a despicable individual whose actions led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews. He is largely forgotten and died in relative peace, unpunished for his crimes, in 1980. Read this. Some people don’t deserve to escape quietly and fall through the cracks of history. If you find this interesting you might want to try Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl by Stephen Bach. She was responsible for Hitler’s propaganda films and also died relatively recently, denying any allegations of collaboration, despite using concentration camp prisoners as extras in her films. She went on to photograph the Nuba in Africa. - Rebecca
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier ...
Michael Chabon
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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
The Corrections
The Corrections (Paperback)
Jonathan Franzen
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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
World War Z: An Oral History of the...
Max Brooks
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The zombie apocalypse has finally happened; this is its chronicle, comprised of first person accounts from survivors both military and civilian. The only thing requiring suspension of disbelief is not even the existence of zombies, but merely the possibility! What makes this book so utterly fantastic and truly spine-chilling is the matter-of-fact tone of its presentation, leaving you wondering at times why you don’t remember some of the events described. You’ll want to read Brooks’ spookily earnest, frighteningly practical Zombie Survival Guide next, and invest in a machete and some self-defence lessons. - Julia
Penguins Stopped Play: Eleven Village...
Harry Thompson
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In this semi-autobiographical work, Thompson’s village team – the Captain Scott XI – plays cricket for the thrill of the game, not because they’re any good. After one too many drinks in the pavilion, the group embarks on a world tour with the sole purpose of playing a game of cricket on every continent. Accidentally arranging a game with the Argentinean national side probably wasn’t on their agenda though. It’s rare for a book to be laugh-out-loud funny and yet at the same time deeply moving. The very English description of a long-haul flight to America with three inches of legroom and an overly tetchy flight companion gives you the idea, as does the surprisingly powerful ending (no spoilers). Oh, and if you know nothing about cricket or travel, don’t worry: you will soon. - James
Gilead
Gilead (Paperback)
Marilynne Robinson
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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
The Tin Roof Blowdown
James Lee Burke
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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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