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The Casual Vacancy
J K Rowling
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The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games (Paperback)
Suzanne Collins
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The idea of putting children in an enclosed space and having them fight for survival has long been a familiar trope in human entertainment, featured in works from Lord of the Flies to the movie Battle Royale. Suzanne Collins' series The Hunger Games subverts the format by promoting this juvenile blood-fest from a fringe pursuit, to an annual ritual central to the society in which it is held. Being the most recent work on this list, The Hunger Games embodies particularly modern concerns: the rise of reality television, the lust for fame, and the necessity for humans to be heavily armed when embarking on camping trips.

AKH48 . - 30/07/2013
Freedom
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Freedom (Paperback)
Jonathan Franzen
 
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Like Middlemarch inasmuch as this is a lengthy novel about love and marriage that is also deeply engaged with what the author considers the major political issues of the era (here the 'freedom loving' Bush years): the liberal burden in the age of American empire; planetary overpopulation; and the plight of a songbird called the cerulean warbler.

Tim Glencross - 13/05/2014
The Secret Garden
The Secret Garden (Paperback)
Frances Hodgson Burnett
 
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The story of Mary Lennox, the unloved, unloveable orphan warmed to life along with her secret garden, gave me one of my first female heroes. They should try moving her from the kiss-of-death Children’s Classics shelf, let her slug it out with the newcomers and see what happens.

Moira Young - 09/08/2012
Wolf Hall
Wolf Hall (Paperback)
Hilary Mantel
 
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Mantel’s work is characterised by incredible attention to detail – a period and characters made real. She has the ability to take an historical event which we know must have taken place – such as a conversation – and then creating that conversation so well, it’s easy to believe we are reading a verbatim account. Her research is impeccable and of course, she has elevated the genre of historical fiction to a higher art-form by winning the Booker prize twice. Wolf Hall in particular is a masterwork.

Conn Iggulden - 11/09/2013
The Secret History
The Secret History (Paperback)
Donna Tartt
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This was one of the first novels where I remember being genuinely aware of the brilliance of the writing as I was reading it – there are sentences and paragraphs that still take my breath away now, despite the number of times I’ve read it. It’s a long, slow, relentless novel – a beautifully drawn mystery woven through a painfully moving story of class, classics and what it means to belong, carried along by a group of the most unforgettable characters you’ll ever come across.

Will Hill - 15/03/2012
Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas (Paperback)
David Mitchell
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Excellent Women
Excellent Women (Paperback)
Barbara Pym; Alexander McCall Smith
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Barbara Pym has been described as the Jane Austen of our times, and I would concur with this view. She created a whole world of people living rather mousy lives, illuminated with poignant detail. She is extremely funny in an understated way.

Alexander McCall Smith - 28/07/2011
Birdsong
Birdsong (Paperback)
Sebastian Faulks
 
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The depth of emotion that this novel evokes is, for me, due in part to Faulks allowing the reader to really get to know his protagonist, Stephen Wraysford, in a civilian setting. Living and working in Amiens, Wraysford has a passionate adulterous affair with Isabelle Azaire and the knowledge of his love and loss provides the psychological background to his emotional detachment at the Front. Here, the oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere of the life of the men tunnelling under no man's land builds massive tension. The depiction of war is stunningly good, but it is also a novel about the redeeming power of love.

Judith Allnatt - 11/02/2014
Gilead
Gilead (Paperback)
Marilynne Robinson
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David Mitchell writes - Measured, solid, real, honed, slow-burning, infused with a spiritual intelligence, lingering, imperishable.

David Mitchell - 11/03/2011
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil...
E. L. Konigsburg
 
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A modern classic in the States, something of a cult title in the UK, this is a lovely tale of Claudia, who runs away from home, taking her little brother with her. And where do they end up? The Metropolitan Museum of Art, of course…

Marcus Sedgwick - 26/09/2013
The Remains of the Day
Kazuo Ishiguro
 
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Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins played in the movie based on this novel, and they are truly great, but the movie fails anyway, because this novel does something a movie can't. The final crisis is a slip in narrative voice, a dissolution of syntax and diction as the butler admits his heart is breaking. This elegant and subtle voice, in its great formality and distance, allows the exploration of all that is most private in us, and its look back on a life wasted really is heartbreaking

David Vann - 26/09/2013
The Road
The Road (Paperback)
Cormac McCarthy
 
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In The Road, a man and his son must roam a post-apocalyptic wasteland, avoiding roving packs of marauders, and resisting the temptation, despite their hunger, to resort to cannibalism. The moral of this tale is, as with most human endeavors: pack a lunch. Cormack McCarthy is a very good writer. He reminds me of a young Marvelle Wyatt.

AKH48 . - 29/07/2013
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
John Le Carre
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Even if it wasn't so topical, I would have picked a Smiley novel. I love the understated style and beautiful story-telling. And I love spies.

Lindsey Davis - 20/03/2012
Master and Commander
Patrick O'Brian
 
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From Master and Commander, twenty novels and one unfinished one: this is a series that repays the time spent reading it. These novels develop at a slower pace than some of the others on this list. Indeed, there are some books in the series, where very little happens at all, which you’d think would be the kiss-of-death to naval adventure. The reason they work though – whether it is a violent sea-battle, or peaceful scenes of food and music on the ship – are the characters of Captain Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. Those two men are so well-realised, so ‘alive’ and interesting, that I was happy just to know how their lives went, whether good or ill. The period is beautifully researched, though I’m sure over twenty books there will be pedants who can find a mistake or two. The combination of sailing, war and history works incredibly well in O’Brian’s hands.

Conn Iggulden - 11/09/2013
The Giver
The Giver (Paperback)
Lois Lowry
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Perfect dystopia; an eye-opening read.

Lauren Kate - 15/06/2012

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