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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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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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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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The Secret Ministry of Frost
(Paperback)
Nick Lake
A dark adventure, ranging from Ireland to the Artic, with an unusual heroine in Light – half Inuit, half Irish and all albino, The Secret Ministry of Frost is a fantastic debut novel from Nick Lake. Similar to His Dark Materials in the search for a lost father and in the desolate setting, Light’s epic journey into the artic wasteland to confront a force older than mankind, pulls you in right from the very start. The Inuit folklore she thought to be fairy tales merges with reality when Light is drawn into an age-old intrigue between Setna, the ruler of the sea and Frost, king of the cold. The action is relentless and at times brutal, not surprising given that her friends include the Tupilak, half shark, half polar bear, and a Raven God. Frightening (in a good way) and intelligent - all kids’ books should be as good as this. - 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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Runaway
(Paperback)
Alice Munro
Don’t let the awful cover put you off - Alice Munro is one of the greatest writers in the world and a master of the short story, and this might be her best collection. Not very much happens on the outside, but the internal lives of Munro’s characters are constantly going through crises, revelations and epiphanies that are so devastating and perfectly expressed that I had to put the book down and recover a few times. She writes about women going through emotional upheaval with economy and precision without it ever feeling too stylised or stilted, and can make one sentence say more than most writers can in pages. - Adam
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Bad Faith: A History of Family and...
(Paperback)
Carmen Callil
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
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Everything Ravaged Everything Burned
(Paperback)
Wells Tower
I love Wells Tower so much that, even though he looks slightly like my old sweaty maths teacher, I would marry him if he asked. This is his first collection of short stories and you shouldn’t buy this as a present for any one but yourself. It’s too good to give away. Sometimes you read something and it says everything you think about the world, but better, and more eloquently than you ever could. - Rebecca
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The Woman in the Dunes
(Paperback)
Kobo Abe; David Mitchell
Sand mercilessly rules over a desert village. An unsuspecting entomologist looking for species in the sand is forced to stay with ‘The Woman in the Dunes’, but he will be leaving tomorrow following the storm. Trapped into an existence that involves the relentless shovelling of the sand out from the woman’s home, Niki Jumpei becomes enslaved by the people of the village and lives in the hope he will one day be released. - Stephen
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Ronia, the Robber's Daughter
(Paperback)
Astrid Lindgren
Honestly, what eight-year-old girl doesn’t want to be a robber’s daughter? Live in a rugged old fortress, the most loving bear of a dad you could ask for, the world’s most protective mother, and a raggedy bunch of robbers to entertain you and indulge your every whim! Until it all goes belly-up, and then you find yourself battling scary harpies and trolls and having to make it through the winter in a cave with your best friend—who just happens to be the rival robber chief’s son, big deal!—because adults are selfish and stubborn and prejudiced and just plain wrong sometimes. An adventure story as much as one about family and friendship, and one I keep coming back to even now every couple of years or so. - Julia
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Shutter Island
(Paperback)
Dennis Lehane
Shutter Island is a stand alone novel (Lehane writes a series featuring PI’s Kenzie and Gennaro) which follows the exploits of US Marshall Teddy Daniels as he tries to find a patient, missing from a hospital for the criminally insane located on the island. Nothing is as it seems in this book. The claustrophobic atmosphere of being trapped on an island stuffed with mental patients (and their deranged guards), combined with the complete disregard for how you think characters should act, heightens the insanity of it all and makes for a very creepy read. Read the books first as the humour is often missed out to crank up the gritty urban realism, and the films are perhaps the lesser for it. There’s also something vaguely disturbing about being trapped in your own mind, reading about the criminally insane. That might just be me though. - Rebecca
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The Brothers Lionheart
(Paperback)
Astrid Lindgren; Joan Tate; Ilon...
Little Karl Lion is dying; his brother Jonatan tells him of a magical land where people still live in “the campfire and storytelling days”. Which is exactly where they end up when Jonatan dies saving Karl from a fire and Karl finally succumbs to his illness. What follows is a fantasy adventure full of joyous pursuits, but also betrayal, and oppression, and rebellion, and the scariest dragon ever. This book influenced my views of death a long time before I even realised that’s what this one is all about. As is the case with all the best children’s books, it’s not coy or hand-waving about death or any of the other less than pleasant themes it touches on; it’s the characters' reaction to it and what happens after that makes it ultimately comforting. - Julia
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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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