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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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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 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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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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Stormbreaker
(Paperback)
Anthony Horowitz
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
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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 Graveyard Book
(Paperback)
Neil Gaiman; Chris Riddell
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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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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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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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 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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