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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
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
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
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
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
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things
Jon McGregor
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I found this book on the underground. I’m not sure if someone left it there because they wanted others to read it or it was left accidentally. Whatever the case I’m glad I found it. Certain books, despite being mildly depressing, reaffirm your belief that people are basically good and the world, although it may seem otherwise, is pretty amazing. This is one of those books. Any description I give won’t do it justice so read it and decide for yourself. The writing style to begin with is slightly unusual but persevere and it is definitely worth it. - Rebecca
The Phantom Tollbooth
Norton Juster
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An absolute classic. Why haven’t you read this already? Milo is bored. Always. Until one day, a mysterious package arrives that leads him to a land where everything is taken literally. The Phantom Tollbooth is full of wordplay (and numberplay and thoughtplay, for that matter), and so clever you’ll want to clap your hands in utter delight. It helps if you’re a bit of a nerd, admittedly, but if the mere idea of King Azaz The Unabridged doesn’t make you laugh, there’s something wrong with you. You should have that checked out. I worry. - Julia
A Darker Domain
A Darker Domain (Paperback)
Val McDermid
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I really like this book. Not only does it manage to link a botched kidnapping of a millionaire’s daughter, a missing miner thought to have scabbed during the 80s mining strike, a mysterious Italian villa, a bolshie detective and a murderous policeman – but it’s set in Fife. No books are ever set in Fife. Even better, it opens in Glenrothes. I’m from there so I may be the only person in London to be excited by this. It makes reading about murder all the more disconcerting. There’s something to be said about reading crime about a place you’re familiar with. Abandon the Swedes for some great British crime. - Rebecca
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
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
Time's Arrow or the Nature of the...
Martin Amis
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When Tod T Friendly dies, his consciousness escapes his body and begins to re-live his life backwards. He begins life as a doctor in American suburbia, mangling his patients before sending them home fixed, ending relationships before falling in love, and watching his deceased friends and relatives being dug out of the ground are brought (back) to life. As he progresses further backwards, however, a sinister past and his true identity are uncovered: as a doctor in Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War, Friendly was involved in the genocide at Auschwitz. But is this the way his backwards-moving consciousness will re-live it? - Josh
The Brothers Lionheart
Astrid Lindgren; Joan Tate; Ilon...
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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
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 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

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