Newest General Fiction Reviews

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How to Measure a Cow by Margaret Forster

3star.jpg General Fiction

Seeking to escape her past, Tara has left London, resettling way up north in Cumbria where no-one knows her. She quickly settles into an anonymous, unexciting life, observed only by Nancy, her elderly neighbour who begins to develop an odd obsession with her. Meanwhile, her three childhood friends are baffled by her disappearance, and resolve to get back in touch with her. Full review...

Isaac Montgomery for the Love of Beth by Steven Anthony

3star.jpg General Fiction

There are words to describe the Isaac Montgomery we meet at the beginning of the story. Unfortunately they're not words you usually use in polite company. He'd worked for many years in stockbroking and had made a substantial fortune, but his life was devoid of much in the way of personal relationships. When he required a woman as an escort, he paid. He assumed that if he was having a good time, then she were too - if he even bothered to think about it. He had a friend whom he didn't see all that often and it was when he thought about Phil that a little jealousy crept into Isaac's heart. You see, Phil was engaged to Penelope and they were obviously happy. Isaac began to wonder what love was - and how you went about finding someone to share your life with. Full review...

The Gingerbread House by Kate Beaufoy

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The Gingerbread House is not a cottage from a fairytale where a wicked old witch lives but it is in a wonderful rural setting, perfect for getting away from it all. Or it would be, if it weren't for the lady who lives there who, while far from a witch, can be a bit of a b*tch. It's not entirely her fault. Eleanor has dementia and her fading mind makes her confused, angry and quite hard work to care for. With her current carer off to attend her daughter's wedding, Eleanor's daughter in law Tess steps up to assume this role in the interim, bringing her precocious daughter Katia with her. Full review...

The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

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Herr Neuroff's circus has a secret: as well as a much needed wartime source of entertainment, it's also refuge to Jews escaping uncertain concentration camp fates. One such person, Astrid, a trapeze and high wire artist, lives a precarious life in which her possible discovery would be more dangerous than her nightly act. She's an expert who has perfected her art over time and therefore resents Neuroff demanding she teach Noa, a non-circus family new comer, quickly. There's a reason behind the circus owner's demand though. Noa arrives at the circus endangered by an act of kindness: a Jewish baby she stole from a Nazi train before leaving the Netherlands. It was a spur of the moment decision that will bind her to Astrid and their future, no matter how long… or short… a time that may be. Full review...

The Longest Night by Otto de Kat and Laura Watkinson (translator)

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Emma has a philosophy – let the dead rest, and love the living. The problem with that, as a 96-year-old, is that there are too few living left, and so while the love remains she will go through her memories, taking a woozy, diaphanous path through all the major events of her life. Starting in wartime Berlin with one husband, who gets snatched from her at work, fleeing to another place to wait for peace, and wait for him in vain, moving to Holland and finding new love, and so on – this wispy journey will show all the impacts of war, from rationing right up to exile, death and survival. The memories are coming strongly here and now, as Emma is waiting for at least one of her two sons to visit, and then she will die… Full review...

The Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh

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So. In the interest of honest disclosure I should tell you that I love Irvine Welsh's work and I must confess to a particularly gruesome fancy for Begbie, the notoriously violent, terrifying protector/tormentor of the Trainspotting gang. Whilst this means you are unlikely to receive an unbiased review, it does mean you will get a passionate one. It is fair to say that I loved The Blade Artist and my only critique would be that it was over too quickly. For those of you who may not be familiar with Welsh's earlier manifestations have no fear, you can pick up The Blade Artist and be transfixed by Jim Francis, artist, father, husband and elegant thug. For those of you with previous knowledge of Francis Begbie you'll be instantly drawn back into the world of a man previously defined by petty vengeance, violence and blood. Full review...

The Roots of the Tree by Amanda Roberts

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The strength of a tree comes not from what you can see, not from the trunk, the branches and the leaves, but from what you can't see - the roots. Disturbance to the roots can be devastating. It's similar in human beings. Annie had lived for 63 years, secure in the love of her parents, Elsie and Frank. She'd looked after them in her home in their final years and it was quite by chance that she came across their wedding certificate when she was sorting out their effects. They had not been married until after her birth, but her birth certificate showed Frank as her father and that her mother was married to him. Something didn't add up and there was one inescapable conclusion: the man she'd loved as her father all those years wasn't her father after all. Full review...

The Yellow House by Jeroen Blokhuis and Asja Novak (translator)

3star.jpg Literary Fiction

If you were the needy kind, would you really join in the drumming-out of town of two people accused of murder purely because of their nationality? Would you get a feeling of belonging just because you were there when someone carried a dead dog down off a mountain? The main character in this novel does. But he has something that will really get him noted, well-thought-of, included. He has come to the south of France to set up an artists' collective, where he can live and work alongside his counterparts, who can inspire each other and best each other to create wonderful art. In fact a much-respected guest is on his way now, so surely he can find kinship? The guest's name is, after all, Gauguin. The main character is, of course, Vincent van Gogh… Full review...

Retribution Road by Antonin Varenne and Sam Taylor (translator)

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Sergeant Bowman wasn't just a hard man, he was something else: a dangerous man. If, indeed, there was someone who was ideal for a suicide mission, it was him. Working as a soldier for the East India Company in the rural, remote, outlaw hotbeds of Asia in the 1850s, he's tasked with taking a boat of unknown prospects up the Irrawaddy to try and combat local warlord Pagan Min. It doesn't go well – to start with, he's supposed to run the rule over ruffians saved from the gallows, but can't command them until he's forced his way to having the knowledge of the mission he needs first, only for all hell to break loose. But get back he does, only to find that while his nightmares about what really happened are met with equally dark goings-on, the official record suggests the mission never actually existed… Full review...

Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

There had always been Katy, Audrey and Adam. They've been friends since school and now, along with Audrey's partner Nick, they remain inseparable as young professionals. Then, one day, Katy kills herself. No warning, no reason just no Katy. The four are suddenly three trying to make sense of a moment that leaves so many questions in a world that refuses to pause while they figure it out. Full review...

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

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I have a thing about blurbs which give away far too much of the stories. Not this time. This time…There are things even love can't do…if the burden is too much and stays too long even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking, and sometimes does break. But even when it's in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn't mean it's no longer love… That is the most heart-breakingly beautiful truth I've read in a long time – and it sums up this story. This is a story about love not being enough…but still being love. I hope this becomes a classic, not just in its native Nigeria but around the world. Full review...

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

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Welcome to 2016, but not as we know it. This version of 2016 was like a picture-perfect scene from a science-fiction movie: a world free from war and poverty, with hover cars, space-tourism, food replicators, shiny buildings and AI that catered to every whim. This was the resplendent 2016 we were supposed to have, thanks to the invention in 1965 of the Goettreider Engine, which created a sustainable form of energy that transformed the planet. With all of the major problems in the world gone, humans were free to dedicate their time to the pursuit of science and entertainment, culminating in what could be the most exciting development yet: a time machine. But of course, this perfect future would be completely derailed if, say, someone went back in time and messed up Goettreider's experiment. Maybe the result would be a world similar to the one we live in now: the world we were never meant to have. Full review...

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin and Megan McDowell (translator)

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Meet Carla. She's a glamorous older woman, with poise and beauty, and someone who still looks a treat in a golden bikini. But inside, she's different. The biggest issue she seems to bear relates to an event a few years ago, when her horse breeder husband had the drama of both a hired, valuable stallion, and their son, being poisoned. Away from the right medical treatment, Carla took David to a woman who said the only hope was a 'migration' – basically, to farm out part of David's spirit and swap it with someone else's, to dilute the toxin. This was a success, as David seems to have survived, although Carla is sure it was the wrong decision – she now sees David as at least part monster. But another odd thing about this tale is that it isn't being narrated by Carla, but by her neighbour, another mother called Amanda, who is renting a holiday home nearby. And the further odd thing is to whom she is narrating this story – it's to David… Full review...

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill

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Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1914. Pierrot is a piano prodigy, and Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary show the world has ever seen. Seperated as teenagers and sent off to work during the Great Depression, both descend into the city's underworld - dabbling in sex, drugs, and theft. Will Rose and Pierrot ever reunite? And if they do - what lengths will they go to to make their dream come true? One thing's for sure - neither they nor the theatre nor the underworld will ever look the same... Full review...

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

4star.jpg General Fiction

I have often said that much of what I know of the world, its geography, history and politics, I have learned from reading story books. Because I learn this way, I do wonder about people who profess not to read fiction. I wonder how much of the truth of how the world really is passes them by as a result. In the light of 2016 in the UK and the USA, I wonder if this is a concern to be added to all of the others about cuts to arts funding and arts learning and the absolute necessity of having public libraries where children can start to choose for themselves at the earliest age, which stories to read, uncensored by the views of those who might think they know better. I say all this because Pachinko is yet one more of those books that did not just make me think differently about what I thought I knew, but actually opened up to me a world that I knew nothing about: the world of the ethnic Korean in Japan. Full review...

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Solimar wants more from her life than her Mexican home can offer and now she's 18, she can go find it. Her target is to get to the USA, a target so blinding that she doesn't realise what reaching out for it will cost. Meanwhile Kavya is living the American dream. She's rich in friendship, family, a loving husband and life prospects and yet Kavya has a baby-shaped hole in her world. The problem is that there's only one baby for both of them… Lucky boy! Full review...

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

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Kate Battista is in an odd and not entirely satisfactory situation. At the age of twenty nine she finds herself working as a teaching assistant and running the home for her scientist father (who is eccentric, to say the least) and her younger sister Bunny, who might be fifteen but is actually three going on thirty. Dr Battista has other problems - and when he has a problem he offloads them onto Kate (he's concerned that she hasn't yet done his taxes). This time though, it's serious. Pyotr, his brilliant young lab assistant, is in the USA on a visa and it's about to expire. If that happens Dr Battista is convinced that he'll not be able to complete his work and all that he's done will be for nothing. Full review...

The Cows by Dawn O'Porter

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Reading the blurb for this novel, the first novel for adults by author Dawn O'Porter, I got very excited. It talks about the cow being a piece of meat, born to breed, one of the herd, and compares this to women, saying how they don't have to fall into a stereotype. I expected a slightly subversive novel about feminism. What I found was an easy to read, enjoyable romp through three modern women's lives. Full review...

City of Friends by Joanna Trollope

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It would be unkind and certainly unfair to say that it was Stacey Grant's mother who was the cause of Stacey losing her job: she might well have been the trigger but it was her manager, Jeff Dodds, who used her request to work flexibly as an excuse to make her redundant. There was a lot of support for Stacey - the staff were as stunned as she was, but in terms of the people she could rely on, there were just a few. Her mother was out of the equation : it was her dementia which started the problem and her husband Steve was wrapped up in the fact that he'd just been promoted to board level in his job. There were the girls: the four of them had met at University and Stacey, Melissa, Beth and Gaby had been firm friends ever since. And there was Bruno the dog. Full review...

Sealskin by Su Bristow

4star.jpg Fantasy

Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous ...and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives - not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence? Full review...

Blind by Cath Weeks

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

American ex-pat Twyla is ready to be the perfect mother. She never dreamed her first child would be anything other than perfect himself, but when he's born blind she is forced to re-evaluate her view of the world. Full review...

For a Little While by Rick Bass

4star.jpg Short Stories

For a Little While is a collection of twenty-five short stories from Rick Bass. As someone previously unacquainted with Bass' work this new collection was a wonderful introduction to his quirky, unusual style which focuses on stripped back, simple fables featuring often mundane situations, mysterious characters and magical experiences. The characters in each tale are beautifully crafted and the stories are dreamy, loose narratives covering everything from love to death to choices made and chances taken. Full review...

Shtum. by Jem Lester

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Jonah Jewell is ten years old; he likes Marmite sandwiches, being outside and sticking exactly to his routine. He cannot speak but he communicates his wants and needs clearly. The adults in his life do nothing but speak but they do not communicate nearly as effectively as Jonah. While functioning from the outside, this is the story of a family falling and tearing each other apart. Ben Jewell needs to fight for his son and by doing so needs to learn how to fight for himself. Full review...

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend's future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt. What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Moving from a life in her parents basement to a life in New York City, Shelby remains damaged by the loss of her best friend, stumbling through life blindly and fighting desperately to become connected to anything at all. But, as she grows, she discovers emotion, survival and happiness, bundled up with dogs, food, books and men she's probably best avoiding… Deep in New York City she find a circle of lost and found souls, and the angel who's been watching over her since that fateful night all those years ago… Full review...

The Horseman by Tim Pears

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The Horseman feels like a novel written much earlier than 2016. This is in large part because it is set in 1911 in rural Somerset but also because Pears writes in a style which is reminiscent of authors in the twentieth century, if not the nineteenth. Readers who are hoping for action, pace and suspense will be sorely disappointed in The Horseman, in which not a lot happens at all; the story could easily be condensed into a couple of pages. However, if you have a rainy weekend in a cosy cottage somewhere, Pears provides the perfect companion, giving readers an antidote to frenetic, twenty first century urban life. Full review...

Octavio's Journey by Miguel Bonnefoy and Emily Boyce (translator)

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Meet Octavio. He's a large lunk, a gentle giant, living alone in a lowly Venezuelan town – a town which once, fleetingly, had fame, fashion and success through a minor miracle, but has none any longer. Octavio, it seems, has some unusual habits – here he is, marching off to the chemist's with a table across his back, for it was all the doctor had at the time to write a prescription on. Now we never learn exactly what the cause of the prescription was, but we soon find out what the cause of the table is – Octavio cannot read, and has learned nothing beyond cutting into his palm to allow the wound to let him escape the need to write. Until, that is, a woman seems to suggest a way for him to learn to read and write, and to love – but that experience also proves to Octavio that there is a whole host of other things he can put his mind to, both for good, and for bad… Full review...

The Things We Learn When We're Dead by Charlie Laidlaw

5star.jpg General Fiction

On the way to a dinner party, Lorna Love steps into the path of an oncoming car. Waking up in what appears to be a hospital, but a hospital in which wine is served for supper, everyone avoids her questions, and her nurse looks suspiciously like Sean Connery, it soon transpires that Lorna is in Heaven, or, at least, on HVN. Because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain. At first Lorna can remember nothing, but as her memories return – some good, some bad, she realises that she has a decision to make, and that maybe, she needs to find a way home… Full review...

Kill the Next One by Federico Axat

4star.jpg Thrillers

After getting started with the opening chapters of Spanish writer, Federico Axat's Kill the Next One, you might be forgiven for thinking you are stuck with one of those machismo riddled tales where a middle-aged man with a mysterious past is forced to shoot or blunder his way through a by-the-numbers thriller. The spectre of Lee Child's successful Jack Reacher series creeping in around the edges of the page. The novel opens with Ted McKay and his Browning pointed to his temple. He has the perfect life, including a beautiful wife and two adoring children, but has discovered that he is also in possession of an untreatable tumour buried deep within his brain which is slowly killing him. However, right before he decides to take the shot and end his life, there is a knock on his door. Standing behind it is a man named Justin Lynch who tells Ted that he represents an all-knowing organisation that turns would-be suicides into opportunities to correct the imbalances of the law. Ted, instead of killing himself, could kill someone who really deserves it. Full review...

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

4star.jpg General Fiction

Claude is the baby of the family. He's very bright. He has a vocabulary way beyond his years so he can hold his own in the rough and tumble of a house containing four older brothers, an emergency doctor mother and a writer father. Claude also likes to wear dresses. He wants to become a night fairy when he grows up. And one day, Claude becomes Poppy. He becomes she. Poppy's parents, Penn and Rosie, aren't too concerned at first - children all like to try on different identities and why should Claude/Poppy be any different? But it soon becomes clear that Poppy isn't play-acting at being a girl. Poppy is a girl. And things get complicated... Full review...