Newest General Fiction Reviews

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We All Begin As Strangers by Harriet Cummings

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In the summer of 1984, a Chilterns village was gripped with fear and suspicion as a mysterious intruder known as The Fox broke into the homes of several residents in the area. Despite an increased police presence, regular patrols and vigilante groups, this slippery character still managed to evade detection. A huge police Foxhunt followed, and finally, forensic evidence led to the eventual capture of the perpetrator. This real-life news story sparked the imagination of a young Harriet Cummings, who went on to create a fictional version of events, which invites the reader to turn detective and try and unmask The Fox from a range of possible suspects. Full review...

Hunting Ground by Val Harris

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Nyara Camp is one of the newest camps in the Masai Mara and it's run by James and Alexia Sackville. The guests might sleep in tents, but it's still luxury accommodation in anybody's book. Chui Camp, on the other hand, sticks with the traditional way that safaris were run, including bucket showers. Owner Ralph Somerton is convinced that's what the guests should want and he won't listen to any of his wife Tessa's suggestions for updating the tired venue. It's beginning to be reflected in the profits Chui makes, but instead of upping his own game Somerton would rather see Nyara as unfair competition and it's only a small step from that reasoning to looking at ways of ensuring Nyara's failure. Full review...

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

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If you find the techniques used by Rembrandt and Vermeer fascinating, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos provides a masterclass in how to work up a canvas in stages. Framing the novel as the story of a seventeenth century Dutch painting, Dominic Smith vividly sketches out the main contours of his characters and the three time periods they inhabit before we are even one fifth of the way through. Sara is one of the few women artists of the period and her painting is of children skating on a frozen canal, her now dead daughter its central figure. The painting has been in Marty de Groot's family since before Isaac Newton was born and he is the patent lawyer from whom it is stolen in 1950s Manhattan. Ellie Shipley forged a copy of the painting in her postgraduate student years and in 2000 finds herself at the centre of a gathering storm which threatens to destroy her reputation as one of Sydney's foremost fine art academics. Satisfying though those first descriptions are, we then understand these are merely the author's equivalent of the delicate chalk lines used by painters of the Dutch Golden Age to mark out the composition which will follow. Full review...

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan

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The Red Lobster seafood restaurant chain is closing some of its poorly-performing branches just before Christmas. Amid the Christmas lights, office parties and forced jollity Manny DeLeon, the manager of one of these failing outlets, has to keep it all together for one last day. Short-handed, with most of the staff who've bothered to turn up facing unemployment, he tries to make the best of a bad job, all the while knowing this will be the last day he'll spend with the waitress he shouldn't still be in love with, particularly not now he's about to be a dad. Oh, and there's a blizzard on the way. Full review...

Siracusa by Delia Ephron

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Michael and Lizzie are a writer–journalist couple from New York City; Finn and Taylor live with their ten-year-old daughter, Snow, in Portland, Maine, where Finn (an old flame of Lizzie's) owns a restaurant. After meeting up by chance on a trip to London last year, they decide to go away together for a proper holiday in Italy, to the Sicilian island of Siracusa via Rome. In alternating chapters, the narrative moves fluidly between the perspectives of the four adults, all of whom are reflecting – with the help of hindsight and therapy – on what ended up being a disastrous trip. Although we don't learn until very late on in the book exactly what went wrong, there's a sense that it might be something to do with Snow. Full review...

The Summer House Party by Caro Fraser

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In the gloriously hot summer of 1936, a group of people meet at a country house party. Within three years, England will be at war, but for now, time stands still. Dan Ranscombe is clever and good-looking, but he resents the wealth and easy savoir-faire of fellow guest, Paul Latimer. Surely a shrewd girl like Meg Slater would see through that, wouldn't she? And what about Diana, Paul's beautiful sister, Charles Asher, the Jewish outsider, Madeleine, restless and dissatisfied with her role as children's nanny? And artist Henry Haddon, their host, no longer young, but secure in his power as a practised seducer. As these guests gather, none has any inkling the choices they make will have fateful consequences, lasting through the war and beyond. Or that the first unforeseen event will be a shocking death… Full review...

The Futures by Anna Pitoniak

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When we first meet Evan Peck, he has just started at Yale College, where he plays ice hockey. Like lots of the other players, he is actually Canadian, from small-town British Columbia. One night after a party Evan meets Julia Edwards at their dorm and they go out for pizza. She technically has a boyfriend from her Boston boarding school days, but they soon break up and before long Julia and Evan have become inseparable, as they will remain for the rest of their college years. Full review...

Fall Out by Lizzy Mumfrey

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Charlton's the sort of village where people aspire to live, despite its apparent ordinariness. There's the usual mix of commuters (it's not too far from London) and those who make their lives in the village. Richard Hughes is a commuter, but his wife Jessica works at the local academy, where both their children - Alfie and Hannah - are pupils. Pete Cole is a newly-promoted police superintendent and clearly still fond of his voluptuous wife, Susie. Actually, some of that voluptuousness might be better described as fat - Pete suspects that he might need longer arms to hug her before long. Less popular is Gary Webber. He's the sort of man who causes people to heave a sigh of relief when he joins someone else for a drink at the golf club. Full review...

All the Good Things by Clare Fisher

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Nature, nurture, chance and circumstance; all combine to produce the story of Bethany Mitchell, a young adult who writes from her prison cell. We know only that she has committed a 'bad thing', a bad thing that she sees as the end of her story. Armed with a simple task, Erika, a psychologist, sets out to challenge this. She asks Beth simply to compile a list of all the good things in her life. Full review...

Conclave by Robert Harris

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It is hard to believe that Harris has managed to bring such pace to the often lengthy and complex process of a conclave, but he has wrung out every piece of mystery and the result had me reading through long into the night. I simply could not put this down. Full review...

The Teacher's Secret by Suzanne Leal

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Terry has been teaching at his suburban Australian junior school for years. Everyone knows him, heck half the kids in his class have parents who were former pupils of his. He's an institution. You know the sort. And he does not take kindly to a new young upstart showing up and trying to meddle. He's not nasty about it, but it rubs him up the wrong way. Full review...

The Married Girls by Diney Costeloe

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Wynsdown, 1949. In the small Somerset village of Wynsdown, Charlotte Shepherd is happily married to farmer Billy. She arrived from Germany on the Kindertransport as a child during the war and now feels settled in her adopted home. Meanwhile, the squire's fighter pilot son, Felix, has returned to the village with a fiancée in tow. Daphne is beautiful, charming... and harbouring secrets. After meeting during the war, Felix knows some of Daphne's past, but she has worked hard to conceal that which could unravel her carefully built life. For Charlotte, too, a dangerous past is coming back in the shape of fellow refugee, bad boy Harry Black. Forever bound by their childhoods, Charlotte will always care for him, but Harry's return disrupts the village quiet and it's not long before gossip spreads. The war may have ended, but for these girls, trouble is only just beginning... Full review...

Purple Flame by J S Rais-Daal

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Life hasn't been easy for teenager Zach Ford. He just lost his entire family to a freak car accident, and he's barely keeping himself together. Each day is more gruelling than the last, but for Zach, it goes much deeper than the pressure of exams and the threats of bullies and teachers at school. Zach has a secret power that many seek and a few would kill for. He is possessed by a demon, but the demon has a purpose: revenge on the people responsible for Zach's pain. As it turns out, the car accident that killed his family wasn't so accidental. Every tragic thing that's happened to Zach recently has been carefully orchestrated with one mistake — Zach was supposed to die in the accident, too. Since he didn't, he has become a target, but the demon inside won't let him go quietly. Zach will fight, even if his behaviour leaves him alone and struggling. He'll get his vengeance, but it soon becomes apparent this supernatural battle goes back a lot longer than Zach's lifetime. Something ancient now festers, and a final battle brews amidst Heaven and Hell. Full review...

The Return Home by Justin Huggler

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The uniqueness of a boyhood spent growing up in Jersey is conveyed in some memorable imagery in this novel, intersecting the German wartime occupation of the island, the Afghan resistance to the Russians in the 1980s and present day conflict in Syria. Ben, now working internationally for a human rights advocacy organisation, flits back and forth between reflections on his boyhood and his adult self. He is both attempting to solve the mystery of what became of his uncle Jack, who had a brief but lasting impact on him as a child, and trying to decide how to save his disintegrating marriage. For the first few chapters I enjoyed these time shifts back and forth, advancing with Ben in understanding the meaning of events which as an eight year old he could only partly grasp. Ben also develops a deepening appreciation of the choices he has made in life, such as his choice of career, by examining the influences on his childhood self. Full review...

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

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Meet Grace. She's not exactly trapped in a loveless marriage, but something like it. She has no real way away from the kitchen sink, and two very young children to care for while her husband is a civil engineer. Her mother-in-law hates her, but she has a great relationship with a girlfriend neighbour – except said friend Rosie has a wondrous love life, while Grace's experience with sex is getting worse and worse. Things deteriorate when Grace's husband, Gene, loses his mother, and retreats from intimacy even further. The small community around Grace – and an endless rain shower – are closing in around her. But what would happen to her and those she cares for if a real disaster were to occur? Full review...

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

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11th September 2001. Lucy and Gabe meet in New York on a day that will change their lives – and the world – forever. As the city burns behind them, they kiss for the very first time. Over the next thirteen years they are torn apart, then brought back together, time and time again. It's a journey of dreams, of desires, of jealousy, of forgiveness – and above all, love. As Lucy is faced with a devastating choice, she wonders whether their love is a matter of destiny or chance. Full review...

Little Gold by Allie Rogers

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The heat is oppressive and storms are brewing in Brighton in the summer of 1982. Little Gold, a boyish girl on the brink of adolescence, is struggling with the reality of her broken family and a home descending into chaos. Her only refuge is the tree at the end of her garden. Into her fractured life steps elderly neighbour, Peggy Baxter. The connection between the two is instant, but just when it seems that Little Gold has found solace, outsiders appear who seek to take advantage of her frail family in the worst way possible. In an era when so much is hard to speak aloud, can Little Gold share enough of her life to avert disaster? And can Peggy Baxter, a woman running out of time and with her own secrets to bear, recognise the danger before it's too late? Full review...

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

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Set in the near future, NASA prepares to send three astronauts in to space to put the first humans on Mars. Helen Kane, Yoshi Tanaka, and Sergei Kuznetsov are the trio selected for the mission, but they must first prove themselves by spending seventeen months in a simulation that mirrors conditions on Mars. Each of the astronauts has their own reason for taking part in the mission and their relationships with their families will be put to the ultimate test as they begin this journey of discovery and escapism. Full review...

Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney

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Like all twenty-year-olds, Ryan Cusack is trying to get his head around who he is. This is not a good time for his boss to exploit his dual heritage by opening a new black market route from Italy to Ireland. It is certainly not a good time for his adored girlfriend to decide he's irreparably corrupted. And he really wishes he hadn't accidentally caught the eye of an ornery grandmother who fancies herself his saviour. Full review...

Girlhood by Cat Clarke

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Girlhood focuses on a group of friends; Harper, Rowan, Lily and Ama, who are fast approaching the end of term at an elite boarding school in the middle of nowhere. The arrival of Kirsty causes a seismic shift in this previously supportive friendship group and Harper soon finds herself caught between her old friends and the mysterious new girl who seems to have so much in common with her. But is Kirsty who she claims to be? Full review...

The Housekeeper by Suellen Dainty

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Annie has broken the cardinal rule of never mixing business with pleasure, and so when the latter ends, she's left without the former, and in need of a new job. She never thought about being a housekeeper, but her OCD tendencies mixed with years of working in hospitality mean she's quite capable, especially when an opportunity arises with her girl crush, Emma Helmsley, one half of a well-known celeb couple on the London circuit. Nothing is ever as it seems, though, and Annie soon finds that behind those tall walls there is a family no less dysfunctional than anyone else's, despite their fame, fortune, and front page headlines. Full review...

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

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Meet Josephine. Married to Joseph Jones, she has kept her maiden name to keep at least some character to her identity. As opposed to her new boss, who has no gender, no face, and horrid halitosis. The job Josephine is forced to choose is a simple one, of taking a file's paper contents, clicking up the subject on a huge database, entering a date newly printed on the sheet, and repeating. Told to obey strict secrecy rules, she starts to find unusual signs of malignance all over – a man in a grey sweatshirt following her, post redirected when nobody knows where Josephine and Joseph are even living from one month to the next, and a husband missing from the marital bed more and more often… Is there a way for her find a spark of happiness in the humdrum, windowless cell she works, and the horrid housing that is all the couple can afford? Full review...

The Reunion by Roisin Meaney

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This is an emotional story about the lives of two Irish sisters, beginning with their invitation to attend a twenty year reunion back at their Convent High School. They are both unsure whether to go, their adult lives having veered off in totally different and dramatic directions since leaving school. We find out that the sisters have each suffered terrible life events, changing them for ever from the children they were. The story reveals how they begin to re-build their lives, supporting one another and becoming much closer in the process. Full review...

The End of the Day by Claire North

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At the end of the day, Death visits everyone. Right before that, Charlie does. You might meet him in a hospital, in a warzone, or at the scene of a traffic accident. Then again, you might meet him at the North Pole - he gets everywhere. From jungles to deserts to tundra, you may come across Charlie. Would you shake him by the hand, take the gift he offers, or would you pay no attention to the words he says? Sometimes he is sent as a courtesy, sometimes as a warning. He never knows which. Full review...

Ladivine by Marie NDiaye and Jordan Stump (translator)

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Ladivine centres on the life of Clarisse, a woman tormented by guilt and shame over her abandonment of her mother, and Clarisse's daughter Ladivine, a woman haunted by her mother's choices. As tragedy unfolds the mysteries of Clarisse's life and her determination to escape a past she cannot reconcile with her ambition irreparably alter the lives of her daughter and husband. The sadness at the heart of this book is that Clarisse, driven by shame about her background chooses to create another life and identity and through this deception creates an insurmountable barrier between herself and the rest of the world. When given the opportunity to let down her defences and be honest about who she truly is, Clarisse falls prey to a violent, damaged man and finds herself drawn into an intoxicating web of violence, drunk on truth and freedom to exist without pretence. Full review...