Newest General Fiction Reviews

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Make Something Up by Chuck Palahniuk

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What are we to make of that subtitle-seeming writing on the front cover – stories you can't unread? Does that not apply to all good fiction? Clearly it is here due to the reputation of the author, and the baggage his name brings to the page. We'd expect a dramatic approach from anything Palahniuk writes, and an added frisson, an extra layer, from which we might be forced to shrink back. But a lot of the contents don't quite go that far. Yes, things are dramatic, when society starts attaching defibrillators to itself, to create the perfect, simple, care- (The Price is Right-, and Kardashian-) free happiness. A man buys a horse for his daughter – but boy is it the wrong horse to buy. A man falls in love – yes, sometimes the plot summaries of these stories really are better off for being short (speaking of which, don't turn to the three-page entrant here as a taster, it'll put you off by dint of being, almost uniquely here, a nothing story). A call centre worker can't convince people he's on the level and even in their country – until someone starts riffing back to him. A housing estate report conveys bad regulation violations, but not as bad as the happenings at a 'Burning Man'-styled festival, in a very clever couple of tales. But many too are the instances where that extra step has been taken. Full review...

Griffin and Sabine 25th Anniversary Edition: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock

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Oh Griffin and Sabine, where have you been all my life? I've loved epistolary novels and ones that take the narrative two-and-fro of letters and bring us closer to the sender than any omniscient narrator can hope to do. I've still got the childlike love of picking at an envelope stuck in a book to pull out a sheet of something else – not only is there the wonder at the handmade construction of something so bluntly and undeservedly called 'a book', but there is the frisson of being the first person to see this artefact ever. So how have I never seen this book before, and its cycle of sequels, concerning the correspondence between two completely different people? Full review...

The Girls by Lisa Jewell

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When Clare takes her two tween daughters Pip and Grace to live in leafy Virginia Terrace, she is hoping for anonymity, a blank slate and a fresh start. Not so long ago, her story was in all of the newspapers when her paranoid-schizophrenic husband burned down the family home. Her new house seems a world away from her previous life. The crescent has a communal garden at its heart, where friendly neighbours socialise and children can run free. But does this new freedom come with a price? Full review...

Cold Calling by Russell Mardell

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Five years on, Ray still can't get over the loss of his girlfriend. Five years is a long, long time to pine and mourn but Ray just doesn't seem to be able to get off the treadmill of it all. The only meaningful relationships he has are with his therapist and best friend Danny. And it's not as though his job provides much in the way of escape - Ray works for an insurance company as a cold caller. This is how, one day, he comes to speak to Anya. Full review...

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan

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Dylan walks away from this family's small London indie cinema in 2020 to live on a Scottish caravan site. His new neighbours Constance and her transgender 12 year old Stella have troubles of their own, but the odd British winter isn't helping. As the country faces true Arctic temperatures life goes on… or at least it tries to. Full review...

The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas, Torbjorn Stoverud and Michael Barnes (translators)

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We're somewhere in rural Scandinavia, on the shores of a large lake, but in a community relying on the farmland that is scattered in amongst the woods. Our chief concerns are brother and sister – Mattis and Hege. He, Mattis, is what the other villagers call 'simple' – sure, he knows a few things about life, and what makes a clever person and what makes a well-turned phrase, and how to talk to girls and when to not stare at them, but he is definitely not quite as the others would wish. Those others include his sister, who is seeing her life waste away in listening to his chatter, knitting jumpers to make ends meet, and regretting in her own small way what has got her to middle-age in this situation. But from this galling introduction, you should take away the bigger picture – even if there is no way out, the life in this countryside is brilliantly conveyed, full of sun as well as shade, of labour and of idleness, and wit and charm as much as hardship. I defy you to read this and think this corner of Scandinavia bleak. Full review...

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costeloe

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Thirteen year old Lisa escapes from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport and arrives in England in August 1939. She can't speak a word of English and her only belongings are crammed into a small suitcase. Among them is one precious photograph of the family she has left behind in Germany. Lonely and homesick, not knowing if she will ever see her family again, Lisa is adopted by a childless couple, and then bullied at school for being German. But worse is to come when the Blitz blows her new home apart, and she wakes up in hospital with no memory of who she is, or where she came from. The authorities give her a new name and despatch her to a children's home. With the war in full swing, what will become of Lisa now? Full review...

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

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On the first anniversary of his wife Miriam's death, Arthur Pepper feels he might finally be up to the task of clearing out her wardrobe. He hasn't got far when he stumbles across a gold charm bracelet he doesn't recognise. If he hadn't been feeling so out of sorts because of the anniversary he would never have rung the phone number he found engraved on the golden elephant. That would have been a shame, because then he would never have set out on his peculiar quest to find out who his wife used to be before she met him. From York to London, Paris and beyond, Arthur pursues Miriam's past and learns things about his wife, his children and himself that he never imagined. Full review...

Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All by Jonas Jonasson and Rachel Willson-Broyles (translator)

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There's feeling on edge, and there's feeling on edge. Per is a hotel receptionist partly because his father and grandfather didn't give him a better destiny, and partly because he was working there when it was a shoddy knocking joint. He's feeling on edge because someone has decided to live there, in room seven, and proudly announced that it's about the first place he's had as an adult to live in that isn't a prison – the man, Hitman Anders, has killed three people in separate fits of rage. And now Per is feeling even more on edge because Johanna, a woman in a dog-collar has turned up, tried to blag twenty kronor for a badly-worded prayer in Per's favour (even though she's been sacked as a priest and is in fact a rampant atheist), and has now colluded to jointly with Per become Hitman Anders' criminal hit-job agents. But could anything make a newly rich Per – and Johanna – feel more on edge, than Hitman Anders gaining a conscience…? Full review...

Roxy by Esther Gerritsen and Michele Hutchison (translator)

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I liked the premise for this novel: a young wife (Roxy) is told at the beginning of the book that her much older husband has been killed in a car accident. To add to the shock of this, the revelation that he died in the arms of his (naked) lover in the car, on the hard shoulder, is a further blow to Roxy. I found this an interesting set-up for a story, and wondered how this was going to go. As the blurb on the back of the novel tells us, she is looking for revenge, I thought the book would be a development of the character of Roxy into a self-motivating, strong character. But this wasn't the case. Full review...

The Daughter's Secret by Eva Holland

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Six years ago, Stephanie and Nate ran away together. She was 15, and he was her geography teacher. Awkward. We pick up the story with Ros, Steph's mother, as she learns that Nate is about to be released from prison, earlier than planned in just 11 days for now. The book takes place over those 11 days leading up to Mr Temperley's release as Ros struggles to break the news to her daughter. She's bound to be devastated by it…isn't she? Full review...

Inside of Me by Hazel McHaffie

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It's never specifically said that India Grayson losing her father when she was eight was the cause of her anorexia when she was fifteen, but you see, losing is the best description of what happened. He was a strong swimmer, but even he might have got into difficulties and what other explanation was there for the pile of his clothes on the beach? Only India never quite believed that he was dead and his body had never been found. Had it been something about her that forced him away? Full review...

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

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I do love it when I read a book that stays with me after I've finished reading. This was one of those books, rootling its way a little more into my heart each time I picked it up to read. It's the story, mostly of Miss Ona Vitkus, a one hundred and four year old lady who has a young boy scout come over to help her with jobs and how he ultimately ends up changing her life, and not at all in the way you might imagine since before we even begin the story the boy is dead. Full review...

I Am Radar by Reif Larsen

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Racial tensions, identity, parental responsibility, a child's best interest, love, science, war – Reif Larsen's I Am Radar falls nothing short of having rich thematic content. Its cornucopia of thematic explorations is interwoven into a complex web of stories, taking the reader on a journey, both literal and figurative, from suburban New Jersey to an Arctic no man's land to Congo and the Bosnian warzone. Full review...

Ace of Spiders by Stefan Mohamed

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Stanly is frustrated. Having set himself up as London's protector, he's finding that the everyday practicalities of superheroism are challenging at best, and downright tedious at worst. So it's almost a relief when an attempt is made on his life and Stanly finds himself rushing headlong into a twisted adventure, with enemies new and old coming out of the woodwork. However, even with his friends and his ever-increasing power behind him, he may have bitten off more than he can chew this time. The monsters are coming… and nothing will ever be the same! Full review...

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

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It's set to be the sale of the century: Russian oligarchs, Arab sheikhs, rappers and heiresses are all lined up to bid for The Improbability of Love, a small Antoine Watteau oil painting depicting a courting couple overlooked by a clown. The painting was missing until six months ago, when Annie McDee bought it from a junk shop for £75 as a birthday present for an incompatible fellow she met through Internet dating. When he didn't show for dinner and the junk shop mysteriously burnt down so that she couldn't ask for a refund, the painting became hers. Thirty-year-old Annie had been in a rut: after a painful break-up from Desmond, with whom she ran a cheese shop and café in Devon, she moved to London and was working as a PA to randy Italian film director Carlo Spinetti. She also acquired an unwanted roommate: her alcoholic mother, Evie. Full review...

The Exclusives: No One Can Hurt You More Than a Friend by Rebecca Thornton

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Josephine is a successful archaeologist on a dig in Amman when she gets the email she never expected: Freya wants to meet up with her. The reason isn’t such a surprise though. In 1996 Freya and Josephine were best friends at boarding school till the aftermath of a night out clubbing. Freya desperately wants to talk to Jo about the events that ripped their friendship apart, the events that Josephine has avoided speaking or thinking about in more than a decade. Full review...

Stork Mountain by Miroslav Penkov

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A young man, his grandfather and a stork with a broken wing are the company of rebels at the heart of this lively tale set in Bulgaria's Strandja Mountains. The storks that return to the mountains each spring are migrants, like so many of the people that have passed through the region over the centuries. The young narrator is also in transit, born in Bulgaria, but raised and educated in America. The story opens with his return to Bulgaria in search of his grandfather who has broken off contact with his family in America. But the young man's motives are not as clear cut as first appears. Full review...

After Birth by Elisa Albert

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This book is definitely not for anyone who has a rosy picture of new motherhood. In fact, I would probably avoid it if you are contemplating giving birth in the near future. For any woman who has ever struggled through the first few months of motherhood, however, or a partner of somebody who is going through it, it is an astounding and revelatory read. Never before have I read a more searing, honest and open discussion of the emotional upheaval a woman often goes through after giving birth. Full review...

Too Close to the Edge by Pascal Garnier and Emily Boyce (translator)

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Meet Pascal Garnier. Normally, in starting a review that way, I'm on about the main character of the book, but it could be said the biggest character of any Pascal Garnier book is Pascal Garnier, not that that's a flaw. Over a half-dozen titles I've come to know the pattern of his output, and it's fair to say this example fits it very well. Again, not a fault. His thrillers have a small cast list of characters, trapped somehow in a small community, cut off by weather, season or remoteness. Here we are with Eliette, and just a handful of others, and watching her as she celebrates the return of spring to her remote home, an ex-silk farm in southern France. All characters have a darkness about them, including Eliette – she had wanted to retire to the place with her loving, long-term husband, but he died of cancer months before retirement. And the final piece of the Garnier pattern is that that darkness, the black surrounding the night stars to use one of the more memorable lines here, is that things – said situation, other people, life itself – cause people to do some equally black and stupid acts… Full review...

The Forgotten Summer by Carol Drinkwater

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It is time for the annual grape harvest at Les Cigales, and Jane is preparing herself for a busy day, overseeing the work. At this moment in time, Jane's life seems as perfect as it gets: living in a stunning location with a husband who adores her and a job that allows her the freedom to travel. There is, however, a significant cloud hanging over Jane's perfect world: a vindictive mother in law who despises her and is determined to make her as miserable as possible. Clarrisse Cambon is a woman with an axe to grind and poor Jane is the unwilling recipient of her vitriol. Full review...

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

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Tomas is being thrust into the twentieth Century, and he doesn't like it. He has given himself the job of seeking something out in the High Mountains of Portugal, based on an ancient religious diary he found working in an archive, and to do so he needs the use of his uncle's brand new car to get him there and back in time. His jaw drops when he learns he will have to do the driving himself, for he cannot make head nor tail of what anything on the infernal machine does and why. It is of course a certain kind of progress, a looking forward, which has become quite anathema to him – for ever since he lost his beloved wife, beloved child and father, all in the space of a week, he has walked everywhere backwards – shielding himself from what really is ahead with a padded behind, and never letting sight of what he has lost. Full review...

Distant Light by Antonio Moresco and Richard Dixon (translator)

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Our unnamed narrator might as well be the only person alive. He knows he's not – he still goes down to the nearest inhabited village to buy things to eat and other necessities, and he sees planes spreading their contrails over the remote area he lives in – but he might as well be. A lot of his thoughts are about life, however, for he has little to do except notice the nature around him, from the smell of lilies burgeoning with nobody else to see them in this deserted village, to the swallows darting across the ravines of the countryside. Life – and the nature of a light that he sees spring into activity every night at what he thought was a totally lifeless, empty forest area on land separated from his lookout post in his back garden by a deep, wooded gorge… Full review...

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison

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The cruise to Alaska came as something of a surprise to Harriet Chance. It had been booked by her husband, Bernard, before his death and almost on a whim Harriet decided that she would go and take her best friend Mildred along with her. She might be seventy eight, but when she thought about it there didn't seem to be any reason not to go and it might give them both a new lease of life. She and Bernard had been married for fifty-five years, but the cruise would not work out as she hoped and for some of the strangest of reasons. Full review...

Escape Attempt by Miguel Angel Hernandez and Rhett McNeil (translator)

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Immigration and radical contemporary art: the two themes of Miguel Ángel Hernández's Escape Attempt are debate-provoking even on their own, but brought together into one plot, they fall nothing short of creating a painfully current and ruthlessly polemic novel. The brave choice of subject matter takes the reader on a journey that revolts, angers, and excites: Escape Attempt is an experience that does not leave the reader untouched, and locks them in a page-turner that cannot be escaped. Full review...

When the Floods Came by Clare Morrall

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Sometime in the not-too-distant future, a devastating virus has decimated the population of the UK, striking humans and animals alike and leaving Britain in a state of quarantine for decades. Most of the survivors have been left infertile and the majority of people have relocated to Brighton, where they rely on airdops from surrounding nations in order to survive. Farming is impossible, as weather conditions are harsh and extreme, including tornadoes, floods and blizzards. Not everyone chooses to live in Brighton though. In a block of flats in Birmingham live the resourceful Polanski Family: Popi, Moth, Roza, Boris, Delphine and Lucia. Moth and Popi prefer solitude and isolation and their make-do-and-mend philosophy has ensured their survival in this unconventional environment. Full review...