Newest Literary Fiction Reviews

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The Blackbird Singularity by Matt Wilven

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Thirty-something writer Vince Watergate sees his partner's pregnancy as a fresh start. He stops taking his lithium and the new clarity of mind lets him start writing his best work in ages. He befriends a blackbird in the garden with the help of a bag of sultanas, and begins preparing the baby's room. For a short while, everything seems full of peace and hope. But Vince and Lyd's first child, despite having died a couple of years earlier, might not have completely left them and the blackbird might not be as friendly as Vince first thought. Lithium withdrawal, stress, and the pressure of appearing 'normal' push Vince into a frightening, irrational place. Can he fight his way through it and return to his family? Full review...

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Josh and Alexandra Hammond have two daughters. Iris is eleven years old and neurotypical: her brain works in the same way as most people's, but her elder sister, Tilly, is thirteen and on the autistic spectrum. Her parents are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to cope with her. Even her special and rather expensive school has indicated that they can't continue. She's subject to mood swings and unpredictable and inappropriate behaviour. Josh is lucky - he goes to work - but Alexandra is stuck with the problem, which is why Scott Bean, educator and expert in parenting, appeals to her. The name came to her attention on a couple of occasions: she subscribed to his newsletter, heard him speak and what he had to say rang a bell. Before long he was coming to the house for private consultations. Full review...

The Constant Soldier by William Ryan

5star.jpg Thrillers

Paul Brandt returns home to his village without the arm he left at the Russian Front in defence of Germany. The village looks pretty much the same as he left it, with the exception of the lack of young men and a new building. His home now boasts an SS rest hut, providing officers with entertainment and respite breaks from the fighting. As Paul passes the hut for the first time, he sees something… or rather someone… that will make him return to work for those he despises. The subject of his decision? A girl he once got into trouble with under different circumstances – before she wore the stripes of a concentration camp prisoner. Full review...

Taking in Water by Pamela Johnson

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Pamela Johnson's third novel is set in 2002 but has its roots in a real-life tragedy from nearly 50 years earlier: in 1953 a storm surge hit the Norfolk coast, destroying Lydia Hutton's grandmother's home and sweeping her whole family out to sea. Seven-year-old Lydia was the only one to survive, clinging to the wreckage and singing hymns to herself to survive. It's a dark part of her past she's never told anyone except Luc, the half-French lover whose iconic performance art piece, Taking in Water, she participated in during a spell in New York City in the 1960s, when she was known as 'Layla' and hung around with the likes of Andy Warhol. Full review...

Resolution by A N Wilson

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

In 1772 Reinhold Forster and his son George were hired as ship's naturalists for the Resolution, the vessel Captain James Cook piloted to New Zealand and back on a three-year voyage of discovery. Once a Lutheran pastor near Danzig, Reinhold seemed unable to settle to one line of work and had a higher opinion of himself than was prudent. In Wilson's vision of life on the Resolution, Reinhold seems fussy, argumentative and rather heartless, as when he offers George's dog up as fresh meat when the captain is desperately ill. George, just 18 when he joins the expedition, is a self-taught illustrator and botanist with a keen ear for languages. Though precociously intelligent, he is emotionally immature and cannot keep a handle on his masturbation habit or deal with their servant Nally's crush on him. Full review...

The Countenance Divine by Michael Hughes

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

In 1999, a programmer is trying to fix the millennium bug, but can't shake the sense he's been chosen for something.

In 1888, five women are brutally murdered in the East End by a troubled young man in thrall to a mysterious master.

In 1777, an apprentice engraver called William Blake has a defining spiritual experience; thirteen years later this vision returns.

And in 1666, poet and revolutionary John Milton completes the epic for which he will be remembered centuries later.

But where does the feeling come from that the world is about to end? Full review...

The Strays by Emily Bitto

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Lily comes from an ordinary suburban family, but on her first day at a new school she meets Eva: the super-confident middle daughter of artist Evan Trentham. The girls fast become firm friends, to the exclusion of all those ar ound them and it isn't long before Lily is spending more time at the Trentham's than she does at home. Why wouldn't she? Their life is everything her family's isn't. Full review...

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

4star.jpg General Fiction

If you're going to go pioneering across unexplored lands, at least be prepared to accept what you seek – namely, what you've never seen before. That lesson seems quite obvious, but back in the time of 1885 Allen Forrester is a little too naïve to heed it. A career soldier, he is tasked with scouring the potential of the Wolverine River that threads south to the shores of Alaska, even though the Russians (who of course used to own the Territory) have had all manner of lethal encounters with those already living there, and even though a major stretch of the river has to be traversed in winter when entirely frozen over, as the cliffs either side are too impenetrable. Allen leaves a much younger, new bride behind – and right from the get-go his journals force him to pen words about strange happenings, strange encounters and things of legend coming to life. Like I say, what he's never seen before… Full review...

Acts of Love by Talulah Riley

4.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Bernadette St John presents herself as the very face of contemporary feminine independence. She is strong, career-driven, beautiful…and definitely holds the attention of the public. For Bernadette is the Man Whisperer, winning herself fame with her ability to coax secrets from the richest and most powerful men of the world, exposing them with controversial distaste in her articles. Hidden behind such a conniving and judgemental persona, however, is a deep insecurity, and a desperate longing to be loved by the perfect man. She has already decided that the newly engaged Tim Bazier is the only candidate for such a position in her heart, and will stop at nothing to win him back from his all-too-lovely fiancé. Yet what is perfect is a subject for discussion, and charismatic entrepreneur Radley Blake's unwavering attention has also fallen upon the feisty journalist. It is a weaving tale of will-they-wont-they that Riley spins here, one that I found myself unable to put down. Full review...

How to Set a Fire and Why by Jesse Ball

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Lucia Stanton is a sarcastic 14-year-old misfit who lives with her elderly Aunt Lucy in a garage they rent from an evil landlord at the bottom of his large garden. She never comes right out and explains why she's there, but if you read between the lines you work out that her father is dead and her mother is in a mental hospital – presumably for his murder. Aunt Lucy is dignified and principled – Don't do things you aren't proud of is her motto – even though they are undeniably poor: Lucia only has one set of clothes and mostly lives off of liquorice and Aunt Lucy's terrible homemade bread. Full review...

Fell by Jenn Ashworth

5star.jpg General Fiction

Now her parents have died, Annette returns to sell her old childhood home but there's work to do on the decrepit building first. As she wanders around and tries to make some order of the overgrown shambles, she's watched by the ghost of her mother, Netty; a spirit with regrets. Netty reminisces about Annette's childhood and the turning point their lives reached when the mysterious healer Timothy Richardson came to stay. It was a time that promised so much but one for which Netty now needs to make amends, even if she is beyond the grave. Full review...

Trio by Sue Gee

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

In the winter of 1936, Steven Coulter's wife, Margaret, dies of tuberculosis, leaving their Northumberland cottage cold and empty. His work as a history teacher at Kirkhoughton Boys' School isn't enough to distract him from his grief; he spends his long evenings writing letters to Margaret. Gradually, though, as spring arrives he starts to take an interest in other things. His colleague Frank Embleton invites him to a performance by the Hepplewick Trio: Frank's sister Diana on cello; pianist Margot Heslop, whose mother died when she was young and who looks after her father, a coal mine manager, at Hepplewick Hall; and their friend George Liddell, the violinist and leader, who is a Royal College of Music graduate. Full review...

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Twenty –two year old Tess is a restless graduate from a broken family. With the intention of finally starting her life, she moves to New York City with no real plan but a need to do something. She manages to get a job at one of the most exclusive restaurants in town as a back-waiter and Tess is thrown into the comforting commotion of New York life. It's at her new job that she becomes fascinated by two people: Simone, a know-it-all server and Jake, a handsome yet moody bartender. While the restaurant becomes her home and her colleagues her new family, Sweetbitter follows Tess through a year of her life as she grows and learns about the complexities of human relationships. Full review...

Affections by Rodrigo Hasbun and Sophie Hughes (translator)

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

If you thought your teenaged years were a struggle to work out the world, and yourself, consider that of Heidi Ertl. Or either of her sisters – this book serves as a sort of tribute to these three real-life women, and the lives that came out of their very disjointed youth, forced to be rarefied from the norm by their family uprooting. Father Hans was one of Leni Riefenstahl's key cameramen, and a Nazi military photographer, before taking the whole family into post-war exile in Bolivia. Their mother would have followed him to the ends of the earth – as in part would their daughters, the older two of which start the book by joining him on an expedition to discover a lost Incan city. Heidi finds young, instant love on the trek – but sees the dark side of such emotions, too. Older sister Monika, who might well be manic depressive, finds something else, while the baby of the family stays at home with a maudlin mother. So much here could be the hook on which to hang a full novel, but if anything it's the reaction of them all to this unusual formative journey that inspires this book. Full review...

The Dog who Dared to Dream by Sun-mi Hwang

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

From the very beginning, Scraggly knows that she is different to her brothers and sisters. Her siblings have short, glossy coats, but Scraggly's blue/black fur is long, wild and untamed. She may be an outsider, but she still enjoys life with her family in Grandpa Screecher's sunny yard, even if it means putting up with the evil cat next door. Scraggly dreams that things can stay this way forever, but fate has other plans. One tragic night, everything she loves is cruelly ripped away from her. As she struggles to rebuild a new life and family for herself, she comes to understand that sadness, betrayal and loss are an inevitable part of life. Can Scraggly ever learn to trust another human again? Full review...

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

I confess to a bias… when I came across a reference to Sarah Perry's latest novel; I wanted to read it for two reasons only. She is a local writer, and the book is set in a place not too far away, but that I have yet to explore and which fascinates me: the Blackwater estuary in Essex. That's a place of the kind of wide open skies and mud creeks that you will find up much of the Norfolk and Suffolk coast as well, and a landscape type that probably only appeals to a certain type of person. Full review...

The Good Guy by Susan Beale

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

September 1964: an Indian summer in suburban Massachusetts. Ted McDougall is a twenty-three-year-old Goodyear tyre salesman who lives with his wife Abigail and ten-month-old daughter Mindy in the up-and-coming Elm Grove community. Both Ted and Abigail feel unappreciated in their roles. Ted knows his in-laws wanted him to become a lawyer and join Abigail's father's firm, but he's a good salesman and wishes they wouldn't look down on him for it. Meanwhile Abigail, an American history buff, can't master the domestic arts of cooking and cleaning, much as she tries, and longs to go back to school. Full review...

The Girls by Emma Cline

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

California. Summer 1969. Fourteen year old Evie Boyd is a thoughtful yet bored teenager from a broken home. The attention she craves is nowhere to be found in the form of her neglectful, serial dating mother, or even in the friendship of her fickle best friend Connie. Abandoned by those around her, Evie's path collides with Suzanne – a mysterious older girl who introduces Evie to a strange yet thrilling new life, offering her the intimate relationship her life back home lacks. Full review...

Father's Day by Simon Van Booy

5star.jpg General Fiction

When devastating news shatters the life of six year old Harvey, she finds herself in the care of a veteran social worker, Wanda, and alone in the world save for one relative she has never met - a disabled ex-con, haunted by a violent past he can't escape. Moving between past and present, Father's Day weaves together the story of Harvey's childhood on Long Island, and her life as a young woman in Paris. Full review...

Napoleon's Last Island by Thomas Keneally

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

It's not usual to open a review with the history of how the book came to be written but with Napoleon's Last Island the story sheds an intriguing light on the plot. In 2012 author Thomas Keneally was given tickets to an exhibition of Napoleonic artefacts: uniforms, furniture, china, paintings, military decorations, snuff boxes and memorabilia as well as Napoleon's death mask. He was intrigued as to how the exhibits and particularly the mask came to be in Australia. Some pieces in the exhibition had been bought in later but most came from the descendants of the Balcombe family, who came to the colony in the first half of the nineteenth century, from St Helena via England. The result of Keneally's research into the story is Napoleon's Last Island. Full review...

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Yolanda and Verla wake up disorientated. They realise they've been drugged. Yolanda thinks that perhaps they are in some kind of mental facility - She knew she was not mad, but all lunatics thought that. Verla just sits, still and frozen, waiting. And soon enough, two men arrive to reveal their fate. Yolanda and Verla, along with eight other girls, have been brought to a remote farmhouse surrounded by an electrified fence. Their heads are shaved. They are dressed in uncomfortable, scratchy, Amish-style clothes. They are tied together like a chain gang. And, like any chain gang, their days are marked with forced labour. Two men, one more cruel than the other, and a so-called nurse are their jailers, not their guardians. Full review...

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

3.5star.jpg Science Fiction

As a Bristol-area 'phenomenaut', nineteen-year-old Kit projects herself into the lab-grown bodies of all sorts of creatures. She's recently spent a lot of time as a fox (appropriate given her nickname) and got particularly close with a vixen named Tomoko. It's becoming much harder for her to leave the animal world behind at the end of her 'jumps'. Even after Buckley, her neuroengineer, signals her to 'Come home' and she resumes her original body, she has trouble giving up animal tendencies like territorialism, toileting outdoors and raiding bins. Full review...

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjon and Victoria Cribb (translator)

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Sixteen-year-old Mani Stein - Moonstone in translation - existed on the fringes of society. He lived in Reykjavik and in 1918 the night sky (and the day for that matter) was lit by the eruptions of the Katla volcano. The Great War was raging, or possibly grinding on, but life in the capital carried on much as usual. There were shortages, such as coal, but there was the new fashion and it was for the movies that Mani lived, seeing every production he could, sometimes several times. He dreamed about the films, changing them to suit his tastes, working his own life into the plots. But there was another reason why Mani was a misfit: Mani was gay and frequently made a living as a sex worker. Full review...

Nothing on Earth by Conor O'Callaghan

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

On a sweltering night in what is a blisteringly hot summer a young girl hammers at a man's door and when let into the house tells him that her father has disappeared too. Gradually her story emerges, of a home on one of those estates so common in Ireland after the collapse of the Celtic Tiger with only the occasional house occupied and others only part built. It could be any one of hundreds of Irish towns at that time and its main feature is the lack of hope that it will never be any better. Our narrator tells her story, much, he says, as it was told to him and we hear of a life on the edge of poverty, with strange noises in the night, words written in the dust on the windows mirrored by those written in blue ink on her skin. Full review...

The Parable Book by Per Olov Enquist and Deborah Bragan-Turner (translator)

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

It's not only springtime when a man's fancies turn to thoughts of love – he can also do it in the autumn of his life, as does the man involved here. But being a well-known author, and being beholden to silence, can he really put his thoughts on paper? It happened a long time ago, and he only met the woman concerned a couple of times, but with it being such a powerful event and such a slightly unusual circumstance, what should he do? It takes a notebook of his father's love poems to his mother, that he finds both incomplete and scorched, to give him the green light – the voice from the past that says to him, 'go for it'. And what we read here is a result. Full review...

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Maggie O'Farrell's globe-trotting seventh novel opens in 2010 with Daniel Sullivan, an American linguistics professor. He lives with his wife Claudette, a French actress who retreated from the limelight, and their two children in a remote home in Donegal. It was 10 years ago that he first came here and met Claudette by chance when her van had a flat tire; he struck up a conversation with her son Ari and gave the boy tips for dealing with his stutter. Now, preparing to fly back to Brooklyn for his father's ninetieth birthday party, he's caught short by a long-lost voice he hears on the radio. It belongs to Nicola Janks, a former lover he last saw 24 years ago; when he learns that she died soon after they were together, he determines to figure out whether he played a role, even if he doesn't like what he finds. Full review...

Different Class by Joanne Harris

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

St Oswald's Grammar School For Boys is in crisis. A murdered schoolboy, a procession of new Head Masters, a(nother) new Head Master, a Crisis Intervention Team and a potential merger with St Oswald's all female counterpart, Mulberry House. Roy Straitley is not altogether dismayed at the prospect of delaying his retirement; St Oswald's has been his life, man and boy and a crisis is a crisis after all is said and done, isn't it? It's probably his duty to stay and right the ship. So when the latest of the new Head Masters and his duo of crisis managers walk into the staff room, Straitley can't quite believe his old eyes. The new Head is an ex-pupil of St Oswald's; a boy who, in his time at the esteemed old School caused such an uproarious scandal that one of the Masters ended up in prison! Full review...

Dodgers by Bill Beverly

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Judging a book by its cover can mislead. It can especially mislead if you don't look closely at the cover and are just grabbed by the feel or style of the design of the thing. Being misled is not necessarily a bad thing. For reasons best left in the depths of my addled brain, the styling of Dodgers had me thinking 'noir'. I was expecting late fifties, early sixties. If I'd looked closer, I'd have seen that it is much more contemporary than that. Then again… Full review...