Newest Literary Fiction Reviews

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The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit

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1943: In the US a group of men, women and children are uprooted from their homes with hardly any notice and after being sworn to total secrecy. Their destination is a hastily knocked up, unfinished small town in the New Mexico desert; a place where muddy water drips from the taps and their lives are turned upside down for nearly 3 years. This isn't mass abduction by a malevolent power but the US government's plan to end WWII. The men (and some of the women) are scientists, the place is Los Alamos, the site of the project that will result in Robert Oppenheimer stating Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." His story has been well documented in the past; now the voices belong to the Los Alamos Wives. Full review...

Orfeo by Richard Powers

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'No one thinks twice about the quiet, older bohemian in the American Craftsman at 806 South Linden…people take up all kinds of hobbies in retirement.'

Seventy-year-old Peter Els is an out-of-work composer in Pennsylvania. He teaches music appreciation at a senior centre, but much of his spare time is devoted to chemistry experiments. As a college student he agonised over the choice between chemistry and music, in fact, and these days he wonders if he got it wrong. His avant-garde compositions, such as a three-hour opera based on medieval German history, were infrequent and never very well received. Should he have gone into biochemistry after all? Thus, thanks to a few thousand dollars' worth of semi-professional equipment purchased off the Internet, Els is now engaged in a new kind of composition – with bacterial DNA taking the place of musical notes. Full review...

Ghost Moon by Ron Butlin

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Maggie sits in an elderly persons' care home tgryig to exist through the ever tightening grip of dementia. Her son, Tom, visits trying to jog her memory but she doesn't even recognise him. To Maggie, Tom is 'Michael' a name that means nothing to a son getting more desperate to break through to his mother once again. However there was once a Michael, in a life that bubbles with secrets that even Tom doesn't know; for once, long ago, Maggie was young. Full review...

The One I Was by Eliza Graham

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In 1939, before the outbreak of the Second World War, a boy arrived at Harwich docks. He was a Kindertransport refugee fleeing the anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany. Benjamin Goldman would change his name to Benny Gault when his idea that the war wouldn't happen and he could go home to Germany came to nothing, but in the meantime he was adopted by Lord and Lady Dorner. Six boys were to live at their country home - Fairfleet - and be educated by a private tutor. On the face of it Benny's luck could not have worked out better, but he was hiding a secret. Full review...

Indecent Acts by Nick Brooks

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Meet Grace. She's in her forties, living with a hit-and-miss family in a Glasgow council flat, and in the middle of a whole host of issues. She has issues about her parents, and their moving on or death; she has issues about her sister who might or might not have had a much superior life pattern than Grace; she has issues about her children – Francis who has left Grace with her own daughter to spend time with drink or drugs instead, and son Vincent, who will like as not create an issue by joining the army and moving on himself. Grace also has issues with the fact that she is nearly as blind as a bat, and can neither read nor write. She's started the novel where she shouldn't be – at home in Glasgow, struggling, as she was due to fly to meet her sister at last, yet packed her glasses in the case that must be the other end, and completely missed her flight. Full review...

A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker

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Ten years on from the previous episode, Julia Win, successful corporate lawyer specialising in intellectual property rights is exhausted, unhappy and alone. Somewhat distant in all senses of the word, if not exactly estranged, from her mother and brother, she has recently left a relationship that should have worked but just didn't and her only real connection is with her artist friend Amy Lee. Full review...

Something Like Happy by John Burnside

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How do you pick a name for a short story collection? It seems to me the ...and other stories add-on is like picking a favourite child, a promotion of one portion of the content above the rest. John Burnside has got a title story here, but such is the mood of the book that he seems to have nailed the matter, and picked the most apposite name. Something Like Happy could in a way be the title for practically every piece here. Full review...

Brief Loves That Live Forever by Andrei Makine

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Our unnamed narrator is inspired to think back through his life on the girls and women he has been in love with, partly because of a time spent with an associate – a time marked by a seemingly most unremarkable encounter with a further woman – whom he deemed had never been loved. The associate, you see, had spent half his adult life in Soviet camps for political instruction – our narrator himself was an orphan in the 1960s' Soviet Union. This snappy volume takes us through episodes in several lives at different points during and since the second half of communist rule – and finally explains the import of that unremarkable encounter… Full review...

Land Where I Flee by Prajwal Parajuly

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Chitralekha Guraamaa is preparing for her 84th birthday celebrations - her Chaurasi - and her grandchildren (or rather grandadults as they are now) arrive from around the world. They went away in search of a better life but better comes at a cost. Baghwati married beneath her caste, Manasa is resentful of an apparently helpless disabled father-in-law and Agastaya hides a man-sized secret. All have one thing in common: the dread of facing their manipulative, powerful grandmother and their inability to get on with each other. Worlds may collide but let the festivities commence! Full review...

The Collected Works of A J Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

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A J Fikry is not having a good time. He's lost his wife to a car crash, and he's not making that much money. The book store he runs, stuck out on a limb on a quiet island community, is too remote to turn a profit year-round, and he has just dismissed the latest publisher's rep to turn up at his door, partly because her previous counterpart, an inconsequential part of A J's life when all is said and done, had died and he didn't know about it. But his bad time is about to get a lot worse, as the one thing he owns worth the most – a rare book, more valuable than his house, his business, anything – is about to vanish. Which bizarrely will cause several major changes to his one-person household… Full review...

The Last Boat Home by Dea Brovig

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Then: On the farm above a remote Norwegian hamlet, in 1976, schoolgirl Else is waiting for her mother to return through the wind and the snow. She is also clutching at the kitchen table as the contractions worsen.

Now: fast forward to 2009. Else now lives in the town the hamlet has grown into, on the back of oil money. Her daughter has a daughter of her own, but still spends many a night not coming home. She must have met someone the eleven-year-old granddaughter says matter-of-factly. Else has made a life for herself, running a spa, looking after her daughter and her granddaughter. A quiet life, but not such a bad one. Full review...

The Beggar and the Hare by Tuomas Kyro

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Our hero, Vatanescu, is a fish out of water. He's a father without his family, a man without a home, a possibility without a chance. He's being transported across Europe by a criminal people-smuggler, who is also packing Vatanescu's sister off to the cosmetic surgeon then the prostitute trade. Our hero is destined to sit in discomfort, sleet and in hateful gazes of others as a beggar on the streets of Helsinki. But at the same time impossibilities are amassing – one of which splits Vatanescu from his minder/mentor, and leaves him on the run with a fistful of useless currency. A further impossibility gifts him a friendly, warm companion – a rabbit being chased by local youths jumps into the sanctuary of his arms, and becomes a welcome source of focus. From then on many more jumps will be made from one impossibility to another, as the life of this illegal immigrant begins to resonate across his adopted homeland… Full review...

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

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'All intellectual and artistic endeavours…fare better in the mind of the crowd when the crowd knows that somewhere behind the great work or the great spoof it can locate a cock and a pair of balls.' Thus we are introduced to the unforgettable Harriet Burden – larger-than-life, six-foot-tall amazon artist – and to some of the novel's essential elements: musing on what makes intellectual products successful in a postmodern marketplace, feminist resentment of the overvaluing of male achievement, and an unapologetic, playful boldness with language. Full review...

Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley

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Stella grows up with her single mother in Bristol in the 1960s; her father left when she was a baby, but her mother has cultivated the convenient myth that he died. In the stand-alone first chapter, Stella recounts a disturbing incident of domestic violence that affected her Aunt Andy. Sordid snippets from the ensuing court case stay with Stella over the years; 'Innocent-seeming fragments would get in past my defences…then stick to my imagination like tar.' Even so, the novel that follows is about the way in which we engage with memory – facts that linger versus those we, deliberately or subconsciously, choose not to tell. Full review...

All That is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon

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Moscow, 1986, and a nine-year old piano prodigy is trapped in a subway station by bullies, who carefully break one of his little fingers. Rehearsal cancelled, the boy finds his favourite aunt, who takes him to treatment only to discover her ex-husband the doctor involved. Many miles away a slightly older young man is off on his first hunting trip with the men of the village, only to find diseased cows, and the grouse they seek sickly and weirdly uncoordinated. What has affected them, and will of course affect all the characters in the book, is the nuclear disaster in the plant at Chernobyl. Full review...

The Black Snow by Paul Lynch

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Barnabas Kane returned to his birthplace in Ireland with his family with the goal of setting up his own farm and raising his son in a better setting than New York. With his farm of a decent size and a good herd of cattle all seems well with Kane until out ploughing one day he and his farm hand Matthew Peoples spot smoke in the sky from the direction of his byre. The fire marks the start of a sometimes bleak downward spiral and Kane is forced to rely on the kindness of his neighbours who still see him as an outsider. Full review...

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

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Holly Golightly. Who doesn't know her? Whether in the pages of Breakfast at Tiffany's, the short novel by Truman Capote or capture on film by Audrey Hepburn, she's an American icon. A young country girl becomes a New York socialite, trading on amusement value to make a life paid for by rich men who are titillated by her outrageous opinions and anecdotes. We want to know her. And the narrator wants to know her as much, if not more, than we do. Full review...

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

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The Crane Wife ticks all my boxes. It's by Patrick Ness who is one of my favourite writers of Young Adult fiction. It has a basis in myth and legend and still better in an ancient story new to me. It doesn't go on and on and Ariston for half a billion pages. Best of all, the author includes a shout-out for the brilliant Decemberists. I agree with Ness: this is a band you should look up. A heavy reading schedule meant I didn't get to it last year when it was first published but now it's out in paperback and here I am. I wasn't disappointed. Full review...

The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson

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Being told that you have six months to live concentrates the mind most wonderfully: fifty is no age to die, even if you have lived life to the full. Patrick's heart was giving up on him and the Professor of American Studies, philanderer and heavy drinker was at the head of the list for a heart transplant. His other problems - entirely of his own making - faded into insignificance. Sixteen-year-old Drew Beamish died in a motorcycle accident in the village where he lived in rural Cambridgeshire and it will be his (still beating) heart which is transplanted into Patrick. The two, who had never met, would be permanently joined. Full review...

The People in the Photo by Helene Gestern

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Hélène Hivert works at the Museum of the History of the Postcard. It is a job she loves, as she finds delving into other people's lives 'most exciting'. Luckily, she is 'regularly sent collections to catalogue', and each time the 'moment of discovery' gives her a thrill. It may be 'addictive', but 'There is something very moving about the thought that just two or three sources can be enough to build a picture of an entire life'. But what happens when the sources are a bit too close to home, when Hélène must play Holmes among the artefacts of her own family's past, pondering 'the silence of surfaces'? Well, the professional detachment goes straight out the window, and what had been a genuine pleasure, tinged by wonder, now becomes an uncomfortable obsession. Full review...

The Atheist's Prayer by Amy R Biddle

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I don’t shy away from a book with a little edge, in fact Chuck Palahniuk is one of my favourite authors and his books can be so sharp you can shave with them. On the surface The Atheist’s Prayer would seem to be courting controversy; why else have such a provocative title? But, is it really that shocking? Nope. This is a story about how people deal with the modern world and what happens when dangerous ideals infect a vulnerable group. Full review...

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and Will Hobson (translator)

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Leaving his home to try and join the famous musketeers in Paris, young Gascon d'Artagnan encounters troubles on the way but quickly falls in with title characters Athos, Aramis and Porthos. Soon, the quartet are caught up in a diabolical plot of the wicked Cardinal Richelieu and his accomplice Milady de Winter - can they save the Queen's honour? Full review...

The Facades by Eric Lundgren

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Sven and Molly Norberg live in the American mid-western town of Trude. At least Sven still does; Molly has gone missing. Night after night Sven leaves Kyle, his teenage son, home alone while he scours the streets, revisiting places that he and Molly wandered through together in order to find her. Meanwhile Trude has problems of its own and the librarians are armed and ready! Full review...

Floundering by Romy Ash

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Loretta collects her boys Jordy and Tom from school as if it's the most normal thing in the world, but it's not; not for them anyway. Jordy and Tom have been living with their grandparents after being abandoned by this woman who refuses to be called 'Mum'. As they get further from their eastern Australian home it remains an adventure for Tom but Jordy's more sullen. Once they arrive at their ultimate destination - a ramshackle caravan park - Tom begins to understand why but not before both lads realise that their worries are just beginning. Full review...

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

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Peter Faber has decided to become part of the new Nazi initiative. He will marry Katharina Spinell, a woman he won't even meet till their honeymoon. In return he'll receive honeymoon leave from the Russian front while she will secure a widow's pension should anything happen to him, hopefully providing the Reich with one or two more Aryan babies on the way. Peter may not be the son-in-law Katharina's parents envisaged but their disappointment is blunted by their luxurious lifestyle under the patronage of the sinister Dr Weinart. However, this is still wartime and Peter must eventually return to Russia and whatever fate awaits him. Full review...

The Virgins by Pamela Erens

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Set in 1979-80 in an elite boarding school on the east coast of the USA The Virgins tells the story of two young people. The story is mainly narrated by Bruce Bennett-Jones who would have liked to have a close relationship with Aviva Rossner but her unlikely choice was Seung Jung. They're not shy about flaunting their relationship and it's the talk of Auburn Academy, but whilst the watchers believe that the relationship is one of unalloyed passion, the truth is rather different and the couple are set on a path to an inevitable tragedy. Full review...

Crumbs by Miha Mazzini

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We are in a hell of man's own making – a town that is basically one huge foundry, whose men go from working there to a bar then to (someone's) bed in three eight hour shifts, or so it seems. Egon isn't one of those men, or isn't any more, for he works at other things than the foundry – namely churning out trashy low-brow fiction, and a lot of wheeling and a lot more dealing. He still keeps his shift in at the bar and in people's beds, though, all the while looking out for number one. He has several friendships on the go, and several sexual partners at the same time, yet drinks so much it's hard to say he exactly cherishes himself above all – if anything he doesn't care that much about anyone. He certainly cares for something however – his beloved stash of Cartier cologne has run out, and he'll as like as not do anything for more… Full review...

The Affairs of Others by Amy Grace Loyd

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Five years ago Celia Cassill's husband died leaving her the owner of the Brooklyn apartment block in which she lives. She's fastidious as to whom she lets and is understandably hesitant when George (one of her longstanding tenants) wants to temporarily sub-let to a friend while he goes abroad. Celia eventually agrees and so in moves Hope, a lady who has just left her husband and for whom life is as complicated as she makes Celia's. Full review...

The Thing About December by Donal Ryan

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Johnsey Cunliffe was always a nice boy, but a little slow - the one that the other kids picked on and it's much the same in adult life. If you were to ask Johnsey he'd say that he was a gom. Even if you've never met the word before you know what it means. It wasn't too bad whilst Daddy was there - he was a man with a certain presence and even when it was just Johnsey and his mother he had some support. But after her death Johnsey was dependant on small kindnesses from other people and at the mercy of those for whom he was an easy target. His life might have continued in this rather unsatisfactory way for some time but for the collision of two events. Full review...

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

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Henry 'The Onion' Shackleford lives as Henrietta (or just plain Onion) until he's 17 due to a misunderstanding that may prove too dangerous for him to correct. The reason is that the person under this misapprehension is the fiercely well-meaning slavery abolitionist (with the emphasis on the 'fiercely') John Brown. As Onion accompanies him on his quest to free every slave they encounter, he discovers that Brown's philanthropy only stretches so far. Meanwhile it's that time of the 19th century when a shadow spreads over America, one that will cause a historic scar almost as great as that of slavery but Brown is oblivious to this. He doesn't; want to start a civil war, just an armed slave revolt. Full review...

The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay

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Mackenzie and Anikka Lachlan have all they could possibly want. They live in Thirroul, a close New South Wales coastal community, are parents to a lovely little girl and now, in 1948, Mac has come through the war years unscathed due to his job at home on the railways. However in a single moment all their luck changes and Anikka becomes a widow, another grieving shadow. Alongside her neighbours (a war poet who can't write now he's home and the local GP who experienced hell while not being able to bring anyone back from its grasp) Anikka must learn the most difficult lesson: how to go on living. Full review...