Newest Literary Fiction Reviews

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After Before by Jemma Wayne

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Emily easier for English people to pronounce than Emilienne, lives in a council tower block, barely furnished, but still - for her - a place of safety, a place of anonymity, which is the best way for her to exist. She cleans commercial premises and relishes the work. She makes her small earnings go as far as possible, shopping locally, living frugally. Full review...

Firefly by Janette Jenkins

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I read Firefly wanting to be charmed. Sat at home, wishing I was in Jamaica, idly humming 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen'. Full review...

The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai

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The first thing you'll notice about this novel is that, like a crazy house, it's upside-down. That is: it opens in 1999, that near-contemporary storyline taking up about half the text; follows it with sections set in 1955 and 1929; and finishes with a 'prologue' set in 1900. The second thing to jump out is that this is a ghost story – or is it? The first line is both declaration and qualification: 'For a ghost story, the tale of Violet Saville Devohr was vague and underwhelming.' Full review...

Breaking Light by Karin Altenberg

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Gabriel Askew retires to the village of Mortford, the place in which he grew up and from where childhood ghosts haunt him to this day. It’s a conscious decision: Gabe, ostracised as a child due to his hair lip, returns to face these demons that have controlled his life and forced him to do the unthinkable but now he wants peace… if it's not too late. Full review...

Lost Luggage by Jordi Punti

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There are lots of things you wonder when you grow up with just one parent, but whether you also have a bunch of half-siblings, all with the same name as you, all dotted around the continent, is not normally high on the list. Gabriel Delacruz has 4 boys by 4 different women in 4 parts of Europe. None of them know of the others’ existence but when Gabriel disappears, his incredulous life is uncovered and Christof, Christophe, Christopher and Cristofol meet. Full review...

Wild Wood by Jan Needle and Willie Rushton

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Bank clerk Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 classic Wind in the Willows, populated with lovable anthropomorphic characters, started life as a bed time story for his son Alistair. He fused these adventurous tales with later descriptive epistles for a holidaying Alistair to create a tale which was, as Grahame described in a letter to Teddy Roosevelt, an expression of the very simplest joys of life as lived by the simplest beings. Indeed the four iconic protagonists - the outrageous, irrepressible toad, the loyal and humble mole, the brave and paternalistic badger and the resourceful and determined rat have a fond place in many childhood memories but are they as valiant as they seem? What if they were suddenly recast as the villains of the piece? Full review...

Beautiful Fools by R Clifton Spargo

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Famous writers' wives have had something of a literary revival in recent years. Paula McLain's The Paris Wife and Naomi Wood's Mrs Hemingway imagine the lives of the various Hemingway women, while the vogue for flappers and The Great Gatsby has led to a spate of books about Zelda Fitzgerald. Fans of the Roaring Twenties have been spoiled for choice, what with Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck, and Guests on Earth by Lee Smith. Full review...

The Good Children by Roopa Farooki

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The Saddeq family are an example of success for their friends and neighbours in Lahore. Mr Saddeq is a doctor with his own practice, sons Sully and Jakie are studying medicine in the US and UK respectively and daughters Mae and Lana have made good marriage matches. However the four 'good' children would view their success differently. Each reacts differently to the futures that their caring father and calculating mother have mapped out for them and plough their own furrows as far as they're permitted but the gravitational pull of home remains a constant through their lives and also, to some extent, for the generation that follows. Full review...

All Our Days by Dinaw Mengestu

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Isaac is a refugee from Ethiopia who finds a home in Uganda. At the university he's taken under the wing of a political activist also called Isaac. The 1970s is a dangerous time to be in Uganda as their world is about to explode. Years later Isaac the Ethiopian finds himself in America and lives under the care of social worker Helen. Slowly they form a less than professional relationship and Helen realises that what little she knows of him may not be the truth. Gradually his past is revealed as the guilt he carries comes to the surface. Full review...

Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas

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There is never any end to Paris. The sentence pops up, hypnotic, through most of the book. At times ironic, thoughtful or questioning, it is a quote from Hemingway’s novel, A Moveable Feast, in which the American author looked back at his days in Paris, where he was ‘very poor and very happy.’ The narrator of Never Any End to Paris tells us that when he lived in Paris, he was ‘very poor and very unhappy.’ Full review...


Black Lake by Johanna Lane

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John's family have owned Dulagh (Black Lake), the big mansion in the Irish countryside, for generations. Unfortunately now no longer able to afford its upkeep, John, his wife Marianne and children Kate and Philip, move into a cottage on the estate instead. They still own the house but it'll be run by the government with revenue from opening it to the public. At the time it seems the perfect solution, but the future has plans other than perfection. Full review...

Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer

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There's something very special about an epistolary novel. The format might seem unnatural to readers in this day of abbreviated text messages and e-mails, but the conceit of a written exchange allows for fully developed first-person voices and a confessional tone. Provided the author can bypass the subtle difficulties of plot-building, letters are also a handy indicator of the passage of time, and ably convey period vocabulary. Full review...

Being Someone by Adrian Harvey

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The relationship between a mahout and his elephant is close: some have said that it's rather like a marriage. On the surface it seems almost idyllic with an obvious affection between man and beast - "that their spirits were water of the same pool", but all is not quite as it seems. Iravatha was the magnificent elephant who, year in, year out, led the Maharajah's parade only this year there was a dreadful accident and Annayya, his mahout, slipped beneath the elephant's foot - and was killed. They'd been together for more than half a century and beautiful, intelligent Iravatha knew what this meant. Full review...

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

4.5star.jpg Short Stories

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

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

'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

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

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

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

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...