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The Essex Serpent

Sarah Perry     Recommended by Sharon    

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.

They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners’ agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.

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Norwegian Wood

Haruki Murakami     Recommended by Sharon    

When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.

A poignant story of one college student’s romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love.

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Wonder

R. J. Palacio     Recommended by Sharon    

Auggie wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things – eating ice cream, playing on his Xbox. He feels ordinary – inside. But ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids aren’t stared at wherever they go.

Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life. Now, for the first time, he’s being sent to a real school – and he’s dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted – but can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, underneath it all?

WONDER is a funny, frank, astonishingly moving debut to read in one sitting, pass on to others, and remember long after the final page.

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The Children of Men

P.D. James     Recommended by Luke    

The year is 2021. No child has been born for twenty-five years. The human race faces extinction.

Under the despotic rule of Xan Lyppiat, the Warden of England, the old are despairing and the young cruel. Theo Faren, a cousin of the Warden, lives a solitary life in this ominous atmosphere. That is until a chance encounter with a young woman leads him into contact with a group of dissenters. Suddenly his life is changed irrevocably, as he faces agonising choices, which could affect the future of mankind.
Thrilling in it’s bleak dystopian realism, The Children of Men is a well-paced and thought provoking look at a world who’s human population is slowly dwindling due to mass infertility. The novel begins in an innocent tone which gives way to a more sinister and suspenseful read as it progresses. Highly recommended!
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The North Water

Ian McGuire     Recommended by Sharon    

A ship sets sail with a killer on board . . .
1859. A man joins a whaling ship bound for the Arctic Circle. Having left the British Army with his reputation in tatters, Patrick Sumner has little option but to accept the position of ship’s surgeon on this ill-fated voyage. But when, deep into the journey, a cabin boy is discovered brutally killed, Sumner finds himself forced to act. Soon he will face an evil even greater than he had encountered at the siege of Delhi, in the shape of Henry Drax: harpooner, murderer, monster . . .

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016

 

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Museum of Modern Love

Heather Rose     Recommended by Sharon    

Arky Levin is a film composer in New York separated from his wife, who has asked him to keep one devastating promise. One day he finds his way to The Atrium at MOMA and sees Marina Abramovic in The Artist is Present. The performance continues for seventy-five days and, as it unfolds, so does Arky. As he watches and meets other people drawn to the exhibit, he slowly starts to understand what might be missing in his life and what he must do.

Winner of the 2017 Stella Prize. A mesmerising literary novel about a lost man in search of connection – a meditation on love, art and commitment.

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The Good People

Hannah Kent     Recommended by Sharon    

Hannah Kent’s remarkable new novel, The Good People, is set in an isolated valley in the west of Ireland early in the 19th-century.

Nóra Leahy has lost her daughter and her husband in the same year, and is now burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál. The boy cannot walk, or speak, and Nora, mistrustful of the tongues of gossips, has kept the child hidden from those who might see in his deformity evidence of otherworldly interference.

Unable to care for the child alone, Nóra hires a fourteen-year-old servant girl, Mary, who soon hears the whispers in the valley about the blasted creature causing grief to fall upon the widow’s house.

Alone, hedged in by rumour, Mary and her mistress seek out the only person in the valley who might be able to help Micheál. For although her neighbours are wary of her, it is said that old Nance Roche has the knowledge. That she consorts with Them, the Good People. And that only she can return those whom they have taken …

Hannah Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites, was acclaimed worldwide and it went on to be shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Stella Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. There are echoes of Burial Rites in The Good People. Both are historical novels in which human tragedy plays out against the rhythms of the natural world, and once again Kent displays an amazing ability to immerse herself in an unfamiliar landscape and to give that landscape life and voice.  In The Good People the central characters wonderfully complex allowing the reader to feel both repulsed and intensely empathetic all at the same time.

I adored this novel.

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Known and Strange Things

Teju Cole     Recommended by Alan    

Known and Strange Things is a collection of essays and articles that continue Teju Cole’s preoccupations with place and identity. The book looks broadly at three themes: literature, photography and travel. As with Cole’s previous novels,  Open City and Every Day is for the Thief, the writing here is perceptive and considered, sending the reader off to exploring other areas. In this case to writers such as Derek Walcott, or reassessing Virginia Woolf, to photographers such as Saul Leiter and the Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe. In more autobiographical essays he recounts the night of Obama’s election, his life split between Lagos and the US, his various travels and his interest in photography. Known and Strange Things is excellent collection of thoughts and meditations.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Ransom Riggs     Recommended by Sharon    

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here – one of whom was his own grandfather – were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow – impossible though it seems – they may still be alive. A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.  I haven’t seen the movie but word on the street is the book is better…. as usual.

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La Rose

Louise Erdrich     Recommended by Sharon    

Late summer in North Dakota, 1999: Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence but only when he staggers closer does he realise he has killed his neighbour’s son.

Dusty Ravich, the deceased boy, was best friends with Landreaux’s five-year-old son, LaRose. The two families have been close for years and their children played together. Landreaux is horrified at what he’s done; fighting off his longstanding alcoholism, he ensconces himself in a sweat lodge and prays for guidance. And there he discovers an old way of delivering justice for the wrong he’s done. The next day he and his wife Emmaline deliver LaRose to the bereaved Ravich parents. Standing on the threshold of the Ravich home, they say, ‘Our son will be your son now’.

LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family. Gradually he’s allowed visits with his birth family, whose grief for the son and brother they gave away mirrors that of the Raviches. The years pass and LaRose becomes the linchpin that links both families. As the Irons and the Raviches grow ever more entwined, their pain begins to subside. But when a man who nurses a grudge against Landreaux fixates on the idea that there was a cover-up the day Landreaux killed Dusty – and decides to expose this secret – he threatens the fragile peace between the two families…

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