The Kindness by Polly Samson Pub Bloomsbury 8.99
At the outset of this assured second novel by Polly Samson we encounter Julian, prematurely aged at only 29, in a state of deep anguish at the loss of his lover, Julia, and their daughter, Mira. He drifts through his Sussex childhood home, consumed by their absence. Empty photograph frames, beds which no longer hold his sleeping family, this is a house echoing with regrets – but the details of his loss are a mystery. Polly Samson has received much praise for her short story collections and this compelling novel, lyrical but deftly rooted in reality, is a set of interlocking stories which lead the reader to piece together the mystery at the heart of the book while at the same time provide great insight into the inner lives of the protagonists.
The Kindness wears its structural complexity lightly, the voice and the pace so assured that it seems remarkable that this is only Samson’s second novel. It’s a rare achievement to create a book that is at once a wise and tender meditation on the nature of love and disappointment, and a page turner that will keep you awake into the small hours” – Observer
Helen Simonson sets her new novel, “The Summer Before the War,” in the summer of 1914 when Europe is contemplating the unthinkable – a German invasion of Belgium. In the English seaside town of Rye the residents are agog at the arrival of the new Latin teacher, Beatrice Nash —a bright, attractive and fiercely independent orphaned daughter of academic parents who is not prepared to endure uncritically the social restrictions that prevail in the town that later inspired E F Benson’s Lucia novels. Fans of Simonson’s “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,” will once again enjoy the perceptive social comedy in this lively and engaging book which gains added depth as we are drawn inexorably towards the effects on the town’s inhabitants of the onslaught that will ravage a generation.
Helen Simonson will be in discussion with authors Polly Sampson and Suzanne Joinson at a Festival event on May 23rd at 7.30pm in the Gluck Studio, Chantry House. Access from Elm Grove Lane.
A welcome return to longer picture books from Emily Gravett, after her delightful series for toddlers featuring Bear and Hare, ‘Tidy’ tells the story of Pete the badger, a slightly OCD woodland character who gets a bit carried away when he starts to tidy up the forest, with disastrous but amusing consequences! Sumptuously illustrated and with a resounding environmental message, this book is a real treat for 3-5 year olds.
Emily will be at the bookshop on the launch date of the book – April 7th, tickets priced £2 per child.
Sunjeev Sahota’s first novel Ours Are The Streets gained him a place on the Granta Best of Young British Novelists list of 2013 and this his second novel was longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker prize. Pertinent in view of the situation in Calais and Greece, this novel, set in Sheffield, is a brilliant depiction of the aspirations and daily struggles of three Indian men sharing accommodation with a group of other migrant workers and, in another part of the city, a devoutly Hindu Indian woman trapped and compromised by her marriage of convenience. The novel moves skilfully between India and England, initially taking the form of short stories and novellas about the characters in childhood and in the present day, and then as the main protagonists’ lives intermingle, the narrative gains further strength and opens still more the question of Western responsibilities to those less fortunate. An engrossing and humane read.
Yasmin is fifteen, fat and in her words “a freak”, compulsively drawn to beautiful Alice Taylor whom she feels compelled to protect from afar, with far reaching consequences. An unsettling but at times comic portrayal of an obsession, this debut novel by former film editor Tasha Kavanagh grips and disturbs.
Published as adult fiction but could be read by older teenagers.
Anne Jaccob is the daughter of a well-to-do family, though material comforts do nothing to soften a life pinched by misery and neglect. Her father cares nothing for her, her mother is exhausted and absent through her many confinements, and they are all grieving in their own ways for Anne’s baby brother. Denied emotional solace at home and desperate to escape the suitor her father has picked for her, Anne starts to look outside for excitement and affection. She settles on Fub, the butchers’ boy, hardly a suitable match for a young lady. Hardened by grief and made reckless by desire, Anne pushes herself off on a course there’s no turning back from…
Don’t let Janet Ellis’s cosy demeanour fool you, this is a dark, twisting tale of grief, lust and violence in Georgian London, and one unforgettable heroine’s warped attempt to escape the stifling claustrophobia of the female sphere.
Published last March, this exciting and contemporary thriller follows the fortunes of Dan, a young boy worried that his father is returning to a life of crime, and Aliya, who has escaped with her family from Afghanistan to a run-down housing estate in London and finds her brother implicated in what appears to be a terrorist plot.
Aliya manages to persuade Dan to help her try to prove her brother’s innocence but their investigations become increasingly complicated and dangerous, affected also by Dan’s secret concerns that his father may be involved. A really well written and involving tale, with convincing and sympathetic lead characters and a tense and at times quite frightening plot.
Recommended for age 11 upwards.
Creative collaborators Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz were behind the wonderful ‘A Place to call Home’ plus many other clever picture books. ‘I am Henry Finch’ is a funny and original take on the philosophy of Descartes… ‘I Think Therefore I am’.
One day, the repetitive rhythm of the Finch flock’s existence is turned upside down. Little Henry Finch is suddenly struck by A Thought. The Thought changes everything… in fact, Henry’s Thought saves the day, and before long, the whole flock are buzzing and chattering with Thoughts!
Fabulously funny, quirky and intelligent picture book, perfect for 3 to 6 year olds, whether budding philosophers or not!
Look no further if you’re hoping to banish the February blues with a laugh-out-loud feel-good novel!
Meg Rosoff, author of many bestselling Young Adult novels including the stunning ‘How I Live Now’, makes her first foray into writing for adults with this charmingly wry story set in New York. I completely fell in love with her confused and hapless hero, Jonathan, fresh out of university and making his first tentative steps into being a ‘proper person’.
Jonathan arrives in New York to begin his new, adult life and is amazed to find himself in proud possession of both an apartment (barely legal) and a job in advertising (soul destroying). He is just about holding it together when the arrival of two doggie flatmates, an ultimatum from his bossy girlfriend, and a strange attraction to a new co-worker of indeterminate gender threaten to overwhelm the delicate balance of his life!
What follows is a hilarious, romantic and wise caper, as Jonathan tries to figure out his philosophical bafflement at life, love, and the mysteries of the canine mind….I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions, and I can already picture the charming Nora-Ephron style rom-com it will no doubt become. But don’t let this put you off – Meg Rosoff’s writing fizzes with life, her observation is sharp, and Jonathan is a most endearingly comic character.
Hardback out 11/2/16.
Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life (which won the Costa book award in 2013) introduced readers to the Todd family of Fox Corner and told the multiple stories of Ursula, as she died, or not, countless times. It was a dazzling, inventive book that probed at the dark heart of the Second World War and its effect on those who died and those who survived. A God in Ruins (this year’s Costa winner) is a ‘‘companion’ piece rather than a sequel’ according to Atkinson and takes up the story of Ursula’s younger brother Teddy, the golden boy, their mother’s favourite, the wartime hero who died returning from a bombing raid in Life After Life. He gets another chance here, a wife, a daughter, grandchildren, an ignominious end in a nursing home – the ‘afterwards’ he never thought to have. Although the narrative skips back and forth through time, it is Teddy’s war that is the heart of the book, and his heart remains inside a Halifax bomber. The effect the war had on him and therefore on his monstrous (but amusing) daughter Viola and her own children is played out in subtle, poignant and surprising ways.
From her earliest work Atkinson displayed an exuberant delight in the stuff of storytelling, and in A God in Ruins, as well as its predecessor plays with form in a masterly way with serious intent and to great effect. This is a wonderful, heart-breaking book about life, family, war and its effects on a generation and the lives of those who followed.
Longlisted for the Booker prize, this thoughtful and engaging novel, Andrew O’Hagan’s fifth, explores with a fresh voice universal themes of age, memory, war and love. Former documentary photographer Ann lives in sheltered accommodation in Ayrshire, while her grandson Luke serves in Afghanistan encountering in real life the scenarios that he and his war fodder contemporaries relished on Xbox games. When he returns disillusioned and trying to forget the disturbing scenes that he has experienced (robustly described by O’Hagan), he finds himself tasked with helping his grandmother, in contrast, retrieve past memories and long-kept secrets and questions of veracity in image and recall gain an added resonance.
It’s a measure of O’Hagan’s compassion that after balancing these stories of war and family – braving the battlefield and braving the passing of time – the ultimate note is hopeful and almost gentle, of something that seems real and vital. The Guardian
When Ruth Ardingly and her family first drive up from London to view The Well, they are enchanted by a jewel of a place, a farm that appears to offer everything the family are searching for. An opportunity for Ruth. An escape for Mark. A home for their grandson Lucien.
But the beautiful farmstead holds a mystery. While drought stalks the country, The Well’s fields are verdant and heavy with produce, its springs gurgle with water, and the locals begin to suspect foul play. Ruth becomes increasingly isolated as she struggles to explain why her land flourishes whilst her neighbours’ produce withers and dies. As the mystery comes to the attention of the authorities, The Well becomes a place of spiritual pilgrimage, Ruth and Mark become estranged, and Ruth finds herself a reluctant, bewildered spiritual figurehead. Slowly Ruth’s paradise becomes a prison, Mark’s dream a recurring nightmare, and Lucien’s playground a grave.
Catherine Chanter’s brave and unusual novel is written with poetic intensity, and is part-fable, part-thriller, part dystopian-fantasy. Very much recommended for fans of Margaret Atwood’s ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’.
‘I was gripped by Catherine Chanter’s The Well immediately. The beauty of her prose is riveting, the imagery so assured. This is an astonishing debut’ Sarah Winman, author of When God was a Rabbit
‘I loved this book!‘ JESSIE BURTON, author of The Miniaturist.
Another absolutely exquisite book by bookshop favourite Jane Ray, this is a collection of folk and fairy tales from around the world, some familiar, some less so but all about animals of all kinds ‘growling, snorting, spotted and striped, hairy and scaly, with teeth and claws.’ From Brer Rabbit to the Minotaur to the lovely and little-known Singing Ringing Tree, each tale is retold by Jane in clear, evocative prose , and wonderfully illustrated, her trademark lavish style toned down to a limited palette with glorious results.
Suitable for ages 7-10
Every winter, when the first snow falls, Pearl makes a snow girl, a snow sister. It doesn’t bring her real sister back, but for a while, she misses Agnes a little less. This Christmas Eve, a mysterious letter brings the promise of a change in fortune for Pearl’s hard- up family, but a snap decision made by Pearl could jeopardise everything.
A charming story with a suitably Christmassy message.
Suitable for 7-9 year olds
A joyous Christmas story!
As well as being a best-selling writer for adults, Matt Haig is a gifted spinner of yarns for younger readers, and in this charming novel he tells the merry tale of how a young Finnish boy called Nikolas becomes the Father Christmas we know and love, which is sure to enchant even those beginning to question the magic of Santa Claus.
Sprinkled liberally with jokes, and enlivened by Chris Mould’s humorous illustrations, we follow poor Nikolas as he flees his cruel Aunt Carlotta and sets out on a long trek north to find his woodcutter father, who has gone in search of the land of Elves. He is joined on his journey by a reindeer named Blitzen, and a mouse called Miika.
A dash of magic ( a ‘drimwick’ or Elf-spell) rescues Nikolas and Blitzen from a snowy death, and they are invited into Elfhelm, the fabled land of the elves … but they find it a sombre place, under the thrall of an evil elf-dictator called Father Vodol, who imprisons the boy. Nikolas and Blirzen encounter a truth-pixie, trolls, and kidnappers on their way to becoming heroes of the Elves, freeing them from the grip of Father Vodol and bringing joy, colour and gingerbread back to Elfhelm!
Full of impossible magic and laughter, this full-length chapter book is absolutely perfect to read aloud to 5-7 year olds, or for 7-10 year olds to read alone, and will bring the magic of Christmas winging into your homes!
A quite extraordinary contemporary take on the ‘apologue’ (a moral fable with animal characters) by a Toronto-based Trinidadian author, ‘Fifteen Dogs’ begins in a bar, like so many strange stories. The gods Hermes and Apollo, drunkenly arguing about what would happen if animals had human intelligence, make a bet that leads them to grant consciousness and language to a group of dogs staying overnight at a veterinary clinic. Suddenly capable of complex thought, the dogs escape and become a pack.
They are torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old ‘dog’ ways, and those who embrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into unfamiliar territory, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings. Wily Benjy moves from home to home, Prince becomes a poet, and Majnoun forges a relationship with a kind couple that stops even the Fates in their tracks.
Engaging and strange, full of unexpected philosophical insights into human and canine minds, yet moving and with an easy flow, this is the most unusual book you’ll read this year.
The Whitshanks like to think they are special, as families do. They take great pride in their handyman skills, their stories, imagine that others see a close knit clan and wish they were part of it. This may be true, but Anne Tyler’s portrait of a middle-class Baltimore family unerringly skewers its subjects with a cool, humorous yet ultimately sympathetic gaze. Abby and Red love their comfortable family home. Their children have all grown and left, but are still in regular and close contact, except Denny, the problem child, who remains unreliable and secretive. But Red is losing his hearing and Abby is starting to experience disturbing timeslips, and their children agree that they can’t continue to live alone. As family members return to the house and their stories loop back and forth through time, Tyler’s writing acutely and elegantly observes the muddle of family life, the sometimes hilarious tragedy of getting old, the misconceptions and misunderstandings that plague every family, the imitations of human consciousness.
This is Tyler’s 20th novel, and if anything, her writing is more humane, yet piercingly sharp than ever.
A high-octane nitro-fuelled conspiracy thriller for the 10+ age group, from the award-winning author of ‘Trash’ and the ‘Ribblestrop’ series. ‘Liquidator’ follows teenagers Vicky, Ben, and their class-mates as they excitedly embark upon a week of work experience. On her very first day making tea at a high-ranking legal firm, Vicky stumbles upon a sinister cover-up by a global drinks company, who are preparing for the launch of their new energy drink brand, ‘Liquidator’, and who will stop at nothing to protect their brand and prevent the truth about their killer product from emerging.
What follows is a fast-paced thrill ride of ever-escalating tension, as each teenager takes turns to relate their part in the story, a nice structural touch which adds colour and depth. From a Kenyan village to a huge Wembley concert by way of the London sewers and countless brushes with death, the classmates determinedly work together to reveal the truth.
The brilliant and very believable concept of an addictive, dangerous energy drink marketed by a ruthless global brand, and the sheer fizzing energy of this story, make this a fantastic choice for your 10 to 15 year-old boy OR girl – my 12 year old son couldn’t put it down!
There’s a new trend in beautifully and imaginatively illustrated fact books for children. Here are some of our current favourites, mostly with a natural theme. All are hardbacks.
For very young children, One Thousand Things by Anna Kӧvecses (Wide Eyed Editions, £12.99) is a lovely introduction to first words and concepts. With bold, graphic illustrations in lovely colours, it is split into sections such as First Things to Learn, Things to do With You, Things Around the World, and has a cute mouse somewhere on every page.
Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman (Wide Eyed Editions £14.99) is for slightly older children (4-7) and has charming and often amusing illustrations of animals accompanied by facts relevant to the categories they have been divided into. The categories themselves are an interesting and imaginative way of looking at the natural world, and include The Liliputians, The Homebodies, The Masters of Camouflage, The Champion Breathholders, The Big Mouths!
Small and Tall Tales of Extinct Animals by Hélène Rajcak and Damien Laverdunt (Gecko Press £14.99) is the most thought-provoking of these titles. Moving across the world by continent, it takes a fascinating look at the enormous, tiny, and strange animals now lost,
What a treat! A Mitchell-esque take on haunted-house Gothic Horror, to be published just before Hallowe’en!
‘Slade House’ inhabits the same universe as David Mitchell’s previous novel ‘The Bone Clocks’, but works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel for those of you yet to fall under the spell of his sublimely-crafted sentences and soul-sucking atemporal time-travellers. This slender novel centres around Slade House, a decaying mansion tucked away in a tatty North London suburb, and each of its 5 chapters features a different character. The house mysteriously appears once every 9 years, and at each ‘opening’, one carefully chosen visitor is let in, beginning with teenaged Nathan, who is invited in October 1976. Like ‘Hotel California’, this is one house you may enter, but never leave, and so we romp through a succession of vividly-imagined, wonderfully nuanced narrators, taking us from 1976 through to 2015, each of whom meets a deeply unpleasant end. Each decade is lovingly and nostalgically evoked with delightfully British detail – the beauty of Mitchell’s writing for me is in the way that, like Haruki Murakami, his stories are rooted in the humdrum modern world of Pritt-stick and Shredded-Wheat, yet spiral off into quantum alternate-realities.
‘Slade House’ becomes increasingly dark as the horror of its occupants, the sinister Grayer twins, is revealed, and the reader becomes ever-more desperate for a heroic survivor to emerge – I was gulping the novel down by the end, which I will not reveal, save to say Mitchell fans will applaud the re-appearance of Dr Marinus.
A hugely enjoyable Hallowe’en read, with tricks AND treats galore!
Dr Ally Moberley-Cavendish is a newly qualified female doctor. Which is a difficult and impressive thing in the 1880s. Recently married and living in Cornwall, she has taken a job in Truro asylum, giving medical attention to the inmates. Her husband, Tom, an engineer, is sent to Japan for work and their stories unfurl in the parallel narratives of their professional trials. As Tom becomes more and more absorbed by Japanese culture, Ally finds herself haunted by the sadness and anxiety of her upbringing, in particular, her difficult relationship with her mother, and the foundations of their brief marriage begin to slip.
Signs for Lost Children picks up from Moss’s previous novel, the excellent Bodies of Light, although it can also stand alone, and continues her beautifully written and controlled exploration into family dynamics, particularly complex mother/child relationships (Ally’s mother Elizabeth is an admirable monster) and whether there is any possibility of escaping the repeating patterns of successive generations. It is also about madness and sanity, loneliness and determination, written with great precision, clarity and emotional resonance.
Sarah Moss has long been a bookshop favourite, and is now even more so after her recent visit to the shop, when she impressed us with her wit, erudition and niceness. She has had much critical acclaim and deserves to be more widely read as she is a writer of great talent, whose powers are increasing with each book. Buy it!
And I’ve just read Night Waking, Sarah’s second novel and the book written before Bodies of Light and loosely linked to the other two. It’s set in the present day in the Hebrides where mother of two Anna wrestles with childcare and her doctoral thesis in an isolated cottage while her husband counts puffins, but it introduces us to one of the Moberley family through some old letters found in an attic. It is an interesting and satisfying read – witty, thoughtful and will strike a chord with all those who have paced the floor with a child whose body clock is obstinately out of sync with the rest of the family, but as Alice says, each of Sarah’s novels gains in strength….
The latest book from vet turned children’s writer Gill Lewis, author of the best-selling animal novels ‘Sky Hawk’, ‘White Dolphin’ and ‘Moon Bear’, widens her scope with an ambitious and moving story set in the rainforests of the Congo. It follows the plight of two children, Imara and Bobo, held captive by a group of rebel soldiers who have set up an illegal mineral mine in a National Park area. The rebels have also captured a baby gorilla, who Imara nurses back to health and forms a strong bond with. When Bobo and Imara learn that the gorilla is destined to be sold into captivity, they vow to return him to the wild before it’s too late. But the consequences of betraying the rebel soldiers are grim. Will they have the courage to carry out their plan, and will Bobo find out what happened to his park-ranger father?
So far, so earnest – but this is an exciting read, with really engaging characters, which manages to be very informative about the troubles faced by African rainforests being ‘blood-mined’ for minerals like coltan (used in mobile phones), without being ‘preachy’. With sympathetic, plucky boy and girl characters and a story which is moving without being sentimental, this is a really great, consciousness-raising read for readers of both genders, aged 9-14.
Another rip-roaring adventure from Ruth Eastham, the author of the SGS book awards short-listed ‘Arrowhead’, who recently visited Steyning Grammar School and gave a great presentation to Year 7.
The Jaguar Trials is a fast-paced adventure set in the Amazon, following brave Ben as he sets out on an expedition with his archaeologist father to seek the fabled lost city of gold, El Dorado. After their boat is sabotaged and wrecked, Ben and his friend Raffie set out on a quest to find Ben’s father. Soon Ben discovers he bears the ‘Mark of the Jaguar’ and must survive the mysterious ‘Jaguar Trials’ before he can be reunited with his father. Along the way Ben and Raffie encounter a sinister professor, tribal shamans, the ‘unquiet spirits’ of long gone tribes wiped out by the Spanish conquistadors, and a feisty young Amazon Indian girl who helps them as they venture further into the jungle on their terrifying quest.
Perfect summer-holiday reading for your 8-13 year child of either gender!
Owen Sheers is a Welsh author, poet and playwright, and is Professor of Creativity at Swansea University. ‘I Saw a Man’ is his third novel, following his debut ‘Resistance’, which he also adapted into a feature film, and his novella ‘White Ravens’. He has also published several volumes of poetry.
A sensitive and moving character-driven novel of great emotional depth, ‘I Saw a Man’ follows the story of Michael Turner, who, after the loss of his wife, moves to London and develops a close bond with the Nelson family next door. Josh, Samantha and their two young children seem to represent everything Michael fears he may now never have: intimacy, children, stability and a family home.
But something that begins as a casual friendship changes dramatically and leads to tragic consequences. This interestingly constructed novel spans continents, from London and Wales to New York and the Nevada deserts. Drawn from the start into the characters’ disturbing secrets and lies, the reader is kept guessing on many levels about them and what drives them, until the big reveal.
Owen Sheers has written a gripping and classy moral thriller, but much more than that too. It is beautifully written and a great read.