Bookseller Recent Reads

Blog · Posted May 31, 2024

Our round-up of recent reads and reviews for May.

It has been a fantastic month of reading. Our booksellers have had an array of new fiction to choose from this month and have also been able to catch up on a few non-fiction titles as well. See below for our recent reads and  top recommendations on our shelves at the moment.

Kairos By Jenny Erpenbeck – Reviewed by Sarah 

The plot follows a chaotic love affair between the young student, Katherina (19) and the married writer, Hans (53) and their relationship right before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. What begins as a charming romance brought about by fate turns into a problematic and unhealthy bond.

Despite the inevitable happening – both the nation and relationship doomed to failure – the rise and fall remains suspenseful. Erpenbeck’s writing is phenomenal and Hoffman has done an exquisite job at translating. Tackling the history, culture and lost ideals of a nation that ceases to exist does not lead to a cheery or comfortable read. However, if you are after an elegant piece of work that challenges you, then I urge you to pick this up. You will get lost in Erpenbeck’s prose and will enjoy the sense of relief that she creates when you know the lovers go their separate ways. This novel is worthy of every bit of acclaim it is receiving. 

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The Turnglass by Gareth Rubin – Reviewed by Vicky

A chilling, gothic mystery and a heady, glamorous noir. In this tête-bêche, Rubin combines two seemingly separate stories. First you’ll visit Essex in the 1880s, turn the book over and you’ll be immersed in 1939 California. But be warned, all is not as it seems. Here there is murder, captivity, deceit and cruelty. Will you uncover all the secrets of Turnglass House?

Cryptic, elusive and addictive. When you finish, you’ll want to start it all over again. 

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Lioness by Emily Perkins – Reviewed by Rosamund

From a modest background, Therese enters a life of protected luxury when, in her early 20s, she marries a charismatic property magnate decades her senior.  Since then, she has embraced the gilded walls, building her own lifestyle business and devoting herself to making nice with his spoilt family, lighting the appropriate scented candle for each occasion.

When rumours cast doubts on her husband’s property dealings, life begins to fracture.  Therese is drawn to her fierce neighbour Claire, and through this friendship discovers a new sense of freedom.  It turns out she does in fact hold opinions of her own…

Packed with excellent, scathing take-downs and delicious feminist moments, it’s a treat of a read.

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The Puzzle Wood by Rosie Andrews – Reviewed by Vicky

Rosie Andrews knows how to grab your attention. From page one, I was hooked. After learning of the suspicious death of her estranged sister, Catherine ventures undercover to take her place as governess at Locksley Abbey and to find the truth. But she isn’t the only one with a secret to hide…

A Victorian Gothic mystery combines with dark, supernatural undertones to create an unsettling read. A slow-burning tension culminates in a page-turning frenzy to the final sentence. A great addition to a crowded genre.

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Three Burials by Anders Lustgarten – Reviewed by Vicky

Cherry has had enough. As a nurse, she emerges from the pandemic as a different woman. A keen sense of injustice drives her to seek answers for a murdered immigrant and to give him a decent burial.

It’s difficult to balance brutality with a darker shade of comedy, but Lustgarten pitches it just right to create an entertaining ride alongside a thought-provoking commentary on contemporary society.

A novel that inspires us to take action in the face of wrong. (Though perhaps don’t go as far as putting a body in the boot of your car…!)

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The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers by Samuel Burr  – Reviewed by Vicky

Suggested novel? Er…company sorted! (11)

Clayton’s world has just fallen apart on the death of his beloved adoptive mother Pippa. This prompts him to look into his past and find out how he came to be left on the doorstep of the Fellowship of Puzzlemakers all those years ago. What Clayton doesn’t expect is for Pippa to have left him a trail of cryptic clues leading him to all the answers.

This is an uplifting, coming-of-age story with a quirky, puzzling twist. Samuel Burr has summoned a cast of characters you come to know so well, this chosen-family ends up as your friends.

Just lovely. Perfect for those who need a happy ending guaranteed!

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The Two Loves of Sophie Strom by Sam Taylor – Reviewed by Vicky

A sweeping love story set against the tragedy of war. One night in 1933, Max’s home in Vienna is set on fire. His next decision will split his life in two.

In one timeline, Max is able to save his parents and emerges unscathed from the flames to survive in his Jewish family. In the other, his parents are killed and Max is permanently scarred. He is adopted by an Aryan family and is renamed Hans. Brought together by their dreams, Max and Hans are each haunted by the alternative life of their alter ego. But, most importantly, opposing sides of history are both graced by the love of Sophie Strom. 

This is Sliding Doors for war-torn Europe. An inventive tale of survival with heart-stopping tension.

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The Ministry of Time by Kaliane Bradley – Reviewed by Sarah

What could go wrong when you bring characters from the past and drop them into a near future London? This is the question Kaliane Bradley tackles in her brilliant debut that details the practicalities of adjusting time travellers, who arrive into the 21st century.

Bradley tackles themes of politics, power, misogyny and imperial legacy. She looks at our modern world through the lens of the past, providing a relevant social commentary. However, she also manages to turn a man found only in the footnotes of history into a major love interest, and write a story that made me lose track of time while reading. 

The Ministry of Time could be categorised as sci-fi, romance and maybe even a bit of espionage. But, above all, it is a bit of fun. You may be sceptical about picking this book up. Nevertheless, pick it up anyway. You will not regret it. 

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Whale Fall by Elizabeth O’Connor – Reviewed by Sarah

It is 1938 on a remote island off the coast of Wales and eighteen-year-old Manon longs to explore life beyond the few isolated miles she has known all her life. 

When a whale washes up on the beach, it attracts the attention of two ethnographers from Oxford who decide to stay on the island and record the peoples’ way of life. Employed to help them document and translate the islanders’ stories, Manon believes this could be her way out. However, at first seduced by the newcomers, she soon realises that they may not deliver on all that they once promised.

This is a calm yet haunting debut that makes you pause at the thought of who gets to control our story. Perfect for fans of Carys Davies. 

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Long Island by Colm Toibin  – Reviewed by Sarah

The wait is over. We finally get to find out what happens between Eilis and Jim! Set 20 years after we first met Eilis Lacey, Toibin instantly brings us back into her world as if we had never left. 

To distance herself from her fractured marriage, Eilis decides to travel home from Long Island to Enniscorthy and in doing so faces the decisions she made all those years ago and the people she left behind.  This is a novel about the paths not travelled and the complexities of human nature. Toibin manages to keep the outcomes of the story just out of reach and has you hanging onto every word. It took everything in my being to not skip to the final pages to find out what happened. 

If you loved Brooklyn, be prepared to be swept away by Long Island. (You do not have to have read Brooklyn to appreciate this novel, but it will undoubtedly enhance your experience.)

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Hitler, Stalin, Mum and Dad by Daniel Finkelstein – Reviewed by Rosamund

This is a profoundly moving memoir by renowned journalist, Daniel Finklestein which charts the experience of his family at the hands of two dictators, Hitler and Stalin.  His maternal grandfather, Alfred Wiener, is now recognised as one of the first people to anticipate Hitler’s persecution of the Jews.  He kept meticulous records of early anti semitic crimes, relocating his archive to London when he and his family, anticipating the danger, moved to Amsterdam.  Tragically, having then moved to London himself, war broke out before he could bring his family to join him.  Meanwhile Finkelstein’s paternal grandfather, Ludwik, only son of a wealthy Jewish family, fell victim to the power play between Hilter and Stalin as they divided up Poland between themselves.  

Finklestein hits a powerful balance between the historical significance of, in particular, Alfred’s evidence (subsequently used for research by those prosecuting Nazi war criminals), with the very personal stories of family members incarcerated in Bergen Belsen and the Russian gulags, recording extraordinary moments of pain, but also occasionally, luck.  Loving letters quoted between family members throughout are all the more touching for their generosity and stoicism.

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The Trading Game by Gary Stevenson – Reviewed by Rosamund

Don’t be put off by the context, this may be a memoir about the hidden world of the City of London, but Gary Stevenson is very good company (trigger warning for plenty of swearing).  On paper, he might appear as an obvious fast-track cityboy – a maths whiz graduate from LSE, but few among his alumni hail from London’s East End.  He secured his first job by winning The Trading Game, a highly charged competition run by Citibank with an internship as the coveted prize.  

This is a hilarious, and sometimes heartbreaking, rollercoaster ride through the highs and lows of the financial crisis of 2008, brilliantly described by Irine Welsh as ‘The Wolf of Wall St with a moral compass’.  

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The Garden Against Time by Olivia Laing – Reviewed by Sarah

Memoir, history, political debate and gardening tips all combined into one book. Olivia Laing walks us through the restoration of her overgrown walled garden in her country home in Suffolk. As she takes us on this journey with her, she turns to other gardens – both imagined and real –  throughout time, to learn what she should and should not do. She unearths some of their dark histories and the cultural significance these green spaces have in the distant and recent past. 

From John Milton’s Paradise Lost, to William Morris’ botanical textiles, to Derek Jarman and Prospect Cottage, Laing explores the garden in art, literature and life. She provides lush descriptions of her daily discoveries in her own garden and crisp analysis of her extensive research. While she is learning how to create her own paradise, she is teaching her reader the meaning of ‘the garden’ from its origins to the present day and encouraging us to redefine our relationship with landscapes and each other. A thought-provoking read. 

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Our booksellers love to recommend books and share their favourite reads with other booklovers (it is their job but also their hobby). Our blog is a good place to start to find some recommendations but if you still need some help, simply pop into the shop, give us a call or shoot us an email.

Find out how to contact us HERE.