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Literary Fiction

Our favourite recent literary novels and story collections.

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Katharine Parr, The Sixth Wife

- by Alison Weir

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Bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir brings her Tudor Queens series to a close with the remarkable story of Henry VIII's sixth and final wife, who manages to survive him and remarry, only to be thrown into a romantic intrigue that threatens the very throne of England.

Having sent his much-beloved but deceitful young wife Katheryn Howard to her beheading, King Henry fixes his lonely eyes on a more mature woman, thirty-year-old, twice-widowed Katharine Parr. She, however, is in love with Sir Thomas Seymour, brother to the late Queen Jane. Aware of his rival, Henry sends him abroad, leaving Katharine no choice but to become Henry's sixth queen in 1543. The king is no longer in any condition to father a child, but Katharine is content to mother his three children, Mary, Elizabeth, and the longed-for male heir, Edward.

Four years into the marriage, Henry dies, leaving England's throne to nine-year-old Edward--a puppet in the hands of ruthlessly ambitious royal courtiers--and Katharine's life takes a more complicated turn. Thrilled at this renewed opportunity to wed her first love, Katharine doesn't realize that Sir Thomas now sees her as a mere stepping stone to the throne, his eye actually set on bedding and wedding fourteen-year-old Elizabeth. The princess is innocently flattered by his attentions, allowing him into her bedroom, to the shock of her household. The result is a tangled tale of love and a struggle for power, bringing to a close the dramatic and violent reign of Henry VIII.

What You Are

- by M.g. Vassanji

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From M.G. Vassanji, two-time Giller Prize winner and winner of the Governor General's Literary Award, comes a finely crafted collection of short fiction that explores the tensions between remembering past homes and belonging in new ones.

Weaving between wistful memories of youthful ambition and the compromises and comforts of age, travelling between the streets of Dar es Salaam and Toronto, the characters in these stories must negotiate distance--between here and there; between lives imagined and lives lived; between expectation and disappointment; between inclusion and exclusion.

Throughout, Vassanji engages passionately with the intellectual and political questions that inspire him as a writer and a citizen, while always matching the energy of his ideas with the empathy and emotional depth he invests in his characters. As with all Vassanji's finest work, What You Are stands as a model of artistic integrity and clarity of vision.

Summer

- by Ali Smith

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Longlisted for the 2021 Women's Prize for Fiction
One of The Guardian's "best books of 2020"


From the Booker-shortlisted author of Autumn, as well as the Baileys Prize-winning How to Be Both, comes the last instalment in the remarkable, once-in-a-generation masterpiece, the Seasonal Quartet.


Here is the exciting culmination of Ali Smith's celebrated Seasonal Quartet, a series of stand-alone novels, separate but interconnected (as the seasons are), wide-ranging in timescale and light-footed through histories.

A Theatre for Dreamers

- by Polly Samson

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1960. The world is dancing on the edge of revolution, and nowhere more so than on the Greek island of Hydra, where a circle of poets, painters and musicians live tangled lives, ruled by the writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston, troubled queen and king of bohemia. Forming within this circle is a triangle: its points the magnetic, destructive writer Axel Jensen; his dazzling wife, Marianne Ihlen; and the young Canadian poet Leonard Cohen.

Into their midst arrives Erica, a teenager with little more than a bundle of blank notebooks and her grief for her mother. Settling on the periphery of this circle, she watches, entranced and disquieted, as a paradise unravels.

Burning with the heat and light of Greece, A Theatre for Dreamers is a spellbinding novel about utopian dreams and innocence lost, and about the wars waged between men and women on the battlegrounds of genius.

Family Law

- by Gin Phillips

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When an ambitious female lawyer becomes the victim of harassment, she must decide what's more important: her family's safety or the rights she's fighting for.

Set in Alabama in the early '80s, Family Law follows a young lawyer, Lucia, who is making a name for herself at a time when a woman in a courtroom is still a rarity. She's been the recipient of threats and vandalism for her work extracting women from painful and sometimes dangerous marriages, but her own happy marriage has always felt sheltered from the work she does. When her mother's pending divorce brings teenaged Rachel into Lucia's orbit, Rachel finds herself smitten--not just with Lucia, but with the change Lucia represents. Rachel is outspoken and curious, and she chafes at the rules her mother lays down as the bounds of acceptable feminine behaviour. In Lucia, Rachel sees the potential for a new path into womanhood. But their unconventional friendship takes them both to a crossroads. When a moment of violence--a threat made good--puts Rachel in danger, Lucia has to decide how much her work means to her and what she's willing to sacrifice to keep moving forward.

Written in alternating voices from Lucia and Rachel's perspectives, Family Law is a fresh take on what the advancement of women's rights looks like on the ground to the ordinary women and girls who imagine a world redefined. Addressing mother-daughter relationships and what roles we can play in the lives of women who aren't our family, the novel examines how we shape each other and how we make a difference. The funny, strong and yet tender-hearted female leads of Family Law illuminate a new kind of Southern women's fiction--atmospheric, rich, and with quietly surprising twists and nuances all its own.

The King at the Edge of the World

- by Arthur Phillips

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Queen Elizabeth's spymasters recruit an unlikely agent--the only Muslim in England--for an impossible mission in a mesmerizing novel from "one of the best writers in America" (The Washington Post)

"Evokes flashes of Hilary Mantel, John le Carré and Graham Greene, but the wry, tricky plot that drives it is pure Arthur Phillips."--The Wall Street Journal

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW AND THE WASHINGTON POST

 
The year is 1601. Queen Elizabeth I is dying, childless. Her nervous kingdom has no heir. It is a capital crime even to think that Elizabeth will ever die. Potential successors secretly maneuver to be in position when the inevitable occurs. The leading candidate is King James VI of Scotland, but there is a problem.
 
The queen's spymasters--hardened veterans of a long war on terror and religious extremism--fear that James is not what he appears. He has every reason to claim to be a Protestant, but if he secretly shares his family's Catholicism, then forty years of religious war will have been for nothing, and a bloodbath will ensue. With time running out, London confronts a seemingly impossible question: What does James truly believe?
 
It falls to Geoffrey Belloc, a secret warrior from the hottest days of England's religious battles, to devise a test to discover the true nature of King James's soul. Belloc enlists Mahmoud Ezzedine, a Muslim physician left behind by the last diplomatic visit from the Ottoman Empire, as his undercover agent. The perfect man for the job, Ezzedine is the ultimate outsider, stranded on this cold, wet, and primitive island. He will do almost anything to return home to his wife and son.
 
Arthur Phillips returns with a unique and thrilling novel that will leave readers questioning the nature of truth at every turn.

The Son of the House

- by Onyemelukwe-onuobia

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WINNER of the Best International Fiction Book Award, Sharjah International Book Fair 2019

The lives of two Nigerian women divided by class and social inequality intersect when they're kidnapped, held captive, and forced to await their fate together.

In the Nigerian city of Enugu, young Nwabulu, a housemaid since the age of ten, dreams of becoming a typist as she endures her employers' endless chores. She is tall and beautiful and in love with a rich man's son.

Educated and privileged, Julie is a modern woman. Living on her own, she is happy to collect the gold jewellery lovestruck Eugene brings her, but has no intention of becoming his second wife.

When a kidnapping forces Nwabulu and Julie into a dank room years later, the two women relate the stories of their lives as they await their fate.

Pulsing with vitality and intense human drama, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia's debut is set against four decades of vibrant Nigeria, celebrating the resilience of women as they navigate and transform what remains a man's world.

Mary Jane

- by Jessica Anya Blau

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"I LOVED this novel....If you have ever sung along to a hit on the radio, in any decade, then you will devour Mary Jane at 45 rpm." --Nick Hornby

Almost Famous meets Daisy Jones & The Six in this funny, wise, and tender novel about a fourteen-year-old girl's coming of age in 1970s Baltimore, caught between her straight-laced family and the progressive family she nannies for--who happen to be secretly hiding a famous rock star and his movie star wife for the summer.

In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane loves cooking with her mother, singing in her church choir, and enjoying her family's subscription to the Broadway Showtunes of the Month record club. Shy, quiet, and bookish, she's glad when she lands a summer job as a nanny for the daughter of a local doctor. A respectable job, Mary Jane's mother says. In a respectable house. The house may look respectable on the outside, but inside it's a literal and figurative mess: clutter on every surface, Impeachment: Now More Than Ever bumper stickers on the doors, cereal and takeout for dinner. And even more troublesome (were Mary Jane's mother to know, which she does not): the doctor is a psychiatrist who has cleared his summer for one important job--helping a famous rock star dry out. A week after Mary Jane starts, the rock star and his movie star wife move in. Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane introduces her new household to crisply ironed clothes and a family dinner schedule, and has a front-row seat to a liberal world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll (not to mention group therapy). Caught between the lifestyle she's always known and the future she's only just realized is possible, Mary Jane will arrive at September with a new idea about what she wants out of life, and what kind of person she's going to be. 

Great Circle

- by Maggie Shipstead

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INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER
A TODAY SHOW #ReadWithJenna BOOK CLUB PICK

 
The unforgettable story of a daredevil female aviator determined to chart her own course in life, at any cost--Great Circle "soars and dips with dizzying flair ... an expansive story that covers more than a century and seems to encapsulate the whole wide world" (Boston Globe).

 
"A masterpiece . . . One of the best books I've ever read."
--J. Courtney Sullivan

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There--after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes--Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.

A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian's disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian's own story, as the two women's fates--and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times--collide. Epic and emotional, meticulously researched and gloriously told, Great Circle is a monumental work of art, and a tremendous leap forward for the prodigiously gifted Maggie Shipstead.

Utopia Avenue

- by David Mitchell

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

From the internationally bestselling author of The Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas.


Utopia Avenue may be the most extraordinary British band you've never heard of. Emerging from London's psychedelic scene in 1967, and fronted by folk singer Elf Holloway, blues bassist Dean Moss and guitar virtuoso Jasper de Zoet, Utopia Avenue embarked on a meteoric journey from the seedy clubs of Soho, a TV debut on Top of the Pops, the cusp of chart success, glory in Amsterdam, prison in Rome and a fateful American sojourn in the Chelsea Hotel, Laurel Canyon, and San Francisco during the autumn of '68.

David Mitchell's kaleidoscopic novel tells the unexpurgated story of Utopia Avenue's turbulent life and times; of fame's Faustian pact and stardom's wobbly ladder; of the families we choose and the ones we don't; of voices in the head, and the truths and lies they whisper; of music, madness and idealism. Can we really change the world, or does the world change us?

Unsettled Ground

- by Claire Fuller

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From bestselling author Claire Fuller comes a portrait of life on the fringes of society, a heart-stopping novel of betrayal and resilience, love and survival.What if the life you have always known is taken from you in an instant? What would you do to get it back?Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different from other people. At fifty-one years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. But when Dot dies suddenly, threats start raining down. Jeanie and Julius would do anything to preserve their small sanctuary against the perils of the outside world, even as their mother's secrets begin to unravel, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake.

Pizza Girl

- by Jean Kyoung Frazier

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*LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD FINALIST*
 
"Fresh, funny, bittersweet...This book delivers humor, humanity and hubris."--New York Times Book Review

Named an NPR, Marie Claire, and Teen Vogue best book of the year and a most anticipated book of 2020 by Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Time, People, BuzzFeed, Bustle, and more

In the tradition of audacious and wryly funny novels like The Idiot and Convenience Store Woman comes the wildly original coming-of-age story of a pregnant pizza delivery girl who becomes obsessed with one of her customers.


Eighteen years old, pregnant, and working as a pizza delivery girl in suburban Los Angeles, our charmingly dysfunctional heroine is deeply lost and in complete denial about it all. She's grieving the death of her father (whom she has more in common with than she'd like to admit), avoiding her supportive mom and loving boyfriend, and flagrantly ignoring her future.

Her world is further upended when she becomes obsessed with Jenny, a stay-at-home mother new to the neighborhood, who comes to depend on weekly deliveries of pickled-covered pizzas for her son's happiness. As one woman looks toward motherhood and the other toward middle age, the relationship between the two begins to blur in strange, complicated, and ultimately heartbreaking ways.

Bold, tender, propulsive, and unexpected in countless ways, Jean Kyoung Frazier's Pizza Girl is a moving and funny portrait of a flawed, unforgettable young woman as she tries to find her place in the world.

Swimming Back to Trout River

- by Linda Rui Feng

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A lyrical novel set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution that follows a father's quest to reunite his family before his precocious daughter's momentous birthday, which Garth Greenwell calls "one of the most beautiful debuts I've read in years."

How many times in life can we start over without losing ourselves?

In the summer of 1986 in a small Chinese village, ten-year-old Junie receives a momentous letter from her parents, who had left for America years ago: her father promises to return home and collect her by her twelfth birthday. But Junie's growing determination to stay put in the idyllic countryside with her beloved grandparents threatens to derail her family's shared future.

What Junie doesn't know is that her parents, Momo and Cassia, are newly estranged from one another in their adopted country, each holding close private tragedies and histories from the tumultuous years of their youth during China's Cultural Revolution. While Momo grapples anew with his deferred musical ambitions and dreams for Junie's future in America, Cassia finally begins to wrestle with a shocking act of brutality from years ago. In order for Momo to fulfill his promise, he must make one last desperate attempt to reunite all three members of the family before Junie's birthday--even if it means bringing painful family secrets to light.

"A beautifully written, poignant exploration of family, art, culture, immigration, and most of all, love," (Jean Kwok, New York Times bestselling author of Searching for Sylvie Lee) Swimming Back to Trout River weaves together the stories of Junie, Momo, Cassia, and Dawn--a talented violinist from Momo's past--while depicting their heartbreak and resilience, tenderly revealing the hope, compromises, and abiding ingenuity that make up the lives of immigrants.

The Savage Instinct

- by Marjorie Deluca

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"A fascinating portrayal of womanhood in Victorian England that is also a nail-biting thriller that will keep readers riveted until the very last page." --Booklist

Perfect for fans of Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace and Hannah Kent's Burial Rites, this taut psychological thriller offers a delicious take on deviant and defiant Victorian women in a time when marriage itself was its own prison.

England, 1873. Clara Blackstone has just been released after one year in a private asylum for the insane. Clara has two goals: to reunite with her husband, Henry, and to never--ever--return to the asylum. As she enters Durham, Clara finds her carriage surrounded by a mob gathered to witness the imprisonment of Mary Ann Cotton--England's first female serial killer--accused of poisoning nearly twenty people, including her husbands and children.

Clara soon finds the oppressive confinement of her marriage no less terrifying than the white-tiled walls of Hoxton. And as she grows increasingly suspicious of Henry's intentions, her fascination with Cotton grows. Soon, Cotton is not just a notorious figure from the headlines, but an unlikely confidante, mentor--and perhaps accomplice--in Clara's struggle to protect her money, her freedom and her life.

Second Place

- by Rachel Cusk

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On a sun-soaked Parisian street, M, a mother on the brink of rebellion, wanders into a famous artist's gallery show. The artist's paintings speak--quite literally--to her, promising a liberation usually reserved for men. She returns to the coastal home she shares with her husband, but the unsettling impression of the art, and the evasive artist, remains. So she writes, inviting him to stay in their second place, a modest cottage salvaged from the land.

When historical catastrophe upends daily life, M's daughter returns to the marsh, along with her prim, privileged boyfriend. The painter arrives, too, accompanied by a lithe, cosmopolitan lover. Resigned to the perilous indoors, fissures form within the strange group. The painter's quietly demonic presence wreaks havoc with M, plunging her into existential disarray. As secrets, alliances and private desires come to light, she is forced to choose between her deepest impulses: to comply or to rebel completely.

Like her acclaimed Outline trilogy, Rachel Cusk's Second Place transcends its form. Inspired by Lorenzo in Taos, Mabel Dodge Luhan's 1932 memoir of the writer D. H. Lawrence's fraught visit to her communal property, the novel hovers between past and present, Gothic and contemporary, fable and truth--continuing to haunt us long after we've looked away.

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