Our favourite recent literary novels and story collections.
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- by Valerie Perrin
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A 2020 INDIES INTRODUCE & INDIE NEXT LIST PICK
A #1 best-seller in France and in Italy, where it was dubbed Italy's favorite "lockdown novel,"Fresh Water for Flowers is an intimately told story about a woman who defiantly believes in happiness, despite it all.
Violette Toussaint is the caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Bourgogne. Her life is lived to the predictable rhythms of the often funny, always moving confidences that casual mourners, regular visitors, and sundry colleagues share with her. Violette's routine is disrupted one day by the arrival of Julien Sole--local police chief--who has come to scatter the ashes of his recently deceased mother on the gravesite of a complete stranger. It soon becomes clear that Julien's inexplicable gesture is intertwined with Violette's own complicated past.
"Melancholic and yet ebullient...An appealing indulgence in nature, food and drink, and, above all, friendships."--The Guardian
- by Maggie O'farrell
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WINNER OF THE WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION
WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR FICTION
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
"[An] exceptional winner. . . . It expresses something profound about the human experience that seems both extraordinarily current and at the same time, enduring." --Martha Lane Fox, Chair of The Women's Prize for Fiction judges
Two extraordinary people. A love that draws them together. A plague that threatens to tear them apart.
England, 1580. A young Latin tutor--penniless, bullied by a violent father--falls in love with an eccentric young woman: a wild creature who walks her family's estate with a falcon on her shoulder and is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer. Agnes understands plants and potions better than she does people, but once she settles on the Henley Street in Stratford she becomes a fiercely protective mother and a steadfast, centrifugal force in the life of her young husband. His gifts as a writer are just beginning to awaken when their beloved twins, Hamnet and Judith, are afflicted with the bubonic plague, and, devastatingly, one of them succumbs to the illness.
A luminous portrait of a marriage, a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss, and a hypnotic recreation of the story that inspired one of the greatest literary masterpieces of all time, Hamnet & Judith is mesmerizing and seductive, an impossible-to-put-down novel from one of our most gifted writers.
- by Thomas King
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Jeremiah Camp, a.k.a. the Forecaster, can look into the heart of humanity and see the patterns that create opportunities and profits for the rich and powerful. Problem is, Camp has looked one too many times, has seen what he hadn't expected to see and has come away from the abyss with no hope for himself or for the future. So Jeremiah does what any intelligent, sensitive person would do. He runs away. Goes into hiding in a small town, at an old residential school on an even smaller Indian reserve, with no phone, no Internet, no television. With the windows shut, the door locked, the mailbox removed to discourage any connection with the world, he feels safe at last. Except nobody told the locals that they were to leave Jeremiah alone. And then his past comes calling. Ash Locken, head of the Locken Group, the multinational consortium that Jeremiah has fled, arrives on his doorstep with a simple proposition. She wants our hero to formulate one more forecast, and she's not about to take no for an answer. Before he left the Locken empire, Jeremiah had created a list of twelve names, every one a billionaire. The problem is, the people on the list are dying at an alarming and unnatural rate. And Ash Locken wants to know why. A sly and satirical look at the fractures in modern existence, Sufferance is a bold and provocative novel about the social and political consequences of the inequality created by privilege and power--and what we might do about it.
- 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.
"A detailed and convincing portrait of an extraordinary life. Taken as a whole, this series is a serious achievement."--The Times (London)
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.
- 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.
- by Ali Smith
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Shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction
Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction
Named a Best Books of the Year by The Guardian, Kirkus Reviews, NPR, New Statesman, Dazed
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- by Onyemelukwe-onuobia
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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.
WINNER of the Best International Fiction Book Award, Sharjah International Book Fair 2019
- by Jessica Anya Blau
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"The best book of the summer." -- InStyle
"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 "delightful" (New York Times Book Review) 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.
- by Maggie Shipstead
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"Relentlessly exciting . . . My top recommendation for this summer." --Ron Charles, The Washington Post
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER o A TODAY SHOW #ReadWithJenna BOOK CLUB PICK o 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- by Jean Kyoung Frazier
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*LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD FINALIST*
An audacious and wryly funny coming-of-age story about 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. She's grieving the death of her father, 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.
- 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.