Friday, 31 October 2014

Wild Water by Jan Ruth

Reviewer: JD Smith, author of Tristan and Iseult and the Overlord series.

What we thought: The author not only has a taste for the wild, beautiful and atmospheric country of Wales, but of relationships and characters that define us as human beings.

This is a story of the reality which many of us face in our day to day lives, the breakdown of one relationship, the beginning of another, and all the subtle shades in between, financial difficulties, ill health and hard decisions.

Ruth describes the best and worst parts of our lives in equal measure through characters which we come to both know and understand and feel a huge amount of sympathy for: Jack, Patsy, Anna, as well as their respective children, friends and relatives. This is a story primarily of family, what it means and how it can be manipulated and damaged so easily by the choices we make.

Although in parts it is predictable, it wouldn’t be so truthful, and so close to what many will have experienced, if it wasn’t.

Jack Redman, I look forward to meeting you in the sequel.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Nosing into other people’s lives, gossip and descriptions of the Welsh countryside.

Avoid if you don’t like: Secrets, family difficulties, or you are going through a divorce.

Ideal accompaniments: Wine and plenty of is, a big bubble bath, a cigarette if you are so inclined.

Genre: Contemporary, womens’.

Available from Amazon

The Haunting of Nathaniel Wolfe by Brian Keaney

Reviewer: JW Hicks, author of Rats.

What we thought: If you’ve never dipped into YA or Teen Fiction, try this taster and prepare to become addicted.

The books are set in Victorian London. The hero a young teenage by. The style, an easy flowing read which will suit both young and old(er).

To the world, Cicero Wolfe is a famous medium, able to summoned the spirits of the dead. But to his son, Nathaniel, Cicero is an abusive father and a mountebank: a trickster extorting money from desperate people seeking contact with loved ones languishing in the realm of the dead.

Nathaniel Wolfe definitely doesn’t believe in spirits... but then something happens to change his mind. One night, watching his father’s onstage performance, Nathaniel sees a ghostly apparition; a blurred shape, the ghostly figure of a woman dressed in a long white robe. The figure stares directly at him, moving her lips in a desperate attempt to communicate... with him. What the message is he can’t make out, and the disappointed figure vanishes with a roar that seems to come from the end of the world. A noise that only he can hear.

A second visitation thrusts Nathaniel into a chilling mystery where he must help avenge the spirit from beyond.

This, all-ends-tied-up-neatly, book is a great treat for all ages, a book filled with excitement, adventure, eerie scares and gut-gripping thrills. The first thing I did after reading The Haunting of Nathaniel Wolfe was order the second in the series, Nathaniel Wolfe and the Body Snatchers. Believe me, I was not disappointed.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: A rollicking read with a truly satisfying ending.

Avoid if you don’t like: Plucky youngsters foiling the bad guys.

Ideal accompaniments: A plaid rug on your knees with a softly purring cat sitting on it.

Genre: Historical, Mystery

Available from Amazon

The Light Never Lies by Francis Guenette

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer

What we thought: The Light Never Lies is the second book in the Crater Lake Series by Francis Guenette, and although I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I would strongly recommend reading the first novel, Disappearing in Plain Sight, first - so you come into it understanding the roots of the complex relationships dissected here - I did not and that is my one regret.

That aside, I totally enjoyed the story and the characters. Based around a collection of troubled teens (and equally troubled adults) who find themselves in or around Micah Camp - a place for problem teens to find a new purpose and start in life. This book starts several months after the end of book one, and initially, I did have a few problems identifying and connecting with the characters which is why I would recommend reading this in series order. But that was my only issue.

The writing is wonderful, particularly in terms of settling the reader into the landscape of Crater Lake and the secluded landscape of Northern Vancouver Island, Canada . Guenette also has a talent with characterisation, storytelling ability and complex relationship conflicts which are the real backbone of this novel.

I'd have no hesitation recommending it to readers of women's and contemporary fiction. And I look forward to catching up with the first book in the series too!

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Jo Jo Moyes, Linda Gillard.

Avoid if you don’t like: Tangled relationships and troubled teens.

Ideal accompaniments: Maple syrup pancakes and strong, hot coffee.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction.

Friday, 24 October 2014

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Audio version (read by Juliette Stevenson)

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore. (

What we thought: Wow. Wow, wow, wow. I LOVED this book. One of the times when you felt bereft as you neared the conclusion and so slowed your pace to make it last longer. Those kind of books don’t come round too often for me.

I chose the audio version of the book and I am glad I did. Juliet Stevenson’s remarkable narration really added an extra layer of depth for me.

I deliberately knew nothing, read nothing, about this novel before I began. I didn’t know if it had the spooky tone of The Little Stranger, or the charismatic bluntness of The Night Watch. In the end, it somehow managed to carry an essence of both.

Frances Wray, and her mother, are gentile class folk, struggling to cope in the hardship of London post World War I. The deceased father left a mountain of debt upon his death, and after losing their servants, Frances finds herself taking over the upkeep on her house. Still, debts mount, and to try to balance the books, this story opens with the introduction of the ‘paying guests’ Mr and Mrs Leonard Barber.

It’s pretty impossible to say too much about the development of the story without giving away the crucial points and it would be a shame to do that and spoil the reader’s enjoyment. Suffice to say that the arrangement soon becomes complex, the characters are all involved in life-changing circumstances, and once the tension and emotion takes hold, the book changes gear from a slow burner into a rollercoaster of a ride.

Totally gripping. Totally realistic. Totally genuine. And as ever perfect writing of that period. I am a huge fan of Sarah Waters and I put this up alongside The Little Stranger as her best work to date. One not to miss.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Any of Sarah Waters’ previous works. I struggle to compare.

Avoid if you don’t like: Betrayal, love and guilt.

Ideal accompaniments: Toasted currant loaf and milky hot chocolate.

Genre: Literary Fiction.

Available from Amazon

Guises of Desire by Hilda Reilly

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of Spirit of Lost Angels and Wolfsangel

What We Thought: Guises of Desire is a fictionalised account of the three-year illness of Bertha Pappenheim, known as the founding patient of psychoanalysis, mental illness treatment pioneered by the famous Dr. Sigmund Freud. “Anna O”, Bertha Pappenheim’s clinical pseudonym, was a patient of Dr. Josef Breuer, an associate of Freud’s, and one of the cases on which much of Freud's theory was based. Freud described his patient as cured of "hysteria" with his “talking-cure” method.

Through the author’s extensive research, Bertha’s Jewish upper-middle class of 19th century Vienna is excellently portrayed. A sensitive, well-educated child who spoke several languages, Bertha was deeply disturbed by the gender discrimination she saw in her milieu of society. When her father falls ill, Bertha begins to exhibit more and more alarming symptoms such as paralysis, aphasia, blackouts and hallucinations. Through his regular visits to her home, Dr. Josef Breuer uses new methods such as hypnotism and the “talking cure” to try and root out the cause of Bertha’s psychological problems. As Bertha comes and goes from sanatoriums over the following two years, the author narrates the progress of her illness in a fascinating and horrifying, but truly sympathetic manner that urges the reader onward, to discover what happened to this poor girl, in the end.

I found Guises of Desire an excellent and informative novel and would highly recommend it for readers interested in understanding the history of psychoanalysis.

You'll enjoy this if you like: medical stories based on fact

Avoid if you dislike: misogynist doctors, medical ignorance and male chauvinism

Ideal accompaniments: challah and chicken soup

Genre: Historical Fiction

Available from Amazon

The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What we thought: Jonas Jonasson has a genius for finding the cracks in history, inserting his characters into them and spinning out of them a surreal shaggy dog story. His books read like A Series of Unfortunate Events for grownups.

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden starts in Soweto in the 1970s, with Nombeko, an illiterate latrine attendant with a special knack for numbers. Having had the misfortune to be run over on her fifteenth birthday by the Chief Engineer of South Africa’s secret nuclear weapons programme, Nombeko finds herself as a bonded labourer in his office, surrounded by barbed wire fences and guard dogs. The only glimmer of hope is that she is considerably smarter than her new boss.

Thousands of miles away, in Sweden, twins are born to monarchy-hating Ingmar Qvist, both of whom will be called Holger but only one of whom will officially exist.

Between those two improbable circumstances lies a web of bizarre coincidences and narrowly avoided disasters.

I am not quite sure how Jonasson gets away with putting the current Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt , along with King Carl Gustaf, in the back of a potato truck along with a bomb that was never supposed to exist. But somehow he does.

It helps if you know enough about 20th Century history to recognise when real world figures – such as Chinese President Hu Jintao – intrude on the story. But the story can be enjoyed even if you aren’t entirely sure where real life ends and fantasy begins.

You’ll enjoy this is you liked: The Hundred Year Old Man Who Jumped Out of the Window and Disappeared.

Avoid if you dislike: playing fast and loose with world history

Perfect Accompaniment: chicken casserole, potatoes and lots of vodka (and a small package of antelope meat)

Genre: Comic Fiction

Available from Amazon

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit & Crimson Shore (

What we thought: To begin with. Relax. There will be no spoilers in this review. The less you know about this book before you open page one, the better, in my opinion. So, ignore 99% of the media coverage.

I have wanted to get into David Mitchell for some time and with this novel I have finally cracked it. I finally get him, finally love his writing. And I can’t wait to go back and re-read Thousand Autumns, and take on Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten.

No spoilers, but I am going to answer one question. What is a Bone Clock? The answer isn't found written anywhere in this novel, but by default you just know. A bone clock is simply a human being as they mature and age. By simply looking at a person, you can tell the stage of their life. From birth, via adult strength, through to frailness. We are all bone clocks.

Or at least them are the ‘normal rules’. And as Mitchell fans will know, in Mitchell novels normal rules don’t apply.

In The Bone Clocks we meet a collection of random (seemingly) characters starting and ending with the person I would class as the main protagonist, Holly Sykes. From a 14 year-old tear-away in the 1980s to a wise grandmother in the 2040s, we see her complex life journey through her eyes. There are some great characters here – the devious Hugo Lamb and curmudgeonly author, Crispin Hershey among my favourites – but Mitchell’s real skill in my opinion is in his attention to language and his story-telling skills. Mitchell weaves you into his world like a spider cocooning a fly in its web, and by the time you realise you’re hooked it’s far too late to walk away.

This book is a stayer – one that will linger in your memory for a long time after you close the final page. Without giving anything away, it is Mitchell’s predictions of our future that left me shaken and cold - and there are clearly many hidden messages and layers of intent in the author’s work.

I’ve no doubts this will attract many new fans to Mitchell’s fold, like myself, and equally I can’t believe any dedicated Mitchell fans will be disappointed by his latest work. If you have often thought of giving Mitchell’s work a try, I would recommend this is the novel to do it.

If I had to recommend one ‘must read’ book so far this year, then it would be The Bone Clocks.

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Michael Connolly.

Avoid if you don’t like : Growing old and questioning the basic fundamentals of life.

Ideal accompaniments: Comfort food. For me - a strong G&T and the most chocolatey cake I can find.

Genre: Literary Fiction.

Available from Amazon

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What we thought: Don Tillman is a professor of genetics at a prestigious Australian university. He is also an undiagnosed sufferer from Asperger’s Syndrome, who governs his life via time slots allocated to his Standardized Meal System, scheduled work-out, household cleaning, work assignments and his only two friends, Gene and Claudia. So when he decides he needs to get married, he approaches the problem scientifically, designing a sixteen-page questionnaire aimed at finding his perfectly compatible woman.

But when Gene introduces Rosie, a wildcard who could hardly be a worse fit with Don’s carefully thought out measures, he starts to discover that there is more to relationships than shared values and tastes. He also plumbs some hitherto unsuspected depths in his own character.

This is a feel-good book, full of charm and dry wit. It will make you stop and think about what really makes a perfect match – and how we recognise one when we find it. It will also remind you that it's never too late to try something new, or something out of your comfort zone.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Salmon Fishing on the Yemen by Paul Torday, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

Avoid if you dislike: Geeks, lists and questionnaires

Perfect Accompaniment: lobster, mango and avocado salad, champagne and cocktails

Genre: Comic Fiction

Available from Amazon

The Strange Death of a Romantic by Jim Williams

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett, author of The Land Beyond Goodbye, Don’t Look Down and Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion. (

What We Thought: The Strange Death of a Romantic is another of Williams’ playful tales of possible but disputed murder. You may never have wondered if the poet Shelley was deliberately drowned but if you read this book you will discover who dunnit anyway.

Guy Parrot, a young doctor, is befriended by a bunch of socialites in 1930. Most of these people are brittle and artificial and from the outset we know things are not going to go well for poor Guy. They set up temporary home in the Villa Esperanza near Le Spezia in Italy close to where Shelley had his boating accident – if accident it was.

To while away the time, the friends make up stories about Shelley’s possible murder. This is where William’s skill really comes into play. The stories are written in a variety of styles including pastiches of a Gothic romance, a Just William type story, a Noel Coward-like play and a bit of Gatsbyesque prose. The various peripheral characters evince qualities of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple with a touch of Madame Arcati thrown in – and there’s a bit of Mitford and Mosely for good measure. The novel is rich with literary and contemporary allusions. Recognising at least some of these allusions is probably necessary for full enjoyment of the book, but even without the background knowledge it will still be an entertaining read.

The novel starts in 1943 when Guy Parrot, now an army doctor, returns to the Villa Esperanza (and remember, ‘esperanza’ means ‘hope’) to set up a military hospital there. Along with dealing with wartime shenanigans involving insubordinate corporals, missing equipment and gay squaddies, Guy must also face his past and decide on his future. I have to admit finding the start slightly confusing but that doesn’t faze me – I’m not an advocate of the idea that all books must start with a bang. Stick with it and in no time at all you’ll be caught up in the fractured world of the well-meaning Dr Parrot.

This novel is funny, clever and literate; it also deals with hopeless love, disillusionment and mental illness. Another intriguing book from Jim Williams.

You'll enjoy this if you like: Scherzo, Recherche, and novels that play with writing styles.

Avoid if you dislike: Novels that make literary, political and social allusions.

Ideal accompaniments
: G&T for the 1930s bits, contraband coffee for the wartime episodes.

Genre: Literary, Crime, Historical.

Available from Amazon

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Bitter Trade, by Piers Alexander

ReviewerJJ Marsh

What We Thought: Calumny Spinks, of ginger hair and peppery wits, finds himself in more than one wrong place at the right time. That time is 1688, when England has been through reformation, civil war, restoration and renaissance, only to face the threat of invasion. Not that seventeen-year-old Spinks is concerned. He’s just a small droplet, trying to learn a trade and survive.

After what happens to his mother, he and his father flee to London, where the past is never far behind. Secrets seep out and alliances ripple across wider pools. No man can be an island, especially where the rivers converge. Small droplet he may be, but nevertheless Calumny Spinks is part of the flow.

The Bitter Trade refers both to the produce of the coffee houses, and the commerce and politicking conducted therein. This is an epic adventure, full of pungent period detail, a Dickensian cast of vibrant characters, plus a complex and brilliantly conceived plot which makes your head spin. 17th century London comes fully to life, with all its triumphs and inequalities, colour, texture and structure. One of those worlds you absorb so wholly, you itch to return.

The language deserves a special mention. This is a beautifully written story, a master class in voice, character and description. So many lines stopped me in my tracks to just admire the craftsmanship of this prose.

You’ll like this if you enjoyed: Perfume by Patrick Suskind, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, Pure by Andrew Miller, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Avoid if you dislike: The realities and compromises of life in London; sex, politics, violence and double-crossers.

Ideal accompaniments: Eat a bowl filled with nuts, chopped beef jerky, pickled onions, Bombay mix, grapes and wasabi peas to constantly surprise the palate. Drink a pint of London Pride with a gin chaser. Listen to Britten’s Phantasy Quartet.

Genre: Historical fiction, literary fiction

Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin

Reviewer: JW Hicks, author of Rats

What we thought: If you’ve read Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and Daniel Tammet’s autobiographical Born on a Blue Day, you’ll find this narrative-essay written by an autistic, utterly fascinating.

In Thinking in Pictures, Dr Temple Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University, allows us to see what it’s like to be an autistic, and gives us a glimpse into a quite other kind of mind.

As a child she confronts the overwhelming sensations of smell and sound and touch that she cannot blot out. She screams and rocks, shutting out chaos and terror by focusing on grains of sand for hours on end. Gradually she gains the beginnings of speech and starts to overcome her fear of contact. With the help of a remarkable science teacher who recognises her unusual potential, she channels her obsessions and becomes a world-renowned expert on cattle psychology and behaviour, a passionate advocate of their humane treatment, and a leading authority in the field of autism. As well as studying cattle, Grandin studies us, as if she were “an anthropologist on Mars.”

Grandin likens herself to Data, the android in Star Trek, who yearns to be human, and compares her mind to a computer. “You look at flowers, I see what great pleasure you get out of it. I’m denied that.”

Grandin never ceases to ponder and explore her own nature and feels “thinking in pictures” gives a special rapport with cattle and is in some way akin to their own mode of thinking.

Words are a second language to her. She translates spoken and written words into full colour movies which run inside her head. As an equipment designer, visual thinking is a tremendous advantage. Her imagination works like CGI, and she has video memories of every item she has ever worked with; from steel gates, to latches, to concrete walls. She has the fantastic ability to create new designs using these remembered templates, and tests them by running three-dimensional visual simulations in her mind. Unlike ‘normal people’ Grandin sees design faults on a drawing before the equipment is even installed and soon realises that normal thinking patterns lack visualisation skills, rendering non-autistics fault-blind.

Learning to read she had problems learning words that could not be thought about in pictures. Nouns were easy to remember because they relate to pictures but spatial words like overand under had no meaning for Grandin until she had a visual image to fix them in her memory. As, if and the, proved difficult words to master.

Thinking in Pictures comes across as a mesmerising mix of scholarly treatise and autobiography. The reader not only learns the scientific aspect of autism, but experiences the actuality of an autistic life. This compelling book tells how it really is. Thinking in Pictures is not only a guide to understanding autism, but a step by step account of Temple Grandin’s integration into our so-called normal society.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: A mix of real life and real science

Avoid if you don’t like: Facts and real-life experiences intermingled.

Genre: Autobiography

Available from Amazon

The Hurricane Lover by Joni Rodgers

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What we thought: The Hurricane Lover is the story of two former lovers from polar ends of the deep political divide who collide – sexually, emotionally and in every other way – as Hurricane Katrina rolls over New Orleans and a predatory serial killer called Queen Mab takes advantage the ensuing chaos.

Corbin is a meteorologist, one of the best hurricane forecasters around – a liberal, a Democrat and an alcoholic. Shay is a small-time TV presenter, fobbed off with stories about ice cream and Ziploc bags – a former beauty queen and daughter of a wealthy and influential Republican. He is on the trail of Katrina and she is on the trail of Queen Mab.

I have never been to Louisiana or to Texas (where part of the action takes place), nor have I ever lived through a hurricane. But there is a filmic quality to the writing that means that the book played out in my mind in a series of vivid images. Rodgers has an ear, too, for the rich language of the Louisiana: colourful, gutsy and laced with Old French.

Katrina, of course, provides a gift of a setting for any thriller. No one reading it can doubt that the jeopardy of the hurricane is real – no need here for writerly exaggeration. And Queen Mab is a frighteningly plausible killer – a modern take on an old nightmare, using the Internet to lure her victims into traps she baits with their own lusts.

Shay and Corbin have a chemistry that flies off the page. They are an impossible pairing, striking sparks off each other at every encounter, yet you find yourself rooting for them to find a way past their differences and be together, because they are also perfect for each other.

The book has an undoubted political edge. It’s hard to miss the deep underlying anger at the woefully inadequate response to the hurricane. It comes through in Corbin’s railing against head-in-the-sand attitude of the authorities, and also in the verbatim reproduction, as chapter headings, of published emails to and from the Head of FEMA – the organisation charged with preparing for and coping with the disaster. Yet Rodgers avoids polemic by giving the ‘opposition’ their own rounded, sympathetic characters.

This is a powerful book that deserves to be read both for the yarn it spins and for the real-life story it uncovers.

You'll enjoy this if you liked: Entry Island by Peter May, Purple Cane Road by James Lee Burke.

Avoid if you dislike: sex and politics with your crime

Ideal Accompaniments: iced tea and southern barbecue

Genre: Crime Fiction, Political Thriller

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Golden Lynx by C.P. Lesley

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of Spirit of Lost Angels and Wolfsangel.

What we thought: The Golden Lynx is set in 16th century Russia, with Nasan, an Islamic Tatar as protagonist. Nasan witnesses the murder of her brother by a Russian, triggering a battle, and the young Tatar princess becomes the peace offering. Nasan is sent by her parents, far away from her homeland to marry Daniil, who is related to her brother’s killer. Before long, Nasan finds herself caught up in events that will decide the future of Russia.

This was a period of history about which I knew next to nothing, and I enjoyed learning about it through this story, which is always a sign of good historical fiction for me. I loved the author’s excellent descriptions, and her intriguing exploration and contrast of the two cultures.

Nasan, in her refusal to play the expected role of women in this society, comes across as strong independent, but I would have liked to witness more of her nightly escapades.

I loved the idea of the Golden Lynx playing “detective” in parallel to Daniil, and, all in all, found this a compelling 16th century adventure. I look forward to reading the next book from this author, The Winged Horse.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Russian history

Avoid if you don’t like: 16th century Tatar adventure tales

Ideal accompaniments: bowl of borscht, plate of pelmeni 

Genre: Historical

A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie

Reviewer: Rebecca Johnson Bista

What we thought: A novel that cleverly intertwines the history of Indians in combat in the First World War and subsequent issues of loyalty to the Empire, with the ancient Greek legend of Scylax, explorer of India, and an Edwardian British woman’s passion for archaeology and independence.

As you would expect of Kamila Shamsie, A God in Every Stone unearths a unique perspective on WWI. Her English heroine, Vivian Rose Spencer, is a non-suffragette in the mould of Gertrude Bell (a spy and colleague of T E Lawrence) who defies convention to travel to the Ottoman Empire and to Peshawar during the war. This is a woman who studies ancient Greek, suffers traumatic shock from her experience of VAD nursing in London, smokes Turkish cigarettes and speaks Pashto. She is on the trail of a legendary artefact sought by the man she loves, but from whom she has been separated by the war.

On the way to Peshawar, she meets a discharged Pathan soldier who served at Ypres and lost an eye. Much of the rest of the novel is the story of this man, Qayyum, and his brother Najeeb. I was gripped by this part of the novel, with its atmospheric descriptions of the old quarters of Peshawar and its museum rich with Buddhist art. I also found compelling Qayyum’s moral and emotional dilemma of divided loyalties between the British Army, particularly his own regiment the 40th Pathans, and the growing anti-British independence movement back home in what would eventually become Pakistan. At times, for a non-Pakistani audience, the different factions are confusing, but the concerns, cruelties and resentments and the shift in sympathies – often creating a division between the two brothers – are very clearly portrayed. None of these issues is resolved within the novel except that the two brothers grow closer again through their experience of a massacre of non-violent protesters in Peshawar by the British authorities. The subsequent historical events leading to Partition are well known.

The novel is clearly driven by its anti-colonial sympathies, and the English character, Vivian, is left without resolution to her own stories at the end – the artefact she seeks, though Najeeb finds it, is lost again, kept out of even sympathetic British hands. Much is left ambiguous, with the reader invited to draw their own conclusions about the ultimate fate of the relationship between Vivian, Najeeb and Qayyum. For all this, A God in Every Stone is a vivid and compelling read, shaping individual tragedy, experience and relationships as part of a much larger pattern of historical forces and political concerns. In doing so it makes that history profoundly moving and intimately human.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Nadeem Aslam, Salman Rushdie, Pashtunwali, war stories, Buddhist sculpture, ancient Greek legend.

Avoid if you don’t like: WWI, archaeology, stories of colonial India.

Ideal accompaniments: A cup of finest Darjeeling and a stick of sugar cane.

Genre: Post-colonial fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction.

Available from Amazon

Feral Youth by Polly Courtney

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What we thought: Feral Youth is the story of Alesha – a fifteen year old from Peckham in South London. At the start of the book, Alesha is living under the radar, dodging social services, gang violence and her alcoholic mother. But she has a roof over her head, a friend she owes everything to, a youth centre that provides an occasional refuge, and a ‘rep’ that provides some flimsy protection on the streets.

In the course of a few short weeks over the summer of 2011, even those are taken away. No wonder Alesha’s angry. Angry enough that when messages start crowding onto her phone, telling her riots are kicking off all over south London, she is ready to take revenge on the whole self-satisfied world she sees around her.

Only, it’s beginning to look as if the one person she can really trust isn’t from the streets at all. She’s Alesha’s eccentric former music teacher, Miss Merfield – and she’s trying to tell Alesha there’s another way out.

There is almost an unspoken rule of writing that you may write as a serial killer or a space pirate or Marie Antoinette – but you don’t bust through the barriers of age and class to write a piece of serious contemporary literature from a point of view totally outside your own experience. And Courtney is no street kid. But she has had both the courage to know that rules are there to be broken, and the integrity to see that it must done right. Before she wrote the book, she immersed herself with South London teenagers and those that worked with them, absorbing their speech and learning at first hand what life on the streets is like. The result is a voice that will haunt you.

Reading Feral Youth brought back all the anger I felt in those weeks following the 2011 riots. At the end of it, I was crying. Aching for the Aleshas of this world. There is no doubt that Alesha is at times her own worst enemy. There were points where I wanted to reach into the pages of the book and shake her for not saying aloud what is going through her head. But Alesha can’t tell anyone about what’s happening. Everything in her life has taught her to say nothing, to trust no one.

Like Celie from The Color Purple, Alesha is a barely literate teenager reaching out to you from a world most of us would rather pretend doesn’t exist. And so long as we go on pretending, it will go on existing – to the shame of us all.

You'll enjoy this if you liked: The Colour Purple, Noughts and Crosses

Avoid if you dislike: having your preconceptions of today's youth shaken to the core

Ideal Accompaniments: Debussy spliced with DJ Dice

Genre: Contemporary Fiction; Young Adult

Available from Amazon