Annelies - David Gillham
The New York Times bestselling author, David Gillham poses an interesting question in his novel, Annelies: what if Anne Frank had survived the Holocaust? For generations of readers, Anne’s diaries give a glimpse of the intelligent and enquiring mind she had even as a teenager. Gillham writes with respect and empathy as he depicts the traumatised Europe that Anne and her father, Pim, inhabit after the war. After experiencing the full horror of the Nazi regime, and having lost her beloved diary, Anne must decide how to move forward, both as a woman and as a writer – should she forget or should she remember?
Birthday Girl - Haruki Murakami
Published to celebrate Murakami’s 70th birthday, Birthday Girl is a perfect example of the power of the short story. A young waitress celebrates her twentieth birthday while working a shift in an Italian restaurant in Tokyo. She brings the owner his evening meal. He asks her to make a wish. Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? It’s not. If your goal is to read more in 2019, try this beguiling and ambiguous short read.
Blackberry & Wild Rose – Sonia Velton
This is a beautifully written debut novel centred on the Huguenot silk weavers of Spitalfields in 18th century London. Partially based on the real life of Anna Maria Garthwaite, a pioneering English silk designer, the novel is told from the viewpoints of two very different characters; Esther Thorel and Sara Kemp. Esther is the rich wife of a silk weaver who longs to be a part of her husband’s business and work on her own designs. Sara works in a brothel; her sole aim is simply to survive. Esther offers Sara a chance at redemption by hiring her as a servant, without realising it is she, Esther, who really wants a second chance at life.
For the Good Times - David Keenan
Probably one of the most terrifying and weirdly hilarious books I’ve read in a very long time. Set in 1970’s Belfast, Sammy and his three friends love sharp suits, Perry Como and frozen pancakes. They also happen to be enthusiastic members of the IRA. Keenan takes us on a journey through the murky underworld they begin to inhabit and their descent into dark fanaticism. Original. Witty. Disturbing.
Music Love Drugs War - Geraldine Quigley
Geraldine Quigley did not start writing until her late forties when she was accepted on to Penguin’s Write Now scheme and this accomplished debut shows us how lucky we are that she did. Set in 1980’s Derry; we meet a group of young friends doing all the things young people do; drink, drugs, and have sex. What marks this out from other coming-of-age novels is the ever-present spectre of The Troubles: the patrolling soldiers on stop and search duty with their rifles aimed, the burnt-out cars, the street riots, the hungers strikers on television. In 2018, Northern Ireland was discussed more than at any time since the Good Friday Agreement. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need illuminating fiction like this.
The Binding - Bridget Collins
Emmett Farmer is working on his family farm when he is summoned to be an apprentice to an enigmatic bookbinder. As a mystery illness has robbed Emmett of his health, his family feel they have no choice but to accept this offer. In Emmett’s world, books are spoken of as if they are witchcraft, and reading is treated almost like a crime. Emmett discovers the books he is learning to bind contain memories. Once encased in one of these books, the memory then disappears. One day, Emmett finds a book unlike any he has seen before, a book with his name on it. An enjoyable and spellbinding read.
The Madonna of the Mountains - Elise Malmorbida
When we first meet Maria, her father has left to find her a husband. Set in 1920’s Italy, it is a world where women are not equal to men. Maria tells us that when women die, the church bell only rings for two minutes, when men die, it rings for three. At twenty-five, she is considered past her prime, prospective husbands inspect her teeth like she is little more than livestock. Somehow Maria’s wide-eyed hope, despite the gloom of her world, draws the reader in. We care about her. We want her to have a happy ending, or failing that, an adventure. It is at this tantalising point, a stranger arrives and everything changes.
The Queen of Bloody Everything – Joanna Nadin
This is an absolutely hilarious read, brimming with wry observations on life and love. Set over three decades starting in 1970’s Essex, Dido is the archetypal awkward child, complete with an unconventional and beautiful mother, Edie. When they move to Saffron Walden, Dido desperately wants to fit in. She longs to be normal and boring, just like her nextdoor neighbours, the Trevelyans. Dido automatically becomes obsessed with them, particularly their son, Tom. Over the next three decades, their lives will intertwine and unravel many times. Will Dido ever get what she truly wants?