My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal (pbk)

Reviewed by Alice Farrant My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal is a powerful story that discusses race, mental illness, and family, through the abandonment of a child. It’s the early 80s, Leon is eight and his baby brother Jake has just been born. As his mother slips into a haze of postnatal depression…

All the Places I’ve Ever Lived by David Gaffney

Reviewed by Basil Ransome Davies David Gaffney has earned himself a distinctive reputation as a writer of ‘flash fictions’ – micro-stories, variable in tone and topic but springing from a gonzo imagination – in the collections Sawn-off Tales and More Sawn-off Tales. Anything can happen in 150 words or so. Some of them playfully unpick language.…

Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash (pbk)

Reviewed by Susan Osborne Ron Rash hails from the Appalachians and it’s there that he sets his award-winning novels with their smalltown mountain backdrop similar to Kent Haruf’s Holt, Colorado. He’s also a poet, more evident in this new novel than in previous books I’ve read by him. Above the Waterfall is about Les Clary,…

The Nix by Nathan Hill

Reviewed by Lucy Unwin No book could be simultaneously more timely and more timeless than this future classic. The Nix is fun, joyous, exciting and tender; full of both the outrage, anger and giddy momentum of political change and subtle layers of sympathy for the characters at the heart of it. It is inescapably apt…

The Longest Night by Otto de Kat

Reviewed by Gill Davies Otto de Kat is the pseudonym of a Dutch writer (journalist, poet, translator and editor) whose novels are set in Holland and Germany in the period just before and during World War II. Once again I find myself catching up with a writer who I wish I had read before. This…

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

Reviewed by Annabel I reviewed Claire Fuller’s debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, for Shiny upon its publication (here) – I loved it and was delighted when she won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize for first novels, (indeed it was my book of the year too, I loved it that much). Her second novel, therefore,…

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano

Translated by John Brownjohn Reviewed by Annabel I’m very glad to have met the irrepressible Auntie Poldi! Our narrator, her beloved nephew, tells us what she is like: a glamorous figure, always ready to make a dramatic entrance. She had put on a bit of weight in recent years, admittedly, and booze and depression had…

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Reviewed by Rebecca Foster From the title and the Montego Bay, Jamaica setting, you might be expecting a story line light enough to match the Beatles’ pop song. But Nicole Dennis-Benn’s debut novel is no cheerful tale. Instead, you might think of the sun as coming to expose secrets, crimes and prejudice. The focus is…

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada

Translated by Susan Bernofsky Reviewed by Terence Jagger This is a rather engaging book, which on the surface is not entirely innocent of the grave crime of being cute, but the matter – and the way it is treated – not to mention the humour and the penetrating sidelights on everything from consumerism, climate change,…

She Died Young by Elizabeth Wilson (pbk)

Reviewed by Gill Davies She Died Young was published in hardback last year and is now available in paperback. It is the fourth novel by Elizabeth Wilson, better known (to me, at any rate) for her incisive and original feminist writing about aspects of popular culture, and fashion in particular. Her knowledge and insight cross…

Narcissism for Beginners by Marine McDonagh

Reviewed by Annabel Turning twenty-one, not much about me changed, physically speaking. I didn’t grow any taller. I didn’t grow any fatter. Pinch me and you’ll find no additional flesh on these bones. Even if we were the sole survivors of a plane wreck, you wouldn’t eat me for dinner. But nothing stayed the same…

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

Reviewed by Alice Farrant The number of women my brother Matthew killed as far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six. When her husband dies Alice is forced to move home to live with her brother, Matthew. The year is 1645, the civil war rages on, and Matthew hasn’t spoken to Alice…

Mother of Darkness by Venetia Welby

Reviewed by Annabel Old Soho ain’t what it used to be. The former centre of London’s seedier side has been largely poshed up, gentrified and made chic for new money – ‘suited and booted’. The days of the clip joints faking champagne and the Kinks’ big hit Lola are long gone. Many who live there…

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant

Reviewed by Annabel There are two types of historical fiction. Those which are set during a particular period with imagined protagonists which may feature real people of the time in minor roles or cameos, and those which are fictional retellings of history where the real characters take centre stage. Sarah Dunant has written both. Her…

Stay with Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

Reviewed by Alice Farrant Akin’s father has died and Yejide is coming home. Set against a backdrop of political turmoil, Stay With Me is a powerful commentary on motherhood, love, grief, tradition and culture in Nigeria during the 80s and 90s. Flitting between past and present, the novel follows protagonist Yejide and her husband Akin…

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (pbk)

Reviewed by Harriet You will have only one story… You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You will have only one. This advice, given to the protagonist on a writing course, really sums up what is happening in this superb novel. Lucy Barton is struggling to make sense of, and…

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

Reviewed by Eleanor Franzen The New York Times Book Review runs a regular feature called By the Book, a kind of questionnaire for celebrated authors about their reading habits. Recently, the feminist writer Roxane Gay was featured. In answer to one of the questions—“Which genres do you especially enjoy reading, and which do you avoid?”—she…

The Fatal Tree by Jake Arnott

Reviewed by Annabel Jake Arnott’s novels are moving back in time. He started in the 1960s and 1970s with his Long Firm trilogy, then he moved back to WWII followed by the early years of the twentieth century. Now in his 7th book, we jump further back in time into the 18th century. Whenever the…

Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo

Reviewed by Terence Jagger Lagos is not the capital of Nigeria – that is planned, concrete, unexciting Abuja, in the middle of the country but without a past or much atmosphere, the centre of government but of little real commercial or historic interest; this is where the lawmakers sit – it is not where the…

Paradise City by Joe Thomas

Reviewed by Annabel Joe Thomas lived and taught in São Paulo, the most populous city in the Americas and Southern Hemisphere, for ten years. His observations and experience of living in this vibrant city full of extremes have inspired his first novel – and he has written a companion article for Shiny too (click here).…