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…

The Lark by Edith Nesbit

Reviewed by Harriet Last year there was a bit of a flutter in the blogging world when Edith Nesbit’s complete works popped up on Amazon for a very low price. The one that caught everyone’s attention was her final novel, The Lark. Several people, including me, felt that this was a prime candidate for Persephone…

Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett

Reviewed by Julie Barham I think that the overwhelming sense or atmosphere of this book is sadness. Nevertheless, it is a faithful picture of life in a town of the turn of the century. This is of course the story of the towns of Stoke on Trent, and there are those who would dispute exactly…

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.…

Walking in Berlin by Franz Hessel

Reviewed by Rob Spence Berlin is one of my favourite cities, and I have spent a lot of time walking around its fascinating streets. So the republication of Franz Hessel’s guide to the city in a sprightly new translation by Amanda DeMarco is very welcome. Of course, my Berlin is that of the late twentieth-…

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…

Hit Makers by Derek Thompson

Reviewed by Annabel I came to read this book immediately after devouring UK journalist and presenter Tim Harford’s recent Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World, which I found informative and entertaining in equal measure. Hit Makers is structurally similar to Harford’s book with chapters ‘featuring [insert 2 or 3 famous…

Questions for Martine McDonagh

Interview by Annabel Narcissim for Beginners is Martine McDonagh’s third novel, reviewed by Annabel here. A: Firstly, how did you find the whole Unbound experience? (See our Spotlight on Publishing feature on Unbound here). M: I have to be honest and say I found the crowdfunding aspect of it really hard – not that I…

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…

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft

Reviewed by Karen Langley Mention author H.P. Lovecraft to people and you’ll most likely get one of two reactions: either they’ll hail him as the progenitor of modern horror fiction (as does Stephen King), or they’ll dismiss him as the purveyor of pulp stories about the black arts. Lovecraft inspires these extreme reactions, and I…