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…

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…

Molly Keane A Life by Sally Phipps

Reviewed by Hayley Anderton From the moment I discovered Molly Keane it was love, not just for the quality of her writing, the unflattering but compelling sharpness of her observations, or her humour, but also because she’s one of very few to have chronicled the Anglo-Irish society that was just clinging on between the wars.…

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber

Reviewed by Karen Langley The title story of this collection of short pieces by James Thurber is probably his best-known work, thanks to the popular film adaptation starring Danny Kaye. Thurber has a reputation as a humourist and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty brings together a selection of his pieces from a previous collection called…

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…

The Ladybird Expert Books

Reviewed by Annabel Ladybird, now owned by Penguin Random House, have been going from strength to strength recently with their series of satires on modern life for adults, tackling subjects like The Shed, The Meeting, The Sickie, The Mid-Life Crisis and many more – reusing original Ladybird illustrations paired with hilarious new text. No Christmas…

‘This is Brasil.’ by Joe Thomas

São Paulo is the capital of South America. What a city: rich in culture, dripping with cash, undermined by political corruption, marked by a rich / poor disparity which fuels desperation and a life-is-cheap criminal ethos. The idea for my novel Paradise City was born over a weekend in 2006. It was the lovechild of…

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).…

The Pledge by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Translated by  Joel Agee Reviewed by Eleanor Franzen In a mountainous Swiss canton not far from Zurich, a little girl’s body is found. She is only seven or eight, with blonde braids and wearing a distinctive red skirt. She has been murdered, brutally, with a straight razor. It’s the last day on the job for…

Heartthrobs by Carol Dyhouse

Reviewed by Harriet Subtitled ‘A History of Women and Desire’, this book explores the fields of literature, film and popular romance. Ranging from the early nineteenth century to the present day, the book sets out to show how, as women’s position in society changed, so did their idealisation of men. What did women want? asked…

Mortal Engines by Stanislaw Lem

Translated by Michael Kandel Reviewed by Karen Langley Polish author Stanislaw Lem is probably best known for his novel Solaris, a book that’s been filmed twice – once by the renowned Russian director Tarkovsky, and once for Hollywood starring George Clooney. However, he’s produced numerous works ranging from short stories to longer fictions and philosophical…

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

Reviewed by Harriet Who is JP Delaney? All that is known at the time of writing this review is that the pseudonym conceals the identity of ‘a writer who has previously written bestselling fiction under other names’. Perhaps all will soon be revealed, but whoever s/he is, this is certainly a cracker of a book.…

The January Man by Christopher Somerville

Reviewed by Judith Wilson It was early January when I requested Christopher Somerville’s new walking book for review. I was simultaneously intrigued by its title, The January Man, and by its sub-title, A Year of Walking Britain. On the cusp of 2017, who wouldn’t relish the prospect of a 12-month exploration of the British Isles,…

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

Reviewed by Victoria Apple Tree Yard may be billed as a thriller, but like all of Louise Doughty’s novels, it’s a story with more depth than you might anticipate. Yvonne Carmichael is a successful geneticist who happens one winter day to be reporting to a Standing Committee at the House of Lords. She is fifty-two,…

The Gardens of Consolation by Parisa Reza

Reviewed by Terence Jagger Translated by Adriana Hunter To the east, bare earth as far as the eye can see. To the west, hills … then on the horizon, mountains.  And a road, traced along the length of the desert, the length of the mountains, from Isfahan to Tehran.   That is the beginning of…

Sirens by Joseph Knox

Reviewed by Annabel Literary noir, in its general sense of typifying dark, cynical and unpleasant crime novels, (as opposed to the classic hard-boiled style where the protagonist is not a detective), needs constant subdivision these days: Tartan and Emerald noir from Scotland and Ireland. Sirens, falls into an even more specific species – ‘Manc-noir’, set in…