Brilliant historical novel reminiscent of The Great Gatsby

The Haunting of Henry Twist by Rebecca F. John

The funeral has become something resembling a party: the drummer turns his sticks between nimble fingers; the trumpeter arches backwards and dips forward, following the undulations of his notes; couples twizzle and flick their feet to the stop-time beat, dancing the black bottom. And between dances, guests tip flutes of champagne into open mouths and kiss each other’s cheeks before swapping stories about a young woman who has been dead for exactly seven days.

London, 1926. Henry Twist’s heavily pregnant wife is hit by a bus and killed, though miraculously the baby survives. Henry is wracked with grief and left alone to care for his new daughter. But one evening, a man steps out of the shadows and addresses Henry by name. The man says he has lost his memory, but that his name is Jack. Henry is both afraid of and drawn to Jack, and the more time they spend together, the more Henry sees that this man has echoes of his dead wife. Henry begins to wonder, has his wife returned to him?

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up The Haunting of Henry Twist, knowing only that it had been shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award in 2017. What I wasn’t expecting was for it to be the best book I’ve read so far this year.

The Haunting of Henry Twist is a beautiful novel that has so much to say about love, grief, fear and happiness. With its 1920s setting, its cast of Bright Young Things and its three-dimensional characters, it bears comparisons to The Great Gatsby.

Henry Twist is a wonderful character. Formerly a soldier in the trenches of World War I, his experiences in the mud watching his friends die have irrevocably changed him and formed who he is as a man, driven by fear and terrified of losing the people he loves. He is consumed by memories of his wife after she is hit by a bus and killed. Then Jack walks into his life, offering the hope that maybe he doesn’t have to say goodbye after all.

Despite the title, this is not just Henry’s story. We also follow Henry’s close friends: Grayson and Matilda, whose marriage is beginning to fracture under the weight of Matilda’s unrequited love for Henry, and Monty, an older man who surrounds himself with Bright Young Things so he doesn’t have to feel the relentless marching of time.

The atmosphere and sense of history in this novel is fantastic. In the years after the First World War everyone is struggling with the weight of all they have lived through, while trying their hardest to celebrate their hard-won freedom and have a good time. Bright Young Things flit through gardens lit by candlelight and decorated with fabric swings draped from trees, but beneath it all is the quiet acknowledgement of all the pain and suffering they have gone through to get to this point. Trying to have fun is not as easy as it seems.

The writing is also brilliant. John writes about character with piercing insight, so that they become living, breathing creations standing at your shoulder as you read about their lives. She captures their sense of dissatisfaction, their desperate, clawing search for happiness, with wonderful language and a real sense of empathy. At times the metaphors and descriptions can feel slightly muddled, but this can be forgiven for the overall strength of the writing.

This is a fantastic book and one that I highly, highly recommend.


New book releases March 2018

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

Among the bustling markets of 18th century Cairo, the city’s outcasts eke out a living swindling rich Ottoman nobles. But alongside this new world the old stories linger. Nahri knows the trades she uses to get by are just tricks and sleights of hand: there’s nothing magical about them. She only wishes to one day leave Cairo, but as the saying goes… be careful what you wish for.

This debut fantasy novel has been called ‘stunning and complex and consuming and fantastic’ by bestselling author Sabaa Tahir, and is easily one of the most anticipated fantasy novels of 2018.

Release date: 8th March

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

After the death of her mother, Poornima is left to care for her siblings until her father can find her a suitable marriage match. So when Savitha enters their household, Poornima is intrigued by this joyful, independent-minded girl. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima leaves everything behind to find her friend.

This story of ambition and the strength of female friendship explores the darkest corners of India’s underworld and takes the reader on a harrowing cross-continental journey.

Release date: 6th March

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Abortion is once again illegal in America, in vitro fertilisation is banned, and the Personhead Amendment grants rights of life, liberty and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers.

This book has been highly hyped and, with its strong feminist slant, could be the next The Handmaid’s Tale.

Release date: 8th March

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

In 1969 the four Gold children sneak into a grimy building in New York’s Lower East Side to visit a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. Over the years that follow, the siblings must choose how to live with the prophecies given to them that day.

Karen Joy Fowler (author of the fantastic We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves) has said ‘The Immortalists is about as good as it gets’ – what more incentive do you need to pick up this book?

Release date: 8th March

The Two Houses by Fran Cooper

Recovering from a breakdown, Jay and her husband Simon move to Two Houses in the north of England: a crumbling property whose central rooms were supposedly so haunted that a previous owner had them cut out from the building entirely. But Jay and Simon soon discover it’s not only the Two Houses that seems to be haunted by an obscure past.

Following the hugely successful novel These Dividing Walls, Cooper’s next offering is all about buried secrets and the people who hide them.

Release date: 22nd March

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Let Me Lie by Claire Mackintosh

One year ago, Caroline chose to end her life in a shocking suicide planned to match that of her husband just months before. Their daughter, Anna, has struggled to come to terms with their loss ever since. Now with a baby of her own, Anna starts to ask questions about her parents’ deaths, but in doing so may be putting her own future at risk.

I absolutely loved Mackintosh’s last novel, I See You, and I can’t wait to read her next twisty-turny psychological thriller.

Release date: 8th March

Neighbourly by Ellie Monago

Kat and Doug have settled down in the perfect community of Aurora Village with their infant daughter. But everything changes overnight when Kat finds a scrawled note outside their front door: That wasn’t very neighbourly of you. As increasingly sinister notes arrive, each one stabs deeper into the heart of Kat’s insecurities.

This suspenseful thriller plays on the question of how well you ever really know your neighbours, and what happens when things really are too good to be true.

Release date: 1st March

The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey

In a tiny village in 15th century Somerset, a man is swept away by the river in the early hours of Shrove Saturday. An explanation must be found: accident, suicide or murder? The village priest, John Reve, is privy to many secrets in his role as confessor. But will he be able to unravel what happened to the victim?

I love books set in medieval times, especially when they have an element of mystery to them, and this one apparently has an ‘unforgettable’ narrator.

Release date: 1st March

The Parentations by Kate Mayfield

In 18th century London, the lives of sisters Constance and Verity become entwined with the nearby Fowler household, charged with providing a safe place for a mysterious baby from far away. In 2015, the lives of sisters Constance and Verity are consumed by the wait for this boy, who may or may not be dead.

This intriguing novel about the dark side of immortality has been described as ‘epic, gothic, magic’ by Jane Harris.

Release date: 29th March

Love After Love by Alex Hourston

She is the centre around whom many lives turn. Mother. Therapist. Daughter. Sister. Wife. But Nancy has a new role: lover. Everybody can be happy, Nancy believes, so long as they can be kept apart. But when these lives start to overlap, collision becomes inevitable.

This psychological thriller examines the bonds between parents and children, and the emotional costs of adultery.

Release date: 1st March

Atmospheric Victorian mystery perfect for fans of Sarah Waters

The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

To the right of the last wooden house, warped and stooping, there is a covered alleyway no wider than a whip thong. At the end of the alleyway there is a yard; small as a poke, never gladdened by the warmth of the sun. In the far corner of that yard, behind a door that hangs loose on its leather hinges, is a room. It is a small room with a brick and dirt floor. This room is the centre of my London.’

Out of the shadows of murky London comes Hester White, a bright young woman who is desperate to escape the slums. When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the mysterious Rebekah Brock. But whispers from her past begin to poison her new life.

The Wicked Cometh is lauded as one of the most anticipated books of 2018, and with its promise of a gothic setting and wicked deeds I was sure I was going to love it. Parts of it I did love and overall it was a very enjoyable book, but the pacing was where it let me down.

The Wicked Cometh has been billed for fans of The Essex Serpent but it has far more in common with Sarah Waters’ fabulous melodramatic Victorian novels than Sarah Perry’s more subtle, character-driven debut.

Carlin is fantastic at creating atmosphere, conjuring the filthy slums of Victorian London where the sun never shines and danger lurks around every corner. Her meticulous research is evident in the 19th century slang in the dialogue, adding another layer of realism to the story.

Carlin has successfully emulated the tone and style of Dickensian novels. Our plucky heroine Hester is rescued from the slums and whisked away to a life of safety and contentment – or so it first seems. The descriptions are beautiful and unique and the darkness of the story is lightened with dashes of humour.

The problem most reviewers and readers have picked up on is the pacing. The plot doesn’t really get going for a good 150 pages and, with Carlin’s antiquated style, those 150 pages feel even longer than they are. At times I felt almost suffocated with the weight of descriptions. This is Carlin’s first novel and you can tell she suffers from a serious case of overwriting; large chunks of the novel would have benefited from an editor with a red pen to cut the unnecessary and improve the flow of the chapters.

Despite its flaws, the characters were engaging enough to keep me reading. Hester is a determined and intelligent young woman, and her search for escape from the poor circumstances she has found herself in leads her on an exciting and poignant journey. She is likeable and interesting, and readers are sure to enjoy spending time with her.

The ne’er-do-well characters populating the slums of Victorian London are also brought vividly to life and add layers of intrigue and mystery to the plot.

I really enjoyed the ending of this novel. The central mystery kept me going through the slower parts of the novel so I was thrilled that it had an exciting and unpredictable resolution. It will require some suspension of disbelief, but what else would you expect from a Victorian melodrama?

Fans of Sarah Waters need look no further for their next read than this gothic Victorian mystery novel.

Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Atmospheric fairytale set in medieval Russia

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

As though her words were a summoning, a door among the firs – a door she hadn’t seen – opened with the crack of breaking ice. A swath of firelight bloodied the virgin snow. Now, quite plainly, a house stood in this fir-grove. Long, curling eaves capped its wooden walls, and in the snow-torn firelight, the house seemed to lie breathing, crouched in the thicket.

The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile, bandits roam the countryside, burning villages and kidnapping daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse. Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, Vasya, thought by all to be dead.

I finished the first book in this new series, The Bear and the Nightingale (one of my favourite books of 2017) without knowing that it was the first in a planned trilogy. It worked well as a standalone novel, so I was nervously awaiting the second book in the series, The Girl in the Tower. Thankfully, after reading it, I can confirm that I had nothing to worry about.

In the first book we follow Vasya, a young girl who is the only one who can see the house spirits that guard her home and must protect her village from the forces of darkness gathering in the woods. In this second instalment we follow Vasya on her journey across the wintry landscape of medieval Russia, as she follows her desire to see as much of the world as she can.

Of course, things are never going to be that straightforward. Vasya is a young woman completely at odds with her time. Unwilling to spend her days fulfilling the traditional feminine role of mother and housekeeper, she sets out for adventure, but her gender makes it impossible to fit in. Vasya is a fascinating character, strong and brave but also desperately searching for somewhere to fit in, and this continuation of her journey is both emotive and thrilling.

This is a strange mix of historical and fantasy fiction; it’s neither one nor the other but Arden has taken elements of both and created a vivid and atmospheric world that feels both real and fairytale-esque. She creates a sense of bigger elements at play – hinting at political machinations and a troubled country – while always keeping her characters at the forefront of the story.

The grand towers of Moscow are set in direct contrast to the superstition and pagan beliefs of Vasya’s village in the first book. In Moscow, the spirits readers were introduced to in The Bear and the Nightingale are still there, only faded, as those who once believed in them turn to the newer religion instead. The conflict between old beliefs and new was an interesting theme introduced in The Bear and the Nightingale and I was glad to see Arden develop it further in this second novel.

Perhaps my only complaint would be about Vasya’s blossoming romance with an older character that feels slightly strange (we should have learned from Twilight that immortal men lusting after young girls is just wrong).

Nevertheless, the atmosphere conjured by Arden’s magical writing is beautiful. Her descriptions of the snowy landscapes and the frosty woods are so vivid they’re guaranteed to make you shiver. My problem with The Bear and the Nightingale was that it builds up to a conflict that fails to deliver, but The Girl in the Tower suffers no such problem; the final conflict is thrilling and nail-bitingly tense.

This is a beautiful winter fairytale and I can’t wait for the final book in this trilogy to find out where Vasya’s journey leads next.

Many thanks to Penguin for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Vivid and atmospheric historical fiction set in Georgian London

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock is told that one of his captains has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid. As gossip spreads through the city, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel, and soon he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto an entirely new course.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock has appeared on many ‘most anticipated books of 2018’ lists (including by Vogue, Sunday Times, Observer and Stylist) and the hype surrounding it may be enough to put some readers off. But if you can get past the hype, you will find an incredibly vivid and enjoyable historical novel.

At first it seems this is going to be little more than a frothy, bawdy historical novel exploring the hijinks of the aristocracy from the perspective of a courtesan and a merchant newly introduced to high society. But the more you read the more themes and clever storylines Gowar begins to explore, including (among other things) femininity, sexuality, race and class.

Without doubt Gowar is going to be an author to watch from now on. Her writing style is so vivid she seems to effortlessly conjure Georgian London on the page. From dim coffee houses to high society balls, we are taken on a fascinating journey through the eighteenth century. The prose glitters with atmosphere and the historical detail of the dialogue is wonderful to read.

Her characters are likewise vividly drawn. Each of them is introduced in a few deft strokes but as the story goes on layers and layers are peeled back until they feel so real, it seems absurd that they don’t exist in real life. I loved spending time with both Mr Hancock and Angelica Neal, two characters fighting to control the way they are viewed by others. This is a novel that proves again and again that it is what you make of yourself, not what you are born, that matters.

Gowar also has a lot of pertinent things to say about women, in particular the way they are often categorised in one of two ways: the whore or the angel of the house. Angelica struggles throughout the novel to free herself from the former label and prove herself good enough to be the latter, before realising how little control she has over how other people see her.

This novel has been compared to 2016’s runaway success The Essex Serpent, and there are certainly similarities, especially in its glimpses of magical realism (although these only take place towards the end). In my opinion, this book far outpaces The Essex Serpent; it’s much more engrossing and entertaining.

I imagine that some will complain of the story’s somewhat meandering pace and if you don’t have large chunks of time to spend reading it, it probably will feel slow. Best to settle down for a quiet afternoon (or perhaps put it on your list to take on holiday) and allow yourself to be carried along on the journey. Its only failings were a significant slowing of pace in the last 100 pages or so, and a few loose ends left over.

This is a fantastic historical novel, and I can’t wait to see what Gowar does next.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is published on 25th January.

Many thanks to Penguin for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Most anticipated books 2018

  1. Circe by Madeline Miller

In the house of Helios, god of the sun, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft. When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to a remote island. There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe’s independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike.

This is the highly anticipated novel from the Orange Prize-winning author of the brilliant novel The Song of Achilles, and is inspired by Homer’s Odyssey.

Release date: 19th April

  1. Folk by Zoe Gilbert

The remote island village of Neverness is a world away from our time and place. The villagers’ lives are inseparable from nature and its enchantments. As the tales of this island community interweave over the course of a generation, their desires, resentments, idle gossip and painful losses come to life.

This debut novel is highly anticipated and has been called ‘as delightful and dark as the collected Brothers Grimm’ by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan. It sounds magical and disturbing in equal measure.

Release date: 8th March

  1. The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest, while bandits roam the countryside. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince comes across a young man riding a magnificent horse. Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, Vasya.

This novel is the sequel to one of my favourite books of 2017, The Bear and the Nightingale. I’m hoping The Girl in the Tower is full of the same wonderful magic, atmosphere and lyrical writing.

Release date: 25th January

  1. The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

Carcassonne, 1562. As the Wars of Religion begin to take hold, 19-year-old Catholic Minou Joubert and Huguenot convert Piet Reydon find themselves in possession of a priceless treasure. Together, they set out on a quest to uncover a long buried secret.

I love Kate Mosse’s novels (particularly her Languedoc trilogy which begins with Labyrinth) and her next book is the first in a highly anticipated historical trilogy.

Release date: 3rd May

  1. The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning. Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures, or when they started to appear on their own? Was it the terrible accident? Or when they found the first body?

This book has been called – rather ambitiously – THE book of 2018. Only time will tell if it lives up to that promise.

Release date: 11th January

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  1. Vengeful by V.E. Schwab

We don’t have a blurb yet for fantasy author V.E. Schwab’s next novel, but we do know it’s a sequel to her 2014 novel Vicious, a novel about two college roommates whose shared interest in near-death experiences and supernatural events leads them both down a dark path. Originally thought to be a standalone novel, Vicious is a fantastic story exploring themes of ambition, power and revenge, and I can’t wait to return to these characters.

Release date: September

  1. The Corset by Laura Purcell

We don’t have a blurb yet for this one either, but the second novel from Laura Purcell (author of 2017’s highly acclaimed The Silent Companions) is also set in the Victorian period and Purcell has described it as ‘ghostly’ and ‘spooky’.

Release date: April

  1. The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

Among the bustling markets of 18th century Cairo, the city’s outcasts eke out a living swindling rich Ottoman nobles. But alongside this new world the old stories linger. Tales of djinn and spirits. Of cities hidden among the swirling sands of the desert. Nahri knows the trades she uses to get by are just tricks and sleights of hand: there’s nothing magical about them. She only wishes to one day leave Cairo, but as the saying goes… be careful what you wish for.

This debut fantasy novel has been called ‘stunning and complex and consuming and fantastic’ by bestselling author Sabaa Tahir, and promises to be one of the most anticipated novels of 2018.

Release date: 8th March

  1. The Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

We don’t have a blurb or even a firm release date for this one but we know it should be released in 2018. The second novel in Laini Taylor’s duology which began with Strange the Dreamer in 2017 is likely to contain just as much magic, mythology and adventure as the first. Although I had mixed feelings about Strange the Dreamer, I’m still very much looking forward to the sequel.

Release date: 2018

  1. Doors of Stone by Patrick Rothfuss

Fans have been waiting for the third book in this epic fantasy series since 2011, when The Wise Man’s Fear was released, following four years after the first in the series, The Name of the Wind. There have been some hints that 2018 will be the year we finally get to read Doors of Stone. I’ll be one of many keeping my fingers crossed that that’s true.

Release date: Unknown


Books of the year 2017

  1. The Angel and the Cad by Geraldine Roberts

This non-fiction book explores the life of Catherine Tylney Long, the wealthiest heiress in Regency England and beloved ‘angel’ of the public. Ignoring the warnings of her closest confidantes, she married for love, her choice the charming but selfish William Wellesley Pole. Roberts tells a fascinating story of the first celebrity couple, whose every action was detailed in newspaper gossip columns. Catherine was a fascinating woman; fiercely intelligent and beloved by everyone she met, she nevertheless had a fatal blind spot when it came to her husband. Although the pace occasionally flags, there are enough twists and turns to keep you enthralled.

‘Catherine captured the hearts of the public because fame and fortune did not turn her head; in fact she remained so unpretentious and sweet-natured that she became known as ‘the angel’.’

  1. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

This enchanting fairy tale is set in the wilderness of northern Russia, where old beliefs in sorcery and folklore are gradually being ousted by the church. Young Vasya is the only one who can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods. With a beautiful, otherworldly atmosphere, lyrical writing and a feisty heroine, this fairy tale for adults has shades of Angela Carter and is completely gripping.

‘All my life I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come’. I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me.’

  1. The Good People by Hannah Kent

Set in Ireland in 1825, this bleak but beautiful novel follows widow Nóra’s attempts to discover what is wrong with her young grandson Micheál, who cannot speak or walk. Kent’s writing is startling and moving and she effortlessly creates an immersive world in which folk beliefs control all aspects of everyday life. Uncomfortable and heart-wrenching at times it may be, but Kent succeeds brilliantly at doing just what historical fiction is supposed to do: plunging you into an entirely different world that somehow feels familiar.

Alarm ran through her and she looked down at the child, his hair copper in the firelight. She was grateful that he slept. The boy’s difference did not show so much when he was asleep. The keel of his limbs slackened, and there was no telling the dumb tongue in his head.’

  1. In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant

Dunant’s latest novel picks up where her first novel about the infamous Borgias, Blood and Beauty, left off. Rodrigo sits the Papal throne as Alexander VI, Lucrezia is travelling to the home of her soon-to-be third husband, and Cesare is marching through Italy on a campaign of conquest. Dunant is a fantastic writer and effortlessly blends fiction and historical fact to create a visceral and entertaining read, plunging you headfirst into 16th century Italy.

‘The speed and ferocity of the rise of the Borgia family have taken everyone by surprise. Of course Rome has had unscrupulous popes before, men who quietly favoured the fortunes of their ‘nephews’ or ‘nieces’. But this, this is different.’

  1. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

Not only does The Silent Companions win the prize for most beautiful cover of 2017, but the gothic ghost story within is also wonderfully atmospheric. Set in 1866, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling estate with only her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Billed as a ghost story inspired by Shirley Jackson and Susan Hill, I can confirm that this truly chilling tale is creepy enough to send a shiver down your spine on even the warmest days.

‘She had seen things beyond the comprehension of his small, scientific brain. Things he would deny were possible until they stole up beside him and pressed their worn, splintered hands against his.’

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  1. The Dry by Jane Harper

An alternative to all the Scandi-noir novels populating the shelves of crime fiction came in the form of Jane Harper’s The Dry. A masterful debut novel set in a small town in Australia, we follow Aaron Falk as he returns to his hometown for the funeral of a friend, who seemingly committed suicide after murdering his wife and son. The searing heat and tense, claustrophobic atmosphere leap from the pages and the mystery at the heart of the novel will keep you gripped until the very end.

‘The space was the thing that hit them first. There was so much of it. There was enough to drown in. To look out and see not another soul between you and the horizon could be a strange and disturbing sight.’

  1. Lost Boy by Christina Henry

I bought this Peter Pan prequel completely at random, unaware at the time that I was picking up what would become one of my favourite books of the year. You might think you know the story, but Henry’s version has little in common with the Disney film; this fairy tale retelling has edges sharp enough to cut and the Peter Pan in this book is one of the most frightening characters I’ve ever read. Reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, with its claustrophobic atmosphere and threatening undercurrents, this fantastic story will plunge you headfirst into a horrifying world of blood and loyalty, twisting and turning as it hurtles toward its thrilling, inexorable end.

Those who didn’t listen so well or weren’t happy as the singing birds in the trees found themselves in the fields of the Many-Eyed without a bow or left near the pirate camp or otherwise forgotten, for Peter had no time for boys who didn’t want his adventures.

  1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Sunday Times bestseller, shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and winner of WH Smith’s fiction book of the year, this is one of those books that you might think has been overwhelmed by critical praise only to fall short when you finally get around to reading it. You would be wrong. This quirky novel about a woman who has barricaded herself behind the words ‘I’m fine’ manages to be both heart-wrenching and laugh-out-loud funny. At first I admit I found it hard to get along with the rather socially inept Eleanor, but the more you get to know her the more you’ll fall in love with her story, and you’ll be bereft when you turn the final page.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And if a woman who’s wholly alone occasionally talks to a pot plant, is she certifiable? I think that it is perfectly normal to talk to oneself occasionally. It’s not as though I’m expecting a reply. I’m fully aware that Polly is a houseplant.’

  1. Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry

Parry’s debut novel is a masterclass in historical fiction. Effortlessly interweaving the story of three strangers whose lives become intertwined, the sights and sounds and smells of 19th century New York come alive on the page. The imagery and atmosphere is so rich and detailed that you’ll be surprised when you look up and find yourself in the 21st century. Add fantastic characters and a gripping story on top of that, and you have a wonderfully bizarre and unique story that will completely capture your heart.

‘We assume that our sight is reliable, that our deeds are straightforward, that our words have one meaning. But life is uncommon and strange; it is full of intricacies and odd, confounding turns. So onstage we remind them just how extraordinary the ordinary can be.’

  1. The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy

This is a very difficult book to categorise; it’s a mystery, thriller, romance, horror, ghost story and crime novel all in one. It is set in a future in which the Elysian Society offers its clients the chance to reconnect with their dead loved ones by channelling them through living ‘Bodies’. Edie is regarded as the best Body in the team, but everything changes when Patrick, a distraught husband, comes to speak to his drowned wife. With shades of Rebecca, The Handmaid’s Tale and with a plot like an episode of Black Mirror, this story of obsession and grief knocked me breathless and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

The first time I meet Patrick Braddock, I’m wearing his wife’s lipstick. The colour is exactly wrong for me. Deep, ripe plum, nearly purple, the type of harsh shade that beautiful women wear to prove they can get away with anything.’