New Books January 2017

Fiction

The Flame Bearer by Bernard Cornwell
Britain is in a state of uneasy peace. Northumbria’s Viking ruler Sigtryggr, and Mercia’s Saxon Queen Aethelflaed have agreed a truce. And so England’s greatest warrior, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, at last has the chance to take back the home his traitorous uncle stole from him so many years ago, and which his scheming cousin still occupies. But fate is inexorable and the enemies Uhtred has made and the oaths he has sworn combine to distract him from his dream of recapturing Bebbanburg. New enemies enter into the fight for England’s kingdoms. The redoubtable Constantin of Scotland seizes an opportunity for conquest and leads his armies south. Britain’s precarious peace threatens to turn into a war of annihilation. Uhtred is determined that nothing will keep him from his birth right. He is the Lord of Bebbanburg, but he will need all the skills he has learned in a lifetime of war to make his dream come true.

Still Here by Lara Vapnyar
Vica, Vadik, Sergey and Regina, four immigrants in New York City, met in Russia in their school days but remained in touch and now have very different lives. Sergey cycles through jobs as an analyst, hoping his idea for an app will finally bring him success. His wife Vica, a medical technician struggling to keep her family afloat, hungers for a better life. Sergey s former girlfriend Regina, once a famous translator is married to a wealthy startup owner and spends her days at home grieving over a recent loss. Sergey’s best friend Vadik keeps trying different women and different neighborhoods, all while pining for the one who got away.  As Sergey develops his app to preserve a person’s online presence after death, a formidable debate begins in the group spurring questions about the changing perception of death in the modern world and the future of our virtual selves. How do our online personas define us in our daily lives, and what will they say about us when we’re gone?

The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam
Dinesh is a young man trapped on the frontlines between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers. Desensitized to the horror all around him, life has been pared back to the essentials: eat, sleep, survive. All this changes when he is approached one morning by an older man who asks him to marry his daughter Ganga, hoping that victorious soldiers will be less likely to harm a married woman. For a few brief hours, Dinesh and Ganga tentatively explore their new and unexpected connection, trying to understand themselves and each other, until the war once more closes over them.

Cove by Cynan Jones
Out at sea, in a sudden storm, a man is struck by lightning. When he wakes, injured and adrift on a kayak, his memory of who he is and how he came to be there is all but shattered. Now he must pit himself against the pain and rely on his instincts to get back to shore, and to the woman he dimly senses waiting for his return. With its taut narrative and its wincingly visceral portrait of a man locked in an uneven struggle with the forces of nature, this is a powerful new work from one of the most distinctive voices in British fiction.

An Honest Man by Simon Michael
Criminal barrister Charles Holborne may have just escaped the hangman by proving he was framed for murder, but his life is now in ruins. His wife is dead, his high-flying career has morphed into criminal notoriety, and bankruptcy threatens. When the biggest brief of Charles’s career unexpectedly lands on his desk, it looks as if he has been thrown a lifeline. But far from keeping him afloat, it drags him ever deeper into the shadowy underworld of 1960s London. Now, not only is his practice at stake, but his very life. Can Charles extricate himself from a chess game played from the shadows by corrupt police officers and warring gangs without once again turning to crime himself?

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Effia and Esi are two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.

The Wangs vs. the World  by Jade Chang
Charles Wang has just lost the cosmetics fortune he built up since emigrating to the US. Gone are the houses, the cars, and the incredible lifestyle. Faced with this loss, he decides to take his family on a trip to China and attempt to reclaim his ancestral lands. First they must go on a cross-country journey from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York retreat of his eldest daughter, Saina. Charles takes his other two children out of schools that he can no longer afford and packs them into the only car that wasn’t repossessed-along with their wealth-addicted stepmother, Barbra. But with his son waylaid by a much-older temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and fulfilling his dream of China.

The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories by Penelope Lively
A dream house that is hiding something sinister; two women having lunch who share a husband; an old woman doing her weekly supermarket shop with a secret past that no one could guess; a couple who don’t know each other at all even after fifteen years together; and, in the story from which this collection takes its name, a bird and a servant girl in ancient Pompeii who cannot converse, but share a perfect understanding.

The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble
Fran may be old but she’s not going without a fight. So she dyes her hair, enjoys every glass of red wine, drives around the country for her job with a housing charity and lives in an insalubrious tower block that her loved ones disapprove of. And as each of them – her pampered ex Claude, old friend Jo, flamboyant son Christopher and earnest daughter Poppet – seeks happiness in their own way, what will the last reckoning be? Will they be waving or drowning when the end comes? By turns joyous and profound, darkly sardonic and moving, The Dark Flood Rises questions what makes a good life, and a good death.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
An eleven-year-old girl stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well. A nurse, sent to investigate whether she is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story. Set in the Irish Midlands in the 1850s, The Wonder – inspired by numerous European and North American cases of ‘fasting girls’ between the sixteenth century and the twentieth – is a psychological thriller about a child’s murder threatening to happen in slow motion before our eyes. Pitting all the seductions of fundamentalism against sense and love, it is a searing examination of what nourishes us, body and soul.

 

Mystery / Thriller

Himself by Jess Kidd
When Mahony returns to Mulderrig, a speck of a place on Ireland’s west coast, he brings only a photograph of his long-lost mother and a determination to do battle with the lies of his past. No one – living or dead – will tell Mahony what happened to the teenage mother who abandoned him as a baby, despite his certainty that more than one of the villagers knows the sinister truth. Between Mulderrig’s sly priest, its pitiless nurse and the caustic elderly actress throwing herself into her final village play, this beautiful and darkly comic debut novel creates an unforgettable world of mystery, bloody violence and buried secrets.

The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer
Eve Singer needs death. With her career as a TV crime reporter flagging, she’ll do anything to satisfy her ghoulish audience. The killer needs death too. He even advertises his macabre public performances, where he hopes to show the whole world the beauty of dying. When he contacts Eve, she welcomes the chance to be first with the news from every gory scene. Until she realizes that the killer has two obsessions. One is public murder, and the other one is her.

The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe
Passengers boarding the 10.35 train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston are bound for work, assignations, reunions, holidays or new starts, with no idea that their journey is about to be brutally curtailed. Holly has just landed her dream job, which should make life a lot easier than it has been, and Jeff is heading for his first ever work interview after months of unemployment. They end up sitting next to each other. Onboard customer service assistant Naz dreams of better things as he collects rubbish from the passengers. And among the others travelling are Nick with his young family who are driving him crazy; pensioner Meg and her partner setting off on a walking holiday and facing an uncertain future; Caroline, run ragged by the competing demands of her stroppy teenage children and her demented mother; and Rhona, unhappy at work and desperate to get home to her small daughter. And in the middle of the carriage sits Saheel, carrying a deadly rucksack.

The Black Friar by S. G. MacLean
London, 1655, and Cromwell’s regime is under threat from all sides. Damian Seeker, Captain of Cromwell’s Guard, is all too aware of the danger facing Cromwell. Parliament resents his control of the Army while the Army resents his absolute power. In the east end of London, a group of religious fanatics plots rebellion. In the midst of all this, a stonemason uncovers a perfectly preserved body dressed in the robes of a Dominican friar, bricked up in a wall in the crumbling Black Friars. Ill-informed rumours and speculation abound, but Seeker instantly recognises the dead man. What he must discover is why he met such a hideous end, and what his connection was to the children who have started to disappear from around the city. Unravelling these mysteries is challenging enough, and made still harder by the activities of dissenters at home, Royalist plotters abroad, and individuals who are not what they seem.

Breaking Cover by Stella Rimington
Back in London after a gruelling operation in Paris, Liz Carlyle has been posted to MI5’s counter-espionage desk. Her bosses hope the new position will give her some breathing space, but they haven’t counted on the fallout from Putin’s incursions into the Ukraine. Discovering that an elusive Russian spy has entered the UK, Liz needs to track him down before he completes his fatal mission and plunges Britain back into the fraught days of the Cold War. Meanwhile, following the revelations of whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the intelligence services are in the spotlight. In response to the debate raging around privacy and security, they hire Jasminder Kapoor, a young and controversial civil rights lawyer, to explain the issues to the public. But in this new world of shadowy motives and secret identities, Jasminder must be extra-careful about whom she can trust .

 

Non-Fiction

Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard
At the age of twenty-four, Winston Churchill believed that to achieve his ambition of becoming Prime Minister he must do something spectacular on the battlefield. Although he had put himself in real danger in colonial wars in India and Sudan, and as a journalist covering the Spanish-American War in Cuba, glory and fame had eluded him. Churchill arrived in South Africa in 1899 to write about the brutal colonial war against the Boers. Just two weeks later, he was taken prisoner. Remarkably, he pulled off a daring escape and then had to traverse hundreds of miles of enemy territory alone. The story of his escape is extraordinary enough, but then Churchill enlisted, returned to South Africa, fought in several battles and ultimately liberated the men with whom he had been imprisoned. Churchill would later remark that this period, ‘could I have seen my future, was to lay the foundations of my later life’. Candice Millard tells a story of bravery, savagery and chance encounters with a cast of historical characters with whom Churchill would later share the world stage, and gives us an unexpected perspective on one of the iconic figures in our history.

Among the Headhunters by Robert Lyman
Flying the notorious ‘hump route’ between India and China in 1943, a twin- engine plane suffered mechanical failure and crashed in a dense mountain jungle. Among the passengers and crew were celebrated CBS journalist Eric Sevareid, a Soviet double-agent posing as an OSS operative, and General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell’s personal political adviser. Against the odds, all but one of the twenty-one people aboard the aircraft survived.  But they fell from the frying pan into the fire. They landed in wild countryside dominated by the Nagas, notorious headhunters who routinely practiced slavery and human sacrifice. Japanese soldiers lay close by, too, with their own brand of hatred for Americans. Among the Headhunters is the first account of this incredible story.

Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale
By 1917 the European war seemed to be endless. In the German government a small group of men had a brilliant idea: why not sow further confusion in an increasingly chaotic Russia by arranging for Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the most notorious of revolutionary extremists, currently safely bottled up in neutral Switzerland, to go home? Lenin on the Train recreates Lenin’s extraordinary journey from harmless exile in Zurich, across a Germany falling to pieces from the war’s deprivations, and northwards to the edge of Lapland to his eventual ecstatic reception by the revolutionary crowds at Petrograd’s Finland Station. Merridale weaves the story of the train and its uniquely strange group of passengers with a gripping account of the now half-forgotten liberal Russian revolution and shows how these events intersected. Many thought Lenin was a mere ‘useful idiot’, others thought he would rapidly be imprisoned or killed, others that he had in practice few followers and even less influence. They would all prove to be quite wrong.

 

Children’s Picture Books

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. Though Jeremy’s grandma says they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” when his old shoes fall apart at school, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy soon sees that the things he has — warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend — are worth more than the things he wants.

Edward the Emu by Sheena Knowles
Edward is tired of being an emu, so he decides to try being something else for a change. First he spends some time swimming with the seals. Next, he lounges with the lions. He even slithers with the snakes. But Edward soon discovers that being an emu may not be so bad after all. So he heads back to his pen, only to find a big surprise awaiting him.

Edwina the Emu by Sheena Knowles
Edward and his mate Edwina are the proud parents of 10 little emu chicks. “Don’t get depressed. I’ll find a job, you stay on the nest” says Edwina to her stunned mate. And so Edwina sets out to find work in this lighthearted offering from Down Under.

Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting
A homeless boy who lives in an airport with his father, moving from terminal to terminal trying not to be noticed, is given hope when a trapped bird finally finds its freedom.

 

Children’s Fiction Books

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
One summer’s day, ten-year-old India Opal Buloni goes down to the local supermarket for some groceries and comes home with a dog. But Winn-Dixie is no ordinary dog. It’s because of Winn-Dixie that Opal begins to make friends. And it’s because of Winn-Dixie that she finally dares to ask her father about her mother, who left when Opal was three. In fact, as Opal admits, just about everything that happens that summer is because of Winn-Dixie.

 

Young Adult

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling
When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone.

Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman
You’re waiting for the postman.   He’s bringing your A level results. University, a career as a journalist – a glittering future lies ahead. But when the doorbell rings it’s your old girlfriend; and she’s carrying a baby. Your baby. You’re happy to look after it, just for an hour or two. But then she doesn’t come back and your future suddenly looks very different.

Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman
Olivia and her twin brother Aidan are heading alone back to Earth following the virus that wiped out the rest of their crew, and their family, in its entirety. Nathan is part of a community heading in the opposite direction. But on their journey, Nathan’s ship is attacked and most of the community killed. Only a few survive. Their lives unexpectedly collided, Nathan and Olivia are instantly attracted to each other, deeply, head-over-heels – like nothing they have ever experienced. But not everyone is pleased. Surrounded by rumours, deception, even murder, is it possible to live out a happy ever after?