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April 23
The Hoarder by Jess Kidd

the hoarder
 

Maud Drennan - underpaid carer and unintentional psychic - is the latest in a long line of dogsbodies for the ancient, belligerent Cathal Flood. Yet despite her best efforts, Maud is drawn into the mysteries concealed in his filthy, once-grand home. She realises that something is changing: Cathal, and the junk-filled rooms, are opening up to her.

With only her agoraphobic landlady and a troop of sarcastic ghostly saints to help, Maud must uncover what lies beneath Cathal's decades-old hostility, and the strange activities of the house itself. And if someone has hidden a secret there, how far will they go to ensure it remains buried?

If you’ve read Himself then you know that Jess Kidd knows how to weave a magical tale, with a wonderful cast of characters. Funny and profoundly moving, The Hoarder is an essential read for 2018.

Submitted by Pete

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April 20
The First Hostage by Joel C. Rosenberg

First Hostage
 

During a visit to Jordan to attend a peace summit the leaders of Israel, Palestine and Jordan are seriously injured and the President of the U.S.A. disappears.  A threat is subsequently issued – the United States must either convert to Islam or pay a huge ransom to release their leader, or do both to prevent the beheading of their President. 

J.B Collins, an American journalist present at the summit, is taken to Jordanian HQ so that he can later recount the exact sequence of events to the world, but then suddenly finds himself suspected of leaking the information that led to the attack.

Collins is facing an insurmountable task. He wishes to do his job by reporting events, to clear his name and most of all to find and rescue the President. Time is running out. The deadline is fast approaching.  J.B. must do everything in his power to resolve the situation and prove his innocence.

Submitted by Karen

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April 20
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

manhattan beach
 

The latest novel by Jennifer Egan portrays what is was like to live in Brooklyn during the Great Depression and up to the closing years of World War II. Readers first meet the protagonist, Anna Kerrigan, when she is nearly twelve years old and follow her as she matures into a young lady. Along the way we see Anna dealing with various family crises, caring for a profoundly handicapped sister and winning her proverbial stripes as the sole female diver in a male dominated wartime work force. While Anna is central to all the storylines, the book’s other main characters are Anna’s father and his one-time boss, Dexter Styles. Dexter’s house leads on to the Manhattan Beach of the title and his shady business operations have a significant impact on the lives of Anna and her father.

Those familiar with Jennifer Egan’s work may be surprised to discover that Manhattan Beach is a straightforward third-party narrative - a technique most likely intended to evoke a style of writing that was often used during the era when the novel was set. Certainly, Jennifer Egan has researched the subject so thoroughly that the book could be mistaken for one written from first-hand experience. Also, the careful portrayal of events contributes to credible character development, particularly the way Jennifer Egan details the key influences which shaped Anna. 

Despite its length (over 400 pages), Manhattan Beach’s readability makes it a page turner with a satisfactory ending - that is not to say that everything is resolved but rather that readers are not left wondering what happened to any character. Having largely attracted critical acclaim, Manhattan Beach should encourage readers new to Jennifer Egan to explore her earlier works.

Submitted by David

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April 20
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

the signature of all things.
 

Author Elizabeth Gilbert is mainly known for her feel-good autobiographical book Eat, Pray, Love and being an author with a self-help bent to her writing, so it’s surprising to see a historical novel with her name affixed to it – but The Signature of All Things is a book that is surprising on various levels.

It’s the biographical tale of fictional botanist Alma Whittaker, her quest to explain and make sense of the natural world around her using rational thinking and science, and her search for love and fulfilment. She travels the world and works obsessively on her classification of various plants, her specialty subject are mosses. What sounds like it could be a dry and overlong story actually sweeps the reader along on a journey across the whole world at an exciting time when people are first starting to figure out how nature around us operates and are trying to make sense of the diverse people and landscapes that are outside the narrow western view of the world.

Alma is a fascinating and strong protagonist who struggles to combine her love of science with a desperate need for companionship and personal satisfaction.

Submitted by Bettina

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April 16
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

the postman always rings twice.
 

The torrid story of Frank Chambers, the amoral drifter, Cora, the sullen and brooding wife, and Nick Papadakis, the amiable but inconvenient husband, has become a classic of its kind, and established Cain as a major novelist with a spare and vital prose style and a bleak vision of America.

Frank Chambers is a con artist and a bum who is unable to remain in the same city long enough to settle down. His wanderings have gotten him into trouble with the law at many of his stops and finally he is looking to start anew, or so he has us believe. Outside of Los Angeles, he stops at Nick Papadakis' roadside restaurant, and enjoys it so much, that Papadakis offers him a job. The real reason Chambers desires employment is Papadakis' lusty wife Cora, who Chambers is determined to have for himself.

This is a terrific noir novel, a prime example of the genre. This book and this writer have certainly had an enduring impact on not only the hard boiled mystery novel, but also on literature and Hollywood. The book has been filmed seven times with most people agreeing that the 1946 version with John Garfield and Lana Turner was the best.

James M. Cain was born in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1892. Having served in the US Army in World War 1, he became a journalist in Baltimore and New York in the 1920's. He later worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Cain died in 1977.

Submitted by Pete

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April 16
The Girl Who Just Appeared by Jonathan Harvey

the girl who just appeared
 

This book is not what it seems - to me the title screams chick lit, but it is actually way better than that. 

The Girl Who Just Appeared introduces us Holly Smith who has never fitted in. And on being told by her Mum that she was adopted she suddenly understands why.

On the death of her adopted parents, Holly goes on a search of her real family which leads her to move from London to Liverpool and the discovery of a biscuit tin underneath the floorboards that contains a diary and could be a key to her past.

The diary tells the story of Darren, a fifteen-year-old boy who is trying to negotiate life with a mother who isn’t easy to live with.

Moving between the past and the present Darren and Holly’s lives become intertwined and Holly is not going to give up getting answers to all her questions.

Submitted by Jo Anne

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April 16
Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

paranormalcy
 

This novel revolves around a young girl called Evie who can see through the glamour of the supernatural and as a result she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agreement that keeps the supernatural in line. You’ve probably already guessed the plot twist just from that sentence. You’d be right and like most stories involving an organisation and a main character that has strong ties to it, it turns out they aren’t telling her everything and she isn’t what she always believed herself to be. Despite this obvious plot twist the story is enjoyable and fascinating. 

Our story starts in a graveyard where Evie is in the process of capturing a vampire. When returning to the base we learn more about Evie, that she wants a semblance of a normal life. We meet her ex who wants to take control of her and she is fighting this with all her strength. Later, the base is broken into and Evie captures the intruder who is unique among the supernatural crowd. She learns through this boy that paranormals are being killed and the story starts off from there. 

What I enjoyed most are the different types of supernaturals within the novel. The ICPA does try to make them into something bad but Evie soon learns differently. The take on vampires was the opposite of the usual especially through Evie’s eyes. While I usually prefer the vampires to be scary and alluring it was entertaining to read a book that mocks vampire characteristics. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a fun and quick read with high stakes though the ending was an abrupt. Evie is a quirky character who can be childish at times, but it is no less interesting to follow her on her journey. A good series for a young reader to start off with. 

Submitted by Megan

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April 12
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

anything is possible
 

Anything is Possible brings readers up to the date with the protagonist of Elizabeth Strout’s previous novel, My Name is Lucy Barton. Also, by adding to Lucy’s back story, Elizabeth Strout provides context for some scenes in the earlier work.

Anything is Possible comprises nine short stories, each connected to at least one of the other stories – similar to the technique used by Elizabeth Strout for Olive Kitteridge, perhaps her most famous work. Although the only story to feature Lucy Barton is “Sister”, other stories focus on people who are related to her, know her or maybe just live in the small town where she grew up. Even when the link is tenuous the stories still provide insights into the poverty and hardship of Lucy’s upbringing and how more affluent neighbours looked down on the Barton family. 

As suggested by the title, the overall tone of the book is optimistic, with a recurring theme that it is up to each individual to choose to make things better. The quality of Elizabeth Strout’s writing ensures the stories are believable. For example, when “Mississippi Mary” walks out on fifty-one years of marriage and moves to Europe to live with her younger Italian lover, there are poignant scenes which make it clear she misses her children, grandchildren and even her estranged husband. Similarly, in the intervening period between the stories entitled “The Sign” and “Sister”, Lucy’s brother makes small steps to improve the pathetic and lonely life he leads in the squalor of the run-down family home.

Anything is Possible is a must read for fans of Elizabeth Strout and provides the perfect companion to My Name is Lucy Barton.

Submitted by David

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April 09
The Gospel According to Blindboy in 15 Short Stories by Blindboy Boatclub

the gospel according to blindboy
 

The Gospel According to Blindboy is a surreal and genre-defying collection of short stories and visual art exploring the myths, complacencies and contradictions at the heart of modern Ireland. Covering themes ranging from love and death to sex and politics, there's a story about a girl from Tipp being kicked out of ISIS, a van powered by Cork people's accents and a man who drags a fridge on his back through Limerick.

Whip-smart, provocative and animated by the author's unmistakably dark wit, it is unlike anything else you will read this year.

Blindboy Boatclub is one of Ireland's foremost satirist and most original comedic voices, and one half of the Rubberbandits.

Submitted by Pete

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April 09
Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean

Shark Drunk
 

Shark Drunk is based on the true story of author Morten Strøksnes’ and his friend Hugo Aasjord’s year-long quest to catch a Greenland shark using rudimentary fishing methods in North Norway. While they spend hours waiting – either on land for weather that allows them to drive out to sea or on a tiny rubber dingy laying out traps and bait and waiting for something to happen – the author relates anything and everything loosely related to the sea. 

The Greenland shark that these two friends have set their hearts on catching is a mysterious creature that scientist only know little about and is notoriously difficult to catch. Its flesh produces a toxin that can cause hallucinations and a drunk-like sensation when eaten. It can weigh over a ton, turn centuries old and is mostly blind due to large parasites in his eyes. This slow and lonesome creature inhabits cold and deep waters and is a carnivorous predator and scavenger that is attracted by rotten meat. 

While the hunt for the shark forms the framework of the book, the friendship between the author and eccentric painter Hugo is the centre of the story and is described with all its highs and lows. In the long silences they experience on the boat, the author covers a breadth of topics from the formation of the Earth and evolution, to Norwegian painting, to the impact of humans on the planet and fantastic sea creatures. 

Strøksnes tells his story in a slow way, which reflects their long and tedious quest. Their motivation and sheer obsession of catching this shark isn’t always comprehensible to the reader but It is a very educational and thought-provoking read and one cannot help but think about one’s own impact on this planet. This book is for anyone who is interested in reading about friendship, unusual quests, science and the sea.

Submitted by Lisa

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