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Crime Writer P.D. James Dies at 94

unsuitable-jobPhyllis Dorothy James, better known as P.D. James, died this morning. The crime writer wrote over 20 books in total throughout her career, most of them novels. She is perhaps best-known for the creation of recurring character Adam Dalgliesh. The much-beloved Scotland Yard Inspector featured in 14 of James’ novels, including her first book, Cover Her Face, in 1962.

Outside of the Dalgliesh novels, James’ most famous work was the 1992 dystopian novel The Children of Men, set in a future experiencing a mass pandemic of infertility. With declining populations and a pervasive sense of hopelessness, the discovery of a young pregnant woman throws matters into further chaos. The novel was extremely well-received, and an equally successful film adaptation was released in 2006.

Most recently in 2011, James published her novel Death Comes to Pemberley, a murder mystery written in the style of Jane Austen, beginning where Pride and Prejudice left off.

James died peacefully at home. She was 94.

My Favourite Reads of 2014

Every single year around this time, I find myself reflecting back on the books I’ve read since January 1st, and feeling:

1) mad at myself for not reading more;
2) mad at myself for wasting my life finishing that one really dreadful book;
3) delighted that I kept going through the hard bits of that one that turned out so wonderful; and, mostly
4) grateful that thanks to affordable secondhand books and libraries, I have such a wealth of access to so many inspiring reads.

The Washington Post has put out their list for the top 50 fiction books for 2014, and reading it made me want to share my favorites of the year, too. The Post’s selections are all published in 2014, but mine are all over the map.

Here are my favourite 20 of the books I read in 2014. As in previous years (2008,2010, 2011, 2012), the selections are all over the place. Some are new, some are old, some are Canadian, some are graphic novels, some are chock full of violence, some are tear-jerkers, some are comedy, some are historical fiction. It’s just a little glimpse inside my brain and what it likes to read. Here are my top 20 books of 2014, in no particular order. Enjoy, and I’d love if you leave a comment with agreement, disagreement, recommendations or whatever else.

1. The Orenda by Joseph Boyden
It would be almost impossible to overstate the graphic and visceral violence in the book. Be warned. That said, The Orenda is a thoughtful, intricate and fully-realized story of the very early days of Canada’s settlement, the lengthy clash between the Huron and the Iroquois people, and the involvement of the white Jesuit priests and missionaries who came to settle there. Like all of Boyden’s work, even the most terrible and brutal of passages are still simultaneously beautiful. He is a tremendously skilled writer.interestings-meg-wolitzer

2. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
I must confess that even though this is only one of Wolitzer’s 10 novels, this is the first I’ve heard of and first I’ve read. But I enjoyed it so much that I intend to seek out her previous titles now, as well. You know the feeling you get as a child at summer camp – something like an overwhelming mixture of possibility and purity? It’s a feeling of falling in love with the people, time and place of the moment, a simultaneous slowing and speeding of time, invincibility, and bittersweet nostalgia for something that isn’t even over yet. Wolitzer captures that perfectly, and follows the lives of the six friends who experience it all together as teenagers, studying the places life takes each of them and the way they still belong to one another.

3. More Than This by Patrick Ness
More Than This is billed as a Young Adult (YA) novel, but don’t be fooled. Its story will certainly appeal to teenagers, but adults would be remiss to skip over it. The book tells the story of 16-year-old Seth, a boy who drowns, and then finds himself in a deserted neighborhood. Seth believes he is in hell or some kind of purgatory. Much more than that would risk spoiling, and this is absolutely a book worth reading. It made the hair on my arms stand up multiple times. It’s a considered, thought-provoking and philosophical read. Some of its plot points could have become preachy or heavy-handed, but Ness skillfully maneuvers around all the curves. If there’s a sequel, I will snatch it up as quickly as I can.

4. One More Thing by B.J. Novak
You may know B.J. Novak better as Ryan the Temp from the American version of the sitcom The Office. woman-walked-into-doors This collection is 100% worth it, even if you only read the story titled “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela”. The title story is memorably great as well. A few of the stories felt a bit cutesy and gimmicky, but overall it’s a solid collection and made me laugh out loud a handful of times.

5. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle
Absolutely heartbreaking. It would be a masterpiece if it were written by a woman, but the fact that Doyle, as a man, was able to so masterfully write the character of Paula Spencer, an abused but unbreakable working-class woman thinking back over her life, is mindblowing. This novel is so real, so understated and so powerful that I had to pause or stop several times during my reading, to think, or cry or just take a break. It’s such a small, quiet story, but told so beautifully that it’s unforgettable.

6. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
A mysterious sudden (and by sudden, I mean all the males are wiped out in an instant) plague has eradicated males all across the globe. Not just humans, but all other male mammals as well. All, that is, except for Yorick, an easygoing, perhaps a bit bumbling young man, and his pet capuchin monkey, Ampersand. lowland-jhumpa-lahiri Some of the storylines of the series are less successful than others, but author Brian K. Vaughan clearly put a lot of thought into plot branches and possibilities here, and the result is a creative, interesting, really fun read. I recommend the whole series.

7. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
This is the first full-length novel I’ve read from Lahiri, having only read (and enjoyed) her short fiction previously. Lahiri’s prose is elegant and vivid as ever, whether she’s describing water lilies on a pond or tense escapes. The Lowland is the story of two inseparably close brothers growing up in Calcutta whose paths diverge as they reach adulthood.

8. Kindred by Octavia Butler
What a strange and excellent book. First published in 1979, it is a science-fiction novel, but also a classic of African American literature and historical fiction. It details accidental and periodic time travel after a dizzy spell, between a woman’s modern-day Los Angeles life, and an early 19th-century Maryland plantation, where slavery is still in full practice.

9. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Come on, you’ve read this book. It’s embarrassing that I hadn’t read it before. I’d always meant to, but just kept not getting around to it. invention-wings-kidd It did not, of course, disappoint, nor did Offred. If you haven’t read it, get to it!

10. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
I liked The Secret Life of Bees, Kidd’s 2002 novel, pretty well, but did find it a bit saccharine and heartwarming for my taste. The Invention of Wings is still moving, but in its pages, Kidd seems to have better achieved a balance between characters. The novel tells the story, through alternating chapters, of Handful (slave name Hetty), a young slave girl in Charleston, and Sarah, the daughter of the family who owns Handful and her mother. It felt uncomfortable to be reading a book about slavery, written by a white woman, but from the (sometimes) perspective of a black slave. But it was a solid story.

11. The Messenger by Markus Zusak
I read this entirely because I loved Zusak’s The Book Thief so much. The Messenger was extremely different, and a hard plot to pull off – hapless Ed, the broke and rut-dwelling taxi driver, has greatness thrust upon him one day in a most unlikely fashion, and goes about shrugging and becoming a hero by following a series of cryptic and authorless instructions, because why not. eleanor-park-rowell But it’s a really fun read, and even if I rolled my eyes a few times, I kept reading.

12. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Another YA offering on the list. From the description, I wasn’t too excited to read this, as it sounded like many books I’d read before, about teenagers who don’t quite fit in finding each other. But the characters of both Eleanor and Park are written so realistically and unapologetically that it felt like a brand new story, and I found myself caring so much what happened to them. Rowell didn’t take any easy or obvious shortcuts to happy endings or clichés, either. It was a refreshing, raw and lovely book.

13. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill
Love, love, love this book! Much like O’Neill’s debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, this second offering from the Montreal author is inhabited by the most irresistible and charming characters possible. But O’Neill’s writing has improved, as well. While I found aspects of her first novel jarring and requiring me to suspend too much of my disbelief, this one gets it just right. It maintains enough strangeness and magic to remain its sense of wonder, but doesn’t close the door on the possibility of reality. The relationship between Nouschka and her twin brother Nicolas is perfect. On Such a Full Sea (1/7/14)by Chang-rae Lee

14. On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee
A very unusual, risky and ambitious science fiction novel that really worked for me. For an inarguably dystopian story, On Such a Full Sea nevertheless manages to somehow buoy the reader up with hope and small snippets of joy as they traverse the strange landscapes. Read it yourself and see if you can help but cheer for Fan in your heart.

15. The Bear by Claire Cameron
This book bugged me from the get-go. Perhaps it’s because I have limited experience with five-year-olds, but the narration by Anna struck me as wholly unbelievable, and took me out of the story countless times. That didn’t really let up, to be honest, but I found the book so interesting in its details, history and story that I got past it.

16. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
I was nervous upon starting this book, because I feared from the get-go that Bernadette was one of those dreaded literary tropes – specifically, the madcapped, scattered, free spirit manic pixie dream girls. They’re annoying and done to death. But I was pleasantly surprised as I kept reading. It probably helped that my brain somehow decided that she would beplayed by Allison Janney in the movie in my head. I love Allison Janney. boxers-saints-yang

17. Boxers/Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Gene Luen Yang does it again. He is the author of one of my favorite graphic novels, American Born Chinese. His latest offering is this two-volume graphic novel set in China’s Boxer Rebellion at the end of the 19th century. He chose a two-volume format, writing one from the perspective of a young boy on the side of the rebels, and one from the perspective of a little girl on the side of the Christians. That choice, with both volumes being written gracefully and sympathetically, ensures that the reader is unable to pick a side, which of course makes it all much more tragic and futile, but more realistic.

18. Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
This is a heck of a good debut novel. I found it impossible not to fall in love with June, our teenaged protagonist, and the complex, beautiful relationship she has with her uncle Finn. The novel that follows Finn’s death is mysterious, touching and perfectly paced as June struggles to understand and separate her feelings and navigate relationships with her mother, her sister Greta, and her late uncle’s boyfriend.

woman-upstairs-messud19. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
Nora is an ideal unreliable narrator. She draws us in, intrigues us, and gets us, her readers, firmly on her side before slowly, inch by inch, unfurling the rest of the story. And as she does so, her likability recedes in turn, but by that time, she’s got us. And much of it is a story too familiar to many people, women especially – that of the exhausting, sorrowful awareness of dwindling life, wasted potential and futility. But there’s a spark, here, and by the end, it’s burning.

20. Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
Not all of the stories contained in Munro’s 2009 collection worked for me. The title story, in fact, more of a novella in length, is too broad in scope and feels undecided the whole way through. I found it lacked the undeniable authenticity and truth in characters that typifies Munro’s writing to me. However, most of the stories in the book were great, and a couple were absolutely brilliant. The opening story had me at the library (I started reading there, before going home) sniffling into my sleeve.

Alan Turing’s ‘Imitation Game’ paper on artificial intelligence sells for £1,250

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing

An academic journal from 1950 containing a seminal essay on computer intelligence by British codebreaker Alan Turing has sold for £1,250 (approx $1,970) on AbeBooks.co.uk. Turing, who cracked the German secret code in World War II, is currently being played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the movie, The Imitation Game.

Turing wrote a paper titled ‘Computer Machinery and Intelligence’ that appeared in the October 1950 issue of Mind, which reviews developments in philosophy and is still published today. Turing basically asks if machines can think.

The October 1950 issue of Mind containing Alan Turing’s paper on ‘Computer Machinery and Intelligence’

The paper details the so called ‘Turing Test’ which measures a machine’s ability to show intelligence equivalent to that of a human. Based on a party game, Turing called his test ‘the Imitation Game’ where two contestants – a man and a woman – both try to convince an observer, via typed messages alone, into thinking that they are actually the woman.  Turing allows for the replacement of the male contestant with a computer program, which is classified as intelligent if it performs as well as the man in fooling the observer.

Turing’s essay goes on to examine the major objections against the advancement of artificial intelligence.

The journal was sold by Rudi Thoemmes Rare Books from Bristol. Collectors have been fascinated with Turing’s work for some years – another copy of this particular issue of Mind was sold by AbeBooks for £1,400 in 2012 – but the film, starring Cumberbatch, is once again putting his work into the spotlight.

More expensive rare Alan Turing items can be found on AbeBooks.co.uk. Another of his paper’s, The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis, is available from a bookseller in Denmark for more than £24,000. This paper, which examines how patterns are formed in biology, was published in 1952 in a journal published by Cambridge University Press.

A third paper, On Computable Numbers, is available for £18,500. Published in 1936 by the London Mathematical Society, this paper – arguably his most famous – serves as the foundation for modern computing.

Turing worked at Bletchley Park, the codebreaking centre, during World War II. It is believed Turing’s work to decipher the German secret code shortened the war by several years.

Born in London in 1912, Turing was prosecuted for being homosexual in 1952 and accepted chemical castration instead of a prison sentence. He died the same year from cyanide poisoning, in what is believed to have been suicide. In 2009, then-prime minister Gordon Brown apologised for Britain’s treatment of Turing. Not least from helping to end World War II, the mathematician’s work in computer science makes him one of the founding fathers of artificial intelligence.

The Imitation Game movie, directed by Morten Tyldum, also stars Keira Knightley and Charles Dance. It opened in the UK on Friday and opens in the USA on November 28.

Six Classic Novels about Comets

In the Days of the Comet by HG Wells

Yesterday, the robot probe Philae landed on a comet after travelling for four billion miles and 10 years to reach it. The comet, named 67P, is more than four billion years old and is hurtling through space at 40,000 mph.

It’s no wonder that authors – including those masters of fiction, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells – have been fascinated with comets for a long time. Most writers seem interested by what would happen if a comet hits our planet (God forbid).

Here’s six comet-themed novels for your enjoyment.

In the Days of the Comet  by H.G. Wells (1906) A science fiction novel where a comet causes the nitrogen in the atmosphere to become breathable. The effect is that humanity becomes happier after breathing in this new type of air.  The story focuses on a psychology teacher whose thoughts turn towards marriage.

Hector Servadac or the Career of a Comet (also called Off on a Comet) by Jules Verne (1877) A comet called Gallia collides with Earth on January 1 and shears off a chunk of our planet, carrying away 36 humans of varying nationalities. Of course, everything is different on the comet – different gravity, water boils at 66 degrees, and east and west has changed sides. All very confusing but this small group soldiers on.

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson (1946) Everyone knows this one. The second in the Moomin series features the first appearance Snufkin and the Snork Maiden. Moomintroll, Sniff and Snufkin set sail towards the Lonely Mountains and visit an observatory where a professor tells them that a comet is going to collide with Earth. They hurry back, thinking that the end is nigh. More adventures ensue. The English translation was published in 1951.

Tomorrow’s Comet by Lewis Sowden (1951) A comet approaches the Earth and all life is doomed. This story concentrates on the psychological effects of this knowledge.

People of the Comet by Austin Hall (1951) A space age romance first published as ‘Hop o’ My Thumb’ in Weird Tales in 1923.  The solar system turns out to be an atom within a macro-universe. Lovely cover artwork by Jack Gaughan.

The Year of the Comet by John Christopher

The Year of the Comet (also called Planet in Peril) by John Christopher (1955) The author’s real name was Sam Youd and he was a famed science fiction writer.

This novel is set in a world run by two all-powerful companies, Atomics and Telecoms. Youd is best known for writing The Death of Grass and the young adult series The Tripods.

If you are looking for some non-fiction, then Carl Sagan has written about comets. I also love this etching of a comet spotted in 1853.

How America looked to a mapmaker in 1746

Map of America in 1746

Map of America 2

The decorative cartouche featuring Native Americans and two volcanoes

Where’s Washington State, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, Alberta?

This beautiful map of America is offered for sale by Peter Harrington for £1,500. It was printed in 1746 in Nuremberg and caught my eye because so much of North America is simply missing. The west coast is simply California – no Washington State or Oregon. And as for Canada – no British Columbia or Alberta. That’s just a void – a big white space. In 1746, most of the action was going on in Scotland with the end of the Jacobite Rebellion led by Bonnie Prince Charlie. This period was still a time of exploration in the Americas. A permanent Jesuit mission had been established in Baja, California, in 1697 but geography was still largely unknown.

What the Boss reads: Bruce Springsteen’s 30 favourite books

The New York Times recently asked American rock star Bruce Springsteen about favourite books. The Boss admitted that he did not begin reading seriously until he was 28 or 29 because he spent so much time on the road. It sounds like he’s been an avid reader ever since. His taste varies from the classics to Philip Roth and Richard Ford, and some musical non-fiction. The man who sang Born in the USA likes to read Russian literature.

History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell

Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe by Dennis Overbye

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

Examined Lives by James Miller

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

I Married a Communist by Philip Roth

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

Independence Day by Richard Ford

A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor

Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music by Greil Marcus

Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick

Chronicles by Bob Dylan

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Life by Keith Richards

Sonata for Jukebox by Geoffrey O’Brien

Soul Mining: A Musical Life by Daniel Lanois

Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin

Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression by Dale Maharidge

The Big Short by Michael Lewis

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Great Short Works by Leo Tolstoy

The Adventure of Augie March by Saul Bellow

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Autobiography by Eric Clapton

Rarities and Readables from William Shakespeare


Considered the greatest writer in the English language, William Shakespeare’s works are among the world’s most widely read, most intensely studied, and most passionately collected. From 17th-century first editions of the Second Folio to beautifully bound and illustrated 20th-century limited editions, we’ve hand-picked a selection that has something for everyone.

And remember – neither a borrower nor a lender be – get your own copy.

See the Rare and Collectable Shakespeare Books.

Le Crapouillot – France’s 80-Year Political Satire Magazine

While foraging about the internet’s forest floor to learn all I could about our latest Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Patrick Modiano, I discovered Le Crapouillot. The first discovery was that Modiano had contributed to an issue of a magazine about drugs. The actual title of the issue was: “LSD une bombe atomique dans la tête” (“LSD: An atomic bomb in the head”). The issue was Crapouillot #71, and came out in 1966, when Modiano was 21. The cover is really something to behold. The quote below the cover image translates roughly to: “[i]t hurts … I’m hot … flowers … oh, it’s beautiful …. I have to come back …. oh, no! it’s getting terrible…” – look at that poor woman’s face!:


Crapoillot no 7: LSD


Clearly, this was a magazine I needed to investigate further.

Le Crapouillot (the word is a variation on the French word “Crapaud” or “little toad”) was a French political magazine which ran for more than 80 years, from 1915 until its final issue in 1996. The magazine was begun by French soldier and controversial journalist Jean Galtier-Boissiere, who originally intended it as a trench paper, just for his peers in the military. He created it, in part, out of his belief in a need for a balanced view of French soldiers, after being offended and taken aback by the depictions and caricatures he saw in the media. Le Crapouillot promised early on to address the authentic, first-hand stories of French soldiers, from their perspectives. The insolent, irreverent and fearless publication soon proved so popular, however, that by 1925 it was a monthly distribution, with an ever-expanding subscriber list.

In its 80 year run, Le Crapouillot varied widely in its insights and opinions, striving to seek the truth and to publish without censorship or fear of reprisal. That bold attitude resulted in a fantastic series of historical snapshots, with issues addressing so many social, political and economic struggles throughout the century. For instance, the July, 1933 issue, “Hitler, est-ce la guerre?” (“Hitler, is This War?”) explored in detail the personality of Adolf Hitler, his intentions, and his possible trajectory, despite being published very early into Hitler’s rise to power.


Le Crapouillot was unusual at the time, as it devoted each issue to one sole subject to focus on, and nothing was off the table. Art, sexuality, drugs, the economy, social trends, class warfare, and of course politics – everything had its moment within the pages of the magazine. Le Crapouillot enjoyed enough traction to attract the attention of some larger publications, and was given a nod in a December, 1935 issue of Time Magazine as a “Paris muckraker” worth exploring. (What is muckraking?)

In its later years, publication frequency was fitful, irregular and unreliable. By the time the magazine folded in 1996, it had become a staunchly conservative, right-wing publication. But for any magazine collecting enthusiast or French history buff, the back issues of Le Crapouillot are a unique goldmine of information to explore – a time capsule of nearly an entire century of France’s social development. Copies are, for the most part, surprisingly affordable, as well.

There are well over 2,000 issues of Le Crapouillot available for sale on AbeBooks, ranging in price from £1 all the up to £1000, with a median asking price of approximately £9.

Neil Gaiman’s Literary Hero


Latest in the “My hero” series from The Guardian is a bit from Neil Gaiman. We love Neil Gaiman here, and it’s been fun watching the trajectory of his career over the last couple of decades. I first became aware of Gaiman in 1991 when my sister lent me Good Omens, a novel he co-wrote with the equally brilliant Terry Pratchett. Gaiman’s wry, dark humour balanced Pratchett’s good-natured nerdiness perfectly, and the novel has made me laugh more than most other printed material. From there I sought out and read the Sandman comics by way of the collected volumes, beginning with Preludes and Nocturnes.

Gaiman is one of the authors who has best embraced the trend toward social media in recent years, using it as a way to interact with fans, engage fellow authors and bounce ideas around. Gaiman has been the recipient of several Hugo awards and Nebula awards, the Ray Bradbury award and many other honors and recognitions. He also has an absolutely loyal and devoted legion of fans. He’s a personable fellow, a prolific author and an interesting interview, as well. And who is his literary hero? Unsurprisingly, given the gothic nature of much of Gaiman’s work, he chose Mary Shelley. While gothic fiction was already quite firmly established at the time Shelley wrote Frankenstein, Gaiman contends that it broke new ground, and changed everything.

More at The Guardian.

Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North 2014 Booker Winner


The votes are in!

Congratulations to Australian author Richard Flanagan, whose novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North has been announced the winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Not only is Flanagan now £50,000 richer, but he is now virtually guaranteed to be in the eye of the literary community, and with a full calendar of readings for at least a few years to come. We’ll all be watching for what’s next. Here is some more about The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. His life is a daily struggle to save the men under his command from starvation, cholera and pitiless beatings. Until he receives a letter that will change him forever. Moving deftly from the POW camp to contemporary Australia, from the experiences of Dorrigo and his comrades to those of the Japanese guards, this novel tells a story of love, death, and family, exploring the many forms of good and evil, war and truth, and guilt.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is Flanagan’s sixth novel, preceded by Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish, The Unknown Terrorist and Wanting.

Currently, signed copies of The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan are affordable and not too scarce, but if you want one, act immediately because announcements like these do tend to see copies disappearing and prices skyrocketing.

The Booker Prize was first awarded in 1969, and goes to the judges’ determination of best English language full-length novel published in the UK.

Kudos as well to the five runners-up:

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and our narrator, Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I spent the first 18years of my life defined by this one fact: that I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she says. “It’s never going to be the first thing I share with someone. I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion, I’d scarcely known a moment alone. She was my twin, my fun-house mirror, my whirlwind other half, and I loved her as a sister.”

J by Howard Jacobson
J by Howard Jacobson
Set in the future, J is a love story of incomparable strangeness, both tender and terrifying. Two people fall in love, not yet knowing where they have come from or where they are going. Kevern doesn t know why his father always drew two fingers across his lips when he said a world starting with a J. It isn’t the time or place to be asking questions. Ailinn too has grown up in the dark about who she was or where she came from. On their first date Kevern kisses the bruises under her eyes. Brutality has grown commonplace.Hanging over the lives of all the characters in this novel is a momentous catastrophe – a past event shrouded in suspicion, denial and apology, now referred to as What Happened, If It Happened. J is a novel to be talked about in the same breath as Nineteen Eighty Four and Brave New World.

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
It is 1967, Calcutta. Unnoticed by his family, Supratik has become dangerously involved in student unrest, agitation, extremist political activism. Compelled by an idealistic desire to change his life and the world around him, all he leaves behind is this note. ‘Ma, I feel exhausted with consuming, with taking and grabbing and using. I am so bloated that I feel I cannot breathe any more. I am leaving to find some air, some place where I shall be able to purge myself, push back against the life given me and make my own. I feel I live in a borrowed house. It’s time to find my own… — Forgive me…’.’

How to be Both by Ali Smith / signed copies
How to Be Both by Ali Smith
A novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There s a renaissance artist of the 1460s. There s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real – and all life’s givens get given a second chance. Smith can make anything happen, which is why she is one of our most exciting writers today .

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris / signed copies
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
Paul O’Rourke is a man made of contradictions: he loves the world, but doesn’t know how to live in it. He’s a Luddite addicted to his iPhone, a dentist with a nicotine habit, a rabid Red Sox fan devastated by their victories, and an atheist not quite willing to let go of God. Then someone begins to impersonate Paul online, and he watches in horror as a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account are created in his name. What begins as an outrageous violation of his privacy soon becomes something more soul-frightening: the possibility that the online Paul might be a better version of the real thing.