Looking for your next read? Check out our favourite five for World Book Day
Finishing off a good book is always bittersweet as you are suddenly tasked with finding a new novel to dive into. Pick up one of our favourites chosen by Sarah Ditum and re-discover the joy of reading
Discover new worlds of possibility in…
It is 1967 and four scientists make a world-changing discovery, coming together to build the first time machine the world has ever seen. Fifty years later, a woman appears – she has been shot and is found in a room bolted from the inside. This is where Kate Mascharenhas’ ambitious, brain-bending story begins.
‘Mascarenhas has thought through all the mechanics of time travel in dazzling detail,’ says our resident bookworm Sarah Ditum. As we follow each of the author’s multi-layered characters, we learn there is more to this tale than a murder to be solved. ‘The question of how sidestepping chronology might transform a person is every bit as absorbing as the central mystery.’
For a female-driven dystopia, try…
Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2018, Sophie Mackintosh’s debut novel introduces us to a strange world, not all that different to our own, and three sisters, Grace Lia and Sky. Sarah explains, ‘We see everything only through the sisters’ eyes: there are mentions of a disaster which drove their father to bring them to the island, and we learn that men constitute a mortal threat to women. But how much of those things are real, and how much the product of the father’s manipulation of his family to secure his own power, is never entirely clear.’
Sophie explains that the story was more grounded in reality than you might expect, saying, ‘We live in a world where women are hurt by men all the time – what if I could take that in a more literal sense?’ For lovers of dystopian fiction, this novel brings a fresh perspective to the page.
Sarah can’t recommend a read highly enough. ‘Written with elegance, assurance and immense imaginative powers, this is a novel that will absorb you totally in its unsettling world.’
If you’re looking for a bit of mystery, read…
Unfolding as the snow falls in the bleak winter of 1893, The House on Vesper Sands opens on a gothic scene of whispered conversation and a seamstress with words stitched into her skin. ‘From then, until the very end, the finely-structured plot and intoxicating atmosphere don’t let up for a single page,’ says Sarah.
As mysterious figures steal souls in Whitechapel, there is plenty of intrigue to satisfy regular mystery readers and it would be hard for any to resist the search for the truth at the heart of this novel. Paraic says, ‘Readers want to be puzzled, they want to have knots to pick at. If the architecture of the puzzle is difficult for me, then I expect that to be translated in some way to the reader’s experience.
'That is the way in which the plot in this story thickens, for better or worse.’
Taking place in an eerie and unsettling London, Sarah is sure the author has, ‘had a blast inventing this world, and the delight is infectious.’ There is plenty of humour too and characters which will stay with you long after the mystery is solved.
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Finish off a historical trilogy with…
The world has gone to war and Leo Sercombe is hauling coal aboard the HMS Queen Mary, a long way from home in 1916 in this story of love, loss and destiny. Tim Pears’ novel is a bittersweet tribute to a lost world, says Sarah. ‘He captures not just the matter of the past, but the experience of going through it, giving a rare vitality to a period now at the very fringe of living memory.’
The author himself explains that, ‘the engine of this whole trilogy is the idea that human beings are happiest to grow up in a community, and remain within that for the whole of their lives, and then bring up the next generation in it, and so on. That’s exactly what Leo as a boy wants, but he’s thrown out of that world and is forced to become a migrant and to wander.’
In this novel we see all that wandering brings in what Sarah calls a, ‘deeply moving finale for a trilogy that – without sentimentality or showily displayed detail – raises up history from the lost depths.’ We can’t wait to dive into Tim’s vision of the past.
Explore a coming-of-age tale in…
Moving between Ghana and London, Hold tells the tale of Belinda, the perfect young housegirl, her sister Mary, who is still in training, and Amma, their sullen cousin. Summoned from Ghana to London to befriend her troubled relation, Belinda discovers the beginnings of an unexpected friendship.
Sarah says, ‘Donkor inhabits his characters’ perspective with absorbing completeness. Belinda’s anxiety, Amma’s frustrations and Mary’s vivaciousness are all resound on the page thanks to Donkor’s marvellous skill in shifting between their voices.’ The characters Michael creates are really the heart of this novel.
He explains, ‘These characters feel very alive and familiar to me. I wanted to write something that enables us to look at not just the big man’s role, but also to think about how women and young women exist in society.’ He does so beautifully, with warmth and generosity of spirit.
‘We’re born where we’re born, led to believe what we’re led to believe,’ says Amma in the novel’s pages, but Sarah isn’t so sure. ‘The lesson of Hold is that humans are so much more adaptable and complicated than that.’