Spring 1944, the south coast of England. The Fifth Battalion, Wessex Regiment wait patiently and nervously for the order to embark. There is boredom and fear, comedy and pathos as the men – all drawn from different walks of life – await the order to move. From The City, From The Plough is a vivid and moving account of the fate of these men as they set off for Normandy and advance into France. The novel is not about the actual fighting alone; the larger part of it paints a picture of what happens in between battles and before: the training, the discipline, the boredom; about how the military machine uproots individuals, throws them together in new environments and forces them to establish new personal relationships.

The novel contains many living character sketches of seemingly quiet and timid individuals who grow in stature in the face … More

David Keenan’s first novel is populated by about 30 beautifully believable and appallingly sad local legends – including that great band (Memorial Device), that drug-dealer survivalist and that expat romantic. The book’s subtitle gives the most succinct description of the whole enterprise: “An Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs, 1978‑1986”.

Ross Raymond and Johnny McLaughlin are two fanboys dedicated to the Airdrie post-punk scene of the early ’80s – the … More

With Hope, Farewell was Alexander Baron’s first novel to explore Jewish working class life in fiction, and predated his The Lowlife, being published first in 1952. Mark Strong endures petty anti-Semitism but achieves his wartime ambition to become a fighter pilot. After the war, blighted by injury and a desolation brought on by conflict, Mark and his wife, Ruth, seek to set up home in Hackney. ‘The bombing of the East End during the war had sent thousands of homeless Jews outwards in wave after wave,’ Baron asserts in this novel. ‘They had penetrated to every corner of Hackney.’ They face organised anti-Semitism, and the climax of the novel comes amid a rally in Dalston by British Nazis, still not cowed by their co-thinkers’ war defeat.

Alexander Baron was born Joseph Alexander Bernstein in 1917 to Jewish parents. His first novel, From the City, From the … More

The War Baby is a compelling account of bravery and betrayal in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. Amid the last, faltering, steps to repulse General Franco’s fascists, a young British Communist, Frank Brendan, heads to Barcelona on behalf of the Party. He becomes part of a hedonistic elite at the helm of what’s left of Republican Spain before being sent to the battle front during the ill-fated Ebro offensive of 1938 – Republican Spain’s last stand against the advancing falangists. He is a political commissar to the British troops among the International Brigades; his task is to ‘expose the bad elements’. Eventually, Brendan picks up a gun and joins an increasingly brutal and unequal battle alongside ill-equipped Volunteers. Few of the British Brigaders make it out alive; none are unscathed. The War Baby is a blistering account of the corrupting of the struggle against fascism. It is deeply critical of international Communism while compassionate and generous towards those who enrolled under that flag.

Alexander Baron was born Joseph Alexander Bernstein in 1917 to Jewish parents. His first novel, From the City, From the … More

Born OTD in 1819, American novelist, short story writer, and poet of the American Renaissance period, Herman Melville. Moby Dick is the story of Captain Ahab’s quest to avenge the whale that `reaped’ his leg. The quest is an obsession and the novel is a diabolical study of how a man becomes a fanatic. But it is also a hymn to democracy. Bent as the crew is on Ahab’s appalling crusade, it is equally the image of a co-operative community at work: all hands dependent on all hands, each individual responsible for the security of each. Among the crew is Ishmael, the novel’s narrator, ordinary sailor, and extraordinary reader.

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“We architects must be idealists. We construct not just individual buildings, but whole cities. We plan cities, and in doing so, change lives.”Plastic Emotions is a novel based on the true life story of Minnette de Silva – forgotten feminist icon and the first female Sri Lankan architect. In a gripping, elegant and lyrical story, Shiromi Pinto paints a complex picture of de Silva, charting her affair with infamous Swiss modernist Le Corbusier and her efforts to build a post-independence Sri Lanka that is heading towards political and religious turmoil. Moving between London, Chandigarh, Colombo, Paris and Kandy, at a time of communal violence in Sri Lanka, the rise of the civil war, and troubles with building a brand new city in north India, Plastic Emotions explores the life of a young, trailblazing south Asian woman at a time of great political turbulence across the globe.

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A powerful debut exploring the dark side of Cornwall – the wrecking and the drowned sailors – where poverty drove villagers to dark deeds…Shipwrecks are part of life in the remote village of Porthmorvoren, Cornwall. And as the sea washes the bodies of the drowned onto the beach, it also brings treasures: barrels of liquor, exotic fruit, the chance to lift a fine pair of boots from a corpse, maybe even a jewel or two.When, after a fierce storm, Mary Blight rescues a man half-dead from the sea, she ignores the whispers of her neighbours and carries him home to nurse better. Gideon Stone is a Methodist minister from Newlyn, a married man.

Touched by Mary’s sacrifice and horrified by the superstitions and pagan beliefs the villagers cling to, Gideon sets out to … More

The heatwave of 1976. Following the accidental drowning of her sister, sixteen-year-old Nif and her family move to a small village on the Welsh borders to escape their grief. But rural seclusion doesn’t bring any relief. As her family unravels, Nif begins to put together her own form of witchcraft – collecting talismans from the sun-starved land. That is, until she meets Mally, a teen boy who takes a keen interest in her, and has his own secret rites to divulge. Reminiscent of the suspense of Shirley Jackson and soaked in the folk horror of the British landscape, Water Shall Refuse Them is an atmospheric coming-of-age novel and a thrilling debut.

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How does it feel to be never allowed to die? In his classic debut novel, Gordon Burn takes Britain’s biggest selling vocalist of the 1950s and turns her story into an equation of celebrity and murder. Fictional characters jostle for space with real life stars – from John Lennon to Doris Day and Sammy Davis Jnr – as Burn, in a breathtaking act of appropriation, reinvents the popular culture of the post-war years. As beautifully written as it is disturbing, Alma Cogan remains a stingingly relevant exploration of the sad, dark underside of fame.

This is an extraordinary look at what comes after fame and how to cope with both sides of the coin. … More