The Best Books of 2021

The Best Books of 2021

2021 has been a brilliant year for books and this article is a list of some of the best

1

The Push

By Ashley Audrain

Preface: What if your experience of motherhood was nothing like what you hoped for - but everything you always feared?

'The women in this family, we're different . . .'

The arrival of baby Violet was meant to be the happiest day of my life.

It was meant to be a fresh start.

But as soon as I held her in my arms I knew something wasn't right. I have always known that the women in my family aren't meant to be mothers.

My husband Fox says I'm imagining it. He tells me I'm nothing like my own mother, and that Violet is the sweetest child.

But she's different with me. Something feels very wrong.

Is it her? Or is it me?

Is she the monster? Or am I?

The Push is a heart-pounding exploration of motherhood, obsession and the terrible price of unconditional love.

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2

Last One at the Party

By Bethany Clift

Preface: It's December 2023 and the world as we know it has ended.

The human race has been wiped out by a virus called 6DM ('Six Days Maximum' - the longest you've got before your body destroys itself).

But somehow, in London, one woman is still alive. A woman who has spent her whole life compromising what she wants, hiding how she feels and desperately trying to fit in. A woman who is entirely unprepared to face a future on her own.

Now, with only an abandoned golden retriever for company, she must travel through burning cities, avoiding rotting corpses and ravenous rats on a final journey to discover if she really is the last surviving person on earth.

And with no one else to live for, who will she become now that she's completely alone?

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3

Body of Stars

By Laura Maylene Walter

Preface: A bold and dazzling exploration of fate and female agency in a world where women own the future but not their own bodies.

Like every woman, Celeste Morton holds a map of the future in her skin, every mole and freckle a clue to unlocking what will come to pass. With puberty comes the changeling period - when her final marks will appear and her future is decided.

The possibilities are tantalising enough for Celeste's excitement to outweigh her fear. Changelings are sought after commodities and abduction is rife as men seek to possess these futures for themselves.

Celeste's marks have always been closely entwined with her brother, Miles. Her skin holds a future only he, as a gifted interpreter, can read and he has always considered his sister his practice ground. But when Celeste's marks change she learns a devastating secret about her brother's future that she must keep to herself - and Miles is keeping a secret of his own. When the lies of brother and sister collide, Celeste determines to create a future that is truly her own.

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4

Nobody Tells You: Over 100 Honest Stories About Pregnancy, Birth and Parenthood

By Becca Maberly

Preface: A no-holds-barred collection of more than 100 real-life accounts of pregnancy, birth, and life with a baby, brought together with simple advice from pregnancy and postnatal expert Becca Maberly and consultant obstetrician Roger Marwood.

This broad range of honest pregnancy, birth and parenting stories, from the likes of Clemmie Telford, Molly Gunn, Megan Rose Lane, Anna Mathur and many more, is accompanied by professional and reassuring advice from experts that will help you navigate your own experience with positivity and confidence.

Nobody Tells You will give you all the tools you need to be informed and prepared for one of life's great journeys. Without any scaremongering or sugar coating, truths are shared about topics including:

* Trying to conceive

* C-Sections

* Postnatal recovery

* Not loving breastfeeding

* Self-care

* And many, many more!

Inspired by her own experience and frustration at the lack of honest information, Becca Maberly, pregnancy and postnatal expert and the founder of A Mother Place, and Roger Marwood, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, compiled this collection about the highs and lows of the unique and often nerve-wracking experience of pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.

Together, with the help of a range of contributors, they share their reliable, evidence-based advice with positivity and a good dose of humour. Whether you're just thinking about having a baby, you are already pregnant, or you have become a parent recently, this book is an invaluable guide.

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5

Dearly

By Margaret Atwood

Preface: The collection of a lifetime from the bestselling novelist, poet - and cultural phenomenon.

Before she became one of the world's most important and loved novelists, Margaret Atwood was a poet. Dearly is her first collection in over a decade. It brings together many of her most recognisable and celebrated themes, but distilled -- from minutely perfect descriptions of the natural world to startlingly witty encounters with aliens, from pressing political issues to myth and legend.

By turns moving, playful and wise, the poems gathered in Dearly are about absences and endings, ageing and retrospection, but also about gifts and renewals. They explore bodies and minds in flux, as well as the everyday objects and rituals that embed us in the present. Werewolves, sirens and dreams make their appearance, as do various forms of animal life and fragments of our damaged environment.

Dearly is a pure Atwood delight, and long-term readers and new fans alike will treasure its insight, empathy and humour.

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6

Tall Bones

By Anna Bailey

Preface: When seventeen-year-old Emma leaves her best friend Abi at a party in the woods, she believes, like most girls her age, that their lives are just beginning. Many things will happen that night, but Emma will never see her friend again.

Abi's disappearance cracks open the façade of the small town of Whistling Ridge, its intimate history of long-held grudges and resentment. Even within Abi's family, there are questions to be asked - of Noah, the older brother whom Abi betrayed, of Jude, the shining younger sibling who hides his battle scars, of Dolly, her mother and Samuel, her father - both in thrall to the fire and brimstone preacher who holds the entire town in his grasp. Then there is Rat, the outsider, whose presence in the town both unsettles and excites those around him.

Anything could happen in Whistling Ridge, this tinder box of small-town rage, and all it will take is just one spark - the truth of what really happened that night out at the Tall Bones....

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7

Highway Blue

By Ailsa McFarlane

Preface: Anne Marie is adrift San Padua, living a precarious life of shift-work and shared apartments. Her husband Cal left her on their first anniversary and two years later, she can't move on.

When he shows up suddenly on her doorstep, clearly in some kind of trouble, she reluctantly agrees to a drink. But later that night a gun goes off in an alley near the shore and the young couple flee together, crammed into a beat up car with their broken past. Their ill-at-ease odyssey takes them across a shimmering American landscape and through the darker seams of the country, towards a city that may or may not represent salvation.

Highway Blue is a story of being lost and found; of love, in all its forms; and of how the pursuit of love is, in its turn, a kind of redemption.

In front of me the long length of the road wound out, wound out and wound on under hot sky. And I drove...

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8

The Dictionary of Lost Words

By Pip Williams

Preface: Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, Esme spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of lexicographers are gathering words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary.

Esme's place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day, she sees a slip containing the word bondmaid flutter to the floor, unclaimed. Esme seizes the word and hides it in an old wooden trunk that belongs to her friend, Lizzie, a young servant in the big house. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world.

Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings related to women's experiences often go unrecorded. She begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.

Set when the women's suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. It's a delightful, lyrical and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words, and the power of language to shape our experience of the world.

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9

This Can Never Not Be Real

By Sera Milano

Preface: In the unremarkable town of Amberside, the unthinkable has happened: Terrorists have attacked a local festival. No one knows why, and no one knows who the attackers are, but that doesn’t matter. What matters first is survival. And what matters after that is survival, too.

In this brilliantly written account of hope, humour and humanity, five ordinary teenagers are caught up in a truly extraordinary situation. It’s a heart-pounding and gripping account of the fight for survival as the attackers prowl the festival grounds, told from multiple perspectives.

This is a book for anyone facing the barrage of bleak reports that fill our newsfeeds and for anyone who needs to see that behind the hate that makes the headlines, there is always love.

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10

Last Days In Cleaver Square

By Nina Allan

Preface: Let there be no more of this clucking and wheedling. Oh Pa, are you sure? Or: Oh Francis, is this really a good idea? Let me be clear. I am always sure, and it is always a good idea.'

An old man is sleeping fitfully. It's too hot. The air is thick with Spanish Jasmine floating in from his overgrown garden. And he's not sure whether he'll be woken by General Franco sitting on the end of his bed.

It's 1975 and Francis McNulty is nearing the end of his life but feeling far from peaceful. A veteran of the Spanish Civil War, he is tormented by grief and guilt about a brief, terrible act of betrayal from that time; and he's started seeing his old nemesis on the street, in the garden and now in his bedroom. Neither he nor his daughter Gillian, who lives with him in Cleaver square, know what to do.

When Gillian announces her impending marriage to a senior civil servant, Francis realises that he must adapt to new circumstances - and that the time has come to confront his past once and for all.

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11

Anna

By Sammy H.K. Smith

Preface: Beaten. Branded. Defiant.

Anna is Will's possession. Will loves her and protects her from the harsh world outside. Anna is broken.

When Anna becomes pregnant she knows she must run and leave her name behind but when Will finds her she won't be the only one at risk.

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12

The Family Tree

By Steph Mullin; Nicole Mabry

Preface: The DNA results are back. And there’s a serial killer in her family tree…

Liz Catalano is shocked when an ancestry kit reveals she’s adopted. But she could never have imagined connecting with her unknown family would plunge her into an FBI investigation of a notorious serial killer…

The Tri-State Killer has been abducting pairs of women for forty years, leaving no clues behind – only bodies.

Can Liz figure out who the killer in her new family is? And can she save his newest victims before it’s too late?

A gripping, original thriller for fans of My Lovely Wife, Netflix’s Making a Murderer, and anyone who’s ever wondered what their family tree might be hiding…

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13

The Clockmaker’s Wife

By Daisy Wood

Preface: The world is at war. And time is running out…

London, 1940. Britain is gripped by the terror of the Blitz, forcing Nell Spelman to flee the capital with her young daughter – leaving behind her husband, Arthur, the clockmaker who keeps Big Ben chiming.

When Arthur disappears, Nell is desperate to find him. But her search will lead her into far darker places than she ever imagined…

New York, Present Day. When Ellie discovers a beautiful watch that had once belonged to a grandmother she never knew, she becomes determined to find out what happened to her. But as she pieces together the fragments of her grandmother’s life, she begins to wonder if the past is better left forgotten…

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14

Meet Me in Another Life

By Catriona Silvey

Preface: Thora and Santi have met before…

Under the clocktower in central Cologne, with nothing but the stars above and their futures ahead.

They will meet again…

They don’t know it yet, but they’ll meet again: in numerous lives they will become friends, colleagues, lovers, enemies – meeting over and over for the first time, every time; each coming to know every version of the other.

Only they can make sure it’s not for the last time.

But as they’re endlessly drawn together and the lines between their different lives begin to blur, they are faced with one question: why?

They must discover the truth of their strange attachment before this, and all their lives, are lost forever.

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15

Songbirds

By Christy Lefteri

Preface: She walks unseen through our world.

Cares for our children, cleans our homes.

Her voice unheard.

She has a story to tell.

Will you listen?

Nisha has crossed oceans to give her child a future. By day she cares for Petra's daughter, Aliki; at night she mothers her own in Sri Lanka by the light of a phone.

Nisha's lover is Yiannis, a poacher, who hunts the tiny songbirds as they migrate to Cyprus on their way to Africa each winter. He dreams of finding a new way of life, of marrying Nisha.

When Nisha disappears, little Aliki insists she wouldn't simply run away; they must find her. As Petra learns to take care of Aliki herself, she comes to understand the woman she barely knew, and realises only she and Yiannis will bother to look for her. What they uncover will change them all.

Set on her native Cyprus, Christy Lefteri has crafted a powerful, redemptive story of loss, of the triumph of the human spirit, and of the enduring love of a mother for her child.

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16

The Reading List

By Sara Nisha Adams

Preface: When Aleisha discovers a crumpled reading list tucked into a tattered library book, it sparks an extraordinary journey.

From timeless stories of love and friendship to an epic journey across the Pacific Ocean with a boy and a tiger in a boat, the list opens a gateway to new and wonderful worlds – just when Aleisha needs an escape from her troubles at home.

And when widower Mukesh arrives at the library, desperate to connect with his bookworm granddaughter, Aleisha introduces him to the magic of the reading list. An anxious teenager and a lonely grandfather forming an unlikely book club of two.

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17

What Strange Paradise

By Omar El Akkad

Preface: More bodies have washed up on the shores of a small island. Another over-filled, ill-equipped, dilapidated ship has sunk under the weight of its too-many passengers: Syrians, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians, all of them desperate to escape untenable lives in their homelands. And only one had made the passage: nine-year-old Amir, a Syrian boy who has the good fortune to fall into the hands not of the officials, but of Vänna: a teenage girl, native to the island, who lives inside her own sense of homelessness in a place and among people she has come to disdain. And though Vänna and Amir are complete strangers and don’t speak a common language, Vänna determines to do whatever it takes to save him.

In alternating chapters, we learn the story of Amir’s life and of how he came to be on the boat; and we follow the duo as they make their way towards a vision of safety. But as the novel unfurls, we begin to understand that this is not merely the story of two children finding their way through a hostile world. Omar El Akkad's What Strange Paradise is the story of our collective moment in this time: of empathy and indifference, of hope and despair – and of the way each of those things can blind us to reality, or guide us to a better one.

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18

Hide

By Nell Pattison

Preface: Seven friends. One killer. You can run, but you can’t hide…

The Boxing Day hike is meant to bring their nature group together.

Emily, the sister who never lets her hearing loss hold her back.

Lauren, the sister who always feels a step behind.

Morna, who doesn’t get on with Lauren.

Ben, whose feelings for Emily border on obsession.

Dan, the quiet newcomer to the group.

Kai, who isn’t just on the hike to enjoy the wildlife.

And Alec, the one who knows all their secrets.

As the sun sets, a gunshot rings out on the nature reserve.

One of the seven is dead. And one of their number killed them…

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19

Frontline

By Dr Hilary Jones

Preface: Frontline is the first book in a series charting the rise of a prominent British medical family in the twentieth century. From wars to a pandemic, the discovery of penicillin to the birth of the NHS, successive generations of the Burnett family are at the vanguard of life-saving developments in medicine.

Frontline is the story of an aristocrat's daughter who joins the war effort as a nurse. In a field hospital in rural France she meets Will, a dockworker's son serving as a stretcher-bearer. As rumours of an armistice begin to circulate, so too does a mysterious respiratory illness that soldiers are referring to as the 'Spanish flu'.

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20

The Last Library

By Freya Sampson

Preface: You can tell a lot about a person from the library books they borrow Library assistant June knows a lot about the regulars at Chalcot Library, yet they know very little about her. When her mum - the beloved local librarian - passed away eight years ago, June stepped into her shoes. But despite their shared love of books, shy June has never felt she can live up to the village's memory of her mum. Instead, she's retreated into herself and her memories, surviving on Chinese takeaways-for-one and rereading their favourite books at home. When the library is threatened with closure, a ragtag band of eccentric locals establish the Friends of Chalcot Library campaign. There's gentlemanly pensioner Stanley, who visits the library for the computers and the crosswords, cantankerous Mrs B, who is yet to find a book she approves of, and teenager Chantal, who just wants a quiet place to study away from home. But can they compel reclusive June to join their cause? If June wants to save the library, she finally has to make some changes to her life: opening up her heart to friendship, opportunities and maybe even more . .

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21

The Cat Who Saved Books

By Sosuke Natsukawa

Preface: Grandpa used to say it all the time: books have tremendous power. But what is that power really?

Natsuki Books was a tiny second-hand bookshop on the edge of town. Inside, towering shelves reached the ceiling, every one crammed full of wonderful books. Rintaro Natsuki loved this space that his grandfather had created. He spent many happy hours there, reading whatever he liked. It was the perfect refuge for a boy who tended to be something of a recluse.

After the death of his grandfather, Rintaro is devastated and alone. It seems he will have to close the shop. Then, a talking tabby cat called Tiger appears and asks Rintaro for help. The cat needs a book lover to join him on a mission. This odd couple will go on three magical adventures to save books from people have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them. Finally, there is one last rescue that Rintaro must attempt alone . . .

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22

Wish You Were Here

By Jodi Picoult

Preface: If your life was going perfectly to plan, would you risk everything to change it?

Diana O’Toole watched the car wreck that was her parent’s marriage and determined that her life would pan out differently. Now she is 29 and her life is following the plan she has set out for herself. She is an associate specialist at Sothebys and is about to land the account that is sure to guarantee her a promotion. She is due to go on the holiday of the lifetime with her boyfriend and she is pretty sure she will be coming back with an engagement ring.

Then the Covid-19 concerns begin to grow and her boyfriend Finn, a resident in a New York City hospital, tells her that she should go on the holiday without him.

Once she arrives in the Galapagos, she discovers the island is going into lockdown and she is stranded there without any knowledge of the language and nowhere to stay.

Being on the island causes Diana to reflect on the choices that have brought her to this state, and she begins to question if her plan is set in stone.

But is everything what it appears?

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23

The Lighthouse Witches

By C.J. Cooke

Preface: Don’t miss the brand-new chilling gothic thriller from the bestselling author . . .

Upon the cliffs of a remote Scottish island, Lòn Haven, stands a lighthouse.

A lighthouse that weathered more than storms.

Mysterious and terrible events have happened on this island. It started with a witch hunt. Now, centuries later, islanders are vanishing without explanation.

Coincidence? Or curse?

Liv Stay flees to the island with her three daughters, in search of a home. She doesn’t believe in witches, or dark omens, or hauntings. But within months, her daughter Luna will be the only one of them left.

Twenty years later, Luna is drawn back to the place her family vanished. As the last sister left, it’s up to her to find out the truth . . .

But what really happened at the lighthouse all those years ago?

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24

The Island of Missing Trees

By Elif Shafak

Preface: It is 1974 on the island of Cyprus. Two teenagers, from opposite sides of a divided land, meet at a tavern in the city they both call home. The tavern is the only place that Kostas, who is Greek and Christian, and Defne, who is Turkish and Muslim, can meet, in secret, hidden beneath the blackened beams from which hang garlands of garlic, chilli peppers and wild herbs. This is where one can find the best food in town, the best music, the best wine. But there is something else to the place: it makes one forget, even if for just a few hours, the world outside and its immoderate sorrows.

In the centre of the tavern, growing through a cavity in the roof, is a fig tree. This tree will witness their hushed, happy meetings, their silent, surreptitious departures; and the tree will be there when the war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to rubble, when the teenagers vanish and break apart.

Decades later in north London, sixteen-year-old Ada Kazantzakis has never visited the island where her parents were born. Desperate for answers, she seeks to untangle years of secrets, separation and silence. The only connection she has to the land of her ancestors is a Ficus Carica growing in the back garden of their home.

In The Island of Missing Trees, prizewinning author Elif Shafak brings us a rich, magical tale of belonging and identity, love and trauma, memory and amnesia, human-induced destruction of nature, and, finally, renewal.

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25

Pony

By R. J. Palacio

Preface: The highly anticipated, unforgettable new story from the internationally bestselling, multi-award-winning author of WONDER.

When Silas Bird wakes in the dead of night, he watches powerlessly as three strangers take his father away. Silas is left shaken, scared and alone, except for the presence of his companion, Mittenwool . . . who happens to be a ghost. But then a mysterious pony shows up at his door, and Silas knows what he has to do. So begins a perilous journey to find his father - a journey that will connect him with his past, his future, and the unknowable world around him.

PONY is destined to become a future classic.

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26

Fireborn

By Aisling Fowler

Preface: Set in the snowy northern forests of an imagined prehistoric world, Fireborn is the middle-grade debut of the decade. At turns exciting, funny and heart wrenchingly sad, it marks the introduction of an unstoppable new voice in children’s storytelling.

Twelve has spoken the Pledge and now she is a Huntling. She has given up her name to train in the art of fighting monsters and keeping the peace, and she won’t get to choose a new one until she has earned it.

But when the Lodge’s walls are breached for the first time, and a little girl is taken, Twelve is the only one interested in going after a child . . .

Teaming up with Dog, the Stone Guardian of the Lodge, Twelve ends up on an epic adventure that will change her life, her name – and her entire world.

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27

The Once and Future Witches

By Alix E. Harrow

Preface: In 1893, there's no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the three Eastwood sisters join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten ways that might turn the women's movement into the witch's movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote - and perhaps not even to live - the sisters must delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There's no such thing as witches. But there will be.

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28

The Whistling

By Rebecca Netley

Preface: Alone in the world, Elspeth Swansome has taken the position of nanny to a family on the remote Scottish island of Skelthsea.

Her charge, Mary, is a strange child. Distracted and secretive, she hasn't uttered a word since the sudden death of her twin, William - just days after their former nanny disappeared.

With her charge defiantly silent, Elspeth turns to the islanders. But no one will speak of what happened to William.

Just as no one can explain the hypnotic lullabies sung in empty corridors.

Nor the strange dolls that appear in abandoned rooms.

Nor the faint whistling that comes in the night . . .

As winter draws in and passage to the mainland becomes impossible, Elspeth finds herself trapped.

But is this house haunted by the ghosts of the past?

OR THE SECRETS OF THE LIVING..?

Chilling, twisty and emotionally gripping, The Whistling is an atmospheric page-turner with shades of the classics, yet a unique character of its own. Perfect for fans of Susan Hill and Laura Purcell.

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29

The Drowned City

By K. J. Maitland

Preface: Gunpowder and treason changed England forever. But the tides are turning and revenge runs deep in this compelling historical thriller for fans of C.J. Sansom, Andrew Taylor's Ashes of London, Kate Mosse and Blood & Sugar.

1606. A year to the day that men were executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament, a towering wave devastates the Bristol Channel. Some proclaim God's vengeance. Others seek to take advantage.

In London, Daniel Pursglove lies in prison waiting to die. But Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to King James I, has a job in mind that will free a man of Daniel's skill from the horrors of Newgate. If he succeeds.

For Bristol is a hotbed of Catholic spies, and where better for the lone conspirator who evaded arrest, one Spero Pettingar, to gather allies than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel journeys there to investigate FitzAlan's lead, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy - and in pursuit of a killer.

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30

The Arctic Curry Club

By Dani Redd

Preface: For my whole life I had been looking for home. But why would that be in a place that I’d left? Perhaps I had to keep moving forward in order to find it…’

Soon after upending her life to accompany her boyfriend Ryan to the Arctic, Maya realises it’s not all Northern Lights and husky sleigh rides. Instead, she’s facing sub-zero temperatures, 24-hour darkness, crippling anxiety – and a distant boyfriend as a result.

In her loneliest moment, Maya opens her late mother’s recipe book and cooks Indian food for the first time. Through this, her confidence unexpectedly grows – she makes friends, secures a job as a chef, and life in the Arctic no longer freezes her with fear.

But there’s a cost: the aromatic cuisine rekindles memories of her enigmatic mother and her childhood in Bangalore. Can Maya face the past and forge a future for herself in this new town? After all, there’s now high demand for a Curry Club in the Arctic, and just one person with the know-how to run it…

A tender and uplifting story about family, community, and finding where you truly belong – guaranteed to warm your heart despite the icy setting!

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