The Penny Heart, by Martine Bailey

The Penny Heart, by Martine Bailey

I was going to start this by mentioning that this was the first Monday in August but, of course, it isn’t. It’s just that I’ve been picking blackberries (and yes, they get earlier every year) and also sloes (and it seems freakishly early for them…). Why is that relevant? Well, Martine Bailey writes culinary gothic, with eighteenth century mystery and dark practice mixed up with (and often directly affected by) what is going on in stately home kitchens. In her first novel, An Appetite for Violets, novice cook Biddy learns from a wise, if incoherent, woman about how food can influence the events of the world around her. The Penny Heart, out this month in paperback, takes this further, with the powerful side of baking unleashed at the hands...

Everything Love Is, by Claire King

Everything Love Is, by Claire King

Everything Love Is begins on a train, a delayed train on its way from Spain to Toulouse. A young woman, almost beyond the reach of speech, gives birth in the overwhelming heat of a packed carriage. The baby is born and the mother dies, without name or history. A lifetime later, and Baptiste is living on a boat, Candice, on the outskirts of Toulouse. He is a counsellor of sorts, helping clients to find happiness. There is a network of fellow boat-dwellers nearby, and a bar where he spends his evenings, chatting to Sophie behind the bar. He is tranquil, content. In the nearby countryside, his parents live their equally tranquil life. Baptiste’s beginnings, that anonymous birth on the train between Barcelona and Toulouse, are significant but not overwhelmingly...

The Farm at the Edge of the World, by Sarah Vaughan

The Farm at the Edge of the World, by Sarah Vaughan

I’m really enjoying second books at the moment. It’s usually the debuts that get all the fuss: debut novel awards, the puff on Twitter and Facebook, the feeling that this is the moment that counts. And us writers often talk about second novels as a challenge. Can we do it again? What if the first one was a fluke? What if we can’t even finish writing the second one?! But it turns out that everything is ok. I’ve read a number of seconds lately that have taken the position set by the debut and built on it quite beautifully. And The Farm at the Edge of the World is definitely one of them. Will Cooke has been evacuated from war-torn London to a remote Cornish farmhouse, nicknamed Skylark Farm, along with his younger sister Alice. He knows that...

The Museum of You, by Carys Bray

The Museum of You, by Carys Bray

I’m absolutely delighted to be welcoming Carys Bray today, on the publication day of her new novel, The Museum of You. Carys’ first novel, A Song for Issy Bradley, was one of the books of 2014, winning, or being shortlisted for, a string of prizes over 2015. Hard act to follow, right? She’s done it, though: The Museum of You is captivating. Clover Quinn has just turned twelve, a significant birthday because, ‘in turning twelve she has crossed an unaccountable boundary.’ She has her own key, and is allowed to stay at home by herself in the summer holidays instead of going next door to be looked after by Mrs Mackerel. She has certain tasks to do, such as cycling to the allotment to pick the day’s harvest, but there’s still...

The Secret Chord, by Geraldine Brooks

The Secret Chord, by Geraldine Brooks

I’m not usually drawn to books like this. Epic tale. Sweeping Biblical history. Prophets. Cataclysmically misjudged sexual encounters. Ok, that last crops up in my reading pile fairly regularly. One of the pleasures of reading through a longlist like the Baileys Prize is that you do try books you’d never have picked up in a million years. Some of them remain a trial, even with your best endeavours. This one, though… King David. The one with the slingshot facing up to Goliath. With the pretty woman in the bath. And the Leonard Cohen song. (That was a real bonus, fortunately, because it started looping round my head every time I picked my Kindle up: I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord. And so on). Him....

Girl at War, by Sara Novic

Girl at War, by Sara Novic

The war in Zagreb began over a pack of cigarettes So begins Girl at War, Sara Nović’s debut novel about Ana, the ‘girl’ of the title. It’s Ana’s tenth birthday and, during the family celebration dinner, her godfather has sent her out to the nearby kiosk to buy him cigarettes. It’s a common game: he times how long it takes her to run to the corner shop and, if she beats her record, she gets to keep some of the change. This time, though, she’s caught out by the clerk’s question. He wants to know if she’s buying Serbian or Croatian cigarettes. She just knows they’re the ones in the gold wrapper. The first half of the novel takes us through the outbreak of war and follows life in Zagreb as air raids begin...

The Glorious Heresies, by Lisa McInerney

The Glorious Heresies, by Lisa McInerney

Here is an outline of my thought processes as I read The Glorious Heresies: What have we got here? A book set inside the head of an angst-ridden Irish teenager who’s about to have sex for the first time? It’s all going to go wrong, isn’t it? He’s going to be kicked out of school and enter a world of unrelenting darkness. Hang on, it’s switched. Gangster has to clean up after newly restored mother hits intruder over the head with a Holy Stone. Oh and back to boy. His dad. Here’s Georgie, she’s a prostitute. Interconnected lives. Oh, that’s clever, I see what she’s done there. Drugs, lots of drugs. No, no, stop doing that! It’s all going to go horribly wrong! Make the other decision, MAKE THE OTHER...