Our fantastic Readers’ Circle (a collection of dedicated volunteers from around the East of England) have been devouring books from our Brave New Reads medium list. They’re reading, reviewing, and chatting about brilliant titles, from short story collections to non-fiction to poetry, to help us choose the six astounding books for Brave New Reads 2016. 

Sadly, not every book can be included in the final six, so we’re featuring reviews of some of those which didn’t quite make it. Take a look below, and tempt yourself with some highly-acclaimed books (or find a perfect Christmas present!).

Interested in how we choose the featured Brave New Reads titles? Check out this earlier blog, explaining the very complicated process. 

Take a look at the Brave New Reads medium list. 

Find out more about Brave New Reads. 

The Listeners – Edward Parnell

(Fiction) 

This book is set in the woods and fields of Norfolk, starting in the summer of 1940, just as Britain was sliding into war. William Abrehart, an odd nature-loving boy, has remained silent since the death of his father but has promised to look after his two beautiful sisters and very withdrawn mother. The narrator shifts from person to person and William, Kate, Rachel and Louise all take a turn in speaking to us with their own interpretation of events and emotions present and past.  

This book is incredibly beautiful and desperately sad.  Beautifully written, with tender and lyrical descriptions of crumbling, haunted buildings and Norfolk flora and fauna. It is just as eerie and haunting as the poem by Walter de la Mare.  

Family secrets, self deception and lies sit at the heart of this novel, which depicts the heartbreaking and tragic destruction of a family over the course of a few days in a summer long ago. The depiction of the flourishing world of nature is a backdrop to the pain endured by the main characters in the book.  There are no lighthearted or amusing moments whatsoever, yet somehow it avoids being a depressing read. Wonderful sense of place and time. Takes you back to the 1940s!

- Reviewed by Cambridgeshire librarian Ruth Cowan

Beautiful Girls – Melissa Houghton

(Poetry)

Beautiful Girls is a compelling collection in which heartbreak shimmers along every line of its hauntingly exquisite and often masterful prose. Its tragedy-ridden tellings express a grim reality; how ripples from the core of grief radiate further darknesses into the girls' lives. Whilst it would prove a difficult read for some due to disturbing subject content, this really is quite a staggeringly stunning, albeit gut wrenching, collection that one should take the time out to consume. 

- Reviewed by Readers' Circle member Zeena Thompson

Lay Me Down – Nicci Cloke

(Fiction)

I really enjoyed this haunting book; dark and heavy yet delicately threaded together. I was drawn in by a feeling of closeness which was almost claustrophobic, with the protagonists’ intimate first meeting and descriptions of their movements as witnessed by the other. There was a sense of uneasiness conveyed by the rapidity of Elsa and Jack’s first meeting to their moving to America, the fact they can’t see the Golden Gate Bridge (the reason for their moving) from the air, and the constant chasing away of memories. The more we come to know them as individuals the less they seem a couple.

This book is about the histories that people carry with them and the way these histories work their way to the surface. Jack and Elsa jumped into their relationship as it was a happy release from their past problems, but then the ripples of that choice begin to be felt. Understated but beautiful. 

- Reviewed by Kathryn Elliot of the Readers' Circle

The Lives of Women – Christine Dwyer Hickey

(Fiction)

This was easily the best of the novels I have read so far. Christine Dwyer Hickey, like all of the great Irish writers, has the ability to say such a lot in a few words.

The story is excellent. It is divided into two halves with part in the past told by Elaine Nichol's sixteen year old self, and part in the present where she is a fifty year old woman returning to Ireland ostensibly to look after her aging father. The reader is aware almost from the outset that a traumatic event occurred which resulted in Elaine, our main character, being sent off, exiled, to New York.

The writing has such clarity: I remember when the women, who seem to live very meaningless and powerless lives, get together and one of them who has obviously been drinking is described "words sticky from her mouth" when she speaks. Brilliant!

- Reviewed by Tricia Andrews of the Readers' Circle

Reader for Hire – Raymond Jean, translated by Adriana Hunter

(Translated fiction)

I enjoyed this novella greatly. The idea that the female protagonist provides the commercial services of a reader to all and sundry sparked my interest. It may contain elements of a male fantasy but is also the exploration of the power of reading and listening, what we read and why we read it.

Marie-Constance trips through the looking glass into readerland; seemingly unaware of the effect she has on a range of listeners or at least believing that she can manage or control the expectations that they have. In the course of the novella political activism, crime, adultery, the corruption of minors (and possibly majors) whoosh by leaving her practically unscathed. Clearly, she has a determination to carry on reading on her own terms. I was very comfortable with the language of the translation. I found it enjoyable and mildly subversive!

- Reviewed by Jim Murray of the Readers' Circle

Check to see if the books are available from Norfolk, Cambridgeshire or Suffolk libraries. 

Take a look at the Brave New Reads medium list.

 

Find out more about Brave New Reads. 

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