The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Highly recommended. The setting is World War II Germany and the narrator is Death, an unusual setup but it made for a great read. In particular, reading about civilian life in Germany during this period (the main characters are reluctant conformers) was really interesting since most of what I’ve read/watched is from the Allied perspective.
Homeland by Cory Doctorow
I’d heard of Doctorow from his library advocacy, and so was interested to read one his novels. Homeland is about a group of hackers/techies in California, one of whom gets entrusted with a cache of secret government documents. The prose style was refreshingly down to earth and the themes are up to date addressing issues such as government surveillance, privacy and the impact of technologies on society. Some might think the material alarmist, but I found it a good opportunity to learn and form my own opinions. It was also very funny!
The Days of the Deer by Liliana Bodoc
I was rationing books before a recent holiday (save the short, lighter ones for the beach!) and randomly picked this up from my local library to fill the gap, based on the fact that I’d heard of one of the authors who had a blurb on the front. It turned out to be a lovely novel which one of the blurbs perfectly described as ‘meditative’. I don’t know if this is because it’s been translated from Spanish, but the style was sparse, simple and elegant. Set in a fictional land where an old prophecy about foreigners arriving from across the sea is looming. The catch is that the council gathered to prepare for this doesn’t know whether the foreigners are good or evil. It rather struck me as an allegory of the New World and European explorers.
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Collins was a contemporary and friend of Dickens, and this novel is considered the forerunner of the mystery/crime novel. Much more readable than Dickens, I really enjoyed this and was very surprised by the ending!
Night’s Masque series by Anne Lyle
I’ve read the first two books in this series, The Alchemist of Souls and The Merchant of Dreams. The hook that got me in was the interesting genre mashup of historical fiction (it’s set in Elizabethan England) and sci-fi (features a magical alien race from the New World called skraylings). There’s a lot of swashbuckling and some romance, and it also is set within an alternative timeline where Elizabeth I marries Robert Dudley and has children. Despite valid critiques of weak characters and a heavy-handed focus on sexual politics/norms, it is an enjoyable if lighter read.
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (pen name of J.K. Rowling)
After a bruising experience with J.K. Rowling’s previous fiction for grown-ups (The Casual Vacancy), I was more than a little hesitant to pick up any others. However I did and it was well worth it. This is a brilliant, gripping crime novel where the protagonist, Cormoran Strike, has a juicy back story that gradually unfolds over the course of the work. It’s also a nice portrayal of life in modern London.
Giordano Bruno series by S.J. Parris
I’ve read two of these so far, Heresy and Sacrilege, after avoiding them for awhile because I thought the cover art ripped off the excellent C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake series. Indeed they even have similar premises: both are set in Tudor England (Shardlake during Henry VIII’s reign and Bruno during Elizabeth’s); both protagonists are outcasts (Shardlake is a hunchback and Bruno an Italian ex-Catholic) and scholars (Shardlake is a lawyer and Bruno a philosopher); and both get caught up in plots involving the greatest personages in the land. Parris’ characterisation is not as developed as Sansom’s, but these are still worth a read. I also discovered that Bruno is based on a historical figure, and a theory that he was in fact a spy for Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s intelligencer.