Tuesday, 30 December 2014

My Best Reads of 2014

Hello,

So this is my annual list of (in no particular order) the best books I have read during 2014.

It has been a busy year yet I've still managed to fit in some reading and some of the books have been extraordinary.

Wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year, see you in 2015 x

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard
Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood
A Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
Someone Else's Skin by Sarah Hilary
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
Lockwood & Co: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud
That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay
Far From You by Tess Sharp
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech
The Walled City by Ryan Graudin



Thursday, 16 October 2014

Scramasax

Scramasax by Kevin Crossley-Holland
Published August 30 2012 Quercus

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Scramasax is book 2 in Crossley-Holland's Viking Sagas.

Solveig is now in Constantinople and reunited with her father and the rest of Harold Hardrada's Varangian guard. Empress Zoe demands the guard travel to Sicily and capture land and riches in her name - but at what cost to Solveig and her friends?

As is often the case with 'second' books, I did not find Scramasax as enjoyable as Bracelet of Bones but will persevere for the third book's release (date and title unknown).

Full of adventure, drama and suspense, Scramasax is an enjoyable historical read for young people. Richly descriptive, the book includes a map and useful glossary.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Stormbird

Stormbird (Wars of the Roses, #1)
 
Wars of the Roses: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden
Published October 10 2013 Penguin Michael Joseph
 
Having studied the Wars of the Roses for A-Level history and recently watched (and loved) the BBC adaptation of Philippa Gregory's The White Queen, so I was keen to read this book - and was not disappointed! Conn Iggulden is a new author for me and after reading Stormbird I will certainly be on the hunt for more.
 
The novel begins with King Henry VI of England's marriage to Margaret of Anjou. Iggulden mixes original characters like spymaster Derrihew Brewer seamlessly with historical figures such as William de la Pole and Richard Neville to tell the story of the marriage - and its consequences for England; the losses in France, the Kentish Men marching on London and the outbreak of unrest and war. The novel ends with the rise of the Yorks.
 
I studied NONE of this at A-Level (!!!) and so found this book fascinating. The characters, the detail, the descriptions all brought events to life in an uncomplicated and accessible way. Yes, there was some author timescale tweaking but its historical fiction people - and darn good at that! If, like me, you're riveted, you too shall toddle off to your local library and read up on the non-fic accounts too.
 
Stormbird is a gripping full-blooded beginning to Iggulden's new series set during the Wars of the Roses. I can't wait for the second instalment! 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Close to the Wind

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Close to the Wind by Zana Bell
Published October 15 2013 Choc Lit
 
 
Poor Georgiana da Silva finds out her fiancée is only marrying her to get control of her brother's gold mines in New Zealand. If her brother met with an 'accident', the gold would be hers or more accurately in Victorian England, her husbands. Dastardly isn't it?
 
Never fear! Plucky Georgiana has a plan. She disguises herself as ship's boy George and is soon setting sail for New Zealand to warn her brother. Tally Ho George!
 
George is working under the fiercely swoon-some Captain Harry Trent (think Errol Flynn swashing and buckling about the deck). Its not long before George's game is up and Georgiana is discovered. What will Captain Trent do with her and will she ever save her brother?!
 
I LOVED this romantic action-packed trip on the high seas! Harry is a great male lead, strong yet sensitive; a rough diamond. Georgie is fun, high-spirited and mischievous. The plot twists and turns had my head spinning and as I got near the end (very late at night) I put the book down to savour the ending rather than rushing through when tired - a sure sign I was hooked!
 
Romantic shenanigans on the high seas? Aye aye Captain...anchors aweigh!

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

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Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
Published January 3 1998 Black Swan
 
 
With this book, I felt I came late to the party as it won the Whitbread Book of the Year in 1995. However, I picked it up after reading the blurb on the back:

 
"Ruby Lennox was conceived grudgingly by Bunty and born while her
father, George, was in the Dog and Hare in Doncaster telling a woman
in an emerald dress and a d-cup that he wasn't married."
 
I was hooked.
 
This book is nothing short of genius and yet so...ordinary, so accessible. It describes the daily lives of the Lennox family through the eyes of their daughter Ruby. The highs, the lows, births, deaths and marriages. Through war, fire and philandering it is a no-holes barred view of the life of a working-class family in York interspersed with snapshots of life for the Lennox ancestors showing us what had been, what could have been and why - to some degree - the Lennox family are the way they are.
 
Extremely well written, addictive and laugh-out-loud funny with extraordinary characters. It is now one of my favourite books. Read it, you won't be disappointed.  
 

The Baby and Fly Pie

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The Baby and Fly Pie by Melvin Burgess
Published August 2 2012 Andersen Press
 
First, please take a moment to appreciate the cover of this YA novel. Don't you just love it? Clean, elegant with that shiny electric blue bursting out from it. Gorgeous!
 
Now don't put off by the title. This is not a cannibalistic tale of a pie made of babies and flies.
 
Fly Pie is an orphan, working for Mother Shelley by sorting rubbish in a London of the future. These kids look for food, metal, even precious things like jewellery that ALWAYS get handed in to Mother Shelley.
 
One day, Fly Pie finds something he didn't expect. A baby. A baby worth 17 million pounds! Can Fly Pie and his friends keep the baby safe and claim the reward before the Mothers find out?
 
The Baby and Fly Pie is the first Melvin Burgess novel I have read. While the story engaged me, I didn't feel a connection to the characters and felt let down by the ending. See what you think.

Hidden Wives

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Hidden Wives by Claire Avery
Published June 8 2010 Forge Books
 
 
While reading this book, I found I had forgotten it was fiction. We have all heard or read about polygamist families - this novel is set in the Utah Blood of the Lamb community. It tells the story of sisters Rachel and Sara who are both due to be married under the orders of the Prophet. They are fifteen years old.
 
Sara is to be her Uncle's fifth wife - and is distraught. This and other events lead her to question the life she leads and her beliefs.
 
Rachel has fallen in love, but the Prophet's announcement of her marriage leads to a shocking and violent conclusion. Can the girls escape before its too late?
 
Gripping, moving, shocking - this debut novel packs a punch.
 
**Warning of: rape, racism, incest, domestic violence and suicide**

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Ultraviolet

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Ultraviolet by R J Anderson
Published June 2 2011 Orchard
 
I wasn't sure about this one. I thought it was another 'issues' YA novel with a hint of crime drama so I certainly didn't expect the Sci-Fi ending.
 
16 year-old Alison wakes up to find herself in a psychological unit.
 
She can't remember arriving, why she is there or why her arms are covered in scratches.
 
Alison has always been...different, and from an early age she learned to hide her differences from others. She knew her Mother thought she was crazy and maybe she is right because all Alison can remember is killing Tori.
 
I found this book a bit...meh...until three-quarters of the way through when it became really really good! Faraday is a hottie and I hope there will be a sequel - it could be awesome!
 

The Girl Who Chased the Moon

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The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
Published March 16 2010 Hodder & Stoughton
 
Sarah Addison Allen is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. This is the second book of hers I have now read and her writing is just...magical. Opening one of Sarah's books is like pulling on your most favourite comfy cardigan and when you start to read time just slips away.
 
Emily moves to Mullaby, North Carolina to live with her Grandfather following the death of her Mother. Her Mother had never spoken of growing up in Mullaby or of the family she left there, and for good reason. Emily's Mother uncovered Logan Coffey's family secret - in front of the whole town.
 
This event would never be forgiven and so Emily's reception from the residents of Mullaby is not exactly warm. Soon Emily finds herself with more questions than answers but in small towns, secrets don't stay secret for long.
 
The Girl Who Chased the Moon is delicious - full of warm, loveable characters and a storyline that sparkles. If you are looking to read something different, try this one.

Monday, 10 February 2014

A Heart Bent Out of Shape

 
A Heart Bent Out of Shape by Emylia Hall
*Proof Copy*
September 12 2013 Headline Review
 
You may remember Emylia's name from The Book of Summers (a Richard and Judy Bookclub pick) which I read in August 2012. I loved that book - read it from the Library and then went out and bought my own copy! So I was very excited when I heard Emylia had a new book coming out (thank you Ben for the ARC).
 
Hadley is spending a year studying abroad. She won a university place at Lausanne, Switzerland and for Hadley it is a fresh start, an adventure and a year full of promise.
 
In halls she meets Kristina - energetic, vivacious, and in love with a married man. The two form a close friendship until, on a Winter's night, Kristina is killed in an accident and Hadley's world is turned upside down.
 
Enveloped in guilt and grief, Hadley resolves to find the man Kristina loved and tell him what has happened. She feels she owes Kristina that. Hadley enlists help from two very different sources; crime author Hugo who loves a good mystery, and Joel - Hadley's American Lit Professor and a man Hadley can't stop thinking about.
 
Will the circumstances of Kristina's death be discovered and will Hadley finally be able to put her to rest? Read the book and find out!
 
I practically inhaled this novel. Its terribly good! The Lausanne descriptions are simply magical but for me, it is the character relationships that really make this story special. We get to see Hadley grow as a person; see what she gains, what she learns, from having each person in her life. I especially like Hugo - an intuitive continental gentleman with a glint in his eye and a penchant for chocolate and cognac.
 
The end of the novel is filled with dramatic tension - I guessed at the ending - and was wrong, which was brilliant! I *may* have gasped aloud (totally did!). Emilya Hall brought Lausanne to life and Lausanne taught Hadley to live. A truly wonderful novel.
 

 


Lazy Days

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Lazy Days by Erlend Loe
November 1 2013 Head of Zeus
 
Lazy days is the narration of a Norwegian family's holiday to Germany, well, to Mixing Part Churches to be precise, if online translators are to be believed.
 
Theatre director Telemann doesn't like being in Germany - where, apparently, Nazism is rife and all German people talk about is the Second World War (Telemann doesn't speak German). He has a habit of letting his mind...wander...artistically you understand - to the theatre, plays he has seen or must write, and to Nigella Lawson who needs saving from her husband. Very little of Telemann's time is taken up thinking about his wife Nina or his three children who are all at various stages of curiosity.
 
Family holidays - what's not to love?
 
This is a darkly amusing novel from Norwegian Erlend Loe, author of Doppler. I suspect I enjoyed this book all the more as Nigella Lawson is currently very newsworthy.
 
Lazy Days is kooky, observant and highly original with a fabulous arty cover design.
 
Love it!

Monday, 27 January 2014

The Diamond Thief

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The Diamond Thief by Sharon Gosling
Published February 1 2013 Curious Fox
 
Firstly, lets take a moment to appreciate the stunning cover on this book. Ooooh shiny! It is gorgeous and shiny and appealing and shiny and ties in wonderfully with the novel.
 
Sixteen year old Remy Brunel or "The Little Bird", is a circus performer - a trapeze artist to be exact, and she is extremely good at it too, flinging herself into the air, balancing with ease and executing perfect landings.
 
But when Remy is not flying through the air with the greatest of ease, Remy is forced by Gustave, the evil owner of the circus, to be a jewel thief and steal The Ocean of Light diamond from the Tower of London.
 
Can she do it, and free herself from Gustave? With young detective Thaddeus Rec on the case and on Remy's tail, anything can happen!
 
I LOVED this book. Victorian setting, adventure and high-jinx, a hint of romance, a bit of Steampunk-iness and fabulous characters. I especially love the names the author has chosen - Remy, Thaddeus, Gustave - fitting and stretches the junior/teen fiction reader.
This is a real winner - read it!


Sunday, 26 January 2014

Secrets & Spies: Treason

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Secrets & Spies: Treason by Jo Macauley
Published June 6 2013 Curious Fox
 
Treason is the first book in this exciting historical adventure series for young people.
 
The first thing I noticed was the very thick, durable cover on the book...I know, I know, you can take the girl out of the library...but that is a very important sign of quality from Curious Fox. Now, back to the story...
 
The cover image is striking and made me want to read the book immediately. It pictures 14 year old Beth Johnson who is treading the boards of the King's Theatre, London. However, skills with a script and stage dagger are not the only talents in young Beth's repartee, for Beth is a spy, working for King Charles II's Spymaster Sir Alan Strange.
 
There is talk of a mysterious Dutch ship moored on the Thames, whispers of war and rumours of a plot on the King's life. As Beth and her friends search for answers, will the be able to put the clues together in time to save the King?
 
This was a fun, enjoyable, well-paced romp through 17th century London. Beth is likeable, confident and smart. There was a nice hint of romance between Beth and John and I loved the map included in the back of the book.
 
I hope to read more of this thrilling new series.

The Sacred River

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The Sacred River by Wendy Wallace
Published August 1 2013 Simon & Schuster
 
I was so excited to receive an ARC of The Sacred River. I adored The Painted Bridge and was keen to read more of Wendy's work.
 
The press release accompanying the book notes that it is "...akin to that of E.M. Forster..." which is completely accurate. I adore this wonderful novel and hope you will too.
 
Set in Victorian London, and later Egypt, it tells the tale of Harriet Heron. Sickly all her life (we later discover she has asthma), both she and her Mother are resigned to her premature death. With the aid of her doctor, Harriet is given her last wish - to see Egypt, a place and history that has fascinated her. It is hoped the air will improve her condition, and so, with the Mother and Aunt, she travels to Alexandria.
 
I cannot do justice to the evocative, stirring descriptions Wendy has created of Egypt. The light, the life there is so deliciously recreated on the page; it is mesmerising. Harriet herself is a wonderful character; so unsure yet determined. Her Mother, Louisa, holds a secret that would shatter the family if discovered and Aunt Yael is so keen to help, to find her purpose in life. I found Yael's story the saddest part of the novel.
 
The Painted Bridge is such a strong novel, due to the characters. The injustice suffered, the hopelessness - I really felt connected to the novel. In The Sacred River, I experienced that strong connection again only this time it was to the lyrical descriptive beauty of Egypt and her people. Author Wendy Wallace is superb.

Fall of Night

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Fall of Night by Rachel Caine
Published May 2 2013 Allison & Busby
 
Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers...
 
Here I am, glad to be back in Morganville (for the 14th time). The characters are like old cold friends and its great to be reading about Claire and the gang...and Myrnin of course!
 
Only when I started reading Fall of Night, Claire is actually leaving Morganville (with permission) to go to MIT. She's nervous, she's excited, she's about to get a huge wake-up call over trust.
 
Morganville is such a successful series of books some can seem a bit....same-y so Fall of Night is high on my list of favourites. Still plenty of twists - loved Lady Jane (ha!), Oliver and the dastardly professor but it was the ending that's the kicker - I cannot wait to read what led up to The Daylight Foundation's takeover!
 
Humans are in charge of Morganville and its gonna be wicked finding out how Amelie and Co take it back!!

Losing Lila

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Losing Lila by Sarah Alderson
Published August 2 2012 Simon & Schuster
 
"It's time to stop running and start fighting."
 
Losing Lila follows Hunting Lila which is BRILLIANT! I read it back in November 2011. If you haven't read it, stop reading this review of its sequel and go grab a copy! (then please come back!).
 
I slipped very easily back in with Lila, Jack and Alex despite the time lapse - a sure sign of great writing. Don't wish to spoil the series for you so I won't go in to too much detail, but I will say, Losing Lila is action-paced with plenty of sizzling romance and more twists than you can shake a stick at.
 
Lila and Alex are on the run from the Unit and desperately trying to save Jack and their Mother from the base. This novel is fast and full-on, one heck of a read, and I just love Mrs Johnson - hope she got to her Hilton!
 
I now proclaim that I LOVE Sarah Alderson's writing and can't wait to read what she brings us next!

Fated

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Fated by Sarah Alderson
Published January 5 2012 Simon & Schuster
 
"What happens if the person you love is the one who must betray you?"
 
Evie is in high school and works two jobs to save money for her escape from the small town she has grown up in.
 
Things have been pretty bad. Her adoptive dad died. Then her best friend died in a car accident while she was out with Edie's now ex-boyfriend Tom. Yes, Edie's life sucks - so when she's attacked round the back of the diner it kind of puts the tin hat on her life, and opens the door to a world she never knew existed. Evie is a Hunter - a warrior against Unhumans, and the last hope to stop demons ruling all seven dimensions.
 
Lucas is half demon, half human. He and the rest of the Brotherhood have been given a task - to kill Evie Hunter before a prophecy can be fulfilled, a prophecy ending the war that has raged for the last thousand years.
 
When Lucas enters Evie's life, posing as a ranch hand, sparks fly but with their destinies already decided, can they survive, let alone fall in love?
 
I really enjoyed this fantasy teen thriller. There was a great balance of action and character interaction. I couldn't warm to the rest of the Hunters - found them a bit too 'Stepford' but the Brotherhood are cool! Hope there will be more to come.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The Pursuit of Love

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The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
Published July 1 2010 (originally in 1945) Penguin
 
This story follows the Radlett family - Lydia, her sisters and cousin Fanny through their holidays spent at Alconleigh. Days of hunting and huddling with the other Hons in the upstairs cupboard (conveniently the warmest place in the house) discussing love, marriage and sex.
 
We accompany these young women on their coming-out debuts and through marriages, divorces, abscondings and affairs. Happy and sad, shocking and scandalous.
 
Full of sharp observations and even sharper wit, The Pursuit of Love is the first novel I have read by Nancy Mitford and I am sure it shall not be the last.
 
 

Monday, 20 January 2014

Voices of Angels

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Voices of Angels by Hannah M. Davis
Published July 16 2012 John Hunt Publishing
 
Lizzie Fisher looks up in class and sees a black shape floating over her teacher's head. She thinks its her eyesight at first as no-one else sees it. She becomes an even bigger target for school bullies - until the teacher dies exactly seven days later.
 
When it happens again with her precious dog Joopy, Lizzie is inconsolable. Lizzie doesn't get on well with her Mum, she can't talk to her about all of this so she decides to visit her Grandmother (who she has never met) in Andalucía, Spain. Will Lizzie find the answers she craves among the olive groves?
 
I raced through this YA novel. The title through me as I thought it would be a guardian angel on earth novel - its not. Lizzie has the 'gift' of foreseeing death. She gets another 'gift' in Andalucía, Rafa is a hunky gardener/goatheard/guitarist. Lizzie and Rafa's romance is hot - the long looks, the tension...whew!
 
My favourite character was not Rafa, but Lizzie's Grandmother Ariadne - she's just brilliant! The total opposite of Lizzie's Mother.
 
All in all I'm glad I read Voices of Angels. The descriptions of Spain and of the Flamenco guitar were simply heavenly to read.

Penelope

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Penelope by Rebecca Harrington
Published January 1 2013 Virago
 
"To make friends at Harvard she just has to be herself. But not too much."
 
 
So this is what Harvard is like!
 
Penelope O'Shaughnessy is a Harvard Freshman. We follow her on her first year at an Ivy League college - through roommates and cat allergies, Hercule Poirot and guarding Caligula.
 
Penelope is both baffled and baffling. I like her! She's kooky, confident and completely clueless. Her roomies are entertaining - especially Lan, LOVE her! Harvard is a real coming-of-age education for poor Penelope.
 
I read this book in one sitting and upon finishing I immediately wanted to know if year two was any better for Penelope - what classes did she take? Did she ever see Raymond again? Did she find a kindred spirit? I do hope so.


Friday, 17 January 2014

The Peach Keeper

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The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Published January 10 2012 Bantam
 
A small town in North Carolina
 
A body beneath a peach tree.
 
Family secrets and shocking discoveries.
 
Love, friendship and just a touch of magic.
 
All of this oozes from this enchanting novel.
 
It is the characters and character relationships that are so lovingly described - so warm and familiar - that really make this novel great.
 
This is the first book by Sarah Addison Allen that I have read and almost sobbed when I had to give it back to the library!
 
My favourite line? "We were as close as shirt buttons, Georgie and I."
 
 
 
 

Through the Ever Night

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Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi
Published January 8 2013 Atom
 
 
This is the sequel to Under the Never Sky (which is an awesome read!) and it is BRILLIANT.
Although it has been a while since I read UtNS, I was quickly transported back with Perry and Aria.
 
Through the Ever Night has a wonderful pace and kept me engaged throughout. The cast of characters has been well retained - touching on each just enough. Aria and Perry are a powerful team together but they are even more fabulous apart and I found myself drawn to Roar and Cinder much more in this book.
 
I can't say too much more as I don't want to spoil it for you but  I am very much looking forward to reading what happens next - with the Aether so active, will the Tides ever make it to the Still Blue? *bites fingernails*

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

My Best Reads of 2013

 


Happy New Year!
 
Wishing you all health, wealth and happiness in 2014 - and some brilliant books!!
 
 
This post is to highlight my 20 best reads of 2013. So here they are in no particular order:
 
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Dancing to the Flute by Manisha Jolie Amin
Alma Books
 
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Lost & Found by Tom Winter
Corsair
 
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Geek Girl by Holly Smale
HarperCollins Children's Books
 
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Winter Wonderland by Belinda Jones
Hodder
 
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The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry
Maclehose Press
 
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Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Two Roads Books
 
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The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson
Headline
 
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Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
Simon & Schuster
 
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Just One Day by Gayle Forman
Random House
 
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The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Bantam
 
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The Sacred River by Wendy Wallace
Simon & Schuster
 
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Longbourn by Jo Baker
Doubleday
 
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A Higher Call by Adam Makos
Berkley
 
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The Diamond Thief by Sharon Gosling
Curious Fox
 
 
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Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
Doubleday
 
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A Heart Bent Out of Shape by Emylia Hall
Headline
 
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Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
Bantam
 
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Wars of the Roses: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden
Michael Joseph
 
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Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope
Harper
 
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Lettice & Victoria by Susanna Johnston
Arcadia Books