Staff Picks

See our YA book club page for young adult reccomendations, or find the latest picks from independent publishers on our inde publishers page.

The Mercies  by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

This is a haunting read, full of superstition, folklore, hardship and suspicion in an isolated rural community. Set in 1617 on Vardo, a Norwegian island, the islanders lives are turned upside down when a huge storm causes 40 fishermen to die. The island becomes a place of women who struggle to adjust to their loss and new way of life. Some seek religion, others the ways of the local Sami tribes. Maren and the other women find a new routine. Some months later a new Governor and his wife arrive. Maren is drawn to Ursa, whilst realising her husband will bring harm to their community in his pursuit of witchcraft.

Review by Katie.

The Foundling by Stacey Halls

The sense of place is so strong that the reader is completely transported to 1750’s London. Bess Bright has no choice but to leave her daughter Clara at the Foundling Hospital. Six years later when she returns to reclaim her she finds to her horror that Clara has already been claimed. Bess has to fight against poverty, class and power to find her. The characters are very strong and well drawn, with some lovable supporting characters. A really enjoyable read.

Review by Katie.

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My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Such a page turner, the story unfolds at a great pace and keeps the reader guessing. Korede looks after her younger sister Ayoola, even when she has to clean up after her murders. When the doctor Korede loves and works with looks like being Ayoola’s next target Korede is torn. Can she save him and her sister?

Review by Katie.

Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy

A beautifully written, atmosspheric, coming of age tale. Set in rural Wales in the mid 1970’s there is a strong sense of place, with sinister undertones. Nif’s family is struggling after the death of her sister and Nif turns to her version of witchcraft, using folk magic and totems. A chilling read, despite the heatwave setting.

Review by Katie.

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Lanny by Max Porter

Rarely does a book sweep you up so entirely between its pages. Lanny is a rich, poetic and deeply affecting tale of a gifted child lost in a dark, deep undercurrent of rural England. Porter’s distinct, lyrical prose weaves magic, wonder and folklore in a beguiling testament to imagination and nature in all of its ‘Toothwort’ beauty. Stunning.

Review by Louise.

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The Way Of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry

This was a pleasure to read. I was transported to 1840’s Edinburgh in the company of Raven – an apprentice midwife and Sarah – a housemaid held back by societal expectations. Murder, mystery, seedy underworlds and scientific discoveries combine in this fantastic book.

Review by Katie.

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The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber

I really enjoyed this book, I was completely engrossed in it. The glove maker is Deborah Tyler, a Later Day Saint living in Utah in a small settlement called Junction. It is January 1888 and Deborah is waiting for her husband, Samuel, to return from a long period working away as a wheelwright. A stranger turns up on Deborah’s doorstep and she knows that he is going to bring trouble to her and the rest of the settlement. She realises he must be on the run, but he uses phrases that the Saints use as code between themselves and so agrees to help him. She knows that the Marshall and other lawmen must be close behind. The decisions that she and a neighbour Nels make in helping this man impact on their lives and those of their community.

The vast majority of the action in the book takes place over just four days which is clever, it almost feels as if they are unfolding in real time. I was gripped and was right there in the cabins or in the snow with Deborah and Nels. The scene setting is great, the sense of place is very strong, I could really see this settlement and landscape in my mind and it acts as another character. As a reader you could feel how hard their lives were in this harsh environment and see the strength of character required to live like that. It asks some interesting questions about the will of the individual and the will of a community or family.

It was a lovely read, quite moving in places, and I was a bit sad to finish it.

Review by Katie.

Image for It's Not About the Burqa : Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality and Race
It’s Not About The Burqa Ed. Mariam Khan

This is a fascinating collection of 18 essays written by a diverse group of Muslim women. The aim of the book is to give a platform for the voices of these women as they are often under represented or not represented at all in the mainstream media. The topics covered range from mental health to sex to feminism to marriage. These are stories of families, work, culture, religion, dress, love and having a voice. Every essay was interesting, gave me food for thought and I learnt plenty too. There is a short biography of each women featured in the back of the book which is a good place to start if you want to find out more about them.

I particularly enjoyed reading ‘Immodesty is the Best Policy’ by Coco Khan, a Guardian journalist. It combines family stories, exercise, dress and the cultural community with a heft dose of humour which doesn’t detract from the serious points made. I also liked ‘The First Feminist’ by Sufiya Ahmed, an author and journalist. She talks about the impact that a book about Khadija bint Khuwaylid, the Prophet’s first wife, made on her when she was given it at the age of twelve and how her influence has been there throughout her life. ‘Eight Notifications’ by Salma Haidrani, a writer and journalist looks at how she has been trolled on social media for writing about Muslim women. She considers how this has changed her behaviour in terms of safety whilst keeping her voice. It is a sobering tale of people trying to silence women.

I highly recommend this book.

Review by Katie.

Leonard & Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession

Hession has written a stand out debut that offers and antidote to these chaotic times. Leonard and Hungry Paul is a quiet masterpiece that champions the simple, everyday lives of those who manage to circumvent the rat race in favour of a smaller existence and … board games. Nothing particularly remarkable happens but it is such a tender and funny portrait of contemporary life that you cannot fail to fall in love with these two gentle souls.

Review by Louise.

gentleman jack
Gentleman Jack by Angela Steidele

Absolutely fascinating. Anne Lister is such an intriguing woman; a land owner, a traveller, learned, a defier of convention and a lesbian. This biography chronicles her life and lovers from her school days until her early death. Having read Helena Whitbread’s edition of Anne’s diaries I was pleased to read this and learn more about Anne’s family and friends. Characters met in the diaries were fleshed out and I understood more about some of her relationships. She had quite an extraordinary life at a time when women had very little freedom. For fans of local history and women’s history and anyone who just wants a good read.

Review by Katie.

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The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister ed. Helena Whitbread

Anne Lister (1791-1840) lived at Shibden Hall and wrote in extraordinary detail in her diaries about her life and loves. Much of the diaries are written in Anne’s made up code which she called crypthand. Helena Whitbread decoded and transcribed many of the diary entries and unearthed information that had been hidden for many years. This book covers the diaries from 1816-1824. In these years Anne had relationships with two of the most significant women in her life – Isabella Norcliffe and Mariana Lawton. Anne writes about her love for these two women in detail alongside descriptions of her finances, walks, travels and meals. A fascinating insight into this amazing local woman.

Review by Katie.

The Light in the Dark by Horatio Clare

While the hours of daylight diminish as we plunge toward winter, do you find you are feeling a little less positive each day? It would hardly be surprising: Seasonal Affective Disorder is now widely understood to affect a considerable proportion of the population: you might have a mild case of ‘light deprivation blues’ perhaps? But how about the Stygian prison inhabited by those, like Horatio Clare, who are severely cyclothymic, who come to ‘fear winter’? OK. The Light in the Dark was written by somebody who has experienced ‘guilt and desperation’, who has felt himself to be an intolerable burden to all the people he most loves, who has experienced periods of crippling depression. So, a real downer, no?  A book to slit your wrists by, right?  WRONG!

For a start, the book is truly beautifully written: open at any page and find arresting description of the natural world: ‘… the coast an archipelago of blue vapour, floating above itself.’ Or there are moments of splendidly comic hyperbole: in the Liverpool Adelphi hotel ‘the plumbing complains if the monstrous difficulty of serving hundreds of bathrooms while the heating must burn tonnes of the national coal supply every winter day.’ However, the real reason you should read this book is simple: it is good: it is on the side of the angels; of the Blessed NHS; of family and friendship; of everybody who hopes and loves, who believes that in the darkest places it is possible to find a candle and a box of matches.

I don’t believe in books that make grandiose claims that they will ‘change your life’.  All books, properly read, make changes in the heart. This book makes no big promises but instead delivers the truth of things that happened to one man and those he knows.  This fact of delivering the truth (lowercase t) cannot be said of all books.  It can be said of The Light in the Dark.  I just said it.

Review by Ross Kightly.

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The Perfect Fit by Mary Jayne Baker

After years living in London, costume shop owner Becky Finn is trying to build a new life for herself and fiance Cole in her old home of Egglethwaite, a sleepy village in the Yorkshire Dales. Keen to raise funds for the struggling village hall she loved as a child, Becky soon finds herself at the head of a colourful group intent on resurrecting Egglethwaite’s Christmas pantomime. But, as she quickly discovers, there’s more to panto than innuendo and slapped thighs. As opening night grows closer, Becky starts to wonder if her embattled panto will ever make it to the stage – and, with handsome co-star Marcus on the scene, if she’s picked the right man for her after all. (signed copies available)

Colour of time
The Colour of Time by Dan Jones & Marina Amaral

A sumptuous show-stopper of a book. Spanning more than 100 years of history from the reign of Queen Victoria to the beginning of the Space Age, this wonderful collaboration between historian Dan Jones and artist Marina Amaral presents 200 photographs digitally colourised from the black and white originals. Each image has an accompanying narrative to highlight the lives of the men and women who made history. It is a breath-taking and immersive book that delivers a beautifully vivid perspective of the past. Our perfect pick for Christmas.

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Sealed by Naomi Booth

A compelling and uncomfortable read, perfectly suited to this heat. Alice and Pete move out of the city. Alice is pregnant and worried about a skin sealing epidemic which Pete dismisses. Will rural life be any safer? A terrifying dystopian future, raw, dark and fast paced. Wonderful descriptions both of beauty and horror. Made me feel a little sick at times!

Review by Katie.

A First Book of the Sea by Nicola Davies

This book is stunning and begs to be looked through. It has glorious illustrations by Emily Sutton throughout. The book is a celebration of the sea and is written in verse; it could be read aloud to younger children or dipped in and out of by older ones. The poems cover everything from rock pools, giant squid and plankton to shipwrecks, piers and Lord Beaufort’s Scale. It is our featured book of the month and really is one to treasure.

Review by Katie.

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

This book offers readers a new approach to Greek mythology, combining ancient and modern to create a witty, enjoyable and hilarious story. Riordan creates a detailed, well paced, imaginative story with amazing characters, witty one liners and a few unexpected twist and turns.

Review by Annabel.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

A superb, cleverly written, tense and chilling novel. Pregnant Elsie, both newly married and newly widowed, arrives at her late husband’s country estate. It is in disrepair and worrying rumours swirl around it. The finding of a painted wooden figure, a silent companion, who looks rather like Elsie, adds to her unease. I was so disquieted that I had to finish it on a sunny afternoon.

Review by Katie.

Under the Rock by Benjamin Myers

This is the most beautifully written book. Reading it takes you on a journey into Mytholmroyd with the rock as a constant companion. The observations on nature are glorious whilst not flinching from describing the raw and gritty side.  At the end of each part are poems which make you feel like you accompanied the author on his walks around the valley. I was fully immersed in the landscape, the water, the woods, the rock. Lyrical, powerful, engaging, moving and fascinating. Highly recommended.

Review by Katie.

The thing around
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A beautiful collection of short stories that linger and play through your mind long after you have closed the book. The characters jump off the page in vivid reality within the first sentence of each story. They became as real to me as people in my life. Months later the stories and places still come back to me. The stories take you away from England and into the smells, sights and sounds of Adichie’s world. Just brilliant.

Review by Hetty.

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani

Lullaby is an unsettling but compelling novel about an ageless nanny who seeps into her employers’ lives like curdled milk. Initially, Louise is a veritable Mary Poppins who arrives at the well-heeled Massés’ Parisian apartment as though she has been sent from above. But her compliant servitude soon begins to wane under her peter-pan collar as her personal demons and extreme loneliness threaten the very charges she is meant to protect. It is no secret that the two children are killed by the nanny in the first few pages with the rest of the novel dedicated to unravelling why such a brutal attack of innocents can occur. It is chilling, troubling and thought-provoking; definitely a tale that will stay with you long after the final page.

Review by Louise.

Running For My Life
Running For My Life by Rachel Ann Cullen

Halifax author Rachel Ann Cullen’s Running for My Life is  a heart-breakingly funny account of her recovery from depression. Part diary, part prose, Cullen shares moments of her life from childhood to adulthood in a no-frills, highly personable memoir that charts her healing journey from self-loathing to self-worth with the help of a pair of trainers. This book is for anyone who is looking for inspiration on how to break a negative cycle and find a happier, better version of themselves. Brave, honest and uplifting, this is the ultimate couch-to-marathon tale that will warm your heart and most likely encourage some blisters too.

Review by Louise.

The Wicked Cometh
The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

Set in 1831 in the grimy, murky, crime ridden streets of London this novel follows the story of Hester White. She wishes to escape her surroundings and is becoming worried about the number of people in her area who are disappearing. A chance meeting with a gentleman and his sister, Rebekah Brock, leads to a change in Hester’s circumstances. She becomes caught up in a perilous attempt to solve a grim mystery and finds love and belonging along the way. An atmospheric and gripping tale.

Review by Katie.

tattooist of auschwitz
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

This is the true story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who was sent to Auschwitz. His job, tattooing the numbers on the prisoner’s arms, allowed him to move more freely around the camp. He used his position to aid fellow prisoners; he shared his extra food and traded smuggled jewels for food and medicine. He met a young woman, Gita, as he tattooed her number and they fell in love. This book tells their struggle for survival in the most harrowing of places. It is a moving, powerful and important read.

Review by Katie.

Eleanor Oliphant
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

This is a debut novel and a really great read. It is very enjoyable. It is warm, funny and tragic in equal measure. Eleanor Oliphant has many quirks and a decided way of doing things. Throughout the book we realise that this is to do with a tragic event in her early life which she has not/can not deal with. She has everything that she needs on the surface, a job, a flat, some interests but it becomes clear that she is existing rather than really living. Making a friend changes all that and we watch Eleanor change in ways that she never imagined.

Review by Katie.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

This is a children’s story about a boy and a fox and a war. Peter rescued Pax when he was a cub and they have grown up together. With a war coming Peter is forced to return Pax to the wild; a decision he regrets as soon as he makes it. The book is the story of Peter’s hunt to find Pax and Pax’s story of what happens in the meantime. Peter and Pax get alternate chapters to tell their stories which works very well and the fox’s voice is believable. It is an enjoyable and moving read, a little weepy in places. It would also be a good book to read aloud although you would need to judge the sensitivity of your audience. It is  beautifully illustrated by Jon Klassen.

Review by Katie.

Book of dust
The Book of Dust Volume One La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

The main character in Northern Lights, Lyra, is a baby in this book. The main character in this book is Malcolm, a publican’s son who lives in the pub on the banks of the Thames. He has a beloved canoe called The Belle Sauvage and he canoes on the Thames, helps in the pub and does odd jobs in the nunnery across the river. But then it rains and rains and Malcolm meets friends and enemies and learns about politics and religion and science. He finds himself swept into a dangerous adventure. This book was thrilling and exhilarating and nerve wracking and gripping.

Review by Katie.

Gallows Pole
The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers

The Gallow’s Pole is a visceral re-telling of the Cragg Vale Coiners’ efforts to ‘clip’ the late 18th century England’s economy into devastation. Myers dives head first into the murky world of pseudo King David Hartley and his gang of land-workers as they bully and spit their enterprising scheme across the Calder Valley. No man will stand in their way but can they avoid the hangman’s noose? Myers weaves a rich, authentic tale full of poetry, landscape and Yorkshire vernacular that has you grasped by the throat long after the final page has been turned.

Review by Louise.

Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe

Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile is a gritty debut novel based on and inspired by Bradford born playwright Andrea Dunbar. Affectionate but never sentimental, Stripe tells the story of Dunbar’s working class life on the infamous Buttershaw Estate, battling alcoholism and domestic violence to become one of her generations most important playwrights. The double narrative warmly gives voice to someone often described as a lost genius.

Review by Sarah.

The Companion
The Companion by Sarah Dunnakey

The Companion is an atmospheric novel of mystery and secrets hidden in the past.  Set around the local beauty spot of Hardcastle Crags and drawing on the history of the area, the story moves between the present day and the 1930’s. The author deftly handles the two time lines as researcher Anna uncovers the secrets of the past and in the character of Billy, has created a character who will stay with you after reading.

Review by Kate.