February Fiction: Editor's Choices

February Fiction: Editor's Choices

This month is heavy on fiction debuts. Wolf Winter by first-time, Swedish-born author Cecilia Ekback stood out. Set in Swedish Lapland in 1717, it has strong appeal for fans of literary, historical and Scandinavian crime novels. For a full-fat thriller, you could do worse than Peter Swanson's The Kind Worth Killing, a second novel with some pleasingly unpleasant female protagonists and devilish twists. Ahead of World Book Day (on 5th March) two Quick Reads are out this month. SImply shorter, easier to read and designed to appeal to reluctant readers (that is, one in six adults of working age in the UK), Roddy Doyle's Dead Man Talking and Fanny Blake's Red for Revenge should hopefully entice the occasional reader. It's also a big month for poetry, with second works from two authors whose debut collections both scooped nominations for major poetry prizes: Frances Leviston's Disinformation and Sean Borodale's Human Work. Also on the poetry shelf is a new collection from Vikram Seth, Summer Requiem and Ask the Moon a complete anthology spanning 1948-2015 from Dannie Abse.

Book of the Month: A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (Chatto, 10th, £18.99)
Good debut novels are lovely things, obviously, with all that exciting writerly potential. But after reading a whole pile of books from writers at the very beginning of their careers, it is wonderful to pick up a novel from a bonafide literary superstar. A Spool of Blue Thread is Anne Tyler's 20th novel and it shows in every flawless sentence. This is the story of the Whitshank family over three generations, set mostly in teh Baltimore house which was built with painstaking care by Junior Whitshank in the 1930s. Junior's son Red and his wife Abby inherited the house and brought up four children. But now Abby and Red are getting older, their children have children of their own and decisions need to be made about what will happen to them - and the house. So the grown-up children return - dutiful daughters Amanda and Jeannie, stoical Stem and even black sheep Denny, who is an enduring mystery to his elderly parents. A stunning novel about family life which just rings so true - it depicts the bonds and the tensions, the love and the exasperations beautifully.

Editor's Choices:

The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader (Faber, 5th, £12.99)
After her beloved sister dies in childbirth, and because she does not want to marry, 17-year-old Sarah decides to become an anchoress - a holy woman who is sequestered in a cell, measuring seven paces by nine, at the side of a church. The year is 1255 andSarah's life is now to consist of nothing but prayer, her main human contact is with a maid (through a grille) and the priest, her confessor. But as Sarah will discover, her cell cannot shield her from the events of the outside world. A perceptive and arresting debut, which illuminates the medieval attitude to women and marks Australian author Cadwallader as a writer to watch. 

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie (Heinemann, 12th, £14.99)
First novel from Canadian author Christie, this opens with young Will bravely stepping oustide for the first time after years cloistered in a small house with his severely agoraphobic mother, who makes him wear a protective helmet indoors. His first taste of freedom is intoxicating as well as terrifying and he soon wants more, defying his mother's wishes. He starts school and makes a friend who introduces him to skateboarding (a former professional skateboarder, Christie writers brilliantly about this) but life gets complicated when a local boy goes missing. A quirky coming-of-age story for fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and T S Spivet.

Lay Me Down by Nicci Cloke (Vintage Original, 5th, £8.99)
Second novel from the author of Someday Find Me. New couple Elsa and Jack move from London to San Francisco when Anglo-American Jack gets his dream job working on the Golden Gate Bridge. But as time goes on the suicidal people who leap from the bridge (the "jumpers") start to prey on his mind, and he is drawn back to memories he thought were safely buried. The narrative moves back in time to explore their lives before they met; the mistakes, failed relationships and regrets. But now Elsa and Jack are together, will the relationship be strong enough to conquer their respective pasts? A sensitive portrait of a modern love affair.

Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback (Hodder, 12th, £14.99)
Sweden, 1717, and a family from Finland arrive to join a tiny community of settlers in the far north, on land in the shadow of Blackasen Mountain. While out shepherding goats, eldest daughter Frederika stumbles across the mutilated body of another settler. The locals say it was a wolf attack but Maija, Frederika's mother, is unconvinced. As the ferocious "wolf winter" descends, Maija is left with her daughters to battle the elements. In a world caught between the repressive church and local superstition, Maija begins her quest for the truth - and discovers a murder may not be the worst of it. A terrific debut in the vein of Hannah Kent's Burial Rights. 

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson (Faber, 19th, £14.99)
My pick of the thrillers is the second novel from the author of The Girl with a Clock for a Heart. When Ted is delayed at Heathrow he meets Lily at the airport bar. They are on the same flight to Boston and, as the hours pass, Ted finds himself telling this strange about his spoilt young wife Miranda, who he knows is having an affair with the man who is building their dream home on the Maine coastline. Lily has an unusual solution to his problem - but is she serious? With an opening nod to Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train, this has a devilishly twisty plot, with some gasp-inducing moments with a terrific ending.