The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo

I don’t know if I can accurately describe how much I loved this book. This is most definitely a step away from Bardugo’s usual rip-roaring fantastical pace, but she is heavily leaning into her extreme super power to create incredible characters that are so full of life, so flawed, and so complex… I can’t even handle it. 

In the age of the Spanish Inquisition, Luzia is just a scullery maid who can perform tiny miracles like perfecting burnt bread or broken pottery. She is a no one, with no family (that she’s allowed to claim) and not a penny to her name. But when her mistress sees her performing one of her milagrettos, she forces Luzia to perform for all her friends, which includes an agent of the king looking for their ruler’s next miracle worker in the war against England.  

Luzia’s ambition drags her into a world of trouble when she agrees to compete, supported by her estranged aunt, her lover, and his right hand man, The Scorpion…if you can call him a man at all.  

This novel is slow, it is burning, it is all encompassing. It is history and humanity and faith and magic all wrapped up into a beautifully complex tale that will keep you guessing the whole way through. – Hannah

The Borrowed Hills by Scott Preston

The Cumbrian hills were defined by the before-and-after effect of the foot and mouth disease. Steve is a young man when he witnesses this visceral destruction of the community and farming livelihood.

Despite limited opportunities and family estrangement, the hills pull him back home. Back home, and into a sheep rustling scheme drenched in violence.

Told with a sharply cynical humour, this twisting and shocking thriller was a book that transported me into the harsh sheep-speckled landscape. – Katrina

The Axeman’s Carnival by Catherine Chidgey

I didn’t anticipate recommending a novel with a bird as narrator, but this family drama is stunning. When Marnie rescues a baby magpie and hand-rears it, she finds an ally. Living on a remote and failing sheep farm, Marnie has been lonely and the bird’s arrival highlights the cracks in her marriage. Naming him Tama, she loves and spoils him, stoking husband Rob’s jealousy. 

Now summer is here and it’s time for the Axeman’s Carnival, an annual woodcutters competition. It’s the social event of the year – and Rob is reigning champion. Preparing for this year’s contest, frustration turns to rage. 

Funny and sad, it is Tama’s shrewd observations that make this characterful book stand out from the crowd. – Sue