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Best first books

It being World Book Day on 3 March and International Women’s Day close behind on 8 March, I asked Karin, manager of Hunting Raven Books in Frome’s picturesque Cheap Street (the one with the stream running down the middle), for a list of the best debut novels written by female authors.  Hunting Raven Books have been selling books for over a quarter of a century, stock a staggering 15,000 titles (and if the book you want isn’t one of them, they’ll usually get it by the next day – put that in your pipe, Amazon), so they really know their stuff.

Book groups across Somerset: get out your pens …

Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett


Set in the whaling community of New South Wales pre-WW1, the narrator Mary Davidson chronicles a whaling family’s unique bond with a pod of frisky killer whales in a poignant and hilarious tale filled with drama and misadventure.

Hardback, £14.99, Virago

spill simmer falter wither by Sara Baume

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An extraordinary, exhilarating novel by a young Irish writer,  a wholly different kind of love story between Ray, a misfit man and One Eye, a misfit dog.  A portrait of loneliness and loss, and the restorative power of friendship.

Paperback, £7.99, Windmill Books

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon


It’s summer 1976 and Mrs Creasy is missing, the Avenue is alive with whispers and ten-year-old Tilly and Grace decide to take matters into their own hands.  Part whodunnit and part coming of age novel, this is a charming, truthful, insightful and compassionate read.

Hardback, £12.99, The Borough Press

Nelly Dean by Alison Case


Young Nelly Dean lives at Wuthering Heights (yes, that Wuthering Heights) and is the closest companion of young Hindley Earnshaw.  When a wild child comes into the family everything changes. Fated to bear the pain of a family she cannot leave and is unable to save, this engrossing book is a brilliant accompaniment to Emily Bronte’s famous work.

Hardback, £12.99, The Borough Press

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding

If you are adept at lying, can you tell when someone is telling the truth?  A question Amaterasu Takahashi has to ask herself when a man claiming to be her grandson arrives at her retirement home.  Likened to Snow Falling on Cedars and The Reader here is a book with an unflinching eye and clever narrative.

Hardback, £12.99, Hutchinson

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman by Mamen Sanchez

getimageDescribed as a ‘delightfully funny literary adventure’, this novel centres on Atticus who works in his father’s London-based publishing company.  He has engineered a settled, satisfying lifestyle which is disrupted when his father sends him to Madrid to close down a failing literary magazine but the women who run it have very different ideas and so the ‘fun’ begins!

Paperback, £7.99, Black Swan

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman


Fair+Fight+illustration3loThe Fair Fight is a bawdy, bloody and unputdownable story set within the world of late 18th century Bristol’s female pugilists and their patrons. Ruth Webber starts life in a filthy brothel but catches the eye of a rich merchant who trains her as a boxer. Soon she’s moving from the world of street fighters to the world of champions and to the finest houses in the city. It’s a great, fascinating read, rooted in accurate detail.

Paperback, £8.99, Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller


Seventeen year old Peggy Hillcoat narrates this prize-winning novel.  At the age of eight her father takes her to live in a remote forest cabin after a family crisis.  He tells her that her mother and the rest of the world are gone – and Peggy’s not seen for the next nine years.  This book treads a fine line between charming and sinister and is utterly gripping.

Paperback, £7.99, Penguin

Belonging by Umi Sinha


Twelve year-old Lila Langdon witnesses a family tragedy, ending her childhood in India and beginning a new life in Sussex with her great aunt. From the darkest days of the Raj to the aftermath of the First World War this book interweaves the stories of three generations – Lila’s story, her grandmother’s letters home from India and her father’s diaries.  Intense and compelling, it’s an epic of love, loss, race, ethnicity, of homeland and of belonging.

Paperback, £8.99, Myriad Editions

Bret Easton Ellis and Other Dogs by Lina Wolff

Bret Easton Ellis a t O D _ Lina Wolff rgbSet in Spain and written by a Swedish prize-winning novelist, this book is both funny and sensual. At a run-down brothel in Caudal, prostitutes are collecting stray dogs and naming them after famous male writers; in Barcelona, a teenage girl traces the peculiarities of her life back to woman who left Caudal as a girl and never returned.

Paperback, £10, And Other Stories

Hunting Raven Books, 10 Cheap Street, Frome, BA11 1BN. Tel 01373 473111. 9.30am-5.30pm Mon-Fri; 9.30-5pm Sat; 11am-3pm, first Sunday of the month April-Dec


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