Best short stories: Quick reads from best selling author Paula Hawkins and more



Research shows that reading for pleasure improves our feelings of wellbeing and brings greater opportunities in education, employment and everyday life. However, one in three of us don’t read regularly for pleasure and one in six adults finds reading difficult.

That’s where Quick Reads come in. Launched in 2006, Quick Reads are short, engaging books written by high-profile authors. Enthralling and easy-to-read, the titles encourage adult readers with diverse backgrounds and interests to get back into reading and discover brilliant books that are relevant for a modern audience. Keen readers will of course enjoy them just as much too.

“These books are instrumental in encouraging adults to discover the joys of reading,” says Karen Napier, CEO of The Reading Agency, which commissions the books. “We know the transformative impact that reading can have on people’s lives and, during our 20th birthday year we’re really pleased that these life-changing, brilliant books will be available in high streets up and down the country.”

Eight new Quick Reads are being published this month. While a total of 48,000 Quick Reads titles are being gifted to libraries, prisons, adult learning centers and care homes as part of the World Book Night event. The books will also be sold at retailers like Sainsbury’s, WH Smith, Waterstones, Bookshop.org and Amazon. And they’ll also be available in Poundland stores from May 30 or can be borrowed for free from public libraries across the UK.

This year’s selection includes books by bestselling writers like Paula Hawkins, Graham Norton and Lemn Sissay. From the story of an 18th-century community living in the shadow of a mighty volcano to the tale of a swimmer who disappears off the rugged West Cork coastline, we’ve read them all and our reviews are below.

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How we tested

This year’s Quick Reads feature a wide range of genres, from crime and historical fiction to romance and memoir. They are all very different but we judged them on three main criteria – their writing, storylines and sheer readability.

The best Quick Reads for 2022 are:

  • best overall My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay, published by Canongate Books: £0.88, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for a sense of place The Swimmers by Graham Norton, published by Coronet: £1, Waterstones.com
  • best historical novel The Black Mountain by Kate Mosse, published by Pan Books: £0.93, Bookshop.org
  • Best romantic read kiss by Santa Montefiore, published by Simon & Schuster: £1, Whsmith.co.uk
  • best romantic comedy Sofia Khan and the Baby Blues by Ayisha Malik, published by Headline Review: £0.88, Amazon.co.uk
  • best crime novel Blind Spot by Paula Hawkins, published by Transworld: £1, Hive.co.uk
  • Best for urban realism Witness by Alex Wheatle, published by Serpent’s Tail: £0.93, Bookshop.org
  • Best police procedural The Cutting Season by MW Craven, published by Constable: £1, Hive.co.uk

My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay, published by Canongate Books

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

Abridged for Quick Reads from his 2019 memoir of the same name (£9.99, Waterstones.com), Lemn Sissay writes about growing up in care and fighting to succeed despite the cruelty and failures of the care system and it’s not to be missed. At 17, after a childhood spent in foster care and six years in children’s homes, Norman Greenwood discovered that his real name was Lemn Sissay. He learned that he was British and Ethiopian and that his mother de ella had been pleading for him to be returned to her since his birth de ella. Sissay is now one of the nation’s best-loved poets and this heartrendingly honest and lyrical account of his early life made us want to read the full-length version.

The Swimmer by Graham Norton, published by Coronet

Best: For a sense of place

Rating: 9/10

Best-known for his TV work, Graham Norton is fast becoming one of our most successful authors. After receiving huge acclaim for novels like Home Stretch (£3, Amazon.co.uk) and Holding company (£8.99, Waterstones.com) – which was recently turned into an ITV drama – he’s now written The Swimmersa novella about Helen, a retired primary school teacher living with her tricky sister on the beautiful Irish coast.

When Helen spots a red-haired man struggling in the sea she immediately senses that something isn’t quite right and resolves to investigate further. Norton’s descriptions of a close-knit Irish community and its characters are evocative and compelling.

The Black Mountain by Kate Mosse, published by Pan Books

Best: historical novel

Rating: 9/10

Kate Mosse writes epic tales set in centuries gone by, including best-selling series like The Burning Chambers (£8.99, Waterstones.com) and The Languedoc Trilogy (£22.99, Amazon.co.uk). For her de ella Quick Reads novella de ella, she’s chosen 18th century Tenerife as her backdrop de ella and it gripped us right from the very first page.

Sixteen-year-old Ana lives with her family in the shadow of the volcanic Black Mountain, which according to legend has the devil living inside it. The volcano hasn’t erupted for thousands of years but one day Ana notices that the air feels heavy, the birds have stopped singing and there’s a strange tremor in the earth. Will locals listen to her warnings from her?

The Kiss by Santa Montefiore, published by Simon & Schuster

Best: Romantic reading

Rating: 9/10

Robert, a successful TV producer in his 60’s, is stunned when he receives a letter out of the blue from the daughter he has never met. Madison is the result of a brief fling he had 18 years ago and she wants to meet him. The only problem is that Robert has never told his wife or their three grown-up sons about her existence. Will they ever be able to forgive him and accept Madison as one of their own?

Santa Montefiore is the author of more than 20 novels, many of them set in exotic locations. This Quick Read, set in London and Tuscany, is a wonderfully romantic story that kept us guessing to the very end.

Sofia Khan and the Baby Blues by Ayisha Malik, published by Headline Review

Best: romantic-comedy

Rating: 8/10

The eponymous Sofia Khan has been hailed as the Muslim Bridget Jones. She first appeared in Sofia Khan is Not ForcedAyisha Malik’s heartwarming 2015 novel, and now she’s back in this Quick Read.

Life has got very complicated for Sofia. Twice-divorced, she’s living with her mum and is going through the process of fostering an adorable baby girl. But in the midst of the drama someone appears from the past – and they could well break Sofia’s heart from her in the process. A smart rom-com that made us laugh out loud in some chapters and hold back the tears in others.

Blind Spot by Paula Hawkins, published by Transworld

Best: crime novel

Rating: 9/10

The author of the mega-selling The Girl on the Train (£8.99, Waterstones.com) can do no wrong in our eyes – and Blind Spot captured our attention straight away. Edie, Jake and Ryan have been best friends since they were kids and thought that nothing would ever come between them. But when screenwriter Jake, now Edie’s husband, is brutally murdered and Ryan is accused of the crime Edie’s world falls apart. Alone in a remote clifftop house, the past she’s tried desperately to put behind her is about to catch up with her once and for all. Our only quibble is that Hawkins’s plot could easily have been expanded into a full-length novel.

Witness by Alex Wheatle, published by Serpent’s Tail

Best: For urban realism

Rating: 9/10

Witness may be shorter than some of this year’s other Quick Reads but with its gritty urban setting, absorbing characters and pacy plot this story is a winner. Fifteen-year-old Cornell is a student at a pupil referral unit in a tough neighborhood. When fellow pupil, Ryan, orders Cornell to help him teach a rival teenager some respect, it leads to tragic consequences. Torn between protecting his family and telling the truth, Cornell has a challenging decision to make. Alex Wheatle’s first novel, Brixton Rock (£9.99, Waterstones.com), was published to huge acclaim in 1999 and this novella is the perfect introduction to his work.

The Cutting Season by MW Craven, published by Constable

Best: police procedural

Rating: 8/10

This thrilling police novel pits an eccentric detective against a feared contract killer. Seemingly unfazed by anything and refusing to play by the rules, Detective Sergeant Washington Poe sets out to discover why a charity fundraiser in his 50’s has been brutally murdered. With some gross scenes and gory details, it isn’t for the faint-hearted but Poe is one of the most memorable police officers we’ve encountered in a long time.

Former probation officer MW Craven has drawn on his own experiences to create his darkly comic Washington Poe books.The Puppet Show (£5.22, Amazon.co.uk), was the first in the series and won the Crime Writers’ Association coveted Gold Dagger award. and dead ground (£7.99, Waterstones.com), the fourth tale, was published last year (2021).


www.independent.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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