The stories in Harry Bingham's collection are perfect for the intended audience. They all set up a situation which resolves itself by a neat twist in the tale. There's a widow who is not what she appears to be, a game of Scrabble played in prison which ends in an unexpected way, a scary tale which involves caged birds as you've not met them before and an unusual confidence trickster who gets more than she bargained for. They're written by experts in grabbing your attention, like Mark Billingham and Clare Mackintosh. Antonia Hodgson has a very good story set in the past, and Harry Bingham's own contribution leaves a (deliberately!) nasty taste in the mouth.
Rowan Coleman's book has a group of online chums drawn together by their love of the Poldark series on a very unusual road trip. They're intent on meeting Aidan Turner and their adventures are both funny and touching. There's a love story here which I saw coming, but that's no bad thing. Indeed, it will make the diffident reader feel clever when they spot it, and introduce them to one of the great pleasures of reading: feeling you're in some way in cahoots with the writer. It's a lovely story and lots of people will enjoy it hugely.
Jenny Colgan's very moving story of a young woman on the Scottish island of Mure is particularly relevant today. It concerns Saif, a Syrian doctor, who's found himself part of a small community who are not quite sure what to make of him. Lorna, our heroine, is taking care of a very sick father and while the story is romantic in many ways, it doesn't shirk the difficult stuff. Said is 'not free' to kiss Lorna when she would like him to. He helps her enormously when her father dies. Each of them is part of the other's grieving and healing process and the landscape of Mure is an important part of the book. I think this story will be helpful to many people. As Saif says of Lorna's father's death: "It happened in the right order." From which sentence we can deduce that there are deaths in his past which did not. There's a lot here which a sensitive teacher could discuss with a class of adults or older pupils.
Amanda Craig has done something miraculous with the word count allowed by Quick Reads. She's managed to combine three different strands in her book: a fairytale strand, an urban adventure strand and interwoven with both of these, a story about the Third Man Syndrome. She explains to us in a note at the end of the book that many have seen someone beside them when they were in difficulty who turned out not to be real. Shackleton saw an apparition like this. Some people would call them guardian angels. In this book, the Other Person helps Will who is on the run and fearing for his life. Craig's book is about many things: drug dealing on the worst estates, knife crime, survival, and city life on the one hand, and on the other, love and roses and Beauty and the Beast and angels being there for you when you most need them. Best of all, one of the two happy endings is totally unexpected.
Dreda Say Mitchell's book is about what happens when you're trying to put your life together after serving time. This makes it an especially good book to read with young offenders. Hayley means well but gets sucked in to trouble anyway. It's not her fault, but things take turns that she often can't cope with. The Devil's Estate is no fun. She has a child to look after and when she's robbed of the money she collects on the Estate, we get a Ticking Clock scenario which always makes for speedy page turning. I can't imagine readers not being caught up in Hayley's problems and willing her to be okay.
These books are the 2017 Quick Reads and I recommend them heartily, and not just to readers who find reading a problem. Do spread the word about a fine initiative which deserves the widest possible publicity.