Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Jennifer Worth came from a sheltered background when she became a midwife in the Docklands in the 1950s. The conditions in which many women gave birth just half a century ago were horrifying, not only because of their grimly impoverished surroundings, but also because of what they were expected to endure. But while Jennifer witnessed brutality and tragedy, she also met with amazing kindness and understanding, tempered by a great deal of Cockney humour. She also earned the confidences of some whose lives were truly stranger, more poignant and more terrifying than could ever be recounted in fiction. Attached to an order of nuns who had been working in the slums since the 1870s, Jennifer tells the story not only of the women she treated, but also of the community of nuns (including one who was accused of stealing jewels from Hatton Garden) and the camaraderie of the midwives with whom she trained. Funny, disturbing and incredibly moving, Jennifer's stories bring to life the colourful world of the East End in the 1950s.

Balthasar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo by Julia Stuart

Meet Balthazar Jones, Beefeater at the Tower of London. Married to Hebe, he lives and works in the Tower, as he struggles to cope with the tragic death of his son Milo, three years ago. The Tower of London is its own magical world; a maze of ancient buildings, it is home to a weird and wonderful cast of characters - the Jones's of course, as well as Reverend Septimus Drew, the Ravenmaster, and Ruby Dore, landlady of the Tower's very own tavern, the Rack & Ruin. And, after an announcement from Buckingham Palace that the Queen's exotic animals are to be moved from London Zoo to the Tower's grounds, things are about to become a whole lot more interesting… Komodo dragons, marmosets, and even zorillas ('a highly revered yet uniquely odorous skunk-like animal from Africa') fill the Tower's menagerie – and it is Balthazar Jones's job to take care of them. Things run far from smoothly, though – missing penguins and stolen giraffes are just two of his worries! A touching, magical and entirely original debut.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Enter a vanished and unjust world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Where black maids raise white children, but aren't trusted not to steal the silver . . . There's Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son's tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from College, who wants to know why her beloved maid has disappeared. Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. No one would believe they'd be friends; fewer still would tolerate it. But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely upon one another. Each is in a search of a truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell...

The Light Between the Oceans by M L Stedman

A boat washes up on the shore of a remote lighthouse keeper's island. It holds a dead man - and a crying baby. The only two islanders, Tom and his wife Izzy, are about to make a devastating decision. They break the rules and follow their hearts. What happens next will break yours.

Umbrella by Will Self

For half a century Audrey Death has been in a state of semi-consciousness. Severed from the world of the living after falling victim to Encephalitis lethargica, she has languished in Friern Barnet Mental Hospital. Then, in 1971, maverick psychiatrist Dr Zack Busner arrives. Audrey's experiences of a bygone Edwardian London: her socialist lover, her involvement with the Suffragists, and her work in a munitions factory during the First World War, alternate with Dr Busner's attempts to bring her back to life with a new and powerful drug. His investigations lead to revelations that are both shocking and tragic, and which will return to haunt him decades later.

A Second Glance by Jodi Picoult

From the moment Ross's fiancée Aimee was killed in a car accident, he's been trying to die too. But life won't let him go. His only hope now is that Aimee will come to him. So when he hears of strange happenings at an ancient Indian burial ground near his sister's home, he heads to Comtosook - desperate for rumours of a haunting to be true. What he finds there is not Aimee's ghost, but Lia, a very real woman whose life is filled with as many troubled secrets as his own . . .

The Black Sheep by Susan Hill

Brother and sister, Ted and Rose Howker, grew up in Mount of Zeal, a mining village blackened by coal. They know nothing of the outside world, though both of them yearn for escape. For Rose this comes in the form of love, while Ted seizes the chance of a job away from the pit. But neither can truly break free and their decisions bring with them brutal consequences…

The Return by Victoria Hislop

Beneath the majestic towers of the Alhambra, Granada's cobbled streets resonate with music and secrets. Sonia Cameron knows nothing of the city's shocking past; she is here to dance. But in a quiet café, a chance conversation and an intriguing collection of old photographs draw her into the extraordinary tale of Spain's devastating civil war. Seventy years earlier, the café is home to the close-knit Ramírez family. In 1936, an army coup led by Franco shatters the country's fragile peace, and in the heart of Granada the family witnesses the worst atrocities of conflict. Divided by politics and tragedy, everyone must take a side, fighting a personal battle as Spain rips itself apart.