Sunday, 15 June 2014
What to read in June & July 2014
Since I wrote my original 'books to look forward to in 2014' post all the way back in December last year, I've discovered so many more exciting 2014 books, and I knew a follow-up post was needed. This was originally going to be 'books to look forward to in the second half of 2014', but when I started writing it, I realised it was going to have to be more specific than that. June and July are bumper months for new releases, and plenty of these are already out - if you're looking for new fiction, you're going to be spoilt for choice. Let me know if there's anything I've missed...
Young God by Katherine Faw Morris - 5th June
Focusing on the thirteen-year-old daughter of a drug dealer in North Carolina, this is a raw and disturbing novel which is very short but packs a real punch. I found it effective and memorable, but too unremittingly bleak to really enjoy. Still, it's a powerful debut, and is a good way to sample a challenging and experimental narrative style with a book which, due to its brevity, is still a quick read. You can read an excerpt at the Granta website, here. (My review)
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey - 5th June
One of the two most-hyped debuts I've read this year (see below for the other one...), Elizabeth is Missing features an eighty-something Alzheimer's sufferer, Maud, as its central character. She is convinced that her good friend Elizabeth has disappeared, but can't get anyone to believe her. Could she just be remembering the unsolved mystery of her missing sister, Sukey, more than half a century ago? This is a good first novel, but I thought it had a lot of faults and the conclusion was far too contrived. Lots of others have adored it, though. (My review)
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff - 5th June
The only book on this list that isn't fiction, but it definitely reads like a novel. Rakoff's memoir is about her early years in the publishing industry, working in a low-level agency role. She is tasked with responding to the fanmail received by J.D. Salinger, the agency's most illustrious author, and the story of this unusual job becomes entwined with her own coming-of-age tale. Even if (like me) you don't normally read non-fiction, this is a sparkling, witty piece of writing and an easy, pleasurable read. (My review)
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric - 5th June
Lovric's The Book of Human Skin has been on my to-read list for ages, but I think I might read this one first. It's the story of seven sisters, brought up in poverty in 19th-century Ireland, who find fame and fortune due to their remarkable lengths of hair. It's based on a true story and has been getting fantastic reviews so far. I haven't read any truly great historical fiction for a while so I hope this one will change that.
Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore - 5th June
A testament to the power of a good blurb and cover: this came out in the US earlier this year, but I would never have given it a second glance had I not more recently read about the UK edition. It's about a small-town girl who goes to university and is befriended by the daughter of a glamorous family and ends up summering at their luxurious estate, where (gasp!) she discovers all is not quite as it seems. I have a soft spot for this kind of thing (just the idea of 'summering' somewhere is enough to grab my attention) and I'd love it to live up to my expectations.
The Vacationers by Emma Straub - 5th June
This sounds like one for fans of The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh. A married couple, celebrating their 35th anniversary, take a two-week holiday in Mallorca (the same setting used in Walsh's book) along with their daughter - who's recently graduated from high school - plus their older son and his girlfriend, and two old friends. Inevitably, problems and jealousies start to surface and the dream holiday quickly becomes something rather more complicated.
Her by Harriet Lane - 12th June
One of my favourite books of the year so far is FINALLY out. The follow-up to Lane's wonderful debut (and one of my favourite books ever) Alys, Always, Her is the quietly gripping tale of two women with a mysterious connection. Nina, a calculating, controlled artist, ruthlessly pursues a friendship with scatty single mother Emma, who she recognises from somewhere - but where? And why doesn't Emma remember Nina? And what are Nina's motives? There are lots of variations on this type of tense psychological drama around these days, but the quality of Lane's writing puts this one head and shoulders above the rest. (My review)
After Me Comes the Flood (previously known as The Visitors) by Sarah Perry - 26th June
I didn't know anything about this when I added it to my original books-of-2014 list, but the details that have since emerged have just made me more and more curious about it. The main character is a bookseller who decides to 'leave his life behind', packs up his things and drives to the coast. But he never gets there - instead, he finds himself stranded near a dilapidated house, the residents of which welcome him warmly. Even stranger, they know his name and claim to have been waiting for him. Pitched as 'haunting and hypnotic', this sounds like it could be fantastic.
Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant - 3rd July
THIS. BOOK. IS. BRILLIANT. My best read of 2014 so far - and that is high praise, as this has been a great year for fiction. It's the life story of Adele Ginsberg, a working-class Jewish girl from Liverpool who wangles her way into a modernist Northern university in the 1970s. It's also the story of her friendship with a troubled girl called Evie, well known on campus for her androgynous image, and their attempts to navigate student life as individuals who are both, for very different reasons, misfits. And then it's the story of how Adele and her friends go their separate ways after university and how that experience (and particularly the influence of Evie) affects them later in life. I'm in the process of writing a review of this but it's hard to quantify exactly what's so great about it, partly because there is so much in it, it's not just about one thing. It's just so REAL and raw and intelligent and everything you want a book to be. Just trust me and read it.
The Incarnations by Susan Barker - 3rd July
Touted as similar to David Mitchell, this novel follows a taxi driver in Beijing through a number of different stories recounting his 'past lives'. I've got a copy of this and am planning on reading it soon - it's another book which has had excellent early reviews. It certainly sounds incredibly colourful and I'm looking forward to finding out whether the writing matches the inventiveness of the story.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton - 3rd July
This is the other most-hyped debut of the year. Nella is an 18-year-old who arrives in Amsterdam after a hasty marriage to a rich businessman she barely knows. Feeling out of place and lonely, she becomes absorbed in decorating her weding gift, a model of her new house. But the 'miniaturist' responsible for the figurines inside it begins to unsettle Nella when it appears that her miniatures can predict the future. I did like this book, but it wasn't as good as I'd been hoping and I found a lot of the characters' actions unbelievable in context. As with Elizabeth is Missing, though, I'm in a minority with this opinion, so you may want to give it a try anyway. (My review)
Touched by Joanna Briscoe - 3rd July
One of the Hammer series of spooky novellas - I've read quite a few of these and although the quality has varied, some of them have been fantastic. I have two other books by Briscoe I haven't read yet, so I'm hoping this will be a good way to sample her style. It focuses on a family who move into an small country village in the 1960s; when their eldest daughter goes missing, it turns out there's a strange secret room in their new house...
Landline by Rainbow Rowell - 3rd July
This is an adult novel from Rowell, who is better known for writing teen fiction such as last year's entertaining Fangirl. The story follows a comedy scriptwriter, Georgie, who fears her marriage may be falling apart - until she finds a way to communicate with her husband... in the past. I must say I didn't like this much; the presumptions made by the characters were just too silly to believe, and it was all a bit banal in the end. Would only really recommend to chick-lit lovers and big fans of the author. (My review)
Meatspace by Nikesh Shukla - 3rd July
This is a novel about online identities, a subject which always piques my interest (the term 'meatspace' refers to the 'real', ie non-internet, world). The protagonist's a bit of a loser who has little luck in life and spends most of his time dreaming up new ideas for his various social media enterprises, until a guy with the same name as him appears on his doorstep and insists they should be friends. What can I say, something that explores 'what happens when our online personas are more interesting than real life' is inherently fascinating to me!
How To Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran - 3rd July
It's funny to think that when Moran's How To Be a Woman came out everyone loved her, whereas now she's persona non grata, at least among the online feminist community. So her 'fiction debut', as it's being inaccurately promoted (she published The Chronicles of Narmo when she was a teenager), is bound to be a controversial one. In any case, it looks like another autobiography in disguise, following an awkward teeange girl who 'reinvents herself' in order to realise her dream of working on a music magazine. I'll be keeping an eye out for reviews.
Friendship by Emily Gould - 3rd July
This is one of those books that has a very simple premise and could turn out to be really, really good. It apparently 'traces, with wit and honesty, the evolution of a friendship between two New Yorkers as they confront their thirties'. Since I am also 'confronting' my thirties (although I'd prefer to think of that in terms of being thirty, not in my thirties - one thing at a time!) this seems potentially very relevant.
Thirst by Kerry Hudson - 17th July
I haven't read Kerry Hudson's debut, the lengthily-titled Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, but I heard loads of good things about it, so I thought I'd highlight the release of her second novel anyway. Thirst is an unconventional love story about a London security guard and a Siberian shoplifter who start a fraught relationship in the middle of a stifling city summer. I haven't read any reviews yet - I'll probably wait to hear what other readers thought before I decide whether I'll read this myself, but it does sound interesting.
Nest by Inga Simpson - 29th July
I have a bit of a thing for contemporary Australian literature and Nest, the second novel from Simpson (her first was nominated for four literary prizes in Australia), looks really good. In a small town, Jen - a former teacher living a reclusive life - gives drawing lessons to a schoolboy, who tells her about a local girl who has gone missing. The disappearance triggers difficult memories for Jen, of the time her father suddenly left their family, shortly after his best friend went missing.
Breakfast With the Borgias by DBC Pierre - 31st July
Another Hammer novella, this time by an author I have read before - Pierre's previous books number among the best I've ever read (Lights Out in Wonderland is on my all-time favourites list) and the worst (Petit Mal was terrible). The set-up of an academic getting stranded in a gloomy hotel with a nightmarish family certainly appears to be promising, so I have faith this will be at least good.
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes - 31st July
The author of The Shining Girls returns with another unconventional murder mystery. The blurb is pretty vague, but with mentions of 'a nightmare killer unravelling reality', it seems like it's going to stick to the same template as her previous hit. I wasn't wild about the story in The Shining Girls but I loved the characterisation, so I will definitely check this one out at some point.
The Hundred Year House by Rebecca Makkai - 31st July
Yet ANOTHER author I haven't read yet, despite having had her debut, The Borrower, for quite a while. This seems more up my street, though. An eccentric family living in a crumbling, ancient house start digging into their family history; as they do so, more and more disturbing and bizarre secrets are uncovered. There's also something of a ghost story element. According to the blurb, it's 'a generational saga in reverse' and 'a literary scavenger hunt' - intriguing!
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