Monday, 18 August 2014
What to read in August & September 2014
A Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor - 7th August
Kapoor's debut is a haunting, intense tale of a destructive affair, set in present-day Delhi. The enigmatic narrator, bored and frustrated by her limited life, takes up with a dangerous man she meets in a café almost on a whim, but the ramifications of their relationship will continue to affect her for years to come. This is a dark, evocative and very memorable story. (My review)
The Objects of Her Affection by Sonya Cobb - 12th August
If The Goldfinch has made you keen to read more novels about art theft, this could be the book for you. An unassuming wife and mother becomes caught up in an escalating life of crime when she starts smuggling priceless items out of her husband (a museum curator)'s office. The description makes the book sound part art-themed literary novel and part domestic drama; if it's more the latter, I'm not sure how interested I would be, but I'll certainly be watching out for reviews to see what other readers make of it.
Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little - 14th August
Compared to Gillian Flynn (but what female-centric thriller isn't, these days?) this debut follows a Los Angeles 'it girl' who may, or may not, have killed her mother. It's being pushed as 'THE book of the summer' and is described as sharp, sassy and funny. I've decided not to read this simply because, for now, I've had my fill of the genre, but if you're still hunting for 'the next Gone Girl' you may want to check this one out.
Your Beautiful Lies by Louise Douglas - 14th August
Louise Douglas is one of my favourite authors of what I've come to think of as comfort reading - fiction that is cosy, heartwarming and non-taxing but also free of terrible writing and silly clichés. Sadly, I didn't enjoy this new book nearly as much as her last two: it's a very different type of story, one that is a bold choice for the author but also makes the book quite depressing and hard to relate to. It didn't work for me, but die-hard fans may be thrilled by its new direction. (My review)
The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland - 14th August
With her fifth installment of medieval fiction, Karen Maitland returns to England, with the tale of a wealthy merchant bewitched (perhaps literally) by a beautiful widow. The characters are a mixture of likeable and grotesque (with an emphasis on the latter), the narrative is lively and there's plenty of suspense: nothing here will surprise fans of the author, but this is a thoroughly entertaining piece of historical fiction. (My review)
The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero - 14th August
I started this one and decided it wasn't for me, but I have to admit, even though I've given up on it, I STILL think the whole idea sounds incredibly tempting. A young man inherits a grand estate from a relative he knows nothing about; the ensuing story of this strange place is told though a variety of formats including letters, journal entries and coded messages. Described as a mixture of elements of horror and supernatural adventure, and compared to Neil Gaiman, it looks like it will live up to its title - although something tells me it will appeal more to a YA audience than older readers.
Broadchurch by Erin Kelly - 14th August
Hot on the heels of Erin Kelly's great The Ties That Bind comes her novelisation of the hit ITV crime series Broadchurch. Don't expect this to be just like Kelly's own novels: the amount of detail that's crammed in means it lacks the powerful description typical of her books. Although I struggle to entirely grasp the point of novelising an existing series rather than creating a new story, I found it readable and page-turning. (My review)
J by Howard Jacobson - 14th August
Jacobson won the Booker Prize in 2010 with The Finkler Question, and now J has been put on the 2014 longlist. In my opinion, this is a far better book than The Finkler Question. While it addresses many of the same themes - Jewish identity, the power of memory and the influence of history - it does so in an entirely original way. It starts off oddly and is disconcertingly humorous and whimsical, but if you stick with it, it matures into an impressive feat of storytelling. (My review)
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay - 21st August
I've just started reading this book of feminist essays, and I'm really hoping it will be a feminist book I'll actually want to shout about. I've read various posts from Roxane Gay's Tumblr and have always found them insightful, relevant and funny, and the fact that many of the pieces included in Bad Feminist are themed around pop culture also excites me. The introduction has already got me making notes, so the signs so far are good.
Their Lips Talk of Mischief by Alan Warner - 21st August
Warner is an author I haven't yet read, although I've been meaning to read some of his books (particularly Morvern Callar and The Sopranos) for years. Set in 1980s London, this story about two writer flatmates and the woman they're both in love with is described as 'a darkly comic tale of hope and humanity'. The love triangle angle kind of puts me off this, but since the Guardian compared it to Withnail & I, I feel more inclined towards reading it. I think I'll wait to hear more verdicts from other readers before I make my mind up.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters - 28th August
Sarah Waters' new novel, which has more in common with her earlier work than the divisive The Little Stranger, is set in London post-WWI, where a woman and her 'spinster' daughter are forced to take in lodgers to fund the upkeep of their home. The bad news is that I didn't like it. The good news is that about 98% of other people who have read it so far seem to love it. I'm sure most fans - and even those with a passing interest in Waters - will be keen to make up their own minds. (My review)
The Secret Place by Tana French - 28th August
This is the fifth in the Dublin Murder Squad sequence and, in my opinion, the best so far. Tana French tackles the intense and insular world of teenage girls with a murder mystery that unfolds across the course of one day at a prestigious boarding school. The setup might seem too slight to sustain a 500-page book, but it works brilliantly, full of magic and mystery. (My review)
The Sea Garden by Deborah Lawrenson - 28th August
If you're looking for a book that's gentle and comforting but still compelling, I would recommend The Sea Garden. Made up of three loosely linked novellas - two historical and one set in the present day - it follows the lives of three women and slowly reveals how their experiences are connected. It's perhaps being released a bit late in the year for proper appreciation of the wonderfully summery locations it portrays, but nevertheless, it's a glorious piece of escapism. One for fans of Kate Morton, Louise Douglas and Lucy Clarke. (My review)
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell - 2nd September
For me, this is the most exciting of the 'big name' releases this autumn. It follows a single character from childhood to old age, 'a life not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality'. The Bone Clocks is a 'metaphysical thriller, meditation on mortality and chronicle of our self-devouring times'... I've really enjoyed everything I've read by Mitchell, and this sounds amazing. But I have been let down by quite a few much-hyped books this year: hopefully this will be the exception.
These Days Are Ours by Michelle Haimoff - 4th September
Another of those books that's being compared to Girls because it's about young people in New York - These Days Are Ours actually came out in 2012 in the US, but is only now being published in the UK. It's about a bunch of privileged graduates whose beliefs are, apparently, challenged when one of them meets a man from a different background. I don't know if this is a romance, a coming-of-age story or what. It sounds interesting so I want to keep it on my radar, but again, I'd prefer to hear what other readers think before I embark on reading it.
Outline by Rachel Cusk - 4th September
A writer sends a summer in Athens, teaching a course, where she 'becomes the audience to a chain of narratives' - the life stories of the various people she meets. Outline is described as 'a novel about writing and talking, about self-effacement and self-expression, about the desire to create and the human art of self-portraiture in which that desire finds its universal form'. I'm not familiar with Cusk's work, but the themes described here are very enticing.
The Lazarus Prophecy by F.G. Cottam - 9th September
Cottam's ninth tale of the supernatural sees him back on top form, with a story combining horror, mystery and historical thriller, with a pinch of dystopia. When a present-day murderer appears to be copying the crimes of Jack the Ripper, the investigation leads to the discovery of religious connections; meanwhile, London seems permanently poised on the brink of a riot. With cleverly interwoven narratives, this is an exciting, atmospheric novel and a must-read thriller. (My review)
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel - 10th September
I've been hearing buzz about this book for months - everyone who's read it seems to adore it. I've just finished reading it (the review is a work in progress) and can, happily, confirm that it is excellent. It's a post-apocalyptic story, set in a version of the USA twenty years after a pandemic wiped out most of the population. There's also some flashbacks. That's all I really want to say - I think it's best if you read the book without knowing much about it beforehand. Suffice to say, it's very original and exciting and it deserves the hype!
The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse - 11th September
Mosse is best known for the Languedoc trilogy of split-narrative historical/contemporary mysteries; I far preferred her atmospheric ghost story The Winter Ghosts. This new standalone novel sounds like an intriguing mix of the two. It's set in 1912, in a coastal village where superstition still reigns, and the eponymous character lives in a grand, decaying house containing the remains of her father's once-famous collection of taxidermy. With mysterious deaths, dark secrets and gothic details galore, I'm optimistic this will be the perfect autumn (or Halloween) read.
Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce - 16th September
With this one, it was the blurb that lured me in. Merritt Tierce is an award-winning writer of short stories and plays, but this is her first novel: it's 'an urgent, intensely visceral debut novel about a young waitress whose downward spiral is narrated in electric prose'; 'an unapologetic portrait of a woman cutting a precarious path through early adulthood'. I really like fiction that deals with 'ordinary lives' and the praise heaped on Tierce's prose has made me feel sure Love Me Back will be a debut to watch out for.
Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey - 25th September
I really love the sound of this. It begins with a woman writing a letter to an estranged friend. The letter starts with the words 'In answer to a question you asked a long time ago...' The story that then unfolds is one of betrayal, anger and the death of a friendship. If it's as well-written as I hope it is, then this is exactly the sort of book that could easily become a favourite. My hopes are very high.
Rooms by Lauren Oliver - 25th September
Lauren Oliver is known as an author of YA and kids' books. Rooms is her first adult novel - and not only is it a ghost story, it's narrated by the ghosts themselves, two spirits who speak through the house they inhabit (the idea reminds me a bit of one of the stories from Lucy Wood's Diving Belles). My experience with adult fiction by YA authors hasn't generally been a positive one (Sophie McKenzie's Close My Eyes was one of the worst things I've ever read, and I didn't even get to the halfway mark with A Love Like Blood by Marcus Sedgwick), so I am sceptical about this, but there's a lot of promise in the concept.
What new books are you reading right now, or looking forward to in the next couple of months? Let me know if I've missed anything, or if you have any suggestions for the next installment (October to December)!
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