Sunday, 19 July 2015

What to read in July & August 2015

Books to read in July and August 2015
Books to read in July and August 2015 2

The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood - 2 July
‘On a forested island off the coast of Istanbul stands Portmantle, a gated refuge for beleaguered artists. There, a curious assembly of painters, architects, writers and musicians strive to restore their faded talents. Elspeth Conroy is a celebrated painter who has lost faith in her ability and fled the dizzying art scene of 1960s London. On the island, she spends her nights locked in her blacked-out studio, testing a strange new pigment for her elusive masterpiece. But when a disaffected teenager named Fullerton arrives at the refuge, he disrupts its established routines. He is plagued by a recurring nightmare that steers him into danger, and Knell is left to pick apart the chilling mystery. Where did the boy come from, what is 'The Ecliptic', and how does it relate to their abandoned lives in England?’

Muse by Jonathan Galassi - 2 July
‘Paul Dukach is heir apparent at Purcell & Stern, one of the last independent publishing houses in New York. Thanks to his boss, the flamboyant Homer Stern, Paul learns the vagaries of the book world: how to work an agent over lunch and swim with the literary sharks at Frankfurt book fair; how to marry flattery with criticism when combing over the manuscripts of brilliant, volatile authors. But though things can be shaky in the age of conglomerates and ebooks, Paul remains obsessed by one dazzling writer: poet Ida Perkins, whose outsize life and audacious verse have shaped America‘s contemporary literary landscape, and whose longtime publisher happens to be Homer's biggest rival. When Paul finally meets Ida, at her secluded Venetian palazzo, she entrusts him with her greatest secret – one that will change all of their lives forever...’

Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell - 2 July (Reviewed here)
‘Lois and Carly-May are just twelve years old when they're abducted, driven across the country, and imprisoned in a remote, isolated hunting lodge for two months. That summer, under the watchful gaze of their kidnapper, they form a bond which will never be broken. Decades later, both Lois and Carly-May have built new lives and identities for themselves. Increasingly haunted by the devastating experience that shaped both their lives, the two women are drawn together again in a world that both echoes and falsifies their beautiful, terrible story.’

Bitter Fruits by Alice Clark-Platts - 2 July
‘The murder of a first-year university student shocks the city of Durham. The victim, Emily Brabents, was from the privileged and popular set at Joyce College, a cradle for the country's future elite. As Detective Inspector Erica Martin investigates the college, she finds a close-knit community fuelled by jealousy, obsession and secrets. But the very last thing she expects is an instant confession. The picture of Emily that begins to emerge is that of a girl wanted by everyone, but not truly known by anyone - except for Daniel Shepherd: fellow student, ever-faithful friend and the only one who would do anything for her... ’

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase - 2 July
‘Hours pass differently at Black Rabbit Hall, the Alton family's country estate, where no two clocks read the same. Summers there are perfect, timeless, and not much ever happens. Until, one stormy evening in 1968, the idyllic world of the four Alton children is shattered. Decades later, Lorna and her fiancĂ© wind their way through the countryside searching for a wedding venue. Drawn to a beautiful crumbling old house she hazily remembers from her childhood, Lorna finds a disturbing message carved into an old oak tree by one of the Alton children. She begins to realise that Black Rabbit Hall's secret history is as dark and tangled as its woods, and that, much like her own past, it must be brought into the light...’

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton - 2 July
‘On 24th November, Yasmin and her deaf daughter Ruby arrive in Alaska. Within hours they are driving alone across a frozen wilderness, where nothing grows, where no one lives, where tears freeze, and night will last for another fifty-four days. They are looking for Ruby's father. Travelling deeper into a silent land. They still cannot find him. And someone is watching them in the dark...’

The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas - 2 July (Reviewed here)
‘Great Aunt Oleander is dead. To each of her nearest and dearest she has left a seed pod - which might be deadly, but might also contain the secret of enlightenment. Not that anyone has much time for enlightenment. Fleur, left behind at crumbling Namaste House, must step into Oleander's role as guru to lost and lonely celebrities. Bryony wants to lose the weight she put on after her botanist parents disappeared, but can't stop drinking. And Charlie struggles to make sense of his life after losing the one woman he could truly love. A complex and fiercely contemporary tale of inheritance, enlightenment, life, death, desire and family trees, The Seed Collectors is a 'treasurehouse of detail' revealing all that it means to be connected, to be part of a society, to be part of the universe and to be human.’

Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman - 7 July (Reviewed here)
‘Georgia, Charlie and Alice each arrive at Harvard with hopeful visions of what the future will hold. But when, just before graduation, a classmate is found murdered on campus, they find themselves facing a cruel and unanticipated new reality. A charismatic professor who has loomed large in their lives is suspected of the crime, and the unsettling questions raised by the case force the three friends to take a deeper look at their tangled relationship. Their bond has been defined by the secrets they’ve kept from one another, and over the course of the next decade, they must reckon with their own deceits and shortcomings, each desperately in search of answers and the chance to be forgiven.’

Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson - 16 July
‘Inspired by the surreal accounts of the explorer and ‘man of a million lies’ Marco Polo, Imaginary Cities charts the metropolis and the imagination, and the symbiosis therein. A work of creative non-fiction, the book roams through space, time and possibility, mapping cities of sound, melancholia and the afterlife; seeks to move beyond the clichĂ©s of psychogeography and hauntology, to not simply revisit the urban past, or our relationship with it, but to invade and reinvent it; examines the city from global macrocosm to the microcosm of its inhabitants’ perspectives; and rethinks the ideas of utopias and dystopias, urban exploration, alienation and resistance.’

Under Ground by S.L. Grey - 16 July
‘The Sanctum is a luxurious, self-sustaining survival condominium situated underground. It's a plush bolt-hole for the rich and paranoid - a place where they can wait out the apocalypse in style. When a devastating super-flu virus hits, several families race to reach The Sanctum. All have their own motivations for entering. All are hiding secrets. But when the door locks and someone dies, they realize the greatest threat to their survival may not be above ground - it may already be inside...’

Armada by Ernest Cline - 16 July (Reviewed here)
‘Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure. But there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe. And then he sees the flying saucer...’

Gonzo Girl by Cheryl Della Pietra - 28 July
‘Alley Russo is desperately trying to make it in the grueling world of New York publishing, but like so many who have come before her, she has no connections and has settled for an unpaid magazine internship while slinging drinks on Bleecker Street just to make ends meet. That’s when she hears the infamous Walker Reade is looking for an assistant to replace the eight others who have recently quit. After surviving an absurd three-day “trial period” involving a .44 magnum, purple-pyramid acid, violent verbal outbursts, brushes with fame and the law, a bevy of peacocks, and a whole lot of cocaine, Alley is invited to stay at the compound where Reade works, and finds herself alone in the Colorado Rockies at the mercy of a drug-addicted literary icon who may never produce another novel...’

The Blue by Lucy Clarke - 30 July
‘Lana and her best friend Kitty leave home looking for freedom - and that’s exactly what they find when they are invited onto The Blue, a fifty-foot yacht making its way from the Philippines to New Zealand. Manned by a young crew of wanderers, The Blue is exactly the escape they are looking for and the two quickly fall under its spell, spending their days exploring remote islands, and their rum-filled nights relaxing on deck beneath the stars. Yet paradise found can just as quickly become lost. Lana and Kitty begin to discover that they aren’t the only ones with secrets they’d rather run from than reveal. And when one of their new friends disappears overboard after an argument with the other crew members, the dark secrets that brought each of them aboard start to unravel.’

Into the Valley by Ruth Galm - 4 August
Into the Valley opens on the day in July 1967 when B. decides to pass her first counterfeit check and flee San Francisco for the Central Valley. Caught between generations and unmarried at 30, B. doesn’t understand the new counterculture youths. She likes the dresses and kid gloves of her mother’s generation, but doesn’t fit into that world either. Beset by a disintegrative anxiety she calls “the carsickness,” she travels the bare, anonymous landscape, meeting an array of other characters—an alcoholic professor, a bohemian teenage girl, a criminal admirer. B.’s flight becomes that of a woman unraveling, a person lost between who she is and who she cannot yet be.’

Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes - 4 August
‘A fresh, honest, and darkly funny debut collection about the flaws that make us most human. A woman takes a job selling sex toys rather than embark on the law career she pursued only for the sake of her father; another realises she much prefers the company of her pit bull to the neurotic foreign fling who won’t decamp from her apartment; a daughter hauls a suitcase of lingerie to Mexico for her flighty, estranged mother to resell, wondering whether her personal mission - to come out - is worth the same effort; and Barbara, a young woman with a love of sex, navigates her high school’s toxic, slut-shaming culture with open eyes. Fearless, candid, and incredibly funny, Lauren Holmes is a newcomer who writes like a master.’

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips - 13 August
‘In a windowless building in a remote part of town, the newly employed Josephine inputs an endless string of numbers into something known only as The Database. After a long period of joblessness, she's not inclined to question her fortune, but as the days inch by and the files stack up, Josephine feels increasingly anxious in her surroundings-the office's scarred pinkish walls take on a living quality, the drone of keyboards echoes eerily down the long halls. When one evening her husband Joseph disappears and then returns, offering no explanation as to his whereabouts, her creeping unease shifts decidedly to dread. As other strange events build to a crescendo, the haunting truth about Josephine's work begins to take shape in her mind, and she realises she must penetrate an institution whose tentacles seem to extend to every corner of the city and beyond.’

Man on Fire by Stephen Kelman - 13 August
‘John Lock has come to India to meet his destiny, on the run from the quiet desperation of his life in England. He has come to offer his help to a man who has learned to conquer pain, a world record breaker who specialises in feats of extreme endurance and ill-advised masochism. Bibhuti Nayak's next record attempt - to have fifty baseball bats broken over his body - will set the seal on a career that has seen him rise from poverty to become a minor celebrity in a nation where standing out from the crowd requires tenacity, courage and perhaps a touch of madness. As they take their leap of faith together, and John is welcomed into Bibhuti's family, he learns more about life, and death, and everything in between than he could ever have bargained for.’

Bitter Almonds by Lilas Taha - 13 August
‘Omar is an orphaned Palestinian born into chaos and driven by forces beyond his control to find his place in the world. He has only one thing to hold on to: a love that propels him forward. Nadia is young and idealistic. Her attempts to be oblivious to the bleak reality in Damascus are thwarted by her cowardly brother. Will she be able to break out of her traditional social mould to create her own destiny? Heartbreaking and moving, Bitter Almonds is about displacement and exile, family duty and honour, and the universal feelings of love and loss.’

We Don't Know What We're Doing by Thomas Morris - 18 August
‘A young video shop assistant exchanges the home comforts of one mother-figure for a fleeting sexual encounter with another; a brother and sister find themselves at the bottom of a coal mine with a Japanese tourist; a Welsh stag on a debauched weekend in Dublin confesses an unimaginable truth; and a twice-widowed pensioner tries to persuade the lovely Mrs Morgan to be his date at the town's summer festival... Set in Caerphilly, a diminished castle town in South Wales, Thomas Morris' debut collection offers vivid and moving glimpses of the lost, lonely and bemused. By turns poignant, witty, tender and bizarre, these stories detail the lives of people who know where they are, but don't know what they're doing.’

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman - 25 August
‘A woman known only by the letter A lives in an unnamed American city with her roommate, B, and boyfriend, C, who wants her to join him on a reality show called That’s My Partner! A eats (or doesn’t) the right things, watches endless amounts of television, often just for the commercials -particularly the recurring cartoon escapades of Kandy Kat, the mascot for an entirely chemical dessert - and models herself on a standard of beauty that only exists in such advertising. Meanwhile B is attempting to make herself a twin of A, who hungers for something to give meaning to her life, and becomes indoctrinated by a new religion spread throughout a web of corporate franchises, which moves her closer to the decoys that populate her television world, but no closer to her true nature.’

Up Against the Night by Justin Cartwright - 27 August
‘Frank McAllister has become wealthy in England, where he has lived for thirty years. He has a house in Notting Hill, a house in the New Forest, and a house near Cape Town, but more and more he feels alienated in England. Meanwhile, Frank's Afrikaner cousin, Jaco, has become moderately famous on YouTube for having faced down a huge white shark. He is now in America, where he has joined the Scientologist movement. His chaotic and violent life spills over on to Frank, and they are drawn into a world of violence and delusion that will threaten the whole family.’

Sweet Caress: The Many Lives of Amory Clay by William Boyd - 27 August (Reviewed here)
‘As a girl, Amory Clay discovers a passion for photography that will irrevocably shape her future. A spell at boarding school ends abruptly and she begins an apprenticeship in London, photographing socialites for fashionable magazines. But Amory is hungry for more and her search for life, love and artistic expression will take her to the demi monde of Berlin of the late 1920s, to New York of the 1930s, to the Blackshirt riots in London and to France in the Second World War where she becomes one of the first women war photographers. Her desire for experience will lead Amory to further wars, to lovers, husbands and children as she continues to pursue her dreams and battle her demons.’

Fortune Smiles: Stories by Adam Johnson - 27 August
‘Adam Johnson takes you into the minds of characters you never thought you would meet - a former Stasi prison warden in denial of his past, a refugee from North Korea unsettled by his new freedom, a UPS driver in hurricane-torn Louisiana looking for the mother of his son. These are tales of love and loss, natural disasters, the influence of technology, and how the political shapes the personal. Tender, wry, utterly compelling, they show us humanity where you might least expect it.’

I meant to publish this post before July even began, so it's very, very late... But - better late than never.

There's a few here I've already read. Of those, the one I loved the most - and am most keen to recommend - is Benjamin Wood's The Ecliptic. Set partly on a Turkish island retreat for artists, partly in 1950s/60s London, it's a story about the hard work of creating art, and more broadly a story about love and madness. I thought it was cleverly structured and beautiful and just really, really riveting. It might be the only 'buzz book' I've read this year that was 100% worth the hype.

There's also plenty here I'm looking forward to reading - some I hadn't heard of before I started piecing together this list. I've just started The Blue by Lucy Clarke and, although I wish I could teleport myself to a deserted beach to read it, it's so far fulfilling my expectations of being a brilliantly absorbing summer holiday read. I'm also excited about Gonzo Girl (written by Hunter S. Thompson's former assistant), Imaginary Cities, Into the Valley, The Beautiful Bureaucrat, Barbara the Slut and Other People and You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine.

I'm sure there's some I've missed (I left out the Harper Lee book on purpose because... a) I'm not interested in it, b) come on, everyone in existence is aware that it's come out) - let me know what you're reading right now or looking forward to in the near future!

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  1. There's a kindle summer sale on. Are there any you'd recommend?

    1. I'm going to try and do a post about this sometime this week! Off the top of my head (I haven't been through all of it): Her by Harriet Lane, After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry, The Three by Sarah Lotz, Ghostwritten by David Mitchell, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh.