Books to Look Out for in July 2017

Cover image July sees publishing well into its summer reading season with far fewer books than usual to tempt me although Nickolas Butler’s The Hearts of Men more than makes up for that. His debut, Shotgun Lovesongs, was a wonderful, heart-tugging piece of writing. As ever, there’s that nagging worry about second novel syndrome but this new one sounds set in similar thematic territory. Nelson and Jonathan are very different – one diffident the other popular – but they become friends in 1962, the same summer Nelson’s family is rocked by his father’s betrayal. Butler’s novel follows these two into adulthood with all its many challenges and setbacks. ‘The Hearts of Men is a lyrical, wise and deeply affecting novel about the slippery definitions of right and wrong, family and fidelity, and the redemptive power of friendship’ say the publishers. Fingers firmly crossed for this one.

Continuing the friendship theme Victoria Redel’s Before Everything is about five girls who dub themselves the Old Friends, aged eleven. They see each other through the multitude of ups and downs that adult life throws at them until one of them is diagnosed with a recurring cancer and decides enough is enough. Each of the five reacts differently to their friend’s decision. It sounds like quintessential summer reading but I can never resist that old evolving friendship theme.

It’s also the theme of Elizabeth Day’s The Party although perhaps this time with more of a bite to it. Scholarship boy Martin Gilmour meets Ben Fitzmaurice at Burtonbury School, becoming firm friends with him despite their wildly differing backgrounds. Over the next twenty-five years, these two are bound together both by friendship and by a secret about Ben that Martin is determined to keep. However, as the blurb hints, things may be about to change when ‘at Ben’s 40th birthday party, the great and the good of British society are gathering to celebrate in a haze of champagne, drugs and glamour’. Sebastian Faulks is quoted as finding it ‘witty, dark and compelling’. Cover image

I’m not entirely sure about Maile Meloy’s Do Not Be Alarmed  which doesn’t sound up my usual alley. Two families are enjoying a cruise together. Both adults and children go ashore in Central America where things go horribly awry: ‘What follows is a heart-racing story told from the perspectives of the adults and the children, as the distraught parents – now turning on one another and blaming themselves – try to recover their children and their shattered lives’ say the publishers. This sounds so different from the three previous novels I’ve read by Meloy that I had to check it was the same author but I enjoyed them so much that I’ll be giving this one a try.

I’m also a somewhat doubtful about Yuki Means Happiness but Alison Jean Lester’s Lillian on Life was a treat. A young woman leaves America for Japan, keen for adventure. She takes a job as a nanny to a two-year-old, immersing herself in the routine of the household and becoming increasingly attached to her charge until she becomes aware that the Yoshimura family isn’t quite what it seems. ‘Yuki Means Happiness is a rich and powerfully illuminating portrait of the intense relationship between a young woman and her small charge, as well as one woman’s journey to discover her true self’ according to the publishers which sounds very different from the worldly Lillian’s tale.

Cover image I’m ending with Nicola Barker’s H(A)PPY, which from the title alone, seems certain to be a Marmite book. The publisher’s blurb is a little opaque although I suspect they’re not to blame for that given Barker’s idiosyncratic approach to fiction. Best to quote it at length, I think: ‘H(A)PPY is a post-post apocalyptic Alice in Wonderland, a story which tells itself and then consumes itself. It’s a place where language glows, where words buzz and sparkle and finally implode. It’s a novel which twists and writhes with all the terrifying precision of a tiny fish in an Escher lithograph – a book where the mere telling of a story is the end of certainty’. I loved The Cauliflower with all its wackiness although there’s no guarantee I’ll feel the same about this one.

That’s it for July’s new books. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you be interested. Paperbacks to follow…

23 thoughts on “Books to Look Out for in July 2017”

  1. These all do sound like summertime reads, with childhood nostalgia and holidays and travel featuring prominently. I may not be able to resist Yuki Means Happiness (which actually it does not – it can mean snow or courage or organic or definite, depending on the length of the vowels and the kanji used), because I love anything to do with Japan, especially stories of Westerners discovering Japan.

    1. I do love a nice bit of elucidation! It sounds as if a bit of creative translation has been going on there. Yes, a pretty undemanding selection apart from the Barker, of course, and I have huge hopes for the Butler. His writing in Shotgun Lovesongs was so beautiful.

  2. I’ll be interested to hear more about that last one – I think maybe the publisher should get nominated for some sort of “blurb” award!

  3. I only discovered Maile Meloy when I caught Kelly Reichardt’s latest film, Certain Woman, at last year’s London Film Fest (you’re probably well aware of this, but Reichardt used some of her short stories as the basis for the narrative). I didn’t realise she had a new one coming out – thanks for the heads up.

    1. I didn’t know that, Jacqui, but I’ll keep an eye out for it. Thanks! The short stories are lovely, quite subtle. I’ve since started reading Do Not Become Alarmed and it’s very different: feet firmly planted in thriller territory.

  4. Oh my gosh! Nicola Barker! I still haven’t read The Cauliflower, and I should, but the appearance of another Barker can only be a good thing. I anticipate madness, craziness, italics and interjections and a strangely compulsive read that is two parts revulsion and one part irresistible! Fortunately, I am a lover of Marmite 🙂 Great selection, Susan.

    1. Thanks, Belinda. I loved The Cauliflower and hadn’t really expected to despite having enjoyed Barker’s books before. It looked like a step too far but it’s wonderful.

  5. Oh, and have you seen the screenshots on Amazon? It looks infinitely more crackers than normal. It has colour. It has structure. It has images made from words. I am intrigued!

    1. I agree with you about recommending Barker’s books – they do need that Marmite caveat. That said, I love her anarchic approach to writing even when I don’t like the results.

  6. Not sure I can face another Nicola Barker novel after reading In the Approaches which I am still not sure I understand. It had some good elements but overall was quite patchy

  7. I’m looking forward to Nickolas Butler’s new novel, as I enjoyed Shotgun Lovesongs so much. And I am very excited about the Maile Meloy book because I watched a FB live event where Ann Patchett was talking about her book Commonwealth and she mentioned that it and Maile Meloy’s Do Not Become Alarmed were both inspired by A High Wind in Jamaica which I absolutely loved. So I’m intrigued to see where they’ve each taken that inspiration.

    1. That’s fascinating, Kath. The Meloy sounds so different from Commonwealth. I’m a huge Shotgun Lovesongs fan, too, and am just about to start the new one, slightly nervously in case it doesn’t match up.

      1. Yes, from the blurbs, it does sound as if they’re very different books but that’s what I like about writers. They can each take one idea and do something very different with it. I’m excited about my reading in July and want to revisit A High Wind in Jamaica beforehand.

        I hope the new Nickolas Butler claims us as fans in its own right. Happy Reading, Susan!

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