Books to Look Out For in July 2021

Cover image for The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley HellerFar fewer titles than usual have caught my eye for July when the holiday reading season is in full swing, not much of which appeals to me. That said, there’s usually at least one novel that falls neatly into that pigeonhole which takes my fancy. This year’s is Miranda Cowley Heller’s The Paper Palace spanning twenty-four hours after a drunken dinner party on Cape Cod ends in an act of infidelity. I’d expected a gossipy, entertaining easy read but Heller’s story is much darker than that, and all the better for it. A gripping, engrossing novel with a disconcerting ending, it’s the perfect intelligent holiday read, not to mention an impressive debut. Review soon…

I suspect this next one will also pop up on several lists suggesting you pack it in your suitcase should you manage to get away this year. Cathy Rentzenbrink’s name will be familiar to many already, not least for her lovely reading memoir, Dear Reader. Her first novel, Everyone is Still Alive, sees Juliet move her family into her late mother’s home on Magnolia Road. Unbeknownst to her, her writer husband has scented new material for his latest novel, making new friends while Juliet is distracted by grief. ‘Funny and moving, intimate and wise; a novel that explores the deeper realities of marriage and parenthood andCover image for The Painter's Friend by Howard Cunnell the way life thwarts our expectations at every turn’ according to the blurb.

Howard Cunnell’s The Painter’s Friend is also set in a neighbourhood, albeit very different. It follows Terry Godden, a reclusive artist who rents a boat moored on one of London’s islands. Almost against his will, Terry finds himself drawn into the lives of the islanders, devising a clever solution when a rent rise threatens to make then all homeless. It’s a gripping piece of storytelling with a page-turning pace, underpinned with themes of art, entitlement and division. I found it both absorbing and deeply moving. The ending is shocking, not easy to read, but it rang all too true. Review shortly…

Picking up the state-of-the-nation theme, Jo Hamya’s Three Rooms follows a young woman’s first steps on the career ladder, beginning in 2018 with her job as a research assistant at Oxford, away from the clamour of the outside world. Her next move is to London, sleeping on stranger’s sofa and paid a pittance for temporary work against a backdrop of the Grenfell disaster, Brexit, rising nationalism and homelessness. ‘Driven by despair and optimism in equal measure, the novel poignantly explores politics, race and belonging, as Jo Hamya asks us to consider the true cost of living as a young person in 21st-century England’ say the publishers promisingly.

Way back in the early days of this blog I reviewed Nickolas Butler’s debut Shotgun Lovesongs which I loved, his second, The Hearts of Men, not so much which hasn’t stopped me casting covetous glances at Godspeed. Three friends who run a construction company are offered a contract by a moneyed Californian lawyer in the mountains above their small town. It’s a way to secure their future but the urgency with which their client wants it completed sets alarm bells ringing. ‘With the lines between ambition and greed more slippery and dangerous than the three friends ever imagined, how far will they push themselves and what will be the cost of their dream?’ asks the blurb. Fingers crossed for this one which I hope will be a return to form.

The first of two historical novels for July, Rivka Galchen’s Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch takes us back to 1618, a step or two outside my usual literary territory but I very much like the sound of it. Katherina’s pride in her skills as a herbalist and in her eldest son, awarded the title of Imperial Mathematician, has put a few of her neighbours’ backs up. When she’s accused of making a villager ill, Johannes must abandon his work and defend her. ‘Provocative and entertaining, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch draws on real historical documents to touchingly illuminate a society, and a family, undone by superstition the state, and the mortal convulsions of history. It is a story of our time – of a community implicated in collective aggression and hysterical fear’ says the blurb putting me in mind of a little of Daniel Kehlmann’s Tyll.

I’m finishing off with two short story collections that have caught my eye. Claire Sestanovich’s Objects of Desire explores the lives of young women from early adulthood, when all seems possible, to the narrowing options of middle age. ‘Objects of Desire is a book pulsing with subtle drama, rich with unforgettable scenes and alive with moments of recognition, each more startling than the last – a spellbinding, brilliant debutsay the publishers which sounds very promising to me. Like William Maxwell, Sestanovich is an editor at the New Yorker although I may have set the bar a wee bit high there.Cover image for Ways of Living by Gemma Seltzer

Gemma Seltzer’s Ways of Living also explores the lives of women in the twenty-first century this time against the backdrop of London’s bustling streets. According to the blurb, it’s comprised of nine ‘stories of ordinary women going to extraordinary lengths to be understood, acting in bold and unpredictable ways as they map their identities onto London’s streets. How do we speak and listen to each other? Who gets to talk? And what is the true power of quiet in a noisy world?’ Very much like the sound of that.

That’s it for July’s new titles. Perhaps August will offer more in the way of temptation. As ever a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis. Paperbacks soon…

27 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For in July 2021”

  1. jenniferbeworr

    The Paper Palace, The Painter’s Friend, Three Rooms, and Ways of Living all sound like novels I can’t do without. I’ll definitely hang on to these reviews as a reminder of that!

  2. Finally I can like your posts again! I’ve been reading but WordPress wouldn’t connect on my phone and still won’t for comments. I’m with you on The Painter’s Friend, I absolutely loved it.

    1. Great to hear from you, Naomi. That’s odd – Kim from Reading Matters had the same problem but I sorted that out a while ago. Cunnell’s writing is excellent, isn’t it. I’ve yet to read Fathers and Sons but will be putting that right soon.

  3. Enjoyed the roundup as always! I’m so inundated with unread books right now it’s hard to feel excitement for the July releases, but Objects of Desire sounds quite interesting (after much resistance, I’m finally becoming fond of short stories!)

  4. It’s superb. Fathers and Sons is also very good, especially on toxic masculinity. There’s a scene I think of often that is just such a vivid rendering of the damage it can cause.

  5. I’m halfway through Godspeed now (an e-book for a paid review) and enjoying it, though I’d say it’s too long. I plan to read the Rentzenbrink from the library, and I’m definitely keen on The Paper Palace — I’ll look out for your review.

    1. I’ll be reading the Butler on Netgalley as, sadly, my proof never turned up. Posting my Paper Palace review nearer the pub date. I loved it as you’ve probably gathered.

  6. i’m going to sound boring now by selecting The Paper Palace and The Painter’s Friend when so many other people commenting here are already highlighting those two….

  7. What a mesmerizing first cover; I would constantly find myself wanting to pick at the rolled bit at the bottom. (It reminds me of those metallicky shiny cut-off ’80s paperbacks with the two glossy pages at the front and the inset image behind the flap.)

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