Category Archives: Random thoughts

Paperbacks to Look Out for in September 2019

Cover imageSadly, paperbacks on offer this September are as disappointing as new titles for me. Just the smallest of handfuls appeals, one of which I’ve already read, I owe my short story conversion largely to Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women. Given that she died in 2004, I’d assumed that was it and so was delighted when Evening in Paradise turned up. Comprising twenty-two stories, it lacks the more detailed biographical notes included in A Manual for Cleaning Women but it’s clear that it also draws on her own life and what a rackety life it was: several marriages, four children and alcoholism followed a peripatetic childhood spent in mining towns with a brief glamorous teenage period in Chile. Even if you’re not a short story fan, please do give Berlin’s writing a try. It’s superb.

Lidia Yuknavitch’s Dora: A Headcase is billed as a coming-of-age story which draws on Freud’s famous case study of the eponymous young woman. Ida is secretly in love with her best friend but is struck dumb or faints whenever intimacy appears on the horizon. Her father sends her to a shrink but Ida, together with her alter ego, Dora, sets about subverting Siggy’s head games by covertly filming him. The result goes viral and Ida finds herself the victim of hackers.  ‘Yuknavitch’s Dora is radical and unapologetic – you won’t have met a character quite like her before’ say the publishers. It sounds intriguing.

I do like a good satire but one which deals with war is  tricky to pull off. The Guardian Cover imageclearly thought that Mohammed Hanif managed it with Red Birds, naming it one of their books of last year. An American pilot crashes his plane in the middle of the desert and is taken in by the very refugee camp he was supposed to bomb. Major Ellie finds his views turned upside down by both refugees and aid workers, by the sound of it, in what the publishers describe as a ‘savage, irreverent and deliciously dark’ novel.

And that, I’m afraid, is it for September. A click on Evening in Paradise will take you to my review and to a more detailed synopsis for the other two. If you’d like to catch up with new titles, they’re here. With publishers’ marketing eyes firmly fixed on Christmas, I’m sure October will offer a plethora of potential goodies to make up for September’s dearth. At least, I hope so.

Books to Look Out for in September 2019

Disappointingly, very few new titles have caught my eye for September. I’ve included the first, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments , more because I’d find it difficult to leave out a new Atwood than because I’m looking forward to it. Truth be told, I’m wary of sequels in the same way I’m wary of unpublished novels found mouldering in dusty desk drawers. Probably best to leave them there. Anyway, Atwood promises to reveal the fate of Offred in this new novel, prompted both by her readers’ pleas and by the state of the world.

I’m much more enthusiastic about The Dutch House, Ann Patchett’s new novel about a house in small-town Pennsylvania lived in by Danny Conroy, his older sister Maeve and their property-developer father. Their mother is both absent and never spoken of but Danny finds solace with his sister until his father brings his wife-to-be home. I’ve jumped the gun with this one and can tell you it’s everything an ardent fan could want it to be. So good, I included it on my Booker wish list. Review to follow…

I’m in two minds about Nell Zink’s Doxology having found her previous novels something of a curate’s egg but the synopsis makes it sound very attractive. It follows two generations of an American family, one either side of 9/11. The first are members of a punk band, two of whom have an unplanned child, Flora. Zink follows the grown-up Flora into the world of conservation with all its political and personal challenges. At once an elegiac takedown of today’s political climate and a touching invocation of humanity’s goodness, Doxology offers daring revelations about America’s past and possible future that could only come from Nell Zink, one of the sharpest novelists of our time’ say the publishers.

Regular readers could be forgiven for being surprised at the inclusion of a novel about time travel but the premise of Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s Before the Coffee Gets Cold sounds delightful. The offer of something more than just a flat white or macchiato in a tucked away Tokyo coffee shop is taken up by four customers each of who has a reason to travel back to the past. ‘Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s beautiful, moving story explores the age-old question: what would you change if you could travel back in time? More importantly, who would you want to meet, maybe for one last time?’ say the publishers promisingly.

Past times are also revisited in Philippe Besson’s Lie with Me. When a famous writer sees a young man who resembles his first love, he’s catapulted back to 1984 when he was seventeen and embarking upon an intense affair with a classmate. I think we can assume there’s an autobiographical element here given that the famous writer shares the author’s name. ‘Dazzlingly rendered by Molly Ringwald, the acclaimed actor and writer, in her first-ever translation, Besson’s exquisitely moving coming-of-age story captures the tenderness of first love – and the heart-breaking passage of time’ say the publishers.

I’m finishing September’s new title preview with Etgar Keret’s Fly Already, whose blurb promises a collection of twenty-two short stories in which ‘wild capers reveal painful emotional truths, and the bizarre is just another name for the familiar. Wickedly funny and thrillingly smart, Fly Already is a collage of absurdity, despair and love, written by veteran commentator on the circus farce that is life’. I’m hoping for some light relief in amongst all that.

A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should any have taken your fancy. September paperbacks soon…

Paperbacks to Look Out for in August 2019

After a tempting array of new August titles I’m sorry to say that only a handful of paperbacks appeal, two of which I’ve read already. I was far from convinced that I’d like let alone love Robbie Arnott’s Flames which is quite some way out of my usual literary territory but it ended up as one of my 2018 favourites, even making it on to my Booker wish list. Arnott’s debut begins with the reappearance of Edith McAllister, two days dead. The McAllister women have a history of resurrection, appearing covered in barnacles or vegetation after they’ve been cremated, only to burst into flames a few days later. It comes as no surprise, then, when Edith repeats the pattern but her son is determined that his sister will escape the same fate. Wacky as that sounds, Arnott’s striking novel drew me in with its gorgeous writing.

Back to more straightforward fiction with Anna Quindlen’s Alternate Side, a perceptive exploration of middle-aged marriage which inhabits quintessential Quindlen territory. Charlie is cock-a-hoop having secured a space in the parking lot of the Manhattan cul-de-sac where he and Nora have lived for a couple of decades along with a privileged set of householders who  look to the likes of Ricky, the handyman, to keep things ticking over smoothly. One day a shocking act of violence rocks the street, setting off fault lines in relationships that will undermine some irretrievably. There’s a pleasing thread of wry humour running through this novel which is also a love letter to New York, laced with a certain ruefulness at its makeover. Quindlen’s fiction seems much over-looked here in the UK which is a shame. I’d rank her alongside Elizabeth Strout.

We’re staying in New York for Dana Czapnik’s The Falconer much praised by both Salman Rushdie and Claire Messud which seems a slightly odd combination. Czapnik’s debut follows seventeen-year-old Lucy Adler, a basketball star in the making. Less brash than she seems, Lucy falls into unrequited love with her best friend and teammate then finds herself drawn into the bohemian world of two women artists. ‘In her hit US debut, Dana Czapnik memorably captures the voice of a young woman in the first flush of freedom searching for an authentic way to live and love’ say the publishers which sounds just the ticket.

Moving on to Thailand with Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s debut, Bangkok Wakes to Rain, which tells the story of a disparate set of the city’s inhabitants through the history of one building, A nineteenth century missionary longs for New England; a 1970s jazz pianist attempts to subdue the building’s ghosts and a young woman gives swimming lessons in a near-future submerged Bangkok, apparently. I’ve always had a soft spot for this kind of structure but I’m slightly deterred by the dystopian thread.

Eoin McNamee’s The Vogue  sounds a little Gothic rather than dystopian. In 1944, two teenagers silently dance in an aerodrome. She draws the outlines of their footwork in eyebrow pencil; he loses their bet. Decades later, a body is found. ‘Set against an eerie landscape, awash with secrets, The Vogue is a grimly poetic dance through the intertwined stories of a deeply religious community, an abandoned military base, and a long-shuttered children’s Care Home’ say the publishers promisingly. Anna Burns is a big fan, apparently.

I wasn’t overly impressed by David Szalay’s All That Man Is which never seemed to coalesce as a novel but that hasn’t stopped me from casting an eye over Turbulence, described by his publishers as a short story sequence, which follows twelve characters en route across the globe. ‘Szalay deftly depicts the ripple effect that, knowingly or otherwise, a person’s actions have on those around them, and invites us to consider our own place in the vast and delicately balanced network of human relationships that is the world we live in today’ according to the blurb. It’s the idea of the journey that attracts me to this one.

That’s it for August’s paperback preview. A click on the title of one of the first two will take you to my review and to a more detailed synopsis for the rest should you want to know more. New titles can be found here and here.

My 2019 (Man) Booker Wish List

Another year, another Man Booker Prize longlist in the offing, except this year its reverted to the Booker Prize, thanks to a change of sponsorship with Crankstart stepping into the funding breach as of June 1st this year. To be eligible for the prize all books must be published in the UK between October 1st 2018 and 30th September 2019, and have been written in English. Regular readers will know that any similarity between my wish list and the judges’ longlist is likely to be entirely coincidental. The judges usually allow themselves twelve, although they sometimes stretch to thirteen and this year I have, too. Their list will be revealed on Wednesday, 24th July but here’s mine – wishes not predictions – in no particular order, with links to my reviews for all but The Dutch House and Beyond the Sea  which I’ve read but have yet to review.

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Little                                                         Flames                                   Land of the Living

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Memories of the Future              In the Full Light of the Sun            A Stranger City

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We, The Survivors                            The Narrow Land                       The Language of Birds

 

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Starling Days                                     The Dutch House                    The Hiding Game

Beyond the Sea

It’s quite possible that I’ll read a gem I’d loved to have included here before September 3rd when the shortlist is announced but I’m sticking to the tried and tested. And if I had to choose one? That’s a tough decision this year. It’s a toss-up between A Stranger City, The Dutch House and Land of the Living, although there are several others I’d be loath to relinquish.

What about you? What would you like to see on the list, and what do you think the judges will plump for?

Books to Look Out for in August 2019: Part Two

August’s first instalment progressed smartly through the twentieth century while staying in the United States but this second preview lacks any neatly cohesive thread, I’m afraid. You may have noticed that it’s the centenary year of the Bauhaus school of design, the background for Theresia Enzensberger’s Blueprint which opens at the beginning of the 1920s. Luise dreams of becoming an architect, enrolling herself in the Bauhaus university where she’s taught by Walter Gropius and Wassily Kandinksy. While her art school friends immerse themselves in their work, street fights are breaking out in Berlin. ‘From technology to art, romanticism to the avant-garde, populism to the youth movement, Luise encounters themes, utopias and ideas that still shape us to the present day’ say the publishers. I already have my eye on Naomi Wood’s The Hiding Game which shares the Bauhaus theme but I’m tempted by this one, too.

Back to the States for the next two titles beginning with Lot by Bryan Washington, set in Houston where a mixed-race boy, working in the family restaurant and fending off his brother’s blows, is coming to the realisation that he’s gay. ‘Bryan Washington’s brilliant, viscerally drawn world vibrates with energy, wit, and the infinite longing of people searching for home. With soulful insight into what makes a community, a family, and a life, Lot explores trust and love in all its unsparing and unsteady forms’ say the publishers promisingly.

Luis Alberto Urrea’s The House of Broken Angels is set in San Diego where Big Angel is about to hold what may well be his last rowdy birthday party when his mother dies. Big Angel’s half-brother is in attendance at what is now both a party and a wake, all too well aware of his mixed race. The weekend passes in a celebration of both lives and the telling of a multitude of stories. ‘Teeming with brilliance and humor, authentic at every turn, The House of Broken Angels is Luis Alberto Urrea at his best, and cements his reputation as a storyteller of the first rank’ say the publishers.

It’s its structure that attracts me to Livia Franchini’s debut, Shelf Life, which comes highly rated by Sophie Mackintosh who described it as ‘whip-smart and slyly heartbreaking’. Thirty-year-old Ruth works in a care home and has just been dumped by her fiancé. As she works her way through the week’s shopping list item by item, she tells her story which reveals a life spent looking after everyone else but herself. Sounds a bit thin, doesn’t it, but as a lover of lists I can’t resist the lure of this one.

I’m signing off August with Deborah Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything, which begins in 1989 when Saul Adler is hit by a car on Abbey Road. Apparently unscathed, he visits his girlfriend who insists on photographing Saul on the famous crossing then dumps him. Saul takes off to Berlin, two months before the Wall comes down. In 2016, he’s hit by a car on Abbey Road, dipping in and out of consciousness as a group of people gather at his hospital bedside, including his ex-girlfriend. ‘Slipping slyly between time zones and leaving a spiralling trail, Deborah Levy’s electrifying new novel examines what we see and what we fail to see, until we encounter the spectres of history – both the world’s and our own’ Very much like the sound of that.

That’s it for the second batch of August’s new titles. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that have caught your eye, and if you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

Books to Look Out for in August 2019: Part One

After the paucity of potential treats on offer in July, I’m glad to say we’re back to two posts for August’s new title preview the first of which stays put in the United States throughout, beginning with Téa Obreht’s Inland, an exploration of  the history and myths of the American West through frontierswoman Nora and Lurie, a former outlaw. ‘Mythical, lyrical, and sweeping in scope, Inland is grounded in true but little-known history. It showcases all of Tea Obreht’s talents as a writer, as she subverts and reimagines the myths of the American West, making them entirely – and unforgettably – her own’ say the publishers. It’s been eight years since Obreht won the then Orange Prize for Fiction with The Tiger’s Wife which I loved so hopes and anticipation are high for this one.

Moving on a century or so, Patrick Flanery’s Night for Day is set in Los Angeles in 1950, taking place over just one day in the midst of the Communist witch hunt. Director John Marsh and screenwriter Desmond Frank are trying to complete a noir update of the Orpheus myth, each of them struggling with personal and political difficulties. ‘With as much to say about the early years of the Cold War as about the political and social divisions that continue to divide the country today, Night for Day is expansive in scope and yet tenderly intimate, exploring the subtleties of belonging and the enormity of exile-not only from one’s country but also from one’s self’ say the publishers. It’s the setting of this one that interests me although it weighs in at well over 600 pages which is a little off-putting.

We’re staying in the American ‘50s for a while with David Bowman’s Big Bang which explores the decade leading up to the Kennedy assassination on the premise that the event defined the late twentieth century. Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Howard Hunt and a young Jimi Hendrix all make appearances, apparently.’ Written with an almost documentary film like intensity, BIG BANG is a posthumous work from the award-winning author of Let the Dog Drive. A riotous account of a country, perhaps, at the beginning of the end’ according to the publishers. I’m not entirely sure about this, not least because it’s another 600+ chunkstser.

Another decade, another book, another doorstopper and then some at just over 1,000 pages. Lewis Shiner’s Outside the Gates of Eden begins in the ‘60s and takes us all the way to the twenty-first century as it traces the rise and fall of counterculture through Alex and Cole who meet in high school. Alex would prefer to be an artist rather than join the family business while Cole’s future is decided at a Bob Dylan conference in 1965. ‘Using the music business as a window into the history of half a century, Outside the Gates of Eden is both epic and intimate, starkly realistic and ultimately hopeful, a War and Peace for the Woodstock generation’ say the publishers somewhat ambitiously. I’m very attracted to this one but somewhat intimidated by its length.

I’m finishing this first batch with Mary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes set in an upstate New York town where everything looks neatly and tidy. The Gleesons and the Stanhopes are neighbours, both new to Gilliam, but while the adults remain frostily separate their children form a friendship which will be threatened by a tragedy whose origins will remain hidden for many years. ‘A story of love and redemption, faith and forgiveness, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood – villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so. A story of how, if we’re lucky, the violence lurking beneath everyday life can be vanquished by the power of love’ say the publishers which sounds a little run of the mill but it’s much loved by Meg Wolitzer which has swung it for me.

Here endeth part one of August’s rather weighty new novels. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Second instalment soon…

Paperbacks to Look Out for in July 2019

Cover imageJust a handful of paperbacks snagging my attention for July, one of which I’ve already read. Rebecca Kauffman’s The Gunners is built around a structure that rarely fails to attract me: a group of people, once friends as children or young adults, are brought together by an event which affects them all. Kauffman reunites her characters at the funeral of one of them just as they enter their thirties. The five remaining members of the Gunners are in shock after the suicide of the sixth who none of them had heard from since she left the group aged sixteen with no explanation. A satisfying, often poignant read which reminded me of The Big Chill.

Christopher Priest’s An American Story seems to examine the emotional fallout of one of this century’s early defining moments – the 9/11 attacks. Ben Matson lost his fiancée that day but with no body recovered he still has doubts about what happened to her. When the wreckage of an unidentified plane is recovered Ben is led to question everything he thought he knew. That synopsis might make this novel seem like an uncharacteristic choice for me but I’ve enjoyed several of Priest’s previous books.

Lydia Kiesling’s The Golden State sees a woman whose Turkish husband has been unable to return to the States, leaving San Francisco for the desert town of Altavista. On the brink of a breakdown, Daphne takes refuge with her toddler in the mobile home her grandparents have left her. The blurb describes it as ‘about class and cultural breakdowns, and desperate attempts to bridge old and new worlds’ which piqued my interest but it’s the publisher that’s sealed the deal with this one. I’ve enjoyed several novels from Text Publishing’s list including the wonderful Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down and Romy Ash’s Floundering.Cover image

I’m not sure how I missed R. O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries when it was first published. Several people whose opinions I trust have since told me it’s right up my street. Phoebe and Will fall in love at university, both with burdens to bear of one sort or another. Phoebe finds herself drawn into an extremist group with links to North Korea, disappearing after a bomb attack in which five people are killed leaving Will determined to find her and a little obsessed.

That’s it for July’s smattering of paperbacks. A click on The Gunners will take you to my review or to a more detailed synopsis for the other four. If you’d like to catch up with July’s new titles, they’re here.

Books to Look Out for in July 2019

Cover imageInevitably, July means summer reading which means fewer books for me, not being of the reading by the pool persuasion or doing anything by the pool for that matter. That said, I’m starting off with what will be a surefire summer bestseller: David Nicolls’ Sweet Sorrow. I loved One Day which was commercial fiction perfection as far as I’m concerned. This new one explores young love over a summer in which sixteen-year-old Charlie meets Fran. It’s described by the publishers as ‘a hymn to the tragicomedy of ordinary lives, a celebration of the reviving power of friendship and that brief, blinding explosion of first love that perhaps can only be looked at directly once it has burned out’. I suspect I’ll probably be reading this one happily ensconced on a sofa.

Nicola Barker is the other end of the literary spectrum from David Nicholls, often wacky and innovative. I still haven’t got around to reading H(a)ppy but have fond memories of The Cauliflower®. I Am Sovereign follows a forty-year-old teddy bear maker trying to sell his Llandudno house. A viewing by prospective buyers sets in train a series of events that cause all concerned to question reality. ‘As religious epiphanies bump up against declarations of love, examinations of subjectivity hurtle into meditations on the history of culture, our entire understanding of the book – and of the boundaries between fiction and real life – is radically upended. A tour de force in miniature form that twists the novel into new shapes as the characters sabotage the fictional world they inhabit, I Am Sovereign sees Nicola Barker at her most joyful, provocative and riotous’ say the publishers promisingly.

We’re back in much more straightforward territory with Anna Hope’s new novel, I suspect. I enjoyed both Wake and The Ballroom very much so hopes are high for Expectation which sees three friends living in East London, their lives full of art, love and delight. A decade later, Hannah, Cate and Lissa are trying to cope with the inevitable disillusionments and difficulties of adult life, each thinking the others’ lives are better than theirs, and each wondering how to make their life more meaningful. ‘Expectation is a novel of the highs and lows of friendship – how it can dip, dive and rise again. It is also about finding your way: as a mother, a daughter, a wife, a rebel. Most of all, it explores that liminal space between expectation and reality, the place – full of dreams, desires and pain – in which we all live our lives’ say the publishers whetting my appetite nicely.

Naomi Wood’s The Hiding Game is about the Bauhaus movement, a school of art and design whose ethos and style I find very appealing. Wood’s novel follows Paul Beckermann who arrives at the school in 1922 and becomes entranced by both the teaching and his fellow students, falling in love with one of them. Political tensions and its own internal rivalries result in the group’s disintegration leaving Paul with a secret he’s forced to face when an old Bauhaus friend contacts him, many years later. ‘Beautifully written, powerful and suspenseful, Naomi Wood’s The Hiding Game is a novel about the dangerously fine line between love and obsession, set against the most turbulent era of our recent past’ say the publishers. I very much enjoyed Mrs Hemingway, Wood’s take on Ernest Hemingway’s marriage so I’m looking forward to this one.

Cover imageTwo American novels published in July sound like catnip to me. The first, Regina Porter’s The Travelers, follows two families – one Irish-American, the other African-American – beginning in 1942 as America recovers from the Second World War. ‘Illuminating more than six decades of sweeping change – from the struggle for civil rights and the chaos of Vietnam to Obama’s first year as President – James and Agnes’s families will come together in unexpected, intimate and profoundly human ways. Romantic and defiant, humorous and intellectually daring, Regina Porter brilliantly explores how race, gender and class collide in modern-day America – and charts the mishaps and adventures we often take to get closer to ourselves and to home’ say the publishers which sounds right up my literary alley.

As does Salvatore Scribona’s The Volunteer which spans four generations of fathers and sons, beginning in 1966 when Vollie Frade enlists in the US Marine Corps to fight in Vietnam. ‘From the Cambodian jungle, to a flophouse in Queens, to a commune in New Mexico, Vollie’s path traces a secret history of life on the margins of America, culminating with an inevitable and terrible reckoning. Scibona’s story of a restless soldier pressed into service for a clandestine branch of the US government unfolds against the backdrop of the seismic shifts in global politics of the second half of the twentieth century’ say the publishers promisingly.Cover image

I’m ending July’s new titles as I began with a novel I’d be amazed if I didn’t love – Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s Starling Days. Oscar and Mina move to London after a patrol car picks her up on the George Washington Bridge, apparently about to jump off. Oscar hopes that getting away from New York will help Mina recover but finds their love tested when another woman offers Mina both friendship and attraction. I loved Buchannan’s debut, Harmless Like You, which was both poignant and wryly humorous. I’m hoping for more of the same with Starling Days.

That’s it for July’s new novels. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Paperbacks soon…

Paperbacks to Look Out for in June 2019: Part Two

Cover imageThis second batch of June paperbacks is as jam-packed with potential goodies as the first, a few of which I’ve already sampled including Sonia Zinovieff’s Putney which explores the fallout of childhood abuse through Ralph who’s aroused by Daphne’s boyish beauty when she is nine and he is twenty-seven. Daphne is the child of bohemian parents caught up in their own affairs, looking anywhere but at what’s happening under their noses. Forty years later, Ralph is oblivious to Daphne’s chaotic, rackety life while she works on a collage commemorating her time with him in a flat a stone’s throw away from her childhood home. This subject could so easily have been mishandled but Zinovieff explores it with consummate skill in a thoroughly accomplished novel.

I reviewed Finnish writer Philip Teir’s debut, A Winter War, back in 2015 when I described it as the perfect winter read. It may seem a bit lazy but it’s hard to resist describing The Summer House as the perfect summer read. Julia, Erik, ten-year-old Anton and twelve-year-old Alice are off to Mjölkviken for the summer where Erik plans to put his work troubles behind him and Julia wants to finish her novel but finds herself pulled back into her past. Teir’s second book explores the dynamics of modern family life with the same empathy and deftness as he did in his first. Well worth packing if you’re after an intelligent holiday read.

As is Patrick deWitt’s French Exit, a pleasingly caustic caricature of the wealthy upper classesCover image which takes its readers from New York City to Paris in the company of Frances Price, her son Malcolm and Small Frank, their cat. After years of jaw-dropping extravagance Frances is running out of money so why does she spend much of her time trying to divest herself of the 185,000 euros she has stashed in her handbag, and why is such an ancient cat so important to her. I’ve been a keen fan of deWitt’s fiction since reading his darkly comic ripping yarn, The Sisters Brothers and although the latter remains my favourite, French Exit is a welcome treat.

Cherise Wolas’ The Family Tabor sounds rather more conventional. Harry Tabor is about to be honoured as Man of the Decade in recognition of his work with the many Jewish refugees he’s helped to settle in America. Years ago, Harry uprooted his own family taking them across the States from Connecticut to the South West. ‘Wolas examines the five members of the Tabor family as they prepare to celebrate Harry. Through each of their points of view, we see family members whose lives are built on lies, both to themselves and to others, and how these all come crashing down during a seventy-two-hour period’ according to the blurb which sounds highly entertaining.

Rick Gekoski’s A Long Island Story is set in the summer of 1953 when the Grossmans and their two children relocate from Washington DC to Long Island. The move unsettles the couple who Cover imagebegin to wonder if their lives might have been different, and if their marriage is worth fighting for. It’s described by the publishers as ‘a portrait of a couple in crisis, of a unique and fascinating period in US history and of a seemingly perfect family fighting their demons behind closed doors’ which sounds quite promising to me.

I’ve always been surprised at how few novels are set in offices given how many of us have worked in them and what political hothouses they can be. Halle Butler’s The New Me looks at the life of a thirty-year-old temp as she watches her permanently employed peers and wonders if she will ever join their ranks. Then a vacancy arises and Millie contemplates the possibility of a life of stability and perks. ‘Will it bring the new life Millie is envisioning – one involving a gym membership, a book club, and a lot less beer and TV – finally within reach? Or will it reveal just how hollow that vision has become?’ ask the publishers.

Colleagues of a very different sort feature in Aja Gabel’s The Ensemble. Jana, Brit. Daniel and Henry are musicians, ill-suited as friends but drawn together by their art. Their chequered careers encompass ‘devastating failure and wild success, heartbreak and marriage, triumph and loss, betrayal and enduring loyalty. They are always tied to each other – by career, by the intensity of their art, by the secrets they carry, by choosing each other over and over again’ apparently. This one could go either way but I like the idea of a disparate group of characters locked together by their work.

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I’m finishing off June’s paperbacks with J M Holmes’ How Are You Going to Save Yourself about four young men who’ve grown up together but have drifted apart in adulthood as they try to cope with society’s expectations, family pressures and their own self-images. Described as ‘both humorous and heart-breaking’ it’s ‘a timely debut about sex, race, family and friendship’, apparently which sounds good to me.

That’s it for June’s paperbacks. A click on the first three titles will take you to my review, and to a more detailed synopsis for the other five. If you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here. New novels are here and here.

Paperbacks to Look Out for in June 2019: Part One

Cover imageThis June is bursting at the seams with tempting paperbacks – enough to fill two long posts – of which I’ve already read and reviewed several beginning with one of my books of last year, Sarah Moss’ Ghost Wall. Longlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, Moss’ novel is a powerful exploration of controlling violence and its consequences, all wrapped up in a tense, atmospheric piece of storytelling. Together with three students and their professor, seventeen-year-old Sylvie and her parents, Bill and Alison, spend the summer living as Ancient Britons in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall. Bill’s menacing control of both Sylvie and Alison pervades the book offset with a degree of waspish humour and gloriously evocative descriptions of the summer landscape. The climax is horrifying: hard to read yet impossible to tear yourself away from it. Still mystified as to why this superb novel didn’t make it on to the Women’s Prize shortlist.

Ghost Wall was one of a succession of novellas that so impressed me in 2019 including Hubert Mingarelli’s Four Soldiers which came as no surprise given the excellence of A Meal in Winter. A company of Red Army soldiers is ordered to make camp as winter closes in. Four of them form a tightly bonded group over the ensuing months, stumbling upon a pool near their new camp which becomes the calm centre of their days with the advent of spring. As the weather improves the return to marching looms large and with it the end of their peace. Written in plain, clean prose, Mingarelli’s book quietly captures the comradeship of soldiers with humanity and compassion

Andrew Miller’s Now We Shall Be Entirely Free follows Captain John Lacroix who has been invalided out of the disastrous Peninsular War, exploring themes of war and culpability in a story taut with a thread of suspense. Finding himself unable to return to war, Lacroix travels to Scotland where he is embraced by a utopian community but two men are on his tail, one with a sinister motive. I loved Andrew Miller’s Ingenious Pain so much that I included it in my One-Hundred-Book Library and Pure came a close second but I’ve found some of his contemporary-set novels disappointing. Having read this new one, I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s is at his best when writing historical fiction.

I reviewed Rebecca Makkai’s The Hundred-Year House back in 2014, finding it a little disappointing after very much enjoying her first novel, The Borrower. That said, The Great Believers sounds very appealing. It spans thirty years, beginning in 1985 with Yale Tishman acquiring an extraordinary collection of 1920s artwork for a Chicago gallery. AIDs cuts a swathe through Yale’s life leaving just one person dear to him – his friend’s sister Fiona who, thirty years later, is searching for her estranged daughter in Paris. ‘Yale and Fiona’s stories unfold in incredibly moving and sometimes surprising ways, as both struggle to find goodness in the face of disaster’ say the publishers, whetting my appetite nicely.

I’m not so sure about Gary Shteyngart’s Lake Success having begun Super Sad True Love Story with high hopes only to give it up but I do like the sound of a road trip through modern America, particularly one that sees a ‘master of the universe’ reduced to travelling on a Greyhound. Barry Cohen is on his way to Texas to meet his old college girlfriend hoping for a second chance having fallen foul of an insider investigation. According to Maria Semple, author of Where’d You Go Bernadette, it’s ‘the funniest book you’ll read all year. A rollicking and zinger-filled road trip [that] sneakily deepens into a poignant tale of a man trying to outrace his problems’. We’ll see.

Humour’s also on the agenda in Good Trouble, by the sound of it, a collection of short stories by Joseph O’Neill, author of the much-lauded Neverland. Good Trouble’s characters are brought face to face with both who they are and who they will never be, apparently. ‘Packed with O’Neill’s trademark acerbic humour, Good Trouble explores the maddening and secretly political space between thoughts and deeds’ say the publishers promisingly.

A. M. Homes’ Days of Awe is another collection I’m eager to sample. These thirteen pieces explore ‘our attachments to each other through characters who aren’t quite who they hoped to become, though there is no one else they can be. Her first book since the Women’s Prize-winning May We Be Forgiven, Days of Awe is another visionary, fearless and outrageously funny work from a master storyteller’ say the publishers. Looking forward to this one very much.Cover images

I’m saving what I suspect will be the very best until last with this month’s third short story collection. William Trevor’s Last Stories comprises ten pieces described by the publishers as ‘exquisite, perceptive and profound’ and for once I won’t be arguing with their superlatives. This will undoubtedly be a treat to savour for all who treasure quietly understated, elegantly lyrical prose, and that jacket is lovely.

That’s it for the first part of June’s paperback preview; pretty tempting I hope you’ll agree. Should you want to know more, A click on the first three titles will take you to my review, and to a more detailed synopsis for the other five. If you’d like to catch up with June’s new novels they’re here and here. More paperbacks soon…