Tag Archives: Rebecca Kauffman

Books to Look Out For in June 2020

Cover imageJune is usually the month when publishers present us with a plethora of summer reading designed to keep us entertained by the pool, although there’s not much chance of that this year unless you have your own. Not my kind of novel, on the whole, but Rebecca Kauffman’s The House on Fripp Island might be this year’s exception. The eponymous island is a luxury resort in South Carolina where Lisa Daly and her family are holidaying with friends, all of whom have secrets to keep, apparently. ‘While revelations from the past and present unfold, the book builds to a shocking event that will shake your sense of justice and leave you wanting to talk about crime and retribution’ say the publishers which may sound a step too far into summer reading territory  but given that I enjoyed Kaufmann’s The Gunners, I may give it a try.

I’d happily pack anything by Joanna Briscoe in my suitcase should I be lucky enough to get away this year. Her new novel, The Seduction, follows Beth, who lives a quiet life in north London, hoping that her uncertainty can be settled by going into therapy but finds herself even more disturbed than before, apparently. ‘What if the very person who is meant to be the solution becomes the most dangerous problem of all? And why is what’s bad for us so enticing?’ asks the blurb suggesting a thread of suspense. I was a huge fan of Briscoe’s Sleep with Me, published over fifteen years ago but I still remember it well.

Niamh Campbell’s This Happy has been quietly popping up in my Twitter timeline for a few months, much lauded by people whose opinions I trust. Twenty-three-year-old Alannah and her married Cover imageolder lover spend three weeks in cottage in the Irish countryside. Six years later, recently married to another man, Alannah spots the cottage’s landlady triggering memories of bliss followed by utter misery. An interesting enough premise but it’s the quote that comes with the blurb that’s sold this one to me: I have taken apart every panel of this, like an ornamental fan. But we stayed in the cottage for three weeks only, just three weeks, because it was cut short you see – cut short after just three weeks, when I’d left my entire life behind. Hoping for some fine writing if that’s a sample.

I wasn’t at all sure about Jean-Baptiste Andrea’s A Hundred Million Years and A Day with its rather wordy title, either, but the enthusiasm of the small indie publisher who pitched it won me over. Baptiste’s novella was a huge literary hit in France where it was published last year. It’s about a palaeontologist who thinks he may have found a clue to the discovery which will enshrine his legacy, hidden deep in the mountains of Southern France, and the expedition that takes him there. His novel comes complete with a puff from Carys Davies who dubbed it ‘A sublime and beautiful book’ and I’d have to agree. Review shortly…

I’m a little wary of comparisons between authors made in press releases. I’ve noticed Elizabeth Strout’s name appearing more and more frequently as it does in the advance information for Elizabeth Wetmore’s debut, Valentine. Set in Texas, it’s about the shockwaves running through a small town in the wake of a violent crime, following three women including the fourteen-year-old survivor of the crime, apparently. ‘When justice is as slippery as oil, and kindness becomes a hazardous act, sometimes courage is all we have to keep us alive’ say the publishers. An interesting premise, if handled well as well as that mention of Strout suggests.

Cover imageAnother starry name pops up in the blurb for my last June choice, this time in a quote from Alex Preston, the Observer critic, who compares Stuart Evers’ The Blind Light to a British Don DeLillo. I’m not a DeLillo fan but I liked the sound of this novel which explores Britain’s history from the ‘50s onwards through two families from opposite ends of the social specturm, first from the parents’ perspective then from their children’s. ‘The Blind Light is a powerful, ambitious, big yet intimate story of our national past and a brilliant evocation of a family and a country. It will remind you how complicated human history is – and how hard it is to do the right thing for the right reasons’ say the publishers which, having read it already, I can tell you is spot on. Review to follow.

That’s it for June’s new titles. As ever, a click on any that snag you attention will take you to a more detailed synopsis. Paperbacks 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.

The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman: The Big Chill reprised

Cover imageThe 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. Weddings and funerals are a favourite trigger for this kind of reunion and in the case of Rebecca Kauffman’s novel it’s a funeral just as the friends enter their thirties. The five remaining members of the group that dubbed themselves the Gunners are brought together by the suicide of the sixth who none of them had heard from since she left the group aged sixteen with no explanation.

Mikey is the only one of the five who stayed close to their Ohio childhood home town. Jimmy has long since moved into finance making enough money to have a palatial summer home nearby to which he’s invited the other four for a lavishly catered meal. Sam has flown in from Georgia and appears to have taken to religion; Alice arrives with her girlfriend, as loud and tactless as ever while Lynn and her partner make up the party, both musicians now running an AA group. These five who have been friends since they were six years old are only loosely in touch, having drifted apart after Sally’s unexplained departure. There’s a great deal of catching up to do but overarching it all are two questions: why did Sally not only desert the Gunners but determinedly avoid contact with Mikey, once her best friend, and why did she take her own life.

If you’re of a certain age you may well have seen The Big Chill which has one of the best opening sequences I’ve seen, complete with the Marvin Gaye’s sublime ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ playing over it. Shortly after starting The Gunners, I was struck by what a good film it would make, then I realised it had already been made. This is not to criticise the novel which I thoroughly enjoyed. Kauffman’s charactericisation is strong, the flitting back and forth between childhood memories to adult reunions deftly developing each of them. Secrets are revealed, and if the two big questions are not entirely answered it doesn’t detract from the novel merely reflecting what might well happen in real life. This is a satisfying, often poignant read. There’s not a huge amount of bite to it but once I’d settled into The Big Chill vibe I was more than happy to enjoy the ride.