Recent Releases – Seven Promising New Books to Look Out For

New authors as well as some old favourites make the list of newly released books I’m eager to get my hands on.

Willowman by Inga Simpson takes you to the world of cricket and the art of the batmaker. I don’t read a lot of books about sport – in fact I’m not sure I can name a single one – but this one caught my eye. We’ve got a gifted young batter, Todd Harrow, and the special bat made for him by traditional batmaker, Alan Reader. The story seems to be about more than just cricket, though, with some interesting personal journeys, and there’s loads of high praise from the critics, the Sydney Morning Herald scoring it a six.

Prettier if She Smiled More is the new book by Toni Jordan. I loved her last book, Dinner with the Schnabels, and made a note to myself to read Jordan’s backlist. But here she is with a new book before I got started. This is another Australian novel, and follows the fortunes of Kylie, who thinks she has the perfect life, until she has to move home to care for her mother following an accident. Returning to her childhood home gives her pause for thought. I love a book that makes you laugh and cry, and this one’s sure to fit the bill.

One of Those Mothers by Megan Nicol Reed brings me a little closer to home with a novel set in my old Auckland stamping ground. It’s a look at middle class angst and the effects of a terrible secret on a small group of families in the same neighbourhood. The author has used this fodder in her popular newspaper columns over the years, so I can see she’s become a bit of an expert on parental anxiety, guilt and how friendships are impacted by rumour and unease. The book’s already harnessing some great reviews so it’s definitely one for the list.

I am drawn by the premise of The Wakes by Dianne Yarwood, and possibly also the cover. It’s about relationships with two of its main characters recently breaking up with their partners. When Louisa persuades her new neighbour Clare to join her funeral catering business, they meet Chris who is an emergency doctor attending the funerals of both patients and friends. There’s pathos but also humour, as well as reflections on the things that really matter in life. The Wakes is a debut novel from another Australian author and has sparked a lot of interest. I am fairly sure I will love this.

The War Pianist by Mandy Robotham
Moving to the Northern Hemisphere, I spotted Mandy Robotham has a new wartime novel out. I thoroughly enjoyed The Resistance Girl, which I listened to as an audiobook. It had just the right blend of action, tension and light relief and taught me a lot about World War II in Norway. With The War Pianist one main character is Marnie Fern, who gets involved in resistance work when her grandfather is killed in the London blitz. He was helping the Dutch resistance as a war pianist, which was a kind of code for radio operator. Things get tense as the Nazis close in on Marnie and her fellow ‘pianist’ in Amsterdam, Corrie Bakker, on the other end of the wire. This one’s sure to be a page-turner.

The Shadows of London by Andrew Taylor
Time to catch up with one of my favourite mystery series, with the release of the latest of the Fires of London novels by acclaimed historical fiction author, Andrew Taylor. We’ve another rollicking read featuring James Marlow, a civil servant who has become a kind of ‘useful pair of hands’ for the court of Charles II. He always seems to find himself struggling between factions at court and finding unpalatable truths about the murders he investigates. Never far away is Cat Hakesby, the architect who in this book is on the spot when a body is found in one of the almshouses she is restoring. I love the glimpses of the King Taylor slips in, the thrills and tension, as well as James’s relationship problems with spiky Cat, a woman ahead of her time.

The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths
This is book number 15 in Griffiths’s series featuring DI Harry Nelson and forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway. I love the characters who almost feel like friends, and in this book their pal Cathbad, a Druid and former tutor at Ruth’s university, is implicated in a murder when bones are unearthed by builders renovating a café. Cathbad disappears – is he on the run or is he in danger? Neolithic flint mines add a touch of archaeological interest and the ongoing issues around Nelson and Ruth’s relationship are sure to keep the plot bubbling along.

Six New Fiction Picks – put these on the wish-list

I love a trawl through Fantastic Fiction to see what’s new and what’s coming soon. It’s also a good place to check in on favourite authors to see what they’re up to or find out when the next book in a series is set to hit the shops. Here’s a few of the promising new books I discovered on a recent visit, all either just published or coming soon.

This Is the Night They Come for You by Robert Goddard
Goddard has made a name for writing ripping reads over the last decade or three, but hasn’t rested on his laurels, churning out the same old thing. He has diversified into historical thrillers – I heartily recommend the James Maxted trilogy set around the time of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles – while his last book, The Fine Art of Invisible Detection was brilliantly twisty and inventive with a quirky sleuth on the job. The new book is set in Algiers with a troubled policeman working with a secret service agent to uncover a crime hidden in the dark events of Algieria’s struggle for independence. I know I’ll get a brilliant page-turner with some well researched historical background. Can’t wait.

Villager by Tom Cox
Another writer who has diversified hugely is Tom Cox, who tends to find a new genre from time to time and make it his own. You may remember his books about his cats: The Good, the Bad and the Furry, Talk to the Tail and Close Encounters of the Furred Kind. Sure, they are books about cats, but they are also a lot about the owner and well, anything Cox writes is hilarious. Recently he has branched into writing about the English countryside, particularly the folklore and half-forgotten corners, a kind of modern day Thomas Hardy, but with more jokes. The latest book, his first novel, probably won’t be like anything you’ve read before, but features a folk musician from the sixties, teenagers finding a body on a golf course, as well as property developers threatening to despoil the landscape. Well worth a try.

The Perfect Golden Circle by Benjamin Myers
Here’s another author who makes a natural landscape come to life magically in his writing. I reviewed The Offing a year or so ago and loved the story of an unlikely friendship in post-war Yorkshire, the atmospheric setting and gorgeous writing. So Myers’ new book definitely makes this list. The Perfect Golden Circle is about a couple of guys who under the cover of darkness make crop circles in the hot summer of 1989. We’ve another unlikely friendship burgeoning as their handiwork unexpectedly acquires a cult-like following. Some similar themes look set to appear, including the futility of war and the fragility of the English countryside which also has the power to heal.

Amy and Lan by Sadie Jones
Jones’s first book The Outcast won a bunch of book prize nominations, and her second book Small Wars, a story about the family of a British officer on Cyprus in the 1950s, is a moving story I sometimes still think about. She writes intense, character driven dramas and the new book will be well worth picking up I’m sure. Another book set in a rural landscape, Amy and Lan is about two children, dear friends, whose families join another family to try their hand at farming and the ‘good life’. It should be a bucolic dream, with chickens and goats and lots of fresh air, but something is set to shatter the children’s innocence. This one’s out in July.

Twelve Months and a Day by Louisa Young
The blurb says this is Truly Madly Deeply for our times, so yes it’s a story about love cut short by death. We’ve got two couples: Rasmus and Jay; Roisin and Nico, until Rasmus and Roisin are widowed, missing their other halves and trying to get by. But Jay and Nico are somehow still there, powerless to help the newly bereaved. This is quite a different sort of story, playful and contemporary, from Young’s war-themed trio (My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, The Hero’s Welcome and Devotion), which delves into the ongoing effects of World War I on a group of characters, the soldiers and the women left at home to wait. I heartily recommend the earlier books, but Twelve Months and a Day looks a great read too, and it’s newly released, which is even better.

The Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley
Pulley is an inventive, original writer and definitely somebody to watch. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street combined mystery with love in Victorian London with a little magical clockwork. I enjoyed the characters as much as the twisty storyline. Her latest book is set in 1963, when a nuclear scientist is taken from merely surviving in a Siberian prison to serve out his sentence in City 40. He’s to study the effects of nuclear radiation on wildlife, and will one day be a free man if the radiation doesn’t get to him first. Based on real events, the blurb touts this as a sweeping adventure, the ebook out later this month, the paperback in July. Definitely one for my list.

More New Books for the Must Read List

A bumper crop of great new books seem to be arriving in bookshops this year. Here’s a few that caught my eye.

A Tidy Ending by Joanna Cannon
Oh, joy! A new book from the author who brought us The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and Three Things About Elsie. ‘There’s something nasty lurking behind the net curtains on Cavendish Lane’. Linda escaped ‘dark events’ of her Welsh childhood, but now life seems a bit tame; married to Terry, fish fingers for tea. Only Terry is often late home, while girls are going missing in the neighbourhood. Should Linda be worried? You can expect Cannon’s trademark dark humour, an original plot plus a twist. I can’t wait. This one’s out in May.

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler
This is the author who brought us We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves which won a Booker Prize nomination and which really tugged at the heartstrings. There is only one person who springs to mind when I hear the name Booth – the John Wilkes Booth who assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Fowler’s new novel explores the backstory – the upbringing that lead Booth to make the decision that was to go down in the history books. ‘Booth is a riveting novel, focused on the very things that bind, and break, a family’ – says the blurb. The paperback came out last week.

One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe
And now for something completely different. Nina Stibbe is the author of the comic Lizzie Vogel trilogy that kicked off with Man at the Helm. Stibbe’s letters home to her sister when she was a nanny became Love, Nina: Dispatches from Family Life and then a charmingly quirky TV series. The new stand-alone novel promises a funny but life-affirming story about friendship and the paths it takes through the course of a lifetime. This book’s due out next month.

I, Mona Lisa by Natasha Solomons
And yes, there is only one Mona Lisa, and this book is about that Mona Lisa. The blurb says it’s a ‘deliciously vivid, compulsive and illuminating story about the lost and forgotten women throughout history’. The story begins with the painting sitting around in Leonardo’s studio and where it ends up in the centuries that follow. Solomons can be relied on to write a compelling story and does her research. The Gallery of Vanished Husbands is another book that takes a look at the art world and which I can highly recommend. I, Mona Lisa was recently released in paperback.

Chorus by Rebecca Kauffman
I loved the simple, honest storytelling of The Gunners, a story about a group of friends who separately feel the burden of guilt for something that happened to them as children. Chorus is a story about a family, the seven Shaw siblings, and two life-altering events, what divides them and what brings them ultimately back to each other. Kauffman has been compared to Elizabeth Strout and Alice Munro, and I’m sure Chorus will be worth picking up. The hardcover is already out; the e-book due in July.

The Reindeer Hunters by Lars Matting
If you haven’t read The Bell in the Lake yet, it’s time to get a move on as the second book in the trilogy will now be hitting the shelves. The setting sweeps us back to 1903 and a remote Norwegian community, home to solitary Jehans. Separated from his family he lives off what he can catch. When he kills a massive reindeer he meets an enigmatic hunter. There’s a mysterious tapestry woven by conjoined twins and a Pastor seeking redemption as a new age dawns. The blurb says this is ‘a grand and thrilling novel about what it takes to live in and embrace a new era.’ It’s sure to be a powerful and compelling read from a terrific storyteller.

New Books for the Must-Read Pile

Here are the books I can’t wait to get my hands on in the coming weeks.

Mother’s Boy by Patrick Gale
One of my favourite authors, Gale is such an empathetic writer who also captures the little details that create such interesting and well-rounded characters. Throw in a decent helping of humour and you’ve got the perfect novel in my book. Here, the mother’s boy of the title is Charles, the son of two people caught up in World War I, a war that ultimately takes his father. The relationship of the boy and mother is a key part of the story. Charles appears to have an exceptionally gifted mind, but that’s not all he has to deal with as another war looms. I loved Gale’s historical novel, A Town Called Winter and this one has already had some glowing reviews..

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett
I really enjoyed The Appeal, an original and beguiling mystery novel which came out last year. Clearly this is an author with a terrific imagination and the new book looks similarly intriguing. We’ve got mysterious annotations in a children’s book by a disgraced author that could be a secret code. There’s a forty-year-old disappearance and the ex-con who connects the two and who is determined to solve the mystery – only there’s something that he can’t quite remember. What can it all mean? Definitely I’ll have to read on to find out.

The Slowworm’s Song by Andrew Miller
Miller writes such a variety of books including historical novels, contemporary fiction, and a huge variety of settings. They don’t come along all that often, but they’re always worth waiting for. Here we’ve got a recovering alcoholic trying to rebuild his life in Somerset and in particular his relationship with his daughter. He’s an ex-soldier and his story involves atrocities that happened in Northern Ireland and an enquiry that threatens his future with her. Miller’s last book was At Last We Shall Be Entirely Free, which won the Highland Prize, so I will be keen to read this one when it comes out in March.

The Locked Room by Elly Griffiths
It wouldn’t be a reading year without a new Ruth Galloway novel. If you haven’t discovered this series you have treats in store, particularly if you like atmospheric and witty mysteries with a dash of romance. Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist in Norfolk and the new book has her chum, DCI Nelson, looking for a killer when a Covid lockdown hits. I enjoy the characters in this series so much – Ruth’s matter-of-fact intelligence and Nelson’s blunt Yorkshire demeanour are always a delight. Throw in an archaeological setting and some twisty plotting and you have the perfect mystery read.

French Braid by Anne Tyler
Mercy Garrett is determined to eliminate clutter from her life, gradually moving into her studio now that her kids are grown up. But the clutter of family life and all the related memories are hard to ignore, particularly one holiday in 1959 that has generated ongoing repercussions for the Garretts. Sounds like we’re in classic Anne Tyler territory here: the people and random events that create a family history, told with humour and kindness. I’m always in my happy place with Tyler and can’t wait to see this one when it comes out in March.

Violeta by Isabel Allende
I so loved Allende’s last book, A Long Petal of the Sea, my first ever Allende, having avoided her for years thinking she only wrote magic realism. Obviously I’ve since had to revise my understanding. Violeta lives through the major events of the twentieth century – kicking off with the Spanish flu, the disastrous effects of the Great Depression, and a world war to name but three. What promises to make the book so appealing is the character of Violeta, who according to the blurb is passionate, determined and blessed with a sense of humour. I’m sure I’m going to love this one.

More New Books on the Horizon

There’s been quite a bumper harvest of terrific books recently – perhaps they were delayed because of lockdowns and now we’re catching up. Anyway, here are some new titles by authors I’ve enjoyed immensely in the past and so naturally I’ve added them to my Must Read List. It’s a pretty varied list, but that’s books for you.

First up is The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson. You might remember this author’s debut, the feel-good novel told in letters, Meet Me at the Museum (click on the link for my review). With a title like this, The Narrowboat Summer sounds instantly appealing, echoing Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, with it’s a story of three women and a dog on a canal boat. Eve’s escaping her career of thirty years to become a free spirit; Sally is taking a break from an indifferent husband and the two are rescuing Anastasia, who needs a life-saving operation. I don’t know what the dog’s problem is. It’s a novel of second chances and the power of friendship. Another feel-good read promised.

In Snow Country Sebastian Faulks returns to themes relating to the First World War and its aftermath – good news for all of us who fondly recall Birdsong – with a novel set in a sanatorium surrounded by snow and on the banks of a silvery lake. Journalist Anton Heideck is commissioned to write a story about the mysterious Schoss Seeblick where Lena had escaped Vienna to take a menial job. ‘A landmark novel of exquisite yearnings, dreams of youth and the sanctity of hope‘ promises the blurb. The setting and the rumblings of another war will be sure to add to the atmosphere. Snow Country is out in September.

The Heron’s Cry by Anne Cleeves is the second in the author’s Two Rivers series set in North Devon. Detective Matthew Venn is called to investigate a very staged looking murder – a woman stabbed with a shard from one of her glassblower daughter’s vases. Another similar murder and complications involving Matthew’s partner, Jonathan – well, it’s a small town after all – and you can tell it’s going to be another page turner. I can’t wait to get my hands on this book. I loved The Long Call (catch up with my review here), but as Cleeves has her Vera Stanhope series on the go as well, it’s been a long wait. Cleeves writes engaging character-driven crime novels with plenty of twists and secret motives. Throw in some interesting detectives and colourful English settings and what more could you want?

Mrs England by Stacey Halls is the latest from the author who brought us the historical novel about witch hunts, The Familiars. In her third book, this time with an Edwardian timeframe, Ruby takes a job caring for the children of a well-to-do Yorkshire family when strange things start to happen. What begins as a fresh start for our protagonist soon looks like history repeating itself and Ruby finds herself ostracised and alone. Big houses and chilling settings, women battling the powerlessness of their station in life – these seem to be recurring themes for Halls who could be following in the footsteps of Susan Hill, Daphne du Maurier and Wilkie Collins. ‘Simmering with slow-burning menace,’ says the blurb for the new book.

Trio by William Boyd is a novel some pundits are picking for the Man Booker Longlist and it nearly slipped under my radar. Definitely time to put it on the list then. Set during the turbulent year of 1968 – a time of student protests, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobbie Kennedy, the Vietnam War – it follows characters caught up in a movie being shot in Brighton. Efrida is struggling with writer’s block and drinking too much; glamorous Anni can’t figure out why the CIA should have her on their watch list; while Talbot has a secret. It looks like classic William Boyd territory – the lives of everyday people made extraordinary by circumstances and the politics of the day. Might have to bump this one to the top of the pile.

New Books from Old Favourites

Twenty twenty-one is turning out to be a wonderful year for me as a reader as several authors I really enjoy return with new books after a bit of a hiatus. It’s interesting seeing what they come up with after an interval and compare the new books with old ones. And it also offers the chance to reread some old favourites and think about why you liked the earlier books in the first place.

Marika Cobbold‘s Guppies for Tea was a heart-warming, family story about Amelia and her struggle to care for her much-loved grandmother, now showing signs of dementia. She’s also battling a mother with an obsession with germs and a defecting boyfriend, but Amelia finds help in unexpected ways. I really enjoyed this novel, and would also recommend Shooting Butterflies as well as Cobbold’s previous book Drowning Rose, both of which have characters revisiting the past in a way that changes their view of their lives. It’s been a quiet ten years from Cobbold since then, but just published is On Hamstead Heath. Here’s what the blurb says:

“Sharp, poignant, and infused with dark humour, On Hampstead Heath is an homage to storytelling and to truth; to the tales we tell ourselves, and the stories that save us”.

Sarah Winman‘s latest book, Still Life, is only her fourth in ten years and therefore something to be excited about. When God Was a Rabbit was one of those love it or hate it books, if GoodReads is anything to go by. I found it brilliant and original, so that puts me definitely in the ‘loved it’ camp. Now I have a reader’s copy of Still Life and the first page has me hooked already, even though I’ve three other books already on the go. What to do?

Moving from the Tuscan Hills and piazzas of Florence, to the smog of London’s East End, Still Life is a sweeping, joyful novel about beauty, love, family and fate.

Esther Freud‘s debut novel, Hideous Kinky, is a story from Freud’s own childhood and concerns a woman living the hippie dream in Morroco with her two young daughters. They live a hand-to-mouth existence and the reader feels for the girls who really need more stability and well, safety. It was made into a film starring Kate Winslet (also worth a watch). There followed a string of very readable novels, her last outing, Mr Mac and Me (2014), set during WWI and has a basis in the true story of Scottish architect Charles Rennie Macintosh, a mysterious visitor to the south of England as seen through the eyes of a young boy. Coming soon in July is I Couldn’t Love You More, which according to the blurb is:

A sweeping story of three generations of women, crossing from London to Ireland and back again, and the enduring effort to retrieve the secrets of the past.

Out of interest, Freud’s lineage includes the painter Lucian Freud (father) and Sigmund Freud (great-grandfather).

Andrew Martin has been busy. He’s always got some new project on the go, it seems, fiction and non-fiction, but it’s been a while since he abandoned, or so I thought, his wonderful Jim Stringer railway detective series. The series has taken us from the early 1900s with Jim as a mere teenager, through marriage and war service, to France, the Middle East (The Bahgdad Railway Club is a particular favourite) and to India. The mysteries are full of wonderful north of England wit, odd-bod characters on either side of the law, enough action to keep things humming along and, well, trains. Jim is always battling the establishment, various railway bosses, while attempting to keep ‘the wife’ happy. Eight years after Night Train to Jamalpur was published, here we suddenly have a new Jim Stringer mystery to look forward to. Powder Smoke comes out in November.

Clare Chambers has been one of my favourite authors in the field of contemporary fiction, particularly for her warmth and wit and quirky characters. I’ve already reviewed her new book, Small Pleasures, which wove a story around a couple of historical events from the late 1950s – an interesting departure for this author but still showcasing her gift with characters and humour, but with a darker theme this time and a powerful emotional punch. It sent me off to her previous works and I enjoyed myself hugely rereading In a Good Light as well as The Editor’s Wife. I seriously hope she doesn’t abandon her writing desk for another decade before releasing a new novel, as she’s just so talented.

Quick Review: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

bagYou may remember Crooked Heart, Evans’s novel set during World War II about a middle-aged grifter on hard times and Noel, her young evacuee. The story provides an original view of wartime life, smart and witty with some brilliant characters. Among them is Mattie, Noel’s godmother who makes a brief but memorable appearance at the start of the book. So memorable in fact, that Evans has devoted a new book to her: Old Baggage.

The story takes place in 1928 as the suffragette movement finally sees franchise for women on equal terms with men. (When women got the vote in 1918, it was for property-owning women over thirty only). Mattie Simpkin is a former suffragette in her late fifties, who with old campaign chum Florrie, puts on talks about the battle for the vote and holds forth to anyone who pauses to listen. Ever the campaigner, the story concerns Mattie’s discovery that there’s no point giving women the vote if they have no knowledge of politics, history or the world at large. She starts a group for young girls called the Amazons who learn vigorous activities on Hampstead Heath (javelin throwing, slingshots and archery) as well as taking educational excursions, camping out and debating. Continue reading “Quick Review: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans”

Some Hot New Books to Look Out For

If your reading appetite is a little jaded, try these new books by authors who are masters of their craft.

Kate Atkinson has a new Jackson Brodie novel just out, nine years after last one – something I never thought I’d see. In Big Sky, ‘old secrets and new lies intersect in this breathtaking novel by one of the most dazzling and surprising writers at work today’ according to the blurb and yes, I imagine they do because when she isn’t writing crime fiction, Atkinson has made a name for herself as a master of literary fiction, winning a host of literary awards. So she’s not going to be the author who pumps out a couple of page-turners a year just to keep her Jackson Brodie fans happy. The reason they’re so good is that they’re written by a literary author, and not just any literary author. Atkinson is the master of the interesting sentence, which melds into the interesting paragraph, and from then into the surprisingly good chapter and you know where this is heading. So yes, I’ll be happy to get my hands on. Very happy.

We all remember The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon’s breakout novel about a boy on the autism spectrum who sees something suspicious next door. It was a brilliant piece of characterisation, laced with humour and insight. There have been a few books since, but The Porpoise has whetted my curiosity in particular as it is a reworking of the Shakespearean story of Pericles, one of the least known late plays, so quite a new direction for this author. There’s a missing child, pirates, shifts from present day to ancient times with elements of fantasy. So never a dull moment, I should imagine.

I loved Anna Hope’s previous novel, The Ballroom – an original story around two marginalised characters who find themselves incarcerated in a mental institution and who unexpectedly fall in love. It’s 1911, and people have been talking about eugenics and sterilisation of the ‘unfit’, although in England at least, it didn’t quite come to that, fortunately. Hope’s new book, Expectation is a contemporary novel about friendship – in particular, about two women who at the outset have youth, energy and high hopes for the future. Ten years on, they are still struggling to have a meaningful life. Maybe this isn’t the most original of premises, but I shall be eager to see what Hope does with it.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett is about the family of a Philadelphia property magnate, particularly his two estranged children told over five decades. Once wealthy, the brother and sister are left to fend for themselves – something of an evil step-mother scenario here – and the bond between the two will either save or ruin them further. Since Commonwealth and State of Wonder, Patchett is on my must-read list. She writes such amazing characters and gripping, suspenseful storylines, so I can’t wait for this one which has a September release date.

The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith would seem to have some of the same key ingredients as his stunning 2011 book, Bright and Distant Shores. The new book takes us to Fort Lee, New Jersey and the beginnings of cinema in the US as well as Paris – City of light – plus the Belgian battlefields of World War I. History and personal obsessions collide in this sweeping drama. Smith is a consistently good historical novelist and this is sure to be a worthy addition to the pile on my bedside table.