It’s seems hardly possible that summer is well underway and we are only a matter of weeks away from autumn. It’s been an absolutely book filled summer and I’ve been lucky enough to read and review some of the best. In fact it’s been so busy that a couple of my choices here are published in August, but I won’t get to them until long afterwards. There’s just so much to look forward to though, including new novels from four of my favourite authors: Maggie O’Farrell, Kate Atkinson, Emma Donoghue and Jodi Picoult. As well as this we have the next instalments of three of my favourite crime and mystery series.
I look forward to the publication of these authors every time they come around. These are the authors I pre-order without reading reviews, blurb or hype. I already know I want to read them.
Emma Donoghue’s last novel The Pull of the Stars blew me away with it’s medical and historical detail. It gave me a glimpse into the realities of being a woman and a mother in WW1 Ireland, where birth control is a sin and the so-called Spanish flu is ripping through the hospital wards. Haven takes us back even further to the Ireland of the 7th Century and three men vow to leave the world behind them and start anew. Artt is a priest and a scholar, when he has a dream telling him to leave the sinful world behind he takes it literally . So, taking two monks – young Trian and old Cormac – he travels down the river Shannon in search of an isolated spot on which to found a monastery. As they drift out into the Atlantic, the men find an impossibly steep, bare island inhabited by tens of thousands of birds, and claim it for God. They call their extraordinary landing spot Skellig Michael. But in such a place, far from all other humanity, what will survival mean?
‘Haunting, moving and vividly told, Haven displays Emma Donoghue’s trademark world-building and psychological intensity – but this tale is like nothing she has ever written before’ says the blurb. With Maggie O’Farrell commenting that Donoghue is at ‘her strange, unsettling, best’ I know I’m in for a great read.
Maggie O’Farrell has her own book coming on 30th August and I’ve planned a quiet September to read it and restart my MA study. Hamnet was one of the best books of the last five years, possibly even longer, so I’ve been eager to see what she does next. Her new novel is called The Marriage Portrait and takes us back to the Italian Renaissance, Winter, 1561. Our main character is Lucrezia, thr Duchess of Ferrara, who is taken on an unexpected visit to a country villa by her husband, Alfonso. As they sit down to dinner it occurs to Lucrezia that Alfonso has a sinister purpose in bringing her here. He intends to kill her. Lucrezia is only sixteen years old, and has led a sheltered life locked away within the walls of Florence’s grandest palazzo. Now, in this remote villa, she is entirely at the mercy of her increasingly erratic husband.
What is Lucrezia to do with this sudden knowledge? What chance does she have against Alfonso, ruler of a province, and a trained soldier? How can she ensure her survival? With buzz from authors like Marian Keyes, I know I’m going to want this book, but I know there will be gorgeous special editions and I’m still deciding which to go for.
Headlined as compelling and challenging, Jodi Picoult’s new book looks at how well we really know the people we love. Olivia left her abusive marriage to return to her hometown and take over the family beekeeping business when her son Asher was only six. Now, impossibly, her baby is six feet tall and in his last year of high school. He’s a kind, good-looking, popular ice hockey star with a tiny sprite of a new girlfriend. Lily also knows what it feels like to start over – when she and her mother relocated to New Hampshire it was all about a fresh start. She and Asher couldn’t help falling for each other, and Lily feels happy for the first time. But can she trust him completely?
Then Olivia gets a phone call – Lily is dead, and Asher is arrested on a charge of murder. As the case against him unfolds, she realises he has hidden more than he’s shared with her. Olivia knows firsthand that the secrets we keep, hide a past we want to leave behind.
Finally there’s Kate Atkinson and her new novel Shrines of Gaiety. I love Kate Atkinson’s writing, from Behind the Scenes at the Museum, through the Jackson Brodie series and into Life After Life and it’s sequel, I have never been disappointed with her novels. I’ve been challenged and surprised though, so I can’t wait to see what this novel will bring.
It’s 1926, and in a country still recovering from the Great War, London has become the focus for a delirious new nightlife. In the clubs of Soho, peers of the realm rub shoulders with starlets, foreign dignitaries with gangsters, and girls sell dances for a shilling a time. The notorious queen of this glittering world is Nellie Coker, ruthless but also ambitious to advance her six children, including the enigmatic eldest, Niven whose character has been forged in the crucible of the Somme. But success breeds enemies, and Nellie’s empire faces threats from without and within. For beneath the dazzle of Soho’s gaiety, there is a dark underbelly, a world in which it is all too easy to become lost. With her unique Dickensian flair, Kate Atkinson brings together a glittering cast of characters in a truly mesmeric novel that captures the uncertainty and mutability of life; of a world in which nothing is quite as it seems. With a blurb like that it’s not surprising that I’ve engineered a quiet few weeks so that when it arrives I can hopefully dive straight in.
The Next in the Series
There’s always a slightly bittersweet moment when I receive the next book in a much loved series. I’m excited to have new adventures with my favourite characters, but always worry that it may be the last. We’ve all seen those series, in book form or TV, where they’ve run out of ideas. For me a sure sign a series should be over is the dreaded musical episode! So, I’m looking forward to these books with a side order of trepidation.
I bang on about The Skelfs series so much on Twitter that it’s possible even Doug Johnstone is fed up of hearing it! With Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books we coined the term #SkelfaholicsAnonymous and have agreed that when the series ends we will commiserate and celebrate the series with a great bottle of whiskey at an observatory or a funeral home, depending on who is more accommodating. This is the fourth, and possibly the penultimate, book following the Skelf women, three generations of an Edinburgh family who run a funeral home and a private investigation business. Grandmother Dorothy is in her 70’s and still actively involved in both businesses, as well as teaching drums in her spare time. She also has a police detective lover twenty years her junior. Jenny is the mum, struggling mentally after killing her ex-husband in self-defence. Hannah is the daughter, now married to Indy, doing her PhD, and startled to find she has a stalker. New and unusual cases come to the door, such as a widower convinced his wife’s spirit is attacking him in the night. Meanwhile, old demons still emerge, with Jenny’s psycho ex-husband (Hannah’s father) still haunting their lives from beyond the grave. Johnstone meanders through these events whilst pondering on the meaning of life through spiritual avenues, but also through astrophysics and ancient philosophy. Utterly brilliant!
As some of you will know, Cormoran Strike is my literary crush. It’s the dark, brooding and damaged hero thing. He’s vulnerable, but prickly. Despite all of that I know I would feel completely safe with him. Anyway, enough of my literary fantasies, I genuinely think it’s the incredible chemistry between Strike and his business partner Robin that helps to sell this series and her last instalment left us on the edge. Could something happen between them? Of course the other winning component is the case they’re working on. There are always those bread and butter cases: watching someone’s partner, because of a suspicion of infidelity; finding birth parents; locating people who owe money. The author usually throws in a humorous case too, last time it was discovering a businessman paying to dress as a baby! However, the main case is always meaty and full of twists. This time our damsel in distress is Edie Ledwell who appears in the office begging to speak to Robin, who doesn’t know quite what to make of the situation. Edie is co-creator of a popular cartoon, The Ink Black Heart, and is being persecuted by a mysterious online figure who goes by the pseudonym of Anomie. Edie wants to uncover Anomie’s true identity. Robin decides the agency can’t help with this – and thinks nothing more of it until a few days later, when she reads the shocking news that Edie has been tasered and then murdered in Highgate Cemetery, the location of The Ink Black Heart. Now, Robin and her business partner Cormoran Strike become drawn into the quest to uncover Anomie’s true identity. But with a complex web of online aliases, business interests and family conflicts to navigate, Strike and Robin find themselves embroiled in a case that stretches their powers of deduction to the limits – and which threatens them in new and horrifying ways. I’ve pre-ordered this one so I’ll be receiving this on publication day and I won’t be available for 48 hours.
A couple of years ago I had the great fortune of coming across one of Peter James’s Roy Grace books in a holiday cottage. I then had one of those blissful moments when I realised, not only had I found a new author I really enjoyed, there was a whole back catalogue to get through! I was greedy and read them in a week back to back so now I wait for each new instalment and grab it, devour it in a day and wish I’d taken my time. I’m now watching the TV series with great interest to see what how they interpret the books and who plays the characters.
In this latest novel we meet Harry and Freya, an ordinary couple, who dreamed for years of finding something priceless buried amongst the tat in a car boot sale. It was a dream they knew in their hearts would never come true – until the day it did. They buy a drab portrait for a few pounds, for its beautiful frame, planning to cut the painting out. Then studying it back at home there seems to be another picture beneath, of a stunning landscape. Could it be a long-lost masterpiece from 1770? If genuine, it could be worth millions. One collector is certain it is genuine. Someone who uses any method he can to get want he wants and will stop at nothing. So, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace finds himself plunged into an unfamiliar and rarefied world of fine art. Outwardly it appears respectable, gentlemanly, and above reproach. But beneath the veneer, Roy rapidly finds that greed, deception and violence walk hand-in-hand. Harry and Freya Kipling are about to discover that their dream is turning into their worst nightmare.
Next Sunday I’ll be looking at fantasy and historical fiction.