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Best new books to read this summer


1st Jan 2015 Book Reviews

Best new books to read this summer

Spanning fiction and non-fiction and abundant in incredible stories that'll make your heart beat faster, you won't regret packing these page-turners into your beach bag this summer! 

The Lie of the Land 

by Amanda Craig 


Lottie and Quentin once lived a dream London life as a journalist and architect respectively. Now, both jobs have gone and the couple are forced to downsize to rural Devon where, to their surprise, they discover a different England altogether—and where Lottie is even more surprised to realise that she rather likes it. Before long, it’s London’s “sheen of superiority” that begins to strike her as weird.

At the same time, though, Amanda Craig never sentimentalises the modern countryside. Instead, she powerfully describes the terrible working conditions in local food factories and on local farms, where immigrant labour has pushed down wages—all to produce the cheap grub that cities take for granted.

Admittedly, reviewers have a tendency to describe any novel with more than about 300 pages and 12 characters as “Dickensian”. Yet, in this case, that seems about right, as a hugely readable book packed with incident gradually turns into a rich and revealing portrait of contemporary Britain. Indeed, even the highly forgivable flaws are Dickensian too, with Craig throwing a wholly unnecessary but undeniably enjoyable slice of melodrama into the mix.

Published by Little, Brown at £16.99


The Portrait 

by Antoine Laurain 


Pierre-Francois Chaumont is an antique collector living in Paris. One day, while wandering through an auction house, he notices an 18th-century portrait of an unknown man who looks uncannily like him. Fascinated, he places a bid—and the painting is his. But little does he know that it’s just the beginning of a strange, strange course of events that’ll present him with the opportunity to walk into a brand new life.

Effortlessly eloquent, quietly hilarious and consistently self-aware, Antoine Laurain’s debut novel is a delightful read that, like all great stories we fall in love with, is over much too soon. 

For its petite size, the tome is crammed with all kinds of decadent goodness: from the irresistible Parisian atmosphere to the exotic world of art auctions, with elegance and good taste oozing from every page. Combine that with the narrator's panache and delectable sense of humour, and you’ve got yourself a book you won’t be able to put down.

Published by Gallic Books at £8.99


The Sunshine Sisters 

by Jane Green 


Jane Green is now one of the world’s best-selling novelists, and reading The Sunshine Sisters it’s not hard to see why. Few authors are better at creating believably messed-up characters who don’t always behave well—but who we end up rooting for all the same. It’s a trick she manages to pull off here with Ronni Sunshine, a former Hollywood glamour puss, whose entire life has been dedicated to Ronni Sunshine.

As a wife, she was dependably unfaithful. As a mother, she treated her three daughters with neglect and criticism. Nevertheless, when she summons them all after being diagnosed with a terminal disease, her determination to make some sort of amends proves both convincing and increasingly moving.

By then, we’ve also followed each of the sisters as they moved into adulthood, and further apart from each other. Again, they’re treated with enormous sympathy, as they adopt different tactics for surviving their childhood. All of their stories, in fact, might have made for good novels in themselves. Taken together, they’re simply three more reasons why this big, warm family saga is so enjoyable.

Published by Macmillan at £14.99


The Olive Tree 

by Lucinda Riley 


Based on a family holiday in Cyprus during a long, hot summer, The Olive Tree unravels a story of love, deceit and secrets from the past that hang in the air throughout this gripping read.

It’s been 24 years since Helena, then a teenager, spent a magical summer at the Pandora—her godfather’s gorgeous villa in Cyprus where she fell in love for the first time. Fast-forward to the present and she's now a mother, wife and the owner of the now-crumbling house. When she decides to return there with her family for a summer holiday, Pandora's secrets begin to resurface, threatening to make Helena's past and present collide.  

With its complex and utterly engrossing story, and the pages permeated with the aroma of olives, grapes and the blistering Cypriot sun, The Olive Tree is the perfect summer read. Riley cleverly juggles multiple timelines and viewpoints of different family members at various stages of their lives, making us root for every single one of them and forcing us to ponder the fleeting nature of our own life.

Published by Pan on July 27 at £7.99


The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York

by Anne de Courcy


Between 1874 and 1914, around 100 young American women—usually extremely rich ones—married into the British aristocracy. The traditional explanation for the invasion of this “alien horde”, as the newspapers called them, is that it was a simple case of “cash for coronets”: the women got the kind of social status that only a title can provide; the men, a much-needed injection of money into the family coffers.

But, as Anne de Courcy’s book shows, there were other factors too. For one thing, the charms of American women weren’t merely financial. On the whole, they were livelier, more confident, better educated and better dressed—in short, sexier—than their British equivalents. More surprising perhaps, New York’s high society was considerably harder to get into than London’s. Just because your family had recently made millions of dollars didn’t mean that city’s old-money types would accept you.

Yet, while the book is always good on the wider background, its real appeal lies in the many terrific stories it has to tell. With American society then essentially matriarchal, the husband hunters of the title aren’t the daughters, but the mothers—who, in their determination to bag their girls an aristocrat, emerge as an almost comically ruthless lot.

Not that the outcome was always funny for the poor brides, many of whom ended up alone in freezing county piles, looked down on by snooty servants, while their husbands gallivanted in London.

Published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson at £20


I'll Take You There 

by Wally Lamb 


Sometimes all you need in a book is an affable narrator whose company keeps you comfortable and entertained. And you’ll certainly find one in Felix Funicello—the voice behind I’ll Take You There. Charismatic, funny and easy-going, Felix is a 60-year-old film scholar who lets us in on his not-so-eventful day to day life, consisting of phone calls to his young, ambitious daughter Aliza and running a weekly movie club at an old vaudeville theatre.

Until, one day, he's confronted by the ghost (!) of Lois Weber—an iconic filmmaker of the silent screen, who invites Felix to watch a new kind of film—scenes from his own past. As the various stages of Felix's life play out on the big screen, he reflects on an important trio of women who had a huge impact on his life.

With its almost painfully relatable, self-deprecating narrator, refreshing thoughts on feminism and an endless stream of pop cultural references—both old and new—I’ll Take You There is bound to be one of the most simultaneously entertaining and heartwarming books you’ll read this summer. And if you’re particularly susceptible to romanticising old movies, bump this book right to the top of your reading pile right now! 

Published by Arrow at £8.99


How to Stop Time

by Matt Haig


“I am old,” begins the narrator of Matt Haig’s terrific new novel. And as we soon discover, he’s not kidding. Tom, a teacher at a London comp, may look fortyish. In fact, he was born in 1581—but thanks to a rare and secret condition called anageria, ever since puberty, he’s been ageing 15 times more slowly than ordinary people.

As a high-concept premise for a novel, this is clearly a cracking one. Nonetheless, what makes the book so dazzling is how thoroughly and imaginatively Haig thinks it through. To his inevitable personal cost, Tom must change his identity every few years before the people around him notice his apparent failure to grow older.

He also regards the rest of us—known to anageriacs as “mayflies”—with a mixture of pity and envy that raises troubling questions about our own short lifespans. (“Mayflies don’t live long enough to learn.”) Yet, even at its most thought-provoking, How to Stop Time never forgets the more straightforward business of great storytelling: either in the individual scenes over several centuries, or in Tom’s overarching 400-year quest for his beloved anageriac daughter.

Published by Canongate at £12.99


Tin Man

by Sarah Winman 


In Sarah Winman’s third novel, Ellis Judd works night shifts at a car plant—largely because, since his wife Annie and his lifelong friend Michael died in a road accident five years ago, he can’t sleep anyway. In the early sections, Ellis’s loneliness is beautifully and painfully captured. Then, as the flashbacks pile up, we learn that, as young men, he and Michael had an affair. For Ellis it brought “equal shame, equal joy”, but it was Michael’s most intense experience of love. It also continued to haunt them both—not least during a period of embarrassed estrangement.

All this might sound quite a departure for Winman, whose first two novels When God Was a Rabbit and A Year of Marvellous Ways (both bestsellers, especially after the Duchess of Cambridge was revealed to be a fan) combined realistic settings with elements of fairy tale. Here, she sticks strictly to the realism—including some fairly graphic sex scenes. What she does retain, though, is the same touching and infectious sympathy for her characters; and the same heart-rending ability to show the harm that can still come to essentially good people trying to do the right thing.

Published by Tinder Press at £12.99


The Ludlow Ladies' Society 

by Ann O'Loughlin 


When it comes to fiction, there’s always something incredibly beguiling about old, mysterious buildings that hold secrets to the past.The Ludlow Ladies’ Society revolves around one such building: the once-grand, but now dilapidated Ludlow Hall in Wicklow, Ireland.

When Connie Carter’s husband dies, she learns that he had ploughed all their money into this old building without telling her a word. Heartbroken and confused, Connie leaves her home in Manhattan and moves to Ireland in search of answers. There, she meets local women Eve and Hetty who introduce her to Ludlow Ladies’ Society—a crafts group looking for a permanent home for their meetings, and thus, this tight-knit community gains a new member.

Written by bestselling author behind The Ballroom Café and The Judge’s Wife, Ann O’Loughlin, it’s a heartwarming story about female friendship, resilience in the face of loss and change, but also an addictive page-turner with plenty of unexpected twists and reveals in store. 

Published by Black & White Publishing at £12.99


The Bright Hour 

by Nina Riggs 


In 2015, poet and writer Nina Riggs was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 37 years old, happily married and had two wonderful sons. The cancer metastasised later that year and she passed away in February 2017. Over the final two years of her life, she wrote a touching memoir depicting her battle with the illness and the process of making peace with her approaching death.

If you're thinking that it sounds a bit too harrowing, you're partially right. The Bright Hour is not an easy or light read by any stretch and you'll leave a damp page or two behind. However, don’t let that dishearten you; while the looming presence of impending death is ubiquitous throughout the book, it's also a work teeming with limitless love, humour and perseverance.

Even when dealing with the most physically and mentally agonising moments through her battle with cancer, Nina’s voice remains resolute, self-aware and always prioritising those nearest and dearest over her own fears and worries.

It’s a truly inspiring and—in the end—uplifting memoir; the kind of work that makes you want to take a step back and get a better look at your life to remind yourself what really matters. 

Published by Text Publishing on August 3 at £12.99


That’s the Way It Crumbles: the American Conquest of English

by Matthew Engel


Here’s a question for you: in what circumstances does a British judge bang the little hammer known as a gavel?

The answer is in no circumstances whatsoever. As Matthew Engel (right) points out, British judges don’t have—and never have had—gavels. The reason many people think they do is that our TV courtroom dramas generally prefer to do things the American way, complete with lawyers jumping up to shout “Objection!”—which doesn’t happen here either.

This surrender of large parts of British life to the United States is the subject of Engel’s often funny, but still extremely heartfelt, book. His primary concern, though, is with language. In the early chapters, he gives us plenty of fascinating information about the many Americanisms imported between the 18th century and the 1960s—some of which caused enormous controversy at the time, but now seem hard to object to. (Much British scorn was once directed at reliable, on the grounds that it should be “rely-upon-able”, and that “trustworthy” did the job perfectly well anyway.)

And in fact, Engel doesn’t object to those himself. For a couple of centuries, he says, American English brought us useful words for new things—from tobacco to telegram—and some invigorating slang. But since the 1970s, the situation has been “altogether darker”, with no quality control, just an unthinking willingness to outsource the development of our own language to another country. Already, lorries have become trucks; and dinner jackets, tuxedoes. Now, Engel suggests, we’re faced with cookie vs biscuit: “the potential Armageddon that would spell the end times for the English language as we have known it”.

Published by Profile at 16.99


The Case Against Fragrance 

by Kate Grenville 


Fragrance is omnipresent in our society. Before we’re even dressed we’ll wake up in bed sheets perfumed by detergent, use a loo smelling of toilet cleaner and kept pleasant with an air freshener, shower with scented soap and shampoo, apply fragrant deodorant, makeup or moisturiser and spritz on perfume or cologne. 

For something so ubiquitous, we know precious little about what goes into these smells and what those secretive ingredients might be doing to our health. By law, companies don’t have to reveal their ingredients beyond the word “parfum” or “fragrance”. 

Kate Grenville has suffered adverse affects—including serious migraines—from scent for years, and shocked by the lack of information available, has taken it upon herself to examine a seriously secretive industry in this informative and continually shocking investigation. 

Though her obsession with smell (at one point duct taping the cracks of a hotel door in order to escape an air freshener in the corridor) may be a little extreme for some, she raises valuable questions about the potentially harmful chemicals surrounding us every day and why we so unabashedly live in ignorance of them.

Published by Text Publishing on August 31 at £12.99


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