Blue sky thinking: books to pack this summer
From Judy Blume’s new novel for grown-ups to Lisa McInerney’s Cork-set debut dazzler, here’s a carry-on bag of great reading
In the Unlikely EventBy Judy Blume (Picador, £13.99) This long-awaited new novel for adults by Judy Blume is a coming of age story set against a backdrop of a shocking real-life tragedy: between December 1951 and February 1952, three planes crashed in Blume’s hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey. We see the tragedy through the eyes of many different fictional residents, but the heart of the story is teenager Miri Ammerman, struggling to cope with first love, troubled friends and her own complicated family. Blume’s ability to tell a compelling story and create memorable characters of all ages is as strong as ever, and her old fans won’t be disappointed by this quietly sensational story. Just don’t read it on a flight.
A Place Called WinterBy Patrick Gale (Tinder Press, £13.99) Harry Cane is a married father living an outwardly conventional upper-middle- class life in Edwardian England. He is forced to leave the country after his affair with another man is discovered. In the harsh Canadian plains, Harry begins a new life as a farmer – but he’s still not safe from danger, or from love. Inspired by the mystery surrounding Gale’s own great-grandfather, who left his family for Canada in mysterious circumstances, A Place Called Winter is a gripping and deeply moving book about love, fear and hope.
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and BabbageBy Sydney Padua (Particular Books, £16.99) Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron and widely recognised as the first ever computer programmer, is one of the most extraordinary women of the 19th century. She worked with the inventor Charles Babbage on his Difference Engine, which, if finished, would have been the first computer. Their story, or something like it, comes to riotous life in this wonderful and genuinely informative graphic novel, which reimagines Lovelace and Babbage in an alternate universe in which the Difference Engine was not only finished, but used to fight crime. Padua’s gorgeous art and very funny text are combined with factual footnotes to create an utterly unique and enormously enjoyable book.
PleasantvilleBy Attica Locke (Serpent’s Tail, £14.99) It’s 1996, and ex-police chief Axel Hathorne is on track to become Houston’s first black mayor. Axel’s father was one of the founders of the middle-class African- American suburb – and key voting district – of Pleasantville. A girl called Alicia Nowell disappears apparently while canvassing for Axel. When her body is discovered, Axel’s nephew and campaign manager Neal is charged with murder. Weary lawyer Jay Porter takes on the case, and soon finds himself embroiled in a dangerous world of corruption and violence.
Villa AmericaBy Liza Klaussmann (Picador, £13.99) If, like most of us, you won’t get to spend your summer in a beautiful villa in the French Riviera, Liz Klaussmann’s tender novel about the lives of real-life golden couple Gerald and Sara Murphy may the next best thing. The Murphys were at the centre of a glittering world of American writers and artists, including Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Klaussmann delves beneath the glamorous surface to create a moving fictional portrait of a marriage, introducing a fictional pilot called Owen Chambers, whose presence transforms Gerald’s life.
Whiskey, Tango, FoxtrotBy David Shafer (Penguin, £8.99) Leila is a Persian-American NGO worker in Myanmar/Burma who stumbles across some English-speaking security men in a remote forest. Leo is an increasingly paranoid conspiracy theorist in Oregon. And Mark is an accidental self-help guru. Shafer’s darkly witty debut novel is the story of how these very different people find themselves caught up in the machinations of the Committee, a shadowy cabal that plans to create a “New Alexandria” by privatizing all information. An entertaining and worryingly plausible literary thriller.
The Lives of WomenBy Christine Dwyer Hickey (Atlantic, £12.99) When Elaine Nichols returns to her childhood home in an affluent outer Dublin suburb after several decades in the US, she can’t stop thinking about a summer in the 1970s when she was in a teenager. In the world of Elaine’s youth, mothers, fathers and children each occupy distinct spheres – until an American divorcée and her daughter move in. As the compelling narrative alternates between Elaine’s teenage summer and her present-day loneliness, Dwyer Hickey offers a devastating picture of suburban isolation.
A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great BetrayalBen Macintyre (Bloomsbury, £8.99) The British journalist Ben Macintyre’s enormously readable, witty, well-researched non-fiction books about espionage are as gripping as any fictional thrillers. His latest is one of his best, an account of how Soviet spy Kim Philby managed to fool not only MI6 but his close friends. Macintyre demonstrates how MI6’s reluctance to believe someone from Philby’s background could be a traitor (a senior officer’s declaration that he “knew [Philby’s] people” was essentially all the vetting he needed to join the secret service) allowed to him to pass on secrets to the USSR for decades.
Paradise CityBy Elizabeth Day (Bloomsbury Circus, £12.99) Beatrice is a lesbian refugee from Rwanda, now living a lonely life in London. Carol is a widow, struggling to cope with the recent death of her beloved husband. Esme is a journalist trying to get ahead. Howard is a brash, arrogant self-made millionaire who is ultimately impossible to hate. These four people seem to have nothing in common beyond the city in which they live, but all have experienced loss – of a partner, a child, a parent, a country. It’s a subject Day explores brilliantly in this witty, moving novel as the lives of Beatrice, Carol, Esme and Howard become dramatically intertwined.
A Song of ShadowsBy John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton, £13.99) Having narrowly escaped death in his last adventure, private investigator Charlie Parker is recuperating in a small town in Maine founded by German settlers. There he befriends a woman called Ruth and her daughter – but Ruth has fled a very dark past. Connolly blends crime and supernatural horror with consummate skill as Parker investigates a case with roots in the Holocaust.
Hotel Florida: Truth, Love and Death in the Spanish Civil WarBy Amanda Vaill (Bloomsbury, £9.99) Amanda Vaill’s brilliant new non-fiction book tells a complicated story of the Spanish Civil War through the eyes of three real-life couples at the heart of the action. There’s macho Ernest Hemingway and his ambitious young girlfriend, Martha Gellhorn; the talented and amazingly brave photographers Robert Capa and Gerta Taro; and writer and government censor Arturo Barea and activist Ilsa Kulcsar. Vaill skilfully weaves their stories together to create an unforgettable picture of love, lust, ambition and courage under fire.
Those We Left BehindBy Stuart Neville (Harvill Secker, £12.99) Seven years ago, 12-year-old Ciaran Devine confessed to the murder of his foster father. His older brother Thomas was convicted of being an accessory to the crime. Detective Serena Flanagan, the PSNI officer who gained the boy’s trust and took his confession, still worries that Ciaran only confessed to save Thomas from a much longer sentence. Now Ciaran is being released on parole, and his probation officer shares Serena’s fears. Strong characters and a compelling plot make this a must read.
TenderBy Belinda McKeon (Picador, £13.99) When Catherine meets her housemates’ old school friend James at the end of her first year at Trinity in 1997, they immediately form the sort of intense friendship that is only really possible when you’re young and finding out where you stand in the world. Both Catherine and James are romantically and sexually inexperienced, and James is also gay. McKeon’s second novel is a devastating portrait of a friendship and a pitch-perfect encapsulation of youthful obsession and self-delusion.
The Big LieBy Julie Mayhew (Hot Key Books, £7.99) Jessika Keller lives in a 21st-century Britain that was successfully conquered by Germany in 1940 and is now part of the Greater German Reich. Jessika is, she tells us “a good girl”, and her whole family are dutiful Nazis – her father has a senior position in the regime. Jessika’s friend Clementine Hart and her family, however, are not quite so perfect. More than just another “what if the Nazis won the war?” novel (though it’s a brilliantly realised example of the genre), this unputdownable book is also a powerful and moving exploration of friendship, family, sexuality and what it really means to be “good”. (August)
The Mark and the VoidBy Paul Murray (Hamish Hamilton, £12.99) Claude is a French banker with a philosophy degree working as an analyst at the Bank of Torabundo in Dublin’s IFSC. The country’s economy is in crisis, but BOT is doing quite well out of it so far. Then Claude is approached by a mysterious writer, Paul, who says he wants to write a book about Claude’s banking life. But what does the mysterious Paul really want? Five years after his hugely successful novel Skippy Dies, Murray’s third book is utterly original and very funny. (July).
So You’ve Been Publicly ShamedBy Jon Ronson (Picador, £14.99) In this thought-provoking book, Jon Ronson examines the effect of public shaming in the internet age. Talking to people whose lives were destroyed as a result of incidents such as an obnoxious tweet or silly Facebook photo, Ronson explores not just the experiences of the shamed, but the urges that drive many of us to become “soldiers in a war on other people’s flaws”.
WeightlessBy Sarah Bannan (Bloomsbury Circus, £12.99) In a small Alabama town where most people’s lives are centred around God and high school sports, cool, understated newcomer Carolyn Lessing is an object of fascination. Her classmates use social media to obsessively investigate her past and comment on her increasingly unhappy present. The reader sees Carolyn through the eyes of her peers, a group of girls who narrate the novel in the first person plural. It’s a narrative trick that brings to mind Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides, but Bannan’s brilliantly disingenuous narrative voice is distinctly her own.
A God in RuinsBy Kate Atkinson (Doubleday, £13.99) In her last novel, the stunning Life After Life, Atkinson told the multiple stories of Ursula Todd, who dies only to live her life over and over again. It’s not necessary to have read that book to appreciate A God in Ruins, which moves back and forth throughout the 20th century to explore the life of Ursula’s beloved brother Teddy, from his superbly depicted experiences as a pilot during the second World War to his fraught relationship with his rebellious daughter. Atkinson’s prose is always a pure pleasure to read, and this is a brilliantly inventive and engaging book.
LandmarksBy Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton, £20) If time, work and money prevent you from escaping to the countryside this summer, Macfarlane’s evocative new book may be the next best thing. He explores the relationship between landscape, words and literature in Britain and Ireland, looking at how the words we use to describe places and things in the natural world shape our understanding of it. From Irish and Hebridean Gaelic words for wind to Kentish words for icicle (that would be “aquabob”), it’s a reminder of the power of words, and the danger of “losing a literacy of the land”.
Virginia and Her SisterBy Priya Parmar (Bloomsbury, £11.99) The siblings of the title are Virginia and Vanessa Stephen, better known by their married names Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. Unlike her sister, Vanessa left no diaries, but Parmar’s impressive novel imagines what she might have written if she had. It begins in 1905, when the sisters have just moved to Bloomsbury. They and their talented friends have yet to attain success, but their lives are already full of dazzling drama. Vanessa and the more unstable Virginia are close – but when Vanessa falls in love, the sometimes difficult relationship between the sisters becomes even more troubled.
Wives in Ideal HomesBy Virginia Nicholson (Viking, £16.99) In recent years the perfect 1950s housewife has become both a symbol of social repression and an ironically reclaimed domestic inspiration. Nicholson’s wonderful new book looks at the reality behind the perfect cake-baking myth, telling the stories of dozens of real British (and some Irish) women to create a fascinating picture of the decade. Witty, compassionate and insightful, Nicholson (who happens to be Vanessa Bell’s granddaughter) is a superb social historian, combining diaries, letters and her own interviews to bring the women’s world to vivid life.
The Glorious HeresiesBy Lisa McInerney (John Murray, £13.99) Joseph O’Connor in The Irish Times described McInerney’s debut novel as a“big, brassy, sexy beast of a book”, and it’s hard to disagree. Set in Cork, this blackly comic but compassionate tale begins when teenager Ryan finally gets together with the girl of his dreams. He doesn’t know it yet, but Ryan’s life will soon be disrupted by the fall-out of an accidental murder as the long-lost mother of one of the city’s most dangerous gangsters, accidentally kills an intruder by bashing him over the head with a “holy stone”.
What Becomes of UsBy Henrietta McKervey (Hachette Books Ireland, £12.99) When Maria returns from London in 1965 to take up a job at what will soon be called RTÉ, she finds herself working on the station’s 1916 commemoration celebrations. Maria discovers that her elderly neighbour Tess was once a member of Cumman na mBan, and is determined to investigate further. But Tess is reluctant to look back at her own past – and so, it’s clear, is Maria. Henrietta McKervey’s debut novel is a poignant and engaging look at female friendship and personal – and political – awakening.
Another Heartbeat in the HouseBy Kate Beaufoy (Transworld, £7.99) It’s 1937, and a grieving young woman called Edie Chadwick has left her glamorous London life to pack up a relative’s house in rural Cork. There she finds a manuscript telling the extraordinary story of a sharply ambitious young woman called Eliza Drury, who arrived in Ireland from England in the 1840s to work as a governess. Edie is gripped by Eliza’s story – and so will readers. Beaufoy convincingly channels voices from the 1930s and 1840s to create a hugely enjoyable book, perfect for a lazy summer afternoon. (July)
The Year of Marvellous WaysBy Sarah Winman (Tinder Press, £16.99) Marvellous Ways is a very old women who lives on her own by a creek in the depths of Cornwall. Francis Drake is a young man who has recently returned to England from war. They have, it seems, nothing in common – apart from their lack of family ties. When Drake, reeling after a tragedy, arrives at Marvellous’s door, she starts telling him stories about her extraordinary life. If this sounds twee, it really isn’t. Written in effortlessly lyrical prose, this is a truly enchanting book from the author of the bestselling When God Was a Rabbit.
Anna Carey’s novel Rebecca Is Always Right is published by the O’Brien Press