Happy (slighly belated) New Book Year, Fellow Book Nerds! Here are my recommendations for new books out this January.
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I take the titles for these monthly posts from a number of sources, including the highlighted books on The Bookseller, my own knowledge of authors to watch, and various lists around the web, and while I can’t claim to have read them, they definitely seem to have merit — or, at least, buzz. Unless indicated otherwise, descriptions are taken from Goodreads, Amazon, or the publisher’s site.
Happiness for Humans, by P Z Reizin (UK, 4th January, US, 9th January, contemporary fiction)
Jen is sad. Aiden wants her to be happy. Simple? Except that Jen is a thirty-something woman whose boyfriend has just left her and Aiden is a very complicated, very expensive piece of software. Aiden has calculated that Jen needs a man in her life for optimum wellbeing. And with the whole of the internet at his disposal, he doesn’t have to look far to find a perfect specimen and engineer a meeting. But what, exactly, makes human beings happy? And can a very-artificially-intelligent machine discover emotional intelligence in time to fix Jen’s life?
The Chalk Man, by C J Tudor (US, 9th January, UK, 11th January, thriller)
Looking back, it all started on the day of the fair and the terrible accident. When twelve-year-old Eddie first met the Chalk Man. It was the Chalk Man who gave Eddie the idea for the drawings: a way to leave secret messages between his group of friends. And it was fun, to start with, until the figures led them to the body of a young girl. That was thirty years ago and Ed thought the past was behind him. Then he receives a letter containing just two things: a piece of chalk, and a drawing of a stick figure. As history begins to repeat itself, Ed realises the game was never over.
Anatomy of a Scandal, by Sarah Vaughan (UK, 11th January, US, 23rd January, contemporary fiction)
A high-profile marriage thrust into the spotlight. A wife, determined to keep her family safe, must face a prosecutor who believes justice has been a long time coming. A scandal that will rock Westminster. And the women caught at the heart of it.
Three Things About Elsie, by Joanna Cannon (UK, 11th January, contemporary fiction)
84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light; and, if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly a man who died sixty years ago?
Peach, by Emma Glass (UK and US, 11th January, literary fiction)
Something has happened to Peach. Blood runs down her legs and the scent of charred meat lingers on her flesh. It hurts to walk but she staggers home to parents that don’t seem to notice. They can’t keep their hands off each other and besides, they have a new infant, sweet and wobbly as a jelly baby. Peach must patch herself up alone so she can go to college and see her boyfriend, Green. But sleeping is hard when she is haunted by the gaping memory of a mouth, and working is hard when burning sausage fat fills her nostrils, and eating is impossible when her stomach is swollen tight as a drum.
Hearts And Minds: The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote, by Jane Robinson (UK, 11th January, non-fiction)
1913: the last long summer before the war. The country is gripped by suffragette fever. These impassioned crusaders have their admirers; some agree with their aims if not their forceful methods, while others are aghast at the thought of giving any female a vote.
Meanwhile, hundreds of women are stepping out on to the streets of Britain. They are the suffragists: non-militant campaigners for the vote, on an astonishing six-week protest march they call the Great Pilgrimage. Rich and poor, young and old, they defy convention, risking jobs, family relationships and even their lives to persuade the country to listen to them.
This is a story of ordinary people effecting extraordinary change. By turns dangerous, exhausting and exhilarating, the Great Pilgrimage transformed the personal and political lives of women in Britain for ever.
Still Me, by Jojo Moyes (UK, 25th January, US, 30th January, contemporary fiction)
Lou Clark knows too many things… She knows how many miles lie between her new home in New York and her new boyfriend Sam in London. She knows her employer is a good man and she knows his wife is keeping a secret from him. What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to meet someone who’s going to turn her whole life upside down. Because Josh will remind her so much of a man she used to know that it’ll hurt. Lou won’t know what to do next, but she knows that whatever she chooses is going to change everything.
Trying, by Emily Phillips (UK, 25th January, contemporary fiction)
Olivia and Felix are trying for a baby. They even moved to the suburbs in anticipation of their future family. But despite approaching her cycle and their sex life with military precision, there’s still no sign of what felt like the sure next step, whilst friends’ broods seem to be growing by the week. Meanwhile, vying for a promotion at work under the (very attentive) watch of a new boss sends Olivia down a dangerous road of risking it all. Does a happy ever after, she starts to question, even have to include a baby?
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, by Imogen Hermes Gowar (UK, 25th January, literary/historical fiction)
One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid. As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost. Where will their ambitions lead? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?
Swansong, by Kerry Andrew (UK, 25th January, literary fiction)
Polly Vaughan is trying to escape the ravaging guilt of a disturbing incident in London by heading north to the Scottish Highlands. As soon as she arrives, this spirited, funny, alert young woman goes looking for drink, drugs and sex – finding them all quickly, and unsatisfactorily, with the barman in the only pub. She also finds a fresh kind of fear, alone in this eerie, myth-drenched landscape. Increasingly prone to visions or visitations – floating white shapes in the waters of the loch or in the woods – she is terrified and fascinated by a man she came across in the forest on her first evening, apparently tearing apart a bird. Who is this strange loner? And what is his sinister secret?
The Feed, by Nick Clark Windo (UK, 25th January, thriller)
The Feed is everywhere. It can be accessed by anyone, at any time. Every interaction, every emotion, every image can be shared through it. Tom and Kate use The Feed, but they have resisted addiction to it. And this will serve them well when The Feed collapses. Until their six-year-old daughter, Bea, goes missing. Because how do you find someone in a world devoid of technology? And what happens when you can no longer trust that your loved ones are really who they claim to be?
Plus, published in the US this month:
The Story of The Great British Bake Off, by Anita Singh (1st January, non-fiction/TV tie-in)
Take one tent. Fill with 12 amateur bakers. Garnish with one venerable cookery writer, one blue-eyed bread-maker, and two comedy queens with a love of innuendo, and you have the recipe for the most popular show of our times. When The Great British Bake Off made its debut in August 2010, it had the makings of a modest hit. But nobody—not the program-makers and certainly not those first contestants—could have predicted what was to come. Here was a show in which the biggest weekly drama was whether or not a sponge cake would sink in the middle. And oh, how we loved it. Here is the ultimate Bake Off fan book: from bread lion to bin-gate; heart throbs to Twitter trolls; soggy bottoms to sticky buns. This is the celebration of Britain’s most popular cookery contest.
The Music Shop, by Rachel Joyce (2nd January, contemporary fiction)
It is 1988. On a dead-end street in a run-down suburb there is a music shop that stands small and brightly lit, jam-packed with records of every kind. Like a beacon, the shop attracts the lonely, the sleepless, and the adrift; Frank, the shop’s owner, has a way of connecting his customers with just the piece of music they need. Then, one day, into his shop comes a beautiful young woman, Ilse Brauchmann, who asks Frank to teach her about music. Terrified of real closeness, Frank feels compelled to turn and run, yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems, and Frank has old wounds that threaten to reopen, as well as a past it seems he will never leave behind. Can a man who is so in tune with other people’s needs be so incapable of connecting with the one person who might save him?
Gnomon, by Nick Harkaway (9th January, thriller/dystopian fiction)
In the world of Gnomon, citizens are ceaselessly observed and democracy has reached a pinnacle of “transparency.” When suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies in government custody during a routine interrogation, Mielikki Neith, a trusted state inspector, is assigned to the case. Immersing herself in neural recordings of the interrogation, she finds a panorama of characters and events that Hunter gave life to in order to forestall the investigation: a lovelorn financier in Athens who has a mystical experience with a shark; a brilliant alchemist in ancient Carthage confronting the unexpected outcome of her invention; an expat Ethiopian painter in London designing a controversial new video game. In the static between these mysterious visions, Neith begins to catch glimpses of the real Diana Hunter–and, alarmingly, of herself, the staggering consequences of which will reverberate throughout the world.