Happy spring, bookworms!
I take these 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.
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The Last Letter from Istanbul, by Lucy Foley (UK, 5th April, historical fiction)
Each day Nur gazes across the waters of the Bosphorus to her childhood home, a grand white house, nestled on the opposite bank. Memories float on the breeze – the fragrance of the fig trees, the saffron sunsets of languid summer evenings. But now those days are dead. The house has been transformed into an army hospital, it is a prize of war in the hands of the British. And as Nur weaves through the streets carrying the embroideries that have become her livelihood, Constantinople swarms with Allied soldiers – a reminder of how far she and her city have fallen. The most precious thing in Nur’s new life is the orphan in her care – a boy with a terrible secret. When he falls dangerously ill Nur’s world becomes entwined with the enemy’s. She must return to where she grew up, and plead for help from Medical Officer George Monroe. As the lines between enemy and friend become fainter, a new danger emerges – something even more threatening than the lingering shadow of war.
Boy 87, by Ele Fountain (UK, 5th April, YA)
Shif is just an ordinary schoolboy who loves chess and playing with his best friend. But, one day, he is forced to leave home to avoid conscription into the army. He embarks on an epic journey, in which he encounters dangers and cruelties – and great acts of human kindness – as he bravely makes his way to a future he can only imagine.
Clean, by Juno Dawson (UK, 5th April, YA)
When socialite Lexi Volkov almost overdoses, she thinks she’s hit rock bottom. She’s wrong. Rock bottom is when she’s forced into an exclusive rehab facility. From there, the only way is up for Lexi and her fellow inmates, including the mysterious Brady. As she faces her demons, Lexi realises love is the most powerful drug of all … It’s a dirty business getting clean.
Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different, by Ben Brooks and Quinton Winter (UK, 5th April, US, 25th September, YA non-fiction)
Boys need to know that prince charmings and brave hunters are not the only role-models. As statistics keep showing that there is an ongoing crisis with regards to young men and mental health, with unhelpful gender stereotypes contributing to this malaise, Stories for Boys Who Dare To Be Different offers a welcome alternative narrative. It is an extraordinary compilation of 100 stories of famous and not-so-famous men from the past to the present day, every single one of them a rule-breaker and innovator in his own way, and all going on to achieve amazing things. Entries include Frank Ocean, Salvador Dali, Rimbaud, Beethoven, Barack Obama, Ai Weiwei and Jesse Owens – different sorts of heroes from all walks of life and from all over the world.
The Music: A Novel Through Sound, by Matthew Herbert (UK, 5th April, literary fiction)
In the last hundred years – between the invention of the microphone and the computer – music has undergone a profound revolution. No longer confined to specifically designed instruments, we can now make music out of anything. The Music evokes a shifting sonic landscape in precise detail – Chinese concrete slowly hardening, overlaid by a splintering cassette tape in the stereo of a car mid-crash. The noise of 73,984 insects hitting number plates followed by that of a drill striking oil deep beneath the earth’s surface. Or just the silence of two unfamiliar people as they look up at the night sky.
The One Who Wrote Destiny, by Nikesh Shukla (UK, 5th April, literary fiction)
Mukesh has just moved from Kenya to the drizzly northern town of Keighley. He was expecting fame, fortune, the Rolling Stones and a nice girl, not poverty, loneliness and racism. Neha is dying. Her brother is an unfunny comedian and her idiot father is a first-generation immigrant who moved to Keighley of all places. Rakesh is grieving. Ba has never looked after her two young grandchildren before. After her daughter died, her useless son-in-law dumped them on her doorstep for a month and now she has to try and work out how to bond with two children who are used England, not to the rhythms of Kenya…
I Still Dream, by James Smythe (UK, 5th April, literary fiction/science fiction)
17-year-old Laura Bow has invented a rudimentary artificial intelligence, and named it Organon. At first it’s intended to be a sounding-board for her teenage frustrations, a surrogate best friend; but as she grows older, Organon grows with her. As the world becomes a very different place, technology changes the way we live, love and die; massive corporations develop rival intelligences to Laura’s, ones without safety barriers or morals; and Laura is forced to decide whether to share her creation with the world. If it falls into the wrong hands, she knows, its power could be abused. But what if Organon is the only thing that can stop humanity from hurting itself irreparably?
Self & I: A Memoir of Literary Ambition, by Matthew De Abaitua (UK, 5th April, memoir)
Matthew De Abaitua, fresh out of university, is being interviewed for a job. The interview involves discussing literature, honking on a special cigarette and shooting at empty whisky bottles with an air rifle. The job in question is that of amanuensis, or live-in personal assistant. The employer is Will Self, the enfant terrible of the literary scene. For the next six months, De Abaitua and Self share a remote cottage in Suffolk, working on their literary ambitions. They are distracted by hikes to Sizewell nuclear power station, opium tea and the allure of Soho. Thanks to Self and his library of bad influences, from JG Ballard to William Burroughs, De Abaitua undergoes a rite of passage that changes him forever. Caught up in vital threads of the early Nineties, from the rise of New Labour to the slow decline of the literary establishment and the emergence of the internet, Self & Iis set in a time that burns brightest in its final hour. It is a frank and very funny account of a young, hopeful writer who finds himself alongside one of his heroes only to discover that literary ambition comes at a price.
Winging It!: Parenting in the Middle of Life, by Alex Jones (UK and US, 5th April, non-fiction)
Joining the parenting club in our thirties and beyond means that we are spinning an extraordinary amount of plates, often including a career at its peak. Most of us co-parent or fly solo in the true sense of the word, relying solely on our partners and/or friends when more often than not, extended family are too far away to help on a regular basis. Our parents could look to their parents for the usual guidance and extra support, but our situation is new, modern and unique. We are winging it! This book isn’t a guide or a parenting manual – it’s more of a support group for parents who are having their children in their thirties and forties to get together, to celebrate, share experiences, laugh and find joy in what is still the biggest life changing experience any of us will ever go through. It’s the book I looked for when I was pregnant, that spoke to me as a working parent and that I couldn’t find so I’ve had a go at writing one myself.
Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life, by Rose Tremain (UK, 12th April, memoir)
Rose Tremain grew up in post-war London, a city of grey austerity, still partly in ruins, where both food and affection were fiercely rationed. The girl known then as ‘Rosie’ and her sister Jo spent their days longing for their grandparents’ farm, buried deep in the Hampshire countryside, a green paradise of feasts and freedom, where they could at last roam and dream. But when Rosie is ten years old, everything changes. She and Jo lose their father, their London house, their school, their friends, and — most agonisingly of all — their beloved Nanny, Vera, the only adult to have shown them real love and affection. Briskly dispatched to a freezing boarding-school in Hertfordshire, they once again feel like imprisoned castaways. But slowly the teenage Rosie escapes from the cold world of the Fifties, into a place of inspiration and mischief, of loving friendships and dedicated teachers, where a young writer is suddenly ready to be born.
The Lido, by Libby Page (UK, 19th April, US, 10th July, literary fiction)
Rosemary has lived in Brixton all her life, but everything she knows is changing. Only the local lido, where she swims every day, remains a constant reminder of the past and her beloved husband George. Kate has just moved and feels adrift in a city that is too big for her. She’s on the bottom rung of her career as a local journalist, and is determined to make something of it. So when the lido is threatened with closure, Kate knows this story could be her chance to shine. But for Rosemary, it could be the end of everything. Together they are determined to make a stand, and to prove that the pool is more than just a place to swim – it is the heart of the community.
How to Survive the End of the World (When it’s in Your Own Head): An Anxiety Survival Guide, by Aaron Gillies (UK, 19th April, non-fiction)
There are plenty of books out there on how to survive a zombie apocalypse, all-out nuclear war, or Armageddon. But what happens when it feels like the world is ending every single time you wake up? That’s what having anxiety is like – and How to Survive the End of the World is here to help. Or at least make you feel like you’re not so alone. From helping readers identify the enemy, to safeguarding the vulnerable areas of their lives, Aaron Gillies will examine the impact of anxiety, and give readers some tools to fight back – whether with medication, therapy, CBT, coping techniques, or simply with a dark sense of humour.
In Our Mad and Furious City, by Guy Gunaratne (UK, 19th April, literary fiction)
For Selvon, Ardan and Yusuf, growing up under the towers of Stones Estate, summer means what it does anywhere: football, music, freedom. But now, after the killing of a British soldier, riots are spreading across the city, and nowhere is safe. While the fury swirls around them, Selvon and Ardan remain focused on their own obsessions, girls and grime. Their friend Yusuf is caught up in a different tide, a wave of radicalism surging through his local mosque, threatening to carry his troubled brother, Irfan, with it.
Plus, out in the US this month:
The Only Story, by Julian Barnes (17th April, literary fiction)
One summer in the sixties, in a staid suburb south of London, Paul comes home from university, aged nineteen, and is urged by his mother to join the tennis club. In the mixed-doubles tournament he’s partnered with Susan Macleod, a fine player who’s forty-eight, confident, ironic, and married, with two nearly adult daughters. She is also a warm companion, their bond immediate. And they soon, inevitably, are lovers. Clinging to each other as though their lives depend on it, they then set up house in London to escape his parents and the abusive Mr. Mcleod. Decades later, Paul looks back at how they fell in love, how he freed Susan from a sterile marriage, and how–gradually, relentlessly–everything fell apart, and he found himself struggling to understand the intricacy and depth of the human heart. It’s a piercing account of helpless devotion, and of how memory can confound us and fail us and surprise us (sometimes all at once), of how, as Paul puts it, “first love fixes a life forever”.
The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English, by Lynne Murphy (10th April)
Professor Lynne Murphy is on the linguistic front line. In The Prodigal Tongue she explores the fiction and reality of the special relationship between British and American English. By examining the causes and symptoms of American Verbal Inferiority Complex and its flipside, British Verbal Superiority Complex, Murphy unravels the prejudices, stereotypes and insecurities that shape our attitudes to our own language. With great humo(u)r and new insights, Lynne Murphy looks at the social, political and linguistic forces that have driven American and British English in different directions: how Americans got from centre to center, why British accents are growing away from American ones, and what different things we mean when we say estate, frown, or middle class. Is anyone winning this war of the words? Will Yanks and Brits ever really understand each other?