Optimum reading-on-the-beach season is finally here! Here’s hoping we actually get to make the most of that this year.
Here’s my roundup of British books hot off the press this month, chosen because they have buzz or critical acclaim or because I find them interesting. (Descriptions are taken from online retailers.) It’s a rough time for both authors and bookshops, and I’m sure they would love your support. It’s even more important than usual to buy from independent bookshops at the moment — and Bookshop.org is a great resource for that.
Where to buy the books:
- I have mostly linked to Blackwells.com — a small and excellent UK chain which ships inexpensively worldwide. I’ve searched high and low for reliable, non-Amazon ways to get British books in the US with inexpensive postage costs and Blackwell’s is the best thing I’ve found. These are also affiliate links, so you’ll be sending a few pennies my way, too.
- I’ve also included a link to a further list of mine at the new British arm of Bookshop.org, the online platform for buying books that profit shares with independent bookshops. Not only are you supporting independent bookshops when you buy from them — and those bookshops really need our help right now — you’re also supporting the podcast, since I get a generous commission through the links without adding any costs to you. They don’t ship worldwide, however, so this link is for those of you based in the UK.
- I’ve also included a link to the US arm of Bookshop.org. This list highlights British books published in the US this month. Note that this won’t be the same list, as not all British books make it across the pond, and when they do, their publication date is often later. That’s why each title links to Blackwells.com — that’s your most reliable way of getting the British books.
The Startup Wife, by Tahmima Anam (UK, 3rd June, US, 13th July)
Halfway through her PhD and already dreaming of running her own lab, computer scientist Asha has her future all mapped out. Then a chance meeting and whirlwind romance with her old high-school crush, Cyrus, changes everything.
Dreaming big, together with their friend Jules they come up with a revolutionary idea: to build a social networking app that could bring meaning to millions of lives. While Asha creates an ingenious algorithm, Cyrus’ charismatic appeal throws him into the spotlight.
When the app explodes into the next big thing, Asha should be happy, shouldn’t she? But why does she feel invisible in the boardroom of her own company? Why are decisions being made without her? Gripping, witty and razor-sharp, The Startup Wife is a blistering novel about big ambitions, speaking out and standing up for what you believe in.
Assembly, by Natasha Brown (UK, 3rd June)
Come of age in the credit crunch. Be civil in a hostile environment. Step out into a world of Go Home vans. Go to Oxbridge, get an education, start a career. Do all the right things . Buy a flat. Buy art. Buy a sort of happiness. But above all, keep your head down. Keep quiet. And keep going.
The narrator of Assembly is a Black British woman. She is preparing to attend a lavish garden party at her boyfriend’s family estate, set deep in the English countryside. At the same time, she is considering the carefully assembled pieces of herself. As the minutes tick down and the future beckons, she can’t escape the question: is it time to take it all apart?
(M)otherhood: On the choices of being a woman, by Pragya Agarwal (UK, 3rd June)
In a world where women have more choices than ever, society nevertheless continues to exert the stigma and pressures of less enlightened times when it comes to having children. We define women by whether they embrace or reject motherhood; whether they can give birth or not.
Behavioural Scientist Pragya Agarwal uses her own varied experiences and choices as a woman of South Asian heritage to examine the broader societal, historical and scientific factors that drive how we think and talk about motherhood. She looks at how women’s bodies have been monitored and controlled through history, and how this shapes the political constructs of motherhood and womanhood now.
Extremely open in its honesty and meticulously researched, (M)otherhood probes themes of infertility, childbirth and reproductive justice, and makes a powerful and urgent argument for the need to tackle society’s obsession with women’s bodies and fertility.
Sankofa, by Chibundu Onuzo (UK, 3rd June, US, 5th October)
Anna grew up in England with her white mother and knowing very little about her West African father. In middle age, after separating from her husband and with her daughter all grown up, she finds herself alone and wondering who she really is. Her mother’s death leads her to find her father’s student diaries, chronicling his involvement in radical politics in 1970s London. She discovers that he eventually became the president – some would say the dictator – of Bamana in West Africa. And he is still alive.
She decides to track him down and so begins a funny, painful, fascinating journey, and an exploration of race, identity and what we pass on to our children.
The Queen, by Matthew Dennison (UK, 3rd June, US, 17th June)
In this brand-new biography of the longest-reigning sovereign in British history, Matthew Dennison traces her life and reign across an era of unprecedented and often seismic social change. Stylish in its writing and nuanced in its judgements, The Queen charts the joys and triumphs as well as the disappointments and vicissitudes of a remarkable royal life; it also assesses the achievement of a woman regarded as the champion of a handful of ‘British’ values endorsed – if no longer practised – by the bulk of the nation: service, duty, steadfastness, charity and stoicism.
The Day I Fell Off My Island, by Yvonne Bailey-Smith (UK, 10th June, US, 12th October)
The Day I Fell Off My Island tells the story of Erna Mullings, a teenage Jamaican girl uprooted from her island following the sudden death of her beloved grandmother. When Erna is sent to England to be reunited with her siblings, she dreads leaving behind her elderly grandfather, and the only life she has ever known. A new future unfolds, in a strange country and with a mother she barely knows. The next decade will be a complex journey of estrangement and arrival, new beginnings and the uncovering of long-buried secrets.
Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths, by Maisie Chan (UK, 10th June, US, titled Danny Chung Sums It Up, 7th September)
Eleven-year-old Danny Chung loves drawing more than anything – certainly more than maths, which, according to his dad and everyone else, is what he is ‘supposed’ to be good at. He also loves having his own room where he can draw in peace, so his life is turned upside down when a surprise that he’s been promised turns out to be his little, wrinkly, ex-maths-champion grandmother from China. What’s worse, Nai Nai has to share his room, AND she takes the top bunk!
Nai Nai can’t speak a word of English, which doesn’t make things easy for Danny when he is charged with looking after her during his school holidays. Babysitting Nai Nai is NOT what he wants to be doing!
Before long though it becomes clear to Danny that there is more to Nai Nai than meets the eye, and that they have more in common that he thought possible…
Ace of Spades, by Faridah Abike-Iyimide (UK, 10th June, US, 1st June)
Welcome to Niveus Private Academy, where money paves the hallways, and the students are never less than perfect. Until now. Because anonymous texter, Aces, is bringing two students’ dark secrets to light. Talented musician Devon buries himself in rehearsals, but he can’t escape the spotlight when his private photos go public. Head girl Chiamaka isn’t afraid to get what she wants, but soon everyone will know the price she has paid for power. Someone is out to get them both. Someone who holds all the aces. And they’re planning much more than a high-school game…
Hey You, by Dapo Adeola (UK, 10th June)
This book addresses – honestly, yet hopefully – the experiences Black children face growing up with systemic racism, as well as providing hope for the future, delivering a powerful message to a new generation of dreamers. It’s a message that is both urgent and timeless – and offers a rich and rewarding reading experience for every child.
White Spines, by Nicholas Royle (UK, 15th June)
A mix of memoir and narrative non-fiction, White Spines is a book about Nicholas Royle’s passion for Picador’s fiction publishing from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s. It explores the bookshops and charity shops, the books themselves, and the way a unique collection grew and became a literary obsession.
Yours Cheerfully, by AJ Pearce (UK, 24th June, US, 10th August)
London, September 1941.
Following the departure of the formidable Editor, Henrietta Bird, from Woman’s Friend magazine, things are looking up for Emmeline Lake as she takes on the challenge of becoming a young wartime advice columnist. Her relationship with boyfriend Charles is blossoming, while Emmy’s best friend Bunty, is still reeling from the very worst of the Blitz, but bravely looking to the future. Together, the friends are determined to Make a Go of It.
When the Ministry of Information calls on Britain’s women’s magazines to help recruit desperately needed female workers to the war effort, Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help. But when she and Bunty meet a young woman who shows them the very real challenges that women war workers face, Emmy must tackle a life-changing dilemma between doing her duty, and standing by her friends.
Moth, by Melody Razak (UK, 24th June)
Ma and Bappu are liberal intellectuals teaching at the local university. Their fourteen year-old daughter – precocious, headstrong Alma – is soon to be married to a young man training to be a doctor: Alma is mostly interested in the wedding shoes and in spinning wild stories about evil spirits for her beloved younger sister Roop , a restless child obsessed with death.
Times are bad for girls in India. The long-awaited independence from British rule is heralding a new era of hope, but also of anger and distrust: political unrest is brewing, threatening to unravel the rich tapestry of Delhi – a city where different cultures, religions and traditions have co-existed for centuries.
When Partition happens and the British Raj is fractured overnight, the wonderful family we have come to love is violently torn apart, and its members – Ma and Bappu, Alma and Roop – are forced to find new and increasingly desperate ways to survive.