Here we are in high summer, and we’ve made it half way through the year! What’s been your favourite read so far in 2021? Tweet at me at @britlitpodcast and let me know.
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.
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Hamilton and Me, by Giles Terera (UK, 1st July)
When Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical Hamilton opened in London’s West End in December 2017, it was as huge a hit as it had been in its original production off – and on Broadway. Lauded by critics and audiences alike, the show would go on to win a record-equalling seven Olivier Awards – including Best Actor in a Musical for Giles Terera, for his portrayal of Aaron Burr.
For Terera, though, his journey as Burr had begun more than a year earlier, with his first audition in New York, and continuing through extensive research and preparation, intense rehearsals, previews and finally opening night itself. Throughout this time he kept a journal, recording his experiences of the production and his process of creating his award-winning performance. This book, Hamilton and Me, is that journal.
Illustrated with dozens of colour photographs, many of which are shared here for the first time, and featuring an exclusive Foreword by Lin-Manuel Miranda, this book is an essential read for all fans of Hamilton – offering fresh, first-hand insights into the music and characters they love and know so well – as well as for aspiring and current performers, students, and anyone who wants to discover what it really felt like to be in the room where it happened.
The Comfort Book, by Matt Haig (UK, 1st July, US, 6th July)
Matt Haig’s mix of philosophy, memoir and self-reflection builds on the wisdom of philosophers and survivors through the ages, from Marcus Aurelius to Nellie Bly, Emily Dickinson to James Baldwin.
This is the book to pick up when you need the wisdom of a friend, the comfort of a hug or a reminder that hope comes from unexpected places.
Meet Me In Another Life, by Catriona Silvey (UK, 8th July, US, 27th April)
Thora and Santi have met before… Under the clocktower in central Cologne, with nothing but the stars above and their futures ahead.
They don’t know it yet, but they’ll meet again: in numerous lives they will become friends, colleagues, lovers, enemies – meeting over and over for the first time, every time; each coming to know every version of the other.
But as they’re endlessly drawn together and the lines between their different lives begin to blur, they are faced with one question: why?
Everyone is Still Alive, by Cathy Retzenbrick (UK, 8th July)
It is summer on Magnolia Road when Juliet moves into her late mother’s house with her husband Liam and their young son, Charlie. Preoccupied by guilt, grief and the juggle of working motherhood, she can’t imagine finding time to get to know the neighbouring families, let alone fitting in with them. But for Liam, a writer, the morning coffees and after-school gatherings soon reveal the secret struggles, fears and rivalries playing out behind closed doors – all of which are going straight into his new novel . . .
Juliet tries to bury her unease and leave Liam to forge these new friendships. But when the rupture of a marriage sends ripples through the group, painful home truths are brought to light. And then, one sun-drenched afternoon at a party, a single moment changes everything.
Would I Lie To You, by Aliya Ali-Afzal (UK, 8th July)
At the school gates, Faiza fits in. It took a few years, but now the snobbish mothers who mistook her for the nanny treat her as one of their own. She’s learned to crack their subtle codes, speak their language of handbags and haircuts and discreet silver watches. You’d never guess, at the glamorous kids’ parties and the leisurely coffee mornings, that Faiza’s childhood was spent following her parents round the Tooting Cash’n’Carry.
When her husband Tom loses his job in finance, he stays calm. Something will come along, and in the meantime, they can live off their savings. But Faiza starts to unravel. Raising the perfect family comes at a cost – and the money Tom put aside has gone. When Tom’s redundancy package ends, Faiza will have to tell him she’s spent it all.
Unless she doesn’t…It only takes a second to lie to Tom. Now Faiza has six weeks to find £75,000 before her lie spirals out of control. If anyone can do it, Faiza can: she’s had to fight for what she has, and she’ll fight to keep it. But as the clock ticks down, and Faiza desperately tries to put things right, she has to ask herself: how much more should she sacrifice to protect her family?
All the Fun of the Fair, by Caroline Hulse (UK, 8th July)
The Fair is the only good thing that happens every year. And Fiona Larson is the only person in town who’s never been. She’s pretended to go – but she’s never been allowed. Because, before Fiona was even born, her sister died there.
This year, everything will be different.
Fiona is about to turn twelve – older than her sister was. This summer, Fiona will save some money, make new friends, and finally have some fun at The Fair.
But what she’ll actually do is:
– Find a mysterious bag in a bush
– Spy on everyone
– Lose her only friend
– Make a lot of lists
– Learn the truth about what happened at The Fair…
Sista Sister, by Candice Braithwaite (UK, 8th July)
A compilation of essays about all the things Candice wishes someone had talked to her about when she was a young Black girl growing up in London. From family and money to Black hair and fashion, as well as relationships between people of different races and colourism, this will be a fascinating read that will have a profound impact on conversations about Black Lives Matter.
Everything You Need to Know about Politics, by Jess Phillips (UK, 22nd July)
From the sublime to the ridiculous, the inner workings of Westminster are often a mystery to an outsider. Here, Jess Phillips lifts the lid on the systems and rules that govern us all, and in her own inimitable style shows us what’s really going on in British politics. Drawing on her tenure as an MP, she will explain the process of running for government; changing a law; serving her constituents; wrangling with her fellow MPs and so much more. This is the perfect book for anyone who’s a bit confused about how it all works…
The Lock-In, by Phoebe Luckhurst (UK, 22nd July)
Whilst nursing The Hangover from Hell, Ellen stumbles downstairs to discover the kitchen slowly filling with water. Panic quickly sets in, and the three flatmates find themselves in the attic desperately attempting to switch off the water supply. But when Ben, Alexa’s Hinge date from the night before, walks in, the door slams, the handle breaks, and all four of them are trapped.
As the long hours tick by, Ellen nurses her sore head whilst Ben and Alexa really get to know each other, and Jack plans an unorthodox rescue mission. But soon Ellen wonders if Ben really is a stranger after all. She is sure she knows him from somewhere . . .
Will these housemates ever get out of this attic? Will they survive the wrath of Elias The Evil Landlord? And will Jack please stop live-tweeting this whole fiasco?
The Reading List, by Sara Nisha Adams (UK, 22nd July, US, 3rd August)
Widower Mukesh lives a quiet life after the loss of his wife Naina. He shops every Wednesday, goes to Temple, and worries about his disinterested granddaughter, Priya, who tucks herself away reading whilst he watches David Attenborough.
Aleisha is working at the local library on Harrow Road for the summer when she discovers a crumpled-up piece of paper in the back of To Kill A Mockingbird with a list of books that she’s never heard of before – let alone read. In turn, each story on the reading list gives up its magic, transporting Aleisha away from the painful realities she’s facing at home.
And when Mukesh arrives at the library, desperate to forge a connection with his bookworm of a granddaughter, Aleisha discovers that the reading list will be a lifeline for him too. And so begins a new chapter between two lonely souls, who’ll learn that fiction can teach them a whole lot about real life…