Wednesday 26 June 2019

Book your ticket for all the hottest reads this summer

Holiday sunshine may not be guaranteed, but 2019's finest fiction means you'll have a good time whatever the weather, writes Anne Cunningham

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Anne Cunningham

Whether we find ourselves scorched this summer or fleeing for an ark, remember a good book behaves well in all weathers! And there are some exceptional new publications out there to while away the summer holidays, so do make room for some of these in your suitcase.

The Dollmaker by Nina Allan (RiverRun €20.99) is narrated by dollmaker and collector Andrew Garvie, born with proportionate dwarfism. A solitary character, Andrew answers a personal ad in a dollmakers' magazine and later becomes consumed. The novel itself is like a babushka doll, slowly uncovering stories within stories and it's absolutely spellbinding. Shadowplay by Joseph O'Connor (Harville Secker, €21), is a novel based on Bram Stoker's experiences in London which prompted Stoker to write Dracula and is described by Sebastian Barry as "stupendous". Vintage O'Connor fiction, full of strange beauty. Tana French's The Wych Elm (Viking €20.99) sees Toby retreating to his ancestral home after a brutal and savage attack. When a human skull is discovered within the bark of a wych elm in the gardens, Toby is forced to re-evaluate almost everything he remembers about his idyllic childhood.

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Adrian McKinty's The Chain (Orion €14.99), out next month, is a superior thriller involving the kidnapping of schoolchildren. If your child was kidnapped and the only way you could recover them was to kidnap someone else's child, would you do it? Wouldn't we all? And in David Nicholl's Sweet Sorrow (Hodder & Stoughton €14.99), also due out in early July, a challenge of a different kind is presented to teenager Charlie; would he join 'The Company' to win the heart of his beloved Fran, but then risk losing the respect of his friends? In this charming coming-of-age novel it seems Charlie's only hope is Shakespeare.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous (Jonathan Cape €21) by Ocean Vuong is among this summer's most anticipated debuts. In a long letter from a son in his late 20s to his illiterate mother, protagonist Little Dog looks back on his childhood, fleeing Vietnam with his mother and grandmother and growing up in poverty in the USA. Another debut novel set much further back in time is Blood and Sugar (Mantle €19.99) by Laura Shepherd-Robinson. In June 1781, a tortured body is found hanging in Deptford Dock, bearing the brand of a slaver. At the same time a prominent British abolitionist has vanished. His friend Harry Corsham risks his life in attempting to uncover the truth in this atmospheric historical crime thriller. Another novel set in Britain, although this one in the near future, is John Lanchester's The Wall (Faber €18.99). Britain is encased behind a huge wall and movement between countries is outlawed. Every British youngster is conscripted to guarding The Wall for two years of their life. A grim dystopian tale, fed directly by current populism trends and impending environmental disaster.

You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian (Jonathan Cape €17.99) is a debut collection by the author of the world's first viral short story, Cat Person, which appeared in The New Yorker in 2017. This anthology includes more variations on the theme of 21st century dating and it's compulsive reading. Compulsive is also a fair description of The Snakes by Sadie Jones (Chatto €17.99). Protagonist Bea has escaped the snake pit of her wealthy family's greed, she thinks. Until she visits her newly clean-and-sober brother in France, where he's running a small hotel. Snakes in his attic are to become the least of Bea's problems in this modern-day parable. From deadly snakes to deadly fires, and Jan Carson's The Fire Starters (Doubleday €20.99) depicts Belfast in flames. Set close to bonfire and march season in July, Jan Carson examines the perpetuation of violence handed down through the generations, using both a political and a magical realist pen. Breathtaking.

Paris is another city in flames as young Midhat Kamal arrives there from Palestine in a quest to find himself, in Isabella Hammad's novel The Parisian (Jonathan Cape €18.20). Politics, war and personal tragedy are the fabric of this highly-acclaimed debut. Augusta Hope is attempting to find herself too, after the tragic death of her twin in The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen (Borough €14.99). What if Augusta's true home, and heart, are half a world away? Somewhere like Burundi, for instance?

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson (Doubleday €13.99) is out next week and it's another of Atkinson's Jackson Brodie novels. Brodie, now living quietly by the sea, is investigating a humdrum marital infidelity case when he encounters a desperate man on a cliff. From this meeting some old secrets begin to surface. It's Atkinson at her sparkling best. And Seven Letters by Sinead Moriarty (Penguin €17.99) is Moriarty at her best. In her 14th novel she explores the dilemmas faced by a family when a pregnant mother is left on life support for the sake of the foetus. The issues here are thorny and complicated and they bring a once close-knit family into horrendous conflict.

Thorny family issues are also explored by Anne Griffin in her fine debut When All is Said (Hodder & Stoughton €14.99), as Meath farmer Maurice Hannigan, on his 84th birthday, raises five toasts to the five people he has loved in his life. It really is as good as everyone says.

Christy Lefteri's The Beekeeper of Aleppo (Zaffre €14.99) is a novel about a devastated couple, Syrian refugees, hoping to live out what's left of their shattered lives in England as they wait for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn. In France, the much-loved heroine of Chocolat, Vianne Rocher, returns in Joanne Harris's The Strawberry Thief (Orion €18.99). Another mysterious shopkeeper settles in the village, causing quite some consternation. Deja vu?

Nicole Flattery's debut collection Show Them A Good Time (Singing Fly Press €12.95) is an astonishing bundle of tales, mixing themes of social estrangement with fierce black humour. Definitely the anthology of 2019.

And finally a holiday novel set in a holiday resort that you can read on your holidays. Chip Cheek's Cape May (Orion €16.99) follows an innocent honeymoon couple as they destroy their marriage before it's even begun. Set in the 1950s, there's lots of gin, sea-sand, drunken sailors and nostalgia and it's a taut, tense, sexy debut.

Sunday Independent

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