Our July distractions…..

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers. £8.99 paperback.

1957, the suburbs of South East London. Jean Swinney is a journalist on a local paper, trapped in a life of duty and disappointment from which there is no likelihood of escape. When a young woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, it is down to Jean to discover whether she is a miracle or a fraud. As the investigation turns her quiet life inside out, Jean is suddenly given an unexpected chance at friendship, love and – possibly – happiness. But there will, inevitably, be a price to pay. Thoroughly engaging and compelling throughout.

The Devil & the Dark Water by Stuart Turton. £8.99 paperback.

Three impossible crimes, two unlikely detectives, one deadly voyage. It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported from the Dutch East Indies to Amsterdam, where he is set to face trial for a crime that no one dares speak of. No sooner is the ship out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. Strange symbols appear on the sails, a figure stalks the decks, and livestock are slaughtered. Passengers are plagued with ominous threats, promising them three unholy miracles. First: an impossible pursuit. Second: an impossible theft. Then: an impossible murder. With Pipps imprisoned in the depths of the ship, can his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, solve the mystery before the ship descends into anarchy? So enjoyable to read, it’s quite a romp!

The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams. £10.99 paperback.

Two dogs, Snitter and Rowf, escape from a research laboratory in the Lake District where it is wrongly supposed they have been purposely infected with a deadly virus and now pose a dangerous threat to the human population. As the authorities give chase, the two friends make their way through the hills and across the moors, along the way, learning to survive on their wits. They find friendship and help from a fox they encounter, and dream of finding their original owners and a safe haven – but the hunt is on. So heartbreaking we couldn’t finish it – we found the scenes from the laboratory particularly upsetting.

What Artists Wear by Charlie Porter. £14.99 paperback.

Most of us live our lives in our clothes without realizing their power. But in the hands of artists, garments reveal themselves. They are pure tools of expression, storytelling, resistance and creativity: canvases on which to show who we really are. In What Artists Wear, style luminary Charlie Porter takes us on an invigorating, eye-opening journey through the iconic outfits worn by artists, in the studio, on stage, at work, at home and at play. From Yves Klein’s spotless tailoring to the kaleidoscopic costumes of Yayoi Kusama and Cindy Sherman; from Andy Warhol’s signature denim to Charlotte Prodger’s casualwear, Porter’s roving eye picks out the magical, revealing details in the clothes he encounters, weaving together a new way of understanding artists, and of dressing ourselves. Part love letter, part guide to chic, and featuring generous photographic spreads, What Artists Wear is both a manual and a manifesto, a radical, gleeful, inspiration to see the world anew-and find greater pleasure and possibility in the clothes we all wear. Amazingly absorbing and moving, this was a real eye opener, introducing me to lots of new artists along the way.

Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet. £14.99 hardback – DUE TO BE PUBLISHED IN OCTOBER.

“I have decided to write down everything that happens, because I feel, I suppose, I may be putting myself in danger.” London, 1965. An unworldly young woman believes that a charismatic psychotherapist, Collins Braithwaite, has driven her sister to suicide. Intent on confirming her suspicions, she assumes a false identity and presents herself to him as a client, recording her experiences in a series of notebooks. But she soon finds herself drawn into a world in which she can no longer be certain of anything. Even her own character. In Case Study, Graeme Macrae Burnet presents these notebooks interspersed with his own biographical research into Collins Braithwaite. The result is a dazzling – and often wickedly humorous – meditation on the nature of sanity, identity and truth itself, by one of the most inventive novelists writing today. An absolutely cracking book – one of my books of the year. Can’t wait for it to be published so I can recommend it to EVRYONE!

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell. £8.99 paperback.

In a large house in London’s fashionable Chelsea, a baby is awake in her cot. Well-fed and cared for, she is happily waiting for someone to pick her up. In the kitchen lie three decomposing corpses. Close to them is a hastily scrawled note. They’ve been dead for several days. Who has been looking after the baby? And where did they go? Two entangled families. A house with the darkest of secrets. Enjoyable to read but not scary as I was led to believe – all quite straightforward really.

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak. £14.99 hardback.

It’s 1974 on the island of Cyprus. Two teenagers, from opposite sides of a divided land, meet at a tavern in the city they both call home. The tavern is the only place that Kostas, who is Greek and Christian, and Defne, who is Turkish and Muslim, can meet, in secret, hidden beneath the blackened beams from which hang garlands of garlic, chilli peppers and wild herbs. This is where one can find the best food in town, the best music, the best wine. But there is something else to the place: it makes one forget, even if for just a few hours, the world outside and its immoderate sorrows. In the centre of the tavern, growing through a cavity in the roof, is a fig tree. This tree will witness their hushed, happy meetings, their silent, surreptitious departures; and the tree will be there when the war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to rubble, when the teenagers vanish and break apart. Decades later in north London, sixteen-year-old Ada Kazantzakis has never visited the island where her parents were born. Desperate for answers, she seeks to untangle years of secrets, separation and silence. Taught me an awful lot about Cypriot history, but the differing styles within the book made it feel a bit disjointed.

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