07th Jul 2021
Here are eight favoured reads Jennifer McShane revisits while the long evenings are here.
The Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith-Barton (Penguin, approx €9.99)
Author Emma Smith-Barton says there is a lot of herself in Neena, drawing on personal experience to write this moving and sensitive YA debut. Neena has spent her life being good. Her grades are great, her parents love her friends and there’s never been a boyfriend around. But suddenly, something changes. Her brother Akash leaves and she begins to fall apart. She loses herself in wild behaviour and no longer recognises herself.
Expectation by Anna Hope (Doubleday, approx €15)
Three friends, Hannah, Cate and Lissa, are sharing a house in East London with great expectations for their futures; anything is possible and they are as close as can be. Ten years on, we meet them again: Hannah and Nathan, who are trying to become parents, Lissa and her failed career as an actress and Cate, who married Sam and cannot understand why. Life hasn’t gone the way they hoped it would; their friendship frayed. A coming-of-age look at the complexities of female friendship.
Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton, approx €19.99)
Few do made-for-holiday reads like Nicholls, back with a new love story 10 years after One Day was published. This time, it’s one of first love, friendship and how a teenage summer can change everything for 16-year-old Charlie Lewis. At home, he doesn’t expect much, looking after his father. He rarely thinks of the future and he is barely remembered by others until he meets Fran Fisher. Longing for change, an adventure, anything, he begins, quite unexpectedly to fall in love. Magical.
The July Girls by Phoebe Locke (Wildfire, approx €19.99)
Every year, on the same night in July, a woman is taken from the streets of London; murdered by a killer who leaves no trace. Fast-forward to the morning of Allie’s tenth birthday – when four bombs were detonated across the city – when her dad arrived home covered in blood. From the attacks, he said. So why is there a purse of a missing woman found in their house? She must not tell. She must keep the secret. Brilliantly twisted.
The Nickel Boys (Fleet, approx €14.99)
Pulitzer prize winner Colin Whitehead follows his superb The Underground Railroad with The Nickel Boys, a tale of which construction workers have dug up a secret graveyard on the grounds of the juvenile reform school the Nickel Academy in Jackson County in Florida. Years earlier, we meet our protagonist Elwood Curtis, a deeply principled, straight-A high senior school student who has just arrived at Nickel. He has made a simple mistake – one which sees his future change in the blink of an eye.
Nickelwood is a school with an upstanding reputation but on the inside, Curtis finds the opposite: Corruption, near-constant physical, verbal, and sexual abuse of the boys – especially black boys – is the norm. A slight mishap can see them brought “out back.” Curtis, an idealist at heart, befriends the cynical Turner, who feels the only way to justify his violent experiences is to be as cruel as those who oppress him. Both struggle to survive and must deal with the consequences of a life-altering decision. Whitehead, inspired by horrific events that transpired at the real-life Dozier School for Boys, writes with startling and vivid insight. It’ll soon premiere on Amazin Prime as an adaptation but read the book first.
Looker by Laura Sims (Headline, approx €9.99)
In Looker by Laura Sims, the story centres on an unnamed narrator; a female voyeur, who is in mourning. She has lost her husband Nathan – he’s left behind nothing but his cat – and mourns her infertility. She is a sad figure, and at first, the reader can’t help but sympathise. Slowly, underneath her loneliness, a deranged sense of self gradually comes to the surface. She is unhappy.
Teetering on the edge, she finds a new distraction: watching ‘the actress,’ a glamorous film star who lives across the street with her handsome screenwriter husband and young children. It is the life she longs for: to been seen, to be admired, to be a mother. So, at first, it’s a jealous admiration, but gradually, the fantasies, the spying, constant watching, grows into a compulsion. As she becomes obsessive, her behaviour takes a darker turn. A compelling debut, with echoes of Hitchcock throughout.
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Wildfire, approx, €16.99)
In Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, we meet hapless 41-year-old New York hepatologist Toby Fleishman, recently separated from his driven wife, Rachel. She makes a lot more money than he does, something that still clearly doesn’t sit too well with him. Their 14-year marriage was always rocky but he now wants a divorce because he feels she has changed – she’s always angry and somewhat neglectful of their two children.
Through the awkwardness of separation and Tinder dating, Toby’s already frayed life doesn’t go to plan though, not when Rachel suddenly disappears. And, just like that, he realises he knew very little about her. The third-party narrative device was a surprise – the novel is primarily narrated by Toby’s old college friend Libby, a bored, housewife in NYC – but it offers a fresh take on this funny, keenly observed and tender debut.
A Superior Spectre (Saraband, approx €12.99)
Author Angela Meyer quite skillfully manages to weave historical drama and dystopian fiction together and make it work in A Superior Spectre (Saraband, approx €12.99, out August 15). It’s a work of ambition; in the distant future of 2024, Jeff is dying. He decides to run to a remote part of Scotland as a distraction from his ailing body and tortured memories. With him is a piece of beta technology that allows him to time travel back to the 1860s and inhabits the mind of a person. He is told he must only use the device three times.
Ignoring this, he frequently mind-visits Leonora, a young woman in the Scottish Highlands sent to stay with her aunt. And so we have a story of two narrators, Leonora and Jeff. She is in the past and he longs to be somewhere – someone – else. It is ultimately her story, always acutely aware something is affecting her mind, she struggles to come to terms with voices, visions – even a sexual awakening that isn’t entirely her own. Clever, intelligent, and engrossing.
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