The Best Books to Look Out for in July 2018
From Rumpelstiltskin's legacy to the robots of the future: welcome to our selection of the best new books in July.
As the final school bell rings and the holiday season begins in earnest, our July selection comes with plenty of inspiration for last minute additions to your suitcase (if you’re looking for children’s reading recommendations, you can browse our hand-picked summer round-up here).
Unusually, we begin our fiction choice with poetry. A huge hit on Instagram, Charly Cox has already been hailed as ‘social media’s answer to Carol Ann Duffy’, but her work is much more than just click-bait. Combining poetry and prose, her collection She Must Be Mad is both a moving modern woman’s coming-of-age story and a powerful call to destigmatise mental health.
Returning with his first novel since The Dust That Falls from Dreams, in So Much Life Left Over Louis De Bernierès takes up the themes of war and its legacies that so inspired his global bestseller Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Following a family through the fast-changing world of the 1920’s, De Bernierès presents a compelling drama of lives in flux. As the Scotsman comments, ‘I would guess that many readers, once they have launched themselves into it, will read it straight through, forgetting whatever it was they should have been doing instead of reading’. There’s more historical matter in Anthony Quinn’s Our Friends in Berlin, a Hitchcockian spy novel inspired by true events in 1940’s London. As with his last novel Eureka - also just released in paperback - Our Friends in Berlin exemplifies Quinn’s talent for inhabiting the past, deftly combining light and shade in fiction that is as politically apposite as it is deeply enjoyable.
From wartime espionage to two stories with a touch of the supernatural. Former Waterstones bookseller Natasha Pulley earned a host of praise for her time-traversing debut The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Her much-anticipated second novel, The Bedlam Stacks, is now released in paperback for the summer and is an equally enchanting blend of history and something mysteriously other. Featuring a scramble for mercantile power at the height of British colonial rule, it moves from the Lost Gardens of Heligan to Peru in a refreshingly original adventure.
From the jungles of Peru we move to the urban sprawl of New York’s Lower East Side and Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists, a story of four siblings whose lives are shaped and altered by the knowledge of when they will die. Already a hit with our booksellers, it’s a novel that keeps a reader perpetually on their toes and asks profound questions about how we confront our own mortality, and what we do with the time we are given.
A firm choice for Zoe Ball’s knowing new book club, the eerie debut Dark Pines brings together all the ingredients of a classic Scandi-noir thriller that for the Guardian ‘crackles along at a roaring pace’. Set to be the first in a series by debut British author Will Dean, it heralds an author who is definitely one to watch.
Meanwhile, fans of Elly Griffiths bestselling Dr Ruth Galloway series will welcome her tenth outing in The Dark Angel. Moving from Galloway’s usual haunts on the Norfolk’s marshes to the hillsides of Italy, it’s perfect holiday crime reading. There’s a welcome return too from J.P. Delaney, who follows up his hit psychological thriller The Girl Before with Believe Me: an almost unbearably-tense tale of cat-and-mouse entrapment, Delaney’s return more than lives up to expectation. There’s a historical offering too, in the form of the brooding Retribution Road. The third novel by French author Antonin Varenne to be translated into English (and echoing the mood of the BBC’s hit series Taboo), it’s a novel that mixes blood and grit on the streets of Victorian London – a ‘Western, detective and even war novel kept in exhilarating balance,’ according to a thrilled Financial Times.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Fans of Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer series have been champing the bit to get their hands on the newest addition to her Galactic Commons, Record of a Spaceborn Few. Like all Chambers’ novels, it’s a story as much about friendship, identity and community as it is a flight of moreish science fiction, and an ideal place for new readers to pick up the thread.
From space odyssey to lunar heist with Artemis, the new novel from The Martian’s Andy Weir. Following outlaw Jazz Bashara into the murky criminal underworld of the moon’s premier city of Artemis, this is science fiction packed with thrills and Weir’s trademark nuggets of real science tossed into the mix. Back on home ground, we also have two stories which bring together folklore, fairy tale and more than a touch of magic. Described as ‘the single most beautiful and unjustifiably forgotten novel of the twentieth century’ by Neil Gaiman, Hope Mirrlees’ tragi-comic fantasy Lud-In-The-Mist makes a welcome return to print this month in a gorgeous new edition. Elsewhere, Naomi Novik weaves gold from the threads of the tale of Rumpelstiltskin in Spinning Silver, a truly enchanting story that confronts prejudice and considers the true cost of magic. From folklore to Mythos, Stephen Fry’s hit re-telling of the legends of Ancient Greece, which hits the shelves this month in paperback. The tales are familiar, but in Fry’s hands these age-old stories of heroes, gods and monsters are given a new (and unmissable) lease of life.
There’s more restoration at work too in Judith Mackrell’s The Unfinished Palazzo, which tells the story of Venice’s abandoned Palazzo Venier (now the home of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum), through the lives of three astounding women who attempted to transform it. Part memoir, part history, Mackrell’s story fizzes with detail and the result is a book that the Guardian calls a ‘well researched, gloriously gossipy, delightful, colourful story of reinvention and rebellion’. From the palatial past to the problems of the present: offering an unusually relatable view of America’s political cabals, From the Corner of the Oval Office is Beck Dorey-Stein’s account of the twist of fortune that took the author from unpaid internships to her role as White House stenographer. Packed with plenty of gossipy intrigue, it’s also a surprisingly affecting recollection of the rise and fall of the Obama Democrat dream.
Matt Haig’s phenomenally successful memoir Reasons to Stay Alive earned him a legion of readers. His latest book, Notes on a Nervous Planet, distils the lessons of his own life into a bite-size manifesto for staying sane in a world designed to drive us mad. There are vital lessons to be learned too from Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebenene’s ground-breaking Slay in Your Lane. Described by the Observer as ‘arguably the book for 2018’, it’s a long-overdue guide. Packed with real-life stories and interviews with dozens of iconic black women, this is a volume designed to inspire a generation of women of colour to succeed in everything, from work to internet dating.
As fans of his work will attest, a new David Sedaris is always a cause for celebration (albeit a suitably muted celebration, enjoyed in a solitary fashion). A writer who has long been ploughing his own furrow with stories that manage to be at once hilariously funny, outrageously close to the bone and profoundly true, his latest volume Calypso - which tackles the uncomfortable realities of growing older in the post-truth age - is no exception.
Many of the topics which keep Sedaris up in the wee small hours also provide the meat of two illuminating new books, both aiming to bring clarity to an increasingly confusing world. From Pulitzer Prize-winning (and former New York Times critic) Michiko Kakutani, The Death of Truth is a bite-sized manifesto about the causes and consequences of the West’s retreat from reason, succeeding admirably in being both informed and reliably informative. Our second choice is one of the final books reviewed and recommended by the late Stephen Hawking: Max Tegmark’s Life 3.0 is revelatory in bridging the gap between the technologies behind the development of A.I. and the profound challenges it poses to the human condition. As Hawking commented, ‘this is the most important conversation of our time, and Tegmark's thought-provoking book will help you join it'.
Lastly, as the good weather currently shows little sign of abating (to the delight of sun-worshipers and the lament of gardeners), we’ve a recommendation for veggie-filled one-dish dinners from the team behind The Roasting Tin. Containing 75 recipes – half vegetarian, half vegan - The Green Roasting Tin is the ultimate in one-dish cooking. With its recipes’ gloriously minimal preparation, your vicinity to a hot oven will be kept to a very welcome minimum.