The Best Books to Look Out For in August 2018
As the weather finally breaks and we welcome back that (almost forgotten) British staple, the cardigan, our August round-up includes a blend of summer reading and a selection of titles that herald the excitement of autumn’s publishing windfall.
A new Pat Barker is always a cause for celebration and her latest - much-anticipated - novel The Silence of the Girls more than lives up to its promise. A re-telling of The Iliad from the perspective of captured queen Briseis, it’s a fiery story that considers the human cost of war and what it means to be a woman without a voice. It comes alongside three other new historical novels, each with a very different flavour. Best-known for his 2011 Costa Award-winning novel of revolutionary Paris, Pure, Andrew Miller returns this month with tightrope-taut Napoleonic-era thriller Now We Shall Be Entirely Free. Following army renegade deserter Captain John Lacroix - a man haunted by a past that dogs his every step - it’s an action-packed novel that tests the true price of liberty as summer draws to a close. Summer’s ending also colours the tone of Melissa Harrison’s haunting novel All Among the Barley, her first fictional work since her Women’s Prize-longlisted At Hawthorn Time. Set amidst a rural farming community in Suffolk on the cusp of the Second World War, it’s a novel tinged with the inevitability of change as old traditions give way to a new world. Harrison – who is also known for her natural history writing – infuses her novel with a sense of seasonal transience and the result, as Jon McGregor writes, is ‘a masterpiece’. From Suffolk we move to the wilderness of 1940’s Cornwall and Kate Riordan’s compelling Rebecca-inspired thriller The Stranger, now available in paperback. Combining a close-knit community, a mysterious floating body and a character the author describes as ‘inevitably stalked by Trouble with a capital T’; it’s a recipe for a gloriously wicked page-turner.
It’s all a far cry from the near-future imagined by Sam Byers in his blackly funny novel Perfidious Albion. Taking on our most divisive fears, from big-tech takeovers to social media overload and the divisions of a post-Brexit nation, as the New Statesman comments ‘Byers has a sharp sense of the way the wind is blowing; it’s a cold breeze indeed, and he directs it right down the reader’s neck’. From a cold breeze, to a brisk winter chill and the dark (and very funny) slumberland imaginings of Jasper Fforde’s brilliant new novel Early Riser. Set in a country where seasonal hibernation is a necessity – fuelled, of course, by Horlicks and copious quantities of Tunnocks’ Teacakes – as the Scotsman posits, ‘when the plot is thundering along, peppered with jokes, lively dialogue and silly names... you just sit back and enjoy the ride’.
Our fiction selection wouldn’t be complete this month though, without recognising Khaled Hosseini’s Sea Prayer. Taking the form of a letter from a Syrian father to his son on the eve of a life-threatening sea-crossing, the book is published to mark the anniversary of the death of three-year-old Syrian refugee, Alan Kurdi. A moving and powerful tribute to the displaced families affected by war, Khaled Hosseini will donate all author proceeds from the book to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Khaled Hosseini Foundation to help fund life-saving relief efforts around the globe.
Our crime selection is led by a new turn from the great Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, in his third outing from author Sophie Hannah, The Mystery of Three Quarters. Combining classic Christie plotting – we defy a reader to guess the ending – and an expert understanding of the nuances of Poirot’s character and methods, it’s a deeply satisfying slice of classic detective fiction. There’s more classic sleuthing on offer too in The Way of All Flesh - albeit with a good deal more accompanying gore. A new venture from bestselling author Chris Brookmyre and consultant anaesthetist Dr Marisa Haetzman (writing as Ambrose Parry) it brings the underbelly of Victorian Edinburgh to life with real energy – here’s hoping there are sequels to come. Meanwhile, for fans of Sue Grafton’s much-loved Kinsey Millhone series, the publication of her excellent final novel Y is for Yesterday marks the end of an era. As Grafton’s daughter movingly expressed, ‘as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y’.
We round off our crime picks with two of the year’s choicest thrillers. Earning early comparisons with the work of Stephen King, C.J. Tudor’s The Chalk Man is a truly creepy debut. Framed around a series of chalk drawings that lead – seemingly inevitably – to the discovery of a corpse, as the Daily Express comments, this one ‘will keep you up all night with all the lights on’. Belinda Bauer has earned a reputation for novels that bend genre boundaries and her latest, Snap, is no exception. Following the long-term repercussions of a life-changing decision that leaves three children abandoned by a roadside, it’s a thought-provoking study of action and consequence that lingers long in the imagination. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018, it’s already one of the year’s most talked-about books.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Three choices this month that run the gamut from fantasy’s origins to the frontiers of space and the frightening possibilities of a nightmare future. The first part in the Winternight Trilogy, Katherine Arden’s Russian folklore-inspired The Bear and the Nightingale quickly became one of the most talked about fantasy novels of recent times, earning comparisons with The Night Circus and His Dark Materials. She continues her fairy tale vision in the equally spellbinding sequel The Girl in the Tower – now available in paperback. Meanwhile, fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Power should cast their eyes upon Christina Dalcher’s Vox. Set in an alternative reality where woman’s lives are so closely controlled that they are only allowed to speak a hundred words a day, it’s a powerful new take on dystopia for the #metoo age. Readers who enjoyed the castaway-in-space adventure of The Martian may find their next read in S.J. Morden’s One Way. Best described by the Financial Times as an ‘Agatha-Christie-in-space thriller’, Morden’s science fiction thriller ‘accelerates to warp speed and becomes an engrossing whodunit'. It’s a cocktail that proves hard to beat.
Already one of our favourite books this year, The Colour of Time, is a revolutionary window into history. Combining the talents of artist Marina Amaral – whose expert work re-colouring black and white photographs is utterly breath-taking – with accompanying commentary by historian Dan Jones it’s a book quite unlike any other. It’s well matched by Sir Ian Kershaw’s peerlessly researched new history of modern Europe, Roller-Coaster, the follow-up to his bestselling first volume To Hell and Back. One of the greatest historians of twentieth-century Europe, Kershaw brilliantly demystifies the tumultuous period between 1950 and 2017 and offers lessons for the present about the ideology of Europe and what it means to be European.
From the past to an uncertain present. Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is the bridge between his bestselling books on his macro-vision of the world: Sapiens and Homo Deus. Taking on the biggest challenges facing humanity today, it asks essential questions about how we understand a world changing under our feet. It’s a manifesto that’s complemented by Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World by Adam Tooze, the author of the seminal work on economics, The Wages of Destruction. The definitive history of the 2008 global financial crash, it offers salient lessons about the causes and consequences of hubris, malice and incompetence on an international scale.
It’s a very different view of the world from that offered in two biographies which share a parallel message about the drive of childhood ambition and the possibilities that open up when you widen your horizons. In 1984 Tom Gregory was only just learning how to swim in Eltham council baths, four years later – at the age of 11 - he would become the youngest person ever to swim the Channel, fuelled by his mum’s shepherd’s pie and a determination to succeed fostered by his extraordinary swimming coach, John Bullet. A book about the relationship between Tom and John, A Boy in the Water is also a deeply poignant story of an ordinary person who inspired others to achieve the extraordinary. As Tom commented in a BBC interview: ‘This isn't false modesty, but the Channel swim wasn't about me… It only happened because of the courage and vision of John. I guess I was the lucky one who got the challenge.’ Like Tom, the explorer Levison Wood credits his globe-crossing achievements, in part, to childhood inspiration. Now in paperback, Eastern Horizons tells the incredible story of how he hitch-hiked from England to Peru to Pakistan at the age of just 22. A deeply personal story of luck, bravado and an unquenchable thirst for exploration, it is much more than your ordinary travelogue.
We end our selection with a few books that are perfect for those not quite yet ready to wave goodbye to the sunshine. Clarence Ellis’s delightful shoreline companion, Pebbles on the Beach, has been a quick favourite with booksellers and readers alike. Introduced by Robert Macfarlane, it’s both a fact-filled guide to pebble collecting and a testament to the joy of the simple pleasures that never lose their charm. There are comfort food consolations too from Jamie Oliver and Ella Mills, as they return to whet appetites with new cookbooks Jamie Cooks Italy and Deliciously Ella The Plant Based Cookbook. Packed full of crowd-pleasing recipes and family favourites, they offer the perfect food to take you from warm days to cooler nights.