New book releases July 2018

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

Rates of stress and anxiety are rising. A fast, nervous planet is creating fast and nervous lives. We are more connected, yet feel more alone. And we are encouraged to worry about everything from world politics to our BMI. After experiencing years of anxiety, Matt Haig began to look for the link between what he felt and the world around him.

Matt Haig is a wonderful writer and I’ve loved everything he’s written so far, both fiction and non-fiction. His latest book is a follow-up to his fantastic book Reasons to Stay Alive, and promises to offer hope in a world gone mad.

Release date: 5th July

 

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola

1857. Audrey Hart travels to the Isle of Skye to collect the folk and fairy tales of the communities there. But the crofters are suspicious and hostile to a stranger, claiming they no longer know their fireside stories. Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the restless dead, spirits who take the form of birds.

Mazzola returns with her second novel after the success of her debut, The Unseeing, in 2016. I’m always interested in books that explore folk and fairy tales, so this sounds right up my street.

Release date: 26th July

 

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Miryem is the daughter of a moneylender, but her father is too kind-hearted to collect his debts. They face poverty, until Miryem hardens her heart and takes up his work in their village. Her success creates rumours she can turn silver into gold, which attracts the fairy king of winter himself. He sets her an impossible challenge – and if she fails, she’ll die.

Novik is a hugely popular fantasy author and in this, her latest novel, she puts a dark spin on the tale of Rumpelstiltskin.

Release date: 12th July

 

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations. Magic marked Miles Singer from the day he was born. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man. When Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark is exposed, he must put his freedom at risk to investigate a murder.

This is one of the most highly anticipated debut fantasy books of 2018, and is said to combine intrigue, magic, betrayal and romance.

Release date: 1st July

 

The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen

Inside the Dead Letters Depot in East London, William Woolf is one of 30 letter detectives who spend their days solving mysteries: missing postcodes, illegible handwriting, lost address labels, torn packages – they are all the culprits of missed birthdays, broken hearts and unheard confessions. When William discovers letters addressed simply to ‘My Great Love’, his work takes on new meaning.

This book promises to continue the trend of ‘up-lit’ (optimistic and uplifting books) that have gained such popularity recently.

Release date: 12th July

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Eagle & Crane by Suzanne Rindell

Louis Thorn and Haruto ‘Harry’ Yamada – the Eagle and the Crane – are the star attractions of a daredevil aerial stunt team that traverses Depression-era California. The young men have a complicated relationship, thanks to the Thorn family’s belief that the Yamadas – Japanese immigrants – stole land from them. When one of the stunt planes crashes with two charred bodies inside, the ensuing investigation struggles when the details don’t add up.

A few years ago I read Rindell’s brilliant 1920s novel The Other Typist. Her newest book returns to the same setting but with a very different story. Hopefully this book will have the same pin-sharp characterisation.

Release date: 3rd July

 

All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth

Charlie Calloway has a life most people would kill for. A tight knit family. A loyal set of friends. A fast-track to whichever college she chooses. But Charlie isn’t interested in what most people want. She’s a Calloway. She’s special. And she’s been taught to want more. So when she’s invited to join an exclusive secret society, her determination to get in is matched only be her conviction that she belongs there. But behind the mysterious façade is a history of lies which unravels everything Charlie thought she knew, including the story behind her mother’s disappearance 10 years ago.

This new novel has been described by Entertainment Weekly as ‘what you would get if you combined The Secret History with Cruel Intentions’, and sounds like it would be a perfect beach read.

Release date: 12th July

 

The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

There are no more cheerleaders in the town of Sunnybrook. First there was the car accident – two girls dead after hitting a tree on a rainy night. Not long after, the murders happened. Two girls killed by the man next door. Monica’s sister was the last cheerleader to die. After her suicide, Sunnybrook High disbanded the cheer squad. No one wanted to be reminded of the girls they’d lost. That was five years ago. Now the faculty and students at Sunnybrook High want to remember the lost cheerleaders. But some people in the town know more than they’re saying.

Bestselling author Kara Thomas’s new book has been called ‘sharp, brilliantly plotted and totally engrossing’, and promises to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Release date: 31st July

 

Contagion by Erin Bowman

After receiving a distress call from a drill team on a distant planet, a skeleton crew is sent into deep space to perform a standard search-and-rescue mission. When they arrive, they find the planet littered with the remains of the project – including its members’ dead bodies. As they try to piece together what happened, they discover that some things are best left buried.

This new novel from critically acclaimed author Erin Bowman has been called ‘pulse-pounding, hair-raising, utterly terrifying’, and is the first in a duology.

Release date: 24th July

 

Testament by Kim Sherwood

Eva was always closest to her grandfather out of all her family. So when he dies, she’s hit by the loss of the questions he never answered, and the past he never shared. It’s then she finds a letter from the Jewish Museum in Berlin. They have uncovered the testimony he gave after his forced labour service in Hungary, which took him to the death camps. But there is a deeper story that Eva will unravel – of how her grandfather learnt to live afterwards.

Sherwood is the winner of the Bath Novel Award and her debut has been called ‘compelling, moving and ultimately uplifting’ by author Heather Morris.

Release date: 12th July

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Brilliantly bonkers murder mystery

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

‘Thirty seconds. That’s how long I hesitated when I first spotted her and that’s how far away I was when she was murdered. Thirty seconds of indecision, thirty seconds to abandon somebody completely.’

It is meant to be a celebration but ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed. But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot. The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath.

There has been a lot of hype surrounding this book since its release earlier this year. It’s on the ‘must-read books of 2018’ lists in Stylist, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire. It’s been described as ‘Agatha Christie meets Black Mirror’ – and I loved each and every second of reading it.

It boggles belief that this is Stuart Turton’s debut novel. He writes with great confidence, creating such an intricate plot I can only imagine the amount of planning that must have gone into it. Any of the myriad small details could prove to be the key to unlocking the case, so it’s vital that you pay attention.

The story takes place in a familiar setting – a crumbling country house in the 1920s, which has more than a few shades of a Victorian haunted house as well. But the story itself is anything but familiar. Turton takes the murder mystery and the locked room thriller and turns it on its head, creating something entirely new and original.

The cast of characters is large but each one is vividly crafted so you’ll have no trouble telling them apart. Although our main character is technically several different people, there is enough consistency to make you empathise with him and care about what happens to him. Interestingly, each of his hosts threatens to overwhelm the original Aiden; they get stronger with each new body he inhabits, until he can barely distinguish himself from the person he is currently wearing.

Although the main mystery is the question of who murders Evelyn Hardcastle, there are many other mysteries that will need unravelling before the book is done, and each one is just as clever, complex and interesting as the last. The pace never lets up, so each time you pick this book up you’ll feel the need to take a deep breath before plunging back in – and once you do so, you won’t want to put it down again.

There might be times when you have to go back and read over a certain passage just to make sure you know exactly what’s going on, but in a book this brilliantly complex, that’s a small price to pay – especially as you’re bound to have loads of fun reading it.

This is a fantastic book with a brilliantly clever plot. It’s completely and utterly bonkers, but in the best possible way. I urge you to pick up a copy.

Many thanks to Bloomsbury for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Gritty epic fantasy lacks depth and detail

Blackwing by Ed McDonald

‘Somebody warned them that we were coming. The sympathisers left nothing behind but an empty apartment and a few volumes of illegal verse. A half-eaten meal, ransacked drawers. They’d scrambled together what little they could carry and fled east into the Misery. Back when I wore the uniform the marshal told me only three kinds of people willingly enter the Misery: the desperate, the stupid and the greedy.’

The republic faces annihilation. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow and a mysterious noblewoman must investigate a long dead sorcerer’s legacy. But there is a conspiracy within the citadel, and far across the wasteland known as the Misery a vast army is on the move.

I was sucked into the world of this story from the first page, but unfortunately, after the thrilling opening this book started to let me down. The more I read, the more bored I became and the less concerned I felt about what was going to happen.

This is a gritty epic fantasy that starts off well. There’s a lot of jargon thrown at you in the first couple of pages but the action is so exciting that it doesn’t matter at the time. But this world doesn’t have enough depth and the writing is strangely lacking in detail for a fantasy novel, so I had trouble visualising the world.

There are plenty of interesting concepts in this book; I particularly liked the Spinners, people who can spin energy from moonlight and use it to unleash powerful blasts of magic, and the Misery, a desert wasteland inhabited by horrible creatures warped by magic. But all the clever concepts in the world won’t save a book if you don’t care about the characters, and that was my main problem with Blackwing.

Our protagonist is Ryhalt Galharrow: fighter, alcoholic and cliché. I understand what McDonald was trying to do and, don’t get me wrong, I love a story with an antihero protagonist. But Galharrow is an awful person. He goes on about how much he hates fat people and judges many of the other characters based on their appearance. McDonald seems to think that having a character swagger around is enough to make up for an absence of personality.

Even if you didn’t know the name of the author of this book, you would still be able to tell it was written by a man, because the female characters are walking mouthpieces saying whatever the author wants them to say, rather than acting like real people. This is particularly true of Ezabeth, the ‘mysterious noblewoman’ mentioned in the blurb, who is a plot device rather than a character (she could have been replaced by a powerful magical object and it wouldn’t have made much difference). This is a prevalent problem in fantasy; why is it some authors can conjure fantastical worlds that stretch the boundaries of imagination, but they can’t imagine that women are people too?

My other main problem is the writing. McDonald writes with very strange pacing, so events that should have been major moments were rushed over in a few sentences. Subplots were left hanging or else resolved without any explanation. The style also swung wildly between melodrama (particularly in the romance scenes) and gritty realism. As a reader it was hard to know where I stood.

From all the reviews I’ve read I seem to be in the minority here. Unfortunately, this is a book that fails to live up to the hype. It’s the first in a new trilogy, but I won’t be reading the rest in the series.

Fantastically creepy Christmas ghost story collection

Ghosts of Christmas Past by various authors

We may think of ghost stories as a Victorian tradition, but the habit of telling spooky tales at the end of the year goes back a long way. Centuries before Dickens and his contemporaries began writing for a mass market fascinated by spiritualism and the occult, workers and families were gathering in the long nights to work, talk and swap tall stories of magic and horror.’

Who knows what haunts the night at this dark time of the year? This collection of seasonal chillers looks beneath Christmas cheer to a world of ghosts and horrors, mixing terrifying modern fiction with classic stories by masters of the macabre. From Neil Gaiman and M.R. James to Muriel Spark and E. Nesbit, there are stories here to make the hardiest soul quail.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes the glitter and shine of the Christmas season becomes too much, and I start to long for something darker, perhaps even a little spooky. This book offered me the perfect escape from the tooth-aching sweetness of the holiday season with its creepy tales of ghosts and poltergeists.

This collection includes a mix of stories from masters of the ghost story like M.R. James, to newcomers to the field, like Neil Gaiman. Although I admit I found a few of the stories failed to grab my attention (and was more than a little disappointed to find that Gaiman’s was one of them), overall this is a fantastic collection.

Without a doubt my favourite story in the collection is Dinner for One by Jenn Ashworth. It’s one of those stories I can’t say too much about without giving it away, but suffice to say this ghostly story told from a unique perspective will send a shiver down your spine, and the final reveal is sure to send you reeling. I also thoroughly enjoyed Frank Cowper’s Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk; with its fantastically creepy atmosphere it reminded me of Michelle Paver’s ghost stories.

Snuggle down beneath a warm blanket on a cold night, perhaps with a hot drink to hand and a Christmas tree twinkling in the background, and prepare to be spooked.

Many thanks to John Murray for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

New thriller examines close-knit community shaken by rumours

The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti

‘He had no way of knowing that this moment would become the lynchpin, the moment that all the moments after would hinge upon. The papers would call him a murderer; the police would come to him; his ex-friends, his gym buddies, the guys who knew him for God’s sake; and say, Nate was the last one to see her alive, right? The last one is always the guilty one.’

In a quiet town, a thousand dead starlings fall onto a school playing field. As journalists flock to the scene, one of them catches a teacher, Nate Winters, embracing a female student. The student claims that she and Nate are having an affair, sending shockwaves through the close-knit community. Then the student disappears, and the police have only one suspect: Nate.

This story is told through the points of view of four different characters: Nate, Alecia (Nate’s wife), Bridget (Nate’s best friend) and Lucia. None of these characters are particularly likeable. They bicker with each other over the smallest things and they make stupid decisions. Occasionally their brutal honesty about the lives they lead inspire a dull flicker of empathy, but the problem with creating a cast full of unlikeable characters is that the reader doesn’t really care what’s happening to them.

That said, there were a lot of things I liked about this book. The close-knit community rocked by gossip and speculation is hardly a new concept, but Moretti manages to cleverly explore the ripples that spread through the town. Nate’s insidious influence as a pillar of the community makes it impossible for other characters to see him clearly and decide whether they believe him or not.

However, this book also has a lot of flaws, not least the way the female characters relate to each other. At one point one character points out how much she hates women turning against women, but that’s exactly what these women do throughout the course of the story. Women are judged harshly here and Moretti tends to lump them into easy categories based on the way they look.

This book is also rife with clichés. The golden boy Nate, the tortured wrong-side-of-the-tracks teenager Lucia, the aspiring sport star student, the grumbling police officer… I could go on. It’s a shame because the writing is absorbing and clever.

The more I read the more concerned I became that the ending was going to be disappointing. Fortunately I was proved wrong and Moretti wraps things up with a conclusion that is both satisfying and realistic, twisted but not over-the-top.

Thanks very much to Titan for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

First fantasy novel from historical fiction author Conn Iggulden

Darien by C.F. Iggulden

No one wanted to be cast out, to have to go to the city for work. There were no good endings there, everyone knew that. When young girls ran off to Darien, their parents even held a simple funeral, knowing it was much the same. Perhaps to warn the other girls, too.

The city of Darien stands at the weary end of a golden age. Here, amongst old feuds, a plot is hatched to kill a king. It will summon strangers to the city – Elias Post, a hunter; Tellius, an old swordsman; Arthur, a boy who cannot speak; Daw Threefold, a chancer and gambler; Vic Deeds, who feels no guilt; and Nancy, whose talent might be the undoing of them all.

Darien is the first fantasy novel from historical fiction powerhouse Conn Iggulden. I only discovered Iggulden this year and am halfway through his Wars of the Roses series, which I absolutely love. When I heard he was crossing over into fantasy I was beyond excited to see what he would come up with. Though Darien isn’t without its flaws, there is lots here for fantasy fans to enjoy.

The world Iggulden has created is interesting enough to keep the reader engaged, but I wish he had gone into more detail. The political system of 12 ruling families wasn’t really explained and the magic system was interesting but also could have benefited from more detail. 350 pages isn’t really enough for an epic fantasy novel and it seems Iggulden made the choice to sacrifice world-building in order to spend more time fleshing out his characters.

Which explains why the characters are the strongest part of this book. They each have their own motives and have interesting backgrounds, and keep the reader emotionally engaged in the outcome of the story. The only place where Iggulden falls down is with Nancy, who comes across as the archetypal Strong Female Character and is subjected to a forced and unnecessary romance.

Iggulden is a master at pacing and the final conflict displays his skill at writing battle scenes while never losing sight of his characters’ human nature. It is a tense, exciting finale and one that will have you eagerly anticipating the next in the series.

Darien is not the perfect fantasy novel, but it was a good opening to a series, leaving enough questions unanswered to make you want to come back for more. I just hope Iggulden fleshes out his fantasy world a little more with the sequel.

Many thanks to Penguin for sending a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.