Books

Gripping debuts and short, short stories: June’s best new books

Posted by
Sarah Shaffi
Published

Looking for a great new read to sink into? Here are June’s best books

June is a busy month for books, and I had to make some incredibly difficult decisions to get this list down to 10 recommendations - but I think there’s something for everyone among these wonderful reads.

There a number of great debuts out this month, including Tara Isabella Burton’s unsettling Social Creature, Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s Swan Song, a fictionalised version of the reaction to Truman Capote’s roman-à-clef Answered Prayers, Fatima Farheen Mirza’s gorgeous family drama A Place for Us, and Caroline O’Donoghue’s look at office politics and power, Promising Young Women. Plus YA novelist Holly Bourne turns her hand (successfully) to adult fiction for the first time with How Do You Like Me Now?

In crime, Abir Mukherjee is back with another book in his historical fiction series set in Calcutta; Smoke and Ashes features not just crime, but plenty of commentary on the political and social upheaval in India in the period. Cressida Connolly’s After the Party is a historical novel with some crime aspects running through it, with a bitter, lonely woman recounting the events that led to her imprisonment.

Benjamin Wood follows up the stunning The Ecliptic with A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better, a meditation on fathers and sons, and the lasting effects of horrific acts of violence.

If you’re looking for a big book to sink into, Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion is a look at a woman finding feminism and herself after university. Alternatively, if you want something more succinct, Clare Fisher’s How the Light Gets In is a collection of short stories exploring contemporary British life.

Happy reading!

Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton

Imagine Gossip Girl grown up and gone very, very wrong, with a touch of The Secret History thrown in. That should give you an idea of what to expect from Burton’s sharp, disturbing Social Creature. Louise, struggling to survive in New York, meets Lavinia, a rich, charismatic young woman who seems to have it all. Sucked into Lavinia’s orbit, Louise finds herself caught up in a world of glamour, parties and drugs. But within six months of Louise and Lavinia meeting, Lavinia will be dead. With two characters who are heinous in different ways, this is a deliciously dark novel about excess and desperation.

(Raven Books, £12.99)

Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee

The third novel in Mukherjee’s crime series following Captain Sam Wyndham has a backdrop as dramatic as its central crimes. Wyndham and his sidekick, Sergeant “Surrender-not” Banerjee, are assigned to the murder of a nurse whose eyes have been gauged out and who has slash marks across her chest. Just days previously, while high at an opium den, Wyndham came across the body of a man with similar injuries. While he tries to find the murderer, tensions in Calcutta are rising: Gandhi’s campaign for independence is gaining momentum, with his chief lieutenant in the Bengal, Das, encouraging peaceful protest ahead of the visit of Prince Edward to the city. As the prince’s visit draws nearer, the murderer steps up his campaign, and it’s up to Wyndham to make sure that the latter doesn’t have dire consequences for the British.

(Harvill Secker, £12.99)

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

In 1975, Esquire published excerpts from Truman Capote’s roman-à-clef Answered Prayers, in which he betrayed the confidences and secrets of his Swans - a group of society’s most wealthy and powerful women, who until then had been some of his closest friends. Greenberg-Jephcott’s novel imagines the reactions of these women and the building up and breaking down of these friendships, as well as of Capote himself. Told partially by a kind of Greek chorus of Swans, including Babe Paley, Slim Keith and Lee Radziwill, Swan Song is a fascinating look at American high society in the Sixties and Seventies, and a portrait of a talented writer who couldn’t resist gossip, even if meant ruining his life.

(Hutchinson, £12.99)

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Hadia, the eldest daughter of an Indian Muslim family living in America, is about to get married. Her younger brother Amar, estranged from the family for three years, returns for the wedding, feeling as out of sorts as he always has done. Starting at the wedding, A Place for Us then takes the reader back to Hadia and Amar and their sister Huda’s childhoods, and then forward in time after a great betrayal has been exposed. This is an exploration of a family caught between two cultures, siblings struggling to find their places in the world, and familial love. I loved every moment of this novel; Mirza’s prose and her story squeezed my heart, and I had to take a very long, deep breath upon finishing the book. This is a writer to watch out for.

(SJP for Hogarth, £12.99)

Promising Young Women by Caroline O’Donoghue

By day Jane Peters works at an advertising agency, and in her spare time she’s Jolly Politely, an agony aunt with a small online following. When Jane’s Mad Men-style dreams finally come true and she’s called to help on a big pitch, it leads to an encounter with a senior member of staff, and Jane soon finds herself in the position of the other woman. As her affair deepens, Jane’s physical and mental health deteriorate, and she starts losing pockets of time. She’s also scared by emails warning her away from the man she’s having an affair with. Promising Young Women is a look at office politics and power dynamics between men and women at work, with a gothic, slightly terrifying tone.

(Virago, £16.99)

How Do You Like Me Now? by Holly Bourne

Bourne’s first novel for adults is very now, focusing on a social media star whose life is falling apart. Tori Bailey seems to be living her best life - she’s written a self-help memoir that has inspired millions of women around the world, and everyone thinks she’s got the perfect life, including the perfect boyfriend. But when her last single friend falls rapidly in love and embraces family life, Tori is forced to examine her Instagram-perfect reality, a process that certainly won’t be neat and tidy. I love that Bourne doesn’t go for easy solutions, and her look at adulthood is unflinching. Her YA novels have been a hit, and I’m sure How Do You Like Me Now? will follow in their footsteps.

(Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99)

A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better by Benjamin Wood

At 11, Daniel Hardesty is a huge fan of children’s TV series The Artifex. His dad Francis, a charismatic man who is absent and fickle most of the time, works as a carpenter on the show, and one morning in August the pair embark on a journey to visit the TV set. It’s supposed to be the trip of Daniel’s dreams, but it slowly becomes clear that Francis is hiding something, and as his desperation increases, he is pushed to acts of violence that will affect Daniel forever. This is partly a noir, but also partly a meditation on the bond between fathers and sons and how to reconcile yourself to your history and find peace. I loved Wood’s second novel The Ecliptic, and this is a completely different but equally stunning piece of work.

(Scribner, £14.99)

After the Party by Cressida Connolly

In 1938 Phyllis Forrester and her family move home to England after years abroad, settling in Sussex near her two sisters, who are both involved in a new political movement that is seemingly innocent. Phyllis, making new friends among a privileged circle, finds herself drawn into the movement and the orbit of a charismatic yet dangerous leader, who wants to restore England to its former glory. Years later, a bitter Phyllis recounts the events which led to her imprisonment and changed her life forever. This historical novel is an absorbing, nuanced look at extremism dressed up with social niceties and class privilege, and is sure to resonate today.

(Viking, £14.99)

How the Light Gets In by Clare Fisher

This collection of short stories - some of them very short - explores all aspects of modern life. Fisher looks at the spaces between light and dark, and how we find our way from one to the other, through a series of different scenarios and formats. There’s a look at a vegetarian eating chicken for the first time in years, a listicle-style story about the things smartphones stop you doing when you’re alone in a public place, and an incredibly short story about an insomniac. Fisher’s tales are funny and moving, and you’ll treasure them all.

(Influx Press, £9.99)

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

As a college student in 2006, shy Greer Kadetsky - who was sexually assaulted at her first frat party - attends a talk by renowned feminist Faith Frank. Following a brief exchange in the bathroom afterwards, Greer becomes more interested in the women’s movement, and after leaving college, joins a new venture set up by Faith. As her career builds and her sense of purpose grows, Greer’s life moves away from the path she had always imagined, one that involved her high-school sweetheart Cory. Wolitzer is an accomplished writer, and although this is a big book, the characterisations and Wolitzer’s observations make The Female Persuasion an effortless read.

(Chatto & Windus, £16.99)