I can’t remember a month stuffed quite so full with brilliant books. Let’s kick off in the year 1893 when widowhood means a new lease of life for Cora in Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent. Devotion by Louisa Young looks at love of all kind in the lead up to the Second World War. The Muse by Jessie Burton – author of The Miniaturist – is a tale of art and secrets that moves between Spain in the thirties and London in the sixties.
The Crime Writer by Jill Dawson takes Patricia Highsmith as a character and reimagines her stay in an English village. Still in the late sixties, Black Water by Louise Doughty is a story of shame and redemption, and The Girls by Emma Cline illuminates the darker side of infatuation under the glare of the Californian sun.
Time for a bit of a laugh now, as we try life in a Leicestershire nursing home courtesy of Nina Stibbe’s Paradise Lodge and then on to fall in love with the nine-year-old eponymous hero of Kit de Waal’s My Name is Leon.
An Invincible Summer by Alice Adams shows us four friends over two decades. Hisham Matar was nineteen when his father was kidnapped and imprisoned in Libya. The Return is the story of Matar’s return to his homeland after the fall of Qaddafi and his quest to find out the fate of his father.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
1893: Liberated by the death of her husband, amateur naturalist Cora Seabourne is free to investigate rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent has returned to the parish of Aldwinter.
A richly beguiling novel about science, religion, love and friendship from a highly talented writer who is sure to win prizes.
Devotion by Louisa Young
The people who survived the Great War had no idea that their children would get caught up in another.
The third novel in the sequence that opened with My Dear I Wanted to Tell You looks at the murky 1930s, the rise of fascism abroad, the perils of prejudice at home, and the difficulties of falling in love when the world is on the brink of war.
The Muse by Jessie Burton
‘Not at all of us receive the ends that we deserve, but once or twice in our life we are lucky.’
Odelle Bastien arrives in London with a first class degree from the University of the West Indies, but it is only when she encounters Marjorie Quick of the Skelton Institute that her talents can flourish. A beautiful and satisfying novel of art, ownership, inspiration and secrets that hinges around a mysterious painting.
The Crime Writer by Jill Dawson
‘Something pursued her. Dreams – phantoms – woke her in the small hours, driving her from her bed to walk the darkness of the strange English village.’
An atmospheric and intriguing novel that imagines Patricia Highsmith during a trip she made to England in the 1960s. You don’t need to know Highsmith’s work to enjoy this, but it’s extra fun if you do. Look out for the snails.
Black Water by Louise Doughty
John Harper was born in an internment camp after the ‘damn Japs’ decapitated his Indo-Dutch father.
Now he lies awake in a hut on an Indonesian island. He’s frightened of a present threat, mulling over his beginnings and full of shame for all the bad things he’s ever done. A cracking read.
The Girls by Emma Cline
‘I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.’
California in the summer of 1969: Evie Boyd is 14 – vulnerable yet longing for adventure and attnetion - when she meets a group of older girls who introduce her to Russell. Everyone thinks Russell will achieve fame through a record deal but the truth turns out to be much darker.
Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe
If you can’t get enough of Love, Nina on the telly, then do try the author’s novels.
This is the second and picks up the story of 15-year-old Lizzie Vogel, last seen in Man at the Helm, as she gets a job in a nursing home so she can afford to buy her own Linco Beer shampoo. Utterly delightful and very funny.
My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
My debut of the year so far, this is the story of nine-year-old Leon whose mum is struggling to cope with him and his baby brother, Jake.
Jake is a white baby, so a prime candidate for adoption, but no one will want mixed race Leon, so the brothers are split up. Heartbreaking and warming all at the same time.
Invincible Summer by Alice Adams
We first meet Eva, Benedict, Sylvie and Lucien in 1995 when they are poised to graduate into the adult world.
Over the next two decades we revisit the four friends as they learn navigate love and work and learn the pain and loss but also the deeper sweetness that comes with age and experience.
The Return by Hisham Matar
‘At times a whole year will pass without seeing the sun or being let out of this cell.’
In 1990 the author’s father was kidnapped in Cairo by the Egyptian Secret Police, delivered to Qaddafi and imprisoned in Abu Salim in Tripoli.
This is an astonishing memoir of exile and home and of a son’s attempt to discover the fate of his father.