In our pick of this month's books, we're taken to a posh, English village haunted by mysterious death, and investigate a curious incident in an American town involving the Rapture. We also review Anya Von Bremzen's touching food memoir about growing up in poverty-stricken Moscow, and are introduced to the Twilight-esque concept of "Coldtowns" in a new young adult novel from Holly Black. If you're looking for intrigue, mystery and a bit of science fiction, the books of September have it all.
Words: Stacey Bartlett
Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff
This autumn the film adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s magnificent How I Live Now hits cinemas, and Picture Me Gone is the YA author’s new novel.
London-born Mila and her academic father have arranged to visit his best friend Matthew in New York – but shortly before their trip Matthew’s wife tells them he has disappeared. The pair decide to go on a road trip up the east coast of America to search for Matthew, but during their quest that takes them through snowstorms, pine forests and a lot of motels, a few surprises are revealed along the way.
Rosoff’s talent is in writing believable, many-layered characters, and Picture Me Gone is a neat, beautiful little novel that unravels the ties that bind.
Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera
The corner shop is a British/Indian institution, and Sathnam Sanghera’s debut novel centres around the lives of three generations of a family’s Wolverhampton convenience store. Arjan Banga returns to the Black Country after the unexpected death of his father, and his family’s corner shop – with its aging adverts, dodgy shutters and irritating bell – is everything he tried to leave behind.
With nothing much to look forward to, including his own impending marriage, Arjan stirs up the past 50 years of his family’s history. Sanghera loosely based Marriage Material on Arnold Bennett’s 1908 novel The Old Wives’ Tale, and has humorously adapted 19th century preoccupations with marriage, family and gossip into 21st century Wolverhampton.
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri examines what it means to be ‘native’ in her Man Booker longlisted novel, The Lowland. As the Mitra brothers grow up in a highly politicized Calcutta in the 1970s, Udayan becomes involved in communism and Subhash decides to move to America, threatening to shatter their bond that has seen them through so many tragic experiences.
Lahiri expertly shifts the plot through generations of change, as the brothers’ and the residents of Calcutta’s sense of identity slips through their fingers like sand. The Lowland is a heart-rending tale of belonging, brotherly love and betrayal, for fans of Khaled Hosseini and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Vivian Versus the Apocalypse by Katie Coyle
Vivian Apple is a cynical member of the Church of America, and for as long as she can remember her parents have been convinced of the impending ‘Rapture’, when all members of the Church will be saved. But on Rapture day, Vivian arrives home to an empty house and two holes in the ceiling, and she soon discovers thousands of other members of the Church have also disappeared.
America is in uproar, so Viv sets off on a road trip with Peter, a boy she met at the party, and Edie, a heavily pregnant believer, to try and find out what’s going on. Katie Coyle tackles the world of cults in a mature and light way, and Vivian Versus the Apocalypse is a witty and original take on contemporary America.
The Coincidence Authority by J.W. Ironmonger
Azalea Lewis’s life has been defined by strange coincidences ever since she was found abandoned at a funfair as a child. Academic Thomas Post thinks every coincidence can be explained, but when he meets Azalea and his orderly life goes out of the window, the two lost souls make it their mission to understand the patterns that have led them up to this point.
Their quest takes them from the Isle of Man to brutal, war-torn Africa via London, as they try to make sense of Azalea’s past. Fans of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared will love J.W. Ironmonger’s charming writing in this unusual novel.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen
Anya Von Bremzen grew up in a Moscow apartment building where 18 families shared one kitchen. Dozens of meals would be cooked and gossip shared each day, and in 1974 when Anya was ten, she and her mother decided they’d had enough and booked a one-way ticket to America.
In this touching and funny memoir that sees Anya’s life soar from Russian poverty to high-end food writing, Anya examines seven decades of the USSR through food and family. Like beef stroganoff for the soul, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking will make you happy, sad and very hungry indeed.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Tana lives in a world where Coldtowns border every city. In these quarantined compounds monsters and humans mix in one constant party away from the non-infected, where their debauched, carefree existence is broadcast on TV 24 hours a day.
Tana wakes up in the bath after one particularly messy party to find everybody in the house dead, apart from her ex-boyfriend Aidan, who is tied to a bed – and has been bitten. The beautiful and the damned collide in this YA novel perfect for mourning fans of Twilight and Buffy.
Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates
In the idyllic surrounds of Oxford University, six fresher students decide to play a game, an advanced version of truth or dare, where the stakes are high and the consequences even higher. The loser of each round is bound for humiliation – and the overall winner will take away a contribution from everyone’s student grant and a substantial amount donated by a mysterious Oxford organisation.
But the game soon spirals out of control, ending in a tragedy that will change each of the six friends’ lives forever. Fourteen years later, one player finds himself back in Oxford, where the game began – and realises it is far from finished. This addictive psychological thriller will have you hooked from start to game over.
The Deaths by Mark Lawson
In a perfect commuter-belt English village, where the new aristocracy of bankers, lawyers and business tycoons inhabit the grade-listed houses and close their front doors on the recession, a tragedy strikes. A family is killed – but which one?
Mark Lawson leads us up the garden paths and allows us to peer through the curtains of an affluent community ripped apart by a scandal, making The Deaths like a darkly comic Midsomer Murders that looks at what happens when a handful of extremely wealthy people are used to getting their own way.
If you enjoyed The Slap or Herman Koch’s The Dinner, The Deaths should be next on your reading list.
The Story edited by Victoria Hislop
The Island author Victoria Hislop has edited this dazzling collection of 100 short stories by female authors over the past two centuries. Fiction from Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, Emma Donoghue, Daphne Du Maurier, Hilary Mantel, Ali Smith, Alice Walker, Jeanette Winterson, Virginia Woolf and dozens more sits side-by-side in themed sections on love, loss and the lives of women.
Even better, The Story is available as a 99p e-book until 9 September before being published as a luxury hardback on 26 September, so you can read it on the go as well as curled up with a blanket and a cat at your feet, Virginia Woolf-style.