2014: The Books to Read

d5a82a29f64aeb6621fd06d09d39f8b0This is my idea of bliss. A chair. A cup of coffee. A stack of books. Before motherhood I got through piles of books; I could spend a whole weekend  reading. Now my enthusiasm is undimmed, but my reading time is more compressed.  I don’t even mind the commute (most of time) when I have a good book to keep me company. And 2014 has some absolute peaches up its sleeve (please excuse the mixed metaphor). There are new novels from Christos Tsiolkas (I could not get on with The Slap but seem to be in the minority) –  his latest is Barrcuda; Helen Dunmore tackles (brilliantly, I am sure) the burden of surviving the war and devastating loss in the Cornwall-set, The Lie; Joanne Harris dips a toe into the fantasy genre The Gospel of Lokithe story of the Norse gods from the viewpoint of arch trickster, Loki. Armistead Maupin fans will be thrilled by the publications of another Tales of the City, The  Days of Anna MadrigalThe end of the year will bring a new novel from the always-wonderful Rose Tremain, The American Lover.

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh

Published in february, I suspect this will end up on many a holiday reading list. Warning: it is a deeply unsettling holiday read. It’s set in sun-soaked Mallorca, in hilltop Deia, where nice middle class English families rent lovely villas and drink sangria and eat shellfish as the sun sets. Jenn and her husband Greg have holidayed there for years – but this year is different, as Jenn’s step-daughter, Emma, suddenly nubile and beautiful, turns up with her arresting boyfriend, Nathan. Jenn is immediately, irrevocably drawn to Nathan and chaos is inevitable. A dark, highly-charged novel about illicit passion and its consequences, which is as sultry as it is unputdownable.

The Quick by Lauren Owen

There is very little I can say about this book – because I simply cannot spoil its twist for you. It’s a tour de force of gothic storytelling which stands up to the genre’s classics. Here’s what I can say: it starts in Yorkshire, a brother and sister bound by isolation and tragedy. There is a secret club, the Aegolius Club, where the most powerful men in England congregate. The two will collide with startling, heart-pounding results. The perfect book to read by a flickering fire on a dark and stormy night. (It’s out in April, so perhaps wait for the paperback…)

A Curious Career by Lynn Barber

Regardless of what you think of Lynn Barber (and I happen to think she’s one of the best interviewers around), An Education was a compelling memoir of her first love affair (and a terrific film). This is the next instalment in Barber’s story, a reflection on her brilliant career and the art of interviewing. It includes some of her choice interviews. I absorbed it in one greedy gulp.

Fallout by Sadie Jones

I make no apology that my picks all appear to be by female authors. There are plenty of calls for this to be the ‘year of of women’ and feminism, so it tallies rather nicely. Any novel by Sadie Jones is an event (Small Wars, The Outcast, The Uninvited Guests) is an event worth marking in your diaries. This is no different. Four bright young things in 1970s London theatreland hurtle towards creating a tangled web of love, passion, friendship and deceit.

Frog Music by Emma Donaghue

Because no list would be complete without a thriller. The new novel from the Booker and Orange Prize shortlisted author fits the bill perfectly. Set in heatwave-struck, smallpox-ridden boom town San Francisco in 1876. A young woman, Jenny, is shot dead. Her friend, French burlesque  dancer, Blanche survives – and is determined to bring Jenny’s murderer to justice. Already on the fringes of society, Blanche is drawn into a darker world than she could possibly imagine…

The Lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

Now, Shreve is not always my cup of literary tea, but I know she has legions of fans. This is probably because she is so very good at – whatever the setting – writing women with whom the reader connects. Tbis Stella Bain wakes in a field hospital. It is 1916 and the country is France. All she remembers is her name, that she can draw and drive an ambulance. Her journey to discover who she is takes her to  London, where psychologist Dr August Bridge delves into her past: why did she leave a New England college for the battlefields of France? What – or who – was she fleeing?

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