Oh happy day, book guru Helen Whitaker is back – with part two of her reading list. This is one to bookmark for your holidays. (Or, if you’re greedy for books like me, order now in mad frenzy.)
“It was so hard narrowing down my read for the first three months of 2018 in my last W&W roundup, so here’s part 2, taking us up to June. Any or all of these brilliant reads are worth jamming into your luggage if you’re already looking forward to your summer holiday – and as I consider whether the epic vom my son did in the car today is the start of another stomach bug or *just* too much food + car movement, I know I’m definitely dreaming of a sunny terrace, a good book, a cold glass of wine, and absolutely no need for the Google search ‘how to get rid of the smell of sick from car seats’…”
Follow Helen on Instagram for more mini reviews @itshelenwhitaker
What Fresh Hell by Lucy Vine (out now)
Lilah is having one of those years where pretty much every weekend (and all of her finances) has been committed to weddings, whether that’s hen do number 8745 or the big days themselves. Then when her best friend gets engaged – and turns into a self-absorbed douchebag – she’s expected to drop everything to help with every outrageous detail of the wedding planning. Full of snappy observations about pop culture, what happens when an incongruous group of women are forced together by circumstance, and our obsession with ‘individuality’ at our nuptials, this will resonate with anyone who’s ever spent a summer circumnavigating the UK motorway system and Google-mapping ‘distance from venue to nearest Premier Inn’.
Tangerine by Christine Mangan (out now)
You may have already heard of this one, the much-hyped debut novel that has already been optioned by George Clooney’s production company with Scarlett Johansson to star. If not, those endorsements can be your introduction to an incredibly claustrophobic psychological thriller set in the 1950s. Timid Alice has moved to Tangier with her relatively new husband, someone her former college roommate Lucy is convinced she needs rescuing from, so she follows her there with the intention of doing just that. But when she arrives at their apartment, Alice seems frightened of Lucy too. This slow-burner has shades of Patricia Highsmith, and two gripping, unreliable, narrators.
Buckle up for a weepy. Rookie reporter Kate has been pounding the Brixton beat for a couple of years, reporting on births, deaths, marriages and lost pets, but while she knows the ins and outs of every council meeting, she’s living a lonely life in a shared house with strangers. 86-year-old Rosemary’s entire life has been in Brixton, but after the death of her husband she is lonely too, and her only constant is her daily swim in the local lido. When developers buy it with the intention of razing it and building flats, the two women join forces and mobilise the community to try and save it. Little do they know that the shared cause will save them too. This is the sort of life-affirming story about love, loss and cross-generational friendship that will get your lip wobbling on public transport.
Ponti by Sharlene Teo (19 April)
Set in Singapore and spanning fifty years, this is a coming-of-age story told from the point of view of three narrators – 16-year-old Szu, her mum Amisa and Szu’s childhood best friend Circe. Amisa had a short-lived career as a film star in the eponymous Ponti trilogy, a series of low-budget, 70s horror films that sank into obscurity. Even so, Szu grew up in the shadow of her beautiful film star mother. Years later, they’re being hailed as cult classics and getting remade, which stirs up all sorts of emotions in the now adult Circe, whose employers are taking on the marketing campaign. Sweeping backwards and forwards from Amisa’s childhood to the present day, the sense of place will make you want to immediately book a flight to Singapore. The author has nailed the uncertainty of teenager-dom, as well as the power our memories have over us, perfectly.
The Last Romeo by Justin Myers (31 May)
You might know him better as dating blogger The Guyliner and have chuckled over forensic dissections of The Guardian Weekend’s Blind Date page on his blog, but this is the man behind the pseudonym’s debut novel. James hates his job as an online gossip writer, has just split up with his long-term boyfriend and his BFF has moved to Russia, so to jump-start his social life as well as try and find love, he starts internet dating and cataloguing his experiences on an anonymous blog. A cult following brings an ego stroke that’s more gratifying than the vague promise of meeting The One, and so he disappears down an online rabbit hole of Twitter trolls, ‘fans’, and throwing the chance of love away by living for the story rather than the moment.
Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl (5 June)
I am a BIG fan of Marisha’s debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics (I urge you to look it up), and this, her first YA book is just as dark, complex and tightly drawn. Bea is still mourning the death of her high school boyfriend when she returns to her hometown for the summer. To her, the circumstances around it just don’t add up. But when she goes to confront the rest of her gang – who all went to the same elite boarding school – they end up in a car accident that leaves them neither alive nor dead, but somewhere in between, trapped in the same day until they can agree on which one of them deserves to survive. Part Groundhog Day, part whodunnit, it’s no surprise that Netflix has already bought the TV rights. I devoured it in one supernatural session.
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (7 June)
Unsure-of-herself, mid-noughties university student Greer is right in her ‘I’ve just discovered inequality in the world’ phase (we all had one, no?) when renowned feminist Faith Frank speaks at her college and infuses her life with the kind of all-consuming purpose and earnestness that go hand in hand with being young, wanting to change the world, and believing you actually can. But when college ends and the real world starts, she discovers that life is full of grey areas and compromises. Zipping between Greer’s school days, university years and the present day, as well as weaving in segments her boyfriend Cory, her best friend Zee, and Faith herself, this is a big old doorstop read that totally captures the spirit of female friendship, falling in love, growing up, and struggling to find your place.
Love and Ruin by Paula McLain (7 June)
If you loved Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, like I did, then you’re in for another treat.
I’m a total sucker for a fictionalised memoir of a real person (see: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Mrs Hemingway, Villa America) and even more so when it’s about the fascinating war correspondent and third wife of Earnest Hemingway (although she’d be livid to be described as the latter) Martha Gellhorn. Starting in 1936, this sweeping novelisation takes us through her first reporting assignment, the Spanish Civil War, where she begins her tempestuous relationship with ‘Hem’ and goes all the way through to the Second World War, where she really made her mark as a writer. Not just an epic drama, this is an exploration of her passionate love for Hemingway and her struggle to balance her own talent and ambition with a man who fell in love with who she was, but as their relationship became a battleground of its own, used her success and ambition against her.
Promising Young Women by Caroline O’Donoghue (7 June)
Mid-twenties office minion Jane makes her week days go quicker by running a secret agony aunt blog where she helps readers figure out their problems. But when she breaks up with her boyfriend and starts having a torrid affair with her boss, her confidence and life force are slowly sapped, and she’s the one who needs her problems solving. What starts as a couple of bad drunk decisions quickly spiral into the kind of Gaslight-y, power imbalanced relationship that will be chillingly oh-so-relatable for many women.
How Do You Like Me Now by Holly Bourne (14 June)
Tori became a bestselling author by writing one of those super-sweary self-help books that tell you not to give a sh*t what everyone else is doing and to forge your own path. But she’s struggling to walk the walk, as since becoming an inspiration to millions of unhappy women, her own life has become untethered. Her dissatisfying relationship is drifting along while her friends get married and have babies, and due to the state of her own personal life, she can’t come up with another guru-worthy book idea. The funny dialogue and sprightly plot pace give this novel a light touch, but beneath it there are a lot of unflinching truths about our real versus online personas, and the lies we tell ourselves we make as we get older.
The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh (14 June)
Soon-to-be-divorced charity boss Sarah moved to LA as a teenager, but during a trip back to rural Gloucestershire, she meets carpenter Eddie and they embark on an intense week-long romance that leaves her on the verge of jacking in her Stateside life. And then he ghosts her. While her friends try to convince her that this is the modern dating world, Sarah can’t accept it, and when the weird hangups start, it does seem as though there’s more to it than a f*ckwit who’s lost his nerve. This is Rosie’s first book under her own name (she previously published funny rom-coms as Lucy Robinson, which are also worth checking out) and it’s a corker. The plot is full of twists and turns that you don’t see coming (and I am usually that annoying person who declares they knew exactly what was going to happen by chapter two) with a full cast of world weary characters that you’re rooting for.
How to be Famous by Caitlin Moran (28 June)
The sequel to How to Build a Girl was always going to be much-anticipated and it doesn’t disappoint. Johanna Morrigan, AKA music journalist Dolly Wilde, is now nineteen and living the 90s Britpop dream – pints in The Good Mixer, AAA guest passes to the best gigs in London and bylines in the music press. But one thing she’s learning is that the Britpop dream comes at a price if you’re female and every facet of the industry you love is controlled by men. A giant, warm, sisterhoody – not to mention creatively swearing – hug of a book. Buy it for all the women in your life.
Main image via @femsta via Instagram