Pick up Meg Rosoff’s latest YA masterpiece or disappear into a family drama. Here are some great books to read this week.
1. The Shelf by Helly Acton is published in hardback by Zaffre, priced £12.99 (ebook £6.02).
Everyone in Amy’s life seems to be getting married, and she feels like she’s falling behind. Her dream of a surprise holiday, where her boyfriend is going to propose, quickly turns into a nightmare when she finds herself brutally dumped on live TV for a new reality show called ‘The Shelf’. Along with five other women, she must compete in a series of humiliating tasks, with the hope of being crowned ‘The Keeper’ and winning a million dollars. Funny, feminist and utterly addictive, this is the kind of novel you will race through in one sitting. The Shelf is Love Island meets Bridget Jones, with a relatable story and a group of highly engaging female characters. The plot is original and fresh, and plays on some of the best and worst facets of reality TV. A perfect heart-warming read for this summer.
(Review by Megan Baynes)
2. Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers is published in hardback by W&N, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.99).
Set in 1957, Small Pleasures follows Jean, a reporter for the North Kent Echo, who is tasked with investigating a rather unlikely claim – a woman who believes her 10-year daughter was the result of a virgin birth. Following up on the story, Jean discovers an unlikely friendship in the sensible Gretchen and finds herself increasingly absorbed in her life and family, including Gretchen’s ‘miracle’ daughter and husband Howard. However, when Jean begins to develop romantic feelings for Gretchen’s husband, her relationship with the family becomes more complicated. As she continues to delve further into the tangled web of Gretchen’s past, Jean discovers that love and loyalty come at a higher price than she could ever have imagined. Part mystery, part love story, part reflection on changing attitudes to sexuality in post-war Britain, Small Pleasures is a disarmingly gentle read that quietly builds to a devastating conclusion.
(Review by Scarlett Sangster)
3. Out Of Time by David Klass is published in paperback by Penguin, priced £7.99 (ebook £4.99).
Inspired by conversations with his teenage daughter about climate change, David Klass’ political crime thriller perches on a precipice of global environmental destruction beyond repair. Out Of Time cleverly positions political and environmental issues alongside the need for change, championing the cause as well as demonstrating the power of consequences. Instead of the rigid traditionalism that law enforcement and politicians are doing the right thing, Klass’ good guys vs bad guys trope is completely fluid: Green Man the eco-terrorist is both heroic climate change activist and extremist criminal, while his targets – including a huge oil field and man-made dam – represent both victim and major environmental threat. A dual-narrative switching between Green Man and young FBI computer analyst, Tom Smith, gives us insight into both sides of the story and Klass’ easy writing style lopes along nicely. However, the overall impact and intensity of the novel is diluted by superfluous plot lines and cliché-filled language, despite an unpredictable ending.
(Review by Rebecca Wilcock)
4. The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-Eun is published in hardback by Serpent’s Tail, priced £12.99 (ebook £5.99).
A bizarre but intriguing slip of a book, The Disaster Tourist will make you feel rather content with the prospect of staycations for the foreseeable. Yona Ka is an expert in making disaster zones into engrossing tourist destinations, until she speaks out about sexual harassment at work and is then sent to the sink-hole ridden island of Mui. Only the place is rigged, and getting out alive becomes increasingly difficult. Korean author Yun Ko-Eun’s prose is spare and unnerving, focussing in sharply on the mundanity of trucks passing or the irritation of a small child asking too many questions. It is easy to feel that nothing is really happening, but the plot slowly becomes firmer as moral ambiguities around where we like to travel, and what we like to gawp at, and feel energised by, build up. Curious, if perturbing.
(Review by Ella Walker)
5. Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld is published in hardback by Doubleday, priced £16.99 (ebook £8.49).
Curtis Sittenfeld’s writing is usually faultless – in her 2008 novel American Wife, based on Laura Bush, for instance, she spans a lifetime and a relationship with incredible, memorable detail and nuance. And while in Rodham she once again turns to the business of being a woman in the world of politics, this three-part rumination on what might have happened had Hillary Rodham not married Bill Clinton, lands a little flat. It’s a fascinating premise, and the first part – when Bill is very much in the picture and cheating on her – is lively, charming, and affecting. But as their paths diverge in this alternate reality, Hillary’s life politically expands, and the lawyerly descriptions and the smallness of her social interactions become dryly academic. The third act does pick up pace; the emergence of Trump and the alternate Bill, making for many a squirm-inducing scenario. Rodham is smart and considered, but it needs a shot of wit and pizzazz.
(Review by Ella Walker)
6. Five Go Absolutely Nowhere by Bruno Vincent is published in hardback by Quercus, priced £8.99 (ebook £3.99).
Another instalment in the Enid Blyton for Adults series, this time, Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy are stranded on their beloved Kirrin Island when the COVID-19 lockdown is announced. Chaos soon ensues as they try their best to follow government guidance and do nothing at all – a counter-intuitive behaviour for the five crime-busters. The series documents defining milestones with tongue-in-cheek satire, all rested atop a heavy slice of Blyton nostalgia. This book follows the same established formula, and includes plenty of familiar moments from the pandemic: the confusion over what lockdown means; panic over food supplies; early morning PE sessions with Joe Wicks; etc. As in the rest of the series, other characters from Blyton’s world make appearances. However, the joke never really takes off, with the narrative feeling a little leaden and stale. It provides an unusual keepsake that documents the more curious moments of the pandemic, but the humour needs to be sharper, and the narrative more cohesive, to be a souvenir as well as an enjoyable read.
(Review by Nicole Whitton)
7. Outraged: Why Everyone is Shouting and No One is Talking by Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles is published in hardback by Bloomsbury Circus, priced £14.99 (ebook £7.13).
Broadcaster Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles was directed by a Twitter mob to be outraged after the retailer H&M put a black child in a hoodie emblazoned with the phrase: ‘Coolest monkey in the jungle’. But she couldn’t quite see the point of being enraged by such a “clumsy marketing technique”. She wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian, tagged: “As a black, gay woman I have to be selective in my outrage. So should you.” From that article springs this smart and timely manifesto for surviving the age of rage. Her thesis is that outrage was once reserved for deeply serious matters, not Jamie Oliver’s jerk rice or other fleeting causes. Being permanently furious about nothing much allows us to forget to be angry about something deserving of our anger. Punchy, amusing, smartly written and worthy of a good tweet, perhaps.
(Review by Julian Cole)
8. The Prison Doctor: Women Inside by Dr. Amanda Brown is published in hardback by HQ, priced £8.99 (ebook £4.99).
It’s hard not to feel desperately sad when reading accounts from Dr Amanda Brown, a GP in Europe’s largest women-only prison. She relays first-hand, heartbreaking stories of women who live from sentence to sentence – for whom a spell inside is preferable to life on the streets or being abused. But we also see incredible instances of determination to break this cycle, and how important a non-judgmental face is when rock bottom beckons. Dr Brown lays bare the health and social challenges facing these women with brutal honesty, shining a particular light on being a mother behind bars, and prisoners trying to come off drugs. Ultimately, this book leaves you feeling that many women in prison are also victims of abuse, neglect, or quite simply circumstance, and asking whether more needs to be done to help them.
(Review by Jemma Crew)
9. The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff is published in hardback by Bloomsbury YA, priced £12.99 (ebook £6.36).
Meg Rosoff returns with another astute and alluring YA tale, filled with intrigue, and the agony and humiliation of love. Our narrator and her family are set to spend the long, languorous summer at their ramshackle beach house, reading, boating, sunbathing and playing tennis, alongside their dad’s younger cousin Hope and her boyfriend Mal, who are staying 100m down the beach and planning their wedding. Then Kit and Hugo Godden arrive, shattering the peace; one by being wildly good looking and charming, the other by being thoroughly offish, and soon it becomes apparent they might just ruin everything. The Great Godden is totally absorbing, be it in describing sibling hostility, or the effort required to conceal your feelings. Rosoff perfectly captures the endlessness of summer, and the prickling uneasiness of desire when it’s tangled up in hope. The dialogue stings with sharpness and truth, and the pace of it is electric. It’s really quite scintillating.
(Review by Ella Walker)
10. The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh, illustrated by Asa Gilland is published in hardback by Little Tiger Press, priced £11.99.
Talking to children about someone they love falling sick will always be terribly difficult. This thoughtful story book may not take the worry and hurt away, but it will definitely help young kids better understand, and even articulate, their feelings around such an upsetting situation. The Perfect Shelter sees two little girls building a den together, until the elder sister becomes poorly. The younger sister struggles with her parents’ sadness and her sister being unwell, all the while missing their den. The cadence makes it a little difficult to read aloud at points – some of it is lyrical, where other sections jar – but it’s a comforting read, and refreshingly author Clare Helen Welsh doesn’t provide solutions or promises that everything will get better for the sisters. The message is to enjoy the now, and Asa Gilland’s illustrations are busy, bright and suitably uplifting.
(Review by Ella Walker)