After three months of grapevine-listening, tip-offs and an intense reading marathon, I’m very excited to present the Literary Sofa Top Summer Reads 2013. Whatever your taste in fiction I hope you’ll find something you can’t wait to read: there are serious literary novels alongside books tipped to be commercial bestsellers; crime and psychological thrillers, love stories, family dramas and an erotic 1930s coming-of-age. Come face to face with a time-travelling serial killer, a Mormon cult, twins with psychic powers, the scars of Apartheid. Take your pick of settings from the UK to Brazil, the Canadian Rockies, South Africa, various parts of the USA and even outer space… In fact, the only thing these books do have in common is that I found all of them well-written and highly compelling – some will be featured here in the coming months. Have a great summer!
In random order. Synopsis copy adapted from publicity materials provided by publishers.
When Maxon met Sunny he was seven years, four months and eighteen days old. Or, he was 2693 rotations of the earth old. Maxon was different. Sunny was different. Now, twenty years later, they are married, and Sunny wants more than anything to be ‘normal’. But her husband is on a NASA mission to the moon and a meteor is heading his way. Sunny wishes Maxon would turn the rocket around and come straight the hell home. This is the story of two children who grew up and fell in love. This is the story of an astronaut who is lost in space, and the wife he left behind. It’s an intimate portrait of a very modern American family and a love story like no other.
Guest Author Post – Lydia Netzer :Writing about Being Different
Amity & Sorrow is about God, sex, and farming – a journey into the horrors a true believer can inflict upon his family, and what it is like to live when the end of the world doesn’t come. In the wake of a suspicious fire, Amaranth gathers her barely-teenage daughters, Amity and Sorrow, and flees from the cult her husband ran. Rescue comes in the unlikely form of a downtrodden farmer, a man who offers sanctuary when the women need it most. Amity & Sorrow is the story of their lives before the night they fled and their heartbreaking, hopeful future. For while Amity blossoms in this new world, Sorrow will move heaven and earth trying to get back home.
In her garden, ensconced in the lush vegetation of the Western Cape, Clare Wald, world-renowned author, mother, critic, takes up her pen and confronts her life. Sam Leroux has returned to South Africa to write Clare’s biography. But how honest is she prepared to be? Was she complicit in crimes lurking in South Africa’s past; is she an accomplice or a victim? Are her crimes against her family real or imagined? As Sam and Clare turn over the events of her life, she begins to seek reconciliation, absolution. But in the stories she weaves and the truth just below the surface of her shimmering prose, lie Sam’s own ghosts. Absolution shines light on contemporary South Africa and the long dark shadow of Apartheid and the elusive nature of truth.
Four years have passed since Maggie’s husband was lost off the coast of Parla, a remote Scottish island. Then a stranger – unnamed, unclothed – is washed onto their shores. Those who still remember the old tales say he is a mythical man from the sea; others suspect him. For the bereft Maggie, he brings love back to the isle. But as the days pass he changes every one of them – and the time comes for his story to be told.
Chicago 1931. Harper Curtis, a violent drifter, stumbles on a house with a secret as shocking as his own twisted nature – it opens onto other times. He uses it to stalk his carefully chosen ‘shining girls’ through the decades – and cut the spark out of them. He’s the perfect killer. Chicago, 1992. Kirby Mazrachi’s life was shattered after a brutal attempt to murder her. Still struggling to find her attacker, her only ally is Dan, an ex-homicide reporter who covered her case and might be falling in love with her. As Kirby investigates, she finds the other girls – the ones who didn’t make it. The evidence is impossible. But for a girl who should be dead, impossible doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
100-year-old Eulálio d’Assumpção lies on his hospital deathbed, rambling to his nurses and anyone within earshot through a haze of morphine and memory. Jumping through time and space, history and fantasy, he tells the story of his family, his ancestry, and a changing nation. He recalls trips to Europe with his father, who introduces him to cocaine, sex, and a disciplinary whip handed down by four generations of military men. The teenage Eulálio falls powerfully in love with a dark-skinned choir girl named Matilde and his memory floods with exquisite detail as he recalls their furtive after-school courtship and the late-night rendezvous that led to their unlikely marriage. The portrait of a man’s life, loves and the chaos of memory, set against two hundred years of Brazil’s turbulent history.
In 1964 Maggie wakes to find herself in a psychiatric ward, not knowing who she is or why she has been committed. She slowly begins to have memories of a storm and of a man called Jack and slowly the pieces of the past begin to come together…
In 2008 Jonathan is struggling to put his differences with his parents aside to tell them he and his wife are expecting a baby, when a detective arrives to question him about crimes committed long ago… As these two tales interweave, the secrets of the past, long kept hidden, start to come to light in unexpected and sometimes startling ways.
Guest Author Post – Susan Elliot Wright on Writing a Dual Narrative.
Kate and twin sister Violet were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them. Now back in their hometown of St. Louis, Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right.
Thea Atwell is fifteen years old in 1930, when, following a scandal for which she has been held responsible, she is sent away by her wealthy and isolated Florida family to a debutante boarding school in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. As Thea grapples with the truth about her role in the tragic events of 1929, she finds herself enmeshed in the world of Yonahlossee with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty and equestrienne prowess; where young women are indoctrinated in the importance of ‘female education’ yet expected to be married by twenty-one; a world so rarified as to be rendered immune (at least on the surface) to the Depression looming at the periphery – all overseen by a young headmaster who has paid a high price for abandoning his own privileged roots.
Mentioned in the Sex Scenes in Fiction post.
When Leila discovers the website Red Pill, she feels she has finally found people who understand her. A sheltered young woman raised by her mother, Leila has often struggled to connect with the girls at school; but on Red Pill, a chat forum for ethical debate, She comes into her own, impressing the Web site’s founder, a brilliant and elusive man named Adrian. Leila is thrilled when Adrian asks to meet her, flattered when he invites her to be part of “Project Tess.” Tess is a woman Leila might never have met in real life. She is beautiful, urbane, witty, and damaged. As they e-mail, chat, and Skype, Leila becomes enveloped in the world of Tess, learning every single thing she can about this other woman—because soon, Leila will have to become her.
Mentioned in The Online You and Me social media post.
It is summer and the Canadian Rockies are on fire. Fleeing the fallout of a broken relationship, Alan West returns to the small town where he grew up. There, his grandfather, Cecil, suffers a heart attack and gives him one last task: to track down Jack West, the father Alan has never known. The quest leads him to Archer, an old American soldier who went AWOL into Canada at the apex of the Vietnam War. Alan learns the stories of Jack, of Cecil, and of Archer’s daughter Linnea – a woman inextricably bound to them all. At the behest of a dying man, they set off on a reckless journey through the burning mountains to unravel the knots of the past, and what they find will change all of their lives for ever.
Harry and Madeleine Winslow are blessed with talent, money, and charm. Harry is an award–winning author on the cusp of greatness. Madeleine is a woman of sublime beauty and grace whose elemental goodness belies a privileged upbringing. Their marriage is both envied and admired by friends who spend summers at their East Hampton idyll. When a holiday fling turns disastrously wrong, 26-year-old Claire falls into the Winslows’ welcoming orbit. They are enchanted by her youth and intelligence. In turn, Claire is entranced by Harry and Maddy. Seen through the omniscient eyes of Maddy’s childhood friend Walter, Indiscretion is a story about the complexities of love, the dangerous nature of desire and how obsession can tear apart even the most perfect of worlds.
Mentioned in the Sex Scenes in Fiction post.
Huge thanks to the many supportive and enthusiastic editors and publicists who sent me titles for consideration and do so all year round – I couldn’t do this without you!
If you rate my selection, please share via Twitter, Facebook, with your book group, etc. For further recommendations, check out the Book Review section and my Fiction Hot Picks 2013. If this is your first visit to the Literary Sofa, welcome and I hope you’ll be back.
*SUMMER READS COMPETITION RESULTS*
The competition has now closed – many thanks to all who entered and to all of you for the amazing response to my summer selection. It’s clocked up 1,000 views in just two weeks with the whole summer still ahead! I’ll be buying a book for each of the 4 lucky winners (I’ll contact you for your details) who get the title of their choice:
* Faith (@Studentspyglass) wins a copy of Shine Shine Shine as her Day of Publication prize for being the first to notice there are 11 titles on my Top 10.
The other winners were pulled out of a glass honey jar at random by my son:
* Richard Latham wins a copy of Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls, the Most Wanted title from my selection by a long way, named by almost a quarter of entrants.
*Ann Bradley wins a copy of Sisterland, the new novel from bestselling US author Curtis Sittenfeld, published next week in the UK.
*Michael Clarke also wins a copy of his chosen title, Shine Shine Shine, out in paperback on 4 July – I think it’ll be a big hit.
ANOTHER COMPETITION NEXT WEEK!
I don’t often run competitions but by coincidence there will be another one next week in connection with the launch of Bloomsbury’s eBook singles, Family Snapshots – watch this space!