In Marian Keyes's early novel, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, the heroine reflects on Autumn as the 'season of new boots.' Agreed, but as the nights draw in, why not treat yourself to some new books too? Here's my latest Top Ten of recent releases, ranging from Spring 2022 to - in the case of Kate Atkinson's addictive new short story collection - last week! Hope you enjoy and this might prove some inspiration for Christmas (only four months to go)!
Trespasses, Louise Kennedy, Bloomsbury
A heartbreaking blend of forbidden love story, political thriller and social comedy, shot through with dark humour and dread. Cushla is a primary-school teacher in 1970s Belfast, working nights at her family’s pub and watching life pass her by, until she meets married barrister Michael Agnew at the bar on a quiet February night. Cushla’s coming of age is interwoven with tension, violence and destruction, a reminder that none of us live in isolation from our times. This breathtaking novel made me want more, while I was relieved to leave Cushla’s claustrophobic world - and sad for those who couldn’t.
I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette McCurdy, Simon and Schuster
Former child star McCurdy has created a brilliant and fluidly written memoir about growing up with a volatile mother who pushed her into acting aged six and encouraged her to develop and maintain an eating disorder to keep looking young and slender. Based on a one-woman show with the same punchy title, this tragicomic tale shows real writing talent and is a testimonial to a young woman’s decision to take back control over a life that had never quite been hers, or that she could feel truly proud of, until now.
The Island of Lost Girls, Alex Marwood, Sphere
La Kastellana is Mercedes Delia’s island home, a blighted paradise she lived in as a child. Now she is forty-three and still in thrall to the obscenely wealthy people who bought most of her island and, back in their teens, caused a tragedy in her family. Marwood even creates her own language, with bits of Spanish, Italian and Maltese thrown in. Can Mercedes save what's left of her world? What’s going to happen when the mother of one of the other lost girls comes to visit the island - and won't back down? Dark and dazzling, it made me want more from Marwood.
Now She Is Witch by Kirsty Logan, Random House
The first time I saw Kirsty Logan read, I thought 'Well, this is the next Angela Carter.' I still think I'm right. Told through poetry, stream-of-consciousness, fable, prayer and spell-casting, Now She Is Witch tells the story of Lux, a potions specialist, and the mysterious Else, who appears as Lux is burying a faded ribbon she inherited from her mother. When Lux is threatened, Else summons a wolf to protect her and the two head off on an adventure in which Lux meets mummers, mentors, a mysterious lady of the house and an injured lord, and Ash, a cheeky non-binary lover.
Hello Beautiful, Ann Napolitano, Penguin
When curvy, curly-haired Julia Padavano sets her cap at college basketball star William Waters, she starts a chain of events that ruptures her tight-knit family. The Padavano sisters see themselves as the four March girls in Little Women. Headstrong businesswoman Julia is almost certainly Jo; the artistic twin is probably Amy; but who's doomed, fragile Beth? The gay homebody twin, or the otherworldly Sylvie, who kisses boys in the library stacks but never gives her whole heart (and when she does, it changes everything)? I love a Little Women update, and this one does the March girls justice.
My Hot Friend by Sophie White, Hachette Ireland
Lexi and Amanda are Ireland's hottest young podcasters. They host a show called My Hot Friend, which is about to go stratospheric even as they polarise listeners with their shock-jock style. Gorgeous loose cannon Amanda is Lexi's meal ticket, but when is she going to take it too far? Meanwhile, across town, new mum Joanne is struggling with postpartum blues. Lonely childminder Claire is spiralling mentally as preparations for her best friend Aifric's wedding get underway - and mostly don't include her. Claire's mental health crisis gives this character-stuffed novel the momentum it needs to make it Sophie White's best book yet.
First Position, Melanie Hamrick, HarperCollins (Mills and Boon)
Dirty Dancing indeed. This accomplished novel, rooted in Hamrick’s experience of the ballet world, follows two competing principal dancers. Teenage Sylvie Carter had the perfect technique but less soul; Jocelyn lacked her precision, but was somehow more watchable. As adult dancers, Jocelyn is ballet mistress Diana's favourite, while Sylvie has lost her confidence and is dependent on drugs, alcohol and anonymous hotel hookups. It turns out the women shared a traumatic experience in their teens, and love - with the right men, and even each other - might be the only thing that can help them escape its shadow.
Begin Again, Helly Acton, Bonnier Zaffre
In this sparkling novel, Frankie gets a chance to live all the lives she never led. I was particularly compelled by the sections that dealt with her life as a LA-based WAG to a media publishing heir and her suburban shack-up in Kingston with Toby, a perfectionist whose masked unhappiness with her and his choices in life emerges in something approaching coercive control. While trying to make peace with her free-thinking hippy mum, her journalistic ambitions and her search for love, Frankie eventually realises that you can't have it all - but you can always give it a shot!
Baby Does a Runner, Anita Rani, Bonnier Zaffre
Baby Saul is tired of her job in advertising and marketing, in which she is routinely ignored and passed over for promotion. A visit to her mother's house in Bradford for her birthday leads to her finding secret letters to her late grandfather from a woman named Naseeb, and she takes a journey of self-discovery back to India. The story was also educational, outlining what families experienced during Partition. This is a time-honoured story (particularly its enemies-to-lovers plot) but the fluidity and confidence of the author's voice drew me in, meaning I was glued to its pages from the start.
Normal Rules Don’t Apply (short stories), Kate Atkinson, Random House, Transworld
This short story collection begins with ‘The Void’ - like the darkness of Life After Life given terrifying shape, not just stalking one heroine but an entire land. After this bravura beginning, the stories settle down into a more recognisable darkly comic style. Various motifs reappear: fairytale quests, talking foxes, magic rings inside fish, women craving a child and a bargain-basement Scarlett Johansson actress who can’t escape her seedy past, even when she meets a handsome prince (who somewhat resembles our Harry). Some characters also recur, with two or three featuring Franklin, a TV producer whose encounter with the seemingly perfect Connie leads to trouble.