July Picks

EducatedWestover, Tara (2018) Educated. Hutchinson. Tara Westover’s memoir is a coming-of-age struggle for survival. Tara was raised in a fundamentalist Idaho Mormon family, the youngest of seven. Her father’s “End of Days” faith isolates the family from the community. He gives no credence to government, doctors, dairy products or schooling, instead puts his children to work in the family-owned junkyard. Life is grim and violent, but Tara eventually escapes through study. Her account tells us something more about the ideological fringes of the US, along the lines of JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. Remarkable. Rating: 9/10.

all-the-beautiful-girlsChurch, Elizabeth J (2018) All the beautiful girls. 4th Estate. Lily Decker is determined to dance her way out of a troubled youth. Orphaned at a young age then raised by cold and abusive relatives she escapes to Las Vegas in her late teens to become a show girl. She is very successful as Ruby Wilde but love continues to allude her. The novel’s highlight is the colourful setting of Vegas in the 60s, with its focus on stars, glamour, wealth and pathos in the shadow of the Vietnam War. It is reminiscent of the psychological and political milieu of Church’s earlier novel The Atomic Weight of Love, but not so satisfactorily played out. All too pat. Rating: 8/10.

TangarineMangan, Christine (2018) Tangerine. Ecco. Alice and Lucy, estranged former college roommates, unexpectedly reunite in Tangiers in 1956. Former scholarship girl Lucy plans to reclaim the wealthy and emotionally fragile Alice and woo her away from her unhappy marriage. In a tale reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith (Tom Ripley), Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca) and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) the seeds of distrust are woven throughout by the unreliable narrators. Reads like an old Hitchcock movie, and is on-trend in the ominous psychological suspense genre. Overdone but chilling in its duplicity.  Rating: 7.5/10.

Alternate SideQuindlen, Anna (2018) Alternate Side. Scribner. Nora and Charlie Nolan are an affluent Upper West side couple, who proudly live in a town house in a residential cul-de-sac. Charlie is excited because he has just scored a permanent parking spot. One day a violent act shatters the calm of the neighbourhood bringing to a head simmering issues of ambition, race and class. I am a great Quindlen fan but couldn’t engage with this domestic noir story with its obsession for dogs, rats, parking, real estate and whining – maybe because I don’t understand the vagaries of New York living! Disappointing. Rating: 7.5/10.

You me EverythingIsaac, Catherine (2018) You Me Everything. Simon & Schuster.  Jess takes her son to the Dordogne to be reunited with his estranged father. This heartfelt story is more than a summer romance in that it tackles a difficult and emotional subject. It carries the same emotional punch as Me Before You and One Day, but is ever hopeful. Warm and special.  Rating: 8.5/10.


The RuinMcTiernan, Dervla (2018) The Ruin. HarperCollins. Twenty years ago young Garda Cormac Reilly is called to a murder scene where he finds two neglected children. This case haunts him so when a body surfaces that the investigators deem to be suicide Cormac finds himself once again thrown back into the cold case. As he navigates his way through secrets and police politics Cormac must determine who he can trust. Crime procedural with plenty of depth. Great read. Rating: 8.5/10.

The EnsembleGabel, Aja (2018) The Ensemble. Riverhead Books.  Jana, Brit, Daniel and Henry are the Van Ness Quartet. They are tied to one another by the high stakes intensity of their career and music – a family of sorts. After a youthful shaky start they eventually find triumph on the world stage, distracted along the way by children, marriage, injuries and discord. An empathetic and memorable portrait of four ambitious artists and the demands of the classical music world. Unexpectedly good. Rating: 8.5/10.

Still livesHummel, Maria (2018) Still Lives. Counterpoint. When Kim Lord, feminist artist and agent provocateur, goes missing on the evening of the gala launch of her new Still Lives exhibition Maggie Richter suspects those closest to her. Drawn into her own investigation of Lord’s disappearance Maggie has to face not only a PR disaster but a threat to her own life. Set amidst back-of-the-gallery intrigue and the LA contemporary art scene we are exposed to a glittering world that often objectifies violence to women. A gripping insiders guide to LA – ‘where murderers come to hide’.  Rating: 8/10.

FascismAlbright, Madeleine (2018) Fascism: A Warning. William Collins. Former US Secretary of State Albright presents a timely examination of the lessons of fascism, then and now, and its clash with democracy.  The rise of strongmen, authoritarianism, the far right, racism, and xenophobia is sending democracy into a tailspin across the world, not least in the US. Fascism is back in fashion. Chilling reminder of the fragility of liberal democracy. Rating: 9/10.


Nantucket WeddingThayer, Nancy (2018) A Nantucket Wedding. Ballantine Books. Alison is getting married again. While planning her summer nuptials she introduces her two daughters to her fiancee David and his family.  As summer progresses and the blended family connects intrigues, resentments and secrets are exposed. A warm-hearted family tale set on Thayer’s favourite story destination of Nantucket. Rating: 8/10.


Husband HourBrenner, Jamie (2018) The Husband Hour. Little Brown. A second book off the summer reading list is about the shape of sorrow. Lauren marries her high-school sweetheart, and NHL star, straight out of college. When Rory unexpectedly enlists in the army and dies in combat she retreats to the solitude of her Gran’s old beach house on the Jersey Shore. However, her peace is set to be shattered over summer by family reunions, revelations and a film maker. Warm page-turner for a cold winter’s evening. Rating: 8/10.

second sightClifford, Aoife (2018) Second Sight. Simon & Schuster. 2018. Eliza is working on the biggest legal case of her career, but unfortunately she is defending a large corporate against a class action by her hometown. When Eliza witnesses an old friend brutally attack a good samaritan she is drawn into unraveling an incident from her youth that exposes small town secrets, lies and loyalties. An atmospheric and engrossing Aussie crime novel. Rating: 8.5/10.






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