Today (January 28th) marks the beginning of National Storytelling Week. Here’s a round-up of some of the best new page turners hitting the shelves…
The Nix by Nathan Hill is published in hardback by Picador, priced £16.99 (ebook £9.49)
At its heart, the hotly-tipped debut from Nathan Hill is the story of an estranged mother and son. Small-town English professor Samuel hasn’t seen his mother, the irritatingly-monikered Faye Andresen-Anderson, since her meticulously-planned walk-out on the family home when he was 11. Fast forward 20 years and Samuel is now an English professor at a small-town university. He spends his days obsessing about his childhood sweetheart, playing online video games and, in short, doing anything he can to avoid writing a single word of the novel he earned a megabucks advance for 10 years previously. But when his now left-wing radical mother is caught up in a scandal involving throwing rocks at a leading political figure, her lawyer begs Samuel to attest to her character. As luck would have it, this request coincides with his publisher’s threatening to sue if he doesn’t produce the novel. The temptation to investigate his mother’s story and turn it into a book proves irresistible. This is an astonishingly ambitious novel, taking in everything from the 1968 Chicago protests to the Occupy Wall Street movement, from 1980s suburbia to 1940s Norway, over 600 pages. It might sound like a heavy read, but Hill has a lightness of touch and a sly observational style that makes for a compelling narrative.
8/10 (Review by Anita Chaudhuri)
White Lies And Wishes by Cathy Bramley is published in paperback by Corgi, priced £7.99 (ebook £3.99)
Cathy Bramley has done it again. The author of The Plumberry School Of Comfort Food has returned with a light, but inspirational tale. It takes no time at all to get attached to the three lead characters: Jo, Sarah and Carrie. The trio are thrown together by fate when they meet at a funeral. Wanting more from their lives, they set goals: Jo to save her business, Sarah to be partner at her firm and Carrie to get a bikini body. It’s obvious that there is much more to these women. Jo is a workaholic, brought up to believe love and business don’t mix, and Sarah cut short her maternity leave to return to work, leaving baby Zac at home. On the surface, Carrie wants to lose weight, but underneath she is a tangled mess of emotions. Then things get worse as Sarah’s baby Zac is hospitalised and Carrie catches her husband with another woman. At each event, I could feel my heart break for these women, and my stomach flipped as I felt Carrie’s anguish. This is where Bramley excels, her talent lies in crafting characters you feel could be your friend and giving them struggles and the opportunity to grow on the page. This book, a joyous thing to read.
8/10 (Review by Rachel Howdle)
The Trophy Child by Paul Daly is published in hardback, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.99)
Karen Bloom is not the maternal type. She raises her children for success and does not accept less than perfection, especially when it comes to her young daughter Bronte who she refuses to let grow up the same as her drug-abusing brother Ewan, or her unruly step-sister Verity. But this obsession with achievement masks a crumbling family dynamic in which each member struggles to keep their head above water, and individually rebels against Karen’s intensifying control. What begins as a seemingly common tale of family fall-out, focusing on the archetypal role of the pushy parent and the overworked child, unravels to reveal a surprising and gripping read. Whilst not a particularly adventurous plotline, Daly expertly crafts a thriller from within the walls of domestic life and shows how tragedy uproots the illusions and pretences of idyllic family life.
8/10 (Review by Erin Bateman)
Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller is published in hardback by Fig Tree, priced £14.99 (ebook £9.99)
Ingrid Coleman writes a series of letters to her philandering husband, Gil, about their marriage. Rather than giving them to him, however, she hides them in numerous books around the house and then disappears, leaving him and their two daughters, Flora and Nan. Twelve years later, Gil, now ageing and frail, thinks he sees Ingrid in town. Flora, who refuses to believe her mother is dead, returns to the family home to care for him and tries to discover what happened to her mother, not realising that the answers are hidden in the books that fill the house. Ingrid’s letters are a neat way of revealing the backstory and interweaving the past with the present, but Swimming Lessons is a frustrating read. Many of the characters are unlikeable and there are too many loose ends. The reader is left with more questions than answers – in particular, what happened to Ingrid?
6/10 (Review by Catherine Small)