Book buying can be a bit of an addiction, but now we all have the perfect excuse to go out and treat ourselves to a new title – it’s National Book Lovers’ Day.
Here are our editors’ top ten picks. If you haven’t read them yet, then what are you waiting for?
1. Masque, Bethany W. Pope
A richly gothic retelling of Gaston Leroux’s phantom of the opera story by debut novelist Bethany W. Pope. Centre stage is promising young singer Christine, who, despite being devoted to her art, attracts the attention of both the Phantom (Erik), and rich Parisian theatre owner Raoul.
The intensely ambitious Christine finds herself caught between the twin evils of the Phantom’s murderous pursuit of artistic perfection and Raoul’s ‘romantic’ vision of her as a bourgeois wife. Her own desire to follow her operatic career becomes her guiding light, but none of the three leading characters can control the directions in which their passions lead them, while the beautiful masked skull of the opera house itself looms large over their respective fates. The resulting mix of love, rage, art and murderous intent, is explosive.
Love, lust, adventure, romance, and the monstrous nature of unfulfilled creativity await you here.
Everyone wears a mask. Look beneath it, if you dare.
2. Crowd Sensations, Judy Brown
Crowd Sensations is a worthy follow-up to Brown’s Forward Prize-nominated debut, Loudness. Brown is a poet of dazzling contrasts, of thoughtful paradox, intimate confidences and precise evocations. Her titles and first lines both draw you right into a poem and then quite often surprise you with a narrative that you hadn’t quite expected. ‘The Things She Burned Last Year’ references a past both remote and near, like multiple reflections seen in a mirror. Brown is a poet of profoundly unsettling domesticity as in ‘The Dehumidifier’, which unravels the metaphysics of damp and ‘This is Not a Garden’, which is a cool summation of a failed marriage. We frequently imagine an uncomfortable intimacy: ‘Poem in Which I am Not Short-sighted’, or are given a scary anecdote like: ‘The Post Box in the Wall’. There are serious poems that lure you with humorous titles: ‘Poem in the Voice of a Dead Cockroach’.
3. Sugar Hall, Tiffany Murray
Easter 1955. As Lilia Sugar scrapes the ice from the inside of the windows and the rust from the locks in Sugar Hall, she knows there are pasts she cannot erase. On the very edge of the English/Welsh border, the red gardens of Sugar Hall hold a secret, and as Britain prepares for its last hanging, Lilia and her children must confront a history that has been buried but not forgotten.
Based on the stories of the slave boy that surround Littledean Hall in the Forest of Dean, this is a superbly chilling ghost story from Tiffany Murray.
4. Ritual 1969, Jo Mazelis
What are little girls made of? What will they become? Will they run away to the circus or become dressmakers, teachers or servants? From the playground to adulthood the path is beset with misunderstandings, missed dates and hidden traps for the unwary.
This darkly gothic collection of stories explores the unsettling borderland between reality and the supernatural. Ranging from early twentieth-century France to 1960s South Wales and contemporary Europe, Jo Mazelis’ singular vision and poetic language creates characters caught up in events and feelings they do not fully understand or control, giving the book its uncanny focus. Not all is as it seems in a world where first impressions may only conceal disguises and false trails – and there’s no going back.
5. Dark Mermaids, Anne Lauppe-Dunbar
It is the Olympic summer so what better time to read Anne Lauppe-Dunbar’s gripping thriller, Dark Mermaids, which tells a shocking yet enduringly familiar story of the horrors of a political system that doped its youngsters to sporting superhero status, and then left them to fend for themselves.
Dark Mermaids follows West Berlin police officer Sophia as she is called to investigate the murder of her childhood friend Käthe. The search for Käthe’s killer draws Sophia back into her abusive past as a child swimming star in the former GDR, and as the web of half-remembered horrors starts to unravel, those close to Sophia begin to take notice. There are some who still have much to hide, and they will go to great lengths to stop their secrets from surfacing.
Dark Mermaids was shortlisted for the Cross Sports Book Awards, 2016.
6. Star-Shot, Mary-Ann Constantine
Part fable, part mystery, Star-Shot is a stylish debut novel set in and around Cardiff’s National Museum in a time that is almost, but not quite, our own. As their paths cross in a circumscribed world of benches, parks and galleries, a handful of characters reveal their stories of obsession, loss and recovery, creating a fragile network of relationships which will help to resist the inexorable channels of silence eating into the city.
A brittle young woman sits on a bench in Gorsedd park, conscious of the powerful building behind her; a tall man carries a box full of a strange organic substance up the entrance steps; a young father explains the formation of stars to his tiny son. As university researchers try to map and understand the destructive silence snaking around them, it becomes clear that the linked lives of these and other marginal characters offer ways of countering its effects. Poignant and humorous,Star-Shot is an exploration of how objects and images can focus our grief and desire; it is also a meditation on the regenerative power of garden ponds, and the cosmic significance of frogs..
7. The Dogs That Chase Bicycle Wheels, Ilse Pedler
Beautifully evocative of life on a sailboat, Lynne Hjelmgaard’s poems trace a journey this much-travelled author took on a sailboat to the Caribbean and back to Europe with her husband.
The couple’s relationship is poised on tensions, beautifully observed, as masculine/ feminine, the need to assert and/or withdraw in the face of the turbulent seascape. The paradise-like destination is reached and later we learn that life goes on, there is illness and loss, and in the final section, the tone becomes movingly elegiac.
Hjelmgaard’s poems are beautifully poised, full of clear-eyed and frequently humorous observations. Her work is full of sentiment without being sentimental. We hope you enjoy your trip on A Boat Called Annalise.
8. Murder at the Star:Who Killed Thomas Thomas?, Steve Adams
The murder of God-fearing, bible-quoting, partially deaf Thomas Thomas at the branch of Star Stores he managed in Garnant, South Wales has remained an unsolved mystery since it happened in 1921. His body was found on the morning of Sunday February 13th, his head smashed, his throat cut and with a stab wound to the stomach, any of which could have killed him. Over £126 was missing from the store safe, yet there were oddities about the attack which suggested this was more than a robbery that went tragically wrong: Thomas had been gagged with cheese, and there was no tear in his trousers, shirt and waistcoat above the stab wound. What circumstances could explain these things?
Garnant was in shock, and Scotland Yard arrived in the form of DI George Nicholls. A number of suspects were identified but none seemed to have the telling combination of motive and opportunity. Despite the expertise of Nicholls the case was eventually abandoned and the killer’s secret died with him.
Until now. In classic cold case fashion journalist Steve Adams’s extensive researches have finally identified the killer, who is revealed at the end of the book, after a thorough reconstruction of the murder and the subsequent investigation.
9. The Way the Crocodile Taught Me, Katrina Naomi
Katrina Naomi’s new poetry collection, The Way the Crocodile Taught Me, is a heartfelt and tragi-comic portrayal of a fraught childhood and adolescence. Central to the book are two sequences: one about an awful stepfather, and the other about a kindly but also comically old-fashioned grandmother. A mother appears, distant, glamorous as a film star. An absent father is also a dream: “After my father left, I grew/ a battery of hearts,/ felt each of them beat,/ like doves in a casket/”. These family poems are both heartbreaking and often hilarious, sometimes both at once as in ‘Portrait of my Stepfather as a Xmas Tree’.
10. The World, The Lizard and Me, Gil Courtemanche
A novel of testament to the children caught up in the civil wars of Central Africa, The World, the Lizard and Me follows criminal investigator Claude Tremblay as he pursues a warlord charged with creating child soldiers in the Congo.
Defeated in court by a legal technicality, Claude abandons his usual professional detachment and decides to act alone. He finds himself in the growing chaos of the mining town of Bunia, searching for more evidence and eventually encountering Kabanga. Pitched from distant observation into the grim reality of an African power struggle, he is confronted by a form of justice different from any he has experienced before. He also encounters at first hand the results of the inhumanity of the lives of child soldiers, and is forced to reconsider the nature of love and the notion of normality.