Summer days call for long afternoons reading outdoors, and this month has plenty of captivating new releases to dip into. From thrillers to historical fiction, June sees the release of a number of particularly poignant works, covering topics ranging from playground bullying to the dangerous racial tensions of the early post-American Civil War days. There are a number of exciting fiction debuts, too, including a searing novel from Lisa Taddeo, who drew critical acclaim for her 2019 non-fiction work, Three Women. Whatever you’re in the mood for, these are the new fiction books that are not to be missed.
Welbeck Publishing Group (£12.99)
Actor and comedian Jessie Cave made a name for herself with her raw, animated performances of diary entries about her personal life, including a particularly stellar stand-up show titled Sunrise at the 2018 Edinburgh Festival. Now, she’s releasing her debut novel, a similarly personal, reflective tale of two sisters and finding joy in unexpected places.
The novel focuses on the relationship between Ruth and Hannah, sisters who are polar opposites in almost every way, but who have the ability to make each other roar with laughter. But one summer holiday changes everything, and suddenly Ruth is desperate for anonymity and self-imposed exile. She takes a job at Heathrow, serving coffees to a rotation of strangers, until a familiar face arrives and forces her to reexamine her past. Extremely funny but equally devastating at times, Cave’s novel is a clever examination of family ties and the outcome when those bonds are tested
Daunt Books (£9.99)
The author of the 2020 Booker Prize shortlisted novel Real Life returns with his first collection of short stories. The various stories tackle a range of narratives, but all are linked by their depiction of the tension between the surface of things and the intensity of inner worlds. Tales range from Lionel’s conflicted relationship with two dance students and his navigating the sexual attraction he feels for them both, to a group of teenagers finding unaddressed tensions can no longer go ignored, with vicious consequences.
Empathetically written, Brandon Taylor’s stories examines how even when violence can hover on the edge of many encounters, there can be tenderness and love, too. Characters are intricately depicted, and Taylor does an impressive job of pulling readers into the lives of complex and relatable people.
Bloomsbury Publishing (£14.99)
Following on from her success with 2019’s non-fiction standout Three Women, Lisa Taddeo returns with her fiction debut. It follows the story of Joan, who has spent a lifetime enduring cruelty from men. When one of them shoots himself in front of her at a restaurant where she was on a date with another — married — man, she decides to flee New York City. She heads to Los Angeles in search of Alice, the only person who can help her make sense of her past and unravel the gruesome event she witnessed as a child that has haunted her ever since.
In Animal, Taddeo applies the same skill for unpacking the interior lives of women that she first showed with such effect in Three Women. Electrifying and heartbreaking in equal parts, it’s a beautifully written and evocative unpacking of one woman’s transformation from prey into predator.
Penguin Books (£12.99)
With Bernardine Evaristo seal of approval, new writer Natasha Brown looks set to have a hit on her hands with her debut novel. The narrator of Assembly is a young British Black woman, who is preparing to attend a lavish and sophisticated garden party at her boyfriend’s family estate in the English countryside. As she gets herself ready for the daunting event, the woman can’t help but also consider the other elements of her life, and the burgeoning expectations that are on her shoulders. As she gets closer and closer to the party, she can’t help but wonder if it’s time to rip apart everything she’s so meticulously assembled.
Through this seemingly simple premise, Brown is able to deftly and powerfully unpack complex questions about class and race in the UK. It’s a brilliant examination of the legacy of British colonialism, and how it has structured the stories within which we structure our lives.
The prize-winning author of When God was a Rabbit returns with this enchanting and slightly mystical tale of an unlikely friendship in the midst of WWII. The heart of the novel is rooted in one fortuitous meeting between Ulysses Temper, a young British soldier and globe-maker, and Evelyn Skinner, a sexagenarian art historian and possible spy, in the ruined wine cellar of a Tuscan villa in 1944. As Allied forces troops advance and bombs fall around them, Evelyn shares how she came to Italy to salvage paintings from the ruins and relive her memories of the time she encountered EM Forster and fell for an Italian maid.
Despite their differences, the two find a shared spirit in one another, and Ulysees is inspired by her talk of truth and beauty. This meeting of the minds will have a lasting impact on Ulysses, which Sarah Winman traces in her depiction of the next four decades of his life, transporting readers from the war torn heart of Tuscany to the smog of London’s East End.
Canongate Books (£14.99)
Tales of the private lives within the Silicon Valley and tech bubble worlds have been ferociously enjoyed in recent years. Now, author Tahmima Anam is entering the field with her wickedly funny and sharp novel about the fall-out of building the next big app with a partner who is also your husband.
Computer scientist Asha had always dreamed of starting her own science lab, but a chance meeting with her old high-school crush, Cyrus, leads to a whirlwind romance that permanently shifts her course. Together with a friend Jules, the couple come up with a revolutionary app idea. Asha’s algorithm and Cyrus’ charisma instantly throws their creation into the spotlight, but as things develop, Asha can’t help but feel invisible in her own company, and begins to wonder just whose ambitions this is really serving.
Bloomsbury Publishing (£14.99)
Blending a gripping thriller with sharp social commentary, Zakiya Dalila Harris’ riveting novel puts a sinister spin on working inside a publishing company. The novel follows two young Black women working in the predominantly White industry. Nella Rogers, the 26-year-old editorial assistant who has spent years being the only Black employee, left alone to deal with the daily microaggressions, is thrilled when a fellow young Black woman, Hazel, joins the company.
Before the two even have a chance to become friends, however, a series of tense events lead to Nella suddenly becoming the office outcast, and Hazel becoming the office darling. When she starts receiving notes on her desk pressuring her to leave, Nella finds it hard to believe that Hazel could be behind the campaign. But as things continue to take an increasingly dark and terrifying turn, she quickly realises that more than her career is at stake.
Orion Publishing Co (£14.99)
For fans of X and Alex Michaelides’ previous bestselling work, The Silent Patient, this new tale of mystery and murder in the world of Cambridge classicists and secret socieites is a must. When troubled group therapist Mariana Andros finds out that one of her niece’s friends is found murdered, she becomes convinced that the charismatic Greek Tragedy professor Edward Fosca is behind the crime. Fosca is adored by his peers and students at Cambridge University, which Mariana attended herself, and is particularly loved by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens, of which the murdered girl was a member.
As Mariana’s conviction that Fosca is guilt intensifies, despite his alibi, Mariana becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth that lies behind his charming persona and the university’s idyllic facade. Even as it threatens to unravel her own life, Mariana proves determined to stop the killer, whatever the cost.
Headline Publishing Group (£16.99)
The debut novel from Nathan Harris is a powerful and moving work of historical fiction. Set in the final days of the American Civil War, the story follows newly freed brothers Landry and Prentiss who are left to fend for themselves, without a penny to their name, in the new America. Lost without options, the brothers hide out in the woods by a former Georgia plantation, where they are soon found by the owner, George Walker. Still shaken by the loss of his son in the war and reeling from his grief, Walker takes in the boys, offering them work on the land that was previously worked by slaves.
As time goes by, the trio form an unlikely bond, tentatively finding ways to trust and rely on one another. But the alliance between former slave owner and former slaves is precarious, especially when the townspeople in nearby Old Ox catch wind of the relationship being formed and quickly are sparked into a rage.
Pan Macmillan (£14.99)
The acclaimed Japanese writer returns with this poignant and sharp novel narrated by a fourteen year old boy who is the subject of relentless bullying. Rather than put up a fight, the boy is resigned to suffering in silence. When he finds solace in a female classmate who is also targeted by the same tormentors, the duo establish a friendship, and decide to try and keep it secret to avoid drawing any further attention from their bullies. But there’s only so much they can hide from those who are set on hurting them.
Through this intimate and seemingly simple novel, Mieko Kawakami is able to explore and unpack questions about the fate of the meek in a society that favours the strong, and the extent to which children learn cruelty in the schoolyard. Both searingly honest and deeply empathetic, Heaven is a singular depiction of childhood bullying.