What Helena read in the summer of 2013 (the shortlisted version)

The Year of the Ladybird: A Ghost Story by Graham Joyce

The effortlessly genre defying Joyce's new novel takes place in the blistering summer of 1976. David, a young student, has come to the coastal town of Skegness to work at a holiday camp and, hopefully, watch his life begin. No sooner has he arrived than he begins to notice strange occurrences, all somehow connected to the resort: a man in a blue suit keeps appearing at the beach carrying a rope, a young boy in tow, and his colleagues drag him to late night meetings where emotions run high. As the heat wave intensifies and ladybirds begin to swarm the premises, political tensions rise while David is forced to confront certain traumatic childhood events. It is the year of the ladybird, the summer of love, the last days of the working-class summer idyll and - literally and figuratively - the beginning of colder times. The Year of the Ladybird works on so many different levels. As the title implies, it is indeed a ghost story, but also a coming-of-age story, a love story, a politically acute tale of the last (pre-Thatcher) glory days of the working class... This is the second book I've read by Graham Joyce and I'm very impressed with the range he has been showing so far. His writing will undoubtedly please the horror/fantasy crowd as well as fans of contemporary British novelists such as Ian McEwan. One objection, though: I wasn't crazy about how the (very few) female characters were portrayed. Still, as 1976 UK goes, I'm guessing it might be depressingly accurate. Okay then, she muttered. The novel as a whole is, after all, way beyond the realms of okayness, with the simmering heat and nightmarish quality of David's wanderings lingering long after the last page has been turned.

The Year of the Ladybird: A Ghost Story by Graham Joyce The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton diSclafani Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

The Yonahlosse Riding Camp for Girls by Anton diSclafani

I am very much in agreement with Jan over this impressive debut - and no, that is not just my old horse loving, camp going self talking: truly, this is so much more than a story of a girl being sent to riding camp. Despite being set in the decorum obsessed South of the early 1930's, this is a fresh, bold, sad, and poignant tale of a girl coming into her own self, body, and sexuality in unforgiving times. DiSclafani's writing is exquisite and somewhat reminiscent of Curtis Sittenfeld, whose enthusiastic blurb made me curious in the first place (I love it when literary worlds collide like this!). Anton diSclafani is definitely one to watch!

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

A beautifully eclectic and delightfully eccentric read, this one. It begins in the 1960's in an Italian coastal town, where a beautiful, supposedly dying, actress emerges from the set of Cleopatra to get some well needed rest. Cut to modern day La-La Land and the crazed world of pitches and movie deals and an unforgettable cast where past meets present. This is the kind of novel that benefits from a very short plot description, so I'll be scant on the details. Suffice it to say that I truly enjoyed it. There are so many talented, diverse writers out there who deserve a larger audience; Jess Walter, whose previous works include The Secret Lives of the Poets and Citizen Vince, is one of them.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

By far Jewell's darkest and most engrossing book to date, this is the story of a seemingly picture perfect family whose lives take a tragic turn one Easter. Years later, the eldest daughter is back in her childhood home, unearthing the dark, dark secrets and sad, sad consequences of that day. If you think Lisa Jewell is a chick lit writer, think again. While her novels have an emotionally rich and satisfying streak, this is far darker and more mature than anything typically encountered in the chick lit section. Think mashed potatoes served with vodka, straight up. (Is that a weird analogy? I hope you understand what I mean: that while this is a novel visiting some pitch black places, it is also, ultimately, redemptive and comforting.) I raced through this.

Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

Speaking of chick lit: here's the sequel to Devil Wears Prada and if you're looking for something light and entertaining, with a near perfect fluff to edge ratio and plenty of fabulous New York apartments and the odd Hamptons sea front villa, you could do a lot worse than this. Deeply enjoyable in an escapist sort of way.

Heartbroken by Lisa Unger Black Out by Lisa Unger

Heartbroken and Black Out by Lisa Unger

Last summer, I read almost everything Lisa Unger had published to date and fell in love with her strong sense of place and almost Harlan Coben-esque way of blending the mundane with the terrifying. As frequent blog readers will know, I have previously praised her two Hollows novels, Fragile and Darkness, My Old Friend. Her latest effort, set on a remote island in the Adirondacks, just may be her best standalone novel yet. I also recently read Black Out, which had a great, slightly gothic Florida setting (she is so good with settings - secretive small towns, sweltering Florida trailor parks, the pulse of New York City, you name it, Lisa Unger will make you see, feel, and smell it!) but had a few plot twists too many (more of a quirk than a flaw, really). Black Out had a certain late 90's vibe to it that made me think about Joy Fielding, a Florida based thriller writer whom I read religiously ten, fifteen years ago. I wonder if she's still got it...? Only one way to find out.

The Wall by William Sutcliffe Bad Influence by William Sutcliffe

The Wall and Bad Influence by William Sutcliffe

As you may have seen on English Bookshop's Facebook page, I will be interviewing British writer William Sutcliffe during this year's installment of Culture Night and as part of the preparations, I have been reading up on his back catalogue over the past few months. Such a treat for a book geek and former student of literature, getting to read everything by one particular author in chronological order, looking for recurring themes and influences, a way into the very "themness" of their writing! These are the two books I liked the most - am very much looking forward to discussing them with him in person! I am currently in the process of preparing questions for William based on his entire body of work (no small feat, but fun!) and should you have anything you would like me to ask him, feel free to e-mail me at morrisseygroupie@gmail.com - or, better yet, come to the shop and ask him yourself after our chat!