Turnaround’s 2021 Summer Reads

You’ve heard of hot boy summer, but what about hot book summer? Well with that obligatory pun out of the way its time to introduce you to our summer ’21 cohort of perfect park reads. Because however you plan to spend this summer its always better to do it with a book. Here’s what we’re reading and what we hope you’ll pick up.

Anouk Recommends…

It’s Not What You Thought it Would be by Lizzy Stewart
(Fantagraphics, 9781683964353, h/b, £21.99)

This graphic novel immediately piqued my interest when I first heard of it. A coming-of-age story following different women on their tumultuous paths to adulthood, It’s Not What You Thought It Would Be is sure to be a bittersweet read. The art looks stunning, and if Walking Distance is anything to go by, Lizzy Stewart excels at portraying the slice-of-life of moments this book mostly consists of. Perfect for a long summer evening when the melancholy starts to set in.

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Catcalling by Lee Soho, trans. by Soje
(Open Letter, 9781948830386, p/b, 112pp, £12.99)

Poetry is one of those genres I wish I knew more about than I do, so I’ve promised myself I’ll explore at least one collection over the summer. Billed as an ‘experimental bildungsroman that confronts dynamics of abuse as it challenges poetic form’, Catcalling sounds right up my street. In five distinct sections, the collection follows protagonist Kyungjin as she navigates patriarchal society, explores Korea’s own movement against sexual violence, and deals with #MeToo. Sounds like one not to miss.

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Skye Papers by Jamika Ajalon
(The Feminist Press, 9781952177965, p/b, £15.99)

This is one I’ve been looking forward to ever since it was announced. Skye Papers is a Black, punk, queer coming-of-age story about the 90s underground art scene in London, exploring youth, poetry, and what it means to come to terms with queerness. It’s set against the backdrop of a rising surveillance state and questions the resulting dystopian reality that facilitates violence against Black and other marginalised communities. It is also the newest title in the Feminist Press’ Amethyst Editions imprint, which has yet to publish something I didn’t absolutely love. I can’t wait to get into it.

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Planet of Clay by Samar Yazbek and trans. by Leri Price
(World Editions, 9781912987238, p/b, £12.99)

Not one for the faint of heart, Planet of Clay portrays the horrors taking place in Syria through the surreal and poetic lens of a young child emerged in make-belief. Wounded and in-between bombings, Rima writes her story full of coloured crayons and secret planets, and The Little Prince, reciting passages of the Qur’an like a mantra as everything and everyone around her is blown to bits. An ode to fantasy and beauty from one of Syria’s most celebrated writers, it promises to be a deeply moving story about a child trying to survive in war-torn Damascus.

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Liam recommends…

Yes Yes More More by Anna Wood
(The Indigo Press, 9781911648284, p/b, £10.99)

As someone who is chronically online, I have watched the buzz around Anna Wood’s debut short story collection build across social media in real time. The internet is obsessed, and the internet wouldn’t lie to me, so I feel confident that Yes Yes More More is going to blow my socks off. In this collection, readers skip through decades of a woman’s life, meeting friends, lovers, shapeshifters and doppelgangers along the way. In amongst it all there is always pop music, wit, warmth and heartbreak, as time shifts off its axis and happiness and regrets pile up.  

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Lairies by Steve Hollyman
(Influx Press, 9781910312674, p/b, £9.99)

Ever woken up in the morning and wondered what happened the night before? That’s the starting point for Steve Hollyman’s Lairies, which explores the lives and motivations of violent young men at the start of the 21st century.  This has so many themes I love – masculinity, memory, the early 2000s and your early 20s, pubs – that I just know I’m going to love it.  

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Becoming Mr Nice by Amber Marks
(No Exit Press, 9780857303936, h/b, £19.99)

The inside track on one of Britain’s most remarkable characters is revealed in Becoming Mr Nice, a life story told in never-before-seen photographs and ephemera. The book is an extraordinary montage of previously unseen material from Howard Marks’ roller-coaster life, interwoven with his daughter’s incisively researched and deadpan commentary. Marks has been described as a ‘smuggling overlord’, ‘a true modern day folk hero’, and ‘Britain’s best-known and most charming drug smuggler’ – and was also a DJ, a comedian, and a human rights campaigner. It’s all distilled here, in an in-depth, illustrated introduction.

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At Night’s End by Nir Baram
(Text Publishing, 9781922330178, p/b, £10.99)

In the second novel on my list about memory, a writer wakes up in a hotel room in an unfamiliar city. His clothes are muddy; he doesn’t know how long he’s been lying in bed. Yonatan came to participate in a literary festival that is long over – why is he still here? When he attempts to reconstruct his lost days, he learns that he told people at the festival that his best friend had died. Except his friend is still alive. Yonatan stays on in Mexico City, reluctant to return to his wife and infant son back home in Tel Aviv. Convinced that his closest friend, Yoel, is going to die, he struggles to preserve his sanity. But why is he so convinced?

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Eleanor recommends…

Celestia by Manuele Fior, translated by Jamie Richards
(Fantagraphics, 9781683964384, h/b, £25.99)

This striking graphic novel tells the story of the aftermath of a cataclysmic event. The ‘Great Invasion’ came from the sea, sending survivors to shelter on the concrete island of Celestia. Now, cut off from the mainland, Celestia is the refuge of a group of young telepaths. Events force them to flee again to the mainland, where they find a world on the cusp of change. This ambitious and stunningly beautiful book from LA Book Prize- (among many others) nominated author Manuele Fior, looks to be a dreamy, thought-provoking treat.

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Odin’s Child by Siri Pettersen
(Arctis, 9781646900008, h/b, £16.99)

Odin’s Child is the first book in this epic modern fantasy trilogy following 15-year old Hirka, who stands out in her Norse-inspired society for her lack of tail. Despised and dreaded as the carrier of a disease called the Rot, Hirka must discover more about her own origins, as well as why someone wants to kill her to keep that a secret. Described as ‘a unique fantasy with Norse roots’, this looks to be a fascinating start to a story that’s been a bestseller in its native country since its publication in 2013 and the first fantasy ever to be nominated for the prestigious Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize. With Odin’s Child‘s sequel, The Rot, coming in October, now seems an excellent time to start.

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How to Betray Your Country by James Wolff
(Bitter Lemon Press, 9781913394516, p/b, £8.99)

This second installation in a planned trilogy from James Wolff (the pseudonym of a young novelist who ‘has been working for the British government for the last ten years’) follows the same disgraced spy, Agent Drummond, from his last acclaimed outing in Beside the Syrian Sea (2018). Things aren’t looking great for him this time, in emotional free-fall after the death of his wife and fired from his job, and now stuck on a flight to Istanbul beside a passenger who won’t stop talking. Once landed in Turkey, Drummond gets caught up in a mystery that goes to the heart of the Islamic State, investigating a shadowy plot to murder an Iranian scientist in Istanbul. Exploring the thin line between following orders and following one’s conscience, this looks like a captivating thriller perfect for some summer espionage escapism.

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Jenn recommends…

The Service by Frankie Miren
(Influx Press, 9781910312872, p/b, £9.99)

The Service is phenomenal and I loved it. It’s a novel about sex work, about relationships, about survival. It’s about mental health and hypocrisy and power. It follows three characters, sex workers Lori and Freya, and SWERF Paula, whose whole deal is anti sex work journalism and her determined campaign to ban sex robots. Lori is trying to build a new life for herself and her daughter when the advertising sites she uses for work are taken down and she is suddenly without income. Freya is a student coming to sex work for the first time. The three women find themselves drawn into each other’s lives as tension builds and brothels start getting raided by the police. The Service is a truly important novel that asks a lot of big questions that really need asking, and Frankie Miren navigates them with intelligence, empathy, tolerance, and humour (it’s also really funny). Go and read it!

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Sterling Karat Gold by Isabel Waidner
(Peninsula Press, 9781913512040, p/b, £9.99)

I love everything Isabel Waidner writes and this is maybe their best book yet! Described as ‘Kafka’s The Trial written for the era of gaslighting’, this is a completely surreal, frenetic, and powerful novel about contemporary Britain and Britishness that centers immigrants, queers, and people of colour. The book starts with a bullfight in Camden and a misplaced arrest, and continues through time and space, encountering footballers and spaceships and an art collective and a some tiny cute animals. Waidner’s voice is wildly innovative, and their prose is unlike anything I have read before. I can’t really speak highly enough of Sterling Karat Gold so add it to your pile if it isn’t there already!

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A Natural History of Transition by Callum Angus
(Metonymy Press, 9781999058876, p/b, £11.99)

A Natural History of Transition is a collection of short stories that examines the transgender experience as ever-evolving, that blends magic, horror, and alternative realities. There are characters that grow as tall as buildings, that turn into mountains, that unravel mysteries and give birth to cocoons. It sounds amazing– I’m a huge fan of Metonymy Press and the work they do, and this one comes with an incredible endorsement from Garth Greenwell, to top it off, who says Callum Angus is one of the younger writers I’m most excited by, with a mind full of marvels and an ear to match. Every story surprises; every sentence strives gorgeously toward music. This is writing as transition, as entrancement, as transcendence.”

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Ben Recommends…

Coma by Zara Slattery
(Myriad Editions, 9781912408665, p/b, £18.99)

Graphic non-fiction has been getting increased attention in recent years, and with books being published like Zara Slattery’s Coma its no wonder. Telling the harrowing true story of how the author survived a deadly bacterial infection, it brings to life the terrifying hallucinations she experienced during a 15-day drug-induced coma. The drawings look haunting yet beautiful, even fantastical in their dreamlike quality. But alongside it is a profoundly human story of an ICU patient and her family struggling alongside her. A must read for graphic memoir fans this summer.

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Through the Looking Glass Darkly by Jake Fior
(Alice Through the Looking Glass, 9781527256903, p/b, £19.95)

Summer wouldn’t be summer without a trip to a gallery. And at the top of my list is definitely the V&A’s immersive Alice in Wonderland exhibition: Curiouser and Curiouser, charting over 157 years of the Alice phenomena. Which among Vivienne Westwood looks and a Salvador Dali, includes many rediscovered artefacts that inspired this book. A dark reimagining of a classic tale, Through a Looking Glass Darkly promises a hypnotic revisitation of the classic text, and makes for the perfect primer to the exhibition.

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Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi
(Arsenal Pulp Press, 9781551528236, p/b, £17.99)

I must have sent a dozen or so copies out of this book this year and not a single review has come back that wasn’t glowing with praise! And I mean of the ‘best book I’ve read this year’ kind, so its only fitting that I add it to my summer reading list. Promising an intergenerational saga about queer love, food, and family, this Canadian debut has already made a splash across the pond, making the 2021 Canada Reads selection and the Lambda Literary longlist. So if you’re looking for an exquisite work of queer fiction to read this summer, you’ve just found it.

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If anything you’ve read about on our blog catches your eye, consider ordering from your local bookshop. Find yours here. Alternatively, you can browse your favourite indies on Bookshop.org.

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