Books just want to have sun: 10 fiction titles to watch out for this July!

There’s no time like summer for delving into a juicy read — whether long and thought-provoking, or quick and pacey, we have a fantastic array of books coming out in time for the seaside.

The Book of Queens by Joumana Haddad
Interlink Books, 9781623718473, PB, £16.99, 5/7/2023

From award-winning Lebansese author, journalist, and human rights activist, Joumana Haddad, The Book of Queens is a book of history, heritage, loyalty, religion, feminism, families, and the Armenian genocide.

The Book of Queens is a family saga that spans four generations of women caught up in the tragic whirlwind of turf wars and suffering in the Middle East — from the Armenian genocide and the Israeli occupation of Palestine to modern-day civil wars and the struggles between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon and Syria.

Salt and Skin by Eliza Henry-Jones
September Publishing, 9781914613364, PB, £12.99, 6/7/2023

For readers of Hannah Kent, Sally Magnusson, Sarah Perry, Salt and Skin is a novel full of wildness, old magic and current danger, drawing on records of the witch trials of the Scottish isles and transforms folklore into a compelling modern family drama.

Grief-stricken and on the verge of a breakdown, photographer Luda Managan leaves Australia for a commission, bringing her two teenage children to a remote, weather-ravaged but luminously beautiful Scottish island. Luda, isolated from her two resentful teenagers, turns her attention to the records from the 17th century island witch hunts and the fragmented life stories of the executed women. Min, her daughter, restless and strong, tries to fill up the space in their family left by her father. She soon finds comfort in both the sea and an unlikely friendship. But the only thing that beautiful and gifted Darcy cares about is getting marks high enough for entry into university — one very, very far away from his mother. Until he meets the wild foundling, Theo, who is slowly self-destructing in a community that is both protective and violent towards him. But when a tragic accident unleashes ghosts and the echoes of long-ago violence and betrayal into their lives, the Managans must confront their unspoken histories in order to survive. Set on a fictional Orkney island, Salt and Skin is steeped in the visceral beauty of folklore.

The Love of Singular Men by Victor Heringer, translated by James Young
Peirene Press, 9781908670779, PB, £12.99, 11/7/2023

An inventive and incisive novel by the beloved, prize-winning author Victor Heringer, The Love of Singular Men tells the life of a Brazilian boy living with monoparesis who is suddenly thrown into chaos by his father’s misdeeds.

Camilo is a middle-class boy growing up in the sweltering suburbs of 1970s Rio de Janeiro, during Brazil’s often brutal military dictatorship. Disabled by monoparesis, he lives a sheltered life under the blistering sun, rarely venturing beyond his own back garden. But his predictable existence is interrupted when his father, a doctor complicit in the torture of political prisoners, brings home an orphan, Cosme, to live with the family. Who is this boy? What is he doing here? Camilo instinctively hates him but this hate soon turns to love, before, in an echo of the violence and intolerance of the society around them, their happiness is tragically cut short. Narrated by the older Camilo, living alone in his childhood neighbourhood and haunted by his past, this short yet hugely ambitious novel by Jabuti Prize-winning author Victor Heringer (1988-2018) is marked by a dazzling linguistic inventiveness that brings everything from the smells of the Rio streets to the heat of the boys’ skin vividly to life. In it, Heringer combines an incisive exploration of Brazilian social and political issues with a moving account of first love, first grief and revenge, to make The Love of Singular Men a coming of age love story like no other — always visceral, often humorous, and never less than deeply moving.

Café Unfiltered by Jean-Phillippe Blondel, translated by Alison Anderson
New Vessel Press, 9781954404205, PB, £14.99, 13/7/2023

A new intimate and suspenseful psychological novel from acclaimed, bestselling French author Jean-Philippe Blondel.

A novel celebrating a magical setting of both encounter and anonymity. At a classic café in the French provinces, Jean-Philippe Blondel, author of the bestselling The 6:41 to Paris, presents a moving fresco of intertwined destinies portrayed with humour, insight and tenderness. In less than twenty-four hours, a medley of characters resumes normal life patterns after a long disruption from Covid — a mother and son in heated conversation, a man and his childhood friend with whom he covertly fell in love, and a woman who crosses paths with the ex who abandoned her in Australia seventeen years earlier. The café’s customers, waiters, and owners past and present, examine the threads of their existence, exposing the reader to their inner selves, their failed dreams and how they envisage moving forward in the uncertain future that awaits us all.

The Poison Machine by Robert J. Lloyd
Melville House Publishing, 9781685890407, PB, £12.99, 13/7/2023

In this thrilling and addictive sequel to The Bloodless Boy, Harry Hunt must go to Paris in search of a spy and imposter who has knowledge of a plot to kill the Queen of England…

1679. A year has passed since the sensational attempt to murder King Charles II. Harry Hunt — estranged from his mentor Robert Hooke and no longer employed by the Royal Society — meets Sir Jonas Moore, the King’s Surveyor-General of the Board of Ordnance, in the remote and windswept marshes of Norfolk. There, workers draining the fenland have uncovered a skeleton. Accompanied by his friend Colonel Fields, an old soldier for Parliament, and Hooke’s niece, Grace, Harry confirms Sir Jonas’s suspicion: the body is that of a dwarf, Captain Jeffrey Hudson, once famously given to Queen Henrietta Maria in a pie. During the Civil Wars, Hudson accompanied the Queen to France to sell the Royal Jewels to fund her husband’s army. He was sent home in disgrace after shooting a man in a duel. But nobody knew Hudson was dead. Another man, working as a spy, has lived as him since his murder. Now, this impostor has disappeared, taking vital information with him. Sir Jonas orders Harry to find him. Harry’s search takes him to Paris, another city bedeviled by conspiracies and intrigues. He navigates its salons and libraries, and learns of a terrible plot against the current Queen of England, Catherine of Bragança, and her gathering of Catholics in London. Assassins plan to poison them all…

After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz
Galley Beggar Press, 9781913111397, PB, £9.99, 13/7/2023

Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2022, this is the brand new edition of Selby Wynn Schwartz’s After Sappho.

It’s 1895. Amid laundry and bruises, Rina Pierangeli Faccio gives birth to the child of the man who raped her — and who she has also been forced to marry. Unbroken, she determines to change her name; and her life, alongside it.

1902. Romaine Brooks sails for Capri. She has barely enough money for the ferry, nothing for lunch; her paintbrushes are bald and clotted… But she is sure she can sell a painting — and is fervent in her belief that the island is detached from all fates she has previously suffered.

In 1923, Virginia Woolf writes: I want to make life fuller — and fuller. Sarah Bernhardt — Colette — Eleanora Duse — Lina Poletti — Josephine Baker… these are just a few of the women sharing the pages of a novel as fierce as it is luminous. Lush and poetic; furious and funny; in After Sappho, Selby Wynn Schwartz has created a novel that celebrates the women and trailblazers of the past — their constant efforts to push against the boundaries of what it means, and can mean, to be a woman — that also offers hope for our present, and our futures.

Truth & Dare by So Mayer
Cipher Press, 9781739784980, PB, £10.99, 20/7/2023

The debut fiction collection from an inimitable critic, Truth & Dare is a deeply personal and fantastical ride through gender, trauma, queerness, science, history, and religion. For fans of Isabel Waidner, Ali Smith, and Carmen Maria Machado.

Cornish mermaids take to the football pitch to protest warming seas. Trans students in Manchester searching for the perfect dick accidentally warp the fabric of spacetime. England’s worst pogrom comes for York’s particle collider, powered by bread and gender energy. On Bournemouth beach, a storm delivers an ancestor across oceans of time to sire a drowning descendant. The devil stands a drink at London’s famous gay pub, The Black Cap, while Artemis, in the guise of Joan of Arc, roams a life-or-death night in East Sussex. This is England, (but not?) as we know it. A queer quantum tour through what was, what is, what could have been and may yet still come to pass, in a collection that braids high-wire believe-it-or-not memoir with cutting-edge science fiction (or is it?) from alternate timelines that vibrate very close to ours. Otherworldly and surreal, this collection delves deep into trauma, queerness, gender, bodies, and religion.

Any Other City by Hazel Jane Plante
Arsenal Pulp Press, 9781551529110, PB, £18.99, 20/7/2023

For fans of Little Fish, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, A Dream of a Woman, Any Other City is the fictional memoir of a trans indie rock musician from the author of Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian).

Any Other City is a two-sided fictional memoir by Tracy St. Cyr, who helms the beloved indie rock band Static Saints. Side A is a snapshot of her life from 1993, when Tracy arrives in a labyrinthine city as a fledgling artist and unexpectedly falls in with a clutch of trans women, including the iconoclastic visual artist Sadie Tang. Side B finds Tracy, now a semi-famous musician, in the same strange city in 2019, healing from a traumatic event through songwriting, queer kinship, and sexual pleasure. While writing her memoir, Tracy perceives how the past reverberates into the present, how a body is a time machine, how there’s power in refusing to dust the past with powdered sugar, and how seedlings begin to slowly grow in empty spaces after things have been broken open. Motifs recur like musical phrases, and traces of what used to be there peek through, like a palimpsest. Any Other City is a novel about friendship and other forms of love, travelling in a body across decades, and transmuting trauma through art making and queer sex — a love letter to trans femmes and to art itself. A sex-positive testament to trans survival and how the experience of trauma can mutate over the course of a life.

American Mermaid by Julia Langbein
Text Publishing Company, 9781922790163, PB, £11.99, 20/7/2023

A brilliantly witty debut novel about a writer lured to Los Angeles to adapt her feminist mermaid story into a big-budget film — only to find the mermaid has other ideas.

Broke English teacher Penelope Schleeman is as surprised as anyone when her feminist novel American Mermaid becomes a bestseller. Lured by the promise of a big payday, she quits teaching and moves to LA to turn the novel into an action flick. But as she’s pressured to change her main character from a fierce, androgynous eco-warrior to a teen sex object in a clamshell bra, strange things start to happen. Is Penelope losing her mind, or has her mermaid come to life, enacting revenge for Hollywood’s violations? A hilarious and deep story, American Mermaid asks how far we’ll go to protect the parts of ourselves that are not for sale. A laugh-out-loud, biting satire of the Hollywood film industry, and an uplifting story of integrity and redemption.

The Forest Brims Over: A Novel by Maru Ayase, translated by Haydn Trowell
Counterpoint, 9781640095373, PB, £15.99, 25/7/2023

A woman turns herself into a forest after long being co-opted to serve as the subject of her husband’s novels. This surrealist fable, inspired by a true story, challenges traditional gender attitudes and exploitation in the literary world. Perfect for readers of The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun, The Vegetarian by Han Kang, and The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa.

Nowatari Rui has long been the subject of her husband’s novels, depicted as a pure woman who takes great pleasure in sex. With her privacy and identity continually stripped away, she has come to be seen by society first and foremost as the inspiration for her husband’s art. When a decade’s worth of frustrations reaches its boiling point, Rui consumes a bowl of seeds, and buds and roots begin to sprout all over her body. Instead of taking her to a hospital, her husband keeps her in an aquaterrarium, set to compose a new novel based on this unsettling experience. But Rui grows at a rapid pace and soon breaks away from her husband by turning into a forest — and in time, she takes over the entire city. As fantasy and reality bleed together, The Forest Brims Over challenges unconscious gender biases and explores the boundaries between art and exploitation — muse abuse — in the literary world.

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