Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead I don’t think I will ever shut up about this book. Shipstead’s second novel tells the story of a young ballet star in the doldrums after the end of a love affair with a superstar Russian dancer, who defected from the USSR with her help. A quick fling with an old friend and she leaves the world of barré behind to raise her son, who turns out to be a dance prodigy. Taking place over decades and inspired by the life of Mikhail Baryshnikov (the actor who played Carrie Bradshaw’s Russian), Astonish Me is a book about expectations, ambition, love, selfishness, legacy, vanity. I can’t recommend it enough.
Because I’m greedy, and Junior Editor, I’m also going to plug Sarra Manning’s It Felt Like a Kiss. Manning is famous in YA circles but her ‘grown up’ literature is darkly hilarious with very honest romance plots. This time round, gallery girl Ellie finds her life upended when an ex tells a newspaper she’s the estranged daughter of a high-profile rock star. Tabloid shots of her arse follow, her career is derailed, and her father’s handsome lawyer is trying to shut her up while also causing her a lot of emotional confusion. This is the perfect book to stay in with when you’re pretending to your friends you’ve got a vomiting bug because you picked at the turkey carcass way past when it was acceptable. Also, there is a scene involving the love interest showing up on the protagonist’s doorstep with a bag of groceries from Marks and Spencer. The sexiest foreplay I’ve read this year.
Jeanne Sutton, Junior Editor of Image.ie, @jeannedesutun
Buy It Felt Like a Kiss
Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Pulitzer-prize winning columnist Anna Quindlen was a lovely holiday read and that rare thing – a romantic comedy layered with depth, grace and wit. The story of a once-famous photographer attempting to rebuild her life, it’s a smart, funny novel filled with surprisingly sparse prose and beautifully-drawn characters.
Nathalie Marquez Courtney, Editor of Image Interiors and Living, @nathaliemc
Buy Still Life with Bread Crumbs
The Thrill of it All by Joseph O’Connor What a writer (and from my experience, an absolute gentleman). Told in the guise of a rock n’ roll memoir, this novel about a 1980s band from Luton – pardon the pun – simply sings. The tale opens in the voice of the band’s guitarist, Irish-born Robbie Goulding, and spans 25 years, from the time Robbie first encounters the intriguing Fran Mulvey, an orphaned Vietnamese refugee who was raised in England and wears make-up, and later becomes the Ships in the Night’s lead singer. Centred around interviews, memoirs and diaries, the book takes the reader on a journey culminating in a Dublin evening in 2012. Anyone who’s read O’Connor’s work will know a novel penned by him is always worth picking up.
Meg Walker, Deputy Editor of IMAGE Magazine, @megwalkerdublin
Buy The Thrill of it All
Darragh McKeon’s All that is Solid Melts into Air is a knock-out debut – set in 1980s Soviet Union as the Chernobyl power plant goes up, it follows the lives of a group of characters as they deal with the aftermath. That sounds grim – and some of it is – but there are also stories of heroism, love, and the tale of a child prodigy to lift the darkness. McKeon is a director turned writer who lives in New York and he doesn’t waste a single word.
Fran Power, Editor of Cara Magazine
Buy All That is Solid Melts into Air
Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe; lolz aplenty nonfiction about a 19-year-old au pair cum aspiring writer working in London during the 1980s, her ‘charges’ being the young sons of London Books Review editor Mary-Kay Wilmers and filmmaker Stephen Frears – cue Stibbe being amusingly immersed in the literati/thespianism. Composed entirely of letters sent from Nina to her sister, it’s an understated and droll snapshot of domesticity, not least the regular appearances of playwright Alan Bennett and his contentious watercress and orange salad…
Lucy White, Deputy Editor, CARA Magazine
Buy Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life