What We’re Reading: Spring 2024 Edition

What are you currently reading? Hear from the New Writing North team about our current reads and recent favourites, spanning mystery, sci-fi, historical fiction, and more. Also find out about some of the new releases we’re most excited to pick up – a promising year of reading lies ahead!

Claire Malcolm

A book that has stolen my heart for spring is Pity, Andrew McMillan’s debut novel. The shadow of the miners’ strike and life in the pits haunts this story but doesn’t define it. Here is the new generation of men in Barnsley – security guards and part-time drag acts and those just getting by – most more at home with their sexuality than their fathers were able to be. Cleverly, the novel explores feelings about the past through a university research project which is engaging the older generation in thinking about the town. A satisfying novel, beautifully written and poetically brief yet full of ideas about love, families and politics. You will race through it and immediately want to read it again, to savour the language, to spend more time with the characters and to feel that hope and love is possible for men in the North.

Margot Miltenberger

I recently finished Collected Works by Lydia Sandgren, translated by Agnes Broomé, and I can’t stop thinking about it. At roughly 600 pages, it’s the sort of long book that lingers in your head after you finish, and this one gives you lots to think about. Through a small cast of characters, we gradually piece together the history of Cecelia: a beautiful, intelligent historian, both an artist and a muse, who vanishes suddenly, leaving Martin to raise their two children alone, and their best friend (a successful artist) without a muse. Having vanished, Cecelia’s story is told through the lens of everyone but herself. She remains as unreachable to the reader as to those she has left behind. A good one if you like themes of writing and success, art and life, and friendships changing through time.

Will Mackie

I’m loving Conquest by the speculative fiction writer Nina Allan. The novel is bemusing, complex, multi-voiced and inter-textual – and also wonderfully engaging. The story revolves around a group of contemporary conspiracy theorists who are convinced that a global cover-up is concealing an ongoing alien invasion. Their belief is in part founded on the plot of a forgotten mid-twentieth century SF novel about a narcissistic architect who constructs a luxury tower built from a kind of toxic, living, fungal-like alien material following an inter-planetary war. The book includes film criticism and long digressions about Bach and is driven by the compelling storyline of Robin, a private detective hired by the girlfriend of a missing man who may have been abducted or murdered by a cult-like group. Robin’s investigation takes her from London to Scarborough and through the Cairngorms, as we learn more about her own deeply traumatic past in some of the novel’s most moving passages. I don’t have long to go in this book and have no idea where it’s going to end up, but I’ve loved every unexpected part of the journey.

Grace Keane

Spring always feels like a good time to tackle the pile of books by my bed and get into some new releases. I’m currently reading Happiness Falls by Angie Kim. Kim’s debut novel Miracle, Creek, was a beautifully written literary mystery (my favourite kind of read) and Happiness Falls is so far striking that same balance. We’re following a Korean American family in DC, in the aftermath of the father’s sudden disappearance. There’s a playful quality to this novel – going down rabbit holes of linguistics and music and science – while also being utterly gripping. I love the way Kim tackles ideas of family and identity, and I have a feeling that this one is going to be a heartbreaker.

The biggest book release of the year (for me) is coming in March, as Tana French is FINALLY releasing a new novel, The Hunter. Tana French is, to me, the best contemporary crime writer in the game, and I’ve felt every day of this three and a half year wait for new material. If you’re after a smart and well-paced crime novel, French will always scratch your itch.

Carys Vickers

I have just started reading One Day by David Nicholls in anticipation of our event with David in Newcastle – and so I can join my colleagues in talking about the new Netflix series. As someone who often reminisces on my ‘1 year ago today’ Facebook memories, the concept of a story told on the same day over a period of years really appeals to me. Dex and Em are so vividly imagined, and I’m loving the wit and lightness that sit alongside the very real struggles of navigating life in your 20s.

Some recent releases that I’ve added to my TBR are The Book of Doors by Gareth Brown (a fantasy book-about-books), Fourteen Days edited by Margaret Atwood and Douglas Preston (a short story collection set in NYC during the early days of COVID-19) and Maurice and Maralyn by Sophie Elmhirst (a true story of a married couple cast adrift in the Pacific Ocean).

Tess Denman-Cleaver

I’m currently really enjoying Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness, about a boy who starts to hear voices in domestic objects after the death of his father, when his mother develops a hoarding habit. As the daughter of a hoarder, I’m always looking out for books about hoarding and the things we collect, inherit and surround ourselves with. This one was recommended by the lovely 1b bookshop in Heaton. Ozeki’s book – which is itself one of the speaking objects of the story – is really fun, and the conceptual ambition doesn’t detract from the compelling and intelligently written characters. Thematically, it’s a nice follow on from Langley’s The Variations, which I included in our Winter Northern Bookshelf recommendations, and also explores voice hearing and the ways that we are haunted.

I’m looking forward to reading Lublin next, the new novel from brilliant Newcastle-based Manya Wilkinson, published earlier this year by And Other Stories.

Laura Fraine

Usually a very unreliable book group member, I have breezed through and am ready to discuss This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub, our office book group choice for April. It is a story about the passage of time, regret, choices, familial love, and learning how to be an adult. The story bounces between two days 24 years apart – our protagonist’s 16th and 40th birthdays – using time travel as both plot device and therapeutic tool. It is a sentimental novel, but there is lots to enjoy if you can set aside reality for a moment. Set in real locations in New York’s Upper West Side (fun if you like googling your settings, eg Gray’s Papaya, Pomander Walk and H&H Bagels), it is at once a love letter to a sun-dappled New York-in-the-fall most of us know from the movies, and the simpler way of life we all had in the 90s, pre-internet and mobile phones, that we all must occasionally wish we could return to, even if just for one day.

Helena Davidson

I’ve just started Marian Keyes’ bestseller Rachel’s Holiday, which is so funny and exactly what I need at the moment. I read the first novel in the Walsh Family series, Watermelon, last year and was just completely caught up by Marian Keyes’ wit and vividness with which she depicts the chaos of having a big family. I have high hopes for book two and the rest of the series.

On a completely different note, the first book I read this year was one I’d been hearing a lot about and finally decided to try. Alice Winn’s In Memoriam is one of those rare books that fully consumed me. I was thinking about it all hours of the day and was genuinely sad when I finished it. It’s gruesome and bloody and epic, but tender, gentle, and loving all at the same time. I want to make everyone read this book.

Anna Disley

I am very excited about Caledonian Road by Andrew O’Hagan, out in April. Described as a State of the Nation novel, it is set in London 2021 and tells the story of one man’s fall from grace as he loses his place in the centre of the liberal establishment.

I also have The New Life by Middlesbrough-born Tom Crewe on my list – it reimagines the real-life efforts of two men who wrote a book advocating for the acceptance of homosexuality in the nineteenth century, against a backdrop of the Oscar Wilde trial.

Finally, Save Me From the Waves by Jessica Hepburn is a memoir about her mission to climb Everest (having already swam the channel). It’s more than just an adventure story, it’s also a history of Desert Island Discs (she listened to all the episodes while training), and it’s brilliant on place, family-history and the heartbreak of infertility. There is a lot going on! And it’s a really good read.