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Archive by author: Return
Jul 03, 2022

Joanna Scutts’s fascinating secret US club of early 20th-century feminists, Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman’s quirky romcom and William Palmer’s vivid study of authors and alcohol

Joanna Scutts
Duckworth, £20, pp416

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Jul 03, 2022

This fictionalised life of the governess employed by Jane Austen’s brother wittily toys with the conventions of the genre

Gill Hornby’s excellent 2020 novel Miss Austen explored the well-worn tale of Jane Austen’s life at one remove, through the eyes of her sister, Cassandra. Her new book returns once again to the Austen milieu and displays a similarly keen sense of wit, rich characterisation and intriguing light revisionism. It succeeds as a page-turning romp on its own terms, but also manages once again to give agency and interest to a minor figure in Austen’s life who has otherwise been ignored by biographers and scholars.

Hornby’s protagonist is Anne Sharpe, a once well-to-do woman who has been forced into straitened circumstances after her mother’s death. She is compelled to take the only “respectable” work available to women of her standing: becoming a governess at Godmersham Park, home of Jane Austen’s elder brother, Edward, and his wife, Elizabeth. Thankfully, their daughter, her charge, Fanny, is an unusually charming and bright girl . As for Anne, we are reminded early, “behind every well-bred governess there was an absence of man”. By the time she encounters the dashing Henry Austen – Jane’s real-life brother, readers will find the saga as entrancing as any of Austen’s own novels.

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Jul 03, 2022

In these revealing late-life chats, the two doyennes of US journalism display all the acuity and intellectual toughness that made them household names

Writing, as Janet Malcolm once declared, ought to be an “invisible, odourless calling”. Now, however, publicists and marketers push artists to be visible, voluble and, if possible, sweet-smelling. Hence the anthologies of chat in the Last Interview series, which extend from the self-elucidation of sages such as Jacques Derrida and Hannah Arendt to the bizarre dicta of Prince and the befogged ramblings of Billie Holiday, one of whose interviews is conducted by the cops after a drug bust.

To qualify for inclusion in the series you need to be dead, and while alive you must have had celebrity status: artistic achievement alone doesn’t make the grade. Janet Malcolm earned her place because of the fights she famously picked. In a case that kept the courts busy for an entire decade, she was twice sued for libel by a psychoanalyst whom she called, in her book on the Freud archives, “an intellectual gigolo”. Finally exonerated, Malcolm had no regrets: “the freedom to be cruel”, she believed, “is one of journalism’s uncontested privileges”, and in describing her apartment to an interviewer she pointed approvingly to the patches on a sofa that her cat had “viciously clawed”.

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Jul 03, 2022

One of the most formidable music PRs in rock, ‘BC’ opens up about her decades of hanging out with the likes of Keith Richards, Mark Ronson and Madonna

Elvis Costello writes the foreword for this memoir from the music PR legend Barbara Charone, and I have to smile when he praises it for capturing her “unmistakable voice”. Charone worked at WEA Records for nearly 20 years, before setting up the independent PR company MBC – still active today – with Moira Bellas; along the way representing Madonna, REM, Guns N’ Roses, Foo Fighters, Rufus Wainwright, Rod Stewart and many more. As for the voice, most who’ve worked in the music industry (I was on NME for a while) will be acquainted with Charone’s signature booming rasp, and how – warm, friendly, but also formidable – she protects her starry clients like Cerberus at the gates of Hades. However, as detailed in this entertaining memoir, there is more to her than that.

This is the woman whom the Financial Times dubbed “the closest thing the music industry has to Alastair Campbell”. As recounted here, pre-Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant gave her the nickname “BC”, back when he was deputy editor of Smash Hits. Wainwright, whom she once managed, wrote the song Barbara about her. Initially a music journalist in first her native US, then the UK, she worked for everyone from NME to Rolling Stone magazine. Then there is her fabled bond with Keith Richards: when Charone wrote Richards’s authorised autobiography, the famously guarded guitarist tossed her the keys to his West Sussex retreat, Redlands (scene of the infamous 1967 Rolling Stones drug bust), so she could write it there.

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Jul 02, 2022

Philip Short’s meticulous new biography forces us to look at Vladimir Putin’s most appalling acts from a Russian perspective

In his speech on the night of the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, which Philip Short describes as “pulsating with anger and resentment” at 30 years of Russian humiliation, Putin seethed: “They deceived us… they duped us like a con artist… the whole so-called western bloc, formed by the United States in its own image is… an empire of lies.” For those who dismiss the speech and the invasion that followed as the words and actions of a man gone mad, dying or out of contact with reality due to Covid isolation, this new biography should be compulsory reading.

As Short observes, however authoritarian and corrupt modern Russia may be, “national leaders invariably reflect the society from which they come, no matter how unpalatable that thought may be to the citizens”. While his people may have been as surprised as the rest of the world at the timing, the invasion hardly came out of the blue and many Russians, not all blinded by propaganda, support it. For as the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, commented a couple of weeks later: “This is not actually, or at least primarily… about Ukraine. It reflects the battle over what the world order will look like. Will it be a world in which the west will lead everyone with impunity and without question?”

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Jul 02, 2022

ITV’s political editor on coping with obsessive-compulsive disorder, belatedly publishing his first novel, and why he longs for a lost England

ITV’s political editor Robert Peston, 62, began his career as a print journalist and has broken a string of stories, including the Northern Rock bailout in 2007, when he was the BBC’s business editor. His debut novel, a slickly paced thriller titled The Whistleblower, is set in London in 1997 as Labour’s modernising new leader prepares to sweep the party to power in a general election. Enter political reporter Gil Peck, a flawed hero who stumbles upon the scoop of a lifetime after his high-powered civil servant sister is killed in a traffic accident.

This is your first published novel. Is it the first you’ve written?
In my 20s, I wrote three-quarters of a thriller about a female detective with extraordinary powers. I didn’t feel it was there really but I should have finished it because it wasn’t a million miles from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo conceit.

The Whistleblower by Robert Peston is published by Zeffre in paperback on 7 July (£8.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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Jul 02, 2022

From an evocative story set in a Trinidad graveyard to a riveting exposé of the Sacklers… Novelists including Johny Pitts, Monica Ali and Nina Stibbe on their essential holiday books

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Jul 02, 2022

The author of My Year of Rest and Relaxation talks to fellow US writer about memoir v fiction, depicting tyrants and the power of fairytales

At 41, Ottessa Moshfegh has appeared on the Booker prize shortlist, for her debut novel Eileen, and the bestseller lists, with My Year of Rest and Relaxation, for which she is currently collaborating on a film adaptation. Her new novel, Lapvona, is set in the middle ages, and features a small community ruled over by a cruel feudal lord, Villiam. Carmen Maria Machado, 35, is the author of celebrated short story collection Her Body & Other Parties, which won the Shirley Jackson prize. Her memoir, In the Dream House, which described the abuse she suffered within a lesbian relationship, won the 2021 Rathbones Folio prize. This encounter was the first time the two US authors had met.

Carmen Maria Machado: I really love your work. When I was reading Lapvona, I was thinking there’s something so exciting to me about authors who are constantly shifting their mode. You never know what their next book is. I find that very exciting as a reader.

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Jul 01, 2022

An investigation into sibling dynamics, mental illness and intergenerational trauma, written with unusual clarity and wit

Rebecca Wait’s new novel invites inevitable comparisons to Meg Mason’s runaway success Sorrow and Bliss. Both are about a pair of sisters; both grapple with madness, mad women and intergenerational trauma. Both are actively funny – because of, rather than in spite of, their subject matter. And both are sharp and wry, written with a clever and unusual clarity. To fail to make the connection would be to miss the obvious – and yet both books rather suffer in the comparison. To dwell too hard on the similarities renders them a blur of high emotions and waspish comments, one a little more composed, the other a little more immediate, demanding a favourite where no favourites need be played. Much, you could say, like sisters.

At the opening of I’m Sorry You Feel That Way, Alice and Hanna are twins in their early 20s whose mother, Celia, has spent her life in the kind of seriously troubled mental state that can pass under the radar of everyone but her children. They are all attending the funeral of Celia’s older sister, whose schizophrenia dominated Celia’s early life. This funeral functions as a family reunion: Hanna has not spoken to Celia, Alice or their brother Michael in several years. Some kind of dramatic rift has occurred between them, and it is this, and the healing of it – or not – that drives the plot.

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Jul 01, 2022

The ‘sprawling and ambitious’ debut centres on the author’s relationship with her mother, who died of cancer in 2010

“Spectacular talent” Maddie Mortimer has won the Desmond Elliott prize for her “incredibly inventive” novel Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies.

Mortimer was announced as the winner of the prize, which is given for a debut novel published in the UK and Ireland, at a ceremony in London this evening.

Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer is published by Picador (£14.99). To support the Guardian and the Observer buy a copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

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Jul 01, 2022

Community, class and the proliferation of men called Pete at the pub are explored as we follow our narrator on his daily walks in the countryside

The debut novel from poet Will Burns is set in the early months of the pandemic in an English market town that “insists on being called a village”. Named after the pub where the narrator lives and works with his parents, the book provides compelling portraits of the landscape, the town and its residents, many of whom propped up the Paper Lantern’s bar before lockdown.

We follow our unnamed protagonist on his daily walks along roads, footpaths and rivers, during which he finds himself “living a kind of dream-life”. He contemplates community, class, local history and how it is that a country pub can be frequented by so many men called Pete.

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Jul 01, 2022

Poukahangatus by Tayi Tibble; Rookie by Caroline Bird; One Language by Anastasia Taylor-Lind; Sonnets for Albert by Anthony Joseph; High Desert by André Naffis-Sahely

Poukahangatus by Tayi Tibble (Penguin, £10.99)
In Vampires Versus Werewolves, the poet remembers schooldays of “brown boys running round topless during PE”; when white girls take them home, it is “to see if parents would bare their teeth”. The role reversal is typical of the fairytales of youth in the Aotearoan/New Zealand poet’s debut collection. Tibble writes wittily of the hunger games of adolescence, with needy boys crying wolf (those beasts again) while “in reverse you cry sheep and / nobody believes your bleating”. Identities are assumed and discarded (“there is a dark-skinned darkness in me / I wear her like a little black dress”), and form a central focus of the autofictional long poem Shame. “Tell me, am I navigating correctly?” Tibble asks in Identity Politics. Her worries are misplaced: however lost their youthful personas, these wise poems know exactly where they are heading.

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Jul 01, 2022

The author on being impressed by Dostoevsky and influenced by the dictionary – and wanting to drive Noddy’s famous yellow car

My earliest reading memory
Almost certainly one of the Noddy books. I deeply believed in the reality of Toyland and wanted to drive a car like Noddy’s (even though it was a taxi).

My favourite book growing up
Speed Six by Bruce Carter, about a pre-war Bentley, painted British racing green, which takes on and beats various postwar foreign cars – Maseratis and so on – at Le Mans. Perfect fodder for a little Little Englander.

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Jun 30, 2022

The eccentric adventures, academic insights and many prejudices of 12 pioneering scholars

When anthropology first became established at English universities, its practitioners kept a fastidious distance from their subjects. The Victorian grandfathers of the discipline, Sir Edward Tyler at Oxford and Sir James Frazer of Cambridge, based their studies on ethnographic materials sent back by missionaries and colonial administrators from faraway lands. To research his massively influential The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion, which eventually ran to 12 volumes, Frazer never travelled beyond Italy. The pioneering Harvard psychologist William James once asked him if he’d ever actually met a “native”. “Good God, no!” was Frazer’s reply.

In 1910, when the dashing Polish polymath Bronisław Malinowski joined the brand new anthropology department at the LSE, its reading list contained just four books, two of which had the same title (The Races of Man). In 1913, he wrote his own first monograph, The Family Among the Australian Aborigines, entirely on the basis of library research in London.

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Jun 30, 2022

Sinéad Gleeson, Gurnaik Johal and Guardian readers discuss the titles they’ve read over the last month. Join the conversation in the comments

In this series we ask authors, Guardian writers and readers to share what they’ve been reading recently. This month, recommendations include some brilliant short story collections, impressive Irish writing and an unflinching tale of war. Tell us what you’ve been reading in the comments.

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Jun 30, 2022

Embarrassing video footage goes viral in this fresh Indian comedy about generation gaps, gossip and the power of the internet

Log kya kahenge?(What will people think?”) is a common Hindi phrase in India, a forewarning of public opinion on one’s personal life. Such opinions are generally understood to be overly critical, a judgment on one’s character and moral compass. The phrase hovers over Aravind Jayan’s humorous and heartwarming first novel, Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors, haunting the eponymous protagonists’ families and lives.

Amma and Appa live in the Blue Hills housing colony in Trivandrum, Kerala. They’re proudly on the road to a comfortable middle-class life, complete with a white Honda Civic – that marker of success and social mobility – when things fall apart. A clip of their eldest son Sreenath and his girlfriend Anita, caught on camera in “sex-adjacent” activities, has been posted to a porn site and is now circulating far and wide, gathering more momentum and causing more mortification with each passing day. This viral video breaks the internet, severing familial bonds and leaving the reader wondering what the ripple effects will be.

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Jun 30, 2022

A Scottish poet’s memoir reflects touchingly on male friendship and masculinity

Scott Hutchison, a musician and visual artist best known as the singer in the band Frightened Rabbit, took his own life in 2018, aged 36. He was close friends with the Scottish poet Michael Pedersen, providing the illustrations for his second poetry collection, Oyster. In his new memoir, Boy Friends, Pedersen pays tender tribute to his late pal, remembering his “marshmallow-melting gooey grin”, the brilliance of his drawings – “the morose made funny, dolefulness shadowed in love” – and the good times they shared: road trips in South Africa and the Highlands; indulgent binges on oysters, Argyll smoked mussels and various obscure tipples.

These reminiscences give way to a thoughtful meditation on male friendship in general. We revisit several of Pedersen’s intense early-20s friendships, including a “sword sharp, politically clued-up” fellow student called David – “he thumbed me like a trashy magazine, I read him like a clever comic” – and Rowley, “a wonderful, mis-wired weirdo of impetuous passions”. He is, by his own account, somewhat emotionally incontinent, prone to “clumsily spilling out sentiment here, there and everywhere … I would tell me friends I loved them constantly.” This trait seems to have been shared by those towards whom he gravitated: “I always found friends who wanted to love too much, who collided rather than simply met.”

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Jun 30, 2022

Published 70 years ago, All Our Yesterdays by Natalia Ginzburg is a secret the Normal People author had been waiting to discover

When I first read Natalia Ginzburg’s work several years ago, I felt as if I was reading something that had been written for me, something that had been written almost inside my own head or heart. I was astonished that I had never encountered Ginzburg’s work before: that no one, knowing me, had ever told me about her books. It was as if her writing was a very important secret that I had been waiting all my life to discover. Far more than anything I myself had ever written or even tried to write, her words seemed to express something completely true about my experience of living, and about life itself. This kind of transformative encounter with a book is, for me, very rare, a moment of contact with what seems to be the essence of human existence. For this reason, I wanted to write a little about Natalia Ginzburg and her novel All Our Yesterdays. I would like to address myself in particular to other readers who are right now awaiting, whether they know it or not, their first and special meeting with her work.

Ginzburg was born Natalia Levi, the daughter of a Jewish father and Catholic mother, in Sicily in 1916. She and her four siblings grew up in Turin in northern Italy, in a secular and intellectually lively home. In 1938, at the age of 22, Natalia married the Jewish anti-fascist organiser Leone Ginzburg, and they went on to have three children together. In 1942, she published her first novel, La strada che va in città (The Road to the City). Due to the legal barriers imposed by the fascist government on publications by Jewish writers, this novel was printed under the pseudonym “Alessandra Tornimparte”. The Ginzburgs were sent into internal exile during the war, in the south of Italy, because of Leone’s political activities, but they travelled to Rome in secret to work on an anti-fascist newspaper. In 1944, Leone was imprisoned and tortured to death by the fascist regime. The war ended a year later, when Ginzburg was still in her 20s, a widowed mother of three small children. These experiences – her upbringing, her marriage, her motherhood, her husband’s death and the political and moral catastrophe of the second world war – would shape Ginzburg’s writing for the rest of her life.

“Politics,” thought Anna. She walked about the garden, amongst Signora Maria’s rose-trees, and repeated the word to herself. She was a plump girl, pale and indolent, dressed in a pleated skirt and a faded blue pullover, and not very tall for her fourteen years. “Politics,” she repeated slowly, and now all at once she seemed to understand …

He looked out of the window at the refugees from Naples who were now going hither and thither about the lanes of the village, carrying mattresses and babies, he looked and said how sad it was to see all these mattresses carried about here and there all over Italy, Italy was now pouring mattresses out of her ravaged houses.

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Jun 29, 2022

A fabulously funny and heart-rendingly sad tale of childhood in the ‘dysfunctional utopia’ of a rackety smallholding

Amy Connell and Lachlan Honey are childhood soulmates on a Herefordshire smallholding, closer even than siblings, born just a few days apart. They celebrate their birthdays every summer solstice with a ramshackle picnic on a nearby hill, surrounded by sweaty adults and grubby children. The grownups bring cake and red wine and homemade elderflower champagne. They also drag up a greased wheelie bin full of rats, which have been caught on the farm and need to be released in the wild. The rats squeak and scratch. They make the wheelie bin shake. “I bet they’re eating each other,” sniffs one of the kids. “Or having sex.”

Throw too many creatures together, one fears, and sooner or later they’ll devour each other or start having sex. It’s a harsh law of nature, as immutable as the seasons and as applicable to hippies on the Welsh borders as it is to rodents in a bin. Amy and Lan love living on Frith Farm, scything and baling and naming all the goats. But the idyll can’t last, the weather turns chilly – and that squeaking and scratching grows more persistent by the month.

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Jun 29, 2022

In his ambitious new book, distinguished professor Saleem Ali tries to bridge the gap between politics and science to help plan for a safer future

Saleem Ali – whose Twitter bio begins “Mercurial Professor” – is not trying to be the new Stephen Hawking.

“People buy all these theoretical physics books in droves because they think having them on the shelves will make them look smart,” opines the distinguished professor of energy and the environment at the University of Delaware. “A Brief History of Time is a very difficult book to read.”

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Jun 29, 2022

Writers from Alexandre Dumas to Jack Kerouac and Colson Whitehead have written fiction worth bonding with about these sometimes uneasy alliances

Male friendship, the way it works, the way people think about it, is going through a generational shift. To feel the change you just have to watch old movies. Last week, I made my kids sit through Diner, which I always thought of as one of my favourite films. It’s about a bunch of twentysomething guys in Baltimore in 1959, struggling to take the next step into adulthood. They argue about football and sandwiches, about Presley and Sinatra … but I’d forgotten how much they talk about sex, too. One of them bets he can “ball” a girl on a second date, another tells stories about the first time he “copped a feel”. Part of the point, of course, is that all this sexism is getting in the way of their lives. They don’t really know what to talk about with women, but the movie is also clearly nostalgic for their late-night bull sessions in the diner. All of which makes male friendship, and the way it mixes guilt and innocence, an interesting thing to write about.

One of the weirdest weekends of my life was when I flew out to Barcelona to interview LeBron James. After waiting around for two days, I was finally ushered into the large hotel room where he was doing media. Our interview, it turned out, was going to have an audience – which included not just agents, publicists and Nike reps but some of LeBron’s old high school teammates who now formed part of his entourage. I wondered what it was like to be one of the guys whose whole life had been shaped by someone he happened to play basketball with 10 years before.

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Jun 29, 2022

Striking biographies by Serhii Rudenko and Philip Short pit Ukraine’s comic actor turned wartime hero against Russia’s pragmatic, inscrutable insider

Volodymyr Zelenskiy is perhaps the closest thing to a mythical hero modern politics has to offer. Ukraine’s courageous wartime president captured the world’s imagination with his haunting, straight-to-camera monologues delivered under bombardment. A comic actor turned leader of the resistance, his story is a political fairytale. But is it almost too good to be true?

Truth and fiction collide in the Ukrainian journalist Serhii Rudenko’s quirky and fascinating biography, describing how a man best known for playing a teacher who unexpectedly becomes head of state subsequently did something similar himself.

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Jun 29, 2022

A wistful, witty meditation on a gay man’s twilight years and the twilight of America

I could no longer deny what I was: an old man who liked to pee in his flower bed.” So says an unnamed sixtysomething living alone in an unnamed North Florida town. It’s a place of few residents, but 27 churches. The lake has gone dry, becoming prairie land. The man has stayed on in his dead parents’ house with their ashes and, like a pharaoh’s tomb, their stuff: his mother’s perfumes, a pack of Pall Malls his father left in the fridge, a crystal Virgin Mary. Andrew Holleran’s first novel in 16 years, The Kingdom of Sand is about death and taxes, literally, plus solitaire, car repairs and five-hour-long porn searches in the late Obama era. Out of this obstinate ennui, Holleran renders an elegiac and very funny contemplation of not just ageing but an age.

The opening chapters are listless and list-like, outlining dietary habits and lifts to the airport. Holleran is a perspicacious writer of place, and of mundanity; the first pages detail how the construction of two freeways and an overpass have made a cruisey video store on Highway 301 inconvenient. The result: no more passing trade, just desperate regulars, “egg-shaped men in loose T-shirts”, arthritic and/or pacemaker-dependent. “Too many cock-suckers,” as a friend puts it at lunch, “and not enough cock.” That friend doesn’t offer a goodbye hug, and on the way home the video store is as lugubrious as ever; the narrator remains untouched.

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Jun 28, 2022

Anastasia Steele actor describes constant disagreements on the set of the hit erotic thriller due to disagreements with Fifty Shades author EL James

Dakota Johnson has described the making of the hit erotic drama Fifty Shades of Grey as “crazy” and that she “signed up to do a very different version of the film [she] ended up making”.

Johnson, who is currently appearing in award-winning indie comedy Cha Cha Real Smooth and about to release an adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Persuasion, spoke to Vanity Fair about Fifty Shades of Grey, in which she starred opposite Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in a 2015 film version of EL James’ best selling novel directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson. Two further films, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, were released in 2017 and 2018 respectively, with James Foley replacing Taylor-Johnson as director and over which James was given what has been described as “unprecedented control”.

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Jun 28, 2022

The highs and lows of first-love relationships, modern-day mythology and summer escapism are among this month’s pick of teenage fiction

Readers facing a long wait for their next fix of Heartstopper: look out for two new teenage romances that channel some of that warmth and feelgood energy, framed by diverse casts of characters. Only on the Weekends (Hodder, £8.99) is Dean Atta’s second young adult verse novel, following the Stonewall book award winner The Black Flamingo. Hopeless romantic Mack longs for love, certain it’s the real deal when Karim becomes his boyfriend. A family move to Scotland presents fresh challenges, not least Mack’s instant attraction to new friend Finlay. It’s full of tender truths on the joy and agony of first love, amplified by the confessional tone of the verse format.

In I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston (Macmillan, £14.99), Chloe has endured the puritanical Willowgrove Christian academy only through her steely resolve to become valedictorian. A month before graduation her main rival, the perfect Shara, unexpectedly kisses her and then vanishes, leaving an unruly breadcrumb trail of cryptic notes for Chloe and two unlikely accomplices. Sharp, funny and deliciously entertaining, it reads like a 21st-century take on a John Hughes classic teen movie; a Netflix adaptation can only be a matter of time.

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