Rubyfruit Jungle

Born into shame and illegitimacy during World War II and raised by an adoptive mother who took every opportunity to crush her spirit, the heroine of this novel, Molly Bolt, knows what she wants from an early age: to never marry, to get an education, to make movies, and to sleep with women. Rubyfruit Jungle follows her journey from bigoted poverty in rural Pennsylvania and Florida, through numerous setbacks, to her eventual graduation from university in New York.

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Sour Heart

A destitute daughter and parents bound together by genuine love, despite the father’s infidelity; a grandmother marked by the trauma of Communist China, snatching moments of freedom for her soul but unable to relate with honesty to her family; a girl born into a repeating cycle of emotional abuse, who is destined to repeat it; an increasingly horrific example of the over-sexualisation of pre-teens…all of them first-generation Chinese immigrants. Sour Heart is Jenny Zhang’s new collection of short fiction, and the first book to be published by Lena Dunham’s new Random House imprint, Lenny Books.

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Code Name Verity

Margaret (Maddie) is the motorcycle-riding Mancunian granddaughter of Russian immigrants. Julia is the daughter of a Scottish lord, educated in Switzerland. Under normal circumstances, they may never have met. But when World War II creates new opportunities for women, they find that their skills can be put to uses that result in their worlds colliding, and a friendship forming. Maddie, handy with machines, discovers the thrills of aviation; Julia, gifted with languages, rises to an unusual challenge and learns she also has a gift for deception.

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Tell the Wolves I’m Home

In the mid-80s, in New York, a man is dying of AIDS. To most of the world he’s a famous artist, but to our fourteen-year-old heroine June, he’s her beloved uncle Finn. Before he dies, Finn paints once last painting, a portrait of June and her sister Greta; being the perfectionist that he is, he dies still dissatisfied with it. Then, at his funeral, June sees a strange man outside watching her and Greta.

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Borne is the new novel from Jeff VanderMeer, the David Lynch of literary sci fi. Don’t know what I mean? Let me give you an example by summarizing the events leading up to the action in this book. In a post-apocalyptic world devastated by climate change and other, unspecified man-made disasters, an unnamed, partially-destroyed city is dominated by a biotech company (known, of course, as the Company). It’s not clear exactly what the Company makes (drugs? weapons? designer pets?), but at some point it creates Mord, a thing which grows into a giant bear the size of a building (it’s described as being three storeys high lying down). Mord develops the power to levitate and escapes the Company, wreaking havoc and destroying what remains of civilization in the city. In this environment our protagonist, a black (yes!) woman (YES!) named Rachel (fine), pairs up with Wick, a disgraced former Company employee who now manufactures biological hallucinogens in the form of beetles you insert into your ear, in a converted swimming pool that he’s made into a kind of swamp teeming with artificial life. They live in an apartment complex camouflaged as a cliff face overlooking a toxic river, which they’ve booby-trapped with weaponised biochemistry and other deterrents against trespassers. To help Wick, Rachel works as a scavenger, searching for biotech that can go into his drug-swamp-brew. The most fruitful source of this is Mord himself, and while he sleeps, Rachel climbs around in his fur looking for anything salvageable. Then comes page one.

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Stay With Me

In 1980s Nigeria, a young married woman, Yejide, tries and fails to become pregnant. It’s a time of political upheaval: over the course of the novel, several coups take place. It’s also a time during which modern (Western) medical practice enjoys an ongoing conflict with traditional remedies, as well as pseudo- or quasi-Christian practices in Southern Nigeria, where the novel takes place. The protagonist’s mother-in-law sends her to a “prophet” in an attempt to remedy her apparent infertility; when she eventually conceives and gives birth, only to have the child die in infancy, the mother-in-law openly suspects it of being abiku, an evil spirit.

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The Power

What happens when an oppressed people suddenly gain a huge amount of power over their oppressors? What would a truly matriarchal global society look like? Are men and women born with certain inherent characteristics, or are they the result of social conditioning (surely we can agree that one’s stupid, right)? What if women were the physically stronger sex?

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Eleanor and Park

Returning to live with her mother and siblings after a mysterious absence, Eleanor’s first day at her new school begins inauspiciously, when no one will let her sit next to them on the bus. Eventually, Park takes pity on her, and over a series of bus trips they gradually develop a friendship that turns into a romance. But Eleanor’s home life is less than idyllic, and forces beyond their control are building that will threaten to topple their fragile happiness.

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Station Eleven

In roughly our time, after failing to save the life of an actor who collapses on stage, a trainee paramedic in Toronto receives a phone call from his doctor buddy at the hospital, telling him to lock himself in with some bottled water: a passenger from Russia has landed and is spreading a flu-like virus with a super-fast incubation period and nearly 100% transmission rate.

Twenty years later, civilization has collapsed. There is no electricity, no internal combustion engine, no modern medicine. In the Great Lakes region of North America, a group of actors and musicians walks along the abandoned road, bringing art and culture to the sparse settlements of survivors. Their motto is taken from Star Trek: Voyager: Survival is Insufficient.

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