Summer Reads 2023

WAR’s Summer Reads 2023: Fiction

While the weather may not be offering much in the way of sunshine right now, Wales Arts Review is here to brighten your summer with our top picks for your summer reads 2023. First up, we take a look at the fiction titles set to take bookshelves by storm this summer. From novels, to short stories, to historical fiction and magical realism, there’s plenty to capture your imagination over the coming weeks.

Neon Roses by Rachel Dawson (John Murray Press)

A queer working-class love story, inspired by the film Pride, this coming-of-age novel is set in Wales and explores the history of the 1984 miners’ strikes, the impact of Thatcherism on working-class communities as well as the role of the LGBT+ community in the protests.

Things Found On the Mountain by Diana Powell (Seren Books)

Set in the Black Mountains, this is a historical novel takes place around the time of the First World War. Farmer’s daughter Beth is utterly at one with the rugged landscape on which she tends her family’s sheep, but change is coming to the valley. Grieving for her brother, who was lost in action during WWI, Beth’s solitude is interrupted by the arrival of a colony of artists led by the charismatic Eric Gill, among them Gabriel. Just as she learns to embrace change, she is faced with a heart-wrenching choice. The mountains, or the one she loves.

The Finery by Rachel Grosvenor (Fly on the Wall Press)

Tyranny is in the air in the city of Finer Bay, but Professor Wendowleen Cripcot would like to be left alone, thank you very much. The memories of the last one hundred years are quite enough to be getting on with, if only these young upstarts from the sinister government body, The Finery, would stop trying to control her every move. With the eyes of a dictator upon her, there are not many places to hide. Wendowleen may be old and cantankerous, but she is also daring, brave and wise. As this totalitarian government starts to tighten its procedures, Wendowleen may be the only woman who can put its leader in his place. A literary debut coming later this summer, The Finery, promises to combine magical realism with a dystopian setting.

You can read Rachel’s piece on the process of writing her debut novel, and the significance of home, here.

Vulcana by Rebecca F. John (Honno Press)

Vulcana is a fictional telling of the real story of Victorian ‘Kate Williams (born 1874 starting when she runs away from home at 16 to travel with the love her life, William Roberts. They perform in music halls as Atlas and Vulcana the climax of their act is that Kate can lift William over her head. She and William present themselves to the public as brother and sister as they travel the world because William is already married, and William’s wife brings up Kate’s children with her own. Kate is driven by love for William, for her children, for performing, and for life in this tale of a brave and unconventional woman.

Whaling by Nathan Munday (Seren Books)

1792. Nantucket whalers are invited to found the port of Milford Haven in Wales. What does the arrival of these hardy Quakers – immigrants to America a century before – mean for the local people? And what is the meaning of the beached whale that preceded them? Two cultures rub against each other and distrust grows, driven by the local preacher. As this historical fiction novel unfolds, concern swerves into hysteria against the incomers and the preacher plans a grotesque, Jonah-inspired fate for the whalers.

You can read more about Nathan Munday’s influences in the Artist Q&A, here.

Tiding by Siân Collins (Honno Press)

During the Great Freeze of 1963, Eleanor O’Dowd, a middle-aged piano teacher, is found bludgeoned to death. As the freeze takes hold, there is a brutal reckoning for the residents of Glanmorfa, who are caught in the grip of an ancient curse. Or so it appears to the vicar’s daughter, Daphne Morgan, who finds herself engulfed in the currents of the adult world and mysteries far deeper than she expected in this chilling story about the power of imagination. Set in the fictional Carmarthenshire town of Glanmorfa, Collins draws inspiration from her own childhood to craft her exploration of how children can sometimes become victims of adult power.

One Afternoon by Siân James (Republished by Persephone Books)

Originally published in 1975, One Afternoon has just been reprinted by Persephone Books, following the death of Welsh writer Siân James in 2021. The novel, the first to be written by James, dives into the life of a woman who is trying to rebuild her life having been widowed with three young children. This republished edition also contains a preface by Wales Arts Review’s Editor, Emma Schofield.

Whatever happened to Rick Astley? by Bryony Rheam (Parthian Books)

From Bryony Rheam, the award-winning author of All Come to Dust and This September Sun, comes a collection of sixteen short stories shining a spotlight on life in Zimbabwe over the last twenty years. The daily routines and the greater fate of ordinary Zimbabweans are represented with a deft, compassionate touch and flashes of humour. From the potholed side streets of Bulawayo to lush, blooming gardens, traversing down- at-heel bars and faded drawing rooms, the stories in Whatever Happened to Rick Astley? ring with hope and poignancy, and pay tribute to the resilience of the human spirit.

You can read ‘Potholes’ from Bryony Rheam’s collection now, on the Wales Arts Review Substack page.