July 2023 books

What’s new and good to read this month? Dan Coombes has a look at what’s on offer and chooses Chain-Gang All-Stars, One Of Us Is Back and Silver Nitrate.

Chain Gang All-Stars – Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

If you’re not at least a little bit drawn to something described as ‘Squid Game meets The Handmaid’s Tale’, you’re a stronger human than I am. In the big wide world of stories that owe their existence to Battle Royale and Hunger Games, it’s good to discover something that puts its own fresh spin on the dystopian subgenre.

Welcome to Chain-Gang All-Stars, the popular and highly controversial programme set inside America’s private prison system.

In packed arenas, live-streamed by millions, prisoners compete as gladiators for the ultimate prize: their freedom. Fan favourites Loretta Thurwar and Hamara ‘Hurricane Staxxx’ Stacker are teammates and lovers. Thurwar is nearing the end of her time on the circuit, free in just a few matches, a fact she carries as heavily as her lethal hammer.

As she prepares for her final encounters, as protestors gather at the gates, and as the programme’s corporate owners stack the odds against her – will the price be simply too high?

Images above: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah; Chain Gang All-Stars

One Of Us Is Back – Karen M. MacManus

The long-awaited finale of Karen MacManus’ utterly gripping trilogy of murderous Young Adult thrillers promises to be every bit as brilliantly bestselling as the last two instalments. I’m reliably informed this one is Tik Tok famous but don’t let that put you off, it’s also a great read.

The explosive third and final thrilling instalment in the acclaimed Bayview series. Life hasn’t been easy for the Bayview Crew. First they had to prove they weren’t killers. Then a new generation had to outwit a vengeful copycat. Now, it’s beginning again.

At first the mysterious billboard seems like a bad joke: Time for a new game, Bayview. But when a member of the crew disappears, it’s clear this ‘game’ just got serious – and no-one understands the rules. Everyone’s a target. And now that someone unexpected has returned to Bayview, things are starting to get deadly. Simon was right about secrets – they all come out in the end.

Images above: Karen M. MacManus; One Of Us Is Back

Silver Nitrate – Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The author of the really rather marvellous Mexican Gothic and Gods Of Jade And Shadow (along with a host of other novels that I haven’t read but am going to go out on a limb and bet safely that they’re pretty good) turns her genre-defying hand to a tale of horror films and the occult. You set the bar high when you start off with a quote from M. R. James, but this more than reaches it.

Montserrat has always been overlooked. She’s a talented sound editor, but she’s left out of the boys’ club running the film industry in ’90s Mexico City. And she’s all but invisible to her best friend Tristan, a charming if faded soap opera star, even though she’s been in love with him since childhood. Then Tristan discovers his new neighbour is the cult horror director Abel Urueta, and the legendary auteur claims he has a way to change their lives – even if his tales of a Nazi occultist imbuing magic into highly volatile silver nitrate stock sounds like sheer fantasy.

The magic film was never finished, which is why, Urueta swears, his career vanished overnight. He is cursed. Now the director wants Montserrat and Tristan to help him shoot the missing scene and lift the curse … but Montserrat soon notices a dark presence following her. As they work together to unravel the mystery of the film and the obscure occultist who once roamed their city, Montserrat and Tristan might just find out that sorcerers and magic are not only the stuff of movies.

Images above: Silvia Moreno-Garcia; Silver Nitrate

Dan Coombes

Dan Coombes is a bookseller at Bookcase, an independent bookshop open in Chiswick since 1993. A specialist in science fiction, Dan has been a bookseller for 15 years.

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