June 2024 books

What’s new and good to read this month? Dan Coombes has a look at what’s on offer from publishers in June and chooses The Heart in Winter by Kevin Barry, Smalltown Horror by Ronald Malfi and The Phoenix Ballroom by Ruth Hogan.

The Heart in Winter – Kevin Parry

A story of forbidden love, poetry, general debauchery and quite a lot of swearing that’s also a psychedelic Western odyssey across America’s badlands, written in a uniquely lyrical style that’s won Kevin Barry plenty of awards. It takes a lot of skill to fuse all of these different elements – and a nice streak of dark humour too – and make each one of them coalesce into something beautiful.

October, 1891. Butte, Montana. A hard winter approaches across the Rocky Mountains. The city is rich on copper mines and rampant with vice and debauchery among a hard-living crowd of immigrant Irish workers.

Here we find Tom Rourke, a young poet and balladmaker, but also a doper, a drinker and a fearsome degenerate. Just as he feels his life is heading nowhere fast, Polly Gillespie arrives in town as the new bride of the devout mine captain Long Anthony Harrington.

A thunderbolt love affair takes spark between Tom and Polly and they strike out west on a stolen horse, moving through the badlands of Montana and Idaho. Briefly an idyll of wild romance perfects itself. But a posse of deranged Cornish gunmen are soon in hot pursuit of the lovers, and closing in fast.

Images: The Heart in Winter front cover, Author Kevin Parry

Smalltown Horror – Robert Malfi

A quieter month for the traditional literary big hitters means I can sneak a cheeky horror novel in, much to everyone’s delight. A slow-burning ghostly tale that builds to a deeply disturbing climax, like all good horror should. Malfi is a top quality writer, so it’s all handled with skill and not just all salacious, lurid doom and gloom, although that’s half the fun, right?

Five childhood friends are forced to confront their own dark past as well as the curse placed upon them in this horror masterpiece from the bestselling author of Come with Me.

Maybe this is a ghost story…

Andrew Larimer thought he left the past behind. But when he receives a late-night phone call from an old friend, he finds he has no choice but to return home, and to confront the memories—and the horror—of a night, years ago, that changed everything. For Andrew and his friends, the past is not dead, and the curse that has befallen them now threatens to destroy all that they’ve become.

Images: Smalltown Horror front cover, Author Robert Malfi

The Phoenix Ballroom – Ruth Hogan

If all the psychedelic strangeness, coarse language and blood-curdling terror is a bit much, here’s something unashamedly uplifting, heartstring-plucking and emotionally balming. Anyone who says they don’t need a comfort read sometimes is an outrageous fibber, and Ruth Hogan’s latest is… well, it’s the literary equivalent of a big, comfortable and only very slightly musty jumper, while managing to be more than just a throwaway read.

When it’s time to face the music, all we can do is dance…

Recently widowed Venetia Hamilton Hargreaves is left with a huge house, a bank balance to match and an uneasy feeling that she’s been sleepwalking through the last fifty years. Determined to live fully again, she embraces life with an enthusiasm and purpose she’d forgotten she could muster.

Buying the dilapidated Phoenix Ballroom and with it a drop-in centre and spiritualist church could be seen as reckless, but Venetia’s generosity, courage and kindness provide a refuge for a touching cast of damaged and lonely people who find their chosen family. As their stories intertwine, long buried secrets are revealed, missed opportunities seized and lives are renewed as the Phoenix lives up to its name.

The Phoenix Ballroom is a story of hope and second chances across the generations.

Images: The Phoenix Ballroom front cover, Author Ruth Hogan