A contingent of escapist reads has marched onto the shelves this month, just in time to help us take our minds off winter's bite. Perhaps it's because some of these books have been released globally for the Northern Hemisphere summer, but they have the lighter touch of absorbing beach reads. (Bath reads for us in the Antipodes, perhaps?)
In addition to our earlier June recommended read, the blistering Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, here is your June fiction fix.
Skylark by Jenny Pattrick
This is a diverting read from the reigning queen of New Zealand historical fiction, Jenny Pattrick, whose Denniston Rose novels are among the biggest-selling local books ever. French girl Lily Alouette is orphaned when her street-acrobat-turned-gold-prospector parents die in Bendigo, Australia. Aged about 12, she joins a shabby travelling circus that's en route to New Zealand. Later, she transfers her talents to the theatre, and is wooed by two men: honourable horse groom Jack Lacey and melodramatic American rake Captain Bully Hayes. Though Lily and Jack are fictional characters, Pattrick blends her imagination with fact throughout this fascinating tale - Hayes, for instance, was one of the most notorious men in 19th century New Zealand.
The Autobiography of Mrs Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
Along similar lines is this imagined story of the real Mercy Lavinia "Vinnie" Warren Bump, one of the 19th century's most unexpected celebrities. Vinnie stands just 32 inches tall and in perfect proportion, but refuses to sit at home guarded by her fearful parents. Instead she joins a Mississippi showboat and later signs up with impresario P. T. Barnum, whose biggest star is the similarly-sized Charles Stratton - better known as General Tom Thumb. Vinnie becomes world-famous and her marriage to Tom Thumb pushes the Civil War off the front page and sends them to the White House, on a world tour and into the company of presidents and queens. A captivating story of a spirited and dignified heroine determined to live life her way. An entertaining read for lovers of historical fiction.
Peaches for Monsieur le Curé by Joanne Harris
In this third book in the Chocolat series, Vianne Rocher is living on a houseboat-chocalaterie in Paris when she receives a letter from a deceased friend calling her back to Lansquenet, the village in south-west France she left eight years before. But much has changed; a Moroccan Muslim community has settled downriver and the women are veiled in black, and Vianne's former enemy - the village priest Francis Reynaud - is now disgraced and under threat. The story takes place during Ramadan, when the arrival of a mysterious niqab-wearing woman, and plans to build a mosque, bring tension and prejudices to the fore. Told with Harris's trademark sensuality, Peaches for Monsieur le Curé is infused with the exotic aromas, vivid textures and that sense of magic that so enchanted fans of Chocolat and Lollipop Shoes.
A Good American by Alex George
"Always there was music." So begins this debut novel by Alex George, a sweeping family saga in which music is a central thread, beginning with the Puccini aria with which Frederick first woos Jette in a Hanover garden. In 1904 Frederick and a pregnant Jette flee Germany and her family's disapproval, settling by chance in a small Missouri town populated by colourful and entertaining characters, from a chicken-strangling organist to a jazz trumpeter who cooks a mean gumbo. The story of their attempt to build a new life and leave behind the old, and the dreams, struggles, triumphs and tragedies that play out across four generations, is told by their grandson James. Music lovers will be particularly drawn to George's evocative descriptions of performance. A good winter holiday read.
Silver: Return to Treasure Island by Andrew Motion
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! Nearly 130 years after Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island was published, British former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion has written a sequel. Silver, which is written in similar style to the original, tells the story of the son of Jim Hawkins and the tomboy daughter of Long John Silver, who run off to sea together in search of - what else? - buried treasure. On Treasure Island, naturally. As you would expect, the adventure doesn't go as smoothly as the pair hope it will. Like the original, this is ostensibly a children's book (albeit a long one), but it's a rollicking read that will have broad appeal. Motion evidently had a bit of fun writing it.