Summer books that sizzle – whether it’s sunny or not
It’s hard to beat the pleasure of settling down on a sun lounger or sofa with a good book. Here are 25 of the season’s best to choose from
Read hot: summer reading at Bull Wall, Dollymount. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
1 Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon (Vintage, £11.99)
We tend to think children will resemble their parents, but Andrew Solomon’s utterly fascinating, beautifully written and deeply moving new book examines what happens when the apple really does fall far from the tree. Solomon spent nearly 20 years meeting families in which children’s identities don’t match those of their parents, from deaf and transgender people to people living with severe disabilities and mental illnesses. Thoughtful and humane, Far From The Tree, which recently won the Wellcome Prize for Science Writing, isn’t a short book, but it’s totally gripping from beginning to end.
2 Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre (Jonathan Cape, £14.99)
This dazzling firework of a debut novel is a reminder of how inventive and original historical fiction can be. Set in the court of Charles I in the 1630s, it is the story of Lady Venetia Stanley, a celebrated beauty fiercely determined to hang on to what she believes are her fading looks – even if that means consuming a dubious anti-ageing potion called Viper Wine. It is an intriguing story, told in effortlessly sparkling prose, but what really makes the novel such a joy is the fact that Venetia’s alchemist husband, Sir Kenelm, can somehow absorb ideas and images from the future, quoting David Bowie, dancing to Joy Division and enabling Eyre to play with time periods and pop culture in a way that feels utterly fresh.
3 Gironimo! Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy by Tim Moore (Yellow Jersey, £14.99)
In May, people on Ireland’s east coast watched the racers of the Giro d’Italia zooming by with their lightweight machines and aerodynamic outfits. However 100 years ago, the Giro was a much more dangerous (and uncomfortable) proposition) – in 1914 only eight of the 81 original racers completed the gruelling course. So of course Tim Moore decided to recreate their trip, complete with a 1914 bike and authentic period racing garb. Anyone who has read French Revolutions, Moore’s very funny account of how he cycled the Tour de France route, will not be disappointed by this hilariously painful, and poignant, adventure.
4 The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (Penguin Michael Joseph, £14.99)
Jess Thomas is a single mother working as a cleaner and living in a run-down estate with an enormous dog, a depressed and bullied goth stepson and a young daughter who might be a mathematical genius. When Jess’s daughter, Tanzie, gets a chance to compete in a maths competition that could change her life, Jess finds herself relying on her employer, Ed Nicholls, to take her entire family (and dog) there. But Ed has some troubles of his own. Few writers are Moyes’s equal when it comes to writing intelligent, moving commercial fiction, and this is a very engaging novel.
5 The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99)
This may be private detective Charlie Parker’s 12th outing, but John Connolly is still on top form. There’s a touch of both The Wicker Man and Shirley Jackson’s chilling story The Lottery in The Wolf in Winter when Parker finds himself in a secretive small town called Prosperous. He is investigating not only the death of a girl who seems to have been killed by the mysterious organisation that runs the town, but the supposed suicide of her father, who had wanted Parker to look into her death.
6 The Good Italian by Stephen Burke (Hodder & Stoughton, £13.99)
Eritrea became an Italian colony in 1890 and, by the 1930s, 70,000 Italians lived in the country. Dublin writer and film maker Stephen Burke’s intriguing debut novel asks how their lives might have intersected with those of the people whose country they occupied. It is the story of harbourmaster Enzo Secchi, who falls in love with his Eritrean housekeeper, Aatifa. An already loaded relationship becomes even more so when Mussolini’s expansion into east Africa leads to the criminalisation of relationships between Italians and Eritreans and makes it impossible for Enzo and his friends to ignore the true nature of colonial power.
7 Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (Penguin Viking, £12.99)
Maud is in her 80s and dementia is robbing her of her memory, but she is sure of one thing – her friend Elizabeth has gone missing. And yet nobody, from the police to her daughter Helen, takes her seriously. Unable to remember what exactly she has said or done, or indeed what has been said to her, Maud is the ultimate unreliable narrator, but the reader is firmly on her side throughout this original, moving and sometimes blackly comic novel.
8 Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99)
When the novelist Gary Shteyngart was growing up, his mother dubbed him Failurchka, a self-created hybrid Russian- English word which means “Little Failure”. The Shteyngarts had moved to the United States from the USSR in 1979, when Gary was seven, and his memoir is a wildly hilarious and genuinely moving account of a Jewish boy from Leningrad finding his own identity in a country that may never quite feel like his own. It is also a portrait of a very memorable family, illustrated with some truly extraordinary photographs (the young Gary’s sailor suit was quite something).