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Summer reading: 21 great books for the holidays

This list has something for everyone with books covering dystopian realities, historical settings, criminal capers and familiar places

In The Husbands, Lauren comes home one night to find a total stranger in her house who says he’s her husband
Cover of Whatever Happened to Birdy Troy by Rachael English (Hachette, £15.99)
Whatever Happened to Birdy Troy by Rachael English (Hachette, £15.99)

The Diamonds aren’t a real post-punk band, but by the end of this wonderful novle from Rachael English, you’ll feel like you could sing along to all their songs. Formed by four teenage girls in a small Irish town in the early 1980s, they were tipped to be huge – but then they disappeared. Forty years later, struggling podcaster Stacey gets an email asking her to find out why. Moving between the 1980s and the present day, this compelling, witty and moving book perfectly captures what it’s like to be young and in a band, and how those experiences might resonate decades later.

Cover of The Gathering by CJ Tudor
The Gathering by CJ Tudor (Michael Joseph, £16.99)

When a boy is found brutally murdered and drained of blood in the small Alaskan town of Deadhart, everyone blames the “vampyrs” who live in a colony at a former mining village. In The Gathering, vampires are both real and forced to live on society’s margins, and detective Barbara Atkins is sent to Deadhart to see if the killing justifies a cull of the colony. But as snow starts to cut the town off from the rest of the world, Barbara begins to realise that there may be more to this murder than meets the eye. Bestselling British novelist CJ Tudor crosses the Atlantic with great success in this creepy horror.

Cover of James by Percival Everett
James by Percival Everett (Mantle, £20)

Percival Everett’s Erasure was adapted as the Oscar-winning American Fiction. His latest novel is an ingenious and enormously readable reworking of Huckleberry Finn, told from the point of view of the enslaved man known to Huck as Jim. As in Twain’s novel, James flees his owner and teams up with the young runaway, but Everett’s James is the hero here, not the sidekick; a drily funny survivor who knows the games he has to play to survive in a racist dystopia.

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Cover of I Hope This Finds You Well by Natalie Sue
I Hope This Finds You Well by Natalie Sue (Borough Press, £13.99)

30-something misanthrope Jolene loathes her job – and pretty much all her colleagues – but if she gets fired, she’ll be forced to move back in with her overbearing Persian mother and distant father. And then an IT glitch gives her access to everyone in the company’s email and private messages. Now Jolene knows what her colleagues really think of her and each other, can she use it to her advantage? Or will she regret gaining new insights into their private thoughts? A fantastic dark comedy with real heart.

Cover of Reality Check by Vicky Notaro
Reality Check by Vicki Notaro (Penguin Sandycove, £13.99)

Portia Daniels has never sought the limelight – unlike the rest of her family. Her mother Dessie is the Irish star of a Real Housewives-esque reality show, her sister Vinnie is a model and lifestyle influencer and her bratty teenage sister Ariel is a TikTok star. But when scandal hits the family around the time Portia’s relationship implodes, the Daniels clan has to figure out what’s really important. Whether you’re a reality TV fan or not, you’ll enjoy Irish journalist Vicki Notaro’s hugely entertaining debut novel, which serves classic Jackie Collins glamour and drama with an Irish twist.

Cover of he Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard
The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard (Atlantic Books, £16.99)

Teenager Odile lives in one of a series of valleys, divided not by lakes and mountains but time. The valley to the west is her own is twenty years in the past; to the east is the same place twenty years in the future. Travelling between valleys is forbidden, but supervised visits are sometimes allowed, to get a last glimpse of dead loved ones. When Odile spots older versions of her friend Edme’s parents near her school, she realises Edme is going to die soon. What happens next will change the course of multiple lives. This haunting, compelling novel has justifiably been compared to Emily St John Mandel and Kazuo Ishiguro.

Cover of The Husbands by Holly Gramazio (Chatto and Windus, £13.99)
The Husbands by Holly Gramazio (Chatto and Windus, £13.99)

Lauren comes home one night to find a total stranger in her house who says he’s her husband. And to her confusion, everything from photos on her phone to her own family confirms that he’s right. But when the husband goes up to the attic, a totally different man comes down. Lauren realises that she has the opportunity to try out a limitless number of different lives with different men. Yet faced with an infinite supply of husbands – some charming, some annoying, some incredibly rich – how will she know when to stop exchanging them? A very funny, clever debut novel.

Cover of The Racket by Conor Niland
The Racket by Conor Niland (Sandycove, £20)

Conor Niland was a teenage tennis prodigy, but although he hit the courts with some of the biggest names in the sport, from Serena Williams to Federer, and went on to compete at Wimbledon, he never quite hit the international big time. His witty and insightful “underdog’s memoir” shows the reality of the professional sporting life, and is an homage to the game he clearly still loves.

Cover of The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo (Penguin Viking, €16.99)
The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo (Penguin Viking, €16.99)

Luzia is a lowly servant, working in a Madrid household and hiding her family’s heritage. When her mistress discovers that Luzia can perform magic to help her household duties, she realises that her servant could be the secret to social success. But this is the era of the Spanish Inquisition, when anyone with magical gifts must prove that they’ll use them in the service of the Church and the crown. Sponsored by the powerful Don Victor, Luzia soon finds herself in a web of court intrigue. A gripping and evocative historical novel.

Cover of Emma, Disappeared by Andrew Hughes
Emma, Disappeared by Andrew Hughes (Hachette Ireland, £14.99)

When young entrepreneur Emma Harte goes missing in Dublin, library archivist James joins the volunteers searching for her body. Having recently split up with his ex-girlfriend, he gets romantically involved with Libby, a student feminist activist. But does James know more about Emma’s disappearance than he’s letting on? And who is sending him mysterious anonymous texts? An ingeniously twisty thriller, with a satisfyingly unreliable narrator.

Cover of Real Americans by Rachel Khong
Real Americans by Rachel Khong (Hutchinson Heinemann, £14.99)

At the turn of the millennium, Lily Chen is an unpaid intern at a New York media company. Then she meets loveable, handsome, rich Matthew. Lily wants to be independent, but it’s hard to resist the lifestyle he offers. Twenty years later, Lily’s teenage son Nick starts asking questions about his family background, and begins a quest that will lead back to the family’s Chinese roots. This compelling family saga tackles big issues with insight and a light touch.

Cover of Spirit Level by Richy Craven (Eiru, £9.99)
Spirit Level by Richy Craven (Eiru, £9.99)

Directionless 20-something Danny has always suffered from anxiety. And after his best friend Nudge dies after drunkenly driving his car into a canal, with Danny in the passenger seat, he has something new to worry about. Danny can see and hear Nudge’s ghost – but only when he’s been drinking. Determined to find out why Nudge is still hanging around, Danny visits a psychic and discovers that something very strange is happening to Dublin’s ghosts. Charming but unsentimental, Spirit Level is a hilarious and genuinely moving story about grief and friendship.

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Cover of The Modern Fairies by Claire Pollard
The Modern Fairies by Claire Pollard (Chatto & Windus, £18.99)

In the elite salons of 1680s Paris, miles from Louis XIV’s opulent court at Versailles, a group of women and a handful of men gather to share stories. These “modern fairies” are inspired by the fairy tales of their youth to create sophisticated tales – but police chief Reynie, an enemy as powerful than any fairy tale villain, threatens to bring them all down. Pollard evokes the intrigue, sophistication, scandal and danger of 17th-century France in this bawdy, brilliant book, as dark and delicious as the chocolate served at the modern fairies’ salons.

Cover of Hunted by Abir Mukherjee (Harvill Secker, £14.99)
Hunted by Abir Mukherjee (Harvill Secker, £14.99)

After a suicide bomber kills dozens in a Californian mall, Londoner Sajid Khan is horrified to learn that his daughter Aliyah is allegedly in league with the bomber and is now on the run. Sajid knows his daughter isn’t a fundamentalist or a killer. So he heads to the United States to track her down and finds himself being pursued by the authorities. Award-winning historical crime novelist Abir Mukherjee’s first contemporary novel is a fast-paced conspiracy thriller, packed with twists and turns.

Cover of City of Light, City of Shadows
City of Light, City of Shadows by Michael Rapport (Bridge Street Press, £30)

From the 1870s to the dawn of the first World War, Paris became a modern city, the home of innovation in art, science and entertainment. Historian Michael Rapport’s fascinating new book looks at the city of light in the so-called Belle Époque through the eyes of everyone from realist novelist Émile Zola to feminist and actress Marguerite Durand, showing the glittering triumphs of the age as well as the dark scandals.

Cover of D Is for Death by Harriet F Townson (Hodder & Stoughton, £22)
D Is for Death by Harriet F Townson (Hodder & Stoughton, £22)

When Dora Wildwood arrives in London in 1935, fleeing her dreadful fiance, she doesn’t expect to literally stumble upon a murder. But that’s what happens when she takes refuge in the London Library and finds the chief librarian dead amid the stacks. Luckily, the observant and stylish Dora turns out to be a natural detective. An absolute delight, perfect for fans of classic crime.

Cover of The Coast Road by Alan Murrin
The Coast Road by Alan Murrin (Bloomsbury, £16.99)

When Colette Crowley, who left her husband and children for an affair with a married man in Dublin, returns to her Donegal village, she becomes the talk of the town. This is 1994, and while Colette is still legally married, her husband is refusing to let her see her boys. Colette starts teaching a creative-writing class, and asks one of her students, housewife Izzy Keaveney, to help arrange a meeting her sons. Set in a convincingly rendered 1990s Ireland, The Coast Road is a powerful page-turner.

Cover of ou Are Here by David Nicholls (Sphere, £20)
You Are Here by David Nicholls (Sphere, £20)

Copyeditor Marnie hates hiking, while geography teacher Michael loves it as long as he’s doing it alone. But after their mutual friend bails out of their Lake District walking holiday early, they find themselves thrown together. A novel about two lonely people hiking across England may sound grim, but in the skilled hands of David Nicholls it’s anything but. Humane, gorgeously written and often very funny, it’s a perfect holiday read, whether you’re spending it hiking or not.

Cover of Hagstone by Sinéad Gleeson
Hagstone by Sinéad Gleeson (4th Estate, £16.99)

Nell is an artist, struggling to make a living on an island far off the Irish coast. Then she’s invited by the Iníons, a reclusive community of women who live on the far side of the island, to work on a big new art piece. Curious and in need of money, Nell accepts, but will she regret it? Award-winning essayist Sinéad Gleeson proves herself to be a master storyteller in her debut novel, a thoughtful exploration of what it means to make art that’s also as gripping as a thriller.

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Cover of The Midnight Feast by Lucy Foley (HarperCollins, £14.99)
The Midnight Feast by Lucy Foley (HarperCollins, £14.99)

Even before the opening, luxury wellness hotel The Manor and its glamorously ethereal founder Francesca Meadows have made headlines. But one of the first guests doesn’t believe the hype. Bella first met Francesca 15 years ago when the Manor was her family home, and the midnight feasts of that summer have haunted her ever since. From the opening pages of The Midnight Feast, the reader knows that someone will die at the hotel’s solstice party – but who? Jumping back and forth in time and told by some very different characters, this is an unputdownable who- and whydunit.

Cover of Glorious Exploits by Ferdia Lennon (Penguin Fig Tree, £14.99)
Glorious Exploits by Ferdia Lennon (Penguin Fig Tree, £14.99)

In 5th-century Syracuse, local potters Lampo and Gelon often visit the local quarry, where thousands of Athenian prisoners are being held. The potters are fans of the writer Euripides, and the prisoners are happy to recite some of their fellow Athenian’s work for water or olives. But a few lines aren’t enough for Gelon, who decides to stage a full production of Medea in the quarry. Inspired, incredibly, by real events, Ferdia Lennon’s fantastic first novel is written in a wonderfully Irish vernacular that brings the ancient world to vivid, witty, moving life.