Great summer reads: Novels, thrillers, love stories, histories
Stock your suitcase ... 25 page-turners that will make your holiday fly
Relax on holidays with a good book. Photograph: Getty
From literary fiction to thrillers and love stories and from humour to memoirs, there is a host of recommendations here to keep you entertained during the holidays.
There are gripping thrillers and detective stories by John Connolly, Ruth Ware and Henrietta McKervey, love stories by Kate Mosse, Paula McLain and Eithne Shortall, and innovative fiction from Rachel Heng, Julian Gough, Imogen Hermes Gowar and many more.
If nonfiction is your thing, we have among other titles a powerful memoir of breakdown and recovery, an outstanding collection of soul-searching essays by an Irish academic and an entertaining story of a Brazilian full-kit chancer.
Jump to: FICTION
Jump to: NONFICTION
Grace After Henry by Eithne Shortall (Corvus, £12.99)
After her boyfriend Henry dies suddenly, Grace thinks she sees him everywhere. Everyone tells her its normal for the mind to play tricks after a bereavement. But she’s definitely not imagining things when a man who looks exactly like Henry turns up to fix the boiler.
Andy, it turns out, is Henry’s twin, who grew up in Australia. But as he and Grace grow closer, can she distinguish between her feelings for Andy and her yearning for Henry? Grace After Henry is sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes very funny as Eithne Shortall mixes humour and tragedy with a deftness reminiscent of Marian Keyes.
The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla (Atlantic Books, £14.99)
When Neha discovers she has the same terminal cancer that killed her mother, she becomes obsessed with the idea of fate. Was it destiny that led her father to leave Kenya for the dreary streets of Keighley in the 1960s? Was it destiny that caused him to send his twin children back to Kenya to stay with their grandmother 20 years later? Was it destiny that led her twin brother Raks to become a stand-up comedian? And if it was, what will their ultimate fates be?
So Neha tries to write a code that will uncover the patterns of the family tree. A funny, moving novel about what we inherit and what we create for ourselves.
The Wildflowers by Harriet Evans (Headline Review, £7.99)
A glamorous family, a ramshackle house by the seaside, a troubled outsider – Harriet Evans’s very enjoyable new novel has all the elements of a perfect beach read. In the 1970s, actors Tony and Althea Wilde were a golden couple, holding court at their weekend retreat while their children Cordelia and Ben play on the beach with their new friend Mads, a lonely and neglected girl who lives nearby. But several decades later both house and family are in ruins.
Tracing the lives of its finely drawn characters between the 1940s, the 1970s and the present day, The Wildflowers will keep you transfixed.
The Woman In the Woods by John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99)
When heavy rains uncover the body of a young woman in a Maine forest, private investigator Charlie Parker is called to investigate. The anonymous young woman gave birth shortly before her death – but what happened to the baby? Parker isn’t the only one on the trail – a shadowy Englishman has his own reasons for tracking down the lost child. Meanwhile, a little boy called Daniel is receiving calls from a dead woman on his toy telephone.
The gritty and the creepily supernatural combine to thrilling effect in John Connolly’s latest page-turner.
Suicide Club by Rachel Heng (Sceptre, £12.99)
Would you like to live forever? In New York in the not-so-distant future, you pretty much can – as long as you have the right genetic markers, avoid all stress and sugar and maintain your perfect health through an array of medical enhancements. But for some people, a rigid life that never ends and seldom changes can feel more like a curse. Lea is a “lifer” who seldom questions the status quo – until she catches a glimpse of her father, who disappeared nearly 90 years ago.
Rachel Heng’s highly readable debut novel is thought-provoking, moving, worryingly convincing – and ultimately hopeful.
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar (Harvill Secker, £12.99)
This wonderful debut novel tells the story of a merchant in 18th-century London whose path crosses with that of a dazzling courtesan after he becomes the owner of a “mermaid”, courtesy of one of his ship’s captains.
The grotesque little wizened creature with a simian head and body and a fish’s tail becomes a sensation – and transforms the lives of the humble widower Mr Hancock, and the arrogant, headstrong Angelica. But few readers will be able to predict how their tales will unfold as this hugely entertaining, gorgeously written book works its way to its satisfying ending.
The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware (Harvill Secker, £12.99)
When Harriet “Hal” Westaway is told that her grandmother has just died and left her an inheritance, she knows there’s been a mistake. But Hal is in dire financial straits, and so she heads to Cornwall to claim the legacy, using the skills she’s learned as a tarot reader to tell her new “relations” what they need to hear.
As the tangled truth about her relationship to the Westaway family begins to emerge, she finds herself in danger. Hal is an appealing protagonist, who retains the reader’s sympathy all the way through Ware’s brilliantly atmospheric and skilfully plotted new thriller.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Oneworld, £14.99)
Sales executive Roy and his artist wife Celestial are an ordinary middle class African-American couple – until Roy is convicted of a violent crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to 12 years in prison. As a broken Roy struggles to get through his sentence, Celestial, aware of his innocence, finds solace in her old friend Andre. Perhaps inevitably, Roy and Celestial’s marriage crumbles – but then Roy’s conviction is overturned.
There are no bad guys in this beautifully drawn, deeply moving portrait of a complicated love triangle that’s also a reminder of the brutality wreaked on black families by the American justice system.
Nightfall Berlin by Jack Grimwood (Michael Joseph, £12.99)
It’s 1986, and intelligence officer Major Tom Fox has been given an unexpected assignment. Sir Cecil Blackburn, an infamous spy who defected to East Germany decades earlier, has asked to come home – and Tom is sent to Berlin to collect him. But shortly after Fox arrives, Blackburn is found murdered – and Fox is the prime suspect. Can he escape the Stasi and discover what connects Blackburn to a paedophile ring at the heart of the British establishment?
In this engrossing, complex thriller, Grimwood brilliantly evokes the mood of 1980s Berlin, a place where as Fox notes, “paranoia was dangerous. It also kept you alive”.
Her Name Was Rose by Claire Allan (Avon, £7.99)
Seconds after Emily lets a stranger step in front of her in a busy Derry street, a speeding car hits the other woman, a young mother called Rose Grahame, killing her instantly. Haunted by the incident, Emily, an isolated woman who has just emerged from a toxic relationship, is compelled to find out more about Rose. Soon Emily is working with Rose’s old colleagues, and even befriending her grieving widow Cian. But she discovers that Rose’s life wasn’t so perfect after all – and nobody can be trusted to tell her the truth.
Claire Allan’s first thriller is a deliciously twisting tale that keeps the reader guessing right up to the final pages.
Deception by Joan Aiken (Bello, £3.99)
Even if you were a fan of Joan Aiken’s novels as a child, you may not know that the much-loved author of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase also wrote equally wild, strange and wonderful books for adults. Pan Macmillan’s Bello imprint have just rereleased a whole range of Aiken’s historical romances in e-book and print-on-demand editions.
All are funny, unpredictable and written in a style that manages to be authentic to the period in which they’re set while also being unmistakably Aiken-esque. Why not begin with Deception, the darkly witty story of a young would-be author in Regency England who swaps places with her pompous classmate?
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (Abacus, £7.99)
In a perfect progressive American suburb, the comfortably liberal Richardson family’s lives are disrupted by the arrival of artist Mia Warren and her teenage daughter Pearl. When Mrs Richardson sides with a local family whose adoption of a Chinese-American baby is challenged by the baby’s biological mother, Mia takes the other side – and their children are tangled up in the middle.
With its subtly-drawn characters and insightful exploration of class, parenthood, race and belonging, its easy to see why Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington are adapting this complex, thoughtful book for television.
Violet Hill by Henrietta McKervey (Hachette Ireland, £13.99)
In 2017 DC Susanna Tenant is a super-recogniser, part of the London Met’s team of police officers who all have the ability to recognise a face glimpsed briefly in the street or on CCTV. She’s on the trail of a serial sexual predator – but when a head injury robs her of her gift just as she’s about to close in on her prey, Susanna finds herself adrift and in danger. In 1918, private detective Violet Hill takes on the job of exposing a fraudulent medium in a country still struggling to recover from the Great War.
The two women are separated by a century, but their lives are connected by more than just a determination to do what’s right. An evocative and compelling read.
Promising Young Women by Caroline O’Donoghue (Virago, £12.99)
Every so often you come across a debut novel with a voice so sharp and confident it grabs you from the first page. This is one of those books. Jane is a 26 year old working at an advertising agency while secretly answering strangers’ questions as her alter-ego Jolly Politely, internet agony aunt. Shortly after breaking up with her long-term boyfriend, Jane gets involved with her 40-something boss Clem. Soon Jane is losing weight, losing hair and experiencing blackouts – and her friendships and career are suffering
. Is Clem really a sort of a 21st-century Bluebeard, draining the energy from the young woman he seduces? Or is Jane just having a very 21st-century nervous breakdown? An unsettling, darkly comic gem.
Fatal Inheritance by Rachel Rhys (Doubleday, £16.99)
It’s 1948, and Eve Forrester is a lonely young housewife when a letter arrives that will transform her life. A man she’s never met called Guy Lester has left her a share in his villa in the French Riviera, and in order to claim her mysterious inheritance she must leave dreary post-war London and head to the Cote d’Azur. But Lester’s family aren’t pleased to see her, and while Eve is determined to uncover the reasons behind the bequest, someone else is determined to get rid of her.
Even if you’re not venturing further than Wexford for your summer holiday, this atmospheric and intriguing novel will transport you to a glamorous – and deadly sun-baked world. (Published July 26th)
The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse (Mantle, £20)
The first in a planned trilogy, Kate Mosse’s new novel is a romantic adventure set against a fascinating historical backdrop, full of intrigue, betrayal and danger.
It tells the story of Minou, a bookseller’s daughter from a Catholic family, and Piet, a dashing young Huguenot, during the religious wars that ravaged 16th-century France. But as romance grows between the pair, both Minou and Piet must contend with determined enemies – Piet is the target of an old friend who is now an ambitious Catholic priest, while Minou is pursued by a mysterious woman who sees her as a threat.
The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve (Raven Books, £12.99)
In 1880s London, Leo Stanhope is a coroner’s assistant whose life falls apart when he realises the body that has just arrived in his morgue is that of his lover, a sweet-natured sex-worker called Maria. Accused of Maria’s murder, Leo must prove his innocence – all while keeping his own secret.
For Leo grew up as a girl, and life isn’t easy for a transgender man in Victorian England. But as he embarks on his quest to find Maria’s killer, Leo soon discovers that she had secrets of her own. An ingenious, pacey mystery with a sympathetic hero.
Love & Ruin by Paula McLain (Fleet, £13.99)
By the time he headed to Spain in 1937, Ernest Hemingway was already a literary luminary with two marriages under his belt. But he had just met an ambitious young writer called Martha Gellhorn, an encounter that would change both of their lives.
Told from Gellhorn’s point of view, Love & Ruin vividly depicts a passionate, troubled relationship forged in a series of war zones, as Gellhorn struggles to reconcile her love for her demanding husband with her own career ambitions.
The Night Of The Party by Rachael English (Hachette Ireland, £13.99)
It’s January 1982, and Ireland is in the grip of the Big Snow that’s still etched in the memory of everyone over 40.
In the small Clare village of Kilmitten, Tom Crossan’s parents are having their annual post-Christmas party. While all the town’s adults enjoy the revelry, teenage Tom and his friends Conor, Tess and Nina are sneaking a few drinks and cigarettes nearby. When Tom returns to the house he sees Fr Galvin, the popular parish priest, lying dead. But could he have seen the killer?
The friends grow apart over the subsequent years, but as they get older the priest’s death still hangs over them all. Rachael English paints a vivid picture of a changing Ireland this page-turning tale.
Connect by Julian Gough (Picador, £14.99)
In the near future, Naomi is biologist working on a way to regenerate body parts. Her son Colt is a devoted gamer who feels more comfortable in the virtual world than the real one.
After Colt persuades his mother to speak about her findings in public, mother and son become the targets of the aggressive National Security Agency – led by her ex-husband. But Colt, who has used his mother’s work to enhance his own abilities, may be a match for the powers that be. A sprawling, imaginative technological thriller with a unique young protagonist.
Notes to Self by Emilie Pine (Tramp Press, €15)
Groundbreaking Irish publisher Tramp Press only publish fiction – but they broke their own rules to put out this searing, deeply moving memoir by Irish writer and academic Emilie Pine. In a series of unforgettable essays, Pine traces the patterns of her own life, exploring things many people experience but rarely talk about, from dealing with an alcoholic parent to struggling with infertility and facing the loss of something you never had.
Pine writes with enormous grace and wit – and with a total lack of sentimentality or self-pity. I read it in a single sitting. (Out July 14th)
Mind on Fire: A Memoir of Madness and Recovery by Arnold Thomas Fanning (Penguin Ireland, £14.99)
There are very few people whose lives haven’t been touched by mental illness, and everyone can benefit from reading playwright Arnold Thomas Fanning’s stunning, visceral account of what it’s like to live with a mind that threatened to burn itself out.
Drawing not just on his own memories but on those of friends and family, as well as official medical and police records, Fanning’s gripping memoir offers both hope and insight for anyone struggling directly or indirectly with the reality of mental illness.
Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never To Play Football by Rob Smyth (Yellow Jersey, £9.99)
When is a famous footballer not a footballer? When he’s Carlos Roposo, aka Carlos Kaiser, who somehow managed to con his way into some of Rio’s most prestigious football teams in the 1980s.
Mysterious “muscle injuries” meant he seldom hit the pitch. “I wanted to be among the other players,” Kaiser once said. “I just didn’t want to play. It’s everybody else’s problem if they want me to be a footballer. Not even Jesus pleased everybody. Why would I?” Rob Smyth’s new book tells Kaiser’s preposterous true story. (Out July 26th)
Death In Ten Minutes by Fern Riddell (Hodder & Stoughton, £25)
As we celebrate the centenary of women achieving partial suffrage in the UK and Ireland, it’s easy to forget just how radical some of the suffragettes’ actions were. Irish suffragettes broke windows – but many English activists set fires and planted bombs.
In this fascinating and very readable book, historian Fern Riddell uncovers the dramatic story of Kitty Marion, a music hall performer and member of the WSPU-wing known as the Young Hot Bloods, who carried out acts of destruction under the command of Christabel Pankhurst. In telling Kitty’s extraordinary tale, Riddell asks why she and women like her have been essentially erased from the movement’s history.
Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu (Ebury Press, £17.99)
If you’ve ever browsed in a French bookshop while on holiday, you’ll be aware that comics and graphic novels are part of the mainstream over there. One of France’s most exciting comics creators, Pénélope Bagieu, is now reaching a whole new international audience with the translation of Brazen, a fascinating, funny and gorgeously drawn collection of biographical sketches celebrating women who broke the rules.
Spanning centuries and continents, Brazen introduces readers to a diverse range of groundbreaking figures from Afghan rapper Sonita Alizadeh to daredevil 19th-century journalist Nellie Bly and ruthless 7th-century empress Wu Zetian.