Holiday reading: 25 books to read on the beach
As you head off, don’t forget to squeeze some of these into your suitcase
Photograph: Christian Wheatley/Vetta/ Getty Images
Lying in Wait
By Liz Nugent (Penguin Ireland, £12.99) After the huge success of her debut novel, Unravelling Oliver, Liz Nugent introduces us to another terrifying and privileged monster. Andrew and Lydia Fitzsimons, a judge and his wife from south Co Dublin, have killed a young woman called Annie Doyle and buried her in their back garden. Lydia is determined to keep their son Laurence in the dark, but the young man starts to suspect his parents were involved in the woman’s much-publicised disappearance. As his quest to discover the truth leads him into contact with Annie’s bereft family, Laurence finds himself on a dangerous path that can only end in emotional betrayal. This is an unputdownable psychological thriller with an ending that lingers in the mind long after turning the final page.
By Curtis Sittenfeld (Borough Press, £14.99) Do we really need an updated version of Pride and Prejudice? This hugely entertaining novel by the author of Prep and American Wife proves that we do. Lizzie Bennet is a magazine journalist in her late 30s who returns to the family home in Cincinnati with elder sister Jane after their father has a heart attack. They meet Chip Bingley, a rich young doctor who is also a reality-TV star, having appeared on the dating show Eligible, and his neurosurgeon friend Fitzwilliam Darcy. The reader can guess what happens next – though only up to a point. While major plot points remain the same, Eligible is delightfully unpredictable. A must for Austen fans and novices alike.
By MR Carey (Orbit, £16.99) Jess Moulson is in prison for a crime she doesn’t remember. She’s been convicted of killing the small boy who lived in the flat above her own by setting her flat on fire. Unsure of her own innocence and unable to bear the thought of what she might have done, Jess is determined to starve herself to death – until she gets a visit from Alex, the boy whose death she may have caused. But what exactly is Alex? And why are he and Jess now appearing in the other inmates’ dreams? While Jess is determined to uncover the truth about Alex’s death and visitations, the other residents of Fellside – a private prison in the wilds of Yorkshire – are engaging in dangerous power games. MR Carey’s previous novel, The Girl With All the Gifts, was one of the best horror novels of the last decade, and Fellside confirms his status as one of Britain’s most original genre writers.
By Nina Stibbe (Penguin Viking, £12.99) I can’t think of another novel published this year that I’ve enjoyed more than Paradise Lodge, Nina Stibbe’s second novel. It’s 1977 and teenager Lizzie Vogel has got a job in a rural nursing home. She finds herself fitting in surprisingly well with her new colleagues and clients, and when the owner’s wife leaves to start a rival nursing home, she joins the mission to save the lodge. But meanwhile, she’s neglecting her schoolwork and falling for her frenemy’s boyfriend, and her always troubled mother is planning a wedding. Deadpan, funny and sometimes heartbreaking, Stibbe’s voice is utterly unique, and Paradise Lodge is a joy.
Knights of the Borrowed Dark
By Dave Rudden (Puffin, £6.99) Denizen Hardwick is a 13-year-old orphan. His life changes forever when he is whisked away to Dublin from the Mayo orphanage where he’s lived all his life by his mysterious Aunt Vivian. It turns out that Vivian is a leader of the Knights of the Borrowed Dark, whose mission is to drive out the forces of darkness. And when a sinister trio start to cause chaos, Denizen discovers that he’s more powerful than he ever imagined. Irish writer Dave Rudden’s debut novel is an exciting, action-packed and often funny fantasy with some deliciously creepy villains and appealing heroes.
By Emma Cline (Chatto & Windus, £12.99) Teenager Evie Boyd first sees the wild girls who will change her life and horrify the world on a summer afternoon in 1969. Evie is drawn to the young women, who live in a ramshackle ranch with an unsettlingly charismatic young man called Russell. Russell dreams of music stardom and hopes a rock star acquaintance will help him get it – and when that doesn’t work out, things turn nasty. If you’re seeing similarities with the Manson family, you’re not wrong, but Emma Cline’s brilliant debut novel is no tawdry exploitation of that infamous 1960s horror. As gripping as a thriller, it’s a powerful exploration of hero worship of all kinds, and the shapes into which girls force themselves as they attempt to grow up.
The Essex Serpent
By Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail, £14.99) It’s 1893, and Cora Seabourne is a young widow whose husband’s death has released her from a miserable marriage. Finally free to follow her own interest in natural history, Cora heads to Essex, hoping the recent reports of a mysterious ancient serpent may possibly turn out to be proof of a “living fossil . . . a species outwitting extinction”. There she meets the local vicar, Will Ransome, and despite his scepticism about science and her lack of faith in religion, the two forge an unlikely bond. A bewitching and luminous book about science, faith and different kinds of love.
The Gene: An Intimate History
By Siddhartha Mukherjee (Bodley Head, £14.99) The gene, says Siddhartha Mukherjee, is “one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in the history of science”. In this fascinating, complex and accessible book, Mukherjee, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author who is also an oncologist and a cancer geneticist, tells the history of a scientific idea that has transformed the way we look at biology and has been used for good and evil, taking in everything from his own family history and the groundbreaking work of Watson, Crick and Franklin to the horrific experiments of Joseph Mengele.
By Cecelia Ahern (Harper Collins, £12.99) Celestine North is a beautiful, intelligent teenage girl who lives in a not-so-distant future world in which anyone deemed to have transgressed the social rules is branded – literally – as Flawed. The Flaweds’ lives are carefully restricted, from their employment options to the food they eat. Like everyone else, Celestine has always looked down on the Flawed – until her neighbour is branded. And when Celestine then tries to help an elderly Flawed man it sends her life in an unexpected and terrifying direction. A vividly realised dystopian tale.
The Hurley Maker’s Son
By Patrick Deeley (Doubleday Ireland, £12.99) In 1978, the poet Patrick Deeley’s father died while felling a tree. Patrick was a teacher who would go on to become an acclaimed poet. His father was a farmer and, more importantly, a carpenter and hurley maker who ran his business near Loughrea in Galway. In this lyrical memoir, Deeley revisits his childhood, a world shaped by craftsmanship of all kinds, perhaps encapsulated in the workshop his father used. A memorable book about craft, nature and family.
The Wicked Boy
By Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury, £16.99) In July 1895, while his father was away at sea, a 13-year-old boy in east London stabbed his mother Emily while she lay in her bed. Robert Coombes and his younger brother Nattie told neighbours Emily was visiting relatives, and it wasn’t until a week later, when neighbours noticed the horrific smell, that the truth came out. After a sensational trial, Robert was convicted of his mother’s murder – but was he bad or mad? In this brilliantly researched and compelling book by the author of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, what starts as a disturbing tale of horror becomes a deeply moving story of courage and redemption.
Nothing Tastes as Good
By Claire Hennessy (Hot Key, £7.99) Annabel may have just died, but she isn’t going anywhere. She has been assigned a new role as an invisible ghostly helper to a former schoolmate called Julia, and she’s not happy about it. Julia, who works on the school newspaper, may be smart and well-liked, but she’s also fat. And Annabel’s death was the result, as the reader soon realises, of an eating disorder. Annabel is sure that becoming thin is the key to solving all of Julia’s problems – but can she convince Julia of this? A novel about eating disorders that’s sensitive and convincing yet darkly comic is a tricky act to pull off, but Claire Hennessy does it with aplomb.
Everything Brave Is Forgiven
By Chris Cleave (Sceptre, £13.99) When war breaks out in September 1939, Mary North, Tom Shaw and his friend Alastair Heath react in different ways. Mary immediately signs up for war work but is sent to be a teacher. Tom, who works in the education authority, decides to “give it a miss”. And Alastair joins up and becomes an officer. But none of them will escape the horrors of war. Based on his own grandparents’ experiences, Chris Cleave’s first historical novel brings both the Blitz and the siege of Malta to unforgettable life.
By Sam Blake (Twenty7 Books, £12.99) When Dublin detective garda Cathy Connolly is called to a household break-in in south Co Dublin, she finds something very unsettling in a wardrobe: an old wedding dress with tiny baby bones sewn into the hem. The house’s owner, a young artist called Zoe Grant, doesn’t seem to know anything about it – and then Zoe’s aunt Lavinia is found dead in her own home nearby. Cathy is sure the two events are connected – but how? And what links them to an American contract killer on a mission in Dublin, and an old lady with dementia currently wandering the streets of London? Sam Blake’s debut novel is a fast-paced thriller with a twisting plot and a likable heroine.
Negroland: A Memoir
By Margot Jefferson (Granta, £12.99) Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margot Jefferson grew up in the Chicago suburbs in the 1950s, the daughter of a doctor and a social worker turned socialite. The Jeffersons were part of the African-American upper middle class, and they lived in a world that Jefferson calls Negroland, whose denizens knew they had to be perfect in order to prove their worth to prejudiced white America. In this compelling, moving and clear-eyed memoir, Jefferson draws on her own experiences and those of previous generations of privileged black Americans to explore complex issues of identity and privilege with insight, compassion and wry wit.
Making It Up as I Go Along
By Marian Keyes (Michael Joseph, £12.99) This collection of non-fiction by the much-loved author is the perfect book for dipping in and out of over the course of a busy holiday. Whether she’s writing about the soothing power of newsreader Bryan Dobson or how having your own miniature nail-varnish museum is perfectly compatible with feminism, Keyes is always perceptive, original and hilarious. And, as ever, she’s a great storyteller, who can make a wonderful adventure out of everything from a trip to a weirdly sinister, luxury boutique hotel to a family outing.
By Anthony Quinn (Jonathan Cape, £13.99) Freya Wyley doesn’t always make things easy for herself. From the moment she arrives in Oxford shortly after the end of the second World War, right through her career as a groundbreaking journalist, she manages to charm and alienate those around her in equal measure – including the quieter Nancy, with whom she forges an unlikely and complicated friendship that will last for decades. Taking in everything from the Nuremberg trials to the political scandals of the 1960s, Anthony Quinn’s excellent follow-up to Curtain Call is an unforgettable portrait of a complex, often difficult woman who retains the reader’s sympathy right through until an ending that will leave you craving a sequel.
By Louise McSharry (Penguin Ireland, £12.99) The first book by the popular 2FM presenter should be compulsory reading for all young people, male and female. Older readers will also be inspired by McSharry’s no-nonsense approach. Without sentimentality or self-pity, McSharry recounts her difficult childhood as the daughter of an alcoholic widowed mother, her complicated relationship with her own body, her career struggles and triumphs and what happened when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And she shares what she’s learned along the way. Whether writing about sex, feminism, family or body acceptance, McSharry is compassionate, funny and wise.
My Name Is Leon
By Kit de Waal (Penguin Viking, £12.99) I have never felt more fiercely protective of a fictional character than I did of Leon, the young boy at the heart of Kit de Waal’s heartbreaking debut novel. Leon and his beloved baby brother, Jake, are taken into care when it becomes apparent that their mother can’t look after them. But baby Jake, who is white, is soon adopted, leaving nine-year-old Leon, who is mixed race, in foster care. Bewildered, angry and desperately in need of love and security, Leon is an incredibly convincing child protagonist. The story of how he finds his way to a place that feels like home – via some unlikely mentors – is deeply moving, compulsively readable and, despite the heart-rending subject matter, often funny. It’s also a brilliant portrait of Britain in the early 1980s. Just don’t read it on the flight unless you’re fine about sobbing like a baby in public.
Man Tests: The (Mis)adventures of an Endurance Fanatic
By Graham Little (Ebury Press, €16.99) We’ve all known previously rational people who suddenly start torturing themselves by running ultramarathons and taking part in Ironman events – in fact, maybe you are one of those people yourself. The Northern Irish sports reporter Graham Little’s new book tells how, over a five-year period, he found himself taking part in a series of what he and his best friend called “man tests”, from swimming the Hellespont – aka the Dardanelles – to running up Kilimanjaro. On the way he captures the appeal of experiencing “a brief physical, intrepid interlude along the physically unchallenging and unadventurous journey of modern life”.
I’m Not with the Band
By Sylvia Patterson (Sceptre, £18.99) Anyone who fondly remembers the days when music magazines were must-reads will love this wonderful book by one of Britain’s wittiest journalists. In the 1980s Patterson came down to London from Scotland to take a job at the legendary pop mag Smash Hits, then at its gloriously surreal, hilarious peak. Over the next few decades she would eat plums with Johnny Cash, break up Frankie Goes to Hollywood and try (in vain) to insult Westlife. Incisive, poignant and often very funny, I’m Not With the Band is at once a loving homage to a golden age of music and cultural eccentricity, a powerful critique of 21st-century media and consumerist celebrity culture and a moving account of an “actual lifetime of emotional, psychological, neurological and professional pandemonium”.
The Woman Who Ran
By Sam Baker (Harper, £7.99) When a mysterious woman called Helen Graham moves into Wildfell, a long-abandoned house at the edge of a Yorkshire village, even Gil Markham, a cynical retired journalist, is intrigued by the new arrival. The local gossips go wild, but Helen, a former war photographer, just wants to be left alone. As the names of both the characters and Helen’s new home suggest, Sam Baker’s novel is inspired by Anne Brontë’s criminally underrated The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Like the heroine of that novel, Baker’s Helen has fled an abusive relationship. Just a few weeks ago she fled from her burning Paris flat, leaving behind her estranged husband’s body. But what really happened in Paris? And is Yorkshire really a safe refuge? An original and gripping thriller.
The Heart of Everything
By Henrietta McKervey (Hachette Ireland, £12.99) A few weeks after Mags Jensen is diagnosed with the early stages of dementia, the 69-year-old walks out of her Dublin house and doesn’t come home. Her disappearance forces her three children to come together for the first time in years: Anita, an obsessively devoted mother; Raymond, an accidental actor turned librarian; and Elin, an illustrator whose relationship with her family was changed forever by a family tragedy. Moving nimbly between past and present, McKervey brilliantly untangles the complicated Jensen family ties, and because she devotes the very first chapter of the book to Mags’s point of view, the real woman at the heart of her children’s quest is never forgotten. “Isn’t everything in the world memory-related?” asks Mags when told she has a memory-related disorder. “Isn’t memory another word for life?”
By Lisa Owen (Picador, £12.99) If you read this brilliant debut novel while on holiday, it might make you glad you’ve got a job to go back to. Or it might make you question why you’re going back at all. Claire Flannery has just left her marketing job, determined to find a career she’s really passionate about. But what if she can’t figure out what that is? How will she fix her relationship with her mother, who has stopped talking to her since an uncomfortable revelation at a family funeral? And what if her job isn’t really the problem? Hilarious and poignant, this book will ring a bell with anyone who has ever wondered what the hell they should be doing with their lives.
By Paula Byrne (William Collins, £14.99) After all these years, the Kennedy family continues to grip the popular imagination, but Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy’s extraordinary life is relatively little-known. The exuberance of JFK’s younger sister couldn’t be tamed by her convent education, and when her father, Joe, became American ambassador to London in 1938, Kick was the toast of the season. She eventually married one of the country’s most eligible aristocrats, but her happiness didn’t last long. While Byrne ignores the less salubrious aspects of Joe Kennedy’s prewar rise, Kick herself comes to vivid life in this sparkling biography.