Summer reads: 25 books to entertain and enlighten
A mixture of Irish and international, fact and fiction, to keep you busy this summer
The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey (Orbit, £13.99)
An armoured mobile laboratory called Rosalind Franklin is making its way through what used to be Britain. It’s 10 years since a parasitic fungus devastated humanity, turning those it infects into ravenous, mindless “hungries” – and “Rosie” is carrying soldiers and scientists on a research mission in a desperate hope of a cure. The team includes Dr Samrina Khan, who is hiding a secret of her own, and Stephen Greaves, the brilliant teenage boy who has been Khan’s beloved protege since they met as refugees as society broke down. As Rosie heads into Scotland, Stephen makes a discovery that could change the fate of humanity – but at what cost? Set in the same terrifyingly convincing world as The Girl With All The Gifts, M.R. Carey’s new novel is humane, horrific and unputdownable.
Victorians Undone by Kathryn Hughes (4th Estate, £20)
Why did Darwin and other great Victorian thinkers sport enormous smelly beards? What led the young Queen Victoria to support the persecution of an innocent young woman? And who was the young murder victim behind the phrase “sweet F.A.”? In this wonderful book, Kathryn Hughes explores 19th century attitudes to the physical body through several celebrated and maligned body parts, from the swollen stomach of the unmarried Lady Flora Hastings (which allowed Queen Victoria to spread scandalous pregnancy rumours) to George Eliot’s right hand, which was allegedly larger than her left thanks to a youth spent doing manual labour in the family dairy. Erudite, enormously readable and often very funny (Tennyson, we’re told, “gave every impression of enjoying rolling in his own filth”), this is social history at its unromantic best.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Bloomsbury, £12.99)
Two days after Abraham Lincoln’s young son Willie dies, the devastated president visits the crypt where his child’s body lies. But Lincoln’s not alone. He’s surrounded by the spirits of the dead, and they have stories to tell and advice to give. The first novel by one of the masters of the American short story is wildly original, stylistically dazzling and utterly captivating.
The Party by Elizabeth Day (4th Estate, €13.99)
Martin has always been in his friend Ben’s shadow, ever since they met at school. Sporty, popular and aristocratic, Ben represents everything that Martin isn’t, and Martin is entranced by him. But their friendship isn’t straightforward. Martin knows something about Ben that no one else does, and this knowledge is part of what ties them together. When Ben celebrates his 40th birthday with a lavish party at his country house, Martin and his wife Lucy are the first to arrive. But we know from the book’s opening pages, in which Martin is being interviewed by the police about the festivities, that something is going to go terribly wrong. Moving between Martin’s youth, his interrogation and the fateful night of the party, Day’s twisting narrative never loses its grip on the reader. (Published July 13th)
The Fatal Tree by Jake Arnott (Sceptre, £16.99)
In 1724, an infamous thief called Jack Sheppard was sent to the gallows at Tyburn. His life and times would quickly be immortalized in sensational style by many writers, including Daniel Defoe, as would his condemnation of his lover Elizabeth Lyon, whom he blamed for leading him astray and who was known as Edgeworth Bess. But who was the real Elizabeth Lyon? Cult crime author Jake Arnott offers his own interpretation in this rollicking beggar’s opera, which tells not only Bess’s Hogarthian story but that of the (wholly fictional) journalist to whom she tells it. As a gay man in the 18th century, William Archer is breaking the law just by having relationships with men. A vivid recreation of Georgian London’s lively underworld, and a moving tale of love lost.
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (Faber and Faber, £12.99)
Frances and Bobbi are students when they meet Melissa and Nick, an older married couple whom they encounter after Melissa attends a poetry night where the younger women are performing. The four become friends, but the ties between them become increasingly complicated – especially when Frances, the story’s narrator, starts sleeping with Nick. Funny, poignant and always extremely readable, Sally Rooney’s incredibly assured debut novel, with its distinctive voice, marks the arrival of a major new Irish talent.
The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (Walker Books, £7.99)
Sixteen-year-old Starr, who lives in a working-class African-American neighbourhood, is one of the few black students in an overwhelmingly white, privileged suburban high school. Determined to fit in even when she hate herself for doing so, she constantly makes sure she “doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto”. When Starr witnesses the murder of her childhood friend by a police officer, she gradually realises she has to stand up and speak out for what is right. But the consequences for Starr, her family and her whole community may be more than she bargained for. In her enormously powerful debut novel, Thomas tackles racial injustice in America with grace, empathy and great skill, never allowing the humanity and humour of the characters to be overshadowed by the serious issues she addresses.
Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey (Harper Collins, £11.99)
When a troubled teenage girl comes home after a visit to her father to find her mother gone and the house covered in blood, Detective Sergeant Maeve Kerrigan finds herself investigating a murder without a body. Maeve is sure that teenager Chloe isn’t telling the whole truth, and soon she’s determined to uncover what exactly links Chloe and her vanished mum Kate to the Norris family, whose daughter Bethany is Chloe’s protective best friend. As more and more secrets are revealed, it’s clear that no one involved in the investigation can be trusted. Maeve is a very likeable and convincing detective heroine, and her latest adventure is a gripping, twisty thriller with real emotional depth.
Ordinary Jack by Helen Cresswell (Collins Modern Classics, £6.99)
Jack Bagthorpe is the only ordinary member of a family full of eccentric geniuses, and he’s fed up with being the boring normal Bagthorpe, respected by no one but his beloved dog Zero. So when sympathetic Uncle Parker comes up with a plan to make the rest of the Bagthorpes believe Jack has psychic powers, he can’t resist the opportunity to finally stand out. A welcome reissue of the first book in Helen Cresswell’s Bagthorpe Saga, still some of the funniest, most sophisticated children’s books ever written.
Tin Man by Sarah Winman (Tinder Press, £12.99)
Shortly before Ellis Judd is born in 1950, his mother Dora wins a copy of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in a raffle. As Ellis grows older, Dora uses the painting to remind the boy and his best friend Michael that “men and boys should be capable of beautiful things”. But after Dora dies, Ellis is forced to give up his dreams of becoming an artist, and by 1996 he’s a lonely widower, working in car factory and remembering the two most important relationships of his life: his late wife Annie, and Michael. To give any more details would be to spoil this short but luminous novel, which is ultimately a deeply moving exploration of love: love for friends, for lovers, for families and for the possibilities of life well-lived. (Published July 27th)
The Cows by Dawn O’Porter (Harper Collins, £14.99)
Tara is a documentary maker and single mother whose life is turned upside down when a humiliating video of her becomes an online sensation. Camilla is a 36-year old blogger who causes outrage when she writes about not wanting to have children. And Stella is struggling to cope with the death of her mother and twin sister from breast and ovarian cancer, diseases that she is at high risk of developing herself. On the surface, the trio have little in common - apart from the fact that none of them meet society’s stereotypical expectations of women. In her entertaining and thought-provoking first novel for adults, Dawn O’Porter asks what it really means when women fail to follow the herd.
To Be A Machine by Mark O’Connell (Granta, £12.99)
Do you want to live forever? In his brilliant new book, Dublin writer Mark O’Connell goes to America to meet dozens of people who do. The transhumanism movement aims to develop technology to enable human consciousness to continue indefinitely. Some believe the answer is freezing their heads and storing them in cyronic centres, some are awaiting the “singularity” when humanity and computers will merge, but nearly all are linked by their libertarianism and Silicon Valley’s conviction that all problems have a solution, generally technological, and that mortality is just another problem to be solved rather than part of what makes us human. A terrifying, fascinating and often funny insight into a brave new world.
Shelter by Sarah Franklin (Zaffre, £12.99)
Connie Granger is a spirited, carefree girl from Coventry – or at least she was, before tragedy struck and she left her native city with its factories, dances and flirtatious GIs for the depths of the countryside, where she works as a “lumberjill”, cutting down trees for the second World War effort. Seppe, the gentle woodworker son of a brutal fascist, is an Italian prisoner of war who has been sent to a camp in the same forest. Seppe finds fulfilment and kinship working with Connie. But neither can escape their pasts. The wartime lives of both Italian POWs and the lumberjills have received surprisingly little cultural attention over the years; in Franklin’s tender, moving debut novel, with its unforgettable heroine, those experiences get the loving attention they deserve.
I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice (Chatto & Windus, £14.99)
Ruth Fitzmaurice lives in Greystones with her husband Simon and their five children. Simon is a film maker who has motor neurone disease, and in this beautifully written memoir, Fitzmaurice writes with wry humour and without a hint of sentimentality about the practical and emotional challenges faced by the family. With so many demands on her time and energy, Fitzmaurice finds liberation and kinship in swimming in the sea with friends who understand each other. “This makes no sense,” writes Fitzmaurice about the act of plunging into the icy waters. “That’s why it makes perfect sense. JUST DIVE.”
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (Transworld, £16.99)
Charles Avery, the hero of John Boyne’s 10th novel, is born out of wedlock in 1945. He’s adopted by an amusingly upper-middle-class Dublin couple, but holy Catholic Ireland is too small for a man who realises that he’s attracted to men, and Cyril can’t stay there forever. He finds more happiness abroad, but he can’t ignore his roots forever. Cyril’s story is his own, but as it bounces through the decades from the 1940s to the present decade, it also reflects the different challenges faced by gay men in Ireland over the last 70 years. Full of exuberant characters and genuine heart, The Heart’s Invisible Furies might be the hugely successful author’s best novel yet.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (Harper Collins, £12.99)
Every day is the same for Eleanor Oliphant. She goes to work in the accounts department of a Glasgow design company, eats the same food for lunch and returns home to the flat where she’s lived since leaving the care system over a decade before. She has no friends and the only person who ever calls her is her vindictive mother, currently in prison for an unspecified crime. And every weekend she buys two bottles of vodka and drinks herself into oblivion. Eleanor is perfectly happy with her life – but after she and her colleague Raymond help a stranger in the street, her world starts to expand in unexpected ways. Told in Eleanor’s matter of fact, utterly unsentimental voice, Gail Honeyman’s wonderful debut novel hits the summer read sweet spot: an intelligent, complex, funny, heartbreaking book that you’ll want to read in a single sitting.
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware (Harvill Secker, £12.99)
Isa Wilde is feeding her baby in the small hours of the morning when Kate’s text arrives: I need you. Within hours, Isa is on her way from London to a seaside town called Salten, where she will meet three women who were once her closest friends. Nearly twenty years earlier, Isa, Kate, Fatima and Thea were all pupils at Salten House boarding school, where they vied with each other to see who could tell the most outrageous stories to their fellow pupils. But their time at the school ended in tragedy, and the most serious lie of all. And now, it seems, the truth is about to come out. With its appealing characters and a plot that moves between the present day and the women’s schooldays, Ware’s many fans won’t be disappointed by her gripping new thriller.
The American Girl by Rachael English (Hachette Books Ireland, £13.99)
The Morning Ireland presenter’s third novel begins in Boston in 1968. When her family find out that teenager Rose Moroney is pregnant, she’s quickly bundled off to a mother and baby home in the west of Ireland, where her aunt is one of the nuns, and forced to give up her baby daughter. Over 40 years later, Martha Sheeran decides to track down her birth mother. But is it always a good idea to dig up the past? The story of how Ireland has been treating pregnant single women over the decades is a sadly familiar one, but there’s nothing stale about this compelling tale. Martha and Rose are both deeply sympathetic characters, and English tells their story with compassion, insight and wit.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (4th Estate, £12.99)
Jende Jonga has been in New York for three years, working a string of unglamorous jobs and hoping for a green card, when he gets a position as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards in 2007. Clark is a senior partner at Lehman Brothers, and as Jende and his wife Neni’s lives become intertwined with those of Clark and his wife, it looks like their faith in America as a land of opportunity may be justified. But when crisis hits, everything both families hoped for may be snatched away. A warm-hearted, insightful exploration of the American dream.
Jane Austen At Home by Lucy Worsley (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99)
This summer marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, aged just 41. What better time, then, to explore the world in which the author lived? In this lively biography-cum-social-history, the always likeable Lucy Worsley tells the story not only of Austen’s life but the sort of spaces in which she moved, from the crowded country rectory in which she spent her childhood, to the Hampshire cottage where she spent her final years. Worsley is an unashamedly partial biographer (“This is, unashamedly, the story of my Jane,” she writes, “every word of it written with love”) and her new book all the more entertaining for it.
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (4th Estate, £14.99)
Near a small country town in the English midlands, a 13-year-old holidaymaker called Rebecca Shaw goes missing. The local residents joins the search, but even as the investigation continues, life in the area goes on, as it must. Which means over the years, relationships form and break down, animals are born and die, hedges are cut back or left to thrive. And all the while Rebecca remains unfound and unforgotten. With its huge cast of characters, brought to life in McGregor’s beautifully sparse, controlled prose, Reservoir 13 is a superb portrait of a community and a world.
The Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney (John Murray, £14.99)
“I’m not a gangster,’ says Ryan Cusack, the young man at the heart of Liza McInterney’s brilliant new novel. Ryan is, however, a drug dealer, and now his boss Dan needs him to play a crucial role in the importation of a new batch of ecstasy. None of this impresses Karine, Ryan’s childhood sweetheart, who wants him to give it all up and live a normal life. But between Ryan’s involvement in a new club venture and his encounters with bewitching accountant Nadine, to say nothing of an increasingly unhappy Dan, that may not be possible. Its focus may be tighter than McInerney’s prize-winning debut The Glorious Heresies, but her new novel is just as vivid and exhilarating.
Centaur by Declan Murphy and Ami Rao (Doubleday, £12.99)
In 1994, Declan Murphy died. At least, that’s what most people who witnessed the brilliant jockey's horrific accident at Haydock Park believed. His skull was shattered and he was plunged into a coma. And yet, less than two years later, he was back in the saddle, winning a race at Chepstow before retiring from racing. The most lyrical sports book you’ll read this year, Centaur tells the gripping, astonishing story of Murphy’s recovery, as well as exploring the close bond with horses that has informed his entire life.
The Girl In Between by Sarah Carroll (Simon and Schuster, £6.99)
As far as the rest of Dublin is concerned, no one lives in the abandoned mill near the canal. But the mill has become the ramshackle home of a young girl and her mother, and as far as the girl is concerned, the mill is her Castle and she’s not leaving it until she’s old enough that the Authorities will leave her alone. In fact, she’s going to make sure she’s invisible to the outside world. Sarah Carroll’s debut novel is a heartbreaking story that will captivate readers of all ages.
Theft by Finding: Diaries Volume One by David Sedaris (Little Brown, £20)
Few writers have been as consistently entertaining over the last few decades as David Sedaris, who has turned his own life and those of his friends and relatives into deliciously witty essays. In Theft by Finding, he shares extracts from four decades-worth of diaries, from his youth in 1970s North Carolina to life as a cleaner in 1980s Chicago to his years as a well-known writer in Paris and London. Sedaris’s tone is distinctly his own, and these snippets from his life are irresistible.