Revealed: Brilliant summer reads chosen by our fiction reviewers

Revealed: Brilliant summer reads chosen by our fiction reviewers

No beach? No problem! You can still escape this summer without going anywhere near an airport — with brilliant reads chosen by our fiction reviewers

  • Critics reveal a selection of must-read books to enjoy over the summer break 
  • Jane Feaver’s Crazy and Nadifa Mohamed’s The Fortune Men among must-reads
  • Rivers Solomon’s Sorrowland and Rebecca Watson’s Little Scratch suggested

LITERARY 

Anthony Cummins 

CRAZY

by Jane Feaver (Corsair £16.99, 320 pp)

Dealing candidly with work, sex and motherhood, this searing auto-fictional novel about a creative writing teacher raking over the fall-out from her failed marriage was an absolute belter. I’m mystified as to why it hasn’t yet had more coverage.


CRAZY by Jane Feaver (Corsair £16.99, 320 pp), pictured left, and right, THE FORTUNE MEN by Nadifa Mohamed (Viking £14.99, 385 pp)

THE FORTUNE MEN

by Nadifa Mohamed (Viking £14.99, 385 pp)

Mohamed hit her stride in this novel about a real-life miscarriage of justice: the execution of Mahmood Mattan, a Somali sailor and father-of-three, hanged for a murder he didn’t commit after settling in post-war Cardiff.

SORROWLAND

by Rivers Solomon (Merky Books £14.99, 368 pp)

Centred on the uncanny metamorphosis of a 15-year-old black albino girl who flees a religious commune, this rousing sci-fi fantasy may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I guarantee you won’t read anything else like it.


LITTLE SCRATCH by Rebecca Watson (Faber £12.99, 224 pp), pictured left, and right, SORROWLAND by Rivers Solomon (Merky Books £14.99, 368 pp)

LITTLE SCRATCH 

by Rebecca Watson (Faber £12.99, 224 pp)

A door was opened in my brain at the start of the year by the experimental typography of this stunningly effective debut, which follows a day in the life of a young office junior as she deals with buried trauma. 

KLARA AND THE SUN 

by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber £20, 320 pp)

Ishiguro produces perhaps his most tantalising narrator yet in this deceptively simple dystopia. Klara is an artificial friend determined to do her absolute best for teenage Josie, who is ill, possibly dying.

As their relationship evolves, Ishiguro upturns the popular idea of robots as innately destructive while posing big questions about the nature of love and what, if anything, makes human beings unique. Slyly terrific.


KLARA AND THE SUN by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber £20, 320 pp), pictured left, and LUSTER by Raven Leilani (Picador £14.99, 240 pp), pictured right

LUSTER

by Raven Leilani (Picador £14.99, 240 pp)

This hotly touted debut about a young black woman embroiled with a wealthy white family has been rightly praised for the way it skewers contemporary conversations around race.

Edie is a pleasingly messy, self-sabotaging protagonist while Leilani’s cool prose crackles with electricity. There are lines to savour on almost every page.

CHINA ROOM

by Sunjeev Sahota (Harvill Secker £13.99, 256 pp)

Two stories, seven decades apart, combine in the same corner of the Punjab. In 1929 a young child bride joins two other women as the wives of three brothers whose faces they are never allowed to see. In 1999 a recovering heroin addict from the North of England seeks salvation in a trip to see his uncle. Novels this good are rare.


CHINA ROOM by Sunjeev Sahota (Harvill Secker £13.99, 256 pp), pictured left, and right, WE RUN THE TIDES by Vendela Vida (Atlantic £12.99, 272 pp)

WE RUN THE TIDES

by Vendela Vida (Atlantic £12.99, 272 pp)

Female adolescent angst in San Francisco in the 1980s is explored with terrific originality in this sultry, disconcerting coming-of-age story which is also a portrait of a city on the cusp of momentous change. A dreamily perfect summer read.

STEPHANIE CROSS

LIGHT PERPETUAL

by Francis Spufford (Faber £16.99, 336 pp)

It’s 1944, and five schoolchildren are killed by a wartime bomb. What would they have been had they lived? Spufford imagines their progress over the course of the decades in a novel lit with humour and deep compassion.


LIGHT PERPETUAL by Francis Spufford (Faber £16.99, 336 pp), pictured left, and right, SECOND PLACE by Rachel Cusk (Faber £14.99, 224 pp)

SECOND PLACE

by Rachel Cusk (Faber £14.99, 224 pp)

The spectacular setting — a wild coastal marsh — is part of the potent enchantment of this short, febrile and unexpectedly comic psychodrama, which features the house-guest from hell, a loose-cannon artist based on D H Lawrence.

KITCHENLY 434

by Alan Warner (White Rabbit £18.99, 368 pp)

The prog-rock era is over — but poor Crofton, devoted factotum to one of its stars, hasn’t got the memo. This skewed, fond farce follows the hapless keeper of his master’s flame over the course of a summer in bucolic deepest Sussex.


KITCHENLY 434 by Alan Warner (White Rabbit £18.99, 368 pp), pictured left, and right, GREAT CIRCLE by Maggie Shipstead (Doubleday £16.99, 602 pp)

GREAT CIRCLE

by Maggie Shipstead (Doubleday £16.99, 602 pp)

Daring pilot Marian Graves disappeared in 1950 while attempting to circle the globe. Sixty years later, Hollywood star Hadley Baxter is attempting to resurrect the aviatrix on screen (and rescue her career). If you want to get lost in a sweeping saga, look no further.

POPULAR

WENDY HOLDEN

THE GODMOTHERS

by Monica McInerny (Welbeck £8.99, 400 pp)

This good-natured tale about love, friendship and luxury hotels switches between Australia and Scotland. Heroine Eliza is trying to find the truth about her mother and the godmothers of the title, her ma’s best friends, are on hand to help. One’s a famous actress while the other runs a hotel crammed with hunks. Glamour, glamour, glamour.


THE GODMOTHERS by Monica McInerny (Welbeck £8.99, 400 pp), pictured left and right, THE MISSING SISTER by Lucinda Riley (Macmillan £20, 816 pp)

THE MISSING SISTER

by Lucinda Riley (Macmillan £20, 816 pp)

The glossy d’Apliese sisters think they’ve found their mysterious seventh sibling. But far from being thrilled, the woman keeps running away. Why must they chase her round the world?

The historical subplot, set in troubled 1920s Ireland, gives us a clue. Seventh in the series, this is just as wonderful — and huge — as its predecessors.

THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING

by Luke Kennard (4th Estate £14.99, 416 pp)

This superb satire about hipsters takes place in Criterion Gardens, an upcycled former housing estate. Its witty, dishy denizens Elliott and Alathea befriend newcomers Emily and Steven. But when Emily falls for Elliott, what then? From WhatsApp to gaslighting to stupid kids’ names, no modern lifestyle detail goes unchecked. Genius.


THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING by Luke Kennard (4th Estate £14.99, 416 pp) pictured left, and right, STILL LIFE by Sarah Winman (4th Estate £16.99, 320 pp)

STILL LIFE

by Sarah Winman (4th Estate £16.99, 320 pp)

E M Forster appears in both person and spirit in this glorious novel set in London and Italy. East Ender Ulysses Temper is unexpectedly left a Florentine palazzo. His friends come out to join him; aesthete Evelyn, hard-bitten Peg, Piano Pete, plus a parrot who speaks only Shakespeare. Completely life-affirming and joyous.

CONTEMPORARY

SARA LAWRENCE

ANIMAL

by Lisa Taddeo (Bloomsbury £16.99, 336 pp)

Beautiful, brutal, hilarious and depraved — this literary thriller is an addictive rollercoaster. Fasten your seat belt before meeting Joan, a protagonist like no other who you’ll become obsessed with as she unfolds the chaos of her backstory alongside the devastation of her present reality.


ANIMAL by Lisa Taddeo (Bloomsbury £16.99, 336 pp), pictured left, and right, WORST. IDEA. EVER by Jane Fallon

WORST. IDEA. EVER

by Jane Fallon (Michael Joseph £12.99, 400 pp)

A brilliant, gripping deep dive into a relationship that is wildly complicated beneath the glossy surface. Georgia doesn’t know her best friend Lydia harbours extreme jealousy towards her and that’s a dangerous position to be in. Emotionally intelligent and beautifully written.

SNOWFLAKE

by Louise Nealon (Manilla Press £12.99, 304 pp)

Shame, grief, poor mental health and addiction are just some of the struggles in Debbie’s family, but no matter how dysfunctional they seem they are also a tight, loving unit. I raced through this unique coming-of-age story and think about it still.


SNOWFLAKE by Louise Nealon (Manilla Press £12.99, 304 pp), pictured left, and right, INSATIABLE by Daisy Buchanan (Sphere £12.99, 352 pp)

INSATIABLE

by Daisy Buchanan (Sphere £12.99, 352 pp)

Female sexuality, ambition and vulnerability are under the microscope in this debut. Awkward Violet feels like she doesn’t fit in until she meets power couple Lottie and Simon. The more they include her the less confident she feels, whilst their manipulation increases. The perfect summer romp.

CHILLERS 

CHRISTENA APPLEYARD

DREAM GIRL

by Laura Lippman (Faber £14.99, 320 pp)

The best kind of summer read hooks you in and makes you want to read all the author’s other books. So read this one. An American novelist lies in bed recovering from an accident, dosed up on painkillers. He thinks he is being threatened by a woman character from his bestselling novel. It sounds crazy but Lippmann makes the story sing — as usual.


DREAM GIRL by Laura Lippman (Faber £14.99, 320 pp), pictured left, and right, THE MAIDENS by Alex Michaelides

THE MAIDENS

by Alex Michaelides (W & N £14.99, 368 pp)

A recently widowed therapist turns detective when a friend of her niece is murdered. Heading to the University of Cambridge to investigate, her suspicions centre on a secret society of beautiful young women called the Maidens. It’s a tense, original story set against the luscious backdrop of the ancient university.

BOTH OF YOU

by Adele Parks (HQ £14.99, 352 pp)

Another winner from this superstar thriller writer, in which two very different women with very different husbands disappear at the same time. With the police thinking there could be a hidden connection, the investigation reveals lots of highly satisfying surprises and shocks.


BOTH OF YOU by Adele Parks (HQ £14.99, 352 pp), pictured left, and right, THE HIDING PLACE by Jenny Quintana (Mantle £14.99, 320 pp)

THE HIDING PLACE

by Jenny Quintana (Mantle £14.99, 320 pp)

A young woman who was abandoned as a child moves back to the house where it all happened to discover exactly why. An intriguing plot line which delivers on sensitivity and suspense.

HISTORICAL

EITHNE FARRY

A NET FOR SMALL FISHES

by Lucy Jago (Bloomsbury £16.99, 352 pp)

High fashion, illicit love affairs and the heady pleasures of James I’s court make Lucy Jago’s debut a fabulously engaging read. Mistress Anne Turner and aristocratic Frances Howard are on trial for the murder of the odious Sir Thomas Overbury; this is the story of their fateful friendship, told in rich, vivid detail.


A NET FOR SMALL FISHES by Lucy Jago (Bloomsbury £16.99, 352 pp), pictured left, and right, CIRCUS OF WONDERS by Elizabeth Macneal (Picador £14.99, 384 pp)

CIRCUS OF WONDERS

by Elizabeth Macneal (Picador £14.99, 384 pp)

Violet-picker Nell is sold to Jasper Jupiter’s Circus Of Wonders, for a starring role as Queen Of The Moon And Stars. As she falls in love with Toby, she battles for autonomy with his mercurial, megalomaniac brother Jasper in this spectacular second novel from Elizabeth Macneal.

THE MANNINGTREE WITCHES

by A. K. Blakemore (Granta £12.99, 304 pp)

Poet Blakemore’ s visceral debut glimmers with darkness as (self-) righteous Matthew Hopkins, the Witch Finder General, sets about his murderous work in 1643 Essex.

It’s a horrifying story told with sharp elegance by Rebecca, who watches how ordinariness is transformed to evil in Hopkins’ warped vision of the world.


THE MANNINGTREE WITCHES by A. K. Blakemore (Granta £12.99, 304 pp), pictured left, and right, THE CITY OF TEARS by Kate Mosse (Mantle £14.99, 560 pp)

THE CITY OF TEARS

by Kate Mosse (Mantle £14.99, 560 pp)

In 1572, Minou and Piet, the passionate couple at the heart of Mosse’s compelling The Burning Chamber, are caught up in the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, when their headstrong little daughter goes missing, in this dramatic, immersive tale of secrets, conspiracies, fanaticism and personal loss.

FANTASY

JAMIE BUXTON

WINTERKEEP

by Kristin Cashore (Gollancz £18.99, 528 pp)

It’s Ruritania versus Steampunk-land in this sparkling, vivid tale of intrigue, lust, airships and telepathic sea-cows. After her envoy disappears on a mission, Queen Bitter-blue takes matters into her own hands and discovers love, resolution and old enemies along the way.


WINTERKEEP by Kristin Cashore (Gollancz £18.99, 528 pp), pictured left, and right, PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir (Del Rey £20, 496 pp)

PROJECT HAIL MARY

by Andy Weir (Del Rey £20, 496 pp)

Like an intergalactic Robinson Crusoe, Andy Weir’s warm-hearted hero must find common ground with an Alien-Friday in the desert of space. More than that, armed with the odd screwdriver and a bit of science, he’s humanity’s last chance.

EMPIRE OF WILD

by Cherie Dimaline (W & N 14.99, 320 pp)

We’re in a vividly realised cultural and paranormal borderland on Canada’s west coast where a mythic monster — a true coloniser of souls — is stalking the Métis community. Tough, sensitive Joan must fight her demons to win back her man.


EMPIRE OF WILD by Cherie Dimaline (W & N 14.99, 320 pp), pictured left, and right, LAST ONE AT THE PARTY by Bethany Clift (Hodder £12.99, 368 pp)

LAST ONE AT THE PARTY

by Bethany Clift (Hodder £12.99, 368 pp)

What happens when hedonism meets dystopia? A joyful, gut-wrenching car crash of remorse, pluck, gross indulgence and shopping. Our girl-about-town heroine feels uniquely ill-equipped to deal with the end of the world, before discovering she isn’t.

DEBUTS 

FANNY BLAKE 

HIS ONLY WIFE

by Peace Adzo Medie (Oneworld £14.99, 288 pp)

Afi moves to Accra to be with her new husband, ignorant of the fact that he’s happily living with his mistress and their child. Has Afi made the right choice? I loved this funny, spirited, touching novel about her fight for independence.


T,HE LAMPLIGHTERS by Emma Stonex (Picador £14.99, 368 pp), pictured left, and right, HIS ONLY WIFE by Peace Adzo Medie (Oneworld £14.99, 288 pp)

THE LAMPLIGHTERS

by Emma Stonex (Picador £14.99, 368 pp)

Inspired by the true story of three lighthouse men who unaccountably disappeared from their posts, this elegant and compulsive novel looks at what might have happened to them, and to the women they left behind.

CARELESS

by Kirsty Capes (Orion £12.99, 336 pp)

This vigorous and insightful coming-of-age novel had me rooting for Bess, who’s 15, in care and pregnant, with no one to turn to. Her plight offers insight into the care system as well as dealing with the importance of female friendship and family.


CARELESS by Kirsty Capes (Orion £12.99, 336 pp), pictured left, and right, THE OTHER BLACK GIRL by Zakiya Dalila Harris (Bloomsbury £14.99, 368 pp)

THE OTHER BLACK GIRL

by Zakiya Dalila Harris (Bloomsbury £14.99, 368 pp)

Nella, a young editorial assistant, is delighted when another black girl is hired in the department. But her hoped-for ally turns out to have her own, very different, agenda. Sharp, playful and intriguing.

CRIME AND THRILLERS

GEOFFREY WANSELL

TALL BONES

by Anna Bailey (Doubleday £12.99, 352 pp)

The British-born Bailey’s claustrophobic story of a young girl’s guilt and regret about losing a friend is set in a small town on the edge of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. Both menacing and haunting, it is a memorable debut.


TALL BONES by Anna Bailey (Doubleday £12.99, 352 pp), pictured left, and right, SIXTEEN HORSES by Greg Buchanan (Mantle £16.99, 464 pp)

SIXTEEN HORSES

by Greg Buchanan (Mantle £16.99, 464 pp)

Set in a fictional English seaside town, this compelling novel opens with local detective Alec Nichols stumbling upon the heads of 16 horses buried in a field. How did they get there and why? The corkscrew twists leave you begging for more.

GIRL A

by Abigail Dean (HarperCollins £14.99, 336 pp)

Almost too painful to read at times, this marvellously assured debut charts the life of a family terrorised by their overbearing, religious fanatic father, as told by the first child to escape — known to the media as Girl A. It is heart-stoppingly good.


GIRL A by Abigail Dean (HarperCollins £14.99, 336 pp), pictured left, and right, the MIRRORLAND by Carole Johnstone (Borough £12.99, 416 pp)

MIRRORLAND

by Carole Johnstone (Borough £12.99, 416 pp)

Identical twins lie at the heart of this creepy Gothic tale set in a house on the edge of Edinburgh, where the sisters created a secret world in the basement when they were young, called Mirrorland. Now it comes back to haunt them.

THE SANATORIUM

by Sarah Pearse (Bantam £12.99, 400 pp)

When Devon-based police detective DS Elin Warner attends her brother’s engagement party at a former Swiss sanatorium — now an ultra-chic hotel — a snow-storm rages in and isolates the group, only for one to go missing. It sends shivers down the spine.


THE SANATORIUM by Sarah Pearse (Bantam £12.99, 400 pp), pictured left, and right, THE KILLING KIND by Jane Casey (HarperCollins £12.99, 480 pp)

THE KILLING KIND

by Jane Casey (HarperCollins £12.99, 480 pp)

Criminal barrister Ingrid Lewis successfully defends a stalker only to find herself the victim of his predatory ways. But then he reveals he is only trying to protect her from someone aiming to kill her. Should she believe him?

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