Emma Lee-Potter takes a look at summer’s hottest reads
From spellbinding pageturners to future literary classics, Emma Lee-Potter picks out the very best books to pack in your suitcase.
The summer holidays are a great opportunity to catch up with the best fiction. Instead of snatching a quick read on the commute to work, you've got time to lounge by the pool and read the most compelling books from cover to cover. This year has been a bumper year for novels so there’s plenty of choice. Whether you like gripping page-turners or literary novels that give you something to discuss over the dinner table, there's something for everyone.
Our main stipulations were that the novels should be original, compelling and superbly written — the kind of books you’ll want to recommend to your friends. We’ve chosen a mix of established writers and debut novelists.
Kate Atkinson, and David Nicholls are two of the UK’s most successful authors and they both have highly anticipated books out this summer — Big Sky by Atkinson, which continues the story of private investigator Jackson Brodie, and Sweet Sorrow by Nicholls, the account of a boy’s first love affair.
Debut novelists are represented by writers like Alex Michaelides, whose The Silent Patient topped The New York Times Best Seller list earlier this year, and Beth O’Leary, who wrote The Flatshare on her train journey to and from work.
The subjects covered in this year’s crop of novels are wide-ranging too — from Clare Mackintosh’s thought-provoking story of a couple faced with an impossible choice regarding their terminally ill child to Elizabeth Gilbert’s vibrant account of showgirl life in 1940s New York.
So what are you waiting for? Get your deckchair out, settle back and enjoy these novels....
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Big Sky by Kate Atkinson, published by Doubleday, £20
Jackson Brodie’s back. Fans have been counting the days to read the fifth in Kate Atkinson’s literary crime series about the tough ex-soldier turned private investigator and Big Sky is well worth the wait. This time round Brodie has moved to a quiet seaside village in the northeast, occasionally joined by his tricky teenage son and his ex-partner’s ageing Labrador. But once again he gets drawn into a sinister investigation and old secrets come to the fore. Superbly written and utterly readable, this novel is a delight from start to finish.
Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls, published by Hodder & Stoughton, £20
Sweet Sorrow is another of this summer’s most eagerly awaited novels. David Nicholls, who recently won a Bafta for his TV adaptation of the Patrick Melrose novels, made his name with One Day and excels at writing tender, funny books about love and friendship. This coming of age novel tells the story of 16-year-old Charlie Lewis and his love affair with a girl he meets when he reluctantly gets involved in a production of Romeo and Juliet. It’s poignant and insightful but the most affecting scenes focus on Charlie’s relationship with his dad, whose life has imploded in a disastrous way.
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan, published by Jonathan Cape, £18.99
From the case of a young boy who refuses medical treatment on religious grounds (The Children Act) to the angst of a young couple honeymooning on the Dorset coast (On Chesil Beach), Ian McEwan’s choice of subjects is never predictable. Machines Like Me, his 15th novel, is set in an alternative 1980s London.
Charlie, who’s drifting through life and avoiding full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a clever student with a terrible secret. When Charlie suddenly comes into money he decides to buy Adam, one of the first-ever synthetic humans — and a love triangle begins. Original, and as always with McEwan’s novels, beautifully written.
Normal People by Sally Rooney, published by Faber & Faber, £8.99
Sally Rooney’s Normal People has won a host of awards, including both the top prize and fiction book of the year at this year’s British Book Awards, the Costa novel award and Waterstones Book of the Year. The 28-year-old Irish novelist (right), has been described as “a millennial writer with millennial concerns” but readers of all ages will enjoy her story of two college friends who try to stay apart but find they can’t. We can’t wait to see what she does next.
CRIME AND THRILLERS
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, published by Orion, £12.99
Alex Michaelides was inspired to write his debut novel while he was doing a postgraduate course in psychotherapy and working part-time at a secure psychiatric unit. It’s the tale of Alicia Berenson, a painter who lives with her fashion photographer husband Gabriel on the edge of Hampstead Heath. But when Gabriel returns late one night from a fashion shoot Alicia shoots him dead. Psychotherapist Theo Faber is fascinated by the fact that Alicia has never spoken since the shooting and five years on is determined to discover exactly what happened. A smart, sophisticated psychological thriller.
Those People by Louise Candlish, published by Simon & Schuster, £12.99
Louise Candlish won the crime and thriller book of the year for Our House and her latest novel is equally gripping. Lowland Way in south London is a suburban paradise, with friendly neighbours, convivial chat and children playing in the street. Everything seems perfect till Darren and Jodie move in and cause havoc and upset with their loud music, multiple cars and disruptive building work. A clever, pacy novel that will keep you guessing right until the end.
The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox, published by Doubleday, £12.99
Former bookseller Joseph Knox is an exciting new name in crime fiction. The Sleepwalker is the third of his series about Aidan Watts, a flawed Manchester detective with a complex family background. As the novel opens, Waits is on duty in an abandoned hospital ward, sitting with a dying murderer and hoping he’ll reveal the location of his final victim before he dies. Dark, gritty and compelling, this will have you turning the pages until the early hours of the morning.
No Way Out by Cara Hunter, published by Penguin, £7.99
From Brideshead Revisited to the Inspector Morse books, Oxford is the setting for some remarkable novels. Cara Hunter is the latest novelist to set her books in the city — to striking effect. No Way Out is her third novel about detective inspector Adam Fawley and it’s a cracking read. It’s the Christmas holidays and two children have just been pulled from the wreckage of their home in upmarket north Oxford. The toddler is dead and his elder brother is fighting for his life — but why were they left alone? Switch off your phone and settle down on the sofa. You won't be able to put this book down until you've found out what happened - and who's responsible.
The Garden of Lost and Found by Harriet Evans, published by Headline, £16.99
In 1919 Liddy Horner discovers her celebrated artist husband, Ned, burning his best-known painting. Known as The Garden of Lost and Found, the picture depicts his two children on an idyllic day, playing in the garden of Nightingale House, the family's Cotswolds home. Almost a century later, the couple's granddaughter Juliet is sent the key to Nightingale House out of the blue and starts to unravel the tragic secrets of the past. Harriet Evans' 11th novel is a spellbinding story, brimming with flowers and paintings, loss and courage.
The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary, published by Quercus, £12.99
Beth O'Leary's first novel is feel-good fiction at its best. The two protagonists, Tiffy Moore and Leon Twomey, are immensely likeable and the comic situation they find themselves in is entirely believable. Tiffy works in publishing and needs a cheap flat while palliative nurse Leon works nights and needs extra cash. The pair agree to share a one-bed flat, with Tiffy sleeping there at nights and weekends and Leon using it by day. It sounds simple, but with Tiffy's horrible ex-boyfriend, demanding clients at work, Leon's wrongly imprisoned brother and the fact that they still haven't met the situation gets more complicated by the day.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, published by Orion, £12.99
Candice Carty-Williams wrote her debut novel after bestselling author Jojo Moyes offered her the use of her rural cottage to finish the book, choosing her from more than 600 applicants. Queenie Jenkins is a young black woman who's just broken up with her long-term boyfriend, Tom. Her boss at the newspaper where she works doesn't appreciate her and her family never listens (they're not interested unless the conversation is about Jesus or water rates). A fresh, funny and at times painful read.
After the End by Clare Mackintosh, published by Sphere, £12.99
Ex-police officer Clare Mackintosh has won legions of fans for her clever crime novels, I Let You Go, I See You and Let Me Lie. Her new book, After the End, is a radical departure, but just as powerful. Max and Pip are devoted to each other but when their young son Dylan is diagnosed with a brain tumour they face an impossible choice - and they can't agree. This moving and thought-provoking theme is one that's close to Mackintosh's heart. As she explains in a note at the end of the book, in 2006 she and her husband had to decide whether to keep their critically ill son alive or remove his life support.
The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal, published by Picador, £12.99
It's astonishing to discover that this accomplished book is Elizabeth Macneal's debut novel. Macneal is a writer and potter and worked in the City for several years before completing a creative writing MA at the University of East Anglia. Set amid the squalor and chaos of Victorian London, The Doll Factory is the tale of aspiring artist Iris, who becomes a model for Pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost on the condition that he teaches her to paint. But she's also been noticed by Silas Reed, a sinister collector who is obsessed by strange and beautiful things. An atmospheric book that will stay with you long after you've finished reading.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, published by Bloomsbury, £16.99
Elizabeth Gilbert is best-known for Eat Pray Love, the 2006 memoir that chronicled her journey across Italy, India and Indonesia. In City of Girls, her third novel, she turns her attention to 1940s New York and a rundown, midtown theatre called The Lily. Nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has dropped out of her sophomore year at Vassar and her despairing parents send her to stay with her unconventional Aunt Peg, who owns The Lily. Once there, Vivian makes firm friends with the showgirls, throws herself into their hedonistic lifestyle and learns some tough lessons. Glamorous and vivid, with fascinating historical detail.
Circe by Madeline Miller, published by Bloomsbury,£8.99
Madeline Miller won the Orange prize in 2012 for her first novel, A Song for Achilles and earlier this year Circe, her long-awaited second novel, was one of the six shortlisted contenders for the Women's Prize for Fiction (previously the Orange Prize). Miller takes the legendary story of Circe, who appeared in ancient Greek texts like Homer's The Odyssey, and brings it alive for a 21st-century audience. A captivating book that races along with verve and panache.
THE VERDICT: NOVELS TO READ THIS SUMMER
Kate Atkinson never disappoints and Big Sky, her fifth Jackson Brodie novel, is the standout read of the summer. It's a masterclass in brilliant writing and whether or not you've read the earlier books in the series (Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News? and Started Early, Took My Dog) you'll enjoy it. Our other top reads are David Nicholls' Sweet Sorrow, a nostalgic coming of age story, and Elizabeth Macneal's dazzling debut, The Doll Factory.
Listen up! The best audio books for your holidays
Milkman by Anna Burns (read by Brid Brennan)
Brid Brennan’s musical lilt brings a great sense of place to Anna Burns’ Northern Ireland-set bestseller. On top of that, Brennan appears to relish every line she narrates. Little wonder, then, that Audible fans have hailed this as one of the best narrations out there.
Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders (read by Nick Offerman, Lena Dunham & others)
An all-star cast — 166 readers in all — brings Saunders’ Booker Prize-winning novel to life in a striking seven-hour odyssey. Julianne Moore, Ben Stiller, Susan Sarandon and David Sedaris make up the many characters in Saunders’ fantastic American Civil War-era opus. The author himself plays Reverend Thomas, a man haunted by the past. The verdict from Publishers Weekly? “If fiction lovers listen to just one audiobook in 2017 — or ever — it should be this one.”
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (read by William Roberts)
A Short History of Nearly Everything is Bill Bryson’s quest to find out everything that has happened from the Big Bang to the rise of civilisation. Essentially, Bryson is taking on subjects and ideas that might bore most people, making them fun for those who might not readily think they have an interest in science. In his journey around the universe, or the story of “how nothing became something”, Bryson’s humour and lucid observations are offset perfectly by Roberts’ sardonic and engaging narration.
A Delicate Truth written and read by John le Carre
Who better than the author himself to helm this audiobook? Le Carre’s 23rd novel, a gripping post-Iraq inquest into the privatisation of war, seals his reputation as a consummate reader of his own work, even in his eighties.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J K Rowling (read by Stephen Fry)
Along with actor Jim Dale, Stephen Fry has narrated the Harry Potter books, and in this, the fourth novel from the franchise, he is particularly delightful. Hardcore fans are often divided as to whether Dale or Fry is the better companion, but the erudite Fry appears to just edge it.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (read by Claire Danes or Elisabeth Moss)
As one might imagine, actress Claire Danes makes an already suspenseful tale all the more powerful. This audiobook was originally released in 2012, long before Atwood’s tale of Gilead was made for the screen, and Danes makes for a steady guide through the confusing, horrifying dystopia. Moss, who brought Offred to life in the later screen adaptation, reads the updated version of the audiobook as brilliantly as one might expect.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (read by Cathleen McCarron)
If ever there was a book that was crying out for the conversational medium of the audiobook, it’s this smash hit. The extraordinary tale of Eleanor Oliphant pings to life with McCarron’s lively narration — she flits from character to character perfectly and manages to move effortlessly through various accents. A special Q&A between the author and narrator is included as an extra.
Heartburn by Nora Ephron (read by Meryl Streep)
Meryl Streep starred in the 1986 film adaptation of Nora Ephron’s bittersweet novel about marital ups and downs and counted herself as one of Ephron’s close friends. Streep does self-deprecating humour pretty well and is flawless at making the complex protagonist Rachel Samstat both pitiful and someone we all want to root for.
Becoming by Michelle Obama (written and read by Michelle Obama)
The former US first lady’s personal story is quite the remarkable tale, and her narration makes this already confessional work all the more intimate and moving. Expect to encounter heartfelt passion, occasional dry humour and no shortage of power.