Planning your holidays? These are the books to escape with this summer
Our reviewers bring you their guide to the best reads to pack for your summer holidays - with something for every type of bookworm.
Ultimatum by Frank Gardner
In a remote mountain area far from Tehran, Iranian nuclear scientists are working on a secret weapon. New MI6 recruit Luke Carlton, a former Royal Marine, is sent to neighbouring Armenia to debrief a disaffected scientist, but the mission goes bloodily wrong. When another disaster threatens peace in the Gulf area, Luke must use all his military and persuasive skills to avert a catastrophic confrontation. Gardner, the BBC’s security correspondent, delivers non-stop thrills and a fascinating insight into life in one of the most secretive states in the world in a humdinger of a tale that pulses with excitement from start to finish.
Star of the North by DB John
Of mixed race and half-Korean, Jenna Williams is a brilliant high-flying academic in Washington. Out of the blue she is recruited by the CIA to infiltrate North Korea in an effort to uncover the secrets of Kim Jong-il’s nuclear programme. The lure? The fact that her twin sister, who disappeared 12 years before from a beach in South Korea, may be one of the cruel regime’s ‘disappeared’. DB John, one of the few Westerners to have spent time in the country, paints a fearful picture of the regime’s endemic mind-control, starvation, arbitrary executions and Gulag-style prison camps, while delivering an exceptionally exciting and stylish thriller.
The Other Wife by Michael Robotham (our June 26)
A brilliant psychologist with a crumbling body due to Parkinson’s, Professor Joe O’Loughlin’s life is turned upside down when he is summoned to his father’s bedside in hospital. The brilliant surgeon has been brutally attacked, but the woman covered in blood beside the bed is not his mother. Is she a friend, a mistress, a fantasist or a killer? Against the advice of the police, Joe launches his own investigation and discovers a lot about his father he never knew, and that truth can often extract a terrible price. Another compulsively readable and haunting book from Robotham, a master of the psychological thriller genre.
Watching You by Lisa Jewell (Out July12)
Joey Mullen returns to Bristol after four years working abroad with a new husband, and the couple move in with her heart surgeon brother, Jack, and his brittle wife, Rebecca, until they find a place of their own. But Jack’s neighbour is an insanely handsome teacher twice her age, and Joey has a thing about handsome teachers. She finds herself watching him, all the time. But when the teacher turns up bloodily murdered, Joey realises that her innocent infatuation has become a deadly obsession and that someone is watching her, all the time. The very definition of a terrific beach read.
Sins as Scarlet by Nicolás Obregón (out July 26)
When Meredith Nichol, a transgender woman, is found dead in Los Angeles’ equivalent of Skid Row, the LAPD are not really bothered. But her mother is, and she turns to former Tokyo Metropolitan Police Inspector Iwata, who fled his dangerous past to work as a private detective in LA. He owes Meredith’s mother, his late wife’s sister, and reluctantly agrees to help, but finds a world as corrupt, exploitative and murderous as the life he left in LA’s mean street and Mexico’s dusty barrios. A beautifully constructed dark thriller featuring an engaging and complex protagonist.
Girl, Balancing and other stories by Helen Dunmore (out June 28)
This is the first collection of Helen Dunmore stories to be published in 20 years and is also the much-loved writer’s last book — Dunmore died in 2017. Best known for her historical fiction, she was also a poet, and in 2017 posthumously won the Costa book of the year for her final collection of poetry written in the last weeks of her life. Her novels tick multiple boxes — they’re compelling, character-driven, beautifully written and illustrate the breadth of her historical imagination. The stories in Girl, Balancing are set in both the past and the present and explore some classic Dunmore themes including love, loss and the complexity of family bonds.
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (out June 7)
For the lyrical strength of the prose alone, a new Michael Ondaatje novel is always a treat and the writer of The English Patient sets his latest book against the backdrop of World War II. Warlight is narrated by Nathaniel, who is 14 in 1945, when his parents abandon him and his sister in London. Entrusted to the care of an enigmatic man called The Moth, the siblings meet a crew of eccentrics who seem determined to protect and educate them. Some years later, Nathaniel tries to find out what was really happening at the time, a journey that uncovers webs of espionage and betrayal.
Crudo by Olivia Laing (out June 28)
Cultural critic Olivia Laing is the author of three acclaimed books of non-fiction and her debut novel, Crudo, is set in the summer of 2017. Against a background of rising fascism, climate change and incendiary tweets by Donald Trump, the protagonist, Kathy, tries to come to terms with her impending marriage and the idea of lifelong commitment. Laing wrote Crudo in two months, drawing on her own life and the life of the experimental novelist Kathy Acker, wanting, she has said, to explore in real time “how it felt to live in a world where love and truth were becoming increasingly endangered”.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (out August 30)
In her magnificent Regeneration Trilogy, Pat Barker chronicled the carnage of World War I. Here, she reimagines the ‘Iliad’ from one woman’s point of view. Briseis is a queen until Troy falls to the Greeks and the life she knows is destroyed. Her husband and sons are murdered, she’s captured and awarded to the warrior Achilles as a prize of war. Along with other women — slaves, prostitutes, nurses, those who lay out the dead — she bears witness to the Trojan War as she struggles to free herself and tell her own story.
Days of Awe by AM Homes (out June 5)
Fresh, fearless and darkly comic, AM Homes once again turns her eye on contemporary America in this collection of 13 stories. It’s her first book since May We Be Forgiven won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2013. Replete with her signature satiric bite, the stories explore human attachment in a society that is uneasy and frequently strange. In one, entitled ‘A Prize for Every Player,’ a man is nominated to run for president by the customers of a big box store while he and family do their weekly shopping.
Room With A View by EM Forster (1908)
Summer holidays are the perfect opportunity to dive into those classic novels that you always meant to read but somehow never did because of the siren call of yet another zeitgesty bestseller. Better still are stories featuring characters who are also on their summer holidays. Forster’s third novel is the archetypal representative of that select sub-genre, beginning and ending as it does in Florence, where a young Englishwoman by the name of Lucy Honeychurch has gone in search of the “real Italy”. She throws away her guide book and finds love. Eventually.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945)
It’s the ultimate indulgence read. It’s a leisurely, meandering novel with scores of memorable characters, and follows Charles Ryder, fresh up to Oxford when we first meet him, as his life entwines for decades with that of Sebastian Flyte’s aristocratic Catholic family. It’s funny and sad in almost equal measure, and contains a glorious section involving Charles and Sebastian heading to a decaying Venice to visit the latter’s father. Later, there’s also an extended trip on a cruise ship, making two literary holidays for the price of one. Reading this for the first time would make any holiday more memorable.
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan (1954)
This book, famously written when the author was only 18, is the opposite of leisurely. It doesn’t even reach 200 pages, but what a story, what a writer. The plot could not be simpler. A girl is spending the summer at her father’s villa in the south of France. Shallow as a puddle, she encounters a threat to her luxurious indolence, and, in scheming to get her own way, brings about tragedy. It could be read in an afternoon, leaving plenty of time to catch up on Sagan’s other, criminally under-rated books. Nothing could be more quintessentially French, except for cheese and surrendering to the Germans.
The Count Of Monte Cristo by AlexandRe Dumas (1844)
Like the French author’s most famous work, The Three Musketeers, this is one of those books that readers could be forgiven for imagining that they know already because of numerous film and TV adaptations, and therefore don’t need to read. They couldn’t be more wrong. Dumas’s novels are a blast. This one in particular is a hugely enjoyable romp around the Med.
The titular Count visits more playgrounds of the rich and famous than James Bond whilw getting his revenge on all the people who wronged him by sending him unjustly to prison, a theme which ought to appeal to everyone — or is that just me?
The Magus by John Fowles (1965)
This centres on a young man who goes to a Greek island to teach English and then gets got caught up in the twisted mind games of a local wealthy recluse who may have collaborated with the Nazis in his younger days. Pretentious? Well, naturellement. But it’s great fun and gloriously written. Whether it ultimately makes much, or indeed, any sense is open to interpretation. Then again, nothing makes sense when the weather’s hot. Best to just go with the flow and have another cocktail.
POPULAR FICTION FANS
The Anniversary by Roisin Meaney (out June 28)
What can be nicer for the holidays than a deckchair and a good book? Roisin Meaney fits the bill with this one. After her mother dies, Lily decides to bring the family together for one last time at the house by the sea where they spent their summer holidays. The family includes Lily’s fiancé and her ex-husband Charlie with his much younger partner, Lily and Charlie’s son and resentful daughter with her partner. What could possibly go wrong? Just about everything in this good-humoured book which will keep you engrossed and in for a satisfying surprise at the end.
The Blamed by Emily Hourican (out June 7)
Anna, a young and naïve Irish girl arrives in Brussels for the summer. She is anxious to reinvent herself and falls in with a crowd she sees as sophisticated. She also falls in love. But when her best friend Jessie comes to visit, Anna’s summer of love comes to an end with Jessie’s death. Now, 15 years later, Anna’s troubled daughter — named Jessie in memory of Anna’s friend — is also reinventing herself and asking questions about her namesake. This book is a little darker than the others, as the shocking truth is revealed but it’s hard to put down.
The Month of Borrowed Dreams by Felicity Hayes McCoy (out June 7)
Summer is on its way, and Lissbeg librarian Hanna Casey has started a club showing films based on popular novels. But the club’s members find dramatic twists and turns happening in their own lives on Ireland’s west coast. Hanna’s daughter is to be bridesmaid in a double wedding for her friends Eileen and Aideen. Eileen is a complete bridezilla until Aideen takes the matter in hand. Hanna’s new-found happiness with Brian comes under threat and there are lots of surprises. This is a heartwarming novel, the latest in a series, which will leave you longing to read the earlier ones.
The Legacy of Armstrong House by A O’Connor (out July 4)
Fans of the historical novel will love this third book in the hugely successful Armstrong House series. When an archaeologist uncovers painful secrets about their ancestors, which could destroy the present-day owners Kate and Nico, and their son, Cian, Kate sets out to find the truth. In the 1860s, a tangled web of deceit, blackmail and betrayal surround Lord Edward and Lady Anna, their son, Lawrence, and Edward’s malevolent cousin, Sinclair. Make sure you have suncream to hand because A O’Connor is a master storyteller and this spellbinding novel will keep you in your deckchair far longer than you intended.
On Bone Bridge by Maria Hoey (out July 4)
Following on her brilliant debut The Last Lost Girl, Maria Hoey is back with another unputdownable mystery. Ten-year-old Kay is thrilled to become friends with the privileged Violet-May Duff and to be welcomed by her family into their grand house. But everything changes when the friends take Violet-May’s baby brother for a walk in his pram. What happens on Bone Bridge that day will change all their lives forever. Years later, Kay’s path crosses with the Duff family again and she faces up to terrible truths in a gripping ending. Guaranteed to keep you enthralled.
The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen (out July 12)
If you liked Harold Fry and Me Before You, you will love Helen Cullen’s nostalgic debut. William Woolf is a letter detective in the Dead Letters Depot of East London. When he finds letters written by a woman named Winter to her Great Love, whom she has never met, William becomes convinced that she is writing to him. With his marriage crumbling, William is torn between his love and commitment to his wife and his romantic idealism. With its themes of love, romance and frustrated hopes, this life-affirming book will draw you in and keep you there. Perfect poolside reading.
How to Be Famous by Caitlin Moran (out June 28)
Moran revisits her teenaged heroine Johanna Morrigan (whose nom de plume, and slightly more ballsy alter ego is Dolly Wilde). In How to Build a Girl, Johanna was grappling with unrequited love for the musician John Kite. In this machete-sharp follow up, Kite is a Britpop deity and Morrigan is licking her wounds over at The Face, where she has a new column. Against the backdrop of Britpop-era Camden, How to be Famous boasts a rogue’s gallery of brilliant characters familiar to anyone who has ever read the NME. Through them, Johanna learns many valuable lessons about ego, happiness and how to survive sleeping with stand-up comedians.
You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
Alas, not a novel, but a meaty collection of stories in which Sittenfeld does what she does best: relay the agonies and anxieties of being the shy and awkward outsider looking in. Many of the stories are set against modern-day America and specifically the US presidential election. Together, they touch on the most zeitgeisty of conceits, from interviewing Hollywood celebrities and having emotional affairs to Facebook stalking the popular girls from high school. Sittenfeld’s characters may often be uncomfortable in their skin as they navigate a politically charged landscape, but her writing is as brilliantly assured as ever.
Vox by Christina Dalcher (out August 21)
Fans of dystopian feminist fiction have been afforded an embarrassment of riches this year, but Vox has the sort of premise that immediately sets it apart. In this near-future setting, a new government has put in place many measures to disenfranchise women: books are forbidden, bank accounts are transferred to male relatives and no woman can work legitimately. Any woman caught speaking anything over their allotted 100 words a day will feel 1,000 volts of electricity. Yet when the president’s brother has a stroke, the answer seemingly lies with neuro-linguist Jean McLellan, who is given back her voice, albeit temporarily, so that she can help find a cure.
Sharp: The Women Who Made Art Out Of Having An Opinion by Michelle Dean
Any book which features the wisdom of Dorothy Parker, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron and Mary McCarthy is bound to compel. Michelle Dean’s mix of biography, criticism and history brings these women — and the cultures that were often so hostile to them — to life. These intellectual powerhouses stalked the uptown cocktail parties and midtown bars, conjuring up a lethal cocktail of ego, gossip, bitching and booze. As anthologies go, Dean’s is meticulously researched and vividly written. Much as its title might suggest, Sharp is a lively introduction to some of the most brilliant minds and caustic wits of the 20th century.
Motherhood by Sheila Heti
There’s been a pleasing slew of books this year that lift the lid on the realities of motherhood (among the best is Meaghan McConnell’s And Now We Have Everything), but Heti’s novel about whether to have children in the first place is a standout from the summer’s releases. The unnamed thirtysomething narrator of Heti’s brilliantly original third novel weighs up the case for and against having children, ultimately finding herself struggling to make a wise choice as the biological clock ticks on. Despite finding itself in crowded publishing terrain, Motherhood is one of the most astute and truthful examinations of the motherhood conundrum you’re likely to read all year.
Underground Worlds: A Guide to Spectacular Subterranean Places by David Farley
Award-winning travel writer David Farley goes underground for a surreal and beautiful trip to the world’s most fascinating subterranean spots. The title might suggest a guide to potholing or something or that ilk, but while Farley does include caves, he also explores catacombs, salt mines, underground train networks, water systems and tunnels. Among the underworld delights the reader encounters are a church sculpted from rock salt, hand-carved cave complexes which house 20,000 people, a Romanian mine now converted to a theme park, and the largest piece of glasswork on earth. And the pictures, be they photographs or paintings, are breathtaking.
Tides: A Climber’s Voyage by Nick Bullock
Former prison officer Bullock indulges his passion whilst living in a small green van and moving between Snowdonia in Wales and the French Alps. And that passion is climbing. In Tides, he travels the world in the company of some top climbers, tackling iconic summits such as Denali in Alaska, Chang Himal in Nepal and, closer to home, the North Sea Wall of the English coast. Interestingly, Bullock also outlines how — this explains the title — his mood shifts depending on the tides. When it’s running high, he’s a courageous climber, full of joie de vivre; when it’s low, the author’s mood is too.
Where the Magic Happens: How a Young Family Changed Their Lives and Sailed Around the World by Caspar Craven
In June 2009, Caspar and Nichola Craven set off on a remarkable journey: sailing around the globe with their three young children. Five years of planning led to two years of adventures, challenges, thrills and freedom on the high seas. Best of all, this isn’t solely a memoir of the Craven family’s exploits. Where the Magic Happens also explains exactly how they did it, in practical detail, and gives helpful tips and information for any other daring family who wishes to emulate their achievements. Includes a foreword by the legendary explorer Ranulph Fiennes.
Higher Calling: Road Cycling’s obsession with the mountains by Max Leonard
Exploring “the central place of mountains in the folklore of road cycling”, Higher Calling blends travel writing and sports writing to ask a fundamental question: why do cyclists push themselves to their very limits, and sometimes beyond? Leonard, who has written a well-regarded history of the Tour de France, finds the sublime in this ridiculous pursuit, and explains why the mountains hold such allure for cyclists — be they racing professionals or enthusiastic Lycra-clad amateurs — while meeting remarkable characters (and some elephants) along the way.
Kings of the Yukon: A River Journey by Adam Weymouth
Described as “a captivating, lyrical adventure story”, debut author Weymouth traverses the titular river, in a canoe, for 2,000 miles across northern Canada and Alaska, on to the Bering Straits. Countless animals live and migrate in this fascinating environment, including the king salmon — the longest salmon run in the world — which support the diverse communities living along the Yukon. Climatic and economic changes now threaten their way of life. Weymouth’s book is at once a travelogue, a work of natural history and an examination of indigenous culture’s struggles to survive in an interconnected global village.
Sonic Youth Slept On My Floor by Dave Haslam
Manchester-based DJ/writer Dave Haslam has been an insider to the UK music scene for almost 40 years. Within that time he has not only connected with pivotal music figures such as John Lydon and Johnny Marr but also literary notables such as Raymond Carver and Jonathan Franzen. This vibrant memoir portrays his home city as having given birth to rave culture — as well as Haslam himself, who ties hair-raising events (the terrorist attack at Manchester Arena) and amusing anecdotes (guns, knives and Sonic Youth are involved) into a very tight knot.
The Terrible: a Storyteller’s Memoir by Yrsa Daley-Ward (out June 5)
Simply put, Yrsa Daley-Ward has written one of the year’s best memoirs. Of West Indian and West African heritage, the UK writer and poet presents a ferocious coming-of-age story that focuses on her childhood in the north of England and her teenage years of sexual discovery. Running in parallel is her experience of drugs and the consequent fallout. Divided between prose and poetry, the voice in each style is both unflinching and uplifting. A serious summer read, The Terrible is soul-baring in glorious colour.
Room To Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna (out June 19)
David Lynch is one of the most important filmmakers of the past 40 years, but this is the first time he has opened up about his unorthodox creative life and personal relationships. In what is part-memoir and part biography, reflections on movies and TV shows such as The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive are placed alongside biographical segments (written by critic and long-time close friend Kristine McKenna) based on over 100 new and forthright interviews with family, friends, actors, musicians and former wives.
From The Corner Of The Oval Office by Beck Dorey-Stein (out July 12)
On the opposite end of James Comey’s more intricate insider account of life inside the White House, this memoir by a former Oval Office stenographer is equal parts racy, pacy and funny. From barely keeping her head above financial waters in Washington DC to hopping on board Air Force One with Barack Obama and his elite team, Dorey-Stein doesn’t so much dish the dirt as mop up the mess left at her feet by the drama of politics and the heartbreak of romance.
You’re On An Airplane by Parker Posey (out July 23)
US actress Parker Posey started her career in so many low-budget independent movies that she became known as ‘Queen of the Indies’. Her profile is quite high these days, however, and so this charming, slightly whimsical memoir should have a broader reach. While Parker’s writing ‘voice’ is highly entertaining, there’s an underlying significance to it as she outlines the excursion from childhood and indie movies (Dazed and Confused) to blockbusters (Superman Returns) and moderate fame. Fasten your seat belts — you’re in for a cheeky thrill ride.
IRISH LIT FANS
Last Stories by William Trevor
This country does a fine line in masterful short story writers these days but until 2016, one name dominated the field not only in Ireland but anywhere that the written word resided. William Trevor’s death two years ago at the age of 88 marked the passing of a giant of the English language whom Anne Enright described as “watchful, unsentimental, alert to frailty and malice”. This final collection penned before his death finds Trevor in typically bewitching form, prying gently into lives and sensations and always delivering a kernel of truth in a neatly wrapped package.
Shift by Mia Gallagher
From William Trevor’s swansong to a new short-story talent who looks likely to be around for a while. Perhaps it was because recent Aosdána inductee Mia Gallagher’s two novels — HellFire (2006) and Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland (2016) — were such doorstoppers that this debut collection took many by surprise. Gallagher sets her tales in Dublin but that is probably about the only common denominator. Otherwise, there is much variety, be it the era, colour scheme, and even the very dimension of realism in which the tales are based.
Orchid & the Wasp by Caoilinn Hughes
(out July 10)
Whipsmart, McInerney-esque language and one of the more memorable literary heroines of 2018 is promised from this debut novel by Maastricht-based Galwegian Caoilinn Hughes. Hughes’ award-winning origins as a poet — see her 2014 collection Gathering Evidence — get poured into a new mould for this rite-of-passage tale of a daughter in post-crash Dublin trying to forge a life in London and New York after the separation of her materialist parents. Gael, as she is called, is a real find, with US author David Vann (Bright Air Black, Aquarium) going as far as to call her “my favourite discovery of the year”.
He Is Mine and I Have No Other
by Rebecca O’Connor (out June 7)
As well as being a linchpin of literary journal The Moth, O’Connor is another fledgling novelist emerging from a background in poetry. And like Hughes, her debut novel tells of a haunted young girl cloistered by their Irish surroundings and finding release. Set in a small rural Irish townscape that is home to all manner of skeletons in the cupboard, O’Connor’s atmospheric saga sees 15-year-old Lani Devine wrapped up in a romance with a troubled local boy, and plays out as a paean to the all-consuming pyrotechnics of first love.
Grace After Henry by Eithne Shortall
TV optioning, six-figure US publishing deals and now a warmly welcomed follow-up to her debut Love in Row 27. It seems there is no stopping Shortall, and if she keeps delivering fare such as Grace After Henry, there is unlikely to be. Praised for its rich array of characters and an unconventional kink in the plot, it tells of Grace, who is picking up the pieces after her partner Henry is killed in a bizarre cycling accident. She begins seeing apparitions of Henry in her daily life, culminating in a knock on the door that changes everything.
Hilary A White