Smart, but easy, summer reads 

Perfect holiday reading: Sam Baker rounds up 10 books that are as intelligent as they are unputdownable 

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By Sam Baker on


Carol, Patricia Highsmith (Virago Modern Classics)

Every summer, a classic novelist has a resurgence and this year the deckchairs belong to Patricia Highsmith. Over the past year, almost her entire backlist has been reissued by Virago. But, more than that, without Highsmith’s dark suspenseful legacy, where would a whole new generation of female novelists be? From Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl to Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train to Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Hausfrau, all owe a debt to Highsmith. If you’ve never read A Talented Mr Ripley, without doubt you should start there. Otherwise, I recommend you take an entirely different turn and go for Carol, Highsmith’s semi-autobiographical novel about a lesbian love affair, before Todd Haynes’ adaptation hits the big screen.
• Paperback, £6.79, Waterstones; Kindle, £4.99, Amazon


The Sunlit Night, Rebecca Dinerstein (Bloomsbury Publishing)

An archipelago 95 miles north of the Arctic Circle might be an unlikely setting for a holiday-reading recommendation, but Lofoten, where the sun never sets, turns out to be the perfect destination for for the lovelorn and lonely. In this smart, bleakly funny debut, Frances flees Manhattan and heartbreak, while Yasha leaves Brooklyn to fulfil his father’s last wish: to be buried at the top of the world. The Sunlit Night is a light-touch romance with a sense of place as evocative as any travelogue, and a wicked sense of humour.
• Hardback, £12.99, Waterstones; Kindle, £7.47, Amazon


In The Unlikely Event, Judy Blume (Picador)

Two words: Judy. Blume. You need more? Where is your teenage girl’s soul? For anyone who grew up on Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Iggie’s House or Forever, the name alone will be enough. For the soulless, make this, Blume’s first book for adults in over 15 years, your first. Based on the “unlikely events” that occurred in Blume’s real-life home town of Elizabeth, New Jersey, in the 50s, when three planes crashed within months of each other, this is as warm and wonderful an evocation of growing up, love and loss as you’d expect from the woman many of us grew up with.
• Hardback, £13.99, Waterstones; Kindle, £6.59, Amazon


The Last Act Of Love, Cathy Rentzenbrink (Picador, 2 July)

Where to start with this heart-rending memoir? It’s the summer of 1990 and Cathy Rentzenbrink is a carefree teenager – or as carefree as it’s possible to be when you’re ginger, freckly and 18. Her family run the local pub in the Yorkshire village where they live. Her younger brother, Matty, is waiting for the results of his GCSEs. They both work behind the bar and, when the pub closes, the pair head to a local disco in a nearby village, where they separate. So far, so normal teenage Saturday night. But on the way home, Matty is hit by a car and life will never be the same again. Matty’s crash is both the beginning, the end and the middle of a story so moving, traumatic and cathartic that you’ll read it all, not just in one sitting, but in one painful, deeply held breath.
• Hardback, £14.99, Waterstones; Kindle, £6.99, Amazon


Little Black Lies, Sharon Bolton (Doubleday, 2 july)

There’s nothing like discovering an author and then realising that author has already left a breadcrumb trail of novels for you to follow. If you’re a crime fan looking for just such an experience, try Sharon (previously known as SJ) Bolton, whose eight books divide into two equally creepy strands: her Lacey Flint crime series, featuring a heroine so fucked up she gives the most twisted of fictional detectives a run for their money; and her four stand-alone psychological thrillers, of which the hauntingly close to home Little Black Lies is the latest. Start with this or an earlier one – my personal favourite is Blood Harvest – and then race through the other seven. No need to thank me.
• Hardback, £10.09, Waterstones; Kindle, £6.02, Amazon


The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street, Natasha Pulley (Bloomsbury, 2 july)

Devoured Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell on Sunday nights and desperately seeking a replacement? The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street is one of several literary historical fantasies vying for the job. The scene is an almost-familiar late 19th-century London in the midst of turbulent change. Thaniel Steepleton is a clerk at the home office; Grace Carrow a physicist studying at Oxford; Keita Mori a watchmaker with an uncanny ability to predict the future. Compared (by her publishers) to Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman and Clarke herself, Pulley has an awful lot to live up to, but she acquits herself admirably.
• Hardback, £11.69, Waterstones; Kindle, £7.47, Amazon


Only Ever Yours, Louise O’Neill (Quercus)

Imagine a world where you’re judged entirely on your appearance. A world where your peers give you marks out of 10, and where selfies are the currency. So far, so familiar. But in the dystopian world of Only Ever Yours, girls are made, not born. They are punished, shamed and scolded for putting on weight. And they have only one purpose: to serve men – as companions, concubines or chastities. This YA smash hit was dubbed The Handmaid’s Tale meets Mean Girls, and lauded by writers as diverse as Jeanette Winterson and Marian Keyes, long before it started winning awards, and has now been granted the honour of an “adult cover”. (Which, to be absolutely honest, is not a million miles from the YA one.) So, should that kind of thing bother you, you now have no reason not to be seen reading it.
• Paperback, £5.99, Waterstones; Kindle, £3.79, Amazon


The Girls, Lisa Jewell (Century, 2 july)

If your last encounter with Lisa Jewell was her huge bestseller, Ralph’s Party, in 1999, you’re in for a shock. Not only has Jewell sold an awful lot of books since then, each one has become gradually darker than the last. The Girls, her thirteenth novel, is set in the deceptively picturesque setting of a West London communal garden, an enviable sanctuary where everyone knows everyone else, safety and security guaranteed. But there’s something off about the new family on the crescent and then, one midsummer’s evening, an unconscious teenage girl is found. And it turns out the new arrivals aren’t the only ones with a secret.
• Paperback, £12.99, Waterstones; Kindle, £6.02, Amazon


The Versions Of Us, Laura Barnett (Weidenfeld & Nicholson)

When I see a book described as Sliding Doors meets One Day, meets just about every other smash hit romcom, it usually makes me want to run for the hills. And so it was with The Versions Of Us, but something about it kept calling me back. And how glad am I that it did? This three-way time-slice tale (which is indeed reminiscent of those aforementioned romcoms) revolves around Eva and Jim, who meet and fall in love in 1958 Cambridge. But what if their eyes hadn’t met across a crowded pavement? Would life really have been so different? So much darker and less pleasant? Barnett takes this potential cheese and skilfully weaves it into a smart, compelling, moving sunbed-worthy read.
• Hardback, £10.99, Waterstones; Kindle, £4.99, Amazon


Saint Mazie, Jami Attenberg (Serpent’s Tail)

Are heroes born or made? That is one of the questions that lies at the heart of this extraordinary fictional portrait of the real-life Mazie Phillips. A quintessential larger-than-life Manhattan figure, Mazie ran The Venice movie theatre in The Bowery, back when The Bowery was still The Bowery. When Prohibition struck, sharply followed by the depression, she opened the doors of The Venice to the down and out, dedicating the rest of her life to caring for the homeless. Mazie’s story is told through a mixture of prose, diary extracts, interviews and reportage, bringing the city to life along with her hero. As brazen, bold and captivating as Saint Mazie herself, I loved it.
Saint Mazie is next week’s Bedtime Bookclub on The Pool – look out for it at 10pm from Monday.
Hardback, £12.99, Waterstones; Kindle, £8.54, Amazon

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