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Photo: Stocksy


12 holiday reads to pack this summer

It’s that time of year again. Sam Baker rounds up the books that hit the sweet spot between beachy and brainy

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By Sam Baker on

1 The award-winner

The Power by Naomi Alderman (Penguin)
What would the world be like if teenage girls suddenly found they had the power to electrocute people (men) in the palm of their hands? What would a world run by women look like? Does power, ultimately, corrupt? Those are the questions posed by Naomi Alderman’s Baileys Prize-winning dystopian thriller. The answer will make you question just about everything.

2 The classic

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Penguin Modern Classics)
The perfectly pitched story of Jane Eyre’s “madwoman in the attic”, Jean Rhys’s prequel takes Bertha – arguably the weakest link in Brontë’s classic – and brings her to warm, vivid, sympathetic life in the form of Antoinette Cosway. Way ahead of her time, Rhys takes a skewer to the society that condemns Bertha/Antoinette to an attic, while nurturing Jane’s beloved – coercive – Mr Rochester.

3 Pure escapism

Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett (W&N)
Barnett’s The Versions Of Us – in which a love story took three different trajectories – was a smash hit. Her follow up, Greatest Hits – the life story of singer-songwriter Cass told in one day via 16 songs – looks set to be just as successful. An easy, enjoyable read just made for sunloungers. This time with added soundtrack.

4 Crime series…

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner (Borough Press)
If you like your detective stories big on human interest, small on gore, Susie Steiner’s Manon Bradshaw series is for you. Mid-thirties and jaded with life, love and work, Manon is a cop you can really care about, unburdened by (most) detective character-failing clichés. Start here or go back to the beginning with Missing, Presumed, now out in paperback.
Others worth introducing yourself to… John Connolly’s haunted and haunting Charlie Parker, Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole (not for the weak-stomached) and Nicci French’s infuriatingly addictive psychotherapist Frieda Klein.

5 Memoir

Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood (Allen Lane)
Is this self-consciously quirkily hip, asked a friend on Twitter the other night. No – and yes. But don’t let that put you off, because poet Lockwood’s autobiography about her gun-toting, rock-loving, dog-collar-wearing father is laugh-out-loud funny.
Also look out for… I am, I am, I am, Maggie O’Farrell’s startling, breathtaking story of her life in 17 brushes with death (Tinder Press, August).

6 Debut

Yesterday by Felicia Yap (Wildfire, August)
No beach bag/Kindle is complete without a high-concept thriller and this looks set to be the one you can’t avoid this summer. How do you solve a murder when you can only remember yesterday – and the murder was committed the day before… allegedly by your husband? Look me in the eye and tell me you can resist THAT premise!

7 State of the nation

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance (William Collins)
Still trying to get your head around a country that voted for Trump? JD Vance’s part-memoir, part-cultural analysis of America’s white working class will help you do exactly that. The scion of a chaotic, loving and more than slightly terrifying white-trash Appalachian family, JD lived largely with his sharp-shooting grandmother, with occasional appearances from his mother and various father figures, He joined the Marines and served in Iraq before eventually becoming a lawyer. His story of disadvantage, division and the erosion of society resonates just as loudly here.

8 Hefty read

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton)
The long-awaited second novel from the award-winning author of The God Of Small Things has had mixed reviews, but don’t let that put you off. While this sprawling story of transgender Anjum and Kashmir’s struggle for independence isn’t as pitch perfect as its predecessor, it’s equally memorable.

9 In translation

Women Who Blow On Knots by Ece Temelkuran (Parthian Books)
Temelkuran is one of Turkey’s best-known novelists and this was a runaway hit in her home country, largely for its taboo-breaking characterisation of Muslim women. Four women – a dancer, a scientist, an unemployed journalist and Madame Lilla, a seventysomething who is most definitely up to something – hit the road in an old white Mercedes on an odyssey that takes them from Tunisia to Lebanon.

10 True crime, with a twist

The Fact Of A Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Picador)
In a frenzy of true-crime obsession fuelled by the podcast Serial and Netflix series Making A Murderer, The Fact Of A Body is an unexpected mind-blowing standout. Part-memoir, part-investigation, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s much-lauded study goes right to the heart of the personal stories that lie behind even the most heinous crimes.

11 This year’s books about running

Books about swimming
It’s weird how that happens, isn’t it? Last year, it was all about running; this year, it’s swimming. From Alexandra Heminsley’s thoughtful Leap In (Hutchinson), which interweaves learning to swim outdoors with her personal IVF journey, and Turning (Virago), Jessica J Lee’s story of how she swam her way out of loneliness, to Swell (A&C Black) by Jenny Landreth – more an autobiography of the sport than the woman.

12. Audiobook

Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders (Audible Studios)
Almost definitely the most spectacular audiobook you will hear this year, Lincoln In The Bardo brings to life the night Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son, Willie, spends in purgatory, with a brilliant cacophony of voices, some more familiar than others (David Sedaris, Susan Sarandon, Nick Offerman to name a couple.) This is a performance, an experience, but it is definitely far more than a reading.

5 paperbacks to pick up at the airport

Invincible Summer by Alice Adams – a slow-burn word-of-mouth hit focusing on four friends across two decades of summers.

The Beguiled by Thomas Cullinan – a slice of Southern gothic, reissued to tie in with the release of Sofia Coppola’s movie.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith – set in the 80s, two mixed-race London schoolgirls share a passion for dance.

The River At Night by Erica Ferencik – four friends go on a weekend trip that goes horribly, grippingly wrong.

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy – A mother and daughter rent a beach house in southern Spain. Eek.


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