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10 brilliant books to take on holiday this summer

From plane to pool, from true crime to translation, Sam Baker has got your holiday reading sorted

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By Sam Baker on

The memoir

You Left Early, Louisa Young (out June 28)

Louisa Young met Robert Lockhart when she was 17. It was an on-off love story that was to span 40 years; a story of two obsessions – theirs with each other, his with alcohol – which ultimately led to his premature death. In a year with more than its fair share of poignant, transcendent memoirs, this beautiful, heartbreaking and true testimony stands out.

The thriller

Take Me In, Sabine Durrant

Picture the scene: a hot beach, a struggling child (YOUR struggling child), a heroic stranger. You’d be grateful, wouldn’t you? But would you be grateful enough? That’s the premise behind Take Me In, the newest – and best so far, IMHO – of Sabine Durrant’s ingeniously twisty thrillers. It’s taken Durrant a few years to work her way to the top of the psychological thriller pile, but now she’s there, she’s not budging for anyone.

The one that will take you a fortnight to read (in a good way)

America Is Not The Heart, Elaine Castillo

Three generations of Philippine women, all trying to make their very different ways in California: Hero, her aunt-by-marriage, Paz, and her niece Roni. But Hero is a former doctor in the National People’s Army who fled to America, scarred after being captured and tortured. Slowly, through her relationship with playground pugilist Roni and make-up artist Rosalyn, with whom she falls reluctantly and movingly in love, those scars begin to heal. There is so much to love about this book – its depiction of class, society, the search for belonging and how it feels to be a woman and an immigrant, a depiction all the more poignant in the current climate. I loved it.

The new cop to get acquainted with

IQ, aka Isaiah Quintabe, Joe Ide

I’m a sucker for a new detective, and LA-based IQ (Isaiah Quintabe) is quite a find. IQ is a loner and high-school drop-out, with a weakness for taking jobs for people who can only afford to pay him in cake and chickens. Lucky for him, then, that a paranoid rapper with drug and flunky issues needs help. Throw in the mysterious car crash that killed his older brother when IQ was a teenager and the bad-influence sidekick he just can’t shake and you will zip right through this and straight on to book two, Righteous.

The bright young thing

Social Creature, Tara Isabella Burton

Louise is struggling, broke, pushing 30 (God forbid!) and fighting the inevitability of returning to the small town where she grew up with her ambitions in tatters. Then she meets Lavinia – dazzling, damaged, spoilt-rotten and with a penchant for collecting talented, broke young women who worship her. Within weeks, she has taken Louise into her apartment, her confidence and her life... An acid-sharp look at obsessive friendship in the social-media age, with a festering brilliance Bret Easton Ellis would be proud of.

The true crime

I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, Michelle McNamara

You might recall that, earlier this year, the serial killer known as the Golden State Killer was arrested, after evading capture for decades. Suspected of 50 rapes and 12 murders between 1976 and 1986, his trail of terror captured the imagination of journalist Michelle McNamara, who devoted years of her life to uncovering his identity. Sadly, she died two years ago to the day of his arrest but, followers claim, without her fascinating, obsessive investigation, he might never have been charged.

The Translation

Small Country, Gaël Faye

Every sunbed needs a dose of thought-provoking trauma (or is that just me?), and this slight, but powerful, novel about the end of innocence is as beautiful as it is painful. Seen through the eyes of 11-year-old Gabriel, the child of a Rwandan mother and French father, living in Burundi in 1992, Small Country depicts the accelerating atrocities of the Hutu-Tutsi civil war with horrifying immediacy. This is hip-hop novelist Faye’s debut novel translated for the first time, and It’s easy to see why it set the French literary scene alight. This is one you won’t be abandoning in the hotel library when you leave.

The brainy beach read

Crudo, Olivia Laing

If last summer saw you on a sun lounger clutching a copy of Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home or Hot Milk, my money is on Crudo being in your beach bag this year. What if novelist Kathy Acker was alive and turning 40 through the grim summer of 2017. Or maybe it’s not Kathy, maybe it’s Olivia who, despite her dislike of “proximity”, has decided it’s time to tie the knot. Or maybe it’s both. Either way, it’s not as annoying as it sounds. Instead, it’s a sly, pin-sharp snapshot of a woman, a life and a moment in time. One we can all recognise.

The classic retelling

Circe, Madeline Miller

This is the summer that the women Greek myth forgot (or, at least, largely ignored) get their own back. In August, Pat Barker’s The Silence of The Girls gives voice to the women enslaved to Achilles. But first is Circe by Madeline Miller, whose retelling of The Iliad, Song of Achilles, won the Orange Prize back in 2012. This time, she turns her attention to the exiled witch, who barely gets more than a mention in Homer’s The Odyssey, and puts her at the centre of a surprisingly page-turning feminist romp.

The one that will have you snorting on your sunbed

How To Be Famous by Caitlin Moran

Sex, drugs and britpop abound in the follow-up to How To Build A Girl, Caitlin Moran’s coffee-snorting tale of a working-class 15-year-old girl abroad in London’s music scene. Now, Johanna Morrigan is a worldly wise 19, with a job on a music mag, making all the bad boyfriend decisions 19-year-olds make. Only, possibly worse. It’s brilliantly funny, caustic social commentary with the best wish-fulfilment revenge scene I’ve read, like, ever.


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