EVEN if you’re not going away this summer, you can always escape with a good book, whether it’s a love story, a nail-biting thriller or a page-turning drama. Lose yourself in this pick of 12, none of which you’ll want to put down…
1. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
(Dialogue Books, £14.99)
This highly acclaimed novel begins in a small town in the Deep South of the United States, home of identical twins Stella and Desiree who left as teenagers in 1954 for New Orleans, where their lives diverge. Ten years later, Desiree has returned with a young daughter, while Stella has been passing as white and her new family knows nothing of her past. It’s in these new worlds they’ve built for themselves, that their daughters, Kennedy and Jude, must grow up and navigate their mothers’ silences.
2. Queen Bee by Jane Fallon
Sharp and hilarious, as are virtually all of Fallon’s novels, this yarn sees hard-working cleaner Laura move to a posh north London neighbourhood following her divorce, where she encounters the rich, rude and arrogant Stella, Queen Bee of The Close. But when Laura unearths a secret about Stella’s husband, Al, the unlikely pair join forces. A perfect beach read.
3. All The Lonely People by Mike Gayle
(Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99)
Funny and life-affirming inter-generational story of loneliness, friendship and hope, seen through the moving life story of Hubert Bird, an elderly man of the Windrush-generation. In weekly phone calls to his daughter in Australia, the widower paints a picture of the perfect retirement, but in reality he sees no-one and is racked with loneliness, until he receives news that forces him to make his real life resemble his fake one. This one’s timely in its key themes of social isolation and loneliness – in both the young and old – and the importance of community, as we all emerge from a lockdown which has seen loneliness levels soar.
4. Find Them Dead by Peter James
(Pan Macmillan, £20)
The hugely popular Brighton policeman DS Roy Grace has once again hit the top of the bestseller list with a tale in which the detective, seconded to the Met, confronts the wave of drug gang violence sweeping the capital. Concurrently, Sussex Police is closing in on a Brighton-based drug gang mastermind who faces trial – but soon an international criminal network springs into action to stalk, kidnap, blackmail and kill, to ensure the jury declares him ‘not guilty’.
5. Olive by Emma Gannon
The writer and broadcaster’s first foray into fiction focuses on the eponymous heroine who doesn’t want children, but when her three best friends’ lives begin to move towards marriage and motherhood, she wonders if she’s made the right decisions. Moving between their 20s and the present-day, when they hit their early 30s, the women’s lives take different paths and the difficulties they face will strike a chord with many. Yet, despite all their disagreements, there’s warmth and empathy amid the rippling friendships.
6. The Hungover Games by Sophie Heawood
(Jonathan Cape, £14.99)
Heawood was working as a celebrity journalist in Los Angeles, living the footloose, freelance life, when she discovered she was pregnant, despite babies being the last thing on her agenda. She shares her story with huge wit and sharp observation, as she comes to terms with the prospect of single-motherhood, returning to the UK to have the baby she hadn’t planned. Already counting Caitlin Moran and Dolly Alderton among its fans, the memoir charts her journey as she tries to shed her old life to nurture the new, and fit in the mix of celebrity interviewer, prolonged singleton and loving mother that she becomes.
7. The Shelf by Helly Acton
(Zaffre Books, £12.99)
Attention all dating show fans: If you want a light-hearted read based on a 30-something woman whose dreams of getting married are dashed by her unreliable boyfriend, only to find herself on the set of The Shelf, a new reality show, this will have your chuckling in your sun lounger. Along with five other women, she must compete in a series of tasks in the hope of becoming ‘The Keeper’. It’s been described as Love Island meets Bridget Jones, with a relatable story and a group of highly engaging female characters.
8. The Weekend by Charlotte Wood
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99)
Set over three hot days in a house overlooking the ocean, this novel looks at the friendship and betrayal among three women in their 70s, who have come together after the death of their other close friend. Jaded by life, discarded by society and consumed by anger and grief, they have trouble remembering why they are still friends, as their relationships have become fractious, complicated by secrets, regrets and exasperation. It’s a moving study of age, friendships and all their complexities.
9. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99)
This terrific debut novel from the Irish writer – which won a seven-way auction and has been compared with Sally Rooney – is a modern love triangle set in Hong Kong, told from the perspective of Ava, newly arrived from Dublin to teach English to rich kids. She meets Julian – a ludicrously wealthy banker – and they start a strange semi-relationship. When he moves back to London for work, she falls for lawyer Edith – but how will things pan out when he returns?
10. Cry Baby by Mark Billingham
(Little, Brown, £20)
Thriller-writer Billingham is on top form with his 20th book, a prequel to his terrific debut Sleepyhead, taking us back to 1996, at the beginning of DS Tom Thorne’s story. He is haunted by the moment he ignored his instinct about a suspect, and the horrific crime that followed. So when seven-year-old Kieron Coyne goes missing while playing in the woods, Thorne vows he will not make the same mistake again.
11. One Year Of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie
(The Borough Press, £12.99)
This acerbic, hilarious debut from freelance translator Mackenzie who lives in Trinidad, sees Yola and her family settling in Trinidad after escaping crumbling, socialist Venezuela. But when her beloved aunt dies, Yola discovers she was seriously in debt to a local criminal called Ugly, and that debt is now theirs to repay – but there’s welcome distraction in Ugly’s gorgeous right-hand man. The story explores the migrant experience with warmth, humour and energy.
12. Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell
(out Aug 6, Century, £14.99)
This gifted novelist moved seamlessly from female fiction to twisty thrillers and has enjoyed immense success in both genres. Now, the bestselling author of The Family Upstairs brings us a story of betrayal, which begins when Saffyre Maddox was 10 and something terrible happened. The man who she thought would heal her didn’t, and now she hides from him, watching him from the shadows. But when she goes missing across the road from a 33-year-old loner with no friends, he is at once a suspect.