Big summer read guide
From thrillers, to humour, escapism and biography, here are Susan Swarbrick’s summer picks
A Knock At The Door by T W Ellis (Sphere, £18.99)
This superb thriller hooks you in from its opening gambit. A fragile woman is alone in an isolated house while her husband works away. There’s a knock at the door, the two FBI agents who stand outside impart a bone-chilling message: “Your husband isn’t who he claims to be.” Moments later the house telephone begins to ring. A voice relays another message: “Don’t trust them. They’re lying. Run.” Strap in for a mesmerising game of cat and mouse packed with twists.
The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith (Orenda, £8.99)
A timely read set in a world where decades of mushrooming drug resistance has led to a global antibiotic crisis. Once treatable infections now run rampant and a simple scratch from a pet can kill. A sacrifice has been made for the greater good: over-70s won’t be allowed new antibiotics. The elderly are sent to facilities dubbed “The Waiting Rooms” to see out their days. Amid the turmoil, a woman is seeking her birth mother and it soon becomes clear she’s not alone in her quest.
Final Cut by S J Watson (Doubleday, £12.99, published August 6)
His debut psychological thriller, Before I Go To Sleep, was a global bestseller shifting more than six million copies and adapted into a film starring Nicole Kidman and Mark Strong. Final Cut is about an ambitious documentary filmmaker who, struggling to repeat the success of an acclaimed earlier project, decides to capture life in a formerly thriving seaside resort. She discovers a ghost town, shrouded in mystery, filled with hidden whispers and that bristles with danger.
The New Girl by Harriet Walker (Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99)
When glamorous fashion editor Margot Jones becomes pregnant, she needs maternity cover to step into her shoes at glossy magazine Haute. It can’t just be anyone – the person has to want to vacate the job afterwards. Her handpicked candidate Maggie Beecher seems perfect. Until, that is, Maggie’s motives become shady. Meanwhile, Margot finds herself ghosted by a friend with whom she shares a murky past. As suspicion and paranoia spiral, the lines blur between real and imagined.
The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish (Simon & Schuster, £14.99)
This gripping commuter thriller oozes suspense from its opening pages. Jamie is a water rat, part of a group of Londoners who travel to work along the Thames by riverboat. Then one morning everything changes. Jamie has kept a seat for his friend Kit, but he doesn’t show up. He presumes that Kit must be sleeping off a hangover, but the police are waiting at the other end. Kit’s wife Melia has reported her husband missing and all fingers are pointing towards Jamie’s involvement.
Ailsa Tilson is seeking a fresh start with her family: a new house, new people, new friends. Life in Trinity Fields is a chance to banish the past.
Verity Baxter has lived in Trinity Fields all her life. She dislikes change, keeps to herself and rarely ventures beyond her patch. When the Tilsons move in next door, Verity’s interest is piqued. Fascination breeds obsession as their lives become intertwined. The adjoining walls are thin and as Verity listens, guilty secrets begin to unravel.
Ash Mountain by Helen FitzGerald (Orenda, £8.99, published August 20, available now in e-book)
From the author of The Cry comes a haunting portrait of small-town life. Ash Mountain. Population: 867. A place that Fran swore blind she would escape forever, but when her father becomes gravely ill, she leaves behind a dead-end job in the city to return. Being back in Ash Mountain sees old friendships, festering rivalries and long-buried misdemeanours resurface amid the unrelenting heat of the Australian summer as the threat of life-changing catastrophe looms.
The Big Chill by Doug Johnstone (Orenda, £8.99, published August 20, available now in e-book)
The second instalment in Doug Johnstone’s brilliantly drawn and blackly comic series comes hot on the heels of A Dark Matter. The Skelfs are three generations of Edinburgh women who run a funeral director business with a sideline as private investigators. Death hangs in the air. The book opens with a high-speed police chase through a cemetery and a jaw-dropping car crash into an open grave. Meanwhile, a music student has vanished and the Skelfs are receiving troubling threats.
The End of Her by Shari Lapena (Bantam Press, £12.99, published July 23)
Stephanie Kilgour has an idyllic life: a doting husband, new-born twins and a house in a desirable neighbourhood. Yet, blissful domestic settings from the hand of the inimitable Shari Lapena don’t tend to stay that way for long. A stranger shows up and drops a bombshell: she alleges that Stephanie’s husband Patrick murdered his first
wife a decade earlier. Patrick, in turn, protests his innocence and claims it is a blackmail attempt. A galloping and twist-laden read.
The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde (Hodder & Stoughton, £20)
Set in an alternate present, there are 1.2 million human-sized rabbits living in the UK. They can walk, talk and drive cars, the result of an “Inexplicable Anthropomorphising Event”. When the rabbits arrive in a close-knit village, the locals want to send them packing. Described by Jasper Fforde as “District 9 meets Watership Down”, it proffers weighty themes – racism and privilege – served up with biting satire and erudite observation that hammer home a thought-provoking message.
I’m Just A Teenage Punchbag by Jackie Clune (Coronet, £14.99, published July 23)
What happens when menopause and adolescent hormones collide? As mother to four teenagers, the actress, comedian and author Jackie Clune is a good person to ask. Her laugh-out-loud comic novel centres on Ciara, whose world revolves around three ungrateful teenagers and an insipid husband. Faced with domestic drudgery, the invisibility of middle age and grieving her mother, something inside Ciara snaps.
Cue a glorious adventure as she sets off to scatter her mum’s ashes.
Dark Waters by G R Halliday (Harvill Secker, £12.99, published Thursday)
A woman driving along a remote Highland road swerves to avoid a young girl in her path. She crashes and regains consciousness in a dark room to hear the blood-curdling words: “Think of this place as your new home.” A man camping alone in woodland is startled by a scream. He runs in fear and is never seen again. As the DI Monica Kennedy detective series returns for a second outing, G R
Halliday has penned another cracker. Buckle up for a nail-biting read.
Watch Him Die by Craig Robertson (Simon & Schuster, £8.99)
If it is spine-tingling tension you’re craving, Watch Him Die has it in spades with a high-octane crime thriller spanning Los Angeles, pictured left, and Glasgow. A loner dies of a suspected heart attack, yet LA detectives uncover a macabre collection of true crime memorabilia in his basement. In Glasgow, a search is underway for a missing woman. When an online feed broadcasts the slow, painful death of an unknown victim, the cases become bound by a chilling common thread.
SALVING THE SOUL
The Sight of You by Holly Miller (Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99)
If you knew how love would end, would you let it begin? That is the poignant question which underpins this bittersweet novel about a starcrossed romance. Since childhood, Joel has had prophetic dreams about those he loves. He has vowed never to get close to anyone again. Callie, meanwhile, has been adrift since her best friend died. Joel and Carrie have an undeniable spark. As Joel glimpses their future, he reaches a heartwrenching crossroads.
My Wife Said You May Want To Marry Me by Jason Rosenthal (Harper, £20)
The late author Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote a powerful essay, You May Want To Marry My Husband, for the New York Times. Published only 10 days after her death from ovarian cancer in 2017, it encouraged her husband Jason to find happiness and move on. In this beautiful memoir, Jason describes his struggle to keep that promise as he ruminates on love, the pain of losing a soulmate and lessons learned from grief.
All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99, published July 23)
Each week when his daughter calls from Australia, widower Hubert Bird regales her with stories of his pictureperfect retirement. The reality couldn’t be more starkly different. Hubert can go days without seeing another living soul. When his daughter announces she is returning home for a visit, the jig is up. Hubert has four months to carve the life he always talked about, propelling himself back into the world in search of love and friendship in this warm, uplifting novel.
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld (Doubleday, £16.99)
Imagine a world in which Hillary Clinton became president. One where she never married Bill Clinton. And her own ambitions for a high-flying political career took her all the way to the White House and the top job in America. That’s premise of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham which is a wild ride of a read exploring the loneliness, determination and compromise demanded of a woman trying to make her mark on a stage long ruled by men.
A wild ride of a read exploring the loneliness, determination and compromise demanded of a woman trying to make her mark on a stage long ruled by men
Oh, and don’t forget the steamy sex scenes.
Summer by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99, published August 6)
The finale to Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet about love, art, politics and modern Britain concludes with Summer. It charts life for a family on the brink of change. The world around them is in meltdown yet they find themselves living like strangers. If you haven’t already read the other three novels in this much lauded series, there’s no time like the present. The potent subject matter they shine a light on includes Brexit, the migrant crisis and the rise of nationalism.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Dialogue, £16.99)
The Vignes sisters are identical twins who, at 16, run away from Mallard, a small, black community in Louisiana, for the bright lights of New Orleans. Years later, they are estranged and living very different lives. One sister has returned to their former childhood home with her daughter, the other secretly passes for white and has a husband who knows nothing of her past. Set between the 1950s and 1990s, it is an absorbing read that stays with you long after you’ve closed its pages.
Tennis Lessons by Susannah Dickey (Doubleday, £14.99, published Thursday)
Told through short vignettes, Tennis Lessons is a funny, searingly honest and sometimes gut-wrenchingly brutal take on the classic coming-of-age tale. It follows an unnamed woman – a misfit heroine for our times – from the age of three to 28 as she attempts to wade through the flotsam and jetsam of life: family traumas, dead pets, blossoming sexuality, underage drinking, ingrown toenails and disastrous liaisons. A strong first novel from Derry-Londonderry poet Susannah Dickey.
The Margot Affair by Sanae Lemoine (Sceptre, £16.99)
Another coming-of-age tale, this one told through the eyes of French teenager Margot Louve, the illegitimate daughter of a well-known stage actress and a politician. Margot’s family life in a small Parisian apartment is shrouded in secrecy and shame. One summer, she decides it is time to step out from the shadows and share her story with the world. As Margot catapults herself towards adulthood, she still has much to learn about the lasting effects of deceit and betrayal.
The Number Bias by Sanne Blauw (Sceptre, £16.99)
If you don’t consider yourself a numbers person, then this is the book for you. It is an intriguing and accessible exploration of how digits can shape our lives, be it measuring academic progress, election results or economic growth. Sanne Blauw, the numeracy correspondent for Dutch news outlet De Correspondent, provides startling insight about how manipulated figures can lead us astray, laying bare the perils of blindly buying into the hyperbole of peddled statistics.
THE BEACH BAG
Five Hundred Miles From You by Jenny Colgan (Sphere, £12.99)
Working as a nurse in a tough South London community takes its toll on Lissa, not least when she is eyewitness to a hit-and-run. Encouraged to take time away as part of a pilot exchange scheme, she agrees to a job swap with a fellow nurse in a quiet
Scottish village. Her opposite number, Cormac, restless since leaving the army, reckons that a stint in London might be what he needs. As the pair email back and forth to share advice, an unexpected connection is forged.
Sunny Days and Sea Breezes by Carole Matthews (Sphere, £12.99)
Jodie Jackson arrives on the Isle of Wight for some much-needed alone time aboard Sunny Days, her brother’s lovingly restored houseboat. However, solitude is difficult to come by, be it the well-intentioned interfering of cleaner Marilyn or the non-stop wood carving by Ned, a sculptor who lives in the floating home next door. As the trio become firm friends, alongside other eclectic island characters, Jodie finds herself slowly healing. Then, all too soon, her old life comes knocking.
Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday, £16.99, published July 23)
Margery Benson has long dreamed of adventure, ever since she saw a drawing of a mythical golden beetle in a book belonging to her late father. Instead of becoming a famous entomologist, Margery is languishing as a domestic science teacher.
In a pique of madness, she advertises for an expedition assistant. Enid Pretty isn’t the companion Margery had in mind as the duo embark on an odyssey across the world in search of the elusive insect. An enchanting story of friendship and self-discovery.
Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung (Abacus, £8.99)
Published in the UK for the first time, this debut novel by Catherine Chung, author of The Tenth Muse, weaves together folklore and family ties.
When Janie is a child, her grandmother tells her a story: since the Japanese occupation of Korea, their family has lost a daughter every generation. Years later, her sister Hannah disappears. Janie is left to unpick the truth about the brooding resentment and unspoken sacrifices that have led to history repeating itself.
Lido by Christopher Beanland (Batsford, £20, published August 6)
Come on in, the water’s lovely. Architecture and travel writer Christopher Beanland proffers a much-needed tonic for the soul with this sublime collection of outdoor swimming pools from around the world. He takes the reader on a tour: the postapocalyptic-esque Zollverein pool at a disused coal mine in Germany, the turquoise waters of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and the frothy surf crashing over the walls at Bondi Icebergs in Sydney. The historic open-air lido at Stonehaven gets a nod too.
The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump by Mary Jordan (Simon & Schuster, £20)
What kind of woman marries Donald Trump? It is a question that Mary Jordan takes a stab at in this unauthorised biography of Melania Trump. Among the tantalising revelations levelled are that the First Lady is far from a trophy wife and her husband was “frightened” to face her after his abhorrent “grab ‘em by the p***y” line was made public. Jordan traces Melania Trump’s journey from her childhood in Slovenia, through modelling, marriage and motherhood, to life in the White House.
Born Fighter by Ruqsana Begum (Simon
& Schuster, £12.99) Ruqsana Begum is the first British Muslim woman to become a kickboxing world champion. The Londoner fell in love with Muay Thai at college and for four years, as she climbed the ranks, hid her trophies (and bruises) from her parents. An arranged marriage saw Begum unable to train, leading to a breakdown and depression. After her divorce, she returned to Muay Thai, finally revealing all to her family. A masterclass in fearlessness and determination.
Lady Romeo by Tana Wojczuk (Simon & Schuster, £20, published July 23)
The story of Charlotte Cushman deserves to be shared far and wide with this enthralling biography of the 19th-century actor a great place to start. “Before Charlotte, America had no celebrities; now they manufacture them like blue jeans,” writes Tana Wojczuk. Over her 30-year career, Cushman played male and female characters with aplomb, not least starring as Romeo alongside her sister Susan as Juliet. Lady Romeo chronicles the tenacity of a woman who refused to be pigeonholed.
An arranged marriage saw Begum unable to train, leading to a breakdown and depression
Author Helen FitzGerald
Clockwise from left: author Jenny Colgan; President Donald Trump, with first lady Melania Trump; Charlotte Cushman, who was dubbed America’s first celebrity; and kickboxing champion Ruqsana Begum