The 50 Best summer reads
From Tudor intrigues to front-line non-fiction, Sophie Morris and her panel of experts pick the season’s most brilliant books
Friday 08 June 2012
Rebecca Armstrong is the features editor of The Independent and i. Here she selects the best crime fiction and thrillers
Will Carr is deputy director of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation (anthonyburgess.org). 2012 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of 'A Clockwork Orange'
Brett Wolstencroft is the manager of Daunt Books' flagship store in Marylebone (dauntbooks.co.uk)
Skios by Michael Frayn
Faber and Faber, £15.99
A contemporary Greek drama unfolds on the island of Skios when a case of mistaken identity threatens to expose the dubious foundations of a farcical hifalutin' intellectual organisation. Nothing and no one escapes Frayn's eager satire in this wonderfully executed highbrow beach read. Sustaining comic writing this funny is epic in itself.
Heft by Liz Moore
A touching study of love and loneliness across the generations, set in Brooklyn and the lesser-known New York district of Yonkers. Moore makes sympathetic characters out of her loner protagonists: a housebound academic; his former student, now an alcoholic; and her baseball-playing son, each hoping for redemption from their isolated existences.
The Server by Tim Parks
Harvill Secker, £16.99
Beth is caught tight in the grip of a strict meditation retreat, trying to absolve herself of past sins. Parks is engaging, persistent, lyrical and entertaining as Beth decides whether to give into her own identity, or to that of the institute where she is staying.
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
4th Estate, £20
"Bloody, intricate and all in period costume, the follow-up to Wolf Hall takes you back to the Tudors and keeps you there, more or less mesmerised," says Will. "A bit like Game Of Thrones without the terrible writing, bad acting and unremitting misanthrophy."
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
"Difficult, complicated, dull, far too long, set in a tax office and quite brilliant," says Will. "David Foster Wallace's posthumous masterpiece needs at least a whole summer. Alienating, but in the best possible way, and also very funny. Just reissued in paperback, with four new chapters."
Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
Vintage Classic, £10.99
"An unjustly forgotten epic," says Will. "Earthly Powers takes in the whole of the 20th century through the adventures of its 81-year-old hero Kenneth Toomey."
Let It Come Down by Paul Bowles
"If you're on holiday, then the adventures of a hapless tourist through the seedy underworld of Tangier are just what you need," says Will.
Adventures in Form edited by Tom Chivers
Penned in the Margins, £9.99
"Ninety poems by 46 leading poets working in all forms and with great ingenuity," explains Will. "Full of things to divert, entertain and provoke."
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Sceptre, £4.99 on Kindle
"Magical echoes of Dorothy Parker and Scott Fitzgerald abound in this wonderful tale of Jazz-Age Manhattan," says Brett. "An instant classic."
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
4th Estate, £8.99
"One badly thrown baseball profoundly changes the lives of star college player Henry Skrimshander and those around him," says Brett.
All That I Am by Anna Funder
"A gripping first novel by the author of Stasiland," says Brett. "Friends are united in the irresistance to Hitler. England brings an illusion of safety, only for it to be shattered by betrayal."
Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge
Daunt Books, £9.99
"Grace Kilmichael, a painter, is escaping her husband, her children and herself," says Brett. "She learns to live again amidst the unspoilt beauty of the Dalmatian Coast."
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Simon Mawer
Little, Brown, £16.99
A fictional account of a woman sent by SOE into France during the Second World War who finds resources of strength and cunning few modern women will ever need to call on.
Mountains of the Moon by IJ Kay
Jonathan Cape, £16.99
A confident book for an accomplished author, never mind a first timer. Young woman is released from prison; transcends her past to roam Africa. Let's hear more from IJ Kay.
Scenes from an Early Life by Philip Hensher
Fourth Estate, £18.99
Hensher pulls it off again with this account of his husband's Bengali upbringing. His trick is to cast popular culture and relationships alongside social history in a flawless weave.
Crime and thrillers
A Death in Valencia by Jason Webster
Chatto & Windus, £12.99
"If you like your detective stories with an overseas slant, try Jason Webster's Valencia-set Max Cámara books, of which this is the second," says Rebecca.
Bitter Water by Gordon Ferris
"In this follow-up to The Hanging Shed, policeman turned hack Douglas Brodie is caught between the police and vigilantes," says Rebecca.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99
"A chilling tale of a hip, New York couple's failing marriage: smart, suspenseful and brilliantly written, Gone Girl is a class act," says Rebecca.
Kingdom of Strangers by Zoë Ferraris
Little Brown, £13.99
"The fastest way I know of to step into a totally alien world," says Rebecca. "Saudi Arabia's mores and misogyny are captured with forensic detail."
Frankenstein (for iPhone and iPad) by Mary Shelley
"A digital take on the classic that adds interactive elements without taking too much away from Shelley's masterpiece," says Rebecca.
Dead Scared by S J Bolton
"If you fancy a creepy read, try one of Bolton's earlier novels such as Blood Sacrifice," says Rebecca. "Dead Scared is less of a gothic horror and more of a police thriller."
Every Contact Leaves a Trace by Elanor Dymott
Jonathan Cape, £12.99
"Poetic and unsettling," says Rebecca. "Fans of Donna Tartt's The Secret History will love this twisty tale of Alex's search for the truth about his murdered wife."
A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake
"This public-school murder mystery is a Thirties classic," says Rebecca. "Nicholas Blake was the pseudonym of poet laureate Cecil Day-Lewis."
HHhH by Laurent Binet, translated by Sam Taylor
Harvill Secker, £16.99
"Part deconstruction of the process of writing and part thrilling account of a plot to assassinate a high-ranking Nazi," says Rebecca. "Odd but brilliant."
The Expats by Chris Pavone
Faber and Faber, £12.99
How does a former spy settle down to life as a stay-at-home mother in Luxembourg's expat community? Kate Moore starts doubting her friends...
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
"Two million copies sold in Japan, and it's easy to see why," says Brett. "A page-turner of a thriller with an evocative Tokyo setting and utterly surprising ending."
Now All Roads Lead to France by Matthew Hollis
Faber and Faber, £20
"A deserved winner of a Costa prize," says Will. "A moving exploration of Edward Thomas's final five years before his death on the Western Front. A poet's life seen through a poet's eye."
Dinner With Churchill by Cita Stelzer
Faber and Faber, £8.99
"A delightful portrait of WSC's fondness for fine wining and dining; the dining table was always, for him, a stage for conversation, politicking, or grand strategy," says Brett.
Londoners by Craig Taylor
Taylor has interviewed Londoners from a cabbie to a beauty therapist and the woman whose voice you hear on Tube announcements. He tells their stories here, in brief. Out in paperback on 5 July.
The Baroness by Hannah Rothschild
As accounts of mad and fascinating aristocrats go, Rothschild's riveting account of her eccentric great-aunt Nica stands out for its nimble writing and brilliant story.
Running for their Lives by Mark Whitaker
Yellow Jersey Press, £17.99
The forgotten Peter Gavuzzi and Arthur Newton's race across America, running more than a marathon for each of 80 days in 1928.
When I Die: Lessons from the Death Zone by Philip Gould
Little, Brown, £14.99
Gould's chronicle of his journey towards death from cancer. As an odyssey we'll all make, this should be your guide.
The Untold Life of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother by Lady Colin Campbell
Dynasty Press, £20
Lady Campbell's assertions are shocking, though many of the sources whiff of gossipy folklore.
Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber
Electric Monkey, £10.64
"Collateral for kids, though there's plenty to keep grown-ups on the edge of their seats," says Joe. "Snatch this before the sequel comes out in October."
The 13th Horseman by Barry Hutchinson
Harper Collins, £6.99
"Didn't think the end of the world was a laughing matter?" asks Joe. "Well it is now. You won't look at the apocalypse the same way again"
Goldilocks and Just the One Bear by Leigh Hodgkinson
Nosy Crow, £6.99
"You'll be enchanted to find out what Baby Bear gets up to when he finds himself lost in the city," says Joe.
Ellie May Would Like to be Taken Seriously For a Change by Marianne Levy
"Young movie star Ellie May is very, very funny," says Joe. "This book, Levy's debut, is a sparkling showstopper."
Call Me Drog by Sue Cowing
"It's the same old story: boy meets puppet, puppet refuses to leave boy's hand and seems to give voice to his angry side. This book will last," says Joe.
The Secret Hen House Theatre by Helen Peters
Nosy Crow, £6.99
"The sort of story you want to melt into," says Joe. "The trials and charms of farm life create a world where characters will start to feel like friends."
Mortal Chaos: Deep Oblivion by Matt Dickinson
"Look beyond the generic title and uninspired cover to discover a sharp, thoughtful and delightfully original thriller," says Joe
Leopard Adventure by Anthony McGowan
"The good old-fashioned adventure romp brought up to date without losing the fun or the thrills," says Joe. "Throw yourself into the jungle and enjoy the mystery that awaits."
Unrest by Michelle Harrison
Simon & Schuster, £6.99
It takes great skill to create an atmosphere that creeps off the page into your veins. Harrison's subtlety and eye for detail lift this above any other spookfest.
Virus by Tommy Donbavand
Barrington Stoke, £5.99
"Learn the name Donbavand – he's quietly become one of the very best children's authors working today," says Joe. "His books dazzle in their pace, imagination and wit."
Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman
Allen Lane, £20
"A primer for anyone interested in our collapsing media, and maybe the collapse of public life," says Will. "Excellent background reading."
London Under by Peter Ackroyd
"The greatest modern chronicler of London takes us beneath the streets totell of Roman springs, Victorian sewers and Underground stations," says Brett.
All Hell Let Loose by Max Hastings
Harper Press, £30
"A magisterial account of the Second World War, combining fast-paced narrative with superbly chosen eyewitness accounts," says Brett.
Cheek by Jowl:A History of Neighbours by Emily Cockayne
Bodley Head, £20
"This is the best kind of social history with plenty of fascinating – and gruesome – facts," says Rebecca.
Beautiful for Ever: Madame Rachel of Bond St - Cosmetician, Con-Artist and Blackmailer by Helen Rappaport
Speaks volumes about vanity and Victorian attitudes to women.
The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik
A great read, and important:a treatise on the history of food anchored by the importance of eating, together, food that you like, around a table.
On the Front Line: The Collected Journalism of Marie Colvin
Harper Press, £16.99
Colvin was killed in February. Her work is a reminder that we should all value the method in the madness of war reporters.
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