The 50 Best beach reads

Whether it’s up-and-coming young authors or heavyweight classics you’re after, Sophie Morris finds the books to occupy your mind while bronzing your body

Sophie Morris
Friday 26 July 2013 11:30

The experts:

Rebecca Armstrong Features editor of The Independent and i,

Janine Cook eBooks promotions manager for Waterstones bookstores,

Rachel Feldberg Director of Ilkley Literature Festival,

Joanna de Guia Owner of east London’s Victoria Park Books,


Perfect by Rachel Joyce

Doubleday, £14.99

“Joyce’s second novel is another affecting read, both charming and dark, dealing with class and mental illness,” says Janine. “She creates characters you care about.”

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The Son by Philipp Meyer

Simon & Schuster, £14.99

“The Son is epic, spanning 500 pages and 200 years of an American family and the history of Texas,” says Janine. “It remains intimate despite the big sweeping themes.”

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Phoenix, £7.99

“Refreshing, honest and witty,” according to Janine, “this novel about motherhood zips and fizzes along, from start to end.”

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Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant

Virago, £16.99

“Dunant’s skilled portrait of one of history’s most infamous families, the Borgias, has intrigue and passion by the bucket-load,” says Janine.

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The Humans by Matt Haig

Canongate, £12.99

“This life-affirming novel features an alien in the body of a Cambridge maths professor,” says Janine. “Funny, brilliant and wonderful.”

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Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Headline, £16.99

“A dark fable from a master storyteller,” says Janine. “Its power is in the seamless blending of magical elements and the real world.”

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Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

Tinder Press, £18.99

“A beautifully observed, claustrophobic study of a family unravelling during the summer of 1976,” says Rachel.

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The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna

Bloomsbury, £16.99

“Writing that cleanses your palate,” says Janine. “The storytelling draws you into the Croatian village where Duro Kolak hides from the past.

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Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Viking, £8.99

When a sick Hollywood starlet turns up at an Italian coastal resort in 1962, the encounter will not be settled for decades. Sparkling and heartbreaking.

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The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah

Hammer, £9.99

“A thriller that will make every parent’s heart lurch,” says Rachel. “With her son away at boarding school, Louise starts to lose track of reality.”

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Gossip From the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales by Sara Maitland

Granta, £9.99

“A montage of forests and fairy stories to return to time and time again,” enthuses Rachel.

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1913: The World Before the Great War by Charles Emmerson

Bodley Head, £25

“Emmerson lays bare the links between seemingly disparate countries and economies 100 years ago to portray a global world,” says Rachel.

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Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations by Mary Beard

Profile, £25

According to Rachel: “Engaging stories of the classical world from a warm, witty writer.”

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In Praise of Messy Lives by Katie Roiphe

Canongate, £12.99

“This collection of opinionated and fun essays is smart, funny and thoughtprovoking,” says Janine. “Perfect for dipping into between dips in the pool.”

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The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

Sceptre, £12.99

“A rare, wonderful book that gives a glimpse into the mind of a boy growing up with autism,” describes Janine. She finds it “touching, funny and beautiful.”

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Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted by Andrew Wilson

Simon and Schuster, £20

“A detailed picture of Sylvia Plath’s life before her marriage to Ted Hughes,” says Rachel.

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Careless People by Sarah Churchwell

Virago, £16.99

Churchwell goes behind the scenes of The Great Gatsby, which earned F Scott Fitzgerald just $13.13 in royalties, but everlasting fame.

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Modernity Britain by David Kynaston

Bloomsbury, £25

Kynaston’s latest volume looks at how the luxuries of modernity – and its political bedfellows – swept the country in the late 1950s.

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Restaurant Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones

Bantam Press, £14.99

Find out why some restaurants succeed where others don’t, why Michelin matters and where your money really goes.

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The People’s Songs: The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Records by Stuart Maconie

Ebury Press, £20

A great way to remember important events and fabulous songs by music hack Maconie.

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Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

Picador, £14.99

“An unusual thriller that follows Leila as she becomes someone else online at the behest of a charismatic web philosopher,” says Rebecca.

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The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

HarperCollins, £12.99

“You’ll be seeing this time-travel thriller everywhere this summer,” says Rebecca. “A serial killer finds a way to slip though time to murder.”

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Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes

Century, £9.99

“Told from the perspective of three different female narrators, Until You’re Mine is,” says Rebecca, “fantastically written and very tense.”

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Precious Thing by Colette McBeth

Headline Review, £14.99

“How well do we know the people we’re close to? When Rachel’s friend Cara vanishes, she learns a BFF isn’t always what they seem,” says Rebecca.

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Picador, £12.99

“Haunting and beautiful,” says Rebecca. “Burial Rites, set in 19th-century Iceland, follows convicted murderer Agnes as she awaits execution.”

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The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Sphere, £16.99

“Galbraith’s debut novel is astonishingly assured,” says Rebecca. And of course Galbraith has just been unveiled as none other than Harry Potter’s JK Rowling!

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Someone To Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Hodder & Stoughton, £13.99

“Iceland’s crime queen continues to impress,” says Rebecca. “Her lawyer heroine Thóra Gudmundsdottir is a fantastic creation.”

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Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant

Mulholland Books, £12.99

“Having always worried about stumbling across a dead body, I was relieved not to be Gaby Mortimer, whose discovery of a corpse sees her perfect life crumble,” explains Rebecca.

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Joyland by Stephen King

Hard Case Crime, £7.99

“Set in an amusement park in the early 1970s, it’s a deceptively simple coming-ofage story. It’s so much more than just a crime novel,” says Janine.

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Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

MacLehose Press, £12.99

“Dark, disturbing and cleverly constructed, this thriller set in Paris features a flawed heroine bent on revenge, and will take you on an exhilarating ride full of twists and turns,” says Janine.

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Grendel: A Cautionary Tale About Chocolate by David Lucas

Walker, £11.99

“The Midas story beautifully retold but with chocolate!” says Joanna. “Funny, gorgeous and great to read out loud.”

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Sea Horse by Karin Littlewood

Gullane Children’s Books, £5.99

“Gorgeous lush illustrations and descriptive text about friendship, freedom and letting go,” explains Joanna.

Dog Loves Counting by Louise Yates

Jonathan Cape, £11.99

“Dog can’t sleep, so he counts. And he ends up counting all sorts of wonderful creatures. Wonderfully illustrated and simply told,” says Joanna.

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Ellie May is Totally Happy to Share her Place in the Spotlight by Marianne Levy

Egmont Books, £5.99

As Joanna enthuses, this is “funny, well-written and nicely illustrated by Ali Pye.”

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Jimmy Coates: Blackout by Joe Craig

HarperCollins, £6.99

“Latest in the series about a boy genetically engineered to kill,” says Joanna. “An exciting series with a feeling of the Bourne Identity.”

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Mondays Are Murder by Tanya Landman

Walker Books, £4.99

“The first of a series of murder mysteries for under-11s, with Poppy Fields solving the unexplained deaths on a Scottish island,” says Joanna.

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A Waste of Good Paper by Sean Taylor

Frances Lincoln, £6.99

“The moving story of Jason, who has behavioural difficulties,” explains Joanna. “He has been given a notebook to fill with his thoughts.”

Scissors, Sisters and Manic Panics by Ellie Phillips

Electric Monkey, £7.99

Says Joanna: “Sadie looks forward to her career as a hairdresser. The characters are easy to fall in love with.”

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Killing Rachel by Anne Cassidy

Bloomsbury, £6.99

“The second Murder Notebooks story sees Rose and Joshua closing in on the mystery of their parents’ disappearance,” says Joanna.

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The Phoenix Comic, £8.99 per month

“This comic is fun, well-written and beautifully drawn and,” as Joanna points out, “it will keep kids quiet for a good hour.”


Stoner by John Williams

Vintage Classics, £8.99

“Stoner, first published in 1965, is considered by many to be a forgotten classic. This quiet and elegant novel resonates long after reading,” says Janine.

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2666 by Roberto Bolano

Picador, £10.99

A modern classic of beauty, complexity and tragedy. Bolano died in 2003, the year before the book’s publication. His master work is set in a lawless Mexican border town amid a series of murders.

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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Fourth Estate, £9.99

If you haven’t read Mantel’s Booker winner yet, it’s high time you did! A prize example of lyrical and literary historical fiction, woven around the story of Thomas Cromwell.

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The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Abacus, £8.99

A must-read following Banks’ death. The author was top of his class in creating creepy and mind-boggling stories that are erudite and unsettling. This was his first novel.

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The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

Vintage Classics, £8.99

In 1930s Mexico, the Catholic church is pitched against a society where religion and progress are in conflict with all the attendant and seismic consequences this brings.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Faber and Faber, £8.99

Kundera’s exploration of simply ‘being’ is as timeless as any human condition yet as light as a leaf.

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Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Penguin Classics, £7.99

This roaring parody of the English rural idyll, set early in the 20th century, is an entertaining holiday read and one to share with companions.

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A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Vintage, £8.99

If a writer has an idea, chances are Atwood had it 10 years earlier. In the dystopia of A Handmaid’s Tale, women are used as breeding vessels.

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The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Penguin Classics, £9.99

Steinbeck has inspired many pretenders to the ‘great American novel’ with this bold tale of Depression refugees seeking a brighter future.

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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Wordsworth Classics, £1.99

This tale of the morals of New York society in the 1920s remains brutal and incisive. It won Wharton the first Pulitzer prize awarded to a woman.

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