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10 best new books of 2020: Latest fiction releases to read now

These are the titles you should add to your collection today

Emma Lee-Potter
Thursday 30 July 2020 15:30
We've chosen a wide range of authors and subject matters
We've chosen a wide range of authors and subject matters

After the stresses and strains of lockdown the summer holidays are the perfect opportunity to catch up with the best new hardback fiction.

Whether you’re planning a staycation or venturing further afield you’ll need to pack a compelling novel or two in your suitcase.

Luckily, there’s plenty of choice this summer. From gripping page-turners that will keep you guessing to literary novels that will give you something to debate at the dinner table, there’s something for everyone.

When it came to choosing the best fiction for the summer holidays our main criteria were that the novels should be original, captivating and superbly written – the kind of books you’ll want to recommend to your friends.

We’ve chosen a wide range of authors – some very well known, such as Curtis Sittenfeld and Matt Haig, others, like Donal Ryan and Charlotte Philby, whom you may not have come across before.

The subjects covered in this year’s crop of novels are wide-ranging too – from Mike Gayle’s story of a lonely widower who has experienced grief, pain and racism yet still believes in the power of friendship to Kevin Kwan’s clever homage to EM Forster’s classic A Room with a View.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

‘Small Pleasures’ by Clare Chambers, published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson

Small Pleasures is Clare Chambers’ first novel in 10 years, and it’s been well worth the wait. It’s 1957 and Jean Swinney is the features editor of the North Kent Echo, a local paper where she spends her time writing about weddings and household hints. Jean is single, nearly 40, and lives a dutiful, uneventful life with her demanding mother (a great comic creation). When a young Swiss woman called Gretchen Tilbury writes to the paper claiming her daughter is the result of a virgin birth Jean is dispatched to find out if she’s a miracle or a fraud. But much to her surprise Jean’s life becomes increasingly entwined with that of the Tilburys, especially Gretchen’s husband Howard. This compassionate tale is exquisitely written and entranced us from the very first page.

‘Strange Flowers’ by Donal Ryan, published by Doubleday

Donal Ryan is a wonderful writer. His first novel, The Spinning Heart, won The Guardian First Book Award in 2013 and he’s been longlisted twice for the Booker Prize. Strange Flowers (out on August 20) is his fifth novel – a tender and beautifully written story about three generations of a family living in rural Ireland. It starts in 1973, when 20-year-old Moll Gladney catches an early morning bus from her home and completely disappears. Her parents search for their daughter without success and fear they’ll never see her again. But five years later Moll returns home, followed by a man who transforms her family’s life forever. We read this outstanding book in one sitting and will definitely return to it again.

‘Finders, Keepers’ by Sabine Durrant, published by Hodder and Stoughton

Sabine Durrant excels at writing psychological thrillers that are never predictable. Set in suburban south London, her latest follows the lives of Ailsa Tilson and her family, who buy a doer-upper in Trinity Fields and befriend Verity, their lonely next door neighbour. Lexicographer Verity has few friends and some dark secrets, but she slowly worms her way into the Tilson family, tutoring Ailsa’s son Max and providing Ailsa with a shoulder to cry on. Is Verity a harmless eccentric or has she got an agenda of her own? This brilliantly plotted novel will keep you guessing till the very end.

‘Rodham’ by Curtis Sittenfeld, published by Doubleday

How would Hillary Rodham’s life have turned out if she hadn’t married Bill Clinton? That’s the intriguing question behind Curtis Sittenfeld’s compelling new novel. The pair meet as students at Yale and Bill proposes to Hillary several times, but they eventually break up because of his “compulsive infidelity”. Sittenfeld’s sympathies are clearly with Hillary and the best part of the novel covers the battles that women politicians like Hillary encounter as they seek to reach the highest office in the US. Hillary’s appearance is constantly criticised and there’s an imaginary scene where a political aide exclaims in horror at her hairy legs and orders his female deputy to shave them, an incident that causes trouble for Hillary later on.

‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig, published by Canongate

Matt Haig is one of the most versatile writers around. He’s best known for non-fiction titles like Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet, but he’s also written six highly acclaimed novels for adults, including How to Stop Time, The Humans and The Radleys, and many for children too. In The Midnight Library, 35-year-old Nora Seed sees her life as one of misery and regret. Her cat has died, she’s lost her job and she pulled out of her wedding just before the big day. But when she finds herself in the Midnight Library, a shadowy place between life and death, she discovers she can undo her past regrets and plan how to live her perfect life. This highly original, thought-provoking novel about the importance of appreciating the life you have is out on August 13.

‘Mum and Dad’ by Joanna Trollope, published by Macmillan

Joanna Trollope is second to none when it comes to writing about the trials and tribulations of family life and this time round, she focuses on the problems that arise when parents grow old and children decide to take charge. Gus and Monica Beacham left the UK a quarter of a century ago to run a vineyard in Spain. But when Gus suffers a stroke their three grown up children in London are at loggerheads about how to handle the crisis. Elder siblings Sebastian and Kate are busy with their own lives but Jake, the youngest, is convinced that he should manage the family business and dashes to Spain straight away. Trollope handles the effects of Gus’ stroke on the whole family with wisdom and sensitivity and is as readable as ever.

‘All the Lonely People’ by Mike Gayle, published by Hodder and Stoughton

Mike Gayle is on fine form in this moving novel about a lonely widower who arrived in the UK from Jamaica in 1958. Hubert Bird, at 84-years-old, has experienced grief, pain and racism but has never lost his belief in the power of the human spirit. In his weekly phone calls to his daughter in Australia Hubert tells her all about his supportive group of friends and his busy social life. But the truth is very different. He’s lost touch with his old pals and rarely talks to anyone at all. Mike Gayle is a skilled storyteller and this novel made us smile, made us cry and made us think. It’s a great summer read.

‘Sex and Vanity’ by Kevin Kwan, published by Hutchinson

Kevin Kwan made his name with the mega-selling Crazy Rich Asians, which was later turned into a Hollywood blockbuster. His latest is a clever homage to EM Forster’s A Room with a View but instead of being set in Edwardian England and Italy, the action takes place on the island of Capri, the Hamptons, and New York. Lucie Churchill takes an instant dislike to George Zao when they meet at a society wedding in Capri, even though he gives up his hotel room so she can have a prized view of the sea. This is a delightful reworking of a much-loved classic, complete with designer outfits, glamorous parties, and exotic locations.

‘A Double Life’ by Charlotte Philby, published by The Borough Press

Former journalist Charlotte Philby is the granddaughter of notorious communist double agent Kim Philby so perhaps it isn’t surprising that when she turned her hand to fiction, she chose to write spy novels. A Double Life is her second novel and focuses on two women – Gabriela, a senior negotiator in the counter-terrorism unit of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Isobel, a journalist who works for a local paper in north London. The pair don’t know each other but as Gabriella’s life begins to unravel in an alarming – and at times implausible – way their lives converge. The ending is slightly rushed and leaves scope for a follow-up, but this is a pacy, gripping read that kept us on the edge of our seats.

‘Magpie Lane’ by Lucy Atkins, published by Quercus

If you enjoy dark stories about dysfunctional families, this is the novel for you. When Felicity, the eight-year-old daughter of an Oxford college master, disappears in the middle of the night the police turn to her Scottish nanny Dee for answers. It quickly becomes apparent that the family dynamics are complex. Felicity’s father Nick is powerful and autocratic, her stepmother Mariah is pregnant with her first child and busy with her career, and Felicity herself is traumatised by her mother’s death and almost mute. But Dee has secrets of her own, including a growing friendship with an eccentric house historian – so what is the truth? A creepy, suspenseful thriller set against the dreaming spires of Oxford.

The verdict: Summer books

It’s a close-run thing, but Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers is our standout read. It’s a masterclass in fine writing and will transport you to 1950s suburbia, complete with liver and onions for tea and games of gin rummy to follow. Our other top choice is the brilliant Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan, a beautifully written story of love and loss in rural Ireland.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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