Summer Reading

20th June 2014

Are you packing your bags and leaving on a jet plane? Or are you staycationing and hoping the weather will hold out? Whatever your plans for the (hopefully) hottest months, you’ll want a good library to accompany you. Here are Jennifer Lipman’s suggestions for the books not to spill your sun-cream over this summer.

What to read if you’re a fan of family sagas…

There is something unsettlingly gripping about Bethan Roberts’ Mother Island, perhaps because all along, even as you feel loyal to the heroine, you know this is not a story that can end well for her. The tale of a childminder who steals a baby from his loving parents and fails to see the error in what she is doing, it is a poignant and intriguing novel.

Portraying Maggie in a sympathetic way, as Roberts achieves, is surely no easy feat, since almost throughout the book this kidnapper remains resolute about the rightness of her choice. As the book progresses, we learn more about Maggie’s motives and the unusual, troubling bond between her and the baby’s mother, a connection that dates back to one long-forgotten summer in Wales. Flitting between past and present, it’s nothing if not a page-turner and Maggie is a convincing, if tragic protagonist, whom you find yourself caring for, if not fully supporting.

Mother Island, Bethan Roberts, Chatto & Windus, £16.99, 3 July

What to read if you’re a Scandimaniac who loved ‘Gone Girl’…

Technically, this isn’t a summer read, in that it came out in the spring. But if you haven’t read it yet, then The Farm is a perfect choice for a holiday novel, especially if you’re flying long-haul. Like Gone Girl, the thriller everyone was talking about last summer, it’s got a killer premise, and races along as the mystery deepens.

Daniel, a young man living in London, is contacted by his father, who a few months earlier retired to a remote farm in Sweden with his mother. Told that his mother has descended into madness, Daniel is naturally distraught, but his worries have only just begun, because he then receives a call from his mother – and she says that her husband is telling a lie, out to destroy her.

For Daniel, it’s a race against time, as both parents head back to England and he has to work out which of them to trust. The twists are perhaps less outrageous than those of Gone Girl, and more heartbreaking, but nonetheless it’s incredibly addictive. You won’t want to get off the plane until you’ve finished it – and you certainly won’t want to be heading to the Swedish countryside.

The Farm, Tom Rob Smith, Simon & Schuster UK, £12.99, out now

What to read if you want to improve your mind – the easy way…

There’s something to be said for blagging it. Whether it’s what was on the news that day, the latest must-see TV series, or what that actress has done with her hair, sometimes we just have to pretend to be in the know. Helpfully, then, just in time for summer, UCL English academic John Sutherland has released the ultimate guide to blagging about books.

Never read Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate or George Eliot’s Middlemarch? With this compendium of digestible summaries you’ll be clued up in minutes. Wondering whether you should have tried Donna Tartt’s debut novel before The Goldfinch? Sutherland sums it up in a few helpful paragraphs. Your son or daughter going to be studying Nineteen Eighty-Four at A-Level? This should help you become an instant expert on the origins of Big Brother, doublethink and Room 101 well before the start of term.

Obviously, if we had all the time in the world it would be better to read the books in full – but let’s be honest, summer just isn’t long enough for that. And from Julian Barnes to JG Ballard, and Tom Clancy to Toni Morrison, Sutherland has got it more than covered.

How to be well read, John Sutherland, Random House Books, £20, out now

What to read if you want a page-turner perfect for the beach…

We’re all familiar with the stories. Beautiful teenage girl goes missing, and the police admit they have no leads. For weeks, even months, the story dominates the papers, until gradually the articles get smaller, and a new matter piques the public interest. But what about the years afterwards, what about the family and friends who must mark all those birthdays and Christmases not knowing what happened to their loved one?

That’s the starting point chosen by Costa-winning author Linda Newberry for her first adult novel, and it’s a gripping premise. We join Anna, 20 years after her glamorous older sister Rose disappears, as she looks for answers, tracks down old friends, and attempts to take control of a life stunted by her sister’s absence. While some of the twists are a tad far-fetched, this is a satisfying and thoroughly engaging read; perfect for those who fancy an accessible (if rather ghoulish) story to devour on the beach.

Quarter Past Two On A Wednesday Afternoon, Linda Newbery, David Fickling Books, £14.99, out now

What to read if you think your life is not going quite as you planned

You know it ends well, because the blurb at the start tells you that she is now a contented married mother, but Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon’s chronicle of her wild twenties is still gloriously entertaining. The Wrong Knickers opens with a hilarious and unappealing one night stand, and continues in that vein. As we turn the pages, Gordon struggles with her inner Bridget Jones and pursues her happily-ever-after, against a backdrop of noughties-era smug marrieds, unsympathetic landlords, and exasperated parents.

She’s unflinchingly honest as she regales us with her poor choices, most of them involving booze, drugs and her desperately awful taste in men. The tone is comedic and sarcastic, as in her columns, but beneath the humour is a real tale of the challenges of being a modern, intelligent and supposedly independent woman in London. She covers everything with panache, from surviving on a poor salary to social media etiquette while dating, and the unparalleled horror of attending a wedding as a singleton. It’s funny and surprisingly cheering; one to read if you’re having your own ‘decade of chaos’ or know someone else who is.

The Wrong Knickers, Bryony Gordon, Headline, £12.99, out now

What to read if you think we’ve all got it too good these days…

With Ed Miliband battling with the unions for control of the Labour Party, and strikes now largely seen as an inconvenience, it’s easy to forget that once upon a time unions were central in giving the powerless a voice and helping the workers receive their due. It’s a point well made in David Hall’s comprehensive history of ‘the forgotten voices of Britain’s post-war working class’, which brings together oral testimony from the men and women who kept Britain booming in the 1950s, slaving away in factories, mines and shipyards.

Meticulously researched and full of fascinating detail, these are the stories of those who left school at 14, and started work as tailors or mill girls, people for whom a week off a year was considered a bonus, and for whom the risk of death or serious injury was an inescapable part of the job. Taking us from the early years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, when Britain was still an industrial powerhouse, to the upheaval of the 1980s, this is a chronicle of a forgotten world and of the communities that formed around hardship, hard work, solidarity and hope for the future.

Working Lives, David Hall, Bantam Press, £25, out 19 July

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