This Summer, treat yourselves to some of the hottest books around. Whether you fancy lighter-than-air romance, meaningful memoirs, literary fiction, or a poolside thriller, I’ve got you covered! Check these out – and prepare yourselves for some bangers in June and July…
Year of the Cat (Rhiannon Lucy Coslett, Headline: out now)
In this deeper-than-it-seems memoir, Rhiannon Lucy Coslett and her partner adopt a small stripey cat in lockdown – just like my wife and I did. Her cat Mackerel and ours, Cleo, could be twins, and most women, particularly those considering motherhood, will find something here to resonate with them. Through her relationship with Mackerel, Rhiannon faces past traumas and prepares for mothering a child, knowing that she’s emerging from lockdown a long-haired ‘witch’ lookalike with a little feline familiar. Nothing wrong with that! An entrancing memoir of pet parenthood, the complexities of healing, and supportive love from family and partners.
Something Spectacular (Alexis Hall, Montlake: out now)
One of those rare sequels that’s even better than the first book in the series, this is a welcome return to Regency as you’ve never seen it before. Peggy Delancey is genderfluid and no-nonsense (except when it comes to her best friends Bunny and Belle, who create enough nonsense for everyone). When she meets agender Orfeo, a Farinelli-style rockstar soprano, Peggy must wonder how someone so spectacular can fit into her private dreams of marriage, stability, and parenthood. Featuring more than one session of group sex (including an all-male poetry evening that turns into one), and with a surprisingly moving ending.
Games and Rituals: short stories (Katherine Heiny, 4th Estate: out now)
Mia is a middle-aged mother to high-school student Gordey, wondering if he’s getting ‘baked’ after school (just like she did). Charlie, known as ‘561’ when she worked for a mental health hotline, atones for breaking up her husband's first marriage by helping his ex-wife move house. One man wonders if his Marie Kondo-obsessed wife will donate him to Goodwill, and another is enchanted and maddened by his mercurial mistress, hard-drinking wedding photographer Tessa. Two lost young women face the pandemic with mango margaritas and skincare schemes. As always, this short story collection from Heiny is a recipe for cover-to-cover joy.
What the Foccaccia! (Ginger Jones, Zaffre: out now)
Ramona Matthews, the heroine of What the Foccaccia (great, if hungry-making, title), is a plus-size fashion designer whose genius is only appreciated by her two best mates and her drag queen mentor, Fabrice, aka Polly Darton. When she tries to conquer Milan fashion, she finds herself making a detour to the beautiful village of Altaterra in search of handsome Australian-Italian Raffa, who she meets on the plane – but is he all that he seems? Well-written fun, perfect for a holiday or long weekend - and with some serious focus on the importance of creativity, family, and friendship plus body positivity.
Death of a Bookseller (Alice Slater, Hodder & Stoughton: out now)
Publishing, eh? You wait for ages for a book about booksellers (see: The Rachel Incident) then two come along at once. Performance poet and manic pixie dream girl Laura (stop attacking me, Alice) seems like a regular ‘Pumpkin Spice Basic.’ However, Laura hides a terrible secret; Goth murder-podcast-fanatic Brodie Roach doesn’t, but when her infatuation with darkness starts to include Laura, the two go to war. A great reminder that there’s more than one way to tell a story, this brilliantly-sustained book went straight into the Sunday Times charts, and deservedly so. My first 10/10 of the year.
The Guest (Emma Cline, Random House UK: out now)
Alex, a down-on-her-luck escort in her early twenties, is used to treading water, occupying the area between acceptable and unacceptable, coasting on the fringes of Hamptons high society until something – she can't put her finger on what – goes wrong. Overnight, she goes from being almost-acceptable, silent arm-candy to a train wreck, stealing, popping pills, and trying an avoid an ex-lover bent on revenge. Like another wild story of social downfall, Tama Janowitz's An Awkward Age, this addictive read will have you rooting and cringing for Alex while she scrabbles for survival. In the words of Brandon Taylor on Twitter, ‘HYPERVENTILATING.’
Various Funny Mummies (Clara Batten, Lucy Beaumont, and Katy Cox)
If you fancy something light but emotionally satisfying, Drinking Custard by Lucy Beaumont, Gin and Phonics by Clara Batten or The Mother Load by Katy Cox should do the trick. Lucy Beaumont’s book details her relationship with comedian Jon Richardson, the birth of their daughter Elsie and their move to the countryside, while Tiktok star Clara Batten’s tells the story of a year in her life, including a small film role (and lots of gin). The Mother Load continues the story of a flat-out musician mum, as she finds the best place for her autistic loved ones to thrive and grow.
The Rachel Incident (Caroline O’Donoghue, Virago: 27th June 2023)
Misfit twentysomethings Rachel Murray and James Devlin live together in a run-down student house on Shandon Street in the early noughties, in the aftermath of the Irish economy's collapse. Rachel wants to work in publishing. James wants to go to America and become a comedy writer, but as a working-class Irish gay man without connections, the odds seem stacked against him. When they fall for the same man, it brings them closer as well as exposing the gaps between them. A delightful novel with a light touch, hints of Barbara Trapido, Maeve Binchy and plenty of Will and Grace references!
None of This is True (Lisa Jewell, Random House UK, Cornerstone: 20th July 2023)
Blonde podcaster Alix has the perfect life. Josie Fairs really doesn't. When they meet in an aspirational gastropub on their shared birthday – Alix with a crowd of glowing friends, Josie with her elderly, stuck-in-his-ways husband – a chain of events starts off that ends in chaos. Like Then She Was Gone, Lisa Jewell’s breakout in the thriller genre, this story has a simple, unflinchingly nasty concept and is all the better for it. The cast is small, focused and female-dominated, and it absolutely bangs. Well done, Lisa – sometimes fast and furious is the way to go. I literally couldn't put it down!
The List (Yomi Adegoke, 4th Estate: 20th July 2023)
Ola Olajide and Michael Koranteng, successful media ‘couple goals,’ are getting married in a month. Then one morning, they wake up to The List, a crowdsourced document of abusers – and Michael’s name is on it. Michael’s male friends on WhatApp are brilliantly ventriloquised, as are Ola’s monstrous boss Frankie, a dot-com Karen; Michael’s resigned parents; and Ola’s friends and half-sister, who try to rally around her. A brilliantly observed, nuanced portrayal of our ‘no smoke without fire’ online society which never allows us to forget that Ola and Michael are human beings – flawed, yes, but deserving of a fair trial.
Summer book treasures that I’ve reviewed in other blogs: We Can Be Heroes by Paul Burston, My Own Worst Enemy by Lily Lindon, Preloved by Lauren Bravo, A House for Alice by Diana Evans, Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson, and The Three of Us by Ore Agbaje-Williams.
And what’s on my reading list next? Well, Yellowface by R.F. Kuang, The Whale Tattoo by Jon Ransom and Orpheus Builds a Girl by Heather Parry. Don’t mind if I do!