I could easily have written a post about twenty suggestions for gripping summer reading, or even thirty, but I thought it best to keep it short. Each of the novels listed below has been selected either because of its beautiful writing, its compelling storyline, or in some cases, both. So here you are then, my recommended summer reading list, in no order of preference.
1. Take it Back by Kia Abdullah – a tense courtroom drama that keeps you turning the pages and guessing right to the very end. Jodie Wolfe, a 16-year-old girl with facial deformities, accuses four boys of raping her. Zara, the barrister protagonist who has given up a high-flying career in order to work at a sexual assault centre, is determined to represent the underprivileged in society, including the alleged victim of this shocking rape. But who is telling the truth? Utterly compelling reading, with characters that spring off the pages.
2. Dark Chapter by Winnie M Li – a harrowing story based on true events, about an American-Taiwanese tourist in Ireland who is brutally raped by a 15-year-old teenager living on the fringes of society. The author looks at the lives of both characters, and the circumstances that led up to the assault one unsuspecting summer’s afternoon in the beautiful hills of Ireland. The writing is beautiful, compelling, and shocking where it needs to shock. A courageous book that will keep you turning the pages.
3. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – a deeply moving portrayal of the trials of young love and marriage when put to the test of incarceration. The plight of black Americans is powerfully depicted, allowing the non-American white reader into a world they would not normally have access to, other than via the occasional media coverage. Powerful stuff, with an unexpected but very satisfying ending.
4. Normal People by Sally Rooney – after reading the first few pages of this novel, I wasn’t sure about it. But once I got further into the storyline, and the protagonists developed from high school kids into university and post-university adults, I soon became totally caught up in their complex, addictive yet destructive relationship. A sensitive, beautifully written novel set in Ireland, and an all-round compelling read.
5. The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn – a taut and very noir psychological thriller about an agoraphobic woman who spends her days spying from the windows of her solitary home, and inadvertently witnesses what she believes to be a murder in the house across the road. But with her psychological instability, who is going to believe her? A brilliant read – just could not put it down! Rather reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Rear View Window.
6. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides – another taut psychological thriller. This one is about a woman who lost her voice after murdering her husband and subsequently being institutionalised. Then along comes the male protagonist, a psychiatrist who is determined to crack the mystery behind the silence of his recondite patient. A great premise for a thriller, and certainly very clever. While not the best writing I’ve come across, the sheer intrigue alone kept me turning the pages until the totally unexpected ending.
7. The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth – ah, families and all their strife … where would we be without them? Although this novel is essentially a domestic drama (somewhat in the style of Joanna Trollope), the underlying thread throughout is who killed the mother-in-law? – therefore using a standard thriller ploy to keep you guessing to the very end. The denouement is both unexpected and satisfying. Perhaps because the characters are so relatable, I found myself particularly touched by this book.
8. Miracle Creek by Angie Kim – an all-consuming drama centering round the gripping hook: who set fire to the ‘miracle submarine’, an experimental tank for patients with various disorders, killing two people and maiming several others in the process? The writer skilfully weaves together elements of crime, culture clashes, immigration, prejudice, and disability. A powerful concoction which kept me guessing, and after the last page made me ponder: how do some people get through the hugely diversified lives and circumstances they’ve been allotted?
9. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – the story of Kya, better known by the local villagers as the ‘marsh girl’, a child who was abandoned by her impoverished family and forced to fend for herself in a tumbledown shack out in the wilds. It’s a tale of love, hope and determination; the will to persevere against all odds, framed against the haunting backdrop of the North Carolina coastline. There are two concurrent timelines that interweave throughout the novel – one of them involving a murder in the late 1960s, the other following Kya’s childhood and youth in the 1950s – until eventually both timelines converge into a powerful denouement.
10. Once Upon a Thousand Hills by Wendy Skorupski – Two worlds combine in a gripping narrative that perfectly combines tragedy and humour (Amazon reviewer). Naomi Lieberman works as a sales assistant at a sex shop in Soho, unbeknownst to her Orthodox Jewish parents in Liverpool. Fed up with her duplicitous life, she volunteers at a local refugee centre, run by the enigmatic John Paul Chambers from Rwanda. When the two unlikely characters meet, their polarized worlds are shattered to the core. Okay, so I suppose it’s a bit cheeky of me to include this novel, as those of you who follow my blog will know. But what the hell?