The term ‘summer read’ often conjures up the idea of a book that’s quick to read and even quicker to forget, one that captures your attention for as long as you’re in its world, but is easily abandoned by the side of a pool or in the seat pocket of a plane.
But it doesn’t have to be that way – and it shouldn’t be. A summer read should make you feel something; should be a story you get totally lost in now you have the time and space to sit (or lie) with it; should grab you while you’re actively reading but also for a long time after, whenever you think about that book.
So here is a summer reading list that will make you feel everything from joy to despair to rage – and hope.
Honey and Spice by Bolu Babalola
Pop culture aficionado Bolu Babalola’s second book – the follow up to her brilliant short story collection Love in Colour – is a witty romantic comedy. Sharp-tongued Kiki Banjo is the host of a popular student radio show where she makes sure the women of the Afro-Caribbean Society at Whitewell University do not fall into the mess of players, ‘situationships’, and heartbreak. But when she meets Malakai Korede, her defences are weakened. After a clash sees them having to fake a relationship, she finds herself falling for the very man she warned others about. A sweet and funny book that will warm your heart.
I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Teokbokki by Baek Sehee (translated by Anton Hur)
This memoir was a bestseller in the author’s native South Korea, and follows the social media director as she begins seeing a psychotherapist. Sehee feels persistently low and anxious, but also judgmental of others, and summoning the energy to do anything but eat her favourite street food, teokbokki, is exhausting. But is this just modern life? Talking to her therapist over 12 weeks, Baek begins to unlock the behaviours and reactions that keep her in a cycle of self-abuse. A book to make you feel like there’s a way out, even in the darkest of times.
The Museum of Ordinary People by Mike Gayle
After her mother’s death, Jess has to go through her childhood home and empty it. During the process, she stumbles across the mysterious Alex, and they become joint custodians of a strange archive of letters, photographs and curios known as The Museum of Ordinary People. Delving into the ‘museum’, the pair begin to unravel heartbreaking stories spanning generations and continents, as well as secrets that have lain buried for years. Inspired by a box of mementos found abandoned in a skip following a house clearance, Mike Gayle’s book s a poignant look at grief and the things we leave behind.
The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi
The first in an epic fantasy series, The Final Strife is set in a world where blood determines status. Sylah is a teenager who was destined to bring down the ruling class by winning the Aktibar, a set of trials held every 10 years to determine the Rulers of the Empire. But when her family are brutally murdered, she withdraws – until a chance encounter sparks her need for revenge. Featuring a love triangle, an enemies to lovers arc, and plenty of intrigue, this read will have you running the full gamut of emotions.
Original Sins by Matt Rowland Hill
Matt Rowland Hill grew up in an evangelical Christian household, moving with his family from the Welsh valleys to the English home counties to Nazareth. After losing his faith in his late teens, he embarked on a journey to find salvation elsewhere. Original Sins recounts his subsequent addictions to crack and heroin in his twenties, the dark places those addictions take him, and the ways in which he rediscovers hope. Fearless, insightful and brilliantly written, this memoir is a tough but rewarding read that should leave you feeling inspired.
Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest novel is set in the world of championship tennis. At 31, Carrie Soto is the best player the sport has ever seen, sacrificing almost everything on her way to shattering records and claiming 20 Grand Slam titles. But six years after her retirement, she watches as that record is taken by a British player named Nicki Chan. And so, aged 37, Carrie comes out of retirement for one last season to reclaim her crown, swallowing her pride to train with the man she once almost opened her heart to do so. This novel will sweep you off your feet, and also make you root for Carrie every step of the way.
Black Sheep by Sabrina Pace-Humphreys
Sabrina Pace-Humphreys is a mother of four and grandmother of three, an award-winning businesswoman, an ultra runner, a social justice activist – and a recovering alcoholic. When she was two, her parents – a white Scottish Roman Catholic woman and a Black man – separated and she moved with her mother and white-presenting sister to a small town where no one looked like her. Black Sheep recounts her experience of rural racism, and of always feeling like an outsider, sometimes even in her own home. It’s also a book about how, ultimately, someone can not only survive but thrive in spite of their past.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
Sam and Sadie first meet in a hospital gaming room in 1987, and bond over their love of video games. Years later, the pair encounter each other again in a crowded train station, and begin working together on making games that delight, challenge and immerse their players. These collaborations lead them to money, fame, duplicity and tragedy. This is a novel about love, gaming, creativity and more, but ultimately about finding connection and redemption.
Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley
Leila Mottley’s debut novel is rage-inducing, yet full of heart and tenderness. It follows 17-year-old Kiara Johnson, whose mother is in a rehab facility and whose brother is too busy trying to become a rapper to look after his family. Kiara, trying to survive and look after nine-year-old neighbour Trevor, is forced to turn to prostitution to try and make ends meet. When she’s picked up by the police one night, she finds herself in a nightmare situation, where her only way out is to trying to tell the truth to a world that doesn’t want to listen to her. Inspired by a real-life case, this an agonising read told with great humanity.
Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda
Lydia is hungry, all the time, but the only thing she can eat is blood. Living away from her mother for the first time, squatting in an artist’s studio space, she’s finding it ever harder to source fresh pigs’ blood. The hungrier she gets, the harder she finds it to concentrate on her gallery job, on the strange men who follow her after dark, and especially on Ben, the artist she’s developing feelings for. As she tries to exist in the world, she must reconcile the conflicts within her, and she must, above all, eat. Claire Kohda’s novel is a new interpretation of vampires, and an absorbing – and sometimes hunger-inducing! – read.
The Movement by Ayisha Malik
What would happen if, instead of sharing our every thought and opinion, we just shut up? Ayisha Malik’s new novel examines just this through Sara Javed who, tired of everyone shouting about something, decides to stop talking. At first, people don’t understand her silence, but she soon becomes the figurehead of a global movement that splits society in two. This book features Malik’s trademark wit and humour, and will make you think deeply about what it means to have a voice, and how you use it.