Books

August’s best new books: thinking thrillers, escapist joys and legends return

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Francesca Brown
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August books roundup

Trying to decide which beach read is worth your time this summer? Stylist’s books editor Francesca Brown reveals August’s biggest new titles, all of which are essential holiday packing.

Whether stuck on a sticky commute or basking in Med sunshine, you’ll be pleased to know that August is awash with bookish gems to transport and entertain. 

With incredible releases from writing legends including Deborah Levy and Malorie Blackman, brilliant non-fiction by Sara Pascoe and Rhik Samadder, stunning debuts from Dana Czapnik and Kate Weinberg alongside addictive stories such Louise Doughty’s much-anticipated Platform Seven and the seriously good Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane, August has you covered. 

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So, without any further ado, here’s our pick of the summer’s best new holiday books

Happy reading

The new Little Fires Everywhere: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

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Ready for a sweeping tale to properly lose yourself in? Opening in 70s New York, Ask Again, Yes introduces us to two rookie cops: Irish immigrant Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope who both decide to swap the chaos of the city for the American idyll of Gillam, a quiet upstate suburb of green lawns and gracious houses. But their wives – Lena and Anne – fail to make a connection for reasons we only begin to understand later and it’s not until their children connect that the families’ tales begin to interweave.

Exploring mental health, grief, forgiveness and love, this conjures up the work of Celeste Ng and Anne Tyler – and we can’t give higher praise than that. The perfect summer read in short.

(out 8 August, Penguin)

The uplifting and heartbreaking memoir: I Never Said I Loved You by Rhik Samadder

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Actor and newspaper columnist Rhik Samadder has written what might be one of the most definitive books on depression with insight, delicacy and an unexpected amount of humour – it touches on raw subjects but, somehow, is so funny and human.

Finding himself, aged 29, on a backpacking holiday around Australia and Thailand with his mother (“She was loving it; I was dragging the meat of my own carcass around”), Samadder begins to unpack and honestly examine what has caused his lifetime of mental health issues. From the loss of his dad to serious childhood trauma, he examines why he’s been so ill-at-ease in his own skin and how we all bury the things we don’t want to see – but that life doesn’t have to be that way. 

(out 8 August, Headline)

The book everyone is talking about: The Falconer by Dana Czapnik      

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Once in a while a character comes along that gives voice to our own lives, our own heads and a chafing for something more: The Falconer’s teenage heroine Lucy Adler is IT. Set in 90s New York, she’s frustrated by a world that isn’t designed for her, where her well-connected schoolmates want to pigeon-hole her and where her best friend is oblivious to her love for him. Where her only true escape is on the basketball court: “The old dudes leave, citing the obvious excuses: Gotta get home… I know the real reason. No fun getting your asses handed to you by a couple of high school kids, especially when one of them is a seventeen-year-old girl.”

With a voice that’ll make you want to tear through its 274 pages, Adler’s sweet discoveries of feminism and self-belief are a joy to behold while its last line (don’t peek) is worth getting tattooed on your wrist. Don’t miss it.

(out 1 August, Faber)

The subversive thriller: Platform Seven by Louise Doughty

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Since Doughty is the writer behind Apple Tree Yard, it’s easy to go into Platform Seven with ill-conceived preconceptions. Set in the commuter station of Peterborough… a writer who’s explored self-deception and adulterous sex… The Girl On The Train 2? Well (without giving away any spoilers), it’s not that at all.

Yes, there’s a mystery and characters who aren’t what they seem, a cast of people (including the wonderful Dalmar) struggling with demons and explorations of destructive relationships but also it’s a tale of love and redemption told with careful, incisive writing in a genre that’s totally unexpected. The perfect thriller that’ll grab your attention and keep it there with twists, turns and revelations. 

(out 22 August, Faber)

The YA legend: Crossfire by Malorie Blackman

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Much has been made recently over Millennials’ love of nostalgic culture with reports citing a refusal to embrace adulthood as one of its main draws. What that conclusion doesn’t reckon with is just how political, tough and prescient YA books can be – it doesn’t matter how old you are – it’s the genre that’s not afraid to pull punches.

Back in 2001, Malorie Blackman published her first Noughts & Crosses book which portrayed an alternative 21st century in which Africans (crosses) enslaved those of European-descent (noughts) leading to segregation and racial oppression. It went on to become a publishing sensation – and while Blackman herself admits she thought the series was over – then came Brexit, the Windrush scandal and Trump. And, once again, in her latest book Crossfire, Blackman captures the uncomfortably familiar zeitgeist as a power-hungry Prime Minister sweeps into office… 

(out 8 August, Penguin)

The feminist eye-opener: Sex Power Money by Sarah Pascoe

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With Sara Pascoe’s follow-up to the highly successful book, Animal, under tight embargo, we can’t tell you everything about its content but essentially it’s a part-comic, part-anthropological take on sex and humans’ bizarre approach to it. 

Fusing together Pascoe’s inimitable comic voice with interviews and blow-your-mind research, the book explores everything from the lack of workers’ rights and protections in the sex industry to the history of sexual representation. One of autumn’s most anticipated titles – expect it to be everywhere.

(out 29 August, Faber)

The historical thriller: Breakfast in Bogota by Helen Young

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Set in 1947 in Colombia’s high-altitude and elegant city of Bogota, this tale of personal tragedy and political violence is utterly entrancing bringing to life a shocking chapter in South America’s history. 

Written with a delicate attention to detail (you can smell the shot of inky black coffee gulped down on the corner or the chaos of rioting citizens running in fear), it’s the story of Luke Vosey, an emotionally broken British architect who finds himself trying to forget a past – and a love – only to place himself at the heart of a country’s civil war. Ambitious and written with love, this is totally worth your time.

(out 8 August, Unbound)

The Booker nomination: The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy

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Deborah Levy is a delicious writer who doesn’t take her readers for fools and The Man Who Saw Everything is an ambitious-sliding-impossible-to-categorise read that’ll leave you thrilled, entertained and possibly baffled in equal measure.

With two narratives set around the famous Abbey Road crossing (which featured on the front cover the eponymous Beatles album), it’s the tale of Saul who is hit on the crossing in 1989 and recovers. It’s also the tale of Saul who is hit on the crossing in 2016 and is left battered and hurt in a hospital bed. Jumping from a bullied Stalin to eyeliner and Beatles songs via love, death and flawed lives, it’s the perfect bedfellow for these disorientating times.

(out 29 August, Hamish Hamilton)

The book you’ll fall in love with: The Truants by Kate Weinberg

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The Truants opens with narrator Jess Walker furiously typing a note to her tutor after losing her place on a course entitled The Devil Has the Best Lines: “I am writing to tell you just how crushed I am by this news”. Full of the self-righteousness that only a fresher student can muster, it’s a telling insight into just how funny The Truants is despite its (inevitable and also accurate) comparisons to The Secret History. Yet, with a small band of overly intimate students, a mysterious-yet-inspiring tutor, obsession and a whodunnit, there’s much to place it in the same bracket as Donna Tartt but there are also nods to a much-mentioned Agatha Christie. There’s also an ending that’ll leave you thinking and thinking about this plot for weeks, if not months, later; one of the standout books of the summer.

(out 8 August, Bloomsbury) 

The perfect holiday read: The Postcard by Zoe Folbigg

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Finding a really good holiday read is no easy task. You want something light but well-written, easy-to-follow but also that little bit surprising and, also crucially, witty… And Folbigg’s follow-up to The Note (based on the author’s own rom-comesque meeting with her now husband) meets all the criteria with verve and warmth. 

Picking up the story of Maya and James, The Postcard explores what happens beyond the “happily ever after”. Yes, the pair of them are still in love, but even on a dream journey across the globe can they survive the slings and arrows of the day to day or the trickiness of divergent ambitions? And, it’s not just them: Maya’s best friend Nena is trapped in the throes of early motherhood while her husband Tom is struggling too. Filled with wanderlust, funny asides and escapism, this is essential beach packing. 

(out 8 August, Head of Zeus)

Images: Alessia Armenise/PR provided