The best summer reads for 2020 (whatever you’re in the mood for)

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Update your reading list with books out in summer 2020.

What makes a great summer read is a very personal taste: from a trip down memory lane with the classics, finally picking up that doorstopper (The Mirror And The Light, we’re looking at you) or catching up on this year’s must-reads, this is the season to properly lose yourself in your favourite sort of books. 

From frothy (socially distanced) beach reads and brilliant fiction to gripping feminist thrillers via traffic-stopping memoirs, we’ve compiled the biggest, most exciting titles of the summer into handy genres so you can pick and choose the perfect reading list to suit your literary needs – and no one else’s. Happy reading!

Discover the best, most addictive and beloved reads of summer 2020. 

  • Addictive thrillers for lost afternoons

    This summer, it’s all about envy culture: Harriet Walker’s The New Girl (out 9 July, £12.99, Hodder), set against a backdrop of magazines, explores female friendships while ramping up the tension and is ideal for lazing in the sun with – as is Louise Candlish’s addictive The Other Passenger (out now, £11.99, Simon & Schuster) which pits Millennial renters against Generation X property owners. Araminta Hall’s Imperfect Women (out 20 August, £12.99, Orion) mines that grey area where friends’ lives feed our own insecurities to dazzling effect while Helen Monks Takhar’s Precious You (out 23 July, £12.99, HarperCollins) has a deliciously vitriolic intern railing against her boss, Brexit and beyond… 

    For a totally different vibe, you can’t go wrong with Attica Locke’s magnetic Ranger Darren Matthews series which are procedurals that reveal the systemic racism of the US; the creepy Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis (out 9 July, £7.35, Penguin) conjures up 80s horror movies while Kate Reed Petty’s True Story (out 4 August, £14.99, Quercus) is where our obsession with true-life crime meets page-turner.

    Other thrillers not to miss this year include Harriet Tyce’s gripping and intelligent The Lies You Told, Rosamund Lupton’s Three Hours, Lucy Atkins’ Magpie Lane, Sharon Bolton’s The Split, Philippa East’s Little White Lies and Jessica Moor’s Keeper

  • The unmissable memoirs

    Leading the list of books that everyone will be talking about this year is Coming Undone by Terri White (out 2 July, £14,99, Canongate). Written by journalist and editor White, this is a raw read which unflinchingly portrays a childhood marred by abuse and its direct effect on White’s adult life (as she becomes ever more successful in New York and London, her mental health and self-preservation hit rock bottom through drink, drugs and self-harm.). Written with power, love and heart, it’ll leave you wanting to read so much more by this extraordinary writer and woman.

    Other incredible memoirs this summer include Asian American writer Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know (out 2 July, £9.99, Pushkin), an insightful and warm exploration of her own adoption into an American family and the truth behind her roots. Susanna Moore’s Miss Aluminium (out now, £9.99, Orion), is a fascinating look into the false glitter of Hollywood while former editor-at-large of US Vogue Andre Leon Talley’s The Chiffon Trenches doesn’t hold back on the prejudice and racism that pervades the fashion industry (out now, £16.05, HarperCollins). Plus, don’t miss Eleanor Crewes’ gorgeous, moving and funny graphic memoir, The Times I Knew I Was Gay (out 16 July, £12.05, Virago). 

  • 2020’s biggest books to catch up on...

    The best summer reads for 2020: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet
    The best summer reads for 2020: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet

    Brit Bennet’s The Vanishing Half (£14.99, Little, Brown) has won huge numbers of fans thanks its mix of effortless storytelling and deftly woven plot about two sisters who take very different paths. Hitting a timely nerve about racism, freedom and expectation, Bennet’s book is a must-read for 2020 alongside Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham (£12.65, Transworld) which really blossoms in the second half (the ending will reduce you to tears)the paperback release of Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other (£7.89, Penguin, as our local bookseller @StokeyBookshop said: “It’s like Normal People – just when you think everyone has bought it, people buy even more”) and the ever-original Jenny Offill’s Weather (£9.69, Granta). 

  • The brilliant non-fiction

    The best summer reads for 2020: Dear NHS edited by Adam Kay
    The best summer reads for 2020: Dear NHS edited by Adam Kay

    Dear NHS: 100 Stories To Say Thank You is curated and edited by Adam Kay (out 9 July, £16.99, Orion) and features essays from Malala Yousafzai, Emma Watson and Emilia Clarke to name a few. Celebrating one of humanity’s greatest inventions and with proceeds going to NHS Charities Together and The Lullaby Trust, everyone should be buying this book (and, for younger readers, the upcoming We Love The NHSout 5 July, £8.99, Fisherton is a brilliant buy). 

    For other can’t-miss essay collections, keep an eye out for Zadie Smith’s lockdown collection, Intimations (out 6 August, £5.99, Penguin); Sex Robots & Vegan Meat by Jenny Kleeman (out 9 July, £13.19, Picador) which looks at where we might be headed next as humans (spoiler: it’s a bit worrying); Lily Cole’s uplifting and much-needed Who Cares Wins (out 16 July, £15.39, Penguin) and Pandora Sykes’ How Do We Know We’re Doing It Right? (out 16 July, £12.99, Cornerstone) which smartly tackles everything from consumerism to wellness. Also make space on your reading list for Natasha Gregson Wagner’s More Than Love about her mother actress Natalie Wood exploring her career, life and the complex circumstances around her untimely death (out 14 July, £20, Simon & Schuster). 

  • The family tales you shouldn't miss

    The best summer reads for 2020: One Year Of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie
    The best summer reads for 2020: One Year Of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie

    One Year Of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie (out 23 July, £10.95) is a riotous, serious, brilliant and entertaining story about one illegal family’s move from Venezuela to Trinidad where they find themselves at the mercy of the local crime lord. Emma Straub’s All Adults Here (out 9 July, £11.55, Penguin) is a novel about dysfunctional grown-up siblings and Clare Lombardo’s The Most Fun We Ever Had (out 9 July, £8.99, Orion) is now in paperback with comparisons to Anne Tyler and Maria Semple (high praise, indeed). Finally, Hashim & Family (out now, £14.99, John Murray) by Shahnaz Ahsan has won an army of ardent readers for its portrayal of immigration in the UK and what home means to us all. 

  • Exceptional short stories

    The best summer reads for 2020: Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta
    The best summer reads for 2020: Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta

    Frying Plantain is an outstanding debut of stories by Zalika Reid-Benta (out 13 August, £14.99, Dialogue) set in Toronto’s Little Jamaica as the character of Kara moves from girlhood to adulthood navigating black identity in a white society and mother-daughter tensions. Many People Die Like You by Lina Wolff (translated by Saskia Vogel, out 4 August, £10, & Other Stories) is dark, wicked and funny while Jess Arndt’s Large Animals (out 6 August, £9.99, Cipher Press) radically examines gender and body and will leave you wanting more. And, definitely don’t miss Kit de Waal’s Supporting Cast (out 30 July, £8.99, Penguin) which includes stories of everyday lives that will resonate and move you utterly. 

    If you haven’t had the chance to pick up Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie (out now, £14.99, Little, Brown), it’s an incredible mix of absurd and brilliantly unexpected stories. And, pre-order Love In Colour: Mythical Tales From Around The World by Bolu Babalola which is set to be huge this autumn (out 20 August, £13.19, Headline). 

  • Soothing poetry

    The best summer reads for 2020: Quixotic Nature by F Khorsandjamal
    The best summer reads for 2020: Quixotic Nature by F Khorsandjamal

    Quixotic Nature by F Khorsandjamal (out now, £7.99) is a delicate collection of poems that will bring comfort to anyone suffering loss and mourning love. Filled with short-yet-piercing verses, it’s a reminder that navigating through tough times isn’t easy but that solace can be found in art and the world around us. Similarly, Della Hicks-Wilson’s timely Small Cures (out now, £12.99) brings together 150 poems into one interconnected verse while advocating self-love and much-needed healing for us all. Other collections out in July include Natalie Diaz’ Postcolonial Love Poem (out 16 July, £10.99, Faber) and Ariana Reines’ A Sand Book (out 30 July, £12.99, Penguin) which is a blistering exploration of our present crazy era. 

  • Really entertaining reads

    The best summer reads for 2020: The Shelf by Helly Acton
    The best summer reads for 2020: The Shelf by Helly Acton

    For some really truly entertaining reads (the best sort for summer) then you need the following: The Shelf by Helly Acton (out 9 July, £8.99, Bonnier Books) which is a feminist takedown of reality TV; Charlotte Wood’s The Weekend (out now, £12.05, W&N) about longheld friendships and Angela Makholwa’s The Blessed Girl (out now, £8.99, Bloomsbury) which blows apart the South African society with one of fiction’s most dynamic heroines and has been nominated for a Comedy Women In Print Prize.Beth O’Leary’s comfort reading delight, The Switch (out now, £8.99, Quercus) and Isabelle Broom’s sweet and transporting Hello, Again (out 9 July, £8.99, Hodder) is just the tonic we need right now. Follow these up with Rachel Joyce’s uplifting Miss Benson’s Beetle (out 23 July, £16.99, Doubleday) and The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle by Neil Blackmore which is described as “The Favourite meets… The Talented Mr Ripley” (out 13 August, £10.49, Hutchinson) and Valerie Perrin’s delightful Fresh Water For Flowers (out 9 July, £11.09, Europa) which is a funny and moving story of one woman’s belief that everything will turn out right. 

  • Incredible fantasy and sci-fi

    The best summer reads for 2020: The Court Of Miracles by Kester Grant
    The best summer reads for 2020: The Court Of Miracles by Kester Grant

    Strong, feminist fantasy is taking over this summer with Kester Grant’s The Court Of Miracles reimagining the characters of Les Miserables in a world where the French Revolution failed (out now, £10.95, HarperVoyager) while Sarah J Maas’ first novel for adults, House Of Earth And Blood (out now, £16.99, Bloomsbury), is a tale of one woman’s pursuit of truth through dark worlds mixed in with some seriously good writing. Also, one to really watch is The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson (out 4 August, £12.05, Hodder) which has parallel worlds but also real resonance with our current societies. 

  • Fiction gems

    The best summer reads for 2020: Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
    The best summer reads for 2020: Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

    Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers (out 9 July, £12.05, W&N) is a beautiful and moving read set in 1950s suburbia that’ll be on bookseller tables across the land this summer along with Amanda Craig’s The Golden Rule about two abused women who meet on a train and decide to take their revenge (out 2 July, £14.99, Little, Brown).

    All My Lies Are True
    (out 9 July, £12.99, Headline) by Dorothy Koomson is a follow-up to The Ice-Cream Girls which also examines abuse and its effects on families that’s written with verve and insight while the unmissable Sarah Crossan’s first adult book, Here Is The Beehive (out 20 August, £12.99, Bloomsbury), is incredible and should be read alongside Sarah Moss’ Summerwater (out 20 August, £12.05, Pan Macmillan) which is a tense and atmospheric tale of a rainy day on a Scottish cabin resort. 

    Room author Emma Donoghue returns with The Pull Of The Stars (out 23 July, £16.99, Picador) takes place in Dublin during the 1918 pandemic (we know, we know but it’s worth it). The Irish connection continues with As You Were by Elaine Feeney (out 20 August, £14.99, Harvill Secker) that unflinchingly explores the country’s past and present and is the perfect partner to Caroline O’Donoghue’s Scenes Of A Graphic Nature (out 6 August, £16.99, Virago) which also examines self-mythology and long-repressed secrets.

    For some blisteringly feminist works about the truth of modern life of women across the globe, Frances Cha’s If I Had Your Face (out 23 July, £12.99, Viking) pulls no punches on contemporary Seoul while Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts And Eggs (out 20 August, £14.99, Picador) lacerates Japan. Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar (out 30 July, £11.55, Hamish Hamilton) explores mother-daughter relationships with pure precision. You got some serious book buying ahead of you… 

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Francesca Brown

Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Stylist Loves; she also compiles the Style List on a weekly basis. She is a self-confessed HBO abuser and has a wide selection of grey sweatshirts. Honestly, you just can’t have enough. @franabouttown

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