When we’re on holiday, we tend to read books in a different way: our minds are opened to a whole new array of genres and authors, and our appetite for a good story becomes far more voracious. So which holiday books should we be packing in our suitcases? Here, Stylist’s books editor Francesca Brown does all the hard work for you as she presents the top 11 new books your reading list needs now
June is a delightful mix of established voices (Kate Atkinson, Elizabeth Gilbert, Amy Raphael) returning to what they do best (creating electrifying books that will capture your imagination) alongside some serious new talent you need to know before everyone else does: Zeba Talkhani, Luiza Sauma, Julia Armfield and Xuan Juliana Wang. Tackling everything from what it means to be a Muslim feminist to capturing the zeitgeist, here are the 11 books that will electrify your June reading lists.
The always-great read: Big Sky by Kate Atkinson
Every time a new book by Kate Atkinson is released our hearts sing… which is actually quite often as she must be one of the Britain’s most prolific writers with 11 novels under her belt since 1995; Big Sky is her fifth featuring Jackson Brodie who first appeared in 2004’s Case Histories. The policeman-turned-private investigator is now holed up in North Yorkshire near his teenage son and former partner following would-be adulterers only to be swept up in a case that unites human trafficking and child abuse. However, it’s Atkinson’s wonderfully rich way with words that makes Big Sky another absorbing and affirming read. From the smell of fry-ups “threateningly” lingering to describing a hoodie joined by “his similarly-attired confrères”, every sentence brings the joy of reading to life.
(Out 18 June, Doubleday)
The transporting delight: City Of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Famous for her book of self-discovery, Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert is also a delightful fiction writer and City Of Girls is a whirlwind of 40s showgirls, Manhattan, sex, scandal and life well-lived. As Gilbert writes in her introduction, “I’ve longed to write a novel about promiscuous girls whose lives are not destroyed by the sexual desires”. (She also highlights how hard it is to find just that in the annals of literature citing Tess of The D’Ubervilles and Lily Bart as women who came to a sticky end because of their loves.)
Gilbert also notes that after the loss of a close friend to cancer “this book would go down like a champagne cocktail. So take a break from your troubles, dear ones, and drink up”. She’s done exactly that – give yourself some languid time and space and enjoy!
(Out 4 June, Bloomsbury)
The Muslim feminist memoir: My Past Is a Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani
In this insightful memoir, 28-year-old writer and journalist Zeba Talkhani explores her childhood in the repressive society of Saudi Arabia and her personal journey to become financially independent and married on her own terms in the UK – her individuality as a feminist Muslim.
Written with unflinching honesty, Talkhani unites a portrait of her family and her Muslim faith with tricky experiences including the loss of her hair as a teenager or the uplifting discovery of feminist writers such as Audre Lorde. Her travels via Germany and India open up new worlds but as she attempts to find a job in the UK she’s then faced with Theresa May’s Home Office curtailing the opportunities of international students. Political, personal, religious, revealing and beautifully written, Talkhani is a writer to watch.
(Out 27 June, Sceptre)
The life-affirming read: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World by Elif Shafak
“Never in a thousand years would she agree to be spoken of in the past tense. The very thought of it would make her feel small and defeated… no she would insist on the present tense…” Except Leila – a sex worker in Istanbul – is dead and the 10 minutes and 38 seconds of the title is the time her brain remains active bringing back surging memories of her past and the five people who have shaped her life.
While this might sounds like the saddest of stories, Turkish-British Elif Shafak (author of The Bastard Of Istanbul and Three Daughters of Eve) creates a vibrant and rich world that conjures up a life that’s filled with love and loyalty as Leila discovers a team of misfits who will look after her to the very end.
(Out 6 June, Viking)
The Millennial sci-fi: Everything You Ever Wanted by Luiza Sauma
This is the book where millennial angst meets sci-fi. Iris is in a funk working at a creative agency full of 20-somethings (“older people usually burned out, had children or nervous breakdowns, quit and retrained as some more meaningful, like pastry chefs or yoga teachers”) in London hungover and trapped in a dysfunctional relationships with social media. But then, a new reality TV show is offering contestants the chance to move to another planet called Nyx and live their best lives…
While the sci-fi element is up and down, the success of Sauma’s tale is in its originality – she captures the anxious disconnect between the way people live their lives online and what happens in real life.
(out 27 June, Viking)
The buzzy book: Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Never has a book come with such enthusiastic plaudits. Nigella says, “It is a Great Novel” while one of the funniest writers alive, Maria Semple, describes it as, “brimming with wisdom and utterly of this moment”. You can’t really argue with such descriptors but we can happily confirm that it is chock full with humour and originality (excellent lines include: “She had a face so narrow it was hard to believe it accommodate both eyes”).
Written by New York Times writer Brodesser-Akner, it’s the story of Toby Fleishman a middle-age doctor in the throes of divorce who’s just discovered Tinder. Set against the backdrop of New York in which characters humorously ask for “diet lettuce” in diners or have sex in The Israel Museum, it’s a grown-up comedy that actually has far deeper things to say about love.
(Out 18 June, Wildfire)
The true-life tale: Chanel’s Riviera by Anne De Courcy
“In the summer of 1938, the burning question on the Riviera was not what Germany was going to do next but whether or not to curtsey to the Duchess of Windsor…” Love a bit of real-life sex, disappointment and scandal from some of the 20th century’s biggest icons (Chanel and her German lover, the artist Salvador Dalí, the author Edith Wharton…) all set against an impossibly luxurious and elegant French backdrop? Then Anne De Courcy’s biography of a very select time and place is for you. Providing insight into the occupation of France and its terrifying impact on rich and poor alike, you’ll come away from reading it both better informed and utterly transported.
(Out 13 June, W&N)
The #metoo music moment: A Seat At The Table by Amy Raphael
Kate Tempest, Clara Amfo, Ibeyi, Georgia, Tracey Thorn… Journalist Amy Raphael talks to 18 incredible women about their experiences as musicians and the music industry (sadly her original ground-breaking 1995 book, Never Mind The Bollocks, which featured Courtney Love and Bjork is no longer in print) with fascinating and illuminating results.
Musician Nadine Shah explains the only fashion house she’s ever worked with who hasn’t commented on her size is Vivienne Westwood (“Now I dress myself. It’s simply less demoralising”) while Kalie Shorr remembers setting up meetings in Nashville only to discover that she was on a date. Sexism is alive and kicking but all of these women prove that their art is what sees them through and will lead the change.
(Out 6 June, Virago)
The creepiest of thrillers: Who Killed Ruby? by Camilla Way
A taut, creepy thriller, Who Killed Ruby?, is Camilla Way’s fifth book and continues her fascination with childhoods blighted with darkness. Full disclosure: Way used to be a member of the Stylist team and, knowing her softer side, it’s alarming where her mind is capable of going…
Eight-year-old Viv is the main witness in her pregnant sister’s murder and she is responsible for sending the killer to prison but now she’s grown with her own teenage daughter and plagued with confusion over what actually happened. This is an excellent tale that does actually leave your reeling and reviewing exactly what just happened when you reach the end.
(out 27 June, HarperCollins)
The bright new talent: Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang
In just 12 stories, Wang manages to whip up the portrait of a generation. Whether describing “fuerdai” (second-generation rich) boys who’ve been sent to the US to study only to return home in disgrace or “Bei Piao – a term coined to describe the twentysomethings who drift aimlessly to the northern capital”, she jumps from one person’s story to another breathing life into their characters and complexities. Proving herself to be an incredible new talent and giving voice Chinese millennials, this is a short story collection you need to read this summer.
(Out 6 June, Atlantic)
The gothic short stories: salt slow by Julia Armfield
Remember the name Julia Armfield as this will be the year that salt slow bubbles under then pops up everywhere on best-of lists and literary prizes. Winner of the 2018 White Review Short Story Prize Winner for The Great Awake in which whole cities come down with insomnia (“It was described more commonly as a phenomenon than as a disaster; one medical journal referred to it as an amputation of sorts, the removal of the sleep-state from the body”), this short story collection expands on Armfield’s ability to meld the psychological with the physical. Read just one tale from this disturbing collection and you’ll find yourself clamped between the collection’s jaws. Because, visceral, perturbing and exhilarating, these stories are something really special.
(out now, Pan Macmillan)
Main image: Unsplash by Thought Catalog
Book jackets: Supplied