From gripping romance to feminist history: 10 blistering summer reads for August

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Sarah Shaffi
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August should be a quiet month, but the books on offer in the midst of summer are as varied as the weather, and a whole lot more exciting.

For those who haven’t got the time for a full novel, or who want something to dip in and out of, there are two great short story collections out in August - What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah and Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart.

If you’re looking to lose yourself in great characters and plot but also want something suitable for the beach, there is Sarra Manning’s The House of Secrets, Sonya Lalli’s The Arrangement and Sophie Hannah’s Did You See Melody?, all completely different but equally compelling.

J Courtney Sullivan’s Saints For All Occasions and Nicole Krauss’ Forest Dark are absorbing novels you’ll want to shut out the world to spend time with.

And finally in non-fiction Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am, I Am, I Am is jaw-droppingly good, while Carina Chocano’s You Play the Girl is a fascinating study of, well, The Girl, and Damon Young’s The Art of Reading is perfect for avid and lapsed readers (and anyone in between).

Happy reading.

  • What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

    This is an extraordinary short story collection exploring pain, difficult lives and wanting things which remain out of reach. With What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky Nneka Arimah, who won the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa, shows that talented authors don't need hundreds of pages to create rich, deeply emotional, captivating stories.

    (Tinder Press, £14.99

  • The House of Secrets by Sarra Manning

    To be honest, Manning could write an instruction manual for a microwave and I'd still read and love it. In The House of Secrets, Zoe and Win, reeling from tragedy, move into a house in Highgate in 2016 and find an old suitcase filled with letters and a diary. In 1936, Libby is trying to recover after her own tragedy. The two women's lives play out in this dual narrative story, which is filled with warmth and great characters.

    (Sphere, £7.99)

  • You Play the Girl by Carina Chocano

    Partly a memoir, partly a look at how pop culture moulds and shapes the view of 'The Girl', this book is the perfect read for anyone fascinated with how our identities are moulded by the things we see and read. Encompassing Chocano's thoughts on everything from Playboy to Alice in Wonderland, via Bewitched and more, You Play the Girl is an essential critical work.

    (Virago, £14.99)

  • Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

    In the US, Sour Heart is being published by Lena Dunham's imprint, Lenny Books. Zhang's short story collection is a powerful look at family, femininity and otherness, which starts with a bang (and pages of discussion on bodily functions). Sour Heart is funny and shocking and moving and taboo breaking and we'll all be talking about it this summer.

    (Bloomsbury Circus, £16.99)

  • The Art of Reading by Damon Young

    I read A LOT, and luckily I love most of what I read, but sometimes even I find myself in a bit of a slump and forget how wonderful it is that type on a page can conjure up vivid worlds. In The Art of Reading, Young shows us how to cultivate our inner critic and read better, while celebrating reading and readers.

    Scribe, RRP £9.99, buy it here

  • Saints for All Occasions by J Courtney Sullivan

    Saints for All Occasions opens with a tragedy striking Nora's family. Fifty years before, Nora and her sister Theresa left Ireland for America, where Theresa ended up pregnant, forcing Nora to come up with a plan the sisters were too young to understand the consequences of. Now Nora, the matriarch of a big Catholic family, and Theresa, a cloistered nun who hasn't seen her family in years, must confront the choices of their past.

    (Fleet, £16.99)

  • The Arrangement by Sonya Lalli

    Raina is approaching 30 and her family, and her whole community, are waiting for her to get married. With no prospects in sight, her grandmother plays matchmaker, compiling a (hilarious and detailed) list of men for Raina to date. Eager not to disappoint, Raina goes along with the plan, but when the love of her life (and heartbreaker), Dev, returns, Raina is forced to confront her feelings. This is a perfect romance to lose yourself in.

    (Orion, £8.99)

  • I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell

    O'Farrell is best known as a novelist, but I Am, I Am, I Am is a completely different offering. In each of 17 chapters O'Farrell recounts an encounter she has had with death, from a childhood illnesses to an encounter on a remote country path. As absorbing as any work of fiction, I Am, I Am, I Am took my breath away.

    (Tinder Press, £18.99)

  • Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss

    Forest Dark opens with the disappearance of Jules Epstein, a wealthy lawyer last seen in Tel Aviv. The novel then moves backwards, revealing Epstein was going through huge changes in his life. Intercut with his story is that of an unnamed author, who travels to Israel to try to cure her writer's block. While there, she encounters an elderly man who has a theory about Kafka. This is a skilfully crafted, intriguing novel about transformation.

    (Bloomsbury, £16.99)

  • Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah

    Running away from her family for two weeks to a resort in Arizona, Cara Burrows stumbles into the wrong hotel room, where she encounters a man and a teenage girl who both have an air of strangeness about them. Could the girl be Melody, the most famous murder victim in the world? In Hannah’s capable hands, the psychological thriller is elevated. 

    (Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99)


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Sarah Shaffi

Sarah Shaffi is a freelance journalist and editor. She reads more books a week than is healthy, and balances this out with copious amounts of TV. She writes regularly about popular culture, particularly how it reflects and represents society.