Culture Writers recommend their favourite books to read over the summer period
The City of Brass
Although I love a rom-com, my favourite kind of beach read is a chunky fantasy novel, or even better, a whole trilogy. Summer is the best time to get engrossed in a new fantasy series because you don’t have any assignments or exams to worry about, so you can completely lose yourself in the world.
The City of Brass is the first book in SA Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy. It begins with Nahri working as a con woman on the streets of 18th-century Cairo and wishing she could leave. During a con, she accidentally summons a djinn warrior and she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. The djinn warrior, Dara, tells her that she is the last of her kind and that she must return to Daevabad. Nahri sees this as her opportunity to fulfill her wish, so they embark on a treacherous journey across the desert together.
This book is filled with political intrigue, romance, and magic. The cliffhanger will definitely make you desperate to get your hands on the second book, The Kingdom of Copper.
Every Day (2012) by David Levithan is a YA book with an intriguing premise: our protagonist, named A, wakes up in another person’s body. The person can be any sex, gender identity, ethnicity, etc., but always the same age that A is at the time, and within the same rough geographic location.
A has learned to live each day as normally as they can for each person they inhabit and has accepted their inability to form connections with new people that will only be broken the next day. That is until they meet Rhiannon – and, in typical YA romance fashion, everything changes. The companion novel Another Day (2015) tells the same story but from Rhiannon’s perspective. Both novels are fantastic summer reads not only because they tell a beautiful love story, but also because they explore the big questions of identity, belonging, and what it means to love. You really connect with and root for the lead characters because they are engaging, complex, and fully developed – though you do wonder how they are so much wiser than you were at 16…
Set over the course of a single fateful night in late summer, 1983, the glamour and scandal of one family’s notorious annual party takes a dramatic turn for the worse. Reid’s writing immerses you in the shimmering August heat of southern California, and the dark secrets lurking behind the celebrity image of the Riva siblings are a source of endless intrigue. Malibu Rising layers the blissful atmosphere of a classic summer novel with the complexities of fracturing family dynamics, broken and blossoming romance, and the suffocation of being exposed to the public eye. I always return to Malibu Rising as soon as the sun comes out for a dose of escapism; lovers of Daisy Jones & The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo might notice some familiar faces, too. If you’re looking for something with slightly higher stakes than the usual beach read, but still want to transport yourself to a land of pool parties and sunshine, then this book is for you.
The Time Traveler’s Wife
Clare and Henry meet when Clare is six and Henry is thirty-six. They get married when Clare is twenty-two and Henry is thirty. This is the impossible but wonderful love story of a man whose genetic clock periodically throws him back in time and a young woman who spends her life loving him and waiting for him. I’m not usually a fan of romance books, but this is exceptional: it follows their difficult and beautiful relationship from both points of view, exploring how desire and grief become tangled in time. Henry’s condition is a secret the two of them can never share with their normal neighbours and colleagues, even family. This causes everything from delightful humour to terrifying loneliness, as the seasons change around them and they come ever closer to events Henry has already seen in his travels. This is an epic story of love and the means a person will go to protect it.
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” You may well have heard this before. It is not the TV aphorism it has been made out to be but in fact the opening line of obscure, mid-twentieth century classic The Go-Between. A young boy named Leo watches as the century turns and the future awaits him. Sent to his friend’s house in the summer of 1900, he indulges in a world of swimming, formal dinners and schoolboy play. He begins taking letters between Marian, a beautiful young woman for whom he nurses his first crush and Ted, the working-class farmer over the fields fi. He acts as a messenger in this New Golden Age as a record heatwave begins and the atmosphere shifts.
Bubbling under the afternoon teas and cricket matches is the reader’s horrifying knowledge of oncoming tragedy, but never knowing when or what. This book is undoubtedly a coming-of-age masterpiece, an exploration of trauma and memory, and an exposé of Edwardian class divisions. To read this book is to step back in the foreign country of the past, and to rip nostalgia from its roots.
Carrie Soto is Back
Does anything scream summer has truly arrived more than the start of Wimbledon? Tennis, strawberries and cream, and summer — all things that belong together. If, like me, the tournament is a highlight of your summer calendar there could not be a more perfect book to read this year than Taylor Jenkins Reid’s high-stakes tennis adventure Carrie Soto is Back. Following the titular Carrie Soto — the GOAT of TJR’s fictional Hollywood — as she comes out of retirement aged 37 to reclaim her Grand Slam record, the novel is an exploration of elite sport, media pressure, and the focused desire to win at all costs. Carrie is a flawed, some may even say unpleasant, woman but her unapologetic attitude towards being the greatest tennis player of all time is admirable and extremely compelling. Reading it when the sun is beating down and the All England Lawn Tennis Club is open for business is the perfect way to get summer well and truly started. Someone get the strawberries out.
Convenience Store Woman
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is a short book about a woman who feels satisfied with working in a convenience store, even though her family and friends are trying to convince her to get a “proper job”, get married, and have kids. It’s a story about not fitting into society and not wanting to follow the adulthood path that is pushed on us. This book is perfect for summer as it is only about 200 pages long, so can easily be read in one sitting while sunbathing at the beach or relaxing under a tree in the park. While the themes of societal pressure can be thought-provoking, they allow you to think about your own life, without bringing you down. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys short reads, and comments on society and Japanese literature.
The Jane Austen Society
Whilst perhaps not your conventional summer read, I have always associated The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner as my summer day picnic read. Perhaps the book is only summery to me based on the fact I found my copy in a beachside charity shop in Devon, but I will still argue that anything Jane Austen is inherently a summer classic.
The book is based in the village of Chawton, Hampshire, and follows the stories of several residents who are united together by their shared love of Jane Austen. Set during and after World War 2, the book has many highs and lows as our protagonists struggle with their daily lives whilst attempting to protect the precious heirlooms of their favourite author which are under threat. Ultimately, it is a story of love, friendship, and unity – what more could you need for a summer read?
If the beautiful descriptions of the Hampshire countryside are not enough to convince you, then the slow-burn romances should do the trick. Each love story is completely unique and doesn’t follow the traditional path of typical love story novels – something I found to be refreshing. Who doesn’t like a summer romance to pass the time away? I would definitely recommend this if you’re looking for a taste of something classic this summer to add an extra spin on your Austen knowledge.
Once Upon An Eid
Once Upon An Eid is an anthology centred around the festival of Eid, the festival that Muslims celebrate twice a year. It is a feel-good anthology that has all the vibes of summer which anyone would wish for. It showcases fifteen brilliant Muslim voices writing about their passion for the festival.
Eid ul-Fitr takes place after Ramadan meanwhile Eid ul-Adha takes place after the holy pilgrimage of Hajj. Both festivals highlight what Eid truly means to Muslims; family, feasting, and peace. The middle-grade anthology includes short stories from the likes of Aisha Saeed and S.K. Ali. Ali’s short story ‘Don’ut Break Tradition’ solidifies the meaning of the anthology further. It is all about coming together as one, whether that be in the community or in your family, and sharing food in the spirit of Eid. Saeed’s short story ‘Yusuf and the Great Big Brownie Mistake’ is another cute read in the anthology, it shows how family can come together in difficult times during the festive period. This is the perfect summer read as it is easily digestible and can be picked up at any time without it getting too confusing as the short stories do not take long to read.
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