A Top Fiction Editor’s Summer Reading List

Getting your book wrong on holiday is almost as bad as choosing the wrong hotel. So how to choose a riveting read from the many titles out there? We asked someone who reads for a living – Assistant Editor of fiction at Pan Macmillan, Jayne Osborne – to share her edit of the top 10 novels to try this summer. From romance to thrillers, these are the ultimate summer reads to see you through the holidays.

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny  

This 2017 novel from American author Katherine Heiny is a painful and humorous look into the life of a couple who are entirely different, but come together to care for their son, who has Asperger’s Syndrome. Graham Cavanaugh and his second wife, Audra, live in “parallel universes”.  She considers herself privileged to live in the age of the hair towel, talks non-stop through her epidural, labour and delivery, suggests the doorman move in and invites the eccentric members of their son’s Origami Club to Thanksgiving. She is charming, spontaneous and fun but life with her can be exhausting. Graham, on the other hand, is sardonic and sarcastic. In the midst of the day-to-day difficulties and delights of marriage and raising a child with Asperger’s, Graham’s first wife, Elspeth, re-enters his life. Former spouses are hard to categorize – are they friends, enemies, old flames, or just people who know you really, really well? Graham starts to wonder: how can anyone love two such different women? Did he make the right choice? And is there even such a thing as a right choice? 

Jayne says: “This brilliantly observed story of a family is as warm as a New York summer’s day, with an unforgettable cast of characters.” 

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Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams  

Hailed as the “21st-century Bridget Jones”, Candice Carty-Williams’ debut novel Queenie, has been called “a masterclass in how to write accessible political fiction about race and gender.” Queenie is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London and working at a national paper, where she’s constantly trying to fit in with her white peers. She’s just broken up with her boyfriend, which leads her on a series of interesting flings with other men, including someone at her office and a junior doctor. But mixed in with the humour is the heartbreaking and relatable journey of Queenie finding out who she is and who she wanted to be – the perfect book for someone who wants a honest and flawed heroine.  

Jayne says: “I’ve been trying to fill the Fleabag-shaped void in my life, and modern heroine Queenie does the job perfectly. Alternately hilarious and heartbreaking.” 

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A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson  

When a daughter is accused of murder, her parents will do anything to exonerate her. Eighteen-year-old Stella Sandell stands accused of the brutal murder of a man almost fifteen years her senior. She is an ordinary teenager from an upstanding local family. What reason could she have to know a shady businessman, let alone to kill him? Stella’s father, a pastor, and her mother, a criminal defence attorney, find their moral code tested as they defend their daughter, while struggling to understand why she is a suspect. Told in an unusual three-part structure,  A Nearly Normal Family  asks the questions: how well do you know your own children? How far would you go to protect them? 

Jayne says: “This clever Scandi crime is a perfect sunbed page-turner.” 

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Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan  

If you haven’t yet read Crazy Rich Asians, where have you been? They’ve already made a great film about it. It’s not too late to get involved in the lives of Rachel Chu and her boyfriend Nicholas Young’s insanely well-off family. When Rachel agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding more in private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor. On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers. 

Jayne says: “Make room for all three books in this trilogy about the misadventures of the uber-rich, and bask in the pure, delicious fun.”  

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The Neighbour by Fiona Cummins  

On a hot July day, Garrick and Olivia Lockwood and their two children move into number 25 The Avenue looking for a fresh start. They arrive in the midst of a media frenzy: they’d heard about some local murders in the press, but Garrick was certain the killer would be caught and it would all be over in no time. Besides, the neighbours seemed to be the very picture of community spirit. But everyone has secrets, and the residents in The Avenue are no exception. After six months on the case with no real leads, the most recent murder has turned DC Wildeve Stanton’s life upside down, and now she has her own motive for hunting down the killer – quickly. 

Jayne says: “This is a masterful crime novel that keeps you guessing to the very end.” 

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The Spanish Promise by Karen Swan  

For the ultimate sunbed read, you need to bring this romance along in your suitcase. One of Spain’s richest men is dying, but as he prepares his estate, his family is shocked to discover he is making plans to give away his wealth to a young woman they have never even heard of. Charlotte Fairfax, a wealth specialist, is asked to travel to the troubled family’s home in Spain to get to the bottom of the mysterious bequest. It’s the week before her wedding but she is confident she has time – after all, there’s only one reason an older man leaves his money to a beautiful woman, isn’t there? 

But in Madrid, things don’t go to plan when the woman denies knowing anything about the gift. Is she lying? Looking for clues, Charlotte digs into the prominent family’s history and unearths a dark and shocking past in which two people were torn apart by conflict. But now, their long-buried secrets are starting to reach into the present and Charlotte starts to wonder whether love does not need to forgive or forget in order to endure – but just needs two hearts to keep beating. 

Jayne says: “For ultimate destination fiction, I’ll be bringing this sweeping romantic mystery, set in the vibrant streets of Madrid.” 

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In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne  

Winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prize, Gunaratne’s book revolves around the lives of Selvon, Ardan and Yusuf, who are growing up under the towers of Stones Estate. For them, summer means what it does anywhere: football, music and freedom. But now, after the killing of a British soldier, riots are spreading across the city, and nowhere is safe. While the fury swirls around them, Selvon and Ardan remain focused on their own obsessions, girls and grime. Their friend Yusuf is caught up in a different tide, a wave of radicalism surging through his local mosque, threatening to carry his troubled brother, Irfan, with it. 

Jayne says: “This unflinching novel about tensions simmering over a summer in London has been picking up prizes and nominations across the board – I can’t wait to read it.” 

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How To Fail by Elizabeth Day  

Elizabeth Day has written four novels in her time as a writer, but it’s her memoir, How To Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned From Things Going Wrong, that is most well loved, and has even sparked a popular podcast. Part memoir, part manifesto, Day talks about how important it is for us to fail, as it teaches us lessons we wouldn’t have otherwise understood. From dating to friendships, babies to work, and even being Gwyneth Paltrow, Day shows us why it’s ok to fail miserably at all these things, because it shaped who we are as people. Essentially, don’t be afraid, but embrace failure, and all it brings. The perfect beachside read.  

Jayne says: “While I’m recharging, I’ll be seeking some inspiration in the form of Elizabeth Day’s How To Fail, based on the hit podcast.” 

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The Daughter by Michelle Frances  

This book comes from Michelle Frances, author of the popular thriller The Girlfriend. The Daughter again is a thriller, this time about a mother's courage and devotion for her daughter. For Kate, getting pregnant as a teenager was never part of her plan, but when it happens, she's determined to do right by her daughter, showing her the love she never had as a child. Life as a single mother is hard, sometimes impossible, but it only brings Kate and Becky closer together. By the time Becky is making her own way in the world as a tenacious trainee journalist, Kate couldn't be prouder. But when the unthinkable happens, Kate's life is changed forever. Desperately trying to understand, Kate stumbles across a story Becky was researching. Is it possible that this cruel twist of fate wasn't an accident? 

Jayne says: “This is an unsettling domestic thriller, and a real page turner, as we try to discover what really happened to Kate’s daughter. It’s hard to put down! Ideal for long lazy days.” 

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The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh 

If you’re not into thrillers, Jayne’s also got a great romance up her sleeve with enough twists and turns to keep you engrossed for a week’s holiday (though you’ll likely burn through this within a couple of days). Imagine you meet a man, spend seven glorious days together, and fall in love. And it’s mutual: you’ve never been so certain of anything. So when he leaves for a long-booked holiday and promises to call from the airport, you have no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call. Your friends tell you to forget him, but you know they're wrong: something must have happened; there must be a reason for his silence. What do you do when you finally discover you're right? That there is a reason – and that reason is the one thing you didn't share with each other? Not your usual romcom, and for good reason. 

Jayne says: “A gorgeously romantic novel for the dating age, with a compelling mystery at its core.”

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