We’ve asked some friends of the Women’s Prize Trust to select their top reads of the summer, the books they’ll say you just HAVE to pack in your suitcase. Lots of us don’t have as much time to read as we’d like, so a good book recommendation, especially for a summer holiday, is worth its weight in gold.
Not only are the reviewers in this list seriously good eggs, they’ve read A LOT of books, so it’s fair to say they know a thing or two about page-turners. These are the books set to be summer scorchers!
Winner of the 2023 Women’s Prize for Fiction
Reviewed by Jules, @thereadingparamedic
‘Now, I will hold my hands up and say that I haven’t read David Copperfield and don’t know the full details of the Dickens story, so maybe I enjoyed Demon Copperhead more for that reason. Who knows?
This is a modern day reworking and it is just stunning. As you can expect from Kingsolver, the writing is exceptional. Her descriptions of a childhood with an addict mother, and the system of fostering in America is just brutal. I had some emotional moments through that phase of the book!’
Reviewed by Simon Savidge, @savidgereads
‘Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night is the perfect summer gothic novel, set in the Caribbean where Mala is suspected of murder but as she has been deemed ‘mad’ she is put under the care of a nurse called Tyler rather than prison. Through her mutterings and the rumours he discovers from his ‘Cigarette Smoking Nana’ Tyler starts to put the pieces of Mala’s past together leading to the discovery of her mother’s abandonment and how Mala ended up seen as the ‘crazy woman from the ramshackle house’ wherein lay quite the gothic secret.
Cereus Blooms at Night isn’t always the easiest of reads as you discover Mala’s life and all she has been through. It is however one brimming with wonderful characters, forbidden love, some of the most stunning nature writing (the blooming and the rotting) and has the most incredible brooding atmosphere as it heads to its denouement. It is also a beautiful and insightful book about gender, gender stereotypes and expectations. A summer stunner. It recently became a Vintage Classic and I can see why, I shall be reading everything else by Mootoo I can get my hands on.
This summer, along with Mootoo’s backlist, the book I am most looking forward to myself is C Pam Zhang’s The Land of Milk and Honey. I adored her debut and know this will be an absolute CORKER!’
Reviewed by Sarah, @whatsarahreadnext
Eight luminous stories that explore loss, grief, dislocation and belonging, digging deep into the heart of family life and the immigrant experience. The reader starts in America then is transported onto Europe, India and Thailand. Yup, a real voyaaaaaaagggeee!
Jhumpa Lahiri is quite the storyteller, I was completely under her spell from the start to finish.
This book had been sitting on my shelf unread for far too long. So glad we were reunited. Now to see what other hidden gems are gathering dust over here!
Reviewed by Jenn, @bookmarkonthewall
‘Ok, I’m a slooow reader and even I inhaled this in two sittings. This is such a wild read and I bloody loved it! In publishing circles this is already seen as THE book to read. And it is!
This book is so smart, spiky, shocking and a ton of fun. With a plot where Athena’s identity is stolen by June, it is genius that Kuang writes this book through the eyes of June and the reader hears this outrageous story via the white gaze (Athena is Chinese-American). The thoughts that run through June’s head to justify why she stole Athena’s manuscript (and riding off the coattails of her success) exposes the ridiculous way in which white privilege and racism is so structurally ingrained in society. There were so many moments where I was embarrassed for June and cringed inside as she would defend her actions as a white woman who feels invisible because diversity and being different is now all the rage.
Yes it is a work of satire but it’s also a scathing insight into the publicity and marketing tactics used to ensure a certain book sells by jumping on the ‘diversity’ bandwagon, turning a blind eye to problematic authors as controversy drives sales, encouraging June to create an ambiguous persona where readers might think she has Chinese heritage (I mean WTF?!). As well as exploring important issues on racism, white privilege and cultural appropriation, it also examines the dark and toxic world of social media in particular Twitter where hatred and violence can so easily be transmitted when engaging in an online discourse, and the potential harm of today’s cancel culture.’
Reviewed by Sally, @whatsallyreadnext
This is one of my favourite reads so far this year and I really can’t stop recommending it to everyone! 😄 In Memoriam is so beautifully written, despite being about the horrors of war, and I thought the character development was brilliant – I really cared about the two protagonists throughout the novel. This is such a strong debut novel and I could really appreciate the vast amount of research the author had done to write this book.
I couldn’t stop reading this book and I think I read pretty much half of the book in one sitting. I longed for Gaunt and Ellwood to be reunited and was left wondering if they would get a happy ending, especially with the sheer amount of death that surrounded them. Winn doesn’t hold back with her descriptions of war and I think she writes about the young men’s innocence about war really well. You get taken on the journey of how their opinion about war changes throughout the book.
I attended a talk featuring Alice Winn a few months ago and found it really interesting to hear how she was inspired to write this book from researching newspapers written by students at boarding school during the 1910-1920s. I can see how her research has made its way into In Memoriam!
Reviewed by Damian Barr
‘I laughed so much reading this that I actually lightly stained the pages. It is also full of heart-felt wisdom. For fans of Ephron, Alderton and ‘Girls’.
‘Really Good, Actually‘ is Monica Heisey’s debut novel. Her heroine is Maggie, 29, who manages to get divorced before most of her friends have even considered getting married. And her marriage ended just 608 days after it started. Sure, she’s alone for the first time in her life, can’t afford her rent and her obscure PhD is going nowhere… but she’s fine – she’s doing really good, actually. Like Maggie, Monica is a ‘Surprisingly Young Divorcée TM’. Here Heisey uses fiction to tell a bigger truth than her own. The passages about Dalloway are almost hidden away but hugely artful and nuanced.
Monica has contributed to The New Yorker, the New York Times, Vogue and the Guardian. And she’s written on shows including Schitt’s Creek! The dialogue really can be read aloud in this book. A proper tonic!’
Reviewed by Jenna, @book_club_mumma
I blooming loved this book – it was the perfect summer read full of suspense, intrigue and drama. Thrillers are not normally my go to genre however this is rapidly changing and if this what I can expect then I’m all in. I devoured this book. Found myself making time to read it (my house is a mess currently!) and I read the final 150 pages in one sitting as I needed to know the ending!
The characters were believable, the plot line drove forwards and the setting of beautiful Bali just added to the atmosphere. I loved the idea of two couples meeting whilst on honeymoon who later become embroiled in an incident which would lead to a set of catastrophic events that would shake the foundations of both relationships. I found myself feeling a range of emotions throughout in reaction to the events are they unfolded – which to me is the sign of a great book!