There’s a time for serious, harrowing fiction – but it is not late summer. This in-between period of school holidays and long, hot days calls for distraction of the most joyful, can’t-put-down nature. Whatever you’re looking for, we’ve assembled some of the finest novels that will give you just that.
The Secret Life of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (2020)
Forget what you thought you knew about short stories (or what school English lessons may have taught you to expect) – Philyaw’s collection about the lives of fine upstanding church women on the other six days of the week is utterly electrifying. Every character leaps to life as fresh as you like, and stories never outstay their welcome – or, crucially, leave any loose threads that can be so vexing in a short story. Nine distinct worlds add up to complete delight.
In by Will McPhail (2021)
If you haven’t given a graphic novel a go since Asterix (where have you been! Sandman’s already on Netflix…) then this jolt of caffeinated joy from the British New Yorker cartoonist, Will McPhail, will make your heart one size bigger (possibly three). Nick is a depressed creative struggling to find his place in the world – a trendy New York mercilessly satirised through McPhail’s background notes – when he meets no-bull doctor Wren. Their romance is the truest thing I’ve seen since Fleabag.
The extraordinary success of Me Before You means that Jojo Moyes could probably have written “All work and no play makes JoJo a dull author” for 200 pages: instead, its sequels After You and Still Me are deeply satisfying developments in the life of Lou Clark, the lost soul who inherited money and a renewed taste for life following the death of her love, Will Traynor. This instalment is a bewitching tale of self-discovery and the rewards of being honest and authentic, as difficult as that may be.
Would I Lie to You? by Aliya Ali-Afzal
If the premise makes your bum clench – Faiza has to earn back £75,000 asap when her husband is made redundant, having spent her family savings to keep up with the snobby mums at the school gates – then fear not. All’s well that ends well, and Ali-Afzal’s witty, sharp, and very funny book will have you cheering throughout: not just for Faiza’s ingenuity, but her journey of self-discovery and learning what truly matters. Relax those muscles.
If you’re crying out for a book that you'll somehow want to read faster and wish would never end at the same time, Quinn’s astonishingly capable debut is just that. Taking the classic bones of a coming-of-age story set in a crumbling country mansion as the Second World War looms, Quinn builds something altogether new and captivating.
People Person by Candice Carty-Williams (2022)
Carty-Williams follows up her hit 2019 debut, Queenie, with this delightful story of a sprawling family are drawn together under the shadiest of circumstances. Dimple is one of five children casually conceived by her father, Cyril Pennington. She barely knows her half-siblings: but when she finds herself in a bind, they all get to know each other very quickly indeed. The small life that Dimple has found herself living is about to open for the better.
In a later decade, Elizabeth Zott could have fulfilled her potential as a brilliant chemist – but living in the 1960s, and a single parent, she doesn’t stand a chance. Circumstance leads her to front a cookery show where she entrances America, and her scientific attitude to food starts a chain reaction that promises to change everything – a prospect that doesn’t fill everyone with joy. The reader, however, will be thrilled.
I’m Sorry You Feel That Way by Rebecca Wait (2022)
Meg Mason’s 2020 smash hit Sorrow and Bliss proved that you can cover family tragedy and mental illness in detail, and still write a screamingly funny book. Rebecca Wait’s new novel joins Sorrow and Bliss (and Eleanor Oliphant… and Where D’You Go, Bernadette? before it) in the pantheon of chaotically brilliant women lurching through life rather than living it, lifted by ferociously funny background character detail that captivates even as it shocks. Utterly addictive.
Honey and Spice by Bolu Babalola (2022)
This delicious battle of wits between two proud people has echoes of Pride and Prejudice, and two leads that are easily as compelling. Kiki Banjo is the host of a popular university radio show, who watches over the lives (and hearts) of her female listeners. When she crosses paths with Malakai Korede, they find themselves in a fake relationship to salvage their reputations. Sparks fly in the best possible way.
Heartstopper by Alice Oseman (2022)
If you haven’t come across Oseman’s delightful graphic novel series (or the hit Netflix adaptation), then the teenager in your life certainly will. Nick is out at school; Charlie is the apparently straight school rugby star. When a new seating arrangement brings them together in class, they are drawn together with an unspoken undercurrent setting something in motion. This ‘boy meets boy’ love story does wonders at untangling years of school homophobia – Nick and Charlie feel universal.
Jenkins Reid has made her own world of celebrities that is arguably more compelling than the one we live in. Fans of her extensive back catalogue will find Easter eggs galore: indeed, Soto started off in the bestselling Malibu Rising. Six years after retiring from professional tennis, Carrie Soto decides to make a comeback and retake her records from a new contender. This is a thrilling story of how “unlikeable” women are monstered by the press, and of the power of father-daughter relationships.