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Top Summer Reads 2013

After three months of grapevine-listening, tip-offs and an intense reading marathon, I’m very excited to present the Literary Sofa Top Summer Reads 2013. Whatever your taste in fiction I hope you’ll find something you can’t wait to read: there are serious literary novels alongside books tipped to be commercial bestsellers; crime and psychological thrillers, love stories, family dramas and an erotic 1930s coming-of-age. Come face to face with a time-travelling serial killer, a Mormon cult, twins with psychic powers, the scars of Apartheid. Take your pick of settings from the UK to Brazil, the Canadian Rockies, South Africa, various parts of the USA and even outer space… In fact, the only thing these books do have in common is that I found all of them well-written and highly compelling – some will be featured here in the coming months. Have a great summer!

In random order.  Synopsis copy adapted from publicity materials provided by publishers.

Shine Shine Shine cover[1] Shine Shine Shine – Lydia Netzer (Simon & Schuster)

When Maxon met Sunny he was seven years, four months and eighteen days old. Or, he was 2693 rotations of the earth old. Maxon was different. Sunny was different. Now, twenty years later, they are married, and Sunny wants more than anything to be ‘normal’. But her husband is on a NASA mission to the moon and a meteor is heading his way. Sunny wishes Maxon would turn the rocket around and come straight the hell home. This is the story of two children who grew up and fell in love. This is the story of an astronaut who is lost in space, and the wife he left behind. It’s an intimate portrait of a very modern American family and a love story like no other.

Guest Author Post – Lydia Netzer :Writing about Being Different

Amity and Sorrow paperback[2] Amity and Sorrow – Peggy Riley (Tinder Press)

Amity & Sorrow is about God, sex, and farming – a journey into the horrors a true believer can inflict upon his family, and what it is like to live when the end of the world doesn’t come. In the wake of a suspicious fire, Amaranth gathers her barely-teenage daughters, Amity and Sorrow, and flees from the cult her husband ran. Rescue comes in the unlikely form of a downtrodden farmer, a man who offers sanctuary when the women need it most. Amity & Sorrow is the story of their lives before the night they fled and their heartbreaking, hopeful future. For while Amity blossoms in this new world, Sorrow will move heaven and earth trying to get back home.

Absolution cover[3] Absolution – Patrick Flanery (Atlantic)

In her garden, ensconced in the lush vegetation of the Western Cape, Clare Wald, world-renowned author, mother, critic, takes up her pen and confronts her life. Sam Leroux has returned to South Africa to write Clare’s biography. But how honest is she prepared to be? Was she complicit in crimes lurking in South Africa’s past; is she an accomplice or a victim? Are her crimes against her family real or imagined? As Sam and Clare turn over the events of her life, she begins to seek reconciliation, absolution. But in the stories she weaves and the truth just below the surface of her shimmering prose, lie Sam’s own ghosts. Absolution shines light on contemporary South Africa and the long dark shadow of Apartheid and the elusive nature of truth.

Silver Dark Sea cover[4] The Silver Dark Sea – Susan Fletcher (4th Estate)

Four years have passed since Maggie’s husband was lost off the coast of Parla, a remote Scottish island. Then a stranger – unnamed, unclothed – is washed onto their shores. Those who still remember the old tales say he is a mythical man from the sea; others suspect him. For the bereft Maggie, he brings love back to the isle. But as the days pass he changes every one of them – and the time comes for his story to be told.

The Shining Girls cover[5] The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes (Harper Collins)

Chicago 1931. Harper Curtis, a violent drifter, stumbles on a house with a secret as shocking as his own twisted nature – it opens onto other times. He uses it to stalk his carefully chosen ‘shining girls’ through the decades – and cut the spark out of them. He’s the perfect killer. Chicago, 1992. Kirby Mazrachi’s life was shattered after a brutal attempt to murder her. Still struggling to find her attacker, her only ally is Dan, an ex-homicide reporter who covered her case and might be falling in love with her. As Kirby investigates, she finds the other girls – the ones who didn’t make it. The evidence is impossible. But for a girl who should be dead, impossible doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Spilt Milk cover[6] Spilt Milk – Chico Buarque (Atlantic), trans. Alison Entrekin

100-year-old Eulálio d’Assumpção lies on his hospital deathbed, rambling to his nurses and anyone within earshot through a haze of morphine and memory. Jumping through time and space, history and fantasy, he tells the story of his family, his ancestry, and a changing nation. He recalls trips to Europe with his father, who introduces him to cocaine, sex, and a disciplinary whip handed down by four generations of military men. The teenage Eulálio falls powerfully in love with a dark-skinned choir girl named Matilde and his memory floods with exquisite detail as he recalls their furtive after-school courtship and the late-night rendezvous that led to their unlikely marriage. The portrait of a man’s life, loves and the chaos of memory, set against two hundred years of Brazil’s turbulent history.

The Things We Never Said cover[7] The Things We Never Said – Susan Elliot Wright (Simon & Schuster)

In 1964 Maggie wakes to find herself in a psychiatric ward, not knowing who she is or why she has been committed. She slowly begins to have memories of a storm and of a man called Jack and slowly the pieces of the past begin to come together…
In 2008 Jonathan is struggling to put his differences with his parents aside to tell them he and his wife are expecting a baby, when a detective arrives to question him about crimes committed long ago… As these two tales interweave, the secrets of the past, long kept hidden, start to come to light in unexpected and sometimes startling ways.

Guest Author Post – Susan Elliot Wright on Writing a Dual Narrative.

Sisterland cover[8] Sisterland – Curtis Sittenfeld (Doubleday)

Kate and twin sister Violet were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them. Now back in their hometown of St. Louis, Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right.

Yonahlossee[9] The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls – Anton DiSclafani (Tinder Press)

Thea Atwell is fifteen years old in 1930, when, following a scandal for which she has been held responsible, she is sent away by her wealthy and isolated Florida family to a debutante boarding school in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. As Thea grapples with the truth about her role in the tragic events of 1929, she finds herself enmeshed in the world of Yonahlossee with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty and equestrienne prowess; where young women are indoctrinated in the importance of ‘female education’ yet expected to be married by twenty-one; a world so rarified as to be rendered immune (at least on the surface) to the Depression looming at the periphery – all overseen by a young headmaster who has paid a high price for abandoning his own privileged roots.

Mentioned in the Sex Scenes in Fiction post.

Kiss Me First cover[10] Kiss Me First – Lottie Moggach (Picador)

When Leila discovers the website Red Pill, she feels she has finally found people who understand her. A sheltered young woman raised by her mother, Leila has often struggled to connect with the girls at school; but on Red Pill, a chat forum for ethical debate, She comes into her own, impressing the Web site’s founder, a brilliant and elusive man named Adrian. Leila is thrilled when Adrian asks to meet her, flattered when he invites her to be part of “Project Tess.” Tess is a woman Leila might never have met in real life. She is beautiful, urbane, witty, and damaged. As they e-mail, chat, and Skype, Leila becomes enveloped in the world of Tess, learning every single thing she can about this other woman—because soon, Leila will have to become her.

Mentioned in The Online You and Me social media post.

Ballistics cover[11] Ballistics – D W Wilson (Bloomsbury)

It is summer and the Canadian Rockies are on fire. Fleeing the fallout of a broken relationship, Alan West returns to the small town where he grew up. There, his grandfather, Cecil, suffers a heart attack and gives him one last task: to track down Jack West, the father Alan has never known. The quest leads him to Archer, an old American soldier who went AWOL into Canada at the apex of the Vietnam War. Alan learns the stories of Jack, of Cecil, and of Archer’s daughter Linnea – a woman inextricably bound to them all. At the behest of a dying man, they set off on a reckless journey through the burning mountains to unravel the knots of the past, and what they find will change all of their lives for ever.

Indiscretion cover[12] Indiscretion – Charles Dubow (Harper Collins)

Harry and Madeleine Winslow are blessed with talent, money, and charm. Harry is an award–winning author on the cusp of greatness. Madeleine is a woman of sublime beauty and grace whose elemental goodness belies a privileged upbringing. Their marriage is both envied and admired by friends who spend summers at their East Hampton idyll.  When a holiday fling turns disastrously wrong, 26-year-old Claire falls into the Winslows’ welcoming orbit. They are enchanted by her youth and intelligence. In turn, Claire is entranced by Harry and Maddy.   Seen through the omniscient eyes of Maddy’s childhood friend Walter, Indiscretion is a story about the complexities of love, the dangerous nature of desire and how obsession can tear apart even the most perfect of worlds.

Mentioned in the  Sex Scenes in Fiction post.

Huge thanks to the many supportive and enthusiastic editors and publicists who sent me titles for consideration and do so all year round – I couldn’t do this without you!

If you rate my selection, please share via Twitter, Facebook, with your book group, etc. For further recommendations, check out the Book Review section and my Fiction Hot Picks 2013. If this is your first visit to the Literary Sofa, welcome and I hope you’ll be back.

*SUMMER READS COMPETITION RESULTS*

The competition has now closed – many thanks to all who entered and to all of you for the amazing response to my summer selection.  It’s clocked up 1,000 views in just two weeks with the whole summer still ahead!  I’ll be buying a book for each of the 4 lucky winners (I’ll contact you for your details) who get the title of their choice:

* Faith (@Studentspyglass) wins a copy of Shine Shine Shine as her Day of Publication prize for being the first to notice there are 11 titles on my Top 10.

The other winners were pulled out of a glass honey jar at random by my son:

* Richard Latham wins a copy of Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls, the Most Wanted title from my selection by a long way, named by almost a quarter of entrants.

*Ann Bradley wins a copy of Sisterland, the new novel from bestselling US author Curtis Sittenfeld, published next week in the UK.

*Michael Clarke also wins a copy of his chosen title, Shine Shine Shine, out in paperback on 4 July – I think it’ll be a big hit.

ANOTHER COMPETITION NEXT WEEK!

I don’t often run competitions but by coincidence there will be another one next week in connection with the launch of Bloomsbury’s eBook singles, Family Snapshots – watch this space!

About Isabel Costello

Novelist and short story writer based in London. Debut novel PARIS MON AMOUR now out in digital and audio, paperback on 22 May 2017. Host of the Literary Sofa blog.

Discussion

64 thoughts on “Top Summer Reads 2013

  1. That’s quite a meaty list. Thanks for bringing it to us.

    Posted by writerlyderv | May 16, 2013, 10:43
  2. Is the something strange that your top ten is listed as eleven because you’re missing a number six? 😉 I think I’m most curious about Shine, Shine, Shine. I just finished Amity & Sorrow though, and that’s definitely a great pick!

    Posted by studentspyglass | May 16, 2013, 10:51
    • You just won yourself a prize, well spotted! There are in fact 11 titles on my Top 10 but I didn’t think that would do me any favours in the Google search engines. (The lack of a number 6 was just a mistake – there were two number 3s!) Would you like a copy of Shine Shine Shine as your prize? I will email you to get your postal address.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | May 16, 2013, 10:59
      • That would be wonderful, thank you! I didn’t spot the two number 3s (or count the list very well!) – my brain clearly isn’t as awake as I thought it was this morning! My email address is faith[at]studentspyglass[dot]com.

        Posted by studentspyglass | May 16, 2013, 11:03
  3. Oh wow… I love the sound of Shine Shine Shine! Consider me entered for that one. 🙂 I’ve actually read Amity & Sorrow, The Shining Girls and Sisterland and all three were brilliant and fantastic books!

    Posted by LondonS | May 16, 2013, 10:56
  4. The top 10 is interestingly made up of 11 titles! I’m very much drawn to the Shining Girls – I think it sounds like an innovative take on crime fiction.

    Posted by Aimee Oliver | May 16, 2013, 11:04
  5. The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is springing out at me, intriguing title and the story sounds interesting, also The Silver Dark Sea. If these 11(!) books were on a display table in Waterstones, these are the two I would pick up first.

    Posted by Louise | May 16, 2013, 11:26
  6. Oo The Shining Girls for us please 🙂

    Posted by Avril Luke | May 16, 2013, 11:28
  7. It looks an interesting list. Kiss Me First has a really intriguing plot so I’d like to enter for that one.

    Posted by Peter Domican | May 16, 2013, 11:30
  8. The Silver Dark Sea appeals to me to most because I have long been a fan of Susan Fletcher. All her novels are lyrically written with a delightfully dark undertone. Kiss Me First also seems to have an interesting premise. If having Amity and Sorrow on the list is anything to go by, I should imagine all of these books will be brilliant.

    Posted by Ellie | May 16, 2013, 11:37
  9. Definitely The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes for me!

    Posted by Claire | May 16, 2013, 11:42
  10. It looks a great list. Am especially keen to read Sisterland!

    Posted by Claire Stokes | May 16, 2013, 12:37
  11. The Things We Never Said and The Shining Girls sound most intriguing but the entire list is interesting.

    Posted by Janet O'Kane | May 16, 2013, 13:43
  12. So hard to choose! I think Kiss Me First and Amity and Sorrow are the ones that are grabbing me most though. Thanks for reading and recommending, Isabel. It must be such a hard job!

    Posted by Amanda Saint (@saintlywriter) | May 16, 2013, 14:04
  13. The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls stands out for me. I’m always fascinated by the interwar years, particularly that period just before the Depression (also Gatsby’s time) when there was so much doom on the horizon. This seems to touch on the American class system as well, which is endlessly intriguing. Thanks again for the list!

    Posted by Anne Pollak | May 16, 2013, 17:39
  14. Great list!…spiritualism is a personal interest of mine, so would choose Sisterland Curtis Sittenfeld 🙂

    Posted by Ann Bradley | May 16, 2013, 19:14
  15. Really enjoyed Amity & Sorrow and The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls – Tinder Press are publishing some beautiful books. I’ve loved Susan Fletcher ever since her first novel Eve Green so cannot wait to read The Silver Dark Sea. I’ll read anything Curtis Sittenfeld writes all day long. Have heard wonderful things about Susan Elliot and Lottie Moggach’s books too. What a cracking list of Summer Reads Isabel, no wonder twitter has gone mad over this today. I’d be over the moon to have a copy of Susan Fletcher’s new novel, have been waiting and waiting for this one.

    Posted by rhianivory | May 16, 2013, 19:19
  16. Wow Isabel what a great list thanks so much for compiling it. The things We Never Said looks very interesting but then so does The Silver Dark Sea, so hard to choose.

    Posted by Lisa Redmond (@LisaReadsBooks) | May 17, 2013, 10:34
  17. What a great list, Isabel! I hope I’ll end up reading most of these. Very compelling, one and all.

    Posted by Kristin | May 17, 2013, 20:04
  18. I love the sound of ‘ Silver Dark Sea’ Love the mythical feel of it and location. Thanks for the list. Now all we need is the sun!

    Posted by Sita Brahmachari | May 17, 2013, 21:05
  19. I would very much like to read The Silver Dark Sea, sounds like a great blend of mythology and mystery, an attractive unclothed man turning up on your beach can’t hurt either! Have heard a many good things about Amity and Sorrow as well and going on my summer holidays to the Canadian Rockies this year means Ballistics would also be an excellent choice! I would be thrilled with anything however.

    Posted by Bett Demby (@BettDemby) | May 19, 2013, 11:28
  20. What’s the most expensive one – that would be most worth winning (on the understanding they’re all good). Otherwise, the astronaut one.

    Amother strange thing, well perhaps not strange but interesting, is how few of the novels are set in this country. Unless I’ve been dumb and missed something, there seems to be just one set in the UK and none in England. Most seem set in the US. Wonder if that says something about the type of intelligent, but not impenetrably over-literary, fiction you seem to have identified?

    Posted by Mike Clarke | May 20, 2013, 09:42
    • As well as Silver Dark Sea set on a fictional Scottish island, The Things We Never Said and Kiss Me First are set in England although it isn’t mentioned in the blurbs. You’re right though, that’s only 3 out of 11. I do have a penchant for (North) American writing and I guess that comes through in my choices. When I’m compiling these lists I avoid quotas or restrictions based on nationality/gender of author, setting, which publisher etc – or I could just end up paralysed. I can only do it based on what I genuinely think are the novels most worth recommending. Interestingly, Patrick Flanery who is American set his novel in South Africa and Lauren Beukes who’s South African set hers in Chicago – they both did a brilliant job of it.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | May 20, 2013, 09:52
      • I’ve just re-read the list and noticed that I missed that the setting of those two books wasn’t mentioned.

        American TV (and Scandinavian) seems to be getting a reputation for producing at least some intelligent and challenging programming (whereas British TV seems to now specialise in exporting formats like Strictly and Masterchef around the world). I was wondering if something similar might be happening in literature. I’m sure there would be lots of genre fiction and ‘difficult’ literary fiction that could be picked that was set in this country (mostly because it’s written here) but I get the impression that your picks are from that place between the two which is either called the ‘sweet spot’ or between two stools depending on who you’re speaking to.

        Posted by Mike Clarke | May 22, 2013, 22:27
  21. Tough choice but the reference to Maggie O’Farrell finally swung it for me – The Things We Never Said please! I particularly like the look of Amity and Sorrow as well. Thanks for the opportunity, Isabel and I hope you reach your 100 entries ;).

    Posted by Jackie Buxton | May 20, 2013, 15:50
    • Told you I liked the look of The Things We Never Said, so much so I’d ordered it already and it’s just arrived! Can I revert to my second choice, should I be so lucky to win – Amity and Sorrow? Thanks!

      Posted by Jackie Buxton | May 22, 2013, 14:22
  22. It’s a fascinating list Isabel. Thank you! I’m currently reading the Yonahlossee one (I do wonder about the merits of picking a title that’s impossible for others to spell….) so from the remaining 10 (see in a way it’s a list of 10 for me!) I’d go for Sisterland because of the setting in St Louis, the city in which I spent part of my childhood.

    Posted by rowena | May 20, 2013, 16:29
  23. Hi Isabel, great list! Fascinating to see such a diverse range of settings, as you’ve commented. I’d go for ‘Absolution’ or ‘Spilt Milk’ – would be v interested to find out more about Brazil and its history.

    Posted by Sarah Hegarty | May 21, 2013, 16:22
  24. Another great piece with a varied selection to promote interest. The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes appeals to me most as it leaps out as an original serial-killer thriller.

    Posted by Richard Latham | May 21, 2013, 22:29
  25. Spilt Milk for sure and certain Isabel. I’m an addict for translation fiction and the cocaine theme suits me well, having Jeet Thayil and Jon McGregor as twitter followers, they obviously like my reviews of their opiate novels

    Posted by Tony Messenger | May 25, 2013, 10:27
  26. Great list Isabel. Amity & Sorrow jumps out. Sounds intriguing and I’m a sucker for a dark, spooky cover!

    Posted by Eleni Kyiacou | May 27, 2013, 10:20
  27. I read the Top (11) Summer Reads post when it came out but didn’t have a chance to comment so thanks for the reminder on Twitter to enter the competition in time. It’s sooo hard to pick one but if I had to it would be The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. The setting and social conflict intrigues me. I enjoyed the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells so this sounds like it would appeal to me too. But they’re all worth a read so I better try and get my TBR pile under control before I add to it!

    Posted by helenmackinven | May 27, 2013, 17:30
  28. The most intriguing for me just now is Sisterland – and hadn’t heard of it before. Oh, the shame! Thanks for the list of books and the info about them.

    Posted by Jacqueline Pye | May 27, 2013, 17:31
  29. Shining Girls sounds my type of book. Thanks for the lists.

    Posted by Maggie Lloyd | May 28, 2013, 13:17
  30. Spilt Milk sounds similar to Love in the time of Cholera, so I’m going to go for that one.

    Posted by Urmi | May 28, 2013, 16:57
  31. I just MUST know what happens in: Kiss Me First – Lottie Moggach (Picador – 4 July 2013).
    So, please select me as a winner and send it QUICK SMART!
    Great list, as always, thanks Costers.

    Posted by benmblackman | May 28, 2013, 17:52
  32. How cosy. I’m underneath Ben. *fnar* (Sorry – misspent yoof reading too much Viz.) My top one out of your top ELEVEN (see what I did there?) would have to be Susan’s ‘The Things We Never Said’, because she was fascinating when I met her over lunch and I’d love to read her work.

    Posted by isabelrogers | May 28, 2013, 18:54
  33. I think I’d want Shine, Shine, Shine, it sounds like the premise of a Douglas Coupland book.

    Posted by Cariad Martin (@cariadmartin) | May 29, 2013, 11:39
  34. Hands down it’s Spilt Milk for me. Every single line I’ve read in reviews could stand alone as small poems to dwell on. Imagine 200 pages meandering through 200 years like this? I can’t wait.
    “Chico Buarque is Brazil’s Leonard Cohen, García Márquez and Che Guevara rolled into one.” (Alfred Hicklin, The Guardian review of Spilt Milk)

    Posted by jensquire | May 29, 2013, 11:48
  35. Brilliant comp! I’ve heard excellent things about The Shining Girls so would love to read that one.

    Posted by Victoria-writes | May 29, 2013, 12:09
  36. Tough choice but I think I’d opt for Ballistics by D W Wilson. I enjoy ‘road’ stories and even it there’s loads of backstory, there is always momentum. From what I read, Spilt Milk is also one for my ridiculously high TBR pile.

    Posted by Walsh Barry | May 29, 2013, 14:52
  37. Hi there,
    What a great list.
    I like “The Silver Dark Sea” most. Just because I like stories of the sea and I love to dream of Scotland. I cannot go there, so at least, I want to read something about it. This book sounds mysterious and heartbreaking. I like that about a book. 🙂

    I’d like to add Beverly Jensen’s “The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay”. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my summer reading list 🙂

    Posted by Darklittle | May 30, 2013, 13:04
  38. It would have to be Sisterland!

    Posted by Jen p | May 30, 2013, 13:22
  39. I guess it has to be Ballistics by D.W Wilson…this has all the hallmarks of a new and enduring voice in contemporary literature…following on from the acclaimed short stories Once you break a knuckle…this is highly anticipated debut novel pays respects to pioneers such as Faulker,Ford and McCarthy,but marinates into a fresh and innovative new narrative all his own …

    Posted by Bren Pointer | May 31, 2013, 07:57
  40. I thought I was on top of the summer releases but haven’t heard anything about Shine Shine Shine. Looks fab though! Consider me entered!!!

    Posted by Alex | May 31, 2013, 12:48
  41. Would love to read The Shining Girls! Or Sisterland. Or any of them, really – they all sound fab!

    Posted by Vanessa | May 31, 2013, 14:32
  42. The Shining Girls!

    Posted by Ros | May 31, 2013, 15:35
  43. The Silver Dark Sea sounds intriguing. Sisterland also seems to be popular. These are on my list now..Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by PSKarr | July 4, 2013, 08:01

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