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Summer Reads 2014


I’m very excited to unveil the Literary Sofa SUMMER READS 2014. From a field of over 50 titles considered, the twelve books I selected reflect the breadth of my taste and hopefully also yours. You’ll find crime and mystery, a memoir, comic and tragic family sagas, intriguing tales of identity, love stories, pacy pageturners and top notch literary fiction. It’s an international list with several titles and authors crossing borders. Two are translations, half are debuts. Settings range from London to the North of England [1, 8, 10], from very different areas of the USA [5, 7, 9, 11] to Ireland [2], Albania [3], Paris [4], Mallorca [6] and Siberia [12]. There’s a post-World War One novel [1], fascinating glimpses of the 1970s [10] and 1990s [7] and several titles spanning decades [3, 5, 10, 11], but most are contemporary.

I’ll be featuring some of these and other excellent novels I couldn’t include in the coming weeks.

Numbers for ease of reference. Titles already available in the UK listed first, the rest in order of UK publication date. Text adapted from publicity materials.

Wake (no border)[1] Wake – Anna Hope (Doubleday)       

Five Days in November, 1920: As the body of the Unknown Soldier makes its way home from the fields of Northern France, three women are dealing with loss in their own way: Hettie, who dances for sixpence a waltz at the Hammersmith Palais; Evelyn, who toils at a job in the pensions office, and Ada, a housewife who is beset by visions of her dead son. One day a young man comes to her door carrying with him a wartime mystery that will bind these women together and both mend and tear their hearts. A portrait of three intertwining lives caught at the faultline between empire and modernity, Wake captures the beginnings of a new era, and the day the mood of the nation changed for ever.

Back Lake[2] Black Lake – Johanna Lane (Tinder Press)

For generations the Campbells have lived happily at Dulough, an idyllic rambling estate on the Atlantic coast of Ireland. But upkeep has drained the family coffers, and in order to keep Dulough John Campbell decides to open its doors to the public as a museum, whilst he and his wife, daughter and son move from the luxury of the big house to a small caretaker’s cottage. The upheaval strains the already tenuous threads that bind the family and when a tragic accident befalls them, long-simmering resentments and unanswered yearnings surface. As each character is given a turn to speak, their voices tell a complicated, fascinating story about what happens when the upstairs becomes the downstairs and the legacy left when family secrets are revealed.

Sworn Virgin[3] Sworn Virgin – Elvira Dones (& Other Stories), trans. Clarissa Botsford

Hana Doda is an ambitious literature student in the cosmopolitan Albanian capital,Tirana. Mark Doda is a raki-drinking, chain-smoking shepherd, living alone deep in the mountains. They are the same person. When Hana’s dying uncle calls her home from the city, he asks her to marry a local boy in order to run the household. Unable to accept the arranged marriage and determined to remain independent, in accordance with Albanian tradition she vows to live the rest of her life in chastity as a man and becomes Mark. Years later, when Mark receives an invitation to join a cousin in Rockville, Maryland, he sees a chance to escape being a sworn virgin and start over in America. But after all this time, what does he know about being a woman?

Lying Down Room[4] The Lying-Down Room – Anna Jaquiery (Mantle)

In the stifling heat of Paris in August, Commandant Serge Morel is called to a disturbing crime scene. An elderly woman has been murdered to the soundtrack of Faure’s Requiem, her body grotesquely displayed. Morel has problems of his own. His father is beginning to succumb to senility and Serge is unsettled by the reappearance of Mathilde, the beautiful woman he once loved. As the investigation progresses, the key suspects are a middle-aged man and a mute teenage boy who have been delivering religious pamphlets in the city’s suburbs. But as more elderly women are targeted, Morel’s enquiries lead him back to the past, from the French countryside to Soviet Russia – and to two young boys with the most terrible stories to tell.

Harry Quebert[5] The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair – Joël Dicker (Maclehose Press), trans. Sam Taylor

In summer 1975, struggling author Harry Quebert fell in love with fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan. Thirty-three years later, her body is dug up from his yard in Somerset, New Hampshire, along with a manuscript copy of the novel that made him a household name. When Quebert is the only suspect, his most gifted protégé Marcus Goldman throws off writer’s block to clear his mentor’s name. Solving the case and penning a new bestseller soon merge into one. As his book begins to take on a life of its own, the nation is gripped by the mystery. But with Nola, in death as in life, nothing is ever as it seems.

The Vacationers[6] The Vacationers – Emma Straub (Picador)

For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends was supposed to be a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. Their son joins them from Florida with his girlfriend. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan and over the course of the vacation secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

My Salinger Year[7] My Salinger Year – Joanna Rakoff (Bloomsbury) 

After leaving graduate school to pursue her dreams of becoming a poet, 23-year-old Joanna Rakoff moves to New York City and takes a job as assistant to the literary agent for J. D. Salinger. It’s the pre-digital late 1990s, where Dictaphones and typewriters still reign and old-time agents doze at their desks after martini lunches. At night she goes home to the tiny, threadbare Brooklyn apartment she shares with her socialist boyfriend. Precariously balanced between glamour and poverty, surrounded by titanic personalities, Joanna is given the task of answering Salinger’s voluminous fan mail. But as she reads the candid, heart-wrenching letters from around the world, she finds herself unable to type out the agency’s decades-old form response. She abandons the template and begins writing back.

Issy Bradley[8] A Song for Issy Bradley – Carys Bray (Hutchinson) 

Lancashire: This is the story of what happens when Issy Bradley dies. It is the story of Ian – husband, father, maths teacher and Mormon bishop – and his unshakeable belief that everything will turn out all right if he can only endure to the end, like the pioneers did. It is the story of his wife Claire’s lonely wait for a sign from God and her desperate need for life to pause while she comes to terms with what’s happened. It is the story of the agony and hope of Zippy Bradley’s first love. The story of Alma Bradley’s cynicism and reluctant bravery. And it is the story of seven-year-old Jacob. His faith is bigger than a mustard seed, probably bigger than a toffee bonbon and he’s planning to use it to mend his broken family with a miracle.

Guest Author – Carys Bray on Writing about Mormonism

We are called to Rise[9] We Are Called To Rise – Laura McBride (Simon & Schuster)

Beyond Las Vegas’s casinos lies a boomtown where four lives will be united by one split-second choice. We Are Called to Rise is told in these four voices: an immigrant boy whose family is struggling to assimilate, a middle-aged housewife coping with an imploding marriage and a troubled son, a social worker at home in the darker corners of the city, and a wounded soldier recovering from an injury he can’t remember getting. It’s a story about compassion, personal responsibility and families – the ones we are born to and the ones we make.

Writers on Location – Laura McBride on Las Vegas

Upstairs at the Party[10] Upstairs at the Party – Linda Grant (Virago)

In the early Seventies a glamorous and androgynous couple known collectively as Evie/Stevie appear out of nowhere on the isolated concrete campus of a new university in the North of England. To a group of teenagers experimenting with radical ideas they seem blown back from the future, unsettling everything and uncovering covert desires. But the varnished patina of youth and flamboyant self-expression hides deep anxieties and hidden histories. For Adele, with the most to conceal, Evie/Stevie become a lifelong obsession, as she examines what happened on the night of her own twentieth birthday and her friends’ complicity in their fate.

Guest Post – Linda Grant on The Self in Fiction

Stiltsville[11] Stiltsville – Susanna Daniel (Harper Perennial) 3 July (already available as eBook)

Florida: One sunny morning in 1969, Frances Ellerby finds herself in Stiltsville, a community of houses built on pilings in the middle of Biscayne Bay. On the dock of a stilt house, with the dazzling Miami skyline in the distance, she meets the house’s owner, Dennis DuVal—and a new future reveals itself. Turning away from her quiet, predictable life back in Atlanta, Frances moves to Miami to be with Dennis. Over time, she earns the confidence of his wild-at-heart sister and the approval of his oldest friend. Frances and Dennis marry and have a child—but rather than growing complacent about their good fortune, they continue to face the challenges of intimacy in the complicated city they call home.

Thirst[12] Thirst – Kerry Hudson (Chatto & Windus)

The beginning of a relationship is usually all about sharing stories far into the night, comparing experiences, triumphs and heartaches until we know one another inside out. Not so for Dave and Alena. He’s from London, she’s from Siberia. They meet in a sleek Bond Street department store in the frayed heat of high summer, where she’s up to no good and it’s his job to catch her. So begins an unlikely relationship between two people with pasts, with secrets they’ve no idea how to live with — or leave behind. But despite everything they don’t have in common, all the details they can’t and won’t reveal, they still find themselves fighting with all they’ve got for a future together.

Writers on Location – Kerry Hudson on Siberia

Congratulations to these talented authors and as always, an enormous thank you to the editors and publicists who send me proof copies and keep me in the loop all year round. I run The Literary Sofa to spread the word about good books, so if you like my selection please tell your friends/share on Twitter and Facebook. And if this is your first visit I hope you’ll be back soon.

For more great recommendations, see my Fiction Hot Picks 2014.


THANK YOU to everyone for the overwhelming response to this year’s Summer Reads selection and especially to all who entered the competition – it was really interesting to see which titles caught your eye.  The three winners picked by random number generator are:

CLAIRE KING who wins a copy of THE LYING-DOWN ROOM by Anna Jaquiery.


COLETTE BARNES who wins a copy of THE VACATIONERS by Emma Straub.

I’ll be in touch with the winners individually very




About Isabel Costello

Writer (novels: Paris Mon Amour 2017; Scent 2021).Host of the Literary Sofa blog. Co-founder of Resilience for Writers with Voula Tsoflias. Perfume lover and Francophile.


62 thoughts on “Summer Reads 2014

  1. On a long car journey I heard that your pick ‘The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair’ by Joël Dicker is going to be discussed on Simon Mayo’s Radio Two show book club either next Monday or the one afterwards with the author interviewed — so you obviously share similar tastes in that respect. Looks like a fascinating and diverse list.

    Posted by Mike Clarke | May 21, 2014, 10:12
  2. Great selection as always, Isabel, you certainly get through a lot of books. Can I add my voice to recommending Black Lake (the country house theme is explored on my blog today http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal/the-big-house-in-literary-fiction-black-lake-by-johanna-lane) and The Vacationers which I’m reviewing on 5 June.
    In terms of the two I’d most like to read, Sworn Virgin, which I assume is based on a true story as I vaguely recall reading something along those lines with the press, and A Song for Issy Bradley both sound intriguing.
    Don’t we live in a wonderful world with so many great books around!!!

    Posted by Annecdotist | May 21, 2014, 10:22
  3. What a lovely list . I just read Wake its wonderful. I have a review copy of A Song for Issy Bradley waiting for me. I must say I like the sound of The truth about Harry Quebert Affair.

    Posted by heavenali | May 21, 2014, 10:51
  4. Many great reads here…two that stand out for me would be Sworn Virgin…first saw this on @charles_lambert’s time line, he recommends some interesting titles and Upstairs at the party sounds intriguing. Thank you for an opportunity to discover these titles 🙂

    Posted by Ann Bradley | May 21, 2014, 10:52
  5. My Salinger Year & We Are Called to Rise

    Posted by Vince | May 21, 2014, 11:02
  6. mmmm. Decisions decisions decisions. 1, 7, 8. 1, 7, 8. A Song For Issy Bradley and…and…My Salinger Year. (And Wake too, actually, but I can only have two!).

    Posted by Van Demal | May 21, 2014, 11:03
  7. A great selection and all sound very tempting. I would particularly love to read Black Lake and The Vacationers. Thank you for sharing.

    Posted by Karen | May 21, 2014, 11:08
  8. Such a great list. Will inspire everyone to keep reading over the Summer!

    Posted by tripfiction | May 21, 2014, 11:17
  9. A really interesting list (again) – I particularly like the look of My Salinger Year and Wake. Yet more to add to the wishlist …

    Posted by Claire Stokes (@maudie43) | May 21, 2014, 11:39
  10. I’d love to win a copy of Wake or A Song for Issy Bradley. Will buy if I don’t!

    Posted by Laura Wilkinson | May 21, 2014, 12:14
  11. Lovely list, thanks for sharing all these and so many to add to the wishlist. I’d most like to read A Song for Issy Bradley, and The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair.

    Posted by The Little Reader Library | May 21, 2014, 13:11
  12. So many I’d like to read on here if not all. But if I have to go for two only, they would be A Song for Issy Bradley and Upstairs At the Party.

    Posted by Claire Fuller | May 21, 2014, 14:01
  13. I am excited to read the following titles: [12] Thirst and [9] We are Called to Rise. Thank you, Isabel, for creating this wonderful list and for the fab contest!

    Posted by brittajensen2013 | May 21, 2014, 14:01
  14. I would love my Salinger year and the vacationers. All the books sound fab! It was a hard choice.

    Posted by Sonia weir | May 21, 2014, 14:08
  15. Open to UK/Europe residents only?!
    I guess I understand that. It’s just such a great list! 🙂

    Posted by Kristin | May 21, 2014, 15:22
    • I’m so sorry about that, but (both on my own account and as publishers are kindly offering to send prizes out) the cost of long distance postage is prohibitive! But of course I’m still keen to hear which ones interest you!

      Posted by Isabel Costello | May 21, 2014, 15:33
  16. Thanks a lot for this great list! I’ve just started reading The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair and I’m really curious about The Vacationers and My Salinger Year so I would choose those 2 books. Thank you for the opportunity!

    Posted by Anna Orosz | May 21, 2014, 15:41
  17. Very good list! I’m already reading the Carys Bray; only a couple of chapters in but so far, so good.

    I would love to read the Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair as I have read some very good things about it, and The Vacationers simply because I too am going to Mallorca this summer and I have a child like delight in reading novels set where I am staying!

    Posted by Colette Barnes | May 21, 2014, 16:47
  18. Oh yes, I’m sure both you and publishers don’t want to be sending books across the ocean! I’m just sad I’m not still over “on that side.” Regarding this very intriguing list of books, I’m particularly interested in Black Lake, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, My Salinger Year, and We Are Called to Rise.

    Posted by Kristin | May 21, 2014, 17:00
  19. Oooh, very difficult to choose as this is a cracking selection. But my top two would be Thirst as I LOVED Tony Hoggan and The Vacationers (love it just for the cover alone) as it sounds like the perfect summer holiday read, plus I enjoyed The Lemon Grove.

    Posted by helenmackinven | May 21, 2014, 19:04
  20. Would like to read novels 6 and 7. The Vacationers and My Salinger Year.

    Posted by Minna Kataja | May 21, 2014, 20:41
  21. This is great! I would LOVE to read The Party Upstairs and Thirst xxx

    Posted by Elizabeth | May 22, 2014, 09:17
  22. Wow – how can I possibly choose?! I need to retire just to get through the books I hear about from you, Isabel 😉 But, if I have to just choose two, mine would be We Are Called to Rise and Sworn Virgin (but I’m also really interested in My Salinger Year and Upstairs at the Party and, and, and…). Thanks for such a great list of books.

    Posted by Amanda Saint (@saintlywriter) | May 22, 2014, 10:56
  23. Think I’d go for The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair and The Lying-Down Room (I already have Sworn Virgin because I’m a subscriber, although I haven’t managed to read it yet).

    Posted by Sarah Pybus | May 22, 2014, 16:02
  24. Lovely list, but two stand out for me. The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair and A Song for Issy Bradley.

    Posted by Amanda Murphy | May 22, 2014, 17:32
  25. All really interesting choices and all completely new to me so thank you for the suggestions! If pushed, I would pick ‘My Salinger Year’ and ‘Sworn Virgin’ 🙂

    Posted by sarahjones14 | May 22, 2014, 17:47
  26. So many books, so little time… the ones that appeal to me most are Thirst and The Lying Down Room. Are they short?? No time for door-stoppers!

    Posted by louisewalters12 | May 24, 2014, 09:53
  27. some great books-love to read wake and the lying down room

    Posted by margaret norton | May 24, 2014, 10:44
  28. Fantastic list as always. I really want to read ‘Wake’ as it’s very timely this year and ‘My Salinger Year’. Have been introducing my GCSE students to Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby recently. In light of today’s news this novel seems like a great anti- Gove protest, as well as a fascinating read!!

    Posted by Lisa Farrell | May 25, 2014, 10:21
  29. What a great list. Very hard to choose. My picks would be Thirst and Black Lake.

    Posted by Annette Gordon | May 25, 2014, 10:22
  30. A fabulous list of books. I feel bad for those that didn’t make it as the competition was so strong. My choices would be Black Lake and A Song for Issy Bradley.

    Posted by Catherine Jackson | May 25, 2014, 17:15
  31. I think I would like to read Thirst and My Salinger Year 🙂

    Posted by ljbentley27 | May 26, 2014, 13:32
  32. As I’m Lancastrian, A song for Issy Bradley would be good. The Vacationers sounds interesting too.

    Posted by Peter Domican | May 26, 2014, 16:34
  33. Oh I’d love to read THE VACATIONERS and STILTSVILLE sounds great too

    Posted by jazzagealice | May 27, 2014, 12:11
  34. This is a really fantastic list! I had heard of My Salinger Year, and it appeals to me very much, but the others are all new to me. Upstairs at the Party sounds particularly intriguing. I like books that explore one night that changes a life forever (like Atonement) and this sounds like one of those. I’m from Australia so alas, I can’t enter the giveaway but I’ll definitely be adding some of these to my Goodreads.

    Posted by annabelsmith | May 27, 2014, 13:00
  35. Great list, something there for everyone. I don’t think I can bear to read Issy Bradley, amazing as it sounds, so I will go for The Vacationers and The Party Upstairs.

    Posted by Rachael Dunlop (@RachaelDunlop) | May 28, 2014, 09:30
  36. I want them all, but Upstairs at the Party and Thirst are the two I want right now! Great list. Thank you.

    Posted by Eleni Kyriacou | May 28, 2014, 09:42
  37. Wake and Harry Quebert.

    Posted by Elizabeth Rose | May 28, 2014, 13:54
  38. Interesting selection; thanks for the listing & info. I’d choose Wake and Harry Quebert and … oh, that’s two already.

    Posted by jacpye | May 28, 2014, 14:11
  39. I’m not in the UK, but I’m going to tell you anyway, just out of the spirit of conversation! Mine are Issy Bradley – I love Carys’ writing and I’m sure it’s going to be stunning – and I’d choose The Lying Down Room because it sounds intriguing and twisty turny. Voila les votes from la France.

    Posted by claireking9 | May 28, 2014, 14:48
  40. I’m dying to read Carys Bray’s books she’s an absolutely fantastic writer and the Truth about Harry Quebert affair sounds really interesting.

    Posted by alisonwells | May 28, 2014, 14:50
  41. What a great list, as always, even if highly calorific for my poor TBR pile. Wake’s a wonderful read – one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. I’m going to have to read The Vacationers, seeing as how it’s also set on Mallorca, to contrast it with The Lemon Grove, which I really enjoyed. I have Black Lake, The Lying Down Room and The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair to read but of all the books on the list, I’m most excited to read Kerry Hudson’s second novel, Thirst, because I thought her debut, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, was wonderful and such a strong new voice. I also really enjoy Carys Bray’s short stories and am excited about reading her debut, A Song for Issy Bradley. So (8) and (12) are my two picks, please.

    Posted by Kath | May 28, 2014, 15:27
  42. Would love to read Black Lake and The Vacationers!

    Posted by Vanessa Savage | May 28, 2014, 16:49


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