Richard Fitzpatrick and Marjorie Brennan.


This summer's top reads: Fact and fiction

Here are this summer's fact and fiction top reads chosen by Richard Fitzpatrick and Marjorie Brennan.

This summer's top reads: Fact and fiction

Here are this summer's fact and fiction top reads chosen by Richard Fitzpatrick and Marjorie Brennan.


Biographies, travel books and Harper Lee’s reportage feature in Richard Fitzpatrick’s recommendations.


Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama’s memoir hasn’t left the New York Times bestseller list since its publication last November.

The American public has never had a First Lady it has been so keen to identify with – her easy charm and disarming candour (“I wake up in a house every morning that was built by slaves”) has made her an endearing figure.

This book, in which she provides insight into the how her marriage took second place once Barack Obama’s political career kicked into life, has only increased her stock.


Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian

Few sports books published over the last decade can rival Tiger Woods’ biography co-authored by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian for its addictive reading pleasure.

It’s 500 pages of gripping family melodrama: the abnormal grooming of a sporting superstar; allegedly over a hundred marital infidelities within a few years of marriage, including morning trysts in a carpark; a father who lies in an unmarked grave; celebrity encounters; and incredible sporting achievement.

A must read for the light it shines on the man who made one of sport’s greatest comebacks in April by winning his fifteenth golf major.

Hollywood’s Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A.

Lili Anolik

When Eve Babitz was a little girl she said to her mom: “I think I’m going to be an adventurous.” She didn’t disappoint. As an icon in the bohemian world of Los Angeles, she posed naked as a teenager playing chess with Marcel Duchamp, designed album covers for the Byrds and her lovers included Jim Morrison and Annie Leibowitz.

She disappeared from public view in 1997 after savagely burning her body while trying to light a cigar in a car given to her by Steve Martin, but she’s still alive, squirrelled away as a 75-year-old recluse where biographer Lili Anolik has tracked her down.

Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties

Tom O’Neill with Dan Piepenbring

One of the most eagerly awaited non-fiction books of the year will be published in June when, after 20 years of investigative research and over 500 interviews, Tom O’Neill’s revelations about the Charles Manson murders will be unveiled.

In a lurid chapter of twentieth century America, it tells the story of the summer of 1969, Californian sunshine, Hollywood celebrities, including Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, the CIA’s mind-control experiments, cover ups and conspiracies, the magnetic Manson and a bunch of teenage hippy girls who turned into murderers.

Hinch Yourself Happy: All the Best Cleaning Tips to Shine Your Sink and Soothe Your Soul

Sophie Hinchliffe

The world moves in mysterious ways. Sophie Hinchliffe, 28, a hairdresser from Essex, caused a stir in Dublin recently when she did a book signing: all 500 tickets sold out within an hour; in fact, her book went to the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists overnight on publication.

Her surprise hit is based on the cleaning advice she doles out to her 2 million followers on Instagram and the belief that scrubbing your toilet – and the mastering of other domestic hygiene chores – might just be the route to spiritual tranquillity.

Elsewhere: One Woman, One Rucksack, One Lifetime of Travel

Rosita Boland

The Irish writer and journalist Rosita Boland has been walking the earth on her own for more than three decades. Some things have changed during that time. Her heart dropped recently when she came across a sign outside a café in Bali which informed its customers:

“We have wifi so you don’t have to talk to each other.” Other things haven’t – she’s crossed the world’s continents with the same rucksack since she was 25. Her experiences are gathered together in this collection which will get readers itching to emulate some of her epic journeys.

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of WWII’s Most Dangerous Spy

Sonia Purnell

The remarkable life of the American Second World War spy Virginia Hall is due to get the Hollywood treatment – the Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley is slated to play her on screen. In Hall’s biography by Sonia Purnell all the details of her incredible adventures are gathered together for a breath-taking read.

She coordinated resistance operations in Nazi-occupied France with incredible disguises and the use of exploding horse dung, amongst other tricks, and evaded the clutches of Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo’s notorious “Butcher of Lyon”, despite having a wooden leg.

Then It Fell Apart


Moby’s follow-up to his highly regarded memoir Porcelain traces what should have been the glory years of the worldwide fame that befell him after his album Play became the soundtrack of the turn of the millennium.

Instead – as he struggled to escape the ghosts of a father who committed suicide and a bohemian, partying mother who often neglected him – dining with David Bowie and Lou Reed, dating Hollywood stars like Natalie Portman and partying with Bono left him feeling empty.

Tunnel Vision

Kevin Breathnach

Coming as he does with a recommendation by Sally Rooney as “one of the most interesting writers working in Ireland today,” Kevin Breathnach’s debut collection of 12 postmodern essays have excited a lot of interest.

They act as a platform for his wide-ranging intellect and tastes, which range from photography, cultural criticism, sexual relationships with both sides, Norwegian film, travel, recreational drugs, football and an addiction to watching pornography.

So Much Longing in So Little Space

Karl Ove Knausgaard

It’s difficult to imagine a more interesting cocktail: Karl Ove Knausgaard, who revolutionised the memoir with his epic, confessional six-volume series, My Struggle, and his Norwegian compatriot, the artist Edvard Munch, who is famous for his iconic, stop-you-in-your-tracks 1893 painting, The Scream.

The publication of Knausgaard’s book, which is a mix of biography, history and memoir, coincides with a touring exhibition of Munch’s work, which has been curated inevitably by Knausgaard.

Furious Hours: Harper Lee and the Unfinished Story of Race, Religion

Casey Cep

Harper Lee is known to readers as the author of the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. She once spent a year covering a grisly, gripping case in her native Alabama: in the 1970s a preacher stood trial for killing five of his family members in an insurance scam.

The preacher got off but was killed by a relative at the funeral of one of his victims who, incredibly, was acquitted of murder – and defended by the same lawyer who got the preacher off the hook – despite hundreds of witnesses to the revenge killing.

Casey Cep revisits the case – and Lee’s reportage of it – in a fascinating new take on one of American true crime’s most enthralling chapters.

The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz

Jeremy Dronfield

Jeremy Dronfield has taken the diary of an Austrian upholsterer Gustav Kleinmann, which he managed to keep for five years while enduring the Nazis’ death camps in Buchenwald – where he was incarcerated in 1939 along with his 16-year-old son, Fritz – and ultimately Auschwitz where he again was joined by his son, to recount a story that has taken the literary world by storm.

Dronfield is a master storyteller. He uses detail to telling effect in unfolding how father and son survived the horrors of the Holocaust to tell their tale.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey

Robert Macfarlane

Ten years in the making. Arguably the world’s most gifted nature writer at work today.

There is a lot to recommend Robert Macfarlane’s plunge into the catacombs of our world, which mixes memoir, suffocating tales of potholing, an examination of nuclear waste bunkers and underground waterways and glaciers, extensive mythological digressions, disappearing worlds, the disastrous effects of climate change and a gallery of eccentrics he meets along the way.

Uninhabitable Earth

David Wallace-Wells

Halfway through David Wallace-Wells’ apocalyptic look at where the world is headed due to global warming, the author congratulates the reader for being “brave”, for making it so far with his text.

His book, which is an expansion of a 2017 article that he wrote for New York magazine that went viral – makes for grim, compelling reading. To say humanity is headed to hell (a very hot burning hell) before the end of the century seems inevitable although Wallace-Wells remains strangely optimistic. A must read – for those brave enough to bear it.

In Sunshine or in Shadow: How Boxing Brought Hope in the Troubles

Donald McRae

There are few finer sportswriters than Donald McRae. The South African author has written 11 non-fiction books, including the classic 1990s boxing book Dark Trade.

For his latest effort, he again turns to boxing and how the sport afforded a haven during the dog days of the Troubles in Northern Ireland to pugilists from both sides of the divide.

McRae hooks his story on Gerry Storey’s legendary Holy Family gym in Belfast from which sprung, for example, Barry McGuigan, Davy Larmour and Olympic bronze medallist Hugh Russell who went on to become an accomplished photographer.


Jack Reacher is back in action, and Kevin Barry has a new novel on the way, writes Marjorie Brennan.

When All Is Said

Anne Griffin

This debut novel landed with little advance hype but has become a huge word-of-mouth hit. The central character is 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan who sits in a hotel bar reflecting on his life, drinking a toast to five people who have figured significantly in his journey. Griffin handles life’s big questions with sensitivity and aplomb but her prose packs a powerful punch, heralding an exciting new voice on the literary scene.

Reasons to be Cheerful

Nina Stibbe

This title recently won the Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction, cementing Stibbe’s status as one of the finest comic writers at work now. She hit the ground running with her debut Love, Nina, a selection of letters to her sister while working as a nanny, and has mined her dysfunctional upbringing to hilarious effect in her previous books Man At The Helm and Paradise Lodge.

This book is set in the 1980s and follows the adventures of 18-year-old dental nurse Lizzy as she tests the waters of adulthood.

The Heavens

Sandra Newman

Kate and Ben meet at a party in New York and fall in love at first sight. So far, so conventional but it isn’t long before this novel transcends such tropes to reach heights of brilliance. Newman skilfully concocts a dizzying blend of contemporary utopianism, historical romance and time travelling fantasy while posing profound metaphysical philosophical questions.

Echoes of Outlander and The Time Traveller’s Wife and deserves to be as successful.

City of Girls

Elizabeth Gilbert

New York also has a starring role in this coming-of-age epic, in which the author of the insanely successful memoir Eat, Pray, Love, delves into historical fiction.

Gilbert’s gift for beautiful but accessible prose is showcased to impressive effect in this 1940s-set novel about a group of young showgirls who are navigating the waters of sexual freedom and discovery in the glamorous world of theatre.

Her Kind

Niamh Boyce

In this historical novel Boyce reimagines the events which led to the Kilkenny Witch Trial of 1324, reclaiming the voices of the women who were silenced. Inspired by a true story, Petronelle and her daughter find refuge in the household of a childhood friend but she soon discovers they are far from safe. An absorbing and atmospheric story skilfully realised.

Seven Letters

Sinead Moriarty

Dublin-based writer Moriarty has sold over 700,000 books, building up a loyal fanbase of readers with her deftly-written novels featuring relatable characters and topical issues.

Her latest book is no different, centring on the heart-wrenching story of Sarah, whose family is left in turmoil when her pregnancy takes a turn for the worst. A moving and life-affirming read.

Nine Perfect Strangers

Liane Moriarty

Sinéad’s Australian namesake has become a phenomenon with her seriously addictive books. Moriarty’s chosen setting may be Australian suburbia but her themes are universal, woven into a winning formula of sharply observed characters, suspenseful plots and realistic dialogue.

At the centre of her latest book are nine people who travel to a remote wellness resort looking for change, which is certainly what they get, and more.

Before it was even finished, the book was snapped up by Nicole Kidman, who also starred in the HBO adaptation of Moriarty’s Big Little Lies.

The Lost Man

Jane Harper

British native Harper is another Australia-based author making waves around the world, but her milieu is the more harsh and unforgiving landscape of her adopted country.

Her previous books The Dry and Force of Nature were superbly plotted, with convincing plot twists but The Lost Man ratchets up the tension even higher.

It is a gripping dissection of the secrets and lies holding one family together in a parched, sun-baked setting where death can strike on a routine drive if a traveller doesn’t have adequate provisions.

The Border

Don Winslow

The literary equivalent of bingeing on a boxset of Narcos, this is the last, and incredibly timely, instalment in Winslow’s compelling trilogy about a US agent embroiled in a battle with Mexican drug cartels and those purportedly on his own side.

Meticulously researched and brutally realised, it chronicles the barbarity and contempt for human life that underpins the apparently interminable ‘war on drugs’.

Gripping, funny and savage, an awesome achievement.

London Rules

Mick Herron

The latest in Herron’s acclaimed series of books about spies in London, these books have been compared to the work of John Le Carré, though Herron’s satirical approach is very different to Le Carre’s chilly pragmatism and his (anti) hero Jackson Lamb is certainly no George Smiley.

Herron’s focus is on the operatives who have been relegated to the backwater of Slough House but who always seem to be central to the latest espionage crisis facing the British secret service. Here they have to deal with ongoing terrorist outrages against the background of Brexit, with their blundering approach entertainingly detailed by Herron’s pacy plotting.

The Scholar

Dervla McTiernan

This Cork-born former solicitor also made her home Down Under, where she wrote her first novel The Ruin, an accomplished thriller set in the West.

McTiernan has created a memorable protagonist in Detective Cormac O’Reilly who, in this follow-up, contends with a case that will challenge him both professionally and personally.

There’s an added layer of intrigue which is quite topical — the presence of a multinational corporation in the background, and the long shadow it casts over Irish life.


Joseph O’Connor

The triangular relationship between author Bram Stoker and actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry form the basis of this new novel from O’Connor.

Set in 1878, Irving and Terry are the A-list celebrities of the age, while Stoker is an obscure Dubliner, a theatre manager struggling with life in the bustling metropolis of London.

Yet Stoker’s imagination is seething with a new story, a novel that will draw on his experiences with Irving and Terry as he creates an immortal story and character: Dracula. Out next month.

Night Boat to Tangier

Kevin Barry

One of the greatest talents in Irish literature, Barry’s eagerly awaited new novel, also out next month, centres on two ageing Irish criminals as they kill time in a dubious Spanish ferryport.

It’s Barry’s third novel after City of Bohane and Beatlebone, and given that no other writer creates atmosphere or dispenses killer lines quite like him, you have an idea of what to expect — the trademark combination of offbeat characterisation and surreal humour in this meditation on life and ageing.

Past Tense

Lee Child

You can’t beat Child for sheer pulse-racing entertainment and in terms of heroes, who wouldn’t want the super-human equaliser Jack Reacher on their side in a scrap?

In his latest, Child ventures into Stephen King territory with Reacher’s search for his family ties running in tandem with the adventures of a couple who end up staying in a sinister motel.

Another winner from the 100 million-selling king of crime fiction.

Leonard and Hungry Paul

Rónán Hession

If you’re looking to shift gears downwards, this debut novel from Dubliner Hession is a refreshing but gentle read that has stuck a chord with many readers and been selected as a Radio 2 Book Club read in Britain.

The titular characters don’t live particularly exciting lives but they show how ordinariness can itself be remarkable in a society that champions relentless ambition and constant striving.

A comforting and uplifting read that shows how small kindnesses can make a big difference.

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