The best fiction books for the beach and beyond this summer

Whether you’re on staycation or risking a trip away, Marjorie Brennan offers suggestions on novels for a wide variety of tastes
The best fiction books for the beach and beyond this summer
Fewer of us are going foreign, but summer will hopefully bring opportunities for reading books on the beach. 

Writers and Lovers, Lily King

In this, her fifth novel, award-winning US writer King has created a beguiling heroine in the shape of Casey, an aspiring writer who is juggling college debt, a waitressing job, overwhelming anxiety and two very different men. Funny and moving, it is full of perceptive insights on what it is to be a woman, a writer, and a grieving daughter.

Here is the Beehive, Sarah Crossan

This is the first adult novel from acclaimed YA author and former children’s laureate Sarah Crossan, and like much of her previous work, it is conveyed in verse form. Ana is a solicitor whose behaviour becomes increasingly risky as she struggles to come to terms with the tragic end of a secret affair. Clever and original but also accessible and engaging. Out in August.

Where the Crawdad Sings,  Delia Owens

In an overcrowded market where real jewels often struggle to shine amid the hype, this beautifully affecting tale from a retired wildlife biologist is a bona fide word-of-mouth hit, hovering around the bestsellers lists since its publication in 2018. Beautifully realised and affecting, it tells the story of an abandoned girl who learns to fend for herself in the swamplands of North Carolina. And of course, Reese Witherspoon has optioned it for the screen.

Utopia Avenue, David Mitchell

The west Cork-based author returns with Utopia Avenue, which chronicles the rise and fall of a British band in the late sixties. The more traditional narrative (with the occasional metaphysical turn) is a departure from his previous bestsellers, the time-bending Cloud Atlas and post-apocalyptic The Bone Clocks but Mitchell’s storytelling skills are as sharp as ever in this hugely enjoyable and entertaining read.

This Happy, Niamh Campbell

Campbell is the latest Irish female writer making waves with her incisive take on relationships, class and privilege. Told from the perspective of newly-married Alannah, whose encounter with a figure from the past brings back memories of a tortured affair with an older man, Campbell perfectly captures the intensity of young love in this beautifully written debut.

How to be Nowhere, Tim MacGabhann 

The Mexico City-based Irish writer revisits reporter and recovering addict Andrew, the hero of his thrilling debut, Call Him Mine, in his second book, a literary take on the classic chase novel described as Taken meets Narcos.

The Narrow Land, Christine Dwyer-Hickey 

Dwyer-Hickey’s immense talents have gone somewhat under the radar but that has all changed of late, thanks in no small part to this powerful and skilfully realised novel, a fictionalised portrait of the turbulent marriage of artists Edward and Jo Hopper, set in Cape Cod. It recently won the prestigious Walter Scott prize for historical fiction and the inaugural Dalkey Novel of the Year Award.

The Women Who Ran Away, Sheila O’Flanagan

The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett 

Bennett’s second novel is a mesmerising exploration of race, class and identity, following the diverging lives of twin sisters. Intricately plotted and elegantly written, Bennett sustains the reader’s attention throughout. While very much of the moment in its themes, the story is timeless and universal.

Whatever it Takes, Tadhg Coakley

The Mallow native and author of GAA novel The First Sunday in September turns to crime in this novel, the first in a series which features a detective up against a criminal kingpin in Cork city.

Scenes of a Graphic Nature, Caroline O’Donoghue

Cork-born O’Donoghue, who impressed with her debut Promising Young Women, is back with a darkly comic tale of a prodigal daughter who faces an emotional reckoning when she returns home to Ireland. Out in August.

The Second Sleep, Robert Harris

It is hard to beat Robert Harris when it comes to suspenseful but intelligent thrillers. His latest ingenious page-turner follows cleric Christopher Fairfax, who ends up investigating the death of his predecessor. The action unfolds in an ostensibly medieval setting but all is not as it appears.

Redhead on the Side of the Road, Anne Tyler 

Tyler excels at finding the extraordinary in ordinary lives; her latest novel delves into the seemingly unremarkable life of computer repair man Micah Mortimer but once again, Tyler shows in her own inimitable style that people aren’t always what they seem.

After the Fire, Jo Spain 

The prolific Dublin author is back with another Tom Reynolds crime thriller. Now a chief superintendent, Reynolds investigates a vicious Dublin arsonist. A gripping and expertly plotted read.

Come Again, Robert Webb 

Webb, who is best-known for playing the hilariously oafish Jez on Peep Show, displays his writing chops in this entertaining tale which blends fantasy, humour and time travel as it follows the grieving Kate, who discovers what it’s like to be 18 again.

Five classic beach reads to discover or revisit:

Riders, Jilly Cooper 

The first instalment of Cooper’s horsey trilogy (including Rivals and Polo) is the perfect prescription for pure escapism. The racy romp may be completely out of step with modern mores, but readers will still find themselves surrendering to Rupert Campbell Black’s roguish charm, 35 years on from his debut.

Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

It is sad that it took the recent death of Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon to be reminded of what a superlative read this is. Published in 2001, and set in the 1940s, the rollicking tale follows the adventures of Daniel, son of an antiquarian book dealer whose life changes when he discovers a mysterious book in a library hidden in the bowels of Barcelona.

The Beach, Alex Garland

He’s now better known for his futuristic films and TV shows (Ex Machina, Annihilation, Devs) but this was the phenomenally successful book that put Garland on the map when it was published in 1996. An intoxicating blend of adventure, romance and thriller, we follow backpacker Richard on a hedonistic trip from paradise to hell.

The Dud Avocado, Elaine Dundy 

Long before Carrie Bradshaw, there was Sally Jay Gorce, the smart and extremely funny heroine of this semi-autobiographical novel, first published in 1958. The aspiring actress heads for Paris, where style, sex and cocktails are in plentiful supply. The only drawback is it will make you want to pack a suitcase and head for the French capital.

The Secret History, Donna Tartt 

Tartt exploded on to the literary scene in 1992 with this perfectly paced and plotted campus thriller, akin to a Greek classics-inspired Gossip Girl. A working-class student falls under the spell of a privileged clique at an elite US college but things take a Dionysian turn.

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