8 unmissable books to read in the sunshine now

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  • Real Estate by Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton, £10.99)

    The third and last instalment of Deborah Levy’s ‘living memoir’ probes the gendered ideas of home and ownership. As she approaches sixty and her youngest daughter flies the nest, Levy takes stock of what is hers. The book is full of questions – ‘Are women real estate owned by patriarchy?’; ‘What was I going to do with all this wanting?’ It’s funny, thoughtful and companionable.

  • Assembly by Natasha Brown (Hamish Hamilton, £12.99)

    In Assembly, Natasha Brown’s debut novel, the narrator, a black British woman, makes her way to her boyfriend’s house in the country. She went to Cambridge, has a well-paid job in the City, a flat in a trendy area and an aristocratic boyfriend, an outwardly charmed life marred by racism of every degree: ‘A breezy brutality cuts you each day.’ Brown’s prose is bold and spare, at times gappy and distant and at times agonisingly well-observed. An impressive debut.

  • Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead (Doubleday, £14.99)

    In 1950, the great aviator Marian Graves vanishes as she attempts to circumnavigate the globe; in 2014, Hadley Baxter, a Hollywood actress trying to resurrect her career after being fired from a teen fantasy drama, plays Marian in a film and finds herself trying to get at the truth of Marian’s disappearance. The lives of the two women echo and intersect one another; Great Circle is cleverly set up and deftly written, shifting in style as it moves between centuries. A long and mesmerising summer read.

  • Ghosted: A Love Story by Jenn Ashworth (Sceptre, £16.99)

    ‘There’s one other piece of suspicious behaviour I would like to explain’, says Laurie, the narrator of Jenn Ashworth’s fifth novel. When Laurie’s husband of 12 years disappears, leaving everything behind, she continues life as normal for five weeks before telling the police. As well as the lengthy delay, Laurie’s not exactly reliable when it comes to recounting other aspects of their relationship… Ghosts, buried trauma and lingering absences suffuse this darkly funny and compelling novel.

  • Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz: The Rebellion of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton by Gail Crowther (Gallery Books, £20)

    Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton met in the fifties, at a writing workshop at Boston University. Both were poets, both were married and both felt suffocated by a society with little space in it for female ambition. After seminars, Plath and Sexton (and her lover George Starbuck) would go get ‘loaded’ at the Ritz-Carlton. Beginning with these afternoons drinking, Crowther spins out a tale of friendship, jealousy and respect in a lively and well-researched dual biography.

  • Consumed by Arifa Akbar (Sceptre, £16.99)

    In 2016, Arifa Akbar’s sister Fauzia fell ill with a mysterious illness. She died, aged 45, from TB, diagnosed the day before her death. Consumed is Akbar’s poised and scholarly memoir; her sister and their relationship is at its heart, skilfully woven together with a cultural history of the disease that killed her. Akbar touches on its fetishization in the Victorian era, the consumptive women of opera and the historical landmarks connected to TB in Hampstead, where she grew up. A moving story of loss, grief and sisterhood.

  • Malice in Wonderland: My Adventures in the World of Cecil Beaton by Hugo Vickers (Hodder & Stoughton, £25)

    When Hugo Vickers was 29, Cecil Beaton invited him to be his biographer – and while Beaton died shortly after they met, it wasn’t before he’d granted him access to his world. The biography (which came out in 1985) was a bestseller, and Malice in Wonderland is a collection of excerpts from the diaries he kept at the time as he hopped around the world interviewing the gorgeous people in Beaton’s orbit. The Queen Mother, Grace Kelly, Lady Diana Cooper and Diana Vreeland are among those who feature in this animated book, which is gloriously littered with name drops. Vickers – as ever – is a warm and enthusiastic guide to a nearly lost world.

  • The Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee (Granta, £14.99)

    The Great Mistake begins with a murder: Andrew Haswell Green (the city planner responsible for Central Park and many of New York’s greatest buildings) is shot dead outside his mansion on Friday the 13th in 1903. The events of that day and the investigation into the murder unfold in parallel alongside Green’s backstory. It’s nicely suspenseful and elegantly written, with a memorable protagonist at its centre: historical fiction at its finest.

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