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Summer must-reads: recommendations from literary agents

BY Katie Smart
13th Aug 2020

As with much of 2020, summer is looking a little different this year. Maybe you're planning a trip to the seaside or a staycation – what better excuse is there to soak up the sunshine and read a good book.

We asked the agent teams at Curtis Brown and C&W what they're reading this summer! From prize-listed novels to long-awaited must-reads there's something here for everyone to get stuck into whether you are on the beach or at home:

Anna Davis, Curtis Brown Creative

I have just arrived in Margate for my holiday and am excited to be taking Emily St John Mandel’s new novel The Glass Hotel down to the beach with me. I was blown away by her last novel Station Eleven so my expectations are high. I don’t know much about it yet but it looks weird and wonderful – and my copy is a beautiful signed limited edition especially produced for independent book shops. I hope I don’t wreck it on the beach!

Felicity Blunt, Curtis Brown

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. Haunting, visceral and richly observed. This book which touches on disease and the spread is more relevant to today than I had first imagined. Set as it is within Shakespeare’s life I love the heat that his marriage is imbued with. His wife is made real, flesh, blood and brains. A historical cipher bought to life.

Don’t Turn Around by Jessica Barry. Two strangers, Cait and Rebecca, are driving across America. Cait’s job is to transport women to safety. Out of respect, she never asks any questions. Like most of the women, Rebecca is trying to escape something. But what if Rebecca’s secrets put them both in danger? There’s a reason Cait chooses to keep on the road, helping strangers. She has a past of her own, and knows what it’s like to be followed. And there is someone right behind them, watching their every move... An addictive, fast-paced thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Perfect for fans of Lisa Gardner and Clare Mackintosh.

Cathryn Summerhayes, Curtis Brown

My Summer treat read was Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. I have read a lot of non-fiction connected to recent events in the US and the BLM movement but nothing hit home more sharply about white privilege and our blinkered approach to racism than this crackingly entertaining and horrifying read. Deserves to be on the Booker shortlist – is a contender for winner... despite Mantel.

And I’m going to flag two of my own books, by two of the most special writers and lovely human beings. For the thrilling fiction reader, Chris Whitaker’s We Begin at the End is a jaw-droppingly good novel that makes your heart race whilst breaking it at the same time. And for the nonfiction nature buff, Diary of Young Naturalist by immensely talented teenager Dara McAnulty will make you look at the world outside your window in a totally fresh way.

Stephanie Thwaites, Curtis Brown

I absolutely loved and devoured the astonishing True Story by Kate Reed Petty which was utterly gripping, brilliantly written, smart and bold and so unlike anything I’ve read before. A really extraordinary book which cleverly weaves together different genre in the most surprising and unexpected way and if you haven’t discovered it yet you’re in for a treat!

Perfect for the summer is Amanda Weinberg’s The Tears on Monterini – a beautiful, evocative and heart breaking novel set in an idyllic Italian village during the Fascist era. Inspired by true events it charts the lives of neighbouring families as romance blossoms, friendship falters and shadows loom. It’s an enchanting story about love, longing and survival but ultimately about hope.

Susan Armstrong, C&W

I’m currently reading Modern Times by Cathy Sweeney. Alongside the fact that it’s short and so wonderfully light to carry around, I’m loving the surreal playfulness of this short story collection. Escapism in each story, bitesize, which for me is especially good for a heatwave. Read the first line of the blurb and you’ll know if it’s your cup of tea or not.

Out this summer is debut One Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie. Set in Trinidad it lifts the curtain on a family on the edge and a daughter dangerously in lust. Some big issues are explored but at its core this is a witty and somewhat wild tale about one year in the life of the extremely fun and chaotic Palacio family.

Alice Lutyens, Curtis Brown

Wild and Sleepless Nightsby Clover Stroud. An account of mothering which is really an account of the female body and mind. It delves right down into our burning hot depths and brings up things we had not even seen about ourselves really. You don’t need to be a mother to love this book.

The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor. Funny, god so funny. Utterly charming and captivating account of a 16 year old girl growing up in 1960s Yorkshire. I still laugh to myself when I think about the Smart Hotel Lunch. I have not found one person who doesn’t love it, including Radio 2 which picked it as a summer read.

Emma Finn, C&W

I recently finished The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and loved the emotionally rich, compelling and tender story of divided twins and the complexities of belonging. It has that rare combination of beautiful writing and a completely propulsive story, and I now can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of The Mothers– Bennett’s debut novel – ahead of my holiday. I also raced through Lily King’s Writers and Loversand am looking forward to Frances Cha’s If I Had Your Face.

Lisa Babalis, Curtis Brown

I’ve been saving Lanny by Max Porter for the right uninterrupted occasion. But if it reduces me to tears the way his first novel Grief is the Thing with Feathers did, I may have to be hospitalised for dehydration. Lyrical, spare and poetic, this is a prose-poem novel about a missing boy. I cannot wait to dive in.

Tiger Heart by Penny Chrimes (former CBC student) – a rollicking adventure for middle grade readers – what happens when Fly the chimney sweep falls into a tiger’s cage?

Sophie Lambert, C&W

It’s been months of juggling work and children, but I’m off on holiday next week with books for pleasure. I have been dying to read Ordinary People by Diana Evans which so many people have raved about as being a beautifully written, thoughtfully observed portrayal of modern marriage.

I am lucky enough to represent former CBC student Nikki Smith whose brilliant debut novel All In Her Head garnered incredible praise, this is an emotionally tense and thrilling narrative that is offers up a shocking and haunting perspective of motherhood.

Niall Harman, Curtis Brown

With the world being what it has been the past few months, reading books hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve found short story collections to be the solution to my diminished attention span. The latest is Saturday Lunch with the Brownings by Penelope Mortimer, first published in 1960 and just reissued by Daunt Books Publishing, which I have been relishing. Brilliantly funny with a dark undercurrent, Mortimer pulls apart family and domestic life with supreme style and wit.

Sabhbh Curran, Curtis Brown

A Theatre for Dreamers by Polly Samson. A heady, vivid novel about the Greek island Hydra, Leonard, Marianne and the 1960s dream. I loved being immersed in the spellbinding world of the island’s bohemian population and discovering the dark secrets that lurk beneath the surface of their utopia. Perfect escapism for a staycation!

Caitlin Leydon, Curtis Brown

I’m reading Little Eyesby Samanta Schweblin (Translated by Megan McDow). The novel follows small toys (though they are more like a cross between robots and pets) that connect real people across the world. It’s beautifully rendered, and exposes both the desire for and importance of human connection, whilst simultaneously underlining the dangerous technological implications. It’s compelling and unsettling, not least because of the similarities we can draw to the world around us.

Jennifer Kerslake, Curtis Brown Creative

I’ve been saving Elizabeth Strout’sOlive, Againfor my trip to Rye in September. I adore Strout’s prose – the way she packs so much feeling, detail and history into a sublimely spare sentence – and I raced through Olive Kitteridge a few years back so I’m hoping for a similarly immersive experience. I’ll also be taking Felicity Cloake’s One More Croissant for the Road, so if it rains I can dream of cycling across sun-drenched hills, pausing for gloriously sticky slices of tarte tatin...

Katie Smart, Curtis Brown Creative

I have just finished If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha, this is a outstanding debut that examines the beauty industry in South Korea. The narrative follows four very different young women. We see their relationships with each other and their bodies explored through past trauma, childhoods and their every day lives.

A friend lent me I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron. I am devouring these short essays. Ephron’s musings on aging, femininity, relationships and food are as hilarious as they are wise. If you haven’t read Ephron yet I would highly recommend (particularly if you think that When Harry Met Sally is the best romantic comedy of all time).

Also, there can be no more fitting summer read that Heatstroke by CBC alumna Hazel Barkworth. Set across a sweltering summer this story of secrets and obsession is perfect for the August heat wave.