When I work with English teachers, I’m often asked for book recommendations. Sometimes people want follow-up reading related to the training we’ve been doing, or to their professional development. However, I’m just as often asked whether there are any books I can recommend for their personal enjoyment.
With this in mind, and with a long summer heading our way, I thought I’d ask the staff here for their top picks – either books they have read and loved, or books they are looking forward to reading over the summer. This is the result – I think it’s a list of personal recommendations diverse enough that no-one should get stuck for reading over the coming couple of months and beyond.
Happy summer reading!
“I’ve picked a couple of books that I read earlier this year. I recommended both of them to one of my friends, who loved them too. My picks are:
The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune
A book that left me with a huge smile, this would be a perfect read for a staycation or beach day. Arthur Parnassus is the master of an off-the-books orphanage on a private island. When pencil-pusher Linus Baker from the Department in Charge of Magical Youth is charged with evaluating him and the six dangerous children who live there, everything Arthur has fought to hide comes to light.
A heart-warming and amusing summer read about family, love, the importance of embracing difference, and finding your place in the world. It’s an unexpectedly moving and funny book. Each of the six children have an array of endearing and poignant scenes, as well as lot of humour that only childhood innocence can convey - but the two adult characters are equally compelling. The nod to Orwell’s 1984 is fantastic and the writing and setting has a magical and dreamlike ease that made me speed through this book very quickly.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I’ve chosen this second book because again, it surprised me. Firstly because, I actually thought I had reserved the Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. The Turton novel is a thriller, so I got quite the surprise when a story about a Hollywood starlet arrived instead! I wouldn’t usually choose books in this genre, but the writing was so fantastic I couldn’t put it down and finished it within 24 hours.
After a successful career in the spotlight Evelyn Hugo is ready to reveal what really went on behind the seven husbands, the scandalous affairs and her rise to the top. A fascinating throwback to the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood and the realities of living a life where someone is always watching.
Since reading it, the book has stayed with me. It highlights how our idols, despite being rich and famous, do not have the freedom we assume they have - and it also reveals the true price of success. There is a slow but steady build-up to a shocking ending that challenges these assumptions head-on.”
“I’d like to recommend:
Assembly by Natasha Brown
This novella is a fresh take on what it means to be a heroine, chronicling a young British black woman's professional and personal experiences in the modern world.
I would also like to champion:
During the summer, I’m looking forward to reading:
Animal by Lisa Taddeo
Lisa Taddeo gained attention with her hugely successful Three Women a non-fiction book exploring the emotional and sexual lives of three women living in different parts of America. Animal is her first novel.”
“Firstly, here are some books I’ve read over the last couple of years, and have particularly enjoyed:
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
A book about redemptive power of nature and recovery from addiction. After a decade away living a hedonistic lifestyle in London, the author returns to Orkney and the farm where she grew up. Inspiring and beautifully written.
Milkman by Anna Burns
I cannot tell you how much I love this book! Despite being set in the times for ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, Burns succeeds in making it both funny and moving. I fell in love with the endearing protagonist, whose creation reveals an awesome display of sustained characterisation and voice.
The Years by Annie Ernaux
I’ve recently been reading some of Ernaux’s shorter memoirs, but this was the big, ground-breaking book for her. Both an intimate impressionistic memoir and a collective history of France covering the years between 1941 and 2006. A phenomenal read.
Drive your Plough over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
Tokarczuk followed up her International Man Booker prize winning Flights with this hugely entertaining and thought-provoking noir eco-thriller.
I am hoping to read quite a few books over the summer, but I am particularly looking forward to reading:
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for years now, and with a new English translation by Bela Shayevich released last year, this seems like the perfect opportunity. For those of you who love dystopian novels, this is the one that inspired Orwell’s 1984 but, I have been warned, is both bleaker and darker!”
“I would like to recommend:
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
This is a fantastic book with or without a personal interest in running. It meanders through adventure and science and on to history & human biology; exploring how a long-lost Mexican tribe living in the copper Canyon mountains can run over 100 miles at a time in sandals made of old tyres and rope! It pits modern day professional US ultra-athletes against tribespeople no one had ever heard of, and delves into the science behind how man could traditionally outrun and catch prey because our ancestors were just that.... ‘born to run’.
“The three books I would like to recommend are:
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Fabulous read on the meaning of life, the universe and everything!
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Fascinating story of women’s struggles in Afghanistan.
A History of Insects by Yvonne Roberts
Set in Pakistan in 1956, eye-opening story from the perspective of a young girl of the duplicitous nature of parenting / the adult world, set against the backdrop of the discontent of Pakistanis with the rule of the British Empire.”
“I’d like to recommend five of my favourite books:
Friday by Michel Tournier
A fantastic philosophical and psychological reworking of this story that focuses on Crusoe’ s personal journey through his time on the island. It’s a truly fascinating read.
The Collector by John Fowles
A very dark but riveting story that mirrors the 2 different perspectives of the one holding someone captive and that of the one in captivity.
The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida
Don’t be fooled by the title! This is about the best “self-help” book I have read and one that everyone should read, in my opinion, regardless of gender. It’s a simple, yet very poignant look at how the masculine might best work with the feminine to ensure the flow of a harmonious relationship. It’s not easy reading for men if they are very much stuck in old patterns, but I’ve yet to meet a woman who has read it that didn’t say it was pretty much spot on and wish that their partner would read it and digest it.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Basically, anything by this author is worth a read, but this was the first one I read and I was hooked on his way of writing and the easy philosophical and spiritual undertones that run through his books.
Demian by Herman Hess
Again, anything by Hess is fantastic but this one was the first I read and I fell in love with his words - they touch my soul. He is my favourite writer. Demian is a stunning, reflective journey through the life of the main character as he grows and learns. I wish I had enough German to be able to read him in his first language, but they have all been translated beautifully and I would recommend that everyone gives his work a go.”
“I would like to recommend three Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction Titles:
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
This is a novel that has won many awards not only in the sphere of science fiction but as stand-alone work of literature. A Jesuit Priest rebuilds his life as he recounts a haunting tale of cultural contamination which has unforeseen and tragic consequences.
Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
This is a multi-award-winning hard science fiction novel which charts the accidental development of an unlikely civilisation. In a clever eon-spanning plot, humanity draws closer to confrontation with this new species, and it is far from clear which civilisation you will be rooting for at the end.
Semiosis by Sue Burke
This is one of my favourite reads of the last year. Escaping an ecological disaster on Earth a small group of colonists land on the verdant world of Pax. Life is hard, but they find that those who cooperate with nature survive the best. Could the local plant-life be manipulating them somehow? Lots of interesting ideas and twists of plot, but at heart a very human story.”
“Here are two books I’ve read recently, and really enjoyed:
How to stop time by Matt Haig
The Observer describes this book as a ‘rollicking, time-hopping fantasy!’
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
This one is incredible as an audiobook, read by the author.”
I’ve had a number of other recommendations from staff over the year, including a few that have each picked up a prestigious literary prize. These include:
- Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (winner of the 2020 Booker Prize)
- Mermaid of the Black Conch by Monique Roffey (winner of the Costa Book Award 2020)
- Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction)
Thanks to Nick B and to Sabreena for these, which I whole-heartedly endorse as fabulous choices!
Written by Mike Turner