Summer reads are all about escaping into another world, whether you’re sitting on a sun lounger or snuggled up in an armchair. Here are our Are You Sitting Comfortably top reads – we’ve had our heads in a book to bring you the best of what’s on the shelves right now from a little magic to historical heists, summer get togethers, a troupe of dotty dachshunds and much more.
Pick a card…
From award-winning novelist Laura Shepherd-Robinson comes an epic tale of fortune and identity set in Georgian high society. If it’s mystery, intrigue and heartbreak you seek, then Shepherd-Robinson’s latest novel, The Square of Sevens, will be just the thing. As a girl known only as Red travels from village to village with her fortune-telling father, they pay their way with an ancient method of cartomancy known as the Square of Sevens. When their luck quickly sours, Red’s father befriends a gentleman scholar, offering him an antique document containing the secret behind their gift for augury, in exchange for a promise that the scholar will take Red into his care. Amidst the Georgian splendour of Bath, Red’s fortune-telling skills are a delight in polite society but the questions she has about her identity gnaw at her soul. These mysteries draw Red to London and into the grand houses of two of the most powerful families in England. However, others have too embarked upon their own investigations and remain determined to locate the stolen secret of the Square of Sevens. Whilst Red’s quest attracts attention, danger and reward in equal measure lie in wait.
Drawing us into a world where anything is possible and nothing is quite as it seems, Liz Hyder’s The Illusions is a sweeping tale of women, magic and power, inspired by real-life illusionists and early film pioneers. It’s Bristol, 1896 and Cecily Marsden’s life is turned upside down when her master suddenly dies. Believing herself to blame, could young Cec somehow have powers she little understands? Whilst brilliant young magician, George Perris, begins to see the potential in moving pictures, a pioneering early film-maker, Eadie Carleton, struggles to be taken seriously in a male-dominated world. If George can harness this new technology, it will revolutionise the world of magic forever — but in order to achieve his dreams, he must first win over Miss Carleton. As a group of illusionists prepare for a grand spectacle, Cec, Eadie and George’s worlds collide. But as Cec falls in love with the wonderful realm of theatre and magic, she faces the fight of her life to save the performance from sabotage and harness the element of real magic held deep within her.
The greatest heist
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned as they say. Alex Hay’s The Housekeepers is the perfect upstairs downstairs revenge novel – it’s Oceans 11 meets 1905 London with an all girl gang cast. When Mrs King, housekeeper to the most illustrious home in Mayfair, is suddenly dismissed after years of loyal service, she knows just who to recruit to help her take revenge. A black-market queen out to settle her scores. An actress desperate for a magnificent part. A seamstress dreaming of a better life. And Mrs King’s predecessor, who has been keeping the dark secrets of Park Lane for far too long. Mrs King has an audacious plan in mind, one that will reunite her women in the depths of the house on the night of a magnificent ball – and play out right under the noses of her former employers….
For readers of Margaret Atwood and Hilary Mantel
There is power in silence. Immersive and compelling, Margaret Meyer’s The Witching Tide is a spellbinding tale of the impact of misogyny and the power of resistance set in East Anglia, 1645. Martha Hallybread, a midwife, healer and servant, has lived peacefully for more than four decades in her beloved village of Cleftwater. She has not spoken a word in years. One bright morning, Martha becomes a silent witness to a witch hunt, led by sinister new arrival Silas Makepeace. As a trusted member of the community, she is enlisted to search the bodies of the accused women for evidence. But whilst she wants to help her friends, she also harbours a dark secret that must never be revealed. In desperation, Martha revives a poppet, a wax witching doll that she inherited from her mother, in the hope that it will bring protection. But the poppet’s true powers are unknowable, the tide is turning and time is running out.
A little joyful escapism
Windmill Hill by Lucy Atkins is an eccentric story of love, loyalty and dotty dachshunds. A night in a remote hunting lodge with a Hollywood director leads to an international scandal which wrecks Astrid’s glittering stage career, and her marriage. The fallout sees Astrid retreating to a derelict Sussex windmill whilst ex-husband Magnus jets off towards global fame. Astrid, now 82, still resides in the crumbling windmill with a troupe of dachshunds and her long-suffering friend, Mrs Baker, who came to clean twenty years ago and never left. The past just can’t seem to stay in the past though and when an ‘Awful Incident’ occurs at the windmill, the two women are left in a state of shock. Astrid hears that Magnus is writing a tell-all memoir to boot and she sets off to Scotland, determined to stop him. This novel is a love letter to enduring friendship as both women confront their difficult and life changing pasts in a deliciously funny and compelling tale. An absolute escapist gem which is very much in the vein of Molly Keane.
Three generations of women, and the summer that saved them. Cathy Bramley’s latest novel, The Sunrise Sisterhood, takes us to Salcombe where after years on her own, Liz hopes that the longed for arrival of her god-daughters (and half sisters), Skye and Clare will be just what she needs to help save the catering business she built with Clare’s late mother, Jen. Family secrets and hidden jealousies, the women navigate an unexpected summer together and relationships are put to the test. Can they reconcile their pasts in order to save their future or will the truth prove too shocking to recover from?
Daisy Buchanan’s Limelight is both hilariously funny and touching in its story of sisterhood, sexuality and self-esteem. In a world constantly telling us who we are, what happens when we start paying attention to ourselves? Growing up in the shade of her perfect sister, Bean, Frankie has always squashed her own cravings for attention. But she’s got a secret. Utterly unrecognisable from her real self, Frankie exudes confidence and sexiness online – uploading a series of risqué photos to her small fandom. When the worst happens and Bean is diagnosed with cancer, their mother stages a nationwide fundraiser and Frankie is firmly shoved into the role of supportive sister. Frankie’s secret is uncovered. With her mum and sister not speaking to her, feminists and misogynists raging online at her and subscribers racking up, Frankie’s under pressure to explain herself. But how can she explain what she hardly understands? Deliciously brilliant from the author of Insatiable and Careering.
A little romance, a little mystery
The Miniscule Mansion of Myra Malone offers family drama and a charming love story with a mystical dolls’ house at its heart. From her attic in the Arizona mountains, 30 something recluse Myra Malone blogs about a miniature mansion – a dolls’ house – which captivates thousands of readers worldwide. Across the country, Alex Rakes, heir of a furniture business, encounters two Mansion fans trying to recreate a room from her stories. The Mansion is his family’s home, handed down from the grandmother who disappeared mysteriously when Alex was a child. Searching for answers, Alex begins corresponding with Myra.
For fans of Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss
Chloe Ashby’s second novel, Second Self poses questions about motherhood, choice, the push and pull of relationships – our sense of self. When Cathy and Noah first got married, the question of having a child was something neither saw in their future. Eight years into a happy marriage, now Cathy isn’t so sure. What if one day she might? With Noah’s mind unchanged, her best friend’s longing for another child and the relationship with her widowed mother changing, Cathy (35) escapes into her work as art conservator at the National Gallery. As she undercovers a hidden truth under the layers of overpaint on a canvas from the collection, she begins to find a clarity of her own. Second Self is an exploration about growing and adapting, whether we can ever be comfortable with being the version of ourselves seen through the eyes of another. How does a relationship hold up when two people evolve separately and together?
A light-hearted classic
Persephone Books always have a such a wonderful eye for bringing neglected novels, mostly written by women, back into circulation. Very much in the mould of Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle and Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, Mariana by Monica Dickens (a relative of the famous Charles) is a gorgeous coming of age novel. A story of a young English girl’s growth towards maturity in the 1930s, the reader follows Mary at school in Kensington, as she holidays in Somerset and onwards as she tries out drama school and a year in Paris. Romance, getting engaged to the wrong man and everything in between – we journey alongside Mary as she navigates it all and learns what she’s made of. A literary gem to be cherished.
Enormous thanks to this month’s summer reads sponsor The Braided Rug Company a gorgeous family run company who make the most beautiful jute bags and stunning braided rugs of house joy beauty. My birthday list has begun!!!