Holiday reads: the best books to relax with this summer

From sun-soaked romances to the most gripping crime and thriller books, here are the very best holiday reads for 2021.

12/07/2021
6 minutes to read

For many of us, summer 2021 is all about staycations, lazy long weekends and days spent in the garden – all ideal opportunities to lose yourself in a good book. From immersive literary reads to self-help classics, chilling thrillers to feel-good stories of friendship, here are the best holiday reads of 2021 whether you’re staying at home or taking a trip.

Feel-good fiction and romantic holiday reads

If you like your summer reads with a feel-good factor or a large helping of romance, try one of these brand new novels.

Soul Sisters

by Lesley Lokko

Book cover for 9781529067262

Scottish Jen McFadden and South African-born uKwemisa Mashabane, known as Kemi, have lived like sisters in Edinburgh, bound by ties of friendship and by their shared family history. In London, the friends meet aspiring South African politician Solam Matsunyane, and both are swept off their feet. Kemi decides to return to her birth country, and Jen comes too. Solam meanwhile is looking for a wife to help further his political career. The lifelong bond between Kemi and Jen is threatened by Solam's impending choice, and by the explosive secrets of their own shared past.

How to Save a Life

by Eva Carter

Book cover for 9781529038644

It’s nearly midnight on the eve of the millennium when eighteen-year-old Joel’s heart stops. A school friend, Kerry, performs CPR for almost twenty exhausting minutes, ultimately saving Joel’s life, while her best friend Tim freezes, unable to help. That moment of life and death changes the course of all three lives over the next two decades: each time Kerry, Joel and Tim believe they’ve found love, discovered their vocation, or simply moved on, their lives collide again.

The Missing Sister

by Lucinda Riley

Book cover for 9781509840175

The six D’Aplièse sisters have each been on their own incredible journey to discover their heritage, but they still have one question left unanswered: who and where is the seventh sister? They only have one clue – an image of a star-shaped emerald ring. The search to find the missing sister will take them across the globe – from New Zealand to Canada, England, France and Ireland – uniting them all in their mission to complete their family at last.

A Very French Wedding

by Maeve Haran

Book cover for 9781529035193

Steph, Jo and Meredith have been friends since school. Their lives have all taken very different paths across the years, but when Meredith buys a romantic château in an idyllic village in the Dordogne she finds she can’t do it alone – so who better to enlist for help than her two old friends? Together they hope to bring the château back to life and create the most romantic wedding venue in France. And it seems that the nearby village of Bratenac has much more to offer than sun, wine and delicious French food when a handsome chef and his equally charming son, a vigneron from New Zealand, not to mention the local ladies’ luncheon club and a British bulldog named Nelly all join the party.

The Secret Path

by Karen Swan

Book cover for 9781529006261

At just twenty years old, Tara Tremain has everything: she’s a trainee doctor, engaged to the man of her dreams – a passionate American biology student called Alex Carter. But just when life seems perfect, Alex betrays her in the worst way possible. Ten years later, she’s moved on – with a successful career, good friends and a man who loves her. But when she’s pulled back into her wealthy family’s orbit for an unmissable party in the heart of Costa Rica, she finds herself flung into crisis: a child is desperately ill and the only remedy is several days’ trek away, in the heart of the jungle. There’s only one person who can help – but it’s the man who shattered her heart a decade before. And how can she trust him, of all people?

An Almost Perfect Holiday

by Lucy Diamond

Book cover for 9781529026986

It’s time for the summer holidays, and in Cornwall Lorna’s cottages are fully booked. Three women have planned what they hope will be the perfect getaways, but not everything goes quite to plan.

Em has planned a holiday with her new boyfriend Greg, but with their children coming along, can their romance survive? Maggie is hoping a holiday will help fix her relationship with her daughter, but then her ex turns up out of the blue . . . And Olivia is looking for an escape, but the past always catches up with her. Will this holiday be a scorcher, or just too hot to handle?

Historical fiction holiday reads

Travel back in time, from Victorian London to the Blitz, with riveting historical fiction which is sure to keep you spellbound whether at home or away.

The Secret of The Lake

by Liz Trenow

Book cover for 9781529036619

he war may be over, but for Molly life is still in turmoil. Uprooted from London after the death of her mother, Molly, her father and younger brother Jimmy are starting again in a quiet village in the countryside of Colchester. As summer sets in, the heat is almost as oppressive as the village gossip. Molly dreams of becoming a journalist, finding a voice in the world, but most of the time must act as Jimmy’s carer. At just ten years old he is Molly’s shadow, following her around the village as she falls under the spell of local boy Kit. Kit is clever, funny and a natural-born rebel. Rowing on the waters of the lake with him becomes Molly’s escape from domestic duty. But there is something Kit is not telling Molly.

The Nightingale

by Kristin Hannah

Book cover for 9781509848621

Soon to be a major motion picture, The Nightingale is a multi-million copy bestseller across the world. It is a heart-breakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the endurance of women. This story is about what it was like to be a woman during World War II when women’s stories were all too often forgotten or overlooked . . . Vianne and Isabelle Mauriac are two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals and passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path towards survival, love and freedom in war-torn France.

Circus of Wonders

by Elizabeth Macneal

Book cover for 9781529002539

Circus of Wonders is the eagerly-awaited second novel from Elizabeth Macneal, author of the Sunday Times bestselling debut The Doll Factory. In 1866, in a coastal village in southern England, Nell lives outside of her community, marked as different for the birthmarks that speckle her skin. But her life is turned upside down when her father decides to sell her to Jasper Jupiter's travelling Circus of Wonders. Yet, the greatest betrayal of Nell's life may soon become the best thing that has ever happened to her as she finds friendship and belonging with the other performers. But as Nell's fame grows, will she be able to keep control of her own story?

Yours Cheerfully

by AJ Pearce

Book cover for 9781509853946

From the author of Sunday Times Bestseller, Dear Mrs Bird, comes a much hoped-for follow up, Yours Cheerfully. Charming, heart-warming and hilarious, Yours Cheerfully is just the tonic we've all been waiting for. Following the departure of the formidable Editor, Henrietta Bird, from Woman’s Friend magazine, things are looking up for Emmeline Lake as she takes on the challenge of becoming a young wartime advice columnist. Her relationship with boyfriend Charles is blossoming, while Emmy’s best friend Bunty, is still reeling from the very worst of the Blitz, but bravely looking to the future. Together, the friends are determined to Make a Go of It.

The Mercies

by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Book cover for 9781529075076

When the men of Vardø are all but wiped out in a devastating storm, the surviving women have no choice but to fend for themselves. But as the women grow increasingly independent, suspicions and rivalries grow, coming to a dangerous head with the arrival of Scottish commissioner Absalom Cornet. The Mercies is based on the true story of a devastating storm that hit the Norwegian island of Vardø in 1617 and the subsequent witch trials of 1621. Available now in hardback, and in paperback from July 8th.

Crime & thriller books to read on holiday

Escape into a gripping new thriller or crime novel this summer. Here are the books that are sure to keep you on the edge of your sunbed.

Left You Dead

by Peter James

Book cover for 9781529004243

Left You Dead is the latest installment in Peter James's award-winning crime fiction series starring DS Roy Grace, now a major TV series starring John Simm. Niall and Eden Paternoster start their Sunday the same way they always do – with a long drive, a visit to a country house and a quick stop at the local supermarket on the way home. But this Sunday ends differently – as while Niall waits in the car park for Eden to finish shopping, Eden never returns. She’s not waiting for him at home, and none of their family or friends have heard from her. Eden is gone without a trace.

Niall is arrested on suspicion of her murder, but when DS Roy Grace is called in to investigate it doesn’t take long to realize that nothing is quite as it seems – and this might be his most mysterious case yet . . . Discover the other Roy Grace books in order.

When I Was Ten

by Fiona Cummins

Book cover for 9781509876969

Dr Richard Carter and his wife were murdered in what was one of the most infamous double murders of the modern age. Their daughter, ten-year-old Sara Carter, spent eight years in a children’s secure unit for the crime, and is now living a quiet life under an assumed name.  with a family of her own. On the anniversary of the crime, journalist Brinley Booth is tasked with tracking down Sara and her older sister Shannon. But Brinley isn’t just a journalist – she’s also the sisters’ childhood friend. And confronting what really happened on the night of the murders will have consequences for them all. This is another gripping read from thriller writer Fiona Cummins.

The Imposter

by Anna Wharton

Book cover for 9781529037395

The Imposter – Anna Wharton's debut thriller – is a compelling story of obsession, loneliness and lies. Newspaper archivist Chloe lives a quiet life until one day at work she reads about the long-forgotten cold case of Angie Kyle, a girl who went missing as a child. When an unexpected turn of events finds her living as a lodger in Angie's parents' house, Chloe soon learns that the case of the missing girl is not as simple as it first seemed and becomes obsessed with finding out the truth.   

Magma

by Thora Hjörleifsdóttir

Book cover for 9781529045543

This poetic novel, translated from Icelandic, explores the dark side of desire. Twenty-year old Lilja has fallen for an elegant intellectual older man. But he is also a narcissist and a manipulator. Blinded to his faults, and desperate to explain away his behaviour, she accepts his infidelity and machinations. Lilja is unable to escape this toxicity, until an ultimatum forces the issue, and she can choose whether to be free.

The Hiding Place

by Jenny Quintana

Book cover for 9781529040401

This tense mystery from Jenny Quintana is a must-read for thriller fans. Marina was adopted as a baby after she was found wrapped in a blue shawl in a shared house in London. The press nicknamed her Baby Blue, but the circumstances around her birth are still unknown.  Marina longs to uncover the truth about her birth, so when a flat in the house where she was found is put up for rent, she seizes her chance.  But what if it's not just the house hiding secrets? What if someone knows what happened that day,  and wants to make sure the truth never comes to light?

Available now in hardback, and in paperback from August 19th.

If I Can't Have You

by Charlotte Levin

Book cover for 9781529032420

Constance Little has met the one, and she’s sure he feels the same. They have to keep things quiet as he’s a doctor at the GP surgery where she works but there’s no doubt in Constance’s mind that this is happily ever after. So when Samuel starts to seem less sure, Constance knows she must do everything she can to hold onto love. This devastating novel will have you rooting for Constance even as you start to fear how far she will really go.

Fantasy holiday reads for the ultimate escape

If you can't get away from it all in a literal sense, make your escape in the form of some fantasy reading.

Black Water Sister

by Zen Cho

Book cover for 9781447299998

Heralded as what might be 'Zen Cho's best work yet', Black Water Sister should shoot to the top of your TBR pile if you're looking to get into fantasy fiction but not quite sure where to start. Mischievous and bittersweet, this Malaysian-set novel is a tale of family, ghosts and local gods.

Broke, jobless and just graduated, Jessamyn is abandoning America to return ‘home’. But as she packs to return to Malaysia, a country she hasn't seen since she was a toddler, she starts to hear a bossy voice in her mind. . . 

Jess soon learns that the voice belongs to her late grandmother Ah Ma who in life, and apparently in death, worships a local deity, the Black Water Sister.

When a business magnate dared to offend her goddess, Ah Ma swore revenge, and she isn't afraid to blackmail her granddaughter into helping her to make mischief. As Jess fights to retain control, she is drawn even deeper into a world of peril and family secrets.

The Library of the Dead

by T. L. Huchu

Book cover for 9781529039450

When Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker, earning a living by carrying messages from the dead to the living, it seemed harmless enough. But then the dead begin whispering about someone who is bewitching children and leaving them joyless husks. When Ropa starts investigating she needs to draw on Zimbabwean magic and Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. And what she finds will change her world forever . . . This magical fantasy book is the first in the Edinburgh Nights series. 

Children of Blood and Bone

by Tomi Adeyemi

Book cover for 9781509871353

Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut Children of Blood and Bone. Zélie remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. When different clans ruled – Burners igniting flames, Tiders beckoning waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoning forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, anyone with powers was targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Only a few people remain with the power to use magic, and they must remain hidden. 

Non-fiction holiday reads

Here we list some non-fiction books to ground you on those long summer holiday days, including a major study of black British history.

Empire of Pain

by Patrick Radden Keefe

Book cover for 9781529062489

A masterpiece of narrative reporting that the Washington Post described as 'one of the most anticipated books of this spring', Empire of Pain is the story of three generations of the Sackler family, and their role in the stories of Valium and Oxycontin . . .

One of the richest families in the world, the Sacklers are known for their lavish donations in the arts and the sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that they were responsible for making and marketing Oxycontin, a blockbuster painkiller that was a catalyst for the opioid crisis – an international epidemic of drug addiction which has killed nearly half a million people.

This is the secret history of the Sackler dynasty.

Stronger

by Poorna Bell

Book cover for 9781529050813

Poorna Bell’s journey to get strong began when – following the death of her husband, Rob – she realized that she had been relying on the men in her life to take out the bins, carry the luggage and move furniture. Poorna is now a competitive amateur power-lifter and the strongest she has ever been. This inspiring non-fiction book is part memoir and part manifesto, starting a conversation about women’s mental and physical strength and fitness which has nothing to do with weight loss. 

Fake Law

by The Secret Barrister

Book cover for 9781529009989

Many of us think the law is only relevant to criminals, but in fact it affects every area of our lives. Being unfamiliar with the law makes us susceptible to media spin, political lies and misinformation, allowing the powerful to corrupt justice without our knowledge. In Fake Law the Secret Barrister reveals the stupidity, malice and incompetence behind some of the biggest legal stories, building a defence of our law that is both entertaining and vitally important. 

Black and British

by David Olusoga

Book cover for 9781447299769

In his award-winning book Black and British, historian and broadcaster David Olusoga examines how black and white Britons have been intimately entwined for centuries. Drawing on new genetic and genealogical research, original records, expert testimony and contemporary interviews, in Black and British shows how black British history is woven into the cultural and economic histories of the nation.

Literary holiday reads

Holidays are the perfect time to become engrossed in a long book or to allow yourself to be transported to a different time and place by an immersive novel. These literary books will certainly fit the bill.

Catch the Rabbit

by Lana Bastašic

Book cover for 9781529039603

Sara hasn't seen or heard from her childhood best-friend, Lejla, in years. She's comfortable with her life in Dublin, with her partner, their avocado plant, and their naturist neighbour. But when Lejla calls and demands she come home to Bosnia, Sara finds that she can't say no. What begins as a road trip becomes a journey through the past, as the two women set off to find Armin, Lejla's brother who disappeared towards the end of the Bosnian War. Presumed dead by everyone else, only Lejla and Sara believed Armin was still alive.

Summerwater

by Sarah Moss

Book cover for 9781529035438

This devastating novel from the acclaimed author of Ghost Wall is set over twenty-four hours as the guests of a faded Scottish cabin park wait out the rain on the longest day of the year. With little else to do, twelve people sit cooped up with their families, watching the other residents. Slowly, one family, a mother and daughter without the right clothes or the right manners, begin to draw attention and tensions begin to rise as tragedy looms. Summerwater is a searing exploration of our capacity for both kinship and cruelty and a literary must-read in these divided times.

Read Sarah Moss and her editor discussing  Summerwater, Brexit anxieties and the strangeness of holidays

Luster

by Raven Leilani

Book cover for 9781529035988

Raven Leilani is a funny and original new voice in literary fiction. Her razor-sharp yet surprisingly tender debut is an essential novel about what it means to be young now. Edie is messing up her life, and no one seems to care. Then she meets Eric, who is white, middle-aged and comes with a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. And as if life wasn’t hard enough, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s family. 

Shuggie Bain

by Douglas Stuart

Book cover for 9781529019292

Published in paperback this year, Douglas Stuart’s blistering, Booker Prize-winning debut is a heartbreaking story which lays bare the ruthlessness of poverty and the limits of love. 

Set in a poverty-stricken Glasgow in the early 1980s, Agnes Bain has always dreamed of greater things, but when her husband abandons her she finds herself trapped in a decimated mining town with her three children, and descends deeper and deeper into drink. Her son Shuggie tries to help her long after her other children have fled, but he too must abandon her to save himself. Shuggie is different, fastidious and fussy, and he is picked on by the local children and condemned by adults as 'no’ right’. But he believes that if he tries his hardest he can be like other boys and escape this hopeless place.

Self-care holiday reads

Holidays are the perfect opportunity to take some time for ourselves. These inspiring and educational self-help books make inspiring holiday reads. 

The Kindness Method

by Shahroo Izadi

Book cover for 9781509881833

In these difficult times, we could all benefit from showing ourselves a little kindness. If you want to use this time to make a change, Behavioural Change Specialist Shahroo Izadi believes there’s only one way to make change last, and that’s to be kind to yourself. The Kindness Method was developed through a combination of professional training and personal experience and will leave you feeling empowered, positive and ready to make a change, whether it’s weight loss, cutting down on alcohol or improving your relationships.

Here, Shahroo shares five ways to be kinder to yourself today. 

The Book of Hope

by Jonny Benjamin

Book cover for 9781509846375

From the best advice you’ll ever get to the joy of crisps, the 101 brilliant contributors to The Book of Hope will help you to find hope whenever you need it most. Award-winning mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin, MBE, and co-editor Britt Pflüger bring together people from all walks of life – actors, musicians, athletes, psychologists and activists – to share what gives them hope.

These 101 key voices in the field of mental health, from the likes of Lemn Sissay, Dame Kelly Holmes, Frank Turner and Zoe Sugg, to Joe Tracini, Elizabeth Day, Hussain Manawer and Joe Wicks, share not only their experiences with anxiety, psychosis, panic attacks and more, but also what helps them when they are feeling low. This joyful collection is a supportive hand to anyone looking to find light on a dark day and shows that, no matter what you may be going through, you are not alone.