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Summer reading recommendations from Sandstone HQ

It's far too hot to do anything other than sit in the shade with a cool drink and a good book, so we asked our team for their top summer reading recommendations.

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Robert Davidson, Managing Director

Stephen May, in his Sell Us the Rope, provides what no other author has done, a detailed and compelling character study of the (relatively) young Stalin in the form of a page turning novel with strongly feminist tones. So entirely plausible is it, that I was reminded of Robert Service’s Stalin biography which, although no longer new, along with his books on Lenin and Trotsky, continues to be my gold standard account of Soviet history. In terms of character, May’s detailed look at Stalin/Koba is of a perfect piece with Service’s comprehensive whole-life gaze. Although Messrs May and Service write from different locations in the political spectrum, I think their books are a perfect match.

Moira Forsyth, Publishing Director

When I’m looking for summer reads I like to have at least one book about somewhere warmer than the UK! I can dream… Cut Out is set in the South of France, and evokes in Roberts’s sumptuous prose the world of the aging Matisse and his young assistants as they help him put his wonderful cut out pictures together. An absolute treat, page turning and absorbing, by a fine literary author. My other choice also has a powerful sense of place, this time Venice. Venetian Gothic is the fourth in Philip Gwynne Jones’s thrillers set there (and my favourite, though they’re all good), with one of the finest cats in literature having a walk on (and off) part.

Ceris Jones, Campaigns Manager

I love getting completely hooked on a series (ideally crime fiction or fantasy) over the holidays. I picked up Slow Horses after Ian Rankin compared Lesley Kelly's Health of Strangers series to Mick Herron's books, and I'm so glad I did. I've thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Herron and Kelly's bands of misfits, along with the mix of humour, office politics, fast-paced antics and government-level conspiracy they both offer.

Kay Farrell, Assistant Publisher

There’s nothing quite like a new Louise O’Neill book to make me go ooh and also yikes. Not known for pulling her punches, O’Neill’s work is never afraid to go to some dark, dark places. In her latest, Idol, it’s a trip into the most secret and terrible impulses of female nature.

Mega-successful lifestyle influencer Samantha Miller has built herself into a brand encouraging younger fans to embrace their ‘truth’. A new essay of hers revealing a teenage sexual encounter with her best friend Lisa has gone viral bringing her ever-more fans and attention – but Lisa doesn’t remember it that way at all. And when words like ‘assault’ start flying around the internet, the question becomes, whose ‘truth’ is really a lie?

It's clear from the start of the novel that Samantha really sees herself as a saviour and trailblazer to ‘her girls’ – her followers, who buy her books, wellness products and retreat tickets. She is a very damaged person, but then none of the characters in this book are without problems. A slew of huge topics are touched upon from addiction to eating disorders, from sexual assault and abortion to pseudo-science, from the complexities of female relationships to the real definition of self-made (wo)man. In the hands of a lesser author the book would feel crammed but with O’Neill’s skill the narrative rather feels pacey and close to the knuckle, forcing the reader to wonder how extraordinary these kinds of occurrences are, really?

Tackling many of the same themes is Cynthia Rogerson’s newest, WAH! Things I never said to my mother. It’s a great subtitle, immediately making me think of all the things I’ve never told my own mother (some of which I’m tempted to write here except that she might then read them. Hi Mum).

WAH! is a memoir which reads like a novel, following the author from her early years in California through her adventures hitchhiking in Mexico, being assaulted in a van in France, an impulsive marriage to an Irishman she barely knew, and that time she murdered her dad’s dog.

What struck me most about reading O’Neill’s book straight after Rogerson’s was the way Idol critiqued the idea of a person’s ‘truth’ as sacrosanct and how conscious and wary Rogerson is of this very trap: in the prologue she relates an incident from her school days, telling her classmates of how her dog could talk to be met with laughter and accusations of lying. But to her, the dog talking felt true and her later embarrassed retractions felt like lies. In this way, she acknowledges the validity of perspectives other than her own. She is also strikingly different from O’Neill’s protagonist in her acceptance of responsibility for her imperfect relationship with her parents, for the mistakes she’s made and above all genuine tenderness the book reveals towards not only the author’s mother but many others around her. A delightfully heart-warming read.