Summer Page Turners

Welcome to our summer book club! Books that are guaranteed to capture your attention while you sit back in the sun (hopefully!) and take a few hours to escape to a new place.

Hope you find some inspiration for your next great read!

We’d love to know your favourite book, join the book chat in our Facebook group

Underbelly

by Anna Whitehouse

You may have heard of Anna Whitehouse under her pseudonym Mother Pukka . She is a radio presenter, journalist and champion for flexible working through her amazing Flex Appeal campaign.

She wrote Underbelly with her husband, Matt Farquharson and it's rooted in their real life experience. It explores this crazy social media soaked world we live in and brilliantly combines the scary, dangerous hidden realities of a life lived online, with an engrossing story and complex characters you feel invested in.

A total page-turner, we loved it!

Behind the Book with Anna Whitehouse

What inspired you to write Underbelly?

I was seeing so much misinterpretation online, and so much of it was between women – making assumptions about each other, writing off a 3D person based on a 2D image. That seemed most pronounced around motherhood. I wanted to investigate the cancelling, the trolling and the doxing, but also how this is affected by the impact of becoming a mum.

You wrote Underbelly with your husband, how did you go about that – did you take chapters or characters each, for example, or was it more organic?

This is our third book together, so we’ve had a bit of practice but it’s always a bit tense. No one wants to get notes from their life lobster. The emotional heart of the story comes from me, the structure and plotting from Matt – we handed bits back and forth, polishing what the other had done and in later drafts we each took one of the main characters to really sharpen their voices.

How would you describe the story?

It’s about two women thrown together at the school gates when their kids become friends. Lo is a middle-class mum, activist and minor social media influencer. Dylan is a single mum in a zero-hours job, trying to keep food on the table while fleeing an abusive past. The trouble starts when they make assumptions about each other based on superficial details and how they see each other on social media. Things then spiral from there…

In the book you explore the darker side of social media – a theme that feels so important and relevant right now. Was this drawn from real life experience?

Social media has been great in many ways – bringing people closer, giving work to those denied access to traditional jobs (often after having kids – 84% of social media ads are posted by women). But it also sees ASA guidelines ignored to flog £200 breast pumps to postnatally-depressed mothers. It has caused some to hound strangers to mental collapse and self harm. It has driven women to suicide.

“We are a guinea pig generation for a highly addictive technology that can spur extreme feelings. The events and characters of Underbelly are invented – but the feelings, the heart of it, the loss of yourself in a digital world: those things are true.”

Which character do you relate to most?

I wrote more of Lo, Matt wrote more of Dyl, but I relate to the pain, worries, and joys of each of them. It’s odd but these people in your head become friends who you care about.

It was also so refreshing to see different types of motherhood brought through as a theme. Is it important to you to talk about the pressures of motherhood?

It is such a transformative experience – wonderful and privileged but also desperate and terrifying. It’s something women weren’t encouraged to talk about in the past, but in the last few years women all over the world have been opening up on the realities of it all, and that can only be good.

What message would you like readers to take away from Underbelly?

To pause and consider the human behind the image.

We love your Flex Appeal campaign – if anyone isn’t aware, what is your aim with this?

This is the thing that really keeps me going: we want to make flexible working a right from day one in a job and it feels like we’ve made some real progress over the last five years.

“The rigid nine to five excludes tens of thousands of people from work – it cost me my job after having a child – allowing more flex will allow thousands of people back into work.”

Are you working on a new book at the moment?

Yes, we’re working on about six of them, writing ideas and characters and scenes to see what works best so we can narrow it down to share with a few trusted first readers.

What authors do you always look forward to reading?

Lisa Taddeo, Zakiya Dalila Harris, Caitlyn Moran, Elizabeth Day.

Thank you so much for talking to us, Anna!
Get your copy of Underbelly here .

We'll be discussing the book over in our Facebook group , so make sure you join us there!

The Reading List

From a range of genres - these are the books you won’t be able to put down this summer.

I Know What You’ve Done

Here is the Beehive

Looking for Eliza

Worst Idea Ever

Here is the Beehive

By Sarah Crossan

Now, a book that centres around a woman dealing with the sudden death of her lover might not seem like a high-jinx summer read but this is one of the most beautiful, emotive, delicate books you’ll read this year.

It’s poetic writing style will pull you in immediately and its insight into human nature will strike chords. Try something a little different and discover Ana’s story as she accidentally befriends her lover’s widow in the wildly moving, unique read.

Looking for Eliza

By Leaf Arbuthnot

This is a story that warms you like a perfect summer’s day. Leaf Arbuthnot’s debut novel Looking For Eliza is a book about intergenerational friendship, love and loss. Recently widowed Ada lives across the street from student Eliza. Both women are going through their own personal struggles but despite their age difference they find solace in each other, bonding over their shared love for Lapsang Souchong tea and Primo Levi.

With its delightful plot and lyrical prose, Looking For Eliza is such an charming summer read. It’s the kind of story you can indulge in one sitting or savour throughout the season with an ice cream in hand.

Worst Idea Ever

By Jane Fallon

Meet best friends Georgia and Lydia - Georgia is a children’s picture book author and Lydia is desperate to be.

Lydia starts a business selling her illustrations and Georgia wants to be her cheerleader, so sets up a fake Twitter account so pose as an anonymous customer - to give her friend a confidence boost.

BUT Lydia soon starts spilling secrets to her new online friend and Georgia discovers some devastating home truths. Can their friendship survive this?

We whizzed through this - funny, refreshing and a delight to read.

I Know What You Have Done

By Dorothy Koomson

Super topical (it’s the first book we’ve read set in 2021, so pandemic times) and super exciting, I Know What You’ve Done is legendary author Dorothy Koomson’s 15th novel and sits firmly in her trademark brilliant emotional thriller territory.

Priscilla is attacked in her home and as she runs for help, she has another agenda too. She hands over her diary to her neighbour Rae and begs her to find out who attacked her. She says all Rae needs to know is in the diary. You see, for reasons that become clear later, Priscilla has been taking detailed notes about her neighbours’ comings and goings for some time, so she knows far more than anyone suspects, enough for someone to want to kill her…

The Getaway

By Isabelle Broom

We couldn’t have a summer book list and not include one that whisks you away to beautiful views and sandy beaches - specifically, Croatian beaches.

Kate’s life is turned upside down when her relationship suddenly ends, she loses her whole direction in life so does what we’d all love to do sometimes - getaway from everything on an extended holiday.

While in Croatia she meets Alex and pure escapist romanticism ensues. This is a witty, charming is a summer reading list must!

Last Night

By Mhairi Mcfarlane

You MUST read Last Night - it’s the perfect blend of hilarious, heart-breaking and relatable. I loved the tone, the clever observations, warm characters and laugh-out-loud moments. A contemporary romcom that tackles the tricky topic of grief in such a tender way, plus lead character Eve is a woman you just want to be friends with.

The Binding

By Bridget Collins

Loved by Tania Gammon, Group Customer Service Manager:

“The most beautifully poetic LGBT love story with Emmet, a book binder’s apprentice, at the heart of the plot. Only, at this bindery, it’s not books that are bound; people come to have their unwanted memories extracted and bound into tomes kept locked away, never to be revealed again. Emmet discovers a book with his name on it and sets out to uncover the secrets of his past. The Binding is fantastical, thought provoking and heart-warming with stunningly written characters and an ending that will make you want to go back and read the whole thing again.”

Before the Coffee Gets Cold

By Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Loved by Judith Willis, Junior Copywriter:

“A charming and unique read, Before The Coffee Gets Cold comprises of four interweaving short stories centred around customers of a mysterious café that, urban legend has it, offers time travel to its patrons.

But time travelling in this café is no easy feat – there are many rules that must be followed, the most important being that one must return from the past before their coffee gets cold, or else…”

The Night Circus

By Erin Morgenstern

Loved by Sophie Harkup, Senior Customer Service Advisor:

“This is a story full of magic, power, and romance. Two duelling magicians must showcase their power and strength within the arena that is the circus by creating and maintaining spectacular displays and tents. But as more lives get entangled in the game, how do they keep going and decide on the winner?

Beautifully written and with many character stories intertwined, there is never a slow or dull moment. It is full of magic and wonder; it makes you wish the Night Circus was real.”

The Wicked Deep

By Shea Ernshaw

Loved by Bethany Gerrish, Senior Customer Service Advisor:

“Following the story of the mysterious Swan sisters who are drowned 200 years ago for being witches. Every summer solstice, they return to seek revenge on the men of the town.

This book is full of plot twists that keep you guessing, magic, mystery, and a love story full of secrets. The chapters are so magically woven together, they leave you with that ‘oh just one more chapter’ feeling. An enchanting contemporary take of the story of Hocus Pocus!”

Greenwhich Park

By Katherine Faulkner

This is an excellent, riveting read. Helen, her husband Daniel, her brother Rory and his wife, Serena, all live a seemingly idyllic life in Greenwich, London. However, an encounter with a woman at an antenatal class turns Helen’s world upside down and brings secrets from the past crashing into their lives now, with page-turning consequences.

We enjoyed it right until the very last tantalising sentence...

READ OUR AUTHOR INTERVIEW

The Party

By Elizabeth Day

“That’s the problem with charm. It means you get away with stuff. It means you never have to develop a real character because no one remembers to.”

Why we love The Party:

Elizabeth Day’s dark, psychological thriller, The Party is a tale about obsession, misplaced loyalty and the utmost betrayal. Written in a dual narrative, the story is told by Martin Gilmour and his wife, Lucy, who gives us an outsider’s perspective on Martin’s deeply unhealthy attachment to his best friend of 28 years, Ben.

What we loved most about this book was its unpredictability. Every time we thought we had figured out what was going to happen next, Elizabeth threw in a plot twist that kept us guessing, right up until the last page. And isn’t that what we all want from a great thriller? We think so.

The Brighton Mermaid

By Dorothy Koomson

“Was she a mermaid somewhere? Was that why I hadn’t heard from her?”

Why we love The Brighton Mermaid:

This is a fantastic emotional thriller, both in how you care about the characters and through its pacy structure. A young woman is found dead on Brighton beach by Nell and Jude when they are teenagers. Unidentified, she becomes known as ‘the Brighton mermaid’ and the story looks at how this affects both Nell and Jude. Then when Jude goes missing, things really ramp up…

This felt like such a poignant book to be reading at the moment. Dorothy Koomson talks about the police's abuse of power - both towards black people and women, bringing thought-provoking issues into this read.

The Castaways

By Lucy Clarke

Why we love The Castaways:

So many people have a fear of flying or, rather, being on a plane that crashes, and that is what The Castaways brilliantly taps into. Sisters Lori and Erin book a luxury holiday to Fiji, however, the night before they are due to fly, they have an argument that results in Erin not getting on the plane.

That flight then goes missing and through a mix of Lori’s chapters we discover what happened when the plane crashed. Through Erin’s chapters, we are right there with her in her grief, guilt and mission to find out what happened to her sister.

Both parts of the story are so gripping. A visceral thriller that also celebrates the powerful bond of sisters. It’s so well paced and with just the right amount of didn’t-see-that-coming moments. A perfect slice of escapism – just maybe don’t read it on a plane.

Watch Her Fall

By Erin Kelly

“What they didn’t understand – what nobody understood – was that the higher you flew, the farther you had to fall.”

Why we love Watch Her Fall:

Erin Kelly’s eighth novel is a brilliant psychological thriller - a wonderfully tense, sharp and immersive plunge into the power and determination of ballerinas to succeed – at any cost. All set to the backdrop of the iconic ballet, Swan Lake.

Ballet is the perfect backdrop for this high-stakes, high adrenaline read. I loved learning more about the inner-workings of the ballet world and the tone was pitched at just the right dark place to keep you turning those pages. An excellent psychological thriller!

READ OUR AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Dangerous Women

By Hope Adams

“That’s what we, too, are like, us women. We’re a patchwork.”

Why we love Dangerous Women:

A gentle burner of a whodunnit that pulls you into the heart of its story, while celebrating redemption, rehabilitation and the good in people. All set to the backdrop of a truly fascinating slice of history. In 1841, female convicts were sent from London to Tasmania. Convicted of petty crimes, banishment was their punishment. On this ship, the Rajah, the women created an amazing quilt that still hangs in the National Gallery of Australia today. Throw in a little murder mystery and you have an excellent story on your hands.

An excellent, riveting read. We enjoyed it right until the very last tantalising sentence.

READ OUR AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Asking for a Friend

By Andi Osho

“They'd been best friends for over a decade and were so entangled in each other's worlds, it was hard to know where one began and the other ended.”

Why we love Asking for a Friend:

Forty-something Jemima is trying to get her life back on track whilst simultaneously trying to avoid her needy ex. Twenty-something Meagan is looking for a relationship, while thirty-something Simi has almost given up hope of finding one.

These best friends decide it's time to play the dating game by their own rules. They're going to ask people out in real life, but for each other…and it doesn’t quite go to plan.

A wonderfully warm and funny story that celebrates female friendships and having the courage to be your true self.

READ OUR AUTHOR INTERVIEW

The Transcendent Kingdom

By Yaa Gyasi

“I am looking for new names for old feelings. My soul is still my soul, even if I rarely call it that.”

Why We Love Transcendent Kingdom:

Gifty is a neuroscientist and Transcendent Kingdom is her coming-of-age story, albeit in her late 20s. Her complex nature is captured so well; her relationships with her mother, with being a black woman in such a white, male industry and Gifty’s rumination on how science and religion coexist and how (if) they can answer questions for each other.

But the heart of this book is Gifty. A strong woman who is doing everything she can to navigate life and thrive in the best way she can. A truly thought-provoking, wonderfully written story that packs an emotional punch.

The Soul of a Woman

By Isabel Allende

“I never accepted the limited feminine role imposed upon me by my family, society, culture and religion.”

Why we love The Soul of a Woman:

From legendary Chilean author, Isabel Allende, this is a wonderfully lyrical part memoir, part feminist musing. This is a really honest, thought provoking read that truly champions women’s equality and packs so many ideas and things that need to be discussed into less than 200 pages. It is a delight to read, while giving so much food for thought about women’s equality.

Circe

By Madeline Miller

“It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment's carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.”

Why we love Circe:

Circe is a complex, strong, independent woman. She also happens to be an ancient Greek Goddess who can cast spells. The Gods hadn’t seen witchcraft before and scared by any new power, they exiled Circe. As she is immortal, that is a long exile. What Madeline Miller does so well is humanise iconic characters so that you become invested. Circe is a fast-paced, wonderfully captivating story of a truly enchanting Goddess making her place in the world.

We hope you find some great new reads this month, we’d love to know your thoughts.

Join the book chat in our Facebook group