Summer is upon us, bringing with it a collection of the hottest new books of the year. But where to start? To help you sift through the plethora of novels published this year, I recommend three books that should, I hope, have something for everyone. They range from a domestic tragicomedy to an intense psychological thriller to a book about bees. I think it’s fair to say that a bit of escapism would be nice considering the events of 2021!

For fans of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, Sunday Times bestseller Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason is a perfect fit. The novel focuses on 40-year-old Martha Friel, whose husband has just left her after years of coping with her volatile behaviour. Looking back to Martha’s teenage years explains the origins of such tumult: at 17 she experienced a ‘little bomb’ in her brain which was the catalyst for her ongoing and unnamed mental health issues. Martha comes to her own diagnosis after years of seeing doctors and taking medication (none of which have worked). Any potential self-absorption in Sorrow and Bliss is avoided through its laugh-out-loud humour as well as the way in which it shows the knock-on effect Martha’s issues have on her family and marriage. This novel is full of pathos in its exploration of the once close relationship between Martha and her sister Ingrid, as they try to repair years’ worth of damage. Mason has expertly balanced intense darkness punctured by hilarious wit, not an easy feat. 

If you would rather be transported far away from domesticity, what better than a fast-paced blockbuster? Clare Mackintosh’s Hostage is a tense thriller set on an aeroplane from London to Sydney. Flight attendant Mina receives a note from an anonymous passenger with instructions to make sure the plane never reaches its destination, or her five-year-old daughter will be put in danger. Mina has to put aside thoughts about her troubled daughter and difficult marriage as she’s thrust into the role of heroine. When one passenger is killed, followed by another, she knows she has to act. In Mackintosh’s brilliant style, unseen plot twists and nail-biting moments drive the plot of Hostage as it invites the reader to question their own moral compass. The philosophical dilemma of adding value to different lives is epitomised by the book’s strapline ‘You can save hundreds of lives. Or the one that matters most . . .’ Overall, Hostage is a subtle manipulator of character perceptions and events, making it one of the most well-rounded thrillers of the year. 

Too intense? How about a novel about a man and his bees? The Ardent Swarm by Yamen Manai is set in post-Arab Spring Tunisia. Rural beekeeper Sidi journeys from his home when his bees are destroyed by killer hornets. Sidi leaves his hermetic life as he sets off on a quest for answers on where these killer bees came from, and as he navigates a country post revolution where Islamic fundamentalists seek to fill the power vacuum left after the initial optimism of the Arab Spring. Manai weaves ecological and political strands to use Sidi’s bees and the mass murderer hornets as an allegory for Tunisia’s political turmoil. The Ardent Swarm is a hidden gem: it is the first of Yamen Manai’s books to be translated into English, as well as one of the first books in English focusing on contemporary Tunisia. Manai states he believes the ‘main challenge currently facing humanity is saving our planet’ which is a strong thread and driving force in this novel.