A stone's throw from Kew Station, and just around the corner from the Royal Botanical Gardens, lies The Kew Bookshop. This month, we asked The Kew Bookshop to guest edit the TOAST Book Club and to suggest their favourite summer reads...
Little by Edward Carey
Edward Carey's Little tells the remarkable story of tiny Marie Grosholtz, orphaned at the age of six and growing up in the employ of eccentric wax sculptor Philippe Curtius in turbulent 18th Century France. Under Curtius's guidance, Little, as she is known at the time, becomes adept at waxworking and between them they create a vibrant market for wax portraits in pre and post-revolutionary Paris.
Little's life is not an easy one, but the proof of her skill and tenacity is in her astonishing legacy, as world renowned waxworker, Madame Tussaud.
With an almost Dickensian eccentricity, the vivid personalities of Little's supporting cast step off the page in all their grubby glory, and Marie herself is a character who will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
It's the late 1960s in New York City, and growing up in their run-down tenement building on the Lower East Side demands that the four Gold children look for entertainment elsewhere. When rumours of a travelling psychic who can predict the day you will die reach the children, their decision to visit her has the potential to shape their futures in ways they could never imagine.
In turn, we follow each child into adulthood and witness the effects that this most personal of revelations has on them and those they share their lives with. By turns funny, tragic and shocking, The Immortalists asks the ultimate question: if you knew when you were going to die, how would you live?
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
When World War II is declared, Mary North immediately signs up to help in any way she can. Overlooked for her dream role as a spy, she finds herself teaching, and discovers that it is more rewarding than she could have imaged.
At the same time, flatmates Tom and Alistair take very different paths, with Alistair joining the war effort and suffering through the siege of Malta, and Tom deciding not to fight but to remain at home in London. The lives of these three characters converge at pivotal moments, which leads to profound love and heartbreak.
With intensive research and beautiful writing, Chris Cleave manages to encompass the drama and terror of war alongside the beauty of love and compassion.
Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
We follow a young would-be author Maurice Swift, as he carefully navigates his rather cunning start in the literary world, by eliciting an invitation to have drinks with celebrated but jaded author Erick Ackerman. Erick has spent years trying to forget a tragic story that has become his overbearing shadow, he hopes it will never see the light of day. However, Maurice spots a first step on what he sees as his unstoppable meteoric rise, he is sure this is the beginning of his much longed for glittering writing career.
This is both a brilliantly funny portrayal of fragile egos and a chillingly Machiavellian tale, where ambition cuts like a knife and success tastes bitter.
You Think It, I'll Say It: Stories by Curtis Sittenfeld
A strong collection of short stories, wonderfully sharp and funny. Sittenfeld has mastered the art of a satisfying short read. The book opens brilliantly with a high-ranking female politician not unlike a certain presidential candidate, who contemplates her battle to match her long-time nemesis, a wonderful start!
Like an intimate conversation at times, we share the wry observations of a new mother, trying to meet expectations. She also steps into the intricacies of our first adult friendships, all so incredibly awkward, funny and knowing!
Sittenfeld has a wonderful light touch, whilst also being both revealing and deadpan.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee, she is also the child found floating in the local lake. Both parents were desperate for her to live the life they did not. Marilyn wanted her to excel in school and avoid the trap she found herself in as a homemaker, James however wanted her to become the social butterfly that he felt his race never allowed him to be.
Lydia was a jigsaw of all these expectations, the pieces however never quite fit. Her death uncoils this tight knit family, desperately seeks answers they are not sure they are ready for. It is Hannah, the youngest in the family that has been the observer, and she has seen everything.
Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is a Booker Prize winning novel from a Nobel Prize winning author, but setting aside all its lofty accolades, it is actually hugely readable, and full of heart. During a rare weekend off, dedicated butler, Stevens, goes in search of a former colleague, Miss Kenton. Along the way, Stevens reminisces about their time under former employer Lord Darlington, for whom they worked during the 1920s and 1930s when Nazi Germany was on the rise.
Stevens recollects how his unquestionable loyalty to Darlington led him to make some dubious decisions and how those decisions may have altered the course of his life, and Miss Kenton's, irrevocably.
This story is multi-layered, and class divides, prejudice, and matters of the heart are intertwined beautifully to make this a novel that you can truly sink into.
Reviews by Anna Zammit and Weinay Tang from The Kew Bookshop.
Photography by James Bannister
Please let us know your thoughts on the best books to read over summer and, as a thank you, we will enter you into a prize draw to receive a copy of the next book.