Monday, 7 July 2014

Six Great Summer Reads

Heading off somewhere sunny and looking for something to read while on your travels? When it comes to buying books I love a personal recommendation. Since having kids reading has become a bit of a precious luxury so when I pick up a book I really want it to deliver - I just don't have the time or energy anymore to plod along with a book that turns out not to be my thing or doesn't live up to expectations. And there are few things as disappointing as cracking open a new book on holiday to find it leaves you thoroughly underwhelmed. 

Of course taste in books is a very personal thing - if you've ever been in a book club (I have) you'll know just how passionately one book can divide people. But you've got to start somewhere and browsing Amazon with its overwhelming choice and contradictory reviews can leave you struggling to find what you're looking for. So I've collated six books I reckon make great additions to your suitcase - these are books I've enjoyed on holidays recent and past, and which I hope provide some inspiration for your own holiday reading...

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

I'll admit it was the retro-style Penguin cover that first attracted me to this book. And it's partly set in Italy - another bonus. This is one of the most unusual books I've read and I was utterly engrossed in its multi-stranded storyline that weaves between 1960s Italy and present-day Hollywood, with the doomed Burton-Taylor love story played out in the background. It tells the story of a beautiful actress who comes to Italy to star in the ill-fated film of Cleopatra, alongside the aforementioned star-crossed lovers. But when a scandal breaks on set, said actress is whisked away to a remote corner of the Ligurian coast, where she meets the humble hotel-owner Pasquale Tursi. Fast-foward fifty years, and Pasquale shows up in Hollywood to locate the woman he fell in love with all those years ago, and comes to understand that the glittering facade of Hollywood hides some murky, sometimes tragic, realities. A really unusual, captivating novel.

Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud

Perfect reading if you're going somewhere hot and dusty. I loved this short and sweet novel when I first read it years ago and loved it even more when I read it on my first trip to Morocco. Esther's mum is the kind of mum I would love to be in a parallel universe: nomadic, adventurous and free-spirited. Of course, as the book shows, refusing to be tethered down by convention isn't actually that practical when you have two young children in tow. As Esther's mum tries to find herself in 1970's Marrakesh, Esther and her sister Bea are left to roam free in a city that is at once magical and frightening, leaving them torn between wanting to share in their mother's hunger for new experiences but also yearning for routine and order in their often chaotic lives. A funny and magical read that has a truly strong sense of place.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

One of the most charming, heart-warming books I've read, this 1996 novel is a book that makes you laugh and cry in equal measure. You may have seen the film which - as is often the case with book-to-film adaptations - is nowhere near as good as the original novel, a lovely story of friendship and an examination of the complicated, often fraught bond between mother and daughter. At the heart of the novel is Vivi, a feisty Southern Belle and the colourful figurehead of the Ya-Yas, a group of gals who are bent on defying convention in 1930s Louisiana. As children they have fun and cause chaos, and as grown-ups their bond grows ever stronger as they realise that they can only push the boundaries of southern conservatism and convention so far. Now in their 70s, the ladies are brought together once more to help mend Vivi's broken relationship with her daughter Siddalee. Can their handbook for life - "The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood" - help mother and daughter to find their way back to each other?

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

If you like to feel a little unsettled when lying on your sun lounger then I recommend this thought-provoking novel, which I read on holiday last year. Julia is 11 and on the cusp of adolescence. Her life in suburban California is predictable and unremarkable. Until she turns on the TV one normal Saturday and everything changes. The rotation of the earth has started to slow down and life as Julia knows it is about to change forever. As the days become longer and the distinction between day and night blurs, Julia and her family have to navigate a new world order in which communities become tribal and uncertainty hangs over each new day...a riveting read that will have your mind whirring with questions and 'what ifs?' long after you've turned the last page. 

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Tom Ripley is a masterpiece creation. Joining his journey from New York to Italy is a gripping rollercoaster of a ride as it soon becomes clear that Ripley isn't just a harmless impersonator, but a damaged sociopath whose actions leave a trail of death and destruction in his wake. What's so clever about the book is that despite knowing that Ripley is a loser with an unhinged personality, you can't help but root for him at times during the book, particularly when he's catapulted into the privileged, spoilt world of Dickie Greenleaf and his Ivy League friends. There's never a dull moment in this book - the perfect poolside thriller. 

The Light Between Oceans by M.L Steadman

If you fancy being transported to the other side of the world this book is a good choice and a breathtaking, heart-rending read. Set in a remote Australian community on the edge of the Great Southern Ocean, this is the story of a Tom Sherbourne and his wife Isabel, keepers of the lighthouse on Janus Rock. Much in love but heartbroken by their inability to have children, fate intervenes in the shape of a baby that washes up on shore and places a life-changing choice on their shoulders. The choice they make has cataclysmic consequences for both Tom and Isabel, the baby and a woman named Hannah Roennfeldt. This is a gripping, heartbreaking story that asks questions around the issues of personal happiness and moral responsibilities - a compelling and moving story.
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