Summer is here and with it hopefully some time to rest, recuperate and read. I am currently in the process of packing up and getting us ready to move country, and it’s the thought of our holiday by the beach that is keeping me going! Wherever you are heading for the summer – whether it’s somewhere far flung or your own back yard – I hope you get chance to indulge in some quality reading time.
Summer Reads 2018
My summer reads list this year is, as ever, an eclectic one. Of course, these won’t all be to everyone’s taste, but I have included a mix of genres. Some of these books are recent publications, other are old favourites.
They all have one thing in common – I really enjoyed reading them. And that’s what summer reading should be about, in my opinion. Enjoyment. Your holidays are far too precious to waste a page on a boring book.
So, without further ado, here are my picks for summer reads this year.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne
What a book this is! It’s an epic full of humour and heart. I laughed out loud so many times (and kept doing that annoying thing of reading funny bits out to my husband) and I also did some rather ugly crying. Not just a few tears sliding down my cheeks but actual snotty sobbing. Be warned if you are reading this on a pool lounger…big sunglasses are the way forward.
This is the story of one man’s life, but it is also the story of Ireland from the 1940s to the modern day – the changing attitudes to sex and homosexuality, the power and domination of the church. It reminded me of John Irving’s novels or William Boyd’s ‘Any Human Heart’. While this book is incredibly funny and moving it is never mawkish, and I think that’s because it is fuelled by Boyne’s rage against injustice and discrimination. And that makes it all the more powerful.
Lullaby, Leila Slimani
Yikes. This is a book I felt nervous about reading because of the subject matter. Two children murdered by their nanny? Not for me…
BUT. It is a fantastic book; the writing is tense and pitch perfect. We know from the outset that the children have been killed…it’s not one of these books where you are hanging on desperately hoping the victims will er, not become victims. For anyone who has ever left their children in care of someone else it is terrifyingly believable. The ‘perfect nanny’ slowly, subtly, shifts into a monster.
What it doesn’t do (which was my fear before reading it) is place blame on mothers for returning to careers. This is not a book that seeks to place judgement, but rather seeks to open a debate. About parenting and motherhood, childcare and work. About race. About loneliness. About guilt.
A bestseller in France, Slimani won the Prix Goncourt for this novel.
The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Melissa Bank
Every now and then you come across a book and think – how on earth did I miss that? This book is one of them. I heard about it on a BBC4 podcast and downloaded it straight away. It’s an absolute joy. I think – and if you listen to the podcast you will hear Hadley Freeman argue the point far more eloquently than me – that this book has languished as a result of the ‘chick lit’ appellation. And ‘chick lit’ is usually equated with below-par writing. This is not. The writing here is utterly sublime.
The book is a series of short stories that follow the protagonist, Jane, from teenager through to adulthood. It’s charming and funny and wise. I wish I had read it years ago; it reminds me of Nora Ephron, which high praise indeed. I do think this is the kind of writing that reads so well that it looks easy. It’s not. Banks spent ten years writing and rewriting these stories and I would say this book is pretty much word-perfect. So much so I may even re-read it this summer, once I have finished off her second novel, The Wonder Spot.
Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter
One of my favourite holiday reads, this book is set between Italy in the 1960s and modern-day Hollywood. It’s a glamorous, romantic read that just sweeps you along and makes you wish you were on the Italian Riviera. I have passed this book on to lots of friends, and have never heard anything but good things about it.
The Dry, Jane Harper
This gripping novel is set in the Australian outback and was an international bestseller last year. Aaron Falk, a Federal Agent, is sent back to his hometown to investigate the death of a local man. We soon find out that this small town holds big secrets. This is a real page turning mystery with a great plotline.
Force of Nature, by the same author, was released earlier this year and sounds similarly thrilling. Agent Aaron Falk returns, this time to investigate the disappearance of Alice Cooper, who went on a ‘Executive Adventures’ trip in the outback with four female co-workers and never returned…
Less, Andrew Sean Greer
This is a novel about a novelist, a satire with a very endearing central character. Struggling author Arthur Less is suddenly single and desperate to avoid the upcoming wedding of his former lover. So he cobbles together a round the world trip from all the literary invitations he has had in order to escape the wedding – and his upcoming fiftieth birthday. As the narrator tells us, Less is “the first homosexual ever to grow old. That is, at least, how he feels at times like these.”
This novel is wonderfully funny and very humane. The epic journey of Less is a great companion for your summer travels.
American Wife, Curtis Sittenfield
Another book I came to late. I was put off by the title, I think. But I recently read some of Sittenfield’s short stories, and was recommended this by members of The Expat Book Club. It is a brilliant read. Based on Laura Bush, Alice Blackwell is a fictitious First Lady whose liberal ideals are incongruous with her conservative husband’s political approach. This is a fairly long book (for the sake of your arms, might be easier to read on a kindle!) but a very engrossing one.
Moonglow, Michael Chabon
This book merges fiction and memoir and blurs the boundaries of truth. It tells the story of Chabon’s grandfather – a soldier in WW2 and rocket enthusiast – and his marriage to a French holocaust survivor. But it’s a book that zigzags all over the place – and is wonderfully satisfying because of it. Chabon’s characters are incredibly vivid and his prose is simply beautiful.
A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
Amor Towles’ debut novel, Rules of Civility, is one of my favourite books and it was a hit with The Expat Book Club. I couldn’t wait for the publication of A Gentleman in Moscow, and it did not disappoint. Quite simply, it’s a joy to read from beginning to end. Count Rostov is a Russian aristocrat under house arrest for thirty years in Moscow’s luxurious Hotel Metropol. His crime? Writing a poem. We follow three decades of turbulent change without leaving the hotel – but Rostov is charming company. Towles’ writing is elegant, entertaining and expansive – this is the kind of book that makes you feel like a better person for having read it.
As Ann Patchett so eloquently puts it: “The book is like a salve. I think the world feels disordered right now. The count’s refinement and genteel nature are exactly what we’re longing for.”
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
This year marks the centenary of Muriel Spark’s birth, so I thought it was worth revisiting this one. Because it is an absolute classic. It is brief and witty and brilliant. Miss Jean Brodie is a remarkable character expertly rendered. And did I mention it was brief? This would make a perfectly satisfying accompaniment to a flight.
Clock Dance, Anne Tyler
Ok, so this one isn’t released until July so I haven’t read it yet but I am looking forward to taking it on holiday with me.
Anne Tyler is one of my favourite novelists – I loved her understated style and the truth that shines out from her novels.
‘Willa Drake can count on one hand the defining moments of her life. In 1967, she is a schoolgirl coping with her mother’s sudden disappearance. In 1977, she is a college coed considering a marriage proposal. In 1997, she is a young widow trying to piece her life back together. And in 2017, she yearns to be a grandmother but isn’t sure she ever will be. Then, one day, Willa receives a startling phone call from a stranger. Without fully understanding why, she flies across the country to Baltimore to look after a young woman she’s never met, her nine-year-old daughter, and their dog, Airplane. This impulsive decision will lead Willa into uncharted territory–surrounded by eccentric neighbors who treat each other like family, she finds solace and fulfillment in unexpected places. A bewitching novel of hope, self-discovery, and second chances, Clock Dance gives us Anne Tyler at the height of her powers.’
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