Yeah, the world is opening up again! Time to pack the bikini and go! Are you going to brave the airports, trains, and other covid-y methods of public transport to get somewhere different this summer? Maybe you’ve decided to go by car so you can sit in an endless traffic jam and arrive at a cancelled or otherwise messed up ferry crossing. Whatever nightmare you are about to put yourself through, once you arrive – and it might only be arriving in a tent at the bottom of your garden – you are going to want something to read. Here are my top suggestions.
Criteria? A book you can pick up and put down without losing the thread entirely. So nothing too literary and not too complicated a plot. But it has to be gripping enough to drown out the noise from the pool or beach, right? Nothing which is going to depress you – you’re on holiday! Size matters too – there’s nothing worse than using up half your luggage allowance for one huge book and then discovering you hate it.
Ok here we go.
- Do you remember the first time? Jenny Colgan. I have only recently discovered Jenny Colgan. Most of her books are great holiday reads – chick lit light, set in rural locations with likeable, relatable characters. They’re usually quite funny as well. This one I’ve chosen is slightly different, in that it involves a thirty-two year old woman wishing she could go back and do it all over again; and then waking the next morning she finds she is 16 again. But she remembers everything AND she is still in present day so her friends are all still thirty-two and so on. A light, short, easy read (300 pages) with an unusual, captivating plot.
- Find you first. Linwood Barclay. Another new find for me, and I’m currently quite obsessed by Linwood Barclay. His plotting is amazing, nothing wasted, and yet so devious! The problem will be putting it down long enough to slap on some more suncream. A tech billionaire discovers he is terminally ill and decides to donate all his money to the children he has fathered through sperm donation, but someone is killing them all just before he makes contact. You will devour its 470 pages in no time.
- Heart shaped box. Joe Hill. The scariest, spookiest book I’ve ever read, so I’m recommending it as something to read in the bright light of a summer beach, and hoping you’re sharing the bedroom/apartment with some tolerant adults. An ageing rockstar decides to buy a ghost on eBay. 400 pages of unputdownable prose.
- Rivers of London. Ben Aaronovitch. Hard to define this – part detective, part fantasy, part travelogue for London. Peter is a Detective Constable and trainee wizard on the trail of a mass murderer in London. Just under 400 pages of captivating, entertaining, mad cap funniness.
- The great Godden. Meg Rosoff. Coming of age novel (which isn’t being marketed as YA though I imagine it would’ve been in days gone by), it’s set in the sunshine by the sea, and is all about first love. Captivating, unexpected, dark and nostalgic. And here’s a question for you when you’ve finished; what gender is the main character? 258 pages. (And if you liked this, have a look at We Were Liars by e.lockhart, which has a similar setting and feel, 225 pages)
- Girl, woman, other. Bernadine Evaristo. Ok this sounds like an odd recommendation given my criteria, but hear me out. I saw Bernadine Evaristo talk about this book at the 2018 Edinburgh Book Festival, in the smallest venue, with another writer – Linda Grant, who I think most of us had come to see. The way it was described it sounded like a collection of short stories cobbled together into one narrative, and I didn’t fancy the sound of that (I hated Cloud Atlas for that reason). But then it won the Booker Prize in 2019, so I decided to take a look. And I adored it. The interviewer at EIBF really sold her short. So yes there are 12 narrators, and it’s not always clear how their stories overlap, but honestly it’s so engaging, and each character’s story is so interesting, it’s worth reading for that, but as the story unfolds you do start to see the connections which lead up to a highly satisfactory ending. So definitely one to take on holiday and enjoy. 450 pages.
- Piranesi. Suzanna Clarke. I didn’t read this on a beach but I can imagine the disconcerting effect the book would have in such a location. A dark but very simple fantasy of one man – Piranesi – living alone in a strange perhaps infinite building through which mysterious tides flow. Only 245 pages, and definitely one you can pick up and put down as you need to, but the story will be there, haunting the back of your mind when you’re not reading.
- The sealwoman’s gift. Sally Magnusson. Definitely a holiday read with its brilliantly portrayed and contrasting settings of seventeenth century Iceland and Algiers. 350 page historical novel based on the true story of Icelanders captured and sold into slavery in Africa.
- Remarkable creatures. Tracy Chevalier. If you’re holidaying in Lyme Regis or thereabouts, then this is the ideal book to take with you, but even if you’re not, it’s a great beach read, about two women fossil hunters in the early 19th century, but it’s also about class, patriarchy, love and prejudice. And it’s a short (340 pages) joyous and easy read.
- The guest list. Lucy Foley. Just in case you’re about to holiday on a remote windswept island, here is one to freak you out. A murder mystery set in the midst of a wedding. reminiscent of the great classic And then there were none. 380 pages.
Well there you go! It was so hard to choose. I’d love to hear which ones you chose and what impact they had on your tan!