I’m often asked by friends for holiday reading suggestions. The general requirements, even from my most literary of acquaintances, seem to be:
- not too heavy (physically or in terms of content!)
- not overly challenging (we are on holiday after all!)
- something they won’t mind leaving behind on a hotel bookshelf
You need a book or two that you can read whilst keeping half an eye on the kids in the water. So, in that spirit, I have a few ideas for you.
Disclaimer by Renee Knight
I really enjoyed this book, when I wasn’t quite expecting to, and it’s a perfect summer holiday read. When it was presented as the month’s read by my Book Club, I was a little disappointed. I’d loved our previous book and this gaudy, yellow and black cover screamed all the wrong messages at me, tapping into my deep-seated reading prejudices – “Sunday Times bestseller”, apparently, but too railway platform thriller for me, perhaps even a bit YA-looking. The first 100 pages or so irritated me; I could neither relate to nor feel positively about any of the characters and the jumping around in time felt clumsy. Information was drip-fed in what seemed to be quite a random way and I had to keep checking back to see if I had missed something as I found some parts difficult to follow. Then, BANG!, at page 151, a revelation, and it all began to come together, as everything unravelled for the main protagonists.
As I said, popular thrillers are not usually my ‘thing’, but patience was rewarded and I have to agree with the Sunday Times quote on the front cover, it is truly addictive. Railway platform fiction it most definitely is and I can well imagine tucking into this on a long train journey and not coming up for air until Carlisle!
The second half of the novel moves at quite a pace and revelations come thick and fast. Just when you think you know where you are with it, the direction of travel changes again and you have a new set of fears to confront. The novel also goes deep; it’s not ‘just’ a thriller. At first, Catherine’s problems seem rather ‘first-world’ and self-inflicted, but the author manages to throw light on the fragile structures upon which all of our lives are built. It is also at times uncomfortable; as a reader I had to face the fact that I’d made some false assumptions, just like some of the main characters – I had been led up the garden path and found wanting.
It’s hard to review this novel without giving away the key plot twists. Even the blurb on the jacket does not do it justice. All I can say is read it on the beach and enjoy!
Summer Nights at the Moonlight Hotel by Jane Costello
This would not normally be my chosen genre, but I bought this book after seeing Jane Costello at a talk and she came across as such a nice lady, very focussed on the type of writing she’s good at and committed to her craft, that I felt compelled to give it a try. This is her ninth novel and she is a very successful writer of light fiction for women; what is sometimes referred to, rather disparagingly, as ‘chick-lit’.
Well, I fancy myself as rather more ‘lit’ than ‘chick’ but I have to say I found it quite enjoyable! It ticks all the boxes for holiday reading, it’s a nice story, and whilst romance lies at the heart of it, it is not as predictable as you might think. The author writes well and there are some great one-liners.
It’s set in the Lake District, so if that is where you are going on holiday, or you know and love the area, as Jane Costello clearly does, it will be an added bonus. The main character is Lauren, a sort of 21st century Bridget Jones. She and her two closest friends, Cate and Emily, are single and looking for love. It’s not made explicit but I’d say they are thirty-somethings. They take up salsa classes at the Moonlight Hotel, an establishment with which Lauren has an emotional connection, her late father having been its General Manager for some years when she was a child. The women meet a couple of men at the class, inevitably, one of whom, it turns out is the new owner of this now fading Hotel and who plans to drastically refurbish it. Lauren is at first hostile to his plans.
The story jogs along and other men enter the story, and you, of course, wonder who is going to end up with whom. It’s entertaining, easy reading, does what it says on the tin.
Murder on a Summer’s Day by Frances Brody
I discovered Frances Brody courtesy of my son who gave me this book for Christmas a couple of years ago. He chose it himself, bless! Clearly, I did not think that my child could possibly choose something I would enjoy, especially as it fell in the murder/mystery category, but I really loved it and found it completely compelling. Subsequently, I also read Murder in the Afternoon, and that one is very good too.
The central character is Kate Shackleton, an amateur detective, and the series of mysteries in which she appears are set in Yorkshire in the 1920s. Clearly, with murder involved, there are elements of tragedy to the books (particularly Murder in the Afternoon) but they are thoroughly enjoyable.
In true amateur detective fashion, Kate has a back story which is drip-fed as the novel progresses. She has love interests, but her husband went missing in action in the first world war so she cannot be fully reconciled to her loss.
Murder on a Summer’s Day is about the death of an Indian Maharajah whilst staying as a guest of the Duke of Devonshire at his Bolton Abbey estate. Kate Shackleton is called in to investigate this awkward occurrence and the plot take several twists and turns. It has all the ingredients of a good murder-mystery – love and passion, jealousy, money, class, and the contrast between the wealth and extravagance of exotic Indian royals with and the more down to earth, prosaic Yorkshire locals.
There is a great sense of place in the novel, Kate is a well-developed character and her actions, and the motives of other minor characters, are credible and realistic. The book is are well-planned and crafted and well-written.
It’s a great holiday read, and doesn’t require you to do too much sleuthing yourself, just lie back in the lounger and be entertained!
The Seamstress by Maria Duenas
My final recommendation for today, this is a marvellous book; not the slightly trashy pulp fiction the cover would have you believe!
This epic novel tells the story of Sira Quiroga, a girl born in 1911 to a poor Spanish family, who at the age of 12 is apprenticed to become a seamstress. She is very talented. We follow her early life in Madrid as she struggles to become established. Sira meets and falls in love with Ramiro Querrol, with whom she flees to Morocco when Franco comes to power in Spain.
Sadly, Ramiro is a conman and a lothario and he leaves Sira penniless and in trouble with the police in Morocco. At rock bottom she is forced to rely on her wits and her talents, and some sympathy from the local police chief, to scrape her life back together again. Which she does. Her talents are such that her dress designs become highly sought-after among the wives of high-ranking Nazi-German officials in Morocco. She becomes involved with high society in wartime Tangiers, with all the political machinations that implies, and is persuaded to spy for the British Secret Service.
It’s a long book that spans many years and a fascinating period of history, about which I knew very little (Spain and Morocco before and during the Second World War). The settings are beautifully evoked; I could almost smell and taste Morocco, so powerfully does the author create the scenes. For that reason alone, it would be a great holiday read if you are off to that part of the world, but it’s also just a fantastic story, very well told. Highly recommended.
If you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear them!