The summer holidays are finally here! So whilst you’re spending long days lazing in the sunshine, you’ll need a great beach read (or park/plane/road trip read). Here are four of the best summer books for 2017 that I recommend checking out this season!
Agatha Christie, in London to visit her literary agent, boards a train, preoccupied and flustered in the knowledge that her husband Archie is having an affair. She feels a light touch on her back, causing her to lose her balance, then a sense of someone pulling her to safety from the rush of the incoming train.
So begins a terrifying sequence of events. Her rescuer is no guardian angel; rather, he is a blackmailer of the most insidious, manipulative kind. Agatha must use every ounce of her cleverness and resourcefulness to thwart an adversary determined to exploit her genius for murder to kill on his behalf.
On the night of 3rd December 1926, Agatha Christie went missing and was eventually discovered in a hotel in Harrogate ten days later. But what happened to her during that time? To this day, the disappearance of one of the world’s most famous and successful crime novelists remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries.
A huge part of the appeal of this story is that it’s based on an actual mystery from Agatha Christie’s own life. That I’d heard nothing about this mystery before is fascinating! But there it is on her Wikipedia page: “On 3 December 1926… around 9:45 pm, Christie disappeared from her home, leaving behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Her car, a Morris Cowley, was later found at Newlands Corner, perched above a chalk quarry, with an expired driving licence and clothes. Her disappearance caused an outcry from the public.”
So begins this story, which proposes that the combination of her husband’s affair and the attention of unstable literary fan caused her unexplained disappearance for 10 days nearly a century ago. The story is a little fanciful at times but it does make a convincing case that something very serious happened; so much so that she made no reference to the event in her autobiography, published in 1977, despite it having been front-page news for over a week some 50 years prior. If you enjoy a bit of mystery mixed with history, then this book is definitely for you.
Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard
When Eddie Izzard was six, he and his brother Mark lost their mother. That day, he lost his childhood too. Despite or perhaps because of this, he has always felt he needed to take on things that some people would consider impossible.
In Believe Me, Eddie takes us on a journey which begins in Yemen (before the revolution), then takes us to Northern Ireland (before The Troubles), England and Wales, then across the seas to Europe and America.
In a story jam-packed with incident he tells of teddy bear shows on boarding school beds, renouncing accountancy for sword fighting on the streets of London and making those first tentative steps towards becoming an Action Transvestite, touring France in French and playing the Hollywood Bowl.
Above all, this is a tale about someone who has always done everything his own way (which often didn’t work at first) and, sometimes almost by accident but always with grit and determination, achieving what he set out to do.
The fact that comedian, activist, actor and trans icon, Eddie Izzard, is considered a national treasure here in the UK is one of the (many) reasons I applied for my citizenship recently. What a darling he is, with his painted nails featuring both the British and EU flags on the cover (well, on some copies anyway). As I’m married to a man who has a penchant for heels, I’m naturally quite fascinated by Izzard and his life. So I literally raced to read this book as soon as it became available.
It starts with quite a humble, British tone (Izzard ponders why he’s writing a memoir and if it’s a little too self-indulgent) and then takes a pretty linear structure, following his life from his early days in Northern Ireland, to boarding school, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to street performing in Covent Garden, to selling out huge theatres around the globe. Sounds pretty straight-forward, right? Well, one thing that struck me was how much bloody hard work this man has put in, and continues to do so with his endless marathons for charity etc. Another thing was that I tend to read memoirs looking for salacious details (don’t we all?) so be warned: there’s barely a peep about his private life in here. There’s a lot about his mum, though, and the huge impact her death had on him at an early age. Poor luv. But what a brilliant, beautiful and hilarious creature he grew up to be.
One day. Sixteen songs. The soundtrack of a lifetime…
Alone in her studio, Cass Wheeler is taking a journey back into her past. After a silence of ten years, the singer-songwriter is picking the sixteen tracks that have defined her – sixteen key moments in her life – for a uniquely personal Greatest Hits album.
In the course of this one day, both ordinary and extraordinary, the story of Cass’s life emerges – a story of highs and lows, of music, friendship and ambition, of great love and great loss. But what prompted her to retreat all those years ago, and is there a way for her to make peace with her past?
Daughter. Mother. Singer. Lover. What are the memories that mean the most?
I first came across Laura Barnett with her wonderful debut novel, The Versions of Us (which I previously reviewed), which looked at 3 different versions of one couple’s life in a Sliding Doors-style narrative. Her follow-up book is just as steeped in the ‘what if’ that we all ponder as we grow older: this time we sit with a famous singer-songwriter in her sixties (picture a British Joni Mitchell with maybe a touch of Stevie Nicks perhaps) as she listens to her back catalogue, letting her personal history wash over her, and prepares to relaunch career.
This is one of those books where you get so wrapped up in the characters life that you end up almost yelling at the page when you see them heading down the wrong path, anticipating the pain that lies ahead for them. It’s quite an affecting story and, as a female reader, I felt it was a reminder to trust your own instincts and put yourself first in your own life story (something I think we are conditioned not to do as partners and mothers). If you love music history and the idea of a fictional biography, then this is one for you.
He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz-Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot and now craves an ordinary life. It’s a life he once had, long-since buried but buried secrets have a habit of catching up with you and nobody can outrun their own past.
Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try to tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom must not do is fall in love.
Lovely Matt Haig: is there a harder working author in England today? He’s powered out 11 fantastic novels in the past 13 years (plus a range of non-fiction including his own mental health memoir, Reasons to Stay Alive) but hopefully, this will be the one that really makes the world wake up to him. After all, the film rights have been optioned by StudioCanal and Benedict Cumberbatch is attached to play the lead, which is very exciting!
The story is centred around 41-year-old Tom Hazard who has a rare genetic condition that makes him age slowly. So slowly, in fact, that he been alive for centuries and has crossed paths with Shakespeare and other historical figures. Naturally, this makes life quite problematic for him, causing him to have to move and start a new life every decade and never, ever fall in love (for who wants to live with a broken heart for hundreds of years?). But, of course, life is rarely so easily controlled and after a couple of hundred years, Tom is ripe for change. This story has a lot of charm to it and is a natural fit for the big screen, so you better read the book now before it’s made into a film, right?
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