Summer 2016: Holiday Reads

Most of my top 5 recommended beach reads for this summer are a little dark and freaky! Does that say something about me right now? Am I in need of a serious dose of sunshine and light? Or maybe everyone is tuned in to the same vibe…. Wherever this summer takes you, here’s the titles I recommend you fill your e-reader with before jetting off!

The Girls by Emma Cline

UK publication date: 2 June 2016

Trippy, hot and totally messed up. We’re in Charles Manson territory here and Cline takes us into the mind of lonely, bored, unloved, 14-year-old Evie who is seduced into the hippie cult living hear her Californian home town in the late 60s. I’ve only previously read a little about the killings conducted by Manson’s followers and this story plays loosely with these details. It’s definitely not a factual account but more of an investigation into how someone so young and tediously middle-class could become sucked into something so wild. There’s Evie as an adult now and Evie as a teen then, and a developing sense of how her choices and experiences affected her whole life. We also see the misplaced glamour that comes with such notoriety and how only someone so young and vulnerable could not have questioned the events that were unfurling around her. I especially loved the inclusion of the character Suzanne and how she’s the key element that draws Evie in and holds her there, not the Manson-like leader. I think the story is definitely better for having a lesbian protagonist be our inroad to such a moment in history.

The Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh

UK publication date: 7th April 2016

Never in a million years did I think I would find myself emotionally investing in a character like Francis Begbie. It would never have occurred to me that it was even possible. Yet, there I was empathising with him, hoping he would work things out for the sake of his wife and children. Yep, he’s married, is an acclaimed artist and is living a booze-free life in sunny California. A very big stretch if the imagination I know. But then I’ve only ever read Trainspotting, a very long time ago, so I can’t claim to have kept up to date with the character’s journey since then. Thankfully the story takes us slowly and carefully from the unfamiliar to the very familiar but Welsh is clever not to rush this. For Begbie, his old life is very far away both mentally and geographically, although the past is never really as far away as we would like to think it is. I was interested top read that Welsh is living in the US now and I wondered how much of his own experiences of returning to Edinburgh (which I imagine has transformed greatly in the last two decades and yet still remains the same) influenced the story. It also made me excited to see the Trainspotting 2 film that is currently in production! This is a really great read for those familiar with its origins.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

UK publication date: 30th June 2016

I’m yet to read Ware’s first novel, In A Dark, Dark Wood, about a hen-do gone wrong but I really like the way she channels Agatha Christie for the new millennium (can I actually still use that phrase in 2016?). The book opens with travel journalist Lo (short for a longer name I forget – I wasn’t a fan of this, to be honest) waking to find someone has broken into her flat and is still there. The anxiety from this experience is carried through most of the story quite successfully I thought and in fact this book deals with the stigma of people suffering mental health problems (depression, anxiety, paranoia) really well – how their perspectives are questioned, how they even question their perception of their own experiences themselves. Lo goes on a week-long boutique luxury cruise as a perk of her job and there’s nothing like being trapped out on the Norwegian sea with a group of strangers and no way of contacting your loved ones to really amp up the anxiety. I think Ware is very clever with the setting of this story and whilst it does get a little schlocky towards the end (pretty much every modern thriller does, right), I still really enjoyed this book and was gripped from start to end.

A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment by John Preston

UK publication date: 5th May 2016

Having attempted to read Michael Bloch’s rather dense book about Jeremy Thorpe last year (I only made it through a third), I was excited to discover this much more manageable account of this incredible story. I had never even heard of Thorpe before last year: I didn’t even know that the British Liberal’s were their own party before they formed the LibDems. This whole Profumo-era period of history feels incredibly dated even though it was only half a century ago. Homosexuality is illegal and a missing National Insurance card ends up motivating the head of a political party to plot to kill his former lover. It’s all a bit bizarre and very gripping. It’s a fantastic example of the old ‘stranger than fiction’ adage. What was most surprising though was how hilarious the book is. My husband had to put up with me chortling along as I read key sections of this book. Preston obviously had a lot of fun writing this story and has obviously done an incredible amount of research into the key characters involved in this story. It’s a very easy read and the story flows really well, so it’s the perfect non-fiction beach read.

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

UK publication date: 30th June 2016

Finally – something a little lighter! No murder in this one thankfully (but that’s not much of a spoiler alert I promise you). If the modern incarnation of Brooklyn was a book would this be it? Quite possibly so as it has all the elements: ageing hipsters, booming house prices, the feeling that Manhattan is this very separate city. Back in the 90s, Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe were in a riot-grrl type band with Lydia, who later went onto to have a huge solo career before OD’ing. Meanwhile, they are all now rapidly approaching 50 with the appropriate mid-life crisis warnings and fear of empty-nesting. Their combined offspring, Ruby and Harry are now hitting the age when their parents all met, yet none of the adults are ready for them to take on the world in the same way they did. I quite liked the combination of characters, old and young, and really enjoyed the way the individual narratives are woven together. It deals with the exploration of personal boundaries which is a theme that I personally have been dealing with lately. It’s one of those books that felt like the story was meandering a little to begin with but I was more than happy to follow these characters around for a while. So when things really got moving and everything came to a head, I was a little disappointed to let them go. A really lovely read.

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