Wey hey! Summer is finally here…
So where has all that lovely sunshine gone? Yip, its back to being a typical mixed and often wet summer it seems for us Brits. However I do find a good way to cope with a miserable rainy day is snuggled up drinking endless tea (in my case a lovely cup of green tea) with a good book.
You may also be like me looking forward to your holidays; slapping on the sun cream and spending lazy days in the sunshine with your nose stuck in a book (preferably with a cocktail to hand ;)).
There’s some great new books that have come out recently with more to come (I’m going to be blogging about some of these soon so watch this space). However there also maybe some books that have been published for ages, but whatever reason you’ve just missed them. Therefore I’ve devised a list of some which for different reasons, I absolutely love. Some are gritty, some scared me witless, while others melted my heart. However in my view, they are all brilliant! So whether you’re on a beach basking in glorious sunshine or snuggled up desperate to escape the traditional British summer, I hope you find some gems here for you to read….
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
This is a book that literally did warm the cockles of my heart. We read it for book group a few months ago and I absolutely loved it. It’s such a beautiful read and if you’re feeling cynical about the way of the world then this book can help to restore your faith in humanity.
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend tells the story of 20 something Sara, a book lover who has never left her home country of Sweden. This changes when she ventures to the little town of Broken Wheel in Iowa for a holiday to meet her pen pal Amy, a much older woman. However when she arrives she finds Amy has recently died. Yet the locals of Broken Wheel refuse to let Sara return to Sweden; she has come to visit Amy and she must stay and have her holiday!
As the locals take Sara under their wing we meet characters including feisty Grace who manages the local diner, recovering alcoholic Poor John and the domineering Caroline. Even though they are idiosyncratic, interfering and continually trying to match make her, Sara grows to love them as they give her a sense of belonging, something she has never had before.
To thank them Sara decides to open a book shop in Broken Wheel, something the town has never had. This injects new life into the community and leads to new adventures for them all, especially Sara.
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is essentially a story about the strength and beauty of community. It is quirky, charming and very funny; a book I would highly recommend. I was truly gutted when I finished this book!
Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood
To be fair before reading Mrs Hemingway I didn’t know much about Ernest Hemingway apart from that he was a writer, liked a drink (I’d heard a rumour he was addicted to absinthe) and a bit of a Lothario. I never even knew that he had committed suicide.
Anyway Mrs Hemingway is historical fiction focusing on the writer’s life and relationships told through the view of his four wives; Hadley, Fife, Martha and Mary. With the book being split into four sections, each owned by a wife, I found this to be a moving and insightful read (or maybe it’s just that I’m nosy). I discovered loads of juicy details such as Hemingway meeting his second wife Fife through her friendship with Hadley, his first wife. Also it seems there was continually a crossover of the women in his life as he was always compelled to marry his mistresses.
When I started this book I didn’t expect to like it as I found it to be narrated in an aloof manner but it drew me in. I found each of the four wives intriguing, especially the relationships that they had with Hemingway and with each other. The book portrays Hemingway as a tortured, complex individual in a sympathetic manner. He had a deep fear of being alone and seemed to be haunted by the actions of his parents. Each wife struggled to understand the man and although he broke their hearts, they seemed to accept when he chose to move on.
I always find pieces of fiction portraying real people in history intriguing, and Mrs Hemingway is no exception. I read this book a couple of years ago and it left a deep impression on me. Hopefully it’ll do the same for you.
The Collector by John Fowles
I first read The Collector when I was 17 and it has stayed with me. So much so in fact that last summer I suggested we read it for our book group. So sprawled on a sun lounger in Madeira I found myself rereading this chilling, claustrophobic read.
I have no memory of being scared witless when I read The Collector first time around which suprises me as back then I was a similar age to Miranda, the beautiful young girl who becomes the object of Frederick’s obsession, a loner who collects rare and beautiful butterflies. When Frederick is mesmorised by Miranda’s confidence and beauty, he formulates a plan to ‘collect’ and kidnap her as if she were a butterfly.
The novel is written initially from the point of view of Frederick in which he appears to justify his reasons for kidnapping Miranda. This is utterly chilling. Then mid-way through we get Miranda’s point of view. Yes, she comes across as immature and spoiled, but that just makes her more real. As the novel develops, it is frightening and understandable the lengths Miranda will go to try and retain her freedom and survive.
Moving by Jenny Eclair
My friend lent me this book last summer and I was confused as all I knew about Jenny Eclair is that she’s a comedian that seems to pop up on random panel shows; I had no idea she was an author. I genuinely didn’t expect to like this book; unfair I know but I thought it was going to be stupid and frivolous. How wrong was I!
Moving is a poignant and (excuse the pun) very moving read. Split into three parts, the story starts in the present day with Edwina who after 50 or so years decides to move house. Elderly and alone, she feels that she can’t cope anymore living in her big, crumbling house. However as she goes through the motions of selling up, she starts looking back at her life in the house; a life full of family, secrets and tragedy.
The second part of the novel goes back in time to 1980 as it focuses on Fern who leaves her sheltered life in the Home Counties to travel to the grit of Manchester to study drama. Her world is turned upside down when she meets Charlie, Edwina’s son. The latter part of the novel brings us back to present day as it focuses on Edwina’s step-son Lucas. Although now in his 50s Lucas has never recovered from his childhood involving his parent’s divorce and his father re-marrying Edwina.
All the main characters stories are interwoven, creating a dramatic and compelling narrative.
Moving is a novel about the complexity of family dynamics and relationships. It has many emotional layers to it, which I love. I found this a great holiday read.
One Day by David Nicholls
I feel I’m always recommending One Day, but it is one of my all-time favourite reads and I never tire of rereading it! I just love this book and it is the ideal summer read.
One Day explores the will-they-won’t-they friendship of Dexter and Emma, starting on 15 July 1988 after they’ve spent the night together following their University graduation. From then on each chapter is set on 15 July over the next 20 years as we follow Dexter and Emma’s through the idiosyncrasies of life.
In their individual ways both Emma and Dexter are annoying; Emma has a bit of a chip on her shoulder whilst Dexter is flash and arrogant. In a sense it is a coming of age story for both central characters, but is so much more than this. If we’re honest I think we can all relate to Emma and Dexter; they are frustrating; they are endearing; but more than anything they are real.
Nicholls also wrote the screen play of the film adaptation of One Day, which in my view is a pretty good film. However if you want to truly experience this funny, nostalgic and heartbreaking story you need to read the book. One Day is a modern classic.
Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Hayes
If you want a page turner that truly has you on the edge of your seat then Into the Darkest Corner is it! I was recommended this book by a couple of friends and wow, it blew me away. It is chilling read and in my opinion, one of the best ever psychological thrillers I have ever read. May be even the best!
The novel focuses on Catherine, however it alternates between two different versions of her; a Catherine from the past who is sexy and confident, falling for the charms of the charismatic Lee; and a present Catherine whose life is dominated by fear, post-traumatic stress and OCD.
When Catherine gets together with Lee he seems to be the perfect boyfriend. However as the relationship progresses, his behavior becomes increasingly controlling and abusive. She finally escapes, helps put him in prison and moves away. However this leaves Catherine with emotional and mental scars. She is now living with severe post-traumatic stress, paranoia and OCD which only intensifies when she finds out Lee has been released from prison.
Into the Darkest Corner is a raw portrayal of domestic abuse and the way in which the narration alternates between the two very different versions of Catherine is frightening.
If you’re a fan of psychological thrillers/domestic nior (as I am) and have missed Into the Darkest Corner, you really need to read this. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed!
I appreciate that as all of these books have been around for a few years now, I’m sure you may have read some of them. For example, The Collector was published in 1963. However you may not have read them all. Therefore I hope my list of recommendations helps you find some summer reads that you may not have considered before.
Enjoy and please do let me know what you think. I’d love to hear if you’ve enjoyed any of them or not.