Happy Independence Day America. and having promised our summer holiday reading suggestions 4th July seemed like a good day to unveil them. We think we have pinned down eight good reads and plenty of variety, all of which which has involved some hilarity and many messages from Simon of Savidge reads who changed his mind daily :-)
Lynne of dovegreyreaderThe Last Secret of the Temple by Paul Sussman (Bantam Press, 2006)
If summer holidays are about an exciting page-turner of a read in between dips in the sea and an ice cream (well that's what we do in Devon) then this book is perfect. An intelligently written and well-researched archaeological adventure as Egyptian Arab detective inspector finds himself teamed up with a worryingly bigoted Israeli counterpart and a Palestinian journalist in the search for an ancient artifact that must not fall into the wrong hands. The story spreads across the broadest of historical canvases...from ancient Jerusalem and the Crusades via Vichy France and the Nazi holocaust right through to present-day tensions in the Middle East but never loses its focus. Edge of the seat reading and countless unexpected plot twists might just have your ice cream melting because you forget to eat it.
The Great Western Beach - A Memoir of a Cornish Childhood Between the Wars by Emma Smith (Bloomsbury, 2009)
Whilst you're on the beach you might as well read about one, and if you happen to be in Newquay you can wander around Emma Smith's childhood haunts too. Life in 1920's Newquay was ordered,calm and pleasurable. There were social events, visiting and the tennis club to be enjoyed, dance classes and daily lessons with a local teacher, friendships to be forged amongst the children, a life by the sea to be enjoyed but hovering over all was Emma Smith's war-damaged father. Emma Smith has retrieved those memories over seventy years later as if yesterday. It has to be a huge achievement to write a child's voice memoir like this, without investing it with the wisdom and hindsight of adulthood. Even better not a hint of sliding down that slippery slope into Misery Memoir, a book you won't want to end.
Kirsty of Other Stories
The Loudest Sound and Nothing by Clare Wigfall (Faber, 2007)
This is one of my very favourite short story collections. If you're not going away over the summer, then you can travel in your imagination with these stories. Never have I read a collection which spans so many places, times, ages, and backgrounds. Never have I read an author who is as comfortable writing in the dialect of a remote Scottish island as she is in the drawl of the southern states of America. In part, this might be one of the benefits of Wigfall’s life to date: according to the dust jacket, she grew up between London and California and now lives in Prague. A wonderful collection to dip in and out of throughout the summer.
Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope (Oxford World Classics, 2008 –originally published in 1863)
I always think that long summer holidays are the perfect time to lose yourself in a nice, fat Victorian novel and novels don't come fatter than those of Anthony Trollope. However, this time I've plumped for one of his shorter efforts, Rachel Ray. Despite there being important and serious themes running through the novel – the political, religious, commercial, and class warfare that permeates a community – it is also a funny book. Many of the characters have that slight Dickensian caricature about them, and many have wonderfully evocative names that would in no way be out of place in a Dickens story: Mr Prong, Miss Pucker, Mr and Mrs Tappitt (the brewers), Rev Comfort. Rachel Ray is a book rich in descriptions, and rich in characterization. There are shades of grey in everyone; everyone has good and bad qualities (don’t we all?) and there is hardly a character that doesn’t evoke both sympathy and frustration at various points. This is a great introduction to Trollope’s work.
The Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle (Bloomsbury Classic Reads, 2004)
If you like your summer reads to be entertaining but also meaty, with plenty to chew over and keep you turning the pages, then TC Boyle's 1996 novel will fit the bill perfectly. Set in California, it's a tale of the haves and have nots. There are two view points throughout, told in alternate chapters, which reveal the contrasts between the protectionist middle classes who live with a fortress mentality and the poverty-stricken illegal immigrants (from Mexico) who struggle to put food on their plate on a day-to-day basis despite the obvious and abundant wealth around them. The subject matter sounds heavy, but Boyle has such a lightness of touch and such a wicked sense of humour, that amid the tears there's also plenty of laughs, too. This is the type of book that stays with you long after you've reached the final page...
Valley of Grace by Marion Halligan (Allen & Unwin, 2009)
This exquisitely designed book will make you look tres cool by the swimming pool this summer - even if you don't read it. However, the content is equally divine: think Parisian streetscapes, chocolate shops, Antiquarian bookshops, beautiful gardens and crumbling old houses in need of tender loving care. Oh, and babies. This is a gorgeous collection of interwoven short stories set in modern day Paris. There's a fairy tale quality to the writing, which makes Valley of Grace seem like a light, frivolous read, but scratch the surface and there's a lot going on here, about hope and children and the ties that bind us together. Delicious.
Simon of Savidge Reads
Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago Press, 2009 – originally published in 1956)
I know people always say that the summer months are for reading something lighter, something easier and many people might think Peyton Place is one such book because of its ‘trashy’ tag that it sadly gained. It’s not trash at all but an insightful, gossipy and most importantly of all well written novel about the goings on behind closed doors in a picturesque New England town. You will be gripped both by some of the dark storylines and their twists and turns but also by the wonderful characters. It’s pure escapism, but very well written escapism. Perfect for curtain twitcher’s or people watchers who want a little something salacious in the summer months and one that’s wonderfully written.
Mudbound – Hillary Jordan (Windmill Books, 2008)
It always amazes me that this book isn’t better known because it’s marvellous! I am always a fan of authors who can take to a vast amount of places, through some unique characters and push you through several emotions all in a short space of time and with ‘Mudbound’ Hillary Jordan does that and more (I actually gasped and cried at this book I am unashamed to say). Set in the Mississippi Delta in 1946 we meet Henry and Laura McAllan take over a cotton farm, just as they are burying someone. Intrigued, you should be. What then follows is an epic (if you can have such a thing in 330ish pages) tale of war, slavery, racism and a love that shouldn’t be. This ticks all the boxes for a meatier summer read and will resonate with you long after, it’s a must read any season.