I don’t know about you but I am a BIG FAN of beach reads and will quite happily spend the day ignoring everyone else I’m on holiday with and getting lost in a book instead.
Admittedly in the past few years my reading concentration has rapidly declined (thanks social media old buddy old pal) and so going on holiday where you have a proper opportunity to disconnect from reality is usually where I get all my best reading done.
Quite a few of these books are set abroad or about characters who travel to new places. Don’t ask me why, but when I’m away from home there’s something quite cool about reading fiction where the characters are also away from home having a different or exotic experience – it makes everything less predictable somehow, and I feel as though I’m on the strange new journey with them.
I’ve read some crackers so far this year and on holidays past, so here are my cream-of-the-crop novels I would recommend you stuff in your suitcase this summer.
This is the first book in Elena Ferrante’s series ‘the Neapolitan Novels’ – four novels which span the course of one friendship between two Italian women – Elena and Lila. The series is truly stunning and is Jane Austen-like in its detail and nuance. The first book narrates their friendship until the age of sixteen and I literally couldn’t put it down. You’re likely to want to devour the whole series in one go, so maybe take all four books with you just to be safe, yeah? I could talk for hours about this series – it’s without a doubt the best thing I’ve read in 2016 so far and I’ll probably do another post at some point on the series in more detail. Please read them so I can talk to you about how great they are!
This is the sequel to Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life (an all-time favourite) and tells the story of a man whose entire life and that of his family is defined by his service in World War Two. The narrative switches from one period to another quite fluidly, and it’s in all of those snapshots that the full story comes together in a really satisfying way.
I tore through this book so quickly! Not having read that much on the infamous Bloomsbury set, I was struck by this novel by Priya Parmar which is based on the true events of Vanessa Bell and her sister, the esteemed Virginia Woolf. It’s written through a mix of letters, telegrams and diary entries, which makes you feel like you’ve gone back to the 19th century and you’re a fly on the wall watching their fascinating lives. There’s a fair amount of scandal if you like that sort of thing (I definitely do) and it felt like a very authentic portrayal of the controversial family.
This is the only book from the list that made me cry. Set in the Florida Keys in 1935, it follows a group of war veterans working on a crowded construction camp while the town residents prepare for a 4th July barbecue. There have been racial tensions since the soldiers’ arrival, which is made worse after a white woman is brutally attacked at the barbecue. However, nothing can prepare the townspeople for the storm that’s coming. This book is so tense that I devoured it in a few hours and felt emotionally wrung out at the end (in a good way). Sometimes you just need an excuse for a good cry.
This is a lighter read about a dysfunctional New York family who take a vacation in Mallorca. The main theme is infidelity, but there is a lot of humour and it’s not a depressing story by any means. I like how the writer Emma Straub portrays relationships in an honest way looking at all of the quirks, flaws and imperfections that are so recognisable in human behaviour.
Six friends meet at a teenage summer camp for the arts and vow to always be “interesting”. Decades later, each of the adolescents have given up their creative passions for more practical careers except a couple, now married, who are wildly wealthy and successful. I liked this book as it’s incredibly observant on adult friendships and perfectly captures the emotions of envy and disappointment that the narrator feels about her friends’ success.
Another novel about beautiful Italia. The setting is split between the 1960s and the present day, following a glamorous Hollywood star who gets herself in a bit of a mess, the tempestuous relationship between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra, and a film producer’s team who decide to help an Italian hotelier track down the woman he’s been in love with for decades. It sounds a bit rom-commy but it’s elegant and sophisticated and will really make you want to go to a remote Italian fishing village.
I read this in a combination of airport lounges and it was really hard to get into at first. The story is a bit all over the place and it keeps going off on unexpected tangents with a protagonist who is really not very likeable at all. However, despite this I still got sucked into one of the strangest, weirdly addictive novels I’ve ever read. Part of it is set abroad (I won’t say too much as it’ll ruin the plot) and it basically runs as a very unexpected but darkly funny turn of events.
I left the funniest laugh-out-loud book till the end, because if you made it to the end of this post then I love you the most! This book had me howling tears of laughter, I’d probably say it’s right up there in my favourites ever. Bernadette is an eccentric genius who gives up a glittering career for domestic life when her husband relocates to Seattle for a job at Microsoft. Their daughter Bee tries to put the pieces together when Bernadette goes missing, and ends up in the strangest possible place you could imagine.
There are plenty more books I could have added to this list but I doubt you’d have wanted a whole libraries’ worth… HOWEVER, I love getting book recommendations so if there’s anything you want to shout about please do so in the comments or Twitter!