Holiday Reads

8 Sep

Today has been the first really autumnal day of the year and I have had to put my jacket on for the first time in months. Brr! September is in full swing and so is school, making the holidays seem like a distant dream.

I was lucky enough to tag along on my parents’ trip to the lovely Portugese resort of Sao Martinho, on the central ‘Silver Coast’. It was a very relaxing break where we pretty much just read, swam and ate delicious food like feijoada de gambas (bean stew with prawns) and grilled snapper.

I got through:

– the final 40% of Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Wow. I was absolutely blown away by this book. If you’ve seen the movie or stage show, you’ll know the story of Jean Valjean, a convict on the road to redemption, whose life intersects with a whole host of fascinating characters: single-minded Javert, tragic Fantine, her daughter Cosette, bleeding heart revolutionary Marius, the sneaky Thenardier and many more. Hugo weaves their tales together with a remarkably modern structure that twists, turns and delivers a series of sucker punches right up until the end. Interspersed amongst the dramatic set pieces are remarkable detours into Hugo’s impressive intellect – I now know more than I ever wanted about the history of Parisian sewers, various orders of nun, the Battle of Waterloo and the tribulations of becoming a Bishop. By the end you too will be punching the air and vowing to storm the palaces of the elite. Vive la France! Read this now!

Cruel Summer by James Dawson. A fun YA murder mystery that made for perfect poolside reading with its sunny Spanish setting. Dawson exploits the conventions of teen horror to craft an enjoyable and compelling thriller that is even better than his first novel (Hollow Pike) due to its two likeable narrators and fast pace. I enjoyed finding out the secrets of each holiday maker in turn as the teens try to answer the killer question: who killed Janey Bradshaw?

The Glass Republic by Tom Pollock. Also his second novel and again better (imo) than his first, The City’s Son, to which this is a sequel. With the world now established, Pollock can spend less time on describing it and more on the journey of his wonderful main character, Pen Khan, who is here elevated from ‘best friend’ status in the first book to main player. What makes her such a compelling character is her journey to self-confidence and her recovery from the traumatic events of Book One. Now trapped in the mirror universe that is London Under Glass, Pen must navigate the deadly world of the mirrorstocracy and retrieve a precious item, with everything at stake. Definitely recommended for fantasy fans of any age.

– Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. The follow up to last year’s smash hit Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire is a sort-of sequel following another female pilot of the ATA, young American Rose, to the women’s concentration camp at Ravensbruck. In some ways it is not as good as CNV – the structure, for example, lessens the tension – but it is still a deeply moving, in some places harrowing, account of war that highlights experiences I was not very knowledgable about. To be honest, everyone should read both these books, if only to remind ourselves of the highs and lows of the human spirit.

– Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters. Having run out of my own books, I swapped Kindles with my mum and picked this from her list. A highly enjoyable ‘grown-up’ novel, the story spans several decades and generations from a small Italian village to darkest Hollywood. On the way it examines the ways in which certain moments can have a ripple effect on our whole lives and even the lives of those close to us. I hear this is to be made into a movie itself quite soon (imagine the pitch, hmm?) – definitely ripe for it.

– The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I picked this up (or should that be loaded this down?) after reading about it in several magazines recently. The Interestings are a group of ‘creative’ teens who meet at a summer camp in the mid-70s; main character Jules Jacobson is a geeky, gawky actress who finally feels accepted by the group, which is led by the glamorous Wolf siblings. The novel follows the gang over the next few decades, touching on the AIDS crisis, 9/11 and the changing fortunes of Manhattan along the way. Although the style is a little distancing, I found myself dragged into the (admittedly soapish) drama of the friends’ lives and, by the end, was sad to leave them behind. I also found it fascinating from a personal standpoint to think about how these talented kids had ended up using or losing their passions; whether you find that depressingly inevitable or a critique of our times might depend on your political outlook. Anyway, this is worth a look.

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