Summer Reading List

4 Aug


Hello all! I’ve just spent a lovely week in beautiful Crete. As a massive Hellenophile, a holiday in Greece is just my idea of perfection: sun, sea and souvlaki. I also got loads of reading done, which is good because I’ve been a bit behind this year and definitely won’t beat last year’s total score. I got through a book per day, and without planning it, ended up reading exclusively female authors.


Some thoughts (in reading order):

The Potter’s House by Rosie Thomas

This was an ideal book for reading in Greece, as it’s set on a small, fictional Greek island on which an English woman runs an art school with her Greek husband and two sons. Another English woman turns up under mysterious circumstances (which I don’t want to spoil for you) and the novel looks at their developing relationship. Although it starts off as a kind of literary/ women’s fic look at their two different lives, the story takes a psychologically thrilling twist and I was gripped. The ending is a little silly but otherwise a great holiday read.

And I Darken by Kiersten White

This YA takes the historical figure of Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration for Dracula) and asks: what would have happened if he were born a girl? Thus we follow Lada Dragwyl, princess of Wallachia, as she grows into a strong-willed and often terrifying teenager, and her brother, the beautiful and sensitive Radu. They end up as hostages of the Ottomans, and it’s there that they learn to fight for survival – in every sense.

A lovely person I met at YALC described this as a ‘Marmite’ book, and I have to agree. It’s quite unlike most other YA books in its style, complexity and tone, so if you’re looking for a more conventional page-turner, this might not fit the bill. For me, though, its remarkable departure from the norm is what made it so enjoyable, particularly the flavour of Ottoman history. I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical tales, even if you’re not normally a YA fan.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Another YA, this time set in a Roman Empire/Arabian mash-up world in which the sinister Martials have conquered and enslaved many people, including Laia’s nation. To save her brother, she joins the resistance movement and must go on a dangerous undercover mission. Meanwhile, Elias is training to become one of the Martials’ elite ‘Mask’ soldiers, but is starting to question his path…

If you’ve read lots of YA, you’ll recognise most of the characters, scenes and tropes from other books, but this one is still worth a read for its exciting plotline and sympathetic heroes. I did roll my eyes a couple of times at the way Elias would pause in the middle of falling down a cliff to remark on feeling a girl’s curves under her armour as they went…but overall found this to be a fun addition to the ‘revolutionary fantasy’ subgenre.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

I’ve heard great things about this author, so I went for this sci-fi novella about a young woman who defies her people’s expectations to attend a prestigious university. The space flight to get there doesn’t exactly go to plan and Binti ends up fighting for her own life and those of her fellow students. The story is rooted in a clash of cultures, and Binti’s own traditions become integral to the plot – as such, it’s an interesting look at how ancient ways of life might continue in the future, and what might happen when they are threatened. I’ll be reading more from Okorafor.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

At some point you just have to read the runaway bestseller, right? And a sun-lounger is the perfect place to do it! You’ve undoubtedly read this one already, but just in case you haven’t, The Girl on the Train is a thriller with an intriguing conceit. Rachel, an alcoholic commuter with her life in a mess, watches a seemingly loving couple from her train into London each day. Suddenly, she becomes caught up in a mystery that begins to consume her.

This was a real page-turner and I found myself racing towards the (somewhat predictable) end. Whilst it’s hardly a literary masterpiece, I did enjoy reading it and can see why it’s been so successful. The film is already underway, but having strongly pictured Keeley Hawes (in her ‘Line of Duty’ mode) as Rachel, I remain unconvinced that Emily Blunt is the perfect casting choice.

The Past by Tessa Hadley

The most ‘lit fic’ book I’ve read for a while, The Past is a sumptuous meditation on family life and the complex relationships therein. It brings four adult siblings and their various friends, lovers and children to their grandparents’ cottage, now used as their holiday home. A sense of something ending pervades their stay. We also flash back to their childhood, glimpsing their fiercely independent mother, and learning secrets that have been hidden for decades.

Whilst it’s a rather slow, meandering story, The Past has gorgeous prose and a cast of vividly drawn characters. Highly recommended if you want writing you can sink into and roll around in.

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