Saturday, 4 March 2017

Holiday Reading Roundup: February 2017

For me, books are a key part of a good old beach holiday -- not just one or two new bestsellers, but any novels I can get my hands on. I don't care how old they are, I spend far longer deciding which books to take on holiday than I do picking my clothes. I've normally cracked my first spine (sorry, purists) before I've even left the tarmac at Gatwick, and spend the next ten days eating my way through the collection, before pouncing on any books whoever I'm travelling with has brought, and hoovering up any English language offerings on the hotel bookshelf. Here are some brief reviews of what I munched my way through in Agadir:

Missing by Susan Lewis *****

Most of Lewis's novels can be described as hard to put down, but getting through a 500-pager in 24 hours is a new one, even for me. The story is a bit of a slow one, with the author introducing the characters separately -- in the style of Jodi Picoult -- before revealing how their lives overlap. It's worth persevering as more and more of the plot is revealed. A missing mother, an unidentified corpse a missing baby and an illegitimate child make for an engrossing read if you enjoy solving mysteries as you go. Highly recommended.

The Bones Of You by Debbie Howells ****

One to read if you enjoyed The Lovely Bones or Gone Girl. An 18 year old girl, Rosie, goes missing, and the novel follows the fallout of her disappearance, both with her close family and more widely, in the village she lives in. As well as the usual list of suspects -- a controlling father, a clandestine boyfriend -- the narrative is interspersed with chapters from Rosie's own point of view, adding another dimension to the usual mystery. Happily, the plot isn't immediately predictable, but unfortunately it's also lacking in the sort of gasp-out-loud plot twist that I've come to love in this sort of novel. Still well worth a read though.

The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas ****

I'll be honest, I wasn't looking forward to reading this one -- historical fiction isn't usually my idea of a good holiday read. The story flicks between modern-day Wales and 1940s India, bonding generations of the same family through the eponymous Kashmir shawl. Initially, the shawl is a tedious device linking two seemingly distant groups of people, but as the narrative develops, my desperation to know the full story of the shawl increased. Initially, I found the 1940s based chapters dull, wishing the author would stay in the present day, but by halfway through, I wanted the reverse. A fascinating level of research must have gone into writing this book, and yet it isn't culturally different enough to be too dull or too challenging. Takes a while to get into, but worth persevering.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty *****

Based on the lives of three Australian women, the protagonists of The Husband's Secret seem separate until it becomes clear how their lives are linked -- and then a secret is revealed, linking them even further. It's good fun trying to predict what'll happen. The plot is an unpredictable one, and all the more satisfying for it. The author manages to offer an ending that satisfies the reader, despite it not being the ending you find yourself hoping for. The novel's downfall is the dilemma faced by one character over whether or not to reveal the big secret -- I was left feeling indifferent regarding the choice she faced, the narrative lacking the urgency required to make it a real nail-biter.

What's Left Of Me by Kat Zhang ***

I'm not sure if this one is intended as YA fiction but it certainly feels that way. It also falls into the science fiction genre, something I usually avoid. The opening few pages reminded me of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves but the truth here is revealed at the beginning instead of halfway through. Despite my initial reservations, I soon found myself clinging to the enjoyable if predictable story. The ending leaves a few loose ends and a lot to be desired but the concept of Hybrids will stay with you long after you've forgotten the story. It'd lend itself well to a film, with a similar audience to Twilight or the Hunger Games.

By The Time You Read This by Lola Jaye ***

This one is a sweet, touching story about a girl whose father died when she was five. Approaching her 13th birthday, an aunt gives her a book, The Manual, that he wrote for her before he died. It contains a chapter to be read each birthday between the ages of 13 and 30, plus a miscellaneous section offering general life advice. Through the book, we watch her grow up, through family issues, relationships, jobs, travelling and more. As is necessary with a story spanning nearly two decades, time is elastic, but at times the narrative dragged, and at other points it skipped over sections that I felt warranted more detail. A cross between a coming-of-age tale and a self-help tome, it's a lovely read, as much about death as it is about life.

A Boy Called Hope by Lara Williamson **

Best described as an easy read, A Boy Called Hope has its moments, but for the most part it's a bland, predictable story. It has some sweet parts and a couple of chuckle out loud moments, but what was missing for me was any sort of affinity with the main character, an 11 year old boy trying to get back in touch with his own father. It passed a couple of hours, but I wouldn't recommend putting it to the top of your must-read list.

Lizzie Jordan's Secret Life by Chris Manby **

Bland and cringeworthy are the two words that come to mind with this one. The story begins with a pair of college sweethearts who break up but stay penpals when they find themselves living on different continents. Six years later, they're reunited, putting the web of lies they've told each other in the intervening years in jeopardy. The one thing going for this novel is that the ending isn't the one you'd expect -- even if the rest of the story is. It feels like the character of Lizzie is intended as one the reader can identify with, but she becomes such a slapstick caricature that I found myself repulsed by her rather than enjoying her. One best avoided, in my humble opinion.

What are your top reading recommendations (holiday or otherwise)? Let me know in the comments - I'm desperate for some new reads.

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