We spend so much time reading our books throughout the year that summer holidays is the best time to catch up on the great work of other publishers. Here are a few of our holiday favourites.
The Secret of Nightingale Wood (Chicken House), by Lucy Strange, is a gripping psychological thriller and ever-twisting mystery that explores grief and mental illness. The antagonist, a doctor gone rogue, is so dastardly he makes Bond villains look like pussycats. It’s also a children’s book set in an English seaside mansion post-World War One, and it’s humorous and utterly delightful. The fact that these narrative strands come together so seamlessly is a tribute to the author’s skill in conjuring the world of Henrietta, who has recently lost her brother in a fire and is gradually robbed of everything and everyone she cares about. A powerful example of how transportive children’s literature can be for adult readers when it’s done well, this is also just a really cracking read.
It’s easy to see why Annie Dillard won a Pulitzer Prize for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper Collins) in 1975. A year’s worth of observations and reflections of her time spent immersed in nature at Tinker Creek, near her house in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley, this is the next best thing to wandering along the creek yourself. Who knew that reading about sitting in wait for a muskrat to emerge from its burrow, or a moth from its cocoon, could be so gripping.
The Power (Penguin), by Naomi Alderman, is pretty confronting but it’s food for thought at a very appropriate time in history. Quite reminiscent of Margaret Atwood, and SO cinematic that they will surely make a movie or series of it eventually, I found this dystopian novel very realistic. You follow multiple characters through the narrative in many different locations but all grappling with this phenomenon that’s changing the world – for good or for bad. Not a light beach read but very engaging fiction.
Once I got over the guilt of not having read Stan Grant’s Talking to My Country (Harper Collins) sooner, it moved me to tears and to rage and ultimately to hope. I love Stan’s passion, honesty, eloquence and channelled anger. If this book isn’t heading to school syllabi across the country, we will be missing a major culturally beat in this nation. Honourable holiday mentions to Balcony over Jerusalem (Harper Collins) by John Lyons and The Trauma Cleaner (Text) by Sarah Krasnostein.
Far From the Tree (Simon & Schuster), by Robin Benway, follows three siblings separated by adoption as they attempt to get to know one another, all the while holding on to their own secrets. It’s a moving, funny, heartfelt story about what it is that makes a family and how finding the right people at the right time can utterly change your life. It’s perfect for any fans of John Green, Rainbow Rowell and Jandy Nelson, or anyone who likes a book to make them laugh and cry.
The Sparsholt Affair (Pan Macmillan), by Alan Hollinghurst, is still haunting me. It’s one of those astounding novels where the story is driven by what is left unsaid. There are a thousand painful, unutterable emotions that are always simmering away underneath the surface, propelling the narrative and drawing the reader further and further into the minds of the characters. Hollinghurst takes the reader into the halls of Oxford during World War II, sailing in Cornwall in the 60s, and through a gay nightclub in the present day. This is a beautifully crafted novel about desire, friendship and the slow march of time.
The Book of Dust (Penguin), by Philip Pullman, is my holiday pick. I loved reading his Dark Materials trilogy as a kid so this book caught my eye as soon as it came out. I binge-read this in a couple of lazy beach days and loved being immersed in this magical and sometimes sinister world again. After finishing it I promised to never be put off by a younger book category again … In fact my partner’s dad ended up picking it up to read after me and also loved it (although I do have to admit to being just a teensy bit embarrassed when I had to explain to him what a ‘daemon’ was!). The Sympathiser (Little Brown) by Viet Thanh Nguyen was a close second for entirely different reasons.