Books: All abroad with a raft of 20 super summer reads
Summer - in all its infinite variety - is here. Whether it's politics, history, memoir or fiction that floats your yacht, we present the definitive reading list
Published 03/08/2015 | 02:30
The August Bank holiday is upon us and it's time to round up the truly unmissable must-reads of the year. With the Cabinet decamping to Lissadell House in Sligo for its last meeting, and the hushed tones of the Law Library silenced for summer recess, long indolent book-filled days stretch ahead. So let us arise and go now, to the book shop, the library, the Kindle store and a special purchase make.
Everyone is talking about the thriller The Girl on The Train (Random House) by Paula Hawkins. Rachel witnesses something disturbing on her daily commute into the city and we are drawn into her unreliable, alcohol-fuelled world, looking for answers. I read it in two days, unable to put it down. I Am Pilgrim (Corgi) by Terry Hayes is a contemporary spy thriller, along the lines of 24, set in post-9/11 America. Opening with a puzzling crime scene in New York, it develops quickly into a tense race against time to halt a vengeful terrorist. Intense and thrilling.
Fans of Fitzgerald and Hemingway will love Liza Klaussmann's Villa America (Picador), a dazzling fictional tale about real-life people. Set in Cap D'Antibes in the Roaring 20s, Villa America (the real-life villa of the same name was the inspiration behind Fitzgerald's Tender is The Night) follows the lives of Sara and Gerald Murphy, who opened their home to artists and writers, hosting extravagant parties on the French Riviera.
For all those who were swept away by the heart-breaking Mornings in Jenin, comes Susan Abulhawa's latest novel The Blue Between Sky and Water (Bloomsbury) about four generations of powerful Palestinian women in Gaza. The cover alone would make you want to buy it.
On the literary front, there is much to choose from. Anne Enright has produced a gem with The Green Road (Jonathan Cape), long-listed for the Booker Prize last Wednesday. Set in Co Clare, the plot hinges on a family Christmas get-together and the tensions and misunderstandings that inevitably arise. Written with raw and brutal honesty, this is one to savour.
Last year's Booker winner, The Narrow Road to the Deep South (Vintage Books) by Richard Flanagan, is the harrowing yet inspiring story of a group of Australian POWs in World War II, during the construction of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway. In A God in Ruins (Doubleday), the sequel-of-sorts to Kate Atkinson's best-selling Life After Life, the focus is on Ursula's brother Todd, as he transitions from war to peace-time. Bound to be as popular, if not more so, than its companion.
A Little Life (Picador) by Hanya Yanagihara, which also made this year's Booker Prize long list, is a powerful, disturbing read, full of pain and abuse. Not for the faint-hearted, but beautiful and tender to the last, it tells the story of four young college students in New York and their chaotic, intimate lives.
What is it about the lives of others that we find so fascinating? This summer offers a great selection of brilliant memoirs. The American comedian Amy Poehler brings us an entertaining, refreshing read in Yes Please (Picador), and Alan Cumming (star of The Good Wife and Spy Kids) has delivered a brave, witty memoir in Not My Father's Son (Canongate). Through the BBC TV show Who Do You Think You Are?, Cumming learns that his physically and emotionally abusive father may not actually be his biological dad after all, setting in motion a journey of hope and redemption.
The original domestic goddess, Theodora FitzGibbon, reveals all in the fascinating A Taste of Love (Gill & Macmillan). Model, actress, author and muse, she hung out with Picasso, Graham Greene and Dylan Thomas, before settling down in Ireland to write her famous food columns. Delectable reading for anyone with an interest in food, travelling and love. One of the most candid, beautiful and uplifting books I've ever read in a long time is Late Fragments (William Collins) by Kate Gross. On hearing that she was terminally ill, Kate Gross began writing this extraordinary memoir, something to leave to her twin five-year-old boys and her beloved husband Billy. A rare gift.
With the Banking Inquiry in full tilt, Brian Lenihan: In Calm and Crisis (Merrion) makes for interesting reading. Fourteen people; relatives, friends and colleagues contribute testimonies of admiration, respect and personal affection for a person caught in the eye of the economic storm. Boris Johnson's The Churchill Factor (Hodder & Stoughton) is a real treat; a wonderful study of the life and times of Britain's greatest wartime leader. Christina Lamb writes with honesty and sympathy about the Afghan War in Farewell Kabul (William Collins). Likewise, One of Us; The Story of Anders Breivik (Virago) by Asne Seierstad is a chilling, scrupulously-researched account of that horrifying day in 2011 when 77 young Norwegians were slaughtered by this lone terrorist. Both books address the question, how can these things happen?
History buffs will relish Antony Beevor's latest brilliant and sobering portrait of war, Ardennes; Hitler's Last Gamble (Viking), where he reconstructs in gripping detail the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. Operation Thunderbolt (Hodder & Stoughton) by Saul David, is a fast-paced account of the hijacking of Flight 139, which came to a violent climax in Uganda. Action-packed. In 1606 (Faber and Faber) Shakespeare-expert James Shapiro offers a fascinating insight into the events of 1606 and the writing of Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra. West of Sunset, (Penguin) by Stewart O'Nan, is a tender portrait of the Fitzgeralds, primarily Scott, over the last three years of his life.
And to finish, amid all the controversy and fuss, there remains one book that I will continue to read over and over again; the indefatigable, perenially wonderful To Kill A Mockingbird (Arrow Books) by Harper Lee. And you should too.
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