Saturday 17 February 2018

Novels worth dipping into beside the pool

The low-down on some essential reading to pack with your swimwear this summer

The late Terry Pratchett: his fifth and final novel of the Discworld series, based on one-time trainee with Tiffany Achings will be released next month
The late Terry Pratchett: his fifth and final novel of the Discworld series, based on one-time trainee with Tiffany Achings will be released next month
Harper Lee
Jane Green
EL James
John Banville, aka Benjamin Black
Station Eleven
Lauren Holmes
Infinite Home
The Girls
The Backs of Small Children
Royal Wedding
Terry Pratchett
The Mark and the Void
Even the Dead
Jane Green
In the Unlilely Event
Another Heartbeat in the House
Go Set a Watchman

Tanya Sweeney

The low-down on some essential reading to pack with your swimwear this summer

Don't let the plane-crash element of this book put you off as you set off from the airport: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume (Picador Books, €25.50) is a rip-roaring read, not least for a generation of women (and men) who learned pretty much everything at the knee of the renowned young adult writer. Told mainly through the lens of Miri Ammerman, Blume's third adult novel spans generations. In 1950s New Jersey, Miri is dealing with the usual teen issues, but things take a surreal turn when her town is hit by two separate plane crashes. Gripping stuff.

Closer to home, another novel that straddles centuries is Kate Beaufoy's Another Heartbeat in the House (Transworld, €6.49). Edie Chadwick leaves behind the smart set of 1930s London (and a certain monkey on her back) and travels to her uncle's lakeside lodge in Ireland. There, she finds a handwritten memoir by one Eliza Drury, whose own life beggars belief. A charming page-turner for those who like historical fiction.

For something much more lightweight, there's always EL James' Grey (Random House, €9.99). With the infamous tale now told through the eyes of Christian Grey, readers can enjoy a fresh perspective on the bewilderingly successful Fifty Shades trilogy. Suffice to say that like its predecessors, it's not likely to win many highbrow literary awards anytime soon. The book sold more than 1.1 million copies on its first four days of release. That many people can't be wrong… right?

Grey's musings may have been highly anticipated by James's fans, but it all pales in comparison to the feverish excitement in literary circles ignited by Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman (William Heinemann, €23.99). Written in the mid-50s before Lee's immortal (and only published) novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman follows an adult Scout Finch as she travels from New York back to Maycomb, Alabama, to visit her father Atticus two decades after her childhood. An absolute must-read.

Before his death earlier this year from Alzheimer's disease, Terry Pratchett wrote The Shepherd's Crown (Harper Collins, €14.99), his fifth and final novel in the Discworld series based on one-time trainee witch Tiffany Aching, who has now fully realised her role and powers. Pratchett created an intriuing romantic relationship for her in the franchise's previous instalment, I Shall Wear Midnight. By turns vivid and poignant, the book is worth packing, and not just for die-hard fans.

Meanwhile, the masterful Lidia Yuknavitch's The Small Backs of Children (available on Amazon, approx €22.50) promises to stay on the skin long after the reader has turned the last page. Set against the backdrop of war-torn Eastern Europe, an American photographer captures an image of a young and terrified girl flying towards the lens. This one snapshot kicks off a chain of events for the photographer and a writer friend who enlists several friends to rescue the unknown girl by bringing her to the US. Tightly-wound, pacy and provocative, The Small Backs of Children is destined for greatness.

Fans of Lena Dunham and Sloane Crosley, meanwhile, will find much to love in newcomer Lauren Holmes's Barbara the Slut and Other People (Fourth Estate, €20.55). It's a darkly funny collection about family and friends, all wrapped up in a hefty dose of millennial angst. With her scalpel-sharp worldview and dry turn of phrase, New Yorker Holmes is one to watch.

The city that never sleeps, specifically an imposing Brooklyn brownstone, is also the setting for Kathleen Alcott's Infinite Home (Borough Press, €22.50). Here, you'll read about the disparate tenants in said brownstone, presided over by ageing but redoubtable landlady Edith. When their normally steady home lives are disrupted and threatened, each of them is forced into action. Highly moving, touching stuff.

It wouldn't be summer without a page-turner from the queen of steam, Danielle Steel, and Country (Bantam Press, €19.99) carries on her fine romance tradition. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, Stephanie's husband dies unexpectedly. Trying to put herself together and rediscover herself, she by chance meets a country and western superstar. What follows is a series of ups and downs as the pair find their way to each other. Perfect for the poolside.

From the author who brought us the bestselling The House We Grew Up In, Lisa Jewell's The Girls (Random House, €19.50) packs a punch, despite its seemingly light touch. In the communal garden square of a salubrious London neighbourhood, a 13-year-old girl is found unconscious one evening, forcing everyone to rethink their relationships within the community. Definitely one for fans of the equally gripping Girl on the Train.

Summer is the best time to indulge in a relaxing and frivolous read, and Meg Cabot's first adult instalment from her Princess Diaries series, Royal Wedding (Macmillan, €10.99), is the perfect antidote to the daily grind. Readers will find themselves back in Genovia, where life for Princess Mia is far from straightforward. Perfect for those who grew up reading Cabot's series, Royal Wedding is lightweight, but full of charm.

Fans of the ever-popular Jane Green won't be left disappointed in Summer Secrets (Macmillan, €17.99). Recovering alcoholic Cat comes across an old bottle of vodka in her kitchen, and as she faces a massive quandary, we're catapulted back to 1998 to see just how much havoc has been wreaked on her life so far. With the right amount of light and shade, Green's work evokes the likes of Jennifer Weiner, Jane Fallon and Marian Keyes.

Atticus Lish is a writer on a stratospheric rise, and rightly so: Preparation for the Next Life (Oneworld, €22.50) brings to life a chance encounter between an illegal Uighur immigrant and an Iraq veteran. Saying too much about what happens to these outsize characters would ruin the element of surprise, but the book is getting plenty of attention for all the right reasons.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (Penguin/Random House, €10.99) has been gaining similar traction as a suspenseful read: 20 years after a flu pandemic rips civilization apart, Kirsten Raymonde finds herself falling in with a small troupe of creatives, whose purpose it is to keep works of art and humanity alive.

Benjamin Black (John Banville in his other writerly guise) delivers another instalment in his hugely successful Quirke series, Even the Dead (Viking, €14.99).

Quirke is called in to verify the apparent suicide of a civil servant and he is drawn into the shadowy world of Dublin's elite. Stylish and pacy, as one might expect.

If you were a fan of the acclaimed Skippy Dies, you'll no doubt be heartened by news that Paul Murray's third novel, The Mark and the Void (Viking, €17.99), is set to drop this month.

Delivered in Murray's inimitable, madcap style, The Mark and the Void is hilarious, but with plenty of heart.

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