There is nothing like going away on summer holidays and having the time to indulge in reading a fabulous book – for hours! On the beach, in a park, in a field, or curled up on a chair with a beautiful aspect to stare out at, if you love books then you may look forward to this as much as seeing the sites and topping up your tan.
Whether you are wanting a book to take you on an epic journey through a lifetime, a light girly read, a romantic period tale or a laugh out loud cracking read. Belle About Town talked to our favourite bookworms getting them to reveal the best books they’ve read this year.
Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
Our parents are always trying to give us advice to guide us through our lives hoping that we avoid some of the perils along the way. Sometimes they can be spot on, sometimes way off and sometimes just downright funny. When Justin Halpern moved back home at the age of 28 after a messy break-up he started to tweet the pearls of wisdom that his father Sam said to him. Sam’s wry wit and sharp retorts gave Justin little time for moping about and also made a hilarious twitter feed. So with over a million followers, his twitter feed was made into a book and very soon it will also be a TV series. Sam Halpern is laugh out loud funny with his straight-talking, profanity spattered, intelligent replies and Justin has been generous enough to share these conversation that can often make him look like a fool for the amusement of everyone else.
We Are All Made of Glue by Marina Lewycka
Georgie Sinclair isn’t having an easy ride of things. Her husband has left her and her teenage son is being secretive and has started to investigate biblical prophecies. So when she is called by her local hospital to be told that she has been named as next of kin for an elderly neighbour, she isn’t sure how much she can take on. Surely just taking clothes in for Mrs Shapiro and feeding her cats can’t be that hard? But when the social worker wants to put Mrs Shapiro into a home, all to get her hands on her desirably located house, Georgie knows that she has a fight on her hands. As she uncovers secrets about the house and dear Mrs Shapiro she also discovers who is is and what she really wants out of life and slowly puts Mrs Shapiro’s and her own life back on track. Marina Lewycka weaves a wonderful story around richly detailed characters that you truly empathise with and want to meet. It is a book of seemingly suburban struggles that highlight how intriguing everyday life can be with it’s see-sawing ups and downs.
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell
Maggie O’Farrell is the author of After You’d Gone and My Lover’s Lover, but this new book is really one of her finest. It follows two stories at once. The first storyline is set in the 50s and is about a young woman, Lexie, who moves to London, falls in love and pursues a career in journalism. The other storyline is set in the present day and is of a young couple, Elena, a painter from Finland and her partner Ted, who are trying to cope with first-time parenthood. The stories are told in alternating chapters but you get so caught up in each story that you don’t want that chapter to end and go on to the other story. While you’ve got a hunch that the two stories are linked somehow, you don’t know how, and Maggie O’Farrell unveils the connection brilliantly. It’s so good, highly recommended.
So Much for That by Lionel Shriver
Lionel Shriver wrote We Need To Talk About Kevin, which means she can do no wrong in my book and she delivers yet again with So Much For That. The book is a damning indictment of the American healthcare system as well as being an incredible read. It’s the story of hardworking Shepherd ‘Shep’ Knacker, who’s always dreamt of starting a new life abroad (he calls it the Afterlife). He’s been putting it off for years and when he finally decides now is the time to do it, he buys a ticket for him, his wife and their son to a small island off the African coast and announces that he’s going, with or without her. Except that’s when she announces that she has cancer. Each chapter starts with his bank balance, and you see month by month exactly what her treatment is costing them. You also see his dream of the Afterlife ebb away in dollars and cents. It’s incredibly brilliant – not just because you really care about the characters, but also because it makes you realise that this is a choice faced by millions of Americans every year, if not dealing with cancer then something else. It’s just amazing – a must read.
Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving
Best described as an epic, Last Night in Twisted River follows a father Dominic and his 12-year-old son Danny living in a small logging community in 1950s New Hampshire. There lives have already been filled with accidents when one night (I’m giving nothing away here, this bit is in the inside flap) Danny kills a woman his dad is sleeping with, after mistaking her for a bear. It turns out that the woman is also the girlfriend of the local police constable so the pair have to leave town fairly sharpish. The book follows them for several decades as they travel around the country, still on the run. It’s an absolutely brilliant read – you care about these people so much because you feel like you’ve known them for years. I was genuinely sad when I finished it, I really found I missed the characters.
One Day by David Nicholls
I was told by the editor of one of the big weekly magazines that she adored this book and it actually made her cry, so it was with great trepidation I picked it up and nestled down on a deckchair with a box of Kleenex and a very strong pina colada. I’m please to report, I didn’t cry (perhaps my colleague’s waterworks warning prepped me), but I did feel like I’d experienced a volume of work that’s a brilliantly witty and an inspiring example of clever quality modern literature. One Day tells the romantic story of two people (ill-fated lovers in fact) who we meet on the same date every year for 20 years and, through their sheer mishaps and wrong-place-wrong-time frustrations, we fall deeply in love with these marvellously textured characters. A sheer unadulterated pleasure to read – anywhere, any time, any place. You might cry, you might not, but the journey is a mellifluous comedic adventure in self-indulgence, destiny, love, beauty, fame and denial.
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Provocative, captivating, heart wrenching and triumphant. All words that can be used to describe this award-winning book that ticks every box for anyone wanting to spice up their life. Set just prior to the mid-1800s Opium Wars, this sweeping adventure unites a beautiful French runaway, an American sailor with a secret, a bankrupt raja turned convict, a Chinese opium dealer and a shrewd young woman on the run from the horrors of her drug-addicted husband’s sadistic family. From the confinement of an ocean-going former slaving ship to the thriving opium factories in India, expect to be swept up in this evocative ride of love, fear, fortune and bloodshed, with funny, inspiring and, often, cruel characters, each of whom are simply desperate to survive. We loved this book so much we lost two decent night’s sleep reading it with a torch! And the best thing? Sea Of Poppies is the first of a trilogy.
City of Thieves by David Benioff
David Benioff’s rich storytelling takes you on exciting adventure through war-torn Russia. Four months into the siege of Leningrad, the city is starving. Seventeen-year-old Lev fears for his life when he is arrested for looting the body of a dead German paratrooper, while his charismatic cellmate, Kolya, a handsome young soldier arrested for desertion, seems bizarrely unafraid. Dawn brings, instead of an execution squad, an impossible challenge. Lev and Kolya can find a dozen eggs for an NKVD colonel to use for his daughter’s wedding cake, and live. Or fail, and die. In the depths of the coldest winter in history, through a city cut off from all supplies and suffering appalling deprivation, man and boy embark on an absurd hunt. Their search will take them through desolate, lawless Leningrad and the devastated countryside surrounding it, in the captivating journey of two men trying to survive against desperate odds.
Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the Marriage of the Century by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger
This is the original Hollywood love story long before Brad and Angelina peppered our news with tales of forbidden love and angry arguments! A tough Welshman, Richard Burton was softened by the affections of a breathtakingly beautiful woman: she was a modern-day Cleopatra madly in love with her own Mark Antony. For quarter of a century, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were the king and queen of Hollywood. Yet their two marriages to each other represented much more than outlandish romance. Together, Elizabeth and Richard were a fascinating embodiment of the mores and transgressions of their time and even luminaries like Jacqueline Kennedy looked to them as a barometer of the culture. The enduring glamour, grandeur, drama and bravado embodied in the couple gave rise to the type of rabid gossip and wide-eyed adoration that are the staples of today’s media. This is one biography that captures true love with all it faults, follies and trials within the confines of a very public life.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
This is a story of a time past but not forgotten, of segregation in the deep south where black women served in white household. Enter a vanished and unjust world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Where black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver… There’s Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son’s tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from College, who wants to know why her beloved maid has disappeared. No one would believe that these three women could be friends; fewer still would tolerate it. But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely upon one another. Each is in a search of a truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell…
[picture credits: Always Bë Cool / Fatma .M; iciwici]