Summer reading

A good book can take your mind off the English summer (Wikimedia Commons, copyright expired)

A good book can take your mind off the English summer (Wikimedia Commons, copyright expired)

Now spring has finally sprung and we’ve had our first few days of sunshine (please, not our last) it is time to prepare for summer. Banish the slow cooker to the back of the cupboard, rinse out the salad spinner, shave your legs, cast off those winter woollies and start thinking holidays. Book the time off, check the websites for deals, pack your bucket and spade and take off!

And whilst you are packing make sure in amongst the sunscreen and insect repellent there lurks a book or two (or an e-reader, we are broad church here).

But choose carefully, for summer reading is a serious matter. You do not want your time on that idyllic Greek island soured because, having finished your own novel a few days early, the local shop offers only a choice between Jeffrey Archer in French or 25 copies of Zorba The Greek. You need something light and frivolous for when you are lying on the sun lounger, dozing and working up that tan.

But you will also have a little more time than usual so do include a more worthy tome, one you have been meaning to get round to for ages but have never been able to face after the struggle home through that seventh circle of hell which passes for the District Line.

If like me your choice of vacation destination is more staycation than Mediterranean idyll, you may need more than one or two titles. I’m walking the West Highland Way in Scotland since you ask, and yes I do know about the midges and am prepared for rain but what can one do. My little sister is up from New Zealand and in an excess of fraternal bonhomie I agreed to her choosing where we went.

She has a vision of striding through the heather, exchanging bon mots with muscled caber tossers, before repairing to a charming inn for a wee dram before bed. I have been to Scotland before – and  indeed have been hiking with my sister before – and my outlook on life has always been the more tempered of the two of us. We will get lost. We will get footsore. The midges will descend in clouds. The charming inn will have closed and we will share a deep-fried mars bar and a tepid shandy  in The Wee Chef. We will have a great time. But I will need extra reading for those moments when silence is preferable to exchanging the irretrievable recriminations that can only fly between siblings.

So what to take? I think holidays are about fiction. You are escaping from the day job in the flesh, let the mind fly free too. Think historical fiction. ‘The past is another country, they do things differently there… ‘ A fat Victorian romance perhaps?  A window into an age where an affair of the heart meant the pop of champagne corks, the rustle of silk and a darkly handsome stranger filling your room with gardenias. Plenty of time for the reality of half a bottle of house white and a cut-price mini-break in Basingstoke when you return to the day  job (although Basingstoke does have its charms once you have circumnavigated the roundabouts). Or how about a romance of the First World War ? Doomed youth and betrayed ideals ? I loved My dear I wanted to tell you by Louisa Young and way up on my list is the just-out sequel The Hero’s Welcome. I have already dipped into the opening chapters and re-acquainted myself with Nadine and Riley.  I am not so good with delayed gratification – that’s why I need so many holiday books. I buy ahead, and then find I can’t wait and have read half of them before I leave.

Goshawk Squadron by Derek Robinson

Goshawk Squadron by Derek Robinson

Something more exciting ?  How about The Goshawk Squadron by Derek Robinson. His novels are absolute classics and have just been re-issued for the centenary. They explore the lives of the First World War aviators. Darkly humorous, they pull no punches whilst remaining wildly funny. Think Biggles meets Catch-22. Or delve further back still with SJ Parris’ Treachery and explore the sinister back streets of Elizabethan Plymouth with Giordarno Bruno, heretical ex-monk and one of Walsingham’s spies.

If you fancy some exercise for the little grey cells and opt for a who-dunnit, consider A commonplace killing. Set in London in 1946, Lillian Frobisher’s body is found on a disused bombsite. Sian Busby’s last novel is so much more than a police procedural, really conveying the disillusionment and resentment of post-war Britain. This is Foyle’s War but with a gritty edge.

Or Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time. Forget whether the body in the carpark was Richard III or not – the real mystery is whether he did do in his nephews, or whether this was a massive mud-slinging propaganda exercise by Tudor chroniclers.

Ah so many books, so few holidays. These are my suggestions anyway. What do you think?  Give me some ideas to pack in my rucksack in the comments below, and happy reading.



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