“What makes for great holiday reading? Well, that’s about as good a question as ‘what makes a good holiday’. We all like different things, thank goodness.”
What makes for great holiday reading? Well, that’s about as good a question as ‘what makes a good holiday’. We all like different things, thank goodness. A lazy beach holiday might be anathema to some; to others the idea of an ‘active holiday’ is an oxymoron. I personally haven’t met a sun lounger I didn’t like… One thing is for certain; the summer is short and your holidaytime is precious.
There is no space in your suitcase for bad books. So here are some recommendations from our recent reads in The Expat Book Club to get your holiday reading list started…
A Man Called Ove by Frederick Backmann
Ove is a grumpy old man. He shouts at his neighbours. He is completely stuck in his ways. Modern life confuses and enrages him. But the arrival of a new family into his street marks the start of changes for Ove – and the whole neighbourhood. As the book progresses we learn more about Ove and, the more we learn about Ove, the more we begin to see that this old curmudgeon is actually very lovable.
I don’t think many of us finished this without shedding a tear or two, but there is also a lot of dark humour in the book. Some of the funniest moments are between Ove and the stray cat he begrudgingly adopts: “Ove stomped forward. The cat stood up. Ove stopped. They stood there measuring each other up for a few moments, like two potential troublemakers in a small-town bar.
Ove considered throwing one of his clogs at it. The cat looked as if it regretted not bringing its own clogs to lob back.” In a lot of ways this book is similar to our first (and most popular) Expat Book Club read, ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ (Gail Honeyman) as both have a central character who is lonely, prickly and not conventionally very likeable. But by the end of the book Ove, like Eleanor, had completely won us over.
The Expat Book Club verdict? 4 stars
‘Absolutely loved Ove! So touched and moved.’ ‘Read it for the second time and loved it even more than before.’ ‘I found it hard to get into. The book has also very remarkable quotes, but still… I was counting how many pages until the end.’
How To Stop Time by Matt Haig
‘How To Stop Time’ begins with the narrator, Tom Hazard, telling us about his age: “I am old – old in the way that a tree, or a quahog clam, or a Renaissance painting is old. I was born well over four hundred years ago, on the third of March 1581…”. As Tom explains, he has a condition which means he ages slower than everyone else.
He may be 400 years old, but he looks as if he is in his thirties. And, while this may seem like a blessing, Tom shows us how it feels more like a curse: “It made me lonely. And when I say lonely, I mean the kind of loneliness that howls through you like a desert wind. It wasn’t just the loss of people I had known but also the loss of myself. The loss of who I had been when I had been with them.”
The novel moves back and forwards in time to tell Tom’s story. He has been recruited by the sinister ‘Albatross Society’, the aim of which is to protect the secret of their condition from ordinary humans – or, as they call them, ‘Mayflies.’ This really is a genre-defying novel – it has great historical detail, it’s very funny, it’s a bit sci-fi and, at times, it reads like a James Bond spy thriller.
But above all, it plays to your heart – about what it is to be human, about what it means to love and be loved. Oh, and there are some great quotes in this book. This, as an avid reader, was probably my favourite; “Whenever I see someone reading a book, especially if it is someone I don’t expect, I feel civilisation has become a little safer.”
The Expat Book Club verdict: 4 stars
‘An excellent, thought provoking read.’ ‘I enjoyed it more towards the end, some of the stories really moved me and it made me think about the past, present and how things haven’t changed that much…’
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
‘Homegoing’ begins in 18th Century Ghana with two half sisters, Effia and Esi. They are raised in different villages and are unaware of each other’s existence. Effia is married off to an English slave trader while Esi is captured, sold as a slave and shipped off to America. What follows is almost a series of linked short stories; each chapter is narrated by a descendent of either Effia or Esi, and each voice represents a different generation.
Alternating between America and Africa, Gyasi illuminates the impact of slavery on those who were enslaved and those who were left behind, on subsequent generations, and on nations. This is a family tree that has been split down the middle, with limbs that have been cut off and broken. Gyasi is giving us the stories of the people whose voices usually go unheard: ‘We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story.
So when you study history, you must ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth?’
This book is ambitious in scope and beautifully written – it’s hard to believe that it is Gyasi’s first novel. It’s very moving – at times painful to read – but, as one of our Book Club members put it, it feels like it should be required reading. If you are looking for a book that will draw you in and really make you think, this would be a good choice.
The Expat Book Club verdict: 4.5 stars
‘It was epic, beautiful, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, poetic and important. What a writer! What a book!’ ‘Really enjoyed it, although heartbreaking to read I felt that it was really well written and an important story that deserved to be heard.’ Other great holiday reads…
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
Following on from her hilariously screwball debut ’Where’d You Go Bernadette’, Semple is again on outrageously funny form. ‘Today Will Be Different’ is set over the course of a single day but is packed with comedy and memorable characters.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters
One of my favourite holiday reads, this book is set between Italy in the 1960s and modern-day Hollywood. It’s
a glamorous, romantic read that just sweeps you along and makes you wish you were on the Italian Riviera.
The Dry by Jane Harper
This gripping novel is set in the Australian outback. A Federal agent is sent back to his hometown to investigate the death of a local man. We soon find out that this small town holds big secrets. This is a real page turning mystery with a great plot line.
What is The Expat Book Club?
The Expat Book Club is an online community connecting women living overseas through a shared love of reading. As the Expat Book Club is online you can join in whenever suits you… and you can remain a member no matter how many times you move!