02-06-2019

Summer reads are typically fast, no-stress books that you can easily devour on a flight or in between an action-packed itinerary. Finding that perfect read, however, is not as easy as it looks. This little list may help, though with over a hundred books covered at the LitFest every year, narrowing it down was no easy task either.

Simply pick your genre (or two) and off you go.

The thriller

Personally, I love a thriller while on vacation, but if you’re going to be alone in your hotel room, it may not always be the wisest choice! That said, Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s acclaimed novel Why Did You Lie? is chilling anytime. Continuing in the grand tradition of Scandi-noir crime fiction, the Icelandic author weaves together a series of puzzling events into a taut tale. There’s the family who’s swapped their home with some Americans who come back to find it strangely messed up with no sign of their guests. There are a few men stuck on a tiny, remote island in the middle of a raging ocean. A detective’s husband is in coma after a failed suicide attempt. What dark truth connects all these events?

The tearjerker  

The Turning Point by Freya North is a love story with a touch of tragedy – which makes for a poignant and cathartic read. In fact, readers have been comparing it to Jojo Meyes’ Me Before You. The protagonists, Frankie, a writer and Scott, a musician are single parents who meet by chance and feel a connection. Over time, this develops into a sweet, long-distance relationship between the two, who live in England and Canada respectively. However, their bond will be tested by certain harrowing events…

The love story

 If you like your romance on the vintage side, with a dash of Jane Austen (who doesn’t!) try Rachel Billington’s Emma and Knightley which brings us back into Austen heroine Emma’s life a year after the events in the original book. Emma is desperate to be taken seriously by Knightley (who if you remember is a good 15 years or so older than her), Frank Churchill is back to disturb the peace and there are some interesting new characters. This new take is fun and occasionally sad but always entertaining and imaginative!

The chick read

Stories of female friendships, especially those involving a group of friends, have always appealed to women. We tend to lap up the dynamics within the group, relishing the complementary yet opposing natures of the women, their varying career choices and their struggles with love. While this is a tried-and-tested approach, The Girl of Ink and Stars by Divyata Rajaram is fresh enough to be a worthy addition to the genre. Bonus – it is set in Dubai and covers a group of five non-resident Indian women who live a glitz and glam lifestyle in the city. But of course, all is not as it seems, as we will discover.

The award winner

A vacation is a great time to catch up on all those books you’ve been setting aside for the right moment. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie which won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2018 and was also nominated for the Man Booker Prize, is one such ‘deep’ read. Home Fire is a retelling of the classic Greek play, Antigone, in which the protagonist is trying to claim and bury the body of her brother but is prevented from doing so by the winners of the war in which he perished. The contemporary version by Shamsie is set in the UK, in a community of British Muslims, and is relevant to world affairs at the moment.  

The literary work

The Valley at the Centre of the World by Malachy Tallack also generated awards buzz when it came out in 2018. The novel unfolds in a remote part of the Shetland Islands off Scotland, and traces the life of Sandy, a newcomer to the area, as he meditates on his life past and present, undergoing a transformation of sorts by the end. As he interacts with the islanders, takes in the breathtaking landscape and learns the basics of ‘crofting’ or Scottish small-scale farming, we are taken on a journey into a different way of living and being.

The travelogue  

And finally, if you’d rather read something that’s not fiction but still tells a powerful story, try All Strangers are Kin by Zora O Niell. Subtitled ‘Adventures in Arabic and the Arab World’ it is part travelogue and part language exploration. It follows her she meanders through the Middle East, with stopovers in Egypt, Lebanon and the Arabian Peninsula, encountering people and picking up the threads of the language she abandoned studying years ago. As with any tale in which cultures and languages come up against each other, it is full of funny incidents and heartwarming anecdotes. If you’re an expat in this region like so many of us are, this book should definitely go on your list.

Shailaja Prashanth is a digital copywriter and avid reader who devours everything from literary fiction to billboards on the road.