What I Read on Holiday
One of the things I love most about taking a vacation is the opportunity for hours and hours of uninterrupted, guilt-free reading.
Actually, despite my fear of flying, in recent years I’ve almost started looking forward to the plane ride itself, for exactly the same reason: I mean, you can’t really do anything BUT read on a plane, can you? And what better way to distract yourself from the crippling fear than by sinking into a really good book? Exactly.
For this reason, I always plan my holiday reading quite carefully, and have been known to save books I’m particularly looking forward to, to read on the plane: here’s what I read on my most recent trip…
The Lake House by Kate Morton
I’ve written about Kate Morton before: she’s one of my favourite contemporary authors, and I’d actually had ‘The Lake House‘ on my Kindle since I wrote that post, just waiting for my next plane ride! It was a good choice, too: Kate (I can call her ‘Kate’ because #FANGIRL) is one of those authors who I can always rely on to create something totally absorbing, and for the first time in my entire life, I actually found myself wishing the plane ride was a little longer, so I didn’t have to stop reading.
Like most of this author’s books, the story involves a mystery from the past, which is solved in the present: if you know me, you’ll know that I can’t get enough of that kind of thing, and I suspect The Famous Five, and their non-stop adventuring is probably to blame for that. I grew up perpetually wondering why I wasn’t having amazing adventures of my own, and complaining about the complete lack of mysteries in my small home-town, so when I hear about a woman who goes for a run in the woods, only to stumble upon a deserted old mansion house, which has been totally untouched since the inhabitants left it in the 1930s, I’m all, “OMG, TELL ME MORE. And also: WHY CAN’T THIS HAPPEN TO ME?”
We find out early on that the house was abandoned after the baby of the family went missing, one summer’s night in the 30s. When detective Sadie Sparrow (I know, great name, huh?), who’s on enforced leave from the MET, finds out about this, she’s determined to find out what happened to baby Theo… I was pretty eager to find out what happened to him too, and if you’re NOT, well, there’s probably no point in reading the rest of this post, to be honest, because ALL of my choices are like this. No, seriously, they are. What can I say: I know what I like, and what I like is a good mystery yarn. Which brings me to…
The Shadow Hour, by Kate Riordan
I don’t ONLY read books by people called ‘Kate’, and I don’t ONLY read mysteries set in the past, but… actually, yeah, I totally do. Because they’re awesome, aren’t they? Kate Riordan is another author I’ve mentioned before, but if you’re thinking this book is a mystery-from-the-past-that’s-solved-in-the-present, you are WRONG, because it’s a mystery from the past that’s solved in the slightly-more-recent-past. SO THERE.
So, we have Harriet Jenner, a young governess who spends the summer of 1878 working at Fenix House. When her orphaned granddaughter comes to live with her, several decades later, Harriet raises the little girl on stories of her summer as a governess, with the house achieving almost mythical status in young Grace’s mind – so much so that when she learns that the current inhabitants (now several generations removed from the original family) are ALSO looking for a governess, she can’t resist following in her grandmother’s footsteps, and applying for the job. (Which she obviously gets, or there would be no story, would there?) All is not as it seems at the now dilapidated Fenix House, however, and as soon as Grace arrives, she starts to notice discrepancies in her grandmother’s stories. What REALLY happened that summer in 1978? I’m not going to tell you, obviously, but if you like your mysteries with a touch of the gothic about them, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one.
If you’re after a slightly more modern mystery, however, how about…
Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn, as you may know, is the author of Gone Girl, which I read and loved last year sometime. (No, I haven’t seen the movie…) As much as I enjoyed Gone Girl, though, for reasons that aren’t quite clear to me, the author’s earlier books didn’t hold the same appeal, so I held out on buying them until this month, at which point I realised what an absolute idiot I was for waiting so long.
Dark Places is, quite simply, amazing. Like Gone Girl, it’s a dark and twisted tale, centering around Libby Day, the sole survivor of the massacre that killed her family in the 1980s – and which her brother has been serving time for, ever since. Not everyone believes Ben is guilty, though, and when Libby starts to dig deeper into the crime, and to re-visit her jumbled childhood memories of it, she finds herself starting to question everything.
Before starting this book, I’d actually been reading another novel, which I will not name, as it was so bad I gave up about a third of the way through. After just a few pages of Dark Places, however, I turned to Terry, who I’d been ranting to about the previous book, and said, “Now THIS is good writing.” And it really is: Gillian Flynn has a real talent for creating complex characters, who aren’t always totally likeable, but who are absolutely compelling. The themes of the book are, as I said, dark, and pretty disturbing, much like Gone Girl was, but it’s a fantastic read, and one of those books you just can’t put down.
I finished this in the airport, waiting for our flight home, and enjoyed it so much that even although I had another book already lined up for the flight home, I went online and immediately downloaded…
Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn
Sharp Objects was actually Gillian Flynn’s first novel, and it contains the same darky twisted themes as the two novels which followed it. This is the story of a Chicago-based journalist who’s sent back to her hated home town to cover the murder of two little girls there. While there, however, Camille is also forced to confront the demons of her own past, while dealing with her dysfunctional family members, and other small-town busybodies. This was probably my least favourite of Flynn’s novels, but I’d still rank it pretty high on my list of ‘Books I’ve Loved’, and it manages to evoke the claustrophobic atmosphere of the small Missouri town it’s set in so well that I almost felt like I’d been living there by the time I reached the end. It also helped distract me from the person in the row behind me, who thumped their tray table into my back for 4 hours straight, so that has to be a good sign, right?
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So, there you have it: probably not the most typical beach-reads out there, but four amazing reads all the same: enjoy!