I’ve been reading a lot lately. Life’s been a bit stressful in recent months and I find a good book before bed to be an absolute necessity at such times. Actually, it doesn’t matter how tired I am or how much I have imbibed, I read a few pages before I close my eyes every single night of the year, but recently I’ve been trying to get to bed at a sensible time to give myself chance for a good few chapters. (If you’re struggling to get to sleep, I wrote a post with some suggestions here.)
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, I haven’t been ploughing through many of the classics. The copy of ‘Mansfield Park’ I asked my husband to bring into hospital for me to read when I had the first baby badger – bless my foolish little heart – remains on the list, ten years on.
None of these below are going to be studied by generations to come as great literature: everything is pretty easy-going, but there is some lovely writing and compelling storylining nevertheless. Any of them would be good holiday reads, or a nice distraction when you’re feeling frazzled.
If you enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (look it up if you haven’t read it), The Cactus by Sarah Haywood is almost certain to please. It’s another one with a prickly main character, this time a woman dealing with the loss of her mother and a very difficult relationship with her brother. It all sounds a bit grim, but there’s plenty of humour and after a few twists and turns, things work out satisfactorily, as you’d probably expect. I found it engaging and enjoyable and well written.
At the risk of sounding shallow, I would never have picked up the paperback of
The Stranger by Kate Riordan. I bought it as a Kindle book on a little screen without my glasses on, but I find the cover quite off-putting. It looks to me like the sort of historical romance that is available most widely in a large print, but whilst it is set in the 1940s, the feel of it is much more modern. The writing is really sharp, it’s not a funny book but it’s cleverly and wittily written. The majority of the story takes place in Cornwall, which of course wins points with me immediately, and the setting is vivid and atmospheric. The characters are interesting and original and there are some dark twists in the plot. I enjoyed it far more than I expected to and will seek out more of Kate Riordan’s work after reading this.
The Lido by Libby Page took me a few chapters to get into. It’s one of those books that concentrates on characters and their backstories more than action – though there’s a definite plot – and it took a while to build. I was glad I’d persevered though; the story of two very different women and the friendship between them was lovely. The issues of loneliness in different guises and the importance of community run through the book and in all it was a satisfying read.
The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth is suggested for fans of Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and there are definite similarities – a group of friends in an affluent enclave with secrets galore and a skeletons tumbling out of closets. If you’ve read Liane Moriarty’s books, (I wrote about them previously) definitely give this a whirl (currently 99p as a Kindle book) – if you haven’t then perhaps go straight to the Moriarty – truthfully, I think hers are a smidgen better.
Our House by Louise Candlish tells the tale of divorced couple – Fi and Bram – who have a ‘birds’ nest’ custody arrangement, where they take it in turns to live in the family home and look after their children who live there full-time. One day, Fi returns home to find it empty and another family in the process of moving in. There’s a convoluted plot which is narrated by both main characters, Fi via a podcast transcription, and Bram via a Word document. The plot moves quite slowly and I must admit to skim reading a few sections but it’s a pretty good story line with a twisty ending and would make a pleasing accompaniment to a sunlounger.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is written in a way I wouldn’t always enjoy – a series of emails and documents from a range of narrators. The story begins with the revelation that Bernadette is missing, and the narrative continues to fill in the story of her life so far as her daughter, Bee, investigates her disappearance. It’s funny and original with interesting characters and relationships. Not too taxing, it’s a great holiday read.
Of all the books on the list, I think I have enjoyed Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen and its sequel, The Importance of Being Aisling most of all. I struggle to explain quite why I like them so much, but urge you to give them a go. I have spent quite a bit of time in Ireland and one of my very best friends is a native of the Emerald Isle – these books really are beautifully Irish, and very funny.
Aisling is a kind of Bridget Jonesy character, but more wholesome and more real and more lovable. There is real life in the books: love and loss and friendship and grief and work stress and the characters are believable and engaging. My favourite library exec recommended them to me and I pass on her professional endorsement enthusiastically.