Before the end of May this year the only things I had time to read were text books and set texts and any helpful hints that might drag me through my final exam season (they worked!). However, since then I’ve been ploughing through books while I travel about and I’ve collected a few of my favourites to tell you about.
Top of the list, without doubt, is The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig. It’s honestly one of the best stories I’ve ever read and its a super easy read to boot; there is also a sequel which makes me immensely happy. It’s a post-apocalyptic action story, set after a nuclear war – readers can pick that up although the characters aren’t aware of that – with a bit of romance thrown in too. In this world there are plenty of nasty after effects from the blast, and now everyone who is born is born as a set of twins, one ‘normal’ and the other with visible effects of the radiation. It’s a classic story of two halves. There are two classes, the oppressors and the oppressed, the power system is corrupt, resources are unfairly managed and there is a feisty female lead who may, or may not, set it all right. Despite the familiarity, for anyone who’s read or watched a distopian action story aimed at, at a guess, anyone from mid-teen to mid twenties, there are some great twists that keep it really interesting. I loved the three main characters, although at times I wanted to roll my eyes a bit about the inevitable love triangle (why are the protagonist females almost always so devastatingly attractive to all men in their vicinity?), but on the whole they were well written, interesting and dark. It works well as as stand-alone or in preparation for the sequel. I honestly ate this book for breakfast, I could not put it down.
I’ve never read a biography before, they’re not really my genre, but one of my best friends recommended Bear Grylls’ Mud, Sweat and Tears to me and I couldn’t resist giving it a try while I was in Asia. If you had no interest in climbing Everest before you started the book, you will be dying to by the time you finish. I found the chapters on the ascent incredible, and I also really loved what he tells in the book about SAS Reserve training. Bear’s written voice is very easy to listen to, he’s funny and depicts his life as haphazard, with a real humility and acknowledgement of how lucky he’s been. I also really loved him talking about meeting his wife, the romantic inside me was very satisfied with his tender descriptions of finding her. But by far the best thing about this book is the way it motivates – you can’t escape the grit and hard work that was poured into the SAS training, his injury recovery and everything leading up to the final ascent, it’s hugely inspirational and motivational to read. If you’re looking for a New Year’s inspirational read or something to encourage you to use that gym membership you just bought, then seriously pick this up (or download it); it’s seriously exciting.
My serious read of the year definitely comes from one of my favourite journalists, Asne Seierstad. Her book The Angel of Grozny opened up my eyes to a million issues in Chechnya about which I had no idea; I was just barely aware of Chechnya’s existence before this, I am embarrassed to say. As with all of her books, this creation is very real, very cutting and brutal but also tender, funny and open; she always allows you a piece of herself while barely writing the word I. I read this a while ago, so it’s hard to remember but I was completely gripped by the terrible events in Grozny, by the grit of the story and struggle of the people. Asne’s writing is serious, but by no means inaccessible. All of her books make fabulous and insightful reads while you’re travelling, they can even make you consider the place you’re travelling, and the people there, much more closely, regardless of whether that’s the country she’s actually writing about. Definitely pick up this book if you know nothing about Chechnya, or if you’ve ever wanted to, or never even considered it – you can’t help but be captured by the story, the history and Asne’s voice. And after you’ve read this, read all her others too, I have read them all and am infinitely more knowledgeable about the world because of it.
I downloaded Eat Pray Love initially as a joke (sorry Elizabeth Gilbert), because we were all chatting about it while we were in South East Asia and since some of our group were heading to Bali. I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t do a comparison but it is definitely an easy read. I’d recommend it either if you’re travelling and want some light relief – it sort of feels like you’re having a long conversation with the author – or if you’re fully relaxing on a beach, in a hotel or wherever and want to continue that sense of relaxation. Although the author doesn’t start the book in a great place, it’s by no means distressing to read, it’s beautifully witty and funny and explores some interesting topics like spirituality and sex with the most light-hearted and yet insightful humour. Just to clarify, spirituality isn’t a subject I find easy to explore or understand, as I don’t really have any to speak of, so I like it when someone chats to me about it on a level I can relate to, and she certainly managed that. The story is set in three parts, the first in Italy (where you eat, naturally), the second in an Ashram in India (I pictured it a bit like the one I’ve visited, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t that one) and the third in Bali, a part which I found ridiculously, beautifully indulgent and sexy. This feels, to me, like a woman’s book but my boyfriend read it too and I think he found it pretty entertaining, you can pick out some funky, fun facts while you’re reading too.
Finally, I read The Guest Book by Holly Martin in about two days flat. It’s an interesting format for a book, which is what drew me too it at first, it is a story told entirely in entries into a guest book. This guest book resides in the guest house belonging to a mysterious Annie Butterworth and all of her guests make hilarious entries, punctuated by her and her cleaner writing in the book too. It’s a funny book and a very easy read, and it will
definitely make you role your eyes at points – over-perfect characters, an ending far too good to be true, and guests all playing along perfectly to the story – yea, it’s not the most realistic book ever. But what it is, is hugely entertaining, it made me giggle and smile and it does have some slightly serious points; it’s also a great beach read. Easily readable and finishable, doesn’t make you cry or stress out which can be a bonus. It’s a very girly book but it’s a perfect weekend read for giggles and sigh-inducing lovely endings.