Thursday, 30 June 2016

Summer Reading for Book Lovers

It seems rather odd to target a list of summer reading recommendations at book lovers specifically, but trust me on this, guys! It's a list of books I would recommend for people who are deep in the book world, have a massive crush on Mr Darcy (frankly I'm more into Mr Thornton from North & South, but I can see why you'd like Darcy), and are looking for relatively light reading to take to the park, riverside or beach this summer. Over the next couple of months I'll pick out a few more sets of three books targeted for various groups of readers.

(Pictured: the view of Lake Constance I had for much of my summer reading last year)

Eligible ~ Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible is part of the Austen Project, retelling Austen's novels in today's world. I've also read Val McDermid's Northanger Abbey which I enjoyed, and I have Joanna Trollope's Sense and Sensibility on my shelf ready to read. I hadn't read any other of Sittenfeld's books so I was looking forward to trying out her work.

I absolutely loved it: it mirrors the cattiness and structure of the original perfectly, even using some of the same narrative devices. I studied Pride & Prejudice in school and remember long discussions about the various letters and proposals - yes, you'll find them in Eligible too! The characters are both incredibly true to the original book and realistic and lifelike. Jane is perhaps shown to be a little more dippy than in the original, but when thinking about it that probably is how she would be in the 21st century. Sittenfeld finds clever solutions to bringing antiquated social structures into the novel: without the entail, the financial pressure on the Bennets comes from a different source.

The UK cover has a girl staring forward out, with her hand up as if against a window: it's never clear which character in the book it's meant to be, and if anything it's perhaps intended to recall the aesthetics of the Austen book and its various film and TV adaptations. Ignore the cover and dive straight into the book!

I highly recommend this novel to all, whether you're a fan of Austen or not.

The Lie Tree ~ Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree is the first children's book to win the Costa Book Award since 2001, on which qualification it makes it into this list. In many ways it's also a book about the power of knowledge, which was what helped it make its way into my heart.

I left this book for quite a long time between buying and reading it: I'm not really into high fantasy and I was worried it wouldn't live up to my expectations. Once I'd got past the first few pages, though, I found that although on a surface level it's a historical novel (set on a Channel Island in the 1860s) about a magic tree and a hunt for fossils, on a more profound level it's about what a mistake it is to underestimate women and to oppose the development of science. It's about the inescapability of progress and modernity... fairly poignant in today's political climate, I think.

This is a quick and easy read (it is targeted at children, after all) but one that will sit in your mind for quite a while after you're done with it. I'd especially recommend this for a day of travel and getting on and off planes: the world is well-drawn and easy to get back into. This is also a book that you could definitely read as a family - the lack of freedom 14-year old Faith has (it being the 1860s) would make a good start to discussing feminism with younger family members.

Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore ~ Robin Sloan

Unlike the first two picks on this list, this novel isn't told from the perspective of a female central protagnist, and the central female character who we get to know as the book goes on has been criticised as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (a criticism I can definitely agree with). What it is, however, is 'Dan Brown in Silicon Valley', following a trail in books.

This book is strange, there's no escaping that - but it will pull you in, like a good bookstore does (see what I did there?). It really made me want to learn to code - but the novel does also make the point that there are some things that computers can't do, which is refreshing. There is a slightly dystopian view of Google HQ, which I expect is about as truthful as the TV show Suits' portrayal of law firm life (that is, not at all).

I'd recommend this whether you're techy or not (I'm not techy at all really), and I'd especially recommend it to those who enjoy Dan Brown's books or to those who enjoy cryptic crosswords!

1 comment:

  1. I just finished Eligible & really, really enjoyed it. I wasn't overly enamoured of the epilogue, but the rest was so wonderful that I forgive it. You should definitely read Joanna Trollope's Sense & Sensibility - I read it a couple of years ago, but I know I really enjoyed it!
    I also loved Mr Penumbra for it's quirkiness and unexpectedness (is that a word? Let's just pretend it is). Sloan has also written a prequel called Ajax Penumbra: 1969, which I might hunt down.
    Having agreed with you on enjoying these two books, I feel I should read the third. :) x