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Holiday reads — or something for your book group

One of my favourite things — especially on holiday — is curling up with a cuppa and a good book.  The good folk at David’s Bookshop in Letchworth, Muddy Herts Awards Best Bookshop winner 2016, have come up with a reading list that should keep me and my fellow bookworms very happy over the next few months.  And if you’re looking for ideas for your book group — you know, the one where you pretend to read the book and then drink wine while not talking about it? — then you’re in luck, too.


The Muse, Jessie Burton


Jessie Burton’s first novel, The Miniaturist, set the critics raving — and they’re having a lovely time with her second, The Muse.  Set in the ’60s and ’30s, it’s all about secret histories, art dealing, revolution, and is seething with exhilarating suspense and tension.  Love it.

The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry

essex serpent

Set in the 1890s, a new widow takes her strange son and moves from London to Essex.   With her naturalist’s mind intrigued by rumours of the ‘Essex Serpent,’ she becomes drawn into an intense unlikely relationship with the village’s vicar.

Smoke, Dan Vyleta


This one sounds intriguingly curious — part historical novel, part paranormal dystopia.  Smoke is set in an England in which the wicked are known by the ‘smoke’ that pours from their bodies.  Two young men, on a visit to London,  begin to suspect that it’s all a lie designed to keep the elite in power.  It’s being compared to the Northern Lights series and (heaven forbid) Harry Potter.  But darker.

To the Bright Edge of the World, Eowyn Ivey

bright edge

Lots of adventure in this one — and another historical choice.  A decorated war hero is leading a band of explorers up the Wolverine River Valley to Alaska — recording his experiences for the pregnant wife he’s left behind.  They face all manner of danger, human and animal, and begin to feel that something bigger may be threatening them as well.

Sweet Caress, William Boyd

sweet caress

William Boyd has won or been nominated for just about every big literary award going — and critics are still calling this latest novel his greatest achievement so far.   Photographer Amory Clay begins photographing socialites in London — then moves into the demi monde of 1920s Berlin, to 1930s New York, then on to the blackshirt riots in London and the battlefields of WWII France.  Defining moments of 20th century history, seen through the eyes of one woman —  and illustrated with ‘found’ photographs throughout.


The Silk Roads, Peter Frankopan

 silk roads

This is history on a global scale — not focusing in on one nation in one period, but exploring the connections between nations, literally the roads and routes that drew East and West together, and the ever-changing ‘centres’ of trade and culture.   It’s also bringing the patterns and lessons of history right up to the present day, as Western economies and nations are increasingly looking at centres of power in the East once more.  The reviewers are raving about the scope of this history, but also about the vivid and engaging way it’s written.

The Shepherd’s Life, James Rebanks


James Rebanks is the first son of a shepherd, who was also the first son of a shepherd — and his family have been living and working in the Lake District for generations, with a way of life that the Vikings might well recognise — making hay, sending sheep to the fells, lambing in the spring, and so on.  Combine that sense of living history with a love for the Lake District landscape and a poetic sensibility — and you get a gorgeous, evocative read.

The Running Hare: The Secret Life of Farmland, John Lewis Stempel

 secret life of farmland

More of the natural world with this one, looking at the wild animals and bugs that live in and under the traditionally ploughed lands of the countryside’s farms — a rapidly disappearing habitat.  Recently Radio 4’s Book of the Week, it also tells the story of the author’s attempt to care for a field in a way that attracts old-time plants and animals.

Spectacles: A Memoir, Sue Perkins


Sue Perkins is something of a national treasure since GBBO, albeit a fairly quirky one.  Her memoir, Spectacles, is being described as funny and moving, and a touching account of a life lived “at wonky angles” — which is probably the best way, to be honest.

Skyfaring, James Vanhoenacker


Vanhoenacker has years of experience as a commercial 747 pilot, and this is his description of what it’s like to fly — from someone who is a technical expert and a poetic, soulful writer.  We can so easily take getting on a plane for granted, but this book brings it back to the magical, transcendent experience it must have seemed in the beginning.


Of course, there are plenty more choices on the shelves at David’s Bookshop in Letchworth, and browsing there is a real pleasure.  Oh, and there’s a cafe for coffee and cake.  After all, choosing the right read — or two — is tiring work…

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