The Summer reading list…

Hello Findettes… Gemma here!

I’m stripping this post back to basics.  See, I read a LOT.  I’ve also just discovered that I’m a speed reader, apparently, and I normally get through five to seven books a week.  I live for fiction, and I’m not afraid to be seen on the train with a Penny Vincenzi.  However.  The first draft of this summer reading list would wallpaper our flat.  So I’ve stripped it back to five books, and five only. I’ve tried to avoid things that are getting a lot of press at the moment and instead categorise them into the five different things I’m looking for in a holiday read at the moment.  (I’ve was told I could only take five with me to Spain on holiday.)  I’m also not going to tell you too much about the plot of each – what’s the point? I hope you’ll find something here you’d like to try for yourself. Here goes!

1. “Literary fiction” which is easy to read.   Maybe you’re going on holidays this year with a scarily-well-read friend, colleague or in-law.  Maybe you are just a bit fed up with the standard of free books available on the kindle.  Whatever the case, Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman, is impossible to put down and in my humble opinion, he was robbed of the Booker prize for it.
Harri, the 11 year old protagonist, is a Ghanian immigrant living with his family on a council estate.  Moving between Harri’s adaptation to life in the UK and his small daily triumphs and tribulations and a broader perspective on modern-day gang culture, it is hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure.  If you’ve not already, read it now before the TV series comes out. (the BBC have commissioned an adaptation directed by Adam Smith of Skins fame.)

2. Something your boyfriend/husband/dad/brother can borrow from you: The Other Hand, by Chris Cleeve, (published in America as Little Bee) is so good, so funny, so powerful, easy to read and yet so quirky and insightful into various issues, including that of working mums, that I find it very surprising that it was written by a man.  This book will definitely spark discussions between you and whoever you’re on holiday with, so make sure you time the lending of it carefully – I finished it in one sitting and then stood over Mr C-S while he read it so that we could talk about it.  Little Bee is a young Nigerian refugee who comes to England and stays with Sarah, a magazine editor and her Batman-obsessed son Charlie.  I should warn you that it is also devastatingly sad at times, but the more beautiful for it.  Oooooooh! Alert! I have just discovered that Chris Cleave has a new book coming out in a week’s time, called Gold, which is about Olympic Speed Cyclists. If you had said to me this morning ‘Gemma C-S, what is the one topic you are most unlikely to want to read a book about while you’re on holiday?’ That’s probably what I’d have answered.  But now? Well, I’ll be outside the bookshop before it opens with sweaty palms (which isn’t actually an uncommon occurrence.)

3. Alternative reality science fiction aimed at teenagers, or, the new Hunger Games.  Ugh. How many times lately is a book hyped as the new Hunger Games?! Too often for my liking. The Chaos Walking Trilogy series, by Patrick Ness, actually came out a couple of years ago, before HG, and for my (pocket) money, is better written and just as gripping.

It too is set in a dystopian world, it too features a strong male and female protagonist, and also deals with themes of war, good and evil, redemption and gender politics. In three volumes, it follows the story of Todd Hewitt and Viola Eade whose relationship unfolds against a society in turmoil.  Oh, and it includes an incredibly loveable dog.

4. Crime fiction: Through my teen years I read crime fiction voraciously, the gorier the better. These days though I find my tolerance for American whodunnits has waned a little, and I’m more likely to enjoy something from this side of the pond.  If you’ve never read them, can I recommend Kate Atkinson’s frankly phenomenal Jackson Brodie books, but entry number four on this list actually goes to the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith.  Featuring a Scottish philosopher who occasionally dabbles as a sleuth, they are heart-warming and funny detective stories which feature flashes of razor sharp insight into the human psyche.

5. For those who were obsessed with Judy Blume as girls: Did you know Judy Blume has written for adults too? Travelling to Paris a couple of weeks ago I took Summer Sisters.  It was a good, solid, engaging read and having a ‘new Judy Blume’ to pack in my case made me beyond happy.  Following the friendship of Vix and Caitlin throughout their childhood and into their adult years, it has a distinct Jodi Picoult-esque flavour to the narrative with the authentic Blume voice which made us all devour books like Are you there God, it’s me, Margaret, and Deenie.  Also, it’s mainly set during summer holidays on Martha’s Vineyard. Perfect summer reading.

Now, as I’ve said, this is just a tiny selection of what I’ve been reading this summer.  Please leave us your suggestions of what to line up for or what to avoid!
What’s your favourite book of all time?

Gemma C-S

PS. If anyone’s interested, here’s the speed reading test I took, via Stylist Magazine.

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41 thoughts on “The Summer reading list…

  1. 5-7 a WEEK?! Wow, I thought I read a lot…

    Definitely liking the Judy Blume recommendation and will echo your Kate Atkinson – ah-maz-ing.

    We’re not talking about 50 shades, then? (!)


  2. Ok firstly holy sh*t how did I miss that Judy Blume wrote adult books too?!
    Secondly, The Knife of Never Letting Go!! My friend Lucy could barely speak after reading this and said I had to read it before she would discuss it (it’s at the top of my reading list now!)
    And thirdly, am a little relieved to see a summer reading list that doesn’t include Fifty Shades of Grey….FSoG fans, pls don’t hurt me!


  3. ha ha girls I haven’t read 50 shades and I’m trying to avoid it – certainly don’t want to buy it – can’t bring myself to part with any cash for it! But yeah Mahj, how amazing that you can have a new judy blume?! (as you’d imagine they’re at their strongest at the, well, more ‘adult’ and risque parts 😉 )

    • Ive added JB to my Amazon Wish List. So excited to order it, I feel like giving out a JB squee!
      Knowing FSoG originally started out as Twilight fan fiction was enough to make me not want to read it!


  4. Can I just ditto the love for a book list that doesn’t include 50 Shades of Grey. How refreshing. I haven’t read it and don’t plan to, but can’t seem to move for the assumption that anybody and everybody will want to read it! I’ve only read one of these (the other hand) so will be adding the rest to my amazon wish list this afternoon.

    I’ve just finished reading a really quirky book called Death and the Penguin. I didn’t expect to like it that much (it was a present) but absolutely loved it! It’s unlike anything else I’ve read – sorry what a crap description – but am currently recommending it to everybody. I suppose it’s a bit of a dark comedy, but really enjoyable.

  5. I love the Other Hand it is a beautiful book… Will definately try those Patrick Ness books. I am on Bring up the Bodies at the mo but I will admit that I will read 50 shades just because I will have to have an informed opinion on it rather than ‘it’s great but havent read it’ or ‘it’s rubbish but no I havent read’

  6. I’ve not read 50 Shades, and I don’t think I will. I’ve heard it’s badly written and there’s nothing that irritates me more!!

    The Judy Blume book has gone STRAIGHT onto my Summer holiday book list, which at the moment also includes Rumours by Freya North, The Paris Wife and (don’t judge me) The Hunger Games trilogy – yes, I’m behind but wanted to wait until my holiday to read them!

    I’m like you Gemma, a speed reader. I can whizz through 14 books in about 10 days on holiday, so I need lots of long reads (and an extra suitcase 😉 – thank god for my reader!)

    If anyone has any recommendations for some lighter reads, the ones I like to call intelligent trash then I’m all ears 🙂 For me, they’re the perfect poolside read.


    • I’m not judging you on the Hunger Games – I LOVED them!! Think I read all 3 in 4 days, much to my very ignored husband’s dismay. Perfect holiday reading as far as I’m concerned. In fact I read them as a result of Mahj’s post on AOW…


        • Oh, AND, @Katie – on the more ‘chick lit’ side for a good holiday read, I really enjoyed ‘Me before you’ by Jojo Moyes… quite funny but also very moving and somewhat of a tear jerker, and I find Dorothy Koomson quite engaging on that front as well, and ‘My Lover’s Lover’ by Maggie O’Farrell is most definitely literary fiction however it is also really gripping and you won’t have any problem tearing through it by the pool – I took it to Madrid and couldn’t put it down.

          • Perfect thank you! I’ve read a couple of Dorothy Koomson books and love Maggie O’Farrell… Another few to add to my list 🙂 xoxo

  7. I’ve just said my 2p on 50 shades over on the place that must not be named but will echo my love for a list that doesn’t include it.
    Gemma – I love the variety of your list!

  8. I think I love nothing more than a good book recommendation. Gemma I didn’t know Judy Blume did adult books either, Summer Sisters has been added to my list! And I want to read the Chaos Walking Triology too 😀 I am currently reading Fifty Shades (after a rather random conversation with a bloke at the Apple genius bar in Glasgow!) too many people are talking about it for me not to want to read it sorry! Mostly it makes me laugh (or snort out loud on my commute!) so I am enjoying it for the unintended(?) comedy value. I read it on my iphone when I want a change from the other book I’m reading.

    Faith by Lesley Pearse is a poolside read I highly recommend or Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult, neither of them are new. I’m also a big Jack Reacher fan and the new Lee Child novel is out next month eeeeekkkk! xx

  9. Just wrote an incredibly chatty, detailed comment, explaining the books I love and recommend but the internet lost it. I hate that. Can’t face re-doing the chat, but here is the list. Great list by the way.
    (1) The Art of Pitching, Chad Harbach. Wonderful American campus novel. River of Smoke, Amitav Ghosh. Second in trilogy about early 20th century trading, heroin and love. First (Sea of Poppies) set in India. This one in China. Incredible language.
    (2) The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell – set in Dutch colony in Japan about Dutch – Japanese love and Japanese culture. It was my best book of last year. It makes the list because my husband just finished it.
    (3) Alternative category – heavyweight fiction. Not read these two yet but top of my list: Capital, John Lanchester – fiction counterpart to Whoops, his brilliant book on the financial crisis. Bring up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel – second book in life of Thomas Cromwell. Re-read Wolf Hall (the first one) in preparation for ButB and was stunned again at how brilliant it is.
    (4) Lewis trilogy by Peter May. Third book not out yet, but first two are excellent – really compelling.
    (5) I interpreted this more as “family saga” type books. I loved Summer Sisters and similar ones (quite old now so some people might have missed them first time around) that I love are Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood (four old friends, set in Louisiana. Amazing), The Shell Seekers and Coming Home – great exploration of family dynamics over extended period, plus set in Cornwall. The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard – quartet about a family set over about 50 years. I haven’t read any good family sagas lately (although you could argue that Hollingshurst’s A Stranger’s Child is one) – grateful for recommendations…
    Happy summer reading all

      • OMG the YaYa Sisterhoon is SOOOOO good! And I just today downloaded A Stranger’s Child for Kindle (it’s a bargain!!) can’t wait to read it! xx

    • Ooh, I’ve got the Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet sat in my waiting to be read pile, think it better get moved to the top.
      I really really need a week off or a few quiet nights as I’ve got so many books I want to read and no time to do it in.

  10. Great post Gemma! I read Summer Sisters several years ago (I have family in the US and go there regularly and found Summer Sisters in a bookshop there) and although I liked it didn’t find it as gripping as her teenage books, maybe that’s just me?

    My go-to authors for holiday reads are Marian Keyes, Nick Hornby and Jodi Picoult -she was signing books in my local Waterstones a few weeks ago and I missed it, stupid work! I read her latest, Handle with Care on my recent short break and loved it.

    My fave book of all time is Sleepers- Lorenzo Carcaterra. I’m not going to lie, it was the film (starring Brad Pitt) that originally led me to it but the book is amazing- so powerful in a tragic way.

    Anyway I now really want to read Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood!

  11. I too am holding out against all this Fifty Shades malarkey. Thank the lord I’ve found others who feel the same. I’ll admit it, I read Twilight, and from the second chapter of book two I wished I hadn’t started. I had to finish the whole series though mainly because I’m OCD about finishing books, even when I hate them, and also for the minute chance that every single whingey one of them was anhilated! Ugh.

    But the Hunger Games – that was a whole different ball game. I almost wept at the end. I consoled myself with the Divergent trilogy after a blog review said that as a Hunger Games fan I should check them out (so easily swayed) and I think I liked them more, but book three is yet to come so we’ll see. I do need to stop reading kids books though….!

    Somehow I also managed to get truly addicted to the Song of Ice and Fire series… it was entirely accidental as I was asking my baby bro what all the fuss was about before the HBO show started and the next thing I know I’m completely sucked in and low and behold I’m rummaging through the Game of Thrones Wiki to find evidence for my argument (against my baby bro’s war games friends) that “XXX chick from XXX family wasn’t in it for love, she was a honey trap under orders from XXX dude”…. you see, no good can come from borrowing books from your geeky younger brother!

    I adore Kate Atkinson’s books, some of them are a bit erm, let’s say “bonkers” but the Jackson Brodie ones are great. My fave is Behind the Scenes at the Museum.

    But the best news ever? JUDY BLUME FOR GROWN UPS?! Crumbs. I’m going to be missing a) my stop on the train tonight and b) my alarm tomorrow morning as I read through the night (just like in my former Judy Blume days!).

    Just finished Jennifer Government which was a pretty average read but quite interesting for someone who works in big corporation marketing (i.e. ME!) to read…

    Great recommendations Gemma – I was in desperate need of something new to read.

  12. Geems, these are amazingly brilliant recommendations! Excited to borrow all off you at some point soon, feel free to bring me a selection… Judy Blume for ADULTS? I will be checking that out, but to be fair I am also going to try and find my three in one purple bound JB book at my mum’s house this weekend: one was definitely Deenie but I can’t for the life of me remember the other two.

    Can I add The Prisoner of Heaven, the latest novel by Carlos Ruiz I wrote the best book ever Shadow of the Wind Zafon? It’s going to be my treat to myself!

    • Bella I think the other 2 might have been ‘It’s not the end of the world’ and ‘Then again maybe I won’t’ because I think I have the same one!

  13. I think it’s hilarious that so many people are talking about Fifty Shades online, mostly in moral outrage, and inadvertently promoting the book while they do it! I’d like to shake the author by the hand – I wish I was that marketing savvy. When you consider the phenomenal book sales and then add on the millions of extra people speaking out about bad writing who haven’t actually read the book…. it’s just mindblowing. I think the mistake people are making is to compare it to the books like the ones mentioned here…. it’s just a different thing, and it is what it is, and it’s had an awesome sales strategy behind it that I’m sure publishers will now latch onto, so we’ll see more of the same. It’s gonna be the era of the penny dreadful all over again! But that’s OK, there’s room for all sorts of fiction. It’s great that people are talking about BOOKS, however bad we think they are.

    I mean…. Gemma goes to the trouble of writing an (excellent) post about books that DOESN’T include FSOG…. and what do we end up talking about in the comments?

    I’ve been meaning to read Pigeon English for ages – thanks for the reminder. Definitely checking it out now. Reading Wolf Hall at the moment – phenom.


    • How is Wolf Hall? I battled my way through one of her earlier novels and I couldn’t bear to read Wolf Hall after that. But so many people loved it that I’m torn.

      K x

      • It’s dense, there’s no getting away from it! I’m 36% in (thanks Kindle) and it’s not going to be a quick read….but it’s SO good that I don’t mind savouring every bit and taking my time. I’m normally terribly impatient with books and I’m really enjoying it. I haven’t read any of her others to compare it to mind you…


        • The one I read (A Place of Greater Safety, I think?) was just written really bizarrely, it felt like she wrote it with the goal of winning a Booker prize, and the storyline was sadly lost in amongst the sometimes clumsy attempts at ‘literary prose’. She may well have learnt her lessons with Wolf Hall, of course.

          K x

          • I’m battling a bit with Wolf Hall at the moment, it is excellent but so dense and because I’m busy at the minute I won’t pick it up for a week and then I’ve forgotten who everyone is. I really want to finish it though because it is so interesting and well written.

    • Pen you are (as always) totally spot on re: 50 shades marketing. I really hope you’re wrong about other companies jumping on the bandwagon though!

  14. SO I now have that Judy Blume book on order from Amazon. I should NOT be allowed to read book posts online. But at the same time… I am EXCITED.

    K x

  15. One book I have LOVED recently is Dare Me by Megan Abbott.

    It was just amazing, beautifully written and utterly gripping – since getting a Kindle I’ve been reading a lot more (like…*loads* more, and I was already a prolific reader. I think my Kindle is going to bankrupt me!) and this is definitely my stand out book of the summer so far.

    Also loved the Chaos Walking trilogy!

  16. I read The Other Hand a few years ago. Definitely a book that makes you think about so many things, had my hand to my mouth in a few parts. Also brought Pigeon English but it sits on my bedside table waiting for a read, I’ve struggled to get past the first few chapters! Would recommend Mister Pip if anyone likes these two books, uses Great Expectations in a totally unexpected way.

    Laura x

  17. Oh yes! Mr Pip! Another great read. See, so many to get through before even thinking about 50 shades x

  18. Loved reading your thoughts. Another one who has Pigeon English in thd back of my mind to read & maybe this is the summer for Wolf Hall. For the time being back to Evelyn Waygh’s Vile Bodies, which I’m enjoying. Looking forward to your autumn round up already.

  19. Wah! It’s a book post and I haven’t got time to comment properly! Firstly-thought The Other Hand was an incredible read, although possibly not the most romantic for my honeymoon. Ended up discussing what we would do in ‘that’ situation. And crying at the epilogue/authour’s notes about the real life situation that inspired the book.
    Def going to add Pigeon English to my list, and agree, Mister Pip is a great read if you like this kind of genre!
    I’m also reading Wolf Hall at the moment! It’s easier-going than I thought, and I’m enjoying it.
    Also in the same boat with 50 shades. Can’t be bothered with it, (Black Lace anyone?) but amazed so many people have suddenly ‘found time’ to read when previously they were ‘too busy’ ; ) !!
    Fav book of all time is the God of Small things, but I’m guessing most people have already read this. Would also like to read Midnight’s Children and The Paris Wife this summer.
    Love the book post Gemma xx

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