When it comes to choosing books to take away on holiday, I am the worst. As a serial mood-reader, the thought of not being with easy reach of my extensive array of unread books tends to leave me feeling a little stressed, and consequently the pre-holiday panic sets in before I’ve even pulled my suitcase out of storage. If I’m being honest, I probably spend more time contemplating my holiday reading material than I do on any other aspect of the travel planning process – while my suitcase it often packed last-minute, inevitably lacking one essential item or another, I will spend weeks choosing the books that will accompany me on my jaunt abroad, and more often than not pick up a couple of extras at the airport bookshop for good measure, just in case.
On a recent trip to Dubai, I decided that, for a week-long holiday I needed no less than seven books, in addition to a loaded (yet often sadly neglected) Kindle. I had visions of spending the day relaxing in the sun, drinking cocktails and iced coffee, and making my way through at least (at least!) a book a day. Well, that didn’t happen. I ended up reading three of the books that I packed, all with varying levels of enjoyment, so here’s a little round-up of what I read on my holiday!
I’m not typically a great reader of YA contemporary fiction, or, for the most part, YA fiction in general. However, as soon as holiday season rolls around I find myself craving fun, quick, light reads that I can fly through in a day or two, the literary equivalent to a cheesy teen movie or romantic comedy. Having read a number of Jennifer E. Smith’s previous titles, I was eagerly anticipating the release of Windfall, a fun novel that ponders the highs and lows of a big lottery win and the ways it can change your life, both for the good and the bad.
Despite the rather lukewarm Goodreads ratings, Windfall was a really enjoyable contemporary that quite honestly I couldn’t put down. Yes, it was fun and fluffy and, in parts, a little predictable, but it also had a depth to it that I wasn’t expecting. There was, of course, a romance element, but unlike many contemporaries I’ve read that wasn’t the primary focus on the plot. Instead, Jennifer E. Smith placed the focus of the novel, and as such the reader’s attention, onto other elements of our main characters’ Teddy and Alice’s lives, such as family, friendship, grief, loss and finding your place in the world. All of the characters felt well fleshed out and completely believable, each with their own backstory and struggles, and I enjoyed getting to know this greatly diverse cast of side characters alongside following Teddy and Alice’s story.
This fun, coming-of-age story is definitely one to add to your Summer TSB list. While I wasn’t completely blown away by it, I really warmed to the characters and adored the themes that were so expertly explored alongside the fun and though-provoking plot, and I’ll definitely be reading more of Jennifer E. Smith in the future.
From a book that I very much enjoyed to one that was, sadly, a little bit of a disappointment. Yuki Chan in Brontë Country was very much an impulse purchase – the title and cover alone convinced me to give it a try – and given it’s short length I thought that it might make a sweet and charming holiday read. The novel started off strong, and I enjoyed following young Japanese tourist Yuki’s adventures to Haworth and the cast of characters that she encounters there. Haworth was the last place Yuki’s mother visited before her death, and our protagonist’s own visit turns out to be just as strange and unexpected as her mother’s before her. As Yuki delves deeper into her mother’s past and her trip abroad, she learns a few unexpected things about grief, acceptance, friendship and who she is, and for the most part I enjoyed going on this journey of self-discovery with her.
However, I had a real issue with both the pacing of the novel and it’s incredibly short length. I am in general a great lover of slow, quiet books, getting to know the characters and watching them grow and develop without the excessive noise of a fast-paced plot. Yet even for me, Yuki Chan in Brontë Country was a little too slow in parts. The mystery that Yuki attempts to unravel never feels as intriguing as it should, and it doesn’t ever feel resolved, either. Additionally, it felt just a little too short to make the reader feel as if something significant had happened or been achieved, and I often felt held at a distance from both the characters and the plot. My interest tailed off towards the latter third of the novel, and I felt that I really had to push myself to finish it.
This one was a bit of a mixed bag; some elements I enjoyed, but others I had problems with that hampered my enjoyment. Ultimately it was an interesting read, but one that I don’t think I’ll return to again, and as such I’m not sure that I would recommend it.
Finally, I seem to have saved the best until last! No only was Bone Meal for Roses, a touching coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of the beautiful South African landscape, the best book that I read when I was away on holiday, but it’s also one of the best books that I’ve read all year. Heartbreaking, terrifying and exceptionally beautiful all at the same time, I was completely enchanted by this quiet story of our protagonist Poppy’s traumatic early childhood and how, with a little help, she overcomes the demons of her past. While it is somewhat of a slow story, with the focus almost entirely placed on character development rather than he plot itself, I was hooked from the first page to the last.
Miranda Sherry has a fantastic ability to capture the very essence of her characters without the need for excessive description or dialogue, and consequently I warmed to Poppy and her grandparents from the very beginning of the novel. The healing effect of Poppy’s grandparents and the love and kindness that they showed her moved me to tears a number of times when reading, and there is a really sense of deep family love throughout. Not only were the characters wonderful and their relationships even more so, Sherry’s beautiful writing elevated the novel to another level for me. I wanted to both savour and devour it, and have already found myself returning to a few quotes or paragraphs that I particularly loved. This is a book that made a really impact upon me, and one that I’m sure will stay with me for a long time to come. In Bone Meal for Roses, Sherry has created something uniquely beautiful and downright extraordinary, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I loved it.