What to Read on Holiday?
The big problem with holidays is: what to read? You need something chunky enough to occupy the airport layover but with sufficient pacing to hold keep your attention at a thousand feet. I got lucky on a recent trip and found three great books that did both.
Here they are, in order of reading (I’ve included links to the Amazon pages of these books, in case you want to try an extract for yourself).
About My Holiday:
If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll see I’ve just been to Australia. The trip was a fascinating mix of bizarre and sublime – from an Elvis competition to humpback whales! (I’ll probably blog later on this unlikely combination.)
Each of these books definitely added to my holiday experience, partly because of the themes they tackled, but also because when you have a good book, how can you be bored?
A City of Mirrors
A City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
This is the third and final novel in The Passage Series (The Passage, The Twelve ).
The Passage Series is set in a dystopian future, where a people have been transformed into bat-like vampires; only a few true humans remain.
So far so tropish.
But what sets The Passage apart from others in the genre is the sheer quality of Cronin’s writing, his fascinating characters and the underlying tone of the desparation. The books are long, but they’re very digestable.
A City of Mirrors is, I think, the best in the trilogy. Mirrors follows Amy, the girl from nowhere and we learn about her ability to move through time. There’s more of Alicia too, which I always like (being partial to sword-carrying red-haired heroines!) but mostly the story follows Peter Jaxom and Sara Mitchell.
Peter and Sara believe that the virals have been vanquished. But they forgot about Zero, the oldest and the worst of the Twelve, and Zero never went away – he’s just been waiting.
What’s to like: as with the other books in the series, the writing is very good; at times, it’s brilliant. The story is compelling, the characters interesting and there’s enough tension to keep you reading.
What’s annoying: There’s the largest info-dump in the world, where Zero reveals his life history in one enormously long sequence. Goes on for aaages, and most of it you can pretty much skim. Some characters could be interesting but we never really know them (like Pim, who’s deaf and dumb). Also, the print version is enormous – just on 600 pages. Stupidly, I brought the print version and ended up carrying a brick around in my suitcase. If you’re getting it for a holiday read, definitely get the e-version!
‘The world was real and you were in it, a brief part but still a part, and if you were lucky, and maybe even if you weren’t, the things you’d done for love would be remembered.’
The Sudden Appearance of Hope
The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
I love Claire North’s writing – her other books Touch and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August were enthralling, intriguing sci-fi/fantasy mixed with thriller action. Technically (speaking as a writer here) this is hard to achieve – when writing sci-fi you need to explain the world, but a thriller has to be fast-paced to be, well, thrilling. North manages this difficult challenge brilliantly.
You can read more about Touch and Harry August in an earlier blog post here.
Like Touch and Harry August, The Sudden Appearance of Hope features a protagonist with an unusual ability: Hope Arden is totally forgettable. No one remembers her, not her parents, her friends, or her lovers. She’s therefore an extremely successful thief. And borderline suicidal. Enter Perfection, an app promising users a perfect life, a terrorist named Byron and suddenly Hope becomes the key to a new, extremely valuable technology.
Like Mirrors, Hope is a long book, so if you’re reading it on holiday, definitely get the e-version.
What’s to like: Like North’s other works, the pacing is superb. All three of us – husband and teenage son – raced through this book! The ideas unpacked by the story are truly compelling: What is perfection? How much does software understand? What are we, if no-one remembers us? What is memory?
What’s annoying: There are a lot of bullet points and lists. Sometimes this is interesting, sometimes not so much. Hope describes the technology developed by Perfection as a threat to the species – but I never understood how. And finally, the way Hope jets around the world merrily on stolen passports really annoyed me.
It’s not the passports that strain belief (although I don’t think they’re quite as easy to steal as North makes out, but hey, it’s fiction) but the absence of jet lag. I’ve done enough long haul flights to know how crippled you feel on arrival.
Oh yes, and the part where Hope does her own physiotherapy. That whole chapter (I’m a physiotherapist by training) was really a WTF read. Totally unbelievable. My son goes ‘oh mum, it was fine’! So if you’re a physio, just skip that chapter.
“Truth: sometimes a murderer cannot be found. Truth: sometimes your children are taken and you are left behind. Truth: poverty is a prison. Truth: disease and age come to us all.”
The Bridge to Lucy Dunne
The Bridge to Lucy Dunne by Exurb1a
My son introduced me to this work. Exurb1a is a youtuber (I’ve not watched his videos but I sure want to now).
The Bridge to Lucy Dunne is a short-story collection of fantasy and speculative sci-fi. They’re easy to read and very well-written. Some are very short, others are in multiparts. Some are written like an interview transcript, others as diaries, others as a fable.
Like The Sudden Disappearance of Hope, the stories in Lucy Dunne discuss deep issues: who are we, why are we here, what is God, what is time? But also they’re entertaining and because they’re all so different you can’t really predict what’s coming next.
I think books like The Bridge to Lucy Dunne represent an exciting new wave of platform agnostic narratives: youtube, book, gaming.
What’s to like: The shortness of the stories! Seriously, after reading two massive books it was a relief to dive into a quick read. I enjoyed the diversity of the story structures. But mostly, I enjoyed the ideas behind the stories. My favourite was VASE, about a device that removes your awareness of thought. Without conscious thought, what are we? No depression, but no rapture. And yet, does this make us more or less human?
(A digression: I was listening to this really surreal interview with Thomas Thwaites (GoatMan: How I took a Holiday from Being Human) – some concepts in VASE are real.
Listen to the interview here: Acting the Goat )
What’s annoying: Some of the stories (The Rite, The Flowers) were a little predictable. And some of the more complex issues, like VASE, might be more suited to a deeper structure, like a novella.
“When cameras were invented plenty of people thought they stole the soul of anyone they took a picture of. There’s always a brief period of hysteria when a new technology comes around.”
Over to you.
Feel free to share. Any book discoveries you’d recommend? What holiday reads have you found?