Unexpectedly Ideal Summer Reads

Saturday, June 27

By Ash Haslett Cuff

I know many are typically drawn to the books marketed as ‘beach reads’ for the summer as they are light and breezy and can be read in anywhere from a couple hours to a few days, depending on the speed of the reader. However summer for me has always been a time to delve in bigger books that I feared I wouldn’t have time for during the school year. The kinds of the books you can really get lost in and will totally absorb you for hours at a time.

Under the Dome by Stephen King: A small Maine town has been cut off from the rest of the world by a giant, invisible dome. A band of ragtag protagonists including an Iraq vet, the owner of a newspaper and a group of brave kids among others, find themselves up against a power hungry, ruthless politician and his son. They’re also up against the clock as life in the Dome is slowly coming to an end. 

Coming in at a cool 1074 pages, this book ticks all my boxes for the perfect summer read. Yes it seems massive but I promise you that you’ll be wrapped up in it in no time and the pages will absolutely fly by. The characters are all incredibly vivid and it takes almost no time at all to get absorbed in the world of the novel. It takes the best elements of a King novel (for me at least); his believable, well crafted characters, his extraordinary scene setting and immaculate plotting and wraps them in a compelling premise in a book that is incredibly difficult to put down. 

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry: Set in coastal Essex at the end of the 19th century, this novel follows the recently widowed, scientifically minded Cora Seaborne as she explores the rumours about a giant sea serpent that has been terrorising the inhabitants of the village. This novel was at the forefront of the modern gothic craze that started a few years ago, touching on religion, natural science, friendship and romance with a cast of memorable and vivid characters.

This is one of my all time favourite books. For ages after I read it I couldn’t stop thinking about it even though I read it super quickly, unable to put it down for long because I was so engaged in the world of the novel. It’s dark, engrossing setting is perfectly illustrated with the damp, lush forest and superstitious, close knit small town and the ideas explored in the novel are still relevant in the modern day. The writing is also beautiful without being smothering or hard to read. It’s both the perfect entryway into historical fiction as well as a great read for people who are already fans and I cannot recommend it enough.

A Little Life by Hanya Yangihara: Four college classmates move to New York where they navigate adult life and their shifting relationships and various issues. Kind, beloved Willem the actor, sharp tongued, acidic JB the artist, and frustrated, ambitious Malcolm the architect are tied together by Jude, the enigmatic withdrawn lawyer whose troubled history he's never escaped, leaving him brilliant but broken. 

This book is famously heartbreaking and so somewhat difficult to get through at times. Unlike all the other books on this list it took me ages to read. It’s not the kind of book you can whip through, and nor would you want to. It’s beautiful in its writing, but accessibly so, because the characters are staggeringly real and reading about them takes a toll on the reader. I think, however, it is perfect for the long, often monotonous stretch of the summer holidays as you’ll have enough time to digest and appreciate the book fully this way and it’ll stay with you long after you’ve finished it. 

Fallen Skies by Philippa Gregory: Stephen Winters has been irrevocably scarred by the Great War and wants nothing more than to forget it. He finds his saviour in the form of Lily Pears, a budding star on the stage. However the war has left deeper scars on Stephen than Lily realises and soon she finds herself trapped in their shared nightmares. 

I'm usually not a fan of war or post-war fiction but since Philippa Gregory is one of my absolute favourite authors I gave this a go and I adored it. Filled with emotion, drama and suspense this is ideal for days when you have nothing to do but lounge around with a book. Gregory is such a fantastic author and she knows how to seamlessly blend historical detail with authentic characters that feel so real in their motivations and actions. It managed to avoid the cliches of the genre while keeping with the thrilling, emotional, addictive tone of a BBC costume drama. It’s genuinely addictive to the very last page.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling’s pen name): Afghanistan veteran and private investigator Cormoran Strike is nearing bankruptcy and living in his office when he receives a visit from the brother of a supermodel whose tragic death was ruled as suicide by the police. The brother is adamant that the model, known to her friends as ‘Cuckoo’, did not kill herself and, aided by his assistant the intelligent, sympathetic Robin, Cormoran plunges into the lives of the rich and famous in order to solve this increasingly twisted case.

Of all the books mentioned, this is the most typical summer read as it is a mystery and it is quite easy to get through. However that doesn’t mean that it isn’t brilliantly written and plotted and well worth the read. Robin and Cormoran are strikingly real and you quickly come to care for them and think of them as real people. I’m a big fan of thrillers and mysteries and I can safely say this is my favourite series. The mysteries are intricately plotted and page-turning and it is so easy to fall into the world of the book and feel as if you’re among real people the whole while. 

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