It is June and it is summer though if you live in the UK you might be forgiven for wondering if this is right. I have had the heating on this week and go to bed each night with a hot water bottle. However, as I write this the sun is coming out so perhaps we are getting there.
And, of course, as it is summer we get the books in the bookshops and supermarkets et al under the heading Beach Reads, Holiday Reads etc etc. I always find this categorising odd. Presumably if a book is a good read then it will be good whether you read it at work or on holiday or in the bath or on the beach, but it is that time of year when all promotions behave in this way. Calling a book a perfect beach read is slightly puzzling. What exactly do they mean? I suppose the bookshops think of books which do not require a huge amount of thought or analysis, one which you can put down when the sun and margarita overcomes you and you fall asleep. But I can read a book in the middle of winter and fall asleep on my sofa in the afternoon after lunch with the same ease.
I feel that calling a book a Holiday/Beach read is vaguely insulting. It seems to infer that it is not worthy of a 'proper' read when the weather is cool and you are indoors and that it is a light frothy story that does not warrant much attention. The covers are slanted towards this attitude as well. Usually with pretty water colours on the front, or matchstick women with pink handbags or sketches of a beach. I feel this kind of marketing does the content inside the pages a disservice.
I am now going to mention several women authors who are marketed in this way: Rosamund Ley, Veronica Henry, Fanny Blake, Harriet Evans, Lucy Diamond, Erica James are just a few who come to mind. I have read books by all these authors over the last few years and you know what? They are good. They are readable. They make you laugh. They make you cry. They make you forget for a few hours that you are getting old and are not the mad young thing you think you are. They have happy endings. Problems are solved. People fall in love.
And I tell you something else as well. These books will never win a Costa Prize, a Booker Prize, an Orange Prize or a Banana Prize (ok I made that last one up...). They will never be listed. They will also never be reviewed by the book magazines, by the Literary Review, by the Guardian blah blah blah blah. The litterati turn up their noses. They would prefer to laud the latest Rushdie, Amis or Ali Smith. All those cool names that will make the readers appear intelligent and up with the latest trend.
I used to have a friend who read on the Tube or bus and she always had her books covered as she was too ashamed to show to the world that she was reading the latest Jilly Cooper or, back in the day, Jacqueline Susann (ironic that now Virago publish the latter writer as a feminist icon of the sixties, ditto Grace Metalious and Peyton Place). She was made to feel ashamed of her taste. Bugger the fact that Jilly Cooper was a hoot and wrote such fun books. They were rather looked down upon. Still are.
I have just finished reading the latest by one of my favourites Harriet Evans - the Butterfly Summer and I simply loved it and could not put it down. She uses a narrative device which I always enjoy, two stories running alongside each other, one in the current time and one a hundred years back, usually a relative of the narrator.
"You follow the hidden creek towards a long forgotten house. They call it Keepsake, a place full of wonder and danger. Locked inside the crumbling elegance of its walls lies the story of the Butterfly Summer, a story you have been waiting all your life to hear. This house is Nina Parr's birthright. It holds the truth about her family an a chance to put everything right at last"
This is the blurb. Sounds captivating and it is. Now out. Do buy and read and yes, it IS a great book to read on holiday, but it is also a great book to read anytime.
Rosamund Ley - Last Dance in Havana. This is my next upcoming read and, once again, the back in time device. Set in Cuba in 1958 and England in 2012. I have read all her earlier titles and here is a review I wrote last year of her book The Villa
"Single mother of a teenage daughter, Tess Angel is astonished to receive a solicitor's letter telling her that she has been left a villa in Sicily. Her mother, Flavia, left Sicily after the war to seek out a young airman she fell in love with during World War II whose plane had crashed near their village. Her parents opposed their marriage and she waited to hear from him but in vain. When her father put pressure on her to marry a young Sicilian who would bring money and property to their family she fled to England with the help of her employer, Edward Westerman, the owner of the villa of the title. She never returned and never told her daughter the reason why and now Tess is returning to the home of her mother's childhood.
My favourite device used here, while Tess is in Sicily, her mother Flavia takes us back to her story and we learn why she left. This is alongside her writing down of her recipes and thoughts on Sicilian cuisine (no it does not turn into a cook book, the descriptions just add to the story) and then we come back to the present day and are with Tess as she meets friends and protagonists in equal measure, some of whom are not pleased she is there and has decided to keep the villa. Throw in a rather darkly handsome Sicilian, another not so nice who may have Mafia connections, and a missing treasure and you have a stonking good story which I thoroughly enjoyed. Looking forward to her second"
Here is a link to my review of a title by another lovely lady, Fanny Blake and this, in turn, leads you to a link to my reviews of her other titles.
How to Find Love in a Bookshop - Veronica Henry. Set in a bookshop. I need say no more. Loved it. Due to be published on 16 June.
Now I will sit down and read Dickens, Austen, Eliot, Bronte, Trollope - I have read War and Peace (twice. rather chuffed at that). I have read Zola, Balzac and Flaubert. I have read all of these and enjoyed them hugely. I have read books by the authors mentioned above and enjoyed them hugely. A good book is one which is well written, good story, great characters and keeps you enthralled from start to finish. It does not matter who it is by or whether they are famous or not. It is up to you, the reader, to enjoy and be happy in your reading. I used to read books because I felt I ought to but I certainly don't now.
All of these writers I have written about should go on your reading lists and if you wish to learn more about two of them, Fanny Blake and Veronica Henry then come along to the Felixstowe Book Festival where they will be sharing a platform. I have the enormous pleasure of introducing them both and am so looking forward to it.