This summer’s best holiday reads

Posted by Caroline Webb on 13 December 2019

Holidays mean it’s time to escape – if not in reality, then into your imagination. Here’s a selection of books that we recommend you get your hands on so that you can entertain your mind and relax your body.

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Page-turning fiction

Deon Meyer’s latest, The Last Hunt, includes a murder on the Rovos Rail luxury train and scenes in the French city of Bordeaux – plus a hitman stalking a corrupt SA president.

Agent Running in the Field is the new John Le Carré, described as a ‘chilling portrait of our time’ (referencing Brexit, Trump, Russian oligarchs and more).

Quincy Miller, unjustly sentenced to life without parole, has a shot at freedom thanks to an unusual law firm, in John Grisham’s legal thriller The Guardians.

A little boy vanishes in the woods and returns six days later, unharmed but not unchanged… Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky is by turns chilling, thrilling and moving.

Lark, population 300, is a remote, deeply religious island with a history of paganism. Then three strangers arrive, in Julie Mayhew’s Impossible Causes.

Galaxy, a girl with a messed-up past, gets a second chance: to attend Yale. The catch? She must infiltrate the university’s secret societies, in Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House

Highly educated people can agree to disagree, right? In John Sandford’s Bloody Genius, two feuding university departments face off and carry their views to the extreme.

Adults, stricken by a chromosonal calamity that will kill them within a year, need to pass on all the knowledge children need to keep the world running in Cixin Liu’s new sci-fi, Supernova Era.

In a similar vein, Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Evolution sees the possible return of an alien microbe that almost wiped out the human race back in 1967.

Based on actual events during WWII, The Long Flight Home by AL Hlad is inspired by the Royal Air Force’s National Pigeon Service.

Set just after WWI, The Photographer of the Lost by Caroline Scott follows Harry as he travels through battle-scarred France, hired by grieving families to photograph graves and gather news of missing-in-action loved ones.

An ‘Aussie Western’ of sorts, Blood in the Dust by Bill Swiggs starts with a murderous outlaw’s raid on a bush homestead in 1853.

Gabriel Taverner, ship’s surgeon turned country physician, is the hero of a new mystery series by Alys Clare, set in Devon in 1607. A Rustle of Silk unravels the dark underbelly of the silk trade.

A sweeping novel of doomed romances set in Russia, The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili tells the story of a family that owes its success to a chocolate recipe.

A kind of Downton Abbey with a ghostly twist, The Lost Ones by Anita Frank takes place in 1917 in Greyswick mansion – a house filled with strange sounds and secrets.

A sense of place

Paul Theroux takes a Mexican road trip. In On the Plain of Snakes, the master of travel writing gets under the skin of this vibrant but troubled country.

Join the ‘greatest chef in the world’, René Redzepi, as he takes four years off to travel the globe in search of new tastes, in Hungry by Jeff Gordinier.

Borderline is Marita van der Vyver’s new novel, in which a woman heads to Cuba, sparked by a letter in her late husband’s belongings.

Another hubby-with-a-double-life story, What Happens in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand plays out on the Caribbean island of St John.

Beginning in the late 50s, A Tall History of Sugar by Curdella Forbes is an epic love story that moves between Jamaica and England.

Set in a 1960s Ceylon on the brink of change, young Kairo befriends a budding naturalist and born rebel who turns his world inside out, in Romesh Gunesekera’s novel Suncatcher.

In Running with Sherman, Christopher McDougall’s memoir set in rural Amish Pennsylvania, he learns the sport of burro racing (running with donkeys).

While we’re on that subject, The Runner is Markus Torgeby’s true account of escaping to the Swedish woods and living a stripped-back life with the minimum of supplies for four years.

Journalist and historian Jon Gertner gets the lowdown on Greenland in The Ice at the End of the World – a place of exploration and increasing investigation in the face of looming climate change.

You’ve had a taste of it in our pages – now read David Bristow’s full collection of amazing places in SA in Of Hominins, Hunter-Gatherers and Heroes.

Stocking fillers: Ben Trovato’s Durban Poison; Zapiro’s annual, Which Side Is Up?; Madam & Eve’s The Fourth Domestic Revolution.

Essential non-fiction

Passionate conservationist Grant Fowlds goes to extraordinary lengths in his fight against poaching, detailed in Saving the Last Rhinos.

A sense of belonging has both benefits and dangers. In Tribes, British MP David Lammy discusses ‘New Tribalism’ in our globalised, digitised world.

A true story, Not Child’s Play is South African Dave Muller’s account of a sailing holiday in Mozambique gone horribly wrong during the civil war in 1990.

We Are All Greta distils the message of young Swedish climate-change activist Greta Thunberg into a book filled with information you too can act on.

In a similar vein are We Are the Weather by plant-based diet advocate Jonathan Safran Foer and social activist Naomi Klein’s On Fire.

Join sports writer Liam Del Carme as he tours with the Boks in Winging It, filled with characters, destinations, deadlines and the highs and lows of great rugby moments.

Meik Wiking is CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. In The Art of Making Memories, he explores how we can create more of those perfect moments in life. (We say: travel more!)

Unfollow is Megan Phelps-Roper’s account of growing up in the fire-and-brimstone Westboro Baptist Church sect.

The Educated Waiter is Zim immigrant Tafadzwa Zimunhu Taruvinga’s witty and poignant memoir, about his quest to find a better life in SA, Germany and the UAE.

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister by Jung Chang is a portrait of three remarkable siblings who, through marriage, were at the centre of power in China for much of the 20th century.

Michael Rosen’s Book of Play delves into the history of toys, nonsense and other things that make us smile – and why we need play in our lives. He also gives ideas for indoor and outdoor fun for the whole family.

Finally, a clutch of books about the Digital Age – the titles alone give one pause: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff, and Surveillance Valley by Yasha Levine; while Hop, Skip, Go by John Rossant and Stephen Baker details the transport revolution transforming our lives.

Quick reads

Full Throttle presents 13 ‘relentless tales of supernatural suspense’ by Joe Hill (with input by Stephen King). Beware the faceless trucker…

Ben Okri’s Prayer for the Living has 23 stories, set in different countries, which will ‘make you wonder if what you see in the world is all there is’.

Nudibranch is Irenosen Okojie’s short-story collection about offbeat characters caught up in extraordinary situations, such as a journalist who becomes what she eats.

Stocking filler: Dog Poems – need we say more? All the great poets’ odes to their beloved mutts, collected here by Serpent’s Tail Books.

Books priced from R190–R380. Published in SA by Jonathan Ball, Jacana and Penguin Random House.

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