Last year in July I did a 'Top 3 Summer Reads' post, where I recommended three books to read during the summer. This year I have a few more suggestions, whether you're spending the holidays at home or off at the beach. I've also tried to cover a few genres (which I've listed under each book), just for a dash of variety.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Genre: fantasy, horror
I can't quite remember if I've talked about this book before on my blog, but either way it deserves another mention. It was recommended to me by my cousin while we were browsing a bookshop in Canada, but I finally bought it in an English bookshop in Belgium a couple of months later. Quite simply one of the most quirky, bizarre and odd books I have ever read, it's based on such an interesting concept: the entire story is built around a set of genuine 'peculiar' vintage photographs, such as the one of the front cover, which appear at appropriate intervals during the story. The photos add a chilling otherworldly feeling to the novel and really helps the story to come alive in a whole new way.
It follows the story of Jacob, an American teenager, who journeys to a small, remote Welsh island to discover the secrets of his grandfather's childhood. He comes across the ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children but soon learns that not everything is quite as it seems and things start to become ever so peculiar.
The quality of the writing isn't brilliant, but neither is it awful. I'm not the biggest fan of strange, fantasy fiction with time travel and mysterious dark forces, but I absolutely loved this book, and for a debut novel it blew me away. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes a thrilling tale of mystery and suspense, with a dash of mild horror for good measure.
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Genre: contemporary YA fiction, realistic fiction
The Sky is Everywhere is one of my favourite contemporary YA fiction novels: for me it's on a par with modern classics like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and the best of John Green's works. The main character is Lennie Walker, who is dealing with the aftermath of her older sister's sudden death. She has always felt safe in her sister Bailey's shadow, but now she suddenly finds herself very much the centre of attention. Of course there's a love element, and it appears Lennie has two boys to choose from: her dead sister's boyfriend Toby, and Joe, the new boy in town.
The things I love most about this book are Lennie's quirky family, and the entirely capable and skillful way in which the author deals with grief. The characters are larger than life but quintessentially human, including Bailey who doesn't actually appear in the novel. I also love the handwritten poems and stories between chapters, which I felt really brought the story alive. I would recommend this to anyone who likes a good old tear jerker!
Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick
Genre: science fiction, dystopian, apocalyptic
The story begins with 17-year-old Alex hiking through the wilderness, carrying her parents ashes and slowly dying from a brain tumour. Suddenly the Earth is struck by a huge electro-magnetic pulse, killing thousands and affecting the rest either not at all, converting them into flesh-eating cannibals, or (in Alex's case) giving them a superhuman sense.
I used to be obsessed with dystopian fiction, and I bought this trilogy a couple of years ago when I was right in the middle of that phase. Being somewhat of a connoisseur of this particular genre, I easily recognised several elements of other novels in it: the massively earth-shattering event that happens at the beginning of the story, also seen in the Gone series by Michael Grant; the 'other people' to be avoided similar to The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker and Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts; the survival element of The Hunger Games; the unravelling of society as we know it of The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. But all those pieces build a story which is complex, well written and brilliantly paced. It suffers a little from both poor character development and too many characters in places, but that's mostly in the second book. On the whole I would recommend it if you liked any of the books I mentioned above.
Book of the Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
This novel is based on the Grimm fairytale of Maid Maleen, and the story is essentially identical. When a beautiful princess refuses to marry the prince her father has chosen, he is furious and locks her in a tower for seven long years. The story is told from the point of view of the princess's maid, Dashti, who writes in diary entries about their time in the tower. But the princess is spoilt and used to the abundance of the court, and as they run out of food Dashti soon realises they must either escape or slowly starve. What they find when they do break free from the tower is something they never expected...
I've never read anything quite like The Book of a Thousand Days, but I enjoyed it immensely. The author writes effortlessly and the story is well structured, the characters vivid and alive.
At the House of the Magician by Mary Hooper
Genre: historical fiction
And last but not least, some historical fiction! At the House of the Magician is the first in a trilogy by Mary Hooper, one of my favourite historical fiction authors. Set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the main character is Lucy, a young girl who runs away from home and finds a job as a maid in the household of Dr Dee, the court magician. Lucy is more than a little nosy and in among the strange and sinister elements of the house soon uncovers a terrible plot: the Queen's life is in Lucy's hands...
This was one of the first novels set in the Elizabethan era that I owned, and it's perfect if you don't know a whole lot about the period - there's a lot of simple historical detail, along with a glossary at the back of the book which explains any difficult words. A nice touch is some instructions for making lavender wands, which feature a lot in the first few chapters of the novel.
In terms of the actual story, the characters are well-drawn and the suspense masterfully worked. I think it was intended for a slightly younger audience than myself (the print is larger than usual and the writing uncomplicated), but I love this trilogy with a passion and will keep reading them again and again.
I hope this inspired you to look into at least one of these books this summer, let me know which one you'd most like to read!