Summer 2019 reads: Charming characters vs gripping plot

There’s always that one person at the airport who holds up the entire check-in queue while they unpack, repack and play suitcase-Tetris. “Why on earth,” I often mutter to my boyfriend, “do people think they need to bring their entire wardrobe on holiday?” As someone who wears three different outfits per season, has a deeply-entrenched fear of missing flights, and is with a man who cannot queue for more than 43 seconds without getting irritated, these people are the worst.

And then I became that person.

We were going to Croatia for almost three weeks, and for the first time since being together, we’d decided to take a big suitcase to go in the hold, as well as our usual cabin bags. After spending all of seven minutes folding up three t-shirts, two pairs of shorts, one jumper and handful of bikinis, it was onto the best part of packing: the books. Obviously my Kindle would be going in, in case of emergencies. But the nine or ten books I’d bookmarked for holiday reading needed to go in too. 

As we parked up in the airport, I had my first panic. “How much do books weigh?? How much is our suitcase allowance?” Our set of scales is the size of a small bowl, so we hadn’t weighed the suitcase before leaving. My boyfriend, in his usual laidback fashion, wasn’t concerned. “We get like 25kgs or something, there’s no way our clothes weigh that.”

“I’m not worried about my clothes! My books! How much do they weigh? How much does 25 kilos weigh???”

At this point, he shot me a slightly concerned look. “How many books have you packed?”

“I don’t know, maybe 10? Nine?” I unzipped the suitcase in the boot, rifling through my books like a person possessed.

“Umm well maybe leave one or two in the car? Just in case it’s too heavy?”
“Oh god it’s going to be too heavy? Then what? Do I leave my books at Gatwick? I can’t do that!” My voice was at a volume audible only to dogs, and boyfriends who’ve witness a book-packing disaster before. Feeling like Sophie in Sophie’s Choice, I chose three books to stay behind.

“Why do you even have all these books? Haven’t you brought your Kindle?”

I shook my head at this stupid question and didn’t deign to answer.

At the check-in-and-bag-drop queue, we hauled the suitcase onto the conveyor belt.

The easyJet woman wasn’t impressed (though this could’ve been down to her glaring orange uniform.

“Too heavy.” She pointed at the digital display. 30kgs.

We dragged it back off and I think I hear my boyfriend mumble something about books. Unzipping the suitcase in the middle of the airport, we became those people. I wanted to shout to everyone watching “But it’s not clothes! I know how to pack clothes!” Instead, I pulled on another t-shirt and jumper, shoved some more books and shorts into my hand luggage, and sighed with relief as it scraped under the weight limit. 

I’d love to say I’ve learnt from that experience. But sadly I’m still as terrible at choosing holiday reads as I was back then. 

What I have, however, got better at is choosing the type of books I want to bring. Books that I’ll happily be humiliated in an airport for, or wear three jumpers on a plane and sweat in European sunshine as we wait for taxis and lifts. 

I narrow these books down into three categories:

  • Heavy, hefty books that need a blissfully empty holiday-mind to properly read and take in (this year it’s ‘A Little Life’)
  • Books about the absurdity of mundane, ordinary life, usually with phenomenal characterisation 
  • Books with great gripping, twisty plots that I will read in approx. three to four hours

Today’s review features books from the second two categories: ‘The Holiday’ by T. M. Logan and ‘Something to Live For’ by Richard Roper. Both of these books are perfect holiday books: easy to read, enjoyable and satisfying. 

The Holiday

First off, thank you Readers First for sending me a copy of this to read! I highly recommend signing up to this great review site. 

Secondly, I do NOT recommend reading this book while your boyfriend is watching a very close cricket World Cup final. The tension in our house was unbearable!

‘The Holiday’ has everything: enough plot twists to make you feel car sick; a cobweb of back stories, motives, histories and storylines; and descriptions of rural France that might make you alter your holiday plans last minute. Plus, it’s really well written. Logan has a clear writing style that makes it easy to follow this winding, twisting tale without losing you in detail and heavy prose. 

This thriller follows four women from university: Izzy, Rowan, Jennifer, and narrator Kate. As their 40th birthdays approach, they plan a huge holiday with all their families. On arrival, Kate sees messages on her husband’s phone that prove he’s having the affair she thinks he is. Except it looks like the other woman is on holiday with them – meaning it’s one of her best friends. As Kate tries to gather evidence, she realises that everyone is a suspect. And the person behind it all has a secret worth killing for.

THIS BOOK. This book is the reason that I cannot trust myself to read thrillers. I finished it in about four hours, and I challenge anyone who reads this to put it down for more than three minutes. The twists, revelations and backstories are brilliant. I’m usually quite good at guessing plots, but this had me floored at the end – and also quite teary. 

Logan is a master of deception – but not in a lazy, ‘red herring’ way. He ties together themes of loyalty and trust, but not just around marital affairs. Mother-daughter, best friends, old friends, ex-lovers, business partners and alpha males: all these relationships get thrown out in the open, ready for readers to examine and analyse.

The characters were good too: Logan writes well-rounded, fallible characters that are easy to like (and dislike). Daniel melted my heart, I wanted to cry for Lucy, and yeah I probably fancied Sean a bit. It might’ve been good to expand on some of the more shocking backstories, but it would’ve been a bloody long book to include that too!

If you’re looking for a well-written, fast-paced thriller that’ll keep you hooked to the last page – you won’t regret reading ‘The Holiday’. And while we’re here: that LAST PAGE. Whaaaaat.

3.5*

Something to Live For

I picked up ‘Something to Live For’ by Richard Roper as part of a buddy read on bookstagram. Except it took me about three weeks to find it, since I was looking for the orange-jacketed US version of the book, called ‘How Not to Die Alone’… 

Either way, I found it, read it – and wasn’t overly impressed. Usually I love these types of books. Books that find the absurd in the mundane; books that follow ordinary people in ordinary settings, with extraordinary stories to tell. And on paper, STLF is exactly that. 

Andrew works for a local council, and it’s his job to find next of kin for the recently deceased. He goes into their houses, searches through their belongings, and works out who he can alert about the death, and whether the deceased can pay for their own funeral. If no one ‘claims’ the dead person, Andrew often attends their funeral. At work, he’s a seemingly ordinary guy with his lovely wife and two kids. Except… he’s not. And that becomes a problem when Peggy starts. Andrew has built up a wall of lies and it could be about to destroy everything for him.

This should already be a winner for me, simply because I love British councils and how utterly useless they are. Roper is excellent at building characters and the team are the exact people you’d find in your local council building. It was a bit ‘The Office-y’ in parts, especially with the dynamics between the five. 

I can’t fault the characters. Andrew felt real – like really real. Roper created a person between these pages, and I felt for him in every sad, lonely and painful sentence. Likewise, Peggy is a breath of fresh air. She’s funny to read and their dynamic is charming to follow. 

The plot, however, wasn’t for me. I found it quite weak, and the character motivations weren’t entirely strong enough to pull it together. The last few chapters were brilliant, and Andrew’s backstory added so much to the depth of the story. I just wish more of the book was about this, and it wasn’t so rushed. 

Sadly, I just couldn’t get into STLF. I enjoyed it while I read it, but there was nothing pulling me back to pick it up again. It’s the perfect read for the beach: something to pick up when you’re not snoozing in the sun or sipping on cocktails. It’s a heartwarming, charming tale – but it falls slightly short for me.

3*

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