Despite being fairly committed to reading books over the past few years, and having a to-be-read list longer than both my arms, I've found it quite difficult to concentrate on reading whilst I've been pregnant. Partly, it's because I'm a lot more exhausted, so I've forgone my extra reading time in favour of naps and early nights, and also partly because my brain has been racing with all things baby, which makes it tricky to fit in a trip or two to my favourite fictional land. I've mostly been devouring historical romance novels, which I know will have happy endings and are easy to read so are perfect for my current state of mind (would people like recommendations? I've found some great ones!). But, since I've been on maternity leave and found myself at a loose end with no baby currently in sight, I've been able to get stuck into a few more books than usual - so if you're looking for something to throw in your beach bag this holiday, then look no further...
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
If you read just one book this year, please make it this one; I know I'm not the first to rave about it but believe the hype, it's all true. Plus, it's less than £4 on Amazon right now, which is ridiculously cheap for such a masterpiece. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give follows the story of sixteen-year-old Starr and what happens when she becomes the only witness to the fatal shooting of a friend at the hands of a police officer. As she finds herself at the middle of a media circus, trying to balance her life becomes more and more difficult as she seeks justice for Khalil whilst trying to maintain her own safety, and that of her family.
It's not just the timeliness and poignancy of the story, but the characters which make this book so incredibly readable and wonderful. In the first instance, Starr is just someone you want to be friends with, and there is a real focus on her family, who are all fantastic characters in their own right, as well as being amazing in their supporting roles. Everyone in the book felt fleshed out and important, from her ex-drug-dealer father to her Asian best friend, and they all had their own storylines that ultimately fed into the wider plot. Basically, this is some complex writing that will still have you tearing through it to find out what happens - which is a surprisingly rare thing to find. I teared up on more than one occasion; anyone who has followed #BlackLivesMatter will recognise just how *real* this story is, which makes it all the more heartbreaking, but I also felt like it left room for hope, too.
Becoming by Laura Jane Williams
If you hang around on the Internet, you've probably come across Laura Jane Williams and her brilliant blog at one time or another (and if you haven't, where have you been?). There was a lot of praise for her first book when it came out last year but it's only just fallen into my hands. With a subtitle of 'Sex, Second Chances, and Figuring Out Who the Hell I am', you can guess at the subject matter, and I think a lot of people will have similar stories to tell from their own lives - but isn't that the point? After being dumped by the man she thought she was going to marry, Laura turned to booze and sex to try and heal her heart. But, after finding that it just isn't working for her, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery from Derby to Detroit, and finally to an... Italian convent?
The comparisons with Wild by Cheryl Strayed or Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert are inevitable, but I think they are justified;not only does this book feature solo female travel, designed to repair and restore the traveller's heart and soul, but Laura manages to combine that wonderful mixture of honesty and sincerity with humour and self-deprecation, which makes this kind of memoir work for me. It would be so easy to go too far down the navel-gazing route, or to make the story more light-hearted in an effort to shun emotional intimacy with the reader, but Laura is unfailingly honest, even when it doesn't picture her in the best light, whilst remaining warm and self-aware enough to have you rooting for her the whole way. We might not have all gone on such a journey, but anyone who has ever experienced heartbreak (and haven't we all?) will find something special in this book.
The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik*
I read Ayisha Malik's first novel, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, on honeymoon almost two years ago, and the protagonist is one that's stuck with me ever since - so I was delighted to find that there was a sequel! Sofia Khan is touted as a Muslim Bridget Jones, letting you in on her diary as she struggles with love, life and finding her purpose - but (spoiler alert) it looked like she had found her happily ever after at the end of the first book. But what happens after? Is it really as easy as sailing off into the sunset with your true love? I think we all know, of course, that it isn't - and it was refreshing not only to revisit this beloved cast of characters but also to get a glimpse at the reality of life after the 'I do's.
Sofia finds herself torn between countries and priorities, as she struggles to balance her life with her new husband, Conall, whose work (and annoyingly attractive colleague) is keeping him up at all hours, with the demands of her family and her own work as a writer and publisher back home. Mourning her father, supporting her friends with their own turbulent love lives, and writing a book on Muslim marriage when she's not sure hers is going to work out, all take their toll as she discovers Conall's darkest secret and has to decide just what to do. It's a book full of strife and struggle, but also of warmth and humour; reading this book was like returning to an old friend and I hope that it's not the last we hear from Sofia Khan.
Party Girls Die in Pearls by Plum Sykes*
If you're after some pure escapism, you could do a lot worse than taking a trip to 1980s Oxford with Ursula Flowerbutton and trying to solve a murder... Ursula is expecting Pimms, punting and parties at her first term at Oxford University but when a glamorous classmate is discovered with her throat slit on the first day of term, Ursula finds herself at the centre of a murder investigation. With the help of uber-fashionable American exchange student Nancy Feingold and uber-camp gossip columnist Horatio Bentley, who dresses almost exclusively in purple, Ursula navigates the snobby world of the champagne set, dodge romantic overtures from potential murderers and try to find the time to write her first essay. It's a little absurd, sure, but with a ridiculous(ly posh) cast of characters and some stellar pop culture references, this was a seriously enjoyable readfor me. Think Jilly Cooper meets P.G. Wodehouse meets Cagney and Lacey. I mean, how can you resist?
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and buy something, I may receive a small commission. Books marked with a * were provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.