It’s August, the time-out month. Whether you are travelling far or staying put, there’s always value in a good book that you can lose yourself in. Isabelle Blakeney has done the work for you with a list of some of the top holiday reads for 2023.
Happy Place by Emily Henry The romance novel tends to be labelled as the classic holiday read, and since the release of her debut in 2020, Emily Henry has been at the front and centre of the genre. Happy Place, her latest novel released earlier this year, refuses to falter in its illustration of the messy complexities of love and relationships. The plot follows a separated couple who fake their relationship for the sake of a final holiday with their friends at their annual holiday home. As the house is being sold, they don’t want to ruin the holiday – but as the story unfolds, the intricacies of love – fake, real, platonic, romantic – are revealed. Happy Place’s depiction of love impressively maintains a sense of realism through the polyphony of relationships and dynamics that it navigates. By presenting a more lifelike demonstration of love, Henry takes you on a journey that is utterly charming and compelling, but still feels meaningful, making for a satisfying summer read. Penguin, £14.99
The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller If you fancy something a little weightier, Miranda Cowley Heller’s debut novel The Paper Palace is an arresting and heart-wrenching entry into the world of adult fiction. Though in essence a romance story, the book uses the genre to illuminate the tension between desire, safety, and morality. When wife and mother Elle Bishop finds herself having had a brief moment of passion with an ex-lover whilst on holiday with her family, she must decide the course of her life that could change it forever. Alternating between past and present, the book explores themes of legacies of abuse and family trauma and tragedy, and the idea of navigating the ‘right thing’. The No. 1 New York Times bestseller is a text-book page-turner, and the Dalloway-esque narrative style immerses you in the sensory surroundings of Cape Cod. Penguin, £8.99
Fire Rush by Jaqueline Crooks An absolute must-read this summer is Jaqueline Crook’s storming 2023 debut, Fire Rush. It’s a historical, semi-autobiographical novel detailing the experiences of second-generation Caribbean migrants in London, Bristol, and Jamaica. The novel is a beautiful, painful illustration of the lives of teenagers in the Thatcher years as they battle with the brutality of the state police, underscored by the sound of identity-forming dub and dancehall. The story follows the protagonist, Yamaye, through her teenage years in industrial London and her time at dancehall club The Crypt. There she meets Moose, a soulful carpenter who moved to London from Jamaica, and her life seems to be on the brink of transformation. However, as the couple are hit with a cascade of violence, Yamaye finds herself entirely alone. She escapes to Bristol, and eventually Jamaica, on a journey of tragedy, transformation, and self-discovery. Fire Rush is a story of passion and anger, but also of hope and the pursuit of pleasure in a world wrought with oppression. Whilst perhaps not a typically light beach-read, Fire Rush demands your time and attention, and will reward you in a totally gripping and mesmerising experience that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Johnathon Cape, £16.99
Wild Isles: The book of the BBC TV series presented by David Attenborough, by Patrick Barkham If your prefered holiday reading is non-fiction, Patrick Barkham’s Wild Isles, released earlier this year, provides the perfect dose of educational escapism. The Amazon No.1 bestseller is the book adaptation of the extraordinary eponymous BBC docu-series, and explores the natural world of the British Isles. The beautifully illustrated book is completely absorbing and presents the fascinating relationships within and between species who make their home on our tiny islands. Divided into five sections, the book traverses land, sea and sky, showcasing the glorious richness of the archipelago. Wild Isles is a family-friendly holiday read, captivating to adults and children alike. HarperCollins, £17.99
The Half Known Life: Finding Paradise in a Divided World by Pico Iyer Whether you’re abroad and experiencing the pursuit of paradise, or at home and needing to live vicariously, Pico Iyer’s 2023 book is the ultimate summer read. The Half Known Life beautifully details Iyer’s travels and his search for paradise in the conflict-ridden world that we inhabit. His unwavering message of hope as he merges past, present and future is something of a comfort in times of uncertainty. The mesmerising, soulful and perceptive reflection of life and paradise has the power to revitalise, making for the perfect holiday accompaniment. Riverhead Books, £13.99