Book Review: My June Holiday Reads

When it comes to holidays, I like something a bit lighter than usual.

Hence why my first holiday read for my trip to Spain wasn’t the kind of depressing convoluted drama that I usually go for.

Nope – holidays mean zombies!

If you like sci-fi…

My first book for the trip was ‘The Girl With All the Gifts’ by M.R. Carey. In a nutshell, it’s about a girl who is both highly intelligent… and also a flesh-craving zombie.

In a post-apocalyptic vision of Britain where the country has been overrun by our favourite carnivorous villains, special children like Melanie are schooled in a high-security compound.

That is, until they are picked up by the resident doctor, a woman desperate to find a cure for the fungus that has caused the malady. But once in her clutches, the children never return.

However, when the compound is overrun by desperate survivors, Melanie must escape with her favourite teacher – and discover who (or what) she really is.

Carey has managed to do something with the zombie trope which is actually fairly unique, although many of the action sequences could easily have been inspired by the king of the genre, The Walking Dead.

The genius of this book is the ending, which was not at all what I was expecting.

An easy read, but one which kept me gripped ’til the end. Carey’s fictional universe has the potential to become something greater and I’m interested to see how it develops. The next book in the series, The Boy on the Bridge, will surely be a good acid test.

book lying open on a beach

If you like thrillers…

A while ago I reviewed The Dry by Jane Harper – I thought it was quite an original take on the detective thriller and loved the unusual backdrop of the Australian bush.

Harper (and her hero, Aaron Falk) return in the follow-up novel Force of Nature. It’s a similar set-up – Falk chasing trails through the brush – but the story itself is refreshingly different.

Five women go on a corporate retreat hiking in the bush, but only four return. It soon becomes apparent that her colleagues know more about her appearance than they are letting on. But given that the surrounding land was once roamed by a vicious serial killer, the past may be coming back to haunt them.

There’s a tiny bit of satisfying cross-over with the first novel, but on the whole it’s a pleasingly separate affair.

The best thing about The Dry was that Harper had managed to make the traditional format seem personal. I wondered how she could achieve that again; the answer is to place the focus on the relationships between the group of colleagues and make them into three-dimensional characters in their own right.

This means that Falk himself takes a step back from the character drama of the plotline – but there’s still time to develop him too.

Jane Harper certainly seems to have mastered the art of not repeating herself, which is the reason I frequently dodge detective series – I will be looking out for the next one. Aaron Falk surely has more mileage in him yet.

(And if you’re wondering, I did not guess the murderer this time!)

If you like historical fiction…

…Then you must surely have got to the big daddy of the alternative reality story before me. All I can do is insist you re-read it.

Fatherland by Robert Harris is one of the earliest examples of exploring the ‘what if’ scenario. ‘What if Hitler won the war?’ must surely be the most trampled path among the many possibilities of this labyrinthine genre, but it has not yet lost its power to fascinate us.

Meticulously researched and yet surprisingly easy to read, one gets the impression that Harris was torn between writing a non-fictional account of what might have been (based on historical record) and weaving together a thrilling detective story.

Fatherland follows Xavier March, a police detective and (unwilling) member of the SS, as he investigates a body washed up on the river bank. When it turns out to belong to a high-profile Nazi official, suddenly March isn’t the only one interested in the case…

Ultimately the ‘alternative reality’ element to the story wins out (the detective story is a little bit hackneyed) but let’s be honest – that’s what we’re all here for.

The fact that much of the reality Harris creates is based on real documentation of Nazi plans in the event of victory makes Fatherland all the more convincing – and scary.

Tying in real life characters such as Heydrich, whose shadowy figure looms over most of the action, adds to the greatest thrill of the whole novel. Never mind what happens to our hero detective – this could have happened to us!

Still an excellent example of the genre, if you haven’t got to it yet, I suggest you do!

What are you taking on holiday this year?

 

 

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