The Best Books to Take with you on your Summer Holiday

  13 Jun '22   |  Posted by: Birlinn

There’s hardly anything better than stretching out on a lounge chair on the beach, feeling the sun on your face, and losing yourself in the perfect book. Now that we can finally travel again and enjoy a much-needed holiday this summer, it’s time to consider what would be the best book to bring along on that sunny getaway. Read on to discover our recommendations, in no particular order, for the ideal summer reads.

Rizzio by Denise Mina

  • It’s Saturday evening, 9 March 1566, and Mary, Queen of Scots, is six months pregnant. She’s hosting a supper party, secure in her private chambers. She doesn’t know that her Palace is surrounded – that, right now, an army of men is creeping upstairs to her chamber. They’re coming to murder David Rizzio, her friend and secretary, the handsome Italian man who is smiling across the table at her. Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley, wants it done in front of her and he wants her to watch it done.

Rizzio, which was just long-listed for the prestigious 2022 McIlvanney Prize for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year, will pull you into a world of politics and power, a tense story of life and death. Though the 16th century setting is thoroughly researched, it is juxtaposed with a contemporary writing style, making the story readily accessible and poignant for a modern reader. At roughly 100 pages long, you’ll whip through this captivating novella in just one or two warm afternoons relaxing by a pool.

The Death of Remembrance by Denzil Meyrick

  • Glasgow, 1983, and a beat constable walks away from a bar where he knows a crime is about to be committed. It is a decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life. In the present, an old fisherman is found dead by Kinloch’s shoreline and a stranger with a deadly mission moves into town. As past and present collide, D.C.I. Jim Daley must confront old friends, new foes and ghosts who will not be silenced.

The Death of Remembrance is the tenth book in the celebrated D.C.I. Daley series, published on the tenth anniversary of the first book. It’s an exciting time to get into this exhilarating series, as it’s just been picked up for a high-profile TV adaption starring Game of Thrones actor Rory McCann. Even without reading the nine earlier books (though you could bring them all with you on an e-reader!), this novel works perfectly as a stand-alone thriller where past and present come together in an unexpected twist.

The Goldenacre by Philip Miller

  • The Goldenacre, a masterpiece by the painter and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, has been given to the people of Scotland. The beautiful canvas, the last work by the artistic genius, enthrals the art world, but behind it lies a dark and violent mystery. Thomas Tallis, an art expert with a troubled past, is trying to uncover the truth about the painting’s complex history, while dogged newspaper reporter Shona Sandison is investigating a series of shocking murders in Edinburgh. Both investigators soon become engulfed in the machinations of money, crime and identity in a literary thriller set amid the seen and unseen forces at work in modern Scotland.

A complex and interesting thriller, The Goldenacre is a unique story which is more mystery than traditional crime fiction. Bringing in the inspiring and sometimes dark art world, this page-turner is set in Edinburgh with a cast of well-rounded characters and a two-fold storyline that only comes together in the end.

The Night Before Morning by Alistair Moffat

  • It’s June 1945, the Germans have triumphed in the Second World War, and, in the dead of night, a figure flits through the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey, searching for a hidden document he knows could change the course of history. The journal he discovers belongs to a young soldier, David Erskine, and it tells an extraordinary story. Erskine and his fiancée, Katie, escape imprisonment and embark on a breathless chase to the university town of St Andrews, where the Germans have established a secret research laboratory. When it becomes clear what its purpose is, David, Katie and their small, trusted band must adopt a desperate and audacious plan to thwart Nazi domination.

A compelling work of speculative fiction, history and mystery fans alike will want to get their hands on a copy of The Night Before Morning. This novel is packed with adventure and intrigue, as well as exploring in the lovely scenery of St Andrews and the Scottish Borders. Without a doubt, this book will keep you entertained and wanting more on your holiday break.

The Horizontal Oak: A Life in Nature by Polly Pullar

  • Polly Pullar grew up in a remote corner of the Scottish Highlands, roaming freely through the spectacular countryside and spending time with otters, seals, eagles and wildcats. But an otherwise idyllic childhood was marred by family secrets and tragedies. Following the suicide of her alcoholic father, the deterioration of her relationship with her mother, and the break-up of her own marriage, Polly rebuilt her life, earning a reputation as a wildlife expert and rehabilitator, journalist and photographer. This is her extraordinary, inspirational life story, with nature at the centre of her world.

For something a bit different, this meaningful and thought-provoking memoir would be a great choice to bring with you on your trip. Though it deals with some heavy subject matter, The Horizontal Oak is far from a downer, always bringing in the peaceful, healing presence of nature and told with a fair dose of humour and optimism.

Where Demons Hide by Douglas Skelton

  • Something scared Nuala Flaherty to death. When her body is found in the centre of a pentagram on a lonely moor, Rebecca is determined to find out what. Rebecca’s investigation leads her to a mysterious cult and local drug dealings. But what she doesn’t know is that crime matriarch Mo Burke still has her in her crosshairs. Mo wants payback for the death of her son, and after one failed attempt to hurt Rebecca, she is upping the ante. And this time, it could be lethal.

An exciting, fast-paced crime thriller, Where Demons Hide is the fourth instalment in the Rebecca Connolly series, with the third book, A Rattle of Bones, having just been long-listed for the acclaimed McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year. However, it also reads great as a standalone novel. If you’re interested in more spooky crime fiction with occult elements and a strong female lead, this would be a great one for your holiday!

The Pavilion in the Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith

  • In 1938, during the final days of the British Empire, in a bungalow high up in the green hills above the plains of Ceylon live the Ferguson family: Bella, a precocious eight-year-old, her father Henry, owner of Pitlochry tea plantation, and her mother Virginia. This enchanting Pavilion in the Clouds is not as serene as it seems. Bella is suspicious of her governess, Miss White’s intentions, which sparks off her mother’s imagination. After an unfortunate confrontation with Miss White, a gunshot rings off around the hills. Years later, Bella, now a student at the University in St Andrews, must face her past. Will she at last find out what happened to Miss White?

Alexander McCall Smith is a master of inventing captivating storylines and enthralling characters. You can’t go wrong with bringing one of his engaging novels along on your travels. The Pavilion in the Clouds also has an island setting, with Ceylon’s wilderness encircling the Ferguson family’s dwelling, making it a great match if you’re jetting off to an island this summer!

Is There a Pigeon in the Room? by Cameron Wyllie

  • Is There a Pigeon in the Room? is a deeply personal book about Cameron Wyllie’s remarkable four-decade career in teaching. It’s a tapestry of anecdotes and reflections on topics like drugs, parenting and sex education, laced with stories about memorable individuals. What did he say to the Third Year after drinking too much gin with the Head? What happened to the horrible bus driver? While the intention is to make the reader laugh plenty, Cameron also deals with discipline, refugees, tragic events, his own status as a gay man and tells us the story of Tes, an Eritrean boy who inspired hundreds of young people with his love of education.

Another memoir to consider bringing with you on your holiday, Is There a Pigeon in the Room? is honest, funny, and meaningful, exploring one endearing head teacher’s inspiring career. Cameron Wyllie taught over 8,000 students in his career, and he reflects on his interactions with pupils with heart-warming candour.  This book will make you laugh out loud and also think more deeply about the importance of education and the role it plays in our lives.

Six Wounds by Morgan Cry

  • Daniella Coulstoun has recently moved to the Costa Blanca. When the dead body of a prominent London gangster is discovered in the cellar of her bar, she quickly becomes the number one suspect. With the police closing in, the local expats turning on her and a psychotic rival to the dead gangster in the background, Daniella knows she needs to nail the real killer, and fast.

Six Wounds, with its sun-soaked setting on the Costa Blanca in Spain, is a shoo-in for this list. While the murder plot is intense and suspenseful, this book also introduces us to a whole host of quirky, eccentric characters. The story has some exciting twists and turns and would make the perfect companion to your summer travels.

Other Worlds: An Anthology of Scottish Island Poems, ed. By Stewart Conn

  • In this anthology, rich depictions of island flora and fauna sit alongside sightings of croft dwellers and ferry-lowpers. Expressions of affection and accounts of imprisonment and bereavement sit cheek-by-jowl with evocations of drowned sailors, corporeal and ghostly. Praise poems alternate with diary entries and holiday postcards. There is a recurring sense of island heritage, and of belonging. Other Worlds editor Stewart Conn has sought poems to set readers’ hearts racing through a sharpening of memory or in opening new vistas and evoking new worlds and states of mind.

Finally, for something more contemplative and serene, consider bringing along a poetry collection on your summer holiday. If you’re planning an island trip, there’s nothing more suitable than Other Worlds, which is a stunning collection of poems all about Scotland’s many beautiful islands. Reading these gorgeous verses with a gentle sea breeze and the sound of crashing waves in the background sounds like nothing short of heaven!

This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are so many possibilities that can make the perfect summer reads. If one of these brilliant books caught your eye, get your copy here!

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