A good read is a must-have for any trip. Whether it is for leisurely flipping the pages while suntanning by the pool in your holiday villa, or for passing the time during your fourteen-hour flight to Europe, having a book on hand is essential for many travellers. Here are my top 18 recommendations of books of different genres. With so many recommendations, there’s bound to be something for everyone read during your next vacation!
1. Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
When i first picked up this book, I was fully expecting a slow-paced and thought-provoking coming of-age-story. I couldn’t be more wrong as this amazing read turned out to be a story about a 500-year-old secret book society. The story follows Clay, a newly unemployed Silicon Valley hustler, as he uses technology to decrypt an ancient code that members of the secret society have been trying to decrypt by hand their entire lives. The story does have a “happy ending” that almost finishes up too neatly, but if anything, what I enjoyed most was the constant contrast between technology and the “good old ways”, which is a topic that never gets old.
2. Starcrossed, Dreamless, Goddess (Trilogy) by Josephine Angelini
Okay, I cheat. This listing features three books, but trust me, once you start on one, you will be dying to read the other two. That’s exactly how I felt - once I read Starcrossed, I searched far and wide for the second and third books in almost every public library in Singapore. That’s how good these books are. If you are a fan of Greek mythology, you will definitely love this trilogy. It is a modern-day Trojan War story centered around a pair of starcrossed lovers (hence the title) whose union will trigger the next Trojan War because of their heritage.
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3. The Summer I Turned Pretty, It’s Not Summer Without You, We’ll Always Have Summer (Trilogy) by Jenny Han
Again, I cheat, with this listing featuring another trio of books. This time, the story is about Belly Conklin as it chronicles her progression from a teenager into a young adult. Belly has been in love with the two Fisher boys, sons of her mother’s best friend, for as long as she can remember, and the two families always spend every summer together, providing a perfect backdrop for romance to grow. The first book, The Summer I Turned Pretty, begins the trilogy by being a pretty light-hearted summer vacation read, but the story really grows and matures through the next two books as it begins to deal with topics of death, independence and lifelong relationships, with marriage being brought up in the third book, We Will Always Have Summer. I have read many summer-fairytale-like stories, but this series will always remain my favourite as the topics mature with every book, leaving readers with so much more than just a chick lit.
4. The Daughters by Joanna Philbin
For those who are really just after a fun and light read during your vacation, this book is perfect for you. It is about three girls, each one a daughter of famous parents living in New York City. The girls become unlikely friends and drama unfolds, with each daughter battling their own insecurities that comes along with being a famous daughter. It is a light and girly read, offering readers a fantasy of the lives of the rich and famous.
5. This Is A Love Story by Jessica Thompson
Slightly reminiscent of David Nicholls’ One Day, This Is A Love Story is a roller coaster of emotions, and one of the purest love stories I have ever read. It is one of those stories that feature the emotions during the initial “push and pull” phase of a relationship, where the characters are constantly figuring out if they belong together or not. I love reading love stories centered around this phase of a possible relationship, because it is one of the most frustratingly beautiful times in courtship - always on the cusp of coming to fruition or regret.
6. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks
Featuring a pretty unusual topic, this book is told from the perspective of Budo, the imaginary friend of eight-year-old Max. Despite the characters in this book being a kid and an imaginary friend, the themes in this story are strangely grown-up, dealing with the stigma and bullying that children with learning disabilities face. I am not ashamed to say that this book made me shed a bittersweet tear or two, for it is extremely poignant and definitely worth a read.
7. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Many people would be no stranger to this story, as the movie adaptation of this book, starring Keira Knightly and Andrew Garfield, was released in 2010. However, I read this book back in 2009 as an assigned reading for a literature class, and I was very pleasantly surprised that it was the first (and only) “textbook” that I could not put down. For a story set in a science fiction world, the book focused very much on the human emotions of the characters, making their predicament strangely real. For readers who do not know what this story is about, they will have no idea that the story is set in a science fiction world until halfway through the book, which is a testament to Ishiguro’s storytelling prowess and his commitment to telling the ‘human’ part of the story.
8. Bridge To Terabthia by Katherine Paterson
This has to be one of my all-time favourite stories, be it in it’s book form or the 2007 movie adaptation. I’ve read the book and watched the movie countless of times, and the story has never failed to take me on an emotional roller coaster. The plot is shockingly simple, but also shockingly heart-wrenching as it deals with the ever-relevant themes of friendship, love and loss. Inspired by a true event, Paterson illustrates how soaringly high life’s highs and how heartbreakingly low life’s lows can be through the young eyes of fifth-grader Jesse Aarons.
9. A History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
Sarcastically hilarious, this novel tells a story of a pair of estranged sisters who put aside a lifetime of feuding to come together to prevent their eighty-four-year-old father from marrying a thirty-six-year-old woman from Ukraine, who seemingly wants to marry for no other reason than his money and a U.K. citizenship. Through this intimate story of family struggles, Lewycka mixes in glimpses of the life of a refugee and the ethical dilemmas that a country’s immigration policy invites, which is a very prevalent topic in current times.
10. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
First off, this is a haunting book - I have pondered endlessly over the issues that the book presents, changing my stand almost every time. Set in Kerala, India, it follows the childhood of Estha and Rahel and how it is shaped by their family members. The book highlights issues of India’s caste system, coupled with other heavy topics of abuse, death, incest, grief and forbidden love.
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11. The Expats by Chris Pavone
A CIA agent turned full-time housewife, Kate Moore gives up her secretive job as an agent to move to Luxembourg when her husband is offered a job there. Life is seemingly idyllic, filled with children playdates and brunches at cafes, until another American couple move in right next door. Kate slowly becomes suspicious of her neighbours, with their overt friendliness and sudden appearance, and starts to worry that her own past is catching up with her. She decides to do some investigating herself and ends up unravelling a huge secret that she never imagined. This book was a pleasant read, with a plot that was easy to follow and exciting plot twists at the end. Would definitely recommend this book to inject some excitement into a quiet vacation.
12. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Commonly described as probably the first full-length english detective novel, The Moonstone is a classic detective story, centered around a stolen Indian diamond called the Moonstone. After being wrongly accused of stealing the Moonstone, Franklin Blake goes about trying to uncover what exactly happened to the diamond in a bid to clear his name. Written in 1868, the style of language may take some getting used to, but being written as a series of letters and diary entries lends a sense of reality to the story that may be chilling at times. For me, the ending subtly triggers the issue of past colonial masters (such as Britain) somewhat exploiting their colonies and simply taking their colonies’ treasures for themselves (e.g., precious stones in the Crown Jewels), without appropriate compensation.
13. This Modern Love by Will Darbyshire
A very contemporary approach to literature, this book is a collection of crowdsourced poems, letters, stories, photographs and general musings about modern love. Many of the contributions are short but poignant, and some really pressed hard on the bittersweet button. A quick but satisfying read, many of the thought-provoking musings leave love open to interpretation, and the best word to describe this book would be cathartic.
14. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Probably the most decorated book in this list, many of the short stories in this books were either nominated for or won numerous awards. All science fiction and fantasy stories, this collection showcases Liu’s exceptional imagination and his ability to combine that with complex philosophical musings. While I am not particularly a fan of the sci-fi genre, the stories in this book were just so fantastical that I couldn’t help but lose myself in them.
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15. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
This memoir documents the expatriate life of Hemingway in Paris during the years 1921 to 1926, when he was a young writer. It documents the people he met, the events that happened and the places he went, including specific addresses of restaurants and hotels that still can be found in Paris today. What I like about this book is that it ends off with a certain romantic and celebratory view of the city of Paris, and how a city can have a special place in the heart of a person, despite all its cracks and flaws.
16. Bossypants by Tina Fey
Tina Fey is one of my favourite comediennes ever. I love her for her deadpan humour and ever-cheery personality, but her autobiography reveals many other facets of her that we rarely see on screen. The book provides an insight into her work ethic, professionalism and approach towards life, which explains how she found her success and held on to it.
17. The Kingdom of Women by Choo Wai Hong
This fascinating book is an insight to the Mosuo tribe in Yunnan, China, a matriarchal community where marriage doesn’t exist and where women are the head of the household. I have heard much of this tribe, and to read about it opens up a whole new world view about feminism and the very meaning of “a different perspective”.
18. The Wander Society by Keri Smith
Keri Smith is the author of the best-selling Wreck This Journal, and in The Wander Society, Smith stumbles upon a real, secretive group that upholds “wandering” as a way of life. They define wandering as the act of unplanned exploring, and for Smith, as she plunges deeper into the ‘wandering’ way of life, she ponders on the impacts that unplanned encounters can have one one’s life. For me, this book raised the question: Why do I travel? Is it to simply see the world? Experience different cultures? Meet new people? Or is there something more to be gained from the world? That is something I have yet to discover.