Vacation reading: Need a
new book? Check these out

Best books to take on your vacation, holiday or getaway

Looking for a new read for your next getaway? Here’s what I thought of these books.

My Effin’ Life

It must be such a challenge for a celebrity about to embark on writing a memoir to find that balance between giving fans enough but not being so granular as to turn off the non-fan. 

I can attest that Rush frontman Geddy Lee’s new autobiography My Effin’ Life hits all the right notes on this front.

Before I read this book, I couldn’t have named a single Rush song even though they are a Canadian band and I’m Canadian. But after starting this book, I can’t count the number of times I turned to Wikipedia or YouTube in mid-read to find out more about the band. And that’s when I realized belatedly that I do know quite a few Rush songs; I just hadn’t realized they were Rush songs.

Lee, now 70, is an engaging writer and aside from having had such an interesting life — with more music to come, he assures us — the best part is that he doesn’t hold back like so many celebrities do. I chuckled reading about singer Billy Preston, who drank all of Rush’s booze at a party, then snubbed them repeatedly afterwards. Other people who did Lee or the band wrong are also named, including a person who’s now deceased.

“Yes I *am* a motherfucker who bears a grudge,” Lee writes.

But if you think this book is all about evening the score, nothing could be further from the truth. Rather My Effin’ Life is Lee’s life laid bare, in full and unflinching honesty from childhood to the present time. It’s a full life with many peaks and some crashing lows.

One of three children of parents who were both Holocaust survivors, Lee had a pretty miserable time of things in childhood. Bullied for how he looked and for being Jewish, he found solace in music. But even here, it wasn’t all smooth sailing; Lee was fired by Rush in its infancy before the band realized it needed him. It’s a good thing he wasn’t holding grudges at that point in his life!

Lee writes openly about his longstanding marriage to Nancy Young, which has survived and thrived thanks to their willingness to go to counselling. About how Lee and band members Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart decided early on they’d always split the money three ways, thus saving themselves a lot of grief later on. About that difficult last tour, knowing that Rush the band was ending. About the death in 2020 of drummer and lyricist Peart, who himself had suffered unimaginable losses in his life.

It’s a story, well told, that moved me to tears at times. Well done, Geddy Lee, and long may you play.

The Running Grave

With unpleasant memories of the long slog that was the last Cormoran Strike book, I have to admit I cringed when I saw the similar length of The Running Grave. But I'm so pleased to be able to say that this book has been nothing but a total joy to read.

The mystery revolves around a cult and the evil in plain sight, and it kept me engrossed until the very end. The characters, though numerous, were easy to keep track of while the stable of core personalities was richly drawn. Learning more about Pat, the cantankerous office manager, has been great fun.

Despite its heft, there is no filler here — no false notes, no red herrings, no unexplained suspicious glances or events, nothing that made me roll my eyes and think, "As if!" or "Hey, what about X or Y or Z?"

It also has frequent flashes of humour, particularly when Strike is obsessing about food during his diet.

I very much appreciated that Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling, didn't feel the need to go into great depth about the depravity at the cult farm. Obviously there is no need to manipulate readers like that when Galbraith can continue to keep readers' attention through the strength of her brilliant writing alone.

Fans of this series will wonder about the relationship between Strike and Robin, his detective agency partner. I'm not going to expand on that here — you'll just have to read the book to find out more!

Highly recommend.

Hello Beautiful

What an absolute downer of a book. 

Protagonist William Waters grew up cared for, but unloved by his parents. Luckily, he meets Julia in university, and her family becomes his family. But Julia is a controlling and manipulative, and it turns out William cannot be molded as she had hoped. Moreover, Julia's loving family has cracks that become more visible over time.

This is a big story that spans generations and, while well told, is utterly bleak. The first 40% of the book was so depressing but then things perked up and there was a bit of a levelling out and even a bit of happiness for these characters. Alas, it was just a blip and around the 70% mark, things got depressing again. 

I probably wouldn't have read this book by Ann Napolitano except that it's an Oprah book club pick, and I heard host Gayle King raving about it on CBS Mornings. I was also drawn by the name, Hello Beautiful. Having started though, I kept reading because the writing is stellar and I wanted to know how things ended. But I wish I had just skimmed it.

The Maid

Books you should read while on vacation
I loved The Maid, but it's hard to know how to describe the story. At its core, it's an Agatha Christie-type murder mystery, but there was so much more wrapped into the actual plot.

Molly Gray, the main character, is probably neurodivergent IMO although this is never spelled out. It's a subject of some debate on Goodreads, where readers have wondered if Molly is neurodivergent, autistic, odd, or quirky.

The Goodreads synopsis reads, in part: "Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by. Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life's complexities all by herself. But Molly's orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed."

For myself, I can't remember a time when I cared about a protagonist more. I was furious about the way Molly was treated and sad about her loneliness. I found many parts about the crime and police procedure totally unrealistic, but by this point, I was fully invested in the story, so it was easier for me to let it go.

I don't want you to think this story — the debut novel by Toronto publishing executive Nita Prose — is a downer because things get happier as the story progresses. And then there are also the two shocking twists when you think the story is over. No spoilers from me, but I'll just say that I was happy with how things were resolved.

Give it a try, and I think you'll be rooting for Molly as much as I was.

This is one of the slowest books I’ve ever read … things didn’t pick up for me until about the 50% mark and even then I only found it marginally interesting. The plot involves Tova, a woman in her 70s who finds she can communicate with a smart-as-can-be octopus named Marcellus, at a Pacific Northwest aquarium where the woman works as a cleaner. It’s not quite as wacky as it sounds; my beef with it was that the story just moved really slowly and then when it got kind of interesting, it was also predictable.

I nearly gave up many times but then felt I wanted to keep going because SO many people have loved this debut book by Shelby Van Pelt. In the end I compromised: I kept going but I skimmed most of it. I wish I could have loved this one and I’m not sure why it just didn’t grab me. Maybe this just wasn’t my kind of book.

Daisy Jones & the Six

One of my favourite books, Daisy Jones & the Six, has been adapted into an Amazon Prime series and since that has pushed the book to the forefront again, I wanted to urge readers to pick up a copy of the 2019 book if they can. (I haven't seen the series yet but the reviews are good and I'm looking forward to seeing Riley Keough star as Daisy Jones.)

Themes of love, loss, addiction and the power of creativity are explored in a highly readable fashion in this novel that's written in an interview-style format, with different characters providing their perspectives on the band's rise to fame and eventual breakup.

At the centre of the story is Daisy Jones, a beautiful and talented singer-songwriter who becomes the lead vocalist for The Six, a struggling rock band from California. With Daisy's arrival, the band's fortunes begin to change, and they quickly become one of the biggest acts in the world.

The characters are flawed, but they are also relatable and sympathetic. Their struggles feel real and raw, and their triumphs are all the more poignant because of it. 

I recommend this book by Taylor Jenkins Reid for anyone who loves music, or who is interested in the 1970s, or who just appreciates good writing. I found the book to be an emotionally resonant novel that stayed with me long after I'd finished reading it.

Great books for your next vacation

The Guest List

If you haven't read Lucy Foley before, I highly recommend this book to start. TBH I've read other books by LF and sometimes they're not a hit for me. But I loved this one. Simply stated, The Guest List is unputdownable. (I believe that's a word, isn't it?) 

The premise is this: A rising TV star and his publishing executive bride-to-be have their wedding on a remote island in Ireland, and then murder happens. Everything is very glam on the surface but there's always an underlying tension that's slightly creepy and makes you want to know more. Everyone has a secret!

The story is told from each of the characters' POV but it's never confusing. I found the ending a bit abrupt but that wasn't a deal-breaker for me. 

This is utterly compulsive and delicious reading.

Great books for your next vacation

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Chances are that if you haven't read this book, you'll never have heard of Henrietta Lacks. But The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an important book and also an excellent read, and one of my favourite books of all time.

Henrietta Lacks was a Black woman who, in the 1950s, went to the hospital complaining of vaginal bleeding. At the hospital, doctors discovered her cells amazingly did not die outside the body and, in fact, doubled every 24 hours. This made Lacks' cells ideal for medical testing, and so doctors took them from her for that purpose without her knowledge or permission. Lacks, a mother of five, died in 1951 at just age 31.

Johns Hopkins Medicine says on its site: "Today, these incredible cells — nicknamed 'HeLa' cells, from the first two letters of her first and last names — are used to study the effects of toxins, drugs, hormones and viruses on the growth of cancer cells without experimenting on humans. They have been used to test the effects of radiation and poisons, to study the human genome, to learn more about how viruses work, and played a crucial role in the development of the polio and COVID-19 vaccines." 

Pharmaceutical companies have made fortunes, but Lack and her descendents have never received a penny.

In 2010, author Rebecca Skloot wrote The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It was Skloot's debut book, and became an immediate New York Times bestseller. 

For me, this book transcends all of my current favourites and beloved authors that are auto-buys. Skloot takes an extremely complicated medical subject — oh, it could have been so dry and boring — and turns it into a gripping, extremely readable narrative. It took a decade of research before this book got published and I have to wonder how long Skloot spent writing it, so that readers' eyes would not glaze over in the first few pages. 

This is the book I always name whenever people ask for a recommendation, and I hope you'll give it a try. 

Great books for your next vacation
The Guncle

So many boxes ticked with this book: It's a lovely story about a man — Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick, or Guncle — who's shut down after the loss of his love, and who finds his way to the light when he becomes the guardian for his niece and nephew. 

The three main characters are written so beautifully, and the "niblings" are adorable. Lots of cultural references that you'll get if you get, and no harm done if you don't. 

Superb writing by new-to-me author Steven Rowley, and funny as hell, as well as poignant. More please!

Great books for your next vacation

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music

This guy, what a guy! Prior to reading this book, I honestly could not have named a single song of Dave Grohl's. But after reading this book, I'm pretty sure he has to be the nicest guy in show business. (I did listen to Foo Fighters and have to say that type of music is still not my thing, no matter how much I like Grohl.)

Grohl has selected little sections of his life to write about, but the parts flow and the reader never feels like there are any insurmountable gaps. The stories are entertaining as anything, and Grohl has a breezy, conversational style that's very easy to read.

I loved learning about his family, in particular, his mom Virginia. She was a schoolteacher who'd seen too many kids fail to thrive because academics weren't their thing. When her own son turned out to be one of these kids and decided he wanted to drop out of school and join a rock band, she simply said: "You'd better be good."

They never lost their closeness, and I adored reading about how much Grohl loved his mother.

Besides the family, there are also lots of fun, gossipy (not in a mean way) stories about Paul McCartney, Joan Jett, Tom Petty, and so many more stars.

This was lots and lots and lots of fun, and I highly recommend this book.

Where the Crawdads Sing
Great books for your next vacation

I loved Delia Owens' Where the Crawdads Sing and the fact that it was the top-selling book of 2019 across all genres. The last time I looked, it had been on the New York Times bestsellers list for 168 weeks. Yes, 168!

Sales have seen a resurgence now that there's a movie based on the book, and I think it's so great that new readers are discovering the story of the "Marsh Girl" in Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. In late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say ...

There's so much here. The subject matter is difficult at times but the book is richly and lyrically written, and there's a murder mystery thrown in. What a remarkable feat by an author writing her debut novel at age 70! This is one of my favourite books EVER.


Great books for your next vacation
Live Wire

I like talk-show host Kelly Ripa and I enjoyed this book for the most part. But there's a caveat: The stories ARE long-winded, as the title warns. It felt like a lot of it comprised streams of consciousness from Ripa's mind — a bit like how she is on her TV show — and a whole book of that can be a lot. Just warning you if you're not a huge fan.

It's Ripa's book so she can write about what she wants, but I would like to have read more about her experiences as her star ascended. I think it's hard for women to do well in any industry and it would have been eye-opening, I'm sure, to read about some of what she went through to get to the top. 

I also would have enjoyed reading something about her former co-host Michael Strahan and that whole mess, but I can understand why she wouldn't want his name sullying her book. I've always felt like Regis Philbin wasn't as nice as he appeared and I'm glad Ripa confirms a bit of that in the book. As always, I enjoy Ripa's refreshing candor about the plastic surgery she's undergone.

Great books for your next vacation


Has there ever been a book more polarizing than this one? 

Put me down as a big YES for Team Prince Harry. I liked him before anyway, for standing behind his wife, and after reading this, that feeling has only grown. 

I'm not sure how much his ghostwriter did for him but this is a great read, packed with so many stories and details that only a Palace insider at the highest levels would be privvy to.

The only thing that kind of hurts is reading about how much money the monarchy costs the British people. Now that Queen Elizabeth has passed, I think it's time to take a hard look at what Britons are getting in return.

Great books for your next vacation
The Seven Husbands
of Evelyn Hugo

If you loved Daisy Jones & the Six you need to read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, an earlier book by Taylor Jenkins Reid which is also fantastic.

Aging and reclusive Hollywood legend Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the story of her life. 

But why does she choose unknown writer Monique Grant to tell her story to?

Filled with glamour and scandal, and a mystery as well, the book shifts deftly between past and present, and is the very definition of a page-turner.

Great books for your next vacation
Get a Life, Chloe Brown

Chloe is a woman with a chronic illness who's tired of how blah her life has become. If something were to happen to her, she realizes, she'll die never having ridden a motorcycle, or gone camping, or even had a drunken night out!

She meets Red, an artist who's been broken emotionally and still trying to resolve his issues. Red agrees to help Chloe complete her seven-item list and, as they check off the items, they also start setting right what is wrong in each other. 

It's always kind of awesome to love a book and then find out the author who has written with such confidence and mastery of her craft was only 23 at the time. I'm looking forward to many more great stories from Talia Hibbert.

What if you had a roommate whom you'd never met, but could discern the kind of day he was having by the notes he left or the supper he cooked, or whether he had washed his coffee cup?

Because Tiffy has an insane ex and Leon is temporarily broke, the two strangers agree to share a single bed flat, which they can do because they work opposite shifts. Implausible, yes, but I totally bought into it.

The Flatshare is told from the two characters' POVs and even though quirky Leon speaks/writes without pronouns or articles for most of the book, the story is engaging and lots of fun. Tiffy is bold and vivid, Leon is a kind and gentle person that one falls in love with almost immediately, and the secondary characters are fantastic. I think we need a next book from author Beth O'Leary, this one about Richie and Rachel!

Great books for your next vacation

The Authenticity Project

This is one of those books that will stay with me a long time, for many reasons. If you've read the blurb, you know that an elderly man, Julian, leaves behind a notebook in a cafe. In it, he's written his story, and he challenges the next person to write their truth. Monica, the cafe owner, finds the notebook, and adds her story. In total, six people put their stories in writing in this notebook.

So first, I love the structure of the novel: It's told through the eyes of six different characters and as each person adds another little bit, the story begins to build. It's not told in a strictly linear fashion. Characters come in and out of each others' stories, and some questions that are raised in one person's story are answered later in another person's story. Not every person is given the same amount of time to "speak," and in fact one character who comes in a bit later adds only a few paragraphs to the notebook. Writing in this style cannot have been an easy feat to pull off; done well, as it is here, it's fascinating. As a bonus, each chapter is short so this is a very easy read.

Secondly, the characters: I found myself reading more and more slowly as I neared the end, just because I didn't want to finish this book. Not to sound terribly needy or anything, but I think the characters are all people I have elements in common with, and I wanted to continue hanging out with them just a little longer. Julian, the elderly man, starts things in action. Monica, the cafe owner, is the touchstone of the book. Alice is a new mom and influencer whose life is nothing like she presents it to be on Instagram. These characters, plus three more who write in the notebook, all have quirks and foibles that resonated with me on some level.

Third and very importantly, the writing is stellar. The more I read, the more invested I became in the story. I started rooting for characters, and being disappointed when they let me down. I hoped the romantic pairing that I wanted to happen, would happen. Some of the stories unfolded the way I wanted but there were definitely surprises, including some I didn't like. Some of the ways in which the notebook made its way into the hands of the next recipient stretched the boundaries of belief ... except that I totally bought into it because the author persuaded me with her writing that it could have happened this way.

I'm thrilled to have discovered author Clare Pooley, and I hope we'll be hearing a lot more from her in the future.

>> What are you reading? Leave a comment and let me know!

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