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High brow vs low brow: Muddy’s holiday reads

Need a new page-turner? From high brow tomes that'll impress your book club to bingable guilty pleasures, here's what we're *really* reading this summer.

Hero Brown, Editor-in-Chief 

High brow: I’ve tried for the last year to get through John Suchet’s biography of Beethoven – if you’re ever suffering from insomnia, may I recommend it? I absolutely love Beethoven’s music and was a bit fixated on him as a child (yeah, I was one of those kids…) but I’m always so exhausted at the end of the day that I can only manage a few pages and that’s it, I drift into a symphony of sleep. Nevertheless, a cultural biography always looks excellent next to a sun lounger so that is going to be my academic ‘flex’ read for my holidays.

Low brow: However, if you happen to peer into my beach bag, you’re likely to find Fergie’s first Mills & Boon novel Her Heart for a Compass, twinkling in there. Just published, it’s been described as ‘amiable tosh’ and ‘chaste good fun’ by broadsheet book editors, and honestly, this summer I just want to escape into Fergie’s, fluffy, daft historical world and become Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott – the flame-haired, hot-headed minx of a Scottish aristocrat who turns down a loveless marriage match to escape to Ireland, help the poor, and er, write children’s fiction. There’s not a lot of bodice-ripping in this book by all accounts, but the clinches with my leading man will be including “deep, starving kisses… tongues tangling, hands clutching and clinging” as I “surrender my lips to his” which sounds absolutely hilarious. Literally. Can’t. Wait.

Ginny Light, Associate Features Editor

High brow: Summer by Ali Smith: I soooo want to read this book, but feel exhausted even by the thought of it. The final instalment of Smith’s quartet of seasonal books, each written in a few months, they’re a fast-paced commentary on politics, culture, climate change and society. But on holiday, after the year we’ve had, I want something engaging and absorbing, but not frothy, so Smith will be joining my ‘best intentions’ pile along with Wolf Hall and Helgoland

Low brow: …so instead, I’m going to give Hamnet a go, because, firstly, Maggie O’Farrell is so readable, secondly, it’s had fab reviews, and thirdly, it’s the latest choice of my village book club.. and you can’t just show up for the vino… can you? 

Isabella Palmer, Editorial Assistant

High brow: In The Kitchen: Essays on Food and Life by assorted contributors, including Rachel Roddy and Ruby Tandoh. I have all the best intentions to read this: I am certain I will love it, and that I’ll be jotting down phrases and dog-earing (apologies to the purists) pages galore. That said, essays don’t scream mindless escapism, and I’m not confident it’s the book I’ll reach for whilst plonked out, mildly hungover, munching a peach, on holiday. 

Low brow: Beach Read by Emily Henry. A summery, convoluted rom-com? Yeah, baby. This is a straight-up fun read: two polar-opposite authors with writer’s block wind up on the same beach holiday for three months and agree to swap genre styles. It’s a wild stab in the dark, but I think they might fall in love along the way. I expect to race through it, and to not engage my brain for one single second. 

Amber Evans, Editor of Muddy Surrey 

High brow: Last summer I took Paul Auster’s 4-3-2-1 on holiday and while it’s a gripping, if complicated, story – it’s also a behemoth. So it was less of a holiday read and more of a 2020 read! 

Low brow: This year, I’m changing tack and going for a couple of novels I feel sure I’m going to power through. Daisy Jones and the Six by American author Taylor Jenkins Reid has been on my reading radar for a while, so that’s top of my list. The hedonistic story of a 1970s rock band and its beautiful lead singer, it’s got everything a holiday read should have – glamour, romance, excess and emotion. And since I just know I’m going to love it – and since her follow-up novel, Malibu Rising was published just a few weeks ago, I’ll quite likely move on to that next. It’s quite nice to feel like you’re one of the first to something, rather than late to the party! Next up, I’m keen to tackle the final novel Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy – it’s been waiting patiently on my Kindle for quite some time – so that’ll be the third on my list. And I expect that should see me nicely through my vacay, and a little beyond.

Rachel Buchanan, Editor of Muddy Cornwall

High brow: This is actually on my book pile already, The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller; a weighty hardback tome that I bought on a whim as it had good reviews. I was drawn to the idea of a novel taking place both over a single day as well as fifty years, as well as how unflinchingly she deals with the serious business of life in all its forms – tensions of decisions, of sex, affairs, abuse and family secrets; set against a vivid summer landscape in Cape Cod. Miranda Cowley Heller has serious credentials (her sister is Zoe Heller, probably her most famous writing is Notes on a Scandal, and her grandfather, the literary critic Malcolm Cowley) but this is her first novel. She did however spend a decade working at HBO where as Senior Vice President and Head of Drama Series she oversaw shows including The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, so she knows her way round a story line. I’ve high hopes.

Low brow: However, what I’ll actually be reading first is Anna Whitehouse’s “Underbelly” (out early August). Ostensibly a novel, given Anna’s pre- campaigner status as a “mummy blogger” enquiring minds want to know whether this is actually part memoir. Way back in the distant pre-COVID memory, mummy bloggers were riding high as influencers – or were they? This novel tells the increasing intertwining stories of two school gate mums and the consequences of what happens when their lives meet. Any passing resemblance to any real-life drama is sure to be coincidental, and I’ll probably read it in one beach lounger sitting, but that’s the beauty of summer holiday reading, isn’t it, sometimes.

Rachel Jane, Editor of Muddy Berkshire

High brow: Girl A by Abigail Dean. To say excitement levels were high when Abigail Dean’s debut novel was published in January, is an understatement. It’s been described as the book that will define a decade and the biggest mystery thriller since Gone Girl. A TV series, directed by Johan Renck (Chernobyl), is in development and the critics went nuts for the beautifully written crime thriller. I want to read it. I really do. But a book about a girl who escaped a House of Horrors where she and her siblings were subjected to years of child abuse isn’t the Club Tropicana vibes I need on my sun lounger. Quite frankly, it just sounds stressful.

Low brow: Luster by Raven Leilani, a brutal, brilliant and funny novel about being young now. A distant memory for me, so I’m here for the time travel. Luster tells the tale of Edie, a woman messing up in her dead-end admin job, sleeping with all the wrong men, who has failed at the only thing that means anything to her, painting. Then she meets Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist with a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter. I have high hopes – LOLs and lust. What’s not to love?

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