There's an assumption that an ideal summer book is an easy read. You know, the kind of book you take on vacation to skim through while sipping some tropical concoction at the beach or poolside, only an oversized sunhat for shade.

In essence, a lighthearted romance with an easy-to-follow plot. Predictable characters in the very vague genre of contemporary fiction. Fun, digestible, but ultimately forgettable.

And while I can see how this category of fiction has gained this reputation, it's important for me to push my reading glasses up the bridge of my nose, raise my hand and object.

Summer is the season of escape. It's the time of year when we leave our banal routines behind, head off to exotic destinations, experience new things, and return relaxed, rested, and feeling our best.

Hence, our summer reading list should contribute to this transformative season of sun, sand and fun.

So, what exactly is my definition of the perfect summer read? It's a book you have to finish, no matter the consequences. Well, it's your summer break, so there are no real consequences. You can stay up late, you have no deadline – the only important thing is to keep turning the page and knowing what’s going to happen next.

Looking back at my reading resume, I've been thinking about books from years gone by that fit that job description. Stories that, if you managed to miss the first time around, should absolutely make it on your must-read list. From crime and historical fiction to tales of the privileged and those on the run, here are my top page-turners I invite you to escape to this summer.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

One of the most popular novels of the early 2000s, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown captured the attention of millions.

The mystery thriller is the second in Brown’s Robert Langdon series, preceded by Angels & Demons. The story follows Langdon, a Harvard symbologist who is called by police when a curator of Paris's Louvre Museum is found murdered inside the museum and surrounded by strange symbols.

Langdon, along with French cryptologist Sophie Neveu, is then pulled into a world of mystery and riddles, all of which are connected through a series of clues hidden in the works of Leonardo da Vinci and the Priory of Sion, an ancient society guarding a historical secret that can change the world for ever.

Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea

Told through a series of emails from an unnamed narrator, Girls of Riyadh unravels the story of four young friends from upper-middle-class Saudi society. Gamrah, Sadeem, Michelle and Lamees have hopes, dreams and desires as modern-day, sophisticated, and open-minded women. However, they must also contend with social and familial expectations.

The novel has been equally praised and criticised for its portrayal of contemporary Saudi life and its exploration of themes such as love, identity and the struggle between balancing traditional values and a more “modern” way of life.

Emma by Jane Austen

Of all of Jane Austen’s classics, Emma is the funniest.

Emma Woodhouse is an independent young woman who, while smart and determined, is equally flawed and deluded. She decides to play matchmaker, but her ideas about who is suitable for who are misguided by her privileged upbringing and perception of the world.

The novel is a charming comedy of errors set in England during the Regency era and all its strict societal conventions, which Emma attempts to maintain. As she tries to secure a husband for her friend Harriet Smith and finds herself intrigued by the town’s latest arrival, Frank Churchill, she is also constantly frustrated by her complex friendship with Mr Knightly.

While he is the only person constantly telling Emma what she could be doing better, he’s also the only person whose opinion seems to matter the most.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie is a master of suspense, misdirection and keeping the reader hooked from page to page. Murder on the Orient Express is not only one of her most popular works but is considered a classic of the murder mystery genre.

It all begins a few minutes after midnight when the famous and luxurious train, the Orient Express, stops in its tracks due to snowfall as it travels through the mountainous Balkans. By the morning, one passenger is dead.

An American tycoon has been stabbed to death in his compartment, his door locked from the inside. The only person on board who has the skill set to solve the murder is another passenger, Detective Hercule Poirot. But he must act quickly to identify the killer before they decide to strike again.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Kevin Kwan’s debut novel helped rejuvenate, and eventually solidify, a subset of satirical rom-coms in the West. It was one of the first, if not the first, mainstream books from the genre to have an entirely Asian cast of characters. As was the subsequent film.

Rachel Chu is an American-born Chinese woman who is excited to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young. However, her preconceived notions of her boyfriend’s life back home are not what she expected. Instead of a humble family home, he lives in a mansion; the relaxing vacation where she thought they would explore the island is filled with society parties and private planes.

Rachel had no idea she was dating one of Asia's most eligible bachelors and that now she's a target.

In a world of opulence and splendour, Rachel is an outsider and must navigate the gossip and scheming of elite society helmed by Nick's daunting mother, Elenore, a woman determined to see her son marry anyone but the Chinese American girl he has brought home for the summer.

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley is a timeless read for a reason. Not only is it a peek into the psychology of complex and intriguing characters, but Highsmith's precise writing style combined with an intricate plot make the novel difficult to put down.

The story is set in 1960s New York. Tom Ripley, a conman among many other things, is hired by the wealthy Mr Greenleaf to convince his fun-loving son Dickie to return home from Italy.

But as soon as Tom sees how this other half lives, he becomes obsessed with Dickie’s lavish lifestyle and inner circle. Slowly and strategically he creates a sinister plan to ensure his place in this intimate clique.

Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes

Moi is living her best Park Avenue fairytale life. It’s a world of fashion, high-profile parties, private jets and everything peak New York society has to offer. But Moi’s glamorous world falls apart when her engagement to Zack doesn't work out as she hoped. How is she supposed to find true happiness now?

Moi, along with her best friend, the department store heiress Julie Bergdorf, is now on a mission to search for true love and the meaning of life. But it’s proving more difficult than Moi hoped while dealing with stalkers, film premieres, eyebrow waxes and endless calls from her mother in England pressuring her to marry the Earl next door.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

From the Waldorf Astoria in New York, an extortionary woman tells her unbelievable story about a different time and a fading culture. Memoirs of a Geisha is a historical fiction novel about Nitta Sayuri, a peasant girl from a fishing village in Japan who is sold as a servant and apprentice to a renowned geisha house.

The story takes place before, during and after the Second World War set against a turbulent time in Japan's history. The reader is swept up in Nitta’s journey and the many challenges she faces on the path to becoming a geisha in Kyoto.

And while she learns the arts of geisha, from dancing and singing and how to seduce powerful men, there is one man who keeps returning to her. Their bond is powerful, but Nitta must resist a relationship that could change both their lives forever.

Desperate in Dubai by Ameera Al Hakawati

Set against the biggest stereotypes of Dubai, from luxury hotels, mansions and manmade islands, Desperate in Dubai is the story of four women in search of security, purpose and love.

Leila is looking for a rich husband. Nadia’s sacrifices for her husband’s career have not worked out as she planned. Sugar is frantically trying to escape her past in the UK. Rebellious heiress Lady Luxe's double life is unravelling.

From the first page, readers are drawn into a world where characters are willing to do anything to keep up appearances.

Yellowface by Rebecca F Kuang

Rebecca F Kuang’s novel about one writer’s determination to make it is a genuine page-turner. June Hayward is the writer of a book not many people have read. Her friend Athena Liu, though, is a glamorous, supremely talented literary darling.

But things change when Athena dies in a freak accident and June steals Athena’s experimental draft novel about the contributions of Chinese labourers during the First World War. After June edits the novel and sends it to her agent as her own work, she’s rebranded as Juniper Song the ambiguously ethnic author of the latest literary masterpiece.

While June enjoys her new-found recognition and fame, Athena haunts her. Voices from the past start echoing truth into the present, and June is in a race to protect her secret.

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones is a 30-something single woman who is trying to figure it all out. She wants to lose 3kg, stop smoking, become more poised and find a boyfriend.

While on a mission of self-improvement, Bridget writes in her diary about her career in London, her vices, family, friends and romantic relationships. And while some things are starting to change, finding a boyfriend seems to be the trickiest thing to tick off.

Her love life initially takes a surprising turn when she meets Mark Darcy, a handsome and aloof family friend and successful lawyer who appears to have judged and snubbed her. Bridget dismisses Mark and finds comfort and excitement in her boss, the charismatic and handsome Daniel Cleaver. But then why does her path constantly cross with Mark?

Charming with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, Helen Fielding’s blockbuster novel is unputdownable.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

The psychological thriller by Gillian Flynn keeps readers guessing.

On Nick and Amy Elliott Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary, Amy mysteriously disappears. The story is told through alternating chapters narrated by Nick and Amy, both of whom are unreliable and hiding secrets. This keeps the reader guessing: who should they believe, what is the truth behind Amy's disappearance and what is the extent of Nick's involvement?

While exploring themes of deception and appearances, the reader is left constantly reevaluating the story and the characters' twisted portrayal of a toxic marriage.

2024-06-15T03:10:44Z dg43tfdfdgfd