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Posts Tagged ‘Great books for summer’

Books for summer camping: Adult fiction and nonfiction

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Some people might say that we’ve now entered the “dog days of August” but here at the Book Jam we like to call this time of year the “dog-eared book days of August”. It is the season when we finally get to the books in our pile that have been beckoning, lazing with them by the lake for long periods of time, folding over pages to remind us where to return  (hence the dog ears) only when it is time for a short break from the prose.

August is when we look forward to pulling out or back packs and beach bags and filling them full of books (and maybe a clean change of clothes, too) and heading with them to the shore of some quiet sunny river to get lost in the stories and ideas that lie between the pages.

Below are 28 ideas for what you might want to put in your backpack and head to the hills with to lose yourself in after a day of hiking. Remember, the faster you set up your tent, the faster you can open up those dog-eared and well loved books.

Happy reading!

 

Books Inspired by Ancient Greeks or Shakespeare and even Henry James (Because this seems to be a trend in our reading, and continues as MacBeth by Jo Nesbo is on our bedside table for August.)

FC9780316556347.jpgCirce by Madeline Miller (2018) – This saga covers the origin, life and final decisions of Circe, the original Greek witch.  Sprinkled throughout with men, women and gods from Greek Mythology, I found myself spell bound by what would happen next – even though I technically knew. And because Circe manages to succeed alone, banished to an island, she draws the wrath of gods, slightly reminiscent of some women today. In the end this is a gripping tale centered around a dysfunctional family of rivals, love and loss, punishment, and a tribute to a strong woman living in a predominantly man’s world. (Also on the April 2018 Indie Next List.) 

FC9780525431947.jpgNutshell: A Novel by Ian McEwan (2016) — Ok the tale of Hamlet reworked for Modern Day London and told form the perspective of an unborn child?  Yes, sounds too precious, but Mr. McEwan pulls it off. It truly is more brilliant than this quick summary shows it should be.  Perhaps because the narrator allows Mr. McEwan to ponder modern problems and pleasures without seeming to lecture.  Perhaps it is because of Mr. McEwan’s lovely prose.  Whatever the reason, I highly recommend this one, while admitting a bias for Mr. McEwan’s work. (A New York Times and Washington Post notable book and previously reviewed by us a few times.)

FC9780449006979.jpgGertrude and Claudius by John Updike (2000). Yes, Hamlet, that tortured prince receives a lot of time in High School and College English Lit classes, but did you ever think about his story from the perspective of his mother and her lover/second husband?  Well luckily for us, John Updike did. The result is a well written novel that forces you to rethink the Bard’s popular tale of a Danish Prince and his doomed lover Ophelia. This is different from most of Mr. Updike’s novels – try it, you might love it.  And if you don’t believe us, try the New York Times Book review “Updike has used Shakespeare to write a free-standing, pleasurable, and wonderfully dexterous novel about three figures in complex interplay.”  

FC9780451493422.jpgMrs. Osmond by John Banville (2017) – I am a huge fan of Mr. Banvile’s The Sea, which I often describe as the perfect dysfunctional Irish family novel.  I also enjoy his mysteries under his pen name Benjamin Black. I also loved reading The Portrait of A Lady by Henry James in my early 20s just after completing my own stint in Europe. Granted I was backpacking and sleeping in tents while Isabel Archer was being wined and dined for her fortune, but I still related somehow. Thus, I picked up Mr. Galbraith’s treatise of what happens to Isabel once The Portrait of A Lady ends, with high expectations for a great story. These were met. Somehow Mr. Banville manages to capture and use Mr. James’s prose style, wry humor, and social commentary while making this sequel his own.Mrs. Osmond explores what happens when the people we love aren’t who they seemed to be, how sudden wealth changes everything, what living abroad as an American can mean, and family. As The Guardian summed, “Banville is one of the best novelists in English. . . . Mrs Osmond is both a remarkable novel in its own right and a superb pastiche.”

FC9781770413993.jpgRose and Poe by Jack Todd (2017) – I am always going to read anyone who attempts to retell The Tempest, and Mr. Todd did not disappoint. In this tale, Mr. Todd re-imagines Shakespeare’s The Tempest from the point of view of Caliban (Poe) and his mother (Rose). Rose and Poe live in the woods quietly along side Prosper Thorne, a banished big city lawyer and his gorgeous daughter Miranda. When Poe appears carrying Miranda’s bruised and bloody body, he is arrested, despite lack of evidence he committed the crime; and Rose and Poe find themselves facing bitter hatred and threats from neighbors who once were friends. A timeless tale of how we stigmatize what frightens us, and the consequences of our prejudices.  

FC9781501140228.jpgHouse of Names by Colm Toibin (2017) – In this measured retelling of the story of Clytemnestra and her children, Mr. Toibin creates a sympathetic character as he reveals the tragic saga that led to her bloody actions (killing her husband). Told in four parts, Mr. Toibin portrays a murderess, her son Orestes, and the vengeful Electra, all the while playing with who deserves sympathy in the end. (Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR.)

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Historical fiction

FC9780812985405.jpgLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (2017) – A fascinating look at Lincoln after his beloved son Willie dies and the USA is burning down all around him due to the Civil War.  Told in a completely uniquely gorgeous style and premise – actual historical documents describing this time and the souls of the dead interred with Willie give voice and color to the narrative. Challenging to read; fascinating to think about. (Winner of the Man Booker Prize, and an IndieNext pick.) 

FC9780062563705.jpgHalf-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker (2017) Ragnvald and Svanhild, the brother and sister duo at the heart of this novel, lead the way through an adventurous re-telling of Norway’s medieval history. For those of you looking for a saga that highlights how personalities and desires influence everything, and that uses actual historical characters and battles, Ms. Hartsuyker’s work may be the perfect summer read for you. (August 2017 IndieNext pick.) 

FC9780385542364-1.jpgThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016) – I am late to the party over this National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize winning novel. But, this tale of Cora and her life as a slave will capture your imagination and give you many reason to pause and think about race relations today. Please pick it up if you have not already. (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.) 

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General Fiction

FC9780316316132-1.jpgLess by Andrew Sean Green (2017) – This look at mid-life and lost loves is loaded with superb prose and insight.  Mr. Less makes a lovely main character to rout for, his life reflections are populated by interesting characters, and his travels abroad reminiscent of something Twain once wrote. I must admit it was not as funny for me as had been hyped, but I still liked it. Enjoy! (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, New York Times Notable Book, Top Ten pick for the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle.) 

FC9781616205041.jpgYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017) – For those of us who lived through the Bill Clinton sexual relations intern scandal, this book will seem familiar. What might not seem so familiar is the humor and candor about society’s standards contained in this light novel about how decisions we make when we are young have implications. (September 2017 IndieNext book.)  

FC9781944700553.jpgMem by Bethany C Morrow (2018) – What happens when you can choose to eliminate horrific memories? Where do they go? What happens to your life afterwards?  Ms. Morrow gives her answers to these questions in this slim look at life in 1920s Montreal. And, since Brenna Bellavance the newest bookseller at the Norwich Bookstore brought this to my attention, I will use her review and say ditto to the haunting aspect. “Elsie is not a real person. From the moment she came to exist, she has been told this repeatedly. She is merely the physical embodiment of an unwanted memory extracted from another woman, a real woman, whose face she sees every time she looks in a mirror. Except that she remembers a life she didn’t live, loves people she never met, thinks her own thoughts, and feels her own feelings. So what makes a real person….real? Exquisite and haunting, Mem has stayed with me.” (June 2018 IndieNext Book.)  

FC9780679734772.jpgThe House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros – I LOVED this once again as I read it to discuss with my 9th grader who was forced to read it for his English teacher. Bonus — he, a very reluctant reader, loved it too :)! (Thanks you Ms. Eberhardt.) The trials and tribulations of the narrator as she navigates her life in NYC are deliciously unraveled by Ms. Cisneros sparse prose. Or as the New York Times reviewed ““Cisneros draws on her rich [Latino] heritage . . . and seduces with precise, spare prose, creat[ing] unforgettable characters we want to lift off the page. She is not only a gifted writer, but an absolutely essential one.”  

FC9780385349406Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell (June 2013) — Yes, summer and heat go hand in hand, and currently, all over the globe, the weather is setting records for heat and discomfort. Apparently in 1976, London suffered more heat than most. So, we added a book we reviewed in 2013 to today’s post in honor of heat waves everywhere. That 1976 British heat wave is the setting for a series of events in this wonderful book about an Irish Catholic clan living in London.  The chain of events unfurls once the father of three grown children disappears, causing all the grown children to rally around their mother.  And well, his disappearance leads to a secret which when unveiled leads to a series of events that rapidly take over everything in the hot, hot heat of this long ago summer.  Enjoy!  

FC9780812996067.jpgAlternate Side by Anna Quindlen (2018) – I start this review with the confession that I miss Ms. Quindlen’s New York Times and Newsweek columns. Her insight, humor, precise prose, and hope amidst the chaos and difficulties she wrote of were a staple of my life for many years. These characteristics are evident in this summer beach read of a novel.  Nora has a great job, twins in college, a kind husband, and the perfect house on the best block in New York City – a dead end filled with people who get along. Then an incident occurs and unravels pretty much everything. Alternate Side offers a lovingly portrayed look at life in middle age with kids in college, jobs not quite what you dreamed of when you were 20, and of New York City itself.  A great beach read for anyone – especially anyone who truly loves NYC. As the New York Times stated, “Exquisitely rendered . . . [Quindlen] is one of our most astute chroniclers of modern life. . . . [Alternate Side] has an almost documentary feel, a verisimilitude that’s awfully hard to achieve.”

FC9780062484154.jpgWhatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (2016) – I am so glad someone put this collection of short stories in my hands. The writing by Ms. Collins – a little known African American artist and filmmaker – is distinct and concise and paints vivid pictures of life in New York in the 1970s. The backstory to the collection is even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. (Best Book of 2016 by NPR and Publishers Weekly 

FC9780735212206.jpgExit West by Mohsin Hamid – I LOVED this novel.  It is concise, gorgeously written, and covers important topics – love, immigration, war.  Perfect. (Winner 2018 Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times, Ten Best Book of 2017 for the New York Times.)  

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Mysteries and thrillers and other beach reads

FC9780804114905.jpgLast Bus to Woodstock by Collin Dexter (1975) – I have been a fan of the BBC’s Inspector Lewis, Morse, and Endeavor series for years.  This is the first time I read those series’ primary source materials.  I am so glad I finally did. This was well-plotted intelligently written and fun to read.  I especially enjoyed vicariously visiting Oxford sites I have been privileged to stroll. Pick this series up (this title is first in the series), read, and perhaps then plan a trip to the UK – or watch the series. Thank you Danielle Cohen, an amazing audio-book narrator and actor, for reminding me that the books behind the BBC are great as well. Publishers Weekly agrees, “A masterful crime writer whom few others match.”

FC9780143133124.jpgThe Ruin by Dervla McTiernan (2018) – Besides having my new favorite name – Dervla, Ms. McTiernan’s debut novel introduces a great new detective series. Her main detective Cormac Reilly has a unexplained complicated past, the requisite desire for justice, and great assistance from another well-wrought detective Carrie O’Halloran and a new newbie to the Garda – Peter Fisher. The setting in Galway is part of the action and allows you to vicariously travel to some very wet time in the Irish countryside. (Also a July 2018 IndieNext pick.)   

FC9780061655517.jpgNemesis (and other titles) by Jo Nesbo (2002) – Somehow I missed this instalment in the Harry Hole series.  Another page-turner for mystery fans. As the nomination for the Edgar Nominee for Best Novel of the Year states — “The second Harry Hole novel to be released in America–following the critically acclaimed publication of The RedbirdNemesis is a superb and surprising nail-biter that places Jo Nesbo in the company of Lawrence Block, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, and other top masters of crime fiction. Nesbo has already received the Glass Key Award and the Booksellers’ Prize, Norway’s most prestigious literary awards. Nemesis is proof that there are certainly more honors in this extraordinary writer’s future”.  

FC9781616957186.jpgAugust Snow by Stephen Mack Jones (2017) – I so want to believe there is someone like August Snow – a half black, half Mexican, ex-cop with a strong sense of justice and neighborhood – looking out for Detroit. The hope this book expresses for Detroit weaves throughout the narrative and Mr. Jones’s descriptions of Detroit’s decline and partial resurgence make the city an actual character in this thriller. Yes, he makes mistakes, and wow his body count is way too high for my tastes by the end, but so few books take place in modern day Detroit, enjoy this one! (Also a Winner of the Hammett Prize, and annual award for best mystery by the International Association of Crime Writers.)  

FC9781508238607.jpgPoison by John Lescroart (2018) – I love Mr. Lescroart’s Dimas Hardy Series for the chance to relive life in San Francisco and the great cast of characters Mr. Hardy uses to always ensure justice is served.  This latest instalment continues this love affair. These are my reliable guilty pleasure.  

 

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Nonfiction

FC9780316392389.jpgCalypso by David Sedaris (2018) – Mr. Sedaris’s latest collection of essays tackles the “not-so-joyful” aspects of reaching middle age. Perhaps because of this, this collection is not as laugh-out-loud funny as his previous collections. That said, it is impossible for me to read Mr. Sedaris’s work without hearing his distinctive voice in my head, making his wry insights even funnier than they initially appear. And honestly, his perceptive commentary about life’s mundane and heartbreaking moments is superb no matter the level of humor.  I will frame his paragraph in “Leviathan” beginning “It’s ridiculous how often you have to say hello on Emerald Island” for its treatise on the fact Southerners insist on saying hello. I will then present it to my children as a constant explanation for why I say hello to complete strangers; they may never understand this trait, but they will forever have documentation of its source – my childhood in Tennessee. Pick this up and enjoy! (We suppose we should have put this in the inspired by Ancient Greeks category.) 

FC9780062838742.jpgAmateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words by Kimberly Harrington (2018) – This collection of essays features a distinctive voice (one that is often seen in The New Yorker, and McSweeney’s) that applies humor, tears, cursing, love, and unique insight to almost every aspect of motherhood/life: a failed pregnancy, relocating across the country, a request to end “mommy wars” steeped with insight from both sides, grandparents/Florida, to do lists, meal-train etiquette, participation trophies, parenting experts, plane rides with kids, and partners. You will grin throughout this collection, as each essay is graced with humor and humility. You will tear-up a bit reading many of the essays as some are poignant and unsparing (e.g., a retelling of a failed pregnancy, and/or a story of a fight over divorcing – they didn’t – that uses FB “likes” to score points). Quick note: we found this book because one of its chapters was a recent Op-Ed in The New York Times. (Previously reviewed in mother’s day picks.)

FC9780143125471-1.jpgThe Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (2013) – Not sure why I never got around to reading this, but I am so glad I finally did. What a terrific tale of triumphing – ultimately over Hitler, but also over horrendous parents, poverty and low expectations.  

FC9780399588174.jpgBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016) – Funny, sad, and amazingly moving memoir about growing up a biracial child in South Africa during and just after Apartheid. Mr. Noah is insightful and honest as he dissects his life and his choices and the choices that were made for him. Each chapter begins with an overview of life in South Africa that relates to the subsequent story from his own life. (Named on the best books of the year by NPR, New York Times, Esquire, Booklist.) 

FC9780062684929.jpgUnbelievable by Katy Tur (2017) – An up front and personal account of the 2016 presidential race from a MSNBC and MBC reporter who followed Trump from the time when everyone thought his candidacy was a long shot all the way through his election. As Jill Abramson said in a New York Times book review – “Compelling… this book couldn’t be more timely.” (The author was the recipient of the 2017 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.)   

FC9781608197651.jpgMen We Reaped by Jessmyn Ward (2013) – This coming of age memoir shows what it is like to grow up smart, poor, black and female in America. Ms. Ward’s starting point is a two year period of time shortly after she graduated college during which five boys who she loved and grew up along the Mississippi Coast with experience violent deaths. (Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath also play a role in this drama.) Her prose illuminates these dead young men and the people who loved/still love them; it also exposes the people behind the statistics that almost one in 10 young black men are in jail and murder is the greatest killer of black men under the age of 24. And while the material is brutal, the memoir is not; it is insightful, introspective, beautifully written, and important. At some point Ms. Ward states that the series of deaths is “a brutal list, in its immediacy and its relentlessness, and it’s a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time.” We are glad she found her voice and told her story. And, we hope to see it on a big screen near you soon. (On the October 2013 IndieNext list.) 

And, One final note — this post is our last for a while as it is is time for our annual “Gone Readin’ hiatus”. We look forward to bringing you great reviews of superb books at some point in late September.

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We celebrated books, summer reading, and the power of youth last week at Vermont’s Thetford Academy (TA). This was the first time we used our live event Pages in the Pub with youth presenters, and wow did they nail it! Their picks and personalities are all superb. We hope you enjoy reading from their list as much as we enjoyed hearing them passionately convince the audience why their book selections just had to be read. (Note – because we were not in a pub, we called this event BOOK BUZZ.) images-1.jpg

We thank them for their time, their enthusiasm and the list of books they generated. Their support (and the help of two of their dedicated teachers – Joe Deffner and Kate Owen) made the first BOOK BUZZ a success. Bonus – thanks to the generosity of the Norwich Bookstore, the event raised around $600 for the Thetford Academy Library (while increasing sales for our local indie bookstore).

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With great pleasure, we now list all twenty-four books discussed during the evening, each with its special six word review written by the presenter. You’ll notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make browsing easier. We hope you have fun looking, and that you enjoy reading about their picks from the comfort of your computer/iPad/phone using direct links to each selection. And now, our superb presenters’ picks for summer reading, with their bios at the end.

The Kiss of Deception Cover ImageBrooklyn Cover ImageBurn for Burn Cover ImageTo All the Boys I've Loved Before Cover ImageOff the Page Cover ImageAn Ember in the Ashes Cover Image

Books that magically get glued to your hands

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson (2014). Selected by Izzy – A Princess, An Assassin, A Prince.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin  (2009). Selected by Malcolm – Beautifully written with compelling characters; moving.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (2014) and Burn for Burn by Jenny Han (2012). Selected by Kiya – Books that are too dramatically real.

Off The Pages by Jodi Picoult and Samatha Van Leer (2015). Selected by Jasmine, but reviewed by Maggie – A love story gone almost wrong.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (2015). Selected by Ms. Owen – Slavery’s poison spreads. Does love conquer?
A Court of Thorns and Roses Cover ImageCity of Thieves Cover Image

Perfect books to help you ignore the fact you are on a road trip/school bus

A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J. Mass (2015). Selected by Izzy – A fairy world and finding love.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2010). Selected by Mr. Deffner – World War Two quest for dozen eggs.

Beware of Pity Cover ImageThe Girl on the Cliff Cover Image

Books that will make you forget you are bummed it is raining outside

Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig (1995). Selected by Malcolm – Heartbreaking, truthful; like reading the rain.

The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley (2011). Selected by Izzy – Death, mystery, romance, with a twist.

Popular: How a Geek in Pearls Discovered the Secret to Confidence Cover Image

Middle School Survival Books: Required reading before you arrive

Popular by Maya Van Wagenen (2014). Selected by Ms. Owen – Geek sits at popular table…survives?
Americanah Cover ImageThe Outsiders Cover ImageA Prayer for Owen Meany Cover ImageChallenger Deep Cover ImageWonder Cover ImageHow to Be Black Cover Image

Books you would assign to grownups as required reading

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014). Selected by Malcolm – Illuminates race’s role in culture; impactful, relevant.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1967). Selected by Jasmine, but reviewed by Mr. Deffner – The difference between rich and poor.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (2002). Selected by Mr. Deffner – Faith and prayer, it really works

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (2015 ). Selected by Maggie – Passionate travel through the challenges of schizophrenia.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio (2012). Selected by Maggie – A book of bravery and loyalty.

How to Be Black by Thurston (2012). Selected by Lisa – Onion Humorist examines, skewers race relations.          The Lowland Cover ImageDown and Out in Paris and London Cover ImageFans of the Impossible Life Cover ImageLeaving Time (with Bonus Novella Larger Than Life) Cover ImageA Tree Grows in Brooklyn Cover Image

Books teens should read even if they are not required

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (2013). Selected by Izzy – Two very different brothers in India.

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (1972). Selected by Malcolm – Poignant, realistic memoir of mysterious man.

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa (2015). Selected by Maggie – Takes a deeper meaning of teen life.

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (2014). Selected by Jasmine, but reviewed by Ms. Owen – My mom’s dead the reason…..mystery.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943). Selected by Maggie – Beautifully crafted and about a girl’s life.

Raymie Nightingale Cover ImageThe War That Saved My Life Cover Image

Books your younger school siblings really HAVE TO read 

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (2016). Selected by Lisa – Girl uses pageant to get dad home.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley (2015). Selected by Lisa – Closer look at “Pevensie”-like children.


images.jpgBOOK BUZZ Presenters

Malcolm Quinn Silver-Van Meter‘s favorite things to do are run, read, write, and both watch and create films. He loves distance running and proudly self-identifies as a film nerd. He is sixteen years old and attends Thetford Academy.

Kate Owen runs the TA library and most importantly helps many, many students find the perfect book to read next – even if they aren’t sure they want to read anything.

Izzy Kotlowitz graduates in mere days. While at TA she also attended the Mountain School, played soccer, and laughed a lot. She will attend Kenyon College in the Fall.

Maggie Harlow is a rising senior and loves food, ducks and smiling a lot. In her free time– wait she doesn’t have any! If she did have free time she’d be hiking and reading lots of fun books. Her favorite genres are fantasy, mystery and alternative history.

Kiya Grant loves cooking. She reads realistic fiction and is working on her own novel. She is a rising 8th grader at TA.

Jasmine Doody is a rising 8th grader at TA. She was unable to present during the event. So her fellow reviewers covered her choices during BOOK BUZZ, but we left her six word reviews intact for this post.

Joe Deffner teaches Seventh and Tenth Grade English, as well as a Senior Honors elective.  In his free time, he enjoys reading––obviously–––and going on cross-country barnstorming events in which he promotes his sons, Owen and Eamon, as the East Central Vermont Junior Cornhole Champions.

Lisa Christie is one half of the Book Jam blog and the emcee for this BOOK BUZZ. When not reading, she can be found coaching nonprofit directors, being with the three guys she lives with, walking her very large dog, and attempting to navigate a masters degree.

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images-2Before we take our annual August “gone reading” vacation, we thought we would share some of our favorite (thusfar) 2015 “beach reads” to help fill these final days of summer. For purposes of this post, we define “beach read” as a book that provides escape or some fun or some laughs, but that is still well-written (or at least, even if not War and Peace, does not insult your intelligence). If we did a long review of a book fitting this criteria in an earlier post (e.g., Funny Girl), we did not include the book in this post; but, we still encourage you to read it. So, if nothing here strikes your fancy, please refer to our previous posts from 2015 (e.g., Books for Father’s Day Gifting and for Congratulating Graduates), or browse our picks from previous summers. We look forward to sharing our favorite books with you again September. But, in the meantime, happy reading with some of the books from this list. We’ve officially “gone reading”.
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Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (2015) – So far, this is our go-to beach book for this summer. The title refers to the number of grapes required to make a bottle of wine. The story revolves around a Sonoma, California vineyard and the family who has tended it for decades. The novel launches with the narrator, a successful LA lawyer with a lovely British architect for a fiance, sitting, inappropriately dressed, in her brothers’ bar after discovering there is more to her fiance than she believed. As she retreats to her family’s vineyard to think, she learns her fiance is not the only one with secrets. And yes, we both were casting it for the inevitable movie as we read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain (2015) – I have been fascinated by Beryl Markham since reading her memoir West with the Night. (A book Ernest Hemingway praised with the comment “[Ms. Markham] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers”.) In this novel, Ms. McLain creates a fictional account of Ms. Markham’ remarkable life that fills the holes her memoir left unanswered — offering more about her childhood, her horse training and her early marriage. A fun beach read, although we admit we prefer Ms. Markham’s memoir over this fictional account of her life. ~ Lisa Christie PS – My father-in-law, a former Marine Corp pilot, enjoyed this novel as well. And Lisa Cadow is jealous I read and reviewed before she did.

The Rocks by Peter Nichols (2015) – A fun, bittersweet summer novel set in Mallorca and spanning across generations of the Spaniards and Brits who call it home, even if only for a few weeks each summer. Told backwards, the novel unravels what caused a great love to sour, and shows all the aftershocks of love gone awry. Be warned, the Mediterranean setting and its olive trees, beaches, succulent food, will have you booking tickets before you finish its last pages. And, since inspiring travel is probably the highest praise we can give a book, we are pretty certain you will enjoy this one. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Fall: A Novel by John Lescroart (2015) — We finish with a mystery, because most vacations welcome a good detective novel. I truly believe that ANYONE who loves San Francisco should read Mr. Lescroart’s Dismas Hardy series because each is so grounded in that amazing City by the Bay. I also believe that mystery-lovers will enjoy the characters in this series: the retired policeman turned attorney who is a recovering alcoholic with part ownership in a tavern (of course he is), the gruff and scarred homicide detective, and the DA who really is trying to do the right thing, to name a few. In this latest installment, with Mr. Lescroart’s signature suspenseful plots, Mr. Hardy’s daughter joins his law firm. She then adds some excitement to their case-load when an attractive, well-educated white man accused of killing a teenage African-American foster child he was trying to help chooses Ms. Hardy as his lawyer. You might want to begin with the first “Dismas Hardy” novel – Dead Irish, and really dive in to the 20 books in this series, but you can also enjoy this latest installment on its own. ~ Lisa Christie

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Ahhh, it’s time for summer camping and summer camps.  Whether your kids are going away by themselves or camping with the family, all kids will have more hours to read for pleasure during the brief weeks we call summer vacation.  To help you find the right books for your “campers”, we have selected our annual summer book picks for kids.  And no matter what your kids are doing, or whether you even have kids yourself, you might want to pick up one or two for yourself.  Enjoy!

Younger Campers

Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (June 2013)  – Fans of the Little House series are going to love this tale of Bo – an orphan adopted by two tough miners in 1920s Alaska.  The illustrations perfectly show both her exuberance and the wide variety of characters who inhabit a hard scrabble mining town in the Alaskan Bush. The prose is delightful as readers learn about mining camps, the hazards of Grizzlies, fourth of July celebrations and how Eskimos, Swedes, Finns, Russians, Creoles and others all mix together to form a town and many extended families.

The Expeditioners by Sarah Stewart Taylor (2012) – We have mentioned this before, but now it is a pick for Vermont’s prestigious DCF award for children’s literature, so we include it again here. This book introduces us to Kit the brain, M.K. the tinkerer, and Zander the brave — three siblings trying to figure out what happened to their father, an acclaimed explorer gone missing, and presumed dead.  Their other problem?  As they work to find their dad, evil government employees are after them.

The Runaway King by Jennifer Nielsen (2013) – The second book in Ms. Nielsen’s Ascendance trilogy, this time Jaron is the legitimate King with enemies all around.  Who can he trust?  What happened to his dearest friend and who is trying to kill him this time?  A truly satisfying installment in this series. The first book – The False Prince is in paperback now, and will cost less to mail if your kids have not yet started this trilogy.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012)I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” says August Pullman, a boy born with a facial deformity that has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Finally starting 5th grade at a prep school, he wants nothing more than to be treated as ordinary.  However, his classmates can’t quite let that happen.  The novel starts from August’s point of view, but switches to many others. The characters emerge changed, and you will too.

The Apprentices by Maile Meloy (June 2013)  – This second installment in Ms. Meloy’s Apothecary series takes up where book one left off, with Jane, Benjamin and Pip all having gone their separate ways. Pip stars in a BBC production; Jane is back in the USA with her parents attending boarding school in NH; and Benjamin is traveling with his apothecary father trying to contain the atom bomb, stalled in 1950s Asia.  What this book does well is bringing Cold War history to life, and creating characters readers care about.  Pre-teen readers will also like the romantic complications that occur as the trio reunites to stop evil from taking over the world.  As with Ms. Nielsen’s series, the first book in this exciting trilogy – Apothecary – is in paperback now.

Older Campers/Young Adults

 

Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth (2011) – I finally got around to reading this young adult novel because my niece had it at the beach.  And, while it is impossible to read this without thinking about The Hunger Games, or (as my sister said) without reading it while simultaneously casting the movie in your head, anyone who misses the novelty of The Hunger Games will love this dystopian series, with its heroine Beatrice and her friends Will, Christina and Tobias.

Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum (28 May 2013)  – I really need to remember to look to the PEN/Bellwether prize winners for socially engaged fiction whenever I need a good plot with great writing.  Alternating chapters and narrative voices, this latest winner looks at a “home” for kids with disabilities and their caregivers and their daily lives.  Throughout, you see their dreams and relationships blossom, fall apart and reconstruct.  The author use wry wit and humor to create memorable characters who live on in your head long after you finish reading the last page.  Billed as a young adult novel, adults will love it too.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013) – Set during one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits — both from he wrong side of the tracks and smart enough to know that first love rarely, if ever, lasts, but willing to try anyway. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own high school years, riding the school bus, any time you tried to fit in while figuring out who you were and your first love.  I truly believe that when the book ends you will think hard about children from the “other side of the tracks” and from family situations that are less than ideal.

Beautiful Creatures by Garcia and Stohl  (2009) – A gothic romance series for teens.  Lena Duchannes arrives in Gatlin, South Carolina making a statement with her clothes and the fact she lives with her extremely eccentric uncle (think To Kill A Mockingbird’s Boo Radley).  She also is dreading her 16th birthday for a variety of reasons.  Ethan Wate, born and bred in Gatlin, is from a family so established he does not have to worry about fitting in, he worries about getting out.  When they discover the voices they have been hearing in their respective heads are each others, a connection is formed and they work to change Lena’s fate.  Bonus — if you like this book, there are many others in this series.

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Summertime and the reading is easy….

Readers, it’s time to put those extra daylight hours to good use. What better way than with a book that like a big, strong wave sucks you in, pulls you under and spits you back out on the shores of life feeling entertained, transported, and ready for more fun?

But what makes for the perfect summer book?  Somehow, it seems that summertime reads should charm and delight more than those consumed during the colder seasons.  At this time of year, it’s nice to feel as if you’re reluctantly leaving a lovely garden party full of friends, gazing back longingly at all those interesting, lively guests you’re temporarily leaving behind when you put in a bookmark.  Summer reads shouldn’t require too much work from the reader (hence our title – “summertime and the reading is easy”); we think they feel that much more appropriate if they are placed in an “estival” (fancy word for having to do with summer) setting; and it’s definitely a plus if they elicit a chuckle or two.

So with these criteria in mind, some suggestions from us for your summer reading. Have fun riding the waves and turning those pages.

For A Summer Setting:

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead (May 2012) – This book most definitely meets the criteria of being set in summer – and on the clambake studded shores of a New England island no less. The humor is apparent from page one and the drama proceeds to unfold as the members of a WASP family gather for the wedding of an oldest, already pregnant – gasp!- daughter. All of the action in this character driven novel takes place over the course of three days while the guests and family alike act out, explore (and even consider breaking out of) their strictly prescribed roles. The different generations  and changing societal norms combine to make this a complicated romp through what should be a simple ceremony. Shipstead’s crisp writing is full of wry observations about tradition, the ties that bind, and the quest for everlasting love. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

For a Chuckle:

 Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray (June 2012)I am not sure what it says about my life that I related to and needed this book.  But, I so totally appreciated her humorous look at life in a family when the mother does not feel seen or heard by others.  The main character has superb self-awareness and humor, her overworked husband and two oblivious kids are sympathetic, and you will want a mother-in-law like the one in this novel.  If you are looking for a “beach” read that will have you smiling and maybe even appreciate yourself and others a bit more, look no further. ~ Lisa Christie

For when the Reading is Easy:

 The House of the Hunted by Mark Mills (June 2012) – We would describe this as Maisie Dobbs with an 007 edge, but it might turn off some potential audience members for this page-turning read.  So what it has: a strong main character – a former British Secret Service Agent who has retired at a young age to the coast of France; a great setting; Russians, Italians; a few sexual escapades; and some history of Europe between the two world wars.  A great thriller for your summer beach trips. ~ Lisa Christie

We have more great summer books and will post those descriptions in two weeks. Why wait?  Because we wanted to give you time to enjoy these selections first.

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