For some reason, summertime lends itself to a different kind of reading. Many of us are on the go and find ourselves with stretches of time – sometimes brief ones – that beg to be filled with a pleasurable book. Long hours traveling in a car, waiting in an airport, or relaxing in the sun are all perfect opportunities to get lost in a good story. But the nature of this beast called Summer demands books that are engaging enough to hold our attention, yet without the extreme complexity that keeps us flipping back to previous pages to remember characters and events.
As a lifelong reader, my own love of literature and my interest in many different genres prompted me several years ago to keep journals, documenting and reviewing each book I completed. It is from these journals that I draw my suggestions for your summer reading enjoyment. So whether you are a die-hard reader like myself – carrying a book wherever you go – or an occasional reader looking for a welcome distraction during these lazy summer days, I hope the following list of ideas will offer you the perfect escape!
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – This book is a wonderful cross between adult and YA literature, and the story is lovely: An embittered widower and owner of a bookstore discovers love and purpose through two unexpected events – the theft of a valuable book and the appearance of an abandoned child. Book-lovers will appreciate the numerous references to literary titles as the story unfolds. The characters themselves seem drawn from real life, and their interactions will wrap themselves around your heart.
The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian – This book is not for the timid or easily offended, as it deals with the sex trade industry. While the story is extremely disturbing, it also challenges readers to open their eyes to a sad and complex social tragedy. Imagine the worst day of your life, and then multiply it by ten. A successful, happily married husband and father throws a bachelor party for his brother. What follows is a series of nightmarish events that fall on one another like dominoes. In the end, we are haunted by the consequences of a single bad decision.
Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos – I am a fan of this author and her extraordinary ability to tap into the heart of human nature. Her story follows the life of Charlie Marlow, a divorced teacher and father to Cody, his autistic son. Charlie’s struggle to make peace with his past and find meaning in the present is one we all can relate to. As is typical of her style, Kallos presents us with characters who are broken, damaged, and in need of grace and redemption – like each one of us.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – This book was just plain fun! Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant genetic researcher on the Asperger’s spectrum whose scientific approach to life is nothing short of hilarious. Enter Rosie, an applicant to Don’s Find-a-Wife project, whose habits, personality, and outspoken character fit none of Don’s criteria. What ensues is a comic, perfectly paced story. The writing is smart and witty, the characters themselves endearing, and while we may predict the ending, it is the only one we want.
The Waiting by Cathy La Grow – This true story is a great read for those who enjoy history and local culture. In 1928, sixteen-year-old Minka Van Zee, the daughter of Dutch immigrants, is raped during an innocent outing at a lake. Leaving her home in Aberdeen, South Dakota, in disgrace, she gives birth in a Sioux Falls hospital and agrees to an adoption. Over the next eighty years, Minka holds onto a single photo of the child she named Betty Jane, for whom she prays daily, until a miracle happens. This is a beautiful story of love, loss, and redemption.
The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman – This gem of a book is both a mystery and a character novel. Two sisters, Natalie and Alice, are drawn into magnetism of young artist Thomas Bayber whose relationship with the sisters sets in motion a future filled with heartache and jealousy. The novel uses flashbacks and alternate narrators to tell the story, offering clues along the way to carefully guarded secrets. Add to this the discovery of a hidden painting and the search for its companion, which ultimately will reveal the truth.
Still Life by Louise Penny – If you have not yet discovered the Inspector Gamache series, introduced with this book, then you are missing out. In Still Life, we are introduced to the delightful small Canadian town of Three Pines, its lovable residents, and our main guy, quiet and wise Armand Gamache. As he conducts his murder investigation, we are led through all the delicious twists and turns of a well-written crime novel. The added bonus is Penny’s gift of storytelling as she transports us to this fictional town, allowing us to experience the warmth and sense of community that is nearly tangible.
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – This adult novel by the author of Eleanor and Park is one I read in a single day, simply because I could not put it down. Meet Lincoln, an awkward and lonely IT guy who monitors employee e-mails at a local paper for inappropriate content. When he stumbles upon correspondence between good friends, Beth and Jennifer, he is soon drawn into their lives and secrets. The characters are so real, and the story itself timely in this age of digital information. Expect laugh-out-loud dialogue in this perfect summer read.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce – This story of Harold Fry, a lonely man disillusioned with his forty-seven year marriage, is a story of love and redemption. He and his wife, Maureen, are characters who live and breathe within the pages of this book. As Harold treks across England, alone and on foot, both he and Maureen take an emotional journey as well, seeking what they both seem to have lost. There is humor in this story and in the characters who join Harold along the way. But the strength of this book is in the relatable and universal struggle for forgiveness that carries us to the end.
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma – I end this list with a book close to my heart, partly because I had the privilege of meeting and conversing with the author, but mostly because this is simply a powerful, beautifully written novel. Set in Nigeria, the story traces the lives of four brothers whose lives take a drastic turn when the village madman, Abulu, issues a devastating prophecy. Obioma’s writing is stunning – rich in imagery and evocative language. Brotherhood, innocence, family, revenge, and forgiveness wind their way through this unforgettable and haunting story.