What do you look for in a good summer read? Many folks are so busy they want something fluffy, pithy or intensely engaging. Others want something meatier than their usual fare, and still others take advantage of the lazy long days to read the old classics, or summer published titles, books on a specific ‘summer’ subject, or even to just get caught up on the bestseller list. Here are a few ideas from the library staff and patrons to get you through the chaos, or calm, of summer:
“The Coroner’s Lunch” by Colin Cotterill
1970s Laos, National coroner of Laos, wry, crime drama, and historical context works.
“Laos, 1975. The Communist Pathet Lao has taken over this former French colony. Dr. Siri Paiboun, a 72-year-old Paris-trained doctor, is appointed national coroner. Although he has no training for the job, there is no one else; the rest of the educated class has fled.
He is expected to come up with the answers the party wants. But crafty and charming Dr.Siri is immune to bureaucratic pressure. At his age, he reasons, what can they do to him? And he knows he cannot fail the dead who come into his care without risk of incurring their boundless displeasure. Eternity could be a long time to have the spirits mad at you.”
“Divergent” by Veronica Roth
Future society in which U.S. population divided into 5 factions (Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, Amity, Erudite). 16-year-olds must choose one
(those who do not chose their family faction are “Transfers”) and survive the initiation
into their faction. For those who may have more than one faction trait, they are
considered Divergent, AND to be shunned, factionless, or worse. Beatrice only learns
about Divergents as the realities of her society emerge, and she must choose between
Faction or Family. Good stuff.
In the summer I like to read books that involve severe weather. It’s so much fun to sit on the porch and read about someone surviving a storm at sea or living through a winter blizzard. I just finished Above All Things by Tanis Rideout – it met my criteria perfectly.
“Above All Things” by Tanis Rideout
The Paris Wife meets Into Thin Air in this breathtaking debut novel of obsession and divided loyalties, which brilliantly weaves together the harrowing story of George Mallory’s ill-fated 1924 attempt to be the first man to conquer Mount Everest, with that of a single day in the life of his wife as she waits at home in England for news of his return.A captivating blend of historical fact and imaginative fiction, Above All Things moves seamlessly back and forth between the epic story of Mallory’s legendary final expedition and a heartbreaking account of a day in the life of Ruth Mallory. Through George’s perspective, and that of the newest member of the climbing team, Sandy Irvine, we get an astonishing picture of the terrible risks taken by the men on the treacherous terrain of the Himalaya. But it is through Ruth’s eyes that a complex portrait of a marriage emerges, one forged on the eve of the First World War, shadowed by its losses, and haunted by the ever-present possibility that George might not come home.
Drawing on years of research, this powerful and beautifully written novel is a timeless story of desire, redemption, and the lengths we are willing to go for honour, glory, and love.
I like to use summer as a time to really broaden my sights with my book selection. I tend to read things I wouldn’t normally open during the rest of the year, more experimental writings and YA. I also don’t have a lot of time, so graphic novels and short stories tend to be a mainstay in the warmer months. Here are a few titles that are on my Summer To-Read list.
The Graphic Canon, Vol. 3: From “Heart of Darkness” to Hemingway to “Infinite Jest”
“The classic literary canon meets the comics artists, illustrators, and other artists who have remade reading in Russ Kick’s magisterial, three-volume, full-color The Graphic Canon, volumes 1, 2, and 3.
Volume 3 brings to life the literature of the end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st, including a Sherlock Holmes mystery, an H.G. Wells story, an illustrated guide to the Beat writers, a one-act play from Zora Neale Hurston, a disturbing meditation on Naked Lunch, Rilke’s soul-stirring Letters to a Young Poet, Anaïs Nin’s diaries, the visions of Black Elk, the heroin classic The Man With the Golden Arm (published four years before William Burroughs’ Junky), and the postmodernism of Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, Kathy Acker, Raymond Carver, and Donald Barthelme.
The towering works of modernism are here–T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Waste Land,” Yeats’s “The Second Coming” done as a magazine spread, Heart of Darkness, stories from Kafka, The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf, James Joyce’s masterpiece,Ulysses, and his short story “Araby” from Dubliners, rare early work from Faulkner and Hemingway (by artists who have drawn for Marvel), and poems by Gertrude Stein and Edna St. Vincent Millay.
You’ll also find original comic versions of short stories by W. Somerset Maugham, Flannery O’Connor, and Saki (manga style), plus adaptations of Lolita (and everyone said it couldn’t be done!), The Age of Innocence, Siddhartha and Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Last Exit to Brooklyn, J.G. Ballard’s Crash, and photo-dioramas forAnimal Farm and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Feast your eyes on new full-page illustrations for 1984, Brave New World, Waiting for Godot,One Hundred Years of Solitude,The Bell Jar, On the Road, Lord of the Flies, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and three Borges stories.
Robert Crumb’s rarely seen adaptation of Nausea captures Sartre’s existential dread. Dame Darcy illustrates Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece, Blood Meridian, universally considered one of the most brutal novels ever written and long regarded as unfilmable by Hollywood. Tara Seibel, the only female artist involved with the Harvey Pekar Project, turns in an exquisite series of illustrations for The Great Gatsby. And then there’s the moment we’ve been waiting for: the first graphic adaptation from Kurt Vonnegut’s masterwork, Slaughterhouse-Five. Among many other gems.”
“Mermaid in Chelsea Creek” by Michelle Tea
“Cult memoirist and adult fiction author Tea (Valencia) makes her YA debut with a gripping, though bleakly imagined fantasy. Sophie Swankowski drifts along in the still and depressing backwater of Chelsea, Mass., numbing her pain by holding her breath by the creek until she passes out, along with her friend Ella. This becomes a dangerous but seductive game. In one such reverie, teetering between death and unconsciousness, Sophie awakens to see a mermaid, “unreal but unmistakable.” After Sophie’s mother learns of her daughter’s habits, she forces Sophie to work for her scary, mean grandmother in the local dump. A mysterious cast of characters leads Sophie on a bizarre and enchanting quest to uncover the truth about her identity. Even through the veil of magical realism, the world of Sophie’s adolescence remains ugly, hopeless, and suffocating, a mood that’s amplified by Polan’s b&w line drawings. Still, readers will be impelled to explore this tangled web of human beings and beasts while awaiting Sophie’s redemption, whatever form it may take.”
“Byzantium” by Ben Stroud.
From Publishers Weekly
I’ve been reading Jeffrey Archer’s “Clifton Chronicles.” So far there are three in the series – “Only Time Will Tell”, “Sins of the Father”, and “Best Kept Secret”. The first was good, a page turner, and the second, so far is as well. I’ve been told he didn’t finish the third one very well – but there are more to come, so maybe it won’t be too bad. They’re good summer reading! Also “A Land More Kind Than Home” and “The Uncommon Reader”. Both are amazing books, very different from the Archer, which are good but summer fluff. The former is the author’s first and is one of the three finalists for the Maine Readers’ Choice Award! Another really good one I keep recommending is “A Stranger in the Kingdom.”
“Only Time Will Tell (The Clifton Chronicles #1)” by Jeffrey Archer
From the internationally bestselling author of Kane and Abel and A Prisoner of Birth comes Only Time Will Tell, the first in an ambitious new series that tells the story of one family across generations, across oceans, from heartbreak to triumph.
The epic tale of Harry Clifton’s life begins in 1920, with the words “I was told that my father was killed in the war.” A dock worker in Bristol, Harry never knew his father, but he learns about life on the docks from his uncle, who expects Harry to join him at the shipyard once he’s left school. But then an unexpected gift wins him a scholarship to an exclusive boys’ school, and his life will never be the same again.
As he enters into adulthood, Harry finally learns how his father really died, but the awful truth only leads him to question, was he even his father? Is he the son of Arthur Clifton, a stevedore who spent his whole life on the docks, or the firstborn son of a scion of West Country society, whose family owns a shipping line?
This introductory novel in Archer’s ambitious series The Clifton Chronicles includes a cast of colorful characters and takes us from the ravages of the Great War to the outbreak of the Second World War, when Harry must decide whether to take up a place at Oxford or join the navy and go to war with Hitler’s Germany. From the docks of working-class England to the bustling streets of 1940 New York City, Only Time Will Tell takes readers on a journey through to future volumes, which will bring to life one hundred years of recent history to reveal a family story that neither the reader nor Harry Clifton himself could ever have imagined.
“A Land More Kind Than Home” by Wiley Cash
A stunning debut reminiscent of the beloved novels of John Hart and Tom Franklin, A Land More Kind Than Home is a mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small western North Carolina town.For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can’t help sneaking a look at something he’s not supposed to—an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess’s. It’s a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he’s not prepared. While there is much about the world that still confuses him, he now knows that a new understanding can bring not only a growing danger and evil—but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance as well.Told by three resonant and evocative characters—Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and moral conscience; and Clem Barefield, a sheriff with his own painful past—A Land More Kind Than Home is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all. These are masterful portrayals, written with assurance and truth, and they show us the extraordinary promise of this remarkable first novel.”
“The Uncommon Reader” by Alan Bennett
“A Stranger in the Kingdom” by Howard Frank Mosher
“Snapper” by Brian Kimberling
“The Shining Girls” by Lauren Beukes
THE GIRL WHO WOULDN’T DIE HUNTS THE KILLER WHO SHOULDN’T EXIST. The future is not as loud as war, but it is relentless. It has a terrible fury all its own.” Harper Curtis is a killer who stepped out of the past. Kirby Mazrachi is the girl who was never meant to have a future.Kirby is the last shining girl, one of the bright young women, burning with potential, whose lives Harper is destined to snuff out after he stumbles on a House in Depression-era Chicago that opens on to other times.At the urging of the House, Harper inserts himself into the lives of the shining girls, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He’s the ultimate hunter, vanishing into another time after each murder, untraceable-until one of his victims survives.Determined to bring her would-be killer to justice, Kirby joins theChicago Sun-Times to work with the ex-homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez, who covered her case. Soon Kirby finds herself closing in on the impossible truth . . .
THE SHINING GIRLS is a masterful twist on the serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing heroine in pursuit of a deadly criminal.
“The Valley of Decision” by Marcia Davenport
“On the eve of World War II writer Marcia Davenport, best known for her biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, spent several years in Pittsburgh, her imagination caught by the drama of American industry. In 1942, Charles Scribner’s sons published her Pittsburgh novel, The Valley of Decision. It was an instant success, and its story of four generations of the Scott family – owners and operators of a Pittsburgh iron and steel works – has captured the imagination of three generations of readers.
The story is absorbing and complex, chronicling the family fortunes from the economic panic of 1873 through the dramatic rise of American industry and trade unionism, though waves of immigration, class conflict, natural disaster, World War I, to Pearl Harbor.
The first portion of the narrative covers the period 1873-83, when ironmaster William Scott, founder of the Scott Iron Works, marched with American industrial progress and died at the hands of union agitators. The second section covers 1889-1929 and his son Paul, who inherits the mills and manages them well, embracing technology, the demands of the first World War, and an enlightened view of labor. Part Three (1933-41) is the book of Claire, great-granddaughter of William. Energetic, responsible, and worldy-wise, she fights to save the integrity of the family’s mills as they pass into the hands of corporation lawyers and bored Scott cousins. It is also Claire who expands the story to Eastern Europe, where, as an international journalist, she brings the horrifying events leading to World War II to the attention of an impassive America.
But the central character in the Scott family saga is Mary Rafferty, an Irish maid who, as the novel opens, enters the Scott household at the age of sixteen. Her sixty-eight years of service to the Scotts span the growth of the family’s mills and the vicissitudes of individual family members. Mary is an advisor and trusted equal of the younger generations of Scotts, particularly Paul, for whom she is a driving force and lifelong love. Mary sees beyond her station, perceptive in ways the wealthy Scotts are not. Her unswerving loyalty to them, and her fierce independence from them, make her the core and the conscience of the family and of the book.”
PUBLISHED THIS SUMMER
“Visitation Street” by Ivy Pochoda
From Publisher’s Weekly:
“Exquisitely written, Pochoda’s poignant second novel examines how residents of Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood deal with grief, urban development, loss, and teenage angst. In a fit of boredom, 15-year-old best friends Val Marino and June Giatto take a raft out on the bay one July evening, but only Val returns, her unconscious body washed up on the shore. June’s disappearance and what might have happened on the raft become the linchpin for Fadi, a Lebanese native who wants his bodega to be the pulse of neighborhood news; Jonathan Sprouse, a Julliard dropout with dark secrets; and 18-year-old Cree James, a kid from the projects who longs for a better life but remains stymied by his father’s murder. Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing) couples a raw-edged, lyrical look at characters’ innermost fears with an evocative view of Red Hook, a traditionally working-class area of Brooklyn undergoing gentrification that still struggles with racism and the aftermath of drug violence. By the end, the gap between “the front” of Red Hook with its well-tended streets near the waterfront and “the back” with its housing projects remains wide. Agent: Kim Witherspoon at Inkwell Management.”
“One Thousand and One Nights” by Hanan al-Shaykh.
From Publisher’s Weekly
“For this retelling of the classic Arabic tales, Beirut-born al-Shaykh translated 19 of the originals and, beginning with its traditional frame story, embeds narrative within narrative to create a striking new version. To counter “the cunning and deceit of women,” King Shahrayar beds a new wife each night only to have her killed in the morning. But his vizier’s daughter, Shahrazad, vows to save the kingdom’s girls by marrying the king and then telling him stories that so enthrall him that he can’t kill her. From that opening, the stories build and fold in on themselves until we find ourselves back at the beginning. These stories pulse with sex, magic, and moral ambiguities; while terrible violence underscores moments of pure beauty. Guests are invited into a home only to encounter terrible cruelty; a woman becomes king so she can be a beacon for her lost love; a man plucks his eye for the pain he caused his family. Why retread such well-worn territory? In her foreword al-Shaykh (Women of Sand and Myrrh) speaks of rediscovering her own Arab roots while recognizing the power these ancient women held. Suprising and delightful, al-Shaykh’s masterful work has restored the tale to contemporary relevance.”
“Modern Art Desserts: Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Confections, and Frozen Treats Based on Iconic Works of Art”
Review from NPR
“The children’s author Maurice Sendak said that one of the highest compliments he’s ever received came from the mother of a little boy who had written to Sendak, and received an original drawing in return. The little boy loved it so much that he ate it. “He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.” Sometimes it isn’t enough to just look at a beautiful work of art. From Matisse parfait to Diebenkorn trifle, the desserts in this whimsical cookbook were inspired by the works on the walls of San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art. Caitlin Freeman, the book’s author and the pastry chef in SFMOMA’s cafe, decided to become a baker after seeing the cake paintings of Wayne Thiebaud. Her Mondrian cake, with its perfect De Stijl blocks of yellow, blue, red and white, pieced together with chocolate ganache, is a triumph — the coolest Mondrian interpretation since Yves Saint Laurent’s 1965 Mondrian shift dress. (Actually making the cake involves rulers and wire racks and specialty cake pans and, well, patience, but the batter tasted great.)”