I’m going to trust that you know what I mean by a “Summer Read” and I don’t have to explain it to you. If you’re clever enough to realize there are certain foods that go with each season you’re clever enough to realize there are certain books that are the same.
Beef Stew with dumplings and a dark ale? It takes a long time to make, simmers away, is fairly complex and it fills you up quickly so you can only eat so much of it at a time. THAT’S a winter meal.
Cold, seared steak salad with maybe a light mayo citrus dressing and a wealth of tender spring greens? You can whip it up quickly, it’s completely satisfying but you could eat it and eat it and eat it without getting overly full … always wanting one more bite. THAT’S a summer meal.
For me books are the same.
A winter book is one that’s a bit complex, takes some thinking and promises to keep me entertained for the better part of one of the season’s long, dark months in front of the fire. Think literary fiction like Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Atwood, John Irving and Donna Tartt.
A summer book is one that’s the equivalent of a summer meal … it’s light and fast to consume. You don’t savour it like a winter book, you barrel through the page turner, flecking the pages with Cheezie fingerprints and bits of sand. Think Stephen King, Sophie Kinsella, Maeve Binchy and Janet Evanovich.
I sure am glad I didn’t have to explain that to you.
Sometimes, the odd time, the two worlds collide and you get the holy grail of books, a book that’s BOTH a winter and summer book. We in book reading circles refer to that as a Wummer. It has the substance and literary quality of a winter book, but the page turning lightness of a summer book. A Wummer.
Fine, I am the only one who calls it that and I actually only made the term of seconds ago but I think it’s a keeper. I think it’s high time I invented another word. As a blogger I feel it’s kind of my obligation to start new, catchy trends. I haven’t had a real hit since I came up with the phrase “What choo talkin’ about Willis?”.
In no particular order my list of potential summer reads for you. If there’s an asterix beside the title it means I’ve read the book (and loved it).
(Except this first one which I just finished reading and really loved and truly is the absolute BEST summer/beach read.)
At first I was a bit hesitant about a book that thought a Reese Witherspoon endorsement was the way to impress me.
Mystery novelist Leonora—known as Nora and Lee, depending on whom she’s speaking with—lives a solitary but comfortable life in London based around a predictable routine: coffee, run, shower, write, repeat. She’s checking email one day when she comes across an invitation to a hen weekend for Clare Cavendish, a friend from childhood whom she hasn’t spoken to or seen for a decade. After some urging by a mutual friend, Nora (Lee?) reluctantly decides to go, and finds herself at a mysterious house with a group of near-strangers, deep in the forest far from the city.
Quickly, old rivalries and new relationships bubble to the surface and the weekend turns darkly violent, leaving Nora (Lee?) battered and bruised in a hospital bed. As she struggles to reconstruct the sequence of events that brought her there, secrets emerge about her past and her present that force her to question everything she knows about herself and everyone she’s ever loved.
I have no idea if this cover is meant to be ironic.
Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
SUCH a great read.
I don’t care if you’ve seen the movie or not, if you haven’t read the book, you should.
An island off Costa Rica will soon be the world’s most ambitious theme park–a dinosaur preserve. A visionary financier’s biotechnology company has succeeded in cloning these extinct reptiles. Fifteen different species, presumably incapable of breeding, are now placidly roaming around, but Jurassic Park’s resident mathematician, an expert in chaos theory, predicts that the animals’ behavior is inherently unstable. When a rival genetics firm attempts to steal frozen dinosaur embryos, things go haywire. Two cute American kids, eight-year-old Tina and 11-year-old Tim, a safari guide from Kenya and a Denver paleontologist set things aright–almost. Though the dinosaurs here are more interesting than the people, Crichton ( The Andromeda Strain ) ingeniously interweaves details of genetic engineering, computer wizardry and current scientific controversy over dinosaurs to fashion a scary, creepy, mesmerizing techno-thriller with teeth. It can be read as a thought-provoking fable about technological hubris and the hazards of bioengineering. ~ from Publisher’s Weekly
The Hunger Games* (the series)
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. ~ from Amazon
East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England’s brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha’s husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent sabre rattling over the Balkans won’t come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master.
When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more free thinking – and attractive – than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing.
But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape, and the colourful characters that populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha’s reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war.
A Confederacy of Dunces was written by John Kennedy Toole in his early 20’s while serving in the army.
His novel was rejected by all publishers, the final rejection from Simon & Schuster in 1966. In 1969 at the age of 31 Toole committed suicide. After several years of trying herself, Toole’s mother finally found someone willing to publish the novel.
In 1981 A Confederacy of Dunces won the Pulitzer Prize.
Meet Ignatius J. Reilly, the hero of John Kennedy Toole’s tragicomic tale, A Confederacy of Dunces. This 30-year-old medievalist lives at home with his mother in New Orleans, pens his magnum opus on Big Chief writing pads he keeps hidden under his bed, and relays to anyone who will listen the traumatic experience he once had on a Greyhound Scenicruiser bound for Baton Rouge. (“Speeding along in that bus was like hurtling into the abyss.”) But Ignatius’s quiet life of tyrannizing his mother and writing his endless comparative history screeches to a halt when he is almost arrested by the overeager Patrolman Mancuso–who mistakes him for a vagrant–and then involved in a car accident with his tipsy mother behind the wheel. One thing leads to another, and before he knows it, Ignatius is out pounding the pavement in search of a job.
Over the next several hundred pages, our hero stumbles from one adventure to the next. His stint as a hotdog vendor is less than successful, and he soon turns his employers at the Levy Pants Company on their heads. Ignatius’s path through the working world is populated by marvelous secondary characters: the stripper Darlene and her talented cockatoo; the septuagenarian secretary Miss Trixie, whose desperate attempts to retire are constantly, comically thwarted; gay blade Dorian Greene; sinister Miss Lee, proprietor of the Night of Joy nightclub; and Myrna Minkoff, the girl Ignatius loves to hate. The many subplots that weave through A Confederacy of Dunces are as complicated as anything you’ll find in a Dickens novel, and just as beautifully tied together in the end. But it is Ignatius–selfish, domineering, and deluded, tragic and comic and larger than life–who carries the story. He is a modern-day Quixote beset by giants of the modern age. His fragility cracks the shell of comic bluster, revealing a deep streak of melancholy beneath the antic humor. John Kennedy Toole committed suicide in 1969 and never saw the publication of his novel. Ignatius Reilly is what he left behind, a fitting memorial to a talented and tormented life. –Alix Wilber
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo* (series)
An addictive series. Be warned though, the author died and the publisher has now hired someone else to continue writing the series. The first 3 books are the only ones written by the original author and they are the ones worth reading. The continuation books in the series, written by David Lagercrant are good but they aren’t Stieg Larsson.
Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families disappeared over forty years ago. All these years later, her aged uncle continues to seek the truth. He hires Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently trapped by a libel conviction, to investigate. He is aided by the pierced and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander. Together they tap into a vein of unfathomable iniquity and astonishing corruption.
The Guardian literally describes this as “A book for the beach”.
As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.
Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.
On a damp October night, the body of young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. By all appearances her death is a suicide–but investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. Though much has been written about the dark and unsettling films of Ashley’s father, Stanislas Cordova, very little is known about the man himself. As McGrath pieces together the mystery of Ashley’s death, he is drawn deeper and deeper into the dark underbelly of New York City and the twisted world of Stanislas Cordova, and he begins to wonder–is he the next victim? In this novel, the dazzlingly inventive writer Marisha Pessl offers a breathtaking mystery that will hold you in suspense until the last page is turned.
This Agatha Christie classic is widely considered to be the best murder mystery ever written.
Ten strangers, apparently with little in common, are lured to an island mansion off the coast of Devon by the mysterious U.N.Owen. Over dinner, a record begins to play, and the voice of an unseen host accuses each person of hiding a guilty secret. That evening, former reckless driver Tony Marston is found murdered by a deadly dose of cyanide.
The tension escalates as the survivors realise the killer is not only among them but is preparing to strike again… and again…
I cannot, cannot wait to read this.
Sometimes a dress isn’t just a dress.
Emilia Brown is a woman of a certain age. She has spent a frugal, useful, and wholly restrained life in Ashville, a small town in Rhode Island. Overlooked especially by the industries of fashion and media, Mrs. Brown is one of today’s silent generations of women whose quiet no-frills existences would make them seem invisible. She is a genteel woman who has known her share of personal sorrows and quietly carried on, who makes a modest living cleaning and running errands at the local beauty parlor, who delights in evening chats with her much younger neighbor, twenty-three-year-old Alice Danvers.
When the grand dame of Ashville passes away, Mrs. Brown is called upon to inventory her estate and comes across a dress that changes everything. The dress isn’t a Cinderella confection; it’s a simple yet exquisitely tailored Oscar de la Renta sheath and jacket—a suit that Mrs. Brown realizes, with startling clarity, will say everything she has ever wished to convey. She must have it. And so, like the inspired heroine of Paul Gallico’s 1958 classic Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, Mrs. Brown begins her odyssey to purchase the dress. For not only is the owning of the Oscar de la Renta a must, the intimidating trip to purchase it on Madison Avenue is essential as well. If the dress is to give Mrs. Brown a voice, then she must prepare by making the daunting journey—both to the emerald city and within herself.
I’ve recommended this before and I’m recommending it again.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is a now-classic novel about two women: Evelyn, who’s in the sad slump of middle age, and gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode, who’s telling her life story. Her tale includes two more women—the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth—who back in the thirties ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, offering good coffee, southern barbecue, and all kinds of love and laughter—even an occasional murder. And as the past unfolds, the present will never be quite the same again.
To be honest the description of this book didn’t sell me but the fact that it has such a high reader rating did.
On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the stunning and mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing very intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage that’s going stale and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. Ted and his wife were a mismatch from the start—he the rich businessman, she the artistic free spirit—a contrast that once inflamed their passion, but has now become a cliché.
But their game turns a little darker when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.” After all, some people are the kind worth killing, like a lying, stinking, cheating spouse. . . .
Back in Boston, Ted and Lily’s twisted bond grows stronger as they begin to plot Miranda’s demise. But there are a few things about Lily’s past that she hasn’t shared with Ted, namely her experience in the art and craft of murder, a journey that began in her very precocious youth.
Suddenly these co-conspirators are embroiled in a chilling game of cat-and-mouse, one they both cannot survive . . . with a shrewd and very determined detective on their tail.
Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.
One June day, an old book arrives on Simon’s doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of “mermaids” in Simon’s family have drowned–always on July 24, which is only weeks away.
As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon’s family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?
There are good moms and bad moms—and then there are hot-mess moms. Introducing Ashley Keller, career girl turned stay-at-home mom who’s trying to navigate the world of Pinterest-perfect, Facebook-fantastic and Instagram-impressive mommies but failing miserably.
When Ashley gets the opportunity to participate in the Motherhood Better boot camp run by the mommy-blog-empire maven she idolizes, she jumps at the chance to become the perfect mom she’s always wanted to be. But will she fly high or flop?
With her razor-sharp wit and knack for finding the funny in everything, Bunmi Laditan creates a character as flawed and lovable as Bridget Jones or Becky Bloomwood while hilariously lambasting the societal pressures placed upon every new mother. At its heart, Ashley’s story reminds moms that there’s no way to be perfect, but many ways to be great.
Whether you have a lot of time to read and relax this summer or just a few moments when you lock the kids in a cupboard and chain your husband to the hot water tank, there’s sure to be something for you here.
I’ll probably mash a winter read into the mix this summer because I get a bit bored with frivolous reading. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get lucky and one of the books I’ve listed will turn out to be the elusive … Wummer.
Have a good weekend, I’ll be off on Monday because it’s Canada’s FIRST long weekend of the summer! See you on Wednesday.