Ah, summer. The ultimate time to lounge around with a book. A book to read while floating in the pool, lying on a beach, lolling in the grass, lazing in bed. A book for all occasions!
For many people, summer books are synonymous with “beach reads,” aka books that are super easy to get into and to understand and books that will compel you to keep reading. Personally, I prefer more of a mix to my summer reading list: a little historical fiction here, a little juicy romance there, sprinkled with a few diverse titles that bridge many categories. To help get the ball rolling on your summer reading plans, I have some suggestions, arranged by category, for your reading enjoyment. Peruse away, and be sure to let me know what titles worked for you—or didn’t!
A Massachusetts classic! Before I moved here, I kept hearing the name Whitey Bulger, and I had no idea who this person was or what he famous for, but I had the strange idea that he was some kind of folk hero. Then I read Black Mass. Friends: Whitey Bulger is no folk hero. He is a bad, bad man. This story is written in a somewhat cheesy crime writer style that occasionally made me cringe, but no matter — the story is crazy enough to forgive that detail and hold your attention from start to finish. Read it just in time for the forthcoming movie, starring Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger. To summarize a very long and detailed story quickly: Whitey Bulger was (is?) an Irish mobster and murdered based in South Boston, who terrorized his community and worked as an informant for the FBI in an attempt to bring down a Mafia family invading his turf. If all of this sounds familiar, the well known film The Departed was a slightly fictionalized version of the Whitey Bulger story. Black Mass is a completely absorbing tale that promises to freak you out if you are unfamiliar with the details and especially if you happen to call Boston your home.
We were Liars by E. Lockhart
A breathless read that keeps you guessing from page one and is almost guaranteed to surprise you at the end. I thought I had it all figured out for most of the story and turned out to be completely wrong. Cadence Sinclair Easten comes from a big wealthy family who spend every summer on their private island. We Were Liars tells the story of these many summers, dancing around one particular summer that Cadence seems unable to remember. Something happened, but what? Haunting, original and written in E. Lockhart’s lyrical prose, We Were Liars is the perfect book to read on vacation. But make sure you bring a second book, because you will blow through this one in no time.
Hole in my Life by Jack Gantos
Known to many as the beloved author of award winning books for children, including the Rotten Ralph and Jack Henry series, Jack Gantos lead an incredibly interesting and winding life prior to finding success as a writer. As a teenager living in South Florida and St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands, young Jack struggled to find his way and often found himself getting in trouble and failing at school. While in St. Croix, he makes the poor decision to sail a boat stuffed with hash up the East Coast in exchange for $10,000. The trip goes badly and Jack finds himself in jail. What was that experience like and how did it shape him into the Newberry Award winning writer he is today? The excellent Hole in My Life will answer all your questions. Consider listening to this one on audio book, as Gantos reads it himself and his voice and mannerisms are pretty great.
Novels: Super sweet, well done and fun
I’ll Give you the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Twins Jude and Noah, once inseparable, have become increasingly estranged following the tragic death of their mother in a car accident. Each twin is enmeshed in a web of confusion and excitement as they explore new paths in their lives and come to terms with some buried secrets and revelations about themselves and their lost mother. Told in their alternating voices, both of which soar with a unique and individual style, I’ll Give you the Sun offers a multi-layered story full of empathy and anger and love and fear and, ultimately a sense of happiness and peace. This lovely novel also offers a great perspective on what it means to be an artist.
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
This awesomely eccentric and unique novel brings to mind the world of filmmaker Wes Anderson (The Royal Tennenbaums, Rushmore) and the quirky charm of the television show Glee. The story takes place entirely within the walls of the grand old Bellweather Hotel. When Minnie Graves was ten years old, she witnessed a gruesome murder suicide at the hotel and has never quite recovered. Fifteen years later, she has returned on the anniversary of the incident, at the same time a big statewide annual music conference is happening, bringing a whole slew of interesting characters to the hotel. Stuffed with an array of fascinating characters, who –wait for it– are unexpectedly snowed in at the hotel, Bellweather Rhapsody unfolds like an old fashioned murder mystery, with plot twists and long-buried secrets and even a showdown involving the hotel pool. Great fun! I highly recommend.
Novels: Fizzy, sexy, fun. No brainers.
Austenland by Shannon Hale
Thirty-two year old Jane Hayes is Jane Austen (and Mr. Darcy) obsessed–to an unhealthy degree, and her loved ones are starting to worry. When her great aunt dies and leaves her an all-expenses paid vacation to Pembrook Park, a British resort where guests live like characters in Jane Austen’s novels, Jane finally has the chance to live her dream. The result is hilarious and sweet and particularly entertaining for all you Colin Firth / Mr. Darcy fans out there. Be sure to watch the equally funny film version after you’ve read the book!
The Royal We by Jessica Morgan and Heather Cocks
A thinly disguised story of Princess Kate and Prince William’s courtship and wedding. Although a few changes have been made (our heroine is American, with a twin sister), the story is very recognizable for anyone who knows even a little bit about the adored royal couple in England. This breezy beach read follows the two and their endearing group of friends as they meet at Oxford and proceed to navigate the rough terrain of a paparazzi-stalked relationship, in which appearances are everything. Fun, easy and sure to deliver the ending you hope for.
Novels: Rambling but absorbing family drama with a New England component.
Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
I am an avowed van of Sullivan, whose book Commencement, I raved about a few posts ago. She is a writer to watch – that perfect mix of absorbing family drama and literary skill. Maine tells the story of four Kelleher women as they navigate their last summer in the family beach house: Alice the matriarch who reminisces about her past and has trouble accepting all of the changes in her family and the world around her; Maggie, Alice’s 32 year old granddaughter who has just discovered she is pregnant but has yet to tell her sporadic boyfriend; Maggie’s mother Kathleen, who has abandoned New England for a new life in California; and Ann-Marie, Alice’s daughter-in-law, an uptight, quietly suffering wife who is determined to keep up appearances. Jumping back and forth in time and moving easily among several narrative voices, Sullivan brings a compelling and sympathetic eye to everyone she writes about. The perfect tale to read whilst lounging nightly with a glass of wine.
Novel: the classic
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
The summer is a great time to tackle a classic and John Steinbeck’s glorious novel East of Eden is a perfect choice, particularly if you don’t think of yourself as a reader of classics. Set in California during the first part of the 20th century, East of Eden follows the intertwined lives of two families–particularly two brothers who are in love with the same woman. Echoing the story of Cain and Abel, this gorgeous novel was the first Steinbeck I’d ever read and I was blown away and almost saddened that I had waited so long to read his work. His sentences are works of art, with each word carefully and exquisitely chosen. You feel like you are reading something profound yet approachable. Steinbeck’s prose goes down easy and you will feel genuine sadness when the story is over, for his writing makes you want to stay in his company forever.