Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Good Summer Books

Deer Isle, Maine

The best summer books are fun, easy reads but still well written. They must have appealing characters, good pace and sensuous details. Humor helps too. Below, I’ve compiled a list of recent titles for adults, teens and tweens. Enjoy!

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (historical fiction, 2010)
David Mitchell is one of my absolute favorite authors. In his fifth novel, we travel back to Japan at the turn of the 18th century. The Dutch hold the only Western trading post on an island in Nagasaki Harbor. Jacob de Zoet is a young clerk hoping to make enough money to marry his sweetheart back home. The corruption and depravity of his co-workers shock this son of a minister. Orito Aibagawa, a scarred midwife apprenticing with a Dutch doctor, wins Jacob’s admiration. He wants to save her, but this independent woman has other plans.

Mitchell’s plot stretches to almost Stephen King extremes and at other times gets bogged down in historical detail, but it’s all well researched. This fascinating novel defies expectations and stays true to Japanese culture. My husband, who teaches Japanese Politics at Bowdoin College, enjoyed this book too, now available in paperback. Our two favorites of Mitchell's works are Black Swan Green set in 1980's Britain and the genre bending linked stories of Cloud Atlas.

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin (commercial fiction, 2010)
I expected a novel written by a comedian to be funny, but I did not expect to be blown away by his mastery of art and the New York art scene. The narrator, Daniel, is a journalist obsessed with a beautiful, smart and manipulative woman. Lacey starts at Sotherby’s and works/sleeps/cheats her way to opening her own gallery in Chelsea at the turn of millennium.

Martin’s story follows a loose memoir style and lacks resolution. Although not especially well crafted, this novel is still easy to read or to listen to on CD as I did. The author is an art collector, owning an impressive collection of Hopper paintings and was himself a victim of an art hoax. An Object of Beauty offers an insider’s glimpse into the high-end art collectors’ world.

Looking for Alaska by John Green (YA fiction for older teens, 2005)
“Pudge” is the new kid at a boarding school in Alabama. He’s a skinny, thoughtful boy obsessed with final last words and the meaning of life and death. He falls hard for wild child Alaska, who introduces him to smoking, drinking, pranks and oral sex. Despite the racy content, this Printz Prize winner delivers a strong moral message in the tradition of Catcher in the Rye. Green’s first novel would be a good choice for teenaged boys especially. It’s one of my favorites and would cross over well to an adult audience. Paperback. I plan to read more of Green's young adult novels.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (YA fiction, 2010)
This teen romance is much better than its embarrassing title and odd premise: an American girl goes to an Americans-only boarding school in Paris for senior year. Why ban the French if the setting is Paris? The best character is half American, ¼ French and ¼ British. Étienne St. Clair is every girl’s dream: attractive, sweet, sensitive and smart. Unfortunately St. Clair has a girlfriend and Anna has a boyfriend back home. They develop a wonderful friendship and explore the beautiful city together. This most sensuous novel will make you drool for Paris. My 13-year-old daughter enjoyed Perkins’ impressive debut as much as I did. It’s been a big hit with YA book bloggers too. Currently in hardback or ebook and available in paperback in August.

A Match Made in High School by Kritsin Walker (YA fiction, 2009)
For senior year, all students are randomly paired in fake marriages for credit. Nerdy Fiona must “Tie The Knot” with Todd, a popular jock, in order to graduate. Her rainbow pride mom organizes the parents in protest. This debut novel is laugh-out-loud funny and has many compelling characters. I loved the multi-faceted relationship Fiona forms with Todd that breaks all stereotypes. A Match Made in High School is a hilarious satire delivered in a true teen voice. Thanks, Keri Mikulski, for the recommendation. Paperback. I love the cover too.

Doggirl by Robin Brande (lower YA fiction for tweens, 2011)
Although this novel is set in high school, its innocence makes it a better match for younger readers aged 10-13. The central romance is not physical and even the flirty seniors never do more than kiss. Note that Doggirl is available on ebook and supposedly a print version is due out this month.

Riley has moved to a new town after being bullied in junior high, although the incident seemed too mild to warrant a transfer. I was puzzled that Riley was not receiving help as her social ineptitude and obsessive knowledge of dogs seemed to point to Asperger’s Syndrome. Still, Riley was a sympathetic character and her dogs were as lovable as Lassie and James Harriot’s pack. Riley’s talent shines when she trains her 3 dogs to perform in a school play competition. The acting and dog training scenes were fun even if the play itself was a clunker. I always enjoy Brande’s engaging blend of science and humor.
In this Doggirl excerpt the teen director is talking to his actors: “’Remember,’ Danny said, ‘if you look stupid, I look stupid. But mainly you look stupid.’”
Reviewers Disclaimer: Doggirl was given to me by the author to review. All other books were purchased by me without compensation.

Deer Isle, Maine

What’s in my beach bag:

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (historical fiction, 2011)
A fictional account set on Martha’s Vineyard Island of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. Hardcover at Gulf of Maine Books.

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (debut historical fiction, 2011)
Architecture, romance and genocide in World War II Paris. At over 600 pages, this hefty book was a good choice for my Kindle.

Show Me Good Land by Shonna Milliken Humphrey (debut Maine fiction, 2011)
A murder story with quirky characters set in a town in rural Maine. Hardcover gift from my friend Charlotte Agell.

The Pleasing Hour by Lily King (literary fiction, Maine author, 1999)
An American au pair in France uncovers dark family secrets. Paperback from  Gulf of Maine Books.

The Dairy Queen trilogy by Catherine Gilbert-Murdock (YA series 2007-11)
A farmer girl wants to join the boys’ football team like her older brothers.  Kindle ebooks.

Wither by Lauren DeStefano (debut dystopian YA series, 2011)
A girl bride is kidnapped in a world where no one of her generation lives past 25. Kindle ebook.

Note: I’m taking a blog vacation for the first half of summer. I don’t believe I’ve taken more than a week off at a time in 4 ½ years of blogging. I’ll be back recharged. Next post: July 20th.

What are your recommendations for summer reading? Please leave them in a comment or a post and I’ll add links.

More Summer Reading Posts:


Beth Kephart said...

happy reading and happy journeying! thank you for your recommendations. you have such a good eye.

Rose said...

Thanks for some excellent reading recommendations, Sarah. After a very busy spring, I'm ready to kick back and relax from the heat with some good books for awhile. "Show Me Good Land" and "The Pleasing Hour" sound intriguing. First on my list, though, will be Ken Follett's "Fall of Giants." I've been wanting to read it for a long time--it may take me half the summer to finish it:)

David Cranmer said...

We have a very good friend who lives in Deer Isle. Beautiful. I love driving over the bridge and causeway to get there.

And thank you for the book recommendations, Sarah.

tina said...

Good suggestions for reading. Since it is so hot here staying inside and reading and blogging are good hobbies to have now.

Cid said...

Lovely photo, we have one on our dining room wall of Deer Isle by Harry de Zitter. And thank you for all the summer reading suggestions. I am looking forward to "Room" by Emma Donoghue and "After Tehran" by Marina Nehmat. Loved "Orange is the New Black" by Piper Kerman, "Annabel" by Kathleen Winter and "Left Neglected" by Lisa Genova. Have a great blog break.

Keri Mikulski said...


Enjoy your blog break and books. :) xo

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

The David Mitchell appeals. Have a good summer Sarah.

A Cuban In London said...

I've had that Martin book on my amazon list for a while now, since it came out last year, I think.

Thanks for your recommendations.

Greetings from London.

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Hello Sarah

I wish you a great summer with much reading!

My book list for the summer is: "The Sea Captians Wife" and "The Doll" short stories by Daphne Du Maurier. I have finished "Miles to Go" by Richard Paul Evans for my bookclub. I have also got on my list "Left Neglected."

Take Care and stay safe.

Tracy :)

SG said...

Thanks for the recommendations. I am not a reading spree and will look to read at least a couple of books from the list above.

khaki said...

Thanks for the rec's. Have a great vacation!!!

septembermom said...

Thanks for the book recommendations. Have a wonderful summer break :) Enjoy!

Les said...

Thank you for the recommendations, I am always looking for good suggestions.

I just finished reading Kathryn Stockett's, The Help. I like historical fiction and Southern fiction, and the world depicted in this book was distantly familiar to me. I know it's cliched to say, but I could not put the book down.

I am the next person on my library's list to get a copy of Patti Smith's, Just Kids. Hopefully that will be the next book I read.

Donna said...

I look forward to your review of Caleb's Crossing (if you do one); that one is on my "To Read" list. I really enjoyed Brooks' book "The People of the Book." I think she writes very good historical fiction.
Have a wonderful summer and enjoy the blog break!

troutbirder said...

I'm afraid a book can't make me "drool for Paris" as I do that all the time on my own. The "Invisible Bridge" sounds good. Strange mixes like architecture, romance and genocide must appeal to me. Six hundred pages doesn't hurt either. For my recommendation Erik Larson's "In The Garden Of Beasts" is very good.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh, you know I loved this!! Excellent choices and of course I've added to my already overdone list! And you are a dear to mention my list as well! Thank you!
Summer is such a happy time for us readers, isn't it?

cynthia newberry martin said...

I love summer reading. And winter reading, and ...

Thanks for the recommendations. I loved The Pleasing Hour.

Have a well-filling vacation from blogging!

Cat said...

Sarah I just melt into your photographs. These are exceptional. Enjoy your break - I look forward to July 20!

☆sapphire said...

WOW! The first book by David Mitchell sounds very intriguing! I really love to read historical fictions. Dejima, Nagasaki means that the novel is set in the Edo period. I'll place an order online! "Looking for Alaska" sounds interesting too. Thanks so much for your recommendations!

PS I'm now reading Vol.1 of the Pern series...really enjoyable!

Amanda Summer said...


your beach bag must be heavy! enjoy your well-deserved time off ;-)

Jan said...

Thankyou SArah for all these super recomendations. I shall come back to peruse at great leisure!

Booksnyc said...

Someone recommended Looking for Alaska to me last year - thanks for the reminder to move it up the TBR list.

Enjoy your break!

Carol said...

Wonderful photos of Deer Isle Sarah! I think I will have to get a copy of 'Caleb’s Crossing.' I hope you have a great vacation from blogging and look forward to your return. Great reviews . . . thank you!

Elizabeth said...

What a super list!
I think I will have to get the Steve Martin book as the subject matter all rather close to home.
Two recent reads:
The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper --came out a couple of years ago. About growing up privileged in LIBERIA --wonderfully written as a memoir but also super informative about politics etc. ....she does write for the NY Times.
A disappointment: In the Garden of the Beasts.(Larsen)
about US Ambassador Dodd in Berlin in the 1930's. Non fiction. Such a super subject and oddly flat and dull.
Have a relaxing blog-break!

Anonymous said...

Sarah - just sent you an email on your website, but would like to talk with you about participating in the national book tour for actress and author Mara Purl. She has just signed a 12 book deal with NY publisher MidPoint Trade. Her main character, Miranda, is also a painter and art is a centerpoint of the books. You can read more at Mara's online press room at

August is the book tour including a blog tour - love to have you involved. DM Collins