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: