Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Good Summer Books (mini reviews & links)

Ah, summer! Time to hit the hammock with a good book. On these hot, lazy days, I'm looking for something that will draw me into a new world. It can't be too bleak or cold - those books are better by the fire in winter - but it can't be too sunny and flimsy. I want fascinating characters, exotic or seaside locations and a story that keeps me hooked. Below is a list of books I've already read or have stacked for this summer's hammock. I'd love to get your suggestions too.

Contemporary Fiction

The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogen
Every 5 years Harvard grads are asked to update their classmates. These mini-memoirs are published in the so called Red Book. Kogen's cynical spin is that the updates don't tell the full story. Her novel focuses on 4 women from the class of '89 at their 20th reunion. Jane, an adopted orphan from Vietnam, is struggling as a journalist/single mom in France. Biracial Clover was raised in a hippy commune and then lost her Wall Street job in the crash of '08. She longs to have a child like the others, but may have left it too late. Addison is spoiled and dramatic Mia is painfully naive, but we still get attached to this mismatched foursome.  The Red Book is a quick, easy read, but also offers some thoughtful reflection on what it means to be a modern woman, balancing career and family. The author is a Harvard grad, and as one myself, I can say she got most of it right if absurdly exaggerated to the point of satire. But that's what makes this novel fun. 

State of Wonder by Anne Patchett: a literary novel set in the Brazilian Amazon (reviewed last August.)

Surreal Fiction

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
I'm 60% through this 925 page tome on my Kindle, and it's a slow but addictive read by one of my favorite authors. I also bought this hardcover at Gulf of Maine Books as a gift for my husband, but I found it too heavy to hold! This recently released novel is set in 1984 Tokyo, with a nod to George Orwell. Aomame assassinates rapists. She is facing her toughest job: a cult leader.  Her childhood love, Tengo, has ghostwritten a bestseller novel about the mysterious Little People. The teen author is the runaway daughter of the cult leader. Under the shadow of a double moon, Aomame's and Tengo's dual narratives converge. In this mysterious world of alternative realities, it's hard to know what to believe. 

Historical Fiction

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
A fictional account of the first Native American graduate of Harvard. Set also on Martha's Vineyard so sounds right for the beach and islands. Comes well recommended. 

The Last Nude by Ellis Avery 
A bisexual artist and her model/muse in1920s Paris (reviewed last January.)

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel 
Cromwell in Henry VIII's court.  My husband loved this and is currently enjoying the sequel, Bringing Up the Bodies.

Young Adult Fiction

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Historical fiction that might be better suited to adults than to teens. A captured British spy spins a story for her Gestapo interrogators about her pilot, another young women and her close friend. World War II is a bit dark for summer, but I couldn't resist picking up this new release at the Harvard Book Store last Sunday. The writing looks fabulous with a very appealing narrator. Reminds me of Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
Airplane romance between an American teen girl and a British Yale student (reviewed in April.)

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Boy/girl narrators and island setting with a touch of horror (reviewed 3 weeks ago.)

The Jade Notebook by Laura Resau
The final installment of the Notebook series (first 2 books reviewed here.) Zeeta and Wendall are spending the summer together on the coast of Mexico. There is a jaguar in the jungle and sea turtles on the beach.  Zeeta faces poachers, a witch, her elusive father and an uncertain future with Wendall. A gorgeous setting with innocent romance, appropriate for tweens as well as teens.

Feed by M.T. Anderson
In this dystopian future people have an internet chip imbedded permanently in their brain. Humorous but dark satire with a male protagonist. Written for teens and adults and recently re-released on its tenth anniversary (reviewed last month.)

Small Damages by Beth Kephart
A pregnant American teen is sent to Seville, Spain to give away her baby. I'll be reviewing this novel in July, near its release date. Best for mature teens/adults.

Disclaimer: all books were bought by me without compensation, with the exception of The Last Nude and Small Damages (ARCs.) The Red Book was borrowed from a friend, who recommended it to me.


A Cuban In London said...

I loved Wolf Hall and will be buying Bringing Up the Bodies soon. Murakami's novel sounds intriguing and I've read a couple of good reviews. Plus the fact that he released such a heavy book in an era of e-readers speaks volumes for its author. I like the sound of the Red Book.

Many thanks. Like you I like my summer read to have some meat in it, even if it's just an al fresco salad. :-)

Greetings from London.

Cat said...

Hello Sarah, Wolf Hall has been on my radar for a while now so I think it's a sign that I need to put it on my summer list. I'm curious about 1Q84 also. I like a nice thick book to immerse myself in while trying to forget the heat. Caleb's Crossing is beautifully written and was enjoyed by everyone in my book club. We read it a few months back but it came up again in our discussion last night.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Love, love, love your book lists!
Thanks!! xoxo,

Rose said...

Thanks for all the great recommendations, Sarah! My friends and I recently decided to form a book club, and at our first get-together we each read a different book. We're reading "Running the Rift," for July, which might be a little depressing for summer reading. I'll let you know what I think when I finish it!

Carol said...

Great list Sarah and I love your hammock! If it is llbean it is the same one I have. I am reading Wolf Hall and loving it . . . loved State of Wonder too. I think I must get Caleb's Crossing after I read the sequel to WH.

☆sapphire said...

WOW! You are reading "1Q84! I read it too two years ago and found it very enthralling. I personally think that it's on a par with the Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore. Don't you think it is at its core a strong yet simple love story?

I have been so intrigued by air chrysalises and Little People who make me remind of WBYeat's Little People. And I sometimes wonder if the novel 1Q84 is an air chrysalisis itself which combines this world or one reality with other realities.

Code Name Verity sounds very interesting!! Thanks a lot for sharing.

Amanda Summer said...

i'd pick up the red book for the beach. 1Q84 sounds a bit like stieg larsson's protagonist with a mystical realism twist. i will look forward to the kephart review.

cynthia newberry martin said...

What a great assortment! You seem like a very balanced reader. Love the hammock-full of books and the cover of The Red Book. Happy summer reading!

Ashley Hope Pérez said...

That hammock looks oh-so inviting. I haven't gotten to IQ84, but I WILL. I love Marukami (and I was born in 1984) and am actually reading KAFKA ON THE SHORE. I'm waiting to see if something gives, but I don't have the same sense of being sucked down the rabbit hole as I have with HM's other books. It doesn't get mentioned as much, but HARD-BOILED WONDERLAND AND THE END OF THE WORLD is still my favorite Marukami. If you haven't read it, check it out.

Ashley Hope Pérez said...

And I absolutely second the praise for CODE NAME VERITY. Stellar!