Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Good Summer Books for Teens and Adults

Monhegan Island, Maine

Summer is time to read in a shady hammock or on the beach. If you can't travel, a good summer book will take you on vacation. I've compiled a list for adults and teens of recently published novels, some with links to full reviews posted earlier. If you want recommendations for younger readers, check out my Good YA Books for Tweens and Younger Teens.

Fiction for Adults

Right now I'm enjoying Euphoria by Maine author Lily King. It's a fictionalization of Margaret Mead's anthropological work and love affairs in New Guinea. I nearly majored in Anthropology at college and spent summers doing field research in remote areas so this subject fascinates me. Lily King is one of the authors whose books automatically go in my to be read stack. I loved her debut novel, The Pleasing Hour, about an American au pair in France. Father of the Rain was a beautifully written account of how alcoholism ruins a family. Euphoria seems just right for summer. Isn't the cover gorgeous? I'll post a full review after I finish reading it.

Summer vacation would be a good time to read the 770 page The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  The 2014 winner of the Pulitzer Prize follows a teenaged boy into an early adulthood muddled by drugs and art crime. This Dickensian novel with noir undertones is set in contemporary NYC, Vegas and Holland. It's bleak, verbose at times and received mixed reviews, but it's still worth reading.

If you crave something lighter, try Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen, a novel about brothers opening a trendy restaurant in Pennsylvania. Tempting Fate by Jane Green would be a good beach book for curious blog readers; the author used me as a physical model for her tempted protagonist! I'm eagerly awaiting the release of Rainbow Rowell's latest novel, Landline, next week.

Young Adult Fiction

If summer means travel and romance to you, you'll fall in love with The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith. During a blackout in NYC, a lonely rich girl gets trapped in an elevator with the building superintendent's son. As the star-crossed teens travel in opposite directions across the USA and Europe, they keep in touch via postcards. The chapters alternate between Lucy's and Owen's POV:

"But now, less than an hour later, he felt suddenly too aware of her, a presence beside him as prickly as the heat."

My only criticism of this charming novel is that there was too much focus on parents instead of peers, although that aspect would cross over well to an adult reader. Geography is similar to Smith's 2012 international hit, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Smith writes contemporary but timeless stories in a voice true to teens. She's one of my favorite YA authors.

The YA book that is garnering the most attention right now is We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. This June bestseller has a commercially sensational plot but is written in a literary style with allusions to King Lear and Wuthering Heights. Preppy teenagers and their greedy moms squabble over their inheritance on a private island off Martha's Vineyard with tragic consequences. It's a modern fairy tale with a grouchy old king, spoiled princesses and a politically correct pauper-prince. The protagonist is acutely aware of her privilege:
"I own a well-used library card and not much else, though it is true I live in a grand house full of expensive, useless objects."
We Were Liars reminded me a bit of the adult thriller, Gone Girl. I enjoyed it, but I didn't connect with any of the characters. They felt too contrived, arrogant and self-absorbed. Still, I kept reading eagerly to the surprising twist at the end. We Were Liars has style. E. Lockhart is on my favorite YA authors list; I loved her The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks too.

The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner is also set on the shore, but the characters are more down to earth. Fifteen-year-old Frankie blames herself for her brother's death, who drowned at the beach four years ago. Frankie was only eleven-years-old, but her napping parents left her in charge of her 4-year-old brother. Four years later, Frankie meets a little boy who is so similar to her lost brother that she wonders if reincarnation is possible.

The Summer of Letting Go was really strong on loss, grief and recovery, but I wished Frankie had some cool interests of her own and wasn't completely defined by her loss. Also her best friend had as much character as a Barbie doll, and the love triangle didn't work for me. The little boy, however, was a delightful character, and I loved his relationship with Frankie. The writing was good too.

If you are looking for a literary historical romance, I'd strongly recommend Going Over by Beth Kephart, set in Berlin during the Cold War. Beth Kephart is another favorite YA author. Teenaged boys and Stephen King fans would enjoy Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican, about hazing and bullying at a Catholic school in Pennsylvania. Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando would be a good pick for older teen girls thinking ahead to college. As would be Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, which is set at a college in the midwest. Fangirl was one of my favorite books from last year; it would crossover well to adults. Actually, most of these books would appeal to both adults and teens. Young adult is only a marketing category.

Next up on my to be read list is Born Confused (2002) by Tanuja Desai Hidier before the sequel, Bombay Blues, is published this fall. The cover caught my attention and the blurb hooked me: Dimple Lala doesn't know what to think. Her parents are from India, and she's spent her whole life resisting their traditions. Then suddenly she gets to high school and everything Indian is trendy. To make matters worse, her parents arrange for her to meet a "suitable boy." Of course it doesn't go well -- until Dimple goes to a club and finds him spinning a magical web. Suddenly the suitable boy is suitable because of his sheer unsuitability. Complications ensue. This is a funny, thoughtful story about finding your heart, finding your culture, and finding your place in America.

Reviewer's Disclosure: Lily King's daughter is on my daughter's track team. I also know the author from Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. Jane Green is an art client and a friend. Beth Kephart is a blog buddy and a friend. I received free review copies of Bread & Butter, Tempting Fate, Roomies, Brutal Youth and Born Confused. The other books I purchased myself, most at indie bookstores.

Happy reading! I'm taking a week or two off from blogging to revise my work-in-progress before beta testing it on teen readers. Time for reflection...


tina said...

Good reads all! You enjoy your break! It's the best time of the year in Maine.

A Cuban In London said...

I think this will be my Donna Tart year. I have been putting it off for a while now, but come autumn (to me she sounds more like short days, drawn-out nights and long shadows than hay fever and sunshine! :-d) I might invest in one of her books. The Goldfinch has so far had a lot of vibe. Good vibe. Whatever happens, I'll let you know.

Greetings from London.

Amanda Summer said...

Thanks for putting me in touch with the books of Lily King. The fictionalizing of Margaret Mead's life is intriguing to my archaeologist side.

Enjoy your vacay from blogging and good luck with your WIP.

troutbirder said...

Euphoria absolutely goes to the top of my to be read list. I too thought about majoring in anthropology but sociology and history won out. I found Mead brilliant and fascinating and that was without knowing anything about her love affairs....:)

Rose said...

I always appreciate your reading recommendations, Sarah. I'm trying to decide if I'm up to tackling "The Goldfinch" yet. Enjoy your break!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

What a great list and thoughtful reviews. I always enjoy your comments on books. Hope your summer is grand (you deserve it after that winter!)

☆sapphire said...

Thank you so much for the list! I'm now looking for some books to read in summer. The list helps a lot.
Love the last photo! The reflection is so beautiful, Sarah! Enjoy your break!!

Booksnyc said...

That photograph on top if beautiful - a great locale to read some wonderful books for sure. I have Tempting Fate on my shelf and can't wait to get to it. Thanks for introducing me to Born Confused - I haven't read many YA books dealing with the topic of immigration.