In my drafts folder right now is my write up of the Big Fall Books, which is a thing in the publishing world. But before I finished that, I realized I had to talk about some of my favorite summer books that I haven’t said as much about. I hadn’t realized I’d left out a whole bunch of books since my recent posts weren’t based on release date the way I normally do. So I missed a bunch that are fantastic or that I read after their release dates. (I’m playing catchup a lot these days.) Here’s some of the highlights from Spring & Summer to get from the library or hopefully still on the discounted new release shelf.
As usual, links in this post are Amazon affiliate links.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. If there’s a book that I’ve been a big evangelist for recently, it’s this one. It had good buzz but I was worried about the title, it sounded like a light little ladies’ book. It’s not. It’s a book all about food and people who love food. And even more specifically than that, moments in your life where a meal or a dish has some kind of impact on you. While the central figure of this smart and lovely novel is up-and-coming chef Eva Thorvald (in Minnesota/Iowa/the surrounding areas, of course), she is the protagonist of only one chapter. Each one finds a different character in crisis, in a moment of decision, at a crossroads of their life. And the book dances through these scenes with agility, grace, and depth. It’s a real joy to read, one of those novels with a thrill that you just can’t impart to other people, you just have to tell them, “Read it, you should just read it.” (Bonus: it has recipes sprinkled throughout the story.)
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. In the book world, this has been heavily hyped. But I know that the book world isn’t always overlapping with the rest of the world. So in case you missed it, this is the most important book of the year. That isn’t an exaggeration. Believe me, I heard so much hype about this book and I’m very skeptical of hype. But it is everything everyone says it is and more. I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, but I also wanted another copy, a paper copy, that I could hold in my hands, that I could underline and highlight and write notes on. Coates, who is well-known for his incisive essays at The Atlantic here writes a long message to his son about race and what the American Dream really is. It leaves you changed.
The Ambassador’s Wife by Jennifer Steil is already being turned into a mini-series starring Anne Hathaway, so you’d better read it soon or else you won’t read the book first and we all know it’s better if you read the book first. You can see why she chose this part in this book when you read it. Miranda is an artist and free spirit, but her life changes drastically after she falls in love with the British Ambassador to a (fictional) Middle Eastern country. No longer living as she pleases but under guard, things are very different. But this drama turns much more dramatic when Miranda is kidnapped, held hostage, and forced to find away to stay alive in the most dire circumstances. An interesting novel with an interesting main character.
Lost Canyon by Nina Revoyr stuck in my head like nobody’s business. A book I’d heard nothing about from an indie press I didn’t know, it was a pageturner that I developed a full-on addiction to. I pitch it as a modern Deliverance that adds gender, race, and class into the mix. Not just a study of testosterone under pressure, but a look at how we look at each other and how we push our limits. Gwen, Oscar, and Todd don’t know each other but they all know Tracy, their tough-as-nails trainer who invites them on a grueling hike. Things don’t go as planned. But well before you’re in nailbiting territory, this book gets you in the thick of these people’s lives, their goals, their broken dreams. They should really make this one into a movie, too.
Hugo & Rose by Bridget Foley is not the first book I read by an author I actually knew. And fortunately, it joins the group of books by someone I know that were really good. The thing is, that when you know the author you read with a sense of anxiety that you won’t like it and you’ll have to pretend you like it or find something nice to say about it when you can’t think of anything. Thankfully Bridget killed it. I’d love to hear this one in a book club, it has so much of the truth of that mother drudgery of life at home with small children. But Rose escapes that life every night when she closes her eyes and dreams of Hugo and the Island they’ve explored together since they were little. And then one day Rose sees someone in her waking life who is Hugo but isn’t and from there it’s a steadily growing twisty-turny plot until a huge climax. Do not be fooled by the sweet cover. There are real stakes in this book, the likes of which you rarely get in a story about a suburban stay-at-home mom. And the magical realism element gives it a fantasy twist.
Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. I don’t read a lot of fantasy. I read hardly any capital-F Fantasy, instead sticking closer to magical realism in literary fiction. But I heard enough people say this book was good to give it a try. A Young Adult novel, the first in a series, it actually held my attention instead of putting me to sleep. A dystopia with lots of worldbuilding, an evil empire, a rebel force, a school for soldiers, and a spy servant, there’s a whole lot going on but it works well. It took me a little while to really get into it, but I’m now super curious about where this book is going next.
Speak by Louisa Hall is a good one to go to if you got into Alan Turing after The Theory of Everything. Turing is a hot commodity lately and this book is just so intelligent and so fascinating that it’s worthy of having him as one of its main characters. This is one of those multiple narrative books that covers a span of hundreds of years, from the diary of a teenage girl on a ship to America in the 1600’s to the last thoughts of a robot that’s been shipped off to a warehouse where its batteries will slowly deplete, it follows scientists and non-scientists through journeys of communication and human thought. It is about robots and what it means to be human, it’s about how we think and how we communicate and what really matters in our lives.
Smaller and Smaller Circles by F. H. Batacan. I love reading international crime novels, and Asian crime novels tend to be my favorite. This book is a huge hit in the Phillippines, and we have only the tiniest bit of Filipino literature in translation here in the US, so I was very excited to read this book. It’s absolutely a knockout, a well-plotted thriller with excellent characters. The unlikely detective is Father Gus Saenz, a priest who also happens to be a forensic anthropologist. Both local and national law enforcement are corrupt and suspect, so when Saenz is brought in to consult on a series of murders of young boys in a massive dump site, he can’t trust anyone in power. Batacan also gives us Payatas in great detail, the 50-acre dump that supports a huge community of impoverished people who pick through it to survive. A serial killer novel with a setting you definitely haven’t seen before, fully-drawn characters, and a worthy plot.
The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon finishes up the list. McMahon is one of those authors whose books I kept reading over and over again even though they never quite did it for me. She’s a master of page-turning but I almost always found the climax unworthy of the buildup. Until recently. Something changed with her previous novel, The Winter People. She’s shifted to supernatural and horror instead of the straight thriller or crime novel and it’s a change that suits her talent well. The Night Sister is really, really creepy and lets McMahon do what she does best: take you on a serious ride. Set in an abandoned motel, Amy has just brutally killed her family. Piper and Margot, her childhood friends, know secrets about the motel they promised they would keep, but if they’re going to stay alive they may have to break their promise. *insert creepy music*
Favorites from Spring/Summer that you’d like to share?