I took a break from the Summer Reading List to cover Elin Hildebrand’s newest (as I have said before – and all her titles that I have read are linked below – you have to read one each summer, even if you know what it’s going to be like). 28 Summers is the story of Mallory Blessing and her inherited summer house on Nantucket (oh, to be so lucky…): “When Mallory Blessing’s son, Link, receives deathbed instructions from his mother to call a number on a slip of paper in her desk drawer, he’s not sure what to expect. But he certainly does not expect Jake McCloud to answer. It’s the late spring of 2020 and Jake’s wife, Ursula DeGournsey, is the frontrunner in the upcoming Presidential election. There must be a mistake, Link thinks. How do Mallory and Jake know each other? Flash back to the sweet summer of 1993: Mallory has just inherited a beachfront cottage on Nantucket from her aunt, and she agrees to host her brother’s bachelor party. Cooper’s friend from college, Jake McCloud, attends, and Jake and Mallory form a bond that will persevere—through marriage, children, and Ursula’s stratospheric political rise—until Mallory learns she’s dying.” (Amazon) This was standard Hilderbrand — nothing amazing (though this was pretty engrossing), but a good read, nonetheless and perfect for summer.
The library really came through for me this early summer. Book two off my can’t-wait-to-read-this-summer list was My Brilliant Life by Ae-ran Kim. It was a short and sweet read that I enjoyed, but didn’t LOVE. Apparently it also was a movie from 2014. Amazon describes: “Areum lives life to its fullest, vicariously through the stories of his parents, conversations with Little Grandpa Jang—his sixty-year-old neighbor and best friend—and through the books he reads to visit the places he would otherwise never see. For several months, Areum has been working on a manuscript, piecing together his parents’ often embellished stories about his family and childhood. He hopes to present it on his birthday, as a final gift to his mom and dad; their own falling-in-love story.” Perhaps a better description is from the movie: “Dae-soo and Mi-ra gave birth to their son Ah-reum when they were both 17 years old, and Ah-reum was diagnosed with progeria, which makes his body age prematurely. When Ah-reum turns seventeen, with his body that of an eighty-year-old, he decides to write a story about how his parents fell in love.” It’s a sweet story and worth a read.
Nothing like the first week of June to start one of the 12 books on my can’t-wait-to-read summer list. No matter that school is still in session! I have only read one other Kazuo Ishiguro book (When We Were Orphans reviewed here) and I was lucky enough to get Klara and the Sun from the library. There is a lot of hype around this book right now and I was excited to dive in. Sadly, I hated the first half and tolerated the second. I can see why people might enjoy the story, but it wasn’t for me and left me with too many questions and small irritations along the way. Amazon’s description: “Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her. Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?” Even this description falls flat for me upon reading it. Please share in the comments why you liked this one, if you did.
I LOVED Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad. As heartbreaking as it was, I could not put it down. Not having any knowledge of the author’s story or NYT column, it was an incredible memoir and I was lucky to have downtime this weekend to enjoy it. Amazon, as usual, provides the description better than I could: “In the summer after graduating from college, Suleika Jaouad was preparing, as they say in commencement speeches, to enter “the real world.” She had fallen in love and moved to Paris to pursue her dream of becoming a war correspondent. The real world she found, however, would take her into a very different kind of conflict zone. It started with an itch—first on her feet, then up her legs, like a thousand invisible mosquito bites. Next came the exhaustion, and the six-hour naps that only deepened her fatigue. Then a trip to the doctor and, a few weeks shy of her twenty-third birthday, a diagnosis: leukemia, with a 35 percent chance of survival. Just like that, the life she had imagined for herself had gone up in flames. By the time Jaouad flew home to New York, she had lost her job, her apartment, and her independence. She would spend much of the next four years in a hospital bed, fighting for her life and chronicling the saga in a column for The New York Times. When Jaouad finally walked out of the cancer ward—after countless rounds of chemo, a clinical trial, and a bone marrow transplant—she was, according to the doctors, cured. But as she would soon learn, a cure is not where the work of healing ends; it’s where it begins. She had spent the past 1,500 days in desperate pursuit of one goal—to survive. And now that she’d done so, she realized that she had no idea how to live.” I can’t say that this is a light/fun summer read, but it’s such an immersive and interesting one. I can’t give it enough praise, so I will just say, grab it.
As I do each year, I have listed here my favorites for the first six months of the year so you can easily find them to take to the beach (or to your home if you can’t get to the beach this year). This year was light on 5-star books, but there are a good number of 4.5-star choice to enjoy.
I will post another list of those I am reading this summer – who knows if they are going to be good or not…happy summer, everyone!
Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson is a decent thriller that will keep you on your toes. Amazon describes: “Growing up poor in rural Georgia, Bree Cabbat was warned that the world was a dark and scary place. Bree rejected that fearful outlook, and life has proved her right. Having married into a family with wealth, power, and connections, Bree now has all a woman could ever dream of. Until the day she awakens and sees someone peering into her bedroom window—an old gray-haired woman dressed all in black who vanishes as quickly as she appears. It must be a play of the early morning light or the remnant of a waking dream, Bree tells herself, shaking off the bad feeling that overcomes her. Later that day though, she spies the old woman again, in the parking lot of her daughters’ private school . . . just minutes before Bree’s infant son, asleep in his car seat only a few feet away, vanishes. It happened so quickly—Bree looked away only for a second. There is a note left in his place, warning her that she is being is being watched; if she wants her baby back, she must not call the police or deviate in any way from the instructions that will follow. The mysterious woman makes contact, and Bree learns she, too, is a mother. Why would another mother do this? What does she want? And why has she targeted Bree? Of course Bree will pay anything, do anything. It’s her child. To get her baby back, Bree must complete one small—but critical—task. It seems harmless enough, but her action comes with a devastating price.” Definitely a summer read, nothing deep here, but a good read nonetheless.
I LOVED Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. I have enjoyed most of his books (A Man Called Ove was a favorite). “Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix their own marriage. There’s a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world. Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.” (Amazon) There are so many quotable moments and such wisdom in this super-fast read. The characters are wonderfully flawed and the story surprises at every turn. In addition, the way it is written is moved and tender at the same time. It’s truly a delight and the escape it provided was much appreciated. Grab it this summer – you won’t be disappointed!
Fiona Davis is always a treat, like book candy. The Lions of Fifth Avenue was no exception. “It’s 1913, and on the surface, Laura Lyons couldn’t ask for more out of life—her husband is the superintendent of the New York Public Library, allowing their family to live in an apartment within the grand building, and they are blessed with two children. But headstrong, passionate Laura wants more, and when she takes a leap of faith and applies to the Columbia Journalism School, her world is cracked wide open. As her studies take her all over the city, she is drawn to Greenwich Village’s new bohemia, where she discovers the Heterodoxy Club—a radical, all-female group in which women are encouraged to loudly share their opinions on suffrage, birth control, and women’s rights. Soon, Laura finds herself questioning her traditional role as wife and mother. And when valuable books are stolen back at the library, threatening the home and institution she loves, she’s forced to confront her shifting priorities head on . . . and may just lose everything in the process. Eighty years later, in 1993, Sadie Donovan struggles with the legacy of her grandmother, the famous essayist Laura Lyons, especially after she’s wrangled her dream job as a curator at the New York Public Library. But the job quickly becomes a nightmare when rare manuscripts, notes, and books for the exhibit Sadie’s running begin disappearing from the library’s famous Berg Collection. Determined to save both the exhibit and her career, the typically risk-averse Sadie teams up with a private security expert to uncover the culprit. However, things unexpectedly become personal when the investigation leads Sadie to some unwelcome truths about her own family heritage—truths that shed new light on the biggest tragedy in the library’s history.” I enjoyed this one, but it was a little more predictable than usual. Worth a read anyway, though.
We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker had promise and an intriguing premise. However, it was too slow for me and I almost gave up multiple times. The end was good, but I wouldn’t recommend it based on the slow, slow middle. “Duchess Day Radley is a thirteen-year-old self-proclaimed outlaw. Rules are for other people. She is the fierce protector of her five-year-old brother, Robin, and the parent to her mother, Star, a single mom incapable of taking care of herself, let alone her two kids. Walk has never left the coastal California town where he and Star grew up. He may have become the chief of police, but he’s still trying to heal the old wound of having given the testimony that sent his best friend, Vincent King, to prison decades before. And he’s in overdrive protecting Duchess and her brother. Now, thirty years later, Vincent is being released. And Duchess and Walk must face the trouble that comes with his return. We Begin at the End is an extraordinary novel about two kinds of families—the ones we are born into and the ones we create.” (Amazon)