Summer Reading Suggestions

Book Page Heart

I was sharing some book recommendations the other day with friends on Twitter as I’d hit one of those moments I love as a reader which is finishing a great book and then wanting to find my next target.  Perhaps you are the same way?  All of these should not really have long hold times at the library since they’re not particularly new.  I limited myself to 5, in no particular order, and tried to have fantasy, fun fiction, serious fiction, and non-fiction represented.  I tried to avoid spoilers and give general impressions.  Would love to hear if you have suggestions for me in turn and if you’d like to read more recommendations on the blog in the future!

The Chosen (amazon affiliate link) by Chaim Potok – I was on our “Battle of the Books” team at Wasilla high school (yes, that, Wasilla for those of you that follow politics).  In case my husband is reading, this was in addition to having been in the Stamp and Coin club at one point and Business Professionals of America so my nerd tendencies run deep.  With Battle of the Books you read a set book list along with teammates and then are quizzed about them.  So a question might be “in which book does the author write about buttons?” or something like that and the answer has to include the title of the book and the author (for that one I think the answer was All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque).  The Chosen is a book I came upon through the Battle of the Books book list and I would have never picked it up otherwise.  The blurbs all say it is about a friendship and a secret but what a friendship and what a secret.  This is a riveting book about two boys in similar but different worlds.  One is being raised in a Hasidic home (his father is a Rabbi) and the other is being raised in a home with a father that is a teacher and referred to as a “Zionist.”  There’s a sequel that catches up with the boys years later called The Promise (amazon affiliate link) that I enjoyed as well.  Everyone I’ve given The Chosen to as a gift or a recommendation has reported back that they couldn’t put it down.  I even recall reading it on a shaky school bus en route to a field trip because I wanted to find out what would happen to Danny and Reuven.

The Graveyard Book (amazon affiliate link) by Neil Gaiman – This is technically a “young adult” book but who cares about such distinctions anyway?  It is a fantasy book and considerably less scary than Neil Gaiman’s Coraline or American Gods (what can I say, I scare easily!) despite being about a boy that is adopted and raised by ghosts in a graveyard.  And if you find you like Gaiman’s style there are so many awesome books that await your discovery.  It helps with that minor sadness that comes with finishing a wonderful book – how will another book take me on a similar journey away from my surroundings?  By the way, have you ever been reading and then realized that you forgot yourself for a while?  That time passed and you obviously were living/breathing during that time but you forgot to pay attention because you inhabited the words in front of you?  I love when that happens.

The Last Dragonslayer (amazon affiliate link) by Jasper Fforde (read an excerpt here, I found this from a note at the end of NPR’s summer reading suggestions for teens) – I think for me the interplay between real life and magic is a hard one for fantasy books to get just right – if you have a world that is too complex with so many made up concepts and words and names the reader gets lost.  If you have just enough of the familiar, though, to let the reader follow along with the action and absorb some of the new ideas (dragons, magic, the idea that marzipan is mined but then makes people drunk when consumed) as they go, you have a winning book.  That may account for a lot of the way the Harry Potter series (which this book is compared to in many reviews) is so beloved.  You have our world with a magical one running parallel.  In The Last Dragonslayer, much like Jasper Fforde’s Jurisfiction/Thursday Next series (beginning with the fantastic The Eyre Affair) we have an England we quickly realize is not our England but there are houses and streets and cars so we can pretend we know what is going on for a little while.  That is, until a team of magicians hired out to do odd jobs change a house’s plumbing without raising a single saw or forming a single weld…oh, and they do it in an afternoon.  An old favorite book of mine is Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede and if you liked the way dragons were depicted in Wrede’s series you’ll really enjoy this book.  The ending had a twist that I didn’t see coming and I loved it for that as well.  There’s a sequel to The Last Dragonslayer coming out September 3, 2013!  Can’t wait!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (amazon affiliate link) by Rebecca Skloot – I don’t like when summer reading lists include sad fiction but this is non-fiction and as much about the journey of the author in investigating an untold story as it is about that story.  I could not put it down.  Even when there was a power outage and I should have been conserving my phone’s battery life I read long into the morning on my kindle phone application.  I had to know more about Henrietta Lacks, the unconsenting source of cells grown in labs worldwide and only known as HeLa for so long.  I also know enough of some of the background cases provided by Skloot to know she really did her homework on the law so you can rely on her for the science explanations featured as well.  She makes it very accessible and you finish the book really feeling that as human beings we should all treat one another better.  I sought this book out after reading The Help for our book club because The Help made me feel like much of the dynamic of what it was really like to be African American during segregation in the United States was not brought through (or dismissed as background information).   If you are on twitter, be sure to follow Rebecca (@RebeccaSkloot) for updates to the story and tweets about science and medical rights generally.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (amazon affiliate link) by Alexander McCall Smith – What is summer without a good series to read through?  This particular series has 13 (14 in November 2013) titles and if you end up liking the first you will certainly enjoy following the rest.   I will say the first title is the strongest and some of the others are appealing more because of the familiar characters versus the mysteries being “solved.”  Also, I don’t always agree with the protagonist, Precious Ramotswe, in how she resolves some cases (sometimes letting people go instead of reporting them) but the setting (Botswana) is worlds away from here.  The stories follow Precious as she sets up her agency and opens her doors, following in large part the advice of a book about “Private Detection” that is periodically quoted.  If you are an attorney by trade you’ll like that the author is an attorney because he throws some funny bits in here and there on the subject of lawyers.  At any rate, the prose is distinctly restful and contemplative while at the same time a source for a number of actual out loud laughs.  I think if the Anne of Green Gables series is one you enjoy, you’ll like all the main and supporting characters in this book (and series).

8 thoughts on “Summer Reading Suggestions

  1. “The Chosen One” and “The Last Dragonslayer” definitely sound up my alley. I’m in need of new reading material, and I’m leaving for a camping trip tomorrow and was hoping to pick something up tonight to occupy my time while the fish aren’t biting. Thank you for the reviews!


    1. That makes me happy to hear on all fronts, Stephanie! I love to take books on camping trips and hope you have a great time, thank you for reading!


  2. I still need to read the Henrietta Lacks book, it sounds so fascinating. I love books I can get lost in…I always feel sad when I come to the end, but then I know it’s my new mission in life to make sure everybody else on the planet reads this fabulous book 🙂


    1. I have it on my kindle! Remind me to let you borrow it. I have a backlog of books you’ve passed along to me that I haven’t read yet, I really need to get on that. There’s that one Dean Koontz book (Intensity) that I keep meaning to read even though I did get around to buying it at least. 🙂


  3. I haven’t read the first three (yet), but I love Fforde and had a major Sandman hangup in at the turn of the 90s. Those are definitely going on my Goodreads to-read list.

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is sad and shocking- as much for the educational and social deficits as the medical ethics questions.

    … And The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is cozy and fun (and, yes, I was a huge Anne of Green Gables fan). Jim and I’ve met the author on repeat occasions (one of our friends runs a mystery convention where we sometimes help out). He is as warm and wonderful as readers would expect. If you like the combination of folklore and mystery, Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad series does a beautiful job using Appalachian folktales (though I suspect you would love her Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool even more).

    I just finished Stephen Dobyn’s The Burn Palace. His Church of Dead Girls was proof positive that talented poets create wickedly effective horror stories, and The Burn Palace kept me so off-kilter I had to finish the book as quickly as possible.

    I’m now working on non-fiction as the piles for review are deep and neglected.


    1. I had one twitter interaction where Alexander McCall Smith sent me a DM in reply to a tweet I’d sent. It was so cool! I have also been tweeted at by Neil Gaiman which made my WEEK. So nice that authors are willing to take the time to interact. I requested the first Ballad book from the library just now, looking forward to it! Also had to request Bimbos of the Death Sun because what a title!

      I know what you mean about review piles, I finally caught up on my kid lit review pile for Vegbooks this week and there are others I’d love to review (Bink and Gollie is an awesome kid series by the way) but time is so precious. Even so, making time to read is time well spent. I always feel like my soul is recharged after a good book.


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