I haven’t updated this blog with my books of the month in a while partly because those posts are rather laborious to compose and also because I was boring myself. So let’s try something different! Instead of my usual list of monthly reads, here’s the highlight reel of what I’ve been reading this summer, and what is on my summer reading list.
A note on what qualifies in my mind as a “summer read”:
– lighter reading/fast-paced/page turner/guilty pleasure/something that could be potentially finished in a day
– takes place in exotic or summer-y location or involves travel, the beach, summer activities, etc.
– typically a best seller/has some buzz
– not too girly/corny/romantic. Chick lit is fine, 50 Shades of Gray, no.
MYSTERIES & THRILLERS
I love a fast-paced thriller, but it seems as if I especially love reading them (and listening to true crime podcasts) during the summer months. For some reason, whenever I bring a book on a plane or to the beach, I get majorly distracted and barely read anything. This behavior is the opposite of how I normally am – obsessive, laser-focused, and able to do mundane tasks for hours. Thus, when I’m looking for a book to bring to the beach or one to attempt to read on the plane, I reach for a mystery or thriller. They aren’t the most mind-blowing, life-changing books, but are entertaining enough to keep me focused on reading in an environment with a lot of stimuli. I usually finish these kinds of books in a couple sittings, or just one if it’s really good.
The Dry | Better than average slow burn murder mystery that takes place in an Australian farming community. The town has had an extremely dry year and crops, livestock and the people are all suffering. Then three murders happen, bringing to surface a murder that happened many years ago. Are they related? The main character returns to his hometown to attend the funerals and gets caught up investigating the murders. The Dry is character-driven and unfolds much like an episode of one of my favorite British cop shows, Broadchurch (has anyone else watched this series? I’m a huge David Tennant fan). In addition to the smart writing, I was thoroughly immersed in the author’s description of small town life in Australia. It was both a thriller and an escape to another location wrapped up all in one book. A perfect summer read.
Missing, Presumed | I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about this book until the very end. Like The Dry, it’s very character-driven, and there’s a lot more chapters describing the backgrounds and motives of the characters over the actual missing person’s case. I would once again describe this book as something of a “British Cop Drama”. Every page doesn’t reveal some major twist and turn, but if you stick with it, you get sucked into the minds of all the key players. This is the first book in a new suspense series. The second book, Persons Unknown, just came out in July and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it.
Since We Fell | I never read any of Dennis Lehane’s other works, but Since We Fell seemed to be on everyone’s TBR list this summer. From the description, it seemed to hit all of my criteria for a beach read. Rachel, the main character in the book, has had a storied past. Her mother made a career out of writing about relationships despite having issues with her own. Throughout her life, Rachel’s mother has kept all information from her daughter regarding the identity of her father. Rachel grows up, has mommy issues, becomes a journalist, has a breakdown, tries to find her father, and eventually, lives as a shut in. It’s a complicated story to describe, and at many times, the story felt like it was five different stories rolled into one, and not necessarily in a good way. This book isn’t without some major flaws (namely the ending), but it was well-written and fast-paced enough to keep me entertained.
Do Not Become Alarmed | Two families with perfect-on-the-outside lives take a trip on a cruise ship to Central America. Everything is going wonderfully until they dock to take their first excursion. The day trip quickly turns from fun to ominous after a series of careless misjudgments and miscalculations are made. One small, bad decision leads to another and before they know it, everything has spiraled out of control. This was almost the perfect summer book. While the first half the book started off strong, the latter half was pretty far-fetched. Still, it was, for the most part, a fast read. Cruise ship? Check. Exotic location? Check. Family dysfunction? Check. Racial tensions? Check. Murder? Check. | ALSO RECOMMENDED: The Woman in Cabin 10, another thriller that takes place on a cruise ship.
ROMANCE & CHICK LIT
I don’t read much in this genre because most of it is pretty bad, even by my low standards. After all, I love stupid dating shows. But, when summer rolls around, I’ll pick up a few questionable titles for the same reason I am drawn to mysteries during the summer: quick, easy to read, and usually mindless. Anyone have any recs? I would love to find more books that go beyond broken friendships at the beach plot lines. PS: Can we please come up with a better term than “chick lit”?
The Mirror Sisters | Did anyone read V.C. Andrews back in the day? I feel like it was a rite of passage for all teens back when I was a kid. My older cousin, who we saw every summer, had a few V.C. Andrews books lying around and my sister and I were always intrigued by the covers. Whenever I think of summer, I think of reading V.C. Andrews books at my Aunt’s lake house, wondering wtf fuck I was reading. At that age, my mind didn’t fully grasp what the hell was going on, and I’m sure that if my parents knew the subject matter of those books they would have put a stop to it immediately. Or maybe not. My parents were the opposite of helicopter parents, and I mean that in a good way. Anyway, it’s been ages since I’ve read anything by “V.C.Andrews”. At some point, the books — written by ghost writers — became too formulaic and predictable. Also, I grew up and out of reading VCA books. What was once so mysterious and taboo didn’t really phase me anymore. When I saw Mirror Sisters at my library, it triggered all kinds of summer memories. I picked it up for nostalgia’s sake. As expected, it was pretty stupid – almost a hate read – but I’m leaving it as a recommendation simply because V.C. Andrews books are quick reads and still remind me of summer. This book also falls under the Young Adult category below.
The Island | I have never read anything by Elin Hildebrand prior to this summer. The only reason I even checked out this book from the library was due to the fact that my friend Karen mentioned EH as one of her favorite beach-read writers. Karen died last summer from cancer and I thought that reading a book written by one of her favorite authors would be a good way to remember my friend. Based on the cover, there’s no way in hell I would have picked up this book on my own had Karen never mentioned Elin Hildebrand. I have not finished reading it yet, but I can totally get the author’s appeal. Dysfunctional family drama in a beautiful beach setting has all the makings of a classic beach read. And now that I live abroad, books set on America’s East Coast feel exotic to me. So far, I’m not hating this book.
ADULT & LITERARY FICTION
As you probably noticed, there aren’t too many books in this category as I usually don’t like reading anything too serious during the summer.
Celine | Celine was July’s book club pick. Camping, the Great Outdoors, and National Parks are all happy summer triggers for me so I love any book set in Western America. I also really loved one of Peter Heller’s previous books, The Dog Stars. As a contributing writer to many outdoors publications, the author is at his best when he writes about nature, and from the book’s description, it seemed as if there would be a good amount of nature writing. Celine is about an “aristocratic” private investigator who goes to Yellowstone National Park to conduct a search for a missing person. Everyone in our book club was pretty excited to read this book – BUT – this book has not lived up to my, or my fellow book clubber’s expectations. It has received a lot of buzz/positive reviews though, so maybe you’ll think differently?
Imagine Me Gone | Imagine Me Gone was nominated for just about every book award, including the Pulitzer Prize in 2017. Not a book I would have normally chosen as a summer read, but it was one that I had on hold for quite some time. When it finally came up last month I forced myself to read it. A chunk of the book is set in Maine, so there is *some* summer location aspect to it. The plot, however, not so beachy. It’s about a family’s struggle with mental illness that hit waaaaay too close to home, making it difficult for me to read at times. It’s hard to say you enjoyed a book like this, but it was definitely worth the read.
SCI-FI & FANTASY
I love sci-fi and fantasy novels, although it can be difficult to find books in this genre that also don’t fall under Young Adult reading. As I mentioned before, when I think of a summer read, I think of being transported to another place. In this case, that place is another time, universe, or fantasy world.
All Our Wrong Todays | A summer book club pick that reminded me of Sliding Doors meets The Jetsons meets The Butterfly Effect. I realize that a lot of people aren’t into reading sci-fi, but I felt that this was a pretty good intro-level mainstream sci-fi book. Yes, there are elements about the future and time travel, but the crux of the story is about the decisions you make in life. And if you could go back and change them, would you? I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would and thought it made a good summer read.
Old Man’s War | In contrast to the previous book, Old Man’s War is pretty hard core sci-fi for someone like me who reads only mainstream stuff. It’s even considered to fall within a subgenre of sci-fi known as military science fiction. If you’ve never read sci-fi before, then this is probably not the book to start. The author, John Scalzi, is well-known in the sci-fi world although, because I’m more of a mainstream reader, I hadn’t heard about him until this year when his most recent, critically acclaimed, novel came out. I wasn’t able to get my hands on his latest book, but I did find this Hugo Award nominated book, the first in the Old Man’s War series. Before we left for Mongolia, I downloaded the entire series, knowing it was something that both Sly and I could agree on listening to while driving for hours on end. The story takes place in the future where 75-year-old men and women are recruited by an intergalactic organization to keep Earth, and other space colonies, safe from aliens. In exchange for serving in the space military, the septuagenarians are offered a return to their youth as well as the chance to live forever. Sounds like a good trade-off, right? Or does it? If you liked Starship Troopers, then you’ll probably like this book. Or at least that’s what Sly tells me.
When it comes to graphic novels, I tend to steer towards coming-of-age memoirs or adventure stories. I’m not a Marvel Comics person at all. Favorite graphic novels include Bone, The Walking Dead (regardless of whether you watch the TV adaptation, it’s such a good graphic series), Blankets, Relish, Persepolis, and The Best We Could Do.
Locke & Key | OMG I LOVED THIS SERIES! Locke & Key has been on my TBR list since forever but was one that I put off reading. This summer, I gave the first book a try and I was immediately hooked. I could not stop reading until I finished the entire series. After the Locke family suffers a devastating loss, they move from California into the old Locke Mansion on the opposite coast. The mysterious home has been in the family for generations, and while exploring the house, the youngest Locke discovers keys that open magical doors. They also unlock a sinister force that wants the keys to do evil things. It’s dark and sometimes gruesome, which is what you’d probably expect from the son of Stephen King. Definitely not for kids! This series has been nominated and won a couple Eisner Awards and has been adapted into an audiobook (I’m still confused about the translation of graphic novels into audio books, but now I’m curious) that was nominated for four Audie awards. There are also plans by Hulu to adapt the series for television. Can’t wait!
Imagine Wanting Only This | The tagline for this book is a gorgeous graphic memoir about loss, love, and confronting grief. I totally judge a book by its cover. When I saw the cover of this book, combined with the tagline, I expected it to be about missed connections in life? This book is totally the type of graphic novel that I love reading – beautiful illustrations, memoir, coming of age, love, and loss, but it lacked depth. It was a lot less introspective and a lot more disjointed than I expected which made it hard for me to fully identify with the author. Despite its faults, I still enjoyed reading IWOT. It’s good, but not my favorite.
I know I’m not the target audience for Young Adult fiction, but I still like to read YA books, especially given that so many fantasy and sci-fi books seem to fall under this umbrella. While I enjoy YA books for their imaginative settings, the writing can sometimes be a bit too simple, or sometimes just downright terrible. And don’t even get me started on the corny, movie-script, romances that would never happen in real life in a million years. I know that many read these books to escape reality, but sometimes I worry that teenagers will grow up thinking that every relationship should be like the one found in the Twilight series (one of the worst books and series I have ever read). That being said, I gravitate towards YA books when I want a simple, sometimes eye-rolling, read.
Midnight at the Electric | This was such an unexpectedly special book that totally took me by surprise. I don’t even know quite how to describe it. It’s aimed at a Y/A audience, but it was a lot deeper than many of the Y/A books I’ve read, and the relationships between characters a lot more complicated. The story begins with the main character, Adri, who has been on her own for quite some time, reuniting with a long lost family member who she didn’t know existed. In two weeks, Adri will be leaving Earth for Mars, and will never return. During this time frame, as she trains for her mission to Mars, Adri discovers lost journals and letters in the old house where she is staying that tie together several generations. Just as she’s finally starting to feel a connection with her past, she has to make a decision on whether or not she will leave Earth forever. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t get too emotional when it comes to books or movies, but this book, for whatever reason, really got me in the gut. One moment, in particular, was so simple, so profound, and so very bittersweet that I might have shed a tear or two. I promptly put all of the author’s novels on my TBR list after finishing this book.
With exception to memoirs, foodie books, and true crime, I rarely read nonfiction during the summer months. See above re: literary fiction.
The Lost City of the Monkey God | It’s hard to believe that in this day and age there could still be anything left undiscovered. The Lost City of the Monkey God recounts the real-life recent expedition to discover a lost city hidden deep in the Honduran rainforest. Besides the Indiana Jones aspect of this story, the book covers topics like deforestation, the idea of treasure hunting, and the consequences of human interaction in an inhospitable environment. It’s a compelling story that is part Lost City of Z and part Hot Zone. The author, who penned the best selling Relic series, definitely knows how to tell an adventure story. I expected TLCOTMG to be a bit dry and dragged down by scientific and archeological details, but instead, it read like a movie script. Another great summer read.
Who Killed These Girls? | Anyone who spent any amount of time in Austin, TX in the 90s and early 00s will no doubt be familiar with this story. At the time, Austin was considered a small (hipster-free) town, so when these murders occurred, it sent shockwaves throughout the community. Many Austinites refer to this case as the moment Austin “lost its innocence.” The unsolved murders of four high school girls at a frozen yogurt shop were still in the news by the time I moved to Austin. And years after living in Austin, the billboard of their four faces is still etched so deeply in my mind, in part because one of the girls is the spitting image of someone who attended high school with me. But I have other, very distant, connections to these murders – I used to work at the mall a couple blocks from where the murders occurred, and where one of the major suspects in the case was found. Also, one of the judges on the case was the same judge who married me and Sly. Needless to say, I have been following this case for a long time. It may have even been the beginning of my obsession with true crime books/podcasts/documentaries. Over 25 years later, the brutal murders have remained unsolved. Who Killed These Girls? does a very thorough job of combing through the details, which could probably be a bit tedious for those who don’t already hold an interest in the murders. I would love if someone made a podcast or documentary to shed new light on this case, and eventually lead to finding the killers.
Why would anyone waste their time hate-reading a book, you may wonder. Oh, I don’t know, probably the same reason why someone (me) watches the Bachelorette? It’s like you have the expectation that you’ll probably hate the book going in and therefore are fully prepared to snark. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised when I end up liking a book I thought I would hate, but most of the time I can’t even hate-read a book because it is just that bad. I know. I’m going to hell. #Sorrynotsorry.
The Princess Saves Herself in this One | I didn’t go into this book thinking it would be a hate-read, but this was probably one of the worst books I have ever read. Hands down the worst “poetry” I have ever read. I had major second-hand embarrassment reading it, which I felt kind of bad about because it seemed like the author was coming from a sincere place. It’s just that the author should have been left to write her teen-angst poetry in her diary instead of being allowed to publish an entire book. Anyway, it sucked. Please someone else read this so we can commiserate!
TBR – TO BE READ – LIST
I still have about a billion books to read on my summer list. I doubt I’ll get through all of them in a month’s time, but worth a try!
ADULT FICTION | Startup
GRAPHIC NOVELS | Harrow County