I always try to pick books for the upcoming summer season, captivating books that will introduce me to characters I would never meet in real life, for good or bad, and allow me to visit places I probably will never have a chance to travel to—here at A Writer’s Life Blog and at the eMagazine In Classic Style though, I never say never. If the book thrills? All the better for my collection of beach books. Currently, I am reading what is being touted as this year’s “It” book, and I am blown away by how good it is. I love time travel/reincarnation novels, and I am devouring Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. It’s the kind of book I do not want to end; like her main character, Ursula, when I finish reading the book, I may have to go right back to the beginning. It’s a marvel and the positive hype actually does justice to such a thought-provoking premise—change in structure is good when you know how to break the rules. If you have not discovered Kate Atkinson’s writing, you are in for a treat. Every book she has written is worth reading. Return to her backlist over the summer.
Publisher Overview: 1) Life After Life by Kate Atkinson—What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?
On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.
Does Ursula’s apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can — will she?
Darkly comic, startlingly poignant, and utterly original — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.
2) The next book that has caught my eye is The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Söderberg. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo built up expectations for every thriller that follows in its huge wake. This thriller has the requisite “cool” plot line—I’ll be reading this next.
Publisher Overview: A Monumental Crime Thriller—The First of a Trilogy—That Will Set the World On Fire
When Sophie Brinkmann meets Hector Guzman, her life is perfectly uneventful. She’s a nurse and a single mother, living with her son in a sleepy Stockholm suburb. She likes Guzman’s quiet charm and easy smile; she likes the way he welcomes her into his family. She quickly learns, though, that his smooth façade masks something much more sinister—he’s the head of an international crime ring that is at war with a rival organization. Before she can fully grasp the extent of his dangerous world, her life starts to come undone: her family is at risk, a long-lost friend mysteriously resurfaces, and she realizes that she can trust no one. Whether she likes it or not, she’s now at the center of a global turf war between Spanish drug traffickers, German gangsters, Russian hit men, and Swedish cops. To get out alive, and with her integrity intact, she will have to summon everything within her to navigate this intricate web of moral ambiguity, deadly obsession, and craven gamesmanship.
The Andalucian Friend is a breathtaking thriller of the first order—turbo-charged, action-packed, highly sophisticated, and unputdownable.
3) The Humanity Project by Jean Thompson—The first novel Jean Thompson wrote, The Year We Left Home, thrilled me to no end. It fit into the Jonathan Franzen side of the literary pond, and captured the growth of siblings over the years to stunning effect. Thompson’s new novel’s premise sounds perfect for sunny days—hope-filled drama is welcome.
Publisher Overview: After surviving a shooting at her high school, Linnea is packed off to live with her estranged father, Art, who doesn’t quite understand how he has suddenly become responsible for raising a sullen adolescent girl. Art’s neighbor, Christie, is a nurse distracted by an eccentric patient, Mrs. Foster, who has given Christie the reins to her Humanity Project, a bizarre and well-endowed charity fund. Just as mysteriously, no one seems to know where Conner, the Fosters’ handyman, goes after work, but he has become the one person Linnea can confide in, perhaps because his own home life is a war zone: his father has suffered an injury and become addicted to painkillers. As these characters and many more hurtle toward their fates, the Humanity Project is born: Can you indeed pay someone to be good? At what price?
4) The most anticipated book on my list is by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, titled NOS4A2. Early reviews by other masters of the horror and fantasy genre have made me anxious to discover the dark pathways revealed in between the covers. It’s terrific to note that talent runs deep in King’s writing family. I’ve read Hill’s three previous books, and they are all original, with different settings, and characters who would remind you of the everyday crowd around you if all of their dark secrets happened to be revealed. Also check out Horns and Heart-Shaped Box.
Publisher Overview: Charlie Manx burned a man to death in his black 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith, but that’s not the worst of it. Rumor has it that he kidnapped dozens of children, taking them to a place he calls “Christmasland.” The only child ever to escape was a very lucky girl named Victoria McQueen.
Vic has a gift – she can ride her bike through the Shorter Way bridge and she’ll come out the other side wherever she needs to be, even if it’s hundreds of miles away. Vic doesn’t tell anyone about her ability; no one would understand.
When Charlie Manx finally dies after years in prison, his body disappears…after the autopsy. The police and media think someone stole it, but Vic knows the truth: Charlie Manx is on the road again…and he has her kid. And this time, Vic McQueen’s going after him.
5) The Black Count by Tom Reiss gets a spot on my list because it’s billed as more adventurous than my favorite classic of all time The Count of Monte Cristo. This isn’t a new in nonfiction, but it’s been on my radar for quite some time. I held back until this summer because I didn’t want the reality, the story behind the story, to color my fondness for Dumas’ mighty adventure, the very first suspense novel.
Publisher Overview: Here is the remarkable true story of the real Count of Monte Cristo – a stunning feat of historical sleuthing that brings to life the forgotten hero who inspired such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.
The real-life protagonist of The Black Count, General Alex Dumas, is a man almost unknown today yet with a story that is strikingly familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used it to create some of the best loved heroes of literature.
Yet, hidden behind these swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: the real hero was the son of a black slave — who rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time.
Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. Enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution, in an audacious campaign across Europe and the Middle East – until he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.
The Black Count is simultaneously a riveting adventure story, a lushly textured evocation of 18th-century France, and a window into the modern world’s first multi-racial society. But it is also a heartbreaking story of the enduring bonds of love between a father and son.
6) Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear (10th in the series)—Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series of books have won me over, and she has many other admirers as well. You can’t go wrong, and her latest looks perfect for a sunny day. I can picture this day ahead of me. If you want to start right at the beginning, please find the first Maisie Dobbs book, titled Maisie Dobbs.
Publisher Overview: The death of an Indian immigrant leads Maisie Dobbs into a dangerous yet fascinating world and takes her in an unexpected direction in this latest chapter of the New York Times bestselling series “that seems to get better with each entry” (Wall Street Journal).
London, 1933. Two months after the body of an Indian woman named Usha Pramal is found in the brackish water of a South London canal, her brother, newly arrived in England, turns to Maisie Dobbs to find out the truth about her death. Not only has Scotland Yard made no arrests, evidence indicates that they failed to conduct a full and thorough investigation.
Before her death, Usha was staying at an ayah’s hostel alongside Indian women whose British employers turned them out into the street–penniless and far from their homeland–when their services were no longer needed. As Maisie soon learns, Usha was different from the hostel’s other lodgers. But with this discovery comes new danger: another Indian woman who had information about Usha is found murdered before she can talk to Maisie.
As Maisie is pulled deeper into an unfamiliar yet captivating subculture, her investigation becomes clouded by the unfinished business of a previous case as well as a growing desire to see more of the world, following in the footsteps of her former mentor, Maurice Blanche. And there is her lover, James Compton, who gives her an ultimatum she cannot ignore.
Bringing a crucial chapter in the life and times of Maisie Dobbs to a close, Leaving Everything Most Loved marks a pivotal moment in this remarkable series.
7) The Dinner by Herman Koch is a book that sounds like it will appeal to my darker sensibilities. It is grounded in reality and in the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? section of the world with intersecting characters in a heightened and suspenseful drama.
Publisher Overview: An internationally bestselling phenomenon: the darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives — all over the course of one meal.
It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse — the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.
8) Olive Kitteridge put Elizabeth Strout at the pinnacle of literary acclaim when it won The Pulitzer Prize, and it is phenomenal (go read this now, please), and her new novel The Burgess Boys is also receiving early high praise. I will read anything Strout writes, and I’m far from alone. Here’s the book description.
Publisher Overview: Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan—the Burgess sibling who stayed behind—urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.
With a rare combination of brilliant storytelling, exquisite prose, and remarkable insight into character, Elizabeth Strout has brought to life two deeply human protagonists whose struggles and triumphs will resonate with readers long after they turn the final page. Tender, tough-minded, loving, and deeply illuminating about the ties that bind us to family and home, The Burgess Boys is Elizabeth Strout’s newest and perhaps most astonishing work of literary art.
9) The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer is on my list because of her beautiful prose. Her writing is comparable to the current fiction greats, Franzen, McCarthy, Irving, and so many more. Discover Wolitzer’s novels. I loved her early work too, especially Surrender Dorothy, if you can still find it.
Publisher Overview: The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.
The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.
Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.
Publisher Overview: One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.
While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning
Please tell me what’s on your own Summer Reading List, and enjoy your own reading journey.
P.S. Coming soon to all online eSellers: the original literary suspense eNovella The Conversationalist. Be on the look out.
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