Summer Love + 10 Books with Summer Settings

Summer is the season of adventure. It’s the season love, friendship, travel, and new experiences. The sun shines bright and the heat warms our skin making us feel young and free and happy. Summer is when we aim to spend more time outside.

I have an abundance of amazing memories from my summers past – going out dancing, traveling through Europe, flying across country to see friends, marrying my favorite person in the world, lounging by the pool and reading for hours on end.

Summer is the season of reading. We seem to have extra time to devote to our books whether we find ourselves needing something to do on a flight or relaxing on the beach after a dip in the ocean. Books become our summer companions, and we turn to them for some of our adventures.

Here are some great reads to accompany your summer fun. They all start or take place during the summer season as well!

FrogMusic

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

This story takes place in San Francisco during the summer heat wave of 1876. Blanche is a burlesque dancer distraught by the sudden murder of her friend Jenny. Blanche will stop at nothing to figure out the culprit and bring him to justice. Despite the plot line, this is not a fast-paced thriller. It’s a mystery that slowly unravels amidst vivid and through details that bring the setting and the characters of the story to life. The author even incorporates songs from the time into the book, which is quite cool and impressive in my opinion.

 

 

Bittersweet

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Mabel feels average compared to her wild, beautiful, college roommate Ev. When Ev invites her to spend the summer together at her family’s estate, Mabel is ecstatic. She falls fast in love with the place and lifestyle, feeling like she finally belongs and is living the life she has always wanted. But there are dark secrets buried within this family, and Mabel is faced with a dilemma as she begins to uncover them. The novel is much darker than I anticipated but made me wish I summered in Vermont even more.

 

 

SummerBeforeWarThe Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

After the death of her father, Beatrice takes a job as a Latin teacher in a small Sussex town. The story starts in the summer when Beatrice arrives and unfolds as she forms friendships with Agatha, the patron the supported her hiring, and her charismatic nephews. This book has a slow and steady pace that makes it easy to form attachments to the characters. It explores small town gossip, nontraditional relationship, social class, and gender roles during the time. When WWI begins, the lives of those in the small town will never be the same. I cried hard at the end.

 

 

TheGirlsThe Girls by Emma Cline

It’s summer in the late 1960’s, and a lonely 14-year old girl becomes mesmerized by an older girl and her free lifestyle that turns out to be a dangerous path in disguise. The cult and thriller aspects of this book are captivating, but what makes this book worth reading is the author’s exploration of the complex web of both female and male relationships and early interactions that shape who we are and who we become. It is dark and candid interpretation of the female coming-of-age experience that I found insightful.

 

 

EarthThe Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

After tragedy strikes, a boy moves with his mom over the summer to live with his grandfather in the Kentucky Appalachians. The boy finds solace in his relationship with his wise and rugged grandfather and with his new best friend as they explore the woods. When the town becomes divided over mountain blasting, a camping trip into to the wilderness becomes a fight for survival. It’s gritty and poignant. It’s also the author’s debut, and I can’t wait to read his next book!

 

 

LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart

A group of four friends spend carefree summers together on a family island until one of them has an accident and loses part of her memory. She returns the following summer to piece together the puzzle of what happened. This is a story about friendship, loss, and facing your demons. The negative ratings on Goodreads describe the book as tedious and pretentious, but I found something honest and beautiful in this coming-of-age story. I did listen to the audiobook and loved the narrator, so that likely improved my experience. I cried twice.

 

 

WhistlingGraveyardWhistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

It’s summertime in Mississippi 1963. When 9-year old Starla gets in trouble for attending the July 4th festival against her grandmother’s wishes, Starla runs away, aiming for Nashville, the city where her music star mother lives. On her way, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman suspiciously traveling with a white baby. Together they find themselves facing a series of incredible dangers. This is another book that took a darker and more violent turn than I anticipated, but the resolution brings it all full circle for a satisfying read.

 

 

ChaperoneThe Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

Before becoming silent film star, Louise Brooks traveled from her home in Kansas to set to NY to attend prestigious dance school. She was 15 at the time and thus forced to travel with chaperone, Cora Carlisle, who had personal reasons of her own for taking the job and making the 5-week trip. This work of historical fiction is an insightful reflection of the changing culture and values of the time. It was an intriguing read and left me wishing I could experience 1920s New York for myself. I think there is a plan for a feature film in the works!

 

 

InterestingsThe Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

This novel explores the complexity of friendship over time as lives shift and change, often leading people in directions they question or even regret. Six friends forge deep bonds when they first meet at art camp over the summer. While they are all clearly talented, some of them pursue successful artistic careers while others follow different paths. While the main character Jules is unlikable in my opinion, she provides a candid representation of envy, a prominent concept in this character-driven book, to which most of us can relate.

 

 

RainLighteningThe Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard

It’s summertime in small town Kansas when Jody learns that the man convicted of killing her father on the same night her mom disappeared, is getting out of prison and is getting a new trial, presided over by the convict’s son. New details come to light about the events of the horrible night that Jody lost both of her parents and her family will never be the same. This is a quick-paced suspenseful novel that was a fun and easy read. This is a great one to take with you on a road trip or flight!

 

 

Happy summer and happy reading!

Book Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

“A fast didn’t go fast; it was the slowest thing there was. Fast meant a door shut fast, firmly. A fastness, a fortress. To fast was to hold fast to emptiness, to say no and no and no again.”

4.5 out of 5 stars 

TheWonderAn English nurse, Lib, travels to a small town in Ireland for a two-week job. She learns up on arrival that she was not hired to be a caretaker but to simply be an observer of an 11-year old girl, Anna. Anna’s family claims that Anna has not eaten for four months and is instead sustained by divine will or influence. The Catholic priest and a local committee have sanctioned a 24-hour watch to find out the truth. Lib is confident that she will discover evidence of a hoax before the end of the two weeks, but she soon realizes once the watch begins that this puzzle is more difficult to solve that she anticipated.

I devoured this book. It was so intriguing that I struggled to step away from it even for a little bit as I wanted to keep pushing through the story to get to the bottom of the mystery. When I first started reading it I thought I was going to get bored. I mean, how complex could this story really get? I never got bored. It is a mystery that kept unraveling, and when I thought the protagonist had figured most of it out, the story would unravel even more and lead to more questions. I found myself asking questions alongside of Lib’s inner dialogue as she worked through all the possibilities and tried to consider all the angles.

The Irish history and landscape painted a vivid backdrop, and the insight into Irish Catholicism and the culture of the time made the story even more intriguing. I felt emotionally invested in Anna’s situation and felt anxious about the actions or lack thereof from all the adults around her. I gasped aloud in frustration more than once and felt genuinely concerned about how this story was going to end. The book also made me very hungry. 🙂

 

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

“Hope is a powerful thing. Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether. Elusive, difficult to hold on to. But not much is needed.” 

Caraval is a wonderous place of magic. Scarlett has always dreamed of going, but her Caravalcruel father will never allow it. When she receives tickets to Caraval as a gift from the infamous Caraval Master Legend himself, Scarlett and her sister Tella run away to attend the show with the help of a handsome sailor. Shortly after their arrival however, Legend kidnaps Tella, and Scarlett soon learns that Tella’s disappearance is part of the Caraval game, and whoever finds her first wins. With the help of the mysterious sailor and other characters of intrigue along the way, Scarlett embarks on a dangerous adventure into the heart of Caraval to find and save her sister.

I am not a big fan of young adult novels (yet I somehow keep reading them), so my expectations of this book were somewhat low simply based on the genre, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I really enjoyed this reading experience. Yes, the protagonist is frustrating in her naïveté at times, but I understand that’s part of her figuring things out and growing as a person in the YA experience. Despite that, I loved this book and could not put it down! It is captivating and imaginative and kept me wondering and guessing at every twist and turn as to what would happen next.

Marketers have heavily compared this book to Night Circus, and there is a little bit of truth in that, mostly in the sense that there is magic and mystery and secrets. There are also complicated relationships, both romantic and familial, but the premise is not so much a competition between star-crossed lovers but rather a race against time for a girl to find her sister as part of an elaborate game.

The descriptions in this book of the many sights, sounds, and characters conjured fantastical images in my mind. I loved imagining all of the costumes and dresses specifically. The story is visually very interesting, and I can easily see this book made into a movie.

The story is magical, creative, dark, and even a little racy via the dark allure of some characters and some passionate romantic scenes as well. There are endless twists and turns that play out in a magical world so you can never be sure what is real and what is true. It is a fun and exciting read that kept me guessing and wondering to the very end.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Book Review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

“We wear clothes, and speak, and create civilizations, and believe we are more than wolves. But inside us there is a word we cannot pronounce and that is who we are.” 

The setting is war-torn Chechnya in 2004. Explosions and disappearances are a way of life. After watching the Russian feds arrest his friend and set his house on fire, Akhmed is relieved to find his friend’s 8-year old daughter Havaa hiding in the woods and knows he must take her to a safe place. Sonya, a talented and overworked surgeon who is Constellationhaunted by the disappearance of her sister, agrees to take in Havaa in exchange for Akhmed’s help at the hospital. Meanwhile, someone is still looking for Havaa.

The heart of the plot takes place over only 5 days, but the whole story unfolds through various character perspectives and flashbacks throughout the previous ten years. At first the setting distracted me from everything else. I knew next to nothing about the Chechen wars and paused in between chapters to do some research and get a better understanding of the history. I was shocked to learn how much of the historical context of the novel is true, but it helped me grasp what the characters were facing and trying to endure.

The book gracefully dives head first into the strength and resilience that people are capable of when duty and dignity calls for it while highlighting the lasting effects of traumatic experience.  The story comes full circle, intertwining together the fates of the characters, materializing meaning in unexpected ways. While there is some hopeful resolution, there also remains a sense of emptiness and loss, which solidifies the book’s powerful impact.

In this book war is life. It’s a haunting story that transported me to a place I’m thankful I’ve never actually been, but it’s important to have exposure to perspectives and experiences different from your own to see what the world for others can be like. This book provided that for me, and it still left me hopeful.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Book Review: The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

“They’ll wait until I’m asleep – or nearly asleep – to strike. That’s how they do it; they blur the line between reality and nightmare. They give me bad dreams, and then they make them come true.” 

Twelve contestants compete in a new survivalist reality TV show, one that is rumored to LastOnehave unprecedented reach and special effects. As the contestants compete in teams as well as individually, they begin to understand the lengths to which the show producers will go. After the solo challenge begins, catastrophe strikes, and the contestant we know as Zoo struggles to decide what is reality TV and what is true reality.

Two words: dramatic irony. Dramatic irony exists when the reader knows things that the characters inside the story do not know. This book is dramatic irony to the extreme. Through most of the book, the reader has highly important information about which the protagonist is in the dark. For me personally, I struggle with dramatic irony. I prefer to learn information at the same time as the characters so that I’m embarking on their journeys with them. Knowing things that the characters don’t is a major source of anxiety and frustration for me as part of the reading experience, and it is not a style that I particularly enjoy. It was a hard book for me to endure.

That said, this book is still great. Aside from my own struggles with dramatic irony, this story is interesting, entertaining, and does a great job of exploring the psychological aspects of human nature and behavior under duress. It’s dark and captivating and attention grabbing. I really liked the varying reality TV personalities. Their characters and actions were consistent with a reality TV setup, and the insight into editing and production manipulation was on point (speaking as someone who worked in reality TV production). Zoo’s internal dialogue felt repetitive and a little long at times, but I like the juxtaposition of her solo journey with that of the reality show plot and how they unfolded together.

If you like dark books laden with suspense, unease, and exasperation, this book is for you. The agony of the anticipation lasts all the way to very last page. It’s an intense read that is very well written and grabs ahold of you from the start.

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Unseen World by Liz Moore: A Book Review

“Only humans can hurt one another, Ada thought; only humans falter and betray one another with a stunning, fearsome frequency… She would fail other people throughout her life, inevitably, even those she loved best.” 

Ada’s father David is the most important thing to her. For thirteen years David has beenUnseenWorld her teacher, her best friend, her guide. Ada’s life has revolved entirely around him and his work in his computer science lab, so when David begins to forget things and disappear for hours at a time, Ada’s world as she knows it rapidly changes. As David’s mind disintegrates, Ada must navigate the coming years without him. Life grows more complicated as she moves in with her father’s long time friend, and evidence surfaces that David may not be the person she thinks he is.

I think the experience of admiring and idolizing a parent and then gradually realizing that parents are fallible human beings is something to which everyone can relate.   The reverence with which Ada views her father is so powerful that it’s easy to feel the confusion, frustration, and protectiveness that Ada feels when her father’s health begins to decline.  The relationship between father and daughter is the foundation of the story, and the author does a wonderful job of portraying some of the complexities of that relationship.

The characters are clearly written and consistent, their actions aligning with their personalities so the interpersonal dynamics work well and were convincing. The last third of the book felt a less cohesive for me during the jumps in time back and forth to Ada’s adulthood. I didn’t connect as strongly to the older Ada as I did to the younger one, but perhaps that that’s because we spend less time with her in her adulthood than in her youth.

Still, I liked this book much more than I anticipated. The pacing was consistent through most of the book, and the cryptology as well as the mystery surrounding David’s history and eccentricity kept me interested. As the beginning of the story unfolded, I had so many questions about Ada and her upbringing. I felt like I was slowly turning these small corners, each one revealing another piece of the puzzle, which kept me wanting to keep going along with Ada as things began to unravel.

4 out of 5 stars

 

The Art of Choosing “Good” Books

A friend recently messaged me with a question. He had grown frustrated with reading because he found that most of the books he was picking up weren’t fulfilling or satisfying. Even if he managed to read one all the way through to the end, he was left wanting. He messaged me and asked, “How do you pick out good books?”

It’s a valid question. Picking a good book can be harder than it seems. After all, “good book” is a relative term. It all depends on our personal preferences and on what we believe qualifies a book as worthy of that classification. The truth is that there is no guarantee the next book we read will live up to our expectations, but we can improve our odds by refining our choices and being open to possibility.

Whether you’re an avid reader or are just getting started, here are a few tips on choosing a “good” book to read next.

Think about what you like (and don’t like).
What aspects of your recent reads have been unsatisfying? What are you craving that you aren’t getting? Do you like historical fiction or thrillers or family dramas? Do you prefer fast-paced plots or stories with lots of description? Knowing what you like or what you do not like will make it easier to choose books that you’ll have an enjoyable experience reading. It will also make it easier for you to request recommendations if you can share your preferences with others.

If you haven’t figured out yet what you do and don’t like, don’t worry! The more you read, the closer you’ll get to that answer. Plus, it means you have a wider variety of books to choose from, more so than those who are set in their reading ways. In the meantime, think about what sounds interesting and go with it.

Be honest about your reading mood.  
Maybe you already have a bunch of books lined up to read, but none of them are hitting the mark for you. Are you choosing books that align with your reading mood? Are you reading a serious novel when you’d rather read something lighthearted?

For me, deciphering what I’m interested in reading from book to book is challenging. Sometimes I have to take a break between books to think about what I’m really in the mood to read next. Otherwise, I risk reading something that doesn’t keep my full attention, and I miss out on a good experience.

If you feel like reading something dark and somber, do it! If you’re in the mood for a cozy mystery, go for it! Don’t force yourself to read something that you aren’t committed to fully. Think about it and be honest with yourself about your reading mood, and you’ll enjoy your “good” book choices much more.

Browse at the bookstore.  
Have you been reading only e-books or listening to audiobooks? Maybe you are too removed from the books you are reading and simply need to feel more engaged. Hold the books in your hands. Read the synopses. Admire the creative covers. What speaks to you? Make a connection with the next book you are going to read.

Browsing the endless shelves of books can be daunting, which is why I love going to Barnes and Noble and browsing the display tables. The selections are based on things like “New in Paperback,” “New and Noteworthy Fiction,” and “Recommended Reading.” I discover all sorts of great books of all different genres at those tables. There is also a section reserved for bestsellers, and though there is still no guarantee, a bestseller is a solid indicator that lots of other people anticipate this book to be a “good” one.

Get recommendations from the pros.  
Are you looking for something specific and having a tough time finding it? Maybe you read a really amazing book and you’ve struggled to read anything since then that compares. I struggled to find good books that aligned with what I like to read until I started listening to the Book Riot podcasts. “Get Booked” is a book recommendation podcast based on questions submitted by listeners. “All the Books,” which is about weekly new releases, is another good one. Now my list of books to read has around 200 titles! The show runners read most of the books they recommend and thus suggest only the ones they think are “good.”

Also, if you haven’t already, join Goodreads.com. The network of readers there is vast. You can read user reviews and find out the most popular books on the site. You can also input your reading preferences and the site will give you book recommendations based on your favorites!

Ask friends and family for suggestions.  
If you aren’t sure what you like or are simply stuck in a reading rut, ask your friends and family for suggestions. In my experience readers love to give book recommendations, myself included. Tell them about what you liked and didn’t like about your recent reading choices. Find out what books they like and why or ask if they have any favorite authors. Be open to their suggestions, and if any of the books sound interesting, give them a try!

There are so many “good,” great, amazing books out there! Thinking about what you like, seeking out recommendations, and choosing books with subject matter and genres that truly capture your attention are the keys to ensuring a more exciting and fulfilling reading experience.

Happy reading!