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!

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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

We have beliefs about ourselves to which we hold on tightly. We build a sense of identity around them as if they are truths set in stone. We tell ourselves stories that support our identity and behave in ways that support what we believe to be true, even if that truth is a dark one.

After high school I left home, embarking on a new journey. Many of my friends did the same, scattering to new places all over the country. The path my friend P took however could not have been more opposite from mine. While freedom and possibilities stretched out before me as I started college, P faced five years of imprisonment in the state penitentiary.

P grew up without much parental guidance. His father was often absent from his life. His mother struggled to make ends meet and to care for P’s much younger sisters. P helped his family out by stealing and selling drugs. He dropped out of school at an early age, opting for a street education instead. His lawless activities gradually escalated in nature, as did his mentality. It shaped who he was, who he believed himself to be.

P was a good and loyal friend, and he had a big heart.  While he was in prison, we corresponded through written letters. He always decorated the envelopes with intricate drawings, often of flowers intertwined together by vines of sharp leaves and thorns. I got one every couple of weeks and wrote him back almost immediately. His stories about life on the inside were minimal, but the darkness and hardness of the place emanated from all of the things he didn’t say.

More importantly though, were our philosophical discussions about human nature and being positive and optimistic. P’s life in prison was exposing him to time and experiences that made him seriously question who he was and who he wanted to become. In every letter I wrote, I poured out an immense bounty of positive messages, energy, and encouragement. I wanted desperately for him to change for the better, to emerge from prison with the intention and the willpower to turn his life in a positive direction, and I knew he wanted that, too.

His letters indicated that he was hearing me, taking our conversations to heart. But then he sent me a letter that woke me to the truth. P got a tattoo while in prison. It was of a demon, and it covered his entire chest. When P looked in the mirror every day, he saw his own face, and then he saw the face of the demon, reinforcing what he believed to be true about himself – that he was a bad person.

Sometimes we believe something to be true about ourselves for so long that it feels too hard to test that certainty and see if our belief is still true. It’s easier to simply go on believing and existing in the reality we have constructed for ourselves in our own minds. I could not change P with a handful of letters. I could not unravel the story he had been telling himself for most of his life. Only he could change that story.

The news of P’s tattoo broke my heart. I felt like I had lost him. I continued my letters of positivity and encouragement, however. Once he was released from prison, he never went back. I’m glad for that, but his internal struggle didn’t end there. After he was out, we talked regularly about his questionable ethics and morality evident by the choices he had made and was still making. Eventually it became too much for me, and as I pushed to keep that darkness out of my life, our friendship faded away.

What are the things about yourself that you “know” to be true? Ask yourself why you believe these things and question their validity. We should always be questioning ourselves and the truths we hold so close. After all, we are the ones that constructed them.

We decide what defines us and what we see when we look in the mirror every day. Some of us see a demon, like P did, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We decide our truths, the things that define who we are, and we can decide to change them. We can change the stories we tell ourselves and be better.

Book Review: American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

“The only thing with less character than Chardonnay is wainscoting.” 

A Manhattan housewife lures in and befriends the doormen at her building, but her motive is not what you think. A woman provides a “relocation” service for pageant girls. A writer stands her ground while competing on a reality TV show. From book club secrets to life advice from cats, this collection of twelve stories is darkly comedic yet also steeped in truth.

AmericanHousewifeThe book satirizes the dark side of the feminine mind and the interplay of catty and manipulative relationships. It also emphasizes the strength and intelligence of the female characters as well, ringing the bell of truth at times. I found myself smiling and shaking my head, relating to them and laughing in part at the silliness of myself. I chuckled aloud a few times but then felt slightly disturbed at other times. The characters are witty, sassy, and sinister.

The title led me to think that all of the stories are related to the lives of women who do not work, but that is not the case. Some are housewives, some are writers, and some are undefined, creating a wider range of topics and themes. Also, not all of the stories are plot based. Some of them are written as simple advice or commentary, and I think the piece called Take It From Cats is the best.

However, I much prefer the plot driven stories. My favorites are Dumpster Diving with the Stars, Dead Doormen, and My Novel Is Brought to You By the Good People at Tampax. I loved the incessant and ludicrous procrastination of the character in the last story!

The stories are strange and creative and all very different.  It is a great collection that has something for everyone.

3.5 out of 5 stars

This Is Not About Kittens (Okay, Maybe A Little)

I may not always know what to say, but I continue to daydream and trust that words will come. Writing makes me look closer at things. It leads me to ponder things more deeply and to consider them from different perspectives.

Sometimes when I’m stuck on what to write, I tell the person closest to me about it. Giving voice to the obstacle sometimes helps me to work through it. My husband K in an effort to be supportive offers ideas, which usually consist of recent experiences that he and I had together. His latest suggestion involved kittens.

We recently went to look at a house going up for sale. It was a major fixer-upper but had great character. As we explored the big backyard, a strange noise floated up above the wind in the trees and rung in my ears. I froze, listening hard, and there the sound came again. Kittens!

I followed the high-pitched mewing to a stone fountain broken into pieces and IMG_0566overturned in a bed of monkey grass. There I found him – a tiny gray kitten, the giver-away of the hiding spot. I picked him up and snuggled him close to me as K scooped up his three siblings. They were so small and sweet yet fierce with their sharp claws in permanent protrusion from their soft padded kitten feet.

When we first ventured into the backyard, K and I saw a couple of adult cats watching us cautiously before jumping the fence and taking off. One of those was likely the mama of these kittens. Their place of refuge was a good one, complete with multiple hiding spots and cover from sun and rain. They ran to each other and huddled together as we placed them back where we found them, confident that their mom would return.

I thought about the kittens all that night and the next day. I tried not to worry, trusting that the mama cat would do her best because that’s the nature of things. Still, K and I brought over some kitten food. We quietly crept into the yard, anticipating listening for the sounds of mewing, but the stone fountain and monkey grass were empty. We searched the yard and called for the kittens but to no avail. Mama cat did her job and moved them to a new place, a safer place. We set out the food anyway just in case and silently wished the kittens well.

I appreciated K’s suggestion to write about this experience, but I decided against it. What was the moral of the story? What was the point? Yet I continued to think about it, to replay the events in my head, and as I did, the seeds of those thoughts began to grow and spark questions in my mind.

Those questions sparked conversations between K and I – philosophical conversations, and from there I have continued to ponder and question a plethora of beliefs and ideas, reconsidering my perspective on certain things I have thought to be true, all because I found some stray kittens and thought about the experience more deeply than usual.

I realized that finding those kittens and reflecting on the story gave me insight. I did not know it at the time, but it was an experience that for a few minutes caused me to be present and thankful.  From that experience I was able to appreciate the small moments that make me see and feel something outside my normal realm and routine. It distracted me from myself and presented something new and wonderful. From there I could reflect on writing, on what I wanted to say.

This is why I don’t simply give up when I don’t know what to say when I write.  Writing has made me more conscientious of my world. I realized that I don’t write so much as to make an impact as to influence. I write because the act influences me. It makes me a better person, and it has given me a better and happier life.