It’s summer, and I’m reading. I also read during winter, spring and fall. But Summer Reading is a thing, even for adults, so in case you’re interested, here’s what I’ve been reading.
Kimberly McCreight, Reconstructing Amelia: I’m pretty sure I picked this up because it was described somewhere as “this summer’s Gone Girl,” and I do love a page-turner. Plus, it’s tangentially about suicide, which is a topic of interest to me. Single mother and attorney Kate begins to investigate after her daughter Amelia jumps off the roof (or was she pushed?) of her exclusive prep school. Not quite as addictive as Gone Girl, but I will admit that by the time I reached the last few chapters, I couldn’t put it down until I found out exactly what had happened.
Owen Laukkanen, Criminal Enterprise: My book club read Laukkanen’s The Professionals a couple months ago, and I loved it so much that I practically did a happy dance when I learned that the sequel had already been published. After only two books, Laukkanen’s formula seems to be in place: somebody is driven to commit crimes because of the bad economy/recession, things get way out of hand, and only a bad-ass FBI agent and her occasional partner, a state investigator, can stop him. Laukkanen’s books seem to be examples of Thriller Writing 101, with short, punchy chapters and action a-plenty, but trust me, a lot of people attempt to succeed in this genre, but not many do it this well. Can’t wait for the third.
Jennifer Haigh, Faith: A literary novel about a woman whose priest brother is accused of molestation, this book is so sensitively done and non-exploitative that I recommended it to a devout Catholic friend of mine who thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s hard to imagine a better fictional treatment of this sensitive subject.
Louise Penny, The Beautiful Mystery: Penny is one of the most popular mystery writers in North America–her readers love her, but I’ve never been able to get 100% on board because so many of her books are set in Three Pines, a Quebec hamlet which rivals Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove as the deadliest small town on this side of the pond. It’s always struck me as hilarious that so many of Penny’s ardent fans say that they would simply love to live in or visit Three Pines, since it’s more dangerous than the South Side of Chicago. Still, I always make a point of reading Penny’s non-3P books (and I even succumb to some of the ones set in 3P). The Beautiful Mystery is set at a remote monastery where one of the brothers has been killed over, of all things, a feud involving Gregorian chants. Penny can definitely create a vivid setting, but the conflict between the inspector and his malevolent superintendent is getting a bit old, plus, it’s a trope of numerous other series, notably Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks mysteries. Robinson eventually dispatched mean ol’ Constable Riddle, and Penny should kick Superintendent Francoeur to the curb.
Dan Savage, American Savage: It’s no secret that Dan Savage is one of my heroes, and crazed superfans like me–the sort of person who pays a subscription fee to receive the expanded edition of his weekly podcast, attends his live appearances, and follows him on Twitter–will already have devoured this book of essays. If I have to be honest, I guess it’s kind of preaching to the converted, in the way that no liberal, say, is ever going to pick up a copy of Bill O’Reilly’s Pinheads and Patriots. However, the book’s opening chapter, about the death of his beloved mother (recounted in a video here), is definitively non-partisan.
Cheryl Strayed, Wild: I am almost fanatical about wearing comfortable shoes, so this nonfiction book about an inexperienced hiker’s trek on the Pacific Coast Trail read almost like a horror story to me. Strayed initially sets off in hiking boots that are too small, and ultimately, she loses six toenails. Yes, this is a great story about a woman’s triumph over adversity, but I couldn’t get over the whole foot thing. I’m obviously not alone, since I was driven to Google “cheryl strayed +feet” and learned that Strayed has said, “My feet are fine, that’s the main question I get from readers of Wild.” Thank heavens for the resilience of feet.
Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why: Back in the Jurassic Period, when I was a teen, there was a great deal of hue and cry over the overly mature content of YA novels like Go Ask Alice and Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. It seems like adults are always raising a ruckus about what the kids are reading, but despite the fact that Thirteen deals with suicide, it’s won a slew of awards and turned into the sort of YA book that even middle-aged folks like me pick up. It’s a bit of wish-fulfillment for survivors of suicide, as it involves a boy who receives a box of tapes in which a friend who killed herself outlines exactly why she chose to end her life. Sometimes, the answers aren’t there, and we have to carry on regardless.
This is my story: I keep having this dream. You’re alive, and I can’t believe it, I’m so happy. Then I learn that you’ve taken a fatal dose of a drug. There is no antidote. You’re going to die. I figure that at least I can say goodbye to you, or ask why you’ve chosen to end your life, but when I look again, you’re locked in a soundproof room. I can peer through the window and see you, but we can’t communicate. There’s nothing I can do but walk away.
Linda Barnes, The Perfect Ghost: I always try not to read flap copy on books because sometimes it gives away too much plot, but I usually check out the blurbs on the back cover, since it’s interesting to see which authors are hyping each other. Sometimes it seems like half the books I read feature laudatory quotes by Lee Child and/or Laura Lippman. Anyway, a couple of the blurbs on The Perfect Ghost, a rare stand-alone from Barnes, best known for her series about Boston cabbie/P.I. Carlotta Carlyle, refer to the book’s “shocking twist.” Knowing that a book or movie has a “shocking twist” practically constitutes a spoiler, because I am constantly trying to guess what it could be. Indeed, I figured out the twist well before it was revealed, but I have to give Barnes credit for writing a fair-play mystery in which the clues are all there, if you care to look for them. And The Perfect Ghost is beautifully written.
A couple of years ago, I read a book by one of my favorite mystery authors, and it featured a twist that was so jaw-dropping that I audibly gasped when it was revealed. I had no idea there was a twist in store, and it was amazing. The best twist is a secret twist.