Five Books to Read This Summer

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I think if I could travel the world, have a dog, and read books for the rest of my life,
I would be completely happy.

— my sister, last week —

This past week I dove into the most wonderful group of novels, one after another, barely coming up for air between them, tearing through them hours on end, waking up early and going to sleep late to read and read and read. Afterwards I laughingly said I’d gone on a “book binge,” my first in a long time. I’d forgotten what that felt like.

So if you’re looking for some yummy reads, look no further! Here are five books I haven’t been able to put down:

I’ve talked about this one before because — oh! — I loved it so much. I laughed, cried, and left feeling like I’d made a new friend. It’s a warm, tender, open-armed memoir of the author’s life and kitchen table. It’s a manifesto for pouring wine, breaking bread, and making room for friends around your table and in your heart. Woven between the author’s favorite recipes are beautiful, honest stories from her own life. I made her lentil soup for dinner tonight!

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This was a Book Club choice, and I was ambivalent… until I realized that it is based on a true story. And then I was blown away. It’s a sweeping Southern drama, telling the story of Sarah Grimke, born into Charleston belle privilege, and Handful, the slave she was gifted on her twelfth birthday. Sarah goes on to become one of the first female abolitionists, and her story is painful, riveting, and inspiring. Read it to be taught as well as to enjoy.

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It’s a short, easy read, but the fact that it is also based on extensive historical research makes it powerful and memorable. The book follows the story of Vivian, an orphan in NYC who is put on the infamous “orphan train” heading West to families in need of shop labor or farm hands. Some of the orphans’ stories are devastatingly sad, and Vivian’s takes sickening turns. But the ending is sweet and redemptive, and I loved the modern-day orphan story woven back and forth through the historical narrative. Read it!

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This was one of the books from my book binge. I inhaled the 450-page novel in about 48 hours, scrambling to think of things for Lena and Gil to do by themselves so that I could just keep reading! The story begins in the 1960s when teenage Laurel, up in the tree house on her family’s property, witnesses her mother open the door to a strange man and then kill him in cold blood. Unable to forget the murder years later, Laurel goes on a quest to uncover her mother’s past, taking her deep into WWII London during the Blitz.

(Note: I also readΒ The Forgotten Garden by the same author that week, and it was good too.)

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What a treat. Reads like chick lit, but the author is smarter and keener, and she knows how to deal with deep heart issues while keeping the tone light and fun. The main character, Alice, hits her head and wakes up thinking that she is newlywed, pregnant, and completely happy… none of which are true because it’s actually 10 years later and she has three children, an estranged husband, and a lot of water under the bridge with her sister and friends. Will losing her memory let her to redeem her family, friends, and life? Or is it too late?

(Note: I also read the author’s newer book, The Husband’s Secret, and loved it almost as much. Highly recommend this one too!)

And here are a few more honorable mentions that I’ve loved over the past few years:

  1. A Severe Mercy — a true love story & the book Elliott and I read when we were falling in love
  2. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? — light, fun, mother-daughter story
  3. Unbroken — riveting WWII memoir (I think I was the last of my friends to read this)
  4. The Glass Castle — family, heartbreak, memoir
  5. The Light Between Oceans — infertility, love, & Australia
  6. The Handmaid’s Tale — distopia with a “Biblical” twist
  7. The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love — FAVORITE!!!
  8. Bringing Up BΓ©bΓ© — American vs. French parenting, ie. my kind of brain candy
  9. NutureShock: New Thinking About Children — game-changer for parents
  10. 84, Charing Cross Road — handwritten letters, books, love
  11. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster — EDGE OF MY SEAT
  12. My Life in France — Julia Child, FOOD, France

Do you have any recommendations for me? Happy reading!

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14 Responses to Five Books to Read This Summer

  1. Amanda E. May 28, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    Good recs!!! I love many of these, will try many of your other suggestions! :-)

  2. Autumn May 28, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

    Yayy for more ideas!!!

  3. Sarah Stuntz May 28, 2014 at 5:49 pm #

    Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta — it’s young adult, but it has adult themes, and it’s BEAUTIFULLY written. Also set in Australia, with allusions to To Kill a Mockingbird — I went into mourning when I was done becuase I just wanted to reread.

    The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh — my book binge book :)

    A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini — I haven’t read the Kite Runner, but I loved this book (even though it also broke my heart)

    • Becca May 28, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

      Thank you, Sarah! I just got “Language of Flowers” from the library yesterday, actually, and can’t wait to read it when I’m done with “Never Let Me Go” (which is mystifying and beautiful, but a slower read).

  4. Eden May 28, 2014 at 7:27 pm #

    Thanks for the recommendations!!

    I’m just re-reading Middlemarch – remembered thinking it was really good the first time, but don’t really remember what it was about.

    • Becca May 28, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

      I still haven’t read Middlemarch. It’s on my to-read list one day. I’ve gotten wrapped up in so much modern fiction at the start of the year; I need to get back into some classics.

      • Candace E. June 30, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

        I have that problem of reading so much modern fiction… Always seems like the classics are harder to pick out for some reason.

  5. Di May 28, 2014 at 11:29 pm #

    I’ve just downloaded The Invention of Wings on your recommendation. I like sue monk Kidd anyway so this should be good. I downloaded This Dirty Life after your recommendation and loved it. I will have to think of a few recommendations for you.

    • Becca May 29, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

      Hooray! So glad you enjoyed Dirty Life, and hope you enjoy Invention of Wings!

  6. Di May 28, 2014 at 11:39 pm #

    Just looked at the other comments – The Language of Flowers was good as was Never Let You Go. Have you ever read The Lost: A Search for Six of the Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn – I bought it a few years back when I was in the States and was drawn into the true story of Jewish journalist, Daniel Mendelsohn who tried to find out what happened to his family in WW2 Europe. Or try The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (who wrote The Moomins) but this is a series of short stories about the summers she spent on a Finnish island with her grandmother as a child – beautiful little tales of childhood. I also enjoyed A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi, a travelogue/life in Italy story. Another moving to another country book that I loved was Almost French by Sarah Turnball.

    • Becca May 29, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

      These sound like amazing suggestions, Di. Thank you! We were introduced to Moomin recently by some super cool friends (much cooler than we’ll ever be), and I’d love to read more of his work.

  7. Di May 29, 2014 at 11:10 pm #

    I loved the Moomins. Have you seen the comic strip version of the books.
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Moomin-Complete-Jansson-Comic-Strip/dp/1894937805/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1401401144&sr=8-4&keywords=Moomins

    The Summer Book is one of her books for adults, there is also A Winter Book and Travelling Light but The Summer Book was my favourite as all the stories are connected to her life and the island.

    I’ve started the Invention of Wings and it is reading well so far.

  8. Sheila May 31, 2014 at 4:40 am #

    I second the votes for “Almost French” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns.” Have you ever read anything by Louise Dickinson Rich? Her books are old (mid-1950’s, I think), but my book club members gave me “We Took to the Woods,” and I loved it and have since read many of her books. It is a memoir of her years as a wife and mother in the backwoods of Maine. She’s so down-to-earth, and I laughed out loud at much I could relate to now. Linda Olsson’s three novels are unusual, but I think quite good. You could try “The Priest’s Madonna”; our book club loved this historical novel and really enjoyed meeting the author, Amy Hassinger, who lives in our community. Have you read Molly Wizenberg’s food memoirs or any of Barbara Kingsolver’s collections of essays? I like them all. (I haven’t checked your GoodReads site, so I apologize if you’re already familiar with these suggestions!)

    • Becca June 1, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

      These are amazing suggestions, Sheila, thank you! I’ve heard of some but not others. I do love Molly Wizenberg and am so excited about her newest book. Can’t wait to get my hands on it when we’re back in the States!

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