Recommended books: Summer 2013

Word count: 786 words

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Looking for some summer book suggestions? I’m on track for reaching my year-end goal of reading 52 books and here is my semi-annual accounting that may give you some of your own reading ideas.

My habit is to post for you the names of ALL the books I’ve read, twice a year – once at the end of June to give you some summertime recommendations (I’ve read 27 titles so far this year) and the second batch in early December, for gift ideas.

So far, this has been a spectacular year for fiction. Please note that I don’t generally read murder mysteries, sci fi or fantasy. I pass no judgment on those who do; my tastes just don’t run in those directions. I tend to favour literary fiction, strong character-driven stories and biographies.

I name the books I like in the “recommended” category. Books I didn’t enjoy so much (remember: reading is personal!) I’ve placed in alphabetical order in the “other” list.

FICTION in order of preference

  1. Donoghue, Emma. Astray. What a remarkable collection of short stories! Each is based on a news story or some real-life event and each is magnificent. So engaging. So wonderfully written.
  2. Walter, Jess. Beautiful Ruins. A small-town Italian man becomes involved with a young American movie actress…and Richard Burton is involved. Really! A cleverly imagined book weaves in and out of chronological order and covers 50 years. Delightful summer read.
  3. Barry, Sebastian. The Secret Scripture. The tragic story of an elderly woman remembering her youth in violent, riven, Catholic Ireland.
  4. Egan, Jennifer. A Visit from The Goon Squad. I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s very readable and some of the writing is exquisite. But I didn’t like the “experimental” section towards the end. (All but impossible to read on the Kindle.) Still, it’s an interesting novel about characters in the music industry.
  5. Lanchester, John. Capital. This engaging plot focuses on strangely interconnected lives in contemporary London. I didn’t like the way it ended – with a bit of a fizzle. But I very much enjoyed the richly drawn characters.
  6. Riggs, Ransom. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I don’t normally enjoy fantasy but this one – about a trip to a remote Welsh Island – really grabbed me. The author seems to be trying to ride the Harry Potter wave but I think he does it more interestingly — and more weirdly — than J.K. Rowling.
  7. Schofield, Anakana. Malarky. An Irish woman deals with her disappointments in — and the ultimate death of — her husband and her son. Despite the serious plot the book is almost unnervingly funny. Distinctive Irish voice.
  8. Strout, Elizabeth. The Burgess Boys. Two brothers (with a troubled history) deal with a prank committed by their sister’s son. Good but not as great as the author’s previous novel, Olive Kitteridge.
  9. Bokat, Nicole. Redeeming Eve. A scholar writing her thesis on Jane Austen discovers how much her own life is like a novel. It’s an interesting piece of chic-lit, with more to recommend it than most in the genre.
  10. Keane, Mary Beth. Fever. Historical fiction about the woman known as “Typhoid Mary” – an asymptomatic carrier of typhus. Sadly, the character development was almost nil. Too bad because it’s such an interesting story!
  11. Galloway, Steven. The Cellist of Sarajevo. When 22 people are killed by a mortar attack, a cellist marks their deaths by playing his cello at the site, for 22 days. A few bits of fine writing but it’s a bit heavy-handed. 

Other fiction 

  1. Koch, Herman. The Dinner.
  2. Morgenstern, Erin. Night Circus.
  3. Pountney, Christine. Sweet Jesus.
  4. Rogan, Charlotte. The Lifeboat: A Novel. 

NON-FICTION in order of preference

  1. Lehrer, Jonah. Imagine. This is the work (subtitled “How Creativity Works”) that caused Lehrer to become discredited for plagiarism. I don’t care. I loved this book.
  2. Wong, Jan. Red China Blues. Captivating memoir, by a journalist, about what it was like to look Chinese — but not speak the language — and then go to China as a 19-year old, at the height of the Cultural Revolution.
  3. Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage. Excellent advice on how to be happier. My favourite tip: write down three things you’re grateful for, every day.
  4. Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I am an introvert. It would have helped me to have known this in high school.
  5. Rushdie, Salman. Joseph Anton. Some bits of very fine writing about his fascinating life. Overall, however, the book is too long and too self-referential.

Other non-fiction 

  1. Boo, Catherine. Behind The Beautiful Forevers.
  2. Godfrey, Ellen. By Reason of Doubt.
  3. Renzetti, Rosemary. Days of Wine & Rosa.
  4. Robinson, Sir Ken. The Element.
  5. Saunders, Elizabeth Grace. The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment.
  6. Simon, Rachel. Riding The Bus With My Sister.
  7. Strayed, Cheryl. Wild.

What are the best books YOU’VE read this year?  We can all learn from each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me by commenting below. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)

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