Summer is upon us. For many this means an excuse to pick up some books. I pretty much throw books at anyone who breathes. There are few things better than discovering a book so good you find your own world disappearing as you lose yourself in the author’s world. As this happened to me just this week, I figured I would give you some choices: five (and a half) books I stand behind 100%, including one hot off the presses. I’ve tried to include something for everyone, there are a variety of genres represented here, but whatever your preferences, give any or all of them a chance. I lost myself in each of these novels and have read all but the new one more than once. (Click the underlined titles for links to the books)
This is probably the easiest and most entertaining read on the list, but it is no less worthy or complex than any of the others. Tropper takes a rather standard set-up… a father dies and the four grown children return home for a week, all back under the same roof with their mother…. and creates a wonderful novel both hilarious and heartfelt. Tropper’s prose is creative and engaging, and will frequently have you on the floor, rolling with laughter. I’ve read it three times now and laughed just as hard each time. Yet even when you are laughing he can come at you from behind with an insight or turn of phrase and cause you to gasp with heartbreak, bringing tears to your eyes. A friend of mine who doesn’t often read picked it up, read it in one sitting and said he was tempted to start over and read it again, right then. It’s that good. They are casting the film right now, which I can’t quite see working. Read it first and enjoy.
This is perhaps my favorite novel I’ve read in years. It’s a big one… 784 pages in hardback. And some may be thrown by the genre, which is superficially “horror” as it deals with a virus that escapes a government lab creating vampire-like creatures that wipe out much of humanity. But the genre – vampires combined with apocalyptic end of the world – is only a framework for Cronin’s piercing writing with characters so real and so true, I think anyone who loves people and grand novels will love the book, even if not a fan of the genre. He creates wonderful characters about whom you deeply care. The suspense and even terror of the book come not from the ‘vampires’ (called Virals), who actually are not often seen, but from hoping the characters you come to love so deeply will survive. The further into the book I journeyed, the slower I read, wanting to stay with these people and the world Cronin created for as long as possible. Some books I tear through (see below). But with The Passage, towards the end, I eventually only allowed myself a chapter or two a night, so badly did I not want it to end. Cronin is not a florid writer yet his words and thoughts have great beauty. The novel is also one hell of a terrific story, gripping and suspenseful. Even better… while the novel stands on its own completely, it is actually the first part of a trilogy, with Volume 2, The Twelve, due out this fall. Can. Not. Wait. Read The Passage in time to stand in line with me for The Twelve this fall.
It’s a terrible cliche but sometimes it fits: pick up this just published novel and you will not put it down until you are done. I just lost a day and a half at work (no one reading this from work, right?) as I started it Monday morning during a break and pretty much read until I was done midday Tuesday. What a dark, brilliant thriller is this. Midday on his 5th anniversary, Nick Dunne comes home to find his wife, Amy, missing. We see the book from two points-of-view… Nick as he moves forward from this moment; Amy from her diary which starts the day they met years before. The two narratives slowly merge as the novel tightens into a terrific vice. The best novel to which I can liken it is ‘Presumed Innocent’, which caused a similar, justified ruckus when it was published over 25 years ago. Like Rusty Sabitch in Presumed, Nick Dunne is a likable yet increasingly unreliable narrator, throwing everything you are told into question. And the wrap up…. wow. As I was reading the last few pages of the novel, a co-worker walked into my edit bay and exclaimed, ‘What on earth are you reading??’, the look of horror apparently so present on my face. Gone Girl is a killer.
Memoirs have been all the rage the last so many years, a craze that thankfully seems to be dying out. Yet there were some remarkable memoirs that emerged amidst the chaff and this one is The Best. Rick Bragg, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, writes some of the most haunting and searing prose imaginable. This tale of his life, which ends up paying tribute to his remarkable mother, is the book that probably caught me up in tears more than any I’ve read. It’s a short, easy read but will often leave you in awe. It’s hard to describe just how good this book truly is. Trust me. Pick it up.
This is another big one, for those who really to dive into a passionate, wonderful read. A war-torn romance that on publication was justifiably compared to such epics as Dr. Zhivago, it astonishes that this was Orringer’s first novel. The writing is beautiful and insightful and the breadth of the novel is daring, yet she pulls it off. Dazzlingly romantic for much of the book, the novel eventually spirals into the horrors of WWII but it is not really a holocaust novel, so don’t avoid it for that reason. Orringer takes a look at something even I as a WWII fanatic knew little of, the experience of Jews in Hungary, which is quite different than the events most of us know well. The large swath of the book that takes place in Paris is breathtaking, she captures the time and the city so well. If anything, for me the novel was too short. It almost seemed as if her editors asked her to rush the last third a touch, to keep it from being too big. Not possible. Whatever the case, the novel’s beauty and passion justifies the length. If you like getting lost in a book, this is for you.
And finally, my ‘half’ is the book I raved about a few weeks ago, Wilkie Collins’ The Woman In White. I’ve already received three raves from people who picked it up and already tore through it. It’s truly that spellbinding and suspenseful. And, hey! You can download this one for free!
So grab a book! Or five! And let us know some of your favorite summer reads as well.