Summer Reading Picks

See the source imageThree years ago, I did a post on My Movie Picks. Now I thought I’d try recommending some of my favorites books. (By the way, this presupposes that you’ve already read all of MY books, possibly multiple times, and need something to do while you await whatever work of genius I produce for you next. Am I right?)

I’m also assuming you know that the novels of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer top my list, along with classics like Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, To Kill a Mockingbird, and selections from Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, and E. M. Forster. You can also add all James Herriot‘s All Creatures Great and Small books, Jan Karon‘s first three Mitford series books, and anything written by Julie Klassen.

I deliberately choose to read very little JAFF myself, since I don’t want to be influenced by another author’s storyline ideas. Instead, I try to sample from a wide variety of other genres. Being in a book club helps keep me from getting stuck in a rut. The assigned book of the month might not be something I would have picked on my own, but it usually turns out that I enjoy it… or if not actually “enjoy” it, at least I’m glad to have broadened my reading horizons a little.

So today I hope to broaden your horizons a little, too, by recommending a few books you may not have read (or even heard of before, in some cases). Who knows? It may turn out that you acquire some new favorites from my favorites list! Here goes with a few real standouts. No particular order. All these books are worth 5 stars imho:

16158542The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown – This book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for a gold medal at Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Very rarely do I come across a book that accomplishes the tricky twin feats of 1) making history completely fascinating and, 2)being equally engaging for both my husband and myself. This is one of those rare finds. Some of the credit goes to the true-life material the author had to work with. Who doesn’t like to root for the home-grown underdogs to succeed against all odds, and then cheer when the dream miraculously comes to fruition? But the story was masterfully told as well. The author obviously did his research, and then humanized the events by letting us get to know and care about “the boys” involved. Since much of the action takes place in Washington State, where I live, the historical references were even more personal to me.

3153910The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein – Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life…as only a dog could tell it.

Just as enjoyable when I read it a second time. (PS – If you love dog stories, I would also recommend A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron.)

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly – Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

I found the home-spun feel of this story totally charming, reminding me of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s “for young readers” but it’s perfect for adults too. There’s a sequel (The Curious world of Calpurnia Tate) which is just as good.

I've Got Your Number: A Novel by [Kinsella, Sophie]I’ve Got Your Number, by Sophie Kinsella – Poppy Wyatt is feeling lucky because she’s about to marry her ideal man. Then one afternoon, disaster strikes. She loses her irreplaceable engagement ring in a hotel fire drill, and then her phone (on which she’s totally dependent) is stolen too. As she paces shakily around the lobby, she spots an abandoned phone in a trash can. Finders keepers! Now she can leave a number for the hotel to contact her when they find her ring. Perfect, except that the phone’s owner, businessman Sam Roxton, doesn’t agree. He wants his phone back and doesn’t appreciate Poppy reading his messages and wading into his personal life. What ensues is a hilarious and unpredictable turn of events as Poppy and Sam increasingly upend each other’s lives through emails and text messages.

“A screwball romance for the digital age,” says one reviewer. It’s clever and fun. I enjoyed it tremendously and went on to read two more Kinsella novels. Warning: Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of bad language to put up with in this one.

Me Before You: A Novel by [Moyes, Jojo]Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes – Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl who has barely been farther afield than her own tiny English village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is. Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

Don’t expect a JA style happily ever after. But it’s a compelling story well written. I liked it so much that I went on to read four more of Jojo Moyes’s novels afterward.

The Rosie Project: A Novel (Don Tillman Book 1) by [Simsion, Graeme]The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion – Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers. Since Rosie Jarman possesses all these bad qualities, Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate. But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love; it finds you.

Unique, quirky, fun, and full of heart. It is definitely one of my all-time favorites!

Honorable Mentions go to:

  • Wonder, by R. J. Palacio
  • One Summer, by David Baldacci
  • The Cat Who…, the series by Lilian Jackson Braun
  • Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
  • Three Sisters, by Susan Mallery
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple
  • The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, series by Alexander McCall Smith
  • Habits of the House, by Fay Weldon
  • Maisie Dobbs, the mystery series by Jacqueline Winspear

I could go on… and on… and on, but you have to draw the line somewhere! Hope you find at least one you especially enjoy! Now, do you have a favorite to add to my list?

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” (Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey, chapter 14)

About Shannon Winslow

author of historical fiction in the tradition of Jane Austen
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