Summer arrives and one is supposed to sit on the beach, lounge around the pool, or laze in a hammock and read “trashy” literature, putting aside all of the “serious” works of poetry and prose that we were condemned to read while imprisoned in the dark, damp days of winter.
Regardless of whether you want to escape the real world or delve deeper into it during the next three months, be sure to check out this list of somewhat lighter (“Trashy”) or “heavier” (“Serious) literary fare recommended by members of Book Passage’s Left Coast Writers Literary Salon.
“Heavy Duty” Books
Novelist Jacqueline Luckett put Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones on our “Serious” list. Here’s the story line: “Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s two families—the public one and the secret one. “When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode. This is the third stunning novel from an author deemed “one of the most important writers of her generation’ (the Atlanta Journal Constitution).” (Available in hardcover, paperback, Large Print, and Google e-book versions, as well as on audio CD.)
I’ve taken the liberty of adding Jackie’s own two novels to this part of the list.
In Searching for Tina Turner, “ … Lena Spencer appears to have it all. She and her wealthy husband Randall have two wonderful children, and they live a life of luxury. In reality, however, Lena finds that happiness is elusive…When Randall decides that he's had enough of marriage counseling, he offers his wife an ultimatum: ‘Be grateful for all I've done for you or leave.’ Lena, realizing that money can't solve her problems and that her husband is no longer the man she married, decides to choose the latter. Drawing strength from Tina Turner's life story, Searching for Tina Turner is Lena's struggle to find herself after 25 years of being a wife and mother.” (Available in hardcover, paperback, Large Print, and Google e-book versions.)
“Moving back and forth in time between the sparkling Paris of today and the jazz-fueled city filled with expatriates in the 1950s, Passing Love is the story of two women dealing with lost love, secrets, and betrayal...and how the City of Light may hold all of the answers. ‘Nicole-Marie Handy has loved all things French since she was a child. After the death of her best friend, determined to get out of her rut, she goes to Paris, leaving behind a marriage proposal. While there, Nicole chances upon an old photo of her father-lovingly inscribed, in his hand, to a woman Nicole has never heard of. What starts as a vacation quickly becomes an investigation into his relationship to this mystery woman.” (Available in paperback and Large Print versions.)
Thanks to Book Passage’s Tina Vierra, host for the Left Coast Writers Literary Salon meetings at the Corte Madera store for these next two recommendations.
“…when Chana Wilson was seven, her mother held a rifle to her head and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed and she was taken away to a mental hospital…Riding Fury Home: A Memoir, by Chana Wilson, spans forty years of the intense, complex relationship between Chana and her mother—the trauma of their early years together, the transformation and joy they found when they both came out in the 1970s, and the deep bond that grew between them.” (Available in paperback only.)
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by physician, researcher, and award-winning science writer, Siddhartha Mukherjee, "is a magnificent, profoundly humane ‘biography’ of cancer…an astonishingly lucid and eloquent chronicle of a disease humans have lived with—and perished from—for more than five thousand years. “From the Persian Queen Atossa, whose Greek slave may have cut off her diseased breast, to the nineteenth-century recipients of primitive radiation and chemotherapy to Mukherjee’s own leukemia patient, Carla, The Emperor of All Maladies is about the people who have soldiered through fiercely demanding regimens in order to survive—and to increase our understanding of this iconic disease… and provides a fascinating glimpse into the future of cancer treatments. “ It is an illuminating book that provides hope and clarity to those seeking to demystify cancer.” (Available in hardcover, paperback, Large Print, and Google e-book versions, as well as on audio CD and, MP3 CD.)
You might want to sleep with the lights on at night after reading Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman. “Failed academic Frank Nichols and his wife, Eudora, have arrived in the sleepy Georgia town of Whitbrow, where Frank hopes to write a history of his family's old estate-the Savoyard Plantation- and the horrors that occurred there…A presence that demands sacrifice…comes from the shadowy woods across the river…[w]here a longstanding debt of blood has been waiting patiently for Frank Nichols's homecoming…” Jackie Luckett says it’s “Stephen King scary,” so it made my “Trashy” list. (Available in hardcover, paperback, and Google e-book versions, as well as on audio CD, and MP3 CD.)
Another spooky book is Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches in which “Diana Bishop, a young scholar and the descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript deep in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont.” Recommended by Tina Vierra. (Available in hardcover, paperback, Large Print, and Google e-book versions, or on audio CD.)
For a less frightening “beach read,” travel writer Linda Ballou recommends her own book Wai-nani: High Chiefess of Hawai'i - Her Epic Journey. Here’s Amazon.com’s description: “From the cauldron of controversy that is Hawaiian history emerges Wai-nani, a reflection of the personage of the great chiefess Ka'ahumanu...She is born fifteen years prior to the landing of Captain Cook in Kealakekua in 1779 and is the favorite wife of Makaha, a fierce warrior modeled after Kamehameha the Great…Wai-nani is a celebration of the Hawaiian people of old, especially the powerful Ka'ahumanu-forerunner to the modern woman.” (Available in paperback only.)
Kaye McKinzie of McKinzie Communications likes Henning Mankell’s The Troubled Man. This is Swedish police detective Kurt Wallander's last case which McKinzie says involves “an in-law spy ring, transient Alzheimer’s, old loves, real loves, cold war and dead reckoning...” According to The Plain Dealer, it’s “[a]rguably Mankell's best Wallander book—which makes the finale for his rule-breaking, overeating, over-drinking, depressed but ultimately good-hearted and righteous detective all the more poignant.” (Available in hardcover, paperback, Large Print, and Google e-book versions, as well as on audio CD.)
Last June when lawyer and mystery writer Sheldon Siegel confessed to Left Coast Writers members that he wrote “trash airport-bookstore novels,” I ran out and bought Siegel’s Special Circumstances to read on an upcoming flight to Hawaii. Here’s what Amazon.com says about this first in a series of legal thriller’s penned by Siegel: “Meet Mike Daley. Ex-priest. Ex–public defender… his best friend and former colleague is charged with a brutal double murder, and Daley is instantly catapulted into a high-profile investigation involving the prestigious law firm that just booted him…” (Available in paperback and Google e-book versions.)
My next “Trashy” read during last year’s trip to Maui was Thunderhead by New York Times bestselling authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. In this supernatural thriller set in the Desert Southwest ‘Nora Kelly, a young archaeologist in Santa Fe, receives a letter written sixteen years ago, yet mysteriously mailed only recently. In it her father, long believed dead, hints at a fantastic discovery that will make him famous and rich…Searching for her father and his glory, Nora begins to unravel the greatest riddle of American archeology. but what she unearths will be the newest of horrors...” Don’t read this on just before bedtime! (Available in hardcover, paperback, and Google e-book versions.)
Joane Luesse says that She Who Remembers by the late Linda Lay Shuler presents “a good balance between trash and literature.” Here’s what Publisher’s weekly said about the original edition of Shuler’s debut novel: “Set in the American Southwest during the 13th century, Shuler's absorbing first novel portrays Kwani, an intrepid young Pueblo Indian of the Anasazi tribe whose fortitude is severely tested. The daughter of a Viking invader, Kwani is exiled from her clan because her blue eyes mark her as a witch. She is found by Kokopelli, a charismatic Toltec nobleman renowned as a magician, teacher and healer.” (Available in paperback only.)
What's On Your Summer Reading List?
If you have a favorite “summer read,” please share the title, author, and a brief synopsis in a comment to this post.
(From time to time travel writer Dick Jordan posts book reviews under the “Armchair Travel” and “Book Review” sections of his online travel magazine, Tales Told From The Road. His last post to the Book(ed) Passage blog was a review of A Traveller’s Wine Guide to California by Robert Holmes. Dick is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. When Dick isn’t traveling, you can usually find him hanging out with other members of Left Coast Writers at the Book Passage in Corte Madera on the first Monday evening of each month.)