Summer is special, being limited in nature and typically the longest span of uninterrupted vacation time many have all year. That kind of opportunity calls for a plan. Here are six ways to envision this most delightful block of free time.
Lucky Us (Random. 2014. ISBN 9781400067244. $26) by Amy Bloom represents the golden ticket of leisure reading for many—engrossing “literary” fiction that entertains as thoroughly as it enriches. For those searching for that perfect blend, this finely observed story of two half-sisters, their roving-eyed father, and the host of others they meet along the way will be a treasure. The novel is charmingly madcap while also being grounded in deep considerations of reinvention, family, love, and desire. The narrative of the always striving and love-seeking Iris and her younger sister, the observant and clever Eva, is fueled by Bloom’s subtle yet muscular writing, glorious attention to characterization, and thoroughly evoked settings spanning the era between the Great Depression and World War II.
The vacation book is a small subgenre that offers all of the joys of travel without its frustrations, the chance to spy on another’s holiday, and the pleasure of good company. The Vacationers (Riverhead. 2014. ISBN 9781594631573. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101618042), Emma Straub’s sympathetic and witty tale of the Post family’s trip to Mallorca, is no exception. Told from the shifting perspective of characters so keenly drawn that they seem instantly familiar, the saga details a family coping with both expected and unexpected changes—for the Posts have packed trouble along with their swimsuits, and even the lush indulgence of their hillside rental will not be enough to keep the fissures from widening.
Jessie Burton’s debut novel makes a great companion for those who want to seek out new destinations each season rather than return to the same locales. The Miniaturist (Ecco: HarperCollins. 2014. ISBN 9780062306814. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062306838) sweeps readers into 1600s Amsterdam, where Nella Oortman is beginning her life as a young bride. Stepping into her husband’s house, she enters a world of secrets—where perception is unreliable, truth is dangerous, and society is deadly. With elegance and verve, Burton traces Nella’s quiet revolution, as she transforms from a cowed child bride to a woman navigating the realities of the Dutch Golden Age and what it means to be female in the 17th century. Mysterious, political, and powerful, this tale is compulsively readable and exceptionally realized.
The long and lazy days at the shore are the perfect chance to begin a series that has just enough books to look forward to but not so many that it becomes impossible to finish them within the season. Timothy Hallinan’s uproarious and rapidly paced mysteries featuring Junior Bender, a smart, fast-talking burglar who must frequently also play the role of a detective, nicely fit the bill. The series begins with Crashed (Soho Crime. 2013. ISBN 9781616952761. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9781616952754) and includes three additional titles, the latest having been published in June. In the opening case, readers meet Junior as he makes the unwise choice to crack a wall safe during a heist of a Paul Klee painting. One thing leads to another, and Junior is made an offer he really cannot refuse, from a crime family he does not want to cross.
Summer is an excellent time to revisit favorite authors as their books are most often on the shelf and it is easy to pick up a few titles on the way out the door. Mary Stewart (1916–2014) is beloved by fans who enjoy her grown-up Nancy Drew books, which feature brave and honorable heroines caught in dangerous situations. Her stylish mix of mystery, romance, and gothic has long offered readers titles with engrossingly paced stories and evocative, compelling atmospheres. In Wildfire at Midnight (Chicago Review. 2012. ISBN 9781613744468. pap. $14.95), model Gianetta Brooke escapes the stresses of life by vacationing on the Isle of Skye. There she finds her ex-husband, a bevy of hotel guests, and a killer reenacting horrifying pagan rituals. The question is: Who is who?
Spy thrillers are a great tradition for the warmer weather, and Terry Hayes has released his novel just in time. A nice complement to the adventures of Daniel Silva’s superspy, Gabriel Allon, Hayes’s I Am Pilgrim (Emily Bestler: Atria. 2014. ISBN 9781439177723. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781439177747) is both vivid and gripping. Pilgrim is a retired operative, a legend from a black ops group disbanded in the wake of 9/11. He is drawn back into the fray when he engages the Saracen, a terrorist intending to release a plague upon America. Hayes skillfully creates a believably detailed world, builds his plot out of intricate unfolding boxes, and keeps it all moving quickly. Exhilarating and immersive, this is the kind of summer reading that keeps you glued to your chair and frantically turning the pages.
Neal Wyatt compiles LJ’s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net