You know what summertime means, don’t you? Summer reading. Hooray!
If you need some book recommends for the beach or your back porch, this post is for you. After spending some time recalling (fiction) books I’ve loved, I crafted a list of the top 21-ish.
The Help* by Kathryn Stockett
My mother requested this book for Mother’s Day a few years ago. She loved the story, loaned it to me, and I loved it too.
FYI, The Help has over 10,000 4+ star reviews on Amazon. The Washington Post says this about the story: “In a page-turner that brings new resonance to the moral issues involved, Stockett spins a story of a social awakening as seen from both sides of the American racial divide.”
Room by Emma Donoghue
A few of my bookish friends recommended Room and I’m glad I gave it a read. For the VOICE. Much of the book is narrated by a child. I’ll admit, eventually the child voice got on my nerves. But not enough to take it off this list.
Here’s its blurb on Amazon: “Held captive for years in a small shed, a woman and her precocious young son finally gain their freedom, and the boy experiences the outside world for the first time.”
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
I read this beautiful book a long time ago. Here’s the Amazon overview: “The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, caught in the tragic sweep of history…”
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
This (young adult) book by R.J. Palacio is fantastic. Written from multiple points of view, it’s a delight to read. The movie starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson is also worth your time.
Wonder tells the story of Auggie, a young boy with an “extraordinary face,” transitioning from homeschool to public school. And how it affects him, his family, and the school he attends.
If you love young adult books, check out these summer reading options also:
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Inspired by a story from Siobhan Dowd): This illustrated novel beautifully tells the story about a boy dealing with his mother’s terminal illness and the monster who helps him get through it.
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is a story “…both poignant and funny—about a boy with autism who sets out to solve the murder of a neighbor’s dog and discovers unexpected truths about himself and the world.” The narrator’s voice in this book is so unique! I like to think this book helped me better understand individuals with autism.
- Eli the Good by Silas House: I plan to read this book again because the story (and the writing) is so good. Here’s the beginning of the Amazon summary: “Bicentennial fireworks burn the sky. Bob Seger growls from a transistor radio. And down by the river, girls line up on lawn chairs in pursuit of the perfect tan. Yet for ten-year-old Eli Book, the summer of 1976 is the one that threatened to tear his family apart.”
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
This heavyweight read weighs in at 784 pages, has garnered over 26,000 4-star reviews on Amazon, and won a Pulitzer prize. I loved the book though it felt overly long in places. Here’s what writing icon Stephen King said about The Goldfinch in his New York Times book review: “The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind….Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction.”
This book follows Theo Decker from childhood to young adulthood with a ton of conflict (and love) in between.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
This novel—voted GoodReads Best Book of 2018—is a terrific story of a grumpy old man finding community despite his crabbiness. I loved the narrator’s voice (Ove) and the character development he underwent. I will definitely be reading more books by Backman.
Similar to Ove is the novel, The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg. Like Ove, Arthur also finds community in unexpected places. However, Arthur is a sweetheart, not a curmudgeon.
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
People either love this book or don’t care for it at all. I am a huge fan. And not just because I’ve met Frazier in person. After he edited one of my short stories (If you want to read the story he edited, let me know.).
Cold Mountain won The National Book Award and hung out on the New York Times best-seller list for 61 weeks. Here’s the premise: “Sorely wounded and fatally disillusioned in the fighting at Petersburg, a Confederate soldier named Inman decides to walk back to his home in the Blue Ridge mountains to Ada, the woman he loves.”
I cannot fathom how many hours of research Frazier undertook to write this book. The story is quietly and confidently constructed with the knowledge of the American Civil War and the American South. I adore this book.
By the way, the movie starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellwegger, is awe-mazing.
If you love stories about the American Civil War, do not miss Robert Olmstead’s Coal Black Horse.
A mother tells her 14-year old son: “Your father has fallen on the battlefield. Go find him.” And the boy rides off on a fantastic, unnamed steed. Olmstead’s rendering of the aftermath of the battle at Gettysburg is still with me. Along with the question: After that, how can man still want war?
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Here’s another Pulitzer Prize winner, one “…about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.”
In this book, both the language and story are gorgeous. With that said, my mother and a number of my friends preferred Kristin Hannah’s World War II story, The Nightingale. As such, The Nightingale is waiting for me in my (gigantic) to-be-read pile.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
If you didn’t read this book in high school English class, get yourself a copy soon. Here’s the Amazon summary: “A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father—a crusading local lawyer—risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.”
I loved Scout the protagonist and had a huge crush on her father, Atticus. In addition, Lee does a fantastic job with dialect, a rare skill.
Note: My mother also enjoyed Lee’s recently published Go Set a Watchman; however, I know lots of people with (negative) opinions regarding the book. If you have thoughts on Watchman, please say so down in the comments.
Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
You need to read Winter’s Bone. For the story and for the beautiful writing. Because of the super compelling plot, this book is easy to finish in a weekend, if not a day.
Ree Dolly, the 16-year old main character, is to my mind, one of the most unforgettable protagonists ever. And the ending? Oh, my word!! So great.
Make sure to watch the movie with Jennifer Lawrence as Ree. At 20, Lawrence received an Oscar nomination for her performance.
Note to writers: My friend Natalie Sypolt, author of the terrific debut collection of short stories–The Sound of Holding Your Breath–says, “Every writer I know wants to write like Daniel Woodrell.” I know I do.
Savage Country by Robert Olmstead
Robert Olmstead is one of the professors in the MFA program at Converse College. While I was in the program, Bob intimidated me big time. Now, though, he is one of my favorite writers of all time. I haven’t posted on GoodReads.com in a while but here’s some of what I wrote over there about Savage Country.
“When I finished reading Savage Country, I wept. Because I was sad it was over and because I was relieved certain characters survived. Robert Olmstead’s books tackle topics that terrify me, ie. war, the buffalo hunt. I read his books, though, because I have learned to trust him with any subject he takes on. Unfailingly, his writing is gorgeous, his stories, fantastic.”
Savage Country is brutal but beautiful. Please read it.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
At the recommendation of my writer friend Natalie Sypolt (mentioned above) I purchased this book of linked stories. The stories can all stand on their own, but together, they tell an even larger tale. Each involves characters in or from the same small town in Maine. Many feature Olive–an unforgettable character–her family members, or someone she knows.
I love Strout for tackling so many difficult topics: family dysfunction, aging, community, mental health, and more. Not only that, her writing in this book is very nearly perfect, in my opinion.
My mother read Olive before me. She said she wept at the end. Shortly after Mom passed, I read Olive, to see what my mother saw. And what I found was, Olive is my mother.
Note: Here’s another novel my mother adored: Fire Is Your Water by Jim Minick, another professor in the Converse College low-residency MFA program.
Jim’s debut novel is unique for a few reasons. The story is set in the 1950s during the Korean War, in Pennsylvania Dutch country, and it features a talking raven!! Because Minick is also a poet, the language is lovely.
My mother paused her reading of this book 10 pages out from the ending. Because she didn’t want the story to be over. Two weeks later she finished it. I also loved this book because in between the lines, I could see and hear my teacher and friend.
So there you have it! The list of my favorite fiction books to date. If nonfictions is your thing, refer back to this post.
What about you? Do you have any books to recommend for summer reading?
Jennifer Thompson says
Love your list – most of which I’ve already read and agree wholeheartedly! I just finished reading “The Vengeance of Mothers” by Jim Fergus. It’s a sequel to “One Thousand White Women” and is historical fiction. Fascinating and well written. I highly recommend the series, though “Vengeance” ended rather abruptly. Thankfully, he is making it a trilogy so I will eventually be able to get past the book. 🙂 One of my most favorite of all times, though, is “The Nightingale” by Kristen Hannah. I liked it even more than “All The Light We Cannot See”. Same genre and utterly fantastic – also historical fiction.
Diane Tarantini says
Oooh! Thanks for all your suggestions, Jen! I’m making another list from all my friend’s book recommends. I’ll add these in.