Summer can be a frustrating time for us avid mama readers. On the one hand, airplane journeys, poolside afternoons, and homework-free evenings offer the promise of bonus book time. In reality, however, we often end up forsaking our literary indulgences in favor of entertaining (or refereeing) our offspring—long sigh. If you do find the chance to pick out a tome or two for some sneaky summer reading this month, here are a few recommendations from our staff.
Colleen Kearney Rich, Fiction Editor, takes us across the ocean to Europe with her suggestion. “I recently finished A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman, and it was such a delight that I plan on giving it to friends. Set in Sweden, it is about an older man still grappling with both the death of his wife, and being forced into early retirement from a job he held for most of his life. Readers discover, through a series of flashbacks, how he came to meet and marry his wife, and the hardships he has managed to overcome. We also learn how Ove spends his days—he used to head the Homeowner’s Association, and still continues his daily neighborhood watch-like walks to maintain order. I loved the humorous writing style and found all of the characters so well drawn, including Ove’s rescue cat, that I will surely try another Backman book.”
If you have bored teenagers hanging around the house this vacation, Juli Anna Herndon, Poetry Editorial Assistant, has a recommendation. “I am not a regular or avid reader of young-adult fiction, but Maggie Stiefvater’s series, The Raven Cycle, has me hooked, and I’m only halfway through. The series follows a group of five teenage friends who are searching for an ancient Welsh king along a ley line in rural Virginia. Stiefvater’s characterizations are impeccable; each person (including each minor character) is unique, finely rendered, and humanly imperfect. Unlike many ensemble-cast stories, these characters build complicated relationships with every other member of the group, not just his/her token love interest or rival. While there are a few romances at the heart of this story, Stiefvater really queers the genre by concentrating on how each character is in love with the group, more than any other person. She also tackles ideas of privilege and class aggressively and effectively. Overall, this is a series that describes how real teenagers navigate the complicated web of emotions associated with growing up, forging relationships, and coming to terms with their own backgrounds—with a healthy dose of magic thrown in.”
Libby Maxey, Senior Editor and Literary Reflections Editor, invites us on a watery journey in her unusual read. “I recently finished Naomi J. Williams’s debut novel, Landfalls. Williams takes an unusual approach to a seafaring adventure, focusing not on the sailing but almost entirely on the landings. She tells the story of a real 18th-century French voyage of discovery through a scattered series of intimately focused narratives, miniature dramas that show us the world from myriad perspectives. Since I’m not all that educated about exploratory history circa 1785, the book took a bit of acclimation, but I was soon hooked on its shifting-first-person approach to historical fiction. The disjointed pieces of narrative don’t all work equally well, but they’re all interesting, and overall, they capture the zeitgeist convincingly. Perhaps more importantly, they’re surprisingly effective at humanizing characters not likely to have had much presence or personality if the novel’s structure had been more straightforward and plot-oriented. In the end, Williams’s approach, both enlightening and emotionally engaging, drew me in so thoroughly that I would have happily followed her through another 100 pages.”
I love the title of the book Christina Consolino, Senior Editor and Profiles Editor, has been reading this month. “I’m currently reading an advance review copy of Julie Lawson Timmer’s latest work, Mrs. Saint and the Defectives, which is set to publish on August 1. Timmer’s main character, Markie, is a forty-something divorcée who, along with her son Jesse, longs to begin a new life away from the prying eyes of former friends and neighbors. After living with her parents for a week, Markie finds a new job, a new home, and a new set of neighbors, which include Angeline St. Denis and her domestic employees (affectionately known as the ‘defectives’). Markie is hesitant to let these neighbors into her home and her heart, and actively works against it, but Mrs. Saint is tenacious. She sends her ‘defectives’ over to Markie’s place to help with home repairs, gives Jesse a dog to take care of, and dispenses parenting advice that bruises Markie’s feelings. Over the course of the novel, Markie struggles to understand Mrs. Saint’s motives. With time, of course, comes wisdom, and it becomes clear to Markie that Mrs. Saint’s plans—while flawed—result in a neighborhood family, the likes of which Markie has never known before.”
What books are you putting in your beach bag or backpack this summer? Tell us about it in the comments below, or tweet us @LiteraryMama. You can also follow us on Instagram @Literary_Mama and Goodreads for more recommendations.