In which we talk summer reading lists

What is it about summer that makes me want to create a proper seasonal reading list? I suppose it was the library programs that charted my progress every year as I plowed through the children’s section, notching up bricks in the yellow brick road chart the librarians issued at the start of each summer. I read voraciously all year, but seeing my progress mapped out for me was something special. I tore through the suggested lists and created lists of my own–Little House books and Alcott and nonfiction and even French storybooks during a phase when I was certain I could teach myself a foreign language.

Some books lend themselves naturally to summer reading. Anything too weighty or too impenetrable just seems wrong. Those are introspective books, best left to an inward-turning season like autumn or winter. For summer, we want books that can be savored in a beach chair or a hammock or lying on the sofa under the gentle twirl of a ceiling fan. Here are a few of my faves:

*THE CREATION OF ANNE BOLEYN by Susan Bordo. Yes, it’s nonfiction, and yes, a study of the shifting perceptions of Anne Boleyn throughout history would seem to be far too serious for summer, too much like PROPER reading. But here’s the thing–it’s brilliantly readable. I picked it up when I was fluffy-headed from traveling, and tore through it, enjoying every minute. Anne Boleyn has been one of my pet subjects to read about since childhood, and Bordo does a superb job of plucking out new sources and re-examining the traditional ones. (And honestly, one of my biggest peeves is when historians rely on the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, as the source of info about Anne without taking into account the propaganda factor. Bordo is extremely cautious when dealing with Chapuys, and I’d love her book for that alone. Plus, when I was about eleven, I memorized the Tower speech from “Anne of the Thousand Days”, so her appreciation for the fictionalized Anne is another reason I savored this book.) HIGHLY recommended for folks who want some Tudor love. I particularly enjoyed her interviews with the creative team behind “The Tudors” and how their approach to presenting Anne changed through the course of the series.

*Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope series. The third book just came out, but I’m still staring at the second one in my TBR pile! I recently discovered MacNeal’s series featuring a spirited and clever young woman who works as Churchill’s secretary during WWII. This isn’t my favorite time period by a long shot, but MacNeal brings it brilliantly to life, and makes it so, so enjoyable. I saw a woman in the bookstore scooping up all three books the other day and I wanted to give her a hug and say, “YES. You have chosen WELL.”

*Kate Forsyth’s BITTER GREENS. Okay, this one is tricky for Americans to find, but not all of my readers are in the States. I have a confession to make. I haven’t read it yet. Here’s why: some books are so full of promise, so rich with possibility that I like to wallow in anticipation. I see it on my TBR pile and I get a little shiver of happiness because I haven’t read it yet, because when I do read it, it will be for the first time, and you never get a first time again with a beloved book. I suspect, based on what I know of Kate’s writing, that like all brilliant books, when I go back to reread it, IT WILL BE A DIFFERENT BOOK. And right now I am reveling in just thinking about reading it. (I also expect it will be a book I want to plow straight through and I’m on a revision deadline, so it will be July before I can indulge.) It is a retelling of the Rapunzel story, and the snippets I’ve read are pure magic.

*Suzette A. Hill’s “Bones” series. The five book series begins with A LOAD OF OLD BONES, and since it’s five rather slender books, you can have the pleasure of finishing an entire series in a very short time. It will feel like an accomplishment in a season of indolence! But it will also feel like a serious pleasure. If you’ve enjoyed the Flavia de Luce books, these should feel delightfully familiar. The setting is an English village in the 1950s, and the main character, Francis Oughterard, is a vicar who just happens to murder a parishioner at the start of the first book. It’s BRILLIANTLY done because, honestly, it’s not that easy to make readers root for a murderer. There are passages narrated by his dog and cat which I expected not to like, but they are hilariously well done and not at all intrusive. It would have been incredibly simple to overdo the animal narrations, but they are handled so deftly and with so much good humor, they were perfectly enjoyable.

*And a few books from summer lists past–Raffaella Barker’s Venetia books, HENS DANCING and SUMMERTIME, are delightful. They are contemporary novels set in Norfolk and feature a charmingly inept single mother of three. And Cathleen Schine’s THE LOVE LETTER is a summer fave. She captures the season so perfectly, I can’t imagine letting a summer go by and not reading it. Deliciously poetic. And if you want a bit of something magical, give Susan Addison Allen’s THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON a read. Any recommendations y’all would add?

Happy reading!

8 thoughts on “In which we talk summer reading lists”

  1. Blake says:

    Ooh, thanks for the recommendations! I can certainly second the Maggie Hope series suggestion. I finished the third book, HIS MAJESTY’S HOPE, a few weeks ago and I’m still thinking about it. Can’t wait for the next book!

    Currently, I am reading I’LL BE SEEING YOU by Suzanne Hayes (Palmieri) and Loretta Nyhan. It is the story of two WWII wives who, as pen pals, forge an amazing bond of friendship; a friendship that helps them get through the most trying times. It is witty, heartwarming, and yes, quite poignant — it evokes all the feels in the best of ways. 🙂 I highly recommend it.

    Thanks for the recommendations. It’s nice to have some good things in the queue to help pass the time until YOUR next release. 😉

  2. Cece says:

    Your description of the Boleyn book intrigued me, so I just read the sampler in Amazon-her aside after the line “She had sex with her own brother” made me order it up-Susan Bordo and are obviously in agreement about “fiction which uses real people but makes up stuff if history doesn’t fit the plot.” Thank you for the recommendation.
    My favorite summer reads are both wrist-breakers, but therein are two worlds I revisit almost every year (sadly, neither is available for Kindle-another summer propping the book up with a pillow on my knees):
    …AND LADIES OF THE CLUB Helen Hooven Santmyer

  3. Ruth Nixon says:

    Just finished Catronia McPpersons new stand alone ‘as she left it’ and her Opal Jones is a winner.

  4. Moira says:

    I just finished the first Maggie Hope book a few weeks ago and by chance a good friend gave me “A Daughter’s Tale” shortly after. It’s the memoir of Winston Churchill’s youngest daughter, and while WWII isn’t usually where my interest lies, reading one after the other is a fascinating little excursion to the time period. Your other suggestions look fab as well-there is nothing I love more than finding new books to add to my to be read pile 🙂

  5. Nancy C says:

    Oh, so many things . . . !
    1. I just so love you more now knowing your intrigue with Anne Boleyn! No friends of mine share the deep curiosity I have for that chic. Read the books, saw the movie, got the t shirt. I actually just watched a BBC documentary, “The Last Days of Anne Boleyn” on youtube-> Best one I’ve seen about her yet. Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir are two of the handful of people offering their insights. In a word: Fabulous.
    Please, please, tell me/us your thoughts on Anne B! What was she really like, do you think? I think she must have been incredibly charming but I remain baffled by just how much was brought about because of her mere existence. Her influence. And sleeping with her brother: your thoughts? I actually don’t buy it. “They” do/did this sooo often: Wanna get rid of someone? Create the scene you need to get you the public justification and there ya go. I think they did to her the same thing they did to Marie Antoinette. But what do YOU think? I’m dyin’ here now! Seriously: no one to ever talk to about this!

    My favorite biography-esk book is The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir. Too often “people” take such a fascinating topic like this and kill it. And once they’ve killed it, they kill some more.
    Not Alison Weir.
    This reads like she’s telling you all her *own* family’s stories and secrets. Like your favorite aunt reveling to you the daughter she placed for adoption was taken by a family she didn’t know at the time was her very own sister and dentist husband! Your cousin . . . wait for it . . . is actually your cousin!

    Sorry. Got carried away there.

    On the same line of thought, while I remain unsure how I feel about Anne, I am confident in how I feel for Mary Tudor and that is sorry. I feel sorry for her.
    Are you scandalized?
    What are your thoughts on Mary? That bloody, bloody Mary?
    And (Lady) Jane too, for that matter.

    2. Are any of the books on this post equivalent to a rate R movie? I apologize for my prude showing, butta . . . you can’t unsee or unread stuff.

    3. Your recommendation for BITTER GREENS is GREATLY appreciated. Strangely, I had not come across any books before that were retellings of fairy tales until this past winter when I read Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross. I’ll be honest and say the execution wasn’t brilliance incarnate; but her mythology was and I loved it so much for that alone. Enough that I had to go back and read everything Charles Perrault and Bros. Grimm.
    Since then, I’ve wanted, longed even! for another “retelling” of a fairy tale. So THANK YOU for that.

    1. Lynne says:

      Nancy, it’s okay to get carried away. Anne B. often gets misjudged, I think. And keep reading Alison Weir – I believe she’s a truly great historian.

  6. Linda Baker says:

    Would that I could get my hands on Bitter Greens! Juliet Marillier also recommended it on her blog several months ago. I’ve been slavering ever since. I tried to order from UK but no luck. I guess I will try Australia next!

  7. Lynne says:

    I’m retired so my reading list is year-round…in a spiral notebook, no less. Yes, I’m a BIG list maker. I’m particularly interested in the Anne Boleyn book, so it will be added to all the others. And thanks for all the other suggestions, everyone – it’s always nice to check out what like-minded people are reading. My suggestions? If you all love Deanna, be sure to check out C. S. Harris. I have just loved her Sebastian St. Cyr series – really great characters that slowly unfold with each book. And suspense!!! Yikes!!

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