By Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli 6/15/09
A soft, summer day; a comfortable chaise lounge; a cold drink beside you, and a good book in your hands. Its the stuff of winter dreams, but nothing can bring a bigger letdown than the wrong book; or one not perfect for a summer mood.
When I asked people about favorite beach reads, or when I spoke to Lois Orth at Horizon Books, or Deb Bull at the Kalkaska County Library, everyone felt strongly about their picks. Still, it is a matter of personal tastesome people want to be instructed, some want to catch up on books theyve heard about all winter, some want to wallow in things they dont usually read, and some want to simply slide into a book the way they might a warm pool on a sun-ridden day. The following books are among the most entertaining, memorable, or just plain fun, that have come out in the last couple of years.
1. Simas Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross. In the comfort of her Brooklyn basement bra shop, Sima Goldner teaches women to appreciate their bodies while feeling betrayed by her own. After giving up on happiness, Sima surrendered to a bitter marriage. Yet, through a well endowed young seamstress, Sima learns to waken to adventure and romance.
2. Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead. A warm and funny novel. Benji Cooper, a black student at an elite prep school in Manhattan messes up his reputation at school but finds relief in Sag Harbor where he is tested by state-of-the-art profanity and a bad haircut. This is a very funny, coming-of-age novel which probes the nature of identity.
3. Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear (a Maisie Dobbs novel), a Depression era mystery which begins on Christmas Eve, 1931. Set in London, Maisie Dobbs witnesses a man commit suicide on a busy London street. She eventually gets involved in a race against time to find a man who proves he has the knowledge and will to inflict death and destruction on the people of London. A good page-turner.
4. Borderline by Nevada Barr. Anna Pigeon, Park Service Ranger, is at it again. Each of Barrs mysteries is set in a different national park. This time it is Big Bend National Park where Anna goes rafting on the Rio Grande after a devastating time on Michigans Isle Royale. While getting lost in the rapids, Anna makes the grisly discovery of an almost dead woman caught in swirling water. The mystery goes from the river to the Mexican desert to the steps of the governors mansion in Austin.
5. Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult. This poignant novel confronts the ever-present question: What constitutes a valuable life? When Charlotte and Sean OKeefe have a baby girl, the expectation is she will be healthy, like all other babies. She isnt. Then begins the soul-searching of a family bound by an incredible burden, a desperate will to keep their ties from breaking, and, ultimately, a powerful capacity for love. Jodi Picoult offers an unforgettable story about the fragility of life and the lengths we will go to protect it.
6. Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith. Another in the popular No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels. In this one, the proprietor of a local football team enlists the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency to help explain its dreadful losing streak. It cant just be a case of unskilled players. As usual, a wonderful cast of characters solve cases by dint of knowing others.
7. Bright Hair About the Bone by Barbara Cleverly. In Burgundy, France, in 1926, a famed archeologist dies a terrible death in a country not his own . . . thus begins this new mystery. Soon an aspiring archeologist will find herself embroiled in a murderous conspiracy centuries in the making.
8. Mark of the Lion by Suzanne Arruda; a Jade del Cameron mystery set in 1919, after the First World War. The dying request of Jades ambulance driver fiancé sends her to British East Africa where she becomes involved in a murder. A compelling series.
9. The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith. Based on a real event that Gorbachev acknowledged in 2007, this was the first courageous step away from Stalins brutal totalitarian reign. An excellent Soviet historical police procedural.
10. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This novel, written in letters, takes place in 1946, just after the war had ended. The woman, a Londoner, writes to a man shes never met, a native of the island of Guernsey. He is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, born as a spur-of-the moment alibi when members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying the island. Lois Orth calls this a charming book with a funny and deeply human cast of characters: from pig farmers to phrenologistsliterature lovers all.
11. Assegai by Wilbur Smith. This long-time writer of the Courtney 3 Series, puts Leon Courtney, an ex-soldier turned professional big game hunter in Africa, firmly in the eye of trouble when he becomes a British spy during the build up to World War I. It is a novel of betrayal and conspiracy.
12. Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland. The story follows August Renoir on the day he begins to paint one of the most famous of his paintings. The novel tells the story behind the story, delving into the minds of the Impressionists around Renoir, of Paris, and the people of the times.
13. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. A coming of age book, it is set during World War II, giving a glimpse of the collateral damage caused by warthe cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people. It is about a Chinese/American boy in war-time Seattle, who falls in love with a Japanese/American girl destined for the internment camps. Called an emotional and satisfying book.
14. Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell. Kirkus Reviews called it a remarkably vivid account of a womans accidental witness to history as she encounters Churchill and T. E. Lawrence in Cairo, where in 1921, they redrew the map of the Middle East. An inspired fictional study of a political folly, Lois Orth, says of it This is a special book. One that will stay with you.
15. (A plug for my own mystery novels:) Dead Dancing Women and Dead Floating Lovers (out July 1). Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli. Northern Michigan mysteries involving Emily Kincaid, a newly divorced, failed writer from Ann Arbor trying to make it alone in the Michigan woods, and Deputy Dolly Wakowski, a member of the two-person Leetsville Police Department, who get drawn into murders that tangle their lives into webs they cant escape until the murderers are caught.
16. The Living Great Lakes by Jerry Dennis. The Living Great Lakes has been called the most complete book ever written about the history, nature, and science of these remarkable lakes at the heart of North America. A personal journey, this is the story of a six-week voyage as a crew member on a tall masted schooner.
17. George by Peter Golenbock. About George Steinbrenner, The poor little rich boy who built the Yankee empire amid the swirl of scandals, feuds, firings, banishments, bad trades, and even a felony conviction. He revived baseballs most storied franchise, won ten pennants, and six World Series.
18. Paul Newman: A Life by Sharon Levy. If youre still a sucker for those blue eyes of his, Newmans biography is a must read. One of the few super-stars who cared about the art of acting, Newman went on to work for political causes, including Civil rights and anti nuclear proliferation. He founded a food company, raising $250 million for charity, and raced cars. In this behind the scenes look we see his romance with Joanne Woodward, and the loss of a son from a drug overdose.
19. Horse Soldiers by Traverse Citys Doug Stanton. A within the scenes look at American Special Forces going into Afghanistan on horseback, over steep mountain roads, to get to Taliban strongholds and root them out. A fascinating look at the men and the maneuvers. Already on the New York Times Best Seller List, Horse Soldiers has been lauded from Traverse City to New York, and around the world.
20. When Evil Came to Good Hart by Mardi Link. A well-researched investigation into the murders of the Robinson family at Good Hart, an old Michigan cold case. Link is a good investigative journalist. Her story sticks to the murders and the one who was probably responsible.