Oh, man, kids. I’ve been a reading machine this summer. I usually check out three books a week and when I brought the last batch home, Chris asked me how I choose books. “Is it the cover? Or the author? Or do you read pages?” he asked. Chris is not a big reader, and I’d never thought about it being difficult to go into a library and just FIND A BOOK. If you struggle with that, too, here are my best tips.
- Keep a “Must Read” list somewhere. I use GoodReads for that (my user name is KatieMC – follow along!). Anytime I hear of a good book, I go immediately to my GoodReads app and add it to my “Must Read” list. I usually have at least 20 books there at any given time.
- Use your library. My library has an area of books to be shelved back. They don’t advertise this section and it isn’t marked. I found it one day because a book I wanted was listed as available, but it wasn’t on the shelves. When I asked the librarian, she took me over to this unmarked shelf of books that were recent returns that hadn’t been put back on shelves yet. I get a LOT of books here. I think of them as recommendations because others have obviously read them recently for one reason or another. Ask your library if they have a section like this. It’s a gold mine of great books.
- Know your authors. I think of authors like friends. “This one will talk my ear off.” “This one will make me cry.” “This one will make me laugh.” And when I am looking for a specific type of book, I go find one of my favorite authors and see what they have that I haven’t read yet.
I thought I’d share my reviews of what I have read, in case anyone is looking for beach reads for these last few weeks of summer.
BEFORE THE FALL by Noah Hawley – I loved this book. It is a suspense thriller about a plane crash and the people on the plane. It seems like an accidental plane crash, but it flashes back to each person on the plan and their relationships before the flight with others on the plane. The more you learn about the relationships, the more you suspect the plane crash was not accidental. It is really good.
THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 by Ruth Ware – This had sort of the same premise as “Before the Fall,” now that I think about it. Only this one takes place aboard a yacht. Everyone seems fairly normal until you begin to learn about their relationships with each other. When someone mysteriously falls overboard, the mystery begins to unfold. I like this one, but the ending kind of fell off for me. It was a great read, but the last 50 pages or so were kind of a let down. Still a pretty good beach read, though.
THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern – This is one of my new favorite books. And judging by the incredible response I got on Instagram when I shared that I was reading it, I would guess that it’s a LOT of people’s favorite! It is everything I love – romance, a little mystery, a little fantasy, and just really well written. It’s the story of a magical circus and the relationship between two of those involved with the circus. It is just wonderful! It’s my favorite book I’ve read this summer.
HOMEFRONT by Kristin Hannah – I am not normally a fan of military books, but I’ll read anything by Kristin Hannah, so I picked this one up at my library. It is the story of two best friends who serve in the military and are called up to serve in Iraq. The mothers leave their families behind (one on the brink of divorce, no less) and it follows both the families left behind and the women who are serving. After a tragedy (which I cannot tell you about, but which caused me to gasp out loud in bed one night after Chris had gone to sleep, and wake him up – sorry, honey…), the women are sent back home and it follows their adjustment period back home with their families. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this one. It’s a quick read, too.
THE SMART ONE by Jennifer Close – Another author I will always read when I get the chance. I love her cutting sense of humor and real life characters. This story follows a family as their three adult children move home for various reasons. It reminded me a lot of the show, “Parenthood.” It’s the story of making mistakes in life and finding ways to move past them. Who can’t relate to that at some point? I liked this one a lot.
RICH AND PRETTY by Rumaan Alam – Honestly, I don’t remember much about this book and that probably tells you all you need to know about it. I remember discovering that it was a male author writing about two female best friends and thinking to myself, “That’s what the writing feels like.” It felt like it was written by someone who didn’t quite understand the dynamics of female relationships. I gave this a one-star rating on GoodReads. There are plenty of other books in the sea to spend your time on.
THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon – Ms. Yoon’s books are all the rage right now in the YA world, apparently. And after reading this one, I understand why. It is the sweet love story of two teenagers who spend one incredible day today. And the ending. Oh, the ending. It makes me love teaching teenagers even more. If you aren’t into YA, you might want to skip this one, but otherwise, it’s a great read and one I can’t wait to talk about with my students this year.
THE BOOKSHOP ON THE CORNER by Jenny Colgan – I had forgotten about this sweet little story until I wrote this blog post and now I want to go to the library right this minute and get others by Ms. Colgan! This story is about a single British girl who leaves it all behind and moves to a tiny Irish village to open a moving library in a big van that she drives all over the countryside. She has a little romance going on that is sweet and lovely and then there’s the stories of everyone she meets while out with her library. I loved this book! I can’t believe I forgot about it! Great beach book!
THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON by Adam Johnson – One of my favorite kinds of books to read are about Asian characters and culture. This particular book is set in North Korea and I had never read anything about North Korea before, which is what drew me to it. I love anything that takes me places I’ve never been or know nothing about. This is the story of a boy (man?) who lives in this dark world in North Korea of kidnapping and crime. He has been trained in the military, but because of his class in North Korea, he is given pretty awful ways to use his training. More than that, though, it’s the story of a boy (man?) who is struggling to find who he is in a place where he both fits in and doesn’t fit in. This is heavier than a beach read, but is worth the effort it takes to get through the depth of the writing. It is excellent. Highly recommend this one.
STELLA BAIN by Anita Shreve – I read a lot of Anita Shreve in college, but haven’t read much of her since. And after reading “Stella Bain,” I realized how much I missed Anita Shreve in my literary life! She is a masterful story teller. This is the story of an American woman in France and London during WWI. She is a nurse, but has lost her memory completely due to shell-shock from the war. It’s the journey to finding who she is and slowly getting her memory back in the process – some of it good memories and some of it not. I really liked this one. Thumbs up!
EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN by Chris Cleave – Here’s the thing about Chris Cleave for me. He tells amazing stories. His characters are deep and rich and moving and the plots are suspenseful and exciting and intriguing. Everything you want in a good book. But his storytelling is not my preferred style. He uses a lot of words. Many, many words. Lots of words to say things. Which can make reading his books a little tedious. But they are worth it because the stories are so good. And this one is a great story. It’s about a love triangle during WW2 and I loved all three characters in the triangle, which made it even more tragic to read! Plus, the main female character is a teacher, so bonus points in my book. I strongly recommend this one, but give yourself some time to get into Cleave’s writing style. It’s worth it in the end.
THE DRESSMAKER’S DOWRY by Meredith Jaeger – I picked up this book because it took place in San Francisco in the late 1800’s and I’d never read about San Francisco during that time period. Usually American books during that time are set in New York, so it was nice to see a different setting. And the setting is its own character in this book. Really vivid details and it describes a part and place in American history that I knew very little about. The story is of a disappearance of a working-class Irish girl and her best friend’s search to find her. The story switches back and forth between present day and the past and I kind of found that annoying. It could have just as easily been told only about the past and still been a great book. But the parallels between past and present were really well done, I though. This is another mystery-thriller book and I thought it was really good. Three out of five stars for this one.
DISHONORABLE MENTIONS: I read several books this summer that I didn’t finish or even put in my GoodReads list because they were so bad. Avoid these: