The mules are heading home and the forecast is for soaring temperatures later this week. By this weekend the local hardware stores will be sold out of swamp cooler pads and Bishop Creek will be running fast. Summer is finally on its way! Time to slow down the pace and slide into relaxation mode. There is no better way to do that then with a fat stack of books by your side. Below are some summer reading recommendations, a little something for everyone, that at East Side Books’ prices won’t break the bank.
1. Bloodless British Mysteries
With many crime novels becoming more and more graphic, there is something refreshing about escaping into a British mystery where the Inspectors don’t carry guns and the witnesses are questioned over tea and biscuits. The predictable setting of dreary fog and rain can be a nice antidote to the relentless summer heat. Here are some of the best old and new British mystery writers.
Agatha Christie–If you have never read a mystery by the Queen of Crime, you are in for a treat. She is still the bestselling author of all time, and her play The Mousetrap is the longest running stage show in history. Her mystery series feature either Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple, both equally endearing and engaging. Although you can’t go wrong with any of Christie’s novels, some titles not to miss are Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, and the play Ten Little Indians.
Ngaio Marsh–Not as well known or as prolific as Christie, Marsh, a New Zealand transplant, is not a writer to be overlooked. A contemporary of Christie, her series featured CID detective Roderick Alleyn and were often set in theatrical settings reflecting Marsh’s love of the stage. If you read the series in order, starting with A Man Lay Dead, you can follow Alleyn’s relationship with painter Agatha Troy.
Kate Atkinson–After the success of her novel Behind the Scenes of the Museum, Atkinson began writing a mystery series featuring the burnt out Inspector Jackson Brodie. Brodie often finds himself embroiled in odd situations with quirky characters that gives the mysteries a slightly off-kilter feel that is addictive. The first in the series is Case Histories followed by One Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News?. These books are shelved in the Fiction section of East Side Books.
Jacqueline Winspear–Winspear has created a fabulous series set in London during the period between the World Wars featuring private detective Maisie Dobbs. Her mystery novels are wonderfully educational, entertaining, and well-written. Her series as grown to seven books. The first three are Maisie Dobbs, Birds of a Feather, and Pardonable Lies.
2. Women Writing About Women
Sometimes it is great just to dive into a book about friendship, family, and the little bits of every day living that make up life. These authors were writing great women’s fiction before the genre “chick lit” was even created.
Sandra Dallas–Dallas is the master of weaving stories friendship and pieces of history together into well-written novels that stay in your mind long after you have turned the last page. You really can’t go wrong with any of her titles but some of the best are Alice’s Tulips, The Persian Pickle Club, and The Diary of Mattie Spencer.
Kaye Gibbons–Gibbons started her writing career with the powerful coming-of-age tale Ellen Foster and continued to wow with her follow up books A Cure for Dreams, A Virtuous Woman, and Charms for an Easy Life. Each is beautifully written with characters that reach in and twist your heart. These slim volumes are perfect to tuck into your bag for the plane or the beach.
Beth Gutcheon–Over the years Gutcheon has produced a steady stream of well-written, intelligent books without a lot of recognition, but to not read her is to miss out. Her more recent work is Leeway Cottage the story of the Moss family, but don’t overlook Five Fortunes, Saving Grace, and the slightly chilling More Than You Know.
Ann Patchett–The most incredible thing about Patchett’s novels is that no two are alike. In fact, you would have trouble determining that her books were written by the same author. This would be her downfall if she weren’t such a good writer with such a wide repertoire of ideas. She is best known for Bel Canto, a memorable read, but be sure to also grab The Magician’s Assistant, The Patron Saints of Liars, and Run.
3. Gotta Have Some Nonfiction
Men and women cannot live on fiction alone. Thank goodness for some intriguing and informative nonfiction to bring our feet back to the ground, although a warning: Many of the books listed below are a greater escape than any vacation could hope to be.
Whether you are into hiking or not, you can’t help but fall in love with the book A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, the true account of his trek along the Appalachian trail with his woefully unprepared companion Katz. Their adventures on the trail are so painfully funny and endearing that you find yourself urging them forward for just one more mile. (Look for A Walk in the Woods in the Travel Memoir section of East Side Books.)
Winterdance by Gary Paulson is another example of a tale about an ordinary person stretching himself to complete an extraordinary feat. Paulson writes of his experience running the Iditarod, a 17 day, 1150 mile winter dogsled race held in Alaska. A gifted writer, his tale is sure to entertain as well as cool you down during the hottest days of summer. (Look for Winterdance in our Alaska section.)
If you are looking for adventure on the high seas, check out Linda Greenlaw’s book The Hungry Ocean an account of her experience as the only female swordboat captain in the world. Gritty and tough, Greenlaw is a force to be reckoned with on the page and on her boat. Interestingly, she was first thrust into the spotlight when her boat the Hannah Boden was referenced in the book A Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger. (If interested in either of these titles, check our Boating/Ocean section in the nonfiction room.)
Norman Maclean writes of another kind of tragedy in his book Young Men and Fire, the account of the Mann Gulch, Montana fire of 1949 that took the lives of 13 paratrooper-firefighters. Maclean, also the author of the beautiful novel A River Runs Through It, spent 14 years studying the Mann Gulch fire and then distilled that information into a thorough and thoughtful book.
When you start feeling your brain softening from too much relaxation, check out a few titles by Malcolm Gladwell to recharge your mind. One part psychology, one part sociology, one part journalism, it is hard to pin down exactly what Gladwell’s books (Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outlier) are really about–we even have trouble knowing where to shelve them. (Look for them on the New Arrivals nonfiction table in the nonfiction room.) Despite his elusiveness regarding a label, Gladwell’s book are sure to get you thinking and to spark conversation.
If you have problems finding any of these titles, please let one of us know and we would be happy to assist you. Remember, we can also place special orders if you can not find what you are looking for.