Summer Books for Beach Bags … or Back to School

It’s the book lover’s siren call—gentle waves lapping at the beach’s edge.

Or maybe it’s the whoosh of a school bus door, whisking your child back to school. Whether you are sneaking a few days in at the beach or have time on your hands with the kids in class, we’ve got a few great book recommendations:

Room (Emma Donoghue, Back Bay Books, $15)
You’d like to think the scenario is unimaginable, except we know it’s not. With that in mind, it’s even easier to become quickly attached to Jack, as he makes his way through daily life, not knowing that anything extends past the four walls that surround him and his mother. I’m not a huge fan of books that involve unrealistic situations, which makes this all the more remarkable because a story about a mother and her son held in captivity for years could be a plot that could easily devolve into the completely absurd. Loved it, and couldn’t put in down.

Bossypants (Tina Fey, Reagan Arthur Books, $26.99)
Hilarious from start to finish, this book offers a dose of funny for the smart girl—the smart girl who maybe wasn’t the prettiest or most popular, the smart girl who gets the last laugh. This memoir isn’t designed specifically to inspire or empower, though it’s easy to embrace that message if you choose. Rather, I just enjoyed (and by enjoyed, I mean I snorted out loud reading it while waiting for my daughter’s 4th grade musical to start. Impressive!) the story of a girl that made good and didn’t let the fact she is female get in the way of making it in a male-dominated business—comedy.

Leaving Van Gogh (Carol Wallace, Spiegel and Grau, $25)
It’s the art lover’s “Loving Frank,” and a riveting tale despite the slow pace of the novel. Told from the viewpoint of Van Gogh’s last known physician, Dr. Gachet, it’s a poignant story of friendship between two sad men. I’m haunted by the scenario laid out at the end of the novel. Would you, as a friend, help someone take their own life? What if she or he were fatally ill, as Dr. Gachet’s wife was? Or just severely depressed, as Van Gogh appeared to be? Why was it Gachet could help one, but not the other?

These Things Hidden (Heather Gudenkauf, Mira, $16)
This was a great quick read— similar to Jodi Picoult, I like Heather Gudenkauf because while the stories may be as contrived as Picoult, the endings are so much more realistic and there’s less of a chance I am going to throw the book across the room when I finish. This book centers on the story of Allison, who is released from prison for a heinous crime that technically, she really didn’t commit. She desperately tries to reach out to her sister, Brynn, and is unwittlingly drawn back into the same circle of people that played a role in the acts that led to her stint in prison. It was easy to become connected to the characters, and like any good story, I didn’t want to put the book down until I found out who did what and why.

State of Wonder (Ann Patchett, Harper, $27)
This was my first foray into Ann Patchett territory, and it proved successful—while the story line leans a little toward the ridiculous, the book achieved what the best ones, for me, do—I couldn’t put it down. What would Dr. Singh find in the Amazon? What is Dr. Swenson working on? Whatever happened to Anders? I had to know the answers! I found the story fairly engrossing and several notches above typical “chick lit” writing, which can grow weary after a few chapters. I appreciated Marina’s physical and emotional journey, and that readers got a little bit … no … a big payoff in the end. A realistic payoff.

Before I Go to Sleep (S. J. Watson, Harper, $25.99)
Looking for a great summer thriller? Pick up this debut effort and block out a few hours, because you won’t want to put it down. You’ll find yourself reading the journal of Christine, a 40-something wife and amnesiac, waking every day to a strangers’ faces—hers, and that of her husband, Ben. Or is it? My only criticism would be that no one writes that prolificly in their journal. Then again, I’m not trying to recapture every moment of every day. I don’t need to remember my 13-year-old leaving bacon grease stains on the couch.

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