I’ve been getting a lot of requests from friends for a list of books to take on vacation over the summer. As I’m starting my vacation this weekend with two of my best friends getting married, I thought this would be a great time to share some.
I define a “summer read” as a book that can stand an interruption or two. Maybe breakfast is ready; maybe there’s a car going into town; maybe someone needs a hand shucking the corn. Whatever it is, vacations are never truly vacations at the cottage and reading time is often sacred.
A “summer read” should have enough plot to lure you back after that quick swim. It should be funny, or gripping. It should be the kind of book that gets passed around from book club to book club and comes back well-worn. The kind of story that you chat about over the campfire.
Without further ado, here are the 10 books you need to read this summer.
The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker
One sentence summary: “Luminous, haunting, unforgettable, The Age of Miracles is a stunning fiction debut by a superb new writer, a story about coming of age during extraordinary times, about people going on with their lives in an era of profound uncertainty.” – Goodreads.
Why I liked it: I love reading apocalyptic fiction, but have been finding recently that these stories tend to recycle each other’s plot lines. The idea of the gravitational pull affecting the length of day and night is, to a non-scientist, totally believable and quite frightening. This isn’t a horror story nor a thriller, however, as it’s told from the point of view of an 11-year-old girl. It’s haunting, touching and beautifully written. (Note: I recently recommended this book for a male friend’s book club and he texted me this morning saying, “Hosting book club tonight and just powered through the rest of The Age of Miracles last night/this morning – can’t stop crying. Such a good book!”)
Why it’s a great summer read: The plot is so different from anything I’ve ever read that I truly couldn’t put it down. I read this novel in a single day while at the cottage.
The Light Between Oceans
M. L. Stedman
One sentence summary: A couple who tend a lighthouse on a deserted Australian island find a boat with a dead man and a living baby and must decide whether to tell the truth, or keep the child as their own.
Why I liked it: This novel takes a hypothetical situation and plays it out to a heartbreaking degree. Once I finished this book (crying, be warned), I begged my mum to read it too so we could talk about it. This would be a fabulous book club read as there is truly no right answer to what one should or could do in such a situation.
Why it’s a great summer read: The whole time you’re reading this book you can feel the calamity rising and the dread building bit by bit. Like an accident where you can’t look away, you will find it a real challenge to put down this book.
One sentence summary: Two children are left alone in Algonquin Park when their parents are mauled to death by a bear. [... Need I say more?]
Why I liked it: This book is part Room (Emma Donohue) and part Lord of the Flies. It’s narrated by five-year-old Anna, so the reader is in the unlucky position of understanding the danger of insects, sunburns, drowning, etc. while Anna clearly doesn’t. If you’ve ever been camping, especially in Algonquin Park, this book will speak to you in a terrifying, very real way. Cameron spent years as a tripper and guide throughout Algonquin Park, so she knows the local bear stories well. Read about the real-life events that inspired this story here.
Why it’s a great summer read: You actually can’t put this book down. While I was reading, I was convinced that if I left Anna and her brother “unsupervised” in the Park then they would certainly never survive. This is a book you want to read at night in the low light and, hopefully, not in a tent.
Brain on Fire
One sentence summary: A journalist undergoes a horrifying change in personality and as she’s on the brink of being committed to a mental institution, her family and friends work with a doctor to try and find a diagnosis of a bizarre and frightening illness.
Why I liked it: Though this book is terrifying (I was convinced I was going to catch the same thing somehow), it was a fascinating non-fiction read. To hear Susannah tell her story after being on the edge of no return is pretty darn inspiring. It also teaches a lesson that can be applied many places in life; never assume. Never take “no” for an answer. Never give up. To think that she was mere days away from being committed is a horrifying thought.
Why it’s a great summer read: You won’t be able to put this book down. It’s fascinating, haunting, and extremely well-written.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
One sentence summary: With humour and self-deprecation, Jenny shares the dark, bizarre and downright unbelievable stories about her childhood growing up in rural Texas, her brutal high-school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor.
Why I liked it: It is literally laugh-out-loud hilarious. I’m not one to laugh out loud when reading, but this book had me in stitches. It was exactly my sense of humour and all I wanted to do was read sections of it to friends and family. I’ve given this book as a gift to lots of people and they’ve all loved it.
Why it’s a great summer read: It’s so nice to read a comedy in the summer. This book is the perfect pick-up-when-you-have-a-moment book as the chapters are all stand-alone stories.
One sentence summary: Caught follows the story of a recently escaped convict, Slaney, as he tracks down his old partner and attempts to back into the drug business to try and complete a deal that sends them, tracked by a cop, to Mexico on a seemingly doomed voyage.
Why I liked it: Lisa Moore is potentially my favourite Canadian author. February is one of my most favourite books of all time, and it’s interesting to see her poetic, fresh language telling the story of a drug-smuggling convict. She not only pulls it off, but tells the story brilliantly. Just reading the back of the book, I wouldn’t think to pick it up, but I’m so glad I did. (David) Slaney is a wonderfully written character that you can both feel for, and yet not understand at the same time.
Why it’s a great summer read: Nothing says summer like a thriller! It was such a wonderful change to have a “trashy beach read” not be trashy at all, and be written by an award-winning Canadian author.
One sentence summary: This post-apocalyptic novel follows a mother and two children have been trapped in a house ever since an epidemic swept the world where simply seeing “something” would make people commit maddening acts of violence to themselves and others.
Why I liked it: I love post-apocalyptic novels and this was a true nail biter. When water is needed, people must go outside to a well, blindfolded, which sounds like pretty much the most frightening thing ever to me on a regular day, let alone in a world where seeing something could kill you. Sure, it’s not the most literary writing, but the plot is fast-paced and creative. Coming from someone who works with audio everyday, the descriptions of sound in the world of the blindfolded and how to function in that world were really well-written and quite fascinating.
Why it’s a great summer read: It’s scary, it’s a page turner, and you’ll likely be out at a cottage, a farm, in a tent, etc. when reading it so… good luck to you. At 262 pages, this is a quick read, and I can assure you that you don’t want it sitting on your nightstand too many nights in a row because, nightmares.
One Bird’s Choice
One sentence summary: Iain Reid’s memoir is filled with charming, rural anecdotes of working on his parents’ farm after he’s moved back home in his mid-twenties.
Why I liked it: Iain Reid is hilarious and his parents are delightful characters. By the end of the book I felt like I knew them so well that I could finish their sentences. It’s a lovely story that we can all relate to; that “wtf do I do now that I’m finished school?” thought that occurs to all of us and whether you go to live on your parents’ farm for a year or work full time at a Starbucks (me), we all find our path eventually.
Why it’s a great summer read: Organized into seasons, this book is easy to pick up and put down in between a swim in the lake, or going for a paddle. Also, it’s really funny in a very understated way. Just a treat to read.
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
One sentence summary: “Nineteen years old, free of prospects, and inescapably famous, the twins Nicholas and Nouschka Tremblay are trying to outrun the notoriety of their father, a French-Canadian Serge Gainsbourg with a genius for the absurd and for winding up in prison.” – via Goodreads.
Why I liked it: What’s not to like? It’s Heather O’Neill. Her writing is beyond spectacular. Her metaphors and similes are so creative and beautiful they often bring me to a full stop. I turned down so many pages in this book just so I could go through it again after and re-read my favourite parts. When I did, it was like that feeling of getting into bed with fresh clean sheets; you just can’t help but burrow into her language. Read more about my obsession with Heather’s writing here and here.
Why it’s a great summer read: This book came out in 2014, and it’s a must-read for this year. The summer is a great time to catch up on recent releases and this is one that’s not to miss. Expect to see it on the long list for the Giller Prize this fall, if not the short list.
Born to Run
One sentence summary: In search of an answer to “why does my foot hurt?”, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners, learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.
Why I liked it: Whether you’re a runner or not, this is an eye-opening read. This non-fiction reads like a mystery/thriller. If you do run, in any way, shape or form, it’s all the more interesting. From learning about a tribe that can run over 50KM/day in handmade rubber sandals to why running shoe companies have it all wrong, this book has a lot to teach us. Though I won’t be registering for an ultra marathon soon, or giving up running shoes and going barefoot, I can assure you that I was tempted to do both.
Why it’s a great summer read: Summer is the perfect time to start running, if you don’t already, or to increase your training. Once you hit the fall, there are many awesome races and fun runs for every ability and it’s great to be able to challenge yourself and try something new. This book will inspire you to get off the dock and lace up those runners for a jaunt through the trails at the cottage. Highly recommended.
Now, how about what’s on my reading list this summer?
Currently Reading: Sweetland, Michael Crummey
The God of Spring, Arabella Edge
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
The Enchanted, Rene Denfeld
All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews
To be read:
Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Wayne Johnston
The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe
The Massey Murder, Charlotte Gray
The Heavy, Dara-Lynn Weiss
Happy summer, and happy reading!