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Friday Question of the Day – Summer Reading Recs for 2017?

by Prince Of Petworth May 25, 2017 at 10:22 pm 81 Comments


Photo by PoPville flickr user angela n.

Memorial Day weekend brings about one of my favorite Friday Questions of the Day – What summer reading books do you recommend this year? What’s the last really good page turning book you’ve read? I’m about to start Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon which I just got from a Little Free Library and seems very promising for a summer read.

  • Beau

    For the politically minded, Ratf*cked by David Daley. It might encourage folks to get involved in politics given the state of both parties (and their leadership).

  • anon_bdale

    I loved Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Wonderfully unique and really stuck with me.

    • bruno

      Sunday’s featured writer in the NYT Book Review touts this book too. Now I’ll have to get it.

  • anon

    Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

  • nicole

    Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish

    SO GOOD

  • anon

    I’m a bit late to the game, but I just read and loved Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld – it was perfect for the plane and would have been a great beach read.

    • wdc

      I find myself getting increasingly annoyed with these re-makes. I’m to the point where I automatically lose respect for any author who thinks it’d be wild to re-imagine P&P. P&P with yoga! zombies! social media! Darcy’s POV! The servants’ POV! Yawn.

      • Farragut

        I think Austen is approaching Shakespeare-level in literature, in the sense that her stories are seen as timeless in a sense, and therefore get adapted and readapted and reimagined–heck, you have the classic SF film “Forbidden Planet” as just “The Tempest–in spaaace!”

        I’m not making any comment that you’re seeing *good* re-makes or anything, wdc, just its stature and why people keep going back to it (fairy-tale retellings are insane commonly in SF/F, see like half of Mercedes Lackey’s stuff).

    • wdc

      But if you like retreads, and you liked Jane Eyre, have you read The Wide Sargasso Sea? I thought it really added something to the original.

  • Farragut

    For the SF/Fantasy-inclined, I recently read “The Curse of Chalion” by Lois McMaster Bujold. I had only read her sci-fi before, but this fantasy novel was really good (and I hear the sequel, “The Paladin of Souls,” is even better). It started off slowly, but ramped up–but I just really really liked the main character–just a nice well meaning guy who sticks to his beliefs. The dialogue is fantastic, too.
    .
    I also just recently read Martha Wells’s short book “All Systems Red” the first in her “Murderbot Diaries” series. The main character is a SecUnit (contractually required security android) who hacked itself and spends most of its time watching TV and hates hanging around the humans it’s assigned to–until something starts happening to threaten the crew. The writing is just really entertaining, and I recommend not only this book but anything else by her–Element of Fire, Death of the Necromancer, Wheel of the Infinite, The Cloud Roads and the rest of the Books of the Raksura series, etc.

    • littlen

      I love Bujold’s Chalion series as well! The Penric short stories are a lot of fun too, once you’ve gone through the main series.

      Guy Gavriel Kay is a historical fiction/fantasy author you might like as well, if you haven’t tried his books already. My favorites are Sailing to Sarantium (based on the Byzantine Empire), The Lions of Al-Rassan (ancient Spain during the time of El Cid), and Under Heaven (Tang Dynasty China). Beautifully written and all very well researched.

      • Farragut

        I’ve heard a lot about GGK over the years, though I’ve yet to try him out. I do have a copy of “Under Heaven,” and I’ve been thinking about “Sailing to Sarantium” because I’ve been obsessed with Byzantine history lately!

      • dcd

        The Lions of Al-Rassan is on the short list of my favorite reads of all time. But they’re all terrific. I actually preferred Lord of Emperors, the second book in the Sarantaine Mosaic, to Sailing to Sarantium.
        .
        BTW, I opened this thread specifically to see Farragut’s recommendations, which in past years have been excellent in the Sci-Fi/Fantast realm.

        • Farragut

          Thanks, dcd! I appreciate that–I love these book threads. :-) I know I only posted a few books this year!
          .
          I will say that everyone has their own blindspots or bubbles, though! I thought I was well read in SF/F or at least *knew* about a lot–and then I go onto a fantasy forum and realize just how much I”m missing in the field, especially since I don’t read a lot of romance or YA stuff (also, I can’t stand zombie fiction in general).
          .
          Too much out there to read all at once! I’ve been reading a lot of short stories lately, especially those by Ken Liu (who’s coming to Capclave this year, our local SF convention–*not* a comic-con).

          • dcd

            This thread is a good reminder that I need to put down the Twitter and other things that raise my blood pressure, and return to reading more.
            .
            Any recommendations for alternative history? I really liked the Grantville universe, but it’s just become too watered down with mediocre authors. I’m also a little sick of the “Hitler won/survived” theme.

          • Blithe

            dcd, I’m not sure what you mean by “alternative history”. Would “Time and Again” by Jack Finney fit?

          • Farragut

            I ended up bouncing off the Grantville stuff after … Ram Rebellion, I think. Virginia DeMarce was *not* a good addition to the writing ranks.
            .
            I like alternate history stuff a lot! Have you read any Turtledove stuff? His most famous stuff tends to be Civil War- or WWII-based stuff, but my FAVORITE is a fantasy series by him called Videssos–the premise of the original four books is that a Roman legion from our world gets transported to an alternate magical Byzantine Empire. :-D
            .
            Other alternate history stuff I’ve read in the past:
            * Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series (Napoleonic Wars but with dragons–I think the series loses a little bit over time, but hey, it’s a finished series now)
            * Adam Christopher’s Ray Electromatic Mysteries (“Made to Kill” is first book)–the premise is that he’s writing a SF novel set in the ’50s/’60s with a robot protagonist as if he were trying to channel Raymond Carver–technically alternate history, right?
            * Mary Robinette Kowal has two–her most recent is “Ghost Talkers” about spirit mediums helping the British war effort in WWI (might be seen as “secret history” instead of alt-hist) & her 5-book “Glamourist Histories” (Regency period but with the addition of illusion magic… technically alt-hist0.
            * Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy (first is “Cold Magic”) has the alternate-history point of a colder Earth so that Britain is still connected to the rest of Europe. The main character is of a Carthaginian merchant family (they’re still around) from Britain around the… 1700s? Not sure.
            * “Celestial Matters” by Richard Garfinkle is a very interesting alt-hist book–not just alternate history (Alexander’s Empire continued) but also alternate SCIENCE (classical Greek models of the universe is accurate–so you have celestial spheres, etc.) as there is a mission into space.
            * If you like Kim Stanley Robinson at all, you might appreciate his “The Years of Rice and Salt”–a multigenerational story that explores what might happen if the Black Death killed 99% of Europe instead of only a 3rd (in other words, it’s the Arabs, Indians, Africans, and Chinese who end up directing world affairs instead of Europeans)–the conceit is that you’re following the same characters as they keep getting reincarnated.
            * A really fun alternate-history fantasy/mystery series is Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy trilogy (technically 1 book and a bunch of short stories, but I read in it an omnibus from Baen, I think): the Plantagenets hold onto their French possessions, so you have an Anglo-French empire that’s survived into present day, and Lord Darcy is a detective (with an Irish sorcerer assistant) who solves fun “whodunnits”
            * David Drake & Eric Flint have a Belisarius series that I liked a lot–some far-far-far-future conflict between different branches of humanity end up doing something of a proxy war in the 6th century AD, one faction taking over an Indian kingdom to create an “evil empire” and the other sending assistance to help Belisarius and Justinian stop them. Very silly premise in some ways, but darn it if I didn’t learn some interesting history along with being entertained.
            .
            I’m going to stop there, because I realize that you got me MONOLOGUING! :-D

          • Farragut

            Blithe, “alternate history” usually means a story where at some point in the past, things diverged from “real history” (sometimes called the POD – point of divergence)–and the story explores those changes. This can just be “things happen differently” (Archduke Ferdinand’s car went in a different direction instead of toward Gavril Princip) or “things were changed on purpose/by accident” (often because time travelers muck things up–“Bring the Jubilee” by Ward Moore is a CLASSIC example of this).
            .
            Time travel stories on their own tend not to be considered alternate history unless an actual change was made, and even then, if they reverse it (like in Back to the Future”, it pretty much just falls in line with the traditional time travel storyline).
            .
            “Time and Again” by Jack Finney is a GREAT book and I recommend it in general, and you’re right about the potential alternate-history aspect of things, though since it happens at the very end, the change ends up not really being explored, so I just call it a Time Travel novel.

          • textdoc

            Blithe, have you read Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life”? (Or other Kate Atkinson stuff?)
            .
            There’s some “alternative history,” but that’s not so much the focus of the book. The book is more about alternative possibilities on a more micro level — a bit like if there were more than just two iterations in “Sliding Doors.” (But it’s literary — I don’t think “Sliding Doors” is generally regarded as Serious Cinema.)

          • dcd

            Now THAT’S the Farragut post I wanted! : )
            .
            I do like the Civil War Turtledove, will definitely check out the others. I read the Eric Flint and David Drake work, but I can’t remember the name either. Thanks for the other recommendations.
            .
            Blithe, alternative history typically revolves around change in the outcome of one historical event, and the author’s imagined world that would result. The Man in the High Castle is the most well-known example recently. The changed event can be subtle (if I remember correctly, Harry Turtledove uses small changes to generate entirely different worlds), or fantastic (in the Grantville series Farragut mentioned, a small West Virginia mining town was transported back in time into the middle of the 30 years war).

        • Blithe

          Wow! Thanks Farragut and dcd — both for the explanations and for the reading lists!

          . textdoc, so far, I’ve only read Case Histories, and that was so long ago that all I remember about it is that I liked it, and that I enjoyed her writing. I’ll add that to my pile.

    • wdc

      I will always second a rec for Bujold! And if you’re just getting into her fantasy work, try the Sharing Knife series next. This one is geared a little more toward the romance crowd (though it is not a bodice-ripping romance by any stretch) but as usual, her world-building and character development are really excellent.
      .
      Also for sci-fi enthusiasts, the Ancillary series by Anne Leckie. It slowly and gradually blew my mind. But it’s a commitment, because the first 100 pages are confusing and a little plodding.

      • Farragut

        I used to be really against romances in principle when I was younger–I still find I’m not really reading any as a genre, but I definitely don’t mind well-written romantic relationships in stories (Bujold’s “A Civil Campaign” is still one of my favorite SF romantic comedies). So I definitely look forward to reading Sharing Knife eventually!
        .
        Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy was great! I don’t know if it’s because I read a lot of weird stuff over the years, but Leckie’s use of Radchaai gender is pretty tame in comparison–it probably helped I knew about it ahead of time. BY THE WAY: Leckie has a new book coming out end of September/early October called “Provenance”–it’s in the Ancillary universe but NOT near/in Radchaai space.

        • wdc

          Oh, I had no idea about the gender stuff. It took me ages to figure it out. :)
          And yes, A Civil Campaign was a stellar book, on several levels.

          • anon&confused

            Seconding “The Sharing Knife” series! And Farragut, YES to “Curse of Chalion.” What a thoughtful, interesting, well-built world. I definitely love her Vorkosigan books, too. She’s such a talented writer.

  • Erin R

    Not really uplifting, but I really enjoyed Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. The Night Circus is more of a fun fiction read. Yay reading!!

    • LittleBluePenguin

      Oh! I heard an interview with the author of “Killers of the Flower Moon” on the BBC History Extra podcast – it sounds like a good read, albeit sort of a downer.

    • Emmaleigh504

      I should have read comments before I commented. I’m reading it now and enjoying it so far.

    • JY

      The Night Circus was an amazing read. Such an interesting universe.

    • wdc

      If you liked The Night Circus (and I did) have you read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell?

      • Erin R

        I haven’t! Looks like from goodreads that its a series? have you read the First 15 lives of Harry August? That was another 5 star (IMO) that I’ve read in the last few years

        • Farragut

          “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” isn’t a series at all! It’s a decently long book though and it can get broken up into multiple volumes when translated into other languages. (That said, there is a short story collection by Clarke that has stories in the same setting as Jonathan Strange, and supposedly Clarke is planning to write a follow-up to it with different characters, but we haven’t seen it happen yet, and it’s been 12+ years).
          .
          My sister loves First Fifteen Lives and keeps bugging me to read it! :)

  • Quotia Zelda

    I like to read Victorian literature in the summer.

    This year, I’m on an Elizabeth Gaskell binge. I’m also planning to re-read Vanity Fair, which is so, so much fun. Depending on how much time I have on my hands, I may also read some Trollope (also fun, plus church! politics!) and finally dig into the Angela Thirkell novels I inherited from my grandparents (although not Victorian, they continue Trollope’s setting).

    That, and there’s a new John Sandford I haven’t read. I’m addicted to crime novels (thanks, Mom).

    • Caroline

      Barchester Towers is my go-to for when I need a palate cleanser. I’ve probably read it six or eight times by now. It’s on my nightstand now, in fact! I’ve never heard of Angela Thirkell but will check her out — thanks for the recommendation!

      • Quotia Zelda

        Barchester Towers is one of my favorites, too.

    • Blithe

      I love Angela Thirkell’s novels! I’ve got a stack of them that I’ve put aside to re-read when I need a tranquility break.

    • textdoc

      I was on an Elizabeth Gaskell kick a while back.
      .
      Have you seen the TV adaptation of her “North and South”?

  • Emmaleigh504

    I just started Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. It’s about the Osage native Americans who were murdered for their oil wealth. Interesting so far.

  • ShawThroughtheHeart

    Anybody else read Michel Houllebecq? A bit controversial from what I understand, but I don’t consider that a negative.

    The Elementary Particles, The Possibility of an Island, and The Map and the Territory are all immersive, relentlessly cynical, and three of my favorite books ever.

  • 1301

    I really enjoyed The Orphan Master’s Son and I’m finally starting (and digging) both Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and James Corey’s The Expanse series! This post will help me build my library list :)

    • eggs

      I’m about to start the Dark Tower series, and Mr. Eggs is in the middle of The Expanse series. He loves it! How are you enjoying both of those so far?

      • 1301

        So I’ve only read the first of each (I’ve got a very active DC library ebook account). The Gunslinger is definitely just a setup for a much larger world (think those first chapters of each of the Game of Thrones novels, but book-length), but it was a train I was willing to ride. Leviathan Wakes holds up even as a standalone and I am super pumped to see where the books go from here. I too easily default into laid back YA reads, it’s been nice to step it up a level!

  • NH Ave Hiker

    Lincoln’s Lieutenants by Stephen Sears. (Sorry, I’m a historian)

  • condoer

    Any recommendations for a thirty-something guy who’s not normally a fiction reader but would like to get into a few summer beach reads?

    • wdc

      You might like the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels. (murder mystery with anti-social hackers)
      Or Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett (homegrown terrorists, hostages, love and the strange psychology of confinement)
      If you like history, try Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. It’s about the building of a cathedral in the middle ages, and all the life of the countryside around it and how everyone is somehow connected to this multi-generation project.

      • 1301

        Oh man, I got about a third of the way through Pillars and I just … couldn’t. I’m sure there was a great story there eventually, but for me it was a slog. Maybe I can try it again in a few years!

        • dcd

          I really liked Pillars of the Earth, but felt that the sequel (I can’t remember the name) was just the same damn book. (See: Bonfire and the Vanities => A Man in Full.)

          • wdc

            Exactly. I was so excited to start World Without End, but halfway in, I was like “there isn’t a new book here, is there?” I felt cheated.

          • ExWalbridgeGuy

            I loved Pillars of the Earth too, but it helps to be specifically interested in 1) life in the middle ages/churches and 2) really long books. I read it after having seen some similar churches in Europe that really fired up my interest in that period/subject. But just to be candid, if you’re not normally a fiction reader, I’m not sure how much you’ll enjoy 1000 word multi-generational sagas like this. Some people (fantasy novel fans etc) regularly read 1000 pagers and think nothing of it, but I need a book to be on a topic I’m really excited about like this, or like reading a Michener book about a place that you’re traveling to, in order for it to be worth my time…

          • wdc

            Fair enough! (I almost recommended a couple of Michener titles, too. Caravans, about Afghanistan, was really good.)

          • soozles

            Pillars is one of my favorite books of all time. As for Michener, I loved Chesapeake and, hey, it’s about our area.

    • stell

      brief history of seven killings by marlon james

      • kwame

        I really tried to get into this but struggled with reading through the patois. Going to pick it back up at some point this summer.

        • I also found it somewhat difficult, but was glad I persevered.

    • Not sure you’d call them beach reads, but you might like The Narrow Road to the Deep North, The Year of the Runaways, The North Water, Redeployment, The Sympathizer, or Work Like Any Other.

      • condoer

        Thanks, All! Appreciate the recs.

    • Pleasanter

      The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Simply wonderful.

      • Quotia Zelda

        I enjoyed The Goldfinch, but I had to take a break from it at one point. I tend to get emotionally invested in characters, and things got a little intense for Theo.

    • anon&confused

      Wouldn’t really call these a beach read, but “An Untamed State”, “Station Eleven”, “Leviathan Wakes”, “The Girls” and “Homegoing” are some of the most thrilling/interesting/engaging books I’ve read in the past few months. Might help to ease you into fiction-reading :-)

    • MichelleinMD20721

      Nonfiction:
      “Truck: A Love Story” by Michael Perry (and his other books)
      “One Summer, America: 1927” by Bill Bryson

      Fiction:
      “News of the World” by Paulette Jiles
      “The Book of Joe” by Jonathan Tropper
      mysteries: I’m re-readingTony Hillerman’s books, set in the Four Corners area of NM.
      Also Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan books and her stand alone books. I love the Monaghan books. The stand alone books are psychological thrillers.

    • bruno

      At your age someone recommended I read Stendhal’s “The Charterhouse of Parma.” I read it at the beach and enjoyed it. Olssen’s Books used to have staff that would slip books into your hands and say, “You oughta try this.” I miss that :^) This novel is about a young man who tries to make a name for himself and runs into the Napoleonic Wars and all that.

    • Susan Goldfarb

      Any of No Nesbo’s books.

      • Susan Goldfarb

        *Jo Nesbo

  • anonymous

    I know this has been recommended on here many times before, but needs mentioning for those who haven’t gotten around to it: All the Light We Cannot See.

    Also, for WWII history buffs: Iron Coffins (by Herbert Werner). I had read about many aspects of Word War II, but had never sought out books on the submarine/U-boat experience. Werner’s book is a first-hand German account of the U-boat experience, and he also details his trips home to Germany between missions (a country you can see is increasingly falling apart as the war goes on). Really powerful stuff and quite accessible for a non-navy person like myself!

    • JY

      All the Light We Cannot See was a great story. Not the most wonderful of summer reads. It left me with a book hangover for days. Great characters wonderful prose. I recommend.

  • Blithe

    I’m probably going to be reading a lot of series books this summer: So the Isabel Dalhousie Sunday Philosopher’s Club series by Alexander McCall Smith, and possibly some of his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books as well, since I haven’t read the newest ones in either series. I’ll add in several books from Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series and Laurie King’s Mary Russell series. I’m also going to re-read, yet again, “The Blue Sword” and “The Hero and the Crown” by Robin McKinley. This will be a nice stack of summer reading. It’s probably not a coincidence that I’m choosing books with: “good almost always vanquishes evil — even if the process might be somewhat messy…” themes.
    – I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s suggestions and totally upending my reading list.

    • Farragut

      Wow, I just looked it up, and I haven’t read the last 6 No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books–where did the time go?
      .
      I just picked up one of the McKinley books via some Humble Bundle a couple months ago–not sure when I’ll get around to it, though (I still have books on my shelves that have been there since 2010!).

  • JY

    The Handmaid’s Tale – Now on hulu – but the book was a great read. You will say F, is this where we are going as a country?
    Beach reads – Crazy Rich Asians series by Kevin Kwan
    Super funny book – Jenny Lawson’s books Furiously Happy or Let’s Pretend this never happened
    Post Apocalyptic – Silo Series by Hugh Howey

    • dcd

      The Silo series was excellent! Wasn’t the first one (Dirt?) self-published, initially?

      • Farragut

        It looks like the first Silo story is “Wool”! And yes, self-published originally!

    • 1301

      Ahhh Jenny Lawson’s books are AMAZING.

  • kwame

    currently reading Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki. Perfect beach read.

  • Pleasanter

    I just read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and couldn’t put it down.

  • Anon

    I saw Pillars of the Earth was mentioned earlier, but Ken Follet’s Century Series (starting with Fall of Titans) is great for 20th century history fans.
    I also really enjoyed Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.
    The Language of Flowers and Big Stone Gap were nice light reads as well.

    • wdc

      Oh yes. Cutting for Stone was excellent. And it’s not my usual genre. (Or the author’s… I don’t think he’s written any other novels, just non-fiction.)

      • LittleBluePenguin

        oh! I love Verghese, didn’t know he wrote a novel, thanks for the recommendation!

  • Anon

    Any audiobook recs?

    • 1301

      Not precisely an audiobook, but check for the BBC radio play of Neverwhere. The recent one, circa 2013?

  • Anon

    “A Gentleman in Moscow” was really wonderful (I listened to the audiobook). Several years ago I read “The Rules of Civility” by the same author which is also very good. Amor Towles is a brilliant writer.

    “Small Great Things” another one I listened to, a compelling story about race and justice which made me question myself.

    “Girls on Fire” which I read the same time as “The Girls” and they compliment each other well. One’s set in the 60’s and the other in the 90’s, both involve adolescent girls who get involved with dangerous people.

    “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things”, one of those books that causes you to look at something considered abhorrent in an entirely different light.

    “Here Comes the Sun” takes place in Jamaica so it’s a great beach read, though the subject matter is complex and dark.

    “Harmony” by local author Carolyn Parkhurst– a quick read with a driving sense of foreboding.

    “Lucky Boy” about a couple who adopts a child that was taken from his mother who was deported. Heartbreaking and so relevant to current events.

    “Hidden Figures”– as a woman in engineering I felt I owed it to myself to read this book and was not disappointed!

  • bruno

    Didn’t expect to Like Willa Cather but loved “Death Comes for the Archbishop.” Captures a sweeping time and landscape in a not-too-long novel. Also, “Reveille in Washington,” about DC during the Civil War. Fascinating. “Excellent Cadavers,” about the 1992 Sicilian Mafia trails… chilling but totally captivating. (Truth stranger than fiction once again!) Tolstoy always great — war and Peace is long but easy to get through, and memorable, and you can tell people you have read it! My favorite deep but leisurely summertime read is Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” a mediation on all sorts of stuff using a Virginia creek as the basis. Prose is the best. I often read a random page before bed.

  • Susan Goldfarb

    The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Part about leaving Saigon made me miss my metro stop.
    Also, Jo Nesbo’s latest book, The Thirst.

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