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Suggested summer FUN reading

June 3, 2014

Our librarians offer the following suggestions of books that’ll make any day in summer, even the more overcast one, a sunny adventure.

Book suggestions with brief reviews

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
This enchanting novel is about a 12-year-old English boy, David, who is thrust into a realm where eternal stories and fairy tales assume an often gruesome reality. Books are the magic that speak to David, whose mother has died at the start of WWII after a long debilitating illness. His father remarries, and soon his stepmother is pregnant with yet another interloper who will threaten David's place in his father's life. When a portal to another world opens in time-honored fashion, David enters a land of beasts and monsters where he must undertake a quest if he is to earn his way back out. (Review from Publishers Weekly, August 28, 2006)

Booked to Die by John Dunning
The first of a series of mysteries featuring Cliff Janeway, a police officer turned bookstore owner whose interest in rare book collecting leads him to dangerous places.

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Oyeyemi takes the story of Snow White and places it in mid-20th century United States. Told from several narrative perspectives (including that of the “evil step-mother) it touches on questions of identity, race, and gender politics while engrossing and challenging the reader’s assumptions.

A Clash of Kings, by George R. R. Martin.
After all the negative commentary the TV series has been receiving on the subject of consent and rape culture, it is refreshing to read the more empowered versions of Cersei and Daenerys in the books.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
In a rural Chechen village, an eight year old girl is left orphaned after Russian soldiers burn her house to the ground. A neighbor helps her escape to a local hospital where a disillusioned British-trained surgeon is trying to provide minimal medical care as her hospital crumbles around her. A beautiful story of hope among the ravages of war.

Corona by Bushra Rehman.
Razia, our Desi born heroine begins life in Corona, Queens, a neighborhood once referred to by F. Scott Fitzgerald as the “Valley of Ashes.” From there she starts a journey that has her giving historical tours in Salem, M.A., where her darkness aggravates donors and history buffs, smoking pot in the tenderloin of San Francisco with a domineering boyfriend, and hitchhiking through southern Florida with a beautiful girlfriend. Razia’s parents give her the choice to “come home and get married or never come home again.” But she lets nothing get in the way of her quest for freedom—even if it means being disowned by her family (Review from Publishers Weekly, August 19, 2013)

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink (two recommendations)
A remarkable, objective, horrifying account of the five days post-Katrina in New Orleans' Memorial Hospital. Fink recounts the experiences of the doctors and nurses who stayed to care for the patients left behind, and chronicles the legal investigation that followed.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage
It's a readable, fascinating history of humanity full of amazing facts you'll want to share with everyone within earshot.

Hyperbole and Half by Allie Brosh
Drawn from Brosh's blog of the same name, this funny and poignant graphic (non)novel tells stories of dogs, depression, life's disappointments, and a deranged goose.

The Land of Enchantment Witches Trilogy by Belinda Vasquez Garcia
While not based on a fairy tale per se, Vasquez Garcia has fashioned a beguiling series from myths, legends, and folk beliefs of the Hispanics and American Indians of the American Southwest. These books are a quick and entertaining read; they feature strong women characters trying to not only survive but triumph against societal (and supernatural) odds.

Mining the Social Web, by Matthew A. Russell.
I picked this up after a data visualization workshop because I'm interested in using the Twitter API to extract and order collections of tweets about digital libraries.

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
A classic Russian novel, by the best known Russian science fiction writers.  It's a novel of alien contact, but the story opens after the mysterious aliens have come and gone, leaving behind zones filled with alien technology, gravitational anomalies, and deadly traps.  Is it just their garbage, an intelligence test of some sort for humans, an odd sort of invasion or something else entirely?  An enigmatic novel, utterly free of the usual cliches.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simon
Meet Don Tillman, a genetics professor on the Autism spectrum. Don is determined to find a wife and sets off on his task scientifically - with a 16 page questionnaire. Along the way, Don meets Rosie, a completely unsuitable, free-wheeling, caustic bartender. Chaos ensues. A humorous, intelligent and lighthearted tale of romance, rules (and rule-breaking) and human nature - the perfect summer beach read.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
A bittersweet story based on a traditional folk tale re-imagined for 1920s Alaska.  This novel is haunting (in several senses of the word) and written with beautiful prose. I thought about this story for weeks after I read it!

Tom's River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin
A slice of NJ history, which was really informative to this newcomer. A bit of everything from toxicology to environmental engineering to cancer epidemiology to NJ politics to social justice.

War & Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, in the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.   
Don't let its reputation or admittedly formidable length deter you from one of the great reading experiences.  It's got battles, ballrooms, duels, romances, spiritual crises, unforgettable characters, and thought-provoking reflections on history.  And immersing yourself in a long Russian novel (with lots of winter scenes!) can be a great antidote for New Jersey heat and humidity.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
At age five, Rosemary and her sister Fern are separated (for reasons I won't get into here). Now 22, Rosemary narrates the story her family life so far, and the impact being estranged from her sister has had. Blurbed by Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Sebold and Michael Chabon and winner of the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award, this book is un-putdownable. But, the less you read about it before picking it up, the bigger the payoff.

Other suggestions

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman.

Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

The Amber Room by Steve Berry.

The Lincoln Myth by Steve Berry.

The Kill Artist (a Gabriel Allon novel) by Daniel Silva.

Prince of Fire (a Gabriel Allon novel) by Daniel Silva.

World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler.

Thank you to Katie Anderson, Stephanie Bartz, Vibiana Bowman Cvetkovic, Francesca Giannetti, Melissa Gasparotto, Melissa Just, Megan Lotts, Kevin Mulcahy, Caryn Radick, Bobbie Tipton, and Bob Vietrogoski for providing these suggestions.