The Book Jam Blog
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As we head into the last full month of summer 2021, we offer below a robust list of beach, mountain, camp, cabin, trailside, riverbank, front porch, and lakeshore reads (please let us know if we’re forgetting any important relaxing reading locations!) for adults to dive into before autumn takes hold. We hope there’s something to tempt every type of literary palette. You might want to read a recent NYTimes article about summer reading to get in the mood for this list.
And with this post, we, too, have officially gone readin' - our own precious, eagerly-awaited for time out to read all the books we hope to recommend to you, dear readers, this coming fall and winter. We look forward to being back in late September to help “put the right book in the right hands at the right time.”
Embassy Wife by Katie Crouch (2021). I laughed. I cringed. I really missed my time as an expat in Madrid. And, I was filled with wanderlust for anywhere in Africa, but specifically Namibia. Perhaps because winter covid safety precautions were in place (and travel was verboten) when I read this novel, it was especially nice to live in Africa for a bit while reading. I also greatly appreciated that this story cleverly hid targeted critiques of race, privilege, and power in the world as the author explores the mingling of various expats and the citizens of their hosting nations. Embassy Wife is truly a great book for those who like novels to have a bit of bite/satire, as well as those who like novels that cause you to think while being entertained. Or, as the Washington Post review of this novel says "... here’s the disclaimer the novel should have come with: Don’t take this book too seriously, and it will entertain you, seriously." ~ Lisa Christie
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reed (2021). This is certainly one of the hot books of summer 2021 and is popping up on nearly every reviewer’s “best of” list. Not only does it seduce readers into the winning setting of sunny, beachy coastal California (what more cold you ask for in a summer read??) — but Jenkins Reed really knows how to keep the pages turning. Prepare yourself for some enjoyable time-travel back to the year 1983 when on one day, four “twenty-something” year-old siblings are preparing for the family’s annual blow-out summer party. This year it goes up in smoke (you learn this early on in chapter one) but not before we come to understand the complicated, painful, and often fraught history of this larger-than-life, famous, fictional Malibu family. It’s a treat to follow Malibu as a character, too, from its sleepy beach town beginnings in the 1950’s through to its more glitzy persona of the 1980’s. (Previously reviewed on the Book Jam by KJ Dell'Antonia.) ~ Lisa Cadow
Good Company by Cynthia d’Aprix Sweeney (2021). Imagine that as you prepare to launch your daughter on the afternoon of her high school graduation, you find the wedding ring your husband supposedly “lost“ over ten years ago hidden in the back of a filing cabinet. What you thought you understood about your life, your marriage, and your own next chapter is upended. Thus begins “Good Company,” a thoughtful new book about marriage, friendship, and motherhood by the author of the novel “The Nest.” I was eager to pick up this up given how much I loved her first novel and it didn’t disappoint. It takes readers back and forth in time between characters’ present-day acting careers and lives rooted in Los Angeles, the beginnings of their careers and nascent relationships in New York City, and an annual summer theater camp for adults (“Good Company”) in the Adirondacks. Sweeney has a gift for creating interesting and realistic characters and for compassionately exploring with them and through them the choices and challenges we face in life. ~ Lisa Cadow
Olympus Texas by Stacey Swann (2021). Consider this novel as Dallas of 1970's television meets Edith Hamilton's Mythology. I thought this story (a first novel) of a dysfunctional Texas ranching family might collapse under the weight of its conceit - linking family members to Greek gods and their distinctive traits. The novel's matriarch is named June and keeps cows. Her husband Peter has many children with June and many other women. Two of these children are twins - Artie, a hunting guide, and Arlo, a musician. The wayward son- March - is a man with a volatile temper. The most beloved son is a kind unattractive body shop owner married to the most beautiful girl in Texas. And yet, this novel did not collapse -- even if sometimes things were stretched. The cleverness of Ms. Swann's conceit was a superb diversion from the early days of post-pandemic life (although lately it appears those days were a false start). Enjoy no matter where in the pandemic we are currently living. ~ Lisa Christie
These Women by Ivy Pochoda (2020). I loved this novel describing life in Los Angeles as prostitutes are being attacked and murdered. That is a weird sentence to write as obviously (hopefully obviously) I am not fond of killing. What I appreciated was a frank look into the lives of the marginalized, the well crafted prose, and the story line. A local reading series paired Ms. Pochoda with Mr. Jeff Sharlet and his latest collection of essays and photos This Brilliant Darkness; you would not go wrong doing the same. ~ Lisa Christie
Northern Spy by Flynn Berry (2021). This modern-day thriller pulled me in right on page one in when we meet Tessa, a single mother of a new baby and a respected reporter for the BBC, as she is hard at work comping a story in her office in Belfast. She suddenly notices footage on one of the teleprompters of a person who looks surprisingly like her sister pulling on a black ski mask in preparation for an IRA bombing. How could this be? Her sister Marian is her best friend and she knows she has never dealt with the IRA in her life. If you’re in the mood for an excellent mystery that weaves in the fascinating volatile history and complicated politics of Northern Ireland, look no further. Northern Spy is fast-paced, full of checkpoints, spies, secret meetings, explosions and motherhood (!) so buckle your seat belts. Talk about work-life balance. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! ~ Lisa Cadow
Orchestrated Death by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (1991). Somehow for me, there is nothing as comforting as a well crafted British murder mystery. Being surrounded by kind DCIs is just bizarrely comforting. Which is a weird thing to say as each book of this genre begins ends and sustains a grisly act - murder. But alas knowing that the bad guys will get caught and there are good detectives in the world is reassuring and may be just what you need as summer ends and autumn begins. I enjoyed the first book in this series - an introduction to Bill Slider, a middle-aged, straight-arrow London cop who is investigating a dead body that changes his life (e.g., new lover, promotion, some music appreciation) - and look forward to reading the rest soon. THANK YOU Sarah Taylor of Maggie D'arcy series fame (we also recommend reading her latest mysteries - The Mountains Wild and A Distant Grave) for pointing us to this book and many others. ~ Lisa Christie
We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker (2021). Though I haven’t yet turned the final page of this suspenseful novel (I’m about 3/4 of the way through), I feel confident in saying that this is one of the best books of the summer. The characters are strong. And so memorable. There’s twelve year-old Duchess who flies off the page and into the readers’ hearts despite her anger and recalcitrance with the fierce love and protective care she offers her younger brother Robin. And there’s “Walk”, the weathered, older police inspector who’s lived in the same coastal California town his whole life and carries the friends, stories, and tragedies of his community into his work and also into his off-duty hours. This is a literary thriller that transports readers back and forth from the Pacific coast to the remote wilds of a Montanan ranch. It keeps readers guessing throughout - though not shielded from domestic dramas, violence, and estrangement - and rooting for justice, love, family, and the ties that bind to triumph in the end. ~ Lisa Cadow
We Came We Saw We Left: A family gap year by Charles Wheelan (2021). Mr. Wheelan's ability to observe himself and his family with love and humor is evident in his writing and his adventures with his family as they leave life in small town New Hampshire (our neighbor to the east - Hanover) for Colombia, Bhutan, New Zealand, and Georgia and .... For those of us who missed / are missing travel during the pandemic, this tale will inspire you and encourage you to dust off your passport as soon as safely possible. Paraphrasing a NYTimes review, you really root for and want to meet Team Wheelan. Since we can't all know them in person, this book is the next best thing. Buy it to travel vicariously through their adventures, to inspire your own next great trip, or to have a road map as you plan your own family interactions at home. ~ Lisa Christie
You Never Forget Your First by Alexis Coe (2020). Somehow this biography of George Washington is both simultaneously respectful and irreverent. Honestly, I don't know how Ms. Coe pulls it off; but she does. As a result, she had me turning pages very quickly as her tale of our first President's life unfolded. For example, from the start, she calls the "typical" Washington biographers "thigh men" for their fascination with Washington's strong thighs, physique, and size (of the large biographies they write). She highlights his accomplishments, his ability to overcome many obstacles, his love of freedom and the new USA, and does not shy away at all from his ownership of slaves for his personal benefit (well-known) or his various wars on Native American Tribes (I hadn't thought a lot about this). A great book for anyone looking to learn a bit more about the founding of the USA, diseases of the historical era, any of the Washington family members (i.e., wife, mom, step children, nieces, nephews), or General Washington himself. My husband heard me discussing this and recommended I try Forget the Alamo next. You might want to as well. ~ Lisa Christie
You'll Never Believe what happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar (2021). Ms. Ruffin is a comedian writer (the first Black woman writer) on Late Night With Seth Meyers. She is funny. She also is blessed with a sister who still lives in their hometown of Omaha Nebraska and has CRAZY things happen to her with regularity as a result of being a petite Black woman in Omaha. Luckily Lacey calls Amber to talk about each incident. Luckily for us they decided writing down these conversations would be a great idea. Also reviewed on the Book Jam by KJ Dell-Antonia. For those who prefer a Q&A format, try Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho (2020). The former NFL player - Acho - based this book on his podcast of the same name. ~ Lisa Christie
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