The Book Jam Blog
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So Summer 2021 is off to a great start -- people are getting vaccinated, festive in-person gatherings are back, and for two Book Jam posts, great authors have shared their recommendations for great summer reading. Last month we heard about some great thrillers and mysteries from Sarah Stewart Taylor, author of the Maggie D'arcy series. Today, KJ Dell-Antonia, best-selling author of The Chicken Sisters shares her wisdom, perfect books to read, and adds to our to-be-read pile. THANK YOU KJ. With no further ado ... KJ's reviews.
If there’s one thing I like ALMOST as much as reading books myself, it’s suggesting them to others. I like to think one of my superpowers is finding just the right book for any reading situation. Today I’m focused on the summer book bag, which to me requires a blend of depth and fun that can be a bit of a challenge to get just right. I like some of my summer reading fluffy and some of it to engross me a little more deeply. Here are my picks for a variety of summer reading needs. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2021). Prefer a family saga to a romance, but want to revel in the kind of fun-and-games that a romance provides? I loved, loved, loved Malibu Rising, a complicated, mulit-POV story that takes place in one day in '80s Hollywood but moves around in time to show how everyone got there. So much happens, and yet in a sense the whole thing could easily be summed up in two words, one of which is a spoiler--but that's the best kind of book. Sprawling narrative, tight core. I admit it—I haven't read Daisy Jones yet. (#TBR)—so I can’t offer a comparison. But I can tell you this one’s flat out good stuff. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
Life’s Too Short by Abby Jimenez (2021). Love a good romance, but demand some serious plot to move that story along? Get frustated when the only thing in the hero or heroine's way is so very clearly the hero or heroine herself? That's always true, but let's have it be about something real, right? Abby Jiminez's Life’s Too Short is long, long, long on story, so much so that the romance ends up being the most suspense-free part of the book. Facing mortality isn’t usually a summer read topic of choice, but here it’s handled with such deft humor and humanity that you can't help but be there for it. Hard recommend. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
Embassy Wife by Katie Crouch (2021). Need one big book for a long weekend and a small bag? Embassy Wife is many things all rolled into one: a satire of diplomacy, in which an Auntie Mame-like genius that is the experienced wife takes the newbie under her wing, a but-what-is-he-up to marriage thriller and a hefty fun dose of the lunacy that results when a kind of Upper East Side parenting style transplants to Namibia and co-opts more than a few Namibians... This one (by Dartmouth professor Katie Crouch) satisfies a lot of itches. The cover art is--well, it suggests to me that they didn't know what to do with it, and I can see that, but don't judge it. This is no Just-So Stories. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia (also recommended by Book Jam)
You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin & Lacey Lamar (2021). Wait, what? A lighthearted, summer-worthy read about what? Here’s the deal: You: Digesting much reading about racism and your inescapable part in it OR Finally reading your own history and watching the white people around you finally get a small clue. This Book: a funny intermission that doesn't for one minute let anyone off the hook and might even go further that its more apparently serious counterparts in waking people up OR making people feel heard and seen. My opinion: it's a match made in heaven for just about any reader. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia (Seconded by Lisa Christie in our recent work with the Norman Williams Public Library)
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo (2021). Stay With Me is the unexpected story of a marriage invaded--by family, by expectations, by culture--and a second wife, intended to provide the offspring wife number one has failed to produce. But no one has the full story (do they ever?), and even the people who claim to be playing by the rules aren't. This book surprised me in many ways--the plot kept me guessing, and the characters were uniquely themselves. Set in an Africa that’s not filtered through Western eyes, this is a consideration of what it means when fertility comes first in a society and an inside look at marriage expectations beyond the Western bubble—and it’s also compulsively readable, unpredictable and hard to put down. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (2021). True Confessions: I have never read Remains of the Day. Or Never Let Me Go. When you say "major literary prize winner" to me I say "oh way over my head then" with some internal struggles with the chip on my shoulder over all the books that were mandatory reading in high school that I should probably be grateful led to my not majoring in English in college. Those were not books for me. This, however, is very much a book for me--and not only that, but a (deceptively?) easy and inviting read that almost made me wonder if the real secret of popular literary fiction is that it expresses a very simple truth that we almost didn't realize we needed to hear in a way we have never thought about. Or maybe that's not a secret? To sum up: Yes do read this, even if you're not into the AI futuristic heading-for-dystopia narrative, because it's hopeful and thoughtful and also a very entertaining exercise in seeing an unfamiliar world through even more unfamiliar eyes. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
First Comes Like by Alisha Rai (2021). The reason the east Asian re-takes on Jane Austen's stories work so well is that these are cultures in which marriage may be discussed before two individuals have even met, let alone kissed. First Comes Like is NOT an Austen re-telling, but it still has that vibe of characters who need to take their interaction very seriously and, as a result, can't easily run away or imagine they should be taking things lightly. This is a wonderful romance between people who are genuinely trying their hardest to be mature and smart about a situation they've been thrown into--and it's also fun, funny and everything you want in a romcom. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
Where the Grass is Green and the Girls Are Pretty by Lauren Weisberger (2021). Lauren Weisberger's take on the college admissions scandal? Yes please. Three POVs--the kid whose too-helpful parents pulled the scam, the wildly successful morning show anchor mother and the mother's very judgmental not-so-successful sister are part of what makes this fun--we see the antics from all sides. There's a touch of white savior that's mildly problematic, so be warned (it's not super germane to the plot but it's there) but the book is overall extremely fun and the ending satisfying. Another great beach pick. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave (2021). Once this thriller gets going, it scoops you up like a waterslide and won’t let you go. If you want to be hooked into a page-turner for a long flight or train ride, or prefer to be fully engrossed on the beach, this one’s for you: in the wake of a corporate scandal, her husband has disappeared, leaving behind the daughter that he adores but who’s never fully connected with her stepmother. Now, the two of them have to figure out who the missing man really is and what he wants them to do next—and how to do it together. It took me a few chapters to get into this one (largely, I think, because the “husband who isn’t who he says he is” genre isn’t usually for me)—but I was glad I stuck with it, because once I was in in was ALL IN. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
THANK YOU KJ! ~ The Book Jam
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