One of my favorite things about summer is having a little more time to sit and read while my kids play in the sprinkler or at the park. I’m always looking for new book recommendations, so I thought I’d share 12 great books I’ve read in the past few months for you to put on your summer 2015 must-read book list. All of these are fiction; many are historical novels while some are contemporary. Every single one is fantastic!
NOTE: All links are Amazon affiliate links, which means if you click through and buy I’ll receive a small percentage of the sale. Thanks!
1 – Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner
Emmy Downtree is just 15 when she and her younger sister are evacuated from their home in London to escape the bombs that rain down nightly during World War II. They, like thousands of other children, leave their parents and are sent to the country to live with whomever is willing to provide shelter and safety. But Emmy knows her dreams of becoming a wedding dress designer will go nowhere so far from London, and so she sneaks back to the city, followed by her young sister Julia. If she’d known they would arrive on the first day of the Blitz she may have made a different choice, but instead she must live with the unforeseen consequences. This is a story about love and loss, guilt and forgiveness, but it still manages to maintain a light, summer-read feel.
2 – The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
This book starts as a lovely, gentle romance between a solitary lighthouse keeper (Tom) and his new bride (Isabel). You fall in love with both characters, so much so that when a boat washes up on their deserted shore with a newborn baby in it, you, like Isabel, hope this will be the solution to the heartbreak caused by two miscarriages and a stillborn baby. Unfortunately, hoping doesn’t always make things so, and a few years later the couple realizes their idyllic life isn’t going to last. While not necessarily a happy book, it’s such a beautifully rendered picture of the human condition that it’s worth the tears you might shed while reading.
3 – What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
The premise of this book sounds a little gimmicky: Alice wakes up one day having forgotten the last ten years of her life, including her three children and the fact that her marriage has almost completely disintegrated. But somehow, the book works anyway. It’s actually quite thought provoking: how does a marriage that started out solid as a rock start to go wrong? What would happen if spouses could look at each other the way they did at the beginning, when love was more important than resentment or dissatisfaction? If things have gone wrong, is there a way back? There’s lots to think about as you keep reading to find out if Alice will remember what she’s forgotten, and if she’ll be happier if she does. Content note: a few strong profanities.
4 – My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner
Resolute Talbot lives a privileged life as the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner in early 1700’s Jamaica, at least until pirates raid her home, kill her parents, and sell Resolute and her sister into slavery. And that’s just the beginning of Resolute’s adventures, which include one twist after another until she finds herself in the midst of the dawning American revolution in Concord, MA. It’s a huge, amazing saga (606 pages!) with a beautiful love story woven through the latter half of the book. A fantastic read to lose yourself in this summer. (And if you haven’t read These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.), also by Nancy Turner, you need to do so RIGHT NOW!)
5 –Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell
This compelling book is set during the early civil rights period and tells the story of a black woman and a white woman whose lives become intertwined. It reminded me of The Help, but with a slightly grittier, more realistic feel. Both women are damaged; each is mourning the loss of a son, although one turns to anger and revenge while the other turns to alchohol and oblivion. Eventually, they are able to help each other figure out what’s truly important to them, all while they help plant the seed of change in 1950’s Mississippi. I loved both the women’s stories and the historical details I picked up about the period – I had no idea women were so instrumental in beginning the civil rights movement. Content note: In keeping with the setting and time period, the N-word is used throughout the book, along with a few other strong profanities.
6 – Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
A then and now tale, Orphan Train alternates between the story of Molly, a girl who’s about to age out of the foster care system and is assigned community service hours, and the woman she ends up helping, who was an orphan herself 80 years ago. From the mid 1800s through the depression, orphan children from large cities in the US were put on “orphan trains” which carried the children through different cities in middle America to families who (hopefully) would want to adopt them. I sometimes don’t like books that alternate between a past and present story, because oftentimes one story is so much more interesting than the other, but I found both stories compelling and emotional. At the same time, it’s a pretty easy-breezy read – perfect for poolside relaxing!
7 – The Magician’s Lie: A Novel by Greer Macallister
Another easy, intriguing read. The book, set in 1905, begins with a murder: the magician’s husband lies dead while the magician flees, with law enforcement in pursuit. But things are not as they seem, with either the magician or the officer who apprehends and questions her, and the tension mounts as you get nearer and nearer to discovering the truth. This won’t win book of the year and it won’t change your life, but it will certainly provide you with entertainment and escapism for a few hours, which might be just what you’re looking for on your summer vacation.
8 – The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
The Nightingale centers around two sisters living in Nazi occupied France during WWII. Once I got past the first 50 pages or so I could not put this book down. I’ve read plenty of books set in this time period, but never one that gives a picture of what life was like for the French citizens during the Nazi Occupation that lasted for much of the war. Both sisters end up fighting the Nazis in their own way, unbeknownst to each other (they’re each trying to protect the other). This is the sort of book that will stay with you for days after you finish. Content note: there is mention of rape, beatings, and concentration camp violence as well as a few strong profanities.
9 – The Precious One: A Novel by Marisa de los Santos
Maria de los Santos is one of my favorite authors (I’ve recommend Love Walked In before – it’s amazing!) and she doesn’t disappoint with her newest novel, The Precious One. Imagine this: your father, who was never around much anyway, finally abandons your family to marry his pregnant girlfriend and makes it clear that he never wants to see you or be involved in your life again. 15 years later when his health is failing he contacts you out of the blue and asks you to put your life on hold to come help the half sister you’ve never met, the one he’s obviously loved more intensely and more completely than he ever loved you. What do you do? This is Taisy’s dilemma at the beginning of the novel. It’s an interesting story that brings Taisy back to the lost love of her life, but the real reason I like this book is the same reason I like all of de los Santos’ books: her writing is elegant and her characters feel real and quirky and troubled and likable and they are all, in one way or another, looking for love (and if you’ve read her other books, you know love always wins – how realistic that is I don’t know, but it’s sure makes her books fun to read). Content note: Part of the storyline does involve a teen getting involved with a teacher. Nothing is explicit (not that much actually happens) but it is an uncomfortable storyline.
10 – The River King by Alice Hoffman
Every one of Alice Hoffman’s novels that I have read have two things in common: amazing prose and a hint of magic. You’ll find both of these here in passages like this one: “When such girls walked past the brittle canes in the gardens behind St. Anne’s, they felt something cold at the base of their spines, a bad case of pins and needles, as though someone were issuing a warning: be careful who you choose to love and who loves you in return.” The River King is set in a posh boarding school in New England (which was reason enough for me to pick it up – am I the only one that loves boarding school tales?) and tells the story of two students on the fringes of school society and the local police officer that gets involved when a mysterious death occurs. Part mystery, part love story, it’s a great read. Content note: very occasional profanity.
11 – Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The book jacket synopsis of this book (ordinary girl gets a job caring for rich handsome man who happens to be wheelchair bound after an accident) made me think this would be a breezy, chick-lit story that steals half its plot from Jane Eyre and verges on being poorly written. Hooray for the fact that I was totally wrong! The story does have a bit of a fairy tale feel throughout the first half of the book, but it’s coupled with quirky characters and enough humor that it doesn’t feel cheesy. The second half of the book comes down to earth, however, with the realization that love might not solve every problem, and that sometimes making the person you love happy might break your own heart. The story is so engaging you’ll fly through it, but you’ll be thinking of it long after you’re done.
12 – The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin
I just can’t not be interested in a book about a bookseller. Especially a slightly cantankerous bookseller who is still mourning the loss of his beloved wife. This book boasts a wonderful cast of quirky supporting characters, a small town island setting, a mysterious theft, an engaging romance, and even an abandoned toddler who brings meaning back into A.J.’s life. There is some strong profanity, but for the most part this book is fun, cozy, and absolutely charming – right up my alley.
What have you been reading lately? Have any recommendations for me? Leave them in the comments!