Written by Marsha Toy Engstrom
Who says beach reading has to be insubstantial and dumbed down? Sometimes you just wanna read what you wanna read—and that may include history, memoir, or historical fiction. This list of my current favorites is eclectic enough to include something for practically everyone. (And, yes, I am ADD, thank you…) My hope is that between these oldies but goodies, and those fresh-off-the-press, you’ll find something that might grab you at the moment. I don’t want to leave you stranded at the beach, lake, or backyard with nothing but a bodice-ripper—but I will include a really “fun” option, as well.
Adventures in France
10) Paris Lamb by Marcia Fine (L’ Image; April, 2015.)
A master of historical fiction, Marcia’s prior historical novels have taken her readers to World War 2 (WW2) and as far back as the Inquisition—so it seems odd for me to write that her newest “historical” work only takes us back to the 1980’s. While being whisked on an adventure from the New England to Paris, New York, Miami and Arles, we learn about the worlds of art, archeology, academia, auction houses, and Jewish and Christian history. Part historical fiction, part mystery, with a bit of a love story thrown in for good measure, this novel will so keenly create a sense of place—you’ll practically smell the lavender and crusty French bread of Provence.
9) The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s Press; February, 2015.)
For those of us who cannot get enough of WW2, you will not be able to put this one down. This is the story of two French sisters, Isabelle and Viann, responding to the war in two very different ways, who find themselves having to make harrowing decisions to fight for what they need, and protect those they love. It’s a tale of families, secrets, and ordinary people doing extraordinary things. But most of all, it’s about love. Warning: you’ll have to risk taking your eReader to the beach or lug around a large tome as the paperback doesn’t release until 2016…
8) The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton (Harper; August, 2015.)
A compelling piece of historical fiction! We follow our well-rounded, yet AWOL protagonists Jane and Liv—patterned after (and with cameo appearance by) female journalist Martha Gellhorn and photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White—through war-torn Europe on their quest to be the first to report from a liberated Paris. A great summer adventure for the reader. But, warning: the action is so realistic, you may need to go for a swim to wash the foxhole dirt out of your hair!
Memories of New York
7) The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt (guess by whom?) (Da Capo Press; 1992; originally published in 1960.)
Arguable one of the most fascinating women of the 20th century, Eleanor was not only the niece of one president and wife of another, she was also a leading force in humanitarian efforts world-wide—and a leader way ahead of her time. If you enjoyed the recent Ken Burns series, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, you will want to read how Eleanor, a shy quiet mother of six, became a lion fighting for the underdog (women’s rights, civil rights, human rights) and the author of 36 works. An inspirational memoir by a remarkable woman!
6) Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (Random House, June, 2009)
OK—here’s another oldie, but goodie—and the winner of numerous prizes including the National Book Award. The author skillfully ties together disparate characters and themes including Vietnam, art, the Catholic Church, hookers, law, technology and tightrope-walking. (Of course, we knew they were all related, right?) The author packed the action with rich characters, and makes us feel what they feel: hope and despair, love and fear, beauty and gritty ugliness—and in the end, we grow to acknowledge that we are all humans sharing the same planet. A literary treat not to be missed!
In two weeks we’ll continue with five more summer reading treats. Until then, sip a nice sweaty glass of iced chai and enjoy the summer sunshine!
Marsha Toy Engstrom is the editor of www.bookclubcheerleader.com