It seems a bit crazy to already be writing this post, but here we are! June 1st is just around the corner and with it comes the 20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge.
This challenge was created by Cathy at 746 Books, and is a great way to read those books you might have put off during the first half of the year, over the course of last year, or to discover new titles to love and dedicate a blog post to each of them. I participated last year and did not do as well as I had hoped, which only means there’s plenty of room for improvement this year!
Over the next three months – the first of June to the first of September – I will attempt to read (and finish) the following 20 books (listed in the order in which I pulled them off my shelves). I will link each discussion post here so you can easily read my thoughts and share your own comments if you also happened to read any of the books I’ve chosen.
Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day
- Fables, fairy tales, short stories
- 208 pages
This collection of wry and witty, dark and perilous contemporary fables and tales is populated by people—and monsters and aliens and animals and inanimate objects—motivated by and grappling with the fears and desires that unite us all. In this visionary world, televisions talk (and sometimes sing), octopi leave the sea to collect spoons in small city apartments, and boys and girls and men and women fall down wells and fly through space and find love on Ferris wheels. As you turn these pages of gleaming, stripped-down prose, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day will make you see the world in a whole new way—the way you did a long time ago, before you grew up and closed your eyes.
Under the Sea-Wind
- 271 pages
Celebrating the mystery and beauty of birds and sea creatures in their natural habitat, Under the Sea-Wind—Rachel Carson’s first book and her personal favorite—is the early masterwork of one of America’s greatest nature writers. Evoking the special mystery and beauty of the shore and the open sea–its limitless vistas and twilight depths–Carson’s astonishingly intimate, unforgettable portrait captures the delicate negotiations of an ingeniously calibrated ecology.
THE SEA AROUND US
- The follow up to Under the Sea-Wind
- 216 pages
The Sea Around Us is a survey of what we know about the seas of the Earth that while scientifically accurate is also filled with art and wonder of discovery. Carson describes hidden mountains and canyons of the deepest ocean and explains how they were mapped. She tells us how islands are “born,” how they are populated by plants and animals, and how they are altered. She explains global winds, rains, currents and tides and how our world is primarily a watery globe.
Carson does not neglect mystery and wonder but blends imagination with fact and expert knowledge. The Sea Around Us became and remains a classic description of the sea, relevant even a half-century later.
The Maid of the North: Feminist Folk Tales From Around the World
Ethel Johnston Phelps
- One of the most recent additions to my bookshelves
- Fables, fairy tales, short stories
- 170 pages
The Maid of the North weaves together tales about a woman’s right to freedom of will and choice. In this collection of mostly nineteenth-century folk and fairy tales, Ethel Johnston Phelps’s heroines successfully portray women as being spirited, courageous and smart. This type of heroine is not easily found in most collections; in most traditional folk and fairy tales we encounter women are portrayed as being good, obedient, submissive, and, of course, beautiful. These women—and girls—are resourceful; they take action to solve a problem and use cleverness or shrewd common sense to solve the dilemmas they face.
The tales themselves are part of an oral tradition that document a generation according to the values of the time. Phelps has given these older tales a fresh, contemporary retelling for a new generation of readers, young and old. She shapes each story—adding or omitting details—to reflect her sense of a feminist folk or fairy tale.
The twenty-one tales collected represent a wide variety of countries; approximately seventeen ethnic cultures from North America to Europe to Asia tell a story in which women play a leading or crucial role in the story.
Ivy Lin is a thief and a liar—but you’d never know it by looking at her.
Raised outside of Boston, Ivy’s immigrant grandmother relies on Ivy’s mild appearance for cover as she teaches her granddaughter how to pilfer items from yard sales and second-hand shops. Thieving allows Ivy to accumulate the trappings of a suburban teen—and, most importantly, to attract the attention of Gideon Speyer, the golden boy of a wealthy political family. But when Ivy’s mother discovers her trespasses, punishment is swift and Ivy is sent to China, and her dream instantly evaporates.
Years later, Ivy has grown into a poised yet restless young woman, haunted by her conflicting feelings about her upbringing and her family. Back in Boston, when Ivy bumps into Sylvia Speyer, Gideon’s sister, a reconnection with Gideon seems not only inevitable—it feels like fate.
Slowly, Ivy sinks her claws into Gideon and the entire Speyer clan by attending fancy dinners, and weekend getaways to the cape. But just as Ivy is about to have everything she’s ever wanted, a ghost from her past resurfaces, threatening the nearly perfect life she’s worked so hard to build.
Filled with surprising twists and offering sharp insights into the immigrant experience, White Ivy is both a love triangle and a coming-of-age story, as well as a glimpse into the dark side of a woman who yearns for success at any cost.
The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War
- NetGalley eARC
- 208 pages (per the publisher)
Day in, day out, bombs fall on Daraya, a town outside Damascus, the very spot where the Syrian Civil War began. In the midst of chaos and bloodshed, a group searching for survivors stumbles on a cache of books. They collect the books, then look for more. In a week they have six thousand volumes. In a month, fifteen thousand. A sanctuary is born: a library where the people of Daraya can explore beyond the blockade.
Long a site of peaceful resistance to the Assad regimes, Daraya was under siege for four years. No one entered or left, and international aid was blocked.
In 2015, French-Iranian journalist Delphine Minoui saw a post on Facebook about this secret library and tracked down one of its founders, twenty-three-year-old Ahmad, an aspiring photojournalist himself. Over WhatsApp and Facebook, Minoui learned about the young men who gathered in the library, exchanged ideas, learned English, and imagined how to shape the future, even as bombs fell above. They devoured a marvelous range of books—from American self-help like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to international bestsellers like The Alchemist, from Arabic poetry by Mahmoud Darwish to Shakespearean plays to stories of war in other times and places, such as the siege of Sarajevo. They also shared photos and stories of their lives before and during the war, planned how to build a democracy, and began to sustain a community in shell-shocked soil.
As these everyday heroes struggle to hold their ground, they become as much an inspiration as the books they read. And in the course of telling their stories, Delphine Minoui makes this far-off, complicated war immediate. In the vein of classic tales of the triumph of the human spirit—like All the Beautiful Forevers, A Long Way Gone, and Reading Lolita in Tehran—The Book Collectors will inspire readers and encourage them to imagine the wider world.
The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die
- NetGalley eARC
- 160 pages (per the publisher)
Somlata has just married into the dynastic but declining Mitra family. At eighteen, she expects to settle into her role as a devout wife in this traditional, multi-generational family. But then Somlata, wandering the halls of the grand, decaying Mitra mansion, stumbles upon the body of her great aunt-in-law, Pishima.
A child bride widowed at twelve, Pishima has finally passed away at the ripe old age of seventy. But she isn’t letting go just yet. Pishima has long harbored a grudge against the Mitras for keeping her in perpetual widowhood, never allowed to fall in love.. Now, her ghost intends to meddle in their lives, making as much mischief as possible. Pishima gives Somlata the keys to her mysterious box of gold to keep it out of the Mitras’ hands. However, the selfless Somlata, witnessing her new family waste away their wealth to the brink of bankruptcy, has her own ideas.
Boshon is a book-loving, scooter-riding, rebellious teenager who wants nothing to do with the many suitors that ask for her hand. She yearns for freedom and wants to go to college. But when her poor neighbor returns from America she finds herself falling in love. Perhaps Pishima’s yearning spirit lives on in her own her heart?
The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die is a frenetic, funny, and fresh novel about three generations of Mitra women who are surprising at every turn and defy all expectations. They may be guarding a box of gold, but they are the true treasures in this gem of a novel.
The Real Mrs. Price
- DISCUSSION POST
- 327 pages
Lucy Price is living the American dream. She has been married to her successful husband and businessman, Edward Price for a year and couldn’t be happier until she learns that Eddie is a dangerously ruthless man, heavily involved in illegal activities that threaten not only her marriage, but her life. Eddie abruptly disappears, but not before warning Lucy that if she wants to keep breathing she’d better keep her mouth shut. Six months later, word of her husband surfaces when she learns that he is presumed murdered in a small Texas town, apparently killed by his “wife”, Marlowe Price.
Marlowe is no stranger to trouble. An outcast in her own community for being one of those “hoodoo women,” who can curse you or cast you under her beguiling spell, Marlowe is shunned at every turn. Six months ago, a whirlwind romance in Mexico led Marlowe to marry the man she thought she’d spend the rest of her life with. For Marlowe and Eddie, there is no such thing as trouble in paradise. But late one night, when Marlowe witnesses her husband putting the body of a dead man in the trunk of his car, the illusion comes crashing down around her and she knows she has to move fast before the devil comes calling once again.
Now, Lucy and Marlowe must come together to find out where and who Eddie really is, and help each other through the threat he poses. There’s nothing more dangerous than a woman scorned…except for two women scorned who are willing to put their pasts behind them and band together to take one bad man down.
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
- 326 pages
Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she leads a meticulously ordered existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day browsing the overwhelmed stacks.
But when a young BookFrog, Joey Molina, hangs himself in one of the upper rooms of the store, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Inside one of Joey’s pockets is a photograph of Lydia as a little girl. And when she flips though some of his books, she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. The more she puzzles over them, the more they seem to contain a hidden message for her about his final days. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a fiendishly clever bookstore mystery that will keep you guessing until the very last page, where the truth, in the end, may be stranger than fiction.
- A member of my Book of the Month Club backlist since October 2017
- 433 pages
Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.
Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished.
With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan’s first historical novel follows Anna and Styles into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men. Manhattan Beach is a deft, dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men, of America and the world.
As Bright as Heaven
- A member of my Book of the Month Club backlist since January 2018
- 384 pages
In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters–Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa–a chance at a better life.
But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without–and what they are willing to do about it.
As Bright as Heaven is the compelling story of a mother and her daughters who find themselves in a harsh world, not of their making, which will either crush their resolve to survive or purify it.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter
- A member of my Book of the Month Club backlist since October 2018
- 482 pages
In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.
Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.
Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?
- A member of my Book of the Month Club backlist since June 2018
- 338 pages
If Indiana Jones lived in the X-Files era, he might bear at least a passing resemblance to Nolan Moore—a rogue archaeologist hosting a documentary series derisively dismissed by the “real” experts but beloved of conspiracy theorists.
Nolan sets out to retrace the steps of an explorer from 1909 who claimed to have discovered a mysterious cavern high up in the ancient rock of the Grand Canyon. And, for once, he may have actually found what he seeks. Then the trip takes a nasty turn, and the cave begins turning against his expedition in mysterious ways.
Nolan’s story becomes one of survival against seemingly impossible odds. The only way out is to answer a series of intriguing questions: What is this strange cave? How has it remained hidden for so long? And what secret does it conceal that made its last visitors attempt to seal it forever?
Future Home of the Living God
- A member of my Book of the Month Club backlist since November 2017
- 267 pages
Evolution stops as mysteriously as it began. Pregnancy and childbearing quickly become issues of state security. Twenty-six-year-old Cedar, the adopted daughter of idealistic Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.
As Cedar travels north to find her Ojibwe family, ordinary life begins to disintegrate. Swelling panic creates warring government, corporate, and religious factions. In a mall parking lot, Cedar witnesses a pregnant woman wrenched from her family under a new law. As she evades capture, Cedar also experiences a fraught love with her baby’s father, who tries to hide her.
An unexpected dystopian thriller from a writer of startling originality, Future Home of the Living God is also a moving meditation on female agency, love, self-determination, biology, and natural rights.
The Unfinished Clue
- One of the most recent additions to my bookshelves
- 220 pages
Sir Arthur Billington-Smith was nobody’s idea of the perfect host. In fact he was absolutely frightful. He bullied his wife, grumped at his guests, refused gleefully to help out an indigent friend, and positively blew his stack when his wayward son took up with a nightclub dancer who was definitely N.Q.O.C. (Not Quite Our Class.) Is it any wonder that one fine, bright, English June morning Sir Arthur Billington-Smith quite literally became a bloody bore when he was firmly stabbed in the back with a pretty little Chinese dagger? And is it any wonder that dev’lishly attractive Inspector Harding from London thought everyone was guilty?
The Clue of the Judas Tree
- One of the most recent additions to my bookshelves
- 240 pages
Published a few years after the 1929 Crash of Wall Street, the murder victim is Duncan Trent, a millionaire financier. The immediate suspect is a shell-shocked veteran of The Great War, although several others are soon revealed to have motive. The setting is a country estate between Baltimore and Washington D.C. Baltimore detective Lieutenant Joseph Kelly is charged with solving the mystery.
This is a straight detective story presenting a multitude of clues combined with romance and Gothic dark foreboding.
In Love & Trouble
- Short stories
- 138 pages
Roselily, on her wedding day, surrounded by her four children, prays that a loveless marriage will bring her respectability; a young writer, exploited by both her lover and her husband, wreaks an ironic vengeance; a destitute, ignorant girl, unable to get a doctor for her sick child, is advised to try ‘strong horse tea’; a jealous wife, looking for her husband’s mistress, finds a competitor she cannot fight; an old woman, thrown out of a white church, meets God on a highway.
These are some of the seekers of dignity and love whom Alice Walker portrays in an enlightening, disturbing view of life in the South.
- 205 pages
Considered by some to be her finest work, Edith Wharton’s Summer created a sensation when first published in 1917, as it was one of the first novels to deal honestly with a young woman’s sexual awakening.
Summer is the story of proud and independent Charity Royall, a child of mountain moonshiners adopted by a family in a poor New England town, who has a passionate love affair with Lucius Harney, an educated young man from the city. Wharton broke the conventions of women’s romantic fiction by making Charity a thoroughly contemporary woman—in touch with her feelings and sexuality, yet kept from love and the larger world she craves by the overwhelming pressures of environment and heredity.
The House at the End of Hope Street
Menna van Praag
- 280 pages
After Alba Ashby, the youngest PhD student at Cambridge University, suffers the Worst Event of Her Life, she finds herself at the door of 11 Hope Street. There, a beautiful older woman named Peggy invites Alba to stay, on the house’s usual conditions: she’ll have ninety-nine nights, and no more, to turn her life around.
Once inside, Alba sees that 11 Hope Street is no ordinary place. Past residents include Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Parker, and Agatha Christie, who all stayed there when they, too, had lost hope. With the house’s help, Alba decides to risk everything—and embarks on a journey that may even save her life.
- Short stories
- 348 pages
Although Katherine Mansfield was closely associated with D.H. Lawrence and something of a rival of Virginia Woolf, her stories suggest someone writing in a different era and in a vastly different English. Her language is as transparent as clean glass, yet hovers on the edge of poetry. Her characters are passionate men and women swaddled in English reserve—and sometimes briefly breaking through. And her genius is to pinpoint those unacknowledged and almost imperceptible moments in which those people’s relationships—with one another and themselves—change forever.
These are all books I have on my shelves —physical and electronic—, and with a couple of exceptions, are all books I’ve had for quite some time. There is what I consider to be a good balance of short and longer novels, genres, and putting a couple of my NetGalley-approved eARCs on this list will ensure that I stay on track to completing those in a timely manner. I will be writing my wrap up for the second quarter of 2020 at the end of June, and I will likely just briefly note the books I finish for this challenge, rather than repeating myself in that post and in the individual posts for each book (read more about my 2020 Reading Challenge here).
And finally: what I love most about the rules of this challenge is that they are quite flexible. You can read them here, but essentially the goal is to knock a few books (ten, fifteen, twenty, or anywhere in between) off your TBR by summer’s end. Reading 20 books in three months exceeds my average reading pace, but I’ve always enjoyed creating summer reading lists and seeing how many books I can finish throughout the longest days of the year. It’s also fun to see what other participants are reading, and there are plenty of opportunities for great book discussions across the book blogosphere.
So will you be taking part in the 20 Books of Summer Challenge? As I said above, you can read more about it here, and if you do decide to dive in, make sure to link up your posts so others can easily find them over the next three months.