With great pleasure, today I give you my fifth annual summer reading list, joining the throngs of columnists, bloggers, podcasters and general reading enthusiasts who believe when the weather turns warm and/or you’re heading to the beach, mountains or some other getaway, it won’t be complete unless you throw a book or two in your bag.
As I have stated in the past, I don’t necessarily differentiate my reading by season. I have a long TBR (To Be Read) list, and I tend to go to whatever pops up next on the waiting list of my electronic reader library app or something that has been recommended by friends or family – no matter the time of year.
- “The Last Green Valley” by Mark Sullivan. I admit to skepticism when my wife recommended yet another World War II tale, but it was unfounded. The author of “Beneath a Scarlet Sky”traces the journey of an ethnically German family fleeing Ukraine as Stalin’s forces infiltrate. Based on the story of a real family, Sullivan’s narrative is gripping while at times difficult to read as the young family faces heart-wrenching decisions and deplorable conditions in their quest for freedom. It was not lost on me that they were, in many ways, like families in Ukraine today.
- “Iron Lake” by William Kent Krueger. As a fan of this author’s standalone fiction (“Ordinary Grace” and “This Tender Land”), I had never read any of the Cork O’Connor crime series, Krueger’s bread and butter if you will. I decided to start with the first one. Set in northern Minnesota, “Iron Lake” introduces the protagonist O’Connor, part Irish and part Anishinaabe Indian, part and parcel of his rogue personality, reeling from his failed marriage and loss of his position as county sheriff. With his law enforcement background and strong connections in the area, O’Connor finds himself caught up in the investigation of the murder of a local judge and the apparent kidnapping of a popular high school student. Crime fiction and real crime fans alike should enjoy this one. (I have now read the second in the series, “Boundary Waters,” and look forward to reading the rest.)
- “The Maid” by Nita Prose. Another of my wife’s book club selections, she cautioned me it might tend toward two categories from which I shy away:“chick-lit” and the latest and greatest on popular book lists. As to the former, I am comfortable enough with who I am to get over it, and as to the latter, I will follow the occasional trend if I think it’s justified. That is definitely the case here. “The Maid” is a delightful story of a hotel housekeeper, Molly, who finds herself being questioned as an unlikely but serious suspect in the murder of a regular hotel guest. Funny and heartwarming, you are likely to turn these pages fast.
- “Jesus and John Wayne” by Kristin Kobes Du Mez. If you have ever wondered how Donald Trump endeared himself to Evangelical Christians even as his lifestyle contradicted values they would seem to hold dear, this would be a great pick. Du Mez, professor of history at Calvin University, chronicles 75 years of a brand of Christianity in which Jesus has been often portrayed as a rugged macho man – a depiction she challenges. I realize some readers will not align with Du Mez’s analysis, but the historical value itself is worth your time. Keep an open mind and remember it is fine to agree to disagree (even as you might find yourself questioning long-held assumptions).
- “Furious Hours” by Casey Cep. The subtitle, “Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee,” was enough to get my attention. Divided into three parts, this is, in many ways, three separate books, with emphasis on an accused serial killer preacher in Alabama, the lawyer who represented him, and Harper Lee, author of the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird." According to this author’s account, Lee returned from New York to her native Alabama with the intention of writing a book about the trial of the person who shot and killed the aforementioned preacher and was represented by the same lawyer that had represented his victim. If it sounds complicated, it is, but this young writer has broken it down into manageable portions that make for a tremendously interesting read. “Fans of To Kill a Mockingbird” and its reclusive author will feast on the nuggets that give a glimpse into Harper Lee’s mysterious post-Mockingbird life.
- “Forty Autumns” by Nina Willner. One of my favorites from last year, this memoir, written by a former American intelligence officer, tells the true story of her German mother’s escape from East to West Germany, and who spent the remainder of her life separated from her family, eventually marrying and settling in the U.S. The author, in her capacity as an intelligence officer, would return to the site of the beginning of her mother’s journey and would be only miles away from remaining living family members. The combining of her mother’s story with her own allows for a poignant family narrative.