Although my overall reading habits for the past few years have been much less restrictive than they used to be, I still use summers as a time to let myself read as much “fluff” as I want, which to me means books that are full of more fun/entertainment than substance. This summer I seemed to take it to a whole new extreme, as my postpartum brain couldn’t handle anything too complicated due to crazy sleep deprivation, and since my daily life was already filled with the stresses that come from parenting two small children (one being a prone-to-fussiness newborn), I really didn’t want to read a lot of downer stuff (which I’m usually more tolerant of). As a result, almost all of the books I finished over the summer ended up being three-star reads, which, according to my rating system, means that they were enjoyable enough, but not usually super noteworthy, life-changing, or long-term memorable.
And that’s okay.
However, there WERE a few picks that were good enough to earn four stars (which means I’ll happily pass them along), and even two that were good enough to earn the oh-so-rare five-star rating (although, as I note below, that might have been due a lot to the book being read at the right time and under the right circumstances).
Here are my top picks of the summer:
Note: This post contains affiliate links, though all opinions are my own (obviously).
Best of Summer 2018
Technically this was a late spring read, but it definitely needs to make SOME “best of” list as it’s easily one of the more memorable fiction books I’ve finished this year. This runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize (though don’t let that scare you off) is a story that treads the line between reality and magical realism, which is part of the intrigue around it–you’re left constantly wondering if the book is going to veer into solid fantasy or if there’s a plausible explanation for everything that’s going on. The book is set in Alaska and is about an older couple who move there to try and escape some of the loneliness they feel over their broken dreams of having their own children. One remarkable evening, they spontaneously build a snowchild together, and the next day, a REAL child shows up in their yard. Part of what I loved so much about this was the writing, specifically about the Alaskan setting (and it very well might have been because of how well this was done in this book that made The Great Alone–also set in Alaska–suffer by comparison).
I haven’t read many graphic novels, but even I know that the genre has really exploded in the past several years. Far beyond just the standard comic book and anime fair, now graphic novels are turning more traditional genres (like realistic fiction) on their heads, and multiple graphic novels (or novels with graphic novel elements in them) have won prestigious awards (such as the Newbery award) in the past several years. El Deafo is a largely biographical graphic novel of the author’s experience of being left deaf at the age of 4 (I think) by a disease, and the subsequent effect that had on her growing up. Often, kids (and adults) can fall into the trap of thinking that because someone has a disability, that automatically makes them super different and harder to relate to. This book is a refreshing reminder that people with disabilities are just people, with many of the same concerns and likes as everyone else. This would be a GREAT graphic novel to teach to a middle-grade (or even younger) class, or a good one to read together at home with an older child.
I knew extremely little about this going into it, which was probably for the best, considering that I read it literally right after I gave birth (and a LOT of the beginning part of the book is about a birth gone horribly wrong). Had I known what it was about, I might have held off on reading it (just based on the timing of what was going on in my own life), but in the end, I was glad I stayed with this one. It was a bit heavy on the medical talk (it was, after all, written by a doctor), but this fictional novel about a set of twins who grew up in an Ethiopian mission hospital was fascinating and read really quickly for such a long book. The overriding messages of the bonds of family and the importance of forgiveness were powerful, and I thought the writing was stunning as well.
This was actually a re-read for me (something I don’t do very often!), as it had been over a decade since I’d read the book for the first time, and I remembered loving it so much that I compared pretty much all YA books after that point to it. I was worried that upon a reread, I would discover that this story of a teenage girl who is ostracized for calling the cops at a summer party gone awry wouldn’t be as good as I remembered it, but luckily for me, it totally was. This book takes a super tough subject and talks about it on a level that’s appropriate for a young adult audience, and I like that it also ends on a distinctly hopeful note.
Smith’s more well-known work (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) is one of the few novels I’ve given a five-star rating to, so I was excited when I found out she’d written another book. While A Tree Grows in Brooklyn perfectly captures the feeling of childhood, this is her attempt at trying to perfectly capture the first year of marriage. And, while it doesn’t *quite* reach the brilliance that Brooklyn did, it’s still a worthy attempt all the same. Fair warning: Smith’s books should be read more for the FEELING of the story rather than the plot, since both books do not follow a typical storyline at all (where the entire thing is leading up to one huge climax). But, what this lacks in plot and action, it more than makes up for in memorability (if that’s not a word, it is now).
I am a little obsessed with White’s first book–How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind–and even devoted a whole blog post to how it totally changed how I clean and manage my home, so I was super excited to see that she’d written another. While this book reiterates some of the concepts covered in her first book (and her blog, if you happen to follow that), there was still enough new stuff to make it worthwhile, and I personally just really “get” her humor and her outlook on home management in general, as I too battle slob-like tendencies. The only thing that knocked this down to a 4-star read for me was that it did get a bit repetitive (although that meant I internalized the concepts better, too).
Sometimes I need a book that’s not so much a how-to about motherhood, but more of a reminder that what I’m doing might be the hardest job in earth, but also one of the most important. Reading this book turned around more than one day that seemed destined to go badly parenting-wise, and I overall just found this to be enlightening and encouraging and just exactly what I needed to read at this season of life. The book is divided into 12 sections, each one devoted to a different area of motherhood (like patience or fun or optimism), and each written by a different author. Some sections definitely resonated with me a whole lot more than others, but those sections were what really made this a 5-star read for me (and they also are what prompted me to tell Matt that this would make a good gift idea for me, which is high praise indeed as I hardly ever buy books anymore). If you like giving books as baby shower gifts, this would be a wonderful gift for pretty much any mom.
I originally assigned this book to myself as part of my summer reading “term” and had planned to finish it by the beginning of June, but it ended up taking me a couple months longer, just because this is the kind of book that’s not meant to be read through quickly–in fact, it will probably overwhelm you if you try. Many people have heard of James Allen’s book As a Man Thinketh (all about the power our thoughts have on shaping everything about our lives), but what many people don’t know is that he also wrote a ton of other stuff on the thought-life connection. This compilation takes all those other thoughts on the subject and puts them into a single volume (as well as includes, in the appendix, the full text of the original As a Man Thinketh), and if you’re looking for some truly deep, meaningful writing that definitely has the power to change your life (and your thinking) forever, this is a worthy place to start.
Honorable Mentions (***these were some of my 3-star reads that are worth noting here for one reason or another)
I’ve been hearing about these books for years from people who totally love them, and when I was looking for some more lighthearted reads for this summer, I knew this would be a perfect place to start. (It helps that I was even more motivated to read them when everyone started buzzing about how they were being made into a Netflix movie.) While these definitely fell into the category of “YA books that I actually wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending to a young adult based on some of the content,” this was still a fun series that hit the right note of easy reading and fun for me. I especially liked the family dynamic and how that really played out across the series (just because it’s rare to have such a normal, high-functioning family in literature nowadays, it seems).
While some elements of the writing and narrative choices took this down to three stars for me, I can’t deny that I found this book HIGHLY readable–I definitely had a hard time putting it down and probably finished it in less than 48 hours, if I remember correctly. This story is based on the true account of a boy who was kidnapped from India and adopted out to an American family, and the circumstances in this one are so crazy that you almost can’t believe something like this could ever happen in real life–which is part of what makes it such a page-turner.
I’ve always nursed a bit of a fascination with the Anastasia Romanov story ever since I first read that she might possibly have survived in a Time for Kids article way back in the 90’s. This novel based on the real-life woman who claimed to be the royal Anastasia for decades has one of the most unusual structures I’ve ever encountered in a book, where one storyline is told chronologically and then the other story, which alternates chapters with the original plot, is told backwards. While the structure could definitely get confusing at times, I loved how it all came together in the end.
And there you have it! If you want to check out all the books I read this summer, you can find me on Goodreads.