Thursday, July 15, 2021

Summer Reads

I know … probably makes more sense to roll out all these suggestions on Memorial Day Weekend, ushering in a fab summer of reading right at Summer’s Starting Block. Alas, I was too busy reading to make time for recommending. (I was also wrestling with the camera on my iPhone, but that’s a post for another day … ) So, to quote my dear Agent, Edite Kroll: Onward!

First up: Finding Freedom by Maine author/chef/creator of The Lost Kitchen restaurant, Erin French. I remember when her cookbook, The Lost Kitchen, came out, I was struck by the wonderful writing in it. You don’t expect that in a cookbook! At least, I don’t. But each recipe is accompanied by a little anecdote/description that brings the food to life and makes you not only want to taste it but to share it with others. French has that ability to engage you in whatever she’s describing and doing.

Finding Freedom is her memoir, and it achieves all that the form requires. It has a clear voice, evokes real people and places, engages us at the heart level, and by the end has us cheering for its author. It’s a moving, marvelous, honest depiction of struggle, resilience, and personal triumph. More than once I found myself in tears reading this book. You won’t be sorry you spent your summer reading hours with this one!

At Longfellow Books, Portland
Next up on my Maine Writers list: Paul Doiron has a new one! Sorry to keep repeating myself, but “This might be his best yet!”  I keep saying that, but really, this time it’s true. Dead by Dawn is the 12th (!) in the Mike Bowditch detective series and in this one Mike has to escape all sorts of (very) grisly attacks on his person. First up  — and this is one of my personal Fear Factors — Mike has to figure out how to escape when his car is forced off the road, crashes into an icy river and begins to sink. Things go downhill from there for poor Mike as he figures out how to survive and also discerns who wants him dead.

Personal note: I picked up my copy at Longfellow Books in Portland where Paul was signing copies and chatting about all things writerly and Maine with one of our other Author Greats, Monica Wood. 

The Stack
Two more Maine books to add to your summer reading list: Landslide by Susan Conley and Mill Town by Kerri Arsenault. Conley’s novel is a gorgeously written story about a Maine fishing family on the brink after the father in the family suffers an accident at sea. It’s a beautiful meditation on family and marriage, raising boys and — naturally — Maine. It’s my favorite yet of Conley’s books, I highly recommend it.

Mill Town, I’ll confess, is still on The Stack, but everyone in my book group says it’s a good read and the reviews are terrific. It’s Arsenault’s personal account of Mexico, Maine, where three generations of her family lived and worked within and in the shadow of the paper mill that provided employment there. While the mill provided opportunity for Mexico’s inhabitants, it was also responsible for the destruction of the environment and ultimately earned the area the nickname “Cancer Alley.”

Perhaps my most compelling read of the summer is Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe. This is the story of the Sackler family, the founders of Purdue Pharma and creators of … yup: OxyContin. If you want to get your outrage on and finally understand how so many people have become hooked on this powerful opioid, read this. 

Keefe, as you’ll recall from a previous Summer Reads blog post, is also the author of Say Nothing, and as he did in that book, writes a gripping page-turner which almost reads like detective fiction. He does a wonderful job of doing a deep dive into the characters he’s researching, helping us understand who they really were and how that explains what they did.

I’m a huge historical fiction fan, so Chris Bohjalian’s The Hour of the Witch has been one of my favorite reads this summer. Set in Boston, 1668, it’s the story about a woman who dares assert herself and file for divorce against an abusive husband. As you might imagine, she’s ultimately accused of being a witch. Bohjalian weaves a great tale, keeps us turning pages fast, amazes us with his research and ability to evoke the people and customs and beliefs of the day, and satisfies us with a terrific ending.

I’ve also been making my way through The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab. Honestly? I’m not convinced I like it, but I’m really interested in seeing how this author resolves it. The premise: it’s 1714, in a small village in France, and a young woman makes a Faustian bargain with a stranger — in exchange for eternal life, she has to give up being remembered by anyone. She is completely alone and untethered, for hundreds of years — until one day she wanders into a bookstore and meets someone who can remember her. And everything changes for her … again.

I’m about a third of the way through this, and intrigued, but also … beginning to tire of how many times Addie will wake up in the bed of some guy who can’t remember how she got there. It was entertaining the first time, but 300 years of sex regret gets old. Anyway … MANY people are telling me they like this book, and I’m sure I’ll finish it … Cool premise, right?

FINALLY, it wouldn’t be Teens, Writing and Randomness if I didn’t toss out a few teen suggestions, right? Hard to even know where to start, but I’ll suggest one YA (Young Adult) and one MG (Middle Grade), both from authors who appeared with me on a recent panel in St. Louis.

First off: Julie Buxbaum’s
Admission is a fun page-turner for the summer. Ripped from the headlines of the recent college admissions scandal which embroiled stars like Lori Loughlin, this story is told from the point-of-view of a privileged Los Angeles teen who may — or may not — know what her parents are doing to get her into college. It begs the question, right? How did these kids NOT know?? Buxbaum does a great job getting into the head of a teen, and coming up with a very compelling and realistic story line.

Nicole Melleby’s latest middle grade novel, How to Become a Planet, stars 13-year old Pluto Timoney, who has always loved space and always loved summer. However, this summer is different, because Pluto’s depression feels like a black hole sitting on her chest. A wonderful, redemptive and REAL story about a resilient girl working to find her way back to herself.

And FINALLY finally: some nice news. My latest, How to Build a Heart, was a finalist for the 2021 Maine Literary Awards (always nice to have a sticker on your book!) and is currently in the running for the Kentucky Bluegrass Book Award, so Hello, Kentucky Readers! I hope you enjoy getting to know Izzy and her crew of characters.

Happy Reading, all! What’s on YOUR Summer Shelf?


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