Summer reading recommendations

Summers are when my reading traditionally kicks into high gear.  I still work full-time but some of my evening or weekend commitments go on hiatus.  Also: vacations!  Last year, the Fourth of July weekend revived my voracious reading appetite, so that when I took a two-week vacation later in August, my backpack was stuffed with library books.  That is a personal reason why summer and books go together in my mind.  But I think that for similar reasons, we see summer reading recommendation lists pop up, whereas we don’t see, say, winter reading lists.

So today I brainstormed books that I thought were particularly suited for summer reading and came up with a few titles. There is not a single defining characteristic that makes them ‘summery’, but for most of them, ‘fun’ would be an accurate adjective.


Murder with Peacocks by Donna Andrews

– I’m not usually a ‘cozy’ mystery person, but this book won me over with its engaging protagonist and nutty mystery.  Meg Langslow is a blacksmith / artisan who has somehow ended up being the maid of honor for three summer weddings.  She returns to her hometown in Virginia to engage in the flurry of dress fittings (for some outrageous themed wedding ensembles) and insane maid-of-honor duties.  Meanwhile there’s a suspicious death and other not-quite-right stuff going down in the community.  It is actually Meg’s father that is playing the amateur sleuth and Meg gets dragged into it.  Funny, with a bit of romance . . . I think I might have to re-read this one myself this summer. 🙂

any Nevada Barr mystery with Anna Pigeon

– This is a mystery series where each book takes place in one of the U. S. National Parks.  Anna Pigeon is a tough but likable National Park ranger / law enforcement officer.  The settings are fantastic because almost every mystery ends up involving some survival tale element.  It’s not necessary to read these in order.  Off the top of my head I recommend Firestorm and Blind Descent.

Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

– The setting is post-WWII England and eighteen-year-old Penelope is befriended one day by an impressively self-confident girl, Charlotte while they are on the train.  Through Charlotte, Penelope meets Charlotte’s brother Harry, a would-be magician.  The friendship of all three drives the book, along with other delightful characters including Charlotte and Harry’s aunt, Penelope’s brother, not to mention the decaying estate where Penelope lives, a character in its own right.  There’s a lot of buoyant energy to this book that totally charmed me when I read it last summer.

Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith

This book takes us from an Appalachian girl’s adolescence up through her old age.  It is a bittersweet but wholly satisfying story arc that is told through letters written by Ivy Rowe, who lives way up in the holler as a child, spends some time in a coal mining town and a couple other locations as an adult before moving back to her family home.  There are some tragedies in her life, but ultimately I was left with the impression of a life fully lived.


The Cloud Garden by Tom Hart Dyke and Paul Winder

Two British travelers (the authors) ill-advisedly took a trip into the dangerous Darien Gap in Central America.  They are captured by guerrillas and held for nine-months.  It is a surreal experience for both that involves parasites, orchids and singing a song from Monty Python.  This is a great adventure read.

Speaking of Monty Python  . . .

Michael Palin‘s travel books are ambitious, entertaining reads.  They include Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole and Full CircleFull Circle is the one I liked the most, where Palin travels through the countries that rim the Pacific Ocean.

The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney

Pretor-Pinney’s enthusiasticc love of clouds will help you appreciate the summer sky, whether the clouds are fluffy or building up into thunderheads.  This is a non-fiction book that one should feel free to skim at times, in favor of the most interesting passages.  The true story about the guy who fell through a thunderstorm (and survived!) is a must-read.  The Morning Glory cloud, a recurring phenomenon off of the Austrialian coast is also fascinating.  I was gazing a lot more at clouds after reading the book.

What are some books that you consider good summer reads?


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10 responses to “Summer reading recommendations

  1. Erin Leigh

    What a perfect post!! For me summer reminds me of reading because of long family car trips and the fact that I could actually chose what I wanted to read because school was out.

    The reads that remind me of summer are:

    The Collector by John Fowles – I don’t know if it’s the prevalence of butterflies or the freshness of a totally bizarre kidnapping story told from two perspectives, but I find this one of those fun, yet disturbing summer reads.

    Stiff by Mary Roach – All about what happens to dead bodies that are donated to science. Super cool non-fiction I could read over and over. I first read it in the summer, hence the association.

    Any thing by Jim Kjelgaard – Throw back to my younger years when I could and would read and reread Kjelgaard and never get sick of his dog stories and stories of survival. I always had at last one Kjelgaard with me on family camping trips.

    A Door in the Hedge by Robin McKinley – You knew there had to be one. This series accompanied me and my family on a camping trip on Goat Island in Minnesota. I would escape to the forest behind our campground and read by myself in a small clearing.

    And finally:

    The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling – I reread these every summer in preparation for the release of the latest book. I really should read them again this summer…perhaps my whole summer should be dedicated to rereads…hmm….

    • Thanks for your list of summer reads! I remember reading one of the “Red” books by Jim Kjelgaard. I think it was Outlaw Red. I remember reading it one summer when I was visiting relatives in the mountains of Colorado.

      I have read Stiff by Mary Roach. I found it was hard to get into while at the airport, but an interesting book nonetheless.

      Regarding the McKinley book, I love it when books become closely associated with good memories of places.

      I remember tearing through the Harry Potter series, staying up late, in the summer of 2003. And then in the summer of 2007, I re-read the first six in anticipation of the last book coming out.

  2. bookgazing

    ‘The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets’ seems very popular. Not sure what to recommend as it’s started raining again here, but Julia Gregson’s ‘East of the Sun’ would be a good reminder of heat and sunshine.

  3. I’ve been meaning to start the Nevada Barr series but I was a little intimidated when I realized there were almost 20 books in it. I know most mystery series are episodic and you can read them as stand alone, but I feel like you miss out on the characterization. I think I’m just going to read this series out of order though since its too hard to track down 20 books.

    ‘The Cloud Garden’ sounds like quite an entertaining read so I’m adding it to my wish list too.

  4. Lost Art of Keeping Secrets sounds like fun, and an excellent title as well! And I want to try some more Lee Smith – the whole Southern livin’ in the country thing isn’t usually my kind of book, but I loved the other Lee Smith book I’ve read.

  5. My good summer reads? Any book I can get my hands on!! : )

    I’ve never read one of Michael Palin’s books but perhaps I’ll give them a try. “The Cloud Garden” also sounds good to me.

  6. I’ve heard some great things about The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret. And I have to read one of Palin’s travel books! I’ve been meaning to for years.

  7. what a fantastic post!

    i love to read long, epic tales on these lazy summer days like re-reading Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis, or Harry Potter. I know many do not like to re-read books, but I find with really great literature I always eek something out of it again and again. No matter how many times I re-read it! Especially Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter ~ seems like there’s clues and stories I miss but then pick up the next time around.

    • bookgazing: I remember being intrigued by East of the Sun when I read about it a little while ago.

      toothy – with Nevada Barr, I totally jumped in the middle of that series. High Country was my first. There were a couple of things that referenced past books, but it made barely a dent in my enjoyment of the book.

      Jenny – the title is fantastic. And I really recommend Fair and Tender Ladies. Don’t let the setting put you off, especially if you enjoyed Lee Smith before.

      Jenners – that is true. Not all books I read in the summer are very “summery.” But some have that association or feeling to them.

      Nymeth – I’d kind of like to see the travel tv series he did too, which cover the same ground as the books. That reminds me to check Netflix for them.

      Stacy – summer does seem like a good time to attack a series!

  8. Erin Leigh

    I’m thinking of picking up the Cloudspotters Guide! I caught myself gazing at the clouds yeseterday and then started thinking about all the clouds I fly over/through on my various business trips and then I remembered this book. Came back here to get the full name, I’m excited!

    Also, I don’t know if we’ve talked about this before, but have you read Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand? It’s another summer-worthy read that I think you’d enjoy.

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