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The Best Books of the Summer

By Dustin Rowles | Books | August 30, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | August 30, 2019 |


It has been an unusually exceptional summer for reading, and with Labor Day weekend arriving, there’s still a little bit of time left to squeeze in another book over the long weekend, although there is absolutely no reason you cannot continue reading in the fall. And if you do, allow me to recommend a few of the summer’s best new releases:

Ask Again Yes by Mary Beth Keane — A lovely, engrossing literary fiction novel that tracks the lives of two families who live next door to each other in a quiet suburb of New York City. An act of violence ends up dividing the two families, but also bringing two of their kids together. The two have to navigate their lifelong relationship around their parents, alcoholism, and mental disease. It’s a powerful, phenomenally written book that takes exquisite care of its characters. It really is one of those books where I got so invested in the people that I was heartbroken when the novel came to an end because it meant I wouldn’t be able to spend any more time with these families. It was also chosen by Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show as the summer’s best read, but don’t hold that against it. Grade: A

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner — This is actually a perfect follow-up to Ask Again Yes, if you are into family dramas. Clearly inspired by Little Women, Mrs. Everything tracks the lives of two sisters — Jo and Beth — from the 1950s until the present day, as their lives converge and intersect through Vietnam, the women’s liberation movement, a failed marriage, an interracial relationship, a lesbian relationship, and parenting. It’s a remarkably good read that tracks how two women were able to evolve into the people they wanted to be over the course of nearly 70 years. Grade: A

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner — Fleishman Is in Trouble is about a well-to-do couple in their 40s going through a divorce and mid-life malaise. The book, however, is really about marriage, and how —- after kids and successful careers enter into the equation —- couples measure themselves against each other, and how we are often so focused on our own contributions to the marriage that we neglect — or can’t even see — the contributions of the other spouse. It is a thematically rich novel, but it’s also a clever and fun read, a soul-searching book that may prompt its readers to re-examine their own marriages as they watch that of the Fleishmans unravel. 5 Stars Grade: A

Evie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes — Honestly, of everything I’ve read this summer, Evie Drake is probably my favorite book. It features perfectly drawn, warm characters; clever dialogue; and a flawlessly structured, simple story. It’s a romantic comedy — one of the best I’ve ever read — and I could almost see the entire book as though watching it on Netflix, a terrifically enjoyable 95-minute love story starring (in my mind) Rachel McAdams (with a light Maine accent) and Milo Ventimiglia that straddles the line perfectly between sweet and sentimental. It is sure-handed and lovely, smart but accessible, and magnificently charming, the sort of book that’s hard not to devour. Grade: A+

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim — The F.D.A. had to put out a statement last week informing folks that drinking bleach will not cure autism, which seemed pretty obvious to me, but then again, it’s also one of the plot elements in Miracle Creek, a sort of family drama/murder mystery/courtroom drama about the death of a child. It’s about an experimental treatment center in Virginia — a hyperbaric chamber — that treats people with a number of issues, including autism and infertility. When the treatment center explodes, there’s an investigation and a trial trying to determine who is responsible among the group of people using the treatment center and its owners. Basically, it combines three of my favorite book genres and delivers one hell of a great pageturner. Grade B+

The Chain by Adrian McKinty — The Chain is a super quick read that almost feels like it was written to be turned into a film (in fact, McKinty — an Uber driver — signed a 7-figure deal with Paramount). It’s a quick-paced thriller based on a very simple high-concept premise: Your child is kidnapped, and in order to get your child back, you have to kidnap someone else’s child and make that family kidnap another child before they can get their child back. The chain of kidnappings purportedly goes back years, hence “The Chain.” The story is really about what a normal everyday parent would be willing to do to get their own child back. A lot, it turns out. It’s a fascinating read as a parent, too, because you end up asking yourself: Would I kidnap someone else’s child in order to save the life of my own? And the answer is: Probably. Grade: B

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo — This is a nonfiction account of the sexual lives of three women that journalist Lisa Taddeo tracked over several years, including a high school student who had an affair with the “Teacher of the Year,” a woman trying to escape a loveless marriage, and another woman whose husband likes it when she sleeps with other men. It’s a fascinating glimpse into female desire, although the account of the Fargo teacher who was not convicted for carrying on an affair with a 15-year-old is absolutely maddening. Grade: B

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead — Probably the best-written book of the summer, but also the bleakest. It’s about a reformatory school Florida during the Jim Crow-era where the staff beat, tortured and even murdered mostly black students, who had absolutely no one to turn to for help. It’s inspired by real-life events at Florida’s Dozier School For Boys, where some 81 kids were killed, their remains buried in unmarked graves around the school. It is a hellish book to read, and Whitehead spares the reader none of the horrors. Grade: A

A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson — A Nearly Normal Family is a quick-paced legal thriller set in Sweden about an 18-year-old accused of murdering her older lover. Her controlling father — who is a pastor — and her emotionally distant mother, who is an attorney, both believe their daughter committed the murder, but they also try and cover it up, risking their own careers and reputations in an attempt to save their daughter from prison. The story is told from each of their perspectives, and who actually committed the murder remains a mystery until the end. It’s also a pretty instructive book on the Swedish legal system (which is much better than ours). Grade B

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman — Lippman has been writing novels for decades, and this is the first I have read (and I only checked it out because I loved her piece over on Medium about eating whatever the hell she wants and declaring herself beautiful). It’s a really great book about a housewife in the 1960s who leaves her husband and decides to become a Baltimore reporter. It’s loosely based on two real-life murders in the late 1960s Baltimore, one of a white girl and one of a black girl. The disappearance and murder of the white girl gets all the newspaper headlines and police attention, so it’s left to this rookie reporter to try and bring some attention to and uncover the conspiracy behind the death of the black girl. Grade: A-

The Wanderers by Chuck Wendig — Fans of Stephen King’s The Stand will probably dig this lengthy novel populated with numerous characters about a virus that basically wipes out the world’s population, save for a small group of people who basically turn into zombies and a band of racist, right-wing nutjobs who try and exploit the end-of-the-world for their own gain. It’s a little long-in-the-tooth, but it’s great postapocalyptic fiction. Grade: B

Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware — Readers of Ruth Ware mystery novels get exactly what they expect with Turn of the Key, a nifty and suspenseful mystery about a child who dies in the care of a new nanny in a remote house that may or may not be haunted. Ware tells a hell of a story, although I found the ending to this one to be somewhat anti-climactic, if only because of the great build-up toward it. Ware, however, has a reliable formula for her mysteries, and they make for exceptional “beach reads” (although I don’t know anyone who actually reads at the beach). Grade: B-

Other Books I read this summer: Nathan Hill’s fantastic debut novel The Nix, and — on the recommendation of a reader here, PhilipCatch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War by Micha Goodman, which is probably as good a book as there is about the problems facing Israel from both the Palestinian and Israeli perspectives.