15 Fun Summer Novels—a hodge-podge of choices

Do you remember two summers ago when everybody, everywhere you went, was reading the last Harry Potter, starting with the very night it came out?  We were out and about in several states that month and it was fabulous seeing so many people (adults and youth) absorbed in a hard-to-put-down story.  Except for the downside that my wife didn’t talk to me much for several days.

Don’t you want to feel that way again, or feel the way those people felt, lost in a fun read, immersed in a captivating book, mostly just for the fun of it?

I’ve been sneaking out to read a lot this past week or so—literally morning, noon, and night—which isn’t terribly easy when you own your own business (but gratefully, we’ve got very competent staff.)  Soon, I’ll tell you about a memoir or two that I adored, but here are some (mostly new or new in paperback) novels that we stock in the store that I thought might illustrate some of what you might buy or gift to someone.  We hear a lot about “beach books” this time of year, but, of course, most people don’t go to the beach, and many don’t read at the beach.  But where-ever you have your lawn chair, summer cabin, air-conditioned sitting room, or favorite spot at the coffee shop, we’ve got some ways to assist you take off to another world.  I’ve done it before so I won’t even try to explain why that is so right, so helpful, so good, so fun.  Just do it.  Here are some snappy novels we have on a Booknotes special.  Not all are for everyone, but there might be something here for you.

an-eye-for-glory-250-198x300.jpgAn Eye for Glory: The Civil War Chronicles of a Citizen Soldier  Karl Bacon (Zondervan) $16.99  This manuscript has a bit of a storied past and we are glad the big Zee published it as this is an artful and powerful piece of Civil War fiction by an author who has impeccable historical cred.  He used the firsthand accounts of the 14th Connecticut Infantry to make this realistic and informative.  Yet, it is more than a battle story.  As it says on the back, though, “For Union soldier Michael Palmer, surviving war is only half the battle.”  It is in the solemn aftermath of the battle at Gettysburg that Michael begins to understand the grave cost of the war upon his soul.  I suppose you don’t need reminded that this is the 150 anniversary of the Civil War and interest is high.  Maybe you could give this to somebody you know?   Highly recommended, by a promising first-time novelist.

14972522.JPGMission to America  Walter Kirn (Anchor) $13.95  His Thumbsucker became an indie film classic, and Up in the Air was one of my favorite novels a while back–even made it into the urgent Beyond Homelessness by Walsh & Bouma-Prediger.  Oh yeah, and there is that famous Hollywood guy director who did the movie with famous Hollywood star. This is Kirn’s lesser known work and it is beyond “drolly funny” as the back jacket copy says.  It is a heck of a hoot, a story about cult who realizes they are losing members and send out some “evangelists” to recruit new followers.  Thing is, these yahoos haven’t seen American up close, so they get a real (world) view. One happy reviewer says “Hilarious…Kirn doesn’t miss a chance to skewer consumerism, New Ageism, and ski-town magnates. The barbs are spot-on and the Apostles, with their naivete about everything from Cheetos to Wiccans to reality TV, are hopelessly endearing.”  The New York Times Book Review said it is Kirn’s most ambitious novel yet,  “a tour de force.”  Well, I don’t know about that, but it is great beach read, satirical and funny and wise.

9781595542106.jpgEmbrace Me: Believing Is Seeing  Lisa Samson  (Nelson) $14.99  The little stand that elephants stomp on at circuses is on the cover and just the very edge of an oh-so-seductive gal, makes one think of Like Water for Elephants, or the new artsy cover design of Searching for God Knows What.  This is weirder than either, and, after becoming so well known for sweet novels like Quaker Summer and The Passion of Mary-Margaret (set in the Chesapeake Bay area) or her most recent, last year’s very nice Resurrection in May, this is a riskier, more surreal story.  I have often said that Samson is one of the finest writers in this sub-genre known as evangelical fiction.  I hope she gets the huge following she deserves. So, this one?   When a “lizard woman, a self-mutilating preacher, a tattooed monk, and a sleazy lobbyist find themselves in the same North Carolina town one winter, their lives are edging precariously close to disaster.” (from the back cover.)  And improbably closer to grace.

978-1-4143-3773-9.jpgThe Constantine Codex  Paul L.  Maier (Tyndale) $13.99  If you liked The Davinci Code, this is a thriller that will not only raise provocative questions about the historicity of the faith, but will help encourage you in very basic truths.  You may recall his somewhat controversial bestseller, A Skeleton in God’s Closet; this would be somewhat similar.  In the novel, a few pieces of centuries old parchment tucked inside a tattered book lead famed archeologist Jonathan Weben and his wife Shannon to what could possibly be the greatest find in church history—a discarded biblical manuscript whose ancient pages reveal a secret that will change the way the world views Scripture.  Maier, when he isn’t spinning popular yarns that will keep readers up late, is professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University.  He has over 250 scholarly articles and reviews in professional journals.  But his fiction can also (as Hank Hanegraaff puts it) “excite and educate.”  

in-hovering-flight-joyce-hinnefeld-paperback-cover-art.jpgIn Hovering Flight  Joyce Hinnefeld (Unbridled Books) $15.95  Unbridled is a prestige publisher of contemporary fiction and when I heard a few years ago that this novel was set in Bucks County, PA about a birdwatcher fighting developers, well, I had to have it.  We reviewed it a greater length when it was a hardcover and it just seems to be such a fine summer novel.  It is sad, it is funny, it is politically radical.  There are four women friends, doing beach time at the Jersey shore, exploring the backstory of the one who married her college teacher, the beloved author of a famous birdsong book which she illustrated.  They were to write another; their daughter is a New
York poet, the suburban developers wracked late 20th century havoc–ruining the bird habitat and even her dying of cancer becomes an opportunity to resist the powers (with a dramatic gesture of civil disobedience.) I loved this wild, thoughtful, story and am happy to mention it again.  The author who has given us Scarlet Kavanagh, the daughter, and her mother, Addie, the bird artist, and their caring friends is herself from Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA.

a-young-mans-guide-late-capitalism-peter-mountford-paperback-cover-art.jpgA Young Mans’ Guide to Late Capitalism  Peter Mountford  (Mariner) $15.95  Warning, there is some sex and cussing in here.  And some obscene hedge fund spy work as they try to predict how to better extract profits from the poorest country in Latin America.   One reviewer (David Shields) writes, “Extraordinarily vivid, populated by characters whose fates I cared about desperately, beautifully written, timely beyond measure.”  One reviewer compared it to Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, although it is more fast-paced and clever than that, I’d say.  Mountford is skilled as a writer and knows how to explore the struggles of having a decent vocation or personal integrity when one is working for a capitalistic corporation with a global reach.   In the story, the main character’s mother is a leftist journalist, a refugee of Pinochet, who now writes for Mother Jones and The Nation. The young man can’t, for obvious reasons, be honest with his mother about what he does and for whom he works. I’m almost finished myself and can’t imagine what more might happen.  Whew.

978-1-4143-3569-8.jpgFalse Witness  Randy Singer  (Tyndale) sale price $9.97 (while supplies last)  Singer is a wonderful man, a great speaker, a friend from CLS (Christian Legal Society.)  One might say he is a John Grisham on an evangelical publishing house.  (Publisher’s Weekly, in fact,  says he is “every bit as enjoyable as Grisham.”)  Here, a convoluted plot (are there any other kind in this genre of legal thrillers?) leads to gritty scenes in the struggle for freedom for the Dalits, the untouchable class so oppressed in contemporary India.   If you are seeking an adrenaline-called thrill ride of a book (yes, with a bail bondsman whose ultimate bounty is oddly on his own wife’s life) this may be it.  If you want to understand the growing contemporary church deep inside India, and one of the great campaigns for justice in our time, this is a remarkable window into that world.  The royalties, by the way, will be donated to the Dalit Freedom Network.

76874221.JPGEngaging Voices: Tales of Morality and Meaning in an Age of Global Warming  Roger Gottlieb (Baylor University Press) $29.95  The aforementioned Tyndale or Zondervan publishers too seemingly safe for you?  (Snob! Snob!) Want something more socially conscious?  Well, how about this: a radical environmental activist and philosophy prof has given us a collection of short stories designed to make you think. Lively, funny, eminently discussable, these short dramas are urgently written, inviting us to rethink political activism, spirituality, and community in new ways. I’d say this is the most unique book on the list and a challenging, fun, escapade into the world of social reformers, visionaries and dreamers.  What is the meaning of life, after all?  Nothing simplistic about the agenda of this collection. Ha!  It would make a great book club choice, maybe over some back yard corn on the cob.   Kudos to Baylor for publishing a work like this. 

13-reasons-why-200x300.jpgThirteen Reasons Why Jay Asher  (Razor Bill) $10.99  Okay, I’ll admit it.  None of us here have read this yet.  I wanted to sound cool by letting you know we have this kind of cool underground stuff.  (And we do!)  But it isn’t underground anymore.  This book, which has been called “eerie, beautiful, and devastating” has been translated now into 31 languages and is an international sensation.  You can quickly gather that there is a teen suicide, 13 tapes left behind, for 13 people, explaining their 13 bits of complicity in her death.  The deceased girl (through the tapes) is the primary voice of the story, but so is another boy, who truly liked her.  He has to hear all the tapes so he can piece together the meaning of this sad affair.  Is it a mystery?  A eulogy?  Sherman Alexie says it is a “ceremony.”  Check out www.thirteenreasonswhy.com to see some of the ways teens have responded to this mesmerizing tale.  It is considered a young adult novel, and it has won numerous awards and  but is certainly a fine choice for adults.

african-trilogy-184x300.jpgThe African Trilogy: Things Fall Apart, No Longer At Ease, Arrow of God  Chineua Achebe (Everyman’s Library) $30.00  I love the feel of Everyman’s hardback editions with their nice size, but firm weight, and ribbon marker.  Here, Achebe’s three 20th century classics are in one volume.  Just carrying it around is elevating.  If you don’t know this author you really should. Things Fall Apart, at least, is one of the most important African, post-colonial novels of our time and a tremendously good read that will haunt you long after the short novel is over.  Most of us don’t know his other two so this is a lovely, handy volume.  Take this to the coffeshop or beach and I am sure you’ll strike up some conversation with other thoughtful readers.

You know, while I’m at it, we’d love to suggest any of the Everyman’s Library volumes so if you ever need to treat yourself to a lasting edition or want to give a classy gift–like, say, a Charles Dicken’s with an introduction by G.K. Chesterton, don’t hesitate to call us.

The Seraph Seal.jpgThe Seraph Seal  Leonard Sweet & Lori Wagner (Nelson) $15.99  Those of us who have read some of Leonard Sweet, or hear
d his multi-media, mind-boggling lectures or incredibly passionate, well-crafted sermons, know he has an extraordinary mind and a vivid–maybe too vivid–imagination.  It was only a matter of time until he teamed up with a novelist and cultural critic (a scholar in her own rite) to create a fantasy thriller.  Set in 2012 (oh my), the back cover says it is “when an ancient prophecy quietly unfolds as a fragmenting world accelerates its descent into massive chaos.”  There is “global intrigue, cascading natural catastrophes, and a complexity of characters, motives, and symbolic traditions intersect…”  It is certainly apocalyptic in genre–a Syrian manuscript has special powers and a University of Virginia historian gets involved. Eight people are born, each with a distinctive birthmark. And there is more.  But as in the best sci-fi there is finally a journey of love and discovery and deep truth.  There are some reproductions of stuff (like maps and emails) included that almost make it seem like non-fiction; like the X-Files, say, not quite Blair Witch, so that it may be unclear what is real and what isn’t.   And, guess what?  I love this (although a few might role there eyes—Sweet is at it again) but there is a brief forward explaining some of what might be going on.  The joy is in the story, but I’d shell out for an essay entitled “Engaging the Apocalypse: A Non-Fiction Essay on Scenarios and Semiotics for the 21st Century” which offers this bit of wisdom from the first female, a nun, to ever write a book about fishing, circa 1388:  Piscator non solum piscatur.  How does he come up with stuff?  Hold on.

9781598566673.jpgPhantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women  George MacDonald (Hendrickson) $19.95  We love the Eerdmans paperbacks of this (and Lilith too, of course) and have stocked them since we opened.  You know C.S. Lewis loved ’em, so we had to promote them early on.  Here, now, is a handsome hardback with thirty-three original illustrations by the legendary Arthur Hughes, but newly colorized by Zach Fink.  It has the one page forward from 1905 by son Greville MacDonald.   You may know the Lewis quote, “My imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized…I had not the faintest notion what I let myself in for by buying Phantastes.”   How could you not want to own a book like that?

the-ambition-200x300.jpgThe Ambition  Lee Strobel  (Zondervan) $24.99  You know Strobel is a great communicator, a great speaker, and a fine apologist.  He used to be a blue-collar type newspaperman (and a hard boiled atheist) in Chicago.  Can he now write a thriller of a suspense novel, about gambling addictions and the Mafia?  Will it have, woven into its fabric, a message of redemptive hope and meaning?  Of course, but it isn’t heavy-handed or preachy.  Here, through odd plot twists and tons of drama he probes the power of ambition in the city he knows best.  There is “deceit, danger, death’ (“all in a days work” he says.)  A corrupt judge, the mob, a disillusioned pastor and a cynical reporter.  Several early buyers have spread the word that this is the best story they’ve read in a while, a thrilling and though-provoking sprawl of a taut thriller.   I like and respect Stoebel and suspect this is gutsy and fun and with a hint of deeper meaning.  What more do you want in a suspense story?

The-Muir-House-alt.jpgThe Muir House  Mary DeMuth  Zondervan) $14.99  Well, you might guess that I myself don’t read much overtly “Christian fiction” and not too many that may have romantic themes.  We love talking about, say The Help or the new Ann Patchet, State of Wonder. (Beth just finished Taft, which I’ve told her about for years—I loved it!) Or any of the important novels of Barbara Kingsolver.  And I swear I’m going to re-read James David Duncan soon.  But among “Christian fiction” fans, Mary DeMuth is considered a good writer, and I truly admired her exceptional, honest memoir of sexual abuse, Thin Places, so I thought I’d try this.  The dialogue drove me crazy at times, the twenty-something romance was a bit, well, like one thinks belongs in a romance novel, the overuse of simile the sign of cheesy editors, I’d guess.  But you know what?  I was hooked.  This young woman coming to grips with a missing bit of her memory, her need to return home to her Texas hometown, her struggle to know if she wanted to commit to a good, thoughtful, Christ-follower…well, I couldn’t put the thing down.  It isn’t going to get nominated for a Pulitzer Prize anytime soon but so what?  This was a compelling story, cliched as it seemed, and I loved it.  I wanted to know what DeMuth cooked up next, what was going to happen to this young woman who was an interior decorator (redoing a funeral parlor into a Bed and Breakfast) that wore Toms Shoes and had a boyfriend from Seattle who recycled envelopes and was off on a life-changing mission trip, himself.  I wondered about what it is like to go back to a place of pain and secrets and the struggles those who are fearful about the uncertainties in their lives must endure.  Can you ever “go home again?” Does the truth set us free?  It’s a gamble, even on a good day, even with God’s help.  This quick-paced read was not too demanding, in terms of the writing itself (although every page had enjoyable lines and phrases and images) but I can picture the characters in my mind’s eye. The story will stick with you.  Do take it to the beach.

88992245.JPGOver the Edge  Brandilyn Collins (B+H) $14.99 I should have predicted it would happen, but to be honest hadn’t even imagined it: a novel about Lyme Disease!  When one of our staff heard about this she couldn’t wait to tell us and when it came, Beth couldn’t put it down.  As you may know, our family has had a five year bout with chronic Lyme Disease and have learned of the uneducated state of most health care providers, the utterly outrageous corruption among those setting protocols for Lyme treatment, of compromised research, of big money calling certain shots, of people’s lives–patients and in some cases forward-thinking doctors–being literally devastated. Perhaps you cried, as I did, during the fabulous documentary Under Our Skin (or campaigned against those trying to get PBS to censor its airing.)  If you have any interest in this, if you know anyone with Lyme, or if you just like one heckuva medical thriller, this well-researched, political/scientific/medical conflict comes to life in high drama.  As Terri Blackstock says, it is “a page-turner.  Fascinating and eye-opening.”   I’m glad this was published, glad to turn real life horror into a fun summer read,
set in Stanford Universities prestigious Department of Medicine.   See the little deer tick on the cover–it is embossed just a bit making it kinda creepy. Thanks to Ms Collins for sharing, in fiction, some of her own personal story…highly recommended.

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