But the phrase “beach read,” even if it came from a marketing department somewhere, has caught on. So what’s it mean to you? What makes a read your beach read? Does it have to be hot and sweaty like summer? Breezy and light to cool you off? So absorbing you won’t notice if a seagull poops on your head, or something you can read in bits and pieces without losing your place? Is it escapist, a book that takes your mind on vacation? Or enlightening, to go along with the meditative sound of ocean waves? Or psychologically insightful, to enhance your people-watching?
A beach read can be any of these things and more. I asked southern New Hampshire’s librarians and booksellers to suggest some good titles for this summer, and in these lists you’re sure to find something that appeals to you. Grab some of these titles and toss them in your tote bag with the towels and Frisbees. If the book comes home with sand between its pages and sunscreen smeared on its cover, it’s a beach read.
Suspense and mystery
You won’t be surprised to see Stieg Larsson’s trilogy on everyone’s summer reading list — even though it was also on everyone’s winter reading list. (Who has time?) The third book is The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, and as Dee Santoso of Manchester City Library put it, “once you get involved in the first novel [The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo], you’ll be hooked! I’m torn between not wanting to stop reading them and also not wanting the story to end!”
Santoso also likes Janet Evanovich, whom she calls “one of my favorite summer reading authors … because her stories are perfect light, funny reading for those summer scorcher days.” Meryle Zusman of Derry Public Library recommends the newest book in Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, Smokin’ Seventeen, saying, “yay, Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter!” Start with One for the Money and work your way up to Seventeen, or jump in wherever and it’ll still make sense. “The characters and the situations in Evanovich’s novels can be laughing-out-loud funny!,” Santoso wrote. Manchester City Library director Denise van Zanten also has Smokin’ Seventeen on her to-read list.
Mathew Bose of Hooksett Public Library recommends “Reverend Clare Fergusson mysteries by Julia Spencer Fleming, starting with In the Bleak Midwinter and ending with her latest, One Was a Soldier.” The author was recently at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter on book tour. She was born in Plattsburgh, N.Y., and lives in Maine.
Speaking of bleak winters (are people trying to mentally cool down from the summer heat?) and Stieg Larsson, Sarah Basbas of Manchester’s West Branch Library points to “The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell — he’s a Swedish mystery writer who should appeal to people who like Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
And another if-you-like-Larsson choice, this one from Kendall Ann Koladish of Londonderry’s Leach Library, is “Taylor Stevens’ The Informationist: A fast-paced, thrill ride of a novel, this debut is the start of a series featuring Vanessa Munroe, an ‘informationist’ who gathers knowledge and information from developing countries for high-paying clients. Her latest job involves finding the 18-year-old daughter of a Texas oil billionaire who went missing four years ago while vacationing in Cameroon, an area Munroe knows well from her youth. This page-turner will find a welcome audience in those who enjoyed Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy.”
Christine Sharbrough of Derry Public Library recommends “Naked Heat by Richard Castle: fans of the television show [Castle] will enjoy this book. Quick-moving action and dialog mirrors the show’s cast banter.”
Bose recommends the Night Soldiers series by Allen Furst, which he described as “a series of World War II thrillers that take place in the spy world. Furst is excellent at exploring the turmoil of emotions caused by war. You will be sweating from the plot twists and historical espionage instead of the humidity.”
And if you want an old reliable, Santoso says, “For those folks who enjoy a good mystery, I always recommend anything by Robert B. Parker. His novels were the basis for Spenser for Hire … on TV starring Robert Ulrich.” She calls them “well written and engaging” and says “I don’t have a favorite title of his, I enjoyed all of them!” Sixkill was released in May and is the last Spenser novel to be completed by Parker — #39 in the series.
Think you can handle the truth? Want to brush up your knowledge base while you tan?
“For those who enjoy non-fiction, my current favorite is Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert,” Santoso said. “Reading the book first will also make the movie far more enjoyable. Her travels and her soul-searching exploits are presented in a very conversational and light manner even though the topics and issues she’s dealing with are not.”
“In nonfiction, I recommend Rye Barcott’s It Happened on the Way to War, which I finished last week,” wrote Deb Baker, events coordinator at Gibson’s Bookstore, not long after the author had visited Gibson’s on book tour. The book is “good for teens, college students, and anyone who is feeling sad about the Three Cups of Tea scandal,” she wrote.
Continuing in a travel-the-world frame of mind, try A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World by Tony Horwitz. “Horwitz travels to important historical locales to provide an entertaining and enlightening look at American history. Recommended for all travel readers, history buffs and anyone that enjoys learning while laughing,” Bose wrote. Closer to home, Bose also likes Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England, by Tom Wessels, about which he wrote, “This fascinating book will teach you how to decipher clues in the forest that reveal the history of a forested landscape. Learn interesting facts about our local history and the forest ecosystem. A walk in the woods will never be the same!”
Nor will a walk on the moon if you read the latest from Ben Mezrich, who’s coming to the Music Hall in Portsmouth in July. “This guy is HOT. He wrote the book on which the movie The Social Network is based. All the rage,” wrote Margaret Talcott, associate producer of Writers on a New England State for The Music Hall. His new book, Sex on the Moon, comes out July 8. “I personally would suggest Tina Fey’s Bossypants as well. People are loving it,” Talcott wrote.
Carol Luers Eyman, community services coordinator at Nashua Public Library, recently got smarter in two ways by reading some nonfiction recently: she learned about biology, and she learned the ways of digital literature. “I just finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot,” she wrote. “It was my first e-book! I learned how to search through the book (when I read about a person and couldn’t remember who it was) and look up words in the dictionary, although I didn’t have to do that often: It’s a very accessible story of how Henrietta’s cells have been used for scientific research since she died in the 1950s, her family’s reaction to that, and the ethics of using them.” Van Zanten of Manchester also recommended Skloot’s book. According to www.rebeccaskloot.com, it was named by more than 60 critics as one of the best books of 2010. (The website is worth checking out for multimedia features and info about the foundation Skloot set up to contribute to Lacks’ family.)
Baker noted she is “looking forward to reading Melissa Fay Greene’s latest book, No Biking In the House Without a Helmet.” It’s the never-a-dull-moment story of an Atlanta couple who adopted more children as the last of their four was leaving the nest.
At this point let me put in a vote for The Wave-Watcher’s Companion: Ocean Waves, Stadium Waves, and all the Rest of Life’s Undulations, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, because last summer I got mesmerized by learning from it, while I was at the ocean, that scientists have detected a wave hundreds, thousands?, of miles away from where it started, like it starts at Alaska with 20-foot swells and they can follow the same wave all the way to, I don’t know, Indonesia where it’s got 2-millimeter peaks and it’s still going. I paraphrase. You get the idea. Cool book. It’s newly out in paperback. I also like, for summertime, As They See ’Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires, by Bruce Weber, which is quite an interesting read and changed how I watch baseball more than any other book has.
Books for kids
Mr. Popper’s Penguins was a book long before it was a movie. In fact it was a very different book. It was written in 1938 by Richard and Florence Atwater, and its Mr. Popper is “a house painter obsessed by dreams of the Polar regions” who lives with his wife and two children in “a neat little bungalow.” If it comes down to watching the movie on your iPod at the beach or reading the book on your iPod at the beach, I say go with the book. Personally I also recommend Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy for summer reading — also old, but not as old as 1938. And on the brand-new side, a picture book I think they should hand out at the beach concession stand: Should I Share My Ice Cream?, the new Elephant and Piggie book by Mo Willems. Is that not a topic everyone can relate to?
As for expert recommendations, let’s start with the nominees for the various New Hampshire State Library Association book awards. Winners are selected by young readers voting at libraries and schools.
“These are wonderful resources for finding some really great books for summer reading,” wrote Sarah Hydorn, head of children’s services at Amherst Town Library. “The lists are compiled by librarians from around the state, taking into account the suggestions and opinions they get from students of all ages. There’s a great variety of titles to appeal to a wide range of readers.”
For grades K through 3, New Hampshire has the Ladybug book award. Voting will take place in November and there are 10 nominees, all published in 2010 (see sidebar).
Then there’s the Great Stone Face book award, for which students in grades 4 through 6 will vote next spring on 25 nominees, among them Big Nate in a Class by Himself, by Lincoln Peirce, and The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger, both of which, if you don’t mind reading about school when school’s out, I recommend.
For grades 7 and 8, there are 20 nominees for the Isinglass award, to be voted on next April; the full list is online. The 2011 winner was The Maze Runner, by James Dashner, and 2010’s was The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.
Finally, high school students vote for the Flume book award, whose list of 13 nominees includes Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, and Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork.
Beyond the State Library award nominees, Mathew Bose recommends the Lighthouse Family series by Cynthia Rylant: “Read this series aloud to your whole family and fall in love with Pandora, the cat who lives in a lighthouse, Seabold, the dog whose ship wrecks on her shore, and the trio of mice children they adopt together,” the Hooksett librarian wrote.
Where to begin? Two local bibliophiles mentioned Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks, which has been on lots of bestseller lists since its May release, and three mentioned books by Lisa See.
“Known for her elegant writing and rich historic detail, Brooks does not disappoint in [Caleb’s Crossing],” Koladish wrote, and Basbas said she “loved” Brooks’ previous novel, Year of Wonders, and “can’t wait for this one.” It is, as Koladish said, “Based loosely on the true account of a Wampanoag Indian who became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.”
Zusman recommends Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, calling it a “wonderful, moving story of women’s relationships.” (It’s also going to be a movie.)
Koladish likes See’s Dreams of Joy: “This follow-up to Shanghai Girls features the daughter of Pearl, one of the sisters from the first novel. Raised in Los Angeles, Joy discovers the truth about her parentage and leaves for China to find her father. She soon discovers more than she anticipated as she becomes swept up in the turmoil of the country’s changes brought about by Mao. Her mother, knowing the dangers from which she herself fled, must leave her life in America to track down her daughter. Readers who wondered what happened to Pearl and May Chin will be pleased to receive this sequel, while those who pick this book up first will be inspired to read the beginning of the story.”
“When I finish reading Larson’s tale, I’m planning on reading Dreams of Joy by Lisa See,” wrote Santoso.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, recently made into a film starring Robert Pattinson, was recommended by both Meryle Zusman of Derry and Karrie Hanson of MainStreet BookEnds. “I’m most excited to RE-recommend Water for Elephants,” Hanson wrote, “…because it is one of the best I’ve ever read. This mixture of historical research about real circuses and the thrill of forbidden love sucks you in and doesn’t let you go until you’re crying and wishing you had your very own elephant.”
Also available to inspire tears, “The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry is a beautifully haunting local tale of a woman who comes home to Salem, Mass., to discover and solve a spooky secret about her family and herself,” Hanson wrote. “The use of real-life and other-worldly magic that Barry uses reminds me strongly of Alice Hoffman’s style. This book is one that will keep you guessing, keep you hooked, and make you cry.”
For those who would rather laugh, “Jonathan Tropper’s books are all great for vacation, dealing with the good, bad, and dysfunctional parts of life with incredible humor that will have you laughing out loud; my favorites are This is Where I Leave You and Plan B, ” said Sophie Smith, a Nashua Public Library reference librarian. And Meryle Zusman likes “anything by Nora Ephron — funny, easy-to-read looks at true life, aging, women.”
At Amherst Town Library, Ruslyn Vear gave the nod to the “delightful” novel Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo, in which, as she put it, “Two unlikely travel companions…talk about life and live it fully in the present” on a “laugh-out-loud ‘road trip’ cross country.”
Vear also said she likes “Swim Back to Me by Ann Packer: a collection of two novellas and four short stories that explore the human emotional landscape in well-crafted style.”
Carol Luers Eyman, she of the Rebecca Skloot e-book, wrote, “The other books I’m touting now are any by Elisabeth Strout: a lot of people have read Olive Kitteridge because it won the Pulitzer, but Amy and Isabelle and Abide With Me are also excellent stories with interesting characters, both set in New England in the 1950s and 1960s.”
Baker, of Gibson’s recently finished reading The Borrower, a debut novel from Rebecca Makkai. “Lucy, a children’s librarian, and Ian, a 10-year-old library regular, have an unlikely adventure when Ian runs away from home and they accidentally embark on a road trip together,” Baker wrote. “A quirky story, rich with memorable characters, The Borrower combines humor, social commentary, and plenty of references to favorite children’s books. ...A fun read, and an interesting look at the kaleidoscope of contemporary American culture.”
Smith recommends Jennifer Egan’s award-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad as “a great read, both literary and hard to put down!” and Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed.
“I always recommend Alice Hoffman[’s books] as great summer reads,” Hanson wrote. “Her combination of real life, everyday people and magic leaves you wondering if the supernatural really does exist. I would most strongly recommend Blackbird House. It’s a quick beach read about a house that stands for generations and teaches each person who lives there how to love in a different way.” Hanson also said that “Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch is a MUST”—but beware that it “drags you through a horribly beautiful life of confusion and life lessons.” And her number-one pick? “My favorite of all time and for ALL ages is The Secret Garden by France Hodgson Burnett. The magic and the mayhem of this beloved tale leaves you with a warm feeling and a particular love of your own family and the magic that you have created throughout all your memories so far.”
For those with an eye toward fantasy, Bose of Hooksett suggested the Kingkiller Chronicles series by Patrick Rothfuss. “Rothfuss is a new fantasy writer similar to Terry Brooks, Neil Gaiman or David Eddings,” he wrote. “You’ll be holding this book above your head and reading while you swim.”
Looking toward the paranormal, Bose noted the Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs: “Mercy is a strong and witty mechanic who is thrown into the world of werewolves, vampires, and other things that go bump in the night. Read these and you’ll be instantly addicted to Patricia Brigg’s vivid storytelling.” Speaking of vampires, Zusman suggested Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris, the newest in the True Blood series.
Back in the real-er world, there was praise for bestsellers State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, which is “getting great reviews,” Basbas noted, and The Help by Kathryn Stockett, a “moving story of racial inequality in the 1950s — also a movie!,” Zusman said. Sharbrough liked The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman, where “confined to bed rest with preeclampsia, Tess cannot resist a Jimmy Stewart-esque look at the neighbors through her binoculars…especially when one disappears.”
Bose also mentioned two authors whose work you’ll find in the Young Adult section of the store but who appeal to adults as well: “Lauren Oliver’s second novel [Delirium] takes you into a world where love is treated as a disease, and once you’re treated, you can live a safe and happy life. Or so Lena thought. Until she fell in love,” he wrote, and Anthony Horowitz’s “fast-paced and suspenseful” Alex Rider series “is excellent for both teens and adults. Teenager Alex Rider carries on the family tradition and thwarts the plans of evil villains for the British intelligence service. Your white knuckles will stand out from your tan while reading these books on the beach!”
Then Came You, by Jennifer Weiner, due out on July 11, will undoubtedly be a popular summer read at least among the chick-lit set.
In nonfiction, keep an eye out for The Secret Power of Middle Children: How Middleborns Can Harness Their Unexpected and Remarkable Abilities, by Catherine Salmon, Ph.D., and Katrin Schumann, due on Aug. 4 — it could be good reading while you watch over the kids at the beach or relate to your siblings at the vacation house — and Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America, by Jeff Ryan, due also on Aug. 4, which you can read while your children sit indoors glued to a screen.
For kids, Big Nate on a Roll, the latest compilation of comic strips about the (mis)adventures of an 11-year-old from Lincoln Peirce (who grew up in New Hampshire), comes out Aug. 16.