“Summer reading” is often associated with easy-breezy fiction that leaves as much of an impression as a footprint in the sand at high tide.  Luckily for us, Trilogy at Monarch Dunes member Pam Stolpman has once again compiled a list of compelling, thought provoking, entertaining books to fill our beach bags this summer.

Whether you want to lose yourself in a great book to make the time fly by on an airplane, or you’re looking for a literary gem for your lounge time at the pool, these eight engaging books will keep you company all summer long.

For additional summer reading recommendations, visit our Summer Reading board on Pinterest!

Orphan Train
by Christina Baker Kline

In this novel, Christina Baker Kline presents an immediately engaging story of the friendship that develops between a 17-year-old foster child, Molly, and the over-90-year-old Vivian.  As an orphaned Irish immigrant, Vivian had been shipped via “orphan train” from New York City and its unsavory conditions of squalor and depravity to the bucolic safe haven of rural Minnesota. This relocation of orphans and street children by New York City’s Child Welfare Agency was seen as the one avenue available for them to a “better, healthier” life, and most of the children believed they were on their way to new loving families. Vivian, however, soon discovered, as the more cynical ones had warned her, that the move was also a way for Midwestern farmers and small factory owners to gain free labor in the fields and factories from the strongest adolescent boys and girls, as well as to use the girls as help in the nursery, kitchen, and rest of the household. Many of the older or physically weaker children were rejected altogether. Only the infants were truly treasured, a pecking order of ‘value’ Molly understands from her own experience of being shuttled from one foster home to the next. The two women forge a bond that allows Vivian to reveal a long held secret and to take a brave and unexpected action, as long as Molly is willing to accompany her on the journey that action entails. This meticulously researched historical novel is based on the true history of the ‘relocation’ trains that transported thousands of children out of New York City between 1854 and 1929.  (273 pp.)

The Partly Cloudy Patriot
by Sarah Vowell

If this work is your introduction to Sarah Vowell, a world of pleasure awaits you. Vowell is an author, journalist, former rock critic, and a contributing editor to NPR’s This American Life. She has published one autobiographical collection of essays, along with several other collections of essays and two full length books whose focus is the cultural and political history of the United States. Her books are built on a solid and far-reaching knowledge of our history, and yet can all be counted on for laugh-out-loud quips strewn throughout, quips that seem to arise from irrepressible surges of Vowell’s unique and quirky sense of humor. In The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Vowell uncovers some of America’s most glaring flaws at the same time as she revels in such an unabashed pride in our nation that her essays provoke that same pride in even the most cynical of her readers. In a book that is largely a journey through historical sites and touchstones of American culture, (the book’s first revelation is that Vowell happily celebrated her 30th birthday, alone, at Grant’s Tomb), the author also finds room to report on the challenges of family Thanksgivings, the joys of an arcade game called Pop-a-Shot, and the appeal of dining in the underground cafeteria at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  (224 pp.)

The Most Of Nora Ephron
by Nora Ephron

Why settle for only a couple of Ephron’s best loved personal essay collections, such as “I Remember Nothing,” and “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” (her most popular single piece, and collection), when one can now have nearly everything she ever wrote, including the full screenplay of “When Harry Met Sally,” in one volume? This book was published posthumously, in 2013. Robert Gottlieb, Ephron’s editor, has structured it around all the varied roles Ephron played during her writing life: reporter, profilist, polemicist, novelist, screenwriter, playwright, memoirist, and (wicked) blogger – the book even includes recipes! Ephron was quietly private about her illness, even though over the years she had shared her most personal ideas and thoughts on how she experienced life and what she expected in her future. Readers identified with what she wrote about herself, often recognizing themselves in her work. As Gottlieb writes, “she gave them permission to think [certain] things and feel [certain] things . . . and also [warned] them what to look out for, what lay ahead.” Readers were unprepared for the announcement of Ephron’s death, a writer who felt so much to them like a friend, and there was an immediate outpouring of shock and disbelief mixed with their grief. This book is a balm to those friends and readers alike.  (576 pp.)

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat tells the story of how a particularly unlikely group of nine young Americans became the crew of The Husky Clipper, and how that boat would go on to win the nerve shattering race for the Gold in Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics. With the harsh realities of the Depression as a back drop, Brown describes the creation and success of this up-start, Seattle-based University of Washington rowing team with such immediacy that we experience with them the physical and emotional stress that comes with constant competition. This competition is against the teams of upperclassmen and lowerclassmen at their own school, against the historically successful teams of the elite Ivy League schools and, at the end, against German teams for whom the Hitler regime believes it has fixed the odds too high for any foreign teams to overcome.

Along the way Brown introduces us to the history of rowing, and an unforgettable cast of characters, including coaches Tom Bolles and Al Ulbrickson, with their very different styles of coaching, and the team’s fascinating philosophical rowing mentor, George Pocock. Pocock was a true artisan who, while experimenting with different types of wood and design lines to createThe Husky Clipper,  transformed the craft of building racing boats.  The author also brings us directly into the personal lives of many of the members of the team. Brown centers this effort on the life of Joe Rantz, a boy who has lived on his own for so long that he faces a constant struggle over whether he can rely only on himself, or risk placing his trust in others, a crucial point as he begins to find himself drawn into allowing the rowing team to become his ‘family.’

The writing is at once lyrical (“their white blades flashed above the water like the wings of sea birds flying in formation”), studded with engrossing explanations of rowing techniques and strategy, and informed with an almost karmic understanding of how the separate members of a rowing team must work together, transferring the absolute trust and knowledge that each athlete has in himself to the team as a unit. And the teams’ constant involvement in competitions allows Brown to fill the book with page-turning, come-from-behind race scenes that compel the reader to go on.  It becomes very difficult, in fact, to find a place in the narrative to put the book down!

The reader may not have begun this book with an interest in rowing, boat building, or even the Berlin Olympics of 1936, but Brown, by drawing on interviews and primary resources, including the boys’ own diaries, photos, and memories, utterly captures our interest in all the parts of the world into which he takes us. This is a fascinating, often moving, account of America’s early rowing legends.  (416 pp.)

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America
by Gilbert King

Devil in the Grove, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, is the dramatic and deeply disturbing account of one of the least known but most important Jim Crow criminal cases of the 20th century. In the Groveland case, four young African-American men were falsely accused of the rape of a white, married, teenaged woman in the orange growing region of central Florida. Two of the men were guilty of little more than stopping to aid a pair of stranded motorists, while the other two were nowhere near the scene of the alleged crime. Devil in the Grove relates the intricate history of Thurgood Marshall and a small group of equally well educated African-American civil rights lawyers working for the NAACP legal defense fund as they forge the first in-roads against Jim Crow laws in Florida. It’s a complex story, requiring close attention at times, but this terrifying and indelible account of the earliest legal wins in the battle for civil rights will keep you reading long into the night.  (361 pp.)

Lawrence IN Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East
by Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson’s book is an account of the complex history of the Middle East in the crucially important years leading up to and including WWI. In this account, T.E. Lawrence plays the decidedly lead role, but Anderson includes three other historic figures, as well – men who didn’t achieve the fame of Lawrence but were of major importance in dictating the direction of WWI and the shaping of the Middle East as we know it today. These three are: the German, Curt Prufer, an academic attached to the embassy in Cairo, whose clandestine role would be to foment Islamic Jihad against British colonial rule in WWI, (and who would become a key advisor to Hitler in WWII); the Romanian, Aaron Aaronsohn, a renowned agronomist and committed Zionist, who would gain the trust of the Ottoman governor of Syria while serving in a ring of Jewish spies during WWI, (and who would be a major force in creating a Jewish homeland from parts of Palestine after WWII); and the American, William Yale, of Standard Oil, an emissary working even before the war to lay claim for America to any oil reserves found in the Ottoman Empire.

These four young men, Lawrence and Yale still in their twenties, Prufer thirty-three, and Aaronsohn, thirty-eight, were able to shape the conduct of the War and the configuration of the Middle East afterwards. The degree of influence of these four men was made possible by the lack of clear leadership or vision among either the inhabitants of the Middle East or the Europeans and Americans who wanted to define their region for them. According to Anderson, “this was a time when the seed was planted for the Arab world to define itself less by what it aspired to become than what it was opposed to: colonialism, Zionism, and Western imperialism in its many forms.” Clarity was hard to find in the time before the war, and impossible during it; no one was paying much attention to the Middle East until the end of the war, when its rich spoils were left to be divided in what Lawrence despairingly called “The Great Loot.”  Anderson has made his narrative revolve around the interplay and exploits of all four men as they cross paths, each under ever-changing guises of spy, playboy, archeologist, or military aide. At the same time, the author provides the most honest and revelatory account to date of Lawrence’s divided love and loyalty to both East and West.  In telling the story the way he has, the author has taken one of the most intricately tangled eras of cultural and military history and transformed it into not only understandable history, but as captivating a read as you will find on the fiction shelves.  (505 pp.)

Society’s Child: my autobiography
by Janis Ian

Janis Ian was literally catapulted into the spotlight in 1966 at the age of fifteen, when she sang Society’s Child in public for the first time. That song, about interracial dating, was an instant hit.  But as she sang it that first night, the part of the audience booing and pelting her with whatever they could crumple into their fists seemed to drown out the many cheering her on. She left the stage after the final notes, her initial excitement smothered by bewilderment and fear, only to be shoved back onstage to sing it again because the manager could see “how great it would be for business.” The song brought her fame, but also hate mail and death threats. Songwriting soon became a way for Ian to express her inner turmoil and less than a decade later she would produce her second major hit song, At Seventeen, an homage to those with whom she felt her closest  kinship – outsiders and misfits.

Ian has taken many breaks from writing music.  Her life on-stage was interrupted sometimes by choice, sometimes by necessity, as off-stage she endured an abusive turned to life-threatening marriage, debilitating illness, and the loss of all her savings and her home to an unscrupulous business manager at a time when her success and economic stability were finally firmly established. But Janis Ian kept coming back, in the early nineties with yet another Grammy nominated album, and now with this autobiography, which happens to be just one of the many books she has written during her constant re-invention of her life. In a recent interview she said that she “lived an entire life in my teen years, and I don’t regret a second of it. It was good to learn, early on, that what matters is the music.” Today she might amend that to say, as she does in the closing chapters of this book, “what matters is the writing. Writing is writing. If you’re a born writer, you’re happy when you’re writing, whether it’s a song, a story, or an autobiography.” And we are the lucky beneficiaries of her discovery: Ian’s prose style is as liquid as her lyrics, as perfect in its pacing as it is in its use of the most telling details. Society’s Child is the often painfully honest, down-to-earth memoir of the woman whose songs were the sound track of a generation. This is one autobiography no reader will be able to put down. [Note: The audiobook of Society’s Child is not only read by Janis Ian, she also sings every song discussed at any length in the book version. It is a fabulous recording]. (348 pp.)

The Accident
by Chris Pavone

Don’t even try to resist this book, especially if you realistically worry, as Chris Pavone does, that book publishing is going “down the tubes” – and fast. In The Accident, a character says, “first the web devoured book clubs, then magazines, and now its maw is agape, ravenous, ready to swallow the whole bloody publishing business.”  If this is true, this may be one of the last best books you read about a publishing industry that is hanging on by a mere thread.

The publishing industry hardly seems a setting that lends itself to the genre of ‘thriller.’  But as Pavone himself has said, “Any setting can be a good setting for a novel.” Pavone spent decades in the publishing industry, working as an editor.  He’s the proverbial author who “writes what he knows,” but both in his debut novel, Expats, a book in the genre of ‘thriller/espionage,’ and in The Accident, he has utterly transformed what he knows into works of pure imagination. The whole of The Accident takes place in twenty-four hours in New York City.  Isabel Reed, one of the most respected and powerful literary agents in the city, receives a hand-delivered biography, an anonymous manuscript so earth-shattering that people in the publishing world would kill to get their hands on it. With disturbing revelations about a well known media mogul whose conglomerate has edged out professional news gatherers in favor of “amateurs who had no legal relationship or responsibility to publishers, with a content bias toward gossip and innuendo, voyeurism and scandal,” this biography, if published, will ruin that man. The author is in hiding, certain that if the contents of the book are leaked before Isabel can get it published, he’ll be killed. Isabel warns her most trusted assistant, with whom she must share the manuscript, that its secrecy is of utmost importance, and that this original must remain the only one in existence.  Yet, soon a photocopy is made, and then that photocopy spawns yet another, which ends up in the hands of a naive young woman hoping to sell it to Hollywood. People begin to meet with untimely ‘accidental’ deaths.

This, alone, would make a compelling story, but Pavone expands the importance of the manuscript into the global realm. As Isabel is in New York City planning her next moves, a counterpart character, Hayden Gray in Copenhagen, is also on the trail of the manuscript. Gray, a veteran station chief, wary about the CIA’s obsession with the Middle East, has been monitoring the dangers that abound, instead, in Europe.  For him it is a matter of global security that this manuscript “never sees the light of day.” AlthoughThe Accident has a slightly flawed beginning of short chapters, numerous characters, and almost too much going on, Pavone keeps our attention throughout.  Before we know it, the flawed early pages have given way, the story has come alive, and we’ve fallen into the author’s narrative rhythm. We hardly realize when it is that we’ve become invested in the lives of the characters, that we care about them in the same way we do in the best literary novels. Paradoxically, for this genre, it is at that same time that the book becomes an absolute thriller, as Isabel and Hayden try to outwit each other. The Accident becomes a book we want to read at a steady, rapid pace, yet carefully, too, so as not to miss how the pieces of its puzzle ultimately come together. It may become for you, as it did for me, that summer book you find you must read all in one sitting, even if that means one night with few hours of sleep.  (385 pp.)


Do you have a favorite book to recommend to your fellow Trilogy members this summer?  If so, feel free to add a comment below.