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Archive for August, 2012

“That is part of the beauty of all literature.  You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone.  You belong.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

I am what you would call a bibliophile.  I love books– I mean, I really, really love them. (My husband can attest to this as the number of book boxes he has had to pack and move increases each time at what he feels is an alarming rate).  And I’ve loved them as long as I can remember.  I recognize now that I owe my parents a great deal of gratitude for introducing me to books at an early age and for encouraging me to read when I was younger.  I remember my dad reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to my brother and I when we were little, along with selections from Edgar Allen Poe including “The Raven,” in which he would croak the word “nevermore” in his best impression of what a creepy talking raven would sound like.  I remember devouring the Nancy Drew mysteries, wondering how I could lead such an adventurous and exciting life.  I also remember when my third grade teacher read us Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and I would listen in amazement, think about the characters for the rest of the day and night, and anxiously await the next chapter.  My mother would take my brother and I to the library and we would cram all the books we could in the bag she brought to take home.  I still have that kid in a candy shop feeling when I walk into a library.  Rows and rows of books on any subject you could imagine and thousands of different stories just waiting for you to lose yourself in them – I want to stay for hours.  (I thought I should be a librarian for awhile until I realized that the job description did not include sitting in the library and reading the books).  I miss having the time that I had when I was a kid, and even when I was in college, to read a book for hours.  Still, I do try to read at every opportunity and usually can’t wait until I can climb into my bed and pick up that book on the nightstand.

My husband doesn’t know it yet, but this is the design for our den…

Every summer there are various “Summer Reading lists” put forth by everyone from Barnes and Noble to the New York Times Book Review.  Since we are almost midway through August, I thought I would share my own summer reading recommendations.  (As a side note, I feel a duty to mention that yes, I did read Shades of Grey because the trilogy was numbers one, two and three on the NYT Bestseller list and I was curious.  No, I did not read the sequels as the first was so poorly written –and I mean grammatical errors galore not to mention just bad prose–and the plot so flimsy that I found myself wondering just how exactly the author was going to fill up two more books.  Oh right, more completely ridiculous sex scenes. But she is laughing all the way to the bank so what does she care and how can I blame her!)

What follows are some of the best books I have read in the past year or two.  They have terrific story lines, amazing characters, and give a GREAT summer escape.

1. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon.

This book was originally published in 1991, and I had never heard of it until my mother-in-law, a fellow bibliophile, gave it to me for Christmas.  It was one of the best Christmas presents I have ever received.  I feel like I should warn you that actually, this is the first book in a series.  Book eight is scheduled for publication sometime in 2013.  And once you start reading Outlander, you will have to read the rest of the series.  The books tell the story of Claire Randall, a nurse during WWII who travels to Scotland with her husband after the war is over.  After stumbling upon some ancient stone ruins,  she finds herself transported back to Scotland in  1743.  There she meets James Fraser, a Scottish Highland warrior (who you will absolutely fall in love with) and you will have to read the book and the rest of the series because I am not spoiling it with any more description.  Diana Gabaldon is a former professor and she researches her books so well that the level of detail in this historical fiction is fascinating.  She also has a great sense of humor that comes across in her writing.  Definitely some of the best character development I have ever seen, I envy her talent.  You will forget these people aren’t real.

 

Dark brown book cover saying "The HISTORIAN"; then "A Novel" in a shiny gold stripe, then "ELIZABETH KOSTOVA". A few thin reddish streaks stretch from the top almost to the bottom.

2. The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

Again, my mother-in-law gave me this book and when I started to read it, I had no idea it was about vampires.  And no, it is nothing like Twilight. There aren’t any vampires falling in love, driving fancy sports cars  or sucking peoples blood.  This author has obviously painstakingly researched this book and it reads like a really creepy history book about eastern Europe.  I could not put it down.  It opens with a young woman who finds a stack of letters in her father’s library addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor…”  She begins to track down secrets of her father’s past which lead to some very dark places.  The book is actually like one of those scary movies where nothing outwardly scary is happening, but you are holding your breath and have adrenaline surging in your veins and can’t point to exactly why.  Let’s just say I did want to sleep with my light on a few times.

 


3. A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness

Okay, so this one also has a vampire in it, and a witch, and daemons… but before you think I am a nut, this book was very surprisingly good!  Again, nothing at all like the Twilight, etc. phenomenon.  The author is a history professor.  On her website, she says she thought one day, “if there really are vampires, what do they do for a living?”  This is the story of Diana Bishop, a PhD student who is a witch but does not actually want to be one and has spent her entire life fighting her identity.  One day, when she is researching in an Oxford library, she finds a book which causes all sorts of attention to come to her from the world of creatures (i.e. witches, vampires, daemons, etc.)  This includes attention from Matthew Clairmont, a 1500-year-old vampire who is a geneticist and DNA researcher.  I love the storyline of this book and I love how the author weaves all of these mythical and magical elements into society in a way that seems so real.  The book is the first in a trilogy and I just finished reading the second book, Shadow of Night.  That book also reads like a history of Elizabethan England (another subject that fascinates me) and I couldn’t put it down.

The Book Thief,9780375842207

4. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

This is an amazingly creative story about a young girl during World War II in Nazi Germany related to the reader by the narrator, Death.  This is a young adult book, but is one of those books that is so powerful, I think every adult should read it.  As you can imagine from the description, it is sad subject material, but the writing is beautiful and the story and characters extremely moving.  I recommended this to my book club and everyone loved it. (Caution: You will need a box of Kleenex).

5. Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel.

This book is all about the politics, lies, sex, and intrigue of King Henry the VIII’s court told from the vantage point of Thomas Cromwell.  Such a great book and and interesting take on historical fiction.  I liked the portrayal of Cromwell as a sympathetic figure– it comes across as almost a “rags-to-riches” story of his survival and eventual appointment as one of King Henry’s advisers.  Again a fantastically researched historical fiction book.  This book ends with the execution of Thomas More and the sequel entitled Bring up the Bodies was just released, which details the rise and ultimate fall of Anne Boleyn.

 

 
ENJOY!  I am about to start Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese.  I hope it’s as good as it sounds!

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