Summer Reading 2016 | WYPR

Summer Reading 2016

Jun 22, 2016


Charcoal Joe (An Easy Rawlins Mystery)  by Walter Mosely (June 14, 2016)

o   The tumultuous late sixties provides the backdrop for this latest installment about the street-wise detective, Easy Rawlins, as he is called on to take on one of his most difficult and racially charged cases. Fans of Walter Mosely will be enthralled at the 14th volume in the Easy Rawlins saga.

End of Watch by Stephen King (June 7, 2016)

o   The finale of King’s Bill Hodges Trilogy sustains the page-turning qualities of the first two entries.  Bill Hodges, a retired police detective and his partner Holly Dibney find themselves in danger from a villain they had thought unlikely to recover. Instead they horriare in a race against time to find a way to stop Brady Hartsfield before he can drive more victims to suicide.

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman (pub date:  5/3/16)

o   Luisa “Lu” Brandt has just been elected States Attorney for Howard County, a position her famous father held for years.  In an effort to solidify her new position, Lu takes on a case whereby a homeless man has allegedly broken into a home and murdered its middle-aged, single, female occupant.  Wilde Lake alternates between the present and Lu’s childhood in the newly developed Columbia, MD—which is where Laura did in fact grow up.  In the 1980’s, Lu’s popular brother saved a friend’s life, but another man died in the incident.  Slowly, Lu begins to realize that all is not as it seems.

Redemption Road by John Hart (pub date:  5/3/16)

o   After a hiatus of 5 years, fans of John Hart will not be disappointed by this new mystery, with its complex cast of characters, multiple plot lines, and unclear motivations.   Elizabeth Black has just been suspended from the police force for excessive force while rescuing a young girl who had been kidnapped and serially raped. In the meantime, Gideon Strange, an innocent policeman and friend of Elizabeth’s, has been let out of jail, and a young boy is lying in wait to shoot him.  Add in a crooked warden and a serial killer, and you have a story you can’t put down.


The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay  (May 10, 2016)

o   The world of Venetian glass is the setting for this fast paced tale of intrigue. Beginning with the demanding era that saw mirror technology perfected, the story moves to more contemporary times and even more twists and turns. Both literary and plot driven, this has been compared to Umberto Eco and David Mitchell.

The Letter Writer by Dan Fesperman (pub date 4/19/16)

o   Over the past few months, I’ve read two books that deal with the issue of U-Boats off of the American coast line.  The Letter Writer is a thiller that begins when Woodrow Cain moves from North Carolina to join the New York Police Force.  As he steps off the train, he sees smoke from the ocean liner Normandie, which is rumored to have been set fire by German saboteurs.  Cain is given a murder to investigate—a body that’s been found floating in the Hudson.  As the investigation continues, he comes in contact a letter writer—who goes by the name of Danziger.  Danziger speaks 5 languages and makes his money by helping people keep in touch with their relatives in Eastern Europe. It becomes clear that Danziger knows a lot about what’s happening in New York.  Although not historical fiction, this novel leans heavily on events involved the Mafia and the US Naval Department during World War II.  A complex story and a fun read. 


o   Interestingly, for those interested in the U-Boat menace during WW2, you might want to pick up the non-fiction book, The Mathews Men: The Story of Seven Brothers and the War Against Hitler’s U-Boats by William Geroux, which also published in April.  This book follows the fates of a group of America’s merchant mariners from Mathews County, Virginia, who suffered sinking after sinking during the war—especially during 1942-1943 when they were pretty much left alone to fend off the U-boats without any help from the US Navy.


League of Dragons : a Novel of Temerarie by Naomi Novik  (June 16, 2016)

o   For fans of multiple volume fantasy, Naomi Novik’s series featuring a Napoleonic era where humans co-exist with dragons is an enthralling summer read. The unique world building, extravagant  adventure,  and irresistible characters make this a standout.

The Passage Trilogy by Justin Cronin

§  The Passage:  A Novel (pub date:  5/17/11)

§  The Twelve:  A Novel (pub date: 1/19/16)

§  The City of Mirrors:  A Novel (pub date:  5/24/16)

o   Justin Cronin's breathtaking trilogy follows a small band of survivors tasked with rescuing humanity from a viral plague. Epic in scope and beautifully written, this trilogy is a wonderfully immersive experience.

Historical Fiction

America’s  First Daughter  by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie (March 1, 1016)

o   Patsy Jefferson, oldest daughter of Thomas Jefferson, learns as a young child the importance of her father’s legacy in the building of their new nation. To that end, she becomes his staunchest defender, confidante and secret keeper. Well researched and often using Jefferson’s own words, this is a lushly romantic historical novel.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi  (June 7, 2016)

o   In this debut novel, the descendants of two half- sisters reveal the complex legacies of colonialism in Ghana and slavery in the United States. This sweeping multi-generational novel has been tapped as a “must read for the summer” by many reviewers.

The Risen: A Novel of Spartacus by David Anthony Dunham (May 3, 2016)

o   David Anthony provides a retelling of the slave revolt led by Spartacus with rich description and compelling characterization. The author of the acclaimed Pride of Carthage: A Novel of Hannibal, once again transports readers to a historical period with breathtaking excitement.

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman (pub date: 6/7/16 – pbk edition)

o   Historical fiction, based on the life of the mother of the painter Camille Pissarro, the father of modern impressionism.  Most of the story takes place in St Thomas in the 1800s in a small community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition.  Raquel, a bright and somewhat rebellious girl ends up in an arranged marriage with an older widower in order to save her father’s business.  When the widower dies, the family in France sends Frederick, her husband’s young nephew, to settle the estate.  Raquel falls in love with Frederick, causing a scandal in the family.


Rich and Pretty by Rumaam Alam  (June 7, 2016)

o   This debut novel takes on a longstanding friendship between two young women, Sarah and Lauren who have always been close but reach a crossroads in their relationship, after being apart for period. Can their friendship withstand the changes they have experienced? The great writing and recognizable characters make this a great choice for summer reading.

I Almost Forgot about You by Terry McMillan (June 7, 2016)

o   Friends, family, heartbreak and resilience are hallmarks of Terry McMillan’s novels and this latest is no exception.  Dr. Georgia Young, a successful professional woman, decides something is missing in her life and embarks on a journey to find what that is and recalaim the joy of her life.

LaRose: A Novel by Louise Erdrich (May 10, 2016)

o   National Book Award winner Louise Erdich returns with another haunting novel of tragedy and redemption.  Two families are forever changed due to an accidental shooting and find challenge and strength in the traditions of the Ojibwe culture.

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (August 9, 2016)

o   After many years of success as a children’s and teen author, Woodson explores memory and the difficulties of reconciling events from the past as told through the eyes of August, an adult woman looking back at life altering events from her childhood.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (pub date: 6/21/16) — part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series

o   The Hogarth Shakespeare series is a new RH series whereby well-known writers “rewrite” famous Shakespeare plays.  Anne Tyler’s retelling of the Taming of the Shrew takes place in current day Baltimore.  Kate Battista is a somewhat frustrated 29-year-old, living with her father, a well-known researcher at Hopkins who is on the verge of a breakthrough, and her flaky 15-year-old sister.  Enter the Pyotr Cherbakov, her father’s research assistant who is in danger of being deported and Dr. Battista’s plan for keeping Pyotr in the country and you have a wonderful, hilarious story.

 Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (pub date: 9/6/16)

o   It’s 1922 and the Bolsheviks have won the revolution.  Count Alexander Rostov has been found guilty of “succumbing irrevocably to the corruptions of his class” for writing a poem.  Rather than shoot him, Count Rostov is put under house arrest at the swanky Metropol Hotel, right across from the Kremlin.  The Count is moved from his luxurious apartments to the attic.  A man of wit and intelligence, he recreates his life within the confines of the hotel.  The book is peopled with fascinating characters and spans several decades.  If you love Tolstoy, you will find a lot to love in this wonderful novel.

Eligible:  A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice  by Curtis Sittenfeld (pub date:  4/19/16)

o   I tend to avoid books based on the classics—and on Pride and Prejudice in particular.  It seems so over-done. But I had a CD for Eligible, and started listening.  This is a very entertaining remake of the old story.  This modern-day story takes place in Cincinnati.  Liz and Jane are closing in on 40, are single and living in New York.  They have come back to Cincinnati to help take care of their father, who has suffered a heart attack.  Chip Bingley was the star of last season’s “Eligible” on TV—a reality show with a bachelor and a bunch of bachorettes.  He’s moved to Cincinnati, as has his friend Fitzwilliam Darcy, to practice medicine.  The story goes on from there with an idiotic Mrs Bennett, a sanguine Mr. Bennett, and the other 3 Bennett sisters pretty similar to Jane Austen’s versions.  This is a light but not stupid summer read.


Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel  Philbrick (May 10, 2016)

o   This intriguing look at the Revolutionary War and, in particular, two of its most famous participants, George Washington and Benedict Arnold, reminds us of the harrowing aspects of the struggle and how dangerously close it came to not succeeding.  Philbrick’s narrative is full of drama, adventure, and human foibles, all of it true.

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero (May 3, 2016)

o   In this powerful memoir, the actress with roles in Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin shares her dramatic family story of undocumented immigrant parents, their deportation and her efforts to survive and thrive despite being separated from her immediate family.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell (pub date:  10/20/15)

o   This is a very entertaining account of the life of the Marquis de Lafayette and of the American Revolution.  Lafayette was drawn to the American Revolution due to his intense belief in its ideals and to his intense hatred of the English. His loyalty both to the ideal and to George Washington kept him engaged despite the intense bickering between the Continental Congress and the Continental Army.  He secured the backing of the French government, without which the war would have been lost.  Sarah Vowell tends to weave around the story—one minute in the midst of Valley Forge and the next speaking with a park ranger at historical Williamsburg.  I learned a lot, and was often amused.  I highly recommend listening to the CD, read by the charming author herself. 

Pandemic:  Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola by Sonia Shah (pub date:  2/16/16)

o   Sonia Shah is a science journalist and prize-winning author, who writes on science, politics, and human rights.  She lives here in the Baltimore area.  I didn’t think I wanted to read a book about pandemics, but I decided to read the Preface, and I was hooked.  The first paragraph starts:  “Cholera kills people fast.  There is no drawn-out sequence of progressive debility.  The newly infected person feels fine at first.  Then half a day passes, and cholera has drained his or her body of its fluids, leaving a withered blue corpse.”  The book reads like a thriller and interweaves history, original reportage, and personal narrative to explore how contagions like cholera develop and spread.  She explains how microbes that are contained to one area or one animal host can mutate and spread through filth, overcrowding, and modern transportation, and how greed and politics often contribute to the spread.  Understanding how pathogens are created and spread is essential to understanding how to stop them before a pandemic hits.  Shah is optimistic about our ability to better understand microbes and how to fight them.