Earlier this month, the Star Tribune gathered summer reading recommendations from librarians in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. We loved that idea so much we decided to borrow it, and turned to our own expert readers at Washington County Library for some of their favorite summer reads.
The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks screams "summer read" to me. Even if you haven't ever read a Sparks book, if you're familiar with – and can appreciate – the storytelling of Message in a Bottle or The Notebook, you've already got a sense of the tone. The Last Song is the story of a girl named Ronnie (17) who travels from New York to the beaches of North Carolina to spend the summer with her father. Upon her arrival in NC, it is clear that Ronnie and her father's relationship is quite strained. Ronnie meets a boy *blushes* and the story goes from there. This book reads quickly, so savor it as you go. Warning: this book will likely make you cry.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is very much a work of literary fiction. It is the story of an American missionary family on a mission to Africa in the year 1959. It is told through the perspective of the five women of the family, the mother and her four daughters, each with very distinct personalities. The novel is rife with symbolism and metaphors. I read this book for an honors English class in high school and to this day, it is in my top ten favorite reads.
I recommend a little British seaside reading Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier is historical fiction about two women who made some early archaeological discoveries in England. I loved the struggle of the women scientists to get credit for their work. I loved the description of the fossils and the seaside. The story of the friendship between the two women was wonderful
And a novella to keep it short for summer, a Hugo Award winning book, The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson. I loved a fantasy story that only took one short book to tell. I liked the art forgery and Chinese culture woven into the story.
My kids and I all sway towards fiction, so I encourage them to throw in a classic and some non-fiction every summer, so I will do the same for my ideas.
As far as “classics” go, I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald every year. It is short (you can read it in one day). Fitzgerald's writing is so beautiful, it's often like poetry, but still a lot happens. For a non-fiction read, I would recommend Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. She writes about mental health issues in a very real, yet hilarious way. She can go from being outrageously witty, to very sad and profound. That book resonates with me. I would recommend the audio for this one, too.
Usually, I like to stick to light, romantic fiction with some humor in it. A good example would be The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. Nice and breezy with romance, humor, and a plot. I also read a lot of YA fiction. Again, I look for good romantic storylines, especially in the summer. A great series that you can easily get through in a summer is the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare. I also love Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.
I read a lot of nonfiction, so in the summer I find myself grabbing nonfiction that reads like fiction, page-turning stories that will keep my attention while relaxing on my patio or by the lake. Because I'm a '90s kid, I absolutely adored The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonette, an inside look at the Beanie Baby craze and Ty Warner, the eccentric creator behind the entire mania. It's such a funny, strange read.
Last summer, I fell in love with a book called Portage by Sue Leaf. This is a collection of essays about a Minnesota family adventures in canoeing around the waterways of the United States. It’s about nature and wildness and family and marriage and history and geography. Reading it inspired me to get out on the water in our family kayaks.
Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch, because nothing screams summer quite like gelato! After her mother passes away, Lina has to leave her home to move to Tuscany (Italy!). There, she lives with her mother’s friend (who she’s never met or heard of before) and explores Italy with the cute boy next door. It’s the perfect summer travel read!
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares is a summer classic! Best friends Lena, Tibby, Carmen, and Bee are spending their summer apart for the first time in their lives. To stay connected and commemorate their summer, they share a pair of magical pants via mail. There’s a whole series to enjoy!
I picked up Marcel's Letters by Carolyn Porter because the author is local, a graphic designer living in White Bear Lake. She was inspired to design a new font (P22 Marcel Script) based on the beautiful handwriting she found in letters written during World War II by a French man named Marcel to his wife and family. She purchased these letters from an antique store in Stillwater, though it’s a mystery exactly how the letters ended up in Minnesota. I found this book to be delightfully intriguing and inspirational how one woman's discovery and desires ended up giving insight and hope to a family halfway across the world. The author's font has also won numerous awards.
If people have read Kao Kalia Yang’s first book, The Late Homecomer, they will not be disappointed with her second, The Song Poet, a book which further elaborates the story of her family as Hmong refugees coming to Minnesota and the hardships they endure, especially her father who sacrifices his own gifts to ensure a better life for his children. This book is heartbreaking, heartwarming and beautifully written.
Life in a Northern Town by Mary Dougherty is a beautiful cookbook incorporating recipes and stories about eating and adventures along Lake Superior by another local author. It's perfect for summer dreaming of good food, fun, and adventure up north.
Take a trip back in time to the era of luxury travel on board the last flight of the Hindenburg with Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon. The book is a gripping story that mixes espionage and romance with wonderful historical details that make the reader feel they are really there – a great fantasy vacation if you can't get away this summer.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya is not exactly a "beach read," but once you pick it up, it is hard to put down. This memoir chronicles the author's childhood as a refugee from the Rwandan genocide and her teen and early adult years trying to construct a new life in the United States. At times heartrending but mostly hopeful, her story puts a human face on war, displacement, and what it means to be a person without a country.
I recommend anything by Morgan Matson, the queen of YA summer romances! My favorite is Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, obviously, because the main character has a great name! It’s a fun, sweet, and even a little heartbreaking story about a teen girl from California who has to move across the country after the death of her dad. It’s the summer before her senior year. Amy’s mom has already moved to start her new job, and so she arranges for Amy to hitch a ride with Roger, a family friend who attends college on the east coast. The novel is also part scrap book, with playlists, postcards, and little known facts about the locations they visit on their “detour."