“Top Ten Tuesday” is a weekly blog feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is Top Ten Beach Reads. This is the first time I’ve participated.
First a confession: I don’t really like the beach. I don’t like being hot, I sunburn quite easily, and I’m not fond of crowds. Give me an alpine meadow or a fallen tree next to a babbling brook – or a ruined castle in Great Britain. So instead of a list of beach reads, I’ve put together a list of great summer vacation reads – books you can read anywhere your travels take you. You’ll notice that many of these aren’t particularly new; I’ve deliberately chosen books that I’ve read and loved for several years, or books which begin a series. After all, you’ve got an entire vacation to read in!
In no apparent order, here are my top vacation picks:
Aunt Dimity’s Death, by Nancy Atherton. A mystery without a murder, a Cinderella tale, an Anglophile’s dream-come-true, and the coziest ghost story I’ve ever read. How can you resist a book which begins
When I learned of Aunt Dimity’s death, I was stunned. Not because she was dead, but because I had never known she was alive.
Maybe I should explain.
What follows is one of my all-time favorite comfort reads. (You can read my review of the series and the latest Aunt Dimity book here.)
For Regency-era romance fans:
A Summer to Remember, by Mary Balogh. Lauren Edgeworth is every inch a lady: cool, elegant, polite, well-bred. Kit Butler, Viscount Ravensburg, is reckless, devil-may-care, even scandalous – and intent on finding an impeccable bride quickly, in order to avoid the marriage his father has arranged for him. To win a bet with his friends, he must woo and win Lauren in a matter of weeks. But once he gets to know her, he confesses his dishonor over involving a lady in a wager. Although hurt and angered, Lauren, who has begun to wonder if the quiet life she has always longed for is really all she desires, offers to pose as Kit’s intended for the summer, provided he give her a summer of adventure. At the end, she will set him free. This being a romance, the result is a foregone conclusion. The characters are perfectly suited despite their apparent differences, and Balogh does a wonderful job of conveying the magic and delight of A Summer to Remember. One of my absolute favorite romances.
The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley. One part fantasy, one part Lawrence of Arabia, and set in an analog of Northern India/Pakistan/Afghanistan, this book is pure magic. Homelander orphan Harry Crewe wakes to find herself an “honorable prisoner” of the Damarian king, Corlath. Renamed Harimad-Sol, she becomes a King’s Rider and is destined to wield Gonturan, the legendary Blue Sword of Lady Aerin. For Damar is at war with the uncanny Northerners, and the Hillpeople are dangerously outnumbered. A Newbery Honor winner, The Blue Sword is an amazing, rich, and stirring book.
For paranormal mystery fans:
The Trouble With Magic, by Madelyn Alt. When Maggie’s new boss Felicity, an antique dealer and practicing witch, is implicated in a murder, Maggie teams up with Felicity’s psychic friends and puts her new-found intuition to the test to find the real killer. The first in Alt’s Bewitching Mysteries, light paranormal mysteries that are as fun and addictive as chocolate-chip cookies. I dare you to read just one.
For fairy tale lovers:
Spindle’s End, by Robin McKinley. I know — I’ve already got a Robin McKinley fantasy on the list. But this one is too good to miss: a Sleeping Beauty retelling, written with all the beauty and whimsy McKinley is capable of and featuring a delightful heroine who ends up rescuing herself.
For contemporary mystery fans:
All Shall Be Well, by Deborah Crombie. Perhaps I should have recommended starting with the first book in the Kincaid & James series, A Share in Death. But since that book occurs while Superintendent Duncan Kincaid is on vacation, and Gemma appears very little, I felt as though Crombie didn’t really hit her stride until book two. In All Shall Be Well, Duncan finds that his terminally ill friend and neighbor, Jasmine, has died not from her illness but from an overdose of morphine. Was it suicide or murder? The suspects range from Jasmine’s nurse to her heir. Duncan sets out to find the truth with the help of Jasmine’s journals and his sergeant, Gemma James. Crombie writes with quiet, delicate compassion; her mysteries remind me of pencil drawings, spare and elegant.
For historical mystery lovers (not to mention Sherlock Holmes buffs):
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie R. King. I’ve already reviewed this series elsewhere on the blog, but here’s the relevant description: “While walking on the Sussex Downs, Mary Russell, a brilliant, half-American, orphaned fifteen-year-old, nearly stumbles across the retired and middle-aged Sherlock Holmes. By the end of their first conversation, Holmes has determined to take Russell on as an apprentice — though it is some time before Russell realizes he is teaching her the craft of detection. Her “graduation” to partner occurs when it becomes necessary for Mary to take the more dangerous role in an attempt to trap the heir of Holmes’s old foe, Moriarty.” King’s genius is in making the partnership of this unlikely duo not only believable but inevitable. In the process, she humanizes Holmes without taking away any of the characteristics which make him Holmes.
For epic fantasy fans:
The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. I’ll be honest: I haven’t finished reading this myself. But apart from all the critical acclaim this book received, you owe it yourself to give it a try. The world-building is amazingly deep and broad; the language is lyrical, earthy, and bluntly pragmatic by turns, but always perfectly suited to the mood; and Kvothe, the (unreliable) first-person narrator and main character, is fascinating, exasperating, and unexpectedly beguiling. The book gets off to a slow start, and you won’t be sure what’s going on for quite a few chapters. It’s more like listening to someone reciting The Odyssey than watching an action film… but like The Odyssey, the tale – and the sheer power of the writing – will pull you in.
For children (and adults who love children’s books):
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, by Jeanne Birdsall. The title alone is enough to pique your interest, isn’t it? The Penderwicks is enchanting, a modern book with all the charm of Ballet Shoes, The Saturdays, or Swallows and Amazons. The Penderwick sisters have their differences – Rosalind is responsible and mothering, Skye a tomboy, Jane an aspiring author with a taste for the dramatic, and Batty a very darling four-year-old – but they are a loving and loyal foursome nonetheless. Their widowed father, a professor, rents a cottage on a grand estate for the summer. Left largely to their own devices, the sisters get into – and safely out of – a series of ordinary-but-exciting adventures while becoming fast friends with the lonely boy in the big house. Birdsall really understands the magic of childhood; this book will delight children and adults alike. A fantastic book for reading aloud.
For history buffs:
At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson. Bryson wanders through 10,000 years of domestic history, moving from room to room as he touches on the everyday, the obscure, and the utterly odd. From the London Exposition’s Crystal Palace to Victorian attitudes toward sex, from cholera epidemics to the engineering feat that is the London sewers, from Chippendale furniture to the great and not-so-great houses of the 18th and 19th centuries, Bryson enlivens it all with deft writing and wry humor. If you prefer audiobooks, Bryson’s reading makes excellent road-trip material, though some sections may not be appropriate for younger children.