Summer Reading… So Far

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Let’s not dilly dally, shall we? The summer here is very short, and time for reading in the warm breeze on my deck is limited. Soon the snow will be flying and I will be kicking myself because I didn’t spend more time out there with my cup of tea and my nose buried in a book. So let’s get straight to the books.

As blogger Faux Fuschia used to say, maybe she still does, “run don’t walk” my friends to get your hands on a copy of A Song from Faraway by Deni Ellis Béchard. This is my favourite read in the last few months. Since I finished Olive Again, by Elizabeth Strout, which I adored. Ellis Bechard’s book captivated me from the first chapter.

What’s it about? Hmmm. Two half brothers (one Canadian and one American) who share a father and have not much else in common. Both searching for their true identities and some purpose in their lives. A young art student who ends up in Iraq chasing a thread from his father’s past. A fiddler from Prince Edward Island whose Acadian mother has bequeathed to him her brother’s fiddle. A brother killed in a clash between Acadians fighting for their language rights and a “maudit Anglais” policeman. The fiddler’s abandoned sweetheart and her tragic child. Characters drift together and drift apart. The story moves from Vancouver, to Boston, to the Gaspé, to Prince Edward Island, to the battlefields of WWI, to Kurdistan and back.

A Song from Faraway is a book about alienation, and identity, about love and fear, about loneliness and restlessness. And I can’t say more because I haven’t finished it yet. But it does remind me a little of Jane Urquhart’s Away, and a little of Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, with a dash of Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed. Phew. Now, that’s high praise in my books. Pun intended.

Enjoying some summer reading on our deck.
Pausing in my reading to hammer out this post.

Hubby and I have both been enjoying the DreadfulWater series by Thomas King. King, a well known and respected Canadian indigenous writer, took a bit of a diversion from his usual literary fare to write this wry and gentle detective series. The first couple of books were even published under the pseudonym Hartley Goodweather. We discussed the first book in the series at my book club meeting a couple of weeks ago. Known as DreadfulWater Shows Up in the States, and just DreadfulWater, up here.

Thumps DreadfulWater is a Cherokee ex-police detective from California who fetches up back home in tiny Chinook working as a photographer, often called in to photograph crime scenes, and usually trying to get out of helping the cops solve mysteries. One reviewer said King’s Chinook is like Louise Penny’s village of Three Pines “but with attitude.” I can guarantee that you will love the characters. And King’s witty and lean dialogue is wonderful. With a twist of a word or two he can make you laugh and make you feel as if you are right there with Thumps in Chinook. Hubby and I have already finished the second book in the series The Red Power Murders, and we’re waiting to start the third one.

Although murders abound in Chinook, don’t expect the twists and turns and swift moving plot of a thriller. These books meander. Thumps likes to muse about life. He stops for coffee or breakfast, visits the wise old man on the reserve for advice, or goes home to feed his cat in mid-case. But trust me (and Hubby) you will love the journey. In fact, I want to move to Chinook. Even though Thumps complains about the weather all the time, I think I’d love it there.

I just finished a book I should have read ages ago, but somehow missed. Madeleine St. John’s The Women in Black. Set in 1950s Australia, The Women in Black is about four women who work selling dresses in Sydney’s premier department store. It’s a story of love, and growing up. It’s a bit funny and a bit endearing, about finding love and surviving love, in a way. St John’s dialogue, as usual, is perfection. I found it a great summer read. Sweet, and wry, and comforting. And all the talk of dresses was pretty good too.

I saw the movie called Ladies in Black a couple of years ago and had no idea at the time that the book was written by Madeleine St. John. I read her Booker short-listed The Essence of the Thing in the nineties and have never forgotten its lean and evocative style. Maybe I should read it again.

I don’t know if you remember my writing about a thriller I read a while ago, Our House by Louise Candlish. Set in London, about a woman who arrives home for a three-day holiday and finds strangers moving into her London house. Ha. What a ride that book was. Not in the usual thriller way, but more of a domestic thriller, about lies, and marriage, and property aspirations. And while you may find some of the characters particularly unlikable, sometimes exasperating, the ending makes up for any short-comings in the rest of the book… in my view.

A week or so ago, Hubby and I both read Candlish’s next book. Those People. This one might be called a neighbourhood thriller, instead of a domestic thriller. Lies, marriage, friendship, and neighbourhood aspirations. Every day he was reading this book, I’d hear Hubby calling from the bedroom where he’d been reading before his lunchtime nap. He’s out in the garden by 5:00 am in the summer, so he usually needs a nap if he wants to last until supper at 7:00. “This book is driving me nuts!” he’d yell. “Well, stop reading it,” I’d reply. “I can’t.” Candlish sure knows how to get into a reader’s head and play with their emotions. And keep them turning the pages. It’s not literature, that’s for sure. But we both enjoyed it immensely.

So that’s a pretty good assortment of summer reading, I’d say. A non-thriller thriller, with suspense but no violence. Well, not much. A couple of gentle mysteries, with characters I’m looking forward to reading more about. A well-written chick-lit. And an engrossing modern literary tour de force. Okay. I’m not sure if A Song From Faraway is a “tour de force,” but it is meaty enough in its plot, and lyrical enough in its style, with sufficiently evocative settings, and almost mythical storytelling in places to satisfy me this summer.

Now, if I could just find a replacement for Downton Abbey on television, I’d be perfectly happy.

You gotta love a literary joke about cats.

Okay. Your turn my friends. Haul out your list and tell us what we should read next. Our pencils are poised.

P.S. As you know, I am now an affiliate with BookShop.org which donates a portion of profits to independent book stores in the States. The links in the text are to BookShop.org. Since they only ship to the U.S., I’m going to continue to include Amazon links in my book posts as well. You’ll find them below. If you make a purchase after clicking any of my links, I will earn a commission.

P.S.S. Amazon affiliate links to books mentioned in this post.

A Song From Faraway. Olive Again. Away. The Shipping News. And the Mountains Echoed. DreadfulWater. The Red Power Murders. The Women in Black. The Essence of the Thing. Our House. Those People.

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49 thoughts on “Summer Reading… So Far”

  1. Wendy in York

    I’ll be checking out your list . I’m having a break from murders but can recommend Jane Casey’s latest . I really enjoyed Rosie’s War by Rosemary Say . A true story of her escape back to the UK from France when WW2 broke out . Otherwise a few biographies . Nothing heavy , mainly showbiz, old showbiz . Tony Curtis writing on the making of Some Like It Hot -great , Julie Andrews on her childhood – very surprising . A biography of Paul McCartney called Fab – too long but lots of interesting personal detail . Took me back to my Beatle concert days . I’m half way through The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley which is a sort of modern Agatha Christie & it’s good so far . Next , on Libby , is the new Trump book by his niece – I don’t expect to warm to him .

    1. I like Jane Casey too, especially her new series. Listened to an interview with Mary Trump on American television. She’s a smart lady, and I think she gives her uncle what for in her book.

  2. I seem to be strictly non-fiction at the moment. Was given Too Much and Never Enough as a birthday present and disturbing it was, I must say. Guide to literary London, which is good for bath reading. The Life and Times of Mr Pussy, a charming, beautifully produced little memoir about a London moggy by the Gentle Author of Spitalfields Life and currently, L’appart by David Lebovitz about his move to Paris and the task of buying a home of his own. And I keep How to Read Churches, a tiny, hand-sized fascinator in my bag at all times. Perfect for travel reading, behind the mask.

  3. I am have just finished Josephine Tey, A Life by Jennifer Morag Henderson. It was an interesting and somewhat melancholy book. I knew nothing about Tey whose real name was Elizabeth Macintosh before I read the book and now what to reread her books. I have also discovered another Golden Age writer ECR Llorac whose books are a relaxing read.

  4. I just finished Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore. On New Year’s Eve and the eve of her 19th birthday, faced with a life decision, Oona wakes up in the future. Through nine or ten random years, the reader learns of Oona’s life. It was a quick read and thoroughly enjoyable and unique. I also read As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner, historical fiction that takes place in Philadelphia, during the 1918 flu epidemic and the years after. It is a family story, fraught with tragedy. I’ve started Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered.

    I’ve added A Song from Faraway to my tbr.

  5. I have been reading Anti-racist non-fiction this summer – part of an on-line book club for educators. And reading young adult fiction with an eye to adding some new content to the courses at school. So – I have read “The Skin We’re In” by Desmond Cole, and am now following him on media as much as possible. I have read “Unsettling Canada” by Art Manuel – fascinating history of Indigenous land claims with the colonial government and I learned a lot. Next is Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard. “Dear Martin” by Nic Stone – a young man’s coming of age story in Atlanta, USA and letters he writes to Dr. King. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – a young latinx woman in Harlem who is a poet – the book is written in poetry, and Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi. Subtitled Racism, Antiracism and You, it is a rewrite for young adults of Kendi’s “Stamped from the beginning”.
    I am glad to see your review of King’s Dreadfulwaters series – I noticed that a couple of months ago, and will put it on my list at your recommendation. Happy summer reading all!

    1. Wow, you are reading up a storm this summer, Nancy. One of my book clubs has decided to read BLM and books about Canadian Indigeneous issues for our whole list for the next year. We’re meeting in August to decide which books. I’m going to poach some of your list. 🙂

  6. Currently in Venice with another Guido and Paola, courtesy of Donna Leon, but have recently been engrossed in two books recommended by my daughter: Jess Kidd’s Things in Jars, a very engaging fantasy-thriller (with a female sleuth!) set in Victorian London. . . and Alice Hoffmann’s The World That We Knew (set in Occupied France, also involves fantasy/supernatural in such a way as to overcome my reservations about much World War II fiction) — I would read it again. Reommended.

  7. I recently finished a book that I believe was recommended by one of your commenters awhile back — Meet Me at the Museum, by Anne Youngson. I enjoyed it very much, and want to thank the person who mentioned it (sorry I don’t remember who it was!).

    My Covid book list has been fairly lightweight; I just don’t feel as if I can cope with heaviness in my leisure reading at the moment. (Ongoing worry about the pandemic, but I am also grieving the loss of my father a month ago, non-Covid-related.) A stand-out novel for me in recent weeks was The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce. I found it very uplifting, and I identify with its theme of the restorative power of music. I discovered after reading it that someone has compiled a playlist of all the music it mentions on YouTube, so I’ll reread the book at some point with pauses along the way to listen.

    1. I’ve been meaning to read that one myself, Denise. I think it was Christine who recommended it. I bought that Rachel Joyce book for my mum and have it on my own shelf now. I must get to it.
      P.S. Condolences on the loss of your dad. Always hard no matter how grown up we are, eh? xo

    2. Hi Denise
      That was me! I’m so glad you liked it. I loved the pacing and how multi-layered it was. this was her first book and I do hope she writes something more.

      1. For anyone who enjoys audiobooks, I can highly recommend the recording of Meet Me at the Museum. The two narrators – a British woman and a Danish man – did a wonderful job bringing the two correspondents to life. I was enchanted and raved about it to everyone I know!

  8. I went to Amazon and clicked on the “look inside” for A Song from Faraway, as your description ticked so many boxes: PEI, WWI (the husband is from PEI, and both grandparents fought in that war, so we have artifacts and stories), Vancouver, Boston…. Anyway, the writing just sang to me (another box – I lived in Virginia as a child), and it’s now awaiting my attention on my Kindle.

    Sadly, the DreadfulWater books, which truly sound like my cuppa, don’t appear to be available on Kindle, and with the impending move, I’m not allowing myself to buy paper, so those will have to go on my someday list.

    1. The DreadfulWater books are available on Kindle. That’s the format I read them in. Check out the link at the bottom of my post.
      P.S. Hope you enjoy A Song From Faraway.

      1. Wendy in York

        I liked the sound of the Thomas King books but they are almost unobtainable here in the UK . No kindle version & silly prices on amazon uk . I’ve sent for a reasonably priced second hand one from Germany . This seems to happen with some Canadian authors . Quite frustrating ☹️

        1. I just checked the Amazon UK site and there’s no Kindle version listed. Sorry about that. When I list a book I find the link on the American site and then when you read my blog the link takes you to the site relative to where you are. So I had not physically checked out the UK site.

      2. I was just looking for Thomas King’s book in Kindle (and through your link) but could’d find them as well
        D.

        1. Ah. That’s too bad. Sorry about that, Dottoressa. I just checked myself and saw that the Kindle version is not available on the UK site.Like Wendy says, quite frustrating.

  9. Hello Sue,

    I just finished reading Louise Penny’s ‘Kingdom of the Blind’ and really enjoyed it. I always feel as if I am visiting with old friends whenever I read her Gamache series. The Acknowledgment at the end of ‘Kingdom of the blind’ was especially touching as Louise talked about the death of her Husband, Michael and did not think she could continue on with the series.

    Currently I am reading ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ by Kate Morton. It’s a nice Summer read out in the garden.

    Thank you for your recommendations Sue, I think I would really enjoy the ‘DreadfulWater’ series.

  10. I have been unable to do much reading doing COVID simply because I feel so distracted with anxiety and grief. Lately, I have been able to calm down enough to start a new bookclub so I MUST read. Our first book was outstanding – White Fragility, and now we are reading Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir, by Rebecca Solnit. We actually gathered with the idea of reading some classic fiction – but you can see we seem to have veered. Love your blog!

  11. Thank you once again for the book recommendations and also from your commentors. I have been reading fairly light stuff as don’t seem to be able to settle into anything more demanding at the moment. Have been reading Jim Kelly which I know you have recommended and Abir Mukherjee. His detective stories are set in 1920s Calcutta and make interesting period reading as well as the obvious who dunnit. Both enjoyable reads.

  12. Yay,so many wonderful sugestions!
    My first comment got lost,so only a sentence (or two…)
    I’ve read Frances Cha’s If I Had Your Face,a poignant,bitter-sweet and a very interesting book describing the life of a couple of girls in Seoul,S. Korea. Recommend
    Currently reading Anne de Courcy’s The Husband Hunters (So,I’ll suggest you to follow your recommendation as well :-))-very interesting,like a sociology history study
    Dottoressa

    1. I will look for that book, Dottoressa, thanks. I really like Anne de Courcy’s writing. Thanks for reminding me about it. I’m on the list for Husband Hunters at the library. Since the pandemic my holds list has been paused, but I’m going to check to see if they have it in an e-book. 🙂

  13. Thank you, I always love your recommendations about books, and your readers suggestions too. I have just finished the 4th book in the Tom Wilde series by Rory Clements. A thriller with a story that was probably implausible (aren’t most of them!) but I really enjoyed the series, set in the late 1930’s.

    And PS – your hair really does look amazing.

  14. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo — listen to it on CD audio if you can. An excellent book as well as Booker prize winner. Will definitely give you insight on Black women. I rarely leave comments but this book is that good.

  15. You must, must, must read Greenwood by Michael Christie. Such goodness. Plus, the author is very fond of his readers. I made a quick email to his page and he replied…twice!

  16. Have you ever read “The Paris Wife”? I think you’d enjoy it.

    I just finished “The Giver of Stars” about female packhorse librarians in rural America. It was a fun, easy summer read. I enjoyed it.

    Thanks for the recommendations. I’m trying to get as many books in before novels are replaced with essays in September….

  17. I am late to this post but wanted to add that I absolutely loved Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. It has been the only book that kept me coming back during this Covid summer of being furloughed. I am happy about the furlough but trying to work on my house and not reading as much as usual. Now I’m reading The Alice Network which is a pretty good WWI and II fiction story about female war spies. It’s getting better as I read.
    I saw your post about your closet purge. Is there a part two to that with your final results? Or did I miss that post somehow?

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Jeanne. I tried to read the Alice Network a year or so ago but didn’t persist. Now I can’t remember why. I will definitely check out the Verghese book. As for the closet purge. I’ll be posting new ideas for my “never wears” as I do them. First one tomorrow.

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