Summer Loves

My cousin, author Patti Lacy, recently held a reading list contest featuring what she termed Summer Loves. The loves are, of course, those books we read during our summer months which inspire, envelop, buoy, and (sometimes) disappoint us, but which are never forgotten. In response to her own story, I created my current list of Summer Loves featuring this year’s titles as well as my most recent objects of affection. Though Patti’s contest has moved on to a new topic, I’d still love to hear what summer reads have captivated you. This summer will be over before we know it, and your comments may just help me compile a new list for the next year! Check out my summaries below then add your own comments about Summer Loves.

Unspoken by Angela Hunt
Lineage of Grace series by Francine Rivers
Sons of Encouragement series by Francine Rivers
     The Priest
     The Warrior
     The Prince
     The Prophet
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
Citizen Girl by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
There and Back Again: An Actor’s Tale by Sean Astin
“Thursday Next” series by Jasper Fforde
     The Eyre Affair
     Lost In A Good Book
     The Well of Lost Plots
     Something Rotten

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
Cold Beer and Crocodiles: A Bicycle Journey Into Australia by Roff Smith
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson
The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
White Oleander by Janet Finch
The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Unspoken by Angela Hunt
When I first picked up this book it was based on a single statement I read in a review blurb: “Even the animals know their creator.” The story of relationship between an animal researcher and her gorilla charge, this book is simple but profoundly resonant. The tale evolves from one of intimacy with humanity to intimacy with God, and the ways that the animals teach their keepers is exciting to witness. One of the main characters, Sema the gorilla, is as interesting and captivating as any human subject has ever been, and her journey is one of poignancy and revelation. My heart soared through the final third of the book, and I read for hours upon hours because I could not find a suitable stopping point. In the end, I found myself praying to my God to open my eyes further to His Creation that I seem to take for granted so very often. Unspoken was a delightful way to begin this summer.

Lineage of Grace by Francine Rivers
Sons of Encouragement by Francine Rivers

I have been intending to read this series of novellas for several years now, but as I read them this summer I realize that I may not have been ready earlier for all God is now teaching me. I have been learning much in recent years about the times of the patriarchs, and these small books focusing on the five women noted in the genealogy of Christ have given me greater insight than I ever imagined. From Tamar’s desperate attempts to awaken Judah’s sense of obligation, to Rahab’s great faith in the midst of an approaching war, to my current read of Ruth and Naomi and the unbreakable bond between them, the Lineage of Grace series is enlightening and provocative and filled with historical context that somehow previously escaped me. Completion of each book brings an urgency to dive into the next one, and that’s my hope for every book I read. The companion series features five men of faith who sought the Lord in the shadow of others who were chosen by God to lead His people, and I’m certain this will continue to awaken me to history as never before.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
I have yet to jump on the bandwagon for Philippa Gregory, but a co-worker recently hailed this particular historical novel in a way that I could not resist. And on the heels of Rivers’s historical novellas, I think this is the perfect time to begin. A new novel has been published that is a follow-up, of sorts, to The Other Boleyn Girl, and it sounds more intriguing than the first. I do hope I’m not disappointed.

Citizen Girl by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
Sometimes you find an author who seems to write specifically to and for you, and McLaughlin and Kraus are those authors to me. Even when the circumstances in their stories do not mirror my own, I am captivated as if they do. And that engages me in a way that requires no conscious thought, which is often my goal for a summer read. I’ve put this title on the back burner for far too long; it’s time has now come.

There and Back Again: An Actor’s Tale by Sean Astin
Each spring I experience an overwhelming sense of wanderlust, a desire to travel that distracts me from all responsibility and task. Some may call it spring fever, but I know it’s much more than that. It’s a widening of the world around me, an awakening to creation and the sense that I belong “out there” instead of where I might be at the moment. To satisfy this lust, since actual travel is rarely an option, I choose to read books about the places I’d like to go. This year’s selection will satisfy two-fold: a visit to New Zealand and a firsthand account of the making of a beloved film, Lord of the Rings. I cannot imagine there will a moment that does not energize me, as the subject matter has been a continual part of my consciousness for the past six years. I wonder why I’ve not begun this adventure before unless it is because I have enjoyed the anticipation as much as I will the actual experience. Regardless, this is the summer to return to Middle Earth. I could not be more excited if I was physically stepping onto its shores.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
as well as the rest of his Thursday Next series:
Lost In A Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten
The first novel, The Eyre Affair, introduces the most inventive plot device I’ve seen in a very long time: a protagonist who works as a Literary Detective and thus investigates crimes related to written works and their characters. The book is a true original that defies genres and captivates the reader. I fell for the protagonist, Thursday Next, upon reading only her name, and she has proven to be a delightful, complex heroine to whom I can also relate. The blending of modern story into classic literature is a treat which has also influenced my reading list. There are a host of classics I’ve never made time to read, and this series of books makes me see them in a new light. I’m certain I’ll revisit the Thursday Next books time and again throughout my lifetime, and I have become a die-hard fan of the author, as well. I’m still hoping to turn the rest of the world onto him, but so far only one friend has taken the bait. And that’s a sad thing, for these books are worthy of a great following.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
I wasn’t prepared to love this story quite so much. The idea of a smiling dog was a little cheesy for my taste. But I accompanied my nephew to the film version of it, and suddenly I was enchanted. I’m sure I would have loved this book as much without seeing the film first, but I was already endeared to the story before I ever read a word. Now I hold it high on my list of all-time favorites. The characters are realistic, the emotions are clear, and the story is timeless : one little girl learning to embrace the sadness of the life she’s been given and coming to know the depth of love for her and within her own heart. It is refreshing to find an author who does not apologize for a story of devotion, faith, and moral compass. And to have it written expressly for children is a welcome bonus.

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
I have great love for Australia, but my love is based upon an “ideal” rather than actual experience. I’ve not yet been fortunate enough to visit the country of my obsession, so I live vicariously through those who have been there. Thank God for Bill Bryson. His tell-it-like-it-is manner kept me invested in this book from start to finish, even when it bogged down from time to time in the history of the towns and landmarks he visited. Quite often, in fact, I felt I was reading a high school textbook instead of a travel story, but somehow it captivated me still. Bryson’s style is engaging, and his knowledge of his subject is incomparable. Even in his bold opinions about one place or another, I felt as if I was reading fact. And that made In a Sunburned Country a true delight.

Cold Beer and Crocodiles: A Bicycle Journey Into Australia by Roff Smith
I’ve dreamed of Australia throughout my life, so this book appealed to me on an emotional level first. My sense of wanderlust was stoked again and again as the author described every single step he took in his bicycle journey around the perimeter of the land, and my dreams of the country have only increased now that I have tangible information on which to reflect. Even with no prior first-hand experience, I still found myself visualizing and identifying with every leg of his journey, and I enjoyed the imagery and stories as if I was native to the land. That is this book’s greatest strength. And yet, since the author is an expat New Englander, he managed to convey a sense of isolation, as if he continued to be a visitor to the country after a decade living there. This sense of aloofness gives the journey a fresh take; the author saw everything with new eyes, and the reader is able to see as clearly as him.

The author’s (and reader’s) journey follows the coastlines of Australia, for the most part, with passage through the Outback in the northern portion of the continent. He struggles as I imagine one should, but he also conveys the freedom of which I dream. Leaving his job, his life, to take this journey (of 10,000 miles in 10 months) is a dream I’ve often found in myself, so I lived fully vicariously through Smith. And I wasn’t disappointed in any way… at least, not until the journey ended.

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson
When I first read this book it had been many months since a book consumed me so completely, held me riveted so that I never wanted to put it down, never wanted to leave the story until it reached its conclusion. But Crow Lake did just that. My heart ached while reading the book, rejoicing in the protagonist’s small successes and placing blame on so many characters as the tale fleshed itself out. Reading this story was like reading a personal history, though I cannot relate to any of the circumstances in my own life. It simply felt as if I was living it myself. Crow Lake is a masterful tale told in heartfelt prose with true emotions, rich characters, and harsh realities sugar-coated only by using a child to present the tale. This is the type of book that is welcomed again and again for future readings.

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
This particular travel book was more than I originally bargained for, so it took some adjustment to the writing style of the author. I was in a “travel” mode but not a literary one. Once I adjusted, I very much enjoyed de Botton’s style and his text. I noted tons and tons of passages that seemed to speak to me (albeit, the mood of my life moment was somber and searching), and I’ve often thought again of specific subjects used in the book. This book also made me take a closer look at Edward Hopper’s work, at which time I found a true appreciation beyond “Nighthawks”. Likewise, the locales chronicled in The Art of Travel were not on my radar until reading this book, so in that way I found my world expanding. Which is exactly what I want the travel genre to do.

Favorite quote from the book: “What we find exotic abroad may be what we hunger for in vain at home.”

White Oleander by Janet Finch
This book put a true spell on me. I was captitaved by the narrator from the onset, and I was completely absorbed in the story the entire time. I just didn’t want to put it down. The narrator Astrid’s experiences are surreal, and yet she is somehow composed (for the most part) through everything. Or perhaps she’s simply numb? In a few short years, she faces more trauma than anyone should face in a lifetime, and she still seems to retain some semblance of sanity as her mother is sent to prison for murdering her lover and Astrid is then put into the foster care system. I expect that this is how many children grow up, and I have a much greater respect for them after reading this book. White Oleander is a gem, rich with emotion and teeming with horrid reality. My own emotions ran the gamut from tears of laughter to sharp stabbing pain to complete hollowness. But I felt, and that’s the masterpiece of the book.

The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
Summer is made for books like this. Simple, easy, breezy. And yet, this particular bit of ChickLit held greater sway for me. While much of what’s presented in the narrative is outrageous, I had no trouble believing it was absolutely based on fact. I knew the authors had done time as nannies themselves, so I bought every single ridiculous experience as truth. And still do. There was great humor in this book — a credit to the authors — and the story moved so fast I couldn’t believe I was finished when I actually was. I wasn’t entirely ready to release the main character, but I was also exhausted by the events that had occurred in the story. Another credit to the authors. They engaged me from page one, and I couldn’t put it down until everything was resolved. The ending of Nan’s employment with the Xs was appropriately unreal, and her reaction to that was equally appropriate. I can’t say I would’ve acted any other way. And that’s the beauty of the book: everything Nanny does, I could see myself doing. Completely and utterly relatable.

SUMMER LOVES by Patti Lacy
reprinted from

Mine was an odd childhood, living in an athletic dormitory with two hundred sometime brothers, my father, the dorm director, and Mother. In May, after the sometimes brothers had ripped sheets from their bed, stuffed satchels and trunks with smelly clothes, and headed home for another summer, loneliness swept in like a Texas thunderstorm.

That first summer they all left, I was four years old, and Mother somehow knew how hard it would be for me to tell my sometime brothers good-bye. After all, there were no kids to play with on a college campus, and my full-time brothers hadn’t been born yet.

“Let’s find some summer loves!” Mother exclaimed, wiping my tears away as we waved to the last sometime brother.

“What are summer loves?” I asked.

“The best kind!” When she lifted her eyebrows in that funny way she had, her face took on the look of a circus clown’s, and I knew fun was on its way. “They take you around the world, then bring you back. They never mess with your stuff, and they don’t cost a dime!”

I didn’t understand what was going on until we walked across campus, climbed the library steps, and tiptoed into the lobby, which back then was hush-hush even when all the students were around. That day, it was empty as Christ’s tomb.

“Books?” I asked Mother, more than slightly disappointed. They child of two educators, I’d been knee deep in books for my whole life. They’d propped up the gimpy leg on my baby bed, been jerryrigged into a coffee table of sorts, preserved and pressed Mother’s favorite flowers…but most of all, we read them, talked about them…lived them.

“Special ones. The ones that aren’t assigned in school.” She patted my head. “Of course, you don’t know about that yet.” Mother lowered her voice when the crabby librarian eyed her. “The ones you’d pay money for.”

My breath caught in my throat. While my parents coveted books like others coveted gold, they’d sworn off buying them until Daddy’s dissertation was finished. Our books were borrowed, gifted, traded, and perhaps even obtained under less admirable circumstances. “For real?” I asked.

Another look from Mrs. Crab didn’t faze Mother. “For real,” she insisted. She took my arm and led me to the study carrel under which I’d played solitaire while Daddy did research. “If they’re yours, you can memorize your favorite parts, write in the margins, and read them over and over. They’ll make you laugh…and cry, when you realize you’re on the last chapter.”

As the years went by, I learned just what Mother meant. I sampled Green Eggs and Ham with Seuss, survived a dreadful house fire with Beautiful Joe, solved mysteries with the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew, and visited London and Paris and Narnia, which was such a wonderful place, I never wanted to come home…

Now I’m fifty-two, and I still eagerly reenact the summertime ritual my mother began back in Martin Hall even though now I go to Borders or Barnes & Noble or Berean and buy books instead of checking them out of the library, mainly so I can write in the margins of my summer friends’ pages, like my parents loved to do. For weeks, sometimes months, I query my friends and read online reviews, compiling a semifinalist list. To choose the finalists, I scour the bookstores, scooping up an armful of the top ten or twenty, and let them spill onto one of those minuscule tables in the quietest corner of the bookstore’s coffee bar, or in the case of Berean, the back corner of the store, by the bathrooms. Some are pretty young things, hot off the presses; others are so old, their authors are cold in their graves and have been for centuries. Be forewarned: just like in real-life relationships, some summer loves just don’t work out. But I’ll follow my Grandmother Hazel’s advice on this type of matter: I won’t talk about them if they won’t talk about me. And if one summer love doesn’t work out, I’ll carefully replace it on the store’s bookshelf and pull down another and another and another.


About Jules Q

sharing stories of life, faith, and love for pop culture

Posted on 17 July 2007, in What I Read and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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