Monday, July 23, 2012

Even More Summer Reads

by Joan 

Continuing with Susan's and Kim’s summer book suggestions, it’s my turn to share a few great summer reads. I might be the last person without an iPad, Kindle or Nook, but I am a huge customer (why limit yourself to one credit a month!). I still love turning pages, but on a driving trip, nothing beats an engaging story to pass the miles. So here are two physical books and three audio books for your summer travels.

Alex George’s A Good American (Amy Einhorn Books - hardback)
As a transplant from England to Missouri, Alex George knows a thing or two about immigration. In this tale of immigrant hope and naïveté, I was instantly drawn into the Meisenheimers’ new world in the midwest with its quirky and believable characters. At the start of the multi-generational story, the narrator’s grandparents meet in a garden in Germany and fall instantly in love. Against her family’s wishes, the large and prickly Jette runs off with the ever-optimistic Frederick and they begin their legacy in America. From their children, the son whose musical aspirations were dashed and his odd heartbroken sister, to their three grandsons vying for attention as musicians, pranksters and dreamers, Alex George has written an engaging debut. 

At times hilarious, poignant and introspective, these characters have one thing in common: They long to know who they are and where they are meant to be in this ever-changing world.

Sally Gunning’s The Widow’s War (Harper trade paperback) 

Thanks Elizabeth for introducing me to this fabulous author! Reading this stunning novel is like visiting eighteenth-century Puritan New England. With the first sentence, I was transported to a sorrowful whaling town where the landscape, language, prejudice and rules stifle recently widowed Lyddie Berry’s every move. Outcast by not only the town, but also her only daughter and greedy son-in-law, Lyddie finds hope in the most unhopeful circumstances. Each sentence of this book is perfect. Fans of Geraldine Brooks’ masterpiece Caleb’s Crossing will love this book. 

The Persimmon Tree is a sweeping drama about a young Australian butterfly collector in Batavia (Jakarta) who falls in love with an exotic beauty. Separated by circumstances in the Pacific at the onset of World War II, he sails to Australia, but their plans to meet there fail and he spends the next several years searching for her. It was a stunningly written story made even more so by Humphrey Bower's gorgeous narrating.

Reminiscent of The Persimmon Tree, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet transported me back several generations and further north to a fictional island off the coast of Japan in 1799. Jacob de Zoet (pronounced Yacob by the pitch-perfect reader) is a clerk for the Dutch East Indies Company, trying to earn enough money to return for his fiancé in Holland. He soon learns that honesty and fortitude have no place in the politically charged and corrupt island. He meets a shy Japanese woman whose scarred face has caused her much ridicule, but her skills as a midwife have earned her the respect she deserves. Jacob is drawn to her in ways he can’t explain, until one day, she is forced to use her skills in the most tragic circumstances and she is taken from him without a goodbye. Set in a backdrop of mountains, Buddhist monastery and secretive shrine, this powerful novel is filled with intrigue, deceit, love, betrayal and cruelty. This is the most exquisitely written novel I’ve read in a long time. It is a master class in novel writing, from the dialogue, to the flawlessly woven research, to the tension in every sentence. David Mitchell, I bow to you.

Okay, I saw the movie first several years ago with Julianne Moore, Ralph Fiennes and Stephen Rea, but when I saw Colin Firth was the reader, I had to buy it.

The tragic story is told from the perspective of a jaded novelist who, just after the end of World War II, falls into an engrossing love affair with the wife of an acquaintance. She inexplicably breaks off their affair and he is left wondering why. Later, the husband confides in the novelist that he suspects her of seeing another man and plants the idea of hiring a private investigator to follow her. The story follows three insecure adults through a search for love, faith and self-knowledge. I’ve said it before, Colin Firth could read the phone book and I’d listen, but here he portrays Graham Greene's knife-sharp prose with equal parts emotion and brilliant restraint.

What are you reading this summer?


  1. I was at the doctor's office today and saw a magazine article about Colin Firth's reading of The End of the Affair and thought: This I would listen to. I didn't realize you included it in your review, Joan. Must get it now!

  2. I have never listened to an audiobook before, but if Colin Firth is reading to me...well, I may just have to consider it.

  3. Pamela and Kim--you will both love the audio book! I've listened to books read by:
    Alan Rickman, Juliet Stevenson, Harriet Walter... On, you can search by reader. :)


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