Tag Archives: fall of giants

LSS: Summer reading recommendations

Memorial Day weekend marks the official opening of summer reading. Whether you’re a voracious reader and can’t find enough to fill your appetite or you approach it much like the vegetables of childhood — something you have to do begrudgingly, I’ve tried to read a real variety to vouch for good stuff in different genres. I’ve read a number of other so-so books lately (The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer and The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout), but those on the list below rise to the top. Here are some recommendations, both new and old.

Fiction:

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan — Such a fun read. About more than a funky bookstore. Much food for thought about technology, the love of reading and the risk of technology to isolate rather than bring people together, but basically it’s just a beautifully written and lovely story. Techy 20-somethings rejoice. This is your book.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Sometimes this book’s writing took my breath away. The story isn’t exactly uplifting, but it is a lovely tale of love, loss and New York City.

Fall of Giants and Winter of the World by Ken Follett. If you like history, historical fiction or great storytelling, you’re going to be absorbed by Follett’s Century trilogy. They’re big, but you have the luxury of staying with the books long enough to really feel like you’re a part of the story. I’ve recommended Fall of Giants before, but I am happy to do so again. The books tell the stories behind World War I and II. Both gave me an understanding of the war’s absurdities. Winter of the World also offered insight into life inside Germany during World War II. Yes, the stories are fiction, but Follett’s research is remarkable. I am not a war buff, but I loved reading these books.

Personal favorites I’ve recommended before: The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (three very different book types — all beautiful in their own way)

Young adult:

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. One of the most heartbreakingly beautiful books I’ve read in a long while. It leaves an impression and is sure to be a blockbuster movie. Read now and get ahead of the trend.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanha Lai. A lovely book, set between Vietnam and the Deep South. It is the story of one child’s transition and grief in the beginnings of war in Vietnam and her subsequent a trip across the world to rebuild a new life with her family and eventual new friends. A beautiful story, written in simple, poetic language. An easy read for children 8 and up.

These is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine by Nancy Turner. One of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in the last few years. Don’t let the dialect in the beginning discourage you. The difficult vernacular goes away, and the reading experience becomes smoother. Great book for teenage girls.

Non-fiction:

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Even though we may not love the book or agree with the details of her ideas, the book has prompted a lot of great conversation about women rising in the ranks of the business world.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I’m the only person I know who didn’t love this book, but I still recommend it. Based on Louis Zamperini, born in 1917, and his incredible story of running in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and fighting in World War II. He has led a life stranger than fiction and survived more near death experiences than any cat around. Great book for adolescent boys and their fathers.

The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. I love Seth Godin, his thought processes and his books. Overall, he’s got a huge message on business and living. This book is about not holding back and being the most you can be. In other words, follow Icarus’ lead and dare to fly closer to the sun. Your wings won’t melt. If you’re in the working world or aspire to be, you should read this one.

And if you’d like a taste of poetry, check out Darrell Bourque’s new collection of Acadian migration inspired work, Megan’s Guitar.

Happy reading!

LSS: Read. Rinse. Repeat.

Everybody needs to read at least one good book each summer.

No exceptions.

Don’t feel the need to stop at one. You’re welcomed to read more.

What follows is a list of books I recommend. I’ve tried to cover the spectrum. Some are for the young, and some are for the not-so-young. The list includes fact and fiction. Some are long. Some are short. Hopefully, there’s something on this list that will tickle your fancy.

We’ll start with the long — and my favorite book of the year thus far: Fall of Giants by Ken Follett. Follett is the author of Pillars of the Earth, my all-time favorite book. Like Pillars, Fall of Giants is one of those thousand-page epic novels that takes a deep dive into a period of history that I didn’t know nearly enough about. I’ve known the facts of World War I since middle school, but it just never made sense to me. After reading this book, I know why — it was a war that made no sense. It was long and horrible, and the Follet does a great job in the latter part of the book of chronicling one battle after another to the point of ad nauseum, literally. No doubt, the author knew he was being redundant — and that was the point.

While the whole war was largely about the rich and powerful of Europe trying desperately to hold on to their riches and power and keep the rest of the people in their places, the years of daily battles in a three-mile of area of France were stupid and beyond sad. Innocent young boys fought and died, day after day, moving their military lines yards and at time — over and over and over.

Even with that horrible backdrop, Follett does a fantastic job of forcing readers to care about his characters from all over the world. Each has a different stake in the war. In the process of understanding many of the perspectives of WWI, readers walk away with a new understanding for events that set the stage for the rest of the century. Great book. I loved it. It was one of those books that allowed me the great joy of living with the characters during the week I read it.

Other recommendations for various audiences:

To Heaven and Back by Mary C. Neal, M.D. The non-fiction story of a doctor who died in a kayak accident and came back. Her account of what happened as she moved from life to death to eternal life and back again.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. The true story of Louis Zamperini, a WWII Air Force bombardier’s story of survival. Everyone I know who has read this book, from 11-year-old boys to 14-year-old girls to my 70-year-old dad, has been captivated by it. None of them could stop talking about it for weeks.

The Fault in our Stars by John Green. Ranked by many as the best book so far of 2012 — a young adult title adults also love. It’s the laugh out loud funny, tragic, insightful and irreverent story of a 14-year-old girl’s take on thyroid cancer. Heartbreakingly wonderful.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Twin sons born to an Indian nun and British surgeon and their intertwined lives as the twins move from Addis Ababa to America and back again. It’s a family saga of doctors/patients and exile and home.

The Dragon’s Tooth by N.D. Wilson. I predict this book and the series soon-to-follow will become big. It’s a young adult adventure tale. Riveting and wonderful. The paperback edition comes out in August — so it may gain some momentum then. With elements of Harry Potter and the old-as-time tale of good versus evil, the difference in this book is that everything the kids have to learn is real and learnable — including Latin, sword fighting, etc. Fun read.

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith, bestselling author of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It’s one of those dark historical revisions presenting a very different story of the three wise men and their quest. A Catholic priest friend of mine recommended this book to me. Not what I was expecting, but very entertaining.

The Selection by Kiera Cass. The perfect teen girl book, but I had loads of fun reading it as well. It’s basically a reality television fairy tale set in a dystopian version of what remains of America after a royal revolt follows China’s takeover because of the country’s inability to make good on its debts. Even still, it’s mainly fun, light and entertaining.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Set in North Korea, a thriller and epic tale with romance and lost innocence thrown in for good measure. Many believe Johnson to be a real player on the American literary scene. Amazon picked it as the best book of the month back in January.

(Jan Risher’s Long Story Short runs Sundays. If you’ve got a book favorite or would like to let her know your opinion on one or some of the above, email her at jan@janrisher.com.)