14 July 2017

Five Books for Your 2017 Summer Reading List

After my successful attempt to read 200 books last year, I've been trying to take things a little easier this year. For me, this meant that at the halfway point of the year, I had read 80 books. After years of reading e-books on my iPad Mini, I finally invested in a Kindle PaperWhite during Amazon's Father's Day Sale, and have been enjoying the experience: it's smaller and lighter than my iPad Mini and I like that I can use it even in direct sunlight.

As the summer holiday season rapidly encroaches, I wanted to recommend some books that I've read recently and that I think would make good summer reads; ICYMI, my 2016 list is here. And as a brief but important disclaimer: I sometimes receive pre-release review copies of upcoming novels via NetGalley, but this doesn't affect my decision to review a book or my opinions of it in any reviews I do write. I've added an asterisk to the titles below for which I received a review copy from NetGalley.

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
Lucy and Gabe meet as Columbia University students on the day the Twin Towers fell. After a couple of false starts, they become a couple, until Gabe's all-encompassing desire to become a photographer seems to outweigh both Lucy's love for him and her pursuit of her own career and threatens to drive them apart. Jill Santopolo's novel spans 13 years in the lives of Lucy and Gabe, and is an intense, warm and often heartbreaking story of love and loss, success and regret. If you are familiar with my taste in books, you'll recognise these themes in many of my other favourite books — particularly those that feature young lovers coming of age in New York City. Yes, I have a type, but Santopolo writes well and the story never feels hackneyed or overwrought.

The Burning Girl by Claire Messud*
Speaking of coming-of-age stories set in New York, Claire Messud's d├ębut novel, The Emperor's Children, is one of my all-time favourite novels — both in and outside this niche. Eleven years later comes The Burning Girl, where the characters are younger and the setting more suburban but the themes remain the same. Set in a fictional town in Essex County, MA (coincidentally, close to where I will spending two weeks on a family holiday later this month), The Burning Girl follows childhood best friends Julia and Cassie as they enter their teenage years and find that the bonds of friendship may not be quite so ironclad as they had once thought. The book comes out at the end of August and I'll be writing a more detailed review then. Suffice to say, though, that I was won over by Messud's lilting, understated and tightly edited prose.

Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito
I am always on the look-out for well-written legal and crime thrillers and Malin Persson Giolito's courtroom thriller about a teenage girl awaiting trial for her involvement in a mass shooting at her exclusive prep school is one of the smartest and most gripping I've read this year. Maja makes a compelling and intelligent narrator, but should we believe her story or is she a sociopath taking us all for a ride? Persson Giolito's novel is a fast read but offers a perceptive, thought-provoking and satisfyingly twisty narrative.

Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
I read a lot of scientific research papers in my day job and don't seek out non-fiction books as often as I used to. It's hard, though, not to be intrigued by the title of Seth Stephens-Davidowitz's new book, Everybody Lies. The subtitle — Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are — provides a little more context. I heard the author discussing the book and his research on the Freakonomics podcast and although books on big data are two a penny these days, the insights into human psyche and behaviour in Everybody Lies really set it apart. Stephens-Davidowitz answers questions on everything from sex to sport, and race to parental favouritism in an engaging, accessible and fun way. You may never Google in the same way again!

Sunday Morning Coming Down by Nicci French*
I picked up Blue Monday, the first in husband-and-wife writing team Nicci French's series about psychotherapist Frieda Klein, by chance in my library back in 2011 and have powered through each new release since then. Now, the final novel in the series, Sunday Morning Coming Down, is finally here and reading it was a bittersweet experience for me. I craved closure and an ending worthy of the sometimes frustrating but always strong and very believable heroine Nicci French has created in Frieda, but equally, I wanted to continue enjoying Frieda's world. I thought the ending worked well, though, and this latest psychological crime thriller was as thrilling and enjoyable as the others in the series. The novels do, to some extent, stand alone, but you will probably get more out of them if you read them in sequence. This is particularly true of this final novel, where the character — or is it his ghost? — whose presence has been felt to a greater or lesser degree throughout the series draws ever closer.

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