Summer reads can mean a lot of things, which is a good thing because we're a lot of different kinds of readers. And we're willing to bet you'll find a book on this eclectic list that's perfect for you.
The only other things you'll need are a hammock and a bit of sunshine.
Summer on Lovers' Island, by Donna Alward
About the book: Lizzie Howard's life has always been adrenaline-charged. Top of her class at Harvard Med and now a gifted trauma doctor, Lizzie's medical career has always come before rest, relaxation, and especially romance. But when one careless mistake brings her future to a screeching halt, Lizzie's only chance at reviving it is to temporarily take over a friend's practice in Jewell Cove. The sleepy Maine coast, a world away from the bustling emergency room Lizzie knows and loves, leaves her feeling morelost than ever-until she meets widowed doctor Joshua Collins, and her heart starts beating a little bit faster...
Coming home to Jewell Cove was Josh's salvation after his wife died. Looking for peace among the familiar faces of friends and family, he's grateful to work in the town's small medical clinic by day and spend his nights trying to forget everything he's lost. Lizzie's big-city sensibilities are a brash reminder of the world he's pushed away, but he can't deny that together they've sparked a flame that crackles higher and brighter every day. Maybe love is the best medicine after all ...
Why this one should be your next great summer read: Bestselling East Coast romance writer Alward's books are fan-favourites. Summer on Lovers' Island is the fourth book in her Jewell Cove series, set in a sleepy Maine coastal town. This is a perfect dockside read.
How You Were Born, by Kate Cayley
About the book: How You Were Born is a collection of short stories looking at the bizarre, the tragi-comic and the unbelievable elements that run through our lives. An aging academic becomes convinced that he is haunted by his double. Two children believe their neighbours are war criminals in hiding. A dwarf in a circus dreams of a perfect wedding. An eleven-year-old girl becomes obsessed with the acrobat who visits her small town. Two women fall in love over a painting of the apocalypse. A group of siblings put their senile Holocaust survivor father into institutional care, while failing to notice that he is reliving the past. Each story examines, from a different angle, the difficult business of love, loyalty and memory. With elegance and restraint, in spare language, these narratives run the gamut from realistic to uncanny, from ordinary epiphanies to extremities of experience. Settings range from present-day Toronto, to small town Ontario in 1914, to West Virginia in 1967, characters ranging from the very young to the very old, the manifestly unhinged to the ostensibly sane. These are dark stories in which light finds a foothold, and in which connections, frequently missed or mislaid, offer redemption.
Why this one should be your next great summer read: Cayley is an award-winning poet, playwright and YA writer, and turning her hand to literary fiction she's found just as much success—How You Were Born just won the Trillium Prize. Many of the stories are set in summer, including "The Summer the Neighbours Were Nazis," about a brother and sister spying on their eccentric neighbours from high up in their backyard birch tree.
Nightwatching, by Méira Cook
About the book: One hot, lonely summer in the Orange Free State of South Africa, feisty Ruthie Blackburn finds herself at odds with everyone around her. She squirms under the watchful eye of her nanny, Miriam, and bristles at the neighbour’s gardener’s boy, Sip, who follows her everywhere and is her only friend. But mostly she misses her distracted widower father who is more absent each day.
Ruthie runs reckless through the bleary, dull days of summer until the monotony is interrupted by the arrival of two guests from the big city. The events of this one weekend will alter the course of Ruthie’s adolescence and lead to a devastating tragedy. Set against the shifting political tensions of the late 1970s and written in prose that is both poetic and evocative, Ruthie and Sip powerfully captures a young girl’s sudden end of innocence.
Why this one should be your next great summer read: Cook is a fantastic writer. Her first novel, The House on Sugarbush Road, won the McNally Robinson Manitoba Book of the Year Award. This latest novel, set against a summer, promises another excellent read.
Barefoot at the Lake, by Bruce Fogle
About the book: An idyllic summer at the cottage in the 1950s, as revealed through the eyes of a boy on the cusp of adolescence: a first crush, the joy of nature, and the struggle to understand grown-ups.
To ten-year-old Bruce, the summer of 1954 seemed, at first, like any other in cottage country: floating in the rowboat, eating peach pie, watching the seagulls, frogs, and herons, and catching crayfish. But just when he thinks that life is perfect, everything starts to change, and over the summer both the harshness of the adult world and the patterns of the natural world reveal themselves. By the time the weather turns he will be a different child and will have chosen his own path to understanding the wilderness that waits behind the family cottage.
Why this one should be your next great summer read: Fogle, "the world's best-selling practising vet," is known for his books on pet and animal care. Barefoot at the Lake is his first memoir, and David Macfarlane comments that, "Reading it is like peering into a snapshot, taken long ago at a beloved cottage."
For Better or For Worse: The Comic Art of Lynn Johnson, by Lynn Johnson and Katherine Hadway
About the book: For 30 years, cartoonist Lynn Johnston made daily additions to what would become a monumental body of work: her newspaper comic strip, For Better or For Worse. Chronicling the daily lives of the middle-class suburbanite Patterson family, Elly and John and their children, Michael, Elizabeth, and April, Johnston's strip was ground-breaking in its adherence to narrative and emotional realism, and its refusal to engage in melodrama, superpowers, or anthropomorphic animals. As the syndicated strips appeared in daily newspapers throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and the first decade of the 2000s, these characters aged with their readers, and their trials and tribulations were the same as those of their readers: the daily struggles of work, family, school, and bureaucracy.
Wildly funny and formally innovative, For Better or For Worse: The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston is published to coincide with an international touring exhibition of Lynn Johnston's work, organized by the Art Gallery of Sudbury. The book features some of Johnston's most popular narratives, interspersed with an essay that chronicles the development of her drawing, her life, influences both personal and artistic, and the history of her wildly successful comic strip. This book also gathers together a generous selection of Lynn Johnston's daily comic strips and Sunday pages, spanning the lives of the Patterson family.
Why this one should be your next great summer read: Comics have always been a huge part of summer reading, and this beautiful book will deepen your appreciation of a comic artist you've been reading for years and years.
Specimen, by Irina Kovalyova
About the book: The stories in Specimen are a unique exploration of science and the human heart; the place where physical reality collides with our spiritual and emotional lives.
In "The Blood Keeper," a young academic travels to North Korea to work on her dissertation and embarks on a dangerous affair. In "Mamochka," which was nominated for the 2012 Journey Prize, an archivist at the Institute for Physics in Minsk, must come to terms with her daughter’s marriage to a Chinese man in Vancouver. In "Peptide P," scientists study a disease that seems to affect children after they eat hotdogs. In "Side Effects," a woman’s personality is altered, and not necessarily for the better, by botox injections. In "The Big One," a woman and her daughter find themselves trapped in the rubble of an underground parking garage after an earthquake.
Stylistically varied and with settings that range from North Korea and Minsk to Vancouver and Gdansk, Kovalyova is daring and confident new voice in Canadian fiction.
Why this one should be your next great summer read: The summer read should never be boring, and to this end (and others!), Kovalyova's marvellous collection delivers, with stories skirting the genres of sci-fi, suspense, historical fiction, and more.
The Breakwater Book of Contemporary Newfoundland Short Fiction, edited by Larry Mathews
About the book: Following an unprecedented explosion of literary talent in Newfoundland over the past twenty years, The Breakwater Book of Contemporary Newfoundland Short Fiction assembles the very best work by the island’s most accomplished fiction writers. Featuring selections by Michael Crummey, Jessica Grant, Lisa Moore, and Michael Winter, among others, this stellar anthology, expertly edited by Larry Mathews, stands as the quintessential introduction to Newfoundland fiction. These are the best stories written by our most talented writers during the most exciting time in the island’s literary history.
Why this one should be your next great summer read: There is a reason this is the third short story collection on the last. Summer allows for the expansiveness necessary to appreciate a short story, to go back and read it over again. And there are few writers worth reading deeply as those in this anthology, who are not only some of the best story writers from Newfoundland, but the best from Canada, full stop.
The Thunderbird Poems, by Armand Garnet Ruffo
About the book: Norval Morrisseau's revered work has been honoured, copied and recognized throughout the art world and beyond. Less widely known but equally captivating is the artist's personal life story, which poet and biographer Armand Garnet Ruffo related in his powerful narrative biography, Norval Morrisseau: Man Changing into Thunderbird. Ruffo immersed himself in the life and work of the artist, gaining insight into the struggles and sources of inspiration underlying Morrisseau's greatest works through research and interviews with the artist himself—a connection further strengthened by their shared Ojibway heritage.
His lengthy study of Morrisseau inspired Ruffo to write poems reflecting on both the works of art and the emotional context in which Morrisseau painted them. The Thunderbird Poems complements the highly evocative and poetic biography, delving into Morrisseau's creative life through compressed, imagistic language, while untangling the complex and powerful threads of meaning, tradition and emotional power that resonate throughout Morrisseau's strong lines and vibrant colours.
Why this one should be your next great summer read: For those who aren't avid poetry readers, Ruffo's collection of biographical poems about Morrisseau would be a fine collection to start with, the narrative structure helping the reader find her way, and also illuminating the details of a fascinating life.
Those Girls, by Chevy Stevens
About the book: Life has never been easy for the three Campbell sisters. Jess, Courtney, and Dani live on a remote ranch in Western Canada where they work hard and try to stay out of the way of their father's fists. One night, a fight gets out of hand and the sisters are forced to go on the run, only to get caught in an even worse nightmare when their truck breaks down in a small town. Events spiral out of control and a chance encounter with the wrong people leaves them in a horrific and desperate situation. They are left with no choice but to change their names and create new lives.
18 years later, they are still trying to forget what happened that summer when one of the sisters goes missing and they are pulled back into their past. This time there's nowhere left to run.
Why this one should be your next great summer read: It's the best time to feel chills on our spines—when it's hot outside. Chevy Stevens is a masterful writer of delicious thrillers and this latest title is no exception.
The Capacity for Infinite Happiness, by Alexis von Konigslow
About the book: Mathematician Emily Kogan's family is good at keeping their secrets. But when she uses her visit to the vacation lodge they own to conduct research for a graduate thesis on measuring the influence of interpersonal relationships, she learns far more than she bargained for. During her investigation at the Treasure Island Lodge—a resort that has catered to the Jewish community since the early 1930s, when their clientele would have been turned away from segregated hotels—she discovers long-buried clues to the mystery of her family's true identity, and how old friends, kind neighbours and even the famous Harpo Marx all played their roles in an astonishing tale of ill-fated love, extraordinary courage and a daring transatlantic escape.
Why this one should be your next great summer read: Admittedly, the story is set in spring, but it flashes back to summer in a perfect Muskoka setting. The Capacity for Infinite Happiness is odd, surprising, and entirely absorbing.
Basic Black With Pearls, by Helen Weinzweig
About the book: A lost feminist classic—and winner of the Toronto Book Award—reissued to coincide with the 35th anniversary of publication.
In her yearning, elusive search for a lover, Shirley Kaszenbowski sheds her drab "basic black" existence together with torturous memories of guilt and loss as a Jewish immigrant in Toronto.
Shirley Kaszenbowski, née Silverberg, is a middle-aged, middle-class woman in a Holt Renfrew tweed coat, a basic black dress, and a strand of real pearls. She may seem ordinary enough, pricing silk scarves at Eaton’s or idling in hotel coffee shops, but in fact she is searching for her lover. He is an elusive figure, a man connected with "The Agency," a powerful technocrat who may or may not have suggested a rendezvous based on a secret code in the National Geographic.
Her search takes her to the world of her past as a Jewish immigrant in the Spadina-Dundas area of Toronto. She finds the bakeries and rooming houses of her youth still haunted by survivors of postwar Europe and by her own memories of guilt and loss, while the consolations of art, opera, and pornography offer only echoes of her own illusions and desires. Her strange, wryly funny odyssey ends in a dramatic confrontation scene with her husband and "the other woman," as she trades in her basic black for another chance.
Why this one should be your next great summer read: Summer reads have always been about old novels, the books you discover at the cottage, ones that are musty, yellow and dog-eared. While decades old, however, this new edition is perfectly fresh, a funny and smart feminist classic that begs for rediscovery.
undercurrent, by Rita Wong
About the book: The water belongs to itself. undercurrent reflects on the power and sacredness of water—largely underappreciated by too many—whether it be in the form of ocean currents, the headwaters of the Fraser River or fluids in the womb. Exploring a variety of poetic forms, anecdote, allusion and visual elements, this collection reminds humanity that we are water bodies, and we need and deserve better ways of honouring this.
Poet Rita Wong approaches water through personal, cultural and political lenses. She humbles herself to water both physically and spiritually: "i will apprentice myself to creeks & tributaries, groundwater & glaciers / listen for the salty pulse within, the blood that recognizes marine ancestry." She witnesses the contamination of First Nations homelands and sites, such as Gregoire Lake near Fort McMurray, AB: "though you look placid, peaceful dibenzothiophenes / you hold bitter, bitumized depths." Wong points out that though capitalism and industry are supposed to improve our quality of life, they're destroying the very things that give us life in the first place. Listening to and learning from water is key to a future of peace and creative potential.
Why this one should be your next great summer read: Summer is all about the water, as it cools and refreshes us, as it relaxes us as we sit by its side. Wong's collection reminds us of what goes on beneath the surface though, and reminds us that water might also be the way to a better world.
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