Reading the Summer Away

As an avid reader, it’s not unusual for me to maintain piles of books around the house, all waiting to be read. Thanks to eBooks, my iPad is always stocked, too. Summer is my time to get through all these books, and nothing brings me more pleasure than to sit on the deck with a few books and spend an entire afternoon reading (with snacks, beverages and sunscreen, of course). So far this summer, I’ve been extremely lucky. It goes without saying that I enjoy almost every book I read. I’m a librarian, it’s what we do. But so far this month I’ve discovered four books that I’ve fallen in love with, and that have touched me deeply. 

I read Jo Walton’s Among Others a few weeks ago, on a friend’s recommendation. Reading this book was like reading a love letter to science fiction and fantasy. This is the story of Mori Phelps, raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled and her twin sister dead. Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England, a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off.

One quote in particular spoke to me – actually sent shivers down my spine. Early in the book Mori writes, “It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.” So true! I felt that the author had written those lines just for me. In fact, I loved this book so much I even wrote the author to thank her for writing it. Best part? She emailed me back! (Insert fan girl squeeling here.)

If Rio Youers’ Westlake Soul isn’t on your reading list, it really should be. I can honestly say I’ve never laughed and cried so much while reading a book than I have with this one. The titular hero, Westlake Soul, is a 23 year-old former surfing champion, as well as a loving son and brother. After a horrific accident, Westlake is left in a permanent vegetative state. He can’t move, has no response to stimuli, and can only communicate with Hub, the faithful family dog. And like all superheroes, Westlake has an archenemy: Dr. Quietus, a nightmarish embodiment of Death itself. Westlake dreams of a normal life, of surfing and loving again. But time is running out. Dr. Quietus is getting closer, and stronger. Can Westlake use his superbrain to recover… to slip his enemy’s cold embrace before it’s too late?

I could write my own gushing review of the book, but I’d rather quote from Tim Baker’s Goodreads review, as it sums up my thoughts exactly: “Westlake Soul is like nothing I’ve ever read. Not horror, but at times horrific, it’s fantasy in its most human form. It can be funny and charming, with language so simple and poetic, it sometimes slipped by me, affecting me in a deep way. So much heart, it almost bleeds. I sat in the back yard, finishing the last chapters, with tears.” Seriously, read this book.

Julia Stuart’s The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is the story of Balthazar Jones, who has lived in the Tower of London with his loving wife, Hebe, and his 120-year-old pet tortoise for the past eight years. That’s right, he is a Beefeater (they really do live there). It’s no easy job living and working in the tourist attraction in present-day London. Among the eccentric characters who call the Tower’s maze of ancient buildings and spiral staircases home are the Tower’s Rack & Ruin barmaid, Ruby Dore, who just found out she’s pregnant; portly Valerie Jennings, who is falling for ticket inspector Arthur Catnip; the lifelong bachelor Reverend Septimus Drew, who secretly pens erotica; and the philandering Ravenmaster, aiming to avenge the death of one of his insufferable ravens. When Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie within the Tower walls to house the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen, life at the Tower gets all the more interesting. Penguins escape, giraffes are stolen, and the Komodo dragon sends innocent people running for their lives. Balthazar is in charge and things are not exactly running smoothly. Then Hebe decides to leave him and his beloved tortoise “runs” away.

This book made me laugh out loud so many times that I stopped reading it on the bus, mostly because I got tired of the strange looks from my fellow passengers. This isn’t to say that the whole book is a comedy, as it also explores the breakdown of a marriage following the death of an only child. It’s an interesting exploration of the different ways we deal with grief. I can’t wait to read more of the author’s works.

I was very lucky to receive an advance reading copy of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. The best way to describe it is as a Swedish Forest Gump. Allan Karlsson, the titular man, decides on his 100th birthday that he’s tired of living in a senior’s home. Climbing out the window wearing only slippers, Allan not only manages to escape, but finds himself in various situations involving drug money, kidnapping, the occasional murder, and true love. Allan himself shares his life story, and we find that he’s been involved in, if not responsible for, all sorts of world changing events during the last half of the 20th century. His impressions of Stalin left me shaking with laughter. It’s not surprising that this book has sold more than 750,000 copies in Sweden. Get your name on the holds list now!

What books have you fallen in love with this summer? Let us know!

Barbara

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