Warm temperatures are reminding me that I have not yet posted my summer reading list. Because of coursework, I have not completed as many books as I usually do this time of year, but I have included some gems below.
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
I love the work of Melanie Benjamin and her latest book is no exception. The Swans of Fifth Avenue follows Truman Capote and his escapades with the rich and glamorous women of 50's New York City. Exploring Capote's literary career, Benjamin also details his final days and his final work, an infamous article that destroys his friendships and in many ways, his life. I'm not usually fascinated with the lives of the rich and famous, but I love Benjamin's work, and of course anything written about Capote is always interesting. A great read!
The Beautiful Unseen by Kyle Boelte
In this slim memoir, author Kyle Boelte struggles to remember his brother, Kris, who committed suicide when Kyle was just 13. Interwoven in these snippets of memory, Boelte himself explores the landscape of San Francisco, where fog has impacted both the city's history and landscape. The metaphor of fog and memory may seem heavy handed, and in the hands of a less skilled author, I'm sure the writing would lapse into forced clichés. But Boelte's memoir is beautiful, its lyrical language drawing me into both the present fog and the haziness of memory. My only complaint is that the book was too short -- I feel I could have read on forever.
Nelly Dean: A Return to Wuthering Heights by Alison Case
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I am skeptical of novels that retell the classics. I love the idea of retelling a classic story through the eyes of a minor character, but the end result is often far from stellar. Still, I have to admit that I enjoyed Alison Case’s reworking of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, where Nelly Dean, the faithful servant takes center stage. An interesting read.
Alligator Candy by David Kushner
Award-winning journalist David Kushner grew up in a time period when kids ran free, exploring the world outside their homes without fear, but also without the rigid scheduled play dates we see so much in today's world. One morning, however, when David was four years old, his brother Jon disappeared while traveling through a patch of woods on the way to the store. Jon's body was found a week later, horribly mutilated.
In this memoir (which is very much also a work of journalism), Kushner reaches back into the past to recover the events that occurred before the murder, but also look at his life after the death of his brother. What the reader gets in a book that yes, could read as simply a book of true crime, is a memoir of how we face loss and grief, especially when the very worst happens. A great book, and probably one of the best I have read this year!
Angels, Burning by Tawni O’Dell
Angels Burning opens with a murder. A teenage girl's body is found in a sinkhole of an abandoned coal town (eerily similar to the real-life Centralia, a town infamous for its underground mine fire). Chief Dove Carnahan, who hides family secrets of her own, takes on the investigation.
What follows is more than just a murder mystery. Yes, much of the plot revolves around Dove seeking to find who committed the murder. Readers of mysteries, however, may be a bit disappointed as the plot and subplots veer off into many different directions so that the book is more than just a whodunnit story. Instead, readers will be treated with an exploration of character development and physical setting. Some readers may think that O'Dell approaches her characters with only stereotypes in mind, but I found that she navigates the back roads and people of Pennsylvania with a refreshing eye, pointing out the grit, stubbornness, and yes, sometimes violence that harbors in the northern Appalachia landscape.
I am a poet and professor from rural Pennsylvania. This page is dedicated to my publishing news and events; for book reviews published online go to the Reviews tab above. For my own personal reviews, explore the Book Picks tab.