Paging through summer: Cool reads for hot days

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“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else,” declared English author Neil Gaiman.

For avid readers, the world-building that goes on between the covers of a good book opens fresh possibilities and expands thought. 

Why We Wrote This

What better refreshment does one need than a good book? Our reviewers’ choices this month range from stimulating novels and absorbing memoirs to a timely exploration of the natural world.

The novels this month grapple with issues of loneliness, wartime survival, and living one’s conscience. Three memoirs offer insights from a Vietnam veteran, a female Afghan pilot, and a woman who was befriended by a wild fox.

And the nonfiction offerings include an exploration of the seafloor and a biography of two British commanders who led troops against the Americans in the Revolutionary War.  

Books can be almost as invigorating as a plunge in a cool lake on a scorching day. This month’s selections range from captivating novels to touching memoirs to eye-opening nonfiction.  

1. All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle

In this winning novel, Mike Gayle reveals how octogenarian Hubert Bird, a dapper Jamaican immigrant in London, slides from lively to lonely. New neighbors, old connections, and leaps of faith help Hubert rebuild his “once-full life” – and step into new roles. A late-story plot twist adds momentum to the tale; the cinematic conclusion is well earned.

Why We Wrote This

What better refreshment does one need than a good book? Our reviewers’ choices this month range from stimulating novels and absorbing memoirs to a timely exploration of the natural world.

2. A Song Everlasting by Ha Jin

What is the value – and cost – of freedom? Yao Tian, a fictional Chinese singer, grapples with this question, as he starts afresh in the United States after defying his government, igniting “a psychological duel from across the world.” Novelist Ha Jin paints in unaffected prose the struggles of immigrant life and the tensions between artistic drive and family duty. Tian, a kind man of conscience, ultimately triumphs.

3. The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel

Kristin Harmel’s well-researched and compelling novel grapples with purpose, identity, and belonging. Yona, kidnapped as a toddler by a mysterious Jewish woman, is taken to the forests of Poland and taught to survive. Twenty years later, in 1942, she uses her skills to help Jews in flight from the Nazis, discovering her own courage.

4. The Parting Glass by Lissa Marie Redmond

Cold-case detective Lauren Riley pursues a long-missing Picasso painting, which takes her and partner Shane Reese to the coastal Irish town of Keelnamara. There, they confront skeptical locals, suspicious police, wild weather – and dead bodies. The writing moves briskly with smart twists. Fifth in a series, the mystery stands well on its own.

5. A Place Like Home: Stories by Rosamunde Pilcher

Fifteen charming tales, set in London and in the Scottish countryside, depict British life in the 20th century. The posthumously published collection captures the mysteries of romantic attraction, falling in love, and sustaining a long marriage.

6. Open Skies by Niloofar Rahmani

In a gripping account, the courageous Niloofar Rahmani tells of her early years in a refugee camp in Pakistan; her family’s return to Kabul, Afghanistan, under Taliban rule; and her extraordinary journey to becoming that country’s first female air force pilot.

7. The Brilliant Abyss by Helen Scales

The world’s deepest seas “make vital things happen without our knowing,” writes British marine biologist Helen Scales. She argues that the deep is not merely a place to exploit for its resources, but also a wondrous abode that requires protection – a precious realm that humans should care about.

8. Fox and I by Catherine Raven

In this thoughtful memoir, Catherine Raven finds herself out of sync with the world around her and retreats to a patch of property in rural Montana, where her job is online and her neighbors are a comfortable distance away. All neighbors, that is, except one: To Raven’s surprise, a wild fox begins visiting her regularly, and over time the two develop an unusual and touching friendship. 

9. Lieutenant Dangerous by Jeff Danziger

Jeff Danziger, a Vietnam veteran and former editorial cartoonist for The Christian Science Monitor, looks back on his experiences 50 years ago as a military officer. In this lightly illustrated memoir, he uses wry humor to describe his feelings of futility and regret about the absurdity and waste of the Vietnam War.

10. The Howe Dynasty by Julie Flavell 

William and Richard Howe commanded British troops during the American Revolution. This rich and vivid history tells their stories alongside those of the family’s women, who wielded their own quiet but determined power behind the scenes. It provides a fascinating window on aristocratic British society in the late 1700s.

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