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Nine reads we recommend this summer

From classics to new releases, here are titles worth your time

Nine reads we recommend this summer

Only halfway in, 2020 seems as if it’s packed a decade’s worth of alarming and tragic news stories. Especially in years like these, we all need breaks from the headlines. Here are books some of WORLD’s writers have enjoyed.

Fiction

The Beekeeper of Aleppo 

by Christy Lefteri (Ballantine Books, 2019)

In reading reports about the Syrian civil war and its refugees, it’s easy only to see burned-out ruins, desperate families escaping on inflatable rafts, and the political implications of the global displacement. Yet the novel The Beekeeper of Aleppo brings readers into the lives of beekeeper Nuri and wife Afra, an artist. We experience the prewar sights and sounds of Aleppo—the buzzing of bees in a field of apiaries, weekly dinners with relatives, the laughter of their young son Sami. But the war steals their business, their home, their son, Afra’s sight, and their hope as they make the treacherous journey through Turkey and Greece to the United Kingdom, where they seek refugee status. (Warning: Keep tissues nearby.) —Angela Lu Fulton

The Door on Half-Bald Hill 

by Helena Sorensen (Rabbit Room Press, 2020) 

Haunted hills overshadow Blackthorn village. Bitter water contaminates the river, and the bog advances, drowning more crops each year. As the villagers starve, Idris the bard seeks a sacred Word to comfort his people and answer the question Can death die? This novel is not for everyone: It brims with mythology, lore, and rituals. The world Sorensen has created feels dangerous and dark, though the story is hardly violent. I appreciated the rich detail, excellent writing, and serious themes of death and hope. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this story of people suffering from a blight and finding hope despite death felt particularly relevant. —Charissa Koh

Every Day Is for the Thief 

by Teju Cole (Random House, 2014)

This diary-styled novel introduces readers to a Nigerian American returning home for the first time in 15 years. Concrete details about actual locations take readers through the funny but frustrating bouts of corruption and societal failures, which happen daily at different levels of authority and in different communities. The title is based on a local proverb: “Every day is for the thief, but one day is for the owner”—a sign of hope that justice can still prevail in any society. —Onize Ohikere

Rilla of Ingleside 

by L.M. Montgomery (originally published in 1921)

Set during World War I, this coming-of-age novel follows Rilla Blythe, the youngest daughter of Anne Shirley, aka, Anne of Green Gables. Selfish and spoiled, teenage Rilla only wants to attend dances and someday marry a certain handsome man. But foreign conflicts ruin her plans by forcing her brothers and sweetheart to join the military. While she waits for their uncertain return, Rilla must learn to support the war effort from home by doing tasks she once despised. A grittier and arguably funnier novel than Montgomery’s other Anne books, this final installment touchingly depicts the sorrows and challenges of life during the war. —Leah Hickman

Persuasion 

by Jane Austen (originally published in 1818)

“The strongest of all warriors are these two—Time and Patience,” said Leo Tolstoy. If only he knew Anne Elliot, the heroine of Jane Austen’s last novel. Persuasion, like its main character, exists unappreciated in the Austen canon, its romantic leads perhaps too old or complex for Hollywood screenwriters. 

Elliot at 27 seems comfortably single when she again meets Capt. Wentworth, to whom she’d once been engaged. They remain distant in a social circle subsumed by elitists and depressives. How their virtues prevail rests not only in Anne’s patience but her self-awareness. That two outwardly virtuous characters find room for confession and repentance makes Persuasion my new Austen favorite. —Mindy Belz

Leepike Ridge 

by N.D. Wilson (Random House, 2007)

Though N.D. Wilson wrote it for younger readers, Leepike Ridge also draws in adults. Like Huckleberry Finn, 11-year-old Thomas Hammond sets off on a raft ride down the river, but Tom’s raft is a slab of packing foam. His ride violently ends when the current pulls him over a waterfall and spits him out in an underground cave. There Tom meets other castaways, including a man named Reg, who survives on juice boxes and raw crawdads. From there, the plot twists like the river rapids that landed Tom in his predicament. Wilson’s detailed scene-setting and humorous character descriptions made Leepike Ridge a favorite of mine growing up and a joy to read as an adult. —Hannah Harris

Asterix Comics 

by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo

The March death of Albert Uderzo, the illustrator behind the delightful comic series Asterix, served as a reminder of how great his work was for both young and old. Asterix is a small, Gaulish warrior with superhuman strength. He fights the Roman Empire with goofy friends from his village. Each book introduces the characters at the beginning, so it doesn’t much matter what order you read them in, but I have enjoyed the early ones most. Reading the comics in their original French is a great way to learn another language: The writing is simple, and the illustrations help you understand what’s happening. Most importantly for our current moment, Asterix can make anyone of any culture laugh. —Emily Belz

Nonfiction

The Last Season 

by Eric Blehm (HarperCollins, 2007)

Eric Blehm slowly unravels the mysterious, true story of Randy Morgenson, a once-legendary seasonal ranger at the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California. Morgenson became an expert at wilderness survival and at locating lost hikers, but during his 28th season, the ranger went missing himself. 

Blehm unpacks Morgenson’s idyllic childhood growing up in the stunning Yosemite Valley and his lifetime pull toward the grandeur of creation. That pull included personal brokenness, and Blehm takes readers on an adventurous trek to discover what happened in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. —Jamie Dean

Unknown Valor: A Story of Family, Courage, and Sacrifice from Pearl Harbor to Iwo Jima 

by Martha MacCallum and Ronald J. Drez (Harper, 2020)

Martha MacCallum, a Fox News anchor, and Ronald J. Drez, a former U.S. Marine captain, tell the story of the Pacific theater of World War II. They begin at Pearl Harbor and go to the Battle of Iwo Jima, the bloody, 36-day firefight on a cave-riddled volcanic island where 6,800 Marines and more than 18,000 Japanese fighters died. Interspersed in the narrative are the stories of several young Americans—including Harry Gray, MacCallum’s cousin—who leave home, family, and sweethearts to fight for “a cause bigger than themselves.” As their paths converge at Iwo Jima, some will live and some will die capturing 8 square miles of Japanese territory. (Caution: profanity.) —Daniel James Devine

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  • SJBaptist
    Posted: Tue, 07/14/2020 10:55 am

    Hi Mindy Belz, 

    I read your review of Persuasion, and can agree with its interesting themes. However, you were in error when you wrote "“The strongest of all warriors are these two—Time and Patience,” said Leo Tolstoy. If only he knew Anne Elliot, the heroine of Jane Austen’s last novel. Persuasion, like its main character, exists unappreciated in the Austen canon, its romantic leads perhaps too old or complex for Hollywood screenwriters."  

    My favorite Austin movie is Persuasion (1995) with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds in the title roles. The supporting cast all do an excellent job. The song tract is understated but assumes character development thoughout the course of the movie.