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Favorite Summer Page Turners
*I realize that at the time I'm publishing this as a hub, it's already autumn 2015 and chilly outside, but I actually typed this over the summer. I just didn't have time to come on HubPages after that and post it. All I have to say is that it's a good thing (wonderful) novels don't go out of style. None of the books you're about to read about are new releases, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve to be read. I prefer reading them during the summer months, but read them anytime. Trust me.*
Unfortunately, not every book that you see with a happy girl lying out on a beach towel is guaranteed to be a fun breezy summer read. Sometimes the beachy book turns out to be some murder mystery, weighted down with dark moments that you didn't want to have to muddle through. Other times it's a glorified formulated romance novel packaged as something else, but should probably have Harlequin's stamp of approval on its cover. And most times—I speak from personal experience on this one—it's just a boring bubble headed party that an author stuck in a book for you to suffer with, page after page. I think I speak for all of us when I say the only thing most of us probably want is a really good story that goes with the season. However, most of us just probably end up going the entire summer without finding one…*grrr*. I share the sentiment.
Whenever I don't find a new good summer book, I go back to my trusty old ones, although one of the ones on this list I only just read a few weeks ago, but it instantly became one of my favorite novels of all time. I'll say up front that what I constitute as a good book may not be your definition of one. That's usually a safe assumption no matter what someone suggests, but some people become really upset when one person adores something, suggests it to others, and they end up hating it. Therefore I will make it clear to you that just because I adore the three books listed and described below, that doesn't guarantee that you will adore them as well.
1) the summer i turned pretty by Jenny Han (the title is lowercased on purpose, people)
This book made me fall in love with the beach all over again. This novel has one of the most entrancing settings I've ever read (next to the one in The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman). I know some people would go, "It's just a story about a girl visiting a beach house," but it's so much more than that.
Let me get this out of the way. Many people don't like the main character, Belly, in this novel, and I understand why. She's a self-absorbed teenager that acts younger than she actually is. Belly is supposed to be a fifteen-year-old girl only a few weeks away from turning sixteen in this story, but she acts more like she's twelve or thirteen. I constantly had to remind myself that the girl in the story was, in fact, about to turn sixteen because she was very immature for her age. Another thing people seemed to have a problem with in this story is the fact that the author, Han, jumps back and forth between present-day circumstances and previous years spent at the beach house. I actually liked that she did it; plenty of other people found it very annoying. The only reason I mentioned it was as a warning that it's an element in the book that could possibly (unpleasantly) surprise people.
While I could relate to Belly on some levels (her insecurity and unrequited love, for instance), I didn't exactly love her. There are two main sets of families that are fleshed out in this book—Belly's family (her, her mom, Laurel, and her older brother, Steven), and her mother's best friend's family (Susannah, Conrad, and Jeremiah; the Fishers). Honestly, I didn't like Belly or her family that much, but I loved Susannah and her boys. I don't know if Han meant for it to be that way, but Belly's family was annoying, while the Fisher family was charming. It's kind of weird when I think about it.
For me, this book wasn't about Belly, or how pretty she felt, or if she was growing up, or who she liked and who didn't like her back, it was all the other pieces in this novel that made me love it. I loved Susannah and I understood why everybody else loved her, too. I loved Conrad, and I understood why and how a young girl could fall for his character. I loved Jeremiah, and he had a certain way about him that was just warm and loving and made you want to be his friend, not make out with him. I could almost see that beach house in the story. I could see the sunny days, feel the sand underneath my feet, and hear the ocean waves lapping in. I could almost taste Susannah's sun tea.
Yes, this book made me cry. Leave me alone, don't judge me. And yes, those tears came toward the end of the book and they involved Susannah and her two sons. That was the most emotional part in the entire book and I ALWAYS cry when I read it. It's so touching and sad.
If you can see past Belly and her potentially annoying ways and take in all the other parts, there's a strong possibility that you'll be able to enjoy this book. There are so many beautiful parts to this story, it's hard to choose just one.
With that said, here's the downside. This is the first book of a trilogy. If you love trilogies, then kudos to you, but I don't like them. As usual, the second book was okay, but nowhere near as good as the first one. There's not much to say about the second book except that it had its touching moments, and I didn't like the Fisher boys any less, but I knew that the ending wasn't going to really be an ending because there was a third book waiting. The second book's ending just kind of frustrated me, and the third book frustrated me even more. I understood the psychology behind Conrad's actions (in the second book), and my heart was breaking for him, but I felt even worse because Belly was so self-absorbed she couldn't see what he was going through and all she could ever think of was herself. In the third book, Han completely butchered Jeremiah's character; she screwed up his personality so bad it almost made me upset to read his actions. He was so far removed from the boy in the first and second books it almost confused me. And the marriage proposal in the third book was just…silly. Or almost silly. I understood the psychology behind that move as well, but I can honestly say I didn’t like it. By the third book, Belly was basically coming between two brothers and causing ruin in an already broken family, but again, she was so self-absorbed, she didn’t care about what her actions were doing, she only cared about what she wanted.
The ending of the third book, We'll Always Have Summer, was bittersweet. *SPOILER ALERT* Yes, Belly eventually got what she wanted, but I didn't feel good about her or what she had. That's not how a reader should feel when they're presented with what's meant to be a happy ending. The boys were dragged through the mud, but hey, as long as Belly was independent and had her man, all was good. Right. Whatever.
It's hard for me to say that I didn't like the second and third books in this series, because I still liked Conrad Fisher, and Han is a good storyteller even though I didn't like the direction she took her story.
But nothing tops this first book in the series. The Summer I Turned Pretty is a magical novel without any paranormal aspects. It's also proof that you don't have to love the main character to end up loving the tale.
2) Blood Brothers by Nora Roberts
"Every seven years, on the seventh day of the seventh month, strange things happen. It began when three young boys—Caleb, Fox, and Gage—went on a camping trip to the Pagan Stone. And twenty-one years later, it will end in a showdown between evil and the boys who have become men—and the women who love them…"
This was the first book I ever read by Nora Roberts because after I read the description above on the first page of the book, it was impossible for me to leave the store without it. I got home, started reading it, and was not disappointed. This book delivered on every single level and I enjoyed every minute I spent reading it. Unfortunately, I also bought this book when it first came out during the summer of that year, and once I was finished I realized I had to wait a few months before the second book was to be released…during the winter. At the time, I wasn't accustomed to reading trilogies. In fact, back then I hated getting into a book series because I'm the type that either wants a SINGLE novel to be written without looking for the rest of the books that accompany it, or if the person was going to write a series, don't make me wait four to six months to see what happens next, only to be disappointed. Since then, I've read a few book series, and I've gotta tell ya, my opinion on them hasn't changed all that much. But I'll get back into my disdain for serial novels after I finish the actual review for this particular book.
The prologue starts us off in the year 1652 in Hawkins Hollow, in the Province of Maryland. In five pages, we are introduced to the evil entity in the form of a man, Lazarus Twisse; Hester Deale, a young Puritan girl whose accusations doom them all; and Giles Dent, a pagan sorcerer (is that redundant?) determined to protect the woman, Ann Hawkins, who was carrying his three sons. And within those first five pages, we learn how the curse of the town, Hawkins Hollow, began.
On page six, we're still in Hawkins Hollow, Maryland, but the year is now 1987. Chapters one and two introduce us to three very special little boys, on their birthdays no less. As it turns out, their birthday on that year ends up being a bit more special than anyone could have ever imagined. And by chapter three, we're in modern-day Hawkins Hollow, Maryland, circa 2008, and those three little boys have now become three men who have to battle it out in their town every seven years in July. By 2008 some of the townspeople who've lived through the horrors of previous years have fled. After learning what happens in that town during those seven days during the summer, I think the crazy residents are the ones who stayed—but that's just me.
I think I've spoiled enough of that book for you (without actually spoiling it; don't ya just love me *wink*), but let me tell you, that was only the tip of the iceberg.
There's love, there's evil, there's some fantastic writing here, and to top it off, the paranormal aspect of the book is the icing (and sprinkles) on this literary cake.
Every single summer since I've bought this book, I pick it up and read at least a few pages out of it. I think I've read the book in its entirety twice, though.
Here's the bad part. I hate to say this, but I didn't really like the other two books in this trilogy, and the long wait for them to be released had nothing to do with it.
In the second book, an additional female character was introduced. I didn’t really like her. She had kind of a bad attitude (in my opinion) and not enough personality to go with it. Not only that, but with the second book, it started to feel as if the story didn't just continue, I felt as if it were being stretched for no real reason. Since having read this trilogy, I've noticed that about most novel series, and I still do my best to stay away from the majority of them. I don't like reading "filler" information. A lot of the passion and intrigue from the first book had either grown thin or worn away and I just went through the motions of reading it.
By the time I reached the third book in the series, I'll be honest, I wasn't that interested in the story anymore. It was months—nearly a year—after I'd started the first novel, and after reading the second book, the trilogy hadn't been on the forefront of my mind. I happened to come across the third book in Walden's Books and I thought, "What the hell, I'll just buy it same as I did the other two."
Let me get this off my chest. Another aspect I really hate about trilogies is getting to the third book and I've figured out most of the story. That's really annoying. You wait all that time from the start of the first novel, and you already know the general idea of what's waiting in the third book. I read the third book, The Pagan Stone, but by that time the paranormal aspect was thin and the romance aspects had taken over the entire story line. Most readers who enjoy Nora Roberts are likely to say, "Well, it's Ms. Roberts, what would you expect?" And that's true. The thing is, I'm not really a Harlequin formulated romance type of woman. The romances are usually corny and predictable even when the couple is supposed to be fighting, the men are caricatures of real men (they're always the men of women's fantasies even if they start out being surly in the book), and the stories overall are just silly. Some stuff happened in the third book, but I don't really remember it and don't care to revisit it. The third book is sort of irrelevant in my eyes. It's typical Harlequin with a supernatural twist: Everybody who you thought would get together eventually did and they got their happy ending and it almost had a soap opera-ish feel to it. No, definitely not my cup of tea. (Although, I'd also like to add that a few soap opera-ish twists to a novel, if done well, aren't necessarily a bad thing; but that's the thing, they have to be executed by a writer who doesn’t thrive on formulated plots.)
However, the third book also doesn't take away from the original book—but that's just my opinion. In the first book, Roberts made me fall in love with these three little boys and then she made me fall in love with the men they became. I loved Cal, Fox, and Gage. Roberts has a real knack for writing engaging male characters; the problem is, I hardly ever like her female characters. Seldom do I like the females in her story and I think that was one of the problems with this trilogy. Suddenly, the females started taking over the book and all of them had abrasive personalities. She writes these easygoing, really cool, beer drinking, loyal men, and she throws in these antagonistic women set out to prove how "strong" they are. I know there are people out there who would misinterpret what I wrote and think, "Oh, so she doesn't like strong female characters, eh?" That's not it at all. I love strong female characters and I love strong male characters as well, but the women in Roberts's books love to argue and that is meant to be construed as "strength" somehow. We get it, they're independent, they have careers, they can fight most of their own battles, and so do the rest of us out here, but to me, there's a different between a woman proving her strength as opposed to constantly starting arguments because she's insecure with that so-called "strength". I knew whom Cal was going to end up with in the first book, but I didn't like her that much. She was okay, but she did get on my nerves at times. By the second book, I'd already figured whom everybody was going to end up with; it was just a matter of how they'd give in to the feelings they were denying (gag now). I've only liked one female character in a Nora Roberts novel and that was Anastasia Donovan in Charmed.
The first book in the series is downright enchanting, even frightening, but I cannot, in good conscience vouch for the other two books in this series. While the second book is better than the third, it pales in comparison to the first. The second book was mainly about one of the couples in the story getting together; in other words, it was a filler book where the supernatural elements had to take a backseat so a romance could blossom. That's the problem with a lot of trilogies. You know it's the second book in the series and the author is just dragging the story out, you know nothing's really going to get solved because the story has an additional book on its roster, and the writer is just doing their job.
I highly recommend the first book. It's one of my favorite fictional novels of all time. I loved the friendship shared between the boys/men. Roberts makes you fall in love with them and the story in the first book. Is this book worth reading? Definitely.
3) A Painted House by John Grisham
I'd read two other John Grisham books a few years before I picked up A Painted House, and I'll be honest—I really didn't have any great expectations for it. Don't get me wrong, the two other books of his that I'd read—The Associate and The Firm—were good, and I knew the man could tell a good story that made you want to skip a night of sleep so you could finish his novel, but the last time I'd read anything of his had been about eight years before.
During late spring of this year, I was scheduled to have oral surgery on June 18th. The only other time I'd ever had surgery in my life was about five years ago, and I recalled the post-pain of the surgery and the post-boredom clearly. The last time, it had been an emergency surgery and I was in no way prepared for it. This time, it was scheduled, and I was doing everything in my power to be ready for the discomfort in the surgery's aftermath and gathering my version of entertainment so that if I had to be in pain, I wouldn't also be bored out of my skull. My version of entertainment is a good movie or a good book, and this year I scoured the shelves of my favorite library in an attempt to get a decent stack. I didn't have any particular author in mind, I just wanted to have a nice selection on hand for when I got back home to choose from because I knew I wouldn't be able to go anywhere for at least a week.
As I was walking along the rows, my eyes fell on "Grisham", and for some reason, I felt as if I'd hit the jackpot. I'd simply forgotten about the man's work until then even though I had two of his books stacked with the rest of mine at home that I'd previously bought. I grabbed three of them that day: Playing for Pizza, The Broker, and a book I had no idea was in existence—A Painted House. I frowned when I saw the A Painted House. John Grisham, the lawyer writer, wrote something like that??? I mean, I knew he'd written Skipping Christmas and PfP and they weren't law oriented, but after I read the very vague description of A Painted House, I was confused and intrigued. I checked out a couple more books that day, but I can't remember what they were. All I remember were the Grisham novels because they were the ones that got me through the ordeal of what happened to me after my surgery.
I won't get into too many post-surgery details, but I will say that my surgeon was an absolute a-hole and prescribed me combo of meds that was mostly acetametophine, which if you're unfamiliar with medication terms, that is a big science word for Tylenol. Needless to say, between my face being swollen and being in excruciating pain, I couldn't sleep. At one point, I just sat up, cried—and picked up Playing for Pizza in the process. I would've enjoyed it a lot more if I hadn't been in so much pain, but I did fall in love with the story. I was uncomfortable and imagining the Italy he described in the book and my imagination was able to take me there. The way he described the food made me even hungrier than I already was since I wasn't able to eat anything. One other thing about Playing for Pizza is that Hank Baskett basically played out the first part of the book in real life in 2009 or 2010 (somewhere around that time), so I doubt there's any need for anyone to make a movie out of it, although that would be one movie I'd actually want to watch.
When I was finished with PfP after about a day and a half (remember, I couldn't even sleep more than four hours a night because of the pain I was in), I picked up A Painted House. I wasn't sure what I expected, but what I got definitely wasn't it.
First of all, I hadn't expected such an amazing story. Second of all, I also didn't expect a story about picking cotton, farmer woes, and an old-time narrative so akin to my own family's roots that I would become so emotionally involved with a novel written by a household name. Let me explain something. I am an avid reader. And one thing I've observed is that the most popular authors of today (21st Century writers) don’t write about dirt poor people that someone like myself can relate to. I'm not ashamed to say that. With the exception of only less than a handful of popular authors, when most writers write a novel concerning the impoverished, their stories are usually contrived because they have no idea what it's like to actually be poor. And generally, they stay away from rural areas of southern states because they'd really be out of their comfort zones (or they try to write about southern people and it just doesn't work because they believe we're all obese imbeciles and their tale just becomes offensive). I got the feeling from reading A Painted House that it was one of the few stories out of the many Mr. Grisham has written where he was absolutely in his comfort zone. He's good at writing law because it was his profession and he knows the law, but there's a difference between writing what you know and understand, as opposed to writing a story where you can take off your show hat, stretch your legs out under the desk, and type away. There's no audience around that you have to impress with a major plot twist, no thoughts of the advance or the royalties, and you just chill out and let the story flow. At least, that's what I felt when I was reading APH. In spite of my physical discomfort during that time, the story between those pages was the literary equivalent of me slipping on some of the most comfortable pair of pajamas and socks I could find.
I will state up front that it's not a thriller—far far from it. There's only a morsel of action (that was NOT a downside in my opinion because "action" wasn't what the book was about). This story is told from the point of view from a seven-year-old boy who you can say had a summer of "secrets". I read a few negative reviews for this book online, and it was clear by what the people said that they just didn't get the story because they didn't understand the characters, their struggles, or country life in general.
A Painted House is what I'd like to call a "quiet", simple type of book. I think it's a downright beautiful book even though I'm sure some people would say there is no real beauty in it. There is to me. I could practically feel the little boy's (Luke's) excitement, his anguish, his confusion, curiosity, disappointment, tiredness, and his fears. I could feel the men's determination, hopelessness, and their shame. I could feel their frustration when the weather didn't cooperate, or when people wouldn't, and their silent dread and unhappiness when they couldn't provide for their families more than they were able. The longsuffering grandmother was ever-present in the story; she's the woman that fancies herself the backbone of the family, and everyone else does as well. If something is happening, even you don't like her, you'd better call on Grandma. Then there's the mother (young Luke's mom) in the story, who I loved. She was hopeful and kind, with just a touch of nosiness that just can't be helped when you grow up during that time and in that particular environment. She's the type of woman, though uneducated by most standards, is the brains and the true guts behind the operation. I can't figure out which character I loved the most—Luke's father or his mother. They're the type of couple that I honestly don't think exists anymore. There's no longer the same dynamic between husbands and wives (to see such a thing would be rare), and most people in relationships still fight tooth and nail for their individuality instead of actually becoming a unit as they were. The couples I read about in this novel were a team, and nothing short of that. Reading about those relationships forces me to look at the ones of the today and shake my head. We couple up, and a few months (or a couple of years) later, we break up. Whether we have kids or not, it's still a pretty clean break. We're very individual now. The husband's problems are the husband's problems and he has to deal with them, and the same goes for the wife. These people had one another's backs during hard times; we don't even have one another's backs during good times. I'm not saying every modern-day couple is hopeless, but most of the ones I've seen are.
This book is about a time that's actually not that long ago, but it may as well be in a different millennia (well, technically it is if you want to get mathematical and scientific about it…but…oh, shut up and leave me alone). For me, Bleachers is the best novel I've read by him so far, but A Painted House comes in a close second. Apparently, there was a movie made about it years ago, but I had no clue it existed. Will I watch it? I'll be honest; I won't seek it out. I don't understand how this book would keep its integrity after being translated to film. I see this book too clearly in my head and I like it that way.
This is a fabulous novel by a great storyteller. I absolutely, without a doubt, adore this book.
**If you enjoy A Painted House by John Grisham, you will definitely like Heaven by V.C. Andrews. You may be aware of the V.C. Andrews name and some of the books that were published AFTER her death, but nothing compares to the books she actually wrote when she was alive. If you think of her as some sort of cheap-writing formulated watered-down author, but never read any of her books pre-1987, then you don't know the real V.C. Andrews. To be honest, I think Grisham probably read Heaven and used some of the elements in her novel for A Painted House because there are too many similarities for it be coincidental. I'm not saying APH is a copy, because the plots are completely different, and I wouldn't recommend Grisham's book if it were a copy of her storyline anyway, but not only are some of the elements the same, he used a couple of character names from Heaven as well. I know APH is said to be somewhat autobiographical of his childhood growing up in Arkansas, but my parents and grandparents had similar upbringings to the ones in these novels and we're from S.C. Anyone can have a similar childhood as another person; the situations they talk about in these books aren't completely make-believe—a lot of people used to live the way these characters did in these novels. But do I think he got his idea from Andrews? Yes. Are the books the same? Nope, not at all. That's when you know you're dealing with a good writer. His wife was probably reading this book years ago and he just picked it up, or she urged him to read it, but I doubt you'd ever get a man to admit something like that. Besides, it's also obvious to me that he got the idea for The Appeal from Erin Brockovich's real life case, and he also got the idea for Bleachers from the film Varsity Blues. It's not a big deal to me when you're dealing with a writer that can reinvent a story and totally make it their own, but none of what he wrote are blatant copies, just in case you're wondering.
Other summer related fiction: Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen and Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand.
If you enjoy The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, I think you'd like Along for the Ride. Although I personally found Summerland a bit longwinded and repetitive, it's a good story overall. I picked up Hilderbrand's novel because the premise sounded interesting. I'd never read anything by her before, and I doubt I will again, but that particular book was okay.