Gavin’s Summer Reading List

As we enter a summer once again, I find myself looking forward to a much needed vacation, not least because with my son having just finished his freshman year in college, it is the first time we will all be together again in many months. And if you’re anything like me, vacation means a lot of relaxing, and a lot of reading. Once again, this list is without any finance-related titles as I tend to like to limit my vacation reading to mainly leisure titles.

With that in mind, here are the top five books I read this year for pleasure, which make up Gavin’s summer reading list.

The Diamond Eye

Kate Quinn

I’m a big fan of historical fiction, particularly based on the events leading up to and during the second world war. Kate Quinn has a number of enjoyable books based on this time period and The Diamond Eye is perhaps my favorite.

The Diamond Eye tells the story of a wry and bookish history student, Mila Pavlichenko, whose life in Kyiv in the late 1930’s is centered around her library job and her young son. But when Hitler’s army invades Ukraine and Russia, she embarks on a completely different path. Given a rifle and sent to join the fight, Mila must forge herself from studious girl to deadly sniper–a lethal hunter of Nazis known as Lady Death.

The story follows her path from new recruit to national heroine and eventually to a goodwill tour of America to drum up support for the United States entering the war, where she forges an unlikely friendship with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Based on a true story, The Diamond Eye is a haunting novel of heroism born of desperation, of a mother who became a soldier, of a woman who found her place in the world and changed the course of history forever.          

The Little French Bistro

Nina George

The Little French Bistro is a charming novel by the author of the bestselling The Little Paris Bookshop, author Nina George. Perhaps the fact that I’ll be in Paris soon made this one speak to me a bit more than it might otherwise have, but I always like a book that can make you feel as if you’re right there in that other place where it is set, and Nina George does this very well with her writing.

The Little French Bistro is a story of a German housewife named Marianne who is stuck in a loveless, unhappy marriage.  After forty-one years, she has reached her limit, and one evening in Paris she decides to take action. Following a dramatic moment on the banks of the Seine, Marianne leaves her life behind and sets out for the coast of Brittany where she meets a cast of colorful and unforgettable locals who surprise her with their warm welcome, the natural ease they all seem to have, and the way they take pleasure in life’s small moments. And, as the parts of herself she had long forgotten return to her in this new world, Marianne learns it’s never too late to begin the search for what life should have been all along.

Despite some of the darker themes present throughout this novel, the enduring one was of hope, which in the end made it a great read for me.

The Violin Conspiracy

Brendan Slocumb

The Violin Conspiracy tells the story of an extremely talented, black male violinist who has fought against prejudices, lack of support, and racial injustices in his journey to the top of the classical music world.

Growing up black in rural North Carolina, Ray McMillian’s life is already mapped out. But Ray has a gift and a dream—he’s determined to become a world-class professional violinist, and nothing will stand in his way. Not his mother, who wants him to stop making such a racket; not the fact that he can’t afford a violin suitable to his talents; not even the racism inherent in the world of classical music.

When he discovers that his beat-up, family fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius, all his dreams suddenly seem within reach, and together, Ray and his violin take the world by storm. But on the eve of the renowned and cutthroat Tchaikovsky Competition—the Olympics of classical music—the violin is stolen, a ransom note for five million dollars left in its place. Without it, Ray feels like he’s lost a piece of himself. As the competition approaches, Ray must not only reclaim his precious violin, but prove to himself—and the world—that no matter the outcome, there has always been a truly great musician within him.

As someone who was trained as a classical musician myself, The Violin Conspiracy certainly spoke to my sensibilities, but the intrigue and mystery of the story, as well as the excellent writing made this a very enjoyable read.

A Gentleman in Moscow

Amor Towles

I have enjoyed many of Amor Towels’ books but A Gentleman in Moscow is by far my favorite.

Set in Moscow in 1922 after the revolution which resulted in the Bolsheviks’ rise to power, A Gentleman in Moscow is the story of Count Alexander Rostov, an unrepentant aristocrat, sentenced by a Bolshevik tribunal to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin.

Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the Count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

James Nestor

To say that this book changed my life is not hyperbole. As someone who has spent the better part of 40 years playing trumpet at a high level, I have dedicated more time than most to studying, thinking about, and practicing various breathing techniques over the years. But James Nestor’s exhaustive research on the subject is incredible, and no matter how much you may have studied this topic before, there will undoubtedly be something revelatory within this book.

Here’s what it’s all about: No matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how skinny or young or wise you are, none of it matters if you’re not breathing properly.

There is nothing more essential to our health and well-being than breathing: take air in, let it out, repeat 25,000 times a day. Yet, as a species, humans have lost the ability to breathe correctly, with grave consequences.

In Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, Journalist James Nestor travels the world to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.

So there you have it, Gavin’s summer reading list. I hope, as I certainly plan to, you all find some quality time and a quiet place to sit, relax with friends and family, and do a little reading this summer.