Gavin’s Summer Reading List

Now that tax season has concluded and the weather has finally started to improve, I find myself looking towards another summer season, and a much-needed family vacation. And for me, vacation hopefully means a lot of relaxing, and a lot of reading. It is with that in mind that I present this year’s edition of Gavin’s summer reading list.

As with previous editions, I have not included any finance-related titles, as I like to read more for pleasure than education during my vacations, so here are the five books I’ve most enjoyed for leisure reading over the past few months.

Fredrik Backman

Written by the author of the best-selling ‘A Man Called Ove’ which was made into a movie starring Tom Hanks, Beartown is the first in the three-part series of novels about a small town in Sweden, and its obsession with its youth ice-hockey teams.

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.
Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

While I really enjoyed all three books in this series, and I recommend you read them all, it was certainly this first one which captivated me the most.

The Huntress
Kate Quinn

I have expressed before that I’m a big fan of historical fiction, particularly based on the events leading up to and during the second world war, and this edition of my reading list continues with that theme by containing two titles in that vein. Kate Quinn has a number of enjoyable books based on this time period and I have included at least one of her books before.

Bold, reckless Nina Markova grows up on the icy edge of Soviet Russia, dreaming of flight and fearing nothing. When the tide of war sweeps over her homeland, she gambles everything to join the infamous Night Witches, an all-female night-bomber regiment wreaking havoc on Hitler’s eastern front. But when she is downed behind enemy lines and thrown across the path of a lethal Nazi murderess known as the Huntress, Nina must use all her wits to survive.

British war correspondent Ian Graham has witnessed the horrors of war from Omaha Beach to the Nuremberg Trials. He abandons journalism after the war to become a Nazi hunter, yet one target eludes him: the Huntress. Fierce, disciplined Ian must join forces with brazen, cocksure Nina, the only witness to have escaped the Huntress alive. But a shared secret could derail their mission, unless Ian and Nina force themselves to confront it.

Seventeen-year-old Jordan McBride grows up in post-WWII Boston, determined, despite family opposition, to become a photographer. At first delighted when her long-widowed father brings home a fiancée, Jordan grows increasingly disquieted by the soft-spoken German widow who seems to be hiding something. Armed only with her camera and her wits, Jordan delves into her new stepmother’s past and slowly realizes there are mysteries buried deep in her family. But Jordan’s search for the truth may threaten all she holds dear.

All The Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr

Continuing with the historical-fiction theme, All The Light We Cannot See is perhaps my favorite of all the books on my list this year. I actually first read this title a few years ago, but gave it to a friend, and ended up buying it in the airport bookshop again just recently, having forgotten that I had already read it. A few pages in, I realized that I knew the story, but it is such a captivating read that I continued reading, and it was just as enjoyable the second time through.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the Resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

This story has recently been made into a Netflix mini-series, but I highly recommend reading the book first if you haven’t already seen it. While I enjoyed the Netflix version in its own right, it simply cannot compare with the actual book itself.

The Three Body Problem
Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem is the first novel in the groundbreaking, Hugo Award-winning series from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Cixin Liu.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

While I don’t read a ton of science-fiction titles, when I come across one that grabs me, I find I really enjoy the genre. The Three Body Problem was definitely one of those that spoke to me. I have only recently finished this book, and look forward to completing the whole series, perhaps on my summer vacation. The Three Body Problem is yet another series that’s just been turned into a Netflix TV series, and while the first season has already been released, I plan on taking my own advice and reading the other two books in the series before digging in to the video version.

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store
James McBride

This book has to be the most talked-about novel of the season, as it seems no matter where I’ve been or who I’ve been with the past few months, someone is talking about this title. Perhaps due to all that hype, it wasn’t as earth-shattering for me as I might’ve hoped. Upon reflection, however, it certainly was a beautifully written and engaging story, and well worth the time to read.

From James McBride, author of the bestselling Oprah’s Book Club pick Deacon King Kong and the National Book Award–winning The Good Lord Bird, The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store is a novel about small-town secrets and the people who keep them.

In 1972, when workers in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, were digging the foundations for a new development, the last thing they expected to find was a skeleton at the bottom of a well. Who the skeleton was and how it got there were two of the long-held secrets kept by the residents of Chicken Hill, the dilapidated neighborhood where immigrant Jews and African Americans lived side by side and shared ambitions and sorrows. Chicken Hill was where Moshe and Chona Ludlow lived when Moshe integrated his theater and where Chona ran the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. When the state came looking for a deaf boy to institutionalize him, it was Chona and Nate Timblin, the Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of the Black community on Chicken Hill, who worked together to keep the boy safe.

As these characters’ stories overlap and deepen, it becomes clear how much the people who live on the margins of white, Christian America struggle and what they must do to survive. When the truth is finally revealed about what happened on Chicken Hill and the part the town’s white establishment played in it, McBride shows us that even in dark times, it is love and community—heaven and earth—that sustain us.

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 leisure reading this summer.