summer reads

The mtl staff includes vegetarians and carnivores, couch potatoes and athletes, quiet workers and chatterboxes. Our differences make us a good editorial team. on the other hand, we have ties that bind us—our love of animals, great food, good laughs, and Most of all, books. Here are a few of our suggestions for summer reading pleasure.

aviators-wifeThis year, I have been reading historical fiction, books based on real people and events that take creative liberties to fill in the gaps. First was Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, a story of Ernest Hemingway’s years as an expatriate writer in Paris in the 1920s from his first wife, Hadley’s, perspective. As Ernest became a fixture at the cafes and salons of the literary inner circle, Hadley was relegated to the outer circle. I liked smart, plain, musical Hadley and enjoyed seeing the human side of the larger-than-life “Hem” whose novels I had read but not really understood in high school. Next came The Aviator’s Wife, by Melanie Benjamin. I was surprised to find how little I knew about Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I had read Anne’s The Gift from the Sea and found it boring. I had seen The Spirit of St. Louis at the Smithsonian and had read many accounts of their baby’s kidnapping and murder. But I did not know Lindbergh was an American Idol of epic proportions; I did not know Anne Morrow was a pilot; I did not know they had other children, and while I had heard of Lucky Lindy’s sympathies for The Third Reich, I did not know he also was a cold-hearted control freak who was as difficult for his wife to love as it was for me. Finally, I enjoyed Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler. F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s competition with each other and just about everyone else is compelling. Written from Zelda’s point of view, the story of their wildly peripatetic lives has a strong focus on their Paris years, when Fitzgerald and Hemingway love-hated each other and Zelda, like Hadley Hemingway, saw her contributions ignored as Scott struggled to claim literary recognition. Having read this book, I understand how Hemingway and Fitzgerald became rivals; what I can’t grasp is how they were ever friends. Could men with such disparate personalities and writing styles have found common ground other than champagne? When I finished Z, I re-read The Great Gatsby, which had sat untouched on my bookshelf for 30 years. Once again, Fitzgerald’s descriptive narrative blew me away.Finally, I read (for the first time) A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s posthumously published account of his  Paris years.  Compelling.


To read an excerpt of The Paris Wife, click here:

The-likeness I like serial mysteries, which feature the same cast of characters in different situations and give the reader a chance to see some character development. My new favorite is Tana French. The Dublin-based author, who has written a series of four books (so far) involving the fictional Dublin Murder Squad, puts a twist on the traditional serial mystery. Each book is narrated by someone who was a lesser character in the previous book. The reason for this format, she says, is to show each character at a once-in-a-lifetime decision point and where that decision takes them. Her first, 2007’s In The Woods, is the story of a detective who, as a child, survived an abduction that resulted in the murder of his two best friends. He believes he has successfully dealt with the trauma and has buried the event so deeply that only his best friend, also his partner, knows he is the same child who was in the national news 20 years earlier. His hold on the past is challenged when he is assigned to investigate a child murder in the town where he was abducted. In The Woods, also French’s first novel, received a boatload of awards, including an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, a Barry Award, Macavity and Anthony awards. She followed up with The Likeness in 2008, Faithful Place in 2010 and last year’s Broken Harbor, which has earned the Irish Book Award for Irish Crime Fiction and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the mystery/thriller category. More than well-rendered mysteries, French’s novels are literate psychological thrillers. If your perception of mystery novels runs to lurid, blood-soaked prose, you need to check these books out. Start at the beginning.


Click here to read more about Tana French’s books:

RedbreastSuch as we had done with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, my coworker Helen and I recently spent several happy weeks sharing and marveling over the works of another writer of Scandinavian crime fiction, Jo Nesbo. If you are a fan of the genre, don’t miss this award-winning author. Nesbo began his writing career heeding advice that the only things worth writing about were murder and love, and he combines the two superbly. Nine novels chronicle the exploits of Harry Hole, the brilliant but flawed inspector whose police cases inevitably intrude into his personal life with traumatic and problematic outcomes. The English translations began with the third book, The Redbreast (although the first one, The Bat, should be out in English by the time you read this, and the second one, The Cockroaches, should follow.) The murkiness and brooding of both people and places that typifies such works are present in full force, along with ingenious plotting, stellar character development, and twists and turns that might leave you gasping. Certain story lines thread from book to book so it’s best to read them in order, at least from book three on. Figure on some all-nighters, or a lost weekend or three! The books in order are: The Bat, The Cockroaches, The Redbreast, Nemesis, The Devil’s Star, The Redeemer, The Snowman, The Leopard, Phantom.

—RITA LEVINE To read excerpts from The Redbreast and other Jo Nesbo books, click here:!/books/redbreast

BlinkIt’s rare when I start a book and quit, but that was the case with A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. So I moved on to The Story of the Shipwrecked Sailor by the same author. This compact book was originally written as a series of newspaper articles, telling of a lone sailor’s 10-day struggle to survive without food or water after he and seven mates were washed overboard in 1955 while serving on a Colombian destroyer. He eventually drifted ashore, was rescued and was deemed a hero, but his life changed forever. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell came highly recommended. This a book about thinking without thinking—how some people are capable of making extraordinary spot-on decisions (called thin-slicing) in “the blink of an eye.” How much do experience and passion play in those decisions or is just intuition kicking in? Why is it so hard to put the reason for a reaction into words? How are appearances deceiving? This is an easy read crammed full of information on how our brains work. Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander was enlightening and comforting. A non believer, Alexander, a neurosurgeon, had been taught that near-death experiences were illusions produced by the brain under extreme stress. But as a result of an illness that put him in a coma for seven days, his thinking about heaven, God and the afterlife changed dramatically. This book gives credence to something beyond life as we know it. Believe it or not!  Finally, there’s Headhunters by Jo Nesbo. Talk about a thriller! I felt like I was experiencing a heart-stopping movie (in fact, a movie was made in 2012). Roger Brown, a successful headhunter and also an art thief (his second career necessitated by his grandiose lifestyle), is set up by a candidate he interviews for a top corporate position. His theft of a Reubens from the candidate’s apartment leads him on a long journey that includes murder and betrayal, as he struggles to outwit the oppressor who is constantly one step behind him. The suspense never stops. This stand-alone novel preceded the author’s Harry Hole series.


For an excerpt from Blink and a Q & A with Malcolm Gladwell, click here:

AtkinsonSince I buy books used or get them at the library, I’m not really up on current bestsellers. That said, for Christmas I received Bruce, the recent biography of Bruce Springsteen by Peter Carlin. As a longtime Boss fan, I didn’t pick up a lot of new information, and I would have enjoyed a few more details about his personal life, but if you’re curious about New Jersey’s favorite son, this would be a good starting point. Warning: the book will make you want to listen to every album he ever released. For me, Elmore Leonard novels are the best summer reading out there—funny, twisty and brimming with great dialogue. Leonard has been called one of the greatest crime fiction writers of all time, but I don’t care about the crimes, I just want to hang out with his well-developed characters—usually a flawed hero facing off against an eccentric bad guy(s). Leonard has said his number one rule for writing is: “if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it” and he obviously follows this rule. If you’re a fan of the TV show Justified, read Leonard’s Pronto, Riding the Rap and the short story Fire in the Hole from book of the same name (Kindle offers these in a three-book bundle). All feature the righteously cool U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant on the TV show). Raylan, which Leonard based on the TV show that’s based on his books (how meta is that?) came out last year. I got a copy, but am holding it until the temperature rises above 85. I am so in love with Kate Atkinson that when she issues a new book, I advance order it on and block off a day or two to read it. Her newest, Life After Life, which came out this spring, is the story of… reincarnation? Or maybe how the tiniest choice can change your—and possibly the world’s—destiny. No matter, I loved it. I also enthusiastically recommend her series that features private detective Jackson Brodie (I hate to call them crime novels, because they are much more literary than that). Start with Case Histories. Atkinson is one of the few writers who can still surprise me—probably because I’m too entranced by her beautiful writing to think about where she’s taking me. When Nora Ephron died last year, I revisited her essay collections— Wallflower at the Orgy (1970), Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women (1975), Scribble Scribble: Notes on the Media (1978), I Feel Bad About My Neck (2006) and I Remember Nothing (2010).  A few of the 1970s essays lost me (I was under the age of 10 when they were written), but in all I loved every minute of her humor, intellect and insightfulness. The only downside was knowing that there will be no more Ephron to look forward to.


To read excerpts from Kate Atkinson’s books and to learn more about the author, click here:

UnbrokenIf you can get through Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Seabiscuit: An American Legend author Lauren Hillenbrand without an immense sense of gratitude for what soldiers face at the hands of their captors, then you have no soul. What you also should get is a close-up look at how a positive attitude can overcome everything from torture to plain old bad luck. A gut-wrenching biography of Olympic track star-turned plane crash survivor-turned P.O.W. survivor-turned alcoholic-turned motivational speaker, the book follows the life of Louis Zamperini, who refuses to let bad circumstances ruin his life. His example also teaches us that revenge, both as fair play and closure, is highly overrated.


To hear an audio excerpt from Unbroken, click here:

OneCubic-Foot_bookSince I’m the photo editor, I’d like to suggest a few image-oriented publications. My family received A World in One Cubic Foot by photographer David Liittschwager as a Christmas gift. After the hoopla of the holidays was over, I opened this hefty book and found jump-off-the-page images of mostly tiny to microscopic beings. I flipped a page to a too-close-up-for-comfort squirrel and decided I should read about why these photos were all in one book. Turns out the photographer and a team of scientists, thanks to a National Geographic grant, traveled the world with a green cube made of metal tubes, measuring exactly one cubic foot, and placed it everywhere from under the Golden Gate Bridge to a mountaintop in South Africa. They photographed and identified what was in or traveled through the open cube for a period of time to document the teeming and varied life forms within. The locations are remarkable, and with my workday spent gazing at a computer screen, it’s a joy to view these extraordinary images on quality paper. Each chapter ends with an I Spy-like double-page spread, along with a species key identifying all the creatures found in that one cubic foot. When opened, the book can be shared over two or three laps. For a more transportable publication, also with stunning imagery, check out Lonely Planet Traveller magazine.  You can find plenty of travel information online, but there is extra joy in flipping through a collection of high-resolution images and intelligent narratives designed to make you want to visit exotic destinations. If you can’t make it to Croatia or Mauritius this year, Lonely Planet Traveller could make you start saving up.


To view National Geographic’s One Cubic Foot photo gallery, click here:

Night-circus I recommend The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for summer reading. The circus comes to town with no advanced fanfare. Black and white tents, devoid of any color, magically appear. And, it’s only open at night. And that’s just the beginning of a magical journey filled with vivid characters. There are dazzling feats and captivating illusions of magic. Or, are they real? At the heart of the story is a competition poised to end in death. Or will it? A haunting fairy tale that will capture you.


To read an excerpt from The Night Circus and a Q & A with Erin Morgenstern, click here:


OK, wait a second. Wasn’t one of us supposed to recommend some books for kids? Anybody? Nobody? All right, well, fortunately we have a great resource right up the street. We asked Mt. Lebanon children’s librarians Katie McGinley and Dana Jones  to talk about some cool summer reads for the younger set. Here’s Katie:

And Dana: Thanks, guys!