It’s summer. Your vacation destination is locked-in, dates are set, and the countdown has begun.
If you’re like us, a good book is the cornerstone of a great vacation. Whether you’re lazing by the side of the pool, kicking your feet up under an umbrella on the beach, or staying up late in bed (just one more chapter, you say), no smart phone can replace the erstwhile thrill of a true page-turner. No matter how you vacation, you’re going to need a good book by your side. Since we’re always recommending books over at Midtown Scholar, we thought we’d compile a list of some of the most binge-able page-turners that you’ll want to take on vacation this summer. (And no, we didn’t just select books with beaches on the cover.)
These books are new, and they’re superb.
“Circe” by Madeline Miller
“The archaeological evidence is sketchy, but the first pussy hat was probably knitted by Circe.” So begins the Washington Post’s review of “Circe”—and we don’t have evidence to the contrary. After vaulting to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list in just its second week, Madeline Miller’s epic second novel has been lauded as one of the top must-read novels of 2018. Taking Homer’s much-maligned goddess from “The Odyssey” as her focal point, Miller turns a timeless tale on its head to subvert and address male anxiety about female power. Astoundingly relevant, Miller is able to use her extensive knowledge of ancient history as a vehicle to address these contemporary concerns. Addictively page-turning, Miller’s breadth of historical knowledge and powerful storytelling make for a hypnotic journey into the ancient past. Read “Circe,” then circle back to her award-winning debut, “The Song of Achillies.”
“Tangerine” by Christine Mangan
Already optioned for film by George Clooney’s Smokehouse Pictures and set to star Scarlett Johannson, “Tangerine” is one stellar debut by Christine Mangan. Incredibly smart and devilishly twisted, this plot-driven tale of psychological suspense will keep you on the edge of your seat. Not many debut authors can provide the taut, atmospheric story that Mangan delivers in “Tangerine,” confidently guiding the reader through every twist and turn until the very last page. We’ll leave it to Joyce Carol Oates to offer the final blurb for “Tangerine,” as she writes that the novel is “as if Donna Tartt, Gillian Flynn and Patricia Highsmith had collaborated on a screenplay to be filmed by Hitchcock.” Mic, dropped.
“Educated” by Tara Westover
Tara Westover was 17 years old when she first set foot in a classroom. Until that point, she never saw a doctor, a nurse and was so isolated from mainstream society that she never even learned about the Holocaust or the civil rights movement. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Westover’s unquenchable desire for knowledge and higher education beyond the confines of her isolated existence propelled her on a journey you’ve likely never seen before. After going on to study at BYU—and eventually earning her Ph.D. from Cambridge University in 2014—Westover’s memoir is an unflinching portrayal of will and determination against the odds. “Educated” is about the struggle for self-invention, grief over severing family ties, and what it truly means to receive an education. Without a doubt, Westover has written this year’s most inspiring and unforgettable memoir.
“From the Corner of the Oval” by Deck Dorey-Stein
Listen up, fans of “Veep” and “West Wing”—Beck Dorey-Stein’s hilariously candid memoir of her time spent as the stenographer at the White House during the Obama years has been on our radar for months. No, this is not your political tell-all or juicy, newsworthy blockbuster (sorry, “Fire and Fury” fans)—it’s a flat-out funny, unfiltered, coming of-age-story set with the unique behind-the-scenes backdrop of the White House and Air Force One. Universal Pictures and Anonymous Content seem to agree, as they’ve just teamed up to adapt the book to the big screen. Oh, and make sure to meet Dorey-Stein this summer on July 21 when she visits Harrisburg to share her story, sign her books and meet readers and fans from across central Pennsylvania. “From the Corner of the Oval” hits the shelves on July 10.
“An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones
This one definitely isn’t in need of the extra praise, but Tayari Jones’s “An American Marriage” deserves all the buzz it’s had. A New York Times bestseller and Oprah 2018 Book Club selection, Jones delivers a masterpiece of storytelling with her novel set in the American South. At the center are newlyweds Celestial and Roy. When Roy is arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, their lives are turned upside-down. It’s a love story set in the crosshairs of the American dream and the new South—and an intimate and profound portrayal of race and class by a new literary sensation. No arguments with Oprah on this one. Read “An American Marriage” then pick up Jesmyn Ward’s “Sing, Unburied Sing” as a companion novel.
“The Incendiaries” by R.O. Kwon
This one’s not your typical summer breeze of a read, but it will certainly leave an indelible mark on the psyche for days after finishing the final page. Confronting organized religion, cultish groupthink, obsession and violence, R.O. Kwon’s debut novel tackles difficult subject matter with literary poise, psychological depth and startling honesty. At times disturbing—at times un-put-downable—“The Incendiaries” acts as Kafka’s axe for the “frozen sea within us,” aiming not to please the reader, not to hold our hand along the way, but to challenge assumptions, disrupt expectations and disturb the comfortable. Hypnotic and dazzling prose to match this brilliant debut, Kwon has solidified herself as a literary sensation on the rise. Set to hit the shelves on July 31, this one is worth the wait for later this summer.
“Cult X” by Fuminori Nakamura
The magnum opus from Japanese literary sensation Fuminori Nakamura, “Cult X” is more than 500 pages of pure psychological suspense. Drawing inspiration from a 1995 terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway, Fuminori’s novel is a deeply enthralling exploration of what drives people to extremism. Violent and disturbing, yet compassionate and humanistic, Nakamura’s doorstopper of a novel is written with psychological acuity on cults, fringe groups and human behavior in the face of nihilism. Drawing upon such eclectic subjects as neuroscience, astrophysics and quantum physics, “Cult X” is a noirish thriller that twists and turns until the very last page. Think Murakami’s “1Q84”—only darker.
Alex Brubaker is manager of Midtown Scholar Bookstore, 1302 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.midtownscholar.com.