It’s that time for vacations, staycations, hiding from the hellish heat while hissing at the sun, and hot, sticky, sweaty laziness. It’s summer time! Yay! Sarcasm aside, it’s also a great time for catching up on your reading, or finding some new books to get into. So, we’ve compiled an awesome summer reading list for 2015 that’s sure to keep you entertained, get you right for that next soiree where you discuss current events, or just help you pass the time until the glorious fall season returns. This list is sure to cover quite a few bases, so I can guarantee there is something for everybody. Ready? Let’s rock!
Ruby, Cynthia Bond: Let me just say that Ruby is so powerful and so engrossing that it will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it. Set in the African-American town of Liberty in East Texas, Ruby tells the story of Ephraim Jennings, the town underdog, and what happens when his misunderstood, and oft-maligned crush Ruby returns from living the wild life in New York to face her demons. The story primarily takes place in the 1950s, but it spans a few decades, and other viewpoints besides the main characters’ own. I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the subject matter is heavy. Imagine Zora Neale Hurston‘s Their Eyes Were Watching God on acid. Bond broaches subjects that include rape, the pervasive racism in the South, lynching, murder, prostitution, misogyny, and ghosts. Yes, it’s a ghost story too. It’s a slightly emotional, perturbing read, but Bond is masterful (very much like Hurston), and beautifully expressive with her writing. It’s perfect for lounging around on a hot day while sipping some sweet tea.
A Song of Ice and Fire complete series, George R.R. Martin: Like me, you’re probably still reeling from the apparent death of a certain character on HBO’s Game of Thrones a week ago, but the books are still there to soothe your aching heart, and do a better job of telling Martin’s epic fantasy than the GoT showrunners have the past few seasons. This entire series could keep you busy the entire summer, and could be its own summer reading list, but that’s not the point, folks! If you haven’t read the books, join the ASOIAF
cult family. I was never interested in fantasy novels until I read Martin’s books. They are that good.
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel: I got this book for Christmas, and it is probably one of the best books I’ve read ever. It’s solid top 10 best books I’ve ever read material, and that’s not an easy accolade to receive. If you never read another dystopian future novel again, let this be the last one. The name of the book takes its name from the fictional comic book that plays an integral part to the story of a myriad of characters, from the former paparazzo-turned-EMT on the ground as the apocalyptic Georgia flu takes over the world, to the badass, knife-throwing actress in the traveling troupe of Shakespearean bards on the run from a cult led by a madman. Station Eleven is haunting, and scary in how spot on St. John Mandel’s vision of a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future would be. It’s perfect for a getaway in the woods… If you’re not easily spooked.
Vermilion: The Adventures of Lou Merriwether, Psychopomp, Molly Tanzer: In dire need of a good horror novel? Make sure you pick up Vermilion. Taking place in an alternate universe where bears and seals can talk, and own business, Lou Merriwether is the half-Chinese, half-Scottish androgynous, ghost-dispatching heroine investigating the disappearances of San Francisco’s Chinese laborers in the wild west. Think of a female Ethan Chandler (Penny Dreadful‘s Josh Hartnett). The monsters aren’t all supernatural, however, as Lou has to face off against some of the most disgusting racists and xenophobes during her quest for justice. Vermilion is thoroughly creepy, so be thankful it’s warm outside when the goosebumps hit you.
The Martian, Andy Weir: I wasn’t a huge fan of Weir’s novel about astronaut Mark Watney, an American astronaut stranded on Mars, and his quest to get back to Earth, but it was still a fun read. Weir will throw a ton of technical and scientific terminology at you, and those were the slowest parts for me. The best parts involved Watney’s ribald humor, and his optimism, which made it a fun read. Read it on under the stars on a clear, cloudless summer night. It doesn’t hurt that Ridley Scott made a movie out of it starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matt Damon (in theaters this November).
American Gods, Neil Gaiman: American Gods is one of those books that makes a statement about the past versus the present, and how truly intertwined they are. It’s also the story of “old gods” (deities from a host of world religions) and “new gods” like technology and television. It sounds weird, but Gaiman is brilliant. It’s the story of Shadow, a sort of heroic anti-hero (and more, but that would spoil the fun for you), who aligns himself with the mysterious Mr. Wednesday and his posse, who prepare to battle in the coming war for humanity (in a way). What I loved about American Gods was not only the horror aspects of the story, but the vignettes Gaiman added featuring other characters. It was a fantastic read, and it’s perfect for the beach. Oh, and it’s coming to your TV via Starz, with Hannibal‘s Bryan Fuller directing. YASSSSSSSSS!
Pirate Latitudes, Michael Crichton: Some Crichton fans have panned this posthumously released novel by the master novelist, but I loved it. If you’re a gamer, think Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag in book form, but with more action, and voodoo. If you love pirates, and I mean really love pirates, none of that “yaaaarrr” and “matey” bullshit, then you’ll love this book. It’s a short read for fast and/or voracious readers, so if you feel like you need more pirate adventure, pick up Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides. Read it poolside or at the beach for extra effect.
Deadbeat – Makes You Stronger, Guy Adams: If you’re tired of the same old zombie books and tropes, Deadbeat is a must-have. Instead of a demonic horde of brain-eating ghouls running around taking chunks out of people, Adams’ novel features an affable duo of functioning dead guys. It’s film noir meets comedy meets horror, and it will have you asking yourself, “What if…?” Oh, it’s got gore, and it’s pretty macabre too, if you’re into that sort of stuff. It’s a very refreshing entry into the zombie genre.
The Book of Night Women, Marlon James: This offering is more geared towards the ladies, but if you’re a history buff or have Jamaican heritage, you’ll probably enjoy this. Set on a sugar plantation in late 1700s Jamaica, The Book of Night Women tells the story of a dynamic, and ambitious slave named Lilith, and the dark power she and her sisters share. Featuring a cast of characters you will both love and hate, it’s a tale of all manner of human vice during a most vicious and immoral time. There’s also a supernatural element to it. James is so good at building suspense, reading this novel was damn near orgasmic. One thing you should know is that the characters’ dialogue is in Jamaican patois.
Scratch One and Grave Descend, Michael Crichton writing as John Lange: I got these from Titan Books a while ago, but I never got around to reviewing them, but that’s not the reason they are on the list. They’re both on the list because they embody summertime hedonism, adventure, and a little debauchery. Before Crichton became a famous, household name, he started writing as John Lange to get his feet wet in his younger days. The result is delicious hard pulp/film noir goodness with a vintage, James Bond feel. The locales are exotic too, featuring rich, corrupt playboys, femme fatales, and more money than they know what to do with. Perfect summer reading for that summer trip you booked on the Riviera or in the Caribbean.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, Erik Larson: I reviewed this book earlier here, so check it out if you would like a more thorough review. I will add that there’s a good reason why Larson’s latest book has been a bestseller. Yes, we all know how it ends, but Larson gives us the facts, while clearing up a lot of the misinformation surrounding the tragic sinking of the ship that many believe was the reason for the United States’ entrance into World War I. I will say that the villains aren’t just the Germans…
Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga, Pamela Newkirk: Did you know that in the early 1900s the Bronx Zoo displayed a human being in its now closed Monkey House? Well, they did, and they haven’t been very forthcoming with the exact details of that shameful episode in its past. Newkirk blows the lid wide open on the shameful business, and takes everyone from the Bronx Zoo, to well-known scientists, politicians, and royalty to task with a well-researched and important book that every American should read. Let me be clear: This is not the only book about Ota Benga (also known as Mbye Otabenga), but it’s the only accurate one. Ota Benga was an African man of diminutive size–considered a “pygmy” back then–who was taken from his home in the Congo, and displaced for years. He was placed in a cage as part of a monkey exhibit where he was gawked at, chased, and ridiculed by hundreds of patrons. Eventually, despite finding , he took his own life. Spectacle isn’t just about Benga, but also a study in how people with sinister agendas can perpetuate false information to influence opinion, and the world. It is one of the most important books of 2015. I was heartbroken by the time I finished it.
Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era, Michael Kimmel: I’m not done with this book yet, but after reading an excerpt from Kimmel’s book on Slate–it was reposted in the wake of the Charleston terrorist attack last week–I picked it up even though I’m in the middle of reading Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost. When these tragedy’s occur, we all try to make sense of what the hell is going on around us; try to take a look back at ourselves to see if there’s anything we could change about ourselves. I’m obviously not one of the people Kimmel’s book is primarily about, but it does provide a somewhat humanizing look at how we’ve gotten to this point.
A Treasury of Royal Scandals: The Shocking True Stories of History’s Wickedest, Weirdest, Most Wanton Kings and Queens, Michael Farquhar: This isn’t a new release–I first read it back in the early 2000s–but it’s so good. If you thought that today’s celebs get wild and crazy, they have nothing on some of history’s kings and queens. There’s lots of sex, gore, and ratchetness in this book… It’s perfect summer reading.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, Erik Larson: Yes… I know! Another Erik Larson book? You damn right! He’s good at what he does. I was never one for reading about WWII–anything before WWII was interesting to me–but after reading this book, I wanted to know more about World War I and World War II.
Stay tuned for our comics summer reading list! Look for it next week!