Summer. It’s a magical time of year in which we get to make ample use of the “Coastal” part of Coastal Carolina. Of course, for me it means, “Oh goodness I need to stay out of the sun because I will burn in about 10 minutes.” But for those whose skin is more resilient, it means there is the opportunity to relax on the beach and grab a good book to enjoy the sun. And for those of us whose skin happens to be as fair as Snow White, we can still read, but we might prefer to do it in the safety of the shade.
If you’re itching for some good books to read, we have some great suggestions for you from library staff and some of our wonderful English faculty. And if you’ve got a book you’ve been enjoying, let us know in the comments!
I personally have just finished reading the book S, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Conceived by director JJ Abrams, this is a unique work — a book within a book. S presents itself as a 1948 novel called Ship of Theseus, written by an acclaimed author named V.M. Straka. But the novel itself is only a piece of the larger story, which is told through notes in the margins. Two college students are passing the book back and forth, looking at clues and codes hidden in the book for clues to the actual identity of the mysterious author, the message being passed to him by his translator, and the secret society he was a part of. All the while, the two students are also coming to terms with themselves and their direction in life. Both a mystery and a romance, S is one of the most unique books I’ve read. The mystery of V.M. Straka is incredibly compelling, and it’s easy to understand and empathize with the college students. Inserts in the book, pieces meant to be exchanged back and forth by the two students such as letters, newspaper clippings, and postcards, make the book feel even more “alive.” It can be difficult at first to grapple with the book because it is unfolding in a nonlinear fashion (one page might have margin notes written at three different times by the students), but I definitely recommend checking this one out.
If you’ve been following the HBO series, summer is also a great time to dive into Game of Thrones. We have the complete series available both in print and audiobook, so jump right in. It’s quite an undertaking to get through them, but the competition for the Iron Throne of Westeros and impending apocalyptic clash will draw you in. Just watch out for that Red Wedding. And if you have read the books already, you might want to check out The Hedge Knight graphic novels. Serving as a prequel to the series, Hedge Knight chronicles a squire 100 years before the events of the main series in his efforts to become a full knight.
If you want all of the fantasy of Game of Thrones without the drama and general overwhelming sadness, one of my favorites is a novel by Japanese author Miyuki Miyabe titled Brave Story. This book tells the story of 10 year old Wataru whose father is leaving Wataru’s mother for another woman. This sends Wataru’s mother into a spiral of depression. At the same time, Wataru comes across a portal to magical world, where he is told that he if he completes a quest he will have a wish granted. Wanting nothing more than to bring his family back together, Wataru embarks on his journey. This is a slow-paced fantasy novel, but it uses its time to build the characters. Wataru in particular is especially well-written as he comes to grasp with his family’s struggles and the reality of wishing away your problems. And as all of this unfolds, he has an epic quest with a great cast of supporting characters. If you like classic fantasy RPGs, Brave Story has a lot to offer.
Sally, the library’s fearless leader (and reader), has a recommendation of her own. Here’s what she has to say about Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being:
I am always looking for a good book that creates an affectionate bond between character and reader. I found it in Ruth Ozeki’s latest novel, A Tale for the Time Being. The protagonist, a sixteen year-old Japanese girl named, Nao (pronounced “now”), has decided there is only one escape from her aching loneliness, unhappy family life, and classmates’ relentless bullying. Before she ends it all, Nao decides to document the life of her great grandmother, a 104 year-old Buddhist nun (Ozeki happens to be a Zen Buddhist priest!). The diary ends up being Nao’s only solace and will touch lives in ways she can barely imagine.
Across the Pacific in British Columbia, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island and struggling with writer’s block. While walking on the beach Ruth discovers a collection of items washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and pulled forward into her own future.
In a modified epistolary format that includes diary entries, letters, e-mails, text messages, and an abstract of a disappearing journal article, Ozeki creates a gentle and flowing mystery of intrigue. Where did the lunchbox come from? How did it wash up in Canada? Are Nao and the other diary subjects still alive or did they die in the 2011 Japanese tsunami? Alternating chapters contrast Nao’s diary entries (my favorite!) with Ruth’s reactions and commentary a decade later. Yet, in a delicious outbreak of magic realism, it seems Ruth may actually have some power to change Nao’s fate.
A Tale for the Time Being is tender, sad, sweet, funny, and full of compassion and hope one would expect from a Buddhist priest. I only wish I could have read this touching novel in one sitting, because each time I put the book down it felt as if I was leaving Nao behind. I’m glad I chose to be “her kind of time being”. I hope you will, too!
Mary Gail Howland, our evening librarian, has her own recommendations from local authors:
Summertime makes me long for the beautiful, cool mountains of North Carolina. To find these two fiction books set in the mountains by native born authors was really a treat!
Nightwoods: Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain and 13 Moons, has written a suspenseful, at times terrifying story of Luce, a damaged loner who takes in her murdered sister’s mute, young twins in a small NC mountain community in the early 1960’s. Soon, the murderer comes looking for the children, the only witnesses to the crime. The writing in this mystery/love story is excellent, spare, and beautiful. You will care about these characters. I couldn’t put it down.
A Land More Kind than Home: This first critically acclaimed novel by Wiley Cash captures the isolated atmosphere of the mountains and the headstrong determination of its people. Cash writes about young Jess who spends his time looking out for his disabled older brother. The boys are caught spying on their mothers new evil, manipulative preaching at the church, and tragic events are set in motion that will change the lives of all in the community. This is a great read and I hope to see more from this author.
We also have some great recommendations from one of our excellent English faculty members, Melanie Bruce. Here’s what she has to say about three books: In the Land of Second Chances, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon
George Shaffner’s novel, In the Land of Second Chances, is told in the voice of Wilma Porter, owner of the Come Again Bed and Breakfast. Wilma kept me chuckling at her machinations even while she shows a heart as big as the Nebraska landscape of her hometown, Ebb. Shaffner dives right into the Big Questions of life, and shows no fear or hesitation as elements of the plot revolve around logic, philosophy, and the mathematical odds of life after death. There’s the seemingly hopeless case of a terminally ill eleven-year old girl, a rural town on the brink of oblivion, and a blabby traveling salesman who claims he is selling games of chance. Despite these sad, sometimes silly, and seemingly disconnected threads, Shaffner manages to build a compelling, uplifting story that is brimming with irreverent humor. Turns out the town is not-so-secretly run by a large group of women, the Quilting Circle, who pull the strings in ways the men of the town seldom suspect. If you are looking for a novel that is funny, moving, and out-of-the ordinary, resident ghosts included, then give In the Land of Second Chances a read.
In my ongoing goal of always being 5-10 years behind the times, I recently read the runaway bestselling novel of 2008, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It’s an epistolary novel, but don’t be frightened. That just means that the story is told through fascinating letters from the various characters. Guernsey, one of Britain’s Channel Islands, is a mere 20 miles from the French coast of Normandy, and not many people know that the residents suffered greatly under German occupation from 1940-1945. In addition to the troops, the Nazis imported hundreds of slave laborers from conquered countries to build fortifications. The letters revolve around writer Juliet Ashton, who when casting about for the subject of her next book, becomes fascinated with the story of the Guernsey Islanders’ inventive fortitude during Nazi persecution. Juliet, a Londoner, moves to quiet Guernsey to pen the biography of one heroic woman, Elizabeth, who dared to try to save one of the Nazis’ slave laborers from starvation. The Guernsey Literary Society was founded as an impromptu scheme to conduct meetings that would elude Nazi scrutiny, but along the way turns unlikely islanders into devoted readers. Books give the islanders camaraderie, diversion, and hope. But what happened to Elizabeth, the young, beautiful, and headstrong artist? Read this remarkable novel to find out! P.S. A movie is “in development!”
In these trying times, who doesn’t need a good cozy to read every now and again? What’s a cozy? A mystery novel genre that keeps the annoying mayhem, murder, and misdeeds off-stage for the most part. No dripping gore or spatter patterns in these escapist gems. But lots of scenery, local charm, tea drinking, yummy full-fat dining, and gossipy characters make a reader feel right at home, firmly settled in a soft easy chair and not on the edge of her seat. Alexander McCall Smith has one of the most successful cozy series going with his Botswana-based No. 1 Ladies’ Detective agency sleuth, Mma Precious Ramotswe. The latest installment in the series, The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, from 2013, has the tried and true recipe for a cozy tale. Precious and her associate detective endeavor to solve mildly puzzling cases of a young man who may or may not be the heir to a large farm and a smear campaign directed at the owner of a new skincare salon. While a bit calm even for the cozy genre, in Minor Adjustment McCall Smith manages to keep his ladies awake with a houseguests who are literally poisonous snakes, a meddling aunty you’ll love to hate, and enough healthy, red bush tea to wash all your worries away. Fans of the No. 1 Ladies series, like me, can’t get enough of the (mostly) good people of Botswana.
Of course we have plenty of other excellent books, but those are some Coastal-certified selections that we hope you might enjoy. And if you have a book you’ve been enjoying recently, let us know in the comments!