When most people think of summer, they typically imagine loafing on a pristine beach or perhaps strolling with a rapidly melting ice cream cone in hand. My perfect summer includes having a book in front of me. For me, I was looking forward to summer break because I knew that with no school to attend, I would finally have sufficient time to read for fun. I’ve been on break for about a month now, and I have been devouring books ever since and, as you can probably tell by the length of this list, I don’t plan on slowing down.
Come August, I’ll have the unique opportunity of spending three weeks studying abroad in Oxford, England. Several books on my Summer 2017 TBR are assigned novels that I have to read in preparation for the classes I’ll be taking while in Oxford. They depart from the genres I usually dabble in, which include historical fiction and thriller, but I’m looking forward to expanding my reading horizons. I also plan on doing that with a few classic novels that I have personally chosen.
Pachinko, Min Jin Lee
Synopsis: Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.
So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.
Thoughts: A hefty family history that spans generations that takes place in a culture that I’m eager to learn more about? Sign me up! Epic familial sagas like these have to be my favorite in the world of historical fiction.
Mata Hari’s Last Dance, Michelle Moran
Synopsis: Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.
As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.
Thoughts: I have read all of Moran’s dazzling novels… expect for this one. It’s about time I change that. I’m looking forward to learning about this very real historical figure and her interesting life.
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
Synopsis: It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antique store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
Thoughts: I’ve been saving this book in order to really savor it ever since I read Tartt’s The Secret History, which has the coveted and elusive spot as my favorite book of all-time. The plot of this novel sounds so intriguing and I just know that it’s going to blow my mind.
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
Synopsis: Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead and subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.
Thoughts: My favorite English professor has professed her love for this classic novel several times, so naturally I have to give this read and see what all the fuss is about. I also have yet to read any novels by one of the famous Brontë sisters, and as an English major, I feel like I have to fix this grievous crime immediately.
Paris, Edward Rutherford
Synopsis: From Edward Rutherfurd, the grand master of the historical novel, comes a dazzling epic about the magnificent city of Paris. Moving back and forth in time, the story unfolds through intimate and thrilling tales of self-discovery, divided loyalty, and long-kept secrets. As various characters come of age, seek their fortunes, and fall in and out of love, the novel follows nobles who claim descent from the hero of the celebrated poem The Song of Roland; a humble family that embodies the ideals of the French Revolution; a pair of brothers from the slums behind Montmartre, one of whom works on the Eiffel Tower as the other joins the underworld near the Moulin Rouge; and merchants who lose everything during the reign of Louis XV, rise again in the age of Napoleon, and help establish Paris as the great center of art and culture that it is today. With Rutherfurd’s unrivaled blend of impeccable research and narrative verve, this bold novel brings the sights, scents, and tastes of the City of Light to brilliant life.
Thoughts: This book has been on my TBR for an embarrassingly long amount of time, and I want to finally dedicate myself to reading it! As a lover of historical fiction, the premise of this novel sounds like a dream come true.
Reconstructing Amelia, Kimberly McCreight
Synopsis: Litigation lawyer and harried single mother Kate Baron is stunned when her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, calls with disturbing news: her intelligent, high-achieving fifteen-year-old daughter, Amelia, has been caught cheating.
Kate can’t believe that Amelia, an ambitious, level-headed girl who’s never been in trouble would do something like that. But by the time she arrives at Grace Hall, Kate’s faced with far more devastating news. Amelia is dead.
Seemingly unable to cope with what she’d done, a despondent Amelia has jumped from the school’s roof in an act of “spontaneous” suicide. At least that’s the story Grace Hall and the police tell Kate. And overwhelmed as she is by her own guilt and shattered by grief, it is the story that Kate believes until she gets the anonymous text:
She didn’t jump.
Sifting through Amelia’s emails, text messages, social media postings, and cell phone logs, Kate is determined to learn the heartbreaking truth about why Amelia was on Grace Hall’s roof that day – and why she died.
Thoughts: This book sounds like a page-turning thriller with more than a few twists, which are some of my favorite books to read. I’m looking forward to becoming immersed in what is sure to be a gripping and emotionally-charged read.
Synopsis: Florence, Italy, present day. A trove of letters belonging to the Medici family is discovered underground. Archaeologist Kat Cullen comes across a map that leads her to the Swiss Alps where she is later found unconscious and her partner murdered. Kat’s husband, professor and classicist—Jack Cullen, rushes to investigate. He joins with Chester Allen, a brilliant scientist from surveillance enterprise TerraTEK Industries, and together they begin to unravel the mystery of the Medici letters in hopes of determining what happened in the Alps. As they dig deeper, Jack stumbles across a secret—the infamous Medici treasure is real. However, word gets out and Jack soon realizes he’s not the only one interested in finding it…a deadly and elusive assassin attempts to seize control, throwing Jack into a series of harrowing escapades—riding horseback through the streets of Siena, discovering clues inside ancient cathedrals, deciphering 500-year-old cryptosystems and navigating an underground labyrinth in order to solve a secret so powerful it could change the world forever.
Thoughts: As someone who is obsessed with the Renaissance as well as Italy, this book sounds perfect to me. I have always been interested in the famous Medici family, so it’s shocking that I haven’t read a book dedicated completely to them yet. I like that this book has a modern twist and I expect it to read more like a thriller than a typical historical fiction novel.
Fingersmith, Sarah Waters
Synopsis: Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,” who raised her with unusual tenderness as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.
One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.
With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways…But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.
Thoughts: I have been interested in reading more of Waters’s work ever since I read her amazing novel Affinity for my English class last semester, which ranks high on my favorite books of all-time list. I simply picked this one to delve into because it’s one of her earlier works.
Emma, Jane Austen
Synopsis: Beautiful, clever, rich – and single – Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen’s most flawless work.
Thoughts: This will be my second Austen novel, and I’m looking forward to it. I truly believe that Austen has rightfully earned her status as a celebrated author, and I can’t wait to be exposed to her skillful writing once more.
And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini
Synopsis: In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most.
Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.
Thoughts: Having read Hosseini’s spectacular novels The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I’m aware that he is a gifted storyteller – which makes eager to read this novel that I know will not disappoint. I already know that this book will be a beautiful and tragic emotional journey.
The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
Synopsis: Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.
Thoughts: This premise – as sparse as it is – conjures up so much intrigue alone that I know that this book will be extremely engrossing. I also love when books have a hint of mystery to their composition.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Patrick Süskind
Synopsis: In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift — an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille’s genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and fresh-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the “ultimate perfume” — the scent of a beautiful young virgin.
Thoughts: This novel’s premise is so utterly unique that I don’t just want to read it – I need to read it. Yeah, it sounds weird and disturbing – but some of the best books are.
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
Synopsis: The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives – presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.
Thoughts: Another much-loved and referenced book of my favorite English professor, this plot oozes with mystery and sounds like a truly haunting story. Holding my professor’s recommendations in high regard, I already know that this book is going to be spectacular.
The Lord of the Rings (Trilogy), J.R.R. Tolkien
Synopsis: One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, The Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages, it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit.
In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.
Thoughts: For my summer travel course that I’m taking, we have been assigned to read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I’m personally looking forward to reading these famous works. I have seen the movies, but I already know that the books will be so much better.
J.R.R. Tolkien is such a prolific and talented writer, and I can’t wait to be exposed to his writing through these novels. Fun fact: Tolkien wrote The Hobbit as well as the first two novels in The Lord of the Rings while completing his fellowship at Pembroke College at the University of Oxford. I’ll be taking classes at the University of Oxford while on my summer travel course!
Though not a regular reader of high fantasy novels such as these, it’s a genre that I should break into more often. I used to read more of it during my middle school and early high school years, but have since dipped into works of historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and thriller. Hopefully reading this trilogy will refresh my interest in the fantasy genre.
Loss and Gain, John Henry Newman
Synopsis: John Henry Newman, one of the greatest religious figures of the nineteenth century, also had a successful career as a gifted novelist. Loss and Gain, his first novel, tells the story of a young man’s search for faith in early Victorian Oxford.
Thoughts: Another book assigned for my summer travel course, our professor selected this book because it is written by Oxford alumni John Henry Newman. Newman also is accredited as one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement, which is known as a controversial grouping of religious ideals in relation to the Chruch of England.
The End of the Affair, Graham Greene
Synopsis: “This is a record of hate far more than of love,” writes Maurice Bendrix in the opening passages of The End of the Affair, and it is a strange hate indeed that compels him to set down the retrospective account of his adulterous affair with Sarah Miles.
Now, a year after Sarah’s death, Bendrix seeks to exorcise the persistence of his passion by retracing its course from obsessive love to love-hate. At first, he believes he hates Sarah and her husband, Henry. Yet as he delves further into his emotional outlook, Bendrix’s hatred shifts to the God he feels has broken his life, but whose existence, at last, comes to recognize.
Thoughts: Out of all of our assigned readings for this course, this is probably the novel I’m most interested in reading after The Lord of the Rings series. I have no idea what to expect from it, but if it reads as well as the premise sounds, I believe that this should be an interesting novel.
Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis
Synopsis: In the first novel of C.S. Lewis’s classic science fiction trilogy, Dr. Ransom, a Cambridge academic, is abducted and taken on a spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra, which he knows as Mars. His captors are plotting to plunder the planet’s treasures and plan to offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the creatures who live there. Ransom discovers he has come from the ‘silent planet’ – Earth – whose tragic story is known throughout the universe…
Thoughts: This lesser-known science fiction work both famous author C.S. Lewis is our last assigned novel for my summer travel course. I have read the majority of Lewis’s popular Chronicles of Narnia books, so I’m interested to see how he handles the science fiction genre.
Have you read any of the books on this list?!
Tell us which books you’re most looking forward to reading in the comments below!
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