Drift Away with Summer Reading

July 12, 2021

“Summer reading” usually suggests the kind of books you’d take along for a lazy day on a beach, boat, or backyard hammock. Drifting away with an easy read is one of summer’s pleasures, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dive into deeper literary waters or a controversial subject. So, whether you’d rather drift or dive, here are nine new titles recommended by Mystic Writers.

HOUR OF THE WITCH by Chris Bohjalian “It’s a witch hunt.” Prickly politicians who object to authorities or journalists looking too closely at their actions have stripped that phrase of meaning. But in this new historical thriller, “witch hunt” is a statement of action, injustice, and intrigue. Boston in 1662 is a Puritan backwater where Mary Deerfield, young and barren, petitions to divorce her abusive husband. Yup, Puritans allowed divorce. The author’s research makes the settings and characters come alive. You’ll be surprised by what you didn’t know — or got wrong — about the Puritans. Mary loses her divorce case, and her outspokenness leads to charges of witchcraft, putting her on trial for her life. In this religiously fervent outpost, misogyny dominates, holding Mary and all women captive. Mary struggles to know whom to trust— until the satisfying final pages. Bohjalian renders 17th-century Boston an unforgiving place where a small misstep can mean the gallows. It’s a society starkly unlike our own, yet unsettlingly familiar. — Carol McCarthy

A PROMISED LAND by Barack Obama. I’d saved our former president’s 700-page tome for sleepless nights, hoping that the wonky sections would do the trick. (You can almost hear his voice when you read his writing.) But “A Promised Land” had the opposite effect on me. I lay awake into the wee hours, mesmerized by Obama’s wide sweep of history integrated with behind-the-scene descriptions of policymaking and family life in the White House. — Ginny Bitting

THE BOOK OF THE TREE: TREES IN ART, by Angus Hyland. Who says books on a summer reading list, or any reading list for that matter, must have a lot of words? Right now, I am thoroughly engrossed in this volume from Laurence King Publishing, which is primarily a picture book. Forest trees, solitary trees, blossoming trees and ghostly trees are stunningly portrayed in all seasons and in all states of glory or decline. You’ll find artists you know – Hockney, Sargent, Monet, Magritte, Klimt, Parrish, O’Keeffe, Mondrian, van Gogh – and artists you’ll want to know. Every one of this book’s 160 pages is a delight, and unlike heavy coffee table books that you never pick up except to dust, this roughly 6x1x8-inch paperback weighs less than a pound. It’s easy to hold, and almost impossible to put down. Who doesn’t love a tree? — Bethe Dufresne

FLORENCE ADLER SWIMS FOREVER by Rachel Beanland, begins in Atlantic City, in 1934, when Florence is training for a swim across the English Channel. By the end of the first chapter, Florence has drowned, setting in motion the secret meant to shield Florence’s pregnant sister from sadness – a secret that also prevents Florence’s family and friends from openly grieving. The chapters are written from each character’s point of view, so you’ll handily know what everyone is thinking. What starts as a tragic tale quickly shifts into a story of hope, growth, and life. The characters are well drawn, sympathetic – save one! – and resilient. It’s one of those books you won’t want to end. And when it does, you’ll quickly pass it along. — Susan Kietzman

BASEBALL’S GREATEST PLAYERS: The Story of John Ellis and the Fight Against Cancer by James Herbert Smith. John Ellis was a New London, Connecticut, High School phenom, big, strong, and fiery, in 1969 when he signed with the New York Yankees. He was nicknamed “Thunder” and hit a home run in his first game. The author of this exciting biography takes you through Ellis’ frequent dustups on the diamond and his later battle with cancer, the disease that claimed two of his siblings. This exciting and endearing story describes his battle to overcome adversity and find a second calling as Ellis and his wife, Jane, build a Hall of Fame legacy with their Connecticut Cancer Foundation. Baseball is the unifying thread in this compelling story featuring Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford as they come together to further the cause of helping families fight cancer. You won’t put this book down until the final out. Available at bookstores and from www.elmgrovepress.org. — Ruth Crocker

AN IRISH HOSTAGE by Charles Todd. This summer I am loving the historical novel, “An Irish Hostage.” In 1919, an English woman, Bess,  is invited to Ireland to be maid of honor for the wedding of her Irish friend, Eileen Flynn. Bess had saved Eileen’s life when both worked as nurses in World War I. Yet when she arrives in the village of Killeighbeg<, instead of the joy of the coming nuptials, Bess is plunged into the tense, sectarian rebellion of Ireland and the locals’ hostility toward anyone English – or anyone perceived as being allied with England. It is a mystery, a love story, and a primer on Ireland’s civil war rolled into one. Anyone who loves history, Ireland, and a rollicking whodunit will enjoy this book. — Maura J. Casey

WOMEN IN SUNLIGHT, by Frances Mayes is a perfect summer reading choice. No one is better at conveying the allure of Tuscany than this author! When four American strangers eschew retirement in favor of renting a Tuscan villa for a year, they discover forgotten talents and pleasures beyond their imagining. Mayes delights with her descriptive writing as she captures the flavors and aromas of the Italian countryside. But this isn’t a travel or culinary journal. It is an exploration of the boundless gifts of friendship that are uncovered as her four leading ladies find their place in this Italian landscape. If you loved “Enchanted April” by Elizabeth von Arnim as much as I did, “Women In Sunlight” will be a perfect beach companion. — Jane H. Percy

COMBAT AND CAMPUS: WRITING THROUGH WAR by Sgt. Peter R. Langlois and Annette Langlois Grunseth. An infantryman’s riveting letters from Vietnam, preserved for 50 years in a safe deposit box by his family, share experiences of living the war that are honest, raw and graphic. As a journalist and soldier with the 25th Infantry Division, Sgt. Langlois chronicles the smells, sights, and sounds during the darkest days of the war from 1968 – 1969. He returned home to a nation protesting the war in which his younger sister, Annette, had walked to class behind National Guardsmen marching across the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The correspondence between Peter and his family and Annette’s poetry written in response offers a unique perspective of the war in Vietnam and social change happening at home. Available at bookstores and from www.elmgrovepress.org. — Ruth Crocker

THE (OTHER) YOU by Joyce Carol Oates. I grew up in a family where the adults were perennially reading lengthy novels by this iconic author. When I was a kid, I thought she might be immortal; now I’m almost certain she is, at least in terms of literary longevity. In this new collection of short fiction, her writing is as edgy and relevant as ever, especially in our post-Covid era. Fifteen stories are linked by “what if” questions that explore characters’ alternate lives, had they made other choices. It sounds like a reasonable premise, but stories such as “The Women Friends,” and “Waiting for Kizer” are head-spinners. Then again, bending time and creating alternate realities are child’s play for J.C.O. Not everyone is a fan, however. A headline from a review in USA Today warns: “Joyce Carol Oates’ latest collection will bum you out.” Well, maybe it will. And maybe it won’t. — Lisa Brownell

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