So many books, so little time! Reading can be one of life’s sweetest luxuries. But how to quickly find the next great volume to dive into? To lend a hand, every month we’ll share our Dandelion Chandelier Recommended Reads: books that we’ve personally read and loved – some brand new, and some published long ago. Selected to suit the season, we think they deserve a place on your nightstand. Or your e-reader. In your backpack. Or your carry-on bag. You get the idea.
Here at the office, we did a quick word association with the word “July,” and here’s what was top of mind for us: Heat. Beach. Lake. Boat. Cookout. Fireworks. Roller coaster. Freedom.
That pretty well sums up the mood of July: sunny, sparkling, adventurous, natural, and carefree. There’s not much shade to be had in July – and mercifully, less shade being thrown at other people, too. Even in our fractured world, most people are still mellower when the temperatures rise.
So what’s the perfect reading list for the month of July? It has to include something to make us laugh out loud. There should also be a tale of adventure; a steamy summer love affair; a road trip; a beach book; a thriller set at an iconic summer vacation spot. Also, there should be something about summer camp.
Given that, here’s our list of recommended reads for this month. Read one by flashlight in your tent after everyone has fallen asleep. Or under your beach umbrella. Or poolside. On the train home from work. In the hammock in the backyard. Before the concert starts. At sunrise. Or moonrise.
It’s July, and it’s all good.
1. Hello Sunshine by Laura Dave wins the prize for “most July of all.” It’s clever, modern, and fun, and just serious enough to qualify as an intelligent beach read. Sunshine Mackenzie has it all – until her secrets come to light. She’s a culinary star with millions of fans, a line of bestselling cookbooks, and a devoted husband happy to support her every endeavor. But then she gets hacked, and all her professional and personal secrets are revealed, with catastrophic results. She’s forced to return to Montauk, to the childhood home—and the estranged sister—that she’s tried hard to leave behind. Summer is the time for second chances and leaps of faith, and this one’s no exception. We anxiously await the sequel.
2. The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. We just finished this lovely novel, and its a perfect companion for your July adventures. The narrator has lost her closest friend to suicide, and in her struggle to recover, she finds herself the custodian of his Great Dane who is nearly as large as her rent-controlled Manhattan studio apartment. It’s smart, surprisingly funny (we laughed out loud several times, despite the dark subject matter), and deeply honest about loneliness and the hard work of grieving. Plus the enduring power of friendship and loyalty, both human and canine. Brilliantly done.
3. Kudos by Rachel Cusk. It’s always a joy to spend time in the presence of Rachel Cusk, and this final entry in her trilogy — the first two are Outline and Transit — is splendid. Protagonist Faye attends a literary festival in Europe, and as in the two prior entries in this series, we listen as she probes and questions the people around her while revealing very little about herself. The writing is crystalline, the meditative tone is both soothing and provocative, and the characterizations are so vivid and natural that we keep thinking that we actually had these conversations. In the most subtle way possible, this novel explores the dichotomy between what’s true and false; earned and undeserved; individual and universal. Between what women want and need, and what men want and need from them — and which gender can outlast and ultimately prevail over the other. The last couple of paragraphs are a shock and a release. Perhaps the best line in a book full of them, though, is this one: “it was of course true that few notable women were ever really recognized . . . at least not until they had been judged to be no longer a public danger by having become old or ugly or dead.” It’s a deeply-felt exploration of what it means to be held captive, and what it means to become free, and how easy it is to confuse one state for the other. A perfect read in a month that celebrates both revolution and independence. Kudos to Ms. Cusk — and these particular ones are well-deserved.
4. The Last Laugh by Lynn Freed is a novel about the passion-filled adventures of three women who thought they were past their prime. To escape their grown children, husbands and lovers, three self-proclaimed “old bags” head for a quiet Greek island. The plan is an idyllic year by the water. But the peace they seek doesn’t materialize. One has an affair with a poetry-writing taxi driver―who has a territorial wife. Another receives menacing phone calls from a psychotic patient. An ex-lover shows up unexpectedly. And then the children arrive. It’s good fun and a frothy reminder that its never too late to chase your dreams.
5. Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen is, despite its title, a perfect July read. Four New Yorkers who don’t know each other well (or at all) agree to rent a large house on an island in Maine for a month. After arriving, they’re transformed by the salt air; the breathtaking views; the long, lazy days; and the happy routine of lobster, corn, and cocktails on the wraparound porch. By the time of the blue moon, though, real life and its complications begin to catch up with them, provoking them to question the possibilities of lives quite different from the ones they’ve been leading. It’s charming, sweet and thoughtful, and it will make you long for an authentic old-fashioned New England clambake.
6. Summerlong by Dean Bakopoulos is a torrid tale of summer romance in a small Midwestern town. The simmering tensions beneath the surface of a contented marriage explode in bedrooms and backyards over the course of a long, hot summer. It’s also the story of other kinds of love and loss, and by the end of the season, the chaff has been burned away, leaving what’s real and true behind.
7. The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu. Before embarking on an overnight kayaking trip, five girls at a camp in the Pacific Northwest sing, “And I shall love my sisters / for-ev-er-more.” The camp promises a vision of wholesome sisterhood that seems unaware of the complexities of the lives of girls. The novel alternates between short chapters about the camping trip, which takes place in 1994, and an account of the girls’ lives post-Forevermore. It’s a poignant exploration of how class and culture inform our actions and alliances under duress, and how a childhood trauma can affect our relationships and choices in adulthood.
8. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley begins on a foggy summer night, with a luxurious private jet on the tarmac in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard awaiting its passengers for a quick trip to New York: a multimillionaire media mogul, his wife, their children, and their security guard. A Wall Street power player. And a recovering alcoholic and failed artist. The plane is in the air for exactly 18 minutes before it crashes into the Atlantic. The who and the why are the meat of this smart and engaging thriller, with its highly topical exploration of the impact of cable news, wealth, fame and fate.
9. The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen Carter is set in two privileged worlds: the upper crust African American society of the Eastern Seaboard—the black elite families who summer on Martha’s Vineyard—and the inner circle of an Ivy League law school. When the family patriarch, Judge Oliver Garland – a disgraced former Supreme Court nominee – is found dead under suspicious circumstances, his son must risk his marriage, his career and even his life in his quest for justice. This first novel from Carter, who is a professor at Yale Law School, remains a classic.
10. The Wedding by Dorothy West. Its fitting to end our July recommended reading list with West’s iconic final novel. In it, she offers her own intimate glimpse into black life on Martha’s Vineyard, this time in the ’50s. Set in “the Oval,” a proud community of the best and brightest of the East Coast’s black community, the prominent Coles family gathers for the wedding of daughter Shelby, who could have chosen from “a whole area of eligible men of the right colors and the right professions.” Instead, she has fallen in love with and is about to be married to Meade Wyler, a white jazz musician from New York. The resulting shock wave forces the Coles and their neighbors to grapple with their dearest beliefs about community, family and love.