Summer Adventure: 5 Thrilling, Chilling, Far-Ranging Reads

Jun 27, 2013
Originally published on June 27, 2013 7:38 pm

Reading always turns any season into summer. Maybe it's because I associate my first bouts of time with books with time out of school, with summer afternoons on the back porch when the weather made it too hot to play, and the air seemed just quiet enough that you could focus your early reading skills on the page before you and make a story emerge from the shapes and squiggles printed there. Even for someone as fortunate as I am, someone who reads for a living, summer always feels like a special time.

For my recommendations for this particular hot summer now upon us I've got five works of fiction that I've been gathering together for the season, beginning with a just republished, long-out-of-print collection of stories by the Irish master John Banville. Four of these five books involve some sort of criminal mayhem, physical and psychological, and the last one has to do with the origins of life itself.

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If you could use some tips on what to read with all of these extra hours of sunlight, our reviewer Alan Cheuse is ready to help. Here are a few of Alan's summer book choices.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Reading always makes the season summer. Maybe it's because I associate my first bouts of time with books with being a kid - summer afternoons on the back porch when it's too hot to play and just quiet enough that you can focus your early reading skills on the page in front of you and enjoy the magic of a story unfurling. Even for someone as fortunate as I am, someone who reads for a living, summer's always a special time for reading.

For my recommendations for this summer, I've got three excellent novels with crimes at the heart of two of them, with an action spread geographically across the map, including a story that opens in the Arctic and ends up in Boston with the potential to thaw most anyone's soul. First, to the western desert with Becky Masterman's first novel, "Rage Against the Dying." The book springs loose a simple effective plot and an attractive new character - the quest for a highway killer by retired and newly-married FBI agent Brigid Quinn. Within a few pages, the aging female former agent takes out a creepy would-be assassin and the novel's off and running. Cold cases, hot FBI politics, a cover-up, and an explosive conclusion. Masterman includes it all quite deftly, as when Brigid and her husband are sitting quietly and reading one night - ah, reading. Ah, the bliss of a wife and husband reading - Brigid happens to be holding a book by thriller writer Clive Cussler. Brigid's a tough sell. The novel, she says to her husband, wasn't exciting enough to help me escape from real life. Rest assured, this one is.

Looking further west, and north, I highly recommend for the fun of it all - well, a certain menacing sort of fun - "The Wonder Bread Summer" by Jessica Anya Blau, a neat little caper of a novel, set in 1980s California, a book that gives off a comedic glow. Meet Allie Dodgson, a 20-year-old multiracial, independent and relatively inexperienced college student in Berkeley who owes tuition and back rent. When her boss puts off her request for her back pay and then sexually harasses her, Allie snatches the man's Wonder Bread bag full of cocaine - seems as though he's using the dress shop as a front for his drug sales - she borrows a friend's car, and heads for L.A. And so begins the most charming and neatly made and entertaining and X-rated chase novel of the season. Encounters with Allie's distant father, her stoner mother, a fling with rocker Billy Idol - I don't know another novel that's going to make you feel more like summer than this one.

The final book I want to recommend begins amid the hard ice of the far Arctic in a cold season. It's a first novel called "The Curiosity" by Stephen P. Kiernan, and for me, it's one of the year's great delights. Imagine a multi-multimillion dollar expedition to search for frozen creatures, anything from krill to shrimp to seals, in an attempt to bring them back to life. The crew of the expedition ship finds an immense iceberg, larger than other ever found before, and discovers flash-frozen inside it a fully dressed human male, the victim, it turns out, of a 1906 drowning. Introducing Jeremiah Rice, the 140-year-old man, frozen in mid-age - a judge from Lynn, Massachusetts. He's thawed out back in Boston in the lab of the larger than life scientist Erastus Carthage. Rice soon becomes the center of a huge controversy that pits science against religion and he becomes the object of affection of Kate Philo, the brilliant young biologist on the team that found him in the ice. Rice is a wonderfully appealing character whom we watch come back to life almost moment to moment and whose curiosity about the world in which he finds himself, and sorrow about the world he's lost, turns this beautifully made first work of fiction into something more than just a summer fling.


CORNISH: Reviewer Alan Cheuse. His three recommendations were " Rage Against the Dying" by Becky Masterman, "The Wonder Bread Summer" by Jessica Anya Blau, and "The Curiosity" by Stephen P. Kiernan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.