Jessica Goodman is a bestselling young adult author who has been on my radar for awhile. The Counselors is her third young adult thriller. As soon as I saw the description, I knew I had to give it a read. This book is a summer camp murder mystery. As a frequenter of many Girl Scout camps (and a true crime fan), I was fascinated by the premise of murder happening at a summer camp. Let’s get into it!
Goldie Easton grew up at Camp Alpine Lake. It’s the only place where she really feels safe. Goldie has been involved with camp since before she was old enough to be a camper. Her parents have been working there for as long as she can remember. Camp Alpine Lake helps keep the tiny town of Roxwood in business by providing money, jobs, and a sense of importance to the area. The campers are rich kids whose very wealthy families drop them at camp for eight weeks while paying a hefty tuition. Very few Roxwood locals get to reap the benefits of camp, prompting animosity between the town and camp, but Goldie is one of the chosen locals who gets to escape each summer.
Goldie may be a townie, but the minute she sets foot at camp, she feels comfort and that camp is where she is supposed to be. Having aged out of being a camper, Goldie is now a counselor. This year, she anxiously awaits her best friends’ arrival. She has known Ava and Imogen for years and can’t wait for them to be counselors together. The downside: Goldie has a horrible secret hanging over her though that threatens to destroy the close bonds the three have formed over their years together at camp.
Goldie’s secret isn’t the only one at camp this summer though. The longer camp goes on, the more she realizes that others aren’t telling the truth. Everything is thrown into the open when a teen is found dead in the lake by camp one night. The instant she hears the news, Goldie believes that this death could not have been an accident. One reason: Ava was out at the lake the same night the teen died, but refuses to talk about it or admit she was there. Why would Ava lie? Goldie is determined to find the truth. When she starts asking questions though, Goldie doesn’t find answers. Her questions instead bring up betrayals, deadly lies, danger, and destroyed relationships. The truth could lay waste to Goldie’s family, friends, and the one safe place she knows.
This book is also available in the following formats:
Film buffs rejoice! Timothy Janovsky has written the ultimate romance for you in Never Been Kissed, featuring summer at the drive-in, a cranky and reclusive legendary film director, and second-chance romance with a childhood crush.
Wren has never been kissed – not only a big regret for him as a lover of rom-coms, but also a major source of teasing from his friends. Considering he’s also graduating college without a plan beyond his regular summer job at the drive-in, it’s especially hard for Wren to feel like a grownup. After a few too many at his 22nd birthday he decides there IS something he can do about one of his problems – he can send out all the emails he’s written to the boys he almost kissed over the years, and launch a quest to get himself kissed. In the morning, this was obviously a terrible idea, but it did reopen communications with childhood friend (and major crush) Derrick, who just so happens to be ALSO working at the drive-in this summer… awkward! Not to mention he’s juggling being a manager at the drive-in, for the first time, with also trying to save it from shutting down by hosting a big event featuring the the local film legend, reclusive director Alice Kelly. Through it all there’s Derrick, and some uncomfortable conversations about what happened to them in high school that need to be faced if there’s a future for them now.
At first I wasn’t sure about the 90s rom-com vibes of this book, or about how immature Wren seemed, dodging his problems and clinging to the past. But over the course of the book, while the film nostalgia stayed strong, Wren started to change, to learn and grow and face his uncomfortable truths. By the end his confidence has grown and he’s acting like a real adult — making the book not only satisfying but relatable, as we all face that moment of growing up and taking responsibility sooner or later. In general, this book was strongly Gen Z, both in terms of lingo, film references, and openly affirming things like mental health, found family, and a wide spectrum of identities. It’s a major milestone for the romance genre that this book openly discusses being demi (which means only feeling certain attractions once a strong emotional bond has been formed) and how important it is to have words to understand yourself. In fact, the atmosphere of acceptance was strong and unquestioned, which was refreshing to read.
This is the 90s romantic comedy movie rewrite I didn’t know I always needed — if you like New Adult coming-of-age stories, second chance romances, or just jump at the chance to go to the movies, I definitely recommend you read this book and then take a trip out to your nearest drive-in theater to keep tradition alive.
As the summer gets rolling, you may want to read something restful, sweet, and nice to look at. If so, you might want to check out Bloom, a graphic novel written by Kevin Panetta and illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau.
Bloom is the story of Ari, who’s been working in his family’s bakery in a small beach town since he was a kid. Now he’s graduated high school and is under pressure from his band to move to the city – and he’s desperate to go, if only to figure out who he is and what he really wants. Unfortunately, his family’s not on board, and shames him for his trying to leave when the bakery is struggling. At his wits’ end, he decides to hire a replacement, someone to do the work with his parents so he’ll be free to leave. Enter Hector, an easygoing guy in town for the summer to clean out his late grandmother’s house. He loves to bake as much as Ari wants to avoid it, and so Ari starts to train him in the rhythms of the bakery so he can take Ari’s place. But nothing’s as simple as it should be; things with the band are changing, putting his plans in jeopardy, and being with Hector is starting to remind Ari of the love that runs through his family’s business and joy that comes from baking. Before long it’s clear that his relationship with Hector could also bloom into love — if only Ari could get out of his own way.
The good things about this graphic novel are many. Readers are immersed in the act of baking and in Ari’s Greek heritage, with the addition of Hector’s heritage later in the story. The art style is simple but charming, with a simple color palette highlighting beautifully rendered scenery with floral accents. The portrayal of family love and friendship love is starkly realistic and truly heartwarming, with both Hector and Ari finding comfort among their loved ones along with discomfort.
For me, being a graphic novel affected character development and plot too much; a lot seemed to be implied through brief scenes and imagery that I would rather have had spelled out and explained. I’m also never totally hooked by angsty characters with unsupportive parents and/or toxic friends. But overall it’s a sweet story and a quick read, and all the baking imagery gives off some definite Great British Baking Show vibes for me; if this sounds like your kind of coming-of-age summer romance, give it a try!
Bloom is available in print and on Overdrive.
Amy Byler is hanging in there. Her attention and energy are completely occupied by her two smart, active children, a full-time (if low-paying) job and an older house to maintain in The Overdue Life of Amy Byler. Sure, the first few months after her husband left were especially hard, but now she’s able to keep her head above water (if just barely). Yep, things are just fine.
And then, after three years, her ex returns.
All that precarious balance that Amy had been working so hard to achieve is suddenly thrown into chaos. Does Joe want to try again with her? How will the kids feel about seeing their father again after three years? Where does he fit into their lives now? Amy has mixed feelings about this new development, unable to trust Joe again and stung by the apparent ease of his slipping back into their lives.
Trying to assuage his guilt, Joe offers to take care of the kids for the summer so that Amy can (finally) have some time for herself and encourages her to make use of his credit card. At first refusing (she hates the idea of leaving her kids), Amy relents and heads to New York City for a week with her college roommate. A week turns into the whole summer and a tentative Amy begins to blossom, one adventure leading to another.
The Overdue Life of Amy Byler is funny and bittersweet; it’s fun to watch Amy find her way and easy to cheer for her. Lighthearted and entertaining, this is a great summer read.
It’s summer at last (although it has felt like summer for several weeks now!). Time to kick back and relax and spend some quality time with a good book.
Still looking for a great beach read (or lazy-laying-in-the-hammock read)? The Daily Beast has a list of the best summer reads of 2018 that ranges from thriller, to tear-jerker to in-depth investigation. Or try the list of 40 Summer Beach Reads from Woman’s Day, books that are a couple years old and easier to find. And NPR published this list of 100 Best Beach Books Ever which, really, can just become your “to-read” list for any time of year.
And, because it’s summer, take some time to get outside (maybe with a book in hand?). Next time you’re at Eastern I highly recommend that you take a walk around the prairie gardens that surround the building. As you can see from the pictures here (which I took yesterday), it has become quite colorful and beautiful. Not pictured is the birdsong, the sense of peace and calm, and the open skies. Well worth a visit!
Growing up, I always wished that I had an identical twin sister. I blame The Parent Trap movie for that wish. Having someone who looked exactly like me who would be there to trick our friends and family into thinking they were the other person sounded like so much fun. I met a set of identical twins in middle school, realized just how confusing that would actually be, abandoned that desire, and stuck with my normal, not identical, siblings. A lot easier that way. I had forgotten about my twin sister desire until I picked up The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand and got a glimpse into what it is like to have an identical twin as an adult.
The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand tells the complicated stories of Tabitha and Harper Frost. One twin lives on Nantucket, while the other lives on Martha’s Vineyard: a distance of only two and a half hours away by ferry. Yet that two and a half hour separation is widened by years of disagreements, arguments, and resentment that continuously builds because the two never talk to each other. While the two may look exactly like each other, that doesn’t mean they are alike AT ALL. Their personalities, life decisions, and clothing choices only prove to illustrate this point.
Harper and Tabitha have spent their entire lives trying to separate themselves from the other twin and from their other parent. You see, when Tabitha and Harper were young, their parents divorced and each parent took one of the twins to live with them year round with vacations thrown in so the other twin got to see the parent that they didn’t live with. This awkward situation left the twins with some major resentment towards each other and weird interactions with the other parent.
A major family crisis forces the two women together after many years apart. This forced reconciliation sounds like a recipe for disaster, but add in the twin’s mother and Tabitha’s teenage daughter and things are bound to get interesting. Each twin’s personal life keeps forcibly making itself known to the other twin which results in confusion amongst others as they try to figure out which is which. Tabitha and Harper may not want to have to band together through this family crisis, but they sure know how to appear like they like each other. These false appearances can only last so long though and the twins are soon forced to turn to each other for real.
This book is also available in the following formats:
The Arsonist by Sue Miller is my latest foray into audiobooks. Miller has weaved a suspenseful story full of family drama and community intrigue within a small New England town.
Frankie Rowley has returned to Pomeroy, New Hampshire, the small village and farmhouse where her family has always spent the summers. Frankie has worked in East Africa for the last 15 years, but came home after she realized that she has never really quite fit in over there. The adjustment back to the states is hard on Frankie, leaving her walking along a country road on her first night back. Waking up the next morning, Frankie discovers that a house up the road has been burnt to the ground. Fires keep popping up around the community, putting people on edge and dividing the town even further.
In addition to the community drama around the fires, Frankie’s mother Sylvia is becoming more concerned over her husband’s erratic behavior. He is forgetting more and more some days, while on others, he seems just fine. Frankie and her sister, Liz, are trying to help, but Liz has a family of her own to deal with now and is hoping Frankie will help relieve her stress. Frankie, herself, has fallen for Bud Jacobs, a Washington DC transplant to Pomeroy, who has taken over the town’s small newspaper. All of these relationships become even more entangled in a very small town under great stress due to all of the arson activity and the divide between the summer people and year-rounders.
The Arsonist is the second book that I’ve listened to where the author has been the narrator and the stories really benefit from the author’s telling. The author is able to truly tell how she wants the characters to talk and how she sees them interacting with each other. You also notice a distinct connection between the narrator and each character because the author cares more about and has a more vested interest in how the characters are being portrayed. Check this book out and let me know what you think!
This book is available in additional formats:
All The Summer Girls by Meg Donohue focuses on the lives of three friends: Philadelphia lawyer Kate, Manhattan mom Vanessa, and San Francisco writer Dani. Kate’s fiancé has dumped her on the same day she found out she was pregnant. Vanessa is dealing with news that her husband cheated on her with another woman and is searching the internet for a man she dated eight years ago. Dani has just been fired yet again in San Francisco and is turning to her good friends (drugs and alcohol) to cope.
Kate, Vanessa, and Dani have been best friends for years, but have drifted apart. Their separation is as much to do with where they each live, their adult lives, and a major event that happened eight years ago during their last summer at the shore, as it is with normal daily life. The three plan a long weekend getaway at Dani’s father’s house in Avalon, the place where they spent two weeks out of their summer every year until one deadly night eight years ago. Being back in this familiar place brings tension to the surface of their friendship, making them all realize just how much their choices eight years ago have shaped their lives today. Each woman is holding onto a big secret, one that each is afraid to tell, and yet all of their secrets are interconnected. Kate, Vanessa, and Dani are forced to come to terms with the decisions they made eight years ago as their friendship hangs in the balance.
This book is also available as an e-audiobook through OverDrive.
We had some sizzling hot temperatures this month – just right for some indulgent Summer Reads! How did you do? Did you find something wonderful, or did the month slip by too fast?
I read Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen and it certainly put me in a summer vacation mood – four strangers rent an idyllic cottage on a quiet island on the coast of Maine for a month and something magical happens – relationships are repaired, spirits lifted, strangers become friends. Based on the beloved classic Enchanted April (which takes place in 1920s Italy), Enchanted August is a modern retelling that is charming, fun and relaxing to read. I recommend it highly!
For totally unnecessary extra credit, I started reading Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard because who wouldn’t want a summer escape to Provence? A follow-up to her popular Lunch in Paris, this follows her growing family and their move to Provence. It’s lovely, full of evocative descriptions of the gorgeous countryside, the layers of history and, especially, the incredible food. Mostly, when I’m reading this I feel hungry (and a bit envious because – Provence!) I haven’t finished yet, but it’s been a lovely read so far. (I also recommend her previous book because – Paris!)
Now it’s over to you – what did you read this month? And don’t forget to come back tomorrow when we introduce the next topic in our year of Online Reading Challenges!
Books mentioned in this post:
The Guest Cottage by Nancy Thayer is a great companion to Enchanted August (see blog post of July 15th). Not only are both set in idyllic New England islands, both novels are self-limiting in that the cottage rental is for the month of August. (Is this a east coast thing? It seems very exotic to this midwesterner).
The knowledge that this a short-term co-habitation allows for a pleasantly predictable dramatic arc (meet-cute, attraction, development of romance and friendship, sadness of the looming end of summer).
The characters in both books are suffering from unsatisfactory or dysfunctional family situations, and are looking for healing, as well as escape, however brief. They find all this, as well as transformation and joy.
This is the first Nancy Thayer book I’ve read, and I’m happy to find that she has many more in her backlist. She actually lives in Nantucket so her writing has the ring of authority.
What is therapeutic is the satisfaction she obviously takes in the quotidian tasks of cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning up, and so on. Life on the island also consists of going to the beach, sailing, visiting quaint shops and getting ice cream. One could do a lot worse than spending time in these fictional worlds.