Waiting to be introduced to your new favorite read? We’ve put together a great list of fiction and non-fiction titles, perfect for reading at home, at the beach, or on your commute — wherever life takes you this summer.
Whatever you read, track your minutes on your Summer Quest reading log, and help Bucks County read 4 million minutes this summer!
Exit Strategy by Charlton Pettus
Jordan Parrish is not having a good life. His marriage to Stephanie is falling apart after the recent death of their baby, Stephanie finds out about an affair he’s been having, and he’s managed to run the biotech company he founded into the ground. He decides that the only way out is to contact Exit Strategy. It’s a company that helps high level executives disappear and assume another identity, a kind of witness protection program for the well-heeled. There is only one thing required of people who enter this program—they are forbidden to ever contact anyone from their former life. If they do, they will die, as will the person whom they contact.
And so one afternoon Jordan walks out of this office and ‘dies’ in a traffic accident. However, after a time he realizes that his former partner may have been responsible for the circumstances that caused his meltdown, and he longs to return to his wife and children. Nevertheless, he decides to attempt to return. Jordan is no James Bond, but he does push his body and mind to their limits to return to his family. The story is very intricate and well-crafted and builds to a stunning climax.
All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother by Danielle Teller
‘Ella’ gets only tangential treatment here. Instead, this is the story of the most evil of stepmothers, Agnes, who defends herself by telling her story. She tells of an impoverished childhood, being forced into servitude by ten, seduced by an older man, loving the child she bore and eventually becoming nursemaid to little Ella, whose father she would marry. She works her way up from a laundress to running her own ale house as a single mom. Tragedy strikes her family, and she is forced to return to the manor to care for the sickly mistress of the house, Ella’s mother, and to nurture Ella herself. Teller’s story is grounded in well-researched details of medieval life, and the prose abounds in sensory detail. Another Wicked?
Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
It’s all here in the story of a life spun out of control in today’s America. Born to a cruel mother, Romy Hall has spent the entire 29 years of her life on this earth in the hard-bitten, poverty infused areas of San Francisco. She killed her stalker, then fled to Los Angeles with her son. We meet her post-sentencing on the bus that is transporting her from a Los Angeles jail to a women’s state prison in California where she is to serve two consecutive life sentences for the murder. Her love for her son is paramount, and she has done a variety of menial jobs to support him, including hustling as a lap dancer at the Mars Room of the title.
Twice nominated for the National Book Award, Kushner has done her research. We learn about prison life from the women incarcerated with Romy. They are humans getting through life the only way they can, given their circumstances. In prison, the degradation continues to be heaped on them by unqualified and disinterested corrections officers. In addition to her fellow inmates, there’s Gordon Hauser, a well-meaning but naïve teacher assigned to the prison, with a backstory of his own and the eventual beating down of his ideal by the system.
The author is masterful at conveying the isolation and hopelessness that exists behind bars. This is a story with no happy ending, but it surely will make you think long and hard about our current penal system and what it purports to do as opposed to what it really does all too often.
The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy
Winnie is the new, single mother of a baby boy. She’s part of a small group of other first time mothers who have named themselves the May Mothers because all their babies were born in May. One night in July, they decide to celebrate a night out without their children. The worst thing imaginable happens, and Winnie’s little boy is kidnapped while the nanny is sleeping. The story is a combination of traditional suspense—the kidnapping—and a believable portrayal of women during the first months of new motherhood.
This is a fast-paced novel featuring smart, strong, and reasonably flawed women. With the police investigation going nowhere and the media hype reaching a frenzy, the mothers decide they have to do something. Each uses her special skills to dig into Winnie’s past to see if anything there sheds light on Midas’s disappearance. Molloy is a master of misdirection. The narrative rotates among the mothers, and this structure heightens tension and creates uncertainty. You’ll think you have this one figured out, but you won’t. This is a debut novel for the author, although she has published nonfiction.
Love and Ruin / Paula McLain
In “The Paris Wife” McLain focused on Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley. In this book, she focuses on Hemingway’s stormy marriage to his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Gellhorn was fiercely independent and ambitious and became one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century. Gellhorn and Hemingway met in Key West when she was 28 and he a decade older and still married to his second wife.
Set against the background of the Spanish Civil War and the idyllic time before WWII, they write together, get married, and undergo a bitter breakdown of their relationship. She was out to prove herself a worthy journalist, and he was on his way to becoming a legend. He was jealous of his strong-willed wife, who refused to be silenced in a time that was harshly repressive of women. As with her other books, McLain relies heavily on previously published biographical material to bring her characters to life. Fans of her historical fiction will not be disappointed.
Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
Beartown is a small, blue-collar Swedish town full of tough, hardworking people who don’t expect life to be easy or fair. We were introduced to Beartown and its inhabitants in 2017 in Backman’s book, “Beartown”. When that book ends it leaves some questions unanswered. What happened to the hockey team that fell to their rivals in Hed? Did Beartown’s best players desert the home town team for the Hed team? Was their team disbanded? Who’s the surprise coach of the Hed team? What challenges do Benji, Ana, Maya, Amat, and the rest of the main characters face? All of them are back again, continuing to face new challenges, and new characters are introduced that influence the town and its people in unexpected ways. Hockey—it’s just a game with sticks and pucks. Or is it? Backman explores violence and politics, community, feminism, sexuality, and the role of sports in society, their power to unite and to divide. You don’t have to be a fan of hockey or even a sports fan to enjoy this book; you will care about these people and their lives. The story will prompt you to examine your own life in order to become a better person. There is a lot of content here for a great book club discussion.
You Were Made for This by Michelle Sacks
Sam, a Columbia professor and his set-designer, pregnant wife, Merry, appear to be living an idyllic life in Manhattan. Then they move to a remote village in Sweden where Sam has inherited a small cottage, and the dark side of domesticity and motherhood begin to emerge. All is not as it seems. There is something rotten at the core of their perceived perfection, and both Sam and Merry fail to see the warning signs. The fragile equilibrium begins to come apart when Merry’s best friend from childhood shows up for a visit. It soon becomes apparent that she is suffering from her own sins, and an unspeakable tragedy brings things to a head. Sacks has penned a chilling first novel, a dark and twisted psychological thriller.
When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger
Remember Emily Charlton, Miranda Priestly’s assistant in The Devil Wears Prada? She’s back, having reinvented herself as an image consultant to the stars, specializing in damage control. When a rival appears and begins poaching her clients, Emily knows she’s going to have to come up with something big or it’s back to Runway.
Enter Emily’s childhood friend, Miriam. Miriam lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, where her friend, Karloina Hartwell, former supermodel and current wife of a U.S. Senator, has been arrested for a DUI. To make matters even worse, she was driving with a car full of children. Miriam dusts off her law degree to help Karloina and comes to believe that she was set up by her ambitious husband, a man with White House aspirations. Enlisting Emily with her skills for damage control, the three women join forces to take him down.
This three woman posse is great fun and it’s essential for survival in a town filled with moms obsessed with trophy kids and plastic surgery. Emily, Miriam, and Karloina pose a refreshing contrast to the other Greenwich moms, who seem to be behaving scandalously on every page. This lemon is juicy and delicious and is a perfect escapist caper for the beach.
There There by Tommy Orange
In a compelling story set in past and present day Oakland, the lives of twelve Native Americans come to a violent intersection at the Oakland Powwow. Everyone has come to the powwow for a different reason. Orvil Red Feather discovered Indian dance regalia hidden the closet of his aunt and taught himself to dance by watching YouTube. Octavio Gomez, an alienated young Native American, sees the powwow as an opportunity to rob businesses to pay off drug debts. Edwin Black comes to the powwow hoping to connect with his father for the first time. Each of the twelve featured characters has his or her own reason for coming to the powwow, and their stories are powerfully and eloquently told. There will be glorious communion and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, heroism, and unspeakable loss.
The author was born and raised in the Oakland area. He did not grow up reading, and got a degree in sound engineering. When his degree failed to land him a job, he went to work in a used bookstore and began reading avidly, which made him realize what fiction could do for a person and decided that‘s what he wanted to do. All of the stories about Naïve Americans that he knew of dealt with those who lived on reservations. He grew up in an urban environment filled with Native Americans and decided that using urban Oakland as his setting would allow him to examine the Native Americans that he knew. This decision has resulted in a haunting, gripping story.
The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
A vacation away from it all takes a turn for the worse. Parents Eric and Andrew and their adopted daughter, Wen, are spending languid days at an out-of-the-way cabin in the Maine woods. Out catching grasshoppers, Wen is the first to see the four strangers walking down the driveway. The giant man, Leonard, tells Wen, “Your dads won’t want to let us in. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.” Eventually, Leonard and his three companions invade the cabin and present Eric and Andrew an impossible choice to prevent the apocalypse. Offering a terrible situation with no good outcome, this is the author at his best. The unbearable suspense will keep you turning the pages.
O’Donnell has written about many American conflicts, and is an expert in providing background information and narrating the chaotic flow of war. In this book the author reevaluates the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in 1921 and looks in detail at the stories of the eight veterans chosen to be pallbearers, the ninth, who was asked to choose the coffin beforehand, the honored soldier himself, and the General ‘Black Jack’ Pershing who was unlikable, but admired.
Almost a century has passed since the dedication, and the personal stories of the men involved are told here. O’Donnell reveals the largely untold stories of the seven soldiers and two sailors, many of whom suffered grievous injuries in battle. One of the men was badly burned but saved his ship, another was taken prisoner aboard a U-boat and spent more than a year as a prisoner of war. WWI is often thought of as marking the death of the old world and the ushering in the modern era. This well-researched book depicts the horrors of war and considers what lessons we have learned in the ensuing years.
Young Washington by Peter Stark
We first meet Washington in his early twenties, a young man who was vain, impetuous, and prone to anger and paranoia, certainly not the Washington who became the Father of His Country. Stark begins his story in 1753 when the governor of Virginia sent Washington to deliver a message to the French commander at Fort Le Boeuf, near Lake Erie. The governor was contesting the French occupation of the Ohio Valley. During this journey, Washington learned valuable lessons about resilience, diplomacy, and the need to put comradeship above personal ambition. Chronicling events through the ensuing five years of the French and Indian War, Stark shows how Washington learned from his mistakes, as well as the mistakes of the others. He never achieved his ambition to be granted a commission by the King, but he evolved from a hot-headed, impulsive, self-absorbed individual to someone who became a revered military and political leader. He came to believe that he was protected by divine forces “for some greater purpose”. Indeed! This book reads like an adventure story but is fully supported by letters, journals, and military documents.
Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles by Fran Leadon
“They say the neon lights are bright, on Broadway…” So sang The Drifters in 1962. But Broadway began in the early 17th century, in a Dutch colony, as a muddy cow path that the settlers called Brede Wegh (Broad Way). Throughout the next four centuries, the street grew longer and wider, houses and taverns sprang up, farmland gave way to a city. New Amsterdam became New York, and department stores, theaters, hotels, subways, and traffic all came to help define the 20th century’s Great White Way. Leadon takes readers on a 13-mile trip up Broadway from Bowling Green to Marble Hill. In thirteen sections, one for each mile, Leadon gives a detailed history of each mile. “Leadon calls the area’s ‘lack of coherence or development strategy the urban planning equivalent of throwing dice’” (Kirkus Reviews). The text is enlivened with an abundance of memorable anecdotes about buildings and famous and infamous characters who gave the street history and color and is highlighted by pages of illustrations.
Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution by Todd S. Purdum
To continue the Broadway theme, Purdum has written a biography of arguably the most famous and successful composer/lyricist team ever to mount musicals on the Great White Way. Purdum begins by exploring each man’s life before they met and became partners. Each had written for Broadway shows before they teamed up, but once they did, magic ensued. The majority of the book focuses on the two decades of their wild successes that began with Oklahoma and ended with The Sound of Music. Though markedly different personalities, they presented a united front to the public and pioneered a new art form, the serious musical. The author chronicles each step of each show from idea, to storyline, to music, finding a director, casting the show, and assembling a team.
The pair has ties to Bucks County both through Doylestown and the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope. Oscar Hammerstein had a house on a hill in Doylestown where it’s said that he wrote Oh What a Beautiful Morning while looking out on a field of “…corn is as high as an elephant’s eye…” A walk down memory lane for some, and an introduction to a fabulously successful musical team for others. Pages of illustrations.
The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson
In 2009, after playing a concert at London’s Royal Academy of Music, 20-year old American flautist Edwin Rist boarded a train to the Tring British Museum of Natural History. The museum houses one of the world’s largest ornithology collections, including feathers, many of them very rare and many of them extinct, some collected 150 years ago. The bird skins, as they are called, were worth a staggering amount of money. And Rist meant to own many of them.
Not only was Rist a virtuoso flautist, he was also very well-known as an expert tier of salmon flies. Tying salmon flies is primarily an art to be practiced and displayed among the community of salmon fishermen; the flies are rarely used to actually fish for salmon. Rist sold the majority of the skins he stole on the Internet to the fly tying community. Although Rist was eventually caught and prosecuted, he received a suspended sentence and was fined, but many of the skins remain missing.
Johnson, who served in Iraq, helped Iraqis who were translators and finders for the U.S. troops, get out of Iraq and find sanctuary in the U.S. Once Johnson returned home, he went on a fly-fishing vacation to decompress. While fishing, his guide told him about the bird heist. Intrigued, he looked into the story and soon became obsessed with it. From Victorian fly-tiers and women who needed exotic feathers for hats of the era, he traces man’s need for a continuing supply of feathers, the more exotic the better. (“When the Titanic went down in 1912, the most valuable and highly insured commodity in its hold was 40 crates of feathers.” From a book review in The Spectator). He also took up the search for the missing skins, a story in itself, and although he managed to find some of them and get them back, many remain missing. This is a different kind of detective story that will intrigue lovers of natural history, as well as those who enjoy a criminal caper. A great read for those who enjoyed “The Orchid Thief” and “The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession”.
American Eden by Victoria Johnson
“The more a man has to do the better he does it,” David Hosack (1769–1835). If anyone should know, it should be Hosack, the subject of this book. David Hosack was a celebrity in his day, brilliant, adventurous, hardworking, and acquainted with many of the great minds of the day. He was friends with both Hamilton and Burr, family physician to both, and was one of the few things they agreed on. He was the attending physician at their duel.
Historian Johnson has resurrected this obscure figure and made him come to life in the twenty-first century with her exhaustively-researched, lively biography. Set in the political, social, and intellectual circles of the new Republic, it shows Hosack as the celebrity he was, an early adopter of new medical treatments, a charismatic teacher and public speaker. He was founder of the first botanical garden in the United States, the Elgin Botanic Garden in NYC, financed with his own money, where today Rockefeller Center stands. He studied in Edinburgh and London, where he built and maintained relationships with European scientists, which helped establish the scientific community in this young nation.
Back in the new Republic, he studied at Columbia University with some of the most brilliant botanic and medical minds of the time. He became an admired professor, founded one of first medical journals, promoted new medical treatments, and championed the Hudson River School of painting. He and his students ignited a passion for botany that still echoes today throughout the United States in public parks and private gardens. This book will appeal to history buffs, botanists, and gardeners alike.
Kicks: The Great American Story of Sneakers by Nicholas Smith
Quick! What do Michael Jordan, Kurt Cobain, and Mister Rogers have in common? Give yourself a pat on the back if you answered, “Sneakers!” All are identified in some way with the ubiquitous footwear. Call them what you may—sneakers (most commonly used in the Northeastern U.S.), athletic footwear, running shoes, gym shoes, tennis shoes (most commonly used in most of the U.S.)—there are few people who don’t own at least one pair of this footwear, and some who own entire closets full of nothing but sneakers. Sneakers can be performance-oriented, produced for a certain activity, such as running, skateboarding, basketball, or tennis. Or, they can be used for cultural or life-style reasons, where style, color, and materials are paramount rather than performance concerns. In each category there is status to consider—Puma, Adidas, Nike, Converse, Reebok. How did these companies come to be? And who was Chuck Taylor and how did his name come to identify the iconic high-top?
In his first book, Smith looks at the development of this modern footwear beginning with the assembly line efficiency of the Industrial Revolution in the late nineteenth century and the advent of new materials such as vulcanized rubber. The first shoes had rubber soles and canvas uppers and people began using these light weight shoes to play tennis, so why not ‘tennis shoes’? Rubber soles? We can ‘sneak’ around! And from the rubber or ‘gum’ soles, we get the term ‘gumshoe’ for private eyes. Today we mass produce shoes that are designed by computers and that use twenty-first century materials. As sneaker manufacturers continue to battle to overcome the stigma of sweatshop conditions and poverty wages in overseas plants, they walk a fine line in marketing their wares. Today, with sneakers dominating the feet of the young world-wide, this universal footwear has become a symbol of globalization. If you we’ve ever owned a pair of sneakers, you’ll find this a book an easy-to-read history of sneakers, filled with lots of fun facts and stories.
The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West by John Branch
Branch is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, and here he puts his reporting and observation skills to very good use. This book is a history of the modern American cowboy and his struggle to remain so. Urbanization, continuing droughts, rearrangement of public lands by the government—all have contributed to the uncertainty of the future of farming and ranching in the American West. To explore whether or not ranching can be the future of the West and not just the past, Branch embedded himself with the Wright family in southern Utah to show the challenges faced by modern Western American ranchers.
The Wright family has raised cattle on their land for more than 150 years. Their ancestry on the land goes back to the wave of Mormons that came west in the 1850s, before the transcontinental railroad was connected, and decades before Utah was a state. The current Wrights, Bill and his wife, Evelyn, have raised thirteen children on the ranch, seven of them sons, all of whom have gone on to become champion rodeo riders.
There are two threads running through the book. The cattle ranching thread focuses primarily on Bill; caring for the herd is his passion, but as he gets older, it gets increasingly harder, even with the help of his sons and grandsons. As the story progresses, the grazing land begins to wear out, numerous conflicts with the Bureau of Land Management abound, corporate interests swallow the cattle business, and tourism encroaches. Bill wonders how much longer his business can remain viable.
The rodeo thread focuses on the sons and some of their sons, most of whom have reached the highest level of the sport. While rodeo participation at their level brings a sense of competitive pride (and many broken bones and head injuries), it also provides a necessary, vital, monetary infusion for the ranch.
“Branch’s…reporting and evocative prose renders this a memorable tale of family and the American West in a state of flux.” —Publishers Weekly
Energy: A Human History by Richard Rhodes
Rhodes presents a highly-readable tale of human need, curiosity, ingenuity, and arrogance. From man’s dependence on wood, up through coal and the development of nuclear and solar energies, Rhodes introduces us to inventors and scientists whose discoveries fueled work on various methods of harnessing and extracting different sources of energy. Readers will be familiar with some of these people, such as Benjamin Franklin and James Watt, but there are others with equally compelling stories to tell, of whom most of us are not aware. The breakout century for energy was the eighteenth, its country Britain, and its basis coal, more inexpensive than wood at the time, but even then, known as a source of smoke more irritating than that of wood and thus responsible for some of the first wide-spread pollution.
When Watt’s patents began expiring in the 1800s, experimentation began in earnest and the steam turbine, the electric motor, and the internal combustion engine took over and revolutionized the energy industry. Rhodes takes readers on a whirlwind tour of the 19th and 20th centuries and the technological wonders that took place in the energy field. He does not ignore the resulting downsides of various energy sources. In addition to the main forms of energy, he also explores some of the lesser known forms of energy, such as the gunpowder engines and wagons propelled by sails. Although humans are problem-solvers, his optimism is somewhat tempered by global warming, which he also explores. Rhodes’ fascinating tale will delight technology wonks and inventors and discoverers, although the book is readily readable and relatable to the lay person.
Books recommended by Regina S., Collection Management Specialist