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Great Escapes

Every sunny day of the last four weeks, I stop the housework at 11 am, grab my sunscreen and sunglasses, and head for our back deck. My girls play next to me as I pull up my folding chair and open a book.

For five minutes or sixty, this is how I celebrate summer: escape.

I admit, I’m hard on my beach reads. They have to be good. Really good. Awkward language, cardboard characters, and anytime I’m told rather than shown loses my attention and sends me running for the next good better read.

I used to choose books based on genre. Then, I picked books based on theme. But in the last five years, I’ve chosen books based on authors. Someone who once held my attention for 100,000 words is likely to hold it for another 100,000.

That being said, four of the five best books I’ve read in the last half-decade have come from breakout authors – those who, even if they had prior publishing experience, were relatively unknown to the reader world.

They’ve also all been made into movies – or are about to be.

I won’t say much about the first three on that list, because if you’ve missed The Help, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, or The Hunger Games, then I assume you’ve been stuck in a remote location for the past five years without an e-reader or wifi, or are staging a protest against one or all of these popular and passion-inspiring reads, in which case I recommend you either a) stop what you’re doing and go request them from the library, or b) tell me why you hated them/won’t read them. (Confession: I love hearing why people didn’t like something, even if I happened to love that same thing. It helps me understand why I don’t like other things.)

But for those of you who have read the first three and need a cozy, powerful, un-put-down-able read, I’d heartily recommend these two books:

1) Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Canada Day weekend my family and I spent two hours in the Robson Street Chapters. As my girls poured through Fancy Nancy and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I paused at the If you liked the Hunger Games, read this… table.

Turns out there’s an entire genre based on Suzanne Collins’ ground-breaking work. (If you’re looking for those kinds of reads, google ‘YA dystopian genre’ or ‘YA paranormal genre.’  Of these books, Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy and Lauren Oliver’s Delirium trilogy stand out.)

I so enjoyed Delirium that I searched for Lauren Oliver on Amazon and found that 1) she has a rabid, loyal fan base, and 2) many of them wondered if Delirium would meet their expectations.


They loved – I mean, loved – her previous novel, Before I Fall.

I figured I better check it out.

Oh, my.

I hated the protagonist at first. She seemed everything that was wrong with all high school experiences. But by the time this Mean Girls/Groundhog Day story ended, I loved her. I cheered for her.

I wanted to hug all the girls who used to be like her.

The ending is both hopeful and heartbreaking; the writing is lyrical and crisp; the writer’s observations on what can be the best and worst years of our lives are nothing short of poignant.

For those of you looking to bring peace to a tumultuous social experience, for those of you who love redemption stories, or those of you who simply want a book you can’t put down, try Before I Fall.

You can check out the author’s website here:

2) Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

I’ve adored Emily Giffin’s writing from the moment I stumbled on Something Blue in the library. I read the whole thing before I realized it was a sequel to Something Borrowed, the book-turned-2011-movie starring Ginnifer Goodwin (always a good choice), Kate Hudson (a perfect Darcy), and John Krasinski (can steal any scene, no matter what movie he’s in or what character he plays), and until July 24th, the blue book was my favorite of Emily’s pastels.

Then I read this:

From the first lines I knew I would not get anything else done that day or the next. Emily sweeps her readers into a compelling, fresh rendition of an old story line (adopted child seeks out birth mother) and opens our eyes to the very real heartbreaks of both giving a child away and raising a child who does not share your DNA.  I’ve always respected moms who chose to do either, and this book has only heightened my esteem.

My four-year-old woke me mere hours after I’d finally turned the light out – yes, I stayed up till the wee hours for this treasure of a story – and crawled into bed next to me. She tucked herself inside my left arm and grabbed my right to pull around her. I heard her sigh of content and for a moment flashed to those seemingly never-ending short nights of her first eight months.  How did you get so big? I thought.

Then I thought of Marian, Conrad, and Kirby, and – after reminding myself they weren’t real – realized how unbelievably lucky I am to have this snoring man sleeping next to me and these two raucous, creative girls with never-ending questions.

I didn’t mind the lack of sleep that day. Like all great writers, Ms. Giffin carried me to another world and made me more satisfied with my own.

And ideally, shouldn’t we be able to say that about every book we read?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kalina #

    11 am appointment to read in the sun? Sounds like the perfect summer escape! Thanks for passing on your recommendations so eloquently. I can’t wait to check them out, especially where we belong. And perhaps I’ll give the help another try–I passed over it when a friend commented that the dialects used made it overwhelmingly confusing to read almost the entire time.

    August 19, 2012
    • I’ve heard the same difficulty re: the Help, but I think its worth a bit of ‘work’ to get into the language. I loved the movie, but the book is just even that much better. As it usually goes, right?!

      August 30, 2012

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