The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Anatomy of a Summer Book (and what I will read on my summer vacation)

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

ImageIt’s been quite a few years since I’ve had a real summer vacation, the kind where you spend the months of June through August lounging at home, going to the pool, and hanging out with your friends.  Nonetheless, there’s still something about summer that brings back memories of lazy afternoons and that gleeful escape from the monotony of school.  But being the book nerd that I am, I still read compulsively during the summer

But summer calls for a different kind of book.  Summer needs fun books, exciting, hot reads that will keep me entertained by the pool (or in the air conditioning, as the case may be).   And with two major trips coming up this summer, this summer is going to involve even more reading than usual for me.

So how do you spot a summer book, specifically?  Here are a few pointers:

Genre fiction triumphs over literary:
On the most basic level, the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction is that literary fiction is character-driven, whereas genre fiction is plot-driven.  I don’t totally agree with this distinction—I’ve read a lot of genre fiction with fantastic characters, and I’ve read literary fiction with great plots (and vice versa)—but there is a certain vibrancy to genre fiction that the literary side of things often lacks.  Whether it’s a complicated mystery or an epic fantasy, genre fiction is the kind you want to devour rather than savor.

Charles Manson triumphs over Charles II: Historical epics are all well and good, but in the summer.  But if I’m going to curl up with a nonfiction read during the summer, I want BLOOD, I want SEX, and I want VIOLENCE.  Granted, some of those old-school British monarchs might be obliging, but that kind of brings me to my next point…

Shorter is better:
Regardless of genre or type, summer books should be relatively short and easy to read.  Gertrude Stein?  Not a summer read.  James Joyce?  Definitely not!  Summer is not the time for deep metaphors, and I don’t want to be sitting next to the pool trying to figure out what Author X meant.

Summer books are FUN books:
People read for a lot of reasons.  They read to learn.  They read to experience things they wouldn’t otherwise.  I read for fun—never more so than during the summer.  Summer books should be entertaining above all.  And everyone will have different definitions of what that means.

And now, without further ado, are the new summer book releases for which I will be first in line:

Magic Bleeds
by Ilona Andrews (released May 25)

I have fallen in love with Ilona Andrews’ (the pseudonym for husband-and-wife writing time Ilona and Andrew Gordon) Kate Daniels series recently.  Kate is strong, independent, and kind of a smart ass.  She lives in a future Atlanta where magic and technology battle for dominance.  Her best friends are shape shifters.  And Kate has to work constantly to conceal the strength of her magic, hiding a heritage that would inevitably put everyone she cares about in danger.   This fourth book in the series (after Magic Bites, Magic Burns, and Magic Strikes) has a villain with links to Kate’s powerful family, and it further develops her relationship with Curran, the shape-shifter Beast Lord of Atlanta.  With both high-stakes action and intense relationship development, this is arguably the strongest book in the series.  If you haven’t read the series before, start at the beginning.  The character development takes awhile, and watching the slow build-up between Kate and Curran is well worth the wait.  (And, unlike many urban fantasy series, there is no love triangle here.  Hey, I like a good love triangle as much as the next girl, but it's gotten really overused of late.)

Twice Bitten by Chloe Neill (July 6)

Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series (Twice Bitten is the third, after Some Girls Bite and Friday Night Bites) offers an interesting take on the now popular (and definitely summer book-worthy) vampire theme.  Merit is a 28-year-old graduate student who, after being attacked on campus, is turned into a vampire against her will.  Unlike most fictional vampires, Merit has some difficulty accepting her fate, and her attraction to Ethan, the head vampire of her house and the vamp who turned her, just complicates things.  The third book in the series brings shape shifters into the mix (and really, what would an urban fantasy novel be these days without shape shifters?) and promises to intensify the heat between Merit and Ethan.  If I can hold out until I leave for my vacation on July 9, this will be on my airplane reading list.  Something tells me I won’t make it that long.

Waking the Witch by Kelley Armstrong (July 27)

One of the cool things about Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series is that she allows her characters to grow and age with each book.  For the latest book, the narration switches to Savannah Levine, first introduced as a 12-year-old orphaned witch in 2002’s Stolen.  Savannah is now 21 and eager to prove herself as an adult witch/private investigator.  Very few other series authors have the courage to allow their characters to get older, or to switch narrators with every novel as Armstrong has.  But doing so allows the readers to see the world and characters in more depth than most other series.  I, for one, will be anxious to see what the now-adult Savannah does in her own novel.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (August 24)

Suzanne Collins Hunger Games series proves that young adult novels don’t have to be frivolous or insipid to capture readers’ attention.  With one bold act of defiance, Katniss Everdeen became the unwitting symbol of a rebellion against an oppressive government.  Collins takes aspects of ancient mythology, science fiction, and our own hyper-mediated culture and turns them into a unique dystopian fantasy.  I’ve already talked about this series in some depth (Like here, and here.), so I’m not going to add much except to say that if you haven’t read it yet, it’s worth it.  This is the kind of series that makes you think and keeps you entertained.