What should you bring to the beach to read this summer?
As my email subscribers may know, a few Fridays ago I sent out an email with links to some posts about the problems my daughters and I have had with some Christian romance novels. Too often they’re so formulaic and so trite. I wish we could do better.
And I really have a problem with romanticizing the Amish.
But at the same time, I love a good book!
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So I thought today I’d share some of my favourites, augmented with some suggestions from my weekly email subscribers who answered my request for some summer reading suggestions. (And remember–you can receive extra material when you subscribe to my free emails, too!).
To top things off, today is Amazon Prime day, which means there are some great deals happening on Amazon right now. We’ve had a Prime account for years, and just this week discovered you can stream all kinds of videos with Amazon Prime memberships, too, so we’ve been on a bit of an Amazon kick lately. (And if you don’t have Amazon Prime yet, now’s the time to get it!)
1. Try the classic mysteries: P.D. James and Agatha Christie
I absolutely love mysteries, and P.D. James is one of my favourite authors. I love them not for the mystery itself, but often because I find the characters so intriguing. I absolutely adore Adam Dalgliesh, her main detective.
And then James broke with tradition and wrote Death Comes to Pemberley, a continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which takes place a few years after Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage. A great one for Austen and James fans!
And Agatha Christie can’t be beat, either. If you’ve never read her mysteries, you really should. They hearken back to a time when people just seemed more, well, classy. And I appreciate that.
2. My favourite modern writer who pulls at the heartstrings: Catherine Hyde Ryan
She doesn’t write romances. She writes about what community really is, and shows how, when we just choose to reach out to those in our midst, we make life bigger and more meaningful for everyone.
My favourite book of hers was Don’t Let Me Go, about a young girl whose mother is a drug addict, and is in danger of being taken by child protective services, until the misfits in her apartment building band together to make sure she’s cared for. And they find that sacrificing for each other heals their own wounds.
It’s not a Christian book, but it’s definitely a Christian message of love. And I found myself wishing that all communities could be like this. Check out her books.
3. My favourite modern literature: The Help and The Friday Night Knitting Club
If you haven’t read The Help, you need to. It is beautiful. It is like a more modern To Kill a Mockingbird (though nothing can ever quite compare to that).
And as a knitter who has belonged to knitting clubs, I loved The Friday Night Knitting Club, too. Neither are Christian books, and they’re not perfect. But I really enjoyed them.
4. My favourite Christian fiction: Lynn Austin and Randy Alcorn
While I’m not a big fan of romances, I do really enjoy some Christian fiction. My two favourite authors would definitely be Austin and Alcorn, and from them, I’d say my favourites are Eve’s Daughters by Austen and the Deadline series by Alcorn.
5. My favourite historical Christian fiction: Brock & Boede Thoene and Francine Rivers
Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series about life in Rome for the early Christians is just amazing. I really enjoyed it.
And the Thoenes have written several series about World War II, the founding of Israel, and even ancient Israel. If you haven’t read them, they’re worth it just so that you may understand more about history and its effects on the times we live in.
6. Try some books with strong female leads
A number of historical books with strong female leads were mentioned, some fiction and some non-fiction. Here are some of our favourites: Lilac Girls, about the Ravensbrook concentration camp (where the ten Booms were as well, incidentally); War Brides by Helen Bryan, about the WWII aftermath; Hidden Figures, a nonfiction book covering the often forgotten black women at NASA who helped win the space race (I saw the movie recently and it was awesome!).
7. Feel At Home in Mitford
Many people mentioned the Mitford series, and I heartily agree!
What I love about the Jan Karon’s Mitford series is how quiet they are. They’re focused on an Anglican parish priest just trying to love those in his path, and they’re truly calming and inspirational. I get a similar feeling from them as I do from Catherine Ryan Hyde. I think they’re also good books to widen our horizons. If you’ve been part of the evangelical culture, it’s often hard to picture what “being Jesus’ hands and feet” looks like outside of the modern megachurch worship movement. But here it is, up close and personal, and it can be quite beautiful.
8. Try an intellectual turned fiction writer: Dorothy Sayers
This summer I’ve decided to read all of Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries. I’ve been wanting to read Sayers‘ nonfiction for a while, but I thought I’d start with her fiction. She and C.S. Lewis were friends, and she had a big influence on him. And she was a great thinker at a time when
9. Read through some classics that have been on your “to-do” list
I’m tackling Sayers this summer, but many readers talked about loving Austen or George MacDonald, or others. Several even mentioned getting through Tolkien or the Lord of the Rings series! If you’ve always wanted to tackle some, the summer is a great time. My favourite Austen book is actually Persuasion, though people often find Emma the easiest to start with.
As for Tolstoy, I got through Anna Karenina but couldn’t do War and Peace. I can’t stand Dickens (are you allowed to admit that?). And I’m not a big Bronte fan.
The one classic novel that has become my favourite book of all time: Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It’s so complex, it’s a great story, and it’s not really formulaic. The characters are really multi-faceted. And you’ll understand why “Uncle Tom” should never be used as an insult ever again (though it often is in political discourse, presumably by people who have never read the book!).
10. Try some memoirs!
Here are just a few to get you going, all with very different “feels”:
- Me, Myself and Bob: A memoir from Phil Vischer of Veggie Tales (for those of us who grew up with Veggie Tales)
- Unbroken, by Laura Hildebrand, which recounts the harrowing yet inspiring story of a survivor of the Japanese POW camps (for historical and adventure buffs)
- David McCullough‘s work is all amazing, including his work on John Adams. (for those who love American history).
- Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth, the books that the British TV series was based on. (for those who love British history, and books with strong female leads).
- As Soon as I Fell, by Kay Bruner, an absolutely amazing memoir of a modern missionary who learned the hard way that her conception of God was far too works based. You’ll weep with her as she learns about grace. (seriously, any Christian woman can benefit from Kay’s journey here!)
So those are my suggestions, with some help from my email subscribers who gave me their thoughts! I’d love to hear your thoughts, too. Leave them in the comments!
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