When you returned to school after a hot, fun-filled summer, did you have to turn in a book report? Spend the last few days of August finishing all the books you were supposed to read through June and July?
Worse, was reading a chore?
I’m happy to say my summer reading this year provided escapes to different times and places and every one was a different kind of joy. Sweet and wild as Chincoteague. Wild and risky as Jazz Age Chicago. Heart-breaking and hope-filled as Cuba in the 1960s. Magical as the Paris Opera House.
I’m happy to recommend all four of these books. Two of then were written for young people but that doesn’t make them less fascinating.
The Phantom’s Apprentice, by Heather Webb, tells The Phantom of the Opera story from Christine’s point of view. If you’re familiar with the Andrew Lloyd Webber theatrical extravaganza, this is the book for you. Although I was never enthralled by that particular show, I read 342-page blockbuster in two days. Luckily, I was at the beach. But the story of love and loss, music and ambition took me far from the crashing waves and hot sand to a haunted theatre filled with song, romance and magic. Heather writes a beautiful book. Her characters come to life in a setting as vivid as a movie in technicolor. Highly recommended.
Wild Women and the Blues, by Denny S. Bryce, has a dual timeline with two engrossing main characters. In modern times, film student Sawyer Hayes is hoping an elderly woman can provide the answers he needs to finish his thesis. Honoree Dalcour is a tough, old bird who tells him about her younger self, when she was an aspiring singer and Chicago was the dangerous jazz capital of the world. Denny deftly weaves these two stories together, serving up characters you won’t forget. It’s an entertaining ride that will leave you breathless as you close the book for the last time.
Flight to Freedom, by Ana Veciana-Suarez, is the fictional diary of a little girl in the early days of Castro’s Cuba. Yara’s only 13, with all the usual teenager issues. But while she might worry about school or friends, she’s got so much more to think about. Set in 1967 and 1968, she writes in her diary about their last days of life in Cuba and their new life in Miami. It’s sweet and it’s sad. It’s full of hope but at times, it’s quite dark. Written for younger readers, the slim volume is engrossing. It left me wanting to know more.
Misty of Chincoteague, by Marguerite Henry, was written in a different time, 1947, about a timeless subject. Everyone still loves the little pony beloved by Paul and Maureen Beebe who lived on a little Virginia island called Chincoteague. I read this in my horse phase some fifty years ago (It hurt to write that.) and I can see why it still inspires young horse lovers today. A fictionalized account of a real pony, the young reader’s novel is filled with so many lovely details of the Pony Penning Day which goes on every summer, or did before Covid. It will return again, I’m sure. In the meantime, Henry’s book keeps the memories alive for readers far from Chincoteague.
There were more, of course. But I’ll save them for another day. What have you been reading? I’d love some recommendations.