Three Great Summer Reads

Summer term has flown by.  With only 2 weeks left, I have a bit of a breather from assignments.  I am taking this opportunity to make a posting.  Below are 3 “great summer reads” booktalks that I put together for my Readers’ Advisory class.  I was quite happy with how they turned out.  Please keep in mind that I presented my booktalks to the class – these are the notes from which I spoke.


“The terms “summer read” or “beach read” are often applied to books that are “light”, “fluffy”, “short and sweet”, “easy to pick up and put down”.  While the warm weather certainly fits that kind of light reading, the long, hot days of summer can create the perfect atmosphere for another kind of book.  The kind of book in which you fall through the pages and lose yourself for hours…and then regret having to return to the “real world”.  The kind of book that is riveting, spellbinding…and utterly absorbing.  These three books are very different in terms of plot, style of writing, setting, mood, and character types, but they share certain elements that help to make them compelling reads.  First, all 3 are character-driven, with large, well-developed casts.  The stories are told through 3rd person narrators, and the focus shifts from character to character, giving you multiple perspectives on the action and events, and allowing you to get to know all of the character intimately.  Second, settings and plots are vividly, thoroughly described.  The authors draw you into the story – you will feel as though you are participating in the events yourself.  Because this is a mixed group of adult readers (and not necessarily interested in one particular type of story), I chose books from three different genres: fantasy, romance/chicklit & crime/caper.  I’ve also been informed that you are open to books with graphic language, sex and violence.  Just a reminder, then, that these books do include these elements!

The Fionavar Tapestry, by Guy Gavriel Kay (1984-1986-1986)Fionavar

The Fionavar Tapestry is actually comprised of 3 books: The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road. They’re still available individually, but this all-in-one edition is convenient, and surprisingly light and comfortable to hold.  G.G. Kay is an acclaimed Canadian fantasy writer.  This book is a “High Fantasy” epic, following in the tradition of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  In fact, Kay helped to edit Tolkien’s Silmarillion and many elements of The Fionavar Tapestry were directly & consciously inspired by Tolkien’s mythology.  Aspects of other works of literature, cultures and folklore are also woven into the story – including Arthurian legend, and British, Scandinavian, and Native American mythology.  He uses these elements in new, creative ways, introducing unique spins on old traditions.  Kay’s world has a rich history & mythology, & it is full of interesting characters and creatures.  Think magic, dwarves, maps, invented languages, swords, perilous quests…!  He writes very dramatically, and the theatrical tone may take some getting used to.  For example, the book begins: “After the war was over, they bound him under the Mountain.  And so that there might be warning if he moved to escape, they crafted then, with magic and with art, the five wardstones, last creation and the finest of Ginserat.”  The plot is gripping: Because Kay takes so much time building the characters and the world, you become much attached to the story.  While slowly paced at first, you reach a certain point when you realize that you are completely hooked!  The story begins at Canada’s very own University of Toronto, where 5 students are gathered to listen to a lecture by a mysterious, reclusive scholar.  At a meeting with this figure later that evening, he reveals to them his true identity.  His name is Loren Silvercloak, and he is a mage from a world called Fionavar.  He explains to the disbelieving students that Earth is only one of many worlds, of which Fionavar is the “first”.  After much debate, he convinces Kim, Paul, Dave, Jennifer and Kevin to travel back with him to Fionavar to attend a festival as guests of honour.  But as they pass between the worlds, Dave has second thoughts.  He attempts to pull free, and when they arrive in Fionavar, Dave is nowhere to be found!  Furthermore, it becomes clear that Silvercloak had other reasons for inviting them to Fionavar.  An ancient evil is rising in the land, and the five U of T students are drawn into the conflict…and what happens in Fionavar ripples through ALL worlds, including our own.  As the characters battle against the dark forces of The Unraveller, they learn that it was more than chance that brought them to Fionavar.  Ultimately, each must follow their own difficult path if the enemy is to be destroyed.  Marion Zimmer Bradley (author of The Mists of Avalon) described The Fionavar Tapestry by saying, “It’s one of those rare books that change your perception of the world forever afterward.”  The book is enormous in scope.  It has violent battles, passionate love affairs, humour, pain, sacrifice, beauty and courage pitted against unimaginable horrors.  It’s definitely worthy of being called an “epic”, and, for those interested in being completely swept away this summer, it’s a great read!

French Relations, by Fiona Walker (1994)FrenchRelations

French Relations belongs to a different genre, but it’s no less captivating than The Fionavar Tapestry. Fiona Walker is a British writer whose work falls under the heading of “chick lit”, but what makes her novels stand out from the mob is the depth of her characterization, the cleverness of her use of language, and the richness of her settings and plots.  To date, she has written 10 novels (the first of which was French Relations).  Characters from previous books often make appearances in later stories.  The novels are full of humour, tears, sex, and (of course) love.  French Relations begins with the heroine, Tash French, unemployed, out of shape, broken-hearted and generally bewildered, en route to France where she’ll be spending the summer with her fabulously rich mother and step-father at their vast, crumbling chateau.  The trouble is, the rest of Tash’s eccentric family & their glamorous lovers will also be there!  As the sultry summer heats up, Tash (lumpy and overlooked for most of her life) suddenly finds herself the centre of everyone’s attention.  In particular, that of rich, arrogant, cruel, but OHHHhh so devastatingly attractive Hugo Beauchamp, and staggeringly gorgeous, tremendously famous…and seriously disturbed Hollywood leading man Niall O’Shaunessy.  It’s a scorching summer in France – there’s no end to the booze, bed-hopping, and bad behaviour.  The novel has an enormous cast of larger-than-life characters, all with intriguing pasts (even the dogs play important roles)!  Fiona Walker is a master of comedy.  The snappy dialogue is full of double entendres, word plays, and clever references to pop culture, and the characters always manage to end up in the most ridiculously funny situations.  French Relations is absolutely riveting.  You’ll grow to love every character, even those whose behaviour has been deliciously naughty.  And when you reach the gratifying conclusion to this great summer read, don’t despair, because the sequel “Well Groomed” is also a great read!

Stormy Weather, by Carl Hiaasen (1995)StormyWeather

Stormy Weather is the shortest of the three, but no less compelling.  Carl Hiaasen has written several books, all of which tell darkly funny, twisted stories about Florida and the Everglades, murder, sex, and corruption.  He’s been a columnist for The Miami Herald since 1985, and (quoting from his official website) his column has “at one time or another…pissed off just about everybody in South Florida, including his own bosses.”  The humour in Hiaasen’s novels is sustained by the absolute deadpan tone of the narration.  He writes about absurd characters in positively bizarre situations, and maintains the same dry, prosaic tone throughout.  A word of warning: these novels are stuffed full of graphic language, graphic sex, and graphic (and sometimes truly disturbing) violence.  You will be exposed to the grittiest characters imaginable, partaking in strange, unpardonable criminal acts…..and if you share Carl Hiaasen’s dark, cynical sense of humour, you’ll find yourself laughing out loud.  Stormy Weather is set in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Andrew.  All semblance of law and order has evaporated, and Florida’s criminal underworld, both the clever and the crazy, senses its advantage.  Mixed up in the mayhem are a few ordinary people, although Hiaasen’s depiction of “ordinary” may seem somewhat…extraordinary.  The book features an assorted, motley crew of characters, from all acts of life, demonstrating every kind of corruption and depravity.  There’s a recently married couple on an ill-fated honeymoon, a seductive con artist and her ex-convict partner, a mobile salesman with a shotgun and an eye to make a quick buck, a skull-juggling law school dropout, a band of marauding monkeys gone mad, an escaped lion with a ferocious appetite, two state troopers, and one former governor, no less mad than the monkeys.  As the characters crash and clash in the post hurricane state, violence erupts, hostages are taken, gruesome crimes are committed & grisly “accidents” occur.  The story shifts from character to character, and as the plot progresses their follies are exposed.  Stormy Weather is sardonic, shocking, and outrageously funny in a very dark, off-beat way.  But it isn’t without romance – you’ll find yourself cheering for a few likeable characters before the end!  Will order and justice be restored? Will the lion sate his hunger? Will the mad monkeys and the wild governor be contained?  ….. and….should they be?  Carl Hiaasen’s captivating story will absorb and entertain you, and make you question law, order, and man’s role in the Nature of things.

So, if you’re looking for a book to lose yourself in this summer, The Fionavar Tapestry, French Relations, and Stormy Weather may just be your perfect summer read!


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