Some summers, you just can’t afford to get away. Thank goodness for books, though! With the turn of a page you can find yourself in a quaint bistro in Nantucket, deep in the heart of Savannah, or even warming yourself in sunny Cape Cod. Wendy Francis set her most recent release, The Summer of Good Intentions, at the latter: Three sisters reunite one summer at their family’s Cape Cod home, bringing a lot of baggage (and we don’t mean suitcases). The familiar Cape becomes a place of togetherness and healing for the girls as the summer wears on. Knowing just how important setting can be, here, Francis shares with Bookish her own version of a literary, American road trip—perfect for summertime reading and armchair traveling.
It’s mid-August, and if you’re anything like me, you’re trying to squeeze every last gasp you can out of summer. School and busier days may lie ahead—but hey, it’s still warm and sunny, and the sunblock isn’t entirely gone yet.
Don’t despair; there are plenty of places to escape to by way of some terrific books. Consider it one last vacation hurrah. And, if these titles have a bit more heft than the usual “summer escape,” may that work in their favor. After all, what’s not to like about a story that gets the rusty mental vacation wheels turning, if not full-out spinning? In the best way, these American stories can help ease the transition from the lightness of summer to those gorgeous days of fall.
Las Vegas, Nevada: We Are Called to Rise
Imagine going to your lingerie drawer one evening only to find a gun hidden in it, presumably by your husband. Is he planning to shoot you? Someone else? This is what happens to Avis, a suburban wife in Las Vegas. Except this isn’t the glitzy Las Vegas that typically comes to mind. This is the “real” Las Vegas: the families that make a home there; the immigrant parents who struggle to build a life for their children; the soldiers returning home to base. The way Laura McBride manages to weave together three distinct stories, knotting them into a heart-stopping moment, will make you re-evaluate both the City of Sin and the workings of the human heart.
“Zebulon County,” Iowa: A Thousand Acres
This Pulitzer Prize-winning book has stayed in print for twenty years for a reason: Not only is it a clever spin on Shakespeare’s King Lear, but it paints a wonderfully lyrical portrait of the Midwest. “Rows of just-sprouted corn fanned into the distance like seams of tiny bright stitches against dark wool,” writes Jane Smiley, as if seeing the world in this light is the most natural thing. A beautifully told story of three sisters, their recalcitrant father, and the tensions that simmer just beneath the surface of its serene and lovely landscape.
“Lonesome Dove,” Texas: Lonesome Dove
Though I never thought I’d be enamored of a Western, my mother tucked this one into my hands oh-so-many years ago (okay, 1986), and it has stood the test of time. You will turn the pages in this 800-plus-page book, enjoying every bite of it as if it were a big, delicious bag of potato chips. There’s no chance you’ll forget Gus or Woodrow and their shenanigans on the cattle drive from Texas to Montana. Soon enough you’ll be tipping a cowboy hat and wearing boots like the best of ‘em.
Savannah, Georgia: The Stories We Tell
Looking to head south? Then look no further than the novels of Patti Callahan Henry. Her latest is the wonderful The Idea of Love, but she has a long, enviable list of books to choose from. A favorite is The Stories We Tell, about Eve and Cooper Morrison, Savannah’s power couple, whose marriage takes a ‘turn’ after a car crash. Savannah’s hot days and cool nights radiate from the pages, making you feel as if you’re right there with Eve, when a “storm rips into Savannah with careless disregard… the (rain) coming sideways, clamorous against the window and hard.”
Nantucket, Massachusetts: The Blue Bistro
An indulgence in food, romance, and the breathtaking setting of Nantucket, The Blue Bistro is the perfect addition to any mid-summer reading list. Not only will it carry you away to the shores of this historic whaling town, but it will also make you want to try one of its fabulous restaurants with its mouth-watering descriptions of island cuisine. Elin Hilderbrand never disappoints, and while I love all her books, this one (her fourth of fifteen) in particular strikes a summery chord.
A hilltop in New Hampshire: The Gift of an Ordinary Day
The only nonfiction book on my mid-August reading list, this is a title I turn to again and again for its wisdom and heartfelt observations on every page. Katrina Kenison describes her family’s move from their suburban Boston home to a rustic hilltop in New Hampshire, where they build a new house. Brimming with ruminations on family, nature, friendship, marriage, and motherhood, this book reminds us of the small gifts of everyday life. A thoughtful testament to the value of slowing down and simplifying our lives—and a perfect read before fall descends.
Wendy Francis is the author of the novel The Summer of Good Intentions and Three Good Things. She is a former book editor whose work has appeared in the Good Housekeeping, Yahoo Parenting, Huffington Post and The Improper Bostonian. She lives outside of Boston with her husband and son.