Summer Reading

Light is the word here. I enjoy light reading. Not as a steady diet, but it’s refreshing in between heavier stuff. So here are some of my hitherto-secret vices. Enjoy, and let us all know what you think of any you read. Also add your own suggestions to the list!

Mysteries

I confess that poorly drawn or insignificant female characters infuriate me. You may guess from this that I like strong female leads and you may also have discovered, as have I, that it’s not so easy to find them. It’s a lot easier than 20 years ago, but still. Here are some authors and characters I’ve taken to.

Denise Mina. I really like this Scottish author who writes about Paddy Meehan, a smart, wise-mouthed reporter from a large Catholic family in Glasgow who struggles with her weight and with making it in a male-dominated field. The style is realistic, gritty and the books are filled with believable characters. I’ve read Garnet Hill, Field of Blood and Slip of the Knife and am forcing myself to slow down so the few remaining I can savor.

Janet Evanovich. There should be a separate category of “ultra-light” for these books in the numbered series that starts with One for the Money. A new one comes out each summer and, yes, my daughter and I have read them all. The first half-dozen or so are laugh-aloud funny, featuring Stephanie Plum, bail bondswoman from Jersey who has a former prostitute for a side kick, a gun-toting granny and a hilarious assortment of characters including cross-dressers, stoners and gangsters who mess up her life.

Batya Gur. Unfortunately, this wonderful Israeli author died too young so there won’t be any more of her thick books that always teach you a lot about something: the world of star cellists, life on a kibbutz, a psychiatric institute in Israel. The protagonist here is male, an intellectual head cop, with sexist other male cops, but even so the writing is so good I’ve read all her six books.

Laurie King. This author writes two series, one set in San Francisco, which I’ve read one or two of and don’t find strong or captivating, but I’m a big fan of the series about Mary Russell, the brilliant young religious scholar who eventually becomes Sherlock Holmes’ partner in all senses of the word. If you can, read them in order; the series starts with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all but one of these, The Game, which “jumped the shark.” (If you’re not familiar with this term, it’s a film expression that means a film/show has leapt from the bounds of the credible and gone over the top.)

Jacqueline Winspear. Her series about Maisie Dobbs, a working class young woman who receives the gifts of education and apprenticeship that help her set up her own investigative agency to apply psychological insight to the task of solving insolvable cases. It takes place just after World War I in England, a tough time indeed. It’s hard to put my finger on why I like these books. They don’t have much action and the pace is always slow. The atmosphere is very British and there’s something ultimately calming about them and also rewarding because Maisie works hard, never forgets her roots or her obligations, fights her own internal demons and wins. It’s good to read these in order, too. The first is Maisie Dobbs.

Science Fiction

I’ve been reading science fiction on and off for decades. I like all kinds and varieties but particularly futuristic ones where someone has imagined a different world and different ways for women, or female beings not necessarily human, to be in that world.

Having read hundreds of authors in the field, allow me to share with you my favorite science fiction author of all time: C. J. Cherryh. She’s written over 60 novels (yes, 60!) and won three Hugo awards. By all rights, she should have won at least a dozen more Hugos and numerous other awards, but she began writing in the 1970s when publishers (mostly male) believed sci-fi readers (mostly male) wouldn’t read a woman author (hence her use of initials) and didn’t give enough credit to her genius. Even now she doesn’t get her just due.

The woman is brilliant. She’s written in every genre of science fiction there is and creates entire universes with different series in different sectors of them. I mean, really. No other author has been so bold, so imaginative with so large a vision.

If you like advanced technological worlds, read her Cyteen series that deals with cloning and regeneration and all the complications of economics and government and morals. If you like space-faring wild cat-type people where all the ship captains and crew are female and the men stay home with the children, read the Chanur novels.

Should you prefer long ago worlds where people rode horses and there were brave, lonely mercenaries try The Morgaine Cycle books where such a mercenary (male) follows the mysterious and tormented Morgaine through gates to different worlds on a quest to save everyone.

For different species, check out The Faded Sun novels for a desert planet and people who have become homeless. They must figure out how to deal with a human male who shows up in their midst and he must learn their ways.

Carolyn Cherryh can write anything, and indeed has done fantasy as well, with the saga of Jones, a smart, tough river-boating woman who saves an upper class guy from drowning and creates an uneasy alliance with him, filled with intrigue. This series is called Merovingen Nights. I want to adopt Jones. Or have her adopt me.

Anyway, this list doesn’t cover all the worlds and species and economies and governing structures C.J. Cherryh has created, but there are more on her website.

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When you leave a post here, I’ll email you back with my very favorite science fiction novel, one of the few books of any kind I’ve ever read more than twice, because this book has it all. If you’re only going to read one piece of science fiction in your life, this is the one!

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7 Replies

  1. Charlene Jul 10th 2010

    Cheryl, have you read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series? I’ve the the series at least 4 times. The public would be familiar with the “Mists Of Avalon” which was made into a movie. I also like Kate Forsyth’s Witches of Eileanan series. The only black Sci Fi writer I’ve read and love is the late Octavia Butler.

  2. Susan N Jul 10th 2010

    In the mystery area there are a lot of female authors who have strong female protagonists. Have you read any of Barbara Neely’s series about Blanche White, an African-American domestic worker? Have you read Octavia Porter Randolph’s Circle of Ceridwen trilogy, available free online for downloading?

    I don’t think “light” should be a perjorative term when applied to literature! You should not have to apologize for your light reading or call it a vice. Isn’t Jane Austen “light reading”?

    You have given us plenty of good recommendations for summer reading. Will you give us more recommendations each season? I am really looking forward to finding out, FOR FREE, what your favorite science fiction book is!

  3. Hi, Cheryl. Maybe you’ve expanded my reading interests. I’ve been kind of stuck in a nonfiction/memoir rut. I used to really enjoy sci-fi when I was a kid, but I haven’t read anything except for a few short stories by Bradbury et al since then. Actually, one of the writers in my other group is working on a science fiction book. As for mysteries, I can say almost the same thing. Like most boys, I was into The Hardy Boys, but I have to admit also liking Nancy Drew. Not sure if they fall strictly in the mystery genre, but two books that are among my favorites are Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and In Cold Blood.

  4. Ed, hard to think of you in a rut of any kind, avid reader that you are. But try one of these out and let us know how you like it. I don’t know what In Cold Blood is; it’s kind of sui generis I think. Midnight in the Garden was a good book and left me longing to visit Savannah, a desire I’d forgotten about until you reminded me. Thanks!

  5. Jane Austen “light” reading?! Bite thy tongue!! But thanks for the reminder about Barbara Neely. Haven’t read her in a while, but have read several in which Blanche White (such an ironic name for a black woman) stars. I liked them, but not enough to read more than one at a time. Certainly enjoyed the point of view of a domestic worker, “maid” or “cook” who is taken for granted and appears invisible to those she serves when, of course, she is anything but.

  6. PS: Susan, forgot to say I’m eager to try Octavia’s series; a new author to taste!

  7. Charlene, I read the Darkover series in the late 70s and liked them a lot. But I often found that I’d be reading along happily when MZB would throw in some actions or dialogue that seemed blatantly sexist to me and it felt like a whack in the solar plexus when I least expected it. Has anyone else found that reading her stuff? I may be in the minority here.

    Oooh, a new series; can’t wait to try Kate Forsyth. Thanks for the tip! And yes, Octavia Butler had a wonderful imagination. I wish I could remember the name of my fav of hers; I’ve read them all. It was very early. I’ve tried dredging this title up from the murky mental depths before to no avail. Maybe should try again!