Must Read Books 2014: Ten Hot Titles for Summer and Beyond

Must Read Books 2014: Ten Hot Titles for Summer and Beyond
Photo credit: Penguin Books, cover design by Jason Ramirez

It was during my formative years as an editor at Field Newspaper Syndicate where I worked with many famous authors as well as slushing my way through submissions from other not so famous authors, that I began my personal love affair with books.

As an independent reader, an editor, a critic and a member of three book clubs, here are some of my personal favorites from the past year.

1. Missing You by Harlan Coben

Missing You, the latest incarnation by New York Times best-selling mystery writer Harlan Coben, has more twists and turns than the new Goliath roller coaster at Six Flags Great America. The story, centered around an online dating site, will keep you guessing—and most likely, guessing wrong. The engrossing page-turner comes in at just under 400 pages--a relatively quick read.

2. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings are a group of six eclectic teens who meet and bond at a summer camp for talented artsy types near Upstate New York. The book follows the characters from their Spirit-in-the-Woods camp days through the next four decades of their lives--loves, losses, fortunes, misfortunes and all that fate throws them. Whether you find this “interesting” or not so much, the book offers a microcosm of life itself—our hopes, our dreams, our demons, the randomness of it all—and begs the question, but never answers it—“What’s it (life) all about?”

3. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Lo-o-o-ng--nearly 800 pages--The Goldfinch is well worth the journey. The story of Theo Decker is more than a “coming of age” story, it is a story of perseverance against all odds as Theo struggles to make sense of his new life after a devastating tragedy at age 13.  It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, it’s captivating.  The Goldfinch combines the good, the bad and the ugly then wraps it in mystery, sensitivity and intrigue that spans the art world, the underworld and the world itself.

4. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

If you’re thinking that The Boys in the Boat is a lighthearted beach read about boys being boys, think again. These “boys” are not buzzing around the Chain of Lakes with an IPA in one hand and a girl in the other. These “boys” are struggling against the elements, their vulnerabilities and their inner demons to become the best they can be.  The Boys in the Boat is the true story of the University of Washington rowing team that went on to bring home the Gold in the 1936 Olympics.  The inspiring book showcases their struggles, determination and true grit.   The final chapters told on the cusp of WWII in "Hitler's" Germany are spellbinding.

5. Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

The water theme continues with Wave--but not in a good way. Have a box of Kleenex ready as you endure this short but tragically  true story of the woman who lost her entire family--her parents, her husband and her children--in the tsunami in Sri Lanka in 2004. Deraniyagala takes the reader from the initial moment when "the wave" hit to the aftermath and her personal struggles being the lone survivor in her family in this horrible disaster that was responsible for the deaths of over 230,000.

6. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

With three years under its belt as number one on the NYT best seller list, if you haven’t read Unbroken--what are you waiting for?  The real life hero of Unbroken is Louis Zamperini who died recently at the age of 97.  What's amazing is that Zamperini survived at all and remained unbroken throughout unimaginable inhuman conditions during WWII.  His life and this book—exemplify the human spirit at its most glorious. This true story of survival against all odds is headed for the big screen in December 2014.

7. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

This New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner is an intensely researched work of fiction based on implausible fact. The novel, set in the recent past in North Korea, is the fictional account of the conditions in North Korea and how the government  frames the rest of the world to its population--with the underlying edict "that if a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change.”

8. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

Every top ten reading list needs at least one book of “short stories” and this one will keep you smiling--if not, at times, LOL. One of my favorite humorists ever, Sedaris with his sharp wit, sensitivity and absurd take on life has hit the bull's eye with this one.  And the best part, it can be read in sprints--one story at a time--or the long run.

9. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini, the best-selling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has done it again with And the Mountains Echoed. Six years in the making, this deeply moving multi-generational story spans human nature and the globe.  The book explores relationships and family in a way that resonates and touches us all.

10. Chicago Stories by Michael Czyzniejewski

Since this is Show Me Chicago, we'll conclude our list with a book that "shows Chicago.'" Of course, there are many books about Chicago from Nelson Algren’s recently updated Chicago: City on the Make to The Encyclopedia of Chicago. But this offbeat book by Michael Czyzniejewski is an easy breezy summer (or anytime) read. The fictional collection of vignettes, created though the imagination of Czyzniejewski and told through the eyes of famous Chicagoans, pretty much chronicles it all from history, organized crime, prohibition, labor issues, race relations, sports, welfare and more.

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