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Just in time for Labor Day, it's the third annual Here Comes Gina Summer Book Guide! As evidenced by the even later than usual release date, we worked very hard to select some of our favorite picks for summer leisure reading. As always, let us know what you think in the comments section - newly revamped to allow replies to individual commenters. Just a small part of the amazing transformation currently taking place at HCG.
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James Summer reading doesn't get any "easier" than the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy (the puns write themselves when discussing this series). The erotic novel chronicles the steamy and creepy dominant-submissive relationship between college student Anastasia Steele and disturbed billionaire Christian Grey. Neither the writing nor the subject matter is challenging, and those factors are what make FSOG such a strong candidate for a summer read. What's more embarrassing than having read FSOG is not having read it when everyone is discussing it at summer parties (or work events, which has actually happened to us).
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach The Art of Fielding is by far the most spectacular book I've read in a while. The baseball team at a small college in Wisconsin hits it big when ridiculously talented shortstop Henry Skrimshander arrives and catapults the team to a winning record. But like all colleges, this one has more than its fair share of drama. Not a big baseball fan? Don't let that stop you - this book is terrific. Chad Harbach’s writing is wonderfully melodic, creative and engaging. Fielding is a long novel, but I actually wished it was longer. Harbach has written a truly fantastic novel you will want to savor.
Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion HCG is a big fan of Joan Didion's A Year of Magical Thinking, but it's way too depressing for a summer read. Before you get your hopes up, note that Play it as it Lays is far from a happy book (happy just isn't JD's style). Didion's masterful novel covers the full range of everything we assumed about 1960s Hollywood: drugs, alcohol, hazy one-night stands with unknown actors (obviously) and sham marriages (a la Valley of the Dolls). If you enjoy a disturbing, dark book written in the brilliant style that only Joan Didion can offer, give Play it as it Lays a shot.
Let's Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson The cover of Let's Pretend this Never Happened alone is worth picking up this book. Jenny Lawson, author of the blog The Bloggess, has written a funny, mostly true (we love that qualification) memoir chronicling her bizarre childhood in rural Texas, her painfully awkward high school years and her marriage to her long-suffering husband Victor (sample chapter: “A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband”). Lawson's writing style - disjointed, laced with profanity - isn't for everyone, but her special brand of humor may be just what you need to beat the end-of-summer blues.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain Our January 2012 book club selection The Paris Wife follows the ups and serious downs of the ill-fated marriage of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson. What we learned: Ernest Hemingway was an alcoholic cheater and a spectacular writer, and Hadley couldn't help herself from falling hard for him. In The Paris Wife, we travel with the Hemingways as they gallivant across 1920s Paris, Austria, Spain and Canada (we know, Canada seems lame in comparison). The highs are wonderful, and the lows are terribly sad. Spoiler: Hadley comes out on top (kind of).
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell When we first read the premise of Swamplandia!, we were skeptical. How awesome can a book about a family's life in struggling alligator theme park in Florida really be? According to the New York Times Ten Best Books of 2011, pretty awesome. Karen Russell’s first novel is a fantastical departure from the typical doughnut making that is ordinary life. 13-year-old Ava's mother Hilola is the star performer at Swamplandia! who draws big crowds with her death defying dives into a pool filled with snapping gators. When Hilola is suddenly stricken with ovarian cancer and (spoiler) dies, Ava tries to convince her father to let her take over her mother's act in an effort to save the theme park from going under. After Ava's father and siblings go AWOL leaving Ava to deal with the 98 gators and the grief of her mother's death herself, the book's heroine learns countless life lessons in trying to keep her family and its business together.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern We know what you're thinking - another circus book? Unlike CF who takes her children to circuses that enslave and abuse helpless animals, we tend to say no thanks to anything involving the circus genre. But ever since Water for Elephants showed us that old time circuses can be romantic and transform into movies starring Reese Witherspon, we give circus books a second glance. The Night Circus, set at the turn of the 19th century, follows two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who are pitted against each other by Celia's father and Marco's trainer. Like many great rivalries (and circus stories), Celia's and Marco's duel involves a terrific love story. Erin Morgenstern's imaginative setting, vivid details and thoughtful prose in The Night Circus will leave your heart aglow.
Messy by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan In this sequel to Spoiled (a 2011 HCG Summer Book Guide pick) Brooke Berlin, daughter of world famous movie star Brick Berlin, and her newly discovered sister Molly Dix have settled into some sort of sisterly love. But when Brooke decides she wants to become Hollywood's top inside blogger (an aspiration we can admire), things get predictably messy. Brooke, who is barely literate, enlists Molly's far-from-cool best friend Max to ghost write the blog. As expected, the entire plot hinges on the Brooke/Max secret being exposed. Believe us, we know Messy is no tough read - that's why we chose it. Our friend C stands behind the Fug Girls in nearly everything they do, and so does HCG.
Defending Jacob by William Landay HCG's book club read Defending Jacob in July, and our group full of incredibly successful lawyers was pleasantly surprised at this murder/legal mystery. When Andy Barber's 14-year-old son Jacob is accused of murdering his classmate, Andy, the local D.A. for the past 22 years, finds himself in a tough situation. The entire community in Andy's quiet New England suburb is quick to judge his son and ostracize the family (watch out for a painful trip to Whole Foods). Andy's marriage to his wife Laurie is on the verge of collapse as the parents struggle to make sense of Jacob's charges. Defending Jacob is worth your time. Portions of Jacob's trial are less than entertaining, but the ending is chock full of way more surprises than we anticipated.
This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman Like Defending Jacob, This Beautiful Life chronicles how teenage children can ruin lives. HCG can speak from experience - according to my mom, I ruined Thanksgiving 1999 (and 2005) just by being myself. In This Beautiful Life, things are a little more intense. The near perfect life of the Bergamots, an affluent Manhattan family, falls apart when their 15-year-old son Jake forwards a sexually explicit video made for him by a fellow 13-year-old female student at his elite prep school (where are these kids' parents? What 13-year-old is confident enough in her body to send naked videos to boys?). The girl is humiliated, and Jake is quickly vilified. Why can't having children be easier?
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn Suspense doesn't even begin to cover the awesomeness that is Gone Girl. On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick's wife Amy disappears and Nick quickly becomes the prime suspect. Told from alternating points of view between Nick and Amy, Gone Girl is a mind blowing psychological thriller brilliantly plotted to keep you guessing. Sure, you may have read books that keep you up until 2 AM before, but Gone Girl is in a league all its own - darker, scarier and more creepy that you can imagine. As soon as you finish it, you'll want to discuss every last heart pounding detail with anyone who will listen.
Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan In the words of trusted HCG friend and advisor C, Commencement is just what we want in a summer read: "not too serious, not too fluffy". Assigned to the same dorm their first year at Smith College, Celia, Bree, Sally, and April couldn’t have less in common, but they quickly become the best of friends. When they reunite for Sally’s wedding four years after graduation, their friendships have changed but they remain loyal and devoted to each other. The different backgrounds and perspectives of these friends keep the plot moving. CF's favorite character (unsurprisingly): Celia, the hard partier who favors one-night stands and copious amounts of liquor.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling We are big Mindy Kaling fans at Here Comes Gina, so it's no surprise Kaling's first book made our 2012 list. In her memoir, the former "Office" cast member and writer covers all the bases - a chubby childhood, a hatred of math and athletics, her Indian immigrant parents and her biggest fears (Kaling isn't against one-night stands on the basis that they're sleazy, she hates one-night stands because she's afraid of being murdered). Kaling's self deprecating humor is as appreciated and welcomed as the practically unbelievable childhood photos included in the book (sample chapter: "Chubby for Life"). Full disclosure: Mindy Kaling is basically related to HCG. Mindy's college best friend (who is pictured in this book) is married to my sister CF's husband's cousin. Although CF has never met said cousin-in-law, CF was invited to but did not attend the cousin's wedding where Mindy was a bridesmaid. Small world, right?