Beach read or serious read?

Do those lazy hazy days of summer demand beach reads or serious reads? Warm breezes blow. The lawn needs mowing. The weeds are scattering seeds (most especially yellow weeds of the dandelion persuasion). So what will you read?

For me, a beach read in warm weather just might send me to sleep. Eyes heavy when the sun's too bright and tired when the sun goes in, and waiting tasks that demand a level of attention I'm not willing to give... and words that need to lead me to deeper thoughts if they're going to distract me... better sleep, or I'll have to work.

No, in warm lazy weather, when there's too much to be done, my best hope is a slow and serious read; something to grab my assumptions and turn them into questions awaiting answer, to turn presumption on end, and to sumptuously guide... So here are some reviews of serious reads, all demanding serious coffee to be savored with the words.

I thought The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson might be a book to add to my magical thinking shelves, but it surprised me by being a fascinating tale of complex characters, set in a very real world of post-WWII America. The magic's in the child's story, remembered by the protagonist, and the secret in the telling. But there's far more than a child's story here, and the son of a local man is dead, perhaps at the hand of his neighbors. Dark but filled with light and mystery, enjoy this one with some dark five-star full-flavored coffee.

Moving forward in time, The House of Closed Doors by Jane Steen is set in 1870 in small-town Illinois, and looks at the plight of a young unmarried woman facing the prospect of childbirth. How might the pregnancy be hidden? What might happen to the child? And what has happened to the children of other unintentional mothers in the past? Combining convincing history with sensitivity to women's issues, the novel reads like the start of a series I'd love to follow. Enjoy with some complex and elegant four-star coffee.

The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham is set much closer to the present day and starts with a similar touch of magic, as a protagonist ponders a vision he may have seen, and prayers he may, just possibly, offer up to a deity he's not quite sure he believes in. It's a haunting novel of true longing and love, and a dark tale of human folly, love gone awry, white powders, death and more. So, yes, another one to read over a dark five-star coffee. I loved it.

Swim by Eric C. Wat is a novel with more white powders, crystals and more. Inviting readers into the world of a high-functioning drug addict, who's fast approaching the point of sink-or-swim, and who's never going to marry and have kids as his parents might wish, the novel explores love's vagaries, honesty and depths, introduces a fascinating cast of characters, and is thoroughly absorbing, satisfying and enjoyable. More five-star coffee - it definitely has its dark moments. And a willingness to listen will help as well - like I said; books that make me think are more likely to keep me awake and appropriately distracted.

Back in history, in a curious blend of myth and real life, The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins blends myth, religion and research, as fairies, witches and politicians fight for the right to rule Ireland. There's half a goddess in there too, and a fascinating storyline. The anti-Catholic approach is a bit distracting, but it's a good read to enjoy with some more dark five-star coffee.

Thinking of faith, this is probably a good place to review Beginner’s Guide to Skepticism by Maor Kohn and Mati Cohen. The book asks if faith and science are complementary or contradictory and, faith and science both being close to my heart, this drew me in to reading it. But the authors' proposition of a world where new ideas turn God into a scientific entity doesn't resonate with me, and I found myself frequently wanting to argue their points with them. It's an interesting book, but it's oddly didactic and uncompromising - not really faithful or scientific. Enjoy it with some dark, intense five-star coffee - it's an intense read.

Which perhaps leads to my final "serious read." This one is The Road to Grantchester by James Runcie, a fascinating depiction of a young man at war, and the various trials and consultations that lead him to faith and ministry. The young man in question is, of course, Sydney Chambers of the Grantchester Mysteries, and I love both this book and the series. Enjoy with some complex, elegantly brewed four-star coffee.


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