Staff Picks: Summer Reading

The first rule of New Jersey Monthly's Book Club? Always talk about New Jersey Monthly's Book Club.

Beach days at the Jersey Shore are perfect for getting some sun, spending time with your favorite people and munching on boardwalk treats. For the bookworm, the warm sand and cool breeze along the Atlantic Coast also make for the perfect reading environment.

To keep your senses stimulated and your imagination satisfied, here’s our list of recommended Summer Reads.

1. Fiction

In the Unlikely EventBased on real events, Judy Blume’s new adult novel, In the Unlikely Event, follows fictional characters living in Elizabeth in the 1950s, when a series of three plane crashes suddenly turn their worlds upside down. Blume, who was a teenager living in Elizabeth during the three-month span when the crashes occurred in 1951 and 1952, weaves together her memories and imagination to tell a chilling tale full of love, loss and growth. The book is set to be released June 2.


Staff Picks
Breanne: The Giver by Lois Lowry
Maryrose: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Lauren: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Katie: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Joanna: The Earth’s Children series by Jean Aeul (Clan of the Cave Bear, Valley of Horses, Mammoth Hunters, Plains of Passage, Shelters of Stone, Land of Painted Caves)


2. Memoirs

Russian Tattoo JACKETRussian Tattoo, a memoir by Russian native and New Jersey resident Elena Gorokhova, follows the young author’s journey as she flees from the Soviet Union (and her overbearing mother), only to find herself stuck in an unhappy marriage here in the United States. Gorokhova—who was just 24 when she arrived in 1980—vividly details her struggle to assimilate to American culture and follows her evolving relationships with her mother and daughter as she comes to realize that the bold resilience she saw in her Russian mother is ever-present in her American daughter.

Staff Picks
Breanne: Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
Maryrose: The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero
Lauren: Yes, Please by Amy Poehler
Katie: Gawky: Tales of an Extra Long Awkward Phase by Margot Leitman
Joanna: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson


3. Young Adult

When a high-school boy goes missing, leaving only a note on a computer, his classmates try to find out what happened. Suspicions arise, dark secrets are revealed, friendships are torn apart, and, in the midst of it all, Christopher Creed is still nowhere to be found. South Jersey resident, Carol Plum-Ucci, is said to be distantly related to the Leeds family, from whom the Jersey Devil was born. The many legends of the Pine Barrens are highlighted throughout the book, adding to the mystery.

Staff Picks
Breanne: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Maryrose: The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
Lauren: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Katie: Looking for Alaska by John Green
Joanna: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott


4. Classics

The Red Badge Of CourageThe Red Badge of Courage is the story of Henry Fleming, a young man who enlists in the Union Army dreaming of glory. However, Henry’s first impression of war is nowhere near the romantic images of heroics and adventure he had envisioned and he fears he may not possess the bravery needed to survive. Newark-born author, Stephen Crane, so vividly portrays scenes of war that early readers were convinced he was a veteran, despite being born six years after the war’s end and never having seen a war. The book follows Henry through his transformation from a selfish, scared teenager to a mature, confident soldier with steadily relatable themes of isolation, mortality, fear of failure, guilt, identity and maturity.

Staff Picks
Breanne: 1984 by George Orwell 
Maryrose: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Lauren: Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Katie: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Joanna: The Call of the Wild by Jack London

5. Non-Fiction

9781-NEWJ-cvr.indd Rachel Weston, Neptune-based writer, chef, blogger and cooking teacher, released her book, New Jersey Fresh: Four Seasons From Farm to Table, this month. Perfect for slipping into your bag on the way to the grocery store or farmers’ market, the book is a guide to the best of Jersey Fresh produce with season-by-season recipe suggestions. Loaded up on asparagus this spring? Weston shares a recipe from Brandl in Belmar, her first job after culinary school: creamy risotto with Parmesan and cream garnished with asparagus tips and lobster meat poached in vanilla bean butter. Chapter two shares a sampling of the state’s best farmers’ markets, featuring Q&A’s with the market managers of the Collingswood, Hunterdon Land Trust, Newark, Ramsey, West Windsor Community farmers’ markets.



Staff Picks
Breanne: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
Lauren: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb
Joanna: The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
Maryrose: Bossypants by Tina Fey


6. Sci-Fi / Fantasy Series

91-rbDuvMoL._SL1500_A Song of Ice and Fire series by Bayonne-bred author George R. R. Martin is worth the intense read (read our April 2013 story about the HBO adaptation Game of Thrones, now wrapping up its fifth season). With the highly-anticipated sixth book, Winds of Winter, planned for a 2016 release, it’s best to get started on the first five now; especially since each work is roughly 1,000 pages. Already devoured the series? Look for the prequels known as the Tales of Dunk of Egg. New to the series? Beware ye who enter here: the popular medieval series, set on the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos, is heavy with graphic murder, incest and rape.


Staff Picks
Breanne: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Maryrose: Elect Mr. Robinson For a Better World by Donald Antrim
Lauren: The Magicians series by Brooklyn writer and Time reporter Lev Grossman, television adaptation coming on SyFy in 2016
Katie: The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld
Joanna: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (first in the Kingkiller Chronicles)


7. Historical

DOB Book cover

Think you’ve got what it takes to whalop Warren G. Harding? Want to crush Calvin Coolidge? Give Franklin Pierce a swift kick in the shins? Hazlet native and Rutgers grad Daniel O’Brien has thought a lot about presidents: specifically, causing them bodily harm. His hilarious historical non-fiction book How to Fight Presidents: Defending Yourself Against the Badasses Who Ran This Country dedicates each chapter to a deceased chief executive, delving into his physical health, military history and any incidents that might have informed his fighting style. O’Brien also ferrets out amusing, little-known facts. (Did you know John Quincy Adams kept a pet alligator and swam naked across the Potomac River every morning?) He does have harsh words for Millard Fillmore, a president so unremarkable O’Brien says he “sucks at everything except sucking, at which he stands alone as champion.” With O’Brien at the helm, you’ll laugh, learn and work on your shaky left hook. Just in case.



Staff Picks
Breanne: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Maryrose: The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
Lauren: Night by Elie Weisel
Katie: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Joanna: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2015 Pulitzer Prize winner)

8. Thriller/ Crime

Stephanie Plum is a plucky, clumsy young woman, down on her luck, who works for her skeezy cousin as a bounty hunter, out of desperation. A quirky cast of characters is always on hand to help her out, from boyfriend, cop Joe Morelli, to crazy Grandma Mazur to local bum Moon Man to the sexy and seriously skilled Ranger. Despite being possibly the least qualified person for the job, Stephanie always manages to get her guy, with a few bumps, and exploding cars, along the way.

Staff Picks
Breanne: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Maryrose: Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
Katie: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Joanna: Wolf Winter by debut Swedish author Cecilia Ekback



9. Romance

The TurncoatThe Turncoat, the debut novel by Donna Thorland, is a sinful page-turner and impressive first installment of the Renegades of the Revolution trilogy (followed by The Rebel Pirate and Mistress Firebrand). The historical fiction follows a group of female spies during the American Revolution who operate in rural New Jersey and British-occupied Philadelphia by seducing unsuspecting Redcoat officers. Kate Grey is a peaceful—and neutral—Quaker until a Redcoat contingent invades her New Jersey farmhouse. British Major Peter Tremayne is taken with Kate’s intelligence and charming domesticity. Months later, Tremayne runs into Kate again in Philadelphia, except she is no longer an ordinary Quaker. With a new name, fashionable wardrobe and an engagement to a high-ranking British officer, it’s clear she has become a Rebel spy. The Turncoat is one high-stakes adventure, crossing romance, danger and sex in portraying America’s victory over the British. For all the action and lust, Thorland’s believable dialogue steals each scene, perhaps a skill honed in her scriptwriting career.


Staff Picks
Maryrose: Sailor Twain or The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegal
Lauren: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Katie: His Lady Mistress by Elizabeth Rolls


Bonus! Podcasts

Marc Maron

Photo by Max S. Gerber/IFC.

Need some intellectual stimulation, but don’t want to risk losing your beloved tome to the cruel and unforgiving sea? Download a podcast! From true-crime investigations to radio dramas, there’s a program to suit all interests. One of the most popular programs, WTF With Marc Maron, was launched out of sheer desperation in 2009. Seeking some sense of community, Maron (a Jersey native) began recording conversations in his Los Angeles garage with artists he admired, especially his fellow comics. These startlingly frank, funny and fascinating encounters range from Louis C.K., Mel Brooks, Richard Lewis and Sarah Silverman to rockers John Fogerty and Billy Bragg (Maron is an avid guitarist) and actors like Mad Men’s Jon Hamm.

Staff Picks
Lauren: Dear Sugar with Cheryl Strayed & Steve Almond
Katie: Serial from the creators of This American Life, hosted by Sarah Koenig
Joanna: Stuff You Should Know by HowStuffWorks
Maryrose: The Thrilling Adventure Hour (Specifically, any episode of Beyond Belief with Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster)


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