Summer Reading Merrimack Valley Style
Although I’ve loved reading all my life, tackling my high school summer reading list always felt like a chore. I can clearly remember sunbathing poolside with a copy of Albert Camus’ “The Stranger” at age 16 — and being nearly as horrified to learn that communal hand towels were the norm in public restrooms in colonial Algeria as I was by the book’s main character, Meursault, being sentenced to die by guillotine.
Now that I’m free to put together my own summer reading list, I typically set aside a few titles for the warmer months. A day at the beach, or even a lazy afternoon in a backyard lounge chair, just doesn’t seem complete without a book to read.
With this in mind, I set out to compile an assortment of titles by local authors that mvm readers might enjoy on their summer vacations. After emailing nearly every local and locally connected writer I know, I came up with a list that has a little something for everyone, whether you’re into thrillers, fantasies, literary fiction, poetry or romance. They are listed in the order I read them.
The Mermaid’s Secret
by Katie Schickel (Forge Books, 2016)
This entertaining summer fantasy novel, the second by Katie Schickel of Newburyport, is set on an island off the coast of Maine. The book’s main character, Jess Creary, is struggling with the death of her sister in a boating accident, the desertion of her mother, and a dead-end job flipping burgers for tourists when, on her 23rd birthday, she decides to go surfing and catches a wave that changes the course of her life forever. The experience makes her question her purpose in life and, finally, helps her understand what happened to her mother. It also leaves her facing an important decision that could have a lasting effect on the people she loves. Schickel does a great job crafting a fun summertime story using subject matter that could easily come across as implausible or cliché.
The Fifth Petal
by Brunonia Barry (Crown, 2017)
The New York Times best-selling author of “The Lace Reader,” Brunonia Barry of Salem, Mass., is back with a third novel packed full of history, witchcraft, murder and suspense. When a teenage boy is killed on Halloween night, Salem police Chief John Rafferty is left wondering if the perpetrator might be the same person responsible for “The Goddess Murders,” an unsolved triple homicide that took place on Halloween 25 years before. When local historian Rose Whelan is accused of killing the boy, Rafferty teams up with Callie Cahill, the now-grown daughter of one of the “Goddess” murder victims, to exonerate her. But when strange things start to happen, Rafferty and Cahill realize they might have unleashed an evil force that they are powerless to stop. “The Fifth Petal” is a great choice for readers who like stories about witchcraft, the supernatural and local history.
The Captain’s Daughter
by Meg Mitchell Moore (Knopf Doubleday, 2017)
In the fourth novel from Newburyport’s Meg Mitchell Moore, “The Captain’s Daughter,” Eliza Barnes, the child of a widowed Maine lobsterman, trades in a life of hauling traps for one in an affluent Massachusetts suburb, married to a wealthy architect. But when her father is injured in a boating accident, Eliza leaves her two daughters with her husband and heads up to Maine. There she learns that her father’s health is much worse than she believed, and she finds herself faced with the consequences of her life choices when she has to accept help from her high school sweetheart. In the process, she is able to come to a better understanding of the people in her life, as well as herself. Fans of novels by Elin Hilderbrand, Jane Green, Mary Alice Monroe and Moore’s other novels will very likely enjoy “The Captain’s Daughter.”
by Johanna Lane (Little, Brown & Co., 2014)
Set on the coast of Northern Ireland, the debut novel from Johanna Lane, a native of Ireland living in Haverhill, is an eerie, dark and beautifully written tale of the demise of the once-powerful Campbell family and their seaside castle estate, Dulough. Faced with dwindling finances, John Campbell, Dulough’s current owner, makes the difficult decision to move his wife and two children into a modest cottage, giving over care of the house to the government tourism board, which opens the castle to visitors to pay for its upkeep. While John’s decision saves Dulough from being lost to him completely, it has dire consequences for family members who must face the loss of their identity, tragedy, heartbreak and the airing of family secrets. If Joyce Carol Oates were Irish, she would probably write a book like “Black Lake.” Of all the books I read for this project, this is very likely my favorite.
by Christopher Golden (St. Martin’s Press, 2017)
The latest thriller by Haverhill’s Christopher Golden, “Ararat” is a harrowing tale of adventure gone wrong. A team of filmmakers, archaeologists and historians descend upon Mount Ararat in Turkey after an earthquake reveals a cave believed to hold the remains of Noah’s Ark. But when they discover a mysterious sarcophagus containing a malformed cadaver, bad things begin to happen. When a severe winter storm traps them thousands of feet up on the mountain and members of the team begin turning up dead, they have no choice but to band together to fight the evil forces engulfing the cave, and to help one another get down the mountain alive. Golden has authored or co-authored more than a dozen supernatural thrillers, all of which would make great beach reading material.
In the Course of Human Events
by Mike Harvkey (Soft Skull Press, 2014)
Haverhill author and Missouri native Mike Harvkey’s debut tells the story of Clyde Twitty, a young man in rural Missouri who, raised by a single mother, has been frustrated and battered by the economic recession. Desperate for a purpose and a place to belong, Clyde is lured into joining a white supremacist terrorist cell by its charismatic leader, Jay Smalls. Though his methods are brutal, Smalls gives Clyde the attention he craves, teaching him karate and training him in the use of assault weapons. Small’s efforts ultimately turn the once-good-hearted Clyde into a ruthless neo-Nazi soldier who will do anything for the “cause,” including killing the innocent and turning his back on his family, friends and country. “In the Course of Human Events” does what all good literature should: It forces us to take a closer look at ourselves and the world around us, shedding light on the radicalization process and how and why it happens.
There it Is: New and Selected Poems
by Michael Casey (Loom Press, 2017)
Lowell native Michael Casey is a poet and Vietnam veteran who won the Yale Younger Poets Prize for “Obscenities,” a collection of poems about the Vietnam War, in 1971. Today an Andover resident, Casey’s latest collection of poetry represents a selection of his work from his 1971 debut to “Millrat” (1999), “Raiding a Whorehouse” (2004) and “Check Points” (2011), along with new poems and previously unpublished work from the 1960s. Fans of Casey’s work, and those new to it, will appreciate his uncanny ability to capture dialogue, human personalities and interactions in so few words, elevating everyday tasks and exchanges to something almost sublime.