In honor of summer’s approach, I wanted to do something a little different today. (A new review will be posted on Wednesday.)
When I was in school, I looked forward to the summer for all the usual reasons. One of my fond memories is taking family vacations with my family. We’d visit my grandparents in rural North Carolina and tube the creek, shop the flea market, hike in the woods and play Nintendo until deep into the night. But one of my most cherished evening activities during those lazy summer trips was reading. I’d often stumble upon an unexpected gem in one of the rundown flea market used book shops. Some of those books I read and reread until my copies came apart. Here are a few of the finds that never left me.
Beauty by Robin McKinley
In a breathtaking retelling of the classic fairytale, McKinley never fails to recapture me with the story of a girl who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Even her name, Beauty, isn’t right for her. But when her family is in danger, it’s Beauty who steps forward and volunteers to go deep into the woods to live in the enchanted castle with only the terrible Beast as her companion. In the years since I found this treasure, I returned to it often when I was too sick to get out of bed. Once, I finished the story, turned the book over and began it again.
The Maestro by Tim Wynne-Jones
When life at home becomes more than Burl Crow can bear, he flees to the woods. He finds himself following the strange sight of a grand piano dangling from a helicopter and lands on the doorstep of a brilliant conductor and recluse. Their unlikely friendship challenges each to live beyond the small and safe, and though he wants nothing more than to escape his past, he must find a way to face his past before it destroys all the good the Maestro has brought to him. (Does contain moderate language and violence, as Burl’s father is physically abusive. His mother is also addicted to valium.)
Christy by Catherine Marshall
A young girl from a prosperous Asheville family volunteers to give up all the comforts of home and journey deep into the poverty of the Appalachian mountains to teach at a mission school in Cutter Gap. Though she feels armed with everything a young woman could need to teach children, Christy learns how far she is from prepared as she faces the horror of disease, ignorance, and deep-rooted family feuds. With her mentor and friend Alice Henderson at her side, she learns to see beauty in the harsh mountain lives. Every time I read this book, Christy’s spiritual journey comes alive for me again.
Hawk’s Flight by Carol Chase
Following an attack on a merchants’ caravan, Taverik Zandro discovers that his best friend and partner isn’t the man he claimed to be. In fact, he’s not a man at all. Torn between feelings of betrayal and intrique, Tav agrees to keep young Marko’s secret and join the charade, helping to hide her and her sister from an unknown enemy bent on killing them. But life for Taverik doesn’t stop getting complicated there. As he tries to uncover the identity of Marko’s enemy, word reaches him of a traitorous plot, and he finds himself on the run, soiled by his family’s sordid reputation despite his own commitment to honor. Taverik flees for his life, leaving Marko behind but vowing to find her again. (Be warned: the cover is kind of ugly, but don’t judge! Light language. Mild violence. Excellent spiritual themes.)
The Mozart Season by Virginia Euwer Wolff
As the youngest contestant in the Ernest Bloch Young Musician’s Competition, twelve year-old Allegra spends the weeks of summer before the competition practicing Mozart’s fourth violin concerto. Battling her fingers and her will, she struggles to learn balance between pleasing those she loves and being true to herself. Wolff pulls the story together beautifully toward the climax of the competition. (I can’t speak to content, unfortunately, as I don’t remember this one as well as the others.)