5-Star Summer Porch Reads

Rocking Chair - summer porch reads

Summer is here! We’ll bemoan the heat, humidity and mosquitos soon enough, but let’s just bask in this glorious early-June euphoria for a minute, shall we? Whether on the beach or on your own front porch, settle in with a good book to celebrate the season. Wondering what to read? Let me offer a few 5-star recommendations, a potpourri of old and new favorites.

Fiction

My reading diet tends toward non-fiction, but sometimes my brain gets tired. I need a palate cleanser. Something light that whisks me away to another world and time. And because I dread getting to the last page of an engrossing story, I often reach for a series.

North of the Tension Line by J.F. Riordan. This 4-book series (with a fifth coming in 2024) takes place on Washington Island, at the furthest tip of Wisconsin’s Door County peninsula. Thanks to its remote location, Washington Island residents enjoy a respite from the concerns that occupy the broader world. Riordan captures both the charm and drama of small-town life as she weaves intersecting story lines of a whole cast of colorful characters. These books are the purest form of escapism — the perfect beach read.

Wind River Mystery series by Margaret Coel. In this 20-book series, a Jesuit priest and a female Arapahoe lawyer work with law enforcement to solve crimes on the Wind River reservation.
With their deep affection for the Arapahoe people, Father John and Vicky naturally develop a deep friendship, and that’s the thread that makes these books so addictive! Coel weaves her fictional adventures into real historical events, and she portrays the Arapahoe people with respect and sensitivity. Read the series in order, beginning with The Eagle Catcher, for the best experience.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. Pick this one if you’re in the mood for something more gripping than light. While this story is technically fiction, it’s based on real events and that’s what makes it so unforgettable. The book follows five siblings who are abducted from their parents and adopted out to other families. Chilling. The writer’s skill can be measured in the hours of sleep I missed because I could not put the book down.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. For something short, light, and utterly delightful, enjoy the audio version of this book about an American couple who buys a house in Provence, France. It’s just under 3 hours long, and will leave you laughing and speaking with a French accent!

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Every year, I re-read one of the classics, and this is my absolute favorite. When my grandchildren are a bit older, I’ll read this one to them at what we’ve dubbed Starbuck’s Story Hour. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy it again myself. What’s your favorite classic? Maybe it’s time to love it anew.

Memoir

Okay, you know how much I love reading memoir. I struggled to whittle this list down, but there are just SO many gems on my bookshelf.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. In this memoir, Walls writes about growing up with two highly intelligent, creative and nonconformist parents. In scenes alternately tender and harrowing, she recounts the chronic chaos she and her siblings survived, and how she ultimately came to accept her family in spite of all its dysfunction.

Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg. When Spragg writes about growing up on the oldest dude ranch in Wyoming, you can smell the sagebrush. As the youngest hands in the family’s struggling business, he and his brother take on a man’s responsibility at an early age. At home in the silence of the wilderness, Spragg counts his horse a trusted friend and develops a keen understanding of wildlife and wild places. Either men are less inclined to write memoirs or I just happen to read more women memoirists, but I especially enjoyed the male perspective. Spragg’s writing absolutely slayed me.

All My Knotted-Up Life by Beth Moore. This will make my 2023 Top Picks list when I write my annual Great Reads post, but I can’t wait until December to rave about it. Get this book. Seriously. If you can handle a deep Arkansas accent, listen to the audio version. Beth is hysterical, but she’ll turn right around and flip your heart inside out. What a story of God’s faithfulness. I could not love her more.

Educated by Tara Westover. The suspense is almost unbearable in this one. Tara Westover’s parents were profoundly paranoid of anything associated with the government, including schools and doctors. They indoctrinated their children with fear, preparing for the Days of Abomination. For someone who grew up in an environment steeped in fear, violence, and control, it’s remarkable she ever broke free.

My Father Left Me Ireland by Michael Brendan Dougherty. This was one of my road trip listens, and at times I thought I might have to pull off the road to have a good cry. Born to an American mother and an Irish father, Dougherty walks through years of unfulfilled longing for a relationship with the father who left him before he was born. The emotional distance is further complicated by the physical distance between the U.S. and Ireland. In masterful prose, Dougherty tells his story with an understated simplicity that completely belies the emotional undercurrents.

Biography and Autobiography

Personal History by Katherine Graham. I still get giddy recalling how much I loved this book. It hits three of my favorite topics: strong women, journalism and history. After her husband’s suicide, Katherine Graham led the Washington Post through one of the most turbulent eras in American history, including Watergate and the Vietnam War. She counted five presidents and numerous Washington powerbrokers as personal friends. The first female Fortune 500 CEO, she overcame both cultural and personal misgivings about what role women could, and should, play in society. An absolutely fascinating read!

A Burning in My Bones by Winn Collier. This is the official biography of Eugene Peterson, a deeply influential pastor and writer best known for The Message, his translation of scripture into modern language. A brilliant intellectual, Peterson felt called to the work of a pastor, shepherding a small local body of believers. While his giftedness qualified him for a much larger, more influential platform, he invested himself for years into the lives of his small faith community. Winn Collier expertly weaves threads of Peterson’s life story, presenting him in all his humanity and complexity. This one stayed with my long after I closed the book.

General Non-Fiction

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. I read this one when it was published in 2017, and it’s been one of my most recommended books ever since. Grann, an investigative reporter, unravels the mystery of several unsolved murders of Osage Indians in the 1920s, during the nascent FBI era under J. Edgar Hoover. As you probably know, Martin Scorsese’s epic movie debuts in October this year. Hurry and read the book before the movie releases!

Doing Justice by Preet Bharara. This inside look at the American justice system surprised me. Preet Bharara served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009-2017. He walks the reader through the practice of law, from investigation to sentencing, with colorful examples of SDNY cases and the people who handled them. In his own words, “This is not a book just about the law. It is a book about integrity, leadership, decision making, and moral reasoning.” I found the book notable for its unabashed humanity — something I did not expect in a book about crime and punishment.

I could go on and on, but I hope one of these 5-star summer porch reads piques your interest. Whatever else your summer may hold, I wish you great reading. Drop your own recommendations in the comments!

ComeOnAileen

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