Summer reading suggestions - Catholic Courier

Summer reading suggestions

Each of the titles on this year’s summer reading list is a complex, but not too taxing, work packed with engaging characters.
 

Books for youths
 

The first book of The Mistmantle Chronicles by M.I. McAllister is Urchin of the Riding Stars (Hyperion Books for Children, 2005; hardcover, $17.95.) Urchin, the squirrel protagonist, follows in the tradition of the ancient hero tales in which a young orphan, ignorant of his heritage, rises to maturity through the help of a kindly Captain Crispin (an otter).
When Urchin’s beloved mentor is falsely accused and exiled, Urchin must battle the evil otter Husk. Husk, overtaken by the horror of the Black Pit which has fed his lust for power, nearly topples the throne.
 

But he is opposed by the Priest, Brother Fir, and the honest otter Padra along with a rag-tag army of hedgehogs, squirrels and other humble woodland creatures. In the end, Urchin has still only risen to status of a page. So 9- through 12-year-olds can enjoy reading many more adventures in this series.
The characters are well developed, believable both as animals and as rational creatures, and subtly humorous. The illustrations by Omar Ryann are a delightful addition.
 

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If your young reader needs another action-packed adventure, he or she might enjoy The Secret History of Tom Trueheart by Ian Beck (Greenwillow Books, 2006; paperback, $9.95.) Tom is the youngest of seven brothers and also the most timid. The Ministry of Stories has employed the older boys many times to fill the heroic roles in such tales as Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk; however, this time they have each failed to return.
Adventure Land is peopled with characters from familiar fairy tales. The twist is that they’ve been cast in their roles by the ministry and express confusion or frustration when Prince Charming or the Frog Prince doesn’t appear on cue.
 

Twelve-year-old Tom must go in search of his brothers and foil the plans of a sinister figure in black. Along the way Tom, accompanied by a sprite disguised as a talking crow, acquires his first real sword, various magical talismans and a good deal of maturity.
 

Books for adults
 

In the past, I have recommended Tony Hillerman’s mysteries featuring his Navajo tribal policemen Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. For this summer, I’d like to recommend one of his earlier works, Hunting Badger (Harper Torch 1999; paperback, $7.99).
In Hunting Badger, Chee has to sort through his feelings for Officer Bernadette Manuelito. This attractive object of his attention might be involved with a county sheriff who has been accused of conspiracy in the robbery of a Ute casino. Add to this mix an FBI investigation that bumbles and stumbles around the desert terrain, ignoring the locals’ knowledge and the resources of the elderly Navajos whose stories (deemed myths by the feds) contain important clues.
 

That summary reveals some of the many levels of conflict into which this novel delves: personal desire, jealousy of a possible rival, tensions between law enforcement agencies.
 

Retired Lt. Leaphorn is drawn into the action when he receives a tip from an old friend. When he finds one of the people named in the tip dead from an apparent suicide, he has to report the crime, but keep his source secret.
There’s plenty of action as well as private introspection, and an admirable lack of violence in this intriguing mystery novel.
 

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The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (Houghton Mifflin, 2003; paperback, $14) was The New York Times Best Book of the Year. The author states that it is “essentially a book about life in the United States ‚Ķ the characters must struggle and come to terms with what it means ‚Ķ to belong and not belong here.”
 

The struggle to belong is complicated for the protagonist by the Bengali tradition of giving a child two names, one private, and one public. The pet name “Gogol” is chosen for the baby because of his father’s devotion to the Russian author. When the boy starts kindergarten, the teacher decides to continue to call him this, although his parents have since named him Nikhil.
In typical adolescent fashion, Gogol rebels against his Indian identity and redefines himself by this formal name. Throughout his years at Yale, and into his early career as an architect, Nikhil (Gogol) has a series of relationships, each of which highlights the continuing difficulty he feels in straddling two worlds.
 

Nothing exceptionally dramatic happens in this beautifully told novel, but the complete humanity of each character makes it hard to put down.
 

•••
 

Another work that examines the question of national identity and personal integrity is Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (Alfred A. Knopf, translation by Sandra Smith, 2007; paperback, $14.95).
 

Originally intended to be a much longer work, constructed like a musical symphony, Suite Francaise is comprised of two sections: “Storm in June” and “Dolce,” both dealing with the German occupation of France during 1940 and 1941. Sadly, Nemirovsky died in Auschwitz before she was able to write the remainder of the novel.
 

In “Storm in June” a cross section of Pari-sian society is shown in flight from the invading German army. The class tensions aggravate the traffic jams, food shortages and limited housing. People are shown at their worst, and a few at their best.
 

“Dolce” examines the relationships that begin to form between French villagers and the Germans who are billeted in their homes. Women whose husbands are prisoners of war are forced to encounter their enemy every day. And yet the enemy soldiers are polite, and refined, acutely conscious that they are interlopers.
 

Appendices in the back of the book contain notes and journal entries showing the writing process and outlining the remaining sections. Also in this closing section are excerpts from letters and telegrams exchanged between the author, her publisher, her husband and others. The tone becomes increasingly frantic as Nemirovsky is increasingly aware of her impending arrest.
 

Any one of these pieces should keep you occupied until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is released on July 21.
 

Palma is an adjunct assistant professor of English at Monroe Community College in Rochester and an adjunct instructor at Nazareth College in Pittsford. She holds a master of science degree in education from Nazareth and master of arts in theology from St. Bernard’s Institute.

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