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Some of My Favorite Reads of Summer 2023

Cindy Burnett
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Historical novel The Bookbinder, set at Oxford University's Clarendon Press amidst World War I, is utterly engaging, especially for book-lovers.

2023 is a banner year for books – a constant stream of stellar books is publishing, so much so that at times I have had trouble keeping up. Summer 2023 is no exception, so I am highlighting some of the true standouts. It can be hard to wade through all the books to find the best ones, so I selected books across a variety of genres to hopefully include something for almost everyone.

The Bookbinder by Pip Williams (historical fiction) – Lovers of literature will find this historical novel utterly engaging. Williams blends fact and fiction while celebrating words, books themselves and the power of the written word. The story is set in Oxford amidst the backdrop of World War I as men are slowly drafted and recruited to fight. Since age 12, twin sisters Peggy and Maude Jones have worked as bindery girls at Oxford University's Clarendon Press where they bind the books but are explicitly told to not read, just bind. As the war rages, Peggy is wrapped into a secret project as well as volunteering with wounded soldiers, both of which open up her limited world. The true beauty of the book is how Williams captures this historical period from a woman's perspective, the unprecedented and catastrophic impact of the war, and the arrival of the Spanish Flu. I was completely invested in the characters and their lives and was delighted with the focus on words and books which are at the heart of this tale.

The Bitter Past by Bruce Borgos (mystery) – After retiring from an Army Intelligence division, Porter Beck has returned home to take on the role as sheriff of Lincoln County, located in the high desert of Nevada, north of Las Vegas. When a retired FBI agent is killed, the normally sleepy area suddenly springs to life as FBI agents arrive. A mystery from sixty years ago - when a Russian KGB agent came to pilfer the United States’ nuclear technology - appears to be linked to the recent death. Toggling back and forth in time, The Bitter Past, the first in a new mystery series, is an enthralling read; the nuclear testing site storyline, the FBI aspects of the story, and the ending make this an all-around fabulous read. I could not turn the pages fast enough, and am already eagerly awaiting the second book in the series.

Broadway Butterfly by Sara DiVello (true crime fiction) – This meticulously well-researched and riveting debut novel takes place in 1923 New York City and chronicles the unsolved murder of flapper Dot King, who had connections to a wealthy and politically connected 'sugar daddy' from Philadelphia, as well as a violent gigolo boyfriend. Neither man has a good alibi, but there is pressure on the district attorney to solve the case quickly. The crime riveted New York City and female reporter Julia Harpman doggedly worked the case, hoping to get a leg up on her male coworkers. DiVello keeps the story moving along and weaves together the various storylines effectively and seamlessly. She also includes a highly satisfying postscript that details what happened to all of the characters after the hubbub over the crime faded away.

The Connellys of County Down by Tracey Lange (fiction) - Fans of Lange’s debut We Are the Brennans will revel in her standalone sophomore outing, The Connellys of County Down. The three Connelly siblings, Geraldine, Eddie and Tara, lost their parents when they were young, and life has not been easy for them since. When Tara is released from prison and returns home to live with Geraldine and Eddie, she upsets the uneasy equilibrium that her siblings had reached while she was gone. Things aren’t quite what they seem, and as secrets are slowly unveiled, the siblings struggle to keep their family together. I thoroughly enjoyed the sibling dynamics and am a huge fan of Lange's writing and characters. This is a great choice for readers who love family dramas and solid character development.

Night Will Find You by Julia Heaberlin (thriller) – Texan Julia Heaberlin hits it out of the ballpark with her latest thriller, Night Will Find You. At age ten, Vivvy Bouchet became famous when she made a prediction that saved a boy’s life. Years later she is an astrophysicist who does her best to suppress the visions she sees. Mike, the boy she saved, grows up to be a cop, and believes that Vivvy still sees things that others do not. Mike ropes Vivvy into helping his friend Jesse, a skeptical police detective who only believes in things he can see, with a cold case regarding a kidnapped girl. I am always on the lookout for unique and entertaining thrillers - ones that don't read like other countless ones on the market. This thriller definitely fits the bill, and I loved the Texas setting as well. The book is already being developed for a TV series.

The Spectacular by Fiona Davis (historical fiction) – Fiona Davis bases each of her books in an iconic New York City building, and The Spectacular is set at one of the city’s most well-known and beloved locales, Radio City Music Hall. 19-year-old Marion is selected as a Rockette, the prestigious dance troupe that performs at Radio City Music Hall, much to the chagrin of her parents and her boyfriend. She loves the job but with four shows a day and exhausting rehearsals, she is not left with much time for anything else. Then one evening, a bomb explodes in the theater, and Marion’s personal connection draws her into the investigation. The behind-the-scenes glimpses into both Radio City Music Hall and the Rockettes are fascinating, and aspects of the story are more personal for Davis. Historical fiction readers will find this one compelling and at times sadder than most of her books.

The True Love Experiment by Christina Lauren (romantic comedy) – Writing duo Christina Lauren (the combined pen name of writing partners and best friends Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings) is back with a fabulous summer read. Felicity Chen, who goes by Fizzy, is a bestselling romance author who has lost her ability to write happily-ever-afters, partly because she feels that she will never find her own true love. When Connor Prince, a documentary filmmaker and single dad, is tasked with creating a reality dating show or face losing his job, he contacts Fizzy to star in the show – what would romance readers love more than seeing their favorite writer fall in love on national TV? Reluctantly, Fizzy agrees but includes a long list of requirements that Connor surprisingly agrees to. Chock-full of fun pop culture references, with a focus on our nation’s obsession with reality TV, The True Love Experiment is a sweet and engaging romance with fun banter and genuinely likeable characters.

For more book recommendations and bookish thoughts, see Cindy’s monthly Buzz Reads column, her Thoughts from a Page Podcast or follow @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram. Find upcoming Conversations from a Page events here.

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