Joan Larsen’s Shelf List: the “Can’t Put Down” Books of Summer

Posted on July 17, 2013


By Joan Larsen


My home actually has a small library, and still – still – I find that books begin to pile up by spring, begging to be taken along to be read at will – night or day – at the Lake House.  My time then is totally my own, the books I believed will be most treasured have been put aside for this time so totally apart.


There were three that swept me away, absolutely compelling me to read each of them in one fell swoop, far into the night. 

UnbrokenA book absolutely worth losing sleep over is Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken,  the true but untold story of  Louis Zamperini, Olympic runner turned WWII POW in Japan.  You don’t have to be a sports fan or a war-history buff to devour this book.  From its earliest pages, you are up against the greatest story telling, I would guess, you have ever read.  .  . and one of the greatest survival tales ever recorded.  Hillenbrand is the most dynamic storyteller, making her story feel alive in your hands.  In your mind, Zamperini’s tale of heroism, life, death, joy, suffering, and redemption becomes a portion of your collective memory for all time.  The raves of reviewers on this one are so good that they actually stand apart, keeping Unbroken on the best seller list for almost 2 years.  Don’t miss this one!!

DefendingJacobWilliam Landay’s Defending Jacob is a legal thriller and NYT bestseller also . . . but like no ordinary legal thriller on the market.  At the heart of Landay’s searing work of literary fiction is a parent’s worst nightmare.  Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber, his wife Laurie, and their teenage son, Jacob, are living an  idyllic life in a middle-class Massachusetts suburb until one of Jacob’s classmates is stabbed to death in the quiet local park that the neighborhood uses.  It soon becomes clear that Jacob is the prime suspect and the Barbers have to confront the possibility that the boy they have doted on since birth may be a sociopathic killer. 

What makes Defending Jacob incredibly special is the way the author intertwines all the best of a legal thriller while making the centerpiece the tragedy faced by a normal family who are thrust into a nightmare.  Unforgettable, catching the reader in the mind and heart, again this is one to be read beginning to end in a single sitting. 

The-Queens-GambitAn unforgettable creation is Walter Tevis’ The Queen’s Gambit, once again a story that, once heard, will stay with you.  Eight-year-old orphan Beth Harmon is quiet, sullen, and seems unremarkable.  That is until she plays her first game of chess.  Her senses grow sharper, her thinking clearer, and for the first time in her life she feels herself fully in control.  When she is sixteen, she has moved up in the world of chess until she is competing against only adults for the U.S.  Open championship.  But as she hones her skills on the professional circuit, the stakes get higher, her isolation  becomes scary, and the thought of escape more tempting.  “Gripping reading” shouts the Financial Times.  Absolutely true, of course, but readers will find Beth’s story far too difficult to put down.  Fascinating from start to finish.

NoMoreWordsThe daughter of Anne Morrow and Charles Lindbergh, Reeve Lindbergh has given us several non-fiction works about the later years of her parents.  When Anne moved to be with her daughter, she was already in her 90s, fragile and dependent on others for her care.  The ensuing memoir – No More Words: a Journal of My Mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh – of the final seventeen months of her mother’s life was filled with heartache and anguish, recognizable to any of us who have had to care for an elderly parent disabled by Alzheimer’s or stroke.  About this time, Reeve also found that – unbeknownst to his family – Charles Lindbergh had gone back and forth to Europe for years and had not one but TWO other “families with children” there.  (Reeve eventually met the other step-children in Europe, leaving us spellbound, knowing now that this family was even further from perfect!)

Afterword:  In bookstores and in all libraries, you should be able to find not only the hard copies of these books but also the audiobooks and E-books for easy use during long distance travel.


JoanAvatarWriter Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth.  But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again.  She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”