An Homage to the Summer Reading Program and a Heavy Bookcase

This year, for the first time in over ten years, I thought about not participating in the Maricopa County Summer Reading Program.

Normally, I would have no problem soaring over the program’s simple, 1,000-minute reading threshold. In 2020, I had nothing else to do with my time, so I read. In 2019, I was desperate for college preparatory advice, and I read. Before that, I had summer homework that occasionally involved reading 700 pages of Democracy in America—I was a shoo-in for the program. As a child, I would use the time my mom read to me before putting me to sleep as part of my minutes. In fact, I remember using a sticker book to log my time before the program was fully digital. For years, the summer reading program was part of my DNA. By the end of each summer, I would have read well over the requirements, and I would have my prize for completion: a free book shipped to my local library.

This year, however, I was tired. After two years full of literature and writing classes for both my degree in English and my newly added journalism major, I felt drained by the written word. Despite my love of reading and writing, the last few years were rough. I was coming hot off of a semester where I had read numerous student papers for my on-campus job, and I was knee-deep in investigations for my newspaper. With next semester’s schedule packed with 18 credits of English and journalism classes (in addition to some of my final prerequisites), I decided I had done my due diligence for the time being. I would read later, spending my precious summer months doing anything but looking at a book.

Instead of working on the completion of the summer reading program, I was on a reading hiatus. It seemed to be working well enough: I would write for my job, then watch a show or listen to music, distracting myself in a way that did not involve words. My brain felt nice and quiet, albeit a little empty.

The new summer plan went smoothly until my mother decided to move our massive bookshelf. The monstrosity is so large and full of so many books—we have attempted (and failed) to thin it out many times—that it is physically impossible to move without emptying it first. So my mother, reasonably enough, asked me to take out my share of books so we could move it.

Suddenly, I found myself staring at my old favorites: On Writing by Stephen King, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and a Star Wars book called A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller that has been a longtime guilty pleasure.

Without making any promises to myself, I picked up A New Dawn and devoured it in two sittings. When I reached the last page, I was surprisingly disappointed that it was over.

The next thing I knew, I was back at my pile of books, digging for something that would take me far away from the struggles and burnout of the past year. I settled on a brief rereading of The Mysterious Benedict Society, a childhood favorite. This time, I pulled out my trusty iPhone timer so that I could keep track of my minutes. This reading quickly turned into me reading all four books of the series in one weekend.

Instead of being exhausted by the words, I was ravenous—and I could not have been more excited.

At this point, in mid-July, I’ve certainly exceeded the 1,000 minutes needed to complete the Maricopa County Summer Reading Program. More important to me, though, is that the feeling I’m chasing is not going away. I went to the library, bought a few books online, and am delving into a few fascinating nonfiction works that I never would have considered reading in the past. My mind is starting to think again, and I’ve even had the energy to work on writing for fun in addition to my job as a reporter.

Looking back on where I was a month and a half ago, I laugh at the thought that I could stay away from reading all summer. It’s okay to take breaks, but I know that sometimes you just need the right kind of push—and I also know that I have a bookcase and a steadfast summer reading program to thank.

Guest post courtesy of Anna Campbell

5 Best Dog Days of Summer Reads

I’m a sucker for a good dog story, even though, in the back of my mind, I know the story will break my heart. But, I think that’s why I love these books so much—because despite the predictable conflicts and resolutions, they elicit something in your heart that only dogs can. So to all of my dog lovers out there, this one’s for you. Get your tissues ready.

Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls. This beloved classic perfectly captures the bond between a boy and his dogs. When young Billy finally saves up enough money to take home two hounds of his own—Old Dan and Little Ann—he is set on becoming the best hunting team in town. But, as with many stories about faithful pups, sadness awaits Billy and teaches him how hope can grow from despair. Warning: this book, along with the 2003 film, are wonderfully crafted tearjerkers. You may want to invite your own pup to be your reading buddy for this story.

The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein. Told from the perspective of Enzo the dog, readers will learn about his owner, race car driver Denny Swift, who helps teach Enzo what is means to be human. Enzo is there for his owner through the ups and downs of life, and alongside a considerable amount of television and people watching, the dog becomes a philosopher of sorts interested in the human condition. Be sure to pick up a copy of this heart-wrenching but ultimately uplifting book before the film adaptation comes out next Friday.

Old Yeller – Fred Gipson. At first, Travis thinks Old Yeller is just a thieving, ugly, stray dog. He soon learns that Old Yeller is much more: a clever, loyal dog that wants nothing more than to help and protect his family on their ranch. After growing to love Old Yeller, Travis is faced with a tough choice when his dog is wounded. For those of you with Amazon Prime, you can take advantage of their e-book offer and enjoy this timeless classic for free.

Because of Winn-Dixie – Kate DiCamillo. After finding a suffering dog in the local Winn-Dixie supermarket, Opal names the dog after the store and takes him home. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal learns how to make friends, grows closer to her father, and meets an eclectic group of people who teach her how to open up, forgive, and value friendship. This children’s book is perfect to read aloud with your children, younger siblings, or nieces and nephews—or even to read by yourself and remember why you fell in love with the book in elementary school.

A Dog’s Purpose – W. Bruce Cameron. In this book, a devoted pup provides humorous commentary on the human relationships he witnesses. He is reincarnated four times as different dogs and works to find a unique purpose through each of his four lives. The story focuses mainly on the dog’s time as Bailey, who belongs to Ethan, a young boy who encounters several obstacles in life beside his loyal dog. And, for any fans of this novel, you can also pick up A Dog’s Journey, the sequel to this heartwarming story.

The artwork featured on our blog is a watercolor and ink pen
art piece provided by local artist Kelly Seifert.

8 Sweet Summer Series

We all love a good summer book, but why stop there? A summer series means less getting up and more time with characters we grow to love—sounds perfect to me! Each of these eight sweet summer series follows a girl, or groups of girls, in enchanting settings throughout their summers, loves, and heartaches—all to discover their real selves and learn something about the world along the way.

First on the list is Jenny Han’s summer trilogy, The Summer I Turned Pretty, perfect for anyone wanting a story about the complications of summer love. Belly lives for the months of June through August, where she leaves her boring life behind for a summer at a beach house with her closest family friends. But now that they’re older, Cousins Beach isn’t just a simple place of friends and good times. Throughout the three books about successive summers, Belly has to discover what (and who) is in her heart and decide whether she will be true to herself.

This next trilogy from Jenny Han is less specifically focused on summer, but it’s still a perfect read for this season. The first book in this trilogy, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is now a famous movie, but it’s also a beautiful summer romance! For everyone who loved the story of Lara Jean confronting her past crushes, this summer is the perfect chance to pick up all three books and take the journey with her as she discovers what love really means.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is the quintessential summer series: full of vacations, camps, drama, and adventure. Four best friends pass around a pair of pants in their very different lives, with a sisterhood that endures through successive summers. Starting midway through high school and continuing past college, each of the four main books covers one summer, along with a fifth book showing the friends a decade later. You won’t want to miss Ann Brashares’ famous series this summer!

For readers who enjoy seeing a group of four close girl friends grow up together, Heather Vogel Frederick’s Mother-Daughter Book Club series is a wonderful choice. This beloved series follows the girls from junior high into college, accompanied by their great (and often classic) reads from the book club. Experience the New-England Concord life of Megan, Cassidy, Emma, and Jess, along with their mothers (and others) as they navigate through the crazy, wonderful, messy years of young adulthood.

Sophie Kinsella’s hilarious protagonist Becky Bloomwood has a huge presence, a gigantic shopping addiction, and an even bigger heart. For anyone looking to enjoy a little more time to read (and shop) this summer, Confessions of a Shopaholic and its sequels are the perfect companions for your outings! Fans of the first book (and/or movie) may be unaware that there are eight more Shopaholics books. Each of Becky’s stories are fast-paced with hilarious escapades paired with heart-warming relationships and important life lessons, all told in Kinsella’s trademark fun and compelling voice.

Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Peaches series, often described as The Breakfast Club meets The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, is the perfect Southern summer set in a special peach orchard in Georgia. Three best friends—Leeda, Murphy, and Birdie—experience a roller coaster of ups and downs throughout this trilogy of summer love and experience. Bursting with charm and humor, but also with poignant insights into love and friendship, the Peaches books are enduring summer classics to come back to over and over.

In Leah Rae Miller’s quick and fun The Summer I Became a Nerd, cheerleader Maddie tries to hide her secret comic book obsession; but, that doesn’t hold up when she starts to fall for a guy who isn’t afraid to be who he really is. As someone who kept re-reading Ready Player One, I really enjoyed this more romantic summer series that still had video game and comic book action! The second book, Romancing the Nerd, continues this fun combination but with new characters, telling the story from the guy’s perspective.

And last but not least…a series now becoming vintage but still beloved, at least by me: Ann M. Martin’s Babysitters’ Club! I reread this series every summer for years, going from Kristy’s Big Idea all the way to Super Special # 12. With literally hundreds of quick, fun reads about this group of friends in Stoneybrook, Connecticut, you’ll never run out of summer reading material again!

8 Best Beach Reads You Haven’t Heard Of

We’ve all been there, right? Heading off to vacation, looking for a good book to read, but we keep running into the same ones over and over again. And yes, while I love John Green enormously (How can you not?), sometimes we just need a tad more variety in our beach bag. That’s why we chose to mix it up a little. Summer is all about rediscovery after all. So, we decided to rediscover 8 amazing (and wildly overlooked) beach reads that you haven’t heard of:

Twenties Girl – Sophie Kinsella. Her great aunt died…and her 20 year-old ghost came back to haunt her. As a struggling 20-something herself in London, the last problem Lara Lington expected to deal with was helping her great aunt find eternal peace, and a date or two along the way. In this hilarious and fast-paced novel, Sophie Kinsella will make you question everything you thought about age, and will bring out your inner 20s girl with each page.

China Rich Girlfriend – Kevin Kwan. It would be hard to not recognize Kwan’s crowning achievement (now box office hit Crazy Rich Asians), but many haven’t heard of the next book in this juicy and delightful series: China Rich Girlfriend. If you couldn’t get enough of Rachel and Nick, or you want to find out just what happens to Bernard Tai, China Rich Girlfriend will satisfy every question you have about Kwan’s brilliant and hilarious characters. But fair warning, after you’ve read it, you won’t be able to stop yourself from buying the last book in the trilogy, Rich People Problems.

Dune Road – Jane Green. What’s vacation without a little mystery? Set in Connecticut, Jane Green’s Dune Road explores the life of newly divorced Kit Hargrove as she rebuilds herself—complete with yoga sessions, really good wine, and landing her dream job. Everything in Kit’s life is going well; however, she can’t help but start to pick at the cracks in her new job. Why exactly did her celebrity boss go into hiding years ago, and what will happen as she begins to shake out the dirty laundry of his past? If you find yourself needing a little kick in the bum while the ocean sprays your toes, Dune Road is your read for this summer.

Girl, Wash Your Face – Rachel Hollis. For those of you looking for a non-fiction read while you sip on your coconut water, Rachel Hollis’s Girl, Wash Your Face is sheer perfection. Over the course of 21 chapters, Hollis addresses 21 lies we tell ourselves, gives her own (often amusingly relatable) encounters with said lies, and finally, gives some tried-and-true advice for how to conquer them. If you find yourself needing a pick me up, some inspiration, or just want to be reminded that the chaos in your life is perfectly normal, Girl, Wash Your Face is the book for you.

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin. Are you a literary fiction junkie? Don’t know what literary fiction is? Either way, Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of AJ Fikry will exceed any and all expectations you have for summer reading. Follow widower book store owner AJ Fikry through an unforgettable transformation—one that will leave you looking for glimmers of hope around every single corner. With dozens upon dozens of literary Easter eggs, Zevin’s work is perfect for those who love books (almost) as much as they love people.

Camino Island – John Grisham. While John Grisham is undoubtedly a household name thanks to his stellar debut, A Time To Kill, his more recent work may come as an unbeknownst treat to those who are looking for some action in their beach read. Set on Camino Island in Florida, Grisham takes his readers into a mystery laced with extremely rare (and extremely stolen) books, a writer looking for inspiration, and an odd community that seems to tie everything together. Lighter than his usual work, Camino Island is the perfect book for anyone who wants John Grisham meets Jimmy Buffet.

The Lacemakers of Glenmara – Heather Barbieri. As failed fashion designer Kate Robinson looks to start her life anew, she ditches the red white and blue and ends up settling in a small village, Glenmara, right on the coast of Ireland. After befriending an unlikely group of women, Kate begins to find healing in the quaint life Glenmara offers—however, as her new friends’ lives begin to entangle with her own, she begins to wonder whether it is really possible to start over, and whether happiness can be found. With deeply personable (and hilariously human) characters and a stunning landscape, The Lacemakers of Glenmara will leave you wanting to pack up and head to Ireland—or at least, grab a Guinness at your local pub.

Little Beach Street Bakery – Jenny Colgan. The word ‘beach’ is in the title, so naturally we had to include it. However, even if Jenny Colgan had chosen a name sans ‘beach’, this book would still make the list every single time. Set in a tiny coastal town just off the shore of England, Little Beach Street Bakery follows Polly Waterford as she brings life back to herself—and her new town—all in the making of bread. So for those of you who say never underestimate the power of good food, good friends, and a good shoreline, Colgan’s charming story is just what you need to stash in your beach bag. Oh, and did I mention? There’s a handsome beekeeper too. Enjoy!