So here are my summer picks, beach books every one:
Jane Eyre, 1847, by Charlotte Brontë
I'll probably be nursing this one all summer, disappointed that it isn't the same page-turner I remember reading as a kid, but still happy to pick it up between other books. The "red room" scene, harsh boarding school, and troubled Rochester family are haunting icons everyone should discover if they haven't yet.
The Little Stranger, 2009, by Sarah Waters
This author is famous for setting racy lesbian romances in the Victorian age, but departs here with a thriller set in postwar England. It's partly a good old-fashioned ghost story, partly unique for its reluctance to come down on the side of either haunting or hysteria, with plenty to say about things more important than either.
The Terror, 2007, by Dan Simmons
Also scary and another departure for an author, in this case a suspense novelist writing historical fiction. Explorers on a doomed Arctic mission meet with something much worse than frostbite. Their losing battle lasts 766 unrelenting pages - not everyone's cup of tea, but great if you want to feel 10 degrees cooler than the people in the pool you're reading beside.
The Devil in the White City, 2003, by Erik Larson
Are history and violence the themes this summer, or what? This non-fiction book, which reads like the most readable of novels, tells how the 1893 World's Fair and America's first serial killer hit Chicago at the same time. Esquire says it best: "So good, you find yourself asking how you could not know this already."
Daughter of Fortune, 1999, by Isabel Allende
I couldn't get through House of the Spirits in high school, but Allende had me hooked with this one. I recommend it to fans of The Shadow of the Wind, which it resembles a lot, except that the setting is Chile and San Francisco and the main character female.
I'll try to do this again for the next half-dozen books I inevitably go through. In the meantime, enjoy!