A few days ago, my daughter announced that she was going with her friends to “hang out in a hammock and read.” It sounded lovely. During summer, one of my favorite things to do is hide out on my sun porch in the late evening, when the light is golden and the frogs are congregating and croaking in the pond down the hill, and read.

I hope summer is giving you more time and spaces to enjoy books. If you need suggestions for what to read, I’ve got some great ideas to share.

Audio books are helping me get ahead on my Goodreads annual goal, and I just finished two lovely middle grade novels that are perfect for a family road trip.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty tells the story of 12-year-old Lucy. When she was young, she was struck by lightning, and the zap gave her super math skills, but also some OCD quirks, like the need to sit down/ stand up three times before taking her seat in class. Lucy has been home-schooled for years, and she’s smart enough to go to college, but her grandma thinks she needs to spend a year in public school as part of her education.

With great trepidation, Lucy embarks on her first year of middle school. She endures teasing and taunting, and more than one humiliation, but along the way she learns the value of friendship and self-acceptance. Although Lucy has unusual talent, any kid (or adult) can relate to her story. A great read!

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden thoughtfully tackles the challenges of living in poverty. Seventh-grader Zoey rarely finishes her homework - not because she doesn’t care, but because she is too busy babysitting her younger siblings while her mom is at work. Zoey’s mom barely makes enough money to pay the electric bill, and because of her desperate situation, she puts up with an unhealthy relationship to keep her family in decent housing.

Zoey faces difficult decisions, including confronting her mom about her emotionally abusive boyfriend. Octopus has great insight into the plight of marginalized women and children, and it’s a great read for encouraging discussion and compassion.

If you like young adult novels, I’ve got two suggestions. On the surface, Save the Date by Morgan Matson looks like a lighthearted story of a large family gathering for a wedding weekend. There’s a chaotic game of Capture the Flag, cake destroying pets, and an unfortunate suit swap. However, Save the Date addresses some of the hard things about stepping into adulthood, like re-evaluating our perceptions of family and accepting change. It was a little longer than it needed to be, but I enjoyed the read, especially as I am grappling with change as my own kids transition into adulthood.

I picked up Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner because I wanted to study the market I write in - contemporary realistic fiction. I didn’t expect to like this novel about two girls who host a public access TV show about horror movies, but I have found myself totally pulled in. Why? Because Zentner executes a key writing skill: MAKE US CARE.

Delia (aka Delilah) is searching to find and confront the father who abandoned her. And Josie (aka Rayne) is trying to figure out what she wants to do with her future- should she leave her best friend and new boyfriend to pursue a TV career at UT Knoxville, or should she stay close to home and the people she loves. A great novel with witty, punchy dialogue and some beautiful descriptions about falling in love, dealing with loss, and choosing your way.

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis is an easy read about becoming the best woman you can be. The writing isn’t profound, but the messages are good. I particularly liked Hollis’s chapters on pursuing your dreams (no one else cares about your dreams as much as you do, so you’d better go after them) and being kind to yourself and other people. Hollis is a Christian, and her faith illustrates her perceptions and decisions, but it isn’t overbearing. Overall, she promotes an attitude of acceptance and compassion. Great pool side read.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is an interesting study of character and the assumptions of right and wrong. Her characters have complicated family relationships and secrets they try to hide. If you like a good character-driven novel, with thoughtful insights about human nature, Fires is for you.

Now, grab a book, go find a hammock, and READ! Happy summer.

You can find more reading suggestions at Julia’s blog, Diary of a Word Nerd, www.juliatomiak.com

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