Nonfiction Beach Reads

With the arrival of summer, and warm, sunny weather settling in, the beach seems to be calling. Of course, no trip to the beach is complete without some beach reading: something entertaining, captivating, and enjoyable.

Traditionally, summer reads are mostly fiction, but some real-life nonfiction stories could be even more engaging and compelling than any fiction.

True-life spy stories are just one of the examples of very entertaining beach reading (check out the previous post, Spies Among Us), especially if they have been written by British historian and brilliant writer Ben Macintyre. A collection of books on espionage in the 20th century by Ben Macintyre is superb and captivating reading; these are books that you will not be able to put down until the end.

Lives of celebrities (check our previous post, Celebrate Celebrities) is another entertaining subject; you might be curious to read one of the celebrity memoirs, enjoying their stories told in their own voices. 

Could a biography of a politician be entertaining? Pelosi, by Susan Ball, is a recent biography of Nancy Pelosi, a politician and current House Speaker, that seems to be entertaining and full of anecdotes, while at the same time offering an admiring account of the politician as the greatest legislator of our time, who is committed to truth and justice. The book is very well regarded and very well reviewed in The New York Times.

Samantha Irby, humorist and essayist, called one of the most entertaining but poignant essayists of our time, started out as a blogger. Now, she has three very well reviewed books of essays under her belt, one of which was bought for development into a TV series. 

In her essays, she writes about very personal topics, such as poverty, blackness, failed relationships, struggles with chronic disease, eating too much junk food, spending too much time with her cat, watching too much television, and more. She uses her sense of humor to deal with life that sabotages and impairs her every step.

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In her latest book Wow, No Thank You, which came out just a couple months ago, she applies her naughty sense of humor to subjects that cover everything from love and marriage to the art of “detachment parenting” of her two white stepchildren. The review in NYT assessed the book, and the author, very highly. The book is available in audio format, as well. 

All titles are available through Overdrive/Libby with your library card.

So grab a blanket, and enjoy a perfectly relaxing sunny day at the beach!

Spies Among Us

Spy thrillers – books and movies – are compelling, entertaining, and spine-tingling. The genre is extremely popular and has gained numerous fans. If you are among them or just curious why other people find the genre so captivating and enjoyable, try some of the titles from this list of suggestions.

If you have a subscription to Prime Video, you may have seen The Americans, a spy series released by FX Network that ran for six seasons. It’s a spy thriller about two KGB agents – a married couple – posing as Americans during the peak of the Cold War in the early 1980s. Although watching all six seasons of the show is a serious commitment, the series is well-written and masterfully done, keeping the viewer’s unabated interest up until the very last scene. 

The story is very realistic, and there are no James Bond-esque characters or elements. There are no cartoonish villains or superheroes either; the characters are complex and multilayered. Even though the struggle between the good and evil is definitely present, it all makes the series a very compelling and gripping affair to watch. 

If you enjoyed this series, try the following items from Abbot Public Library’s digital collection.

On the book front, let us introduce the works by the British historian, biographer, and author Ben Macintyre. His books about espionage in the 20th century – all of them superb – made various bestseller lists and collected numerous literary awards.

Though he writes nonfiction, his true-life spy stories read like fictional spy thrillers: written in a suspenseful tone, they are fast-paced, captivating, and impossible to put down until the end.  

Deep and thorough research is the foundation of Macintyre’s writing, and enables him to put characters in full social context, providing many real-life details pertaining to the time and place of the event, and making his stories fascinating and compelling.

The Spy and The Traitor is a thrilling real-life spy story about the events that took place in the USSR at the peak of the Cold War (the same as the setting for The Americans, mentioned above).

The story is about a high-ranking KGB operative (and double agent) Oleg Gordievsky, who not only successfully worked for MI6 for many years, but also managed to successfully escape to London right on the brink of his exposure.

Macintyre’s amazing sharp eye for detail and talent for observation help him describe thrilling scenes, such as spy’s escape route, and capture a reader’s interest even further.

Another story about a double agent, this time the narrative centers around the famous Kim Philby, a high-ranking MI6 operative also secretly working for the KGB for over 30 years, and who managed to safely escape to Moscow at the last moment.

The author finds ways to make the familiar story of Kim Philby captivating, and tries to answer some questions that were not previously researched. One of the questions that the author ponders is what makes people become spies or double agents. What personal qualities does a person possess to enjoy this vocation?

Popular fiction author Daniel Silva has written quite a few spy thrillers. His The Other Woman is a mesmerizing and highly imaginative fictional spy story, based on real people and relationships in the spy world. It also has a connection to one of Macintyre’s books, but it would not do to give away a plot twist.

A couple more true-life spy stories from Ben Macintyre; this time, about WWII-era spies: 

If you are fascinated by the spy thriller genre, Overdrive/Libby and hoopla have a multitude of true-life, as well as fictional, spy stories for you. They are all available with your library card.

And if you enjoy Macintyre’s works in particular, you have something to look forward to: his new spy story, Agent Sonya, will be released in September 2020.

Fictional Kid Mastermind Series

Can a twelve-year-old save the world? Maybe not, but it is a lot of fun for kids to imagine. Here are three action fantasies that feature genius kids with hyper skills and inexhaustible resources who can defeat dangerous forces.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, a fantasy/adventure for ages 10+ (also in audiobook and graphic novel format)

Artemis Fowl, criminal mastermind, techie millionaire, 12-year-old genius, decides to steal the gold of a secret, a dangerous race of fairies. Lots of trouble ensues. Essentially parentless Artemis teams up with a pixie and a dwarf, and his adult protector named Butler. There are nearly non-stop battles and peril for Artemis and his sidekicks, with the use of clever machinery on both sides. 

Disney has come out with a PG movie based on the book series.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, a fantasy/adventure for ages 9+ (also in audiobook format)

This adventure series features four precocious gifted kids who are recruited and trained by a mysterious millionaire (Mr. Benedict) for a secret mission. They are sent to infiltrate a secret boarding school run by an evil genius who wants to take over the world. Their special skills and their teamwork will be tested in various ways throughout the series. Ethical behavior and pooling talents are portrayed as important as cleverness in this series.

A TV series has been developed based on the books, available on Hulu.

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs, a spy thriller/adventure for ages 10+ 

Twelve-year-old math prodigy, thief, code-breaker. and super athlete Charlie Thorne is recruited by CIA agents for a vital mission. She needs to find and solve the final secret equation of Albert Einstein that unlocks the secret of unlimited power that can either save or destroy the world. She must use her ability to see the world in terms of calculations and probabilities to defeat a secret group out to get the equation first.