Our best beach reads for summer 2017

Katia Hetter, CNNPublished 23rd June 2017
(CNN) — In Courtney Maum's "Touch," fictional trends forecaster Sloane Jacobsen struggles with her world's increased focus on technology while she craves real human contact, and maybe even love.
An adopted thirty-something whose parents have died, Nina Popkin searches for her biological mother and the rest of her family along the way in "The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness," by Sandi Shelton under the pen name Maddie Dawson.
Erin Wathen's latest book, "More Than Words: 10 Values for the Modern Family," challenges readers to practice the family values of inclusion, hope and love that she finds in the heart of the Christian Gospel.
Perhaps because there is so much that is tearing us apart, the same themes of connection and community and the attempt to understand how we can do better recur in so many recent works of fiction and nonfiction.
And what better books to pack as travelers head out on vacation this summer?
Chosen by some of today's most popular and interesting authors, some of these books may be an easy lift for a lazy day at the beach.
But many also attempt to understand the conflicted world in which we find ourselves.

'It's a wonderful page turner'

Sometimes called a modern Jane Austen, author Elinor Lipman writes characters whose search for love and meaning are both witty and serious, comic and at times heartbreaking.
"The new Anita Shreve, 'The Stars Are Fire.' I raced through it, and it's a wonderful page turner," says Lipman, whose latest novel is the charming "On Turpentine Lane."
"I couldn't put it down. I sent one to my brand-new daughter-in-law and one to my sister-in-law."
"The other one I'm recommending I finished this morning," says Lipman, who talked to CNN in late May.
"Dinner with Edward" is Isabel Vincent's memoir about a friendship that developed over dinners with her friend's elderly father. "I bought three of them so far as gifts already," says Lipman. "It's about food and cooking and friendship."

'The world needs more of her writing'

Sandi Shelton loves "People Like You," Margaret Malone's debut collection of short stories.
"Malone's characters are funny and unhappy and self-sabotaging and honest and brave," says Shelton, who writes under the name Maddie Dawson.
"I couldn't stop reading these stories and now I find myself missing them, so I go and reread them over and over. I want to go over to Malone's house and cook her meals and do her grocery shopping so that she has time to write more books, because the world needs more of her writing."
Shelton also recommends "All the Good Parts" by Loretta Nyhan, calling it "a funny story that has depth and wisdom and heartbreak, all rolled into one book, just like life."
It's the story of a 39-year-old single woman who decides she wants a baby and proceeds to sort through a bunch of potential fathers to decide which one to choose, taking her family's opinions into account.
"Nyhan writes lovable, exasperating, real-life characters, people so real you half expect to run into them on the street."

Asking a lot from her reading list

"I ask a lot from my summer reads," says Courtney Maum, author of "Touch." "I want to be challenged, persuaded, seduced and entertained." That explains why one of her recommendations is Jimin Han's "A Small Revolution."
"It's a harrowing -- yet hopeful -- fictional exploration inside the head of a gunman holding college students hostage," Maum says.
"Bring along the equally necessary essay collection 'Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times,' edited by Carolina De Robertis, to hear some of our nation's greatest voices championing optimism and kindness as an antidote to uncertain times."
Need some hope? Try "Wait Till You See Me Dance" by Deb Olin Unferth. "No one can resist Unferth's masterful distortion of the American dream with a set of unforgettable mistake-makers who aren't quite past redemption."

Deepening the family connection

It's no surprise that Erin Wathen, author of "More Than Words" and senior pastor at St. Andrew's Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri, recommends books that make us aware of the power of community.
In Fredrik Backman's "A Man Called Ove," a widower plans to take his own life to join his wife in the hereafter. "But the pesky neighbors keep butting in at exactly the wrong time -- or rather, the right time," Wathen says. "This is a deeply human read about the transformative powers of community. It is warm without being too precious."
In "Ready Player One," Ernest Cline creates "a dystopian future in which society spends most of its collective time in a virtual reality," says Wathen. "The creator of that virtual world dies, leaving behind a virtual quest: Find prizes hidden within the intricate gaming system, and ultimately inherit his empire." The movie version of this 2011 novel releases next year.

Do French kids eat everything, really?

With her latest cookbook, "100 Days of Real Food: Fast & Fabulous," Lisa Leake is teaching people to cook real food with real ingredients. Those meals also bring families together around the table. (Try her first cookbook, "100 Days of Real Food," to make pulled pork and chicken stock overnight in the slow cooker.)
That's why it makes sense she'd recommend a book that gets kids to eat (she has two).
"'French Kids Eat Everything' by Karen Le Billon is an inspirational account of the author's own experience moving from North America to France with two young kids in tow," she says. "The book will help reframe your thinking when it comes to tackling picky eating."
When she's not cooking or reading about cooking, Leake loves memoirs.
"Breaking Night" by Liz Murray "gives you a window into what the author's childhood was like with irresponsible, drug-addicted parents," she says.
"I couldn't put this book down toward the end when her life finally started to turn the corner. The way the community came together to support this young stranger in need is enough to restore one's faith in humanity."

What can my kids read?

Acclaimed author and History Channel host Brad Meltzer writes best-selling thrillers for adults -- his latest is "The House of Secrets." But he has more recently carved out a niche as a children's author with his "Ordinary People Change the World" series. His most recent book in the series is "I Am Jim Henson."
It may be hard for an author to admit, but Meltzer does: "I have three reluctant readers in my house."
With "Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth" by Judd Winick, it didn't matter. "This wonderful graphic novel about a robot boy who comes to Earth is the only book that all my kids loved, absolutely loved," he says, calling it "full of heart in a robot body."
This summer, Meltzer predicts that millions of kids will go see the "Captain Underpants" movie. He will, too. "But don't let it dissuade you from reading Dav Pilkey's amazing new 'Dog Man' series, which my son absolutely devoured, about a dog who is put in the body of a police officer. Like 'Robocop' for kids, with a dog, and a cop, and laughs."
In the picture book genre, Meltzer loves "What Do You Do With An Idea" by Kobi Yamada. "It gives me faith in the universe and shows the power of ideas. It's a book I want my kids to read, but also to live."

Seriously, just give me a romance novel

Is that what you really want to read on the beach this summer?
For guidance, we turn to Stacy Finz, who often sets her characters in the rugged California mountains. Her latest book, "Falling Hard," released April 1, while her next book, "Need You," releases July 25.
She recommends Robyn Carr's latest work, "Any Day Now," set in a rustic campground off the beaten track in the Colorado mountains. "Carr has a gift for taking serious subject matter, wrapping it in an uplifting story and tugging at a reader's heart," says Finz.
Finz also recommends Lori Wilde's "Million Dollar Cowboy: A Cupid, Texas Novel," calling it "pure romance with a whole lot of sexy," says Finz. "I discovered her books long before I became a romance writer and haven't been able to put them down since."
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