Summer reads: not just the fluffy stuff


Who says summer reading has to be light fluff? A trashy paperback, short stories or gossip magazines – these can have a place while sunning on the back deck or lying on a beach towel, sure. But why not read something you’re actually interested in, like a cookbook, self-help selection or memoir? There’s plenty to fit that bill and no shortage of folk willing to share their recommendations. Here are a few to consider:


I like reading cookbooks in summer, especially ones meant for the season or that are fun in tone. With ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen’s From the Grill 2016, you can whet your appetite as the meat sizzles on the barbecue (prepared by an obliging spouse or teen son, perhaps?).

There are tasty-looking, full-colour pictures of many of the recipes, rubs and marinades, appetizers, steak and sticky ribs. I like the nod to cast iron cooking (a trend in grilling) with easy-looking recipes for skillet apple pie or chocolate chunk cookies. These are one-pan, easy desserts so there’s no need to heat up the indoor oven or the house, just let the barbecue do the work.

Another fun cookbook is Lick Your Plate (A Lip Smackin’ Book for Every Home Cook) by sisters Julie Albert and Lisa Grant. These authors of the successful Bite Me and Bite Me Too cookbooks go for fast, fun fare, with tips for sharing kitchen duties when entertaining, and how to feel confident in the kitchen.

“If we can do it, anyone can,” said Albert. “We make traditional foods, but give them a twist, like topping soup with crunchy chickpeas. It adds excitement to the plate or bowl.”

The book (available in St. Albert through The Bookstore on Perron Street) focuses on seasonal finds plus leftovers for making new dishes. “We each have three kids, so we like to make boring vegetables fun. So steamed asparagus becomes Caesar salad asparagus. Straightforward cooking can be sophisticated too,” said Grant.

Non-fiction finds

Most of us think of non-fiction as heavy reading – text book-type, weighty tomes – and not the kind of thing to grab for an hour while sitting on the patio, sangria in hand. But Fawnda Mithrush, executive director of LitFest (Canada’s only non-fiction literary festival) offers a foursome of books that she said fit in just fine with what you might have stacked up on the bedside table at the cottage. And, as a bonus, the authors of these books will be featured at Edmonton’s LitFest in October, so if you love the book and have questions for the author, this might be your summer read.

“We want people to devour these books over the summer, to take them to the lake, the campsite or just read them in their down time and enjoy,” said Mitrush.

The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything by Neil Pasricha gives step-by-step guidelines for how to best apply a unique set of principles for improving and managing your time, career, bottom line, relationships and ultimately, of course, your happiness.

Can a memoir on surviving breast cancer be a summer read? Mithrush says yes, recommending In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer, by Teva Harrison. “It’s a graphic memoir, a series of short essays that anyone who has struggled with long-term illness will find uplifting and joyous, a positive book that can be read in small bites, short story style,” she said.

For a year, while dealing with his own depression, writer Craig Davidson took a job driving school bus for special needs kids. Armed with a sense of humour and empathy, Davidson takes readers along for his own life-changing ride in Precious Cargo.

“These reads cover complex issues, but do so in episodic fashion, so they are easy to digest. I read this and the 15 stories on truth and reconciliation, In This Together, so quickly. They are important topics and need ongoing discussion, but they are presented in sometimes funny, scary or playful ways. These are all new releases we wanted to showcase, and they are all accessible reads,” she said.

Local likes

What are local writers reading this summer, you may ask? Third Verb writing workshops (run by Sturgeon County natives Jessica Kluthe and Jennifer Lavallee) asked the same question of several local authors, and here’s what a few had to say: Author Angie Abdou (Between) likes Brown, by Kamal Al-Solaylee. The book is a timely and global look at the social, political, economic and personal implications of being a brown-skinned person in today’s world.

Jason Lee Norman (author of Americas) said Invincible Summer by Alice Adams is a dazzling depiction of the highs and lows of adulthood, while Michael Hingston (The Dilettantes) chooses Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet – a series following the lives of two girls from childhood to adulthood as they try to create lives for themselves amidst the culture of their poor neighbourhood outside Naples, Italy.

Other books on this list include We’re All in This Together (Amy Jones), Counting Teeth: A Namibian Story (Peter Midgley), and The High Mountains of Portugal (Yann Martel). The entire summer reading list a la local authors is at

Check the library or your favourite bookstore for these recommendations. Happy summer reading.


About Author

Lucy Haines

Lucy Haines has been a freelancer writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2012. She writes features on travel, food, seniors, homes and gardens.