Don’t Cancel Your Summer Reading and Listening: Books that deserve some acclaim

Tempted to zone out on the beach and scroll through InstaFaceTwitTok? Step away from the phone and visit a different world…

The biggest danger of relaxing at the beach with a thick book used to be dozing off and getting bonked on the head by a heavy hardback. Now, with digital ebook readers and audiobooks, even that risk has been mitigated.

Buy them in our local bookstores. Get them from the library. Here are some of my readings and listening suggestions:


The Expanse Series (9 books plus bonus stories) by James S.A. Corey

Are you a fan of the TV show? Jim Holden is a peripheral character in a dead end job hauling ice in the asteroid belt, when he ends up in the middle of a deep space shooting war. After that, he and the crew of the Rocinante manage to get in the middle of just about everything that goes wrong inside (and outside) the solar system. 

The books are so much better than the TV series. Instead of frantically cutting from scene to scene, trying to both milk the drama and keep the story line intelligible, you’ll actually understand what’s going on. And Alex doesn’t die because the actor got canceled. Plus, if you’re a science geek, you’ll appreciate the plausible physics of space travel and battles. 

Be sure to check out the novellas that explain the origins of the near-light drive and all about Amos Burton. 

The Rivers of London Series (9 books plus comic books!) by Ben Aaronovitch, Narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.

Peter Grant is a black police bobby in London on his first days on the job, who happens to meet a ghost. Mayhem ensues. I’ll be honest, Aaronovitch, who wrote a few things for a show called “Dr. Who,” has created an entire parallel world where magic is real, and London is a place you definitely want to hang out in. 

I don’t want to read these books. I just want to listen to them. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is the most amazing audiobook narrator on the planet. He breathes life with voice and accent into throwaway characters who appear in two paragraphs. 

But wait, there’s a bunch of side stories that happen in comic books… 

The Country Club Murders Series (13 books and audioboks) by Julie Mulhern, narrated by Callie Beaulieu

And now for something completely different. Ellison Russell is a Kansas City artist, born into a wealthy family and married to a real shithead. In the first book, Ellison accidentally swims into the corpse of one of her husband’s mistresses. She meets and (over the course of the next half dozen books) falls in love with police detective Anarchy Jones. Set in the 1970s, before cell phones and climate change, the series reminds us what roles women were forced to play not so long ago. The narration by CT narrator Callie Beaulieu is light and fun and completely engrossing.

The Entire Harry Potter Series (7 audiobooks) by J.K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale

Ok, so she’s been partially canceled. Set it aside. Put in the earbuds and enjoy the story of The Boy Who Lived. Follow Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione from their first year through their epic final battle. Jim Dale manages to distinguish all the different voices in an epic and flawless performance.  Yes, it’s better than the movies. 

The Groston Rules by Mark Binder

Yeah, I’m going to plug my own book in the middle here. (Hopefully the editor will let it slide) (He did) What happens when your school gets shut down due to climate change and you’re bussed to another community? Seven high school seniors get into and out of trouble in this fun and funny work set in a pre-pandemic of historical fiction (2018, gasp!). The first novel serialized on Spotify, and the first novel to include a Bollywood-style dance number.

Termination Shock: A Novel by Neal Stephenson

I’ve been a fan of Neal Stephenson since his first cyberpunk novel, Snowcrash. Then he went into a whole period of Steampunk, and now he’s back to the near future. It’s neither a cheery nor optimistic book. Climate change is real. COVID-19 is endemic. Great men (and women) are trying to do something about it. The book is interesting largely as a how-to manual on how to build a sulfur launch system to mitigate climate change. If the peripheral characters had more to do it would have been better.

Mark Binder is a former editor of Motif and the author of more than two dozen books for all ages, including It Ate My Sister, Izzy Abrahmson’s Village Life Series and The Groston Rules.