Book Corner: Cool Off with Water-Themed Reads

What’s the best part of summer besides air conditioning? Swimming, preferably in the ocean, but I’ll take a lake or pool. The second-best part of summer is sitting in the air conditioning, reading books. You might have guessed by now that I’m not a fan of the heat, but I do dream of living by the water someday. In the meantime, I satisfy my fantasies of operating a mobile library from a charming, weatherbeaten cart on the strand by reading books about water instead. Here are some to inspire your own ocean-dwelling fantasies. They’re not your typical beach reads, but they just might cool you off on a hot summer day.

Our Wives Under the Sea, opens a new window by Julia Armfield
For months, marine biologist Leah and her crew are stranded on the deep-sea floor in a disabled submarine. When Leah finally returns home, her wife Miri grapples with the changes she sees in Leah and is desperate for answers. Leah barely communicates, wandering around their apartment while running the faucets nonstop. Alternating between past and present, details slowly emerge, yet Miri can’t get any information from the organization that commissioned the expedition about what really happened under the waves. Eventually, Miri begins to realize her beloved wife is slipping away. With a touch of horror and mounting tension, Armfield weaves an absorbing tale of love and grief.

Ice: From Mixed Drinks to Skating Rinks--A Cool History of a Hot Commodity, opens a new window by Amy Brady
The only times I think about ice are whether I want it crushed or in cubes, or when I have to scrape it off my windshield in January. But ice hasn’t always been ready-made in refrigerators around the world. Environmental historian Brady uncovers the important role ice has played in culture, economics, and technology since the sixteenth century. Ice impacts what we eat and drink, how we treat illness, and even helped elect one of the United States’ most popular presidents. The dark side of human-made ice is our ever-increasing need to feel the chill through refrigeration, air conditioning (hi, it’s me), and the like, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Brady’s history of ice will ensure you’ll never take it for granted again.

The Veins of the Ocean, opens a new window by Patricia Engel
Award-winning Engel brings to life lush coastal communities in the Florida Keys, Cuba, and Colombia in this story of finding hope and healing in the natural world. Reina Castillo is finally able to move on after the passing of her brother, who was sentenced to death for throwing a baby from a bridge, a crime for which Reina feels responsible. Wanting to disappear, she moves to a small town in the Keys where she meets Nesto Cadena, a recently exiled Cuban eagerly awaiting the arrival of his children. Nesto’s unending faith and deep love for the ocean helps Reina understand her own connections to the sea and its role in her family’s troubled past. Thanks to Nesto and his outlook on life, Reina starts to release herself from the guilt she carries over her brother’s crime.

The Last Lifeboat, opens a new window by Hazel Gaynor
Gaynor’s historical novel is based on the real-life Children's Overseas Reception Board (CORB), created during World War II to evacuate children out of England to other countries, including Canada and Australia. It’s 1940, and Kent school teacher Alice King signs on with the CORB to do her part for the war and help evacuate Britain’s children. Meanwhile, in London, Lily Nichols is compelled to put her two children on a boat to Canada, taking a chance that they’ll be safer elsewhere. But when a Nazi U-boat torpedoes the S.S. Carlisle bound for Canada, leaving only a single lifeboat remaining, the fate of Lily’s children is left in Alice’s hands.

Summer on the Bluffs, opens a new window by Sunny Hostin
Emmy Award-winning co-host of the ABC daytime show “The View” entertains with this lively beach read. The three unofficial “goddaughters” of Amelia Vaux Tanner gather for one last summer in the exclusive African American beach community of Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. After the death of her husband Omar, Ama reconnects with an old flame and plans to move to the south of France, leaving her home to one of the three women. But which one? Ama and Omar began supporting Billie, Perry, and Olivia when they were young children in New York, and as they grew up, the trio continued to spend their summers with the Tanners in Oak Bluffs. As the stories of the three women, Ama, and Omar develop, secrets are uncovered about all of them.

The Covenant of Water, opens a new window by Abraham Verghese
The New York Times-bestselling author of Cutting for Stone dazzles in his long-awaited epic set in Kerala, India, on the Malabar Coast, where water is as meaningful as land. Spanning the years 1900 to 1977, the novel follows three generations of a family for whom water is also a curse. In each generation, at least one member dies by drowning, perpetuating what the family calls “the Condition.” The tale begins with the arranged marriage of 12-year-old Mariamma to a widower three decades her senior. While unhappy at first, the pair becomes accustomed to one another, and love blossoms. Mariamma, growing into the nickname Big Ammachi (Big Mother), becomes the beloved matriarch of the Parambil estate, raising her stepchild and birthing two children. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, an orphan named Digby rises against the odds to become privileged white doctor in British India, with his path intersecting Parambil. Verghese contrasts difficult topics, including colonial history, castes, and classism, with lyrical storytelling.

Tracy McPeck is the adult services coordinator at Central Rappahannock Regional Library. This column first appeared in the Free Lance-Star newspaper.