There are so many great resources for good summer reading, but I have always wanted to add my own into the mix. So here it is! A list of several great books, some new, some backlist, that might be just what you're looking for this summer, whatever your plans.
I've collected a total of 37 books for you to pick through this summer season, and 6 to highlight from my own summer TBR pile. Breaking them up into separate posts makes sense to me, since choices are hard and presenting 43 books at once would be a little overwhelming.
I tried really hard to make a diverse and interesting list with some descriptions that bring out the best of each selection. Done is better than perfect, so next year might be fancier, we'll see.
First up is fiction.
Below you'll find 20 works of fiction, divided into generic but hopefully helpful subcategories, to put in your beach bag, take to the forest, read on the couch when you want to escape while laying absolutely still, or whatever else you're going to be doing in the coming months!
I just hope there will be something here you'll enjoy!
The Study of Animal Languages, by Lindsay Stern – A quietly lovely book about a couple pursuing their careers that examines the impact of time on relationships, and the compounding stress of aging parents. The story surrounds a married couple, he is a professor, and she is pursuing a doctorate, but one of her presentations doesn’t quite go according to plan. I was so surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. If you enjoy novels that deal with relationships, or their implosion, you should give this a try.
French Exit, by Patrick DeWitt – I am a fan of Patrick DeWitt, and this might be my favorite of his books. I adore his quirky style, how he does unexpected things with plot without it seeming like the characters are being ridiculous, they just are ridiculous, and you totally buy it. In this book, a woman and her son are dealing with a crumbling fortune, and her husband might have been reincarnated as their cat. If you like Wes Anderson movies, comedies of manners, and/or Arrested Development’s sense of humor, this would be a good one to try. It’s also pretty short, so it won’t take long to read.
Daisy Jones and the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid – This got a lot of hype earlier in the year, but I think it’s warranted. By the end of the book I had to remind myself it’s a work of fiction. The characters feel soooo real! If you liked that movie with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, or watched Behind the Music in past years, you should definitely give this a try on audio. It’s read by a full cast and the story is written in an oral history style (interview).
Tell the Machine Goodnight, by Katie Williams – I picked this one up for the cover and the strange premise and was not disappointed. I’ll tell you now, it’s a bit high on the weirdness level, so it might not work for everyone, but I loved it. Told from multiple perspectives, this story centers on a handful of people that each interact with a machine that will tell you three things to do to be happy. There’s more going on than meets the eye as we see someone who works with the company that makes this machine, members of her family, and people who are impacted by its abilities. (TW for mention of an eating disorder)
Waypoint Kangaroo, by Curtis C. Chen – This one is fun and set in space! Win-win, I know. The story of a spy, who is not that great at his job. The higher ups have given him a “vacation” but there’s actually much more going on aboard the galactic cruise ship he’s on. It’s compelling, unusual, and a fun adventure/murder mystery story. There’s a second one in this series that I’m looking forward to reading.
Bitter Orange, by Claire Fuller – This book is the definition of atmospheric suspense to me. You’re not quite sure what’s happening until the ending and then you will want to re-read it to figure out what happened. I loved the cover, first off, but the prose and plot are just great as well. The story deals with three people, who all end up at a very old home for different reasons. It’s difficult to talk about without giving things away, and the murky not quite sure-ness is so good I don’t want to spoil it. If you enjoy having the scenery and setting be a part of the plot, the atmosphere turned up to 11, and your suspense thick and syrupy, definitely put this on your short list. I was impressed.
The River, by Peter Heller – Another one I hope you’ve heard a lot about that is worth it. First, I love Peter Heller’s writing and his book, The Dog Stars, is one of my favorites. He doesn’t write the way you would expect and catches you off guard and grateful that he can do so much with just 26 letters. One of the coolest things in The River is noticing how the words and the prose mimic the tension in the story AND the landscape of the Colorado wilderness the main characters are traveling through. Yet somehow, Heller manages to blend this poetic writing with a compelling and thrillingly quiet story of two friends who encounter a suspicious situation and have to figure it out because there’s a giant wildfire at their backs. When any misstep could cost their lives, they have to make important choices quickly. This story made me cry and my heart race, and I didn’t want to put it down. It is so good.
The Lost Man, by Jane Harper – Jane Harper is an Australian writer with some of the most compelling and atmospheric books I’ve read in years. Her descriptions make the heat of the Australian setting real, so this would be great to read by the pool so you can cool off when you need to. The story deals with one man in a family that lives in the part of Australia where you have to pack a trunk full of food before driving anywhere because if your car breaks down or you run out of gas, you will die if you don’t have extra water and food. It’s that hot. When this man turns up dead with his stocked car just a bit away, people are baffled and confused. Stranger still is the landmark he was found near. Harper is so good at puzzles, and at dialing the suspense to make you unsure of what you think you know. Not very gory, and centered on the family, not the detectives investigating, this is a suspense novel of characters, relationships, and secrets.
Foe, by Ian Reid – You want an unsettling relationship book? This is the one for you. I can’t say too much about it, but it’s set in some point in time where people can go to space to do Good Things. And yet, the story takes place entirely in a farmhouse and involves 3 people. Once I got to the end of this book and realized what had been happening the whole time, it was a goose-bump inducing delight!
Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, by Mario Giordano – This is a delightful mystery with a great main character. Auntie Poldi has moved to a new area of Italy (the setting is divine – as this is originally written in Italian) with the precise goal of drinking herself to death. Instead, she ends up investigating some suspicious activity. I love a meddling neighbor story, and this is one of the best ones. Perfect for a vacation, to read by the pool, or just when you need something to transport you, but you also want to know that the main character will live through it (she will)!
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, by Vaseem Khan – Another one of my favorite things to read in the mystery department is the detective from another culture book. In this story, Inspector Chopra has just retired, like, it’s his first day of retirement, and he’s having a really hard time letting go of the job. A seemingly simple case shows up that he starts overthinking about, and during the in between time, a baby elephant shows up as his charge from a relative. It’s a wonderful story, and perfect for reading if you want to explore without getting up from the couch, or the beach chair you’re in. Plus, there’s a baby elephant, and more books in this series so you can read them all summer long if you want to.
The Noodle Shop mystery series, by Vivien Chien – A wonderful series that you can just turn your brain off and enjoy. This is a true cozy mystery series with punny titles and everything. With poisonings, lots of murders in a small geographic location, it’s like Murder, She Wrote, but at a Chinese Restaurant. Our main character has reluctantly taken over managing the family restaurant, and just can’t stay out of the dramatic and deadly incidents that happen around her. These are just like candy, and perfect for light entertainment.
The Lady Sherlock series, by Sherry Thomas – I’ve been obsessed with these books recently and listened to them on Hoopla through my library (check out your library’s digital content!). The narrator is so good. If you like the Sherlock Holmes story but are reluctant to try all the new versions, I implore you to go for this one. It’s a gender flipped version in which a young woman intentionally compromises her social standing because she doesn’t want to get married. Yet, she has this brilliant mind and corresponds as Sherlock Holmes to solve cases and send tips to the police every now and then. As the cast of characters grows, she establishes this hilarious costume and disguise filled illusion to keep people believing in the genius of the (non-existant) Sherlock. It’s so much fun, but you should start with the first book, A Study in Scarlet Women, because the plot and characters do build off each other to a degree you won’t want to miss.
Compelling Thrillers = more gore on the page + it might stress you out but you’ll like it:
There’s Someone Inside Your House, by Stephanie Perkins – I read this a few years ago and remember it being like all the reasons why you might watch those Halloween movies and yell at the kids investigating the murder, an making all the wrong choices along the way, but in book form!! It’s crazy and dramatic and suspenseful and so well written it plays like a movie in your head. If you are into that type of stuff you should read this. Like, yesterday.
The Last Time I Lied, by Riley Sager – Did you want a summer camp thriller? Good! Here you go. This deals with a summer camp where bad things happened, but guess what folks, they’re reopening it! I’m sure you can guess what happens next (hint – chaos). If you can suspend some disbelief and the ridiculous choices some of the characters make, and enjoy the trope of the summer camp spookiness, then you’ll love this one. (Also, I really enjoyed Riley Sager’s previous book, Final Girls, and he has another coming out this summer that you might want to add to your list).
My Lovely Wife, by Samantha Downing – Talk about twisty. There have been lots of domestic thrillers lately, but this is different. It didn’t have the same what just happened as I felt reading Gone Girl, but the plot is quite a roller coaster ride. The married couple in this book have landed themselves in a situation where they murder people, and the explanation of why, and when/if they will stop is just bananas. If you’re looking for a twisty thriller for the summer, this needs to go on your list.
The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides – Another twisty thriller, this one deals with a woman who seems to have murdered her husband a long time ago and hasn’t said a single word since. She’s in a psychiatric hospital and the narrator is a man who is trying to help her. Alternating between his perspective as he tries to draw her out, and diary entries from her past, this is a compelling read with a satisfying twist that you will enjoy even if you do see it coming.
My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite – This short original novel is unlike anything I’ve read before and deserves more readers than it’s gotten so far. It’s physically a small book, you can read it in a couple hours. Also, the chapters are a couple pages max so you’re constantly turning pages. In this story we meet two sisters. One tends to murder her boyfriends, and the other helps her clean up after these maybe too frequent to be self-defense incidents. When the sister with murderous tendencies starts a relationship with a coworker of the responsible sister, much chaos ensues. I’m always amazed when an author can create so much without so few words. You’ll either love it or hate it, but it's worth a try.
Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch – You could just read ALL the Blake Crouch, he’s so good at compelling suspense, but Dark Matter is quite possibly his best. This book deals with alternate realities, Shroedinger’s Cat, and what you would do to get your life back if it was taken from you (by a different version of youself??). I laughed, literally cried, read this in two sittings in 24 hours, and have thought about it so much since. Loved it. Go read it!
Part 2 of the Summer Reading guide will be posted on Monday and will cover Non-Fiction and Children's books!
If you've made it this far and still want more, here are some fun reading guides and lists you might enjoy:
Modern Mrs. Darcy
The Washington Post's 20 Books to Read this Summer
From Get Literary
Highly Anticipated Summer Reads from LitHub
20 "Perfect Summer Books" A List from LItHub
Beach Reads Recommended by Authors
Goodreads' Summer Reading Guide
Let me know what you think, what you're reading this summer, and if you have any suggestions for next year!
For June, my book club that meets in person is reading children's books. This can be anything from picture books to chapter books, but part of the fun is in the interpretation of the challenge.
Here's a few suggestions that might remind you of something you read when you were a child that you'd like to revisit, something you've seen show up lately that you're interested in, or that someone else in your life is reading these days.
From my own childhood in the 90's:
The Unicorn Chronicles, by Bruce Coville - my favorite book when I was younger was Into the Land of the Unicorns, and I even wrote about it here. I never went through the series though, and am intrigued about what it's like.
The Animorphs series, by K. A. Applegate - I also remember loving this series as a kid, but don't remember anything about it besides the kids turned into animals and used their powers for good! I think it would be fun to revisit these as an adult.
Percy Jackson series, by Rick Riordan - my 10 year old is reading these and is on book #2. He has been urging me to read the first one, so I'm going to pick that up.
Others I'm considering:
Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh
Harry Potter - obviously
Ramona Quimby books, by Beverly Cleary
The View from Saturday, by E. L. Konigsburg
Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg
Unicorn Bowling, by Dana Simpson
The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander
Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George
The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan
I don't remember a ton from the books I loved as a kid (see my new series of Book Reports in which I re-read a book I loved as a young'un to see how it holds up), but I also thing children's literature is totally worthwhile beyond the age it's written for. So many good books are being written for kids these days.
I would also totally encourage you to let your kids (or grandkids, nieces/nephews, students, etc) recommend something for you to read. It'll make them feel really good that you took their recommendation, and it'll give you a bit more insight into their world.
Did you have a favorite book as a kid? What would you read for this challenge?
Did you know you can borrow digital books in the form of e-books or audiobooks from your library?
Chances are your library uses either the Libby app, or Hoopla. My library uses Hoopla and while the selection varies at times, I thought it'd be worth highlighting some of the good things I've found there recently. Definitely check out what your library offers beyond it's physical space. You might be surprised!
Here are 12 great reads on Hoopla right now that I highly recommend, and 3 that I'm looking forward to:
1-3. The Lady Sherlock series, by Sherry Thomas - My current favorite series to listen to, this is a retelling of a gender flipped Sherlock Holmes. Clever, sharp, well written and funny, this series is great if you're looking for something new, you like mysteries, and great characters.
4. Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear - A great historical mystery series with a narrator with an excellent voice. I feel like the series got better after book 1 but the background set up in the first book is important for things to come. Maisie is a great character and her sidekicks are fun and complex also. It's not too deep or tough, or too immersed in the historical fiction tone to put me off. The mysteries she has to solve are compelling too. Great easy listening.
5. The Agatha Raisin series, by M. C. Beaton - A great cozy mystery series perfect for listening to in the winter while doing a puzzle in your jammies. Not that I'm speaking for experience or anything (I totally am). The first one is called The Quiche of Death and our main character is one of my favorite sassy ladies to spend time with.
6. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrick Backman - One of the best in the "grumpy old man at the edge of self-imposed despair has an adventure that softens his heart and makes you cry" sub-category of fiction. Great on audio because then you learn how to pronounce the names.
7. The Bride Test, by Helen Hoang - A relatively new release contemporary romance!
8. El Deafo, by Cece Bell - A wonderful graphic novel about Cece Bell's own experience as a child with a hearing impairment. It's educational, touching, and really well done. Highly recommend parents, kids, and all humans read this sometime.
9. Lumberjanes vol. 1, by Noelle Stevenson - A great comic series about a group of kids at summer camp and the maybe magical adventures they get themselves into. Lots of these are available on Hoopla and they're fun for youth and grownups.
10. Phoebe and Her Unicorn Series, by Dana Simpson - One of my daughter's favorite graphic novel/comic series, this is about a young girl and her unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. Together they encounter the issues in Phoebe's daily life, and it's a little smidge like Calvin and Hobbes but updated for today's issues and with more unicorns. 9 books in the series could keep your kiddos going for a good part of the summer!
11. Girl, Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis - This is a good kick in the pants if that's what you need. I don't think it's for everyone, and it's not without it's problematic parts, but if you're in the right mindset, you might find something really valuable here. I read this last year and there were many passages that helped me clarify some things and motivate me to get some things done.
12. The Book of Delights, by Ross Gay - I've talked about this book a lot since reading it, but this is a great way to get a taste if you're on the fence about getting your own copy (TBH that's what I use the library for a lot - figuring out if a book is worth buying or not). I loved this one, and it will make you think and look at things differently.
On My List
13. Captain Marvel vol. 1, by Kelly Deconnick - comic - I have loved the Ms. Marvel comics and really enjoyed the Captain Marvel movie, so it's about time I read some of the comics about our hero Carol Danvers. I've read lots of comics through the library and it's lots of fun!
14. Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come: One Introvert's Year of Saying Yes, by Jessica Pan - e-book - Yes, I'm totally into this for the title and the cover (it's cake). As an introvert myself, the idea of having a year of yes is scary to me, but sounds entertaining to read about when it's happening to someone else.
15. Small Fry, by Lisa Brennan-Jobs - audiobook - A relatively new release from the daughter of Steve Jobs. You probably have heard of this one, but I'm interested to see what it's like.
Any buried treasures of your library that you've enjoyed?
In May my IRL book club read books with a focus on maternal figures or relationships in them. Here's what we talked about.
Everyone seemed to notice the disparity and rather troubled duality of the role of mothers or maternal figures in literature. There are lots of children's picture books about the bond and reliability of mothers, then mothers tend to go to the background, if they're present at all, in chapter books, and then seem to become a catalyst for plot points, subject to, or participants in, or causes of abuse in books for adults, and it's just a bit sad that there's not more continuity there across experiences. The stories of functional and present mothers/grandmothers/aunts/sisters are stories that should still be told.
We noticed something else that seems to happen if the mother is not present. There often is a character who acts as a surrogate, the maternal figure that's not actually the mother. There are a lot of wonderful literary characters that fall into this category that are some of our favorites. Ms. Honey from Matilda, for example, fits this characterization.
It was a fascinating discussion.
What I'm enjoying about this "read a book on this theme" style of book club is that everyone has something different to talk about because everyone read something different. But by looking for the same thing, we all have the same thing to pay attention to in our different books.
Here's what we read and discussed for those of you interested in adding to your TBR list:
The Mother Daughter Book Club, by Heather Vogel Frederick
Becoming Naomi Leon, by Pam Munoz Ryan
Finn Family Moomintroll, by Tove Jansson
Life on the Refrigerator Door, by Alice Kulpers
Cheaper by the Dozen (and it's sequel), by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live, by Heather B. Armstrong
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd
Matilda, by Roald Dahl
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Eight Cousins, by Louisa May Alcott
The School Story, by Andrew Clements
Next month our theme is Children's Books! You're welcome to play along at home :) Happy reading!
The month started off really slowly for me. Finishing the semester of Grad school took it's toll, but I ended up reading much more than I expected. Books have always been an escape and it looks like I needed one this month!
Here's what I read:
The Book of Delights, by Ross Gay - I absolutely loved this little book of essays. Ross Gay wrote every day for a year and turned it into these 102-ish short essays about things that delighted him. He's a poet, literally, and it shows in the prose. An incredibly life giving collection that will increase your awareness of the delights in your own days.
The Scent Keeper, by Erica Bauermeister - You can see my review here.
My Plain Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows - this is the second in a series of historical retellings, in this case a retelling of Jane Eyre. But! In this version Jane sees ghosts and is being recruited by a society not to far removed from the Ghostbusters. It's hilarious and I recommend the audiobook highly. The previous book in the series, My Lady Jane, is a retelling of Lady Jane Grey, but some people turn into animals. Also very funny.
My Lovely Wife, by Samantha Downing - this twisty thriller is not heavy on blood and gore, which I appreciated, and deals with a couple who have landed themselves in the situation of killing people. It's all the things a summer thriller should be: compelling, strange, almost unbelievable, and unputdownable. I read it in two sittings.
The Burning Issue of the Day, by T. E. Kinsey - the 5th in the Lady Hardcastle series, this is a delightfully funny and refreshing historical cozy mystery. I love this series for the cleverness of the mysteries, the female friendships, the characters, and the humor. I've mentioned before that Historical Fiction isn't my thing, but these are great. The series is free on Kindle Unlimited and is definitely worth it if you have that service.
Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy, by Martha Wells - the 3rd and 4th books in the Muerderbot Diaries. The 4th, Exit Strategy, is the final novella in the series but there will be a full length novel in the future. If awards matter to you, this series has won lots of them for good reasons.
A Study in Scarlet Women, by Sherry Thomas- the first in a new to me series, this is a gender switched Sherlock Holmes retelling, but also a historical fiction I very much enjoyed! The gender swap is interesting and well written, the writing is charming, clever, and compelling, and the mystery was clever. I'm listening to this series on Hoopla through my library, so it's worth checking yours for it too! There are three in the series at the moment, with a 4th planned for October.
The River, by Peter Heller - this is a phenomenal book. I love Peter Heller's writing and was nervous to read more for fear it wouldn't be as good as The Dog Stars. The River is as good and manages to be peaceful and thrillingly compelling at once. The story is of two college friends on a river trip who then encounter a suspicious situation, pressure from a looming wildfire and being far from civilization. It is a wonderful story that will expand what you thought fiction was capable of doing.
To Night Owl, from Dogfish, by Meg Wolitzer and Holly Goldberg Sloan - this is a charming epistolary novel aimed for children/tweens (there's a little talk of periods), but was delightful and entertaining for me to read also. It's the story of two girls who's dad's have started dating and want the girls to get to know each other at summer camp. One of the girls contacts the other to start planning how to ensure their families do NOT become united. A charming friendship ensues, and this book takes what you thought you remembered about the plot of The Parent Trap and turns it around into an absolutely lovely, honest, kind, and adventurous story of family found and growing, and the joys of summer possibility. Loved it.
The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live, by Heather B. Armstrong - this was a fascinating memoir of a woman who has severe depression. She undergoes a treatment that basically turns the brain off and on again in an attempt to help lessen her situation's severity. I listened to this in audio and Heather narrates it herself. Her relationship with her mother was striking, her journey to and through this ordeal was fascinating, heartbreaking at times, and often jaw-droppingly moving. I especially remember the moments when she recalls feeling improvement the first few times after such a period of intense darkness. This is a great memoir of an unforgettable experience.
***Please be careful with yourself when going into this one. Heather describes things very accurately. If you've experienced depression it can be difficult and might be triggering for some people.
The Bride Test, by Helen Hoang - I really enjoyed Hoang's first book, The Kiss Quotient, and was excited to pick this one up. Contemporary Romances are still a little new to me, but they're really enjoyable. They're fun, dramatic, sexy, and have that same quality that make the best romantic comedies so endearing. The premise of this one is a little unbelievable, but that is part of what made it so fun to me. What I want to mention here, is that Hoang's characters express degrees of Autism, which comes from her own experience. She's doing really great things for the landscape of books and reading as a whole, and for the Romance genre in particular, by increasing representation in this area. It's wonderful for that reason, and her books are really a fun time!
***This is a romance novel with some steamy encounters, so know that going in.
People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Deadbeats, and Other Suburban Scourges, by Jen Mann - I was hoping for so much more from this book and I really did not like it. Where I wanted to find that level of self-aware snark I enjoy, I found annoying, hypocritical and judgmental rants about other women that Mann interacted with. There's no mention of competitive crafting either, which I was looking forward to. Skip this and read Jenny Lawson instead.
If Cats Disappeared from the World, by Genki Kawamura - picture it (no, not Sicily), you're about to die, and then the devil shows up in a Hawaiian shirt to make you a deal - for every day you extend your life, you have to chose something to disappear. What would you do? Translated from Japanese, this novel is about a young postman who has to deal with his mortality, his past, and what he is willing to give up for a future. It is really cute, charming, thought provoking, and unique. It's also really short so it'd be a fun one to add to your list if you don't mind having some feelings to go with it.
Phew! A great month of reading. What did you read in May? I'd love to hear.
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