Summer reading means something a bit different to everyone. Some of you like to put their brains completely on vacation with fun, easy reads. Some of you like an action-packed page turner. Some of you want something with a bit more substance. And some of you might like to head off the beaten path.
Personally, I like books you can fly through, books you don’t have to work too hard on, and books you can get easily immersed in. I avoid books that demand to be read in perfect peace and quiet (last time I checked, the beach and pool generally have screaming kids around!).
I’ve read every book that appears on this list and, as always, will continue to add new selections throughout the summer. And, check out My Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2019 (i.e. books that will be published later this summer, many of which I haven’t read yet).
Stay tuned tomorrow for Episode 20 of the Sarah’s Book Shelves Live Podcast…where Susie from Novel Visits and I count down our Top 10 All-Time Favorite Summer Reads!
A couple elements are returning from last year:
- Printable Cheatsheet – the Summer Reading Guide in quick recommendations in PDF format for easy printing (great for taking to the bookstore or library!). Download for free below!
- #1 Picks for Each Category – I highlighted my very favorite book in each category in the Guide (Something Fun, Something Intense / Fast-Paced, Something With A Bit More Substance, and Something Different). Stay tuned because these picks could change as I add more books to the list throughout the summer!
This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).
2019 Summer Reading List
My #1 Pick
Plot Summary: When Diana, Lucy’s accomplished, but distant mother-in-law is found dead in suspicious circumstances, Lucy and her family are forced to confront their feelings about Diana and each other.
My Thoughts: The Mother-in-Law opens with Diana’s mysterious death, but that’s not really what this story is about. Told in alternating perspectives (Diana’s and Lucy’s) and timelines that shift between the past and the present, this is a family drama focusing on the relationships between Lucy and Diana, Lucy and her husband Ollie, and Lucy’s sister-in-law (Nettie) and Diana. For a family drama involving death, it’s surprisingly heart-warming and thought-provoking about the complicated mother-in-law / daughter-in-law dynamic, which isn’t covered as much in literature as the mother/daughter relationship. And, it was a pleasant surprise for me given I DNF’d Hepworth’s last book (The Family Next Door).
Plot Summary: James Hernandez falls in love with Lou at first sight…except she’s his best friend Rob’s fiance.
My Thoughts: This one was the perfect read for my vacation…I read it in 2 days. It’s the story of an epic love triangle and doesn’t go in the direction you think it will! It has incredible depth, but is written in a light way and actually made me cry. I think this is Camille Pagan’s best work so far!
Plot Summary: When Gabe publishes a novel that’s very closely based on his steamy, volatile relationship with his ex-girlfriend (Talia…or the fictional “Dahlia”), his relationship with his new fiancee (Molly) hits some speed bumps.
My Thoughts: Y’all know I’m not normally big on the rom-com style brain candy books…they can easily venture into cheesy for me, but I really liked Otherwise Engaged! The premise is totally intriguing and Palmer takes all this upheaval in Gabe and Molly’s relationship to levels I’d never considered, but that were certainly interesting to ponder (i.e. in general, how do the family and friends of any author feel when details from their actual lives appear in their family member’s / friend’s book?). Great pick if you’re looking for something light, easy, and happy! Full Review.
Plot Summary: Ellis (an Alabama native living in New York City) shares her outrageous take on Southern etiquette and eccentricities.
My Thoughts: Ellis has an inappropriate, outrageous sense of humor (my favorite!). And, pairing it with her spot-on social commentary on the South can be magic. She covers marriage, thank-you notes, general etiquette (courtesy of her mother), and crazy stories from her childhood a la Jenny Lawson (I loved these). Some of these essays are outrageously funny, while some are still fairly outrageous (but less so for Ellis), but also poignant. Full Review.
Plot Summary: When star news anchor Ted Grayson gets caught on video berating a female make-up artist, the media (including his own journalist daughter) attacks and Ted is forced to re-evaluate his entire life.
My Thoughts: Talk to Me is a snarky story that’s ultimately about regret…taking place in today’s media world. Kenney’s commentary on today’s brand of journalism is spot-on and pokes fun at pretty much all parties involved. But, buried under all the snark is some actual heart. If you’re interested in stories about falls from grace, today’s media climate, and life regret, Talk to Me is for you. Full Review.
Plot Summary: When Lucy Albright arrives for her freshman year at Baird College in California, she falls into a toxic love affair with Stephen DeMarco, a Junior at Baird.
My Thoughts: Tell Me Lies explores sociopathic behavior and the girls that get mixed up in it from Lucy’s and Stephen’s alternating perspectives. It was a somewhat uncomfortable read, yet I was absolutely riveted. Part of me thinks this is the kind of book every high school girl should read as a cautionary tale, but it might also completely destroy her capacity to trust. And, I’m sure the many women who have experienced this type of relationship at some point in their lives will identify with Lucy (but also be totally frustrated with her).
Plot Summary: When debut novelist James Smale sells his semi-autobiographical novel to Doubleday (his editor turns out to be Jacqueline Onassis), he is forced to address his frayed relationship with his mother.
My Thoughts: The Editor is a marriage of a dysfunctional family novel and a publishing world / literary life novel…with some fun celebrity allure sprinkled on top. The premise of having Jackie O be Smale’s fictional book editor could have been preposterous and silly. But, Rowley didn’t have Jackie overtake the story…he worked in just the right amount of Kennedy anecdotes in a way that didn’t feel forced. The Editor is a delightful (but, not annoyingly so) book if you’re looking for a fun, light read. Full Review.
Plot Summary: Phillips, best known for her roles on Freaks and Geeks, Dawson’s Creek, and Cougartown (and as Michelle Williams’ BFF) shares her experience growing up in Arizona and breaking into the acting business.
My Thoughts: She’s raw, honest, down-to-earth, hilarious, and unafraid to share some experiences from her childhood that many people would feel uncomfortable talking about. She’s also willing to tell it like it is about Hollywood and other actors she’s worked with, not in a “who’s sleeping with who” kind of way, but more in a “that guy is a pompous prick and treated me badly” kind of way. A light, fun, juicy listen and one of the most engaging celebrity memoirs I’ve read / listened to! Full Review.
Something Intense / Fast-Paced
My #1 Pick
Plot Summary: When there is an explosion at Korean immigrant Young and Pak Yoo’s “Miracle Submarine” alternative autism treatment facility, resulting in two deaths, everyone at the facility that day becomes targets of the investigation.
My Thoughts: Miracle Creek is a courtroom drama, but it’s so much more than that. It’s highly literary and tackles multiple serious issues, yet doesn’t forego the fast-moving plot of a traditional courtroom drama. In addition to the “who caused the explosion and why” angle to the story, Miracle Creek addresses children with severe disabilities (including autism) and what life is like for those who care for them. Full Review.
Plot Summary: Jessica Farris signs up for a supposedly anonymous study only to find that Dr. Shields (the psychiatrist conducting the study) seems to be able to get into her head in a much deeper way than she imagined.
My Thoughts: Psychological thrillers that are heavier on the psychological and lighter on the thriller tend to work for me…and An Anonymous Girl fits this bill. It’s less reliant on action and outlandish plot twists…the suspenseful question is not what will happen, but who can you trust? The beginning of the story sucked me in in a creepy, unsettling way. This book is a giant mindf*ck! Full Review.
Plot Summary: While a new disease called False Memory Syndrome (which gives people memories of things that never happened and whole lives they never lived) is spreading throughout the country, Barry Sutton investigates the death of a woman possibly afflicted with this illness, which leads him to a neuroscientist (Helena) developing a technology involving memory that could have sinister consequences.
My Thoughts: I don’t read much Sci-Fi, but Blake Crouch is the exception (I loved his last book, Dark Matter). He writes incredibly human takes on Sci-Fi that make you consider a big life question. In Recursion‘s case, the question is “what is memory?” There’s a LOT going on in this novel (I had no idea what was going on at first)…it’s somewhat of a mind-bending and made my brain hurt at times, but in a good way.
Plot Summary: When uber-successful Chloe Taylor’s lawyer husband (Adam) is murdered in their East Hampton home, her sister Nicky (who is Adam’s ex-wife) re-enters the picture to help Chloe navigate the investigation and support Adam and Nicky’s son (Ethan).
My Thoughts: The Better Sister is my second Alafair Burke thriller (my first was The Wife) and she’s becoming a go-to mystery / thriller author for me. She’s a former prosecutor and it shows in her thrillers. The Better Sister is actually more courtroom drama than psychological thriller, but it’s also a dysfunctional family story. It’s about marriage, divorce, keeping up appearances, sisters, and teenage angst. Full Review.
Plot Summary: After artist Alicia Berenson is found standing next to her beloved husband (Gabriel) in their home after he’d been shot 5 times in the face, she never speaks again.
My Thoughts: This mystery / thriller is a slow burn for most of the book until all the pieces come together in the end. It’s as much about Theo, Alicia’s psychotherapist, and his past, as it is about Alicia and how her husband ended up dead. Theo gives off a creepy vibe, which fits in with the overall creepy story. The ending rode the line between possibly brilliant and possibly ridiculous, as it did rely on a somewhat important coincidence, but the pieces did come together kind of brilliantly.
Something With A Bit More Substance
My #1 Pick
Plot Summary: Daisy Jones & the Six, a hot 1970’s rock n’ roll band, mysteriously broke up after a Chicago concert. This is the story of their rise and fall, told in an oral history format.
My Thoughts: I almost didn’t read Daisy Jones & the Six because I’m not that interested in music, but I couldn’t put it down and it’s my #1 book of 2019 so far. The oral history format made the story seem incredibly fast-paced. And, it clearly illuminated how multiple people can have completely different interpretations of the same events. I thought I knew where this story was headed. There was an easy and obvious reason for the band to break up, but Reid takes the more complicated path, making for a far richer story. And, the chemistry between these fictional is so raw that you forget you’re reading fiction. If you liked the movie A Star is Born, this is the book for you. Full Review.
Plot Summary: Two NYPD cops, Brian Stanhope and Francis Gleeson move their families next door to each other in a suburb of New York City…setting the stage for a friendship between their two children (Kate and Peter) and a tragic event that causes ripple effects years down the road.
My Thoughts: Ask Again, Yes has been slowly gaining steam over on #bookstagram and I’m thrilled to say it’s worth the hype (5 stars for me)! It’s a character-driven novel that I couldn’t put down…and these particular people struck a chord with me. It’s a coming of age story and an unconventional love story. The beginning reminded me a bit of My Sunshine Away (the neighborhood kids hijinks), while overall, it reminded me of The Female Persuasion (my review) without the feminism angle. This one will definitely be one of my favorite books of 2019! Full Review.
Plot Summary: Irish teenagers Connell and Marianne are first drawn to each other in high school when Connell’s mother works as Marianne’s parents’ housekeeper…and, their relationship becomes confusing as they navigate the social dynamics of both high school and college.
My Thoughts: Normal People (which has been long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize) is the kind of relationship book that is utterly riveting, but also made me feel a little uncomfortable in the best way possible (like White Fur and Tender). Connell and Marianne’s relationship is far from straightforward and is downright maddening at times, but I was rooting hard for them and completely engrossed in their story. 5 stars! PS – I should tell you this story involves a fair amount of sex and also does not use quotation marks for dialogue (neither of those things bothered me, but they might bother some people). Full Review.
Plot Summary: Set in 1980’s Atlanta, the story of James Witherspoon and his two families, his “legitimate” one and his secret one, and his two daughters of the same age, born to different mothers.
My Thoughts: Y’all know how much I loved Jones’ An American Marriage and I think I loved Silver Sparrow just as much! It has a very similar feel to An American Marriage and also takes place in Atlanta. The dynamic between Witherspoon’s two daughters (initially, one is aware of the other, but not vice versa) is fascinating and poignant. I ended up feeling for both of his families…much like Jones made me empathize with all three main characters in An American Marriage.
Plot Summary: Set in 1930’s Paris and inspired by the real-life love affair between former Vogue model and photographer Lee Miller and the artist Man Ray.
My Thoughts: I don’t normally love historical fiction or love stories (and The Age of Light is both), but I loved Scharer’s take on it…mainly because it’s also a “badass lady book.” It’s the story of a woman who is defined by the man in her life trying to break out on her own…to be known for her own work. Scharer immediately immerses you in 1930’s Paris and I was engrossed in the story right from the beginning. Full Review.
Plot Summary: A “sleeping sickness” (i.e. people fall asleep for long periods of time and have vivid dreams) befalls one floor of a college dorm in a small town in the California mountains (Santa Lora), but then begins to spread to the town, putting everyone on high alert.
My Thoughts: The Dreamers is like a more literary version of Megan Abbott’s The Fever (which I loved). The Dreamers is not a thriller by any means, but it still had me on the edge of my seat with incredible tension and suspense. This is a novel about fear, hysteria, isolation, and human behavior in the face of those things. The Dreamers has been compared to Station Eleven (my review) and I’d say the epidemic portion of the book is somewhat similar, but overall The Dreamers shines on its own. Full Review.
Plot Summary: The story of the Skinner family – the four Skinner children, their father’s unexpectedly passing in his thirties, their mother’s years long depression (which the children call “the Pause”), and how their lives unfold into adulthood.
My Thoughts: This family drama similar to Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth (my review) with shades of My Sunshine Away (my review) was my first 5 star book of the year! The Last Romantics‘ dysfunction is normal enough to be relatable…the type of dysfunction you see in real life all the time. It’s a novel of sibling dynamics and how parenting decisions/style impacts children in later life. It’s one of those character-driven novels I couldn’t put down! Full Review.
My #1 Pick
Plot Summary: Mary Laura Philpott had an enviable life by conventional standards (i.e. happy marriage, children, career, house, etc), yet she still felt unsettled and unsatisfied. These essays are about her experience trying to navigate that.
My Thoughts: I’ve been on a kick with “women who get women” memoirs over the past few years and Mary Laura Philpott is an excellent addition to my club of go-to authors (also including Anna Quindlen and Kelly Corrigan). Philpott writes about this unsettling stage of life with openness, humor, and relatability. If you enjoy “maintaining your identity through marriage and motherhood” books, I Miss You When I Blink should be next on your list! Full Review.
Plot Summary: Piazza chronicles her own difficult first year of marriage as she travels to five continents learning about views on marriage in different cultures.
My Thoughts: This memoir is really part memoir and part travelogue. I’ve been drawn to books about marriage over the last few years…especially those that keep it real. And, Piazza definitely keeps it real, focusing on both the good parts and tough parts of a year of huge adjustment that often gets papered over with “newlywed bliss” expectations. Piazza comes across as independent, yet relatable. Great choice for fans of Kelly Corrigan and also great on audio! Full Review.
Plot Summary: Shapiro’s memoir about her experience discovering her father was not her biological father through an online DNA test.
My Thoughts: This memoir was emotional and an interesting look into a new phenomenon brought on by the simple and cheap online DNA test. It went places I wasn’t expecting (good!), but did go over the top with theological and philosophical theory at times. Still, it’s 4 stars and reads easily enough for the beach.
Plot Summary: Korede, the “good” sister, does everything right and always cleans up after Ayoola, the beautiful sister, who sails through life without a care in the world…yet kills her boyfriends and manages to be their mother’s favorite.
My Thoughts: The premise of this book is ridiculous in a campy way and specific parts are preposterous, but it works! It’s a story of sibling dynamics…obviously taken to the extreme…and, it’s weirdly funny…even though people keep dying. Despite the murderous title, this one is a fun, light read and would make a perfect palate cleanser! Full review.
Plot Summary: Amid an anxiety-filled time in his life, Glynn joins a Montauk share house for the summer and finds friendship and love for a man.
My Thoughts: You might expect a memoir about a Hamptons share to be 100% debauchery (think Bravo’s Summer House) and Out East certainly contained a lot of that, but it’s one of the most heartfelt and emotional memoirs I’ve ever read about friendship and love. Glynn perfectly captures that unsettled feeling you can get in your mid-twenties when your friends are at very different stages of life. By the end of the book, I was frantically turning the pages late into the night dying to find out what would happen with John and the man he fell in love with. Full Review.
Plot Summary: A courtroom drama set in Central Florida that’s focused on the jury (which is sequestered in a nearby Econolodge) for the trial of a rich, white teenage girl (who is also a twin) who is accused of murdering her toddler age brother.
My Thoughts: This slim novel is described by the publisher as a courtroom drama and it kind of is, but it’s not what you think of when you think of courtroom dramas. It’s about what goes on within a jury…personally and related to the trial and how those two pieces intersect. It’s a slightly weird book, but I was riveted the entire time and it went to places I never expected. PS – I think the publisher’s description gives away too much…go into this one blind!
Happy Summer Reading!
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