I don’t know about you, but my reading goes in a slightly different direction in the summer. And, I imagine the types of books your book club is in the mood for do too. That’s why I put together this Book Club Recommendations That Are Great for Summer list!
In the summer, 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. But, I also want my summer books to have some substance. The books you’ll find on this list are all highly readable and don’t require a ton of concentration, but still have lots of juicy meat for a book club discussion.
As with all my book lists, I’ll continue adding new books to this list moving forward, so save it to your favorites!
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!).
Latest Addition (December 27, 2020)
Plot Summary: Harvard Law grad Alexandra (Alex) Vogel falls under the spell of the high-powered M&A group in her first year of her job at a prestigious NYC law firm, but she eventually finds there’s a dark underbelly to BigLaw where women take the fall.
My Thoughts: The Boys’ Club is my favorite kind of Brain Candy…one that reads easy, but has good substance (aka Brain Candy with substance). The Boys’ Club was marketed as Sweetbitter meets The Firm, but I thought it was more The Devil Wears Prada. Katz (which is a pseudonym, as she actually works in “BigLaw” in New York City) paints a spot-on portrayal of the world of BigLaw, which is incredibly stressful and can be a toxic culture for women. And, she provides excellent commentary on women’s unique struggles with trying to pursue a career in an intense, male-dominated industry. My Review.
Plot Summary: Afi lives in Ghana with her widowed mother and is offered the “opportunity” to marry a wealthy man she’s never met. He doesn’t show up at their wedding, sending someone else in his place. Nevertheless, the marriage goes through and Afi moves to a swanky apartment in Accra, but discovers her husband is in love with someone else.
My Thoughts: Peace Medie grew up in Ghana and is a women’s rights advocate who shines that lens on fiction in her debut novel. His Only Wife begins with this intriguing first line: “Elikem married me in absentia; he did not come to our wedding” and, from there, explores the impact of Ghanian patriarchal culture on women through Afi’s story. It’s propulsive and reads easily, yet challenges cultural norms in Ghana. A great pick for fans of readable literary fiction! My Review.
Book Club Recommendations That Are Great for Summer
Plot Summary: When Roy goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit only a year and a half into their new marriage, Celestial must figure out how to cope with his absence and shape her life in the face of this massive upheaval.
My Thoughts: An American Marriage is an intimately written novel that tackles a number of weighty current issues in an organic way…and was one of my favorite books of 2018! It’s about so many things (marriage, race, class, incarceration, love, friendship, family, grief, fidelity, recovery), but not overwhelmingly about any one of them (kind of like The Mothers). Jones handles them in a way that doesn’t make the book feel overwhelmingly like “an issue book.” And, the last quarter of the book is absolutely riveting. Full Review.
Plot Summary: Six best friends at Oxford University decide to play “a game of consequences, silly forfeits, and childish dares” (quote from Amazon), which devolves into humiliation and tragedy.
Plot Summary: When Charlotte Walsh leaves her high powered job as COO of a Silicon Valley tech darling to run for Senate in her home state of Pennsylvania, she’s forced to confront the impact on her marriage, her sanity, and her past.
My Thoughts: I’ve been loving books about substantial topics that read easy this summer and I can now add Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win to that list! Though it reads easy enough for the beach, it’s full of astute commentary on women in politics, women in business, managing your image in public life, marriage, motherhood, and gender roles. But, it also has snappy dialogue, a badass sister-in-law (Kara), and a Friday Night Lights name-check (the easiest way to my heart). An excellent choice for fans of The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close! Full Review.
Plot Summary: The story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a native of Nigeria, who immigrated to the U.S. and used his neuropathological research into brain injuries to football players (i.e. CTE) to take on the National Football League (NFL).
My Thoughts: Concussion is a so much more than a “football book”; it’s a medical mystery, a David & Goliath story, an immigrant’s story, and a story of a big-business cover-up…and, it was one of my favorite books of 2015! And, I hear the book was far better than the movie. Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: Westover tells her story of growing up in a survivalist Mormon family who didn’t believe in public education and her journey to break the mold by getting her PhD at Cambridge University.
My Thoughts: Imagine if you had to choose between getting an education (both the traditional kind and an education about life in general) and having a relationship with your family. That’s what happened to Tara Westover. Tara’s father insisted the whole family live “off the grid”…with no interaction with the government or modern medicine. There are many parts that are hard to read…and that I’d have found totally unbelievable had this been fiction. If you liked The Glass Castle, Hillbilly Elegy (my review), and/or Under the Banner of Heaven (my review) Educated should be next on your list! Full Review.
Plot Summary: An investigative report into what happened during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center…including allegations that doctors intentionally sped up death for some of the hospital’s sickest patients that they thought wouldn’t survive an evacuation.
My Thoughts: Part portrait of a hospital trying to survive in the wake of disaster and part exploration of end-of-life care and euthanasia in the U.S., Five Days at Memorial reads like a thriller, but has a ton of meat for discussion. Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: Set in the near future, Junior is selected to participate in a partially government-run endeavor that requires him to leave his wife (Hen) on their isolated farm for a long time…but, the powers that be will make sure Hen is not alone in Junior’s absence.
My Thoughts: Part literary fiction, part page turner, part Sci-Fi (and definitely creepy), Foe is a genre mash-ups that dip their toes into Sci-Fi (e.g. Dark Matter, The Beautiful Bureaucrat). From the moment the book opened (and, really, well into the second half), I had no idea what was going on. It was clear that some omnipresent higher power had control over regular citizens and something wasn’t quite right with Junior’s wife, Hen. Outside of that, Foe had that “WTF is going on” vibe that permeated The Beautiful Bureaucrat. Full Review.
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.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Fiction – Literary (Released September 12, 2017)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: When nomadic artist Mia Warren and her daughter (Pearl) rent an apartment from Elena Richardson in Shaker Heights, Elena’s entire family becomes enmeshed in the Warrens’ lives, resulting in uncovered secrets, unanticipated consequences, and a raging debate about what it means to be a mother.
My Thoughts: Little Fires Everywhere is an engrossing story about a family and a community that you can sink right into…and may have even broader appeal than Everything I Never Told You (Ng’s debut novel). It’s central theme is what it means to be a mother…is it biology or the act of mothering? Full Review.
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released April 24, 2012)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A combination memoir/essay collection covering marriage, girlfriends, motherhood, faith, loss, work, and much more!
My Thoughts: Listening to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake was like seeing a therapist and falls into the same category as Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. Quindlen just has such a grounded, practical outlook on life that really puts things in perspective for me. Highly recommend for anyone craving a “life wisdom” type of read!
Plot Summary: A novel based on the true story of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s epic affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, one of this married clients.
My Thoughts: While this story is about an epic love affair, it goes much deeper than that. It’s also about a woman’s journey to find herself in a time (the early 1900’s) when women weren’t supposed to have their own identities or interests. It’s about women’s roles in society and marriage and losing your identity through marriage and motherhood. Neither Mamah nor Wright is an entirely sympathetic character. The many layers and shades of gray to this story make it an excellent book club selection. PS – do NOT Google the real story of Frank and Mamah before you read the book…you do not want to spoil the ending for yourself.
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. Miracle Creek is the most thoughtful courtroom drama I’ve ever read. Full Review.
Plot Summary: Bea Schumacher, a plus-size blogger, becomes the lead of Main Squeeze, a Bachelor-esque reality TV show.
My Thoughts: One to Watch gives a juicy behind-the-scenes picture of The Bachelor (which I think is fairly accurate based on everything I’ve learned by reading Reality Steve‘s blog). It felt timely and looked at various types of diversity (obviously body type, but also racial, etc). One to Watch is brain candy the way I like it…a light style, but dealing with substantive topics. 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 their lives. Unlike many other LGBTQ memoirs, Glynn didn’t always know he was gay…he always felt he just hadn’t found love yet, but that he was interested in women. Until he met the one man who would change all that.
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: I think I loved Silver Sparrow just as much as An American Marriage! 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. And, I loved her exploration of how it would feel to be the “illegitimate” child and wife.
Plot Summary: When Louise, a nobody trying to make it in NYC, meets Lavinia, an outrageous party girl/socialite, they embark on an intense friendship during which Lavinia ends up dead (this is not a spoiler…it’s revealed almost immediately and in the publishers’ blurb!).
My Thoughts: Social Creature is completely ridiculous and messed up, but also addictive and intriguing. This book made me say “holy sh*t” multiple times. This is one demented story and maybe the most messed up book I’ve read since The Roanoke Girls. If you like dark and twisted, Social Creature is for you (but try to go in as blind as possible)! But, fair warning, this book is not for everyone. PS – stick it out to around the halfway point, things really take off from there. Full Review (with spoilers).
Plot Summary: When African-American Emira Tucker gets stopped by a grocery store security guard for “kidnapping” while babysitting, her relationship with her boss (successful blogger Alix Chamberlain) changes.
My Thoughts: I’d heard this debut novel was a 5 star book about race, privilege, and class, so I was expecting it to blow me out of the water. I really enjoyed it, but it was “only” 4 stars for me (that “only” wouldn’t be there had expectations not been so high) and it read more like brain candy than a profound book about race and class. BUT, I love readable books about serious topics, so this isn’t a bad thing for me. When the book ended, I was left with a feeling of “I need to sit with this to figure out what I’m supposed to take from it.” P.S. – pair it with this podcast episode. Full Review.
Plot Summary: Two brothers and their wives meet for dinner at an upscale, Amsterdam restaurant to discuss how to handle a situation involving their teenage sons.
My Thoughts: The Dinner was one of the best books I read in 2015! Not much happens in the beginning of the story, but I was so busy reveling in Koch’s brilliant writing and biting social commentary that I didn’t even realize that the characters had merely arrived at the restaurant and ordered food. Continue Reading…
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: I almost 5 star loved The Dreamers! It’s 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. Walker did a fantastic job conveying the fear that an epidemic of a never-before-seen disease can cause. This one has a shot at making my Best Books of 2019 list! Full Review.
Plot Summary: Ten years ago, Maya was the lone juror who wanted to acquit Bobby Nock of murdering Jessica Silver…and she was able to convince her fellow jurors to come around to her side. Now, a true crime docu-series is reassembling those involved with the case, including the jurors.
My Thoughts: This courtroom drama was inspired by Moore’s (Academy Award-winner for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game) real-life experience serving on a jury in 2008 and sending that defendant to prison for murder. The Holdout does not have a particularly thriller-y vibe, but it’s easy to quickly turn the pages. It looks at the impact of a high profile trial on the jury (particularly one that is sequestered)…how it affects the jurors’ lives, families, and mental state…and how slippery the legal system is in the U.S. Full Review.
Plot Summary: When Marcia Williams, drowning in grief following the murder of her sixteen year-old son, faces his teenage killer at the trial, she is forced to make sense of how something so horrible could happen to her son.
My Thoughts: This novel kicks off with an incredibly powerful first chapter that pulled me in immediately, even though it was obvious this would be an emotionally difficult read. The Mother is part story of a mother’s grief, part courtroom drama, part portrait of grief’s impact on a marriage, and part statement about race, poverty, and what happens to people born into a rough life on the streets. Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: Legendary film actress Evelyn Hugo recruits young journalist, Monique, to write her life story, including the stories of her seven marriages.
My Thoughts: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is the best in the brain candy class I’ve read in a long time! Evelyn is an Elizabeth Taylor-type character who did whatever it took to further her career…and she finally wants the whole truth to come out. There’s an Old Hollywood vibe, yet also an undercurrent of feminism. And, you might be surprised by where this story goes. Full Review.
Plot Summary: “In this intricate novel of psychological suspense, a fatal discovery near the high school ignites a witch-hunt in a Southeast Texas refinery town, unearthing communal and family secrets that threaten the lives of the town’s girls”, including Mercy Louis, the star of the local high school’s state championship contender girl’s basketball team. – quotes from Amazon
My Thoughts: The Unraveling of Mercy Louis is one of those books that is incredibly hard to categorize…which is a good thing in my view! It’s a mash-up of coming of age, suspense, sports, economic tension, Southern culture (it’s set in Texas, but feels more like Louisiana), and religion gone wrong…all gorgeously written. It completely surprised me and I loved it, mainly because it included five things that I’m a total sucker for. Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: Greer is a shy college student still in love with her high school boyfriend when she meets Faith Frank, an icon of the women’s movement, who changes the trajectory of Greer’s life.
My Thoughts: In a letter to the reader at the beginning of the book, Riverhead’s Editor-in-Chief (Sarah McGrath) says The Female Persuasion is a novel about “female power, ambition, leadership, and mentorship […].” And it is, but those issues are secondary to what is ultimately a story in which the characters are the stars: Greer, her boyfriend (Cory), her best friend (Zee), and Faith Frank. I was completely enmeshed in these people’s lives and the issues this book addresses fit organically around the characters’ stories without overwhelming them. 5 stars! Full Review.
Plot Summary: When Claude, the youngest son of a family of five boys, starts to realize he wants to be a girl, the family must learn how to best support Claude and adjust to the situation.
My Thoughts: This Is How It Always Is is an accessible story about a weighty topic that had me feeling a whole range of emotions…it’s the kind of book many people will enjoy, yet will also provide excellent discussion for book clubs. It’s heart-warming, but also heart-breaking. It’s unexpectedly funny, sad, inspirational, and made me angry at times. Full Review.
Plot Summary: Brodeur’s story of her role as facilitator of her mother’s affair with her stepfather’s best friend starting at the age of fourteen.
My Thoughts: I flew through this 5 star memoir in two days! Malabar (“Rennie’s” mother) is a vibrant, but highly manipulative character and she has her tentacles wrapped tightly around her daughter…and all this impacts Rennie’s adult life. But, this isn’t what makes this memoir shine. Brodeur can write…and the Cape Cod setting comes alive through vivid descriptions of the water, the wildlife, and the food. Full Review.
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