Summer reading means something a bit different to everyone. Some people like to put their brains completely on vacation with fun, easy reads. Some people like an action-packed page turner. Some people want something with a bit more substance. And some might like to head off the beaten path.
Personally, my only requirements for summer reading are avoiding books that take a ridiculous amount of concentration and/or demand to be read in perfect peace and quiet.
I’ve read every book that appears on this list and will continue to add new selections throughout the summer. And, stay tuned for my list of My Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2017 (i.e. books that will be published this summer, but that I haven’t read yet) on Tuesday, May 23.
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2017 Summer Reading Guide
Plot Summary: When Ava Antipova gets word that her wild twin sister (Zelda) is dead, she leaves her Paris graduate program to return to her family’s vineyard in upstate New York…only to find circumstances surrounding her sister’s death that are a bit off and a message from Zelda.
My Thoughts: This debut novel has absolutely everything and is one I’ll be recommending to just about everyone I know for a long time. It has a perfectly paced plot, a dysfunctional family, a mystery, great writing, snarky humor, and depth. And, it’s one of those rare books that I can comfortably categorize as “literary” AND “brain candy.” Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: Twelve year-old Elvis Babbitt and her family try to make sense of their mother’s unexpected death.
My Thoughts: Despite the serious topic, Rabbit Cake is a sweet, delightful, and whimsical story about a family coming together after a tragedy. The Scout Finch-like Elvis is quirky, endearing, and full of morbid, yet charming humor. I immediately fell in love with her voice as narrator. Plus, check out this first line: “On my tenth birthday, six months before she sleepwalked into the river, Mom burned the rabbit cake.”
Plot Summary: Katya (a young and hungry technology reporter for TechScene) pursues a juicy story about Mack McAllister, the twenty eight year-old founder of a mindfulness app startup (called TakeOff) in this satire about New York City startup culture.
My Thoughts: Doree Shafrir is a culture writer for Buzzfeed, so it’s not surprising that her social commentary on the NYC startup world is biting and snarky. In Startup, she skewers douchey startup founders, the South by Southwest technology festival, and the lack of diversity at startups and the venture capital firms that fund them. But, beneath the snark is a human workplace story that spreads its tentacles into marriage, motherhood, and women in the workplace.
Plot Summary: A tragedy that occurred when a community of wealthy high school students were in middle school creates ripple effects for the students and teachers.
My Thoughts: This was not the twisty page turner I expected. It’s more about the characters and how every single one of them is either trying to be someone they’re not or perceived to be someone they’re not…a fairly accurate description of high school in my book. The story captures the levers of high school power and makes you realize how silly they are. And, despite one hiccup with the ending, it’s an easy, yet thought provoking read with stellar writing as a bonus.
Plot Summary: When someone posts a video of Kyla Cheng (the big girl on campus) in a compromising position with her youngish professor on school grounds, she embarks on a crusade to take down her “hater.”
My Thoughts: I don’t normally read YA, but The Takedown was completely addictive! It’s is a unique twist on the “demented high school students” (think The Fever, Reconstructing Amelia) reading category and is set in a world where technology is pervasive and invasive. Wang’s astute portrayal of high school girls (especially those at an elite Brooklyn private school) absolutely plays out Kyla’s view that “there are only two ways to emerge from high school. Scarred or worshipped.” The first paragraph of The Takedown smacks you in the face and you won’t want to put this super fun read down for a second after that!
Plot Summary: Thanks to his father’s rigorous and stifling coaching, tennis prodigy Anton Stratis has never known much outside of his sport…until he decides to take control of his life.
My Thoughts: Though this novel is set inside the grueling world of elite tennis and the professional tennis circuit, it’s really a unique spin on the coming of age story, an indictment of the world of overbearing sports parents, and a story about a fraught relationship between father and son. With the elite sports setting of You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott (my review) and the father/son dynamic of The Great Santini by Pat Conroy (my review), Trophy Son is a book you can fly through.
Something Fast-Paced / Intense
Plot Summary: Based on a True Story (a smash hit in France already) is the memoir-style story of a writer’s toxic female friendship…and how it essentially destroyed her.
My Thoughts: Though the book is technically fiction, the main character shares the author’s name and general background. The story begins with a titillating Prologue and continues with a creepy, Single White Female vibe that left me dying to know how things would play out. It’s incredibly emotionally tense and de Vigan’s gorgeous writing helps accomplish this. The entire time I was reading, I understood that Based on a True Story was completely messing with my head with its “is this story true or isn’t it?” vibe. Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: After college physics professor Jason Dessen is abducted at gunpoint one night, he awakens in another world.
My Thoughts: Despite the hype, I avoided this book for quite awhile because I’m decidedly NOT into sci-fi. But, Dark Matter is sci-fi like The Martian (my review) is sci-fi (i.e. it has broad appeal). There’s definitely some science in it, but the story is deeply human and is more about life choices than the science. The story begins with a “WTF is going on here” vibe reminiscent of The Beautiful Bureaucrat (my review). I had no idea what was going on for awhile, but could not stop reading. Dark Matter is a page-turner in the purest sense…with an action-level on par with an episode of 24.
Plot Summary: After spending ten years in prison, Oliver Marks is ready to tell the story of the tragedy that happened to his seven best friends and fellow Shakespeare theatre students during their fourth year at Dellecher, an intense Conservatory for the arts.
My Thoughts: If We Were Villains is the dark campus novel I’ve been craving ever since loving Christopher J. Yates’s Black Chalk three years ago…and is one of my favorite books of 2017 so far. It’s a sinister, Gothic campus novel jam-packed with emotional tension. After the 20% mark, I could not put this book down! Special Note: references to and excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays are incorporated throughout this book. But, you do not have to read them closely or understand them to love this book! Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: When Lane Roanoke hears her cousin (Allegra) is missing, she returns to the Kansas estate where she spent one fateful summer as a teenager and must face the dark truth about her family.
My Thoughts: The Roanoke Girls features quite possibly the most dysfunctional (although, supremely F’d up is probably more accurate) family I’ve ever encountered in fiction. It’s the kind of book that I was slightly embarrassed to be reading, but was completely unable to put down. Think The Flowers in the Attic on steroids mixed with a bit of Sweet Home Alabama. It’s a fast, if not demented and twisted, read!
Plot Summary: When Annalee Ahlberg, a notorious sleepwalker, disappears from her home in the middle of the night, her husband and two daughters try to piece together what happened.
My Thoughts: Chris Bohjalian’s most recent books are giving him quite a reputation for coming up with mysteries…with more. They have the who-done-it/why-done-it elements of your run-of-the-mill mystery, but he layers on something deeper. In 2016’s The Guest Room, it was sex-trafficking, and in The Sleepwalker, it’s parasomnia. I found the parasomnia angle fascinating…it’s much more than the book’s title suggests. Continue Reading…
Something with Substance
Plot Summary: All Grown Up is a raw, compact story of a young woman (Andrea) trying to find her way in the world, but it’s taking longer than society says it should.
My Thoughts: Attenberg uses little snapshots of Andrea’s life to share her struggles with being single in New York City and provide “yes, that’s exactly how it is” commentary on how society treats single ladies in their thirties. Andrea’s floundering is frustrating, but also relatable and endearing. What really made All Grown Up for me was the unexpectedly funny writing. It’s snarky and filled with the type of dry, morbid humor that may not be for everyone. All Grown Up tackles the quarter-life crisis theme in a brutally honest rather than grating way and is one of my favorite books of 2017 so far!
Plot Summary: After Wavy, the daughter of a meth dealer father and addict mother, witnesses Kellen’s (one of Wavy’s father’s “employees”) motorcycle accident, he takes her under his wing, leading to an unlikely relationship.
My Thoughts: I was all over the place with my feelings about All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, but I ended up in an emotionally invested and somewhat surprising (to me) place. I immediately loved the voice of Amy, Wavy’s cousin, and the storyline of Wavy’s integration into her extended family’s normal way of life the first of many times she stayed with them. Then, I became thoroughly creeped out by the story’s direction once Wavy returns to her parents at the ranch (her home and the site of her father’s meth cooking business). Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: Josh Johannssen and his somewhat estranged family, a sailing dynasty, reunite in an attempt to win the Pacific Northwest’s prestigious Swiftsure race.
My Thoughts: Before the Wind plops the dysfunctional family element of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth into a sailing environment with brilliant results. Within the first five pages, Lynch delves into the psyche of sailors and boaters in general and his writing about sailing is filled with “yes, that’s exactly how it is” moments. Note: you do not have to be into sailing to love this book…it’s first and foremost a story about a family! Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: Swimming Lessons tells the story of the volatile marriage between famous author Gil Coleman and Ingrid…through letters Ingrid hid in Gil’s books prior to her disappearance and their daughters’ returns home to care for their ailing father.
My Thoughts: Though Swimming Lessons didn’t immediately grab me, its steady revelations about the Coleman marriage and increasing complexity eventually pulled me in. The publisher’s blurb makes Swimming Lessons sound like it will be a mystery, but it’s actually an exploration of a troubled marriage. The “mystery” part of the story is somewhat ancillary and, once I wrapped my head around that, I enjoyed the book much more. Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: After Meredith Oliver witnesses the abduction of a her classmate (but not necessarily friend), Lisa Bellow, she and her entire family struggle to process the impact of being the one left behind.
My Thoughts: The Fall of Lisa Bellow is a psychologically suspenseful novel that gets to the nasty little heart of things, a type of story I’m always game for. This story is not about what happened to Lisa Bellow, but about the survivors and survivor’s guilt. It’s about the often ungenerous, but brutally honest thoughts, of those who escaped the worst. And, it’s about the minefield of life as a middle school girl. Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: Prime Space (a private space exploration company) puts Helen, Sergei, and Yoshi (the meticulously selected crew for Prime’s first manned mission to Mars) through an incredibly life-like, seventeen months-long simulation (called Eidolon) of the mission.
My Thoughts: The Wanderers will appeal to fans of Andy Weir’s The Martian (my review), but manages to be its own thing entirely in a more psychological, less page-turnery way…and is the most unique book I’ve read all year. It’s first and foremost a story about getting the astronauts psychologically ready for a Mission to Mars, which takes years. Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: Two next door neighbors (Marion and Hortensia) can’t stand each other and are constantly plotting how to figuratively take the other one down, yet The Woman Next Door ends up being a story about friendship and regret and a lesson in how you never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life.
My Thoughts: The Woman Next Door was a fantastic surprise for me…and it’s likely to end up on my Underrated Gems of 2017 list. It’s like Grumpy Old Men crossed with Desperate Housewives set in South Africa and involving race. The story kicks off with snarky humor before taking a more contemplative turn. Plus, the writing shines! Continue Reading…
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. Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: Adnan Syed family friend and lawyer Rabia Chaudry explores everything that wasn’t included in the Serial podcast.
My Thoughts: If you loved the original Serial podcast (focusing on the murder of Hae Min Lee and the subsequent arrest and trial of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed), this book is for you! It covers all the angles of the case that Serial left out, the family’s reaction to Adnan’s arrest and trial and the podcast, and where Syed’s case is now. I enjoyed it on audio! Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: The companion work to My Name is Lucy Barton: a collection of interconnected short stories focusing on the characters from Lucy Barton’s small hometown of Amgash, Illinois.
My Thoughts: My Name Is Lucy Barton (my review) was one of my favorite books of 2016…and the beautiful simplicity of Strout’s writing in her follow-up immediately took me back to my experience with Lucy Barton. Anything is Possible is a subtle book that grew on me the farther I read and I loved the theme of small-town life with threads of darkness running just beneath the surface. It feels like a novel told from different characters’ perspectives and would be a perfect choice for readers that are new to short stories. And, fans of Lucy Barton to get to learn more about her childhood as the town outcast and how the town’s residents view her success now.
Plot Summary: The Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s memoir about growing up as a mixed race child in apartheid South Africa.
My Thoughts: I guess Born A Crime is technically a celebrity memoir, but it’s actually not that at all. It is a heartfelt, funny, sad, and warm story about growing up as an outcast in an incredibly oppressive place. Though I studied apartheid in school, Born A Crime really provided color on what it was like to be there…and I learned so much that was included in the textbooks. I’m always thrilled to be educated while feeling like I’m being entertained and that’s exactly how I felt about Born A Crime. Also fantastic on audio!
Plot Summary: Bestselling author Jennifer Weiner’s memoir-style essay collection about her childhood, writing, her struggle with her weight, marriage, and motherhood…and the Bachelor/ette.
My Thoughts: You probably know Jennifer Weiner from her bestselling novels Good in Bed and In Her Shoes or her hilarious and pointed live-tweeting of the Bachelor/ette shows. But, her memoir reminded me that there is far more to this lady than enlivening my Twitter feed on Monday nights. Hungry Heart is an incredibly relatable memoir about a girl gradually growing comfortable in her own skin. Though the book was overly long and a bit repetitive towards the end, it was the perfect mix of light-hearted humor and real-life struggle! Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: Ex-Fox News (and current NBC) anchor Megyn Kelly discusses her childhood, career as a lawyer, transition into broadcast journalism, and her brawl with Donald Trump.
My Thoughts: Don’t worry, ya’ll, this is not a political memoir! In fact, Kelly barely discusses politics at all in this book. Instead, it’s filled with girl power, solid values, hard work, women in the workplace, and balancing a career with motherhood (plus, the story of falling in love with her husband, author Douglas Brunt, is adorable!). This book was a delightful surprise for me! It’s also great on audio…read by Kelly. Settle for More would also make a fantastic graduation present for a young woman about to chase her career dreams!
Plot Summary: Current New Yorker staff writer Levy takes a brutally raw and honest look at her life including love, massive loss, and bad decisions in her searing memoir of self-examination.
My Thoughts: I immediately fell for the writing in this memoir…her style is rambling – covering topics from crafting her career as a professional writer to gardening to covering the Caster Semenya story to her views on marriage in general and gay marriage specifically (she’s a bisexual) to infidelity to Mike Huckabee to late-in-life pregnancy – but it flows seamlessly. It’s a risky thing to market a book as “for readers of Cheryl Strayed” and, while I’m not putting Levy on equal footing with the giant, the comparison is not unfounded. Continue Reading…
Plot Summary: The true story of Christopher Knight, the man who lived alone in the Maine forest for 27 years before finally being arrested for stealing food and essentials from nearby vacation homes.
My Thoughts: This is one strange, but completely captivating story. It’s like a mash-up between a wilderness story and a study of the introverted personality trait, coupled with a look at today’s extraversion-oriented society. Christopher Knight is one of those people who makes you want to figure out what makes him tick. This is a quick read (or listen, in my case!) that’s perfect for fans of Jon Krakauer (particularly Into the Wild) and Quiet by Susan Cain.
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