I look forward to making my summer reading list every year. People frequently have more time to read in the summer months, and I get a lot of requests for recommendations during that time period. I have combed through tons of books to find the ones that I think people will enjoy the most this summer, and I have read every book on this list. And as always, my list focuses mainly on books released in the last year or so.
To help people find the right book for them, I created six categories of books: Finding Community with Family and Friends, On the Lighter Side, All the Thrills, Going Back in Time, True Stories, and Off the Beaten Path. I don't limit the list to just lighter reads; I know people want to read all types of books in the summer. I cover the gamut as a result.
I share my own thoughts on the books followed by short summaries from the publishers’ descriptions on each book to provide some detail on the selections. And as always, shop local or if you purchase the books online, I would be so grateful if you would use my affiliate Bookshop.org links below which support independent bookstores and the production of my podcast. In addition to helping support my show, your purchases allow me to show sales numbers from my recommendations, which helps me recruit authors to come on my podcast and participate in other events.
Finding Community with Family and Friends
This beautiful book is a story about repairing relationships, finding your joy, and living life to the fullest. If you love music, Alaska, or stories about familial discord, this is the book for you.
Book summary: Following a public breakdown brought on by the sudden death of her mother, indie musician Greta James agrees to accompany her father on a cruise to Alaska. They have always had a tense relationship, and while she was alive, Greta’s mother, her biggest fan, had helped father and daughter communicate. With her gone, Greta and her father Conrad struggle to bridge the divide between them especially in the face of their shared grief. Both hope the cruise to Alaska will help them learn to understand each other. In addition to trying to repair her relationship with her father, Greta is working on her sophomore album, dealing with fans on the cruise ship, re-evaluating her current relationship, and trying to recover from her public meltdown.
True Biz by Sara Novik
While reading this compelling novel, I learned so much about sign language and lip-reading, cochlear implants and the controversy surrounding them, isolation and its impact on those experiencing it, and the importance of community. This unforgettable journey about the Deaf community is riveting and opened my eyes to a world with which I was completely unfamiliar. It would make a great pairing with the movie CODA.
Book summary: True biz? The students at the River Valley School for the Deaf just want to hook up, pass their history final, and have doctors, politicians, and their parents stop telling them what to do with their bodies. This revelatory novel plunges readers into the halls of a residential school for the deaf, where they'll meet Charlie, a rebellious transfer student who's never met another deaf person before; Austin, the school's golden boy, whose world is rocked when his baby sister is born hearing; and February, the headmistress, who is fighting to keep her school open and her marriage intact, but might not be able to do both. As a series of crises both personal and political threaten to unravel each of them, Charlie, Austin, and February find their lives inextricable from one another--and changed forever.
Marrying the Ketchups by Jennifer Close
The premise of this one drew me right in, and I completely related to various aspects of the book including the way Close presented family dynamics and interactions and the way they are cemented early on in life. And Close's sense of humor is fabulous; I laughed out loud so many times while reading Marrying the Ketchups. Having lived in Chicago, I loved the Oak Park setting and the Cubs references. Due to the political nature of the book, this one will not be for everyone.
Book summary: Here are the three things the Sullivan family knows to be true: the Chicago Cubs will always be the underdogs; historical progress is inevitable; and their grandfather, Bud, founder of JP Sullivan's, will always make the best burgers in Oak Park. But when, over the course of three strange months, the Cubs win the World Series, Trump is elected president, and Bud drops dead, suddenly everyone in the family finds themselves doubting all they hold dear. How can any of them be expected to make the right decisions when the world feels sideways--and the bartender at JP Sullivan's makes such strong cocktails?
The Truth about Ben and June by Alex Kiester (out June 28th)
Kiester crafts a thoughtful exploration about the roles of women versus men in marriage, the way in which children change a marriage, and how the choices we make at various stages in our life impact us for years to come. My Patreon group read this one, and the story provided a fabulous discussion; there is a lot to think about in this novel.
Book summary: From the moment Ben and June met in a hospital waiting room on New Year’s Eve, their love has seemed fated. But now, after several years of marriage, June is struggling as a new mom. At times, she wonders about the life she didn’t choose—what might have been if she hadn’t given up the lead role in a famous ballet to start a family. Feeling like a bad mom and more alone than ever, she writes to her deceased mother, hoping for a sign of what she should do next. One morning, Ben wakes to the sound of his baby and quickly realizes that June is gone, along with her suitcase. As Ben attempts to piece together June’s disappearance, her new friends mention things he knows nothing about—a mysterious petition, June’s falling-out with another mom, her strange fixation on a Greek myth. The more Ben uncovers about June, the more he realizes how little he actually knows her.
Acts of Violet by Margarita Montimore (out July 5th)
Wanting to know what really happened to Violet kept me madly turning the pages in this creative and compelling novel. Montimore kept me guessing and the pacing of the book is perfect - the right amount of information is released at just the right time as the story progresses. It is an engrossing and inventive tale.
Book summary: Nearly a decade ago, iconic magician Violet Volk performed her greatest trick yet: vanishing mid-act. Though she hasn’t been seen since, her hold on the public hasn’t wavered. While Violet sought out the spotlight, her sister Sasha, ever the responsible one, took over their mother’s salon and built a quiet life for her daughter, Quinn. But Sasha can never seem to escape her sister’s orbit or her memories of their unresolved, tumultuous relationship. Then there’s Cameron Frank, determined to finally get his big break hosting a podcast devoted to all things Violet—though keeping his job hinges on an exclusive interview with Sasha, the last person who wants to talk to him. As the ten-year anniversary approaches, the podcast picks up steam, and Cameron’s pursuit of Sasha becomes increasingly intrusive. Pushed to her emotional limits, Sasha must finally confront the most painful truths about her sister, and herself, even at the risk of losing everything.
Any Other Family by Eleanor Brown (out July 12th)
I loved this book so much and have not stopped thinking about it since I finished it. At times, I identified with each of the three adoptive mothers and also felt for each of them. The women all want to do what is best for the children as well as trying to help them maintain relationships with each other. The book is a beautiful reflection on the concept of family.
Book summary: They look just like any other family. But they aren't a family like any other – not quite. Instead, they are three sets of parents who adopted four biological siblings, committing to keeping the children connected after the death of their grandmother. Tabitha, who adopted the twins, is the planner of the group, responsible for coordinating playdates and birthdays and Sunday night dinners, insistent that everything happens just so. Quiet and steady Ginger, single mother to the eldest daughter, resists the forced togetherness, her own unsettled childhood leaving her wary of trusting too much. And Elizabeth is still reeling from going directly from failed fertility treatments into adopting a newborn, terrified that her unhappiness means she was not meant to be a mother at all. But when the three women receive a surprising call from their children’s birth mother, announcing she is pregnant again and wants them to help her find an adoptive family for this child too, the delicate bonds they are still struggling to form threaten to collapse. As tensions rise, the women reckon with their own feelings about what it means to be a mother and what they owe each other as a family.
On the Lighter Side
Rowley's hilarious and heartwarming book is perfect for when you want to take a break from the real world. There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments as well as plenty of touching scenes as well. I was not ready for this book to end. Theatre lovers will enjoy all of the musical references.
Book summary: Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick, has always loved his niece, Maisie, and nephew, Grant. That is, he loves spending time with them when they come out to Palm Springs for weeklong visits. But in terms of caretaking and relating to two children, Patrick is honestly a bit out of his league. So when tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother and Patrick’s brother has a health crisis of his own, Patrick finds himself suddenly taking on the role of primary guardian. Despite having a set of “Guncle Rules” ready to go, Patrick has no idea what to expect. Quickly realizing that parenting—even if temporary—isn’t solved with treats and jokes, Patrick’s eyes are opened to a new sense of responsibility, and the realization that, sometimes, even being larger than life means you’re unfailingly human.
Perfect for a beach vacation, Blush will appeal to book lovers everywhere as the three Hollander women turn to books, specifically the “trashy” romance novels of the 1980s, to try and save their family vineyard and legacy. The revisiting of these novels from a new perspective is particularly refreshing.
Book summary: For decades, the lush vineyards and majestic manor house of the Hollander Estates winery made it the North Fork of Long Island's premier destination for lavish parties and romantic day trips. Now the Hollander family fortunes have suffered, and now Vivian Hollander fears the property may have to be sold. Now a successful Manhattan shop owner, Leah loves the life she's built with her husband and daughter. College senior Sadie Bailey has a thesis to write, but when Sadie discovers evidence that her proper Grandma Vivian once ran a book club dedicated to the scandalous women's novels of the 1980s, the outrageous tomes give her insight into her family's glory days. Resurrecting the trashy book club begins as the distraction all three women need. But they just might find that the pages contain everything they need to know about how to fight for what they want.
Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan (out June 7th)
Monaghan creates a heartwarming, hilarious, and charming story that kept me completely engaged in the story as I rooted for Leo and Nora. Monaghan's writing is exemplary, and the conflict is resolved in a thoughtful and creative way. It is an entertaining and fun book that I read in less than a day.
Book summary: Nora Hamilton knows the formula for love better than anyone. As a romance channel screenwriter, it's her job. But when her too-good-to work husband leaves her and their two kids, Nora turns her marriage's collapse into cash and writes the best script of her life. No one is more surprised than her when it's picked up for the big screen and set to film on location at her 100-year-old-home. When former Sexiest Man Alive, Leo Vance, is cast as her ne'er do well husband Nora's life will never be the same. The morning after shooting wraps and the crew leaves, Nora finds Leo on her porch with a half-empty bottle of tequila and a proposition. He'll pay a thousand dollars a day to stay for a week. The extra seven grand would give Nora breathing room, but it's the need in his eyes that makes her say yes. Seven days: it's the blink of an eye or an eternity depending on how you look at it.
Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley (out June 7th)
Infused with heart and humor, this book demonstrates the importance of community and the ability of relationships to change people's lives while also serving as a reminder that people should not be judged by their appearance. I love a good found family story, and this is one of the better ones that I have read.
Book summary: Every day Iona, a larger-than-life magazine advice columnist, travels the ten stops from Hampton Court to Waterloo Station by train, accompanied by her dog, Lulu. Every day she sees the same people, whom she knows only by nickname: Impossibly-Pretty-Constant-Reader and Terribly-Lonely-Teenager. Of course, they never speak. Seasoned commuters never do. Then one morning, the man she calls Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader chokes on a grape right in front of her. He'd have died were it not for the timely intervention of Sanjay, a nurse, who gives him the Heimlich maneuver. This single event starts a chain reaction, and an eclectic group of people with almost nothing in common except their commute discover that a chance encounter can blossom into much more.
The Beach Trap by Ali Brady (out June 14th)
The writing duo of Ali Brady hit the ball out of the park with their debut – the story is just so well-done. The Beach Trap is a sweet and uplifting story that had me cheering for Kat and Blake to resolve their differences and come to terms with their family’s sordid past. It will be the perfect book to take to the pool or the beach this summer.
Book summary: When twelve-year-olds Kat Steiner and Blake O’Neill meet at Camp Chickawah, they have an instant connection. But everything falls apart when they learn they’re also half-sisters. Fifteen years later when their father dies, Kat and Blake discover he’s left them a joint inheritance: the family beach house in Destin, Florida. The two sisters are instantly at odds. Blake, who has recently been demoted from regular nanny to dog nanny, wants to sell the house, while social media influencer Kat is desperate to keep the place where she had so many happy childhood memories. Kat and Blake reluctantly join forces to renovate the dilapidated house. As the weeks pass, the two women realize the most difficult project they face this summer will be coming to grips with their shared past, and learning how to become sisters.
A Shoe Story by Jane L. Rosen (out June 28th)
I thoroughly enjoyed Esme's journey to determine what kind of life she wants to lead. The designer shoe inclusion is so clever and fun, and I loved the friends that Esme makes along the way. The characters and their relationships with each other make this story a great read.
Book summary: Esme Nash is eager to leave her small town and begin her carefully planned post-grad life: a move to New York City, an apartment with her loving college boyfriend, and a fancy job at an art gallery. But when tragedy strikes, instead of heading to Manhattan, she returns home to care for her ailing father, leaving every bit of her dream behind. Seven trying years later, Esme is offered a dog-sitting job in Greenwich Village by a mysterious stranger, giving her access to all of her long-buried hopes and dreams--as well as to an epic collection of designer shoes. As she retraces her steps, one pair of borrowed shoes at a time, making new friends and reconnecting with her old love, Esme tries on versions of herself she didn't know existed. Esme soon realizes she must decide how much of the life she imagined still fits, and what--and who--is on the road ahead of her.
All the Thrills
Barr did an incredible amount of research about both art and the role the Nazis played in stealing priceless works during the war, and her efforts shine through in the novel. She also uses a plethora of realistic twists and turns combined with a stellar plot and an intriguing cast of characters to create a thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading it.
Book summary: After talking her way into a job with Dan Mansfield, an investigative reporter, journalist Jules Roth is given an unusual assignment. Dan needs her to locate a painting stolen by the Nazis more than 75 years earlier. World-renowned shoe designer Ellis Baum wants this portrait of a mysterious woman for personal reasons, and has enlisted Dan's help to find it. But Jules doesn't have much time; the famous designer is dying. Meanwhile, in Europe, powerful Margaux de Laurent also searches for the painting. Yet the passionate and determined Jules has unexpected resources of her own, including Adam Baum, Ellis's grandson. A brilliant artist in his own right, Adam was once in Margaux's clutches. He knows how ruthless she is, and he'll do anything to help Jules locate the painting before Margaux gets to it first.
Take Your Breath Away by Linwood Barclay
In a genre chock full of cookie-cutter stories, Take Your Breath Away has a unique premise making it a very welcome addition. The entire time I was reading the book I was wondering if Brie had returned and if she was back, where she has been. My Patreon community read this early, and it was a huge hit with the group. It is an engaging and compelling thriller with an ending that made sense and fit the story very well.
Book summary: One weekend, while Andrew Mason was on a fishing trip, his wife, Brie, vanished without a trace. For a while, Andy hit rock bottom--he drank too much to numb the pain, was abandoned by all his friends save one, and nearly lost his business. Now, six years later, Andy has finally put his life back together. He sold the house he once shared with Brie, and he's settled down with a new partner, Jayne. But Andy's peaceful world is about to shatter. One day, a woman shows up at his old address, screaming, "Where's my house? What's happened to my house?" And then, just as suddenly as she appeared, the woman--who bears a striking resemblance to Brie--is gone. Could Brie really be alive after all these years?
This was one of my top reads of 2021. The sweet father/daughter relationship as well as the nature aspects of the story really struck a cord with me, and I thought the story unfolded as just the right pace.
Book summary: For eight years, Cooper and his young daughter, Finch, have lived in isolation in a remote cabin in the northern Appalachian woods. And that's exactly the way Cooper wants it, because he's got a lot to hide. Finch has been raised on the books filling the cabin’s shelves and the beautiful but brutal code of life in the wilderness. But she’s starting to push back against the sheltered life Cooper has created for her—and he’s still haunted by the painful truth of what it took to get them there. The only people who know they exist are a mysterious local hermit named Scotland, and Cooper's old friend, Jake, who visits each winter to bring them food and supplies. But this year, Jake doesn't show up, setting off an irreversible chain of events that reveals just how precarious their situation really is.
The setting for this book immediately drew me in, and I loved the characters and the jewelry aspects of the story as well. The book starts out a little slow but picks up quickly and takes the characters all over Paris which was delightful.
Book summary: Alice Ahmadi has never been certain of where she belongs. When she discovers a famed emerald necklace while interning at a struggling Parisian magazine, she is plunged into a glittering world of diamonds and emeralds, courtesans and spies, and the long-buried secrets surrounding the necklace and its glamorous former owners. When Alice realizes the mysterious Honeybee Emeralds could be her chance to save the magazine, she recruits her friends Lily and Daphne to help her. Together, they set out to uncover the romantic history of the gems. Through diaries, letters, and investigations through the winding streets and iconic historic landmarks of Paris, the trio begins to unravel more than just the secrets of the necklace’s obsolete past.
The Local by Joey Hartstone (out June 14th)
I am not usually a big legal thriller fan, but this unique and fast-paced one kept me engaged until I read the last page. I particularly loved the patent law aspects of the story. I had no idea that Marshall, Texas was such a hotbed of patent lawsuits and loved learning about that and how it impacts the town and the surrounding area.
Book summary: In the East Texas town of Marshall sits the Federal courthouse of the Eastern District of Texas. Marshall is flooded with patent lawyers, all of whom find work being the local voice for the big-city lawyers that need to sway a small-town jury. One of the best is James Euchre. Euchre’s new client is Amir Zawar, a firebrand CEO forced to defend his life's work against a software patent infringement. In a heated moment during the preliminary hearing, Zawar threatens the judge in court. Later that night, Judge Gardner is found murdered in the courthouse parking lot. Zawar claims his innocence, and demands that Euchre defend him. With the help of a former prosecutor and a local PI, Euchre must navigate the byzantine world of criminal defense law in a town where everyone knows everyone, and bad blood has a long history.
Dirt Creek by Hayley Scrivenor (out Aug. 2nd)
I savored every page of this absolutely stunning novel. Set in a small town in Australia, Dirt Creek follows the various members of the town as they try to unravel how Esther died. The Greek chorus of the remaining children in the town is a fabulous addition to the novel, and the resolution is highly satisfying. This one is not to be missed.
Book summary: When twelve-year-old Esther disappears on the way home from school in a small town in rural Australia, the community is thrown into a maelstrom of suspicion and grief. As Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels arrives in town during the hottest spring in decades and begins her investigation, Esther’s tenacious best friend, Ronnie, is determined to find Esther and bring her home. When schoolfriend Lewis tells Ronnie that he saw Esther with a strange man at the creek the afternoon she went missing, Ronnie feels she is one step closer to finding her. Punctuated by a Greek chorus, which gives voice to the remaining children of the small, dying town, this novel explores the ties that bind, what we try and leave behind us, and what we can never outrun, while never losing sight of the question of what happened to Esther, and what her loss does to a whole town.
Going Back in Time
Hooper’s historical-fiction tale honors the various women who fought back under horrific circumstances and highlights a part of World War 2 that people are not as familiar with – the Pacific arena. I loved learning about the war in the Pacific because I knew very little about what is was like for those who fought in that region. I felt like I was in the jungle with the nurses as well as in the internment camp because Elise's writing is so descriptive.
Book summary: The Philippines, 1941. Tess Abbott, an American Army nurse, has fled the hardships of the Great Depression at home for the adventure of Manila, but everything changes when the Japanese Imperial Army invades with devastating results. Tess and her band of nurses serve on the front lines until captured as prisoners of war and held behind the high stone walls of Manila's Santo Tomas Internment Camp for four long years. As the Japanese occupation of her beloved homeland commences, Flor Dalisay, a Filipina university student, will be drawn into the underground network of resistance and discover reserves of courage, resilience, and leadership she never knew she possessed. The war and its aftermath will lead Tess and Flor to find each other to uncover secrets and reveal relationships they would never have predicted, as they work together to defeat the Japanese.
The Magnolia Palace starts slowly but then gains momentum as Davis weaves the Frick family members into the story and provides interesting facts and stories about the odd family who created one of New York City’s finest museums. I also loved that she incorporated so many details about both the mansion and the art work there as well. I think it is my favorite of her books.
Book summary: Fiona Davis sets each of her historical fiction novels in an iconic New York City building, and her latest takes place at the Gilded Age home of industrialist Henry Frick. Using a dual timeline format, Davis toggles between 1919, when the Frick family still lives there, and 1966, when the home has become the magnificent Frick Collection, a museum still in operation today. In the later timeline, a Vogue photo shoot is occurring, and when one of the models is fired along with a museum curator, they stumble across a hidden message that leads them on a hunt that uncovers the truth about a murder that occurred at the Frick years earlier.
Birch does a fabulous job depicting what it was like to live as an Aboriginal person in the 1960s and the countless hardships they endured. He weaves these heartbreaking details into a beautiful tale of family and the lengths people will go to in order to protect each other. I loved Odette, and her strength and perseverance against all odds will stay with me for a long time.
Book summary: Odette Brown has lived her whole life on the fringes of a small country town. After her daughter disappeared and left her with her granddaughter Sissy to raise on her own, Odette has managed to stay under the radar of the welfare authorities who are removing fair-skinned Aboriginal children from their families. When a new policeman arrives in town, determined to enforce the law, Odette must risk everything to save Sissy and protect everything she loves. In The White Girl, Miles-Franklin-shortlisted author Tony Birch shines a spotlight on the 1960s and the devastating government policy of taking Indigenous children from their families.
This fantastic book is loosely inspired by the short relationship between James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. I am a huge music lover so this book really resonated with me. Jane's insistence on pursuing her dreams and her refusal to be cowed by the men in the music industry who felt they knew what was best for her will have you cheering for her. Brodie brings the music of the era to life and had me wishing I could actually listen to Jane’s songs.
Book summary: 1969. Jane Quinn is a Bayleen Island local whose music flows as naturally as her long blond hair. When she and her bandmates are asked to play in Jesse Reid's place at the festival, it almost doesn't seem real. But Jane plants her bare feet on the Main Stage and delivers the performance of a lifetime, stopping Jesse's disappointed fans in their tracks: A star is born. Jesse stays on the island to recover from his near-fatal accident and he strikes up a friendship with Jane. As Jane contends with the music industry's sexism, Jesse becomes her advocate, and what starts as a shared calling soon becomes a passionate love affair. On tour with Jesse, Jane is so captivated by the giant stadiums, the late nights, the wild parties, and the media attention, that she is blind-sided when she stumbles on the dark secret beneath Jesse's music. With nowhere to turn, Jane must reckon with the shadows of her own past; what follows is the birth of one of most iconic albums of all time.
This incredibly sad, but important book highlights what happens when those in charge think they know what is best and take matters into their own hands. With the recent focus on reproductive rights, this is a particularly relevant and compelling story. I listened to this one, and the audiobook is stellar.
Book summary: In this dual timeline historical-fiction story, Civil Townsend hopes to make a difference in her community by working as a nurse at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, a birth control clinic, in 1970s Alabama and serving those desperately in need of care. But when one of her first jobs involves putting 11 and 13-year-old girls on birth control when neither girl has even kissed a boy, Civil is compelled to fight this injustice. Years later, Dr. Townsend is ready to retire but these stories from her past refuse to stay hidden when she finds herself having to explain to her daughter what happened and why.
The Librarian Spy by Madeline Martin (out July 26th)
There are a lot of books coming out about World War 2 because so many stories still need to be told. This is one of the standouts in that sub-genre. Before I read this book, I knew very little about Portugal during the war nor about the actual printing process that produced French Resistance pamphlets and was completely fascinated by all that I learned about both. Martin's vivid depiction of both locales made me feel like I was with the characters as they went about their daily lives.
Book summary: Ava thought her job as a librarian at the Library of Congress would mean a quiet, routine existence. But an unexpected offer from the US military has brought her to Lisbon with a new mission: posing as a librarian while working undercover as a spy gathering intelligence. Meanwhile, in occupied France, Elaine has begun an apprenticeship at a printing press run by members of the Resistance. It’s a job usually reserved for men, but in the war, those rules have been forgotten. Yet she knows that the Nazis are searching for the press and its printer in order to silence them. As the battle in Europe rages, Ava and Elaine find themselves connecting through coded messages and discovering hope in the face of war
I reveled in Passarella's funny stories about everyday life in New York City and living with her family in a tiny apartment. But what has stuck with me the most from this book is her insistence that we can all get along better than we do and that we need to work to meet each other in the middle. This is a very relevant read for today's world (and at the same time it is very funny!).
Book summary: Elizabeth Passarella is content with being complicated. She grew up in Memphis in a conservative, Republican family with a Christian mom and a Jewish dad. Then she moved to New York, fell in love with the city—and, eventually, her husband—and changed. Sort of. While her politics have tilted to the left, she still puts her faith first—and argues that the two can go hand in hand, for what it’s worth. In this sharp and slyly profound memoir, Elizabeth shares stories about everything from conceiving a baby in an unair-conditioned garage in Florida to finding a rat in her bedroom. She upends stereotypes about Southerners, New Yorkers, and Christians, making a case that we are all flawed humans simply doing our best.
You Got Anything Stronger by Gabrielle Union
Union's ability to infuse her personality into every aspect of this memoir makes it a standout. Her struggles with infertility, her relationship with her husband, and her role as a mother - she shares about it all. I listened to this as an audiobook; Union narrates her story, and I highly recommend that format.
Book summary: In her second memoir, actress Gabrielle Union provides a deeply personal glimpse into her life and that of her family. She opens with her years-long and painful struggle with infertility and her feelings of failure that resulted. Eventually diagnosed with adenomyosis, she and husband Dwyane, after much deliberation, ultimately decide to use a surrogate, a process made more complicated by their prominence. As the book progresses, she discusses intimate and sometimes heartbreaking details of her life, including her sexual assault at age 19, navigating her role as a stepmom, the transition of daughter Zaya, and what community and its strength look like in Hollywood when women of color come together. These stories are balanced by some funny tales as well, including her bowel issues at a strip club and her failed audition for a Matrix sequel. It is her most personal book yet.
In this compelling memoir, David Dennis, Jr. interviews his father about the important role he played in the Civil Rights Movement. As I read this book, I often felt like I was transported to that time period; Dennis dramatically conveys the terror these courageous individuals felt and everything they went through to try and fight the inequality they experienced.
Book summary: A dynamic family exchange that pivots between the voices of a father and son, The Movement Made Us is a unique work of oral history and memoir, chronicling the extraordinary story of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and its living legacy embodied in Black Lives Matter. David Dennis Sr, a core architect of the movement, speaks out for the first time, swapping recollections both harrowing and joyful with David Jr, a journalist working on the front lines of change today. Taken together, their stories paint a critical portrait of America, casting one nation’s image through the lens of two individual Black men and their unique relationship. Playful and searching, anxious and restorative, fearless and driving, this intimate memoir features scenes from across David Sr’s life, as he becomes involved in the movement, tries to move beyond it, and ultimately returns to it to find final solace and new sense of self—revealing a survivor who travels eternally with a cabal of ghosts.
I am a huge fan of The New Yorker and particularly the magazine's cartoons. My favorite parts of this memoir were learning more about how he became a cartoonist and then began working for The New Yorker (it took him 25 years to have a cartoon accepted by them), but his journey to understand his parents and their impact on his life is very engaging as well.
Book summary: A wry and brilliantly observed portrait of the budding young cartoonist and his Upper West Side Jewish family in the age of JFK and Sputnik. Sipress, a dreamer and obsessive drawer, goes hazy when it comes to the ceaselessly imparted lessons-on-life from his father, the meticulous, upwardly mobile proprietor of Revere Jewelers, and in the face of the angsty expectations of his migraine-prone mother. With self-deprecation, wit, and artistry, Sipress paints his hapless place in his indelibly dysfunctional family, from the time he was tricked by his unreliable older sister into rocketing his pet turtle out his twelfth-floor bedroom window, to the moment he walks away from a Harvard PhD program in Russian history to begin his journey as a professional cartoonist.
Shine Bright by Danyel Smith
I love listening to music, and this memoir by Danyel Smith taught me so much about the history of American pop while also making me reminisce about songs I haven't heard in years. I listened to this one, and Smith herself narrates.
Book summary: A weave of biography, criticism, and memoir, Shine Bright is Danyel Smith’s intimate history of Black women’s music as the foundational story of American pop. Smith has been writing this history for more than five years. But as a music fan, and then as an essayist, editor (Vibe, Billboard), and podcast host (Black Girl Songbook), she has been living this history since she was a latchkey kid listening to “Midnight Train to Georgia” on the family stereo. Smith’s detailed narrative begins with Phillis Wheatley, an enslaved woman who sang her poems, and continues through the stories of Mahalia Jackson, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, and Mariah Carey, as well as the under-considered careers of Marilyn McCoo, Deniece Williams, and Jody Watley.
The Science of Murder by Carla Valentine (May 31st)
This is an absolutely fascinating look at how Agatha Christie incorporated the cutting edge science of her time into her novels. I was so intrigued that I could not put this one down; it is such an interesting premise.
Book summary: Agatha Christie is the bestselling novelist of all time, and nearly every story she ever wrote involves one―or, more commonly, several―dead bodies. And the cause of death, the motives behind violent crimes, the clues that inevitably are left behind, and the people who put the pieces together to solve the mystery invite the reader to analyze the evidence and race to find the answer before the detective does. Nearly every step of the way, Christie outlines the nuts and bolts of early 20th-century crime detection, relying on physical evidence to tell the real story behind the facades humans erect to escape detection. Christie wouldn't have talked of "forensics" as it is understood today―most of her work predates the modern developments of forensics science―but in each tale she harnesses the power of human observation, ingenuity, and scientific developments of the era. A fascinating, science-based deep dive, The Science of Murder examines the use of fingerprints, firearms, handwriting, blood spatter analysis, toxicology, and more in Christie's beloved works.
Off the Beaten Path
The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier
This thought-provoking book will appeal to those who want something original. It is not a light read, but it is one of those books that will stay with you long after you finish it and make you seek out others that have read it so that you can chat with them about it.
Book summary: In June 2021, a senseless event upends the lives of hundreds of men and women, all passengers on a flight from Paris to New York. Among them: Blake, a respectable family man, though he works as a contract killer; Slimboy, a Nigerian pop star tired of living a lie; Joanna, a formidable lawyer whose flaws have caught up with her; and Victor Miesel, a critically acclaimed yet commercially unsuccessful writer who suddenly becomes a cult hit. All of them believed they had double lives. None imagined just how true that was.
Following the dynamics and drama of the church's search committee is what makes this book so entertaining. Huneven's wry and spot-on commentary about people's pre-conceived notions and worldviews and how those ideas influence them caused me to laugh, cringe, and nod in agreement as I was reading.
Book summary: Dana Potowski is a restaurant critic and food writer and a longtime member of a progressive Unitarian Universalist congregation in Southern California. Just as she's finishing the book tour for her latest bestseller, Dana is asked to join the church search committee for a new minister. Under pressure to find her next book idea, she agrees, and resolves to secretly pen a memoir, with recipes, about the experience. That memoir, Search, follows the travails of the committee and their candidates--and becomes its own media sensation. This wry and wise tale will speak to anyone who has ever gone searching, and James Beard Award-winning author Michelle Huneven's food writing and recipes add flavor to the delightful journey.
The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
This unique, sci-fi-esque story was a breezy, quick read that is outside my usual wheelhouse. If you are in the mood for something different with fresh commentary on today's world, this is a great choice.
Book summary: When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. Until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls "an animal rights organization." Tom's team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie immediately signs on. What Tom doesn't tell Jamie is that the animals his team cares for are not here on Earth. Not our Earth, at least. In an alternate dimension, massive dinosaur-like creatures named Kaiju roam a warm and human-free world. They're the universe's largest and most dangerous panda and they're in trouble.
This stellar collection of short stories focuses on various aspects of life in modern-day China and what it is like to live in a country where the government controls every aspect of your life. Two of my favorite stories in the collection are “Gubeikou Spirit” which follows a group of citizens who end up stranded for months on a subway platform, kept there by the station’s guards and “Flying Machine” which tells the story of an elderly man who against all odds keeps trying to build an airplane out of items he accumulates.
Book summary: Gripping and compassionate, Land of Big Numbers depicts the diverse and legion Chinese people, their history, their government, and how all of that has tumbled—messily, violently, but still beautifully—into the present. Cutting between clear-eyed realism and tongue-in-cheek magical realism, Chen’s stories coalesce into a portrait of a people striving for openings where mobility is limited. Twins take radically different paths: one becomes a professional gamer, the other a political activist. A woman moves to the city to work at a government call center and is followed by her violent ex-boyfriend. A man is swept into the high-risk, high-reward temptations of China’s volatile stock exchange. And a group of people sit, trapped for no reason, on a subway platform for months, waiting for official permission to leave.