WSIRN Ep 185: What should you read this summer?

Most weeks on What Should I Read Next, I’ll do a little literary matchmaking with one guest… but this week, I’m joined by the show’s producer, Brenna Frederick, to hook SEVERAL What Should I Read Next listeners up with their perfect Summer read.

You wrote in, called in, and commented enthusiastically about the bookish vibes you wanted to fill your Summer with, and oh boy, do I have recommendations for you…

Let’s get to it!

What Should I Read Next #185: What should you read this summer?

Click here to read the full episode transcription (opens in a new tab).

Books mentioned in this episode:

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• Evvie Drake Starts Over, by Linda Holmes
• The Bookshop on the Corner, by Jenny Colgan
• Love Walked In, by Marisa de los Santos
• I’ll Be Your Blue Sky, by Marisa de los Santos
• The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, by Louise Miller
• The Late Bloomer’s Club, by Louise Miller
• Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penny
• The Library Book, by Susan Orlean
• Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World, by Anthony Doerr
• The River, by Peter Heller
• Becoming, by Michelle Obama
• House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery, by Liz Rosenberg
• The Orphan of Salt Winds, by Elizabeth Brooks
• The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai
• Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
• Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane
• Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed, by Lori Gottlieb
• The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough
• All the President’s Men, by Bob Woodward
• Jaws, by Peter Benchley
• The Shell Seekers, by Rosemund Pilcher
• The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
• All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
• Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi
• Author Agatha Christie (try And Then There Were None)
• Big Sky, by Kate Atkinson
• Never Have I Ever, by Joshilyn Jackson
• The Ensemble, by Aja Gabel
• The Female Persuasion, Meg Wolitzer
• The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah
• This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel
• Beartown, Fredrik Backman
• Daisy Jones & the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
• The Last Romantics, by Tara Conklin
• The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, by Sabina Khan
• Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story, by Jacob Tobia
• Under the Udala Trees, by Chinelo Okparanta
• Dragon’s Breath: and Other True Stories, by MariNaomi
• Turning Japanese, by MariNaomi
• The Lightkeepers, by Abby Geni
• The Wildlands, by Abby Geni
• The Dry, by Jane Harper
• The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
• The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
• Possession, by A. S. Byatt
• Hum if You Don’t Know the Words, by Bianca Marais
• Us Against You, by Fredrik Backman
• Inheritance, by Dani Shapiro
• Ginny Moon, by Benjamin Ludwig
• Gravity is the Thing, by Jaclyn Moriarty
• Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, by adrienne maree brown

Also mentioned:
• Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guides 2019

What’s your dream Summer read?

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Leave A Comment
  1. Marion says:

    Great episode! Just finished listening to it. I have a recommended for Brenna’s Post-Apocalyptic with a gardening twist. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler mentions gardening quite a bit in that novel. Parable of the Sower is my favorite Butler novel and one of the best post-apocalyptic stories ever written.

    • Libby says:

      Also have some recs for Brenna! Both of these are YA novels, but the romance theme isn’t laid on too heavy. Ashfall is about the volcano under Yellowstone exploding, and how two teens in the Midwest survive after that. It’s not explicitly about farming, but one of the teens grew up on a farm and a lot of the novel focuses on really practical things, like how do we grow corn when there’s no sunlight for the next 5 years. A large part of the book takes place on a farm as well. It’s been a few years, but as I recall the writing wasn’t anything to brag about, but not cringe-worthy bad either.
      The other book is the Age of Miracles. In this, the author has the disaster happen right at the beginning, and then it kind of takes people a while to realize the severity of the crisis. The sudden disappearance of certain things we take for granted in grocery stores and slower contraction of the entire food system brings the reader along to realize things are going from uncomfortable to bad to grim. I liked the writing quality in this book better than in Ashfall.

  2. Megan Nashel says:

    Wonderful summer reading episode!! I’m super excited I bought The River a few weeks ago and can’t wait to finally start reading it soon! Right now I’m reading The Lady from the Black Lagoon and would recommend it as a good summer read for all horror and just movie lovers. Brenna, I’m thinking you might like Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. It was written in 1959 and is set after nuclear war. The characters live in Florida and have to figure out how to survive off the land and I’m pretty sure it involves some gardening. I actually read it on a plane coming back from my honeymoon several years ago, so it’s totally an appropriate summer book!

    • Jana says:

      Megan, I read Alas, Babylon in the 1970s (in high school) and I have never forgotten it! Brenna, it was terrific, and possibly the only dystopian novel I’ve ever read (except for Children of God by PD James, which I read by accident, because I can’t stand dystopia).

    • Leigh says:

      Alas, Babylon is on my top five favorite books ever list! I was drawn to it initially because I grew up in that area of Florida in the 50’s-60’s and lived through the fear of the Cold War. Frank really nails the setting and time period. But what has stuck with me and compels me to reread about once a year is the triumph of the human spirit in the worst of circumstances. I love books that have characters I want to root for and this is full of them. A great read.

  3. Monica says:

    I also loved Possession and – honestly- did not predict the twist at the end. But, you are right, you have to be in the mood for a slow thinker.

    I can’t wait to get started on some of the recommendations here! I just got a big stack from the library – all my holds at once! I need to learn to manage that a bit better…

    Love the podcast! Happy summer reading!

  4. Mary says:

    Has Brenna read California, by Eden Lepucki? Gardening isn’t a central theme, but it definitely plays a part in the dystopian narrative!

  5. Ciarra says:

    I squealed aloud when I realized you answered my request. Being on your podcast (even in such an abstract way) was definitely on my bucket list.

    Thank you so much for the great Mystery/Thriller recommendations. I have pre-ordered both and am now patiently awaiting their arrival.

  6. Deborah G Ball says:

    Just finished The 7 Husbands of Evelyn Hugo as I am waiting for the DaisyJones at the library. Really loved her style of writing and it gave me new empathy for those in the acting world which so foreign to me! I did love The River as well but I jumped the gun and got it when it first was released. Hope The Current will be another by Tim Johnston, and for today’s hot car line wait at the school, I am enjoying The Accidental Beauty Queen which was recommended earlier. Its quick and easy!

  7. Maudeen Haisch Wachsmith says:

    Thanks for the great episode! There’s not many episodes with so many books I haven’t heard of. I was disappointed not to share Anne’s love of The River. I loved Wynn and Jack, I usually enjoy settings like this. But after reading three smaller hardbacks and ending up skimming them, I’ve got to wonder if it’s just the format and the way the book feels in my hands. I’ll have to try again when the paperback comes out. I know, an odd reason for putting a book aside. I’m thoroughly enjoying the new Joshilyn Jackson though so all’s not lost.

  8. Mary Bailey says:

    Anne- A few months ago you talked about a young person that had put together “book bags” for lack of a better term. If you ordered Anne of Green Gables, it came with several activities that would go along with the book. “The Mixed up Files. . .” came with other fun things to do that went along with the theme of the book. I thought I wrote down the contact information but now can not find it. Does any of this ring a bell? If it does, could you share that contact information again? thanks

  9. Laurie Proctor says:

    Brenna might check out James Howard Kunstler’s novels. I am more familiar with his non-fiction so don’t know if these dystopian tales have gardening in them, but I suspect they might as JHK is or was big on self-sufficiency. He is a bit (understatement) curmudgeonly. I just checked his website and it says something about being on a year of “magical thinking” which relates to one of his books.

  10. Rhonda McGee says:

    I am in love with your podcast. I listen and have my notepad beside me so that I can jot down what I want to research and read. Thanks so much!!

    • Debbie in Alabama says:

      If you sign up for Patreon all that is printed at the end of every session. It is the best 8$ I have spent in a long time….of course now I am spending more at Amazon! ha!

  11. Lauren says:

    This was a great episode! I’m excited for this summers reading! Do you have any recommendations for fantasy novels?

  12. Great episode i just ran over to my library and picked up The Library Book what book nerd could pass up that kind of recommendation. I have a suggestion for post apolitical gradening i reading right now Year One by Nora Roberts. I about halfway and pretty sure gardening and forgaring for food are gonna be big topics as well as survival.

    I was wondering if you had any suggestions of fantasy books that have come out more in the adult area. I read a ton of fantasty but i did find them more in the young adult area of the store. Fantasy adult authors i have read and loved would be terry brooks, Brent weeks, Anne bishop, mercedes lackey, Deborah harkness but i wondering if their something new out their.


    • KT says:

      I really love Michael J. Sullivan’s fantasy. I would start with Theft of Swords (it’s the first book in his original trilogy). If you like them, there are some prequels, and then he has an entire new series set in the same world but thousands of years in the past. They are very fun (and great audio books if that is your thing).

    • Marion says:


      I’m a huge fan of Guy Gavriel Kay. He combines history and fantasy into an interesting mix. He is a great storyteller. I’m currently reading his just released novel (as of last week), A Brightness Long Ago. I’m a third of the way through it. Really good. But, I will recommend Children of Earth of Sky as an introduction to his work. You can read my review of it:
      I believe Guy Gavriel Kay is one of our best writers working today.

      • Libby says:

        Was coming here to say SANDERSON! If you’re new to him (you lucky duck) he’s got an amazing backlist, and I’d recommend starting with the Mistborn trilogy. They’re completed, and more manageable in size than the Stormlight Archive that he’s still writing.
        I really like Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song series, also completed.
        If you haven’t read NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy yet, that’s also fantastic. First series in history for each book to win a Hugo.

  13. Tracy says:

    Great list, over-all! I just don’t understand why the Obama book is constantly peddled when there are dozens of amazing autobiographies to choose from lately. I think the country is tired of political authors.

  14. Well, I thought my TBR exploded with the 2019 Summer Reading Guide, but this podcast really did it in. I predict this to be a great summer for books!

    I emailed Brenna, but my recommendation for her post-apocalyptic gardening book would be The Martian by Andy Weir. I recognize it’s not technically post-apocalyptic, but it’s definitely about gardening under very extreme circumstances. It’s a popular book that she might have read already, but it was the first one that came to mind. 🙂

  15. Victoria says:

    For Brenna, I thought about The Martin too and Margaret Atwood’s Year if the Flood trilogy. Not large scale post-apocalyptic gardening but there is roof-top gardening

  16. Jen C says:

    Okay. I’ve got to stop listening to the podcast on the way to work because it just makes me want to turn the car around, go home and dive onto the sofa with a pile of books. I love hearing about new books but I also get excited when I hear about older books that I know are sitting on my shelves never having been read. This week it’s Brenna’s suggestion Turning Japanese. I know my brother passed it on to me years ago and now I’m inspired to go dig it out. Anne, as for your Peter Heller quest – I LOVED The Dog Stars. I bought it purely because “dog” was in the title and it turned out to be a big win. I just finished Washington Black (loved it up until the last page which I felt like was a bit of a let down). Next up is Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered, the memoir from the ladies of my other fave podcast, My Favourite Murder.

    • Claire says:

      I came here to recommend The dog Stars by Heller to Brenna. It’s been a long time since I read it but it is dystopian, and I vaguely remember some farming in it. Definitely not the focus though. It’s a great read.

  17. I loved this episode! It made me even more excited to dig into some summer reads. I love it when you have Brenna on the podcast. You guys have good chemistry and she also has a great podcast voice! I might need to splurge and purchase some of the books from the summer reading list as the wait at the library is quite long for most of them (I live in Minneapolis and our library system is very very well-used so it’s not uncommon to encounter hundreds of people on the wait list for a book!).

    Has Brenna read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver? It’s obviously not a graphic novel but I thought of her when she mentioned her interest in gardening. AVM is such a great and inspiring book. Her and her family decide to eat a diet of foods they either grow or locally source. I read it right around the time that I started gardening and it motivated me to try canning. My mom canned when I was growing up but it seemed so intimidating. But Kingsolver gave me the confidence to give it a try and it turns out it’s really not that hard!

  18. Haley says:

    My ‘very niche’ request like Brenna’s is for a comp title for Beautiful Ruins not set during World War II. Give me a beach in Italy, Greece or Spain, a little romance, a little mystery and really good writing. I loved Beautiful Ruins, its my favorite summer read EVER that I love to recommend and I need help finding something like it!

    • Auntie M says:

      Beautiful Ruin is my nomination for most underrated book of this millennium. It was absolutely perfect, but I don’t know that many people who have read it.

  19. Addie Yoder says:

    Brenna!! Be so proud of your little garden! My husband and I farm in NE Missouri and do a lot of advocacy work for agriculture and farming and one of the things we always speak to is the importance of people growing their own food! Way to be ahead of the curve and doing something that is fun and matters so much!

    I just finished the Island of Sea Women and picked up the River yesterday at a new indie bookstore. I am reading a fluffy romance novel to break up all the Summer Reading Guide fun and then on to The Huntress!

  20. Susan Baum says:

    Regarding a book that reflects the era, I think Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is a great one … not only popular but reflects the life of people of the day.

  21. Abigail Abbatacola says:

    I have a book recommendation for Tessa. In her email she mentioned wanting a books set in a foreign country, books about books, with a mystery element. Magpie Murders: A Novel by Anthony Horowitz hits all of these elements. It’s written from the perspective of a modern day editor editing her latest project – which is the book you end up reading along with her. The book within the book is set in in the 1950s, in a small town outside of London, with lots of mystery and suspense (in the style of Agatha Christie). Hope you enjoy!

  22. Emily Avers says:

    For Brenna – When the English Fall about an Amish family and what happens in their world after an electric pulse.

  23. Auntie M says:

    Loved this episode – I had already put on hold several books from the Summer Reading guide (and had just picked up two from the library this week – “Daisy …” and “The Romantics”) but now I have several more to add to the list.

    Also, just wanted to say great call on Possession. The Historian was a big NO from me, but I would think the smoothly written back and forth between the two time periods in Possession was what the Historian’s author was trying to achieve.

  24. Shana says:

    For Brenna, try “Into the Forest” by Jean Hegland. It’s post-apocalyptic and set in northern California. It’s exactly what you’re looking for! Great episode.

  25. Dee says:

    Recommendation for the person who liked historical novels and novels in other countries: The Prague Sonata by Bradford Morrow. It’s a 2012 release that I just read recently, and since then I have been recommending it to everyone! It’s not a book about books, but it is a book about music, which feels adjacent. You do not need to know anything about music (I don’t!).

  26. Dee says:

    Does anyone have recommendations for a book about finding lost siblings? I’d love a really well-written memoir, but a novel could work, too. Unlike seemingly everyone on the planet, I was not crazy about Dani Shapiro’s recent memoir Inheritance.

    • Anne says:

      Funny, before I read to the end of your comment my brain was screaming “Inheritance!” For an entirely different vibe, what about Robin Benway’s YA novel Far From the Tree?

  27. Aundrea says:

    Hi guys! I’m a first time listener, but I already love the show! I’ve always loved to read, and growing up finding my next book was always a struggle. I’ve come to love series, because the next book is always chosen for you. Well, until it’s over. Now that I’m getting older and less of my friends share my love for reading, good recommendations are hard to come by. Most recently I’ve read a lot of YA stuff that is okay, but not great. I love the post apocalyptic, dystopian, futuristic worlds. I’m also always down to read a good fantasy. Pretty much anything with a story I can get lost in and isn’t super predictable. Im struggling to find more adult content in these categories. My favorite series is the Mortal Instruments, but it has the same problem, it’s a little on the immature side. My most recent reed was a book called Seed. I’d love to get some recommendations on what to read next! Please and thank you (:

  28. Alice Pilkey says:

    For Brenna, I suggest The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (published in 1955). I sent an email, but am not sure I got the address right. Post-apocalyptic gardening with teeth.

  29. Alisa Stanfield says:

    So many fantastic titles. I’m listening (and cleaning the house) with my earbuds and yelling out “yes”! My kids and dog think I’m crazy, but nothing new there!
    Brenna should try The Last by Hannah Jameson. Recently released dystopian/thriller with a tiny bit of gardening thrown in.

  30. Hilary says:

    If Brenna’s to-read list hasn’t blown up enough, this is a loose recommendation based on the post apocalyptic / gardening request. Hot House Flower & the Nine Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin. I read it a few years ago. It’s a ‘fun’ book for when you’re beaten down by too many apocolyptic novels : )

  31. haythere says:

    Brenna, your post-apocalyptic gardening TBR is amazing! This is also a weirdly specific conjunction of interests for me, too! And a few other people based on the great recommendations in the comments! I have too many in this category, myself.
    Always Coming Home by Ursula LeGuin. It is one of her harder reads but an absolutely fascinating idea for a post-apocalyptic gatherer/farming society in California. It’s not big on plot and is more anthropological descriptions of the culture, though there is a story going through that. There’s a tape of songs that goes with it! It’s weirdly fascinating to me, though some parts (Moon Festival, say no more) are disturbing descriptions of the culture’s sexual practices. Yikes! More TMI than gross or scary though, but worth warning about.
    The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett from 1955 but still a very intriguing read. This is a post-apocalyptic novel where it is against the law for there to be more than 1,000 people or 200 buildings per square mile, so the vast majority of people have to live on farms. It’s fascinating and there is a suggestion that there was something like a culture war (hello 21st century) that led to this. There is a rebel resistance, appropriately enough as Leigh Brackett was a screenwriter on The Empire Strikes Back! It’s one of those books that made me argue with myself about the pros and cons of the ideas she presented.
    Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody. About an orphan who gets sent to live on a farm that is partly a prison and partly a refuge, for psychics! With talking animals!! It checks so many boxes for me. This series kind of lost me after awhile, but this first book is amazing.
    Okay, this is totally off kilter and doesn’t really exactly fit, but I’d also recommend Dr. Dolittle in the Moon. Isn’t that talking animals? Yes, but on the dark side of the moon there are talking plants! It’s so weird and good. The movies are all dreadful. The books are charming and weird.
    I’d also recommend people interested in this kind of novel read up on the idea of the cozy catastrophe. It’s fascinating and weirdly complex, but lots of good books that are bound to have gardening in the apocalypse:
    I’m stopping now! I’m so glad so many other people had recommendations for this. I thought it was just me!

  32. Monica says:

    My recommendations for Brenna are already mentioned above so I will second When the English Fall and Into the Forest. Both are excellent books.

  33. Denise says:

    I know The Martian isn’t technically a dystopian novel, but the landscape is and the main character spends a good deal of the book attempting to farm in it… I just wanted to throw it out there.

  34. Naomi A Jones says:

    Hey Brenna! Terri Blackstock’s Last Light Series is all about the practicalities of life in a world gone haywire. It made me want to become a prepper!

  35. Eculatta says:

    I’m responding to Brenna’s request for a novel that involves characters gardening post-apocalypse and two titles sprung immediately to mind: The Year of the Flood (Margaret Atwood) and The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell). Both feature a group of people in less-than-hospitable circumstances trying to feed themselves and their communities by creative gardening practices (and gardens play a role in the narrative in both). Both excellent reads. What a fun, specific request!

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