The 2021 Minimalist Summer Reading Guide

Readers, two weeks ago I shared the 2021 Summer Reading Guide with subscribers, kicking off my favorite reading time of the year.

This year’s guide includes 31 titles—or 46 for the Expanded Edition—as well as audiobook recommendations and backlist titles for your TBR. Every year since 2014, I’ve narrowed the choices down to five total for my fellow minimalists and decision haters.

It’s never easy to choose just five titles to spotlight, but this year the decision proved impossible. That means for the first time ever, our minimalist guide features six titles. I’m not sad about it.

For each minimalist edition, I strive to select titles that keep you turning the pages but also have substance. While easy to read, these titles are wonderfully thought-provoking and discussable.

These minimalist titles are featured in the guide (and don’t miss our fun feature called The Minimalist Summer Reading Guide Time Machine where we take a look at past picks!), and we also traditionally share them here on the blog, both so those who’ve read the Guide can take another look, and those who haven’t yet can get a taste of its contents with these featured picks.

Speaking of discussable: it’s no coincidence that three of these titles are Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club selections. We’re reading People We Meet on Vacation in June, Sparks Like Stars in July, and The Whispering House in August. I’m thrilled that each author will be joining us to chat—and we would love for you to join the conversation.

I hope you enjoy this short and sweet summer list, and I’d love to hear more about your own summer selections in the comments.

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The 2021 6-book Summer Reading Guide

Malibu Rising

Malibu Rising

This page-turning family saga has everything you could want in a beach read: surfers, rockstars, 80s pop culture, and a mansion going up in flames. It’s 1983, and the four adult children of rockstar Mick Riva are preparing to host Malibu’s party of the year, unaware of how this one night will irrevocably change their lives. Reid employs an interesting structure to unpack what happens, hour by hour, the day of the party, intercutting the present-day narrative with scenes from the family’s past that go back generations. With well-drawn characters and a strong sense of time and place (I hung on every reference to Tab, big hair, and belted t-shirts), it’s a perfect summer selection for fans of messy family stories and compulsively readable literary fiction. I couldn’t put it down. (Content warnings include an open door sex scene, substance abuse, and death of a loved one.) More info →
The Whispering House

The Whispering House

With a compelling narrator, absorbing atmosphere, and loads of literary references, this modern gothic novel is a stunner. While attending her cousin’s wedding in the gardens of Byrne Hall, a drunken Freya can’t resist stumbling into the off-limits house to investigate. When she ducks inside she discovers a startling portrait on display: it looks just like her sister Stella, who, years before, died mere miles from the historic seaside grounds. Once safely home in London, Freya can't get the house—or its portrait—out of her head. When she returns to investigate, she gets tangled up with the residing family and their eerie house—and the consequences could be disastrous. More info →
Sparks Like Stars

Sparks Like Stars

A chance encounter prompts a renowned surgeon to reexamine the past she left behind in this sweeping historical novel. Daughter to the president’s most trusted advisor, Sitara’s family is murdered before her eyes in a 1978 coup in the Afghan palace. She miraculously survives with the help of a palace guard who whisks her away to safety. Sitara is eventually adopted and grows up in the United States. Flash forward 30 years. Sitara has buried that long-ago trauma and built a life for herself in NYC. But when that same guard shows up in her hospital, his presence awakens her desire for the answers she never got about what happened back then. With references to Anastasia Romanov and nods to the main character’s love of literature, this story will captivate history and book lovers alike. More info →
Crying in H Mart: A Memoir

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir

Indie rockstar Michelle Zauner delivers a heartfelt, poetic memoir about losing her mother and searching for her identity. “Ever since my mother died, I cry in H Mart.” So begins Zauner’s poignant story. After her mother received a grim cancer diagnosis, Zauner realized her mother’s death would also mean losing her only tie to her Korean heritage, so she sought to shore up stories while she still has time. Whether she writes about the intricacies of preparing traditional Korean dishes or a hurtful misunderstanding, she explores moments from her tumultuous mother-daughter relationship with tenderness and love, often returning to the idea that our experiences of home, family and culture are viscerally rooted in what we taste, see and hear. An honest, lyrical, and life-affirming memoir about grief, growing up, and making amends. More info →
People We Meet on Vacation

People We Meet on Vacation

Lamenting all those lost pandemic vacations? Globetrot with Alex and Poppy in this modern twist on When Harry Met Sally. The pair of opposites once shared a ride home from college and their witty banter ignited a decade-long friendship. Now free-spirit Poppy lives in NYC, working as a travel writer for a posh magazine. Strait-laced Alex lives in their small Ohio hometown, longing to start a family and live that picket-fence lifestyle. Connecting once a year for an epic vacation, these besties were always in sync…until they weren’t. Now they haven’t spoken in two painful years, and against all odds, Poppy is hoping one great vacation can save them. This will they/won’t they contemporary romance from Beach Read author Emily Henry is every bit as playful as its tangerine cover. Heads up for one open door scene. More info →
The Other Black Girl

The Other Black Girl

Full of twists, turns, and biting social commentary, this highly original (and highly discussable) debut novel will leave you with your jaw on the floor. Editorial assistant Nella Rogers is thrilled when Wagner Books hires another Black woman. Finally, she won’t be the sole Black voice at the publisher, she won’t endure microaggressions alone, and maybe she’ll even make some progress on her stalled-out racial diversity efforts. But new hire Hazel doesn’t turn out to be the ally and friend she expected. Meanwhile, threatening notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk, saying LEAVE WAGNER NOW. The atmosphere grows ever creepier as Nella tries to befriend Hazel, while surreptitiously investigating her past. The ending left me gobsmacked: I was desperate to discuss it with a fellow reader asap. More info →

What’s on your summer reading list? Have you read any of these titles yet, or do you plan to? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

P.S. I’ll be talking about these titles in more detail in our upcoming summer season of One Great Book. Listen wherever you get your podcasts. Click here for this season’s trailer, and subscribe now to get the first episode when it drops on June 14!

The 2021 Minimalist Summer Reading Guide


Leave A Comment
  1. Aimee says:

    My favorite summer reads so far have been Lost Manuscript (audiobook – SWOON!), The Last Garden in England (such a wonderful lead cast of interesting female characters), and People We Meet on Vacation!

  2. Sarah says:

    I’ve already read Sparks Like Stars and People We Meet on Vacation and loved them both! My copy of Malibu Rising arrives tomorrow!

  3. Sandra Gust says:

    Yesterday I finished two nonfictions, an audiobook of Sapiens and a hardcover of Russians Among Us. Next up, to finish the Andrew Gross WWII novel set in Norway The Saboteur.

  4. I finished my first SRG pick last night – “Olympus Texas.” It was great! Now I am starting “The Last Exiles.” I love the minimalist guide as I always make sure I get to these books. I’ve requested 20 from the library so have my work cut out for me this year! But I looked back and I read 20 from last year’s guide so it’s totally doable!

  5. Megan says:

    Thank you so much for this list. I’m already planning to read Malibu Rising, and the other picks look great too!

  6. Jen says:

    Such a great list! This is my first year as a listener, so was really excited about the SRG unboxing— I’ve already read three of these since the SRG came out (Malibu Rising, The Other Black Girl, and The People We Meet on Vacation) and loved them all. Will be checking out the other three for sure—plus several more titles from the Guide. So happy to have found this podcast and bookish community!

  7. Deanna says:

    People We Meet on Vacation is absolutely fantastic–it says so much about long-term friendship and connection. I had such a book hangover after finishing it! The audiobook narrator is incredible. I’ve read a few books since and still can’t stop thinking about it.

    • Aimee says:

      Agree! Julia Whelan has once again outdone herself with this audiobook. I greatly enjoyed Beach Read last year but like PWMOV even more!

  8. Suzy says:

    I’m in a Jane Austen rut this year (which is hardly the right word!!)—let’s say I’m wallowing in Austen this year, having already read 8 fiction and non, Austen related, books. Reading Faults of Understanding by Jennifer Altman right now.

    • Aimee says:

      Have you read The Heiress? Fellow Jane Austen lover here and while she certainly would not have written this storyline (saying why would be a spoiler), I appreciated a story about the frail and dull Anne de Bourgh and the challenges of being a female at that time in history.

  9. Kaylee Baldwin says:

    I’m diving into Beatriz Williams’s blacklist this summer. And I have Malibu Rising, The people we meet on vacation, and Sparks Like Stars on my nightstand.

  10. Pat says:

    We are headed to the beach this weekend for family vacation! I have Ordinary Grace and People We Meet on Vacation ready to listen to for the drive. I am bringing Iron Lake (also, by Krueger) and My Brilliant Friend to read there. We are planning to visit the bookstore there, too! I think I’ll get Sparks Like Stars if they have it. All of these sound so good. Thanks.

    • Katie says:

      Me! I just finished it last night and I was disappointed – I thought Daisy Jones was much better. I’m glad I finished it but it wasn’t my favorite.

    • Ann says:

      I’ve read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones & The Six also. I thing Daisy was my favorite of Reid’s so far.

      They are not brilliantly written, but something about them makes them easily readable and they sort of flow.

      A kind of lighter read, but enjoyable.

      Daisy Jones & the Six had an Almost Famous vibe to it.

      Reid likes to do different decades.

  11. Susan B says:

    I loved People We Meet On Vacation. It was a nice read after The Push. I’m starting Malibu Rising tonight, followed by Golden Girl. When I finish typing this, I’m ordering The Whispering House. Oh, and I just picked up Good Neighbors and The Invisible Life of Addie Larue at the library today. I was on the wait list for them. 🙂

  12. Lisa H. says:

    I want to read every book on this list except Malibu Rising. Taylor Jenkins Reid’s books just aren’t my thing, and my TBR pile is too big to spend time on books I’m “meh” about. The Whispering House, though? The Other Black Girl? Sparks Like Stars? Yes, please!

  13. Curpre Bowers says:

    Just started listening to the podcast and receiving the reading guides after listening to you on Holly Furnick’s YouTube channel! I have gotten The Other Black Girl and can’t wait to read it l!

  14. Diana says:

    All of the books you mentioned sounds wonderful. During the summer, I like to read lighter books. I think I would pick The People You Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry.

    On my list are a lot of cozy mysteries from several series that I have been following for a while. A SCONE OF CONTENTION (Key West series) by Lucy Burdette, THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK (Bibliophile series) by Kate Carlisle, CAJUN KISS OF DEATH (Cajun Country series) by Ellen Byron, MOCHA, SHE WROTE (Bakeshop series) by Ellie Alexander and several new cozy mysteries like the new Enchanted Bay novel by Esme Addison.

    The Stand Alone books that I want to try are the Rooftop Party by Ellen Meister, which is a rom-com, and another Rom-Com by Jenn McKinlay.

  15. I’m fairly certain I’m the only person who hated Beach Read and when my book club saw the new Emily Henry, everyone said “we all know what you WON’T be reading” LOL

    True, but I am very excited for Malibu Rising and I’m 31 minutes from the end of Good Company, which I have LOVED.

  16. Morgan says:

    I LOVED “People We Meet on Vacation.” The travels, the dynamic between Alex & Poppy, and the mystery of why they hadn’t spoken in two years were all things I enjoyed, but I just realized after reading your description that my connection with the book was in part due to the pandemic and my personal lack of travel. This book would have been enjoyable to me at any time, but I enjoyed it all the more after enduring the last 15 months.

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