The 2019 Minimalist Summer Reading Guide

Readers, last week I shared the 2019 Summer Reading Guide with subscribers, kicking off my favorite reading time of the year.

This year’s guide includes 30 titles—the most ever—as well as tips on how to get more out of your summer reading and my favorites from past guides. But just for fun (and like we’ve done since 2014, believe it or not) I’m narrowing the choices down to 5 total. (Minimalists and decision haters, rejoice!)

These top 5 titles are hugely entertaining, have broad appeal, and cover a variety of topics, themes, genres, and perspectives. Despite their differences, they have two crucial things in common: they’re really good, and they embody what a summer read should be.

These stories will keep you turning the pages, sure, but they also have substance. While easy to read, these titles are wonderfully thought-provoking and discussable.

If you already got your 2019 Summer Reading Guide, you’ll recognize these titles from page 9.

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My top 5 picks for summer:

Ayesha At Last

Ayesha At Last

While it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single, Muslim man must be in want of a wife, there’s an even greater truth: “To his Indian mother, his own inclinations were of secondary importance.” In this P&P-inspired retelling, set in contemporary Toronto, Darcy becomes Khalid, a devout Muslim man whose mother is trying to marry him off. Elizabeth becomes Ayesha, a teacher who’d much prefer to be a poet. When they first meet, it’s utter disaster: she thinks he’s rigid and judgmental; he thinks she’s not a good Muslim because of the drink (virgin) and cigarettes (not hers) she’s holding. But circumstances bring them together again, of course. I loved the supporting cast featuring good friends, a cousin dreaming of a Bollywood-inspired wedding, an embarrassing mother, and a Shakespeare-quoting grandpa. If you’re a P&P devotee, this is a delight. If you’ve never read the original, you can still enjoy this story about friendship, family, obligation, and love. More info →
The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding

Historian-turned-novelist Robson sets her latest historical release in 1947, when times are grim: so many have lost so much, war rationing continues, Britain is in ruins. But in a bleak year, there’s a bright spot: Princess Elizabeth’s royal wedding captured the hearts of a nation, and was a beacon of hope to a country on its knees. The people insisted on a real celebration, including a beautiful gown. Robson’s story shifts among three protagonists and spans 70 years, but the common thread is Elizabeth’s gown—and specifically, the women who make it. While Robson has a fine eye for detail, and her behind-the-scenes descriptions of the fine atelier's workroom are riveting, the heartbeat of the story comes from female friendship, secret pasts, and life after loss. A must-read for fans of The Crown, and recommended for all seeking an intimate take on the often neglected postwar era. More info →
The River

The River

I didn’t know a book could be both gorgeous and terrifying—but then I devoured this in a day. When two college friends plan a long canoeing trip in northern Canada, they anticipate a peaceful yet memorable summer escape filled with whitewater paddling, fly fishing, and campfire cooking. The first hint of danger is a whiff of smoke, from an encroaching forest fire. The next comes from a man, seemingly in shock, who reports his wife disappeared in the woods. If these boys didn’t feel compelled to do the right thing and go look for her, they’d be fine, but instead they step in to help—and are soon running for their lives, from disasters both natural and man-made. A tightly-written wilderness adventure, a lyrical mystery, and a heartrending story of friendship, rolled into one. This is the best book I’ve read this year, and that’s saying something. Pair with Sebastian Junger’s Fire for a next-level reading experience. More info →
The Last Romantics

The Last Romantics


Early tragedy forged a strong bond between the four Skinner siblings, but it also broke them in ways that don’t become apparent for many years, when another unfolding tragedy makes them question everything they know about their family. A sweeping family saga.

More info →
Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir

I've adored Reichl's food writing in the past, but if I wasn’t a devoted Gourmet magazine reader, would I be interested in reading the book aptly subtitled “My Gourmet Memoir”? The answer: YES!! The story begins in 1999, when Reichl is offered (another) dream job: to take the helm at Gourmet, with free reign to make the staid publication relevant to today's cooks. Reichl dishes like a gossipy friend, sharing the behind-the-scenes scoop on the big picture, like livening up Gourmet’s stuffy culture, and the specific, like what was going through her head when she published David Foster Wallace's notorious piece "Consider the Lobster." Gourmet’s rise—and fall—is intimately connected with the publishing trends of the aughts, and as a reader and writer I found her take on her company's troubles captivating. This is pure delight from start to finish. If you love it, read Garlic and Sapphires next, her un-put-down-able story of her years as the New York Times food critic; it's one of three summer picks for the MMD Book Club. More info →

What’s on your summer reading list? And I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above books in comments.

P.S. Want to see what I’ve chosen in previous minimalist guides? Check them out below. (You’ll also get to see how the guide has evolved over the years.)


Leave A Comment
  1. Jan says:

    I am
    More of a fantasy reader while the last romantics might be really intriguing. I just read girl who chased the moon. I was thinking it be a romantic story while in some ways it was it also a family rich story with a tad bit of fantasy. Currently reading crown of feathers.

  2. Amy says:

    Love the list. I have 3 of them so far. On a mission to get the final 2. One of them will accompany me on a trip in a few weeks. I just finished ‘The Girl He Used to Know’ by Tracey Graves. Not on the list but a good love story. Definitely a Summer read. Just couldn’t wait for the official season to begin.

  3. Aimee says:

    Love this! I went through the full list and chose 2 titles to start, and they’re both on your top 5 so I feel like I chose well 🙂

  4. Marianne says:

    BTW, I am wondering if you have ever read The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder? An incredible book about a young book lover taking place in depression era California. It is a hard-to-find book but if you can get your hands on it, I think you would thoroughly enjoy it!!

  5. “The Guest List” by Sarah Blake is wonderful – so complex, with story lines jumping back and forth from the 1930s to the 50s to present day. I’m really loving the book, it’s got serious topics but is still light and enjoyable. Perfect summer read, it’s long, too!

  6. Diane says:

    Thank you for the great recommendations.
    I am listening to the new “The Pioneers” David McCullough. Excellent!

  7. Mary Lou says:

    Reading Crossing to Safety right now and loving it – actually listening on Audible. Already read The Last Romantics and liked it very much. Contemplating that I am about number 110 on the wait list at the library for The River – I may have to buy it!

  8. S says:

    I want to read The River – it sounds amazing! I have read Save Me the Plums and LOVED it. Also read The Last Romantics which was a pick for my IRL book club- it was very good but that whole sex blog thing of Fiona’s seemed like a weird tangent to the story? The relationships were depicted so wonderfully, including The Pause, and all that it impacted. Definitely recommend! Question on the P&P retelling- can I read it and enjoy it without ever having read Jane Austen??!!

  9. Trisha says:

    I’m looking forward to reading The River it landed on my list aftet a WSIRN episode. I just finished A Woman is No Man and it was fantastic!!! I couldn’t put it down.

  10. Sobia says:

    I just finished Ayesha At Last and loved it! It was entertaining but still thought-provoking. I had a tough time putting it down.

  11. Sarah M Schneider says:

    Currently reading Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain (mixed review)
    The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley (not as light as I expected but very good so far, I’ve committed the blasphemy of starting in the middle of a series because the first book is never in, but I’ve got a hold to read it next)
    And I’ve got Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life by Eric Klinenberg queued up for when my current NF read is done.

  12. Sheila DelCharco says:

    Two of those titles will be a bit of a stretch for me but I’m gonna give them a try! (The River and The Last Romantics)

  13. Mary Jane McNeill says:

    The Gown is on everyone’s list!! I picked it up a couple of weeks ago at The Bookshelf and I can’t wait to get into it!

  14. Barb anderson says:

    I could not agree less with your review of The River. It was so slow and boring. I am obviously not the target audience for this one.

    • Anne says:

      I hope you’re able to identify what you didn’t enjoy about it, or about any other book you find is not to your taste. That information is GOLD when it comes to choosing future reads!

  15. Cassie says:

    I was at the library 2 weeks ago, turned around, and saw the last romantics sitting on the new arrivals shelf. I immediately scooped it up, and it was amazing.

    • Ashley F. says:

      I love that idea Hannah! I’m a huge list maker, and I get a bit overwhelmed by my TBR list! Maybe if I narrow it down at the beginning of the year it will help! What a fun way to start the New Year.

  16. Bev says:

    The Gown was my favorite read last year, two friends I loaned it to really enjoyed it, and a third started it a couple days ago and is already raving about it!

  17. Thank you for this! As someone struggling to get through my long TBR list of books from WTRN suggestions(!), this is v. helpful. I’m also in three book groups! <– But often, those titles overlap with the WTRN recommendations — or I suggest them…thereby killing two "books" with one stone! 😉

  18. Ashley F. says:

    I’m currently reading This Is How It Always Is, and I love it so far! I think I’m a little late to the game on it, but I have a long list! Next up is The Current by Tim Johnston. My hubby read it, and he really liked it! I also just bought The Last Romantics. I loved Commonwealth so I’m super excited about this comparison in the Summer Reading Guide!

  19. Krista says:

    Thanks Anne for all of your helpful reviews! I find them reliable for deciding whether a book is for me or not.

    I have a question about “Ayesha at Last” vs “Unmarriageable” – they are both P&P retellings – are they very different from each other? Or might it be repetitive to read both?

  20. Marsha D says:

    I like that this is such a diverse list of recommendations. I don’t really have a favorite genre so I am always looking for something new. I recently finished a great book by MC Fox called “Countdown America.” It’s a fast-paced thriller with a really bad ass female lead. It’s different from your typical espionage action book too because it not only focuses on her work as a CIA agent but it focuses on the importance of her family too. She is a single mother of two and even though she tries to take on a job that should be safer (Chief Supervisor of the CIA) she finds herself targeted, and her children. It’s great reading about a fierce and determined woman pushed to her limits and rooting for her every step of the way. I really hope you will check it out. You can read more about the book here – – Happy Reading (and Happy Summer!)

  21. Kathy Holt says:

    I just finished listening to Save Me the Plums. Ruth Reichl reads it and does an excellent job. I fell in love with her after reading Garlic and Sapphires and this one did not disappoint. Thanks for the list! My Goodreads shelf is filling up fast.

  22. Cari says:

    SUCH a great list! I’m looking forward to reading each of these! You always know how to pick the best for the season…

  23. Donna says:

    Ayesha at Last was one of the staff picks at my neighbourhood bookstore in Toronto. I read it last year and loved it!

  24. Mary says:

    I just finished “The Bookshop at Water’s End” by Patti Callahan Henry. This is also a great summer read Copyright 2017

  25. Nick says:

    Thank you so much! The River by Peter Heller was so good! There’s a high chance I will read it again this year. It would be a contender for my favorite book of the year, but I think Peter Heller’s previous book, The Dog Stars, is going to win that title as of now.

  26. Mary Noel says:

    Just finished The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware and it is right on up there with my favorite books of the year. A perfect Gothic/ghost/mystery/unreliable narrator book. Strongly recommend.

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