001-Past Summer Reading Guides

Fashion, romance, and ... espionage. If you loved Casablanca, try this novel set during the Spanish civil war. Sira Quiroga works her way from dressmaker's assistant to a premier couturier, putting her in contact with the wealthy and powerful. When the British government asks her to spy for them as World War II gears up, she agrees, stitching secret messages into the hems of dresses. Translated from the Spanish, and the dialogue is a little bumpy in places, but the story is worth it. Is it perfect? No way. But engrossing? Definitely.
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Within hours of arriving on Nantucket, Adrienne lands a job at The Blue Bistro, its acclaimed oceanside restaurant. Over the course of the summer, she falls in love, endures family drama, and confronts a medical mystery, but the real star of this book is the restaurant itself. Hilderbrand’s tales from the belly of a fabulous summer hotspot are riveting and realistic: you’ll find yourself rooting for Adrienne as she figures out how to survive in the cutthroat setting. Warning: all that great food on the page will make you hungry. Hilderbrand is queen of the summer novel; this is one of her best.
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Science writer Lightman’s premise is as follows: in 1905, young Albert Einstein dreamed repeatedly about time as he worked on his paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” and made creeping progress on his special theory of relativity. Each dream reveals "one of the many possible natures of time.'' Lightman presents these (entirely fictional) dreams as a collection of poetic vignettes. Small enough to read in an afternoon, but easy to wander in and out of. Unusual and utterly delightful.
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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. Britain was on its knees, but 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 autelier’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.
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While reading the paper on the Tube, Londoner Zoe Walker spies her own photo in a personal ad for a dodgy website called FindtheOne.com. It's grainy, but it's definitely her. Startled, she begins to investigate—and discovers that women whose photos have previously appeared in these ads have been victims in a series of increasingly violent crimes. Someone is watching her, but who, and why? I adored Mackintosh's debut I Let You Go and have been impatiently waiting for another. Publication date: February 21.
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Liv and Nora are cousins, close as sisters. After a rough year and lots of family drama, they're in desperate need of a low-key family getaway. The cruise was going to be perfect. And it is, for a while. But then on a normal—almost boring—Central American shore excursion, a series of misunderstandings and misjudgments ends with terrifying confusion—where are the children? Soon enough, the adults realize six children have vanished—and from alternating points of view, we discover where they went, and why, and who's to blame. (There's lots to go around.) Readers take note: this is messy, and a little racy.
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When they were 17, Harper and Tabitha's parents divorced. Tabitha went with her mom to Nantucket; Harper went with her dad to Martha's Vineyard. Now 39, the twins haven't spoken in years, and each has heaps of her own troubles—love, family, work, you name it. For reasons that are easy to read but hard to explain, the twins end up trading islands to work through the latest crisis. Imagine a grown-up take on The Parent Trap, with a lot more twin troubles and a lot fewer tween giggles. They call Nantucket native Elin Hilderbrand queen of the summer novel for a reason; the islands themselves have so much personality in these pages that it feels like very realistic escapist fiction. Publication date: June 13.
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This is Nigerian novelist Adichie’s third novel, but the first I've read. The story centers around a smart, strong-willed Nigerian woman named Ifemelu. After university, she travels to America for postgraduate work, where she endures several years of near-destitution, and a horrific event that upends her world. She finds her way, winning a fellowship at Princeton, and gaining acclaim for her blog, called “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black." A highlight: Adichie seamlessly weaves blog posts—about race, national identity, class, poverty, and hair—into the narrative. The novel grapples with difficult issues without becoming overwrought. I would not have read this based on the flap copy, but I was hooked from page one. Haunting, moving, incredibly well done. Terrific on audio.
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If you've ever daydreamed about what it might be like to attend culinary school, wonder no longer: you can vicariously experience the training of a top-tier chef through the eyes of journalist Ruhlman, who talked his way into the CIA because he thought the resulting experience would make for a good book. He was right. Ruhlman finds the CIA to be a world of imposing personalities, towering egos, high drama, and amazing food. You'd never guess that the making of a brown sauce, the unmolding of a terrine, or the trussing of a chicken could be occasions for high drama, but in Ruhlman's hands, these culinary adventures read like the pages of a spy thriller. The first of a trilogy.
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This title comes from the Victorian Era’s literal language of flowers, which they relied on to convey feelings rarely spoken of: ardor and friendship, jealousy and envy, infidelity and grief. We meet Victoria Jones on her eighteenth birthday: the day she is emancipated from foster care. Though fluent in the language of flowers, Victoria uses her flowers to communicate distrust and discord. But as she strikes out on her own, she comes to learn that the language of flowers is more complicated than she was taught to believe. This beautiful debut is easy-reading, yet has depth and feeling. Ultimately, it’s a redemption story. And who doesn't love a good redemption story?
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Moriarty’s particular talent is to write novels that read like the fluffiest fluff … but have a depth that will stay with you long after you turn the last page, thanks to her sharp insights into human nature. This story follows three moms who have children in the same kindergarten class in an idyllic Australian seaside community. Parents behaving badly provide plenty of fodder for wicked humor. This is Moriarty at her finest, right up there with What Alice Forgot. Darkly comic: this is summer reading with an edge.
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Dystopian novels abound, but they’re not usually this fun. It’s 2044 and the world is in shambles, so who can blame Wade Watts if he’d rather live in a virtual reality than the real one? Like many of his peers, Wade spends his waking hours by himself, logged into a virtual reality game, racing through a computerized scavenger hunt in which his success depends on his knowledge of obscure ‘80s pop culture references. Sounds like geek heaven, right? But here’s the thing: I couldn’t care less about video games or John Hughes movies, but this exceptional book hooked me from page one. The audio version (read by Wil Wheaton) is fantastic. Suspenseful, funny, and insightful.
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Chiaverini’s new historical novel was inspired by the life of Mildred Harnack, a real historical figure whose story was previously untold because the U.S. government deliberately buried it after the war. Harnack was one of dozens of members of the network of American and German resistance fighters the Gestapo called die Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra). The bulk of the action takes places between the wars, beginning in 1929; I was initially surprised that a novel about Nazi Germany before and during WWII began SO early, but Chiaverini’s chosen timeline serves her story well: as a reader, you see events escalate over time through these women’s eyes: first they’re incredulous, then increasingly horrified, all the while asking each other, what do we do? The setup feels leisurely but the payoff is worth it. Recommended reading for fans of We Were the Lucky Ones.
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After botching the biggest case of her career, journalist Leah Stevens needs a fresh start. After a chance encounter with an old roommate, both girls decide to make a new life for themselves in an unlikely place—rural Pennsylvania. Leah is desperate to avoid any attention that might resurrect the deadly mistakes of her past, and she succeeds—until a girl who looks unnervingly like her is found, bludgeoned, in a nearby ravine. And her friend has disappeared. The ensuing hunt to discover what really happened left me reeling—I had no idea who was at fault, and what would happen next, and I loved it for that. From the author of All the Missing Girls. Publication date: April 11.
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Violet and Finn were meant to be—anyone who knows their story knows that much. Yet three years into their marriage, Violet walks into the hotel room she's sharing with her husband and son and finds that Finn is gone—and he's taken their son with him. In a matter of days, her picture-perfect marriage is revealed to be something else, maybe even something sinister: Finn is wanted on a kidnapping charge, and Violet wonders if she ever knew him at all. I love that the plot hinges on a Craigslist "missed connections" posting, and the atypical Cincinnati setting is satisfying and believable. Publication date: March 28.
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This modern-day version of The Parent Trap is fun for the whole family. This collaboration between two highly successful authors—one who primarily writes for kids, the other for grown-ups—features two twelve-year old girls living on opposite coasts who strike up an unwanted correspondence after they discover their single fathers fell in love at a building conference and are now dating. This relationship is not good news to either of them, as they make clear in the ensuing emails that comprise the book. Their situation goes from bad to worse when their fathers force them to attend the same summer camp, hoping they’ll become friends. Things go horribly wrong in more ways than one, but there's not a single page here that doesn’t feel fresh, funny, charming, and real. A big-hearted story for readers of all ages. For fans of C.C. Payne’s The Thing About Leftovers and Rebecca Stead’s The List of Things That Will Not Change.
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Shorr puts a fictional spin on real-life Brazilian folk heroes Lampião and Maria Bonita in this lyrical debut. After enduring 6 years of a loveless in-name-only marriage to a man she couldn’t stand, Maria Bonita leaves to become the wife of Lampião, Brazil’s beloved bandit, whose vigilante justice is indisputably more fair than the official kind. Soon Maria earns renown as the fiercest woman in Brazil, the queen of a band of merry outlaws. A well-paced novel, if not a page-turner: don’t give up when the going is slow in the first two chapters. It gets better. Evocative and moving.
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If you're the type that tends to over-romanticize the City of Lights, let David Lebovitz snap you back to reality. As an American expat who chose to move to France, he loves Paris—but he also has no qualms about exposing the ridiculous, baffling, and frustrating side of le France. (I still laugh when I think of his claim that he didn't REALLY feel like he belonged until the day he put on dress pants and a freshly ironed shirt to take out the trash). Lebovitz's niche is food writing, and while you'll hear plenty of stories of navigating the city, you'll also find food on nearly every page. Plan to be inspired to make (or at least eat) French favorites like warm goat cheese salad, chocolate mousse, and macarons. A perfect read for those who have lived in Paris, been to Paris, or just want a good laugh.
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Polly’s life is in ruins: in one fell swoop, she’s lost her business, her boyfriend, and her flat. She can’t afford a place in town, so she’s forced to move out of the city—way out of the city, to a remote British island town, in a flat above an abandoned shop. (Everyone’s reaction to her new home: shouldn’t this place be condemned?) Polly turns to baking to cheer herself up, and before long her favorite hobby turns into something more substantial than she ever dared to dream. (Many readers will appreciate the lack of lascivious scenes. Her characters aren’t all chaste, but that action happens offscreen.) A sweet and multilayered story about starting over, with lots of heart, perfect for fans of Emily Giffin and Jojo Moyes.
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See spins a tale of female friendship spanning eighty years, set against the backdrop of history in an incredible setting—the very real South Korean island of Jeju. On Jeju, women are the breadwinners, making their families’ livings by free-diving into the chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean, harvesting seafood to sell, while the husbands stay home with the children. This tradition has gone on for thousands of years, and we see it lived out in the lives of Young-sook Mi-ja. The two girls become fast friends as seven-year-olds in 1938, but their respective marriages take them down different paths, and bring unforeseen tensions into their relationship. (The real historical events woven into the pages make for heartrending reading.)  A second storyline, set in 2008, gives readers hints of what may have caused the rift between the girls, but it’s only in the final pages that all is revealed. A fascinating, rewarding story of strong women, little-known history, and human resilience.
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Kit and Laura first came together because of a common obsession: they're eclipse chasers, who travel the world to experience solar eclipses firsthand. The story opens when the two are married, expecting their first children (twins!), and taking pains to keep any trace of their existence off the internet. We soon learn this is because of an event they witnessed at an eclipse festival in 1999, which, along with the subsequent trial, had devastating consequences for all involved, consequences that still endanger them today—and we're about to find out just how much. A fabulous psychological thriller. Publication date: June 27.
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Center's novels read as easy as the fluffiest chick lit, but they run surprisingly deep, and are emotionally wise. Libby is attempting to rebuild her life, and that of her two kids, after her husband died in a car crash two years ago. But she's finally had enough of living with her crazy mother, and moves out to the Texas hill country to try out a new life on her crazy Aunt Jean's goat farm. This short and easy read has a familiar arc: girl in a mess, girl sees the light, girl finds happiness, yet its themes of family, forgiveness, and redemption make it worth your while. Recommended reading for Brené Brown fans.
To millions of Americans, Abbi Hope Goldstein is known as simply "Baby Hope"—the subject of an iconic 9/11 photograph that shows her being carried to safety while Tower 1 collapses in the background. Abbi is 17 now, and her face remains instantly recognizable. For her own painful reasons, Abbi wants to enjoy one final carefree summer while she can, as an anonymous camp counselor, not as a 9/11 icon. But then she meets Noah, a teen with his own devastating 9/11 history, who knows exactly who she is, and wants her help finding answers that have long eluded him about that tragic day. Her subject matter may be heavy, but Buxbaum's light touch makes this both emotionally resonant and surprisingly funny. A great story, well told, for teen and adult readers.
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The first in a YA trilogy, rooted in Russian and Slavic myth, in which each new book is better than the one before. During a terrifying encounter on the magically-created Shadow Fold, quiet and passive Alina discovers her remarkable gift: she is a sun summoner. As she studies with the magical elite, she begins to understand how she has the power to save her kingdom—or ruin it, if her gift falls into the wrong hands. A magical coming-of-age story.
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While shopping one night, Le Cordon Bleu grad Flinn bumps into a woman whose cart is filled with hyper-processed food. They strike up a conversation, and it turns out the woman simply can’t cook. Following this grocery store epiphany, Flinn collects 9 volunteers--all non-cooks--for weekly cooking lessons, and The Kitchen Counter Cooking School is born. Flinn’s belief in the power of home cooking is contagious, and her foundational (and fantastic) recipes might just change the way you cook.
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A new literary mystery, scavenger-hunt style, from the author of The Bookman's Tale and First Impressions. Arthur is a staid and steady—perhaps a trifle boring?—old-school Brit; Bethany is a techie American who's come to his English library to digitize his beloved ancient manuscripts. Arthur's smitten, yet quite concerned—will she interfere with his personal quest for the Grail? Books, romance, and literary high jinx—what's not to love? Publication date: February 28.
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Some might try to categorize this as “religious fiction,” but that wouldn’t be quite right—unless your religious fiction typically comes with lots of romance, psychoanalysis, and sex. Glittering Images is the first book in the Starbridge series, set in the Church of England in the 1930s, and later, the 1960s. That may not sound like your idea of a page turner, but the characters are rich and engaging and the stories suck you in. Each of the series’ six books is self-contained, but is told from the perspective of a different character: taken together, they make a magnificent composite. Recommended by the likes of Anna Quindlen and Jacqueline Winspear. Now that's high praise.
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Dimple and Rishi are destined to marry—their parents arranged it years ago. And when both teens decide they want to attend the same residential summer program, their parents think there's no harm in letting them get to know each other. Rishi can't wait to meet—and woo—his future wife over the summer. But, unbeknownst to Rishi, Dimple's parents haven't told her anything. Can you saw awkward? When they meet, sparks fly—and not the good kind. At least not at first. This is bubble-gum feel-good Bollywood YA, tons of fun and surprisingly insightful. Publication date: May 30.
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Rubin’s much anticipated follow-up to her happiness books is all about habits: how we make them, why we break them, and how we can improve them. That may not strike you as poolside fare, but the chatty writing, illuminating insights, and story-driven narrative make this guidebook anything but dry and boring. Packed with relatable tales from Rubin’s life, which are easy to apply to your own. If you put them into practice, this book will change your life. Practical, engaging, entertaining.
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When Hugo Wilkinson’s girlfriend Margaret unexpectedly breaks up with him, he’s left with a broken heart and an extra ticket for the trip of a lifetime they’d planned to take together between high school and college. It would be a grand adventure and an opportunity for Hugo to get out of his siblings’ shadow for a bit. As one of the famed Surrey sextuplets, there’s very little he gets to do on his own. That’s why Hugo would be happy to travel alone, but there’s a catch—Margaret Campbell booked the nonrefundable, nontransferable tickets for their cross-country American rail adventure in her name, which means if the trip is going to happen, he needs to find another Margaret Campbell. What follows is a story of chance, friendship, coming out of  your shell, and into your own … while maybe finding love on the way. Part coming-of-age story, part romance, part travel adventure, and wholly absorbing.
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