If you’re anything like me, you think summer is made for reading. But nothing is more frustrating than picking up the latest (and much-hyped) new release to find that even though it’s a bestseller, it’s not the right book for you.
How do you enjoy the hits without wasting time on the misses? Enter the summer reading guide.
This compact, user-friendly guide whittles the overwhelming array of readerly options down to these 25 titles with the tastes of MMD readers in mind. Reading is personal, and my goal in this guide is to help you discover the books that are perfect for you.
Every book in there has earned its spot, and I’ve personally read them all, front to back. I can vouch for them, and answer any questions you have. In every description, I give you the information you need to help you decide if that book sounds like a good fit for you.
Readers, I hope you find a book (or twelve) you LOVE on this list.
If you find something great in the Summer Reading Guide, would you spread the book love? Share on your favorite social media platform or with your favorite bookish friends. Our official hashtags are #summerstooshort—because summer is too short to read books you don’t love—and #IdRatherBeReading, because we’re all book lovers here. (Follow me on instagram @annebogel for summer reading goodness all season long.)
Happy summer, and happy reading!
This is a good place to find your first book of vacation, and I mean that in an entirely good way. These five novels make for breezy reading: you’ll be turning the pages at a steady clip. But don’t be fooled by the easy-reading style, because the content is anything but lightweight, featuring good writing, strong characters, and seriously substantial themes.
Guillory’s debut was inspired by frustration: she wanted to read more books about people like her and her friends: single, with jobs, and living in cities (instead of quirky small towns like you often see in romance). Oh, and she wanted to see black women in the pages. Enter The Wedding Date. Drew and Alexa meet cute in a broken-down elevator; sparks are flying within seconds. Drew’s in town to watch his ex marry his best friend (ouch). He doesn’t have a date, so he asks Alexa to come along—and pretend to be his girlfriend. But soon the fake relationship starts to feel surprisingly real. But they both have big jobs they love, in different cities. Drew’s track record with women isn’t great. Alexa is black, and Drew is white. In short: it gets complicated. But it’s a rom-com, so they’re going to see it through. Heads up, readers: this is seriously racy in parts.
If you picked this book up because of the cover, I wouldn’t blame you a bit. Zadie and Emma have been best friends since med school; now they’re practicing physicians in Charlotte. But when an old colleague comes to town, he stirs up long-buried secrets from the past. This story hinges on love and medicine gone wrong, but it’s the female friendships that really shine. The setting hooked me because it’s set alternately in Charlotte, where I spent some time last fall, and Louisville, where I’ve lived for years. If you love Gray’s Anatomy, this belongs on your TBR.
Giffin’s much-anticipated new novel tackles timely issues of race, privilege, consent, and social media. The story opens with a too-familiar occurence: a boy takes a racy photo of an intoxicated girl and shares it with his buddies who share it with theirs. Soon the whole school has seen it. The girl, Lyla, is a scholarship student who struggles to fit in at Nashville’s most prestigious prep school; the popular boy, Finch, belongs to one of the city’s most prominent families—and he claims it’s not his fault. Finch’s mom wants him to become a man of character, and resolves to find out what really happened. But Finch’s dad is concerned about “more important” things—like making sure Princeton doesn’t revoke Finch’s acceptance. The scandal forces the characters to rethink who they really want to be, and what kind of lives they truly want to live. Both fast-paced and thoughtful.
Marisa de los Santos returns to the characters she introduced in Love Walked In. The day before her wedding, Clare has cold feet. Enter Edith, an elderly stranger Clare connects with instantly, who nudges Clare to cancel her wedding to a man who scares her. Not long after, Clare receives notice that Edith has died, and bequeathed her a strange gift—her house. Clare seeks refuge there after her nonwedding, and soon learns hints of the past role the house—and Edith—played in a “relocation system” that served women fleeing domestic violence in the 1950s. The story flips back and forth in time between Clare’s current dilemma and the 1950s mystery. This is the sequel I didn’t know I wanted, easy to read while covering serious emotional territory, packed with literary references that will warm book lovers’ hearts.
Whether you choose domestic suspense, a police procedural, a noir detective novel, or a mystery from the history books, these engrossing mysteries have two things in common: they’ll have you reading “one last chapter” until 2:00 a.m., and will keep you guessing until the very end.
Well this is new: a murder mystery from Nantucket novelist Hilderbrand that brings back beloved past characters. Celeste and Benji’s wedding is supposed to the big event of the season … until Celeste finds her maid of honor’s body floating in the bay on her wedding day. She was up before dawn because she was sneaking away from the scene of the festivities with a packed bag. Everyone thought Celeste and Benji were the perfect couple, so what is going on? As the Nantucket police open their investigation, the timeline moves back and forth between the wedding weekend and the start of the couple’s relationship, allowing the reader to slowly put the pieces together. This easy-reading mystery features well-developed characters, a solid plot, plus the food and style readers expect from Hilderbrand.
Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns in Harper’s standalone follow-up to her bestselling debut The Dry, with a premise reminiscent of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Alice Russell is Falk’s insider source on a big money-laundering case he’s been working. When Alice disappears during a wilderness expedition with some of the targets of the probe, Falk suspects foul play and rushes to aid in the search. Falk and his teammate soon discover Alice and her respective team members each kept deadly secrets and bore old grudges. If he is to untangle the mystery, he must first untangle the knotted relationships. The setting, Australia’s brooding (and fictional) Giralang Ranges, is a character in itself in this intricately-plotted procedural.
In Strawser’s new domestic suspense, a tight-knit group of women gather around the backyard firepit, drink a little too much wine, and stay up way too late. By morning, one of them has vanished, and so have her children. As the authorities (and the women) begin to investigate what might have happened, they find they have more questions than answers, and the husband’s suspicious behavior has them all looking over their shoulders. Did their friend simply run away, or was she harmed, and above all—why? This would make an excellent companion to I’ll Be Your Blue Sky.
“It’s the sunburned shoulders that get him.” Laura Lippman’s new novel begins with a sexy stranger perched on a bar stool in small-town Delaware. The bartender senses she’s up to something, and he’s right—Polly just walked out in the middle of her family’s beach vacation, leaving her husband and three-year-old daughter behind, for good. What kind of woman abandons her family? Her husband thinks he knows, but he doesn’t know Polly’s been playing him for a long time, and she’s just getting started. Soon a handsome private eye is on her tail to untangle her web of crimes—and the surprising motivation behind them—although he might get ensnared in the process. Heads up for MMD Book Clubbers: this feels like a grown-up cousin to What I Saw and How I Lied.
In 1920 Germany, a woman named Anna Anderson was pulled out of a canal, claiming to be Anastasia Romanov, and bearing the scars of a violent attack. In her latest historical novel, Lawhon employs an unusual criss-crossing structure to tell both women’s stories, that of Anna Anderson (going backwards in time, from 1970, as she waits the court’s final ruling on her identity) and that of Anastasia Romanov (beginning in 1917, when her family is imprisoned, and moving forward in time). When the two stories converge, all is revealed. An intricately-crafted, page-turning, brain-bending mystery.
Family relationships are complicated—whether the ties are forged by biology, adoption, or choice—and those complications make excellent reading material. These books strike different tones, but the constant is the through line of love, need, and obligation.
A much-anticipated debut from former cellist Gabel. It’s the 1990s, and four promising musicians decide to forego the usual soloist path and bind their professional (and personal) lives to form a string quartet. Jana is driven, Henry a prodigy, Daniel a success through dogged determination, and Brit a bit of a wild card. With the feel of a dysfunctional family novel, the characters aren’t always likable but always ring true, and Gabel nails a wide range of human emotions—joy and pain, envy and fear, frustration and near-despair—as she portrays the group’s turbulent eighteen years together. An utterly believable and emotionally compelling submersion into the competitive world of classical music.
I adored Mirza’s slow-burning debut about an Indian-American Muslim family, which skillfully probes themes of identity, culture, family, and generational change. “I am to see to it that I do not lose you,” reads the epigraph (Whitman), and the story wonders if, despite our best intentions, one might nevertheless wound someone they love deeply enough to lose them, forever. The story opens with the oldest daughter’s wedding: the bride scans the crowd for her beloved yet rebellious brother, hoping he’ll appear despite being estranged from the family for years. Through a series of flashbacks, and in rotating points of view, Mirza examines the series of small betrayals that splintered the family, skillfully imbuing quotidian events—a chance meeting at a party, a dinner conversation about a spelling test—with deep significance, showing how despite their smallness, they irrevocably alter the course of the family’s life. The last section is a stunner, but grab the tissues first.
Ball wrote this strange and compelling book in honor of his brother Abram, who had Down Syndrome, and whose life was “something so tremendous, so full of light” that Ball wanted to capture the relationship on the page. Here he tells the story of a father and son on the road together (and yes, it’s reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road). When the unnamed father is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he wishes to take one more trip with his son, a boy with Down Syndrome, whose fate after his death concerns him greatly. They accept a job as census-takers for an unnamed government agency, tattooing those they’ve interviewed, quite literally traveling from town A to town Z, documenting the strange and varied encounters they have along the way.
The scene: late 1980s, Washington DC: diplomat’s wife Rebecca Stone has just given birth to her firstborn, and finds herself completely overwhelmed by the demands of new motherhood. Nurse Priscilla is the only person who soothes her anxieties, so much so that Rebecca persuades her to quit her job at the hospital to become her nanny. Rebecca is white; Priscilla is black—and their relationship opens Rebecca’s eyes to the comfortable truths of her own privilege. A few years later Priscilla’s own pregnancy ends in tragedy, and Rebecca steps forward to adopt Priscilla’s black baby. Her husband is baffled: is Rebecca really prepared for the realities of being a white woman with a black son? In this sensitive and sharply observed novel, Alam probes how far love and good intentions can go.
The guide doesn’t typically include books published after July 4, but this immersive debut is too good to leave out.After twenty years abroad, the Zhens return to their native China to take up residence among Shanghai’s nouveau riche. But deep unease lies behind the façade of their pampered lifestyle: husband Wei finds no satisfaction at work, wife Lina spends her days shopping and lunching, and both miss their daughter, who attends school in America. When Wei’s long-lost brother reappears, he stirs up a host of long-buried emotions, forcing Lina to revisit past choices she hid from her husband. The backdrop of contemporary Shanghai and a national festival highlights how the family embodies China’s current conflicts and complexities: rich vs poor, urban vs rural, old vs new values. A compelling story of class, culture, regret, and anxiety about the road not taken.
Each of these diverse novels features an independent-minded heroine, whether she’s a 60-year-old Bavarian widow, a 17-year-old teen on a mission, or a trail-blazing Zoroastrian attorney from a hundred years ago. The common thread: you’ll be wishing all the good things for the leading ladies on these pages.
In this light-hearted mystery, a Bavarian widow moves to Sicily and rediscovers her love of living. “On her sixtieth birthday my Auntie Poldi moved to Sicily, intending to drink herself comfortably to death with a sea view.” So says Poldi’s nephew Michael. But life gets in the way: when Poldi’s handyman goes missing, Poldi resolves to find him—with the help of the sexy police Commissario and a host of quirky Italians. Her quest brings Poldi back to life, and all she loves about it—namely prosecco, men, and gossip. Big-hearted and funny, smart and escapist: it’s like taking your own Italian vacation. Reading Challenge participants: this could be your book in translation, as it was originally written in German.
This debut isn’t for everyone, but some of you readers will LOVE it. (I did.) Alice and her mom have spent 17 years on the run, trying to dodge the persistent bad luck mysteriously connected to an unnerving book of stories penned by Alice’s estranged grandmother. When Alice’s grandmother dies, her mother thinks they’re free—until the day Alice comes home from school to discover Ella has been kidnapped, leaving behind a page torn from her grandmother’s book and a note: Stay away from the Hazel Wood. But Alice has to save her mom, so she enters what she slowly begins to see is her grandmother’s book of stories-come-to-life—and they suddenly look a lot more like horror than fantasy. This seriously twisted and sometimes bloody fairy tale reminds me of The Thirteenth Tale, with a dash of The Matrix.
Perveen Mistry is Bombay’s first female solicitor, employed by her father’s respected firm. When her father’s Muslim client dies, he is tasked with executing the will, but the three devout widows “stay behind the veil,” and must not be seen by men. When the duo discover irregularities in the estate documents, Perveen resolves to speak with the widows, because—as a woman—she’s the only one who can. Perveen is determined to protect their interests, not just because of her legal obligations but because of a disastrous past marriage, where she experienced firsthand the cruelty women can endure under the law. Toss in a murder investigation, and you get a tightly-crafted mystery, a vividly-drawn multicultural setting, and a plucky heroine fiercely taking on the challenges of her time.
This quirky little book is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Keiko was an uncommon child with worried parents until she takes on a job in a convenience store. They relax that she’s found a pleasant and predictable routine while at university. But eighteen years later, she is still working her low-level job, and doesn’t understand why society expects more from her than that. In fact, she doesn’t seem to understand society’s expectations—or how to conform to them—at all. And should she? Hot tip: critics are comparing Keiko to French heroine Amélie, although the two live different lives in different worlds.
A family drama about the quiet joys of making a life with the people you love—whether they’re family or not. Willa is a 61-year-old woman whose track record with men isn’t great, as we see through scenes set when she’s 11, 21, 41, and finally 61. They patronize her and expect to be waited on, while Willa doesn’t stand up for what she wants. Willa doesn’t even know what she wants. But then one day the phone rings, with news that her son’s ex-girlfriend has been shot in Baltimore, and the woman’s daughter—presumably Willa’s granddaughter—needs someone to look after her. It’s a misunderstanding—these people are strangers to Willa—but she travels to Baltimore to lend a hand. Willa settles in to the rhythms of the family’s life, finding herself appreciated for herself for the first time. I enjoyed this quiet novel with characters you can root for (and root against, depending).
Make no mistake: these literary novels aren’t messing around. HSP alert: these books deliver intense, sometimes fraught reading experiences. Expect strong writing, well-developed characters, and plots that tackle serious (and sensitive) issues head-on.
Roy and Celestial are young, middle-class, in love, and “on the come-up,” as Roy likes to put it. But only 18 months into their marriage, Roy is sentenced to twelve years in prison—for a crime he didn’t commit. Roy needs Celestial behind him if he is to survive. She needs to cut him loose if she is to do the same. In his letters, Roy writes, “I’m innocent.” But Celestial tells him, “I’m innocent, too.” If everyone is innocent, where does the fault lie? This is very much a book about mass incarceration—and it’s no coincidence that Roy is arrested, tried, and imprisoned in Louisiana, the state with the highest per-capita rate of incarceration, with a 4:1 ratio of black prisoners to white—but there’s little talk of “issues” in this book. Instead, this is a love story, though one gone horribly and irreversibly wrong.
Atlanta native Pittard’s new novel addresses themes that appear in today’s headlines, but she builds her story around an event from the history books: in 1962, a chartered jet crashed in Paris, with 121 influential leaders from Atlanta’s arts community on board. Pittard merges fact and fiction to explore the aftermath in a grieving community on the cusp of profound societal change, tracking three tense storylines over the course of one sweltering summer: a reporter whose mistress died in the crash, a talented African-American teen who runs away from home after being denied admission to a newly integrated school, and an aging diver whose long-buried and carefully-kept secrets are outed by the crash. The title references emerging secrets, as well as the Klan (whose full name is “The Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan”). Pittard deftly handles the dark and difficult content, but heads up: triggers abound.
I’ve been looking forward to this Beartown follow-up all year. You don’t need to love hockey to enjoy these books, because Backman tells you everything you need to know: “When you strip away all the nonsense surrounding it, the game is simple: everyone gets a stick, there are two nets, two teams. Us against you.” The rivalry is fierce: when Beartown’s hockey team loses its funding (thanks to a scheming politician who plays several of the town’s residents), resources—and players—get diverted to a rival team. The battle quickly escalates, on and off the ice, threatening friendships, marriages, careers, and whole lives. Dark and gritty, but peppered with moments of breath-catching hope. Definitely read Beartown first.
One of the best books I’ll read all year; my husband loved it, too. It’s 1974, and Leni Allbright’s father Ernt, a former Vietnam POW, suffers from terrifying PTSD. The family moves to Alaska in search of a fresh start, but they’re utterly unprepared for the harsh reality that greets them. As Large Marge says, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next…. Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” But she doesn’t yet know Leni fears the violence in her home more than the landscape. As winter draws near and darkness closes in, Ernt’s mental health deteriorates, with disastrous consequences for the family and community. Yet Leni will survive—and maybe even thrive. A riveting coming of age story featuring a fabulous setting, amazing female leads, and ultimate redemption. But wow, is it tense in the meantime.
Wolitzer ups her game in her ambitious new novel about two women of different generations living out the answers to the big unspoken question: what is it like to be female right now? During her first weekend in college, a serial abuser gropes Greer Kadetsky at a party. When feminist icon Faith Frank visits her school, the usually timid Greer summons the courage to ask what women are supposed to do “about how it is.” After Greer graduates, she persuades Faith to hire her so the women can change the world together. But Greer soon discovers even the best mentors are only human. The story’s length (640 pages!) gives Wolitzer ample room to explore growing up, female friendship, love and tragedy, and feminism’s history—and future. A tough read in places (strong language, abundant triggers) but these purposeful choices serve a powerful story.
In her powerful and timely debut, a cargo ship carrying 500 refugees fleeing war-torn Sri Lanka docks on Canada’s coast. The passengers think they’ve made it to safety. After all, in the words of one character, “Canada has a reputation for being a soft touch.” But government officials wonder if the ship holds members of a terrorist cell, and so all the occupants remain in detention until the national security crisis—whether real or imagined—is resolved. Bala uses three perspectives to great effect: a refugee, his lawyer, and a new adjudicator who feels woefully unprepared to make these potential life-or-death decisions. Based on an actual 2010 incident.