The best of the best summer reading for 2014

Rules of Civility- Amor Towles

One more data-driven post, and then we’re back to our regular programming. Honest.

I’m a data junkie, and as such, I’ve been watching the summer reading numbers all summer. I only have the skills to track so much information, but I can definitely tell which books readers are clicking on and which books readers are buying. I thought you might also be interested in hearing which books were the most popular summer reading picks this summer.

As far as reading guide categories were concerned, it was no contest: breezy novels and gripping novels left the rest of the pack in the dust. (If you love to root for the underdog, foodie memoirs should have been your summer pick.)

Today I’m sharing the most popular books on the blog this summer, measured by outbound clicks. Are you surprised? I sure was. Although it doesn’t make me a teeny bit sad to think of all of you reading all of these books.


The Likeness

The Likeness


In the second of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series, which can be read in any order, detective Cassie Maddux is pulled off her current beat and sent to investigate a murder. When she arrives at the scene, she finds the victim looks just like her, and—even more creepy—she was using an alias that Cassie used in a previous case. The victim was a student, and her boss talks her into trying to crack the case by impersonating her, explaining to her friends that she survived the attempted murder. The victim lived with four other students in a strangely intimate, isolated setting, and as Cassie gets to know them, liking them almost in spite of herself, her boundaries—and loyalties—begin to blur. A taut psychological thriller that keeps you guessing till the end.

More info →
What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot

Alice is 29, expecting her first child, and crazy in love with her husband—or at least she thinks she is, but then she bumps her head and wakes up on the gym floor, to find that she’s actually a 39-year-old mother of 3 who’s in the middle of divorcing the man she’s come to hate. She doesn’t know what’s happened to her these past 10 years, or who she’s become. She’s about to find out. Interesting, readable, and surprisingly thought-provoking. I inhaled this like it was chick lit, but found myself mulling it over for weeks after I finished. More info →
The Time in Between

The Time in Between

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. More info →
Glittering Images

Glittering Images

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. More info →
The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper

I’ve loved (almost) all of Morton’s novels, but The Secret Keeper is her finest. When she was 16, Laurel witnessed a violent crime involving her mother, Dorothy. The family hushed it up, and Laurel hasn’t spoken of it since. Now, fifty years later, Dorothy is dying, and Laurel is determined to unravel the secret while there’s still time. As Laurel pursues her clues, the story flips back and forth in time between today and the years before and during World War II, including the London Blitz, which Morton recreates so vividly you can almost hear the bombs dropping. Filled with twists and turns that will keep you guessing to the end. More info →


The Sea of Tranquility

The Sea of Tranquility

This novel from my YA summer reading list is one of the best books I’ve read in 2014. It’s well written and un-put-down-able, and I just love the story (which I think reveals some of my own personal prejudices. I’m a sucker for young love.) If you loved Eleanor and Park, you’ll love this one. More info →
Rules of Civility

Rules of Civility

This Gatsby-esque novel surprises with shocking plot twists, including the unforgettable ending. A dazzling debut, with a literary feel, and a glittering, glamorous depiction of New York circa 1938 and characters whose lives turn on one impulsive decision. This was the most popular book on the blog this summer. More info →
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

I’ll bet you weren’t assigned this breezy Cinderella-ish story set in 1930s Britain back in English class. When a placement agency sends unemployed Miss Pettigrew to the wrong address, she spends the best day of her life with a glamorous nightclub singer, extricating her hour by hour from one scrape after another. Light, charming and utterly delightful. More info →
I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle

I can see why this 1940s classic makes so many people’s desert island book lists. 17-year-old Cassandra is a remarkable narrator, who captures her eccentric family’s daily life—in their ramshackle old English castle—in her diary. Replete with love, magic, writer’s block, and bear costumes. More info →
Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park

I finished this one on a weekday afternoon when I was supposed to be working, because all I wanted to do was finish this book. It’s a novel about teenagers, in love, but I suspect it’s more for the adults who survived the teen years than the teenagers living through them. The framing makes all the difference to this one: pay attention to the way Rowell cites Romeo & Juliet. It matters. More info →

What were your favorite books of the summer? Please share in comments.


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      • Sara K. says:

        I loved The Forgotten Garden as well as Morton’s first book The House at Riverton. I haven’t finished The Distant Hours or The Secret Keeper yet, but they are on my list!

    • Katie Mc. says:

      I’m probably in the minority on this one, but The House At Riverton was my favourite of hers. I haven’t read The Forgotten Garden yet, though.

      • Anne says:

        Really? It was my least favorite, but I wonder how much of that had to do with it being the last one I read. I might have felt differently if I had read her novels in the order of publication.

        • Katie Mc. says:

          Yeah, I get that. I think the order in which books by the same author are read can really affect how much you enjoy and perceive them. I read Riverton first, & couldn’t get enough of the upstairs/downstairs worlds of the manor house (Downton Abbey withdrawal, maybe 🙂 Plus, the heartbreaking twists at the end really blew me away. The Secret Keeper did too, but I read that one second, so I was kind of measuring it against The House At Riverton the whole time.

    • Whitney says:

      Sorry I hit enter in my phone before I was finished. I read “What Alice Forgot,” “Time in Between,” “Eleanor and Park,” “Rules if Civility” and the first book in the Dublin Murder Squad Series “In the Woods” this summer. My favorite was “What Alice Forgot.” I started reading it on your recommendation without knowing what it was about and it hasreally stuck with me. My least favorite was Eleanor and Park but that was still enjoyable. Great recommendations! Thank you so much. I am not surprised these were the most popular.

      • Kate says:

        I read “In the Woods” over the holiday weekend and couldn’t put it down, though I wish the ending hadn’t left so many loose ends. Just got “The Likeness” and plan to devour it this weekend.

        Among my other summer reads, I really enjoyed “What Alice Forgot” and “Evensong.” “The Expats” and the first two books in the Southern Reach trilogy were good escapist page-tuners.

  1. Julia R. says:

    I also enjoyed Someday, Someday, Maybe, Parnassus on Wheels, Evensong, Beautiful Ruins, and Wait Till Next Year. I read but did not love The Giver.

  2. Esther says:

    I can’t believe how many of these books I’ve read! I thoroughly enjoyed Rules of Civility and couldn’t put down What Alice Forgot. I have lots of the other titles on my Goodreads “to read” shelf. So many books, so little time! 🙂

  3. Faith R says:

    I am taking this list to my library’s request site like NOW. I really loved “What Alice Forgot” the plot sucked me in and the idea of suddenly waking up to your life ten years later has stuck with me, especially her less uptight view of motherhood. I read “the Husband’s Secret” right before and thought it was funny that they both are written from three female perspectives.
    I also Could Not Put Down “Eleanor & Park” I loved it, I hated it, I didn’t want it to end.
    I will definitely look at the Kate Morton book. I have tried a couple of her books and couldn’t get into them. I enjoyed “The Forgotten Hours” quite a lot.

  4. Sara K. says:

    Several of the books you listed are on my TBR list, but one of my favorites I read this summer was A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn. I love Raybourn’s Lady Julia Gray books, but I was hesitant to read her new book (not part of that series). I am so glad I gave it a chance! It reached a surprising level of depth and emotion. I hope there will be more books in this series as well (I think there’s a short novella available already).

    Oh, and of COURSE I devoured Diana Gabaldon’s new book, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. I am currently going through the whole series again on audio while I’m working 🙂

  5. Whitney W says:

    Okay, here are the books on my list—which one should I pick?
    1. The Forgotten Garden
    2. The Distant Hour
    3. Outlander–heard its great, but havent started it yet.

    • Julia R. says:

      Forgotten Garden and Outlander are on my list, too. I have read and loved The Distant Hours. It’s a good read on a dark and rainy day!

    • Anne says:

      I haven’t read Outlander yet, but it’s waiting for me at the library. When I posted about it on facebook, I received many warnings for graphic content, so take that into consideration. But I really think you could pick one of these blindfolded and be happy with your choice. 🙂

  6. Jeannie says:

    I read the Susan Howatch books about 10 years ago (my book club did one of them, too), and I remember being so drawn in to them. The plot twists are fascinating but the inner growth of the characters is even more so.

    I read I Capture the Castle this summer, and so did my daughter; we both thoroughly enjoyed it. We also watched the movie together. It’s well done in many ways but it couldn’t really, uh, “capture” Cassandra’s unique personality, how she matures and shows so much courage toward the end of the book. Still worth checking out, though.

  7. Angie Pearl says:

    I enjoyed Eleanor and Park and What Alice Forgot. I also read Fangirl and Attachments. I absolutely loved Fangirl. I read some JoJo Moyes. I loved Rules by Cynthia Lord. I read Cinder and Scarlet and they were entertaining although Cinder was a little predictable in some places. I just picked up One Plus One and Miss Pettigrew lives for a day. I am currently reading The Arsonist by Sue Miller.

  8. Laura says:

    From the guide: What Alice Forgot (loved), The Rosie Project (fun), Someday, Someday, Maybe & Garlic and Sapphires (reading now), and also What Matters in Jane Austen? Non-reading guide favorites: the Flavia de Luce series!, Call the Midwife (excellent), Letter to My Daughter (Maya Angelou), Jane Austen: A Life (Tomalin), Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal. Maybe next year there could be a general Memoirs section? Thanks for putting this together! It has been very helpful!

    • Beth says:

      I like the idea of a memoirs section on the reading guide! I am only recently discovering how much I really enjoy them — they read like fiction but for some reason, knowing they are true makes them resonated more.

    • Anne says:

      I need to read the Call the Midwife books, and watch the series! I’ve heard nothing but good things.

      The previous summer reading guides had a memoir category—check them out if you don’t want to wait till next May. 🙂

  9. Nancy says:

    Loved this information. Thanks for sharing!

    My favorites this summer have been What Alice Forgot and The Husband’s Secret, both by Moriarty. I loved This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. I found it to be laugh-out-loud funny and I can’t wait to see the movie which releases on Sept. 19; a great cast lineup. And last but not least, The Expats by Chris Pavone. Similarities to Gone Girl and The Bourne Supremacy.

    • Anne says:

      My husband just read The Expats and loved it. (I told him he might. 🙂 ) I’ve heard Pavone’s next book, The Accident, is even better. I began This is Where I Leave You back in the spring but never finished. I might have to pick it back up because I want to see Tina Fey and Justin Bateman in the movie!

  10. I read so many books this summer I’m almost embarrassed about it. I think my favorites were All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg, The Language of Flowers, Bel Canto, and The Invention of Wings.

  11. Anne says:

    Rules of Civility and The Secret Keeper are two I’ve gotten from the library but didn’t get a chance to get into or even start. I do look forward to trying them again! Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is creeping up my list because it sounds so funny.

    Enjoyed the data! 🙂

  12. Katie Mc. says:

    Hands down, my favourite book I read this summer was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Thank you so much for including that one in the guide.

    Honourable mentions go to One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson, The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and Bridget Jones Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding.

    One I HATED: Bel Canto.

    • Anne says:

      You hated Bel Canto?? I’d love to hear you unpack that a bit more.

      I still haven’t read Mad About the Boy. I want to, except I heard a key piece of plotting that makes me hesitant to pick it up. Glad to hear it made your best-of-the-summer list.

  13. Corby says:

    Three Dog Life was a wonderful memoir. Short, thought-provoking, quick read.

    Series by M.L. Gardner starts with 1929 Johnathan’s Cross. Story of six friends in the depression. Each book in the series is told from a different character’s perspective.

    A Dog’s purpose will make you laugh, cry, and reflect on your life.

    • Susan says:

      I thought Three Dog Life was a lovely book – and yes, very thought-provoking. I read it a long time ago and loved it, so I now have it on my Kindle if I want to re-read arts.

      With that in mind, I should probably try A Dog’s Purpose,yes?

      I read my first Kate Morton, The House at Riverton. I’m looking forward to another very soon. I wonder which one is recommended?

  14. Rachel says:

    I just finished The Likeness on your recommendation–so good. I think Glittering Images sounds really interesting, and I’m on hold at the library for The Secret Keeper (I need a good Morton pick-me-up after The House at Riverton let me down).

    • Anne says:

      I’m so glad you liked The Likeness! That’s my favorite of hers so far, although I still haven’t read Faithful Places (can’t do it after HATING Broken Harbor), and I’ve heard great things about her new one that just came out a few days ago.

      And about The House at Riverton? I know. It was her first novel. She gets better!

  15. Beth says:

    I read The Poisonwood Bible for the first time this summer and the writing is some of the best I’ve ever read. I was a little disappointed with the ending but it still warranted four stars on Goodreads because the writing was simply amazing.

    Just finished Same Kind of Different as Me, and it’s a quick, Christian read that tackled a lot of interesting themes: poverty, illness, race, fidelity, faith. Memoir-type from two perspectives. Good writing here, too.

    In light of all the ALS ice bucket challenges this month, I thought the book Until I Say Good-bye was a timely read — the author has ALS (she recently passed away) and wrote the entire book on her iPhone. Just for that it was kind of amazing.

    The One Good Thing by Kevin Alan Milne was a little cheesy but I found myself breezing through it in an afternoon. What I like about all of his books is that they’re completely light and fluffy but often have a good theme worth thinking on — *and* they’re completely wholesome; no language or sex.

    And for kids, my nine-year-old son loved Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, and all of my kids have been enjoying the Moongobble and Me series that we’re reading aloud.

    Thanks for all the great recommendations! I love the book posts. Makes me want to read more! (I’m reading the charming Daddy Long Legs right now based off of your review of Dear Mr. Knightley … Knightley is next!)

  16. AnnieM says:

    For those of you who are Kate Morton fans, I have read the Secret Keeper, The Forgotten Garden and The Distant Hours, and BY FAR my favorite was The Forgotten Garden. LOOOOVED it.

  17. Grace says:

    Great list of books! Lots I’ve read, and lots I’ll have to check out. Some of my favourite books that I read this summer include Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Looking for Alaska, and Daring Greatly.

  18. Sonja says:

    I read The Fault in Our Stars, Parnassus on Wheels, Thinking: Fast and Slow, and Dear Mr. Knightley. The fiction was engaging, and Kahneman’s book about the two ways we all process information and decisions was fascinating. It took me three weeks to finish it, but it was so worth it! (All of them -except for TFiOS- because of your blog, Anne. Thanks! 🙂

  19. Joelle says:

    The Sea of Tranquility is one of my favorite books ever, and I definitely didn’t expect it when I picked it up for the first time. I am with you on the young love part – it’s my favorite! Perhaps because I married my own high school sweetheart 🙂 Off to discover the rest of the books on your list, thanks for sharing!

  20. Emily says:

    What Alice Forgot and Eleanor & Park were two of my favorites. I also loved another Alice book: Still Alice, a book that chronicles a Harvard professor’s coming to terms with early-onset Alzheimer’s. It was real and incredibly gripping. I inhaled the last two hundred pages.

  21. Emily says:

    I’m one of your more unusual readers then! I read (and loved) Garlic and Sapphires, A Three Dog Life, and The Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. Thanks for the great recommendations. Even though the other categories were more popular, the memoir categories were the most interesting to me!

    • Anne says:

      I loved Garlic and Sapphires, too. Ruth Reichl’s novel Delicious! just missed making the non-reading guide cut here, and The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap just missed making the reading guide superlatives list.

  22. amanda june says:

    Of these, I read What Alice Forgot and Attachments. [Oops…you’re talking about Eleanor & Park. Nevermind. But I read Attachments this summer. You shared a link to that, too, didn’t you? I’ll go on with my comment anyway.] Honestly, I was quite disappointed with What Alice Forgot. I’d read a couple other Liane Moriarty books first and really enjoyed them (The Husband’s Secret, The Last Anniversary) and found WAF to feel comparatively empty, predictable, and just not as enjoyable.

    Attachments was…okay. Fluffier than I expected. (I realize with Moriarty we’re already in full-on entertainment fluff territory here.) It felt like reading a just-so-so romantic comedy. It was just fine. Not unlikeable characters, but nothing that really moved me, as I recall. Not unentertaining, but not something I was sad to be finished with. I don’t think I’d read another of Rowell’s titles.

  23. Kelty says:

    Foodie memoirs may have been the underdog list but I really really enjoyed Delancey. Much more than I thought I would. And I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise. So thanks!

  24. Sloan says:

    I tried all summer to read The Agony and The Ecstasy, but I just had to quit. I just finished The Book Thief (I liked the end, but it was SLOW), and am now almost done with Insurgent. It’s nice having quick, easy reads.

    Also, another note for your site redesign, have a place where I can go to the comments at the bottom of your post. As petty as it sounds, it’s a little annoying to scroll back up to the top of a post to comment, especially when it’s a longer one!

  25. 'Becca says:

    I loved What Alice Forgot–thanks for the recommendation back sometime before Christmas that caused me to ask for the book for Christmas. I was intending to save it to read while nursing my baby born in May, but when I wound up being sick with bronchitis for all of January, I read the whole book in a couple of days. I’m now looking forward to forgetting enough of it that I can enjoy reading it again.

    I think I’ve reached that point with The Likeness, which I read back in 2011. Great, great book!

    Thanks for the other recommendations! Several of these look interesting.

    Much of my nursing-new-baby reading turned out to be murder mysteries by Ruth Rendell, because of a used-bookstore score. There wasn’t a dud in the bunch. Titles I particularly recommend:
    A Dark-Adapted Eye
    Wolf to the Slaughter
    Anna’s Book
    The Brimstone Wedding
    An Unkindness of Ravens

  26. Negan says:

    So sad that the Foodie books weren’t more popular! I absolutely devoured “Delancey” and am currently munching my way through Kathleen Flinn’s new book, “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing” So highly recommended!

  27. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for the book recommendations–I’ve just finished Rules of Civility (stayed up late! =) and a couple of weeks ago it was I Capture the Castle. I thoroughly enjoyed them both, and I don’t know that I would have heard of them except for your blog.

    (I did object to the bit in Rules of Civility when he makes Edith Wharton sound like a dried-up prude, though. I just read that had a secret affair with the man said to be the model for the main character of The Picture of Dorian Gray. So perhaps when she writes about high society’s rules she’s actually sympathetic to those who “go astray,” rather than those who uphold the standards!)

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