Best Summer Reads for Labor Day Weekend

Books a Million: Chick Lit, Life Inside a Concentration Camp & A Parallel Universe

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Reading, oh my. I have had very little time for this over the past month as we criss-crossed Tennessee and back again for our big state-wide mural festival. But prior to Walls for Women kicking off, I did whittle down my summer reading list ever so slightly. If you’re looking for a good book for the upcoming Labor Day weekend, I’ve got plenty to share.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

Actually, while I do have plenty to recommend, this first one is a novel  I wouldn’t tell you to go out and buy or even borrow. I’ve been waiting to watch Normal People on Hulu once I’ve read the book, and Sally Rooney’s first novel, Conversations with Friends, popped up in my library queue first before its successors. The characters are extremely unlikable—it’s all about a college girl having an affair with the husband of an acclaimed photographer she looks up to—and honestly I’m failing to see the mass appeal in this bestseller. Somebody please tell me Normal People is better? I felt like Conversations with Friends was a complete waste of a read for me when my list is brimming with much better books.

One Day in December by Josie Silver

Anyone else feeling the need to deviate from heavy reading right now in favor of some good, old-fashioned chick lit? It’s been a while since I’ve gravitated toward fluffy reads, but I indulged my former chick lit-loving self this summer and am going to have to incorporate this genre back into my regular rotation. While One Day in December wasn’t the best chick lit I’ve ever read, I quite enjoyed this predictable tale of a young girl in London who falls in love at first sight with a boy at a bus stop and only comes to cross paths with him years later. The book follows the two characters’ journeys through early adulthood and how they intersect, and while it wasn’t always a happy read—there’s some major trauma they each experience—overall, I’m glad I indulged.

Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

And then I went straight back into my dark hole of World War II. After Code Name Hélène earlier this year, it’s hard to think that anything else under the historical fiction umbrella will ever compare, and while Tattooist was nowhere near as well-written or compelling, it was a very different take on life for Jews during the Holocaust by being set inside the concentration camp. A vivid portrait of what it took to survive, this novel chronicles the life of Lale Sokolov—a Hungarian-born Slovak who tattooed prisoners’ numbers on their skin as they were admitted to the concentration camp—with whom the author spent three years interviewing before he died in 2006. Heavy warning that you’ll cringe in pain and possibly cry in agony as you dive into the misery of a prisoner’s life within the walls of Auschwitz, but it’s always important we confront our own history, right? Though Sokolov is deceased, this book had me going down many an Internet rabbit hold to read more about this fascinating figure’s life. 

Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris

One of Lale’s friends in Auschwitz was fellow Jew Cilka, and Heather Morris wrote that so many readers asked her what happened to Cilka she couldn’t not give the character a sequel. Let’s just say: Things did not go great for Cilka after she got out of the concentration camp; her being continuously raped by a high-ranking officer at Auschwitz got her branded as a collaborator and she was shipped off in a Soviet Gulag where she spends many years. It’s a tale of bravery and resilience, but it’s also a bit slow and of the two, I prefer Tattooist. I almost quit Cilka’s Journey about a third of the way through as I wasn’t feeling it, but I persevered and was glad I did; while a feel-good story this is not, it’s the first I’ve read where I learned about what happened to perceived collaborators in the gulag after the war was over.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

This whodunnit was one I saw on various book club summer reading lists, so I gave it a go. It’s a little bit Clue, a little bit Knives Out, a little bit cliche as the rich editor of a well-known glossy magazine in London marries a famous TV host/playboy on a small, vacant island off the coast of Ireland. You see where I’m going with this, right? In the opening pages, a dead body is found at the reception, and the book works its way back through who might be the murderer, told from the perspective of various narrators: the bride, the bride’s sister, the plus one, the wedding planner, the burnout best man. All in all, an entertaining beach read that you can tackle in an afternoon as it goes by pretty quickly.

Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

Anyone else a huge fan of Divergent? When I moved back to Tennessee nearly nine years ago, I tore through some dystopian YA trilogies, with Roth’s Divergent being a personal favorite. Well, she’s back with an adult fantasy novel about a quintet of “chosen ones” who saved the world from the Dark One, who in my head materialized as Voldemort’s evil twin. The book starts a decade after they saved the world, and you know it’s not all sunshine and roses. In the beginning, we learn about how the fame has altered their lives, and then the book quickly takes a darn turn when one of the chosen ones dies and three of the others are sucked into a parallel universe. Much in the vein of two of my favorite past TV shows, Lost and Dark, this book does veer too far off the path at times, leaving you scratching your head and trying to figure out what universe we’re in again. But I enjoyed it, and it seems as if Roth may be laying the ground work to turn this into a trilogy, as well.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I had already read Such a Fun Age prior to George Floyd’s murder, and once book recommendations by Black authors and depicting their very real daily struggles started cropping up, I knew I had to prioritize The Hate U Give. I read the book and watched the movie; both are excellent and also disturbing. While I’ll never know what it’s like to be Black in America, this fictional read was eye-opening as it follows a high school-aged girl, Starr, who attends a prestigious, mostly white prep school and has to balance that with the upbringing in the poor neighborhood in which she lives. Early on in the book, her life changes dramatically after the boy she likes is senselessly murdered by a cop who pulls him over (art imitating reality for sure, ugh). The rest of the novel follows how she and her family handle the murder, both publicly and within their own community. A must-read for all.

Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman

This story about a woman who copes with separation anxiety, a pending divorce and a rebellious teenage son who hates her by wearing her dog in a Baby Bjorn is a major downer and one I ultimately quit a third of the way through. Skip.


Right now I’m in the middle of The Nickel Boys, which is beautifully written but a tough read due to the subject matter of Black beatings during the Civil Rights Movement, so I’ll report back when I’m finished. I’m also waiting somewhat impatiently for the 200 people ahead of me in line to read The Vanishing Half. I might have to forgo the library and buy this one at Parnassus instead!

What’s on your holiday weekend reading agenda?

  • August 27, 2020

    I always look forward to your book rec posts.
    I just wanted to pop in and suggest that you do some googling about Morris and her two WWII books. There is a lot of controversy surrounding those books, especially regarding her relationship with the families of the characters she’s writing about.

  • September 4, 2020

    Adding some of these to my To Read list!

    • September 17, 2020

      I read “American Royals” (so fun) and “Bunny” (so demented) since this post and am now working on “The Lions of Fifth Avenue.” What are you reading, Molly??

      • September 17, 2020

        Right now I have a few books going, American Royals being one of them! Also, The Other Typist, which is good so far, and I just finished Jenny Colgan’s new book, 500 Miles From You, which I really enjoyed. (I just love her books. They make me want to move to the Scotland Highlands!) And of course there is an ever-growing stack on my nightstand and Kindle queue, including the Heir Affair, which is the follow up to the Royal We.

        • October 5, 2020

          I remember not liking The Royal We at all because the writing was just meh (but loved American Royals). Is the sequel better?

          And thanks for the other recommendations. Just added them to my library list!

          • October 5, 2020

            You know, it’s been so long since I read the Royal We that I think I blocked out the mediocre writing part. Ha! I haven’t started Heir Affair yet, but will let you know!

  • September 16, 2020

    Hi Kristin – I loved reading your reviews of The Tattooist of Auschwitz and Cilka’s Journey! You might be interested to listen to an interview I’ve just done with Heather Morris on the Love Your Library podcast for Hampshire Libraries: Let me know what you think!

    • September 17, 2020

      I absolutely am. Thank you for sharing!

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