This summer has me reading three books in a weekend, then none for two weeks—it’s been such weird pacing with the onslaught of this never-ending news cycle, not to mention our kitchen remodel and exterior work. Still, when I compiled my list from the past few months, I’ve finished 16 books—and skipped out another two that just weren’t doing it for me—and wanted to share my top summer reads with you before the pool days have passed us by.
Falling by TJ Newman
I read this book in three hours this week, so if you’re looking for a quick read or something to get you past a rut, I could not recommend it more highly. Written by a first-time author who was a flight attendant for a decade, Falling poses the question of a pilot: If you had to choose between your family and a plane full of innocent souls, who would you choose? Bill is in this very predicament when a terrorist puts him in an impossible position.
The entire 288-page novel takes place during that four-hour flight from LA to NYC, and I felt as if I were in the cockpit with the pilot. I give it five stars for the enjoyment factor and the fact that it reminded me of beloved 90’s suspense movies like Air Force One (even the cover is reminiscent of the genre, right?). Looking forward to more from this talented writer.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
This was an impulse vacation read for me, and not one I knew anything about other than it was one of the biggest bestsellers of the last year. I could not put it down. The book has a gruesome start with a Mexican journalist and his family murdered by the cartel. The two survivors—his wife, a bookseller, and their young son—set forth on a grueling journey from Acapulco to Texas via La Bestia, the migrant train, as they thwart attempts of capture and meet fellow survivors along the way.
I won’t comment on the controversy, but I’ll say that I love this book and it did encourage me to download memoirs from a few of the Latinx authors who have actually lived this live.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
I liked this book a lot. I would have liked it more had it been 30 percent shorter (maybe it’s the editor in me, but why are publishers letting books go 100 pages more than they need to be?). Born in 1700’s France, Addie LaRue makes a deal with the devil, quite literally, when she trades her soul for immortality. The catch? No one will ever remember her (meaning her life is a series of 30-minute interactions).
The writing in this book is positively beautiful as Addie travels through both place and time—it will give you wanderlust, as well as have you rethinking the concept of eternal mortal life—and for fans of The Time Traveler’s Wife or Outlander, you’ll love this book that oscillates between France in the 18th and 19th century and present-day New York. This would make an excellent movie, and I really hope that comes to fruition (Reese, are you listening?).
The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle
Though I loved the premise—what if you really could have one night with the list you make of people dead or alive you’d love to have dinner with, dead or alive?—this book fell flat for me and lacked character development. On Sabrina’s 30th birthday, a random assortment of people that include her ex-boyfriend, Audrey Hepburn and her late father materialize to have her rethinking all past relationships and come face-to-face with her own daddy issues.
If you’re looking for a light and quick read, this might be it for you, but for me, it dragged on too much, and I was tired of all the back-and-forth between the characters (even Audrey).
Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
I love a book that is set in the 1950’s, ’60s and ’70s, and this one completely scratched that itch. Trigger warning: rape, assault, drug abuse.
This might be my favorite Weiner read yet, as it’s a multigenerational novel that chronicles a pair of sisters’ upbringing in a tumultuous household and their constant needs to conform to society standards in an era of change and radicalism. Much like The Vanishing Half, this book travels through many decades while examining women’s history and many important topics surrounding feminism and equality.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
I’ve read everything Kristin Hannah has written over the past 30 years, and this one is a top three of hers for me, coming in just after The Nightingale. Taking place during the Dust Bowl, it chronicles the deadly conditions Texas and Oklahoma farmers faced after the Great Depression and many workers’ decisions to migrate west to California in search of a better life. Hard to read at times, I found it nevertheless riveting and tore through this one in a weekend.
Our heroine Elsa is also one of my new favorite literary characters of all time, and I really hope they make this into a movie. My public school teaching taught me nothing about the Dust Bowl, so this was a very eye-opening historical read for me.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Where to start with this complete charmer of a book? A government employee who is a case worker for magical youth in an unidentified country is sent to an island where six high-risk magical kiddos are being hidden away from society. It does start off slow, but my book bestie Lizzie told me it was her favorite read of the year, so I stuck with it and am so glad that I did.
With Harry Potter-esque themes and characters, this is a book of inclusion and celebrating differences, and it could not be a better antidote for the times we are living in. It’s also perfectly poised for a sequel, so I’m impatiently awaiting that announcement!
Where the Grass is Green and the Girls are Pretty by Lauren Weisberger
Written by The Devil Wears Prada author, Where the Grass is Green and the Girls are Pretty is pretty much as clunky as its title. While nothing Weisberger has written since has compared to the genius of The Devil Wears Prada, this one just felt too cliche to me: A TV news reporter, Peyton, gets caught for a charitable donation to Princeton as a way to ensure her daughter’s admission.
Yes, it’s an admission scandal read, and yes, it’s not anymore interesting than the one that happened in real life. Peyton flees to the suburbs to live near her sister Skye as she rebuilds her relationship with daughter Max and hopes it will all just blow over. This is a skip for me.
Everything After by Jill Santopolo
My most recent get-me-through-a-rut book—and my first read of Jill Santopolo’s—I liked Everything After because it was what I was looking for at that exact moment, not because it was the best example of literature. Trigger warning: miscarriage.
After 33-year-old NYU psychologist Emily miscarries, it has her questioning the perfect life she thought she had with her doctor husband and longing for her previous life as a musician (and musician’s girl). Though very predictable in parts, it was also fairly well-written, and I’ll be adding The Light We Lost to my reading list in the future.
The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan
Surprisingly, I loved The Roommate, which was a bit smuttier than my usual leanings (though very pro-feminist), so when I saw there was a sequel, I immediately downloaded it. This one follows adult entertainer Naomi as she ventures into the academic world teaching psychology and falls head over heels for a rabbi. The premise was cute, but I found it nowhere near as enjoyable as its predecessor.
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
I’m a huge Kate Quinn fangirl—if you have not read The Alice Network or The Huntress, please add them to your list—so I was very excited when she released one of the top summer reads a few months ago as you know I love me a good war novel. Alas, it falls in line as my least favorite book of hers, primarily as it was waaaaaay too long. 646 pages!
I do enjoy the subject matter Quinn explores: the British cryptologists of Bletchley Park, which wasn’t declassified until a decade ago, many of whom were female. In this novel, Quinn profiles three fictional characters (based on real people) who fell into the spy world and decoded German and Russian messages during World War II. It does have an average of 4.5 stars on Amazon and Good Reads, so don’t let my review necessarily deter you from reading The Rose Code as the subject matter is fascinating (but maybe be prepared to skip large paragraphs of unnecessary info). If I had been the editor, I merely would have eliminated 100 to 200 pages of this book before sending it too print.
Necessary People by Anna Pitoniak
This is one of those novels I totally picked up based on the cover alone (yes, I am that sucker of a reader), and while it was entertaining enough, it wasn’t my favorite (I’d rate it three out of five stars). It was chilling at times—two roommates, one who had it all and one who envied the other’s life—as the college besties become nemeses at a top network in the hard-fought world of news journalism. If revenge is your preferred brand of reading, you’ll probably like this book!
That Summer by Jennifer Weiner
I love everything Jennifer Weiner writes, and this is no different. It ties into her hit from last year, Big Summer, but only slightly in that the characters know one another, so you don’t have to have read that one to pick this one up. Trigger warning: rape.
Diana and Daisy, two very different women from different worlds, strike up an unlikely relationship thanks to the Internet and crossed email wires—only one is keeping a very big secret from the other. This book comprised revenge, friendship and a realistic deep dive into the #metoo movement.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
This book came so highly recommended by every person I know, in real life and on the Internet, and I’m so happy it lived up to the hype. At the beginning of the book, our protagonist Nora decides to take her life, but finds herself stuck in an unending loop of returning to an in-between world that essentially is the library of her life. The librarian allows Nora to select books, chapters from parallel lives, from the shelves as a way to see how things could have turned out and undo regrets. Without spoiling anything, what she comes to find is that no ending makes her happier than the other, and that life is full of both beauty and challenges.
The author is a known champion of mental health, and though the book starts with an attempted suicide, I promise it’s lighter, more whimsical and endearing read than that: a modern-day It’s a Wonderful Life, one of my favorite books of all time. I promise this book will charm the pants off of you.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
Shuggie Bain is one in a growing list of DNFs, meaning I gave up on it and did not finish. I know people loved this book about a down-on-his-luck kid in Ireland—after all, it was a Booker Prize winner—but the amount of abuse the pages contained just wasn’t something I could stomach. If you like hard reads, this one might be for you, but personally I shut it off at 30 percent and opted not to come back. Life is too short to keep reading books that just aren’t doing it for you.
I’m halfway through both A Promised Land and Greenlights on audiobook (highly recommend both!) and also finally got Malibu Rising from the library after being on the wait list for months. We’re going on vacation next week, and currently in my Kindle downloads are The Paris Library, Project Hail Mary, The Other Windsor Girl and Sorrow and Bliss, though I always welcome recommendations for more. What do you have for me, bookworm friends?
Looking for more top summer reads? You can find all of my past book recommendations here.