Summer looks different for many of us this year, whether because of travel restrictions, figuring out what schooling will look like come fall, job complications, or new commitments to activism. Whatever’s going on in your life, make time for a book that lets you imagine your way elsewhere (Italy and the Hamptons with Kevin Kwan, for instance). You might feel like digging deep with some intimate prose (like Asako Serizawa’s or Aimee Bender’s) or laughing with a comedian memoir or a delightful rom-com. Whatever your flavor this reading season, enjoy!
Featured image by Kevon Nicholas
Sex and Vanity
Lucie Churchill is definitely not into George Zao, no matter what her cousin Charlotte says. Well, maybe she’s a little bit into him, but who can resist romance on a trip to the Italian island Capri for an ultra-posh wedding? And anyway, what Lucie really resents is Charlotte’s implication that she only likes George because he’s Chinese like Lucie’s mother. Lucie isn’t some Freudian cliché, thank you very much. Fast forward a few years, and Lucie has indeed proved Charlotte wrong: she’s engaged to Cecil, an extremely white, loafer-wearing dude. Then George shows up. Uh-oh.
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor
In An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, robots dubbed Carls appeared all over Earth, their presence a mystery that bred endless conspiracy theories. April, their staunch defender, is now believed to be dead, and the Carls have disappeared just as suddenly as they arrived. But the world can’t go back to the way it was, nor can April’s grieving friends, who are trying to figure out how to live without her, move on, or get her back. The Carls aren’t the last of the mysteries, though: soon, books predicting the future begin to appear.
The Beauty in Breaking
Growing up in an upper-class African American family didn’t shield Michele Harper from her father’s physical abuse, nor from the racism and sexism she faced as a Black woman entering the white- and male-dominated field of emergency medicine. When she finished med school at Harvard and took a job in Philadelphia, she was dealt another blow: her husband chose not to follow her. Newly single in a strange city, finally practicing medicine like she’d wanted to for so long, Harper must reckon not only with her patients’ physical and psychic wounds but also her own.
One to Watch
Bea Schumacher is a plus-size fashion blogger and reality TV fan, and she—like anyone who’s ever watched a dating show—is tired of seeing nothing but itty-bitty petite women getting their pick of hunky men on her favorite show, Main Squeeze. When her blog post about it goes viral, the producers reach out and invite her to star as the next season’s main squeeze. Bea agrees, knowing she won’t really fall in love—this is a professional opportunity, and a chance to diversify body representation in reality TV. But then she’s on set, surrounded by hunks…
Death in Her Hands
When Vesta, a 72-year-old widow living alone on the grounds of an old Girl Scout camp, goes walking alone in the woods one day, she finds an eerie note that reads, “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.” But there is no Magda, no body, and no hint of who left the note, leaving Vesta to begin obsessively imagining who Magda might have been, who the killer was, and whether either will ever be found.
Not Like the Movies
Chloe is exhausted. Her father has Alzheimer’s disease, and her ex-girlfriend Tracey works at his assisted living facility, which means that Chloe gets regular updates on her dad’s condition but also feels the need to run over whenever Tracey calls. Meanwhile, her best friend Annie’s romantic comedy is about to premiere, and it’s inspired by Chloe’s own life working at a café while getting her BA online—except that Annie has taken liberties and given Chloe a rom-com happy ending. Now Chloe wonders: does she actually want to end up with her boss, as Annie’s film envisions?
The Butterfly Lampshade
Francie’s mother, Elaine, was always mentally ill, but it wasn’t until Francie was 8 that Elaine was temporarily institutionalized and Francie taken away to live with her aunt, uncle, and cousin in Los Angeles. The night before Francie leaves for LA, something strange happens while she’s with the babysitter: a butterfly from the lampshade suddenly appears in her water glass. But that’s impossible, isn’t it? Years later, as an adult in LA, in and out of touch with her mother, Francie is still trying to make sense of that moment and the others that followed.
The Golden Cage
Faye arrives in Stockholm as a young woman and makes a life for herself essentially out of nothing. She gets into a prestigious business school where she meets Chris and Jack, her best friend and soon-to-be husband, respectively. Faye also comes up with the idea for the business she and Jack build—though he takes the credit. When the business takes off, they marry, have a baby, and Faye finds herself a wealthy woman, but one who stays home all day, bored and lonely. Until, that is, she discovers her husband’s affair. When they divorce, she begins plotting her revenge.
In this debut collection of interlinked stories, author Asako Serizawa follows the various branches of a family tree that begins in Japan in the mid–19th century and stretches all the way to the United States in the near future. The characters reckon with their responsibilities in various wars, their trust of governments, and the legacy of belonging to a nation that has been both colonizer and colonized. Amid their humanity, they ask us: How do we lie to protect our descendants or ourselves? And how do we keep going?
The Year of the Witching
Immanuelle Moore’s mother died just after giving birth to her, and with her last words, declared Immanuelle a curse. Growing up in the lands of Bethel as a mixed-race girl and under the patriarchal rule of a church whose prophet’s teachings are obeyed to the letter, Immanuelle never has it easy, but she does her best to conform, obey, and submit. As an adolescent, the Darkwood—where witches are said to live—begins calling to her, and it’s there she begins to learn more about her mother, and her own powers.
The Party Upstairs
Ruby has just moved back home to live with her parents in the basement apartment of the Upper West Side building, which is rent-free because her dad is the super. But the building has changed in the years since Ruby was little, and never has the wealth disparity between the basement and the penthouse been more apparent. Still, the penthouse is where Ruby’s childhood friend Caroline lives, and where there’s a party happening tonight. But first, Ruby, her dad, and Caroline have to get through a long day of mishaps, tension, and grief.
Claire L. Evans
Some of us have heard of Ada Lovelace, the 19th-century mathematician who envisioned a future machine that could carry out complicated algorithms. But many of us don’t know about the women nearly a century later who worked on those very machines, the Mark I and ENIAC, and who not only figured out how to communicate code to these early computers but wrote manuals to help those coming after them keep making progress as well. This historical corrective tells the stories of these women and many others whose contributions weren’t publicly acknowledged in their day.
Anne has put her marriage behind her, grateful only for getting the gift of her daughter, Thea, out of what was otherwise a harrowing time. Thea is 12 now, on the cusp of teenagerhood, and Anne decides to take the increasingly moody girl for a hike in New Hampshire along with her own mother, Rose. In the remote White Mountains, the three are abducted by a stranger and taken to a freezing cabin. What on earth could he want from them? They’ll have to rely on one another to get out alive.
Erica C. Barnett
Political reporter Erica C. Barnett first experienced how much she liked getting drunk when she was a teenager in Houston, but it wasn’t until she began trying to keep up with her professional colleagues in the newsroom that she began to black out and find herself unable to stop. She quit drinking over and over again, only to find another vodka bottle she’d hidden in her home or decide to go out and buy one. Addiction did not follow a neat trajectory, and neither did her complicated, messy, and extremely human recovery.
Watching You Without Me
When her mother, Irene, dies, Karen travels to Nova Scotia and her childhood home to care for her disabled older sister, Kelli, along with Trevor, a hired caregiver. Although Irene chose a long-term care facility for Kelli, Trevor warns Karen against it, and the two begin searching for another one. But as time goes on, even though Kelli always seems glad to see Trevor, Karen begins to wonder what exactly his role has been in their home. Was he as close to Irene as he claims? Who can Karen trust in Irene’s absence?
The Divine Miss Marble
Alice Marble was a legend during her lifetime, not only as a champion tennis player, but also as a fashion designer, singer, writer, socialite, and—perhaps?—a temporary spy. In this first full biography of her very full life, we learn about Marble’s rise to tennis fame with her difficult but persuasive coach, her friendships with famous Hollywood stars, and some of her greatest mysteries. Marble claimed to have married a man who died during World War II and to have spied on a lover during the same war. Was either claim true? Regardless, Marble’s life was unparalleled.
A Very Punchable Face
Colin Jost may have that kind of bland, white-guy-who-went-to-Harvard, strangely symmetrical sort of face, and, yes, some might call it the definition of punchable, but, really, he’s so much more than that. He’s Scarlett Johansson’s fiancé, too! Oh, right, and he’s also the head writer of SNL, a writer on Weekend Update, and author of this often self-deprecating memoir about how growing up on Staten Island and commuting to high school three hours a day by ferry, subway, and bus prepared him for a life of comedy.
Love and Theft
Alex is ready to retire from his life of high-octane heists when he meets Diane. He remembers her from a long time ago, when she dated a youthful partner-in-crime of his who was later shot and killed, but she doesn’t recognize Alex. She’s just a single mom with a good business and thinks Alex is a nice guy who gets the single dad thing. The two take a romantic weekend away—but when their young adult children are abducted, the game is on.
The All-Night Sun
Lauren is in her late 20s, teaching college composition and stuck in a lonely routine that feels safe if not fulfilling. When an 18-year-old international student, Siri, begins to make overtures of friendship, Lauren allows her to, finding comfort in the younger woman’s ability to coax her out of her own shell, and the two bond over their shared orphanhood, both of them having lost their parents young. When Siri returns to Sweden, Lauren joins her, and it’s on that breathless journey that she fully reckons with her past traumas.
In David Mitchell’s newest, we follow the story of Utopia Avenue, the 1960s psychedelic folk-rock band, which, like many bands of the era, rose to flaming fame only to meet an Icarus-like end. Featuring lead guitarist Jasper de Zoet, keyboardist and singer Elf Holloway, front-man bassist and singer Dean Moss, and level-headed drummer Griff Griffin, Utopia Avenue’s tale unspools alongside other greats of their time—cameos abound, but just enough to be a treat—and seems to ask how fame can lead to downfall, and whether music can change the world.