Fun Book Club Picks

I love book clubs. But have you noticed how this thing tends to happen in your book club where every book is about death, war, adultery, loss, grief, etc., etc.? Sometimes you just want to get together with your friends to talk about a book that didn’t leave you heartbroken and sad, am I right? 

affiliate links pic Fun Book Club PicksToday I’ve got a roundup of picks for your book club or your personal reading. I know that when I’m in a slump or if I’m feeling down, I want a book that’s a little more of a pick me up. And it’s hard for me since my tastes tend towards the dark and twisty. So even my fun and light picks need some meat on their bones, which is essential for a good book club pick that’ll give you an interesting discussion. (Links below are affiliate links that help support the blog.)

 Fun Book Club Picks Fun Book Club PicksThe Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang. This is a newly released debut novel, one of the big ones of the Fall and it’s a great club pick for so many reasons. If you enjoy watching complex family dynamics play out, this will be right up your alley. Charles Wang is a Chinese immigrant who made his fortune in cosmetics, and has just seen it come crashing down. Now the family he raised in luxury doesn’t know they’ve been ruined and Charles decides that what they all need is a road trip. This kind of story could be a downer, but instead it’s full of humor and laughs. And extra special bonus! Scroll down to enter to WIN a copy of The Wangs vs. The World provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt!

 Fun Book Club Picks Fun Book Club PicksYou Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson. The book of essays by funny women is becoming its own genre, but this is one of my favorites of the bunch. Robinson, who you may know if you listen to the 2 Dope Queens podcast, is a stand up comic and she does not hold back in making sure she squeezes in as many jokes per page as possible while also talking seriously about what it’s like to be black, and a woman, and a comedian in the modern world. Some books of essays are inconsistent, but this one regularly delivers. (Note: Robinson is definitely a millennial and I definitely foresee a potential generation gap if your book club readers are 40+. In that case, go with my other favorite funny woman book that’s also great though more heartfelt: Yes, Please by Amy Poehler.)

 Fun Book Club Picks Fun Book Club PicksThe Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale. If you want a book that manages to be both very real-life and very escapist, somehow this one manages to be both. Becky is a housewife, a mother of three with baby #4 on the way, when she meets movie star Felix. In a brief chance meeting something clicks, and these two most unlikely allies become best friends. My favorite thing about this book is the way it plays with your expectations about what’s supposed to happen in this kind of story, the way you never really know what will happen between these two. If you want to have some real discussions about whether men and women be friends without romance coming into play, the twists and turns of Becky and Felix’s relationship will give your book club a lot to talk about.

 Fun Book Club Picks Fun Book Club PicksLafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell. If you don’t read a lot of nonfiction or history, Vowell is a really enjoyable way to learn a lot of fascinating history. I’ve read a whole bunch of her books and this may be the best book club pick, since everyone thinks they know all about the Revolutionary War but it turns out what you learned in school isn’t a very accurate picture. Also if there are any Hamilton lovers in the group, they’ll get plenty of Washington and Lafayette (and a little bit of our man A. Ham as well). I promise that Vowell’s books are so funny and enjoyable while also making you feel smart and informed.

 Fun Book Club Picks Fun Book Club PicksKitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradahl. This one should be an easy sell to your average suburban lady book club. Food! Family! Midwestern accents! But this book takes you by surprise. It is incredibly charming and it’s one of those gimmicky books where every chapter is from a different character and seemingly random lives end up being intertwined, with a big fat bow on top at the very end. Looking through so many different sets of eyes guarantees interesting discussion, and underneath this book’s sweet demeanor is a lot of interesting commentary on modern life. Plus the extra bonus of several recipes you can make and bring to your book club feast.

 Fun Book Club Picks Fun Book Club PicksYear of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. If anyone in your club watches Scandal or Grey’s Anatomy or HTGAWM, odds are they will be very very happy about this pick. But you don’t need to be a Shonda fan to enjoy this book. Honestly, you don’t need to be a self-help fan to enjoy this book. I hate self-help books. Hate them. And I adored this book so very much. Want to talk about goals? Want to talk about work-life balance? Want some pinterest-worthy inspirational quotes? This book will give you all those things, and even if you have a cold, bitter heart like me, you will be won over by Shonda. You can’t not like her. She is so funny and personable and honest. 


And now for our giveaway! One lucky reader will win a copy of The Wangs vs. the World, the new novel by Jade Chang. To enter, just leave a comment below with your light or funny book club pick. Entries are open until Wednesday, October 26th.

Rules: No purchase necessary. By leaving a comment you agree to the rules of this giveaway. One entry per household. Limited to entrants over 18 in the United States. Contest begins as of the time of this post and ends on 10/26/16 at 6 pm Eastern Time. The winner will receive a copy of the novel The Wangs vs. the World. The number of eligible entries received will determine the odds of winning. The winner will be chosen randomly using the plugin And the Winner Is…  Winner will be notified by email and must respond within 48 hours to receive their prize. If the winner does not respond within that time, a new winner will be chosen. The prize will be provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Don’t Mind the Mess is not responsible for any problems with receipt of the prize. This contest is governed by the rules of Massachusetts, void where prohibited.

Disclosure: Thanks to HMH for providing the giveaway prize for this post! 

New Destinations

I moved around a lot growing up. When I tell people that, they ask if my dad was in the military and I say, “No, just lucky.” We moved many times and then stayed put for a while that let me stay in the same place in middle school and high school. Then my parents moved again. Then I went to college and grad school, which included 5 different apartments in 7 years. Then there was my move outside of Houston, my move to Atlanta, 2 other apartments in Atlanta, and I’m now on my 3rd apartment in Boston. I’ve moved a lot. I’ve always thought of myself at being pretty good at moving.

We’re moving next month, something I figured would happen eventually but was not expecting to happen this soon. To answer the basic questions: we’ll be in North Carolina. I am staying at my job but switching to remote. My ex has a job offer there, and if we leave the area we have to both agree to it. Financially, this is a very big step forward to me, both due to lower cost of living, and parts of our divorce agreement that will kick in and mean I have less financial obligations each month. It seems like a place where we can stay long term. So that’s the story.

There are lots of things I’m looking forward to. I will actually be in a solid financial position for the first time since I’ve been single. (Technically things were never really that solid financially for me in my adult life, even when we had easier times while married, those periods were short and spent paying down debt.) I’ve been working for that a long time and I kind of can’t believe it’s actually happening. I’m not sure what people actually do when they have some money. I’ll be enjoying the new world of not accumulating debt, building savings, starting college funds, and actually maybe even taking a vacation.

And Boston keeps giving me reasons to be happy to go. No more Boston winters! The crazy drivers, the traffic, the lack of central air, the high cost of living. 

But as this starts to become more of a reality and less of a theoretical idea, I am not feeling a lot of excitement or positivity. For all my ideas of myself as someone who’s good at moving, now that I’m an adult with two kids and everything that goes with that, I am exhausted by the physical logistics of moving. I haven’t even finished unpacking from my last move, which I guess is a plus? But I still haven’t forgotten the work and exhaustion that came with the last move only a few months ago. And another round of apartment hunting feels like it’s happening way too soon as well.

Mostly, though, I drive around Boston, I take the T, I feel like things are familiar. I realize that I have done a lot in my 6 years. I have gotten to know the city really well, and not just the neighborhoods I live in. I am realizing how long it will take until I feel comfortable again the way I do now.

I remember the first year in Boston, before cell phones gave driving directions, how lost and frustrated and alone I felt all the time. It will be easier now because I have a job and I don’t have a cranky toddler and I have a bunch of places on the internet full of friends. But I seem to be missing that excitement and adrenaline I would feel in a new city. 

Part of this is surely the complexity of having to move two households, which means more communication with my ex. Moving for someone else’s job and not mine (this is the 3rd city in a row where I am going for another person’s career) sucks, and even if my career will be in better shape this time, there’s the lack of autonomy that hurts. Then there’s the concerns about how things will go for the kids in new schools. There’s the loneliness of working at home full-time. Oh, and let’s not forget that our new state passed a law that’s hostile to the LGBT community while the state I live in now just passed a bill protecting gender identity in public accommodations and has officially instituted sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes for years. I don’t mind so much going from one political climate to another, that’s not unusual for me, but moving to a place that is actively trying to legislate against my sexual orientation is new. And as a single and dating person, it will definitely have an impact on my life.

There is a lot to do. The thought of all the work ahead makes me tired. Leaving friends makes me sad. And I’m not yet feeling very peppy about all of it, even though I feel like this is a good decision for us. It has been a long summer, I’ve been tired for a lot of it, and I’m hoping the general fatigue will pass, I’ll start getting ready, and everything will come together.

I didn’t really mean for this to be such a melancholy post. But as I’m processing all of this, that is where I’m at today in particular. I know there will be days ahead where things are fun and exciting. And at the very least I get a private road trip down the east coast, which I am oddly looking forward to. 

I’ve got about 6 weeks left to enjoy all the things I love about Boston (including at least one apple-picking trip) and get a chance to say goodbye. So much has happened to me here, it feels like I may be leaving a few chapters of my life behind. I think it may even be the final page of this divorce chapter. There’s been a lot of struggle and a lot of accomplishment, but it has started to feel this year that things are taking on a new character. My life feels more my own than it ever has. And this may be the final piece that makes things really start taking off. I hope it is.

How Your Blog Can Be the Key to Success

This post was inspired and sponsored by Domain.ME, the provider of the personal domains that end in .ME. As a company, they aim to promote thought leadership to the tech world. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Three years ago all I had was this blog. I was re-entering the workforce, moving into a totally different career path in marketing, and all I really had was this site and my social media accounts. I was terrified. I knew I was smart, I knew I worked hard, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to translate any of this into a real job.

Today it’s hard to believe only three years have passed. These days I’m overwhelmed with freelance and writing projects and while my blog may not be updated as regularly as it was before, I can blog smarter and more efficiently. My traffic is actually up even though my posting is way down! I’ve moved forward on a lot of goals in ways I never expected, but where I’ve seen the most success is the way I’ve used my blog knowledge for professional achievement. I now have a full-time job where I am the expert on bloggers, how they work, and how best to work with them. I consult with hundreds of companies of all kinds, as well as helping hundreds of bloggers increase their site income. In those three years I’ve spoken at 14 conferences (2 more coming before 2016 is over) to audiences of would-be bloggers, experienced bloggers, and PR/Marketing professionals. 

Clearly a lot has happened. 

But all my steps forward, both blogging and professional, really come down to the years of work I put into this blog. And that’s what I want to write about today: how you can gain knowledge from your blog to achieve your goals. It doesn’t matter whether those goals are increasing traffic or getting more paid campaigns, getting a job running a brand’s social media, getting a job in-house or with an agency in marketing, or starting a whole new business.

So here’s my advice on how you can use your blog to be successful, regardless of how you define success.

This Is Your Industry. Act Like It.

If you want to blog seriously (or work in some kind of Marketing or PR through your blog experience) then you’ve made a career choice. If you chose to be a lawyer or a teacher, you’d have a set of industry standards to meet. You’d have professional groups, you’d have continuing training, you’d keep up with developments and changes that affect your job. As a blogger, you need to do the same thing.

This is mostly a question of attitude and it’s the most important piece of advice I can give you. I work with people in Marketing every day who don’t actually know what’s happening in their line of work. They don’t stay abreast of changes in technology or changes in legal requirements. They don’t perform effectively and they don’t make good partners. 

To succeed you need to treat blogging/social media generally like your industry. So what do you do? Here’s a few:

  • Network. Conferences are great for this, but so are local meetup groups. If you don’t have one, find one. If you can’t find one, build one.
  • Build Your Inner Circle. Having a brain trust has helped me a ton. I have a wide area of practice, so I tend to have a few people with different specialties that I reach out to when I have questions or want to talk about something. They can ask you questions in your expertise in return. It’s a great way to help each other professionally without having to ask someone you don’t know well if you can “pick their brain.” In the blogging world, the Mastermind Group is becoming a lot more common as people find they can put their heads together with some trusted friends to learn a lot together.
  • Pay Attention. I mostly use Twitter to keep up on industry news. I’ve found that in this area it’s particularly hard to find good information because everyone is so desperate to share their expertise. If I read a good article on digital marketing, I try to find the author on Twitter and follow them. If I read something that’s misguided or outdated, I make sure I’m not following them or unfollow. It takes some curation, and it takes some time, and it may take some advice from your inner circle on who they follow. Read widely if you can, because you may find someone’s advice sounds amazing only to learn from someone else that it’s not actually useful in practice.
  • Follow the Rules. Know the rules, follow them. Know the difference between a sweepstakes and a giveaway. Know FTC and Google definitions of compensation. Don’t work with brands that ask you to break the rules. Don’t ask to move your disclosure to the bottom of a post when the brand says it goes at the top of a post. When a brand sends post instructions, follow them. All of them. Read them before you agree. Read them while you work. Read them again before you push publish. 


Always Be Professional

Straight talk, y’all. I cannot tell you how often a blogger does something unprofessional and makes my job 100 times harder. Sometimes it’s just carelessness, sometimes it’s a lack of respect, sometimes I can’t figure it out at all. But here’s the thing. You are working with people who have day jobs. They are in offices. They are checking email regularly. They are keeping spreadsheets. If you commit to a post date, you need to do it. If your kid is sick, you still do it. If your friend is having a crisis, you still do it. Not doing it requires serious emergencies. (People in the hospital, natural disasters, etc.) This is how business works, and if you’re going to make money and build relationships, this is how you need to work. If you aren’t able to commit to a timeline, then don’t take the campaign. Period.

Yes, we have blacklists. 

I know sometimes it’s tempting to respond to a bad email from a PR person with a snarky response or tweet. Avoid it if you can. Not everyone has budget. Some campaigns are just a bunch of people sending email blasts hoping for someone to nibble. Even huge brands may not have any control over the budget they’ve been given. 

When you can, build personal relationships with PR reps at events. The vast majority of my work through agencies came from contacts I’d met in person and gotten to know. 

When you decide to pitch back, be polite. Maybe the person who reached out to you is in a department that didn’t get any budget for influencer marketing. Maybe they already have a list of people they work with and they’re not adding to it. Maybe they love you and would love to work with you but won’t have any budget until next year. Be polite and easy to work with, and if the opportunity is there you’re much more likely to get it even if it doesn’t happen right away.

Know the Numbers

There’s two pieces to this one. First, you need to know YOUR numbers. I talk to a lot of people who don’t know how to use their analytics. But almost every really successful blogger I talk to knows their numbers and how to sell themselves based on those numbers. You don’t need to be a kung fu master to check your analytics and get the basic information. There are plenty of posts with information on reading your Analytics and honestly, I check only a handful of stats regularly. Just know what’s important to you and keep track of it.

The thing about data is that it’s the key to doing better. When you know what’s working and what’s not, you can learn how to improve.

The second piece is to remember that your numbers are just one part of a much bigger landscape. When you send someone a media kit or a URL, they’re going to start placing you in categories in their head. What’s your content? What’s your reach? What’s your engagement? It’s not just that they’re looking at those things, but they’re comparing you to others. If you’re a Fashion writer and you want to work with a Tech brand, if you can pull some data showing your readers are the right demographic, have the brand’s target income level, and have responded well to tech-focused content in the past, you’re way more likely to get that campaign.

I talk to bloggers who sell me on their sites as if they’re literally the only blog in the world. But these days, if I think you charge too much, I can find 5 other sites similar to yours to work with instead with just a few clicks. It’s a big market, and when you’re talking about your site you need to understand where you fit in that market. Why should I pick you and not those 5 cheaper bloggers whose numbers are just as good or better than yours? 

Having some flexibility with your rates can open up so many doors, I can’t even tell you.

What Defines Success?

This is a question for you and for brands you may work with. All kinds of campaigns have different goals. Do some reading on “the funnel” and figure out the difference between campaigns built around brand awareness, social lift and engagement, finding new customers (aka “new to file”), and conversion. Building your coverage around the brand’s goals helps you create a more successful post, which also helps you build your relationship with the brand. 

Don’t cheat the system, either. I know about your Facebook groups where you ask bloggers to leave comments or click links to make your numbers look better. I can spot it from a mile away. Don’t do that. Earn success by doing a good job. And if you’ve been given a campaign with goals you don’t think you can meet, say so up front. Let them know your strength is less conversion and more creating great images and perhaps you can talk about a rate that includes not only your post but also the rights to use your images in their marketing materials instead.

Want to Be an Expert? Okay! Do It!

The thing about being an expert is that it doesn’t matter if no one knows about it. If you want to start speaking, write a book, or start an e-course the only person you need to ask for permission is yourself.

The biggest choice is whether to keep everything on your current site or build a new one. I’ve been able to mostly leverage my job to show my expertise, but I’m definitely thinking about this one as I consider doing more speaking and writing. Setting up a new site can be great for your CV, since you can link to that site generally instead of your blog which may be more likely to have a “cute” title.

If you decide to start a separate site, the first question is always the URL. Starting a new site is super exciting because you haven’t made any mistakes yet! You can fix all the settings you set up in your blog that are too late to change! You can take the dates out of your post URL’s! You can get a really nice theme you’re able to customize without a developer! You can find a domain that has actually useful SEO keywords! 

And this is the part where I’m glad to be partnering with Domain.ME. If you’re building a site to own your personal expertise, whether it’s to share your writing clips, a photography portfolio, speaking videos, or a blog showcasing your expertise, a .ME domain name will give you more options with a short, simple, and memorable URL. If you want your name to be the URL, it’s an even better fit. isn’t available and hasn’t been for a while, but JessicaWoodbury.ME is, and looks a lot more straightforward on a business card than domains with longer extensions.

Having your name as your URL is great when you expect people to google you to check you out. Send them to your customized site with everything you want them to see. And some links from your site and other sites you contribute to can help give it an SEO boost as well. (Your URL is a big part of what Google uses in deciding search results and .me has the same value as a .com.) 

If you’re interested in a .ME domain, you can purchase it through your current host or a registrar like GoDaddy or Google Domains.


I hope this advice is useful for y’all. I found that if a blogger is thoughtful, driven, and produces quality work, then numbers don’t have to be an impediment to working with big brands or making more money on campaigns. You don’t have to have the biggest blog on the block to be an expert, to grow your own business, or to move into the marketing workforce like me.

Thanks to Domain.ME for sponsoring this post! Sponsors help keep the blog running and I appreciate their partnership.

Summer Reading Update

Well Oprah ruined my summer reading post by moving one of the Big Fall books to a summer release. So I figured at least I could take advantage of it by throwing in some of the books that didn’t make my last list and the books I’ve read since then. This time let’s mix it up and move from Heavy to Light. (All links are affiliate links through Amazon, I may earn a commission on any purchases you make through them with no extra cost to you.)

 Summer Reading Update Summer Reading UpdateThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead This is the book that threw my whole plan out of whack, but I forgive it. Colson Whitehead is on the very short list of authors where I will read literally anything they write. I would absolutely put him in my Top 5 Authors Currently Working. He’s always talented, always ambitious, but The Underground Railroad is probably going to be the book that turns him into a household name. And that is not an easy thing to do when you write a book about slavery. As I said when I recommended Homegoing, I get that it’s not always easy to just pick up a book about slavery and say, “Sure, this sounds like a great way to entertain myself.” But I believe in reading important books. (I also believe in reading fluff. But come on. Of course.) Because Whitehead is ridiculously talented, this is not a hard book to read. You just get pulled right in. And while it is obviously a runaway slave narrative, one thing you can count on with Whitehead is that he is not going to follow the normal rules of plot and structure. The praise for this book continues to roll in so you don’t really need it from me. But if you don’t pick it up now, in 6 months when it’s been on every Best List and awards shortlist, if you still haven’t gotten to it you’ll still be saying, “Oh I really need to read that,” so just do yourself a favor and read it now while we’re all having a conversation about it and you’ll be the cool person who got in early. (I’m currently listening to the audio, which is excellent, but keep in mind that sometimes it’s much harder to hear racial slurs spoken aloud than it is to read them.)

 Summer Reading Update Summer Reading UpdateArcade by Drew Nellins Smith. I write about Arcade knowing that most people will find out what it’s about and immediately turn around and walk away. But we’ve already done slavery and war so I think gay sex seems pretty minor in comparison. Which isn’t to say this isn’t a heavy book! Sam is in that phase of self-destructive shame spiral where you make very few good decisions. He is gay but hasn’t made peace with it and certainly hasn’t found joy and hope in it. His life is built around obsession and denial. And that is where the Arcade comes in, one of those seedy places you see on the outskirts of town (especially in Texas, where it’s set). This is not a plot book, and you probably know by now that I strongly prefer plot-heavy books. If you don’t have plot, you need to give me something really special and Arcade does that. It has an emotional core that I recognize from my own period in a self-destructive shame spiral, and Smith writes about sex with a frankness that I wish I saw more often.

 Summer Reading Update Summer Reading UpdateThe Hike by Drew Magary. I will probably end up spending a good few months recommending The Hike to a very large number of people. It’s an early August release that went almost entirely under the radar. Luckily I heard some buzz and got on board and I am so very glad I did. I love plot books and this is constant plot. And I love being surprised. I struggle with some genres because of their rules, I prefer books that break rules and The Hike definitely qualifies. I cannot even really tell you what it’s about without spoiling pretty much everything. Let’s just say it’s not in any real genre (though if I had to pick one I’d say Fantasy/Horror) and you never know what will happen next. This is a very hard thing to do and it’s an even harder thing to wrap up effectively, and yet this book has a truly solid and satisfying ending. 

 Summer Reading Update Summer Reading UpdateRoses and Rot by Kat Howard. Are you one of those people who’s been looking for a readalike for The Night Circus for about a million years? I feel like this is the closest I’ve found so far. That book was circus and magic and illusions. Roses and Rot is an artists colony and fairy tales. There’s forbidden love, family strife, spectacle, jealousy and competition, and a world where nothing is necessarily what it seems. 

 Summer Reading Update Summer Reading UpdateSecurity by Gina Wohlsdorf. I love horror but I recommend very little of it. It’s hard to do well, in my opinion. Security is not going to end up on my Top Horror list, but it’s different and I always enjoy when someone takes a kind of twist on the genre. This falls into the “slasher” subgenre, which is much more common in movies than books, and in many ways Security feels more like a movie. It’s strongly visual, to the extent that the book’s narrative structure is pretty much flipping from view to view to the security cameras in the fancy hotel where it’s set. Manderley Resort is about to open with a lavish party, but someone is picking off the staff one by one and in this huge building there are hundreds of rooms to hide a body (or five). Horror and thrillers struggle with good endings and this is no different, but I’m looking forward to see what Wohlsdorf does next. And a movie version would definitely be appreciated.

 Summer Reading Update Summer Reading UpdateThe Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. This is the second novel from Ware, whose debut In a Dark, Dark Wood did pretty well last year. I like this one better, it has more of a mystery feel combined with a Girl on the Train-style unreliable narrator (chronic anxiety rather than alcoholism this time). Lo has a low-level job with a Travel magazine but lands a sweet gig writing about a super-luxury cruise. In the midst of a personal crisis, she’s glad to leave her life behind for a while to join a small number of wealthy patrons. But one night Lo is sure she sees a woman in the next cabin thrown overboard… but when she calls for help she finds out that no one is missing and the cabin was unoccupied. It’s a classic subgenre of mystery, where all the suspects are together in one place and anyone could be the killer. It’s a nice Girl on the Train readalike, more for the ramped-up thriller-style mystery lover than the procedural fan.

Summer Reading From Light to Heavy

Summer reading doesn’t have to be the super fluffy thrillers and chick lit that always gets labeled “summer reading.” I like to mix it up during the summer, but I am a lot more aware of the light vs. heavy element of my reading. I have to mix it up every so often with something fun or twisty and then eventually I turn to something heavier for balance. 

If you’re like me, knowing where a book falls on the scale of light to heavy helps you decide if it’s what you’re in the mood for, so I’ve pulled my favorite summer picks and ranked them from lightest to heaviest to help guide your summer reading choices. As usual I like to be light on plot details because I hate spoiling, if you want more info you can click through and check out the blurbs.

 Summer Reading From Light to Heavy Summer Reading From Light to HeavyThe Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales. So it should be said that these recommendations are still coming from ME so even my fluffiest pick is not entirely light. You probably know by now that if you’re looking for something cozy and sweet you won’t find it on one of my lists. But The Regional Office is so much fun. Just plain old fun. If you call trained lady assassins and secret supernatural organizations and killer robots fun. This is the kind of book that doesn’t follow any kind of rules and is completely impossible to predict. Don’t read anything about it if you can avoid it. I listened to about half of the audiobook (which was excellent) on one long stretch in the car, so I can vouch for excellent vacation readability.

 Summer Reading From Light to Heavy Summer Reading From Light to HeavyDark Matter by Blake Crouch. I enjoy time travel stories but I have one requirement: they have to do something interesting. Dark Matter fulfills that. It uses enough familiar time travel and alternate reality tropes to help you get oriented, and enough snazzy new stuff to punch it up. This one is on the light end of the spectrum because it’s more thrill ride than thought-provoking science-fiction. 

 Summer Reading From Light to Heavy Summer Reading From Light to HeavyAll the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda. I was skeptical about this book. I have read approximately eleventy-jillion books about a woman who returns to her small town haunted by the abduction/death/whatever of one of her friends. Lately I will not even start these books because they don’t do much to keep me excited. I have also read eleventy-jillion books that play with time and flashbacks/flashforwards. Most of them do it for show and it actually distracts from the story rather than adds to it. But All the Missing Girls is a girl-returns-to-small-town-haunted-by-friend’s-loss story and a story that plays with time in its structure (it’s told mostly backwards) and yet it succeeds so well that I honestly could not believe it. For once, the structure actually raises the suspense. I know that sounds impossible. How can telling a story backwards raise the suspense? That’s exactly why you have to read it and find out. Could have been just your run of the mill thriller but Miranda really goes for it.

 Summer Reading From Light to Heavy Summer Reading From Light to HeavySiracusa by Delia Ephron. Yes, that Delia Ephron. I haven’t actually read any of her books before though she’s written several. This one is a fun summer read in large part because it is about two couples on vacation together in Italy. But don’t worry about getting vacation envy. There’s a lot of baggage here. Michael is married to Lizzie who used to date Finn and isn’t exactly over him but he’s married to Taylor. One couple are snooty New York writers, the others live in a small town in Maine. They don’t exactly want to be on this vacation together but none of them is rude enough to back out. It starts as a comedy of manners, told from alternating viewpoints. But gradually it gets darker and crazier until this vacation goes off the rails and not in a fun way. Snappy and quick, a sharply written book.

 Summer Reading From Light to Heavy Summer Reading From Light to HeavySarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan. Some blurbs of this book call it a take on a Jane Austen novel. I guess you could say that, but I think that is only part of the picture. Sarong Party Girls is set in Singapore and follows Jazzy, who’s rapidly approaching the end of her 20’s. As you could guess from the title, she’s a party girl. But she’s aging out of the party scene and doesn’t know how to cope with it or what she’s supposed to do next. This is kind of like Clueless meets Crazy Rich Asians but you notice that it’s not all the way at the top of this list, so it’s not just a pile of fluff. Things are going to get real for Jazzy. Plus there are going to be readers who put this book down very early because it uses a dialect–Singlish, a Singaporean English slang–which is a shame because Jazzy is one of those narrators whose voice is so strong and unforgettable. (You can use Singlish reference sites if you really want to translate individual words, but believe me, you usually won’t need to.)

 Summer Reading From Light to Heavy Summer Reading From Light to HeavyThe Insides by Jeremy Bushnell. Bushnell’s debut, The Weirdness, was one of my top novels of 2014. It was all over the place, one of those crazy books that goes everywhere. (In that respect, I think it fits well with The Regional Office Is Under Attack and one of my favorite 2015 novels, The Library at Mount Char.) The Insides feels kind of like a Gaiman novel, except grittier and messier. The two female protagonists are Ollie, a butcher in a hip New York restaurant who has a history with magic, and Maja, a powerful psychic who can find any object in the world. Ollie and Maja’s stories are on a collision course, along with a magical knife and one of the evil-est villains I can remember. 

 Summer Reading From Light to Heavy Summer Reading From Light to HeavyYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott I don’t have to work very hard to sell this novel. It is narrated by Katie, whose teenage daughter Devon is a gymnast. Like the kind that’s on track to go to the Olympics someday. The kind that the entire family builds their life around. Their family is one of the bedrocks of their gym, where everyone knows everyone and they spend hours together every day. But when a member of the gym community dies under suspicious circumstances, it looks like everything might unravel. And, of course, Katie will have to ask herself how far she will go to protect her daughter. That probably did the trick. The extra awesome bonus is that this book is by Megan Abbott who is making a cottage industry of whip smart literary novels about the destructive world of the teenage girl. She is truly one of my favorite authors.

 Summer Reading From Light to Heavy Summer Reading From Light to HeavyThe Fireman by Joe Hill I’ve been kind of waiting for Joe Hill to really blow up and I think this is finally the book that did it. I feel like I recommend him so often to people that maybe I’ve done the work all on my own. Hill writes horror and speculative fiction that feels playful and modern while playing with old school tropes. The Fireman is not quite as playful as Horns or NOS4A2, but it does hit that big epic apocalyptic thing that people seem so hungry for these days. (If your appetite was not sated by The Hunger Games and Station Eleven then this should be your next book.) It has that big scope, that feel like it would make an amazing movie, and enough new things you haven’t seen before to really get you through its many, many pages. If you like to take one book that you will obsessively read your whole vacation, this really should be it. The apocalypse in question is a disease that covers your body in what looks like tattoos and sometimes causing your skin to smoke until you spontaneously combust. There is also a big bad and a cult and the eponymous character who is kind of a Dr. Who-type. The constant threat of death and humanity’s entire extinction keep this one on the heavy side of the list, but it isn’t a difficult read.

 Summer Reading From Light to Heavy Summer Reading From Light to HeavyHere Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn I’m so glad this book is finally out because I’ve just been wanting to talk to absolutely everyone about it for months. Do you like novels about family secrets and betrayals on a Shakespearean level? Then have I got the book for you. A family of three women in a slum in Jamaica are doing whatever they can to survive. Mother Delores has done horrible things, things older daughter Margot is determined not to repeat. Margot knows she has to save her younger sister Thandie, get Thandie educated and get them all out of the slums, but Thandie doesn’t know what her sister is sacrificing and wants to be an artist. All of this happens in the shadows of a giant resort that both keeps the Jamaican economy running and destroys the lives of those around it. This isn’t a light, happy read by any means, but it’s incredibly engrossing and shows you the kind of stories we don’t get to see often enough. One of my favorite books of the year for sure.

 Summer Reading From Light to Heavy Summer Reading From Light to HeavyHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi Of course a book about the legacy of slavery is going to be all the way at the bottom of the list, because yes it’s heavy. I don’t really pick up books about slavery with excitement. I imagine many of us avoid them because it’s such a difficult topic. But Gyasi’s novel (a debut!) is really different and so tightly structured and beautifully told that it really is worth your time. You will not sigh before you pick it up to read a few more chapters, I promise. The novel follows two sisters and the two lines of their family through over 200 years of history, with one side of the family sold into slavery and taken to America, and the other side getting in with the slavers and staying in Africa. For each generation, Gyasi gives us a chapter from each side, taking us through slavery, past it, and into modern America and Africa. What’s amazing is just how much she’s able to do in each small chapter. You get a glimpse of an entire life, a time, a place, and you follow the thread from the previous generations. If you like books of connected stories, this will hit right in your sweet spot.

Any other great picks for summer reading both light and heavy?