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.
The 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.
Dark 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.
All 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.
Siracusa 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.
Sarong 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.)
The 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.
You 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.
The 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.
Here 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.
Homegoing 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?