This summer’s list of beach reads will likely be missing an important component to an annual tradition that we all love: the actual beach. But even though we might have to come to terms with the limitations of a physical escape, let’s allow ourselves the luxury of a mental escape. From Emily Henry’s light-hearted story chronicling a spicy quarrel between two writers to Sahar Mustafah’s gripping novel about the dark fate of a Palestinian-American teacher, these reads will (figuratively) transport you to a different world. Scroll down for the riveting thrillers, enthralling memoirs, and light-hearted novels by female authors that will ignite your summer escape.
In this fictional novel, we enter an alternate universe where Hillary Rodham, rather than pursuing her marriage with Bill Clinton, carries on to carve her path as a successful politician. Staying true to Hillary’s numerous proposal rejections from Bill Clinton, author Curtis Sittenfeld takes this alternate reality a step further by playing a game of “what if”: What if Hillary never made compromises for her political aspirations? What if Hillary broke up with Bill for good? Sittenfeld starts Hillary’s solo journey after a heavy breakup, where she puts herself and her passion first, all of which eventually leads her to take on the National Stage. Sittenfeld effortlessly weaves an engrossing fictional tale that explores the trade-offs women often make in building a “fulfilling” life, while giving us a glimpse into the life we all hoped for Hillary.
In deep West Virginia, 15-year-old Wren grows up isolated in the Appalachian mountains, homeschooled by her mother and concealed from the modern world. When her father, a snake-charming preacher and lightning strike survivor, attempts a ‘miracle’ that ends in tragedy, Wren begins to uncover the truth behind the secrets that have long been hidden from her. A heartbreaking yet hopeful story told over the course of one summer, Amy Jo Burn’s debut novel, Shiner, is a gripping tale about women “taking back their life stories from hoggish men whose power, both in the home and outside of it, is largely an illusion“.
The Other Americans
Arguably one of the best page-turners of 2019, we’re including Laila Lalami’s riveting novel, The Other Americans, for those that missed it last year. Late one night in California, Driss Guerraoui—father, husband, business owner, and Moroccan immigrant—is killed by a speeding car. But was Dress’ fatal hit and run an accident or a targeted crime? In this polyphonic novel, Pulitzer-nominated Lalami weaves the stories of several narrators to reveal the successes, failures, and perhaps most importantly, the motivations behind the small desert town’s actions. This impeccably written story slowly unravels the mystery of who is responsible for the unthinkable—and you won’t want to put it down.
Besides its fitting title, Beach Read is an indulgent and heartwarming story about long-time writing rivals January Andrews (romance) and Augustus Everett (literature). One summer, as both are trying to finish their next successful novel, they find themselves vacationing at neighboring beach houses. While they initially spew spiteful comments to each other, they eventually decide to strike a deal: they will swap writing genres and whoever manages to sell a manuscript first, wins the deal. What may seem like your average rom-com morphs into a captivating and witty love story that juggles the depths of friendship, regret, betrayal, and rivalry. Prepare your napkins.
The Henna Artist
Alka Joshi’s debut novel (and a Reese Witherspoon Book Club selection), The Henna Artist is an enthralling story that masterfully transports you to 1950s’ Japiur through the story of a woman full of courage and perseverance. At the age of 17, Lakshmi escapes an abusive marriage and works hard to establish herself as a self-sustaining henna artist for wealthy women. As she develops a reputation for her artistry, she grows closer to her wealthy clients; but as they begin to confide their secrets, she becomes increasingly wary of revealing her own. When her estranged husband and a sister she never knew she had appear on her doorstep, the independent life Lakshmi has worked so hard to separate from her past is suddenly at stake.
Writers & Lovers
Casey is a 31-year-old woman living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, working a waitressing job to pay off monstrous college debt whilst grappling with the passing of her mother and a recent love affair that went awry. Determined to live a creative life, she has spent the last six years writing her first novel—a dream her friends, who are all ‘adulting’ with high paying jobs, homes, children, and savings, gave up on years ago. An extraordinary new novel exploring the last days of a long youth from New York Times–bestselling author Lily King, Writers & Lovers follows a deeply relatable protagonist and her burdensome past, tangled present, and agony over a bleak future.
The Chicken Sisters
What appears to be a story about one small Kansas town, two fried-chicken restaurants, and a rivalry between sisters who consistently misunderstand each others’ motivations, Chicken Sisters will pull you in and hold you until the very last page with vivid and fast-paced descriptions of grandiose dreams, finding your way home, love, family, and friendship.
The Beauty of Your Face
Palestinian-American Afaf Rahman is the principal of a Muslim school in suburban Chicago that finds itself under attack by a radicalized alt-right shooter. Standing face-to-face with the attacker, Afaf revisits her relationship with faith, family, and hate in a country that prides itself on “freedom of religion.” Prize-winning Sahar Mustafah’s The Beauty of Your Face is a poignant depiction of the ongoing demonization that Muslims face in America, and a powerful call to recognize our shared humanity before we reach a point of no return. A must-read that serves as a crucial reminder of the cruelties we perpetuate when we continue to build both literal and figurative walls based on religion, ethnicity, class, and race.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown
This charming story follows Danika (Dani) Brown; a career-driven woman who settles for nothing less than what she wants. Romance, however, is something that she does not want, and after numerous disappointments, Dani labels romantic partners as distractions and nothing more. But when a workplace fire drill takes an unexpected turn, Dani is saved by her extremely attractive friend and former rugby player, Zafir Ansari, who happens to be a sensitive romantic. After the heroic act was captured on video, the hashtag #DrRugBae goes viral and Zafir begs Dani to play along as the publicity seemingly helps his sports charity for kids—something Dani can’t refuse. Will this union that seems destined by the universe lead to something more? Or will the entire plan collapse? One of Oprah Magazine’s 21 Best Romance Novels, bestselling author Talia Hibbert returns with another contemporary romantic comedy.
This literary thriller of female empowerment parallels the year 1999, when 12 sex workers were murdered, with the year 2014, where several sex workers are being killed in the same manner, in the same Los Angeles neighborhood. With neglectful police spending little time investigating the similarities, These Women is a harrowing mystery from award-winning author Ivy Pochoda, giving a much-needed voice to those who have historically been reduced to “getting what they deserve.”
From New York Times best selling author Colleen Hoover comes Regretting You, a multi-narrated story from a mother-daughter-duo that is as heartbreaking as it is heartwarming. Morgan is determined to prevent her 16-year-old daughter, Clara, from committing her same mistakes. Clara, however, resents her mother’s advice. When a tragic accident causes Morgan to find solace from an unexpected source, their relationship grows increasingly strained and distanced—to the degree where it may be beyond repair. Chronicling “family, first love, grief, and betrayal”, Regretting You tenderly depicts the often challenging push-and-pull relationship between a mother and her daughter.
In the Dream House
Longlisted for the 2020 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House is a dauntless memoir that chronicles the complexities of abuse in a queer relationship. From the captivating tenderness of loving and being loved, to the unspeakable terror of realizing the woman you love is a monster, Machado demands readers to face the truth we are often too afraid to confront or unwilling to admit exists.
In her own words, best-selling author Glennon Doyle Melton’s third (yes third!) memoir is about how to “reclaim yourself, love yourself, trust yourself, and abandon others’ expectations so you can stop abandoning yourself.” Doyle shares the deeply personal story of when, four years ago during a book tour promoting Love Warrior (her memoir detailing how she and Craig Molton, her then-husband and the father of her three children, were able to save their marriage through a cheating scandal), she unexpectedly fell in love with soccer icon Abby Wambach. Untamed is an honest examination of self-discovery, delving into Melton’s fear of coming out to her family and her battles with addiction, anxiety, divorce, religion, and raising a family amidst it all.
Chelsea Bieker’s debut novel uncovers parts of American society that most of us choose to ignore: religious leaders carrying out heinous crimes with impunity, domestic violence taking place behind closed doors, child brides, crippling poverty, and lack of education. Set in the fictional town of Peaches, California, whose residents have resigned themselves to a cult leader, Pastor Vern, Godshot follows 14-year-old Lacey May who is abandoned by her exiled, alcoholic mother. Confronted with truths about “the appalling acts of men” and Pastor Vern’s disturbing plans to “bring fertility back to the land,” Lacey begins to question the only reality she’s ever known.
Shortlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize, Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet is based on William Shakespeare’s little-known-about son, Hamnet, who died at the young age of 11. It chronicles the love story of William, then a young Latin tutor, and Agnes, an eccentric ‘witchy’ woman, from when they first meet in 1580 to their years of forming a life together on Henley Street in England’s Medieval market town Stratford-upon-Avon, and eventually, to the year 1599 when William—as a father in grief—wrote Hamlet in the wake of his son’s death. A re-imagining of a boy “whose life has been all but forgotten,” O’Farrell sheds beautifully details “a marriage and a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss.”
Red at the Bone
An instant New York Times best-seller and one of Oprah Magazine’s Best Books of 2019, Red at the Bone is a novel worth revisiting. Prize-winning author Jacqueline Woodson unfurls the history of 16-year-old Melody, her parents, and her grandparents, detailing the events that left an irremediable wound in the midst of their lives. Woodson captures the characters’ desperate longings, grueling fears, and unspoken thoughts in a little over 200 pages—making this a remarkable read that traces issues of class, education, ambition, racial prejudice, sexual desire and orientation, identity, mother-daughter relationships, parenthood, and loss.
Girl, Woman, Other
Bernardine Evaristo’s 2019 Booker Prize-winning novel tells the unflinching and profoundly moving story of 12 interconnected women in contemporary Britain, ranging from a young teenager to a great grandmother, who represent a diverse spectrum of Black women’s voices. Race and gender discrimination are common themes, as is the implication of living and surviving in a patriarchal world. Evaristo’s unconventional writing style, which lacks periods between phrases and quotation marks for dialogues, makes each story feel personal and real, capturing a unique portrayal of women in what we consider fiction at its finest.
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