Renee’s Summer Reads: The Big List

It’s not quite June, and I’m already certain this one’s going to be a hellacious summer. We’ve had several consecutive days of 90+ degree temps and Friday is forecasted to hit 104 — for the love — so I’m writing off spring altogether. Nice effort, sister. Better luck next year. (But really. Please. Next year.) I’ll be real honest with you all: I’m probably going to avoid the outdoors as much as possible, until this heat wave decides to back off a bit.

I’m heading back to teaching in the fall (half-time, to tell the truth, but still) and I’m already scrabbling to read as much as is humanly possible before August 20th rolls around. In honor of the literature feeding-frenzy that is, truthfully, already under way, here’s a list of books I’m looking forward to reading this summer! (Also: it’s highly likely I won’t finish this pile. Also also: it’s also very probable I will add some other titles as the weeks pass. I’m a fickle girl, I know.)

  1. Something Wonderful by Todd S. Purdum. Nonfiction. Henry Holt Books sent me a FINISHED HARDCOVER COPY of this bad boy and let me tell ya — I am stoked to pick it up after I finish my current read. Per the dust jacket blurb: A relevatory portrait of the creative partnership that transformed musical theater and provided the soundtrack to the American Century. Yep, you guessed it: this is a biographical portrait of Rodgers and Hammerstein, the musical gods who essentially provided the soundtrack for my childhood. I can’t wait to read and share with my sister, who’s an actress; but I might be most invested in the memories I’m sure this book will bring to the surface, regarding lazy summer days spent in my late grandmother’s living room watching The King & I and Oklahoma! and my all-time favorite, The Sound of Music.
  2. Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. Fiction. My mom’s been hounding me to read this work — by none other than a Wichita, Kansas author! — for no fewer than five years. She finally pressed a copy of it into my hands last time I was home, and here we are! It’s set in fictional small-town Kansas and follows Abilene Tucker, a young girl whose father sent her away for the summer so that he could work a demanding job. Abilene feels abandoned, so she hops off the train in Manifest, Kansas in search of clues about her father’s past. I’m such a sucker for coming-of-age novels (for real — probably my favorite genre) and I know this one won’t disappoint.
  3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Fiction. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve made it to 28 — and through a BA in English — without having read this American classic. It’s touted as a “poignant and deeply understanding story of childhood and family relationships,” and centers on a young woman’s coming-of-age experience (what’d I tell you about those stories?!) in the poverty of early-20th Century Brooklyn.
  4. The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch. Fiction. From the back cover: “In a war-torn village in Eastern Europe, an American photographer captures a heart-stopping image: a young girl flying toward the lens, fleeing a fiery explosion that has engulfed her home and family. The image, instantly iconic, garners acclaim and prizes — and, in the United States, becomes a subject of obsession for one writer, the photographer’s best friend, who has suffered a devastating tragedy of her own. In a bid to save the writer from a spiraling depression, her filmmaker husband enlists a group of friends . . . to rescue the unknown girl and bring her to the United States.” This book comes with so much praise — I’m confident it’s going to be a great pick.
  5. Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. Nonfiction. I was alerted to this recent release via a Facebook post by Simon & Schuster, regarding works about fierce women. This promising work follows the escape of Ona Judge, Martha Washington’s chief attendant, and her attempt to escape the ownership of her white masters (who were dodging the law at every twist and turn in every attempt to recapture their “property”). I really, really love a good work of historical nonfiction — especially when it’s related to a subject I know little (or nothing) about.
  6. Suicide Club by Rachel Heng. Fiction. This work by debut author Rachel Heng was kindly gifted to me by Henry Holt Books and releases in July. It’s a futuristic work, set in NYC — where people live hundreds of years and are obsessed with achieving immortality. The main character, Lea, is one such person — until an unexpected twist of fate draws her into the inner circle of “Suicide Club,” a group that seeks to live outside society’s norms (aka, the pursuit of eternal life) and achieve death on their own terms. What more do you need to know, guys? I’m fascinated.
  7. Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey. Fiction. I won this August 2018 release in a Goodreads giveaway. The story focuses on two women and a child: an unfit, unhappy mother; a successful, lonely woman who commits a crime to rescue a child that reminds her of herself; and a little girl, whose world is filled with silence and solitude.
  8. A Hope More Powerful than the Sea by Melissa Fleming. Nonfiction. In truth, I was looking for Decca Aitkinhead’s All at Sea when this work caught my eye at Barnes & Noble. Its cover features vivid blue painted waves and the blurb describes this novel as an account of “Doaa, a Syrian girl whose life was upended in 2011 by the onset of her country’s brutal civil war. . . . Adrift in a frigid sea, no land in sight, just debris from the ship’s wreckage and floating corpses all around, nineteen-year-old Doaa Al Zamel stays afloat on a small inflatable ring and clutches two little girls — barely toddlers — to her body.” This immigrant narrative looks to be utterly compelling and heartwrenching.
  9. Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey. Fiction. Henry Holt Books sent me this July release to review, and I’m really glad for that, because it sounds absolutely fabulous. The story starts with a couple who is traumatized but relieved to have their fifteen-year-old daughter returned to them after she went missing for several days. However, she’s gone mute and the court of public opinion is swirling with theories. In an effort to save her family, the girl’s mother, Jen, sets off on a journey to discover the truth of the events that led to her daughter’s disappearance — and the darkness that she may have encountered while she was gone. I haven’t read Healey’s first book — Elizabeth is Missing — but it’s a critically-acclaimed work and award winner, and that’s usually a strong indication for author potential.

What’s at the top of your summer TBR pile? Drop a comment below and let me know! 🙂 Happy reading, bookworms.

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