I crave a good book stack. It gives me a small high when I have so much “potential” education, entertainment, and escapism at my fingertips. And, summer means most of us can make more time to take advantage of the high season for juicy fiction and gripping tell-alls.
I’ve updated this list from its original publication in June 2019 because a good book NEVER goes out of season.
If you didn’t get a chance to read some of the 2019 list, check it out… And, here’s some new Summer 2020 ideas to get your read on!
Yes, some things will be different this summer, but others will remain the same. You can still sit in a park or in your yard with a good book. After a long day, you can still flop down on your bed with a good book. You can still dip your toes in a lake or the ocean while paging through a good book. You can still sit on a deck in the near-dark, reading a good book with only the gnats for company. (Noticing a theme here?)
So, let’s tear through some tomes between now and Labor Day with these updated reading recommendations…
The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books. ~~ Longfellow
2020 Summer Recommendations
Fiction / Biography / Memoir
Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime by Patricia Hampl – Just out of college, Patricia Hampl was mesmerized by a Matisse painting she saw in the Art Institute of Chicago: an aloof woman gazing at goldfish in a bowl, a mysterious Moroccan screen behind her. This woman seemed a welcome secular version of the nuns of Hampl’s girlhood, free and untouchable, a poster girl for twentieth-century feminism. In Blue Arabesque, Hampl explores the allure of that woman, immersed in leisure, so at odds with the increasing rush of the modern era.
A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler – Alva Smith, her southern family destitute after the Civil War, married into one of America’s great Gilded Age dynasties: the newly wealthy but socially shunned Vanderbilts. Ignored by New York’s old-money circles and determined to win respect, she designed and built nine mansions, hosted grand balls, and arranged for her daughter to marry a duke. But Alva also defied convention for women of her time, asserting power within her marriage and becoming a leader in the women’s suffrage movement.
Your Blue is Not My Blue: A Mission Person Memoir by Aspen Matis – Aspen’s and Justin’s paths serendipitously aligned on the Pacific Crest Trail when both were walking from Mexico to Canada, separately and alone—both using thru-hiking in hopes of escaping their pasts. By the time they made it to the snowy Cascade Range of British Columbia—the trail’s end—Aspen and Justin were in love. Until a cold November morning, when, after kissing Aspen goodbye, Justin left to attend the funeral of a close friend. He never came back.
In the Shadow of the Valley: A Memoir by Bobi Conn – Bobi Conn was raised in a remote Kentucky holler in 1980s Appalachia. She remembers her tin-roofed house tucked away in a vast forest paradise; the sparkling creeks, with their frogs and crawdads; the sweet blackberries growing along the road to her granny’s; and her abusive father, an underemployed alcoholic whose untethered rage and violence against Bobi and her mother were frighteningly typical of a community marginalized, desperate, and ignored.
The Griffin and Sabine Series – Griffin and Sabine (#1), Sabine’s Notebook (#2), The Golden Mean (#3) all by Nick Bantock – Griffin & Sabine, Sabine’s Notebook, and The Golden Mean have sold over 3 million copies worldwide, and spent over 100 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list. At long last, Nick Bantock brings us a new volume in the Griffin and Sabine story. The Gryphon is a tale rich in the artistry, mystery, and surprise that make the original saga so beloved.
The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir by Samantha Power – An intimate, powerful, and galvanizing memoir by Pulitzer Prize winner, human rights advocate, and former UN Ambassador Samantha Power. In her memoir, Power offers an urgent response to the question “What can one person do?” and a call for a clearer eye, a kinder heart, and a more open and civil hand in our politics and daily lives. The Education of an Idealist traces Power’s distinctly American journey from immigrant to war correspondent to presidential Cabinet official.
The Last Bathing Beauty by Amy Sue Nathan – Everything seemed possible in the summer of 1951. Back then Betty Stern was an eighteen-year-old knockout working at her grandparents’ lakeside resort. The “Catskills of the Midwest” was the perfect place for Betty to prepare for bigger things. She’d head to college in New York City. Her career as a fashion editor would flourish. But first, she’d enjoy a wondrous last summer at the beach falling deeply in love with an irresistible college boy and competing in the annual Miss South Haven pageant.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents, where two star-crossed magicians engage in a deadly game of cunning, is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a shy twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness when she meets Ernest Hemingway and is captivated by his energy, intensity and burning ambition to write. After a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for France. But glamorous Jazz Age Paris, full of artists and writers, fueled by alcohol and gossip, is no place for family life and fidelity.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone―and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. This is an exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life―mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami – Here we meet a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who is on the run, and Nakata, an aging simpleton who is drawn to Kafka for reasons that he cannot fathom. As their paths converge, acclaimed author Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder, in what is a truly remarkable journey.
Self Improvement / Business
Influencer: The Power to Change Anything by Kerry Al Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, and Ron McMillan – Whether you’re a CEO, a parent, or merely a person who wants to make a difference, you probably wish you had more influence with the people in your life. “Influencer” a thought-provoking book that combines the remarkable insights of behavioral scientists and business leaders with the astonishing stories of high-powered influencers from all walks of life.
Southern Women: More Than 100 Stories of Innovators, Artists, and Icons by the Editors of Garden & Gun – For too long, the Southern woman has been synonymous with the Southern belle, a “moonlight and magnolias” myth that gets nowhere close to describing the strong, richly diverse women who have thrived because of—and in some cases, despite of—the South. No more. Garden & Gun’s Southern Women: More than 100 Stories of Trail Blazers, Visionaries, and Icons obliterates that stereotype by sharing the stories of more than 100 of the region’s brilliant women, groundbreakers who have by turns embraced the South’s proud traditions and overcome its equally pervasive barriers and challenges.
Good Charts: The HBR Guide to Making Smarter, More Persuasive Data Visualizations by Scott Berinato – A good visualization can communicate the nature and potential impact of information and ideas more powerfully than any other form of communication. For a long time “dataviz” was left to specialists—data scientists and professional designers. No longer.
Unstoppable: A 90-Day Plan to Biohack Your Mind and Body for Success by Ben Angel – Unable to overcome debilitating fatigue and depression, bestselling author and personal development expert Ben Angel set out on a 90-day mission to ﬁnd and conquer the root of his rut. The result of his journey is Unstoppable, a highly revealing book where Ben gives you a look into the world of nootropics, wearable devices, and nutrition and delivers a guide to help you reduce stress, increase focus, improve physical performance, and eliminate your fears.
The Most Powerful Woman in the Room is You: Command an Audience and Sell Your Way to Success by Lydia Fenet – Lydia Fenet takes you on her twenty-year journey from intern to managing director and global head of strategic partnerships at Christie’s Auction House. Lydia shares the revolutionary sales approach she has crafted over the years that has not only shaped her career, but helped her raise more than half a billion dollars for nonprofits around the world. This is an approach that will empower you to sell your way to success in business and in life.
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez – Data is fundamental to the modern world. From economic development, to healthcare, to education and public policy, we rely on numbers to allocate resources and make crucial decisions. But because so much data fails to take into account gender, because it treats men as the default and women as atypical, bias and discrimination are baked into our systems. And women pay tremendous costs for this bias, in time, money, and often with their lives.
Million Dollar Women by Julia Pimsleur – The “useful and inspiring” (Diane von Furstenberg) guide for female entrepreneurs who want to take their businesses into the big leagues. “Do you have an ambitious vision for your business, but aren’t sure what to do next? Successful entrepreneur Julia Pimsleur provides an invaluable guide for any woman who wants to make a big jump.” (Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before and The Happiness Project).
Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior by David R. Hawkins – We think we live by forces we control, but in fact we are governed by power from unrevealed sources, power over which we have no control. The universe holds its breath as we choose, instant by instant, which pathway to follow; for the universe, the very essence of life itself, is highly conscious. Every act, thought, and choice adds to a permanent mosaic; our decisions ripple through the universe of consciousness to affect the lives of all.
Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It… And Why the Rest Don’t by Verne Harnish – This book details practical tools and techniques for building an industry-dominating business. It’s written so everyone — from frontline employees to senior executives — can get aligned in contributing to the growth of a firm. Scaling Up focuses on the four major decision areas every company must get right: People, Strategy, Execution, and Cash.
Mystery / Suspense
Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie – Beautiful Caroline Crale was convicted of poisoning her husband, but just like the nursery rhyme, there were five other “little pigs” who could have done it — Philip Blake (the stockbroker), who went to market; Meredith Blake (the amateur herbalist), who stayed at home; Elsa Greer (the three-time divorcee), who had her roast beef; Cecilia Williams (the devoted governess), who had none; and Angela Warren (the disfigured sister), who cried all the way home. Sixteen years later, Caroline’s only daughter, Lucy, is determined to prove her mother’s innocence, and Hercule Poirot just can’t get this nursery rhyme out of his mind.
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett – Rare-book theft is even more widespread than fine-art theft. Most thieves, of course, steal for profit. John Charles Gilkey steals purely for the love of books. In an attempt to understand him better, journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett plunged herself into the world of book lust and discovered just how dangerous it can be. Immersing the reader in a rich, wide world of literary obsession, Bartlett looks at the history of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages, to examine the craving that makes some people willing to stop at nothing to possess the books they love.
In An Instant by Suzanne Redfearn – Life is over in an instant for sixteen-year-old Finn Miller when a devastating car accident tumbles her and ten others over the side of a mountain. Suspended between worlds, she watches helplessly as those she loves struggle to survive. Impossible choices are made, decisions that leave the survivors tormented with grief and regret. Unable to let go, Finn keeps vigil as they struggle to reclaim their shattered lives.
Last Day by Luanne Rice – Years ago, Beth Lathrop and her sister Kate suffered what they thought would be the worst tragedy of their lives the night both the famous painting Moonlight and their mother were taken. The detective assigned to the case, Conor Reid, swore to protect the sisters from then on. Beth moved on, throwing herself fully into the art world, running the family gallery, and raising a beautiful daughter with her husband Pete. Kate, instead, retreated into herself and took to the skies as a pilot, always on the run. When Beth is found strangled in her home, and Moonlight goes missing again, Detective Reid can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu.
Nine Elms by Robert Bryndza – Kate Marshall was a promising young police detective when she caught the notorious Nine Elms serial killer. But her greatest victory suddenly turned into a nightmare. Traumatized, betrayed, and publicly vilified for the shocking circumstances surrounding the cannibal murder case, Kate could only watch as her career ended in scandal. Fifteen years after those catastrophic events, Kate is still haunted by the unquiet ghosts of her troubled past. Now a lecturer at a small coastal English university, she finally has a chance to face them. A copycat killer has taken up the Nine Elms mantle, continuing the ghastly work of his idol.
I Know Everything by Matthew Farrell – Police investigator Susan Adler is ready to close the book on a deadly car accident, but after the medical examiner discovers evidence of foul play, she knows she has a murder on her hands. The victim was the wealthy wife of Randall Brock, a renowned psychiatrist who treats patients with disturbing, brutal fantasies. And just like that, Susan’s got a suspect. Randall has a violent past but knows he didn’t kill his wife. In the midst of his crushing grief, Randall receives a visit from a stranger with information to share about his wife’s death. But there’s a catch: in exchange for the stranger’s information, Randall must reveal dark secrets he’s kept hidden for years.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara – For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area. Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.”
What You Did by Claire McGowan – It was supposed to be the perfect reunion: six university friends together again after twenty years. Host Ali finally has the life she always wanted, a career she can be proud of and a wonderful family with her college boyfriend, now husband. But that night her best friend makes an accusation so shocking that nothing will ever be the same again.
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane – (Yes, it’s a movie, but the book is SO MUCH BETTER!) In the year 1954, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule, come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to investigate an unexplained disappearance. Multiple murderess Rachel Solando is loose somewhere on this barren island, despite having been kept under constant surveillance in a locked, guarded cell. As a killer hurricane bears relentlessly down on the island, hints of radical experimentation and covert government machinations add darker, more sinister shades to an already bizarre case. Because nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is remotely what it seems.
2019 Summer Recommendations
Fiction / Biography / Memoir
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov can’t leave his hotel. You won’t want to either.
A Well-Read Woman: The Life, Loves, and Legacy of Ruth Rappaport by Kate Stewart – A biographical story of Ruth’s passion for the printed word, and the haven it provides. This wasn’t just a career for Ruth Rappaport. It was her purpose.
Leonardo’s Swans by Karen Essex – A haunting novel of rivalry, love, and betrayal that transports you back to Renaissance Italy, this book will have you looking up the works of the great master… not for clues to a mystery, but to contemplate the secrets of the human heart.
The Price of Paradise by Susana López Rubio – In Havana, Cuba, in 1947 a young Patricio flees impoverished Spain and steps into the sultry island paradise with only the clothes on his back and half-baked dreams of a better life. Blessed with good looks and natural charm, he lands a job as a runner at El Encanto, one of the most luxurious department stores in the world.
Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah – A mysterious child teaches two strangers how to live and love again.
The Last of the Stanfields by Marc Levy – Two strangers unite in this novel of family secrets.
The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro – Newlywed Grace Monroe doesn’t fit anyone’s expectations of a successful 1950s London socialite, least of all her own. When she receives an unexpected inheritance from a complete stranger, Madame Eva d’Orsey, Grace is drawn to uncover the identity of her mysterious benefactor. A remarkable novel about secrets, desire, memory, passion, and possibility.
Lulu Meets God And Doubts Him by Danielle Ganek – When painter Jeffrey Finelli is run over by a cab, the art world clamors for the instantly in-demand work by the late “emerging artist”—especially an enormous painting called Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him. Gallery receptionist and aspiring artist Mia McMurray finds herself at the center of the hype.
Self Improvement / Business
Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek – Sinek starts with a fundamental question: Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? Why do some command greater loyalty from customers and employees alike? Even among the successful, why are so few able to repeat their success over and over?
Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get The Life You Want by Michael Hyatt – Each of us has but one life to live on this earth. What we do with it is our choice. Are we drifting through it as spectators, reacting to our circumstances when necessary and wondering just how we got to this point anyway? Or are we directing it, maximizing the joy and potential of every day, living with a purpose or mission in mind?
The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins – Throughout your life, you’ve had parents, coaches, teachers, friends and mentors who have pushed you to be better than your excuses and bigger than your fears. What if the secret to having the confidence and courage to enrich your life and work is simply knowing how to push yourself? Using the science of habits, riveting stories and surprising facts from some of the most famous moments in history, art and business, Mel Robbins will explain the power of a “push moment.”
Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology by Vivek Wadhwa – Women in technology are on the rise in both power and numbers, and now it’s more important than ever to not lose that momentum, to “lean in” and close the gender gap. Although they make up half of the population, only 14% of engineers in the United States are women. The future of technology depends on the full and active participation of women and men working together, and it is vital that women are both educated and encouraged to go into the tech sectors.
The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything Else by Daniel Coyle – What is the secret of talent? How do we unlock it? In this groundbreaking work, journalist and New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle provides parents, teachers, coaches, businesspeople—and everyone else—with tools they can use to maximize potential in themselves and others.
Settle For More by Megyn Kelly – In Settle for More, the NBC News anchor reflects on the enduring values and experiences that have shaped her—from growing up in a family that rejected the “trophies for everyone” mentality, to her father’s sudden, tragic death while she was in high school. She goes behind-the-scenes of her career, sharing the stories and struggles that landed her in the anchor chair and taught her to ask the tough questions.
Finding the Exit: It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish by Lea A. Ellermeier – What’s it really like for the average woman to start and sell a technology company? Standing splendidly in the intersection of two genres – a business memoir and gritty personal tell-all – Finding the Exit is a courageous tale of a woman who, against harrowing odds that began in childhood, successfully started and sold a medtech company to a Fortune 100 in less than five years.
High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way by Brendon Burchard – After extensive original research and a decade as the world’s highest-paid performance coach, Brendon Burchard finally reveals the most effective habits for reaching long-term success. Based on one of the largest surveys ever conducted on high performers, it turns out that just six habits move the needle the most in helping you succeed. Adopt these six habits, and you win.
Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team Is Waiting For by Jonathan Raymond – Imagine a world where personal and professional growth is one thing, where improving your relationships and owning your strengths at work translate directly into the rest of your life. Creating a company culture like that is not a dream. Through personal stories and real-life conversations, Jonathan takes you into the room with managers and employees where real culture change happens.
The Widow Cliquot by Tilar J. Mazzeo – A business biography of the visionary young widow who built a champagne empire, became a legend in her tumultuous times and showed the world how to live with style. Mazzeo brings to life the woman behind the label, Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, in this utterly intoxicating book
Mystery / Suspense
In The Woods by Tana French – As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.
Origin by Dan Brown – Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist, and one of Langdon’s first students. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever.
Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen – In 1845, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is all the rage—the success of which a struggling poet like Frances Osgood can only dream. As a mother trying to support two young children after her husband’s cruel betrayal, Frances jumps at the chance to meet the illustrious Mr. Poe at a small literary gathering. What follows is a flirtation, then a seduction, then an illicit affair, and Frances finds herself falling slowly and inexorably under the spell of her mysterious, complicated lover. But when Edgar’s frail wife, Virginia, insists on befriending Frances as well, the relationship becomes as dark and twisted as one of Poe’s tales.
A Study In Scarlet: Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle – The year is 1881. The city, London. A man lies dead in an empty house, not a mark upon him, and no clues—save for the word “RACHE” scrawled in blood on the wall above. Elsewhere, two men—a former army doctor called John Watson and a brilliant eccentric called Sherlock Holmes—meet for the first time. These two events set in motion an adventure into the darkest corners of men’s hearts.
The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard – Will Hurley was an attractive, charming, and impressive student at Dublin’s elite St. John’s College — and Ireland’s most prolific serial killer. Freshman Alison Smith moved to the Big Smoke to enroll in St. John’s and soon fell hard for Will Hurley. Her world bloomed . . . and then imploded when Liz, her best friend, became the latest victim of the Canal Killer — and the Canal Killer turned out to be the boy who’d been sleeping in her bed. Alison fled to the Netherlands and, in ten years, has never once looked back.
Blood For Blood by Victoria Selman – Rush hour, London. A packed commuter train is torn apart in a collision. Picking through the carnage, ex-special forces profiler Ziba MacKenzie helps a dying woman who passes on a cryptic message: He did it. You have to tell someone.
All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda – It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.
Last fall I started a minor project of reading ALL the books written by Agatha Christie in the order that she published them. Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time. Her novels have sold roughly 3 billion copies, and her estate claims that her works come third in the rankings of the world’s most-widely published books, behind only Shakespeare’s works and the Bible.
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