Book Recommendations, Reading

My Summer 2020 Reading List

What to Read Summer 2020

Pandemic or not, summer has always been a time for me to look forward to reading lots of new releases, not feeling one iota of guilt for turning to more “fluffy” reads rather than my usual more “literary” fare, and for challenging myself to maybe try out a few wild cards. It feels like summer reading is a time to experiment with some new authors, try out some genres I normally wouldn’t (there’s actually some fantasy picks below! it’s a miracle!), and maybe more consciously seek out some more lighthearted topics.

Below are the 13 titles I’m planning on picking up this summer, and there’s everything from foodie memoirs (multiple, actually) to books that were released awhile ago but that seem perfect for now to novels that sound suspiciously like well-known movie plots (see: The Switch vs. the rom-com The Holiday) but that still seem like plenty of fun anyway.

This season might be short on some of the things we’re used to summer bringing like community barbecues and beach vacations and trips to the local pool, but one thing I’m always, ALWAYS thankful for is the ability to escape into a good book.

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My Summer 2020 Reading List

House Lessons: Renovating a Life by Erica Bauermeister

Since HGTV has put a halt on some of my favorite shows (or not released new seasons of them yet…Boise Boys, anyone?) and the Magnolia Network’s release date was pushed back yet further, my home-renovation-loving self has struggled to fill the void. And then came this recent release about Bauermeister’s purchase of the fixer upper of fixer uppers on the Pacific Coast—a falling-apart 4-bedroom house that belonged to a recently-deceased hoarder–and her family’s subsequent renovation of it on a limited budget. This book is part musing on what makes a house a home and the importance of a home’s layout when it comes to harmonious family dynamics, part descriptions of back-breaking labor and hard financial decisions, and part peek into the inner workings of two parents trying to juggle the pulls of work and dreams and raising two children trying to come into their own. This is the first book I’ve started on this list, and at halfway through, I can say with a decent amount of confidence that I picked a winner to start the season out with. (And if you like this kind of book, you’d probably also like Katrina Kenison’s The Gift of an Ordinary Day, as I did.)

Good Husbandry by Kristin Kimball

I absolutely loved Kimball’s first book (The Dirty Life), which is about how she unexpectedly fell in love with a farmer while she was interviewing him on assignment as a journalist, and how she upended her whole life as a result by trading in her hectic city life for life as a farmer. I had no idea she was planning a second book, but I was so excited when I heard about this! This is a follow-up to The Dirty Life (though I don’t think you need to read that other one first), and it talks about the difficulties and struggles the couple faced as their farm grew, as they added two children to their family, and as they navigated the financial and economic and other pressures of the farming life. I can’t wait to dive into this one!

Related Post: 12 Compulsively-Readable Memoirs

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune

What, a fantasy book?! Who AM I?! Maybe it’s my husband’s love of the fantasy genre or maybe it’s just me looking for a way to shake up my reading life (or maybe I just liked the cover of this, k?), but I think this recent release that just came out in March looks like a lot of fun. This is a story about a middle-aged man who works at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, and his life is quiet and ordinary enough until he is sent on assignment to the Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous magical children live. Perhaps I put too much stock in Goodreads ratings, but the masses usually aren’t (too) wrong—and this one has a 4.58 rating right now, which is insanely high. Time to see what all the buzz is about!

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

So this isn’t a new release at all–it was actually published in 2016–but it feels like just the kind of summer read I’m looking for right now: a strong, well-educated female protagonist who is ahead of her time, a quaint English town, and a world on the brink of upheaval. This mixes Austen-esque summer parties and remarks on social conventions with tidbits on what the world looked like at the start of WWI, and I’m actually about a quarter of the way through this and loving it so far. (This was also one of the books recommended to me by a fellow reader, and I’m finally getting around to it!)

Related Post: 15 Absorbing Historical Fiction Reads NOT Set During WWII

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore

This quirky, sci-fi-esque book has been everywhere lately, and I’m curious to see what I’ll think of it. The basic premise of the book is that Oona is about to turn 19—the year is 1982, and she has a lot of Big Decisions ahead about her future, like where to study and whether or not to stay together with her boyfriend. Except that when she’s supposed to turn 19 at midnight, she awakens to find that she’s actually 51 and looking into the eyes of a stranger. And so it goes from every birthday on—she is flip-flopped back in time or forward in time to a different year of her life, and she has to figure out how she got there and learn to navigate her ever-changing reality. It’s definitely a fascinating premise—I’ll have to see how well it’s executed.

Always Home: A Daughter’s Recipes and Stories by Fanny Singer

Will I ever get tired of foodie memoirs? Probably not, at least not if they’re well done. And this one is printed on that kind of luscious, magazine-quality paper that smells deliciously of new glue and photos. (Truly you aren’t an avid book lover if you don’t swoon over the smell of new book glue and paper, right?) You’re probably familiar with Alice Waters, but in case you’re not, she’s a chef and food activist who helped pioneer the whole farm-to-table movement. Anyway, this is her daughter’s memoir (told in vignettes and recipes) about what it was like to grow up with such a vibrant, famous figure as her mom, and it looks super promising—it’s on my nightstand right at this very moment.

Writers and Lovers by Lily King

This just barely came onto my radar with the release of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Summer 2020 Reading Guide, and I wasted no time in putting a hold on it! Casey Peabody is a writer in her mid-30’s who is trying to figure everything out in the wake of the unexpected loss of her mother, the reality of her dead-end waitressing job, and the fact that she’s been working on her novel for over six years. Oh, and she’s been very unlucky in love. This is the story of how she comes into her own, and I was very excited when Anne (of Modern Mrs. Darcy) talked about how this had “one of the most exuberant, satisfying endings [she’s] read in ages” because I’m kind of a stickler for that kind of thing.

Let Them Eat Pancakes by Craig Carlson

So here’s something ironic—I kind of have a thing for reading books about Paris, but I wasn’t even that impressed by Paris the one time I visited there back in 2005. (Granted, if I was to go again on my own agenda and not as part of a touring group, perhaps my views would be different. And because I would be going with my husband, who can speak French.) And you might have noticed already that I have a thing for foodie memoirs. So naturally, when I found out about this book chronicling Carlson’s (mis)adventures opening up the first American diner in Paris, I knew I wanted in. This one isn’t scheduled to be released until July 7th, but I’ve already put my library request in, and I’m first in the lineup once it’s published!

Related Post: 14 Books for the Foodie (Beyond Cookbooks)

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

Okay, so this plot summary basically sounds like a bit of a knock-off of the movie The Holiday: a 79-year-old grandmother and her 20-something granddaughter decide to switch houses for two months to get a fresh outlook on life. Love is found, friendships are formed…sounds a lot like the rom-com, right? Well, good thing I liked The Holiday enough to purchase it for my DVD collection ages ago, and good thing the plot still sounds fun enough that I’m excited to give this lighter read a try this summer!

This is Happiness by Niall Williams

Of all the titles on here, this is the one that skews the most “literary” and like, well, everything I read the rest of the year. It’s got all the things I look for in a good fiction read: an immersive setting that’s rich in detail, a character-driven story full of complexity and growth, and just enough of a plot to move things along, but not so much that the action gets in the way of the REAL story, which is the internal battle waging within each character. Here are the specifics: a quiet Irish town is finally getting connected to the electrical grid ages after everyone else (think: late 1950’s), an old man comes back to town after decades away, and suddenly, everything is different. I hear this is a story about first loves and grief and regret and second chances, and I hear the writing is stunning. If I’m only in the mood for lighter reads this summer, I might table this until fall…but only if I can wait that long.

Related Post: My Favorite 20 Books of the Last Decade

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

I like Jane Austen as much as the next person (and rather more than many), but I’m generally not one to go for retellings, modern reimaginings, Regency-era knockoffs, and the like. (There are some exceptions, of course, like the fun Ayesha At Last that was on my summer reading list last year.) Honestly, if I see Austen mentioned anywhere on a contemporary title, my impulse is often to run the other way. What makes this one appeal to me anyway is that it’s not a retelling of her work at all—rather, it’s based in the town where Austen spent the last years of her life, specifically around the house she was living in, which was left to her heirs and their descendants. When financial hard times hit the village post-WWII, a ragtag band of Austen devotees joins together to preserve the historical house–and the legacy–of the author whom they so love. I’m curious to see how this one turns out for me, but as of now, I think it sounds like something I’ll like.

Everything is Under Control by Phyllis Grant

Can this reading list handle yet another foodie memoir? Yes, yes it can. This collection of essays is going to be the most nuanced and literary of the three (from what I can tell), and Goodreads describes it as “a heartrending yet unsentimental portrait of the highs and lows of young adulthood, motherhood, and a life in the kitchen.” Grant was a Juilliard-trained dancer who later ended up working in different 4-star restaurants in NYC, where she later met her husband and then moved away in the aftermath of 9/11. I’m always looking for books about young motherhood as well as books that talk about the complexities of life in beautiful ways, and this seems like it will be that and more (plus recipes!).

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

I like how Sepetys expores lesser-known aspects of history in her fiction, and this book covering the time in Spain under dictator Francisco Franco’s reign is particularly interesting to me, as it’s a topic I (briefly) covered with my students when I was a Spanish teacher. In this book, the lives of an 18-year-old tourist and a local girl named Ana intertwine to paint a picture of Spain’s closely-held secrets during this era in the decades following the Spanish Civil War. Several of my friends on Goodreads have finished this one already, and not a single one has awarded it fewer than 4 stars, which to me is a sign I need to pick it up already!

Now tell me—what’s on YOUR summer reading list?

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