Summer Reading 2021

We love to read so every summer and we like to post our suggestions. Everyone enjoys some time off, and most of us appreciate a chance to escape into another life. We’re storytellers, so we love to be told a new and different story. (Nothing pandemic-related on our list, BTW, and lots of travel. Admittedly, some of the travel might make you want to stay home.)

Saint X
by Alexis Schaitkin

The New York Times review

We can’t top Joyce Carol Oates’s back cover blurb for this debut novel: “Richly atmospheric, by turns coolly satiric and warmly romantic…imagines a chorus of voices in the aftermath of the alleged murder of a privileged American girl in an exotic Caribbean country. Part true-crime thriller and part coming-of-age novel narrated by the dead girl’s younger sister…” You’ve likely ruled it in or out with just that fractured sentence. No judgement either way, but we had to put this one up as an option.

White Ivy
by Susie Yang

Washington Post review

Shonda Rhimes bought the movie rights. That’s another easy yes/no indicator for a lot of potential readers. It’s dark, but very engagingly so. The author is on record talking about inspiration from Wharton’s House of Mirth and contemporary protagonists as seen in breaking Bad and House of Cards. It caught our eye with some comparisons to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, one of Susan’s all-time favorites from the early ’90s.

The Truants
by Kate Weinberg

USA Today review

Another debut thriller, which, now that we write this, may also have some roots in The Secret History. Set on a college campus with a star professor who draws our protagonist, Jess Walter, she also falls in with a close-knit group. Secrets, tragedy, love, and a lot of online comparisons to Agatha Christie. Published in 2019 in the UK, best-selling, page-turner author Jojo Moyes picked it as one of her top three recommendations for that year in The Guardian.

Sea Wife
by Amity Gaige

New York Times review

The news is full of stories about how the pandemic has reshuffled the geographic future of work and school. If we can remote work from anywhere, and if school is online, all kinds of new freedoms are possible in planning our future lives. The novel has a pre-pandemic young family setting off on a yearlong trip on a 44-foot sailboat. Telling the story from the perspective of wife/mom Juliet after the trip as she comes to terms with the events and the captain’s log kept by husband/dad Michael during the trip, the book generates suspense as we find out more. Without giving anything away, let’s just suggest you might want to read this novel before you make any really dramatic changes to your life.

Can You Forgive Her?
by Anthony Trollope

Trollope Society description

The first in Trollope’s political Palliser series, this novel tells the stories of three parallel courtships. Trollope was published in serial from so the book looks dauntingly long, but it moves very fast. Trollope is one of those classic British writers you might easily have missed reading back in school. His books remain relevant and interesting, not just because of the characters themselves, but because he writes about the double standards of a society much like ours. Like Edith Wharton, he writes about another era’s 1%, with all the hypocrisy you can find today. Like Wharton and Jane Austen, he’s fascinated by the inner workings of marriage but ties them to the politics of the country as a whole. Always absorbing, it’s a bit physically heavy in most editions to be a true beach read, but still might be worth the lift. (The book is complete in itself, there’s no need to read the other five in the series…but if you fall in love, good to know there’s more.)

Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe?
by Brock Clarke

Star Tribune review

Perfect for fans who are wondering when John Irving might publish again, or who loved Where’d You Go Bernadette? or Andrew Sean Greer’s Less. This novel may also suit frustrated travelers who’ve been grounded for a year. In a nutshell, Calvin is a nearly 50-year-old Maine-based blogger (his expertise is pellet stoves) whose mother dies in an accident. Suddenly an aunt he’s never met (or heard of) shows up with a passport (for him) and insists Calvin travel with her all over Europe. Their escapades veer deeply into the ridiculous (thieves, secret agents, and a stalker ex-wife). It’s a joyful, fun book with a wide range of experiences but with a heart of gold at its heart. Perfect if you shuddered at the thought of Saint X or White Ivy earlier in our list.

The Secret Guests
by Benjamin Black

The Guardian review

It seems no English language list of book recommendations can ever be compiled without at least one WWII novel, but sometimes it’s hard to get excited about an era you really think you understand. This novel is something completely different. Black suggests a bit of historical fake news—that the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were not at Windsor Castle but instead hidden away in Ireland at the start of the war. Benjamin Black is actually the mystery-writing pseudonym of much-lauded, Man Booker Prize–winning John Banville, and for anyone who’s never read his Quirke series, he’s always entirely comfortable spilling Ireland’s dirty secrets, holding back nothing on the flaws of the past and of human nature itself. Perfect while you wait for the next season of The Crown. (If that appeals to you, please also check out Craig Brown’s Ninety-nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret and Monica Ali’s Untold Story.)