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Best Summer Reads

Books 3

I’ve always read a lot, but lately I’ve been reading even more than I normally do. Now that I’m done all of my assigned readings for my master’s degree, and all of my reading diaries for the course are finished, I feel like I can just read whatever I’d like. Although I absolutely loved reading all of the memoirs and non-fiction and travelogues required for the course, ideally I love to mix it up as much as possible.

The phrase “summer reads” gets thrown around a lot – I guess because summer implies sitting around in a garden sipping lemonade with a good book. Or sitting on the beach sipping a margarita with a great book (much better scenario, really). And while summer has already started long ago, it’s never too late to delve into a big old pile of books… right? Here are a few books I’ve read lately and can recommend, along with some books I’m eager to read this summer.

1. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey. I just finished this book, and it was one of those “I can’t put it down” reads. The main character, Maud, has trouble remembering things due to dementia. She’s quite certain of one thing, however – that Elizabeth is missing. It’s a beautifully-written mystery.

2. Spinster by Kate Bolick. This book is just fantastic. It’s not available in the UK until next month – I had to get my mum to bring it over to me from Canada – but I recommend that you put it on your reading list. Kate Bolick does a great job of blending her personal story with the stories of women such as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, and Neith Boyce (to name a few). I connected with it on so many levels – as a feminist, as a woman, as a writer, and as someone who is quite all right with calling myself a spinster.

3. The Moth edited by Catherine Burns. I stupidly lent this book out to someone (when will I learn?!) and it looks like I’ll be buying another copy, because I know I will want to read it again and again. For those who don’t know, The Moth is a storytelling organisation, inspired by the tales that people used to tell on their porches in the South. This collection is comprised of fifty of the best of them, and the stories range from everything from surviving cancer, to falling in love, to dealing with the death of a parent, to following one’s dream. I laughed out loud and I cried a lot, all the while basking in the ability to feel completely connected to someone within the span of a few pages.

4. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. What can I say about Joan Didion that hasn’t been said before? She’s a queen, a badass, an idol, a dream. This collection of essays captures what it was like in 1960s America. Not only is it informative, it’s gorgeously written.

5. The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. This is one of those books that I read all through the night. It is brave and heartbreaking and eloquent and just about everything you could possibly want from a book. The book follows one man’s descent into mental illness, and it is done in such a way that you are locked into the story from the very beginning. On top of that, the author, Nathan Filer, is an extraordinarily lovely person – I tweeted him and he immediately tweeted back, with even a few emails back and forth to one another.

6. Yes, Please by Amy Poehler. I grew up on Saturday Night Live, and was lucky enough to be of the generation that got to follow the rise of amazing women like Tiny Fey, Maya Rudolph, and Amy Poehler. Is it just me, or do you already feel like you’re best friends with these women? Reading Yes, Please will only make the situation worse, trust me. Funny and witty and wise – just like its author – I devoured this book in one day. Also check out Bossypants by Tiny Fey and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling.

7. On Writing by Stephen King. I admit that I haven’t read many of King’s books, but there is no denying his influence on popular culture. I read On Writing as a supplementary text during my master’s degree, and I loved it. The first section is his memoir, which is a hilarious and often touching account of his childhood and first forays into writing. The second section is about the act of writing, and I found his advice to be invaluable – often harsh, but invaluable. Whether you’re writing a book, an essay, or a blog post, I recommend it.

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8. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. Another book I really enjoyed recently, and one I don’t want to say too much about. I am thankful that I didn’t read any reviews online, because I was unaware of the twist that occurs about seventy-five pages in. If you haven’t read this yet, please don’t read anything about it first. It’s an interesting account of a family in America, trying to deal with the ups and downs of life together… with one very large exception to the average family. I loved it.

9. I Feel Bad About my Neck by Nora Ephron. Another intelligent, strong, successful woman on this list, Nora Ephron wrote a few collections of essays/memoir in her (much too short) lifetime. I laughed out loud at this one, too, and found myself nodding along to so many of her stories.

10. The Italian Affair by Laura Fraser. I read this book because I wanted to read something kind of similar to what I am writing myself, which is a book in the second-person. Fraser’s account of her post-divorce travels through Italy is beautiful and descriptive, and it will make you want to get on an airplane to Italy immediately. The style of the book is indeed unique, and I found it to be a really fascinating read.

11. This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff. Ugh, this book is just so sad and so beautiful and I am amazed I hadn’t read it before. You may have seen the movie (starring a young Leonardo DiCaprio) but even if you have, I recommend reading Wolff’s memoir of his childhood. It is a magnificent (and often extremely difficult to swallow) account of Wolff’s struggle to find his identity all the while being emotionally tortured by his stepfather.

12. The Devil On Her Tongue by Linda Holeman. No, I could not complete a list like this without one of my mother’s books. What can I say? She’s a marvellous writer, and if I ever write even half as good as she does I’ll be pretty damn happy. Her latest book is set on Porto Santo and Madeira (islands off the coast of Portugal) in the 18th century, and focuses on a young woman who wants to forge a different path for herself other than ‘wife’ or ‘nun’. My mum specialises in historical fiction, and I am always amazed at the level of detail she so seamlessly blends into her work. My only complaint is that there are a few sex scenes, because, EW GROSS MUM, I don’t want to read that.

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And what I’m looking forward to reading?

1. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume – because it’s Judy Blume.

2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – because everyone else has read it.

3. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee – because my dear friend Claire gave it to me for my birthday, and I really do need to be more familiar with travel writing from other periods.

4. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – because this book was recommended to me time and time again throughout my master’s degree.

5. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson – because I really liked (and recommend) Life After Life, and I’m eager to see what she does with this book.

6. White Teeth by Zadie Smith – because I’ve never read it, and that’s just embarrassing.

7. H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald – because it’s another one that keeps getting recommended to me.

8. Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller – because it’s about Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Carly Simon, and that’s all you really need to know to want to read it.

For more of what I love to read, check out my post on Best Travel Books and What I Read On the Road. Also, because I apparently still live in 2008, I still use Shelfari, where you can check out other books I’m reading, want to read, and recommend.

What have you been reading lately, or what are you looking forward to reading? Have you read any of the books on this list?

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22 Responses to Best Summer Reads

  1. Ashley July 8, 2015 at 9:19 pm #

    Thanks for sharing – I’m always looking for new book recommendations! I’ll definitely be adding Elizabeth is Missing and The Shock of the Fall to my must-read list. This Boy’s Life sounds like it might be somewhat similar to A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs – which I’d highly recommend!

    • Brenna Holeman July 9, 2015 at 9:00 am #

      Oh yes, I’ve heard of that – I should definitely pick it up! Thanks, Ashley.

  2. veena July 9, 2015 at 8:56 am #

    thank you for this! i have a never-ending stack of books to read, but i am always looking for new suggestions. some of these i have heard about before, but most are new to me, so i am excited about exploring them some more. and i think you will love white teeth — it’s a fantastic read!

    • Brenna Holeman July 9, 2015 at 9:00 am #

      Great, thank you so much, Veena!

  3. Bex July 9, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

    I have read “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” and loved it – don’t want to give too much away, like you.
    Great list – thanks!

    • Brenna Holeman July 10, 2015 at 10:32 pm #

      Yeah, it’s a great read! Glad you liked the list. 🙂

  4. Linda July 9, 2015 at 4:48 pm #

    It’s pretty clear we have the same eclectic taste in reading, Brenna, because of your twelve books I’ve read nine and have the other three on my “to read” list…what an amazing gift – to love to read and to treasure books! And sorry, awkward but true: Moms know about sex. Can’t wait to have our next “book club of two” discussion.

    • Brenna Holeman July 10, 2015 at 10:38 pm #


      Thank you for always recommending great books to me – yes, I love our book talks very much. xo

      p.s. did you count your own book in the ones you have already read? You nerd.

  5. Danielle July 9, 2015 at 10:07 pm #

    I recently discovered your blog– I love it! Was really glad to come across this post because although work at a bookstore (an indie one in Southern California) I am still always on the lookout for book recommendations. I found myself writing down several of the books you suggested and I love that you have The Italian Affair on your list as I just recently discovered it and after devouring it I immediately picked up her follow-up book, All Over the Map.

    I am a big fan of the second person perspective, and wanted to ask if you have read Vendela Vida’s new book, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty? It sounds very intriguing… After being robbed of her wallet and passport while on a mysterious trip to Morocco, a woman feels a strange freedom of being stripped of her identity and soon begins pretending to be a well-known film star. That one is next on my list. 🙂

    One other thing I wanted to mention… We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a book that many of my co-workers loved and we are actually hosting an event with Karen Joy Fowler tomorrow evening so I will be sure to mention that I read about her book on your blog!

    • Brenna Holeman July 10, 2015 at 10:37 pm #

      Thank you so much, Danielle! I hope that you discover some new books… and I have to say I envy your job, it has always been my dream to work in a bookshop. I also read All Over the Map, that’s awesome that you have read both of them, too!

      I haven’t read The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty… but it sounds very cool, I’ll add that to my list.

      And that is so amazing about Karen Joy Fowler! I’m sure it is going to be an incredible event. Say hello to her for me – and that I loved her book! 😀

  6. Camille July 10, 2015 at 5:34 am #

    I always look forward to your book recommendations, Brenna! I’ve also decided that I have to read The Girl on the Train before the summer is over. Right now I’m engrossed by Daughters of the Samurai by Janice Nimura. It’s a historical account of the lives and experiences of three young girls who were sent by the government of Japan to be educated in the United States in the late 19th century.

    • Brenna Holeman July 10, 2015 at 10:33 pm #

      Thanks, Camille! I just finished The Girl on the Train and it was a good holiday book. Daughters of the Samurai sounds great, I’ll have to add it to my list!

  7. Jessi (Two Feet, One World) July 10, 2015 at 4:53 pm #

    Oooh I love book recommendation posts, thanks! Have added a few of these 🙂 I also really enjoyed We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – and was SO glad I hadn’t read about the twist!

    • Brenna Holeman July 10, 2015 at 10:33 pm #

      That’s awesome, thanks Jessi! I’m glad I didn’t know about the twist, either…

  8. Katie July 12, 2015 at 12:31 am #

    So many more wonderful books to add to my already long list. I just bought a book that I have been wanting to read since i was last in British Columbia: The Golden Spruce. It’s the true story about a 300 year old golden spruce that was revered by locals and visitors being cut down in Haida Gwaii. The guy that cut it down then disappeared and no one has found him or knows why he did it. I can’t wait to get stuck into it, especially as I will be heading to Haida Gwaii for 3 weeks in just over a months time. I definitely recommend reading Stephen King, he is very very talented and I don’t know another author that can flesh out characters like he can. I especially recommend 11/22/63 – one of his more recent books and completely awesome

    • Brenna Holeman July 12, 2015 at 8:59 pm #

      Thanks for the recommendations, Katie! I love adding new books to my list. Have an amazing time in Haida Gwaii…

  9. Kisha July 13, 2015 at 11:26 pm #

    I just finished a book called ‘Maybe In Another Life” by Taylor Jenkins Reid and really enjoyed it. I downloaded it to my e-reader on Friday and had finished it by Sunday. The premise:

    At 29, Hannah still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. Shortly after moving back to her hometown of L.A. she goes out to a bar with her best friend, Gabby, and reconnects with her high school boyfriend, Ethan. Just after midnight, she is offered a ride home by each of them. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

    The story is then told in two alternate realities/alternating chapters – one where she leaves with Gabby. The other she leaves with Ethan. I thought it would be predictable but, surprisingly, it wasn’t. And I think it’s a situation that many can relate to – that wondering “what would have happened if…”

    Anyways, I’d totally recommend it. The week prior I read “The Girl On The Train” because, like your reasoning, everyone else seems to be reading it. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped to – I guess I’d set the bar too high after seeing it *everywhere*.

    Hope you’re well! xo

    • Brenna Holeman July 16, 2015 at 5:28 pm #

      That book sounds very cool! I will add it to my list now. I really like those “what if” kind of stories… I think it’s why I liked “Life After Life” so much!

      I thought “The Girl On the Train” was totally fine for a holiday book, as I read it in the airport/on the plane/in the hotel. It was a good mystery, but I’m not sure why it’s getting all the hype that it is…

      Thanks for your comment Kisha, hope you’re well too! x

  10. Emily-Ann Elliott July 16, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

    Thanks for such a great list Brenna. Some of these I have read and loved (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, White Teeth, A God In Ruins), some are on my to-read list and others I have never heard of but I now want to read!
    Have you read The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan? It is a collection of stories and essays and I took it on my last holiday and couldn’t put it down…
    Also, it sounds as though you are crazy busy with work/studies etc, but if you ever have the time you are more than welcome to join our #travelbookclub on Twitter. We ‘meet’ on the first Wednesday of every month at 9pm BST and discuss a travel book. This month we’re reading A Trip to the Beach and discussing on August 5 🙂

    • Brenna Holeman July 16, 2015 at 5:30 pm #

      I will add The Opposite of Loneliness to my list! I’m always looking for new collections like that, I love reading that way.

      And thanks for the invitation, I probably am too busy at the moment but once I graduate I’ll have (hypothetically) a bit more time! I’ll look into it for sure. 🙂

  11. Zalie July 27, 2015 at 5:50 pm #

    Thanks for these recommendations! I know I can always count on you and mom for great book ideas 🙂 Now just to finish school so I can actually read a real book!

    • Brenna Holeman July 27, 2015 at 5:57 pm #

      Ha ha, yeah, I am finally getting back into reading fiction after reading nothing but non-fiction for two years! It feels good. 🙂

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