I’ve rejoiced my parents’ last day of school. I’ve purchased aloe for a terrible sunburn. I’ve broken out the baby powder for 80-degree days.
Summer is upon us.
That means it’s time to read. A lot.
If you’re looking for suggestions, I have TRILLIONS. I even organized them from fluffy to thought-provoking, with ample gray area for darker reads.
Here they are in list form. I’ll start with the fluffiest and get progressively more…mature? Serious? Literary? Whatever.
YA: Young Adult
CR: Currently Reading
TBR: To Be Read
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (YA)
A 14-year-old Manhattanite finds out she’s actually a European princess. I will never not recommend this book.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (YA, TBR)
Two teens with clashing personliaties meet and presumably fall in love at computer camp. I will note that I bought this for $3 at a book sale solely because of the iced coffee on the book jacket.
My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris
An absolutely insane choose-your-own-adventure romance. Your choices include a sharp-tongued aristocrat, a half-dressed Scotsman, an intrepid explorer, and several fantastical creatures of dubious sanity. Rated NC-17. No, I’m not kidding.
Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe (YA)
Forensics fanatic Jasmine Callihan, along with her colorful group of friends, tries to solve a mystery involving a cat, a severed thumb, and Kermit underpants. Hilarity ensues. This is the funniest book I’ve ever read, hands down, and the biggest influence on my writing style. Show some RESPECT.
The Selection series by Kiera Cass (YA)
Published in the wake of The Hunger Games, these books ask an important question, namely: What if the monarchy participated in a “Bachelor”-style reality show to pick the new queen? THESE BOOKS ARE SO DUMB…but I own the entire series, including the spin-offs, which have made me weep REAL TEARS.
The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure by Rachel Friedman (TBR)
Good girl Rachel Friedman shocks everyone by buying a ticket to Ireland on a whim. I keep buying travelogues with mixed results, so we’ll see how this goes.
Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley
An artist’s tale of her DIY wedding in comic book format. Includes recipes, photos, practical wedding tips, and pages soaked with my tears.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer (TBR)
Author books whirlwind speaking tour to cope with ex’s wedding. I’m guessing he Finds Love and Learns About Himself…but the book won the Pulitzer prize, so it has to be good,
The Theory of Everything by Kari Luna (YA, CR)
Sophie Sophia, like her father before her, has an active imagination. JUST KIDDING! She HALLUCINATES! Or does she…? A thoughtful look at mental illness in hot pink packaging.
Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
Follows a New York writer as she falls in love with French cuisine. Includes many recipes I will never attempt and one for profiteroles I might.
Dramarama by E. Lockhart (YA)
Small-town girl and her gay best friend navigate theater camp politics. Come for the amateur musicals. Stay for the smart handling of sexuality, race, and identity.
Ship It by Britta Lundin (YA)
A slash shipper and an inexperienced actor go on tour following a PR slip-up. I thought it would be silly romp about shipping culture, but its deep dive into representation and belonging broke my stupid heart.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (YA)
Bisexual bad boy Lord Henry “Monty” Montague takes a trip with sister Felicity and secret crush Percy that turns into a piratical adventure full of…frank discussions about race and sexuality? WHAT?
If I Stay by Gayle Forman (YA)
Girl hospitalized following a car accident ponders whether she wants to keep living. This was THE book in 2009 and it made everyone cry. Think The Notebook for teens, only interesting and well-written.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (YA)
Private school girl infiltrates all-male secret society. Alternate title: A Young Girl’s Guide to Smashing the Patriarchy.
The Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore (YA)
Fast-paced, female-led fantasy novels with a feminist bent. Though all three books are excellent, Fire is my favorite.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (YA)
“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.” That first line was all the context I had going into this book. I’ve read lots of fantastical forbidden love stories in my day; I don’t often get to read one this well-written. Also, winner of the award for MOST TRAUMATIZING DEATH SCENE. I READ THIS AT WORK. I WAS UNPREPARED.
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (YA)
Grimm’s Fairy Tales…IN SPACE. Series highlights: Scarlet falling for a terse streetfighter in Scarlet and all the characters joining forces to abduct royalty in Cress.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (YA)
Six teenage criminals pull off an impossible heist. Don’t let the book’s thickness fool you – the plot moves fast. Contains multiple romances and a gunslinger(!).
The Raven Cycleby Maggie Stiefvater (YA)
Pyschic-adjacent Blue meets a band of prep school boys with an unnatural interest in Welsh kings. Home to THE GREATEST YA HERO in recent memory. The Raven Cycle? More like the RONAN Cycle.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (YA)
Anxious teenager Asa Holmes joins her exuberant best friend in a money-making scheme that results in Asa confronting her issues with intimacy, as well as her waning mental health. Contains incredibly-accurate and validating depiction of anxiety.
Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (YA)
On orders from her deceased aunt, Jane travels to the mysterious mansion Tu Reviens, where things get weird as hell. That’s all I’ve got.
The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew
Alternate history exploring a modern-day Third Reich. Picked this up at a Blind Date with a Book giveaway. No regrets.
Am I There Yet? The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood by Mari Andrew
Illustrator Mari Andrew reassures “unsuccessful” millennials with her own journey through early adulthood. Buy this for your sad 20-something friends.
The Happiness Project, Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
Chronicles Gretchen Rubin’s attempt to increase her happiness in 12 months with charts and research. Eat, Pray, Love for the left-brained set.
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
Follows the life of a maid having an affair with a wealthy lord in the 1920s. It’s deeper than you would expect.
You Can’t Touch my Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
Humorous and thoughtful take on race relations in America. Contains one of my favorite passages on sidewalk rage ever printed.
Would You Rather by Katie Heaney
Writer Katie Heaney comes out as gay after 28 years believing herself straight. This book came out in May; I’ve already read it four times. Will appeal to anyone who has moved to a big city, struggled with anxiety, or watched “The L Word.”
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Gay’s essays deconstruct “perfect” feminism, popular television, rape culture, and use of the word “girl.” Now available in pink!
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
Evans ties modern church pitfalls with her own experiences using the seven sacraments. Perfect for depressives dealing with a crisis of faith. (Meaning ME. IT’S PERFECT FOR ME.)
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill/Chemistry by Weike Wang
Two stream-of-consciousness novels about women battling mental breakdowns. These books are weirdly similar, but I love them both.
The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
After her grandfather dies unexpectedly, a young woman traces his origins to a village that once harbored an escaped tiger. That sound you hear is my stupid heart breaking all over the pages.
The Underground Railroad by Coulson Whitehead (TBR)
A novel about the Underground Railroad…except, in this story, it’s a literal railroad. Also a Pulitzer Prize winner, AND I’ve heard the author namedropped by my two favorite podcasters.
Hild by Nicola Griffith (CR)
A novelist’s take on medieval warrior princess St. Hilda of Whitby. Called “one of the best novels ever.” So far my experience fits that description.
In this area of my life, I value quantity over quality, blowing my budget on thrifty, vaguely-interesting paperbacks rather than the one or two pricey hardbacks I really want. Why bother when I’m going to switch them out for cheaper, less bulky, better-looking copies in six months?
If I feel I can’t live without a book, I’ll splurge. Sometimes I’m too impatient to wait for the paperback release; other times I buy on impulse, swayed by a perfect plot summary or a pretty cover.
When these books disappoint, it’s agony. It feels as bad as a breakup; all that effort and emotional energy for nothing. WE COULD HAVE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL, AND YOU RUINED IT.
Though this isn’t a complete list of past offenders, be warned: these books broke my heart.
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
The fact that I talked this book up to my friends before I read it makes the the memory of this purchase especially embarrassing.
I bought what sounded like a female-led remake of “A Horse and His Boy” with foreign fugitives, fleshed-out romance, magical mounts, and GUNSLINGERS. Make no mistake: throw ANY of those elements in a book and I’ll whip out my debit card. Add all four and you find me saying things like, “I feel like this book was written for me!” to my skeptical friends.
As always, the cover played a big part in my decision. In my heart of hearts, I prefer pretty books. And LOOK AT THIS THING.
(Author’s note: Free punch in the face to anyone who smugly comments, “That’s why they say, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover!'” No one wants to read a $2.00 copy of Pride and Prejudice; Barnes and Nobles makes special editions for a reason.)
I gave up after 80 pages. I didn’t even make it to the horse. (I don’t think. See? I CAN’T EVEN REMEMBER.)
I didn’t enjoy the world or the characters, and I DEFINITELY didn’t appreciate the rushed romance with a heavy helping of denial.
A year later, I saw this book on Barnes and Nobles overstock table for $6. No one should have to pay that much for this letdown.
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
I find it harder and harder to like YA romances.
I had a heartbreaking moment the other day when I realized one of my all-time favorite ships isn’t healthy. I’ve become a more moderate shipper and I don’t like how it feels.
All that to say I hated the romance in this book.
The protagonist ends up married to a mysterious man who claims they were a couple in a past life. Whenever she asks for details, he says, “Just trust me.” RED FLAG #1.
The guy gets way too intimate way too fast and repeats the same justification: “No, we used to be in love! Trust me! I’m not a bad guy!” RED FLAG #2.
Nothing he did showed care for the protagonist. She spent the bulk of the novel confused, avoiding his touch and flowery sentiments. Yet he never apologized or agreed to take it slow. He practically begged her to sleep with him with the argument that he can’t help it – he loves her too much. RED FLAG #3.
Halfway in, I decided he was really the villain. The narrative purposefully muddied the waters, casting this creepo in a suspicious light.
I wish the author had followed through.
Listen, love interests: The best justifications and purest feelings don’t excuse overwhelming your partner. If she feels uncomfortable orconfused, BACK OFF.
The creepy persistence paired with self-centered reasoning turned me off this series.
I won’t be picking up a sequel, no matter how pretty the cover.
As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti
Fine, let’s get this cover out of the way:
Not only is the cover WONDERFUL, this book was released around my birthday; looking at it felt like a celebration.
I loved Chelsea Sedoti’s first novel, the deeply-weird-yet-emotionally-affecting The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett. When I heard she’d written a follow-up, I was immediately on board.
I have nothing good to say about this book. I read it while on vacation and found myself becoming more and more disillusioned.
Compared to Hawthorn Creely from Lizzie Lovett, this protagonist had nothing going for him. I can’t even remember his name. Connor, maybe? I don’t often notice when authors write from an opposite-sex POV, but Sedoti’s writing of Connor felt particularly self-conscious, i.e., “Yo, I’m a dude, this is how dudes think.”
If I had to sum up the plot, it would be “Brainwashed town keeps magical secret on orders from power-mad mayor and everyone learns a lesson at the end.”
That sounds more like a TV episode I’ve seen 1000 times than a compelling idea for a novel.
This concept had so many possibilities and Sedoti chose to tell a standard fable. Too bad.
I love alternate histories. I find speculative fiction fascinating because it examines extremes. I don’t remember the exact plot of this book, but I remember the ban on caffeine being part of a religious revival. The ban results in a new Prohibition era with Mafia members smuggling chocolate and opening coffee shops around the city.
Also, a girl becomes a crime boss, which is in no way a power fantasy of mine.
The first third of this book was solid, with a great set-up, interesting characters, and the promise of romance.
I hate, hate, HATE when an author rushes a potential romance. The star-crossed, slow-burn sexual tension ramped up to true love way too early, shunting aside the more interesting crime plot.
AUTHORS! Stop using your plots as elaborate vehicles for more typical fare! ENOUGH WITH THE FALSE ADVERTISING.
I wouldn’t have been bothered if this had a been a romance/crime combo. Had both parts been equal, I could have maintained my interest. But the crime plot became an afterthought, the stakes plummeted, and the leads wasted their time on dramatics.
In an extra disappointing twist, I love (er, loved) Gabrielle Zevin’s work. In the past, she’s delivered high concept character studies. I took her name on the cover as a sign of quality.
This is why I have trust issues.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Get out of here with your stupid cover and your stupid circus, you worthless, worthless book.
Of all the books on this list, this one makes the angriest.
I love the hell out of magical realism, okay? Magic and romance and circuses and book covers inspired by The White Stripes are my favorite things.
I saw this book everywhere for TWO. YEARS.
Every time I went to Target, I glimpsed it on the shelf.
Every time I turned around, it had won another award.
I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE MOVED BY THE CHARACTERS AND INVESTED IN THEIR LOVE BUT ALL I FELT WAS EMPTINESS AND RAGE.
IT REALLY MADE ME BURN.
My low-level annoyance didn’t escalate to blinding anger until the climax.
First of all, I COULD NOT understand what was going on. It felt like hearing a bomb go off without being sure it was a bomb. The other characters kept reacting as if to tragedy without ever revealing what had happened. I felt panicked, scouring for clues and not finding any. Something big had happened in the climax; I just didn’t know what or why or how.
Then one of the characters, a creepy redheaded child (let’s call him Pickle), sat down and preached the theme of the novel to me. Nothing Pickle described matched the events I’d witnessed. WERE WE READING THE SAME BOOK, PICKLE?
(I want to say this is the moment I turned against ensemble casts.)
AND YOU, ERIN MORGENSTERN: YOU DON’T JUST PICK A THEME OUT OF THE BLUE. YOUR ENDING HAS TO MATCH WHAT CAME BEFORE.
I remember throwing this book across the room during Thanksgiving dinner.
Forget this book. Forget the glowing reviews. Forget its best-seller status. I curse this story and all its success. MAY YOU NEVER KNOW TRUE LOVE OR FRIENDSHIP.