After being bombarded by depressing headlines for more than a year, I think it’s time to turn to reading for pleasure and relaxation, especially when life is beginning to feel a bit more normal, and we’re back to our warm-weather rituals of heading to the beach, the park, the mountains, or simply the community pool.
Summer is a great time to mellow out with a new novel, memoir, thriller, or mystery. The book industry likes to call these “beach reads.” I prefer to think of them like I do summer desserts: delicious, juicy, and easy to savor and enjoy. A reader’s version of fresh peach ice cream or homemade strawberry pie, if you will.
Escape into fiction
Fiction offers a window into different worlds, and there are a wealth of new novels out, from summer-themed romances to others more serious. “The Other Black Girl,” by Zakiya Dalili Harris ticks all the boxes for a great summer read. This smart debut novel is both a thriller and a social commentary on diversity and what it’s like to be one of only two Black women at a toney New York publishing house in 2018. The plot starts out light but intensifies with each chapter, making this book seriously hard to put down.
After being locked at home for months, the travel themes in Emily Henry’s novel “The People We Meet on Vacation” are especially appealing. The story centers on two world-traveling best friends, Poppy and Alex, who have been harboring secret crushes on each other for years. The pair live in separate towns, but every summer they take a vacation together until two years ago when things didn’t go as planned, and they haven’t spoken since. This is the summer when they decide to take one last trip. You will want to find out more! Henry is also the author of the aptly named “Beach Read,” a clever rom-com with a touch of drama.
“The Last Thing He Told Me” by Laura Dave is another romance-slash-mystery and is already a New York Times bestseller, a selection of the Reese Witherspoon Book Club, and recommended by Vogue, USA Today, and Entertainment Weekly. Married for only one year, Hannah Hall’s husband Owen disappears, leaving only a note that reads: protect her. Hannah knows this refers to Owen’s 16-year-old daughter, Bailey. The FBI gets involved, but it’s up to Hannah and Bailey to discover the truth. The story takes place at a dizzying speed, with plenty of plot twists and family drama.
Taylor Jenkins Reid brings the sun-drenched, beachy vibes of southern California alive in her third novel, “Malibu Rising,” set in August 1983 when two siblings throw their annual end-of-summer party. The novel takes place over the course of 24 hours, and the unforgettable night changes the lives of a family forever.
If you’re into true crime and period pieces, you’ll want to dig into “The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer” by Dean Jobb. This is the true story of Thomas Neill Cream, one of the earliest known serial killers; a doctor who poisoned his victims in the U.S. and Britain in the late 19th century. Horrifying and fascinating at the same time, you’ll be drawn into the world of early detective work and the difficulty of proving that a respected physician could be considered a murder suspect.
Another truth-is-stranger-than-fiction read is “Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein Story” by Julie K. Brown. This skilled reporter exposed Epstein’s sex trafficking of young women in the Miami Herald. The book offers a compelling account of Brown’s own experience facing off against powerful interests set against her reporting and exposing the people and broken system that exposed Epstein’s crimes.
A moving memoir
Memoir fans will appreciate Danielle Henderson’s “The Ugly Cry: A Memoir” the tale of growing up after being abandoned at ten by her mother who left to start a new family with her abusive addict of a boyfriend. This memoir track’s Henderson’s experience growing up Black in a mostly white neighborhood in upstate New York with her grandmother, a feisty, foul-mouthed yet loving woman who is not afraid to tell it like it is. Touching yet hilarious at times, this juicy memoir tracks Henderson’s transformation from a sassy teenager to the strong, independent woman she is today.
And to make meals summertime simple and light, especially when it’s too hot to turn on the stove, check out “The Complete Salad Cookbook: A Fresh Guide to 200+ Vibrant Dishes Using Greens, Vegetables, Grains, Proteins, and More” by America’s Test Kitchens. You’ll find salad inspirations that combine color, crunch, and flavor, like peaches and burrata, a beet salad with cornbread croutons, and pea-green salad with warm apricot-pistachio vinaigrette, and Cesar salad with grilled romaine. The book includes suggestions for mixing and matching ingredients, loads of dressing recipes, and tips on using spice blends. I could make a salad from this in-depth compilation of recipes every night of the summer.
The dreary news may continue, life will always be challenging, but taking time for yourself on a warm day to dip into a new book can offer a welcome respite.
Julie Mitchell is a Calistoga resident and longtime book lover. She holds a BA in English/Creative Writing from Stanford University and an MFA in Writing from the University of San Francisco.