Blog,  Summer Reading Challenge

20 Books of Summer | 2021

In less than two weeks June will be waltzing through the door, and with it the 20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge.

This challenge was created by Cathy at 746 Books, and is a great way to read those books you might have put off during the first half of the year, over the course of last year, or to discover new titles to love (and dedicate a blog post to each of them). I’ve always loved putting books on a dedicated summer reading list (I think this habit stems from my childhood local library’s summer reading program), and this year is no different.

Over the next three months – the first of June to the first of September – I will attempt to read (and finish) the following 20 books. I will link each discussion post below each title so you can easily read my thoughts and share your own comments if you also happened to read any of the books I’ve chosen (all but one are fiction).

Turning the Storm
Naomi Kritzer

  • Eliana’s Song #2 (series)
  • Bantam Paperback
  • 369 pages

She is called musician, rebel, soldier, legend. After months of leading an uprising against the treacherous religious order of the Fedeli and the ruling Circle of Mages, young Eliana is known throughout the land. Striking from the blighted wastelands, her army of reformers has grown in number—adding liberated slaves to its ranks. Driven by their beliefs in the Old Way Eliana and the soldiers of the Lupi stand on faith alone. 

The Age of Innocence
Edith Warton

  • Signet Classic Paperback
  • 286 pages

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Edith Wharton has written the story of an affable conformist whose marriage of convenience cannot extinguish his passion for another woman…and whose moral limitations make both women seem unreal to him. Handsome, affluent, with great promise as a lawyer, Newland Archer’s interest in his cold, beautiful, and conventional wife gradually flags. His attraction to Countess Ellen Olenska—bizarre and challenging, separated from her husband—becomes the single threat to his secure position in high society, and, at the same time, leads him to question the values of that society. 

In the Name of Salomé
Julia Alvarez

  • Plume Paperback
  • 353 pages

In 1868 in the Dominican Republic a teenage girl seized the imagination of a shackled nation. In the coming years, the passionate patriotic poems of Salomé Ureña would be quoted by schoolchildren, housewives, and revolutionaries throughout the Caribbean. And when she died, she would leave behind a three-year-old daughter whose life journey would be dominated by her mother’s fiery spirit—and the absence of her touch. 

Julia Alvarez’s extraordinary novel weaves the fascinating life of Salomé with that of her shy, self-effacing daughter Camila, who comes of age in exile and, at age sixty-six, leaves her comfortable life in America to join Catsro’s revolutionaries in Cuba. Spanning more than a century, In the Name of Salomé is a powerful exploration of the bonds between mothers and daughters, and of the mysterious forces that inspire us to hope, to act, to heal, and to love. 

The House of Tides 
Hannah Richell

  • Hachette Paperback
  • 384 pages

Ten years ago, the Tide family was ripped apart irrevocably in one instant. Now, they’re each struggling in their own way to move on with their lives. Dora, the family’s younger daughter, skates across the surface of life, but when she discovers she is pregnant, she finds herself staring back at the darkness of a long-held guilt. Her father, Richard, has cobbled together a life that bears little resemblance to his boyhood dreams, while her mother, Helen, manages a distant and tenuous connection.

When Dora returns to Clifftops, her family’s rambling home on the rocky coast and the site of the tragedy, she discovers that the path to redemption will reveal difficult and long-buried secrets. In the process, she’ll learn startling truths about family, the price of forgiveness, and the nature of love. 

The Glass Forest
Cynthia Swanson

  • Simon & Schuster Paperback
  • 338 pages
  • CW: Parental suicide (mentioned in the synopsis below)

In the autumn of 1960, twenty-one-year-old Angie Glass is just settling =into her new life as a married woman. She has everything she ever wanted: her handsome older husband Paul; a newborn son; and an idyllic life in her Wisconsin hometown. Then one phone call changes everything.

When Paul’s niece, Ruby, breaks the news that her father, Henry, has committed suicide and her mother, Silja, has gone missing, the newlyweds drop everything to be by her side in the small town of Stonekill, New York. But Ruby doesn’t need rescuing—the composed, enigmatic seventeen-year-old is hiding secrets of her own. Staying in Henry and Silja’s eerie, ultramodern house at the edge of the woods, Angie discovers surprising truths about her new relatives that make her question the very fabric of her own marriage. How much does she actually know about Paul—and his family? Where is Silja? And who can Angie trust, so far from home? 

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors
Sonali Dev

  • William Morrow Paperback
  • 481 pages

It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep. 

Dr. Trisha Rajes is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family, who have achieved power by making their own nonnegotiable rules:
-Never trust an outsider
-Never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations
-And never, ever defy your family
Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat her old mistakes. 

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and who place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer him, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life. 

As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of the DJ’s stunning desserts. But before they can savor the future, they need to reckon with the past…

Ordinary Light
Tracy K. Smith

  • Memoir
  • Vintage Books Paperback
  • 349 pages

In Ordinary Light, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith explores her coming-of-age and the meaning of home against a complex backdrop of race, faith, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and daughter. Here is a young artist struggling to fashion her own understanding of belief, loss, history, and what it means to be black in America. Shot through with lyricism, wry humor, and acute awareness of the beauty of everyday life, Ordinary Light is a gorgeous kaleidoscope of self and family. 

!YO¡
Julia Alvarez

  • Algonquin Books Paperback
  • 309 pages

Yolanda García—Yo for short—is the literary one in the family. Her first published novel, in which she uses as characters practically everyone she knows, was a big success. Now she’s basking in the spotlight while those “characters” find their very recognizable selves dangling in that same blinding light. But turnabout is fair play, and so here, Yolanda García’s family and friends tell the truth about Yo. Her three sisters, her Mami and Papi, her grandparents, tías, tíos, cousins, housemaids, her third husband: they take turns telling their side of the story, ripping into Yo and in the process creating their own endearing self-portraits. 

Something Rich and Strange
Ron Rash

  • Short stories
  • ECCO Paperback
  • 326 pages

The “synopsis” on the back of the book is basically filled with adjectives describing Ron Rash and his writing—which is annoying type of synopsis for any writer’s book or collection because it does little to tell the prospective reader what the book contains—so I will tell you that Something Rich and Strange is a collection of “thirty-four of [Ron Rash’s] finest short stories.” Many or most of which have Appalachian settings.

The Stone Sky
N.K. Jemisin

  • The Broken Earth Trilogy #3 (series)
  • Orbit Books Paperback
  • 398 pages

The Final Season falls.

Essun has mastered the Obelisk Gate. But halfway across the Stillness a pretender rises: Nassun. As the icy white eye of the moon opens above the world, ancient battle lines are redrawn between mother and daughter, stone eater and orogene, slave and rebel. The destruction of humankind—or something worse—looms nigh. 

Gingerbread
Helen Oyeyemi

  • Hamish Hamilton Paperback
  • 258 pages

Perdita Lee may appear your average British schoolgirl; Harriet Lee may seem just a working mother trying to penetrate the school social hierarchy; but there are signs that they might not be as normal as they think they are. For one thing, they share a gold-painted, seventh-floor walk-up apartment with some surprisingly verbal vegetation. And then there’s the gingerbread they make. Londoners may find themselves able to take or leave it, but it’s very popular in Druhástrana, the far away (or, according to many sources, non-existent) land of Harriet Lee’s early youth. The world’s truest lover of the Lee family gingerbread, however, is Harriet’s charismatic childhood friend Gretela–a figure who seems to have had a hand in everything (good or bad) that has happened to Harriet since they met.

Decades later, when teenage Perdita’s search for her mother’s long-lost friend prompts a new telling of Harriet’s story. As the book follows the Lees through encounters with jealousy, ambition, family grudges, work, wealth, and real estate, gingerbread seems to be the one thing that reliably holds a constant value. Endlessly surprising and satisfying, written with Helen Oyeyemi’s inimitable style and imagination, Gingerbread is a true feast for the reader.

Garden Spells
Sarah Addison Allen

  • Bantam Books Hardcover
  • 286 pages

The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.

A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.

When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down—along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy—if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom—or with each other.

If You Leave Me
Crystal Hana Kim

  • William Morrow Hardcover
  • 414 pages

An emotionally riveting debut novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they’re forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war that still haunts us today.

When the communist-backed army from the north invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family’s makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.

Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn’t realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
Kelly O’Connor McNees

  • Putnam Books Hardcover
  • 334 pages

The Empire of Gold
S.A. Chakraborty

  • The Daevabad Trilogy #3 (series)
  • Harper Voyager Hardcover
  • 752 pages

Daevabad has fallen.

After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people.

But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.

Having narrowly escaped their murderous families and Daevabad’s deadly politics, Nahri and Ali, now safe in Cairo, face difficult choices of their own. While Nahri finds peace in the old rhythms and familiar comforts of her human home, she is haunted by the knowledge that the loved ones she left behind and the people who considered her a savior are at the mercy of a new tyrant. Ali, too, cannot help but look back, and is determined to return to rescue his city and the family that remains. Seeking support in his mother’s homeland, he discovers that his connection to the marid goes far deeper than expected and threatens not only his relationship with Nahri, but his very faith.

As peace grows more elusive and old players return, Nahri, Ali, and Dara come to understand that in order to remake the world, they may need to fight those they once loved . . . and take a stand for those they once hurt.

Things You Save in a Fire
Katherine Center

  • St. Martin’s Press Hardcover
  • 310 pages

Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she’s seen her fair share of them, and she’s a total pro at other people’s tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to give up her whole life and move to Boston, Cassie suddenly has an emergency of her own.

The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie’s old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren’t exactly thrilled to have a “lady” on the crew—even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the infatuation-inspiring rookie, who doesn’t seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can’t think about that. Because love is girly, and it’s not her thing. And don’t forget the advice her old captain gave her: Never date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping…and it means risking it all—the only job she’s ever loved, and the hero she’s worked like hell to become.

Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

  • Engage Books EBook (Scribd)
  • 175 pages

A Study in Scarlet is the first story to feature Sherlock Holmes, and the first work of fiction to incorporate the magnifying glass as a detective tool. The story opens with Holmes and Watson meeting each other for the first time, and their decision to become flat-mates at 221B Baker Street. Soon they are involved in a murder-mystery involving kidnapping, enslavement and revenge that will test the limits of Holmes’ skills and establish a life-long relationship with Watson

Feathers 
Jacqueline Woodson

  • Brilliance Audio Audiobook narrated by Sisi Aisha Johnson (Scribd)
  • 2 hours 52 minutes

Frannie doesn’t know what to make of the poem she’s reading in school. She hasn’t thought much about hope. There are so many other things to think about. Each day, her friend Samantha seems a bit more “holy.” There is a new boy in class everyone is calling the Jesus Boy. And although the new boy looks like a white kid, he says he’s not white. Who is he?

During a winter full of surprises, good and bad, Frannie starts seeing a lot of things in a new light – her brother Sean’s deafness, her mother’s fear, the class bully’s anger, her best friend’s faith and her own desire for “the thing with feathers.”

Moon of the Crusted Snow
Waubgeshig Rice

  • ECW Press EBook (Scribd)
  • 230 pages

With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community goes dark. Cut off, people become passive and confused. Panic builds as the food supply dwindles. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives, escaping the crumbling society to the south. Soon after, others follow.

The community leadearship loses its grip on power as the visitors manipulate the tired and hungry to take control of the reserve. Tensions rise and, as the months pass, so does the death toll due to sickness and despair. Frustrated by the building chaos, a group of young friends and their families turn to the land and Anishinaabe tradition in hopes of helping their community thrive again. Guided through the chaos by an unlikely leader named Evan Whitesky, they endeavor to restore order while grappling with a grave decision.

Blending action and allegory, Moon of the Crusted Snow upends our expectations. Out of catastrophe comes resilience. And as one society collapses, another is reborn.

Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories
compiled by Neil Christopher

  • Inhabit Media EBook (Scribd)
  • 171 pages

“Taaqtumi” is an Inuktitut word that means “in the dark”—and these spine-tingling horror stories by Northern writers show just how dangerous darkness can be. A family clinging to survival out on the tundra after a vicious zombie virus. A door that beckons, waiting to unleash the terror behind it. A post-apocalyptic community in the far North where things aren’t quite what they seem. With chilling tales from award-winning authors Richard Van Camp, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, Aviaq Johnston, and others, this collection will thrill and entertain even the most seasoned horror fan.


Whew – there you have it! For me, a good reading [challenge] list contains a handful of genres, a variety of page lengths, and books that are immediately/easily accessible. Check, check, and check!

Are you participating in the 20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge? If you are not familiar with it, I would encourage you to learn more here – the challenge is relatively flexible (choose ten or fifteen books instead of twenty) and quite satisfying if you also love a summer reading list.

I hope you’ll stay tuned for my posts on these books, and let me know if you have read any of them – as always, let’s chat in the comments. Happy reading!

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