It Is Wood, It Is Stone
Gabriella Burnham explores the intersecting lives of two women in São Paulo, Brazil—an American expat and her Brazilian maid—over the course of a single year in her beautiful debut novel that explores class, colorism, sexuality, and complex, divisive histories.
Well-Behaved Indian Women
In this debut novel, author Saumya Dave uses her background as a psychiatrist and mental health advocate to weave a rich, timeless mother-daughter story about three generations of women who struggle to define themselves as they pursue their individual dreams and navigate their relationships with each other.
With the same taut, unsettling, and inventive writing that made her the youngest person ever to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Daisy Johnson’s Sisters is a haunting portrait of two sisters testing societal boundaries, as well as the shifting boundaries of their relationship with each other, when they move with their single mother to a formerly abandoned family home.
The Vanishing Half
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Mothers, this stunning new novel is about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white.
The Marriage Game
After her life falls apart, recruitment consultant Layla Patel returns home to her family in San Francisco. With the best intentions, her father offers her the office upstairs to start her new business. When CEO Sam Mehta is forced to share Layla’s office space, the sarcasm and sparks fly. But when the battle for the office becomes a battle of the heart, Sam and Layla have to decide if this is love or just a game.
Home Before Dark
Maggie Holt returns to Baneberry Hall, the supposedly haunted house where she lived as a small child with her parents, to investigate the claims made by her father in his book House of Horrors, that made him, the house, and the Vermont town where they all lived, famous. Written in the style of The Amityville Horror or a real-life The Shining, this book alternates between Maggie’s POV and chapters from her father’s book.
As gorgeous as it is brutal, this collection of interconnected short stories examines imperialism, loss, and relationship between history, memory, and storytelling through the lens of World War II and its aftermath in the Pacific. Each story is written in a different perspective and Asako Serizawa uses many styles to illuminate the different ways many people process, interpret, and pass on traumatic experiences.
The Lions of Fifth Avenue
In her signature kicky historical style, Fiona Davis returns with another meticulously researched gem of a story set in New York City. The lions of the title nod to both the famous statues that flank the entrance to the New York City Public Library and the two women at the heart of the story: Laura Lyons, wife of NYPL’s superintendent in 1913 who comes into her own as a member of the bohemian Heterodoxy Club, and her granddaughter, Sadie Donovan, who in 1993 is grappling with her grandmother’s legacy, as well as a series of book thefts at the iconic library.
All My Mother's Lovers
Ilana Masad writes for Read it Forward, so we could not be more excited for her debut novel. A “queer tour-de-force,” All My Mother’s Lovers is a unique meditation on the universality of family ties and grief, and a tender and biting portrait of sex, gender, and identity. It challenges us to question the nature of fulfilling relationships and explore the power of forgiveness.
Survival Instincts is a taut, terrifying thriller about three generations of women who are held against their will by an unknown adversary in a cabin in the woods. Jumping in time between their current predicament and a week and a decade in the past, Survival Instincts is a tale of claustrophobic horror, and strength from the author of internationally best-selling memoir, A Beautiful, Terrible Thing.
Death in Her Hands
The unnamed narrator of Otessa Moshfegh’s metaphysical suspense novel is walking in the woods near her secluded property when she finds a disturbing handwritten note: “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.” Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that the note is not accompanied by a body, the narrator becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of Magda. Moshfegh expertly blends hyper-dark comedy with suspense and horror in this psychological whodunit-slash-wasitdun.
I Was Told It Would Get Easier
From the USA Today bestselling author of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, I Was Told It Would Get Easier follows mother-daughter duo Jessica and Emily Burnstein as they’re squashed among a bus full of strangers and their carefully mapped-out college tour devolves into a series of off-roading misadventures.
Latitudes of Longing
An epic, magical debut that sweeps the length and breadth of India with a cast of characters filled with love, longing, and the sacred relationship of human beings with the natural world. Author Shubhangi Swarup’s wry and insightful novel was awarded one of the most prestigious literary prizes in her native India, where she researched every region the novel’s characters pass through for seven years during the process of writing it.
Beach Read is bound to be one of the hottest summer novels this year. It follows a romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut who both engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.
From the author of the Man Booker Prize longlisted novel The Water Cure comes another mesmerizing, refracted vision of our society. In a world where women can’t have it all and have their futures decided for them, one woman fights to have a choice. It’s thought-provoking and a must-read.
Honey and Venom
Charm and humor suffuse this debut essay collection from legendary urban beekeeper, Andrew Coté, chronicling his apiary exploits in New York City and across the globe. Populated with quirky personalities and intrigue, Honey and Venom brings you inside the underground culture of “beeks” and the fascinating world of the hives themselves.
Always the Last to Know
Barb and John Frost, married for fifty years and sometimes testy with each other and successful grown daughters, Sadie and Juliet, who get along (more or less) are the typical American family. The unspoken cracks in their relationships are easy to ignore until John has a stroke and their changing family dynamic abruptly brings old wounds to the surface in this heartbreaking and hilarious novel about the meaning of family.
All the Way to the Tigers
A travel narrative in the tradition of Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert, All the Way to the Tigers follows master memoirist Marry Morris’s three-year odyssey of healing and perseverance after a catastrophic personal injury. As she lies in bed recovering from surgery, and unsure if she will ever walk again, Morris was struck by a quote from Death in Venice “”He would go on a journey. Not far. Not all the way to the tigers.” In that moment Morris decided that not only would she travel again, she would do anything she could to go “all the way to the tigers.” In this case, literally, as she travels to India for a weeks-long tiger safari to learn more about these elusive apex predators, and herself.
When author Susan Burton was thirteen, her stable family life was abruptly shattered by her parents’ divorce and a cross-country move. In this relentlessly honest and razor-sharp memoir of her thirty-year struggle with binge-eating disorder and anorexia, This American Life editor Burton details how in the fallout of that childhood event, her adolescent fixation on thinness changed from “peculiarity to pathology” and how the painful cycle of anorexia and binge eating ran constantly underneath her seemingly wonderful life, from attending Yale to professional and personal successes.
A timely, galvanizing collection of first-person essays from real Americans with disabilities—seen and unseen—edited by activist Alice Wong. This anthology sheds light on the complexities of the disabled experience in America and invites readers to examine their own blindspots and understandings while celebrating the current state of disability culture.
Erica C. Barnett
Erica C. Barnett’s remarkable and unflinching memoir examines the state of addiction and recovery in modern America through the lens of her own alcohol addiction, from detox to recovery to relapse and back again. “Rock bottom,” Barnett writes, “is a lie.” Barnett leans on her own background as an award-winning journalist to delve into the rise of alcoholism in women and why many common frameworks for recovery don’t always correspond to her experiences on her hard-fought path to sobriety.
Bright Precious Thing
A heartfelt and finely-wrought memoir of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gail Caldwell’s fortifying and radicalizing relationship with the feminism and the women’s movement, from her upbringing in 1960s Texas, her travels through California, and Mexico, her lifelong search for adventure, and her struggles against her own personal demons, through the modern #MeToo movement.
A sweeping novel of modern Iranian life, this novel follows Aria, who was abandoned as a baby in 1950’s Tehran. Throughout her life, Aria has three different mother figures that have a deep impact on her life, and she finds herself becoming a mother right when the revolution she had been excited about is over and the Ayatollah Khomeini comes to power.
Set in Haiti during the earthquake of 2010, this novel tells the story of Zo, a poor orphan looking for a better life and Anaya, the nursing student who saves his life when he catches Malaria. Anaya’s father is against the relationship, but when the earthquake his that no longer matters as Zo races to find Anaya.
Girls of Summer
One life-changing summer on Nantucket brings about exhilarating revelations for a single mother and her two grown children in this sensational novel from New York Times bestselling author Nancy Thayer.
The final novel in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quarter series, this work of gorgeous prose encapsulates the spirit of summer.
A Very Punchable Face
Fans of Saturday Night Live will not want to miss this hysterical memoir from writer and Weekend Update star Colin Jost. A mix of emotional life moments and hysterical stories, you definitely won’t want to punch his face once you’re finished reading.
Love After Love
This is a gorgeous family drama that begins in Trinidad when the patriarch of the family passes away. When the matriarch, Betty, invites her coworker Mr. Chetan to move in with her and her son, Solo, he becomes a member of the family. When Solo overhears a secret, he is so overcome that he moves to New York as an undocumented immigrant where his family’s problems continue to follow.
In the post #MeToo era, this novel explores male entitlement and its negative consequences. Manne argues that male entitlement can explain a wide array of phenomena, from mansplaining and the undertreatment of women’s pain to mass shootings by incels and the seemingly intractable notion that women are “unelectable.” Moreover, Manne implicates each of us in toxic masculinity: It’s not just a product of a few bad actors; it’s something we all perpetuate.
This poetry collection highlights the stories of black lives and explores how the black vernacular gives us a new language of hope. In the author’s explanation, finna means a contraction: (1) going to; intending to [rooted in African American Vernacular English] (2) eye dialect spelling of “fixing to” (3) Black possibility; Black futurity; Blackness as tomorrow. The poems are sharp, lyrical and important.
Must I Go
Lilia Laskin has led a full life, and now, with more time on her hands, has turned her attention to the diary of her former lover. What begins as a look down memory lane brings up long-repressed memories of her past.
The Beauty in Breaking
Michele Harper’s marriage came to an end after they she had finished med school at Harvard and two months before she was set to start working at a hospital. As her life feels like it’s breaking apart, she meets new patients that teach her about the healing process.
Age of Consent
Adjusting to boarding school can be tough, so when two outsiders Eve and Justine meet, they quickly form a friendship. While Eve comes from a wealthy New York City family, Justine’s parents can barely pay their bills in New Haven. The two still bond over alcohol, drugs, and crushes that lead to a wild summer in the city with Eve’s friend, India.
Trixie and Katya's Guide to Modern Womanhood
Two of Ru Paul’s Drag Race biggest superstars are here to share their tips on womanhood. Filled with humor and heart, this is a guide you won’t be able to put down.
Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger
Lisa Donovan was a dominating force in some of the South’s most renowned restaurants, and yet as a woman in a male-dominated industry she was rarely given the credit she deserved. Lisa is taking back her story and sharing how she was able to become the badass James-Beard award winner she is today.
In this timely and heartfelt satire, female cofounders of a wellness start-up struggle to find balance between being good people and doing good business, while trying to stay BFFs.
Vicki Laveau-Harvie returned to her parents’ home for the first time in years when her mother was hospitalized, but what she found was completely unexpected. In her manic state, her mother had starved her father and turned him into a prisoner. Vicki and her sister rearrange their lives to help their father and stop the manipulation of their mother.
The Mother Code
It’s 2049 and the human race is at risk. Genetically engineered children are incubated and raised by machines programmed by the Mother Code. When the government decides that these mothers must be destroyed, one man must decide if he should break the trust of his bond with his robot mom or fight to save her.
The New Girl
This debut thriller reads like The Devil Wears Prada. When glamorous Margot Jones, the fashion editor at glossy magazine Haute, goes on maternity leave, Maggie, a freelance journalist, takes over her job temporarily. Not long after, Margot begins to wonder, what happens when Margot is ready to return to her old life—especially if Maggie doesn’t want to leave?
Eliza Starts a Rumor
Jane L. Rosen
The author of Nine Women, One Dress delivers a charming, unforgettable novel about four women, one little lie, and the big repercussions that unite them all.
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is the bold and brilliant follow-up to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. It is a fast-paced adventure that is also a biting social commentary, asking hard, urgent questions about the way we live, our freedoms, our future, and how we handle the unknown.
The Party Upstairs
This electrifying debut novel unfolds in the course of a single day inside one genteel New York City apartment building. Tensions between the building’s super and his grown-up daughter spark a crisis that will, by day’s end, change everything.
The Lost Diary of Venice
Two impossible love stories are fatefully connected by one artistic legacy in this stunning debut that leaps between the mysteries of late-Renaissance Venice and the dramas of present-day America.
Party of Two
Lawyer Olivia Monroe isn’t looking to date, but when she meets a handsome stranger at a hotel bar, she can’t help but flirt with him all night. After learning he’s a hotshot young senator, she initially writes him off, but the two begin dating in secret. However, when they go public and the media scrutiny lands on her, she fears they may not have staying power.
Jivan is a Muslim girl from the slums, determined to move up in life, who is accused of executing a terrorist attack on a train because of a careless comment on Facebook. PT Sir is an opportunistic gym teacher who hitches his aspirations to a right-wing political party, and finds that his own ascent becomes linked to Jivan’s fall. Lovely—an irresistible outcast whose exuberant voice and dreams of glory fill the novel with warmth and hope and humor—has the alibi that can set Jivan free, but it will cost her everything she holds dear. You won’t soon forget this stunning read.
After the success of her novel, Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler knew she should be happy. Instead, she found herself obsessed with her difficult past: an alcoholic mother disabled by a brain aneurysm, and an absentee father struggling with his own demons. In this searing memoir, Danler examines what we inherit from our parents and what we can re-invent for ourselves.
In this reimagining of the classic gothic suspense novel, Noemí Taboada receives a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, and decides to head to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region. What she finds are secrets hidden behind the walls of the house, a place she finds impossible to escape.
The Last Train to Key West
From the author of Next Year in Havana comes a new novel about three women—Helen Berner, Mirta Perez and Elizabeth Preston—whose lives are forever changed when one of the most powerful hurricanes in history barrels toward the Florida Keys in 1935.
Friends and Strangers
J. Courtney Sullivan
Elisabeth is adjusting to life as a new mother in a small town after living in New York City for two decades. Sam is a senior in college, split between following the path she’s always planned on and a romance leading her elsewhere. When Elisabeth hires Sam to babysit, the two women—in two utterly different stages of their lives—form a close-knit friendship, until an unspeakable betrayal drives them apart.
Act Like a Lady
If you’re tired of being bombarded with the curated perfection on social media and you’re starving for something raw, honest, and a little bit messy, Keltie, Becca, and Jac, hosts of the popular podcast and E! show LadyGang, are here to clear away the bullshit, pass on advice on breakups, body image, careers, and friendships that will give you the confidence to live your best lady life.
The Butterfly Lampshade
From the beloved author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake comes a new novel about mothers, daughters, and the thin fabric of reality. After Francie’s mother is taken to a mental hospital after a psychotic break, Francie awakes on a couch next to a lovely lamp decorated with butterflies. She finds a dead butterfly floating in a cup of water and drinks it. 20 years later, she’s grappling with this and other mysterious and weird things that she remembers vividly but can’t possibly make sense of.
Juliet and Michael feel stuck in their marriage, career, and lives when Michael suggests they buy a sailboat and move their life to the sea. At first, it delights their children, reignites their marital spark, and heals Juliet’s depression. But when something life-changing happens on the water, the family will be tested in ways they never thought they would be.
Sex and Vanity
The author of the bestselling Crazy Rich Asians series is back with a delicious new confection set on the isle of Capri, New York City and in The Hamptons about a young woman torn between two men: the WASPY fiancé of her family’s dreams and George Zao, the man she can’t stand and is desperately trying to avoid falling in love with.
Jean Kyoung Frazier
In this deeply funny coming-of-age story, a pregnant, eighteen-year-old pizza delivery girl is lost and directionless, mourning the loss of her dad, and ducking her supportive mom and boyfriend. Instead, she becomes obsessed with a stay-at-home mom who is new to the neighborhood, and the two women help one another in myriad unforeseen ways.
Nina grew up poor, with a con artist mother who hustled anyone and everyone to give her daughter a better life. Now, with her mother sick, Nina has resorted to stealing from rich kids with her boyfriend, Lachlan, in order to help her mother. Vanessa is an heiress leading a seemingly enviable life as an influencer but retreats to her family’s mountain estate to heal after a broken engagement. It’s there where Nina, Lachlan, and Vanessa will collide in a war of deceit and destruction.
One to Watch
Plus-size fashion blogger Bea Schumacher has it all—legions of followers, devoted friends and family, and a broken heart. When the Bachelor-esque show Main Squeeze asks her to be its next star and have dozens of men vying for her heart, she accepts, but only to boost her career and add some body diversity to the show. She’s not at all expecting a happy ending, but when the cameras start rolling, she may just be surprised.
The Sober Lush
Amanda Eyre Ward
Is it possible to have a full and exciting life without that glass of wine at dinner, rosé on the beach in the summer, and champagne toasts at weddings? Authors and friends Amanda Eyre Ward and Jardine Libaire say, exuberantly, yes! They both felt like alcohol was starting to numb life instead of open it, and so embraced the sober lifestyle. Now, they’ve teamed up to write this book about living a blissful, big, and lush life without booze.
The Death of Vivek Oji
Raised by a distant father and an overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. Propulsively readable, teeming with unforgettable characters, The Death of Vivek Oji is a novel of family and friendship that challenges expectations—a dramatic story of loss and transcendence that will move every reader.
This summer will be different from any other we’ve experienced, that’s for certain. But the one thing that hasn’t changed—and has remained constant throughout these difficult times—is the ability to escape into a story. Even though we’ll likely all still be staying at home, we can travel through the books we read and form connections with the characters in them.
Here’s a list of the best books of summer 2020. We hope you find at least one read that lifts you far up and away and helps make your summer a bit better.
Featured image by Robert Driscoll