Book Club

What to Read This Summer.

By: Jen Shoop

It’s been awhile since I shared a round-up of books on my radar. Below, sharing my dream summer reading list, hopelessly ambitious as it might be.

FOR A DARK THRILL RIDE // What Lies Between Us by John Marrs. This is all you need to know: “Every other night, Maggie and Nina have dinner together. When they are finished, Nina helps Maggie back to her room in the attic, and into the heavy chain that keeps her there.” Um, what?

FOR POETIC CRAFTSMANSHIP IN A FAMILY-FOCUSED NOVEL // The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett — A lot of buzz about this book, which traces the stories of a family across multiple generations, interrogating “the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations.” Most intriguing to me? Reviewers have likened Bennett’s voice to Toni Morrison. Must read.

FOR A TOTAL BRAIN VACATION // The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, which comes out in early July. I absolutely loved the pre-cursor to this book — it actually made my list of the absolute best beach reads — and you know I love all things royal.

FOR ELEGANT PROSE // The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. Ann Patchett described it pithily as follows: “The night watchman is trying to save Native lands while a young woman is trying to save her sister. Gorgeous, brilliant, important — everything you could want in a novel.” OK, Ann! I’m in.

FOR NON-FICTION THAT READS LIKE LYRICAL FICTION // The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson — Currently reading this non-fiction account of the Great Migration of Black Americans from the South in the early twentieth century. It reads like lyrical fiction: compelling, poetic, highly attuned to the personal. I have underlined countless sentences in this book out of the sheer rhythmic joy of reading them, and, of course, there is a lot to chew on content-wise.

FOR A JUICY MEMOIR SET AMONG THE FASHION ELITE // The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir by Andre Leon Talley. A love a juicy memoir, and here is one from a fashion industry veteran who is both a fashion icon in his own right and a conduit to the hush-hush of the fashion elite. I think I will listen to this on audiobook — I love hearing memoirs read by the authors themselves.

FOR A NOVEL THAT BLURS THE LINE BETWEEN FACT AND FICTION // Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. This book seems to be enjoying a polarized reception — some absolutely love it and others hate it passionately — and for that reason, I’m desperate to check it out. I love a good book controversy. As its name suggests, the book is a fictional account of Hillary Clinton’s life. Sittenfeld pulled off a similar undertaking in American Wife, a fictionalization of Laura Bush’s life that I enjoyed a few years ago, although I did wonder how she managed to write damning bits of it without some sort of lawsuit filed against her…

FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM IN SILICON VALLEY (I.E., IF YOU LIKED BAD BLOOD) // Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac. A close-up look at the rise of Uber, the outsized personality of its storied founder, Travis Kalanick, and a sweeping (incriminating) interrogation of the venture capital world in the early oughts and beyond.

Looking for something else? Consider my summer reading list from last year (loved so many of the books on this list) or check out my list of 10 books that will change your life.

And in case you’d prefer to shop from BookShop, a digital boutique that enables you to purchase from small book sellers across the country, I have listed all of these selections and a couple of other picks here.

What other must-reads are on your list for summer 2020?!

Post Scripts.

+A clip-on book light if your significant other goes to sleep earlier than you do.

+I was surprised to see that Crate and Barrel discontinued the beloved leaning bookshelves we have flanking our media console in the living room — what a shame! I always get so many compliments on them, and they almost look like they could be built-in. They now have a similar though more modern style available here. LOVE these for apartments because they don’t block out as much light and give the impression of something custom-built. (Look for less with these.)

+These edgy but polished bracelets are SO chic! They have that kind of Carter clou bracelet vibe — fierce but sophisticated? Love.

+Chic Matisse-inspired cocktail napkins.

+More finds to elevate your next at-home happy hour.

+I bought these plastic cups in college and still use them constantly. Perfect for the beach / backyard, dishwasher-safe, and punchy.

+Beautiful bread boards / pizza peels using reclaimed wood.

+All of Serena and Lily’s lighting is on sale! I have always been drawn to their woven pendants, but also love this textured table lamp and these epic coral sconces. Wow!

+Mentioned this Friday, but Minnidip was recently restocked at Target and there are still some available. I ended up ordering this watermelon style, although I still die over this pink confection. Boys can wear pink, too (duh), but I have to be honest and say that Hill has a lot of girly things in his life…trying to balance it out.

+More amazing summer finds.

+This statement mini is UNBELIEVABLE. The sleeves! The pleating! The Monet-esque pattern. Wow wow wow.

+This boat-print HVN dress is so fun. This label does such a good job with their prints and cuts — walking the narrow walkway of “retro chic” without ever looking dated or fuddy-duddy. Obsessed! Also — I feel like Charlotte York in this label.

+These strawberry print jams are so cute! Mr. Magpie and I are planning to take the children to a berry picking farm (pretty much the best excursion for social distancing!) and Hill will of course have to wear his strawberry jon jon. Currently eyeing either this Proper Peony or this LaCoqueta for mini.

+I, of course, will be wearing my strawberry earrings (marked down to $60!). And how good are these lemon earrings?!

+Speaking of fruit: this citrus-print dress (on sale) is magic. Also love this grapefruit-print one by the same label.

+Hard to think about wearing boots right now, but this is such a good bargain for the quality.

+I own and love these in a different colorway — silver would go with everything (on sale!)

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30 thoughts on “What to Read This Summer.

  1. Wow, lots of recommendations here from you and your community, Jen! I’m intrigued now by the Vanishing Half — adding this to my list, after Warmth of Other Suns.

    +1 for The Book of Longings. I could not put it down! I read this after it was highly recommended by Grace Atwood/Bad on Paper podcast. It was so well researched, and it presented such a compelling story of a feminist living in those Biblical times. I was raised Catholic and went through Catholic education all the way through my undergrad and I thought it was respectfully written, IMHO. I couldn’t stop thinking about it after I finished it, and I had a hard time starting another book (i realized this tends to be my response to what I consider really good books)!

    If you like the “royals” genre — I’m looking forward to Majesty, the sequel to the American Royals by Katharine McGee. I think Majesty is out in September though, so it’s more like a late summer read.

    1. Ooh — thanks for the upvote on Book of Longings. Very intriguing! Vanishing Half is also now at the top of my list, too.


    2. Yes! As a fellow Catholic-raised woman, this book was fascinating to me. I read an interview with Sue Monk Kidd about this book, and she said that this is a book about Jesus’ imagined wife, not Him, but she wanted to focus on Jesus as a person, rather than as a religious icon.

      I also must comment on how you had a hard time starting another book, Mia. I call this a “book hangover” – when one is so good that you are afraid to start another because you’re certain nothing is going to measure up! I had this after Evicted, Say Nothing, A Little Life, and Song of Solomon in particular.

      I’m going to read The Mothers before I read Vanishing Half because I want to get a sense of Bennett’s writing first, and I am definitely going to be reading Warmth of Other Sons (likely this fall, given that I have to finish several books for teaching before the school year starts again). Love your list, Jen!

      1. This book is so intriguing to me! Thanks! I know what you mean about “book hangover” — ha! What a great phrase. That’s happened a few times, especially with Madeline Miller’s “Circe.” Everything felt like a letdown afterward.


  2. I’m currently reading The Vanishing Half (maybe 1/3 of the way through?) and LOVING it. It definitely does “sweep one away”, per Molly! Really, really enjoying it. I liked but did not love The Mothers when I read it back in 2017, but this book has blown me away so far.

    I’m also reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, which is amazing and important and should be a must-read for any American. It’s slightly slower going for me, though, as it’s a bit dense. I’m almost halfway through.

    I recently finished In Five Years by Rebecca Serle (fluffy, enjoyable, but somewhat forgettable) and Writers and Lovers by Lily King — should have taken your word on the latter! Ugh.

    In terms of what’s next for me, I’m definitely intrigued by The Heir Affair (I enjoyed The Royal We as a fun romp), and next up (as soon as I finish The Vanishing Half) will likely be Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times. I also have a copy of The Warmth of Other Suns that I bought several years ago, and that will likely be my next nonfiction book. 🙂 I also have a copy of Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo that is calling my name!

    That bracelet reminds me of a couple I have from Miansai, one in brass and one in silver! Mine are the classic rounded screw bracelets but they make them in a more angular shape as well.


    1. I love those Miansai bracelets!! Coveted one for a long time — chic!

      Sounds like a great reading list. Keep me posted, per usual. Excited about the feedback from you and other Magpies on The Vanishing Half!


  3. Closely following your list and the suggestions in the comments. I’m trying to be in bed earlier these days so I can get an hour of reading time in every day. I’m also trying to order more printed books from small bookshops. I’m halfway through The Deepest Well (such a relevant read right now) and I just ordered Evvie Drake Starts Over and The Dutch House. Can’t wait!!

  4. I recently read and enjoyed:
    The Night Watch Man- this period of Native American history is very sad but interesting
    This Tender Land- did not enjoy as much as Watch Man but also touches on a difficult period of American and Native American history
    Nobody Will Tell You This But Me- normally I avoid non-fiction but I loved this memoir about the author’s grandmother. Might be my favorite quarantine read so far!
    Island of Sea Women- an amazing story of a matriarchal society facing the hardships of war, modernization, etc.
    Book of Longings- story of the fictional wife of Jesus, covers a lot of the religious and political issues of the period and made me want to read more about various biblical figures
    The Henna Artist- an easier, and enjoyable, read about the struggles faced by women in Indian society

    Currently reading- Apeirogon but Colum McCann and it is tough but the true story behind it, two fathers who lost daughters in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is so compelling that I’m hoping I can get into it

    Adding so many of these other books to my list! Thank you Jen for starting this conversation!

    1. Oh man, so glad to have a first-hand review of the Erdrich book! It sounds amazing. Cannot wait. And actually Christina loved “Nobody Will Tell You This But Me” — she said she wept at the end. Ugh! I might need to read that, too.

      Thanks for sharing these!


  5. Just finished The Stationery Shop (loved it) and Summer Darlings (not so good). Next up: The Carriers by Francesca Cartier. Sounds very interesting

    1. The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire by Francesca Cartier Brickell!

      1. Oo – that sounds really interesting and juicy. Added to my reading list! Thanks, Cynthia!


  6. I read Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing and found it as brilliant as her earlier book, Salvage the Bones. I actually met Jesmyn once at a book event. She impressed me as both an intelligent and down-to-earth person.

    I would recommend Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips. It’s simply one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

    I have added The Warmth of Other Suns to my reading list. Thank you!

    1. Oooh, I love when the in-person meeting lives up to the imagined. Added the Phillips book to my list! Thank you, JT!


  7. I just finished Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Akner and all of the characters were such horrible people, but I couldn’t put it down because I just needed to find out what happened to them. Can’t say I recommend!

    I just started World Without End, the sequel to Ken Follett’s epic The Pillars of the Earth, which I actually do recommend for a summer read if you enjoy process-oriented books, despite it being 900 pages long.

    1. WOW 900 pages! At the in-person Magpie book club (RIP…for now), we all decided that ideal books are under 300 pages. Ha! I’m impressed. Let me know what you think though! I can be convinced…!

  8. HIGHLY recommend The Heir Affair (my head was spinning – it was a wild book) and The Chiffon Trenches via audio.

    I’m making my way through The Forgotten Kingdom (the sequel to The Lost Queen, an incredible historical fiction series), and I have Big Friendship (Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman from Call Your Girlfriend) on deck as well. I had been on a huge Black-authored romance binge and HIGHLY recommend Kennedy Ryan’s All The King’s Men series and Queen Move, Talia Hibbert’s Take A Hint Dani Brown, Jasmine Guillory’s Party Of Two, and Kwana Jackson’s Real Men Knit. There are definitely more, but these were just wonderful.

    1. Yay! Glad to have your endorsements here and thanks for all of these other delicious suggestions, too!


  9. I just read the Vanishing Half and I LOVED it. Truly a beautiful book. The best way to describe reading it is that the story will sweep you away. My favorite books are books that are”smart” but are also approachable and this book is it.

    I don’t know if I see the Toni Morrison comparison – Morrison’s work felt much more allegorical to me. Perhaps Brit Bennett’s first book, the Mothers, felt more along those lines. Granted, I read most of her work in the confines of a class room and have yet to return to them. Regardless, the Vanishing Half is a must-read. And you haven’t read the Mothers, read that as well!

    I’m so excited for the Heir Affair I can hardly wait. The Warmth of Other Suns looks fantastic! Thank you for putting together this list. Will be adding many to my TBR pile.

    Currently reading All Adult Here by Emma Straub. I like it and it is a quick read and the story is good. However there is something about her writing style which rankles me that I just can’t but my finger on! Also reading A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. If you’re at all interested in fantasy that takes place in real life, it’s a must-read. What I thought would be a fun romp is actually an incredibly well-written and well-researched series!

    1. Ooh Molly – WOW. This review of Vanishing Half is extra compelling for me — I also love “smart and approachable” books that are compelling enough to keep me coming back even when sleep is calling my name. In a separate but adjacent category, I really love books that excel at character design — it is so, so hard to create a new and seemingly non-derivative character given how many we encounter in so many different modes. “The Dutch House” nailed that category for me — I am still bowled over by the roundness and depth of Danny and Maeve. Wow.

      I agree with you on Straub — not my favorite contemporary voice.


  10. I’m intrigued by The Vanishing Half and The Warmth of Other Suns. Here’s a sampling of my summer reading list (including TBR, currently reading, and recently finished):

    Never Have I Ever
    The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery
    The Jane Austen Society
    The Body: A Guide for Occupants
    The Dutch House
    Picnic at Hanging Rock
    Everything I Never Told You
    Mountains Beyond Mountains
    Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor
    The Marsh King’s Daughter
    The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress

    1. Wow – great list and several I’d never heard of! Added all of these to my never-ending “A lire” list in Amazon.


  11. I just finished 28 Summers and wasn’t expecting more than a light beach read- but oh man, I didn’t want it to end and SOBBED at the end. Highly recommend!

    1. Ahh! I don’t know if I’m emotionally equipped for a sob fest but…! I’m intrigued! Any book that elicits such a strong reaction is worth it. Thank you!

  12. Isabelle Wilkerson discusses this book on Krista Tippett’s On Being yesterday. She’s amazing. An excerpt of Chiffon Trenches is great; will buy. Highly recommend for all of us-any of Jesmyn Ward’s books. Lyrical, gritty, poetic with stories set in Mississippi. The first is Where the Thin Line Bleeds.

    1. Oo, Carmen! Thanks for the podcast suggestion! Will give it a listen. I also am intrigued by Jesmyn Ward — one of my friends from my former book club recommended “Sing, Unburied, Sing” recently and I want to get to that, too! So many great books, so little time…


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