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People Magazine's 20 Best Books to Read This Summer!

May 27, 2020
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People has named off the 20 Best Books to Read This Summer, and we’re so excited to share them with you. Whether you are social distancing at the beach or reading from your couch, these stories are perfect for the sunny days ahead!

1. Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan

Elisabeth, an accomplished journalist and new mother, is struggling to adjust to life in a small town after nearly twenty years in New York City. Alone in the house with her infant son all day (and awake with him much of the night), she feels uneasy, adrift. She neglects her work, losing untold hours to her Brooklyn moms’ Facebook group, her “influencer” sister’s Instagram feed, and text messages with the best friend she never sees anymore. Enter Sam, a senior at the local women’s college, whom Elisabeth hires to babysit. Sam is struggling to decide between the path she’s always planned on and a romantic entanglement that threatens her ambition. She’s worried about student loan debt and what the future holds. In short order, they grow close. But when Sam finds an unlikely kindred spirit in Elisabeth’s father-in-law, the true differences between the women’s lives become starkly revealed and a betrayal has devastating consequences.

2. 28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand

Their secret love affair has lasted for decades – but this could be the summer that changes everythingOnce a year, Alice and Tom have met on Nantucket to rekindle the passionate love affair they began 28 years earlier. Each married to someone else, with busy lives and happy families, they’ve managed to keep their secret, and to keep their love alive.

But nothing is forever. Tom’s wife is in the national spotlight for her controversial and increasingly popular campaign for a Senate office. And Alice has received a diagnosis that puts her future in doubt. Could their 28th summer together also be their last?

3. A Star is Bored by Byron Lane

The Devil Wears Prada meets Postcards From the Edge in a hilariously heartfelt novel influenced in part by the author’s time assisting Carrie Fisher.

Charlie Besson is tense and sweating as he prepares for an insane job interview. His car is idling, like his life, outside the Hollywood mansion of Kathi Kannon, star of stage and screen and People magazine’s worst dressed list. She needs an assistant. He needs a hero.

Kathi is an icon, bestselling author, and an award winning actress, most known for her role as Priestess Talara in a blockbuster sci-fi film. She’s also known in another role: crazy. Admittedly so. Famously so. Fabulously so, as Charlie quickly discovers.

Their three year odyssey is filled with late night shopping sprees, last minute trips to see the aurora borealis, and an initiation to that most sacred of Hollywood tribes: the personal assistant. But Kathi becomes much more than a boss, and as their friendship grows, Charlie must make a choice. Will he always be on the sidelines of life, assisting the great forces that be, or can he step into his own leading role?

4. The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books one morning when her eyes lock on a photograph in a magazine lying open nearby. She freezes; it’s an image of a book she hasn’t seen in sixty-five years–a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names.

The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II–an experience Eva remembers well–and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin’s Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don’t know where it came from–or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer–but will she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those lost during the war?

As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named R my, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and R my disappears.

5. The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

6. Notes on Silencing by Lacy Crawford

When the elite St. Paul’s School came under state investigation after extensive reports of sexual abuse on campus, Lacy Crawford thought she’d put behind her the assault she’d suffered decades before, when she was fifteen. Still, when detectives asked for victims to come forward, she sent a note.

With her criminal case file reopened, she saw for the first time evidence that corroborated her memories. Here were depictions of the na ve, hardworking girl she’d been, a chorister and debater, the daughter of a priest; of the two senior athletes who assaulted her and were allowed to graduate with awards; and of the faculty, doctors, and priests who had known about Crawford’s assault and gone to great lengths to bury it.

Now a wife, mother, and writer living on the other side of the country, Crawford learned that police had uncovered astonishing proof of an institutional silencing years before, and that unnamed powers were still trying to block her case. The slander, innuendo, and lack of adult concern that Crawford had experienced as a student hadn’t been the imagined effects of trauma, after all: these were the actions of a school that prized its reputation above anything, even a child.

This revelation launched Crawford on an extraordinary inquiry into the ways gender, privilege, and power shaped her experience as a girl at the gates of America’s elite. Her investigation looks beyond the sprawling playing fields and soaring chapel towers of crucibles of power like St. Paul’s, whose reckoning is still to come. And it runs deep into the channels of shame and guilt, witness and silencing, that dictate who can speak and who is heard in American society.

7. Humankind by Rutger Bregman

If there is one belief that has united the left and the right, psychologists and philosophers, ancient thinkers and modern ones, it is the tacit assumption that humans are bad. It’s a notion that drives newspaper headlines and guides the laws that shape our lives. From Machiavelli to Hobbes, Freud to Pinker, the roots of this belief have sunk deep into Western thought. Human beings, we’re taught, are by nature selfish and governed primarily by self-interest.

But what if it isn’t true? International bestseller Rutger Bregman provides new perspective on the past 200,000 years of human history, setting out to prove that we are hardwired for kindness, geared toward cooperation rather than competition, and more inclined to trust rather than distrust one another. In fact this instinct has a firm evolutionary basis going back to the beginning of Homo sapiens.

From the real-life Lord of the Flies to the solidarity in the aftermath of the Blitz, the hidden flaws in the Stanford prison experiment to the true story of twin brothers on opposite sides who helped Mandela end apartheid, Bregman shows us that believing in human generosity and collaboration isn’t merely optimistic—it’s realistic. Moreover, it has huge implications for how society functions. When we think the worst of people, it brings out the worst in our politics and economics. But if we believe in the reality of humanity’s kindness and altruism, it will form the foundation for achieving true change in society, a case that Bregman makes convincingly with his signature wit, refreshing frankness, and memorable storytelling.

8. The New One by Mike Birbiglia

In 2016 comedian Mike Birbiglia and poet Jennifer Hope Stein took their fourteen-month-old daughter Oona to the Nantucket Film Festival. When the festival director picked them up at the airport she asked Mike if he would perform at the storytelling night. She said, “The theme of the stories is jealousy.”

Jen quipped, “You’re jealous of Oona. You should talk about that.”

And so Mike began sharing some of his darkest and funniest thoughts about the decision to have a child. Jen and Mike revealed to each other their sides of what had gone down during Jen’s pregnancy and that first year with their child. Over the next couple years, these stories evolved into a Broadway show, and the more Mike performed it the more he heard how it resonated — not just with parents but also people who resist all kinds of change.

So here it is. This book is an experiment — sort of like a family.

9. Big Friendship by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

A close friendship is one of the most influential and important relationships a human life can contain. Anyone will tell you that But for all the rosy sentiments surrounding friendship, most people don’t talk much about what it really takes to stay close for the long haul.

Now two friends, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, tell the story of their equally messy and life-affirming Big Friendship in this honest and hilarious book that chronicles their first decade in one another’s lives. As the hosts of the hit podcast Call Your Girlfriend, they’ve become known for frank and intimate conversations. In this book, they bring that energy to their own friendshipits joys and its pitfalls.

Aminatou and Ann define Big Friendship as a strong, significant bond that transcends life phases, geographical locations, and emotional shifts. And they should know: the two have had moments of charmed bliss and deep frustration, of profound connection and gut-wrenching alienation. They have weathered life-threatening health scares, getting fired from their dream jobs, and one unfortunate Thanksgiving dinner eaten in a car in a parking lot in Rancho Cucamonga. Through interviews with friends and experts, they have come to understand that their struggles are not unique. And that the most important part of a Big Friendship is making the decision to invest in one another again and again.

10. The Book of Rosy by Rosayra Pablo Cruz and Julie Schwietert Collazo

When Rosayra “Rosy” Pablo Cruz made the agonizing decision to seek asylum in the United States with two of her children, she knew the journey would be arduous, dangerous, and quite possibly deadly. But she had no choice: violence–from gangs, from crime, from spiraling chaos–was making daily life hell. Rosy knew her family’s one chance at survival was to flee Guatemala and go north.

After a brutal journey that left them dehydrated, exhausted, and nearly starved, Rosy and her two little boys arrived at the Arizona border. Almost immediately they were seized and forcibly separated by government officials under the Department of Homeland Security’s new “zero tolerance” policy. To her horror Rosy discovered that her flight to safety had only just begun.

Rosy tells her story, aided by Julie Schwietert Collazo, founder of Immigrant Families Together, the grassroots organization that reunites mothers and children. She reveals the cruelty of the detention facilities, the excruciating pain of feeling her children ripped from her arms, the abiding faith that staved off despair–and the enduring friendship with Julie, which helped her navigate the darkness and the bottomless Orwellian bureaucracy.

11. Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg

On a cold day in 1997, student Sara Morgan was killed in the woods surrounding her liberal arts college in upstate New York. Her boyfriend, Blake Campbell, confessed, his plea of temporary insanity raising more questions than it answered.

In the wake of his acquittal, the case comes to haunt a strange and surprising network of community members, from the young woman who discovers Sara’s body to the junior reporter who senses its connection to convicted local serial killer John Logan. Others are looking for retribution or explanation: Sara’s half sister, stifled by her family’s bereft silence about Blake, poses as a babysitter and seeks out her own form of justice, while the teenager Sara used to babysit starts writing to Logan in prison.

A propulsive, taut tale of voyeurism and obsession, Nothing Can Hurt You dares to examine gendered violence not as an anomaly, but as the very core of everyday life. Tracing the concentric circles of violence rippling out from Sara’s murder, Nicola Maye Goldberg masterfully conducts an unforgettable chorus of disparate voices.

12. The Distant Dead by Heather Young

A body burns in the high desert hills. A boy walks into a fire station, pale with the shock of a grisly discovery. A middle school teacher worries when her colleague is late for work. By day’s end, when the body is identified as local math teacher Adam Merkel, a small Nevada town will be rocked to its core by a brutal and calculated murder.

Adam Merkel left a university professorship in Reno to teach middle school in Lovelock seven months before he died. A quiet, seemingly unremarkable man, he connected with just one of his students: Sal Prentiss, a lonely sixth grader who lives with his uncles on a desolate ranch in the hills. The two outcasts developed a tender, trusting friendship that brought each of them hope in the wake of tragedy. But it is Sal who finds Adam’s body, charred almost beyond recognition, half a mile from his uncles’ compound.

Nora Wheaton, the middle school’s social studies teacher, dreamed of a life far from Lovelock only to be dragged back on the eve of her college graduation to care for her disabled father, a man she loves but can’t forgive. She sensed in the new math teacher a kindred spirit–another soul bound to Lovelock by guilt and duty. After Adam’s death, she delves into his past for clues to who killed him and finds a dark history she understands all too well. But the truth about his murder may lie closer to home. For Sal Prentiss’s grief seems heavily shaded with fear, and Nora suspects he knows more than he’s telling about how his favorite teacher died. As she tries to earn the wary boy’s trust, she finds he holds not only the key to Adam’s murder, but an unexpected chance at the life she thought she’d lost.

13. Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar

When the famed photographer Miranda Brand died mysteriously at the height of her career, it sent shock waves through Callinas, California. Decades later, old wounds are reopened when her son Theo hires the ex-journalist Kate Aitken to archive his mother’s work and personal effects.

As Kate sorts through the vast maze of material and contends with the vicious rumors and shocking details of Miranda’s private life, she pieces together a portrait of a vibrant artist buckling under the pressures of ambition, motherhood, and marriage. But Kate has secrets of her own, including a growing attraction to the enigmatic Theo, and when she stumbles across Miranda’s diary, her curiosity spirals into a dangerous obsession.

A seductive, twisting tale of psychological suspense, Take Me Apart draws readers into the lives of two darkly magnetic young women pinned down by secrets and lies. Sara Sligar’s electrifying debut is a chilling, thought-provoking take on art, illness, and power, from a spellbinding new voice in literary suspense.

14. These Women by Ivy Pochoda

In West Adams, a rapidly changing part of South Los Angeles, they’re referred to as “these women.” These women on the corner … These women in the club … These women who won’t stop asking questions … These women who got what they deserved …

In her masterful new novel, Ivy Pochoda creates a kaleidoscope of loss, power, and hope featuring five very different women whose lives are steeped in danger and anguish. They’re connected by one man and his deadly obsession, though not all of them know that yet. There’s Dorian, still adrift after her daughter’s murder remains unsolved; Julianna, a young dancer nicknamed Jujubee, who lives hard and fast, resisting anyone trying to slow her down; Essie, a brilliant vice cop who sees a crime pattern emerging where no one else does; Marella, a daring performance artist whose work has long pushed boundaries but now puts her in peril; and Anneke, a quiet woman who has turned a willfully blind eye to those around her for far too long. The careful existence they have built for themselves starts to crumble when two murders rock their neighborhood.

Written with beauty and grit, tension and grace, These Women is a glorious display of storytelling, a once-in-a-generation novel.

15. A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight

Lizzie Kitsakis is working late when she gets the call. Grueling hours are standard at elite law firms like Young & Crane, but they’d be easier to swallow if Lizzie was there voluntarily. Until recently, she’d been a happily underpaid federal prosecutor. That job and her brilliant, devoted husband Sam–she had everything she’d ever wanted. And then, suddenly, it all fell apart.

No. That’s a lie. It wasn’t sudden, was it? Long ago the cracks in Lizzie’s marriage had started to show. She was just good at averting her eyes.

The last thing Lizzie needs right now is a call from an inmate at Rikers asking for help–even if Zach Grayson is an old friend. But Zach is desperate: his wife, Amanda, has been found dead at the bottom of the stairs in their Brooklyn brownstone. And Zach’s the primary suspect.

As Lizzie is drawn into the dark heart of idyllic Park Slope, she learns that Zach and Amanda weren’t what they seemed–and that their friends, a close-knit group of fellow parents at the exclusive Brooklyn Country Day school, might be protecting troubling secrets of their own. In the end, she’s left wondering not only whether her own marriage can be saved, but what it means to have a good marriage in the first place.

16. The Kinder Poison by Natalie Maye

In the magical kingdom of Orkena, Zahru has long dreamed of a life beyond the desert, even though she knows her lowly position as a stable girl who can commune with animals will never afford her such a luxury.

All that changes when the ailing ruler invokes an ancient tradition known as the Crossing. It’s a death-defying race across the desert, in which the first of his heirs to finish–and take the life of a human sacrifice at the journey’s end–will ascend to the throne and be granted unparalleled abilities.

As preparations and celebrations commence, Zahru jumps at the chance to experience a small taste of glamour by sneaking into the palace. But the minor indiscretion quickly turns into the worst mistake of her life as she gets caught up in a feud between the heirs and is ultimately forced to become the Crossing’s human sacrifice. Zahru is left with only one hope for survival: somehow figuring out how to overcome the most powerful people in the world.

17. A Peculiar Peril by Jeff VanderMeer

Jonathan Lambshead stands to inherit his deceased grandfather’s overstuffed mansion–a veritable cabinet of curiosities–once he and two schoolmates catalog its contents. But the three soon discover that the house is filled with far more than just oddities: It holds clues linking to an alt-Earth called Aurora, where the notorious English occultist Aleister Crowley has stormed back to life on a magic-fueled rampage across a surreal, through-the-looking-glass version of Europe replete with talking animals (and vegetables).

Swept into encounters with allies more unpredictable than enemies, Jonathan pieces together his destiny as a member of a secret society devoted to keeping our world separate from Aurora. But as the ground shifts and allegiances change with every step, he and his friends sink ever deeper into a deadly pursuit of the profound evil that is also chasing after them.

18. I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected–and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

19. Agnes and the End of the World by Kelly McWilliams

Agnes loves her home of Red Creek — its quiet, sunny mornings, its dusty roads, and its God. There, she cares tirelessly for her younger siblings and follows the town’s strict laws. What she doesn’t know is that Red Creek is a cult, controlled by a madman who calls himself a prophet.

Then Agnes meets Danny, an Outsider boy, and begins to question what is and isn’t a sin. Her younger brother, Ezekiel, will die without the insulin she barters for once a month, even though medicine is considered outlawed. Is she a sinner for saving him? Is her sister, Beth, a sinner for dreaming of the world beyond Red Creek?

As the Prophet grows more dangerous, Agnes realizes she must escape with Ezekiel and leave everyone else, including Beth, behind. But it isn’t safe Outside, either: A viral pandemic is burning through the population at a terrifying rate. As Agnes ventures forth, a mysterious connection grows between her and the Virus. But in a world where faith, miracles, and cruelty have long been indistinguishable, will Agnes be able to choose between saving her family and saving the world?

20. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.

Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson’s emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.

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