Zibby Owens is the host of award-winning podcast “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” and editor of “Moms Don’t Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology.”
I can feel the first hints of summer swirling in the air. The tulips opening up, flashing us. Our sweatpants discarded, replaced by long flowy skirts. Lightweight jackets now hang by the front door, our winter overcoats stashed back in the closet. Ice cream trucks jangle. Even my dog has a spring in her step. With the pregnant possibilities of a more “normal” summer season post-pandemic comes the promise of piles of enticing, memorable reads. If only we could find time for them all. But that’s what summer is for: rest, relaxation, smiles, watermelon, pie, books. The anticipation of it is almost as good as the real thing. But with these books, they’re just as good as advertised.
‘I Thought You Said This Would Work’ by Ann Garvin
Two friends, a widow and her nemesis, come together when their other mutual friend issues one final request as she battles cancer. Forced to drive across the country to rescue their friend’s dog, they end up rediscovering their own friendship, airing old wounds, and finding new love in the unlikeliest of places. Ann Garvin, Ph.D., founder of the Tall Poppy Writers, writes brilliantly about women.
‘The Secret to Superhuman Strength’ by Alison Bechdel
A graphic novel that tracks the author’s exercise habits as a means to sharing her life story including the suicide of her father, “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” brings the same intensity and wit as her previous works. Bechdel’s “Fun Home” — which became a Tony-winning musical and is now being adapted for a film starring Jake Gyllenhaal — and the “Dykes to Watch Out For” comic strip, have made her a cult favorite. Her latest work — personal, emotional, deep yet colorful — has powerful messages in every drawing.
‘Hour of the Witch’ by Chris Bohjalian
Another historical suspense novel from No. 1 New York Times bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian, who has cornered the market on books based on “fear and dread,” “Hour of the Witch” is one woman’s desperate attempt to flee a violent marriage while coping with her own demons. Set in 1662, her actions raise suspicion of whether or not she’s a witch and shine the light on a dark time of violence and persecution.
‘The Last Thing He Told Me’ by Laura Dave
Five of Laura Dave’s novels have been optioned for film and TV, including “The Last Thing He Told Me,” her latest thriller about a woman who must work with her new step-daughter to understand her husband’s disappearance — and to figure out whom she really married.
‘Mergers & Acquisitions: Or, Everything I Know About Love I Learned From the Wedding Pages’ by Cate Doty
New York Times journalist Cate Doty writes a coming-of-age memoir about coming to New York from the South, working for the wedding pages, witnessing the craziness of society strivers and falling in love herself. In this delightful, at times jaw-dropping, tale about what really goes into wedding announcements — and who gets what in the Times — the true vows might just be unspoken.
Escape into 34 books this April
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‘The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story’ by John Freeman
The editor of Freeman’s literary annual and the executive editor of Knopf, John Freeman has compiled the ultimate collection: 50 years of fantastic short stories from 1970 to 2020. Authors include Jhumpa Lahiri, Stephen King, Grace Paley, Raymond Carver, Lauren Groff, George Saunders, Susan Sontag and Tobias Wolff, among other notables across genres.
‘Summer on the Bluffs’ by Sunny Hostin
Co-host of “The View,” Emmy award winner, lawyer and journalist Sunny Hostin takes us on a summer vacation in an elite, high-powered Black neighborhood of “the Vineyard,” where Black royalty, including the Obamas, has come to vacation for decades. Centered around one particular home, this story of a matriarch and the last summer she spends with her three god-daughters — all of whom have secrets to hide while trying to inherit the home themselves — is a complicated, memorable tale of family, allegiances, secrets and summertime.
‘Ruby Falls’ by Deborah Goodrich Royce
Philanthropist, former soap opera star, hotelier, preservationist and socialite Deborah Goodrich Royce is above all, a novelist. Her second book, “Ruby Falls,” follows a young girl abandoned in a subterranean cave by her father and the aftermath of that trauma. Fast forward to the Hollywood Hills where she has become a movie star. Ruby gets to know the man she married on a whim and tries to sort out fact from fiction as her mind plays tricks on her — or, perhaps, us.
‘Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life’ by Julianna Margulies
Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award-winning actress Julianna Margulies chronicles her untraditional upbringing in this coming-of-age memoir that makes her performances in “ER,” “The Good Wife,” “Billions” and others even more nuanced. Her unique perspective on life having lived through her parents’ divorce, one that shuttled her around the world and how that shaped her development is searing and deep, just like her acting.
‘Stranger Care: A Memoir of Loving What Isn’t Ours’ by Sarah Sentilles
After years of paperwork, bureaucracy and perseverance, Sarah and her husband find out they’ve been matched to foster a newborn child, Coco. As Sarah cares for Coco and Coco’s birth mother, she reflects on the true meaning of family and what it means to mother.
‘Great Circle’ by Maggie Shipstead
New York Times bestselling author and worldwide travel writer Maggie Shipstead returns with her third novel, an epic tale told in two timelines about one woman’s thirst for flight, the man who made it possible and the actress who played the aviator 100 years later. Like in her first novel, “Seating Arrangements,” Maggie’s eye for detail, character and the moments that tell all make this a true literary achievement.
‘Secrets of Happiness’ by Joan Silber
National Book Award Finalist Joan Silber spins a multi-family web of deceit and intrigue. A young lawyer in New York finds out his trusted father actually has a secret family with a Thai wife and kids who live in Queens. The fallout has vast implications in all parts of their family, taking us along for the ride, from Bangkok to Nepal.
‘It Had to Be You’ by Georgia Lou Clark
When the owner of a Brooklyn-based wedding business passes away, he unexpectedly leaves half the business not to his longtime wife and co-owner but to his younger, blonde girlfriend. Antics ensue in this light narrative about loyalty, lust and legendary weddings.
‘While Justice Sleeps’ by Stacey Abrams
Democrat Stacey Abrams narrowly lost the race for Governor of Georgia in 2018 after serving in the Georgia House of Representatives for more than 11 years, yet she won in the most notable suspense fiction arena. A story of a law clerk who unexpectedly becomes the power of attorney for her boss when he slips into a coma, this tale twists and turns as clues emerge leading the protagonist Avery to the real case of interest.
‘Notes on Grief’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Nigerian-born, National Book Critics Circle Award winner and author of many books (that have collectively been translated into 30 languages), Chimamanda turns her razor-sharp prose on her own family and grief. Chimamanda lost her father in the summer of 2020 in the midst of the pandemic to kidney failure. Writing through her grief, Chimamanda composed this elegant elegy to her dad, including parts of his own life history mixed in with her reflections on the global pandemic of grief.
‘Mary Jane’ by Jessica Anya Blau
“Almost Famous” meets “Adventures in Babysitting,” with a little “Stealing Home” thrown in, Jessica Anya Blau’s novel about a 14-year-old girl in the 1970s whose summer job babysitting for the daughter of a psychiatrist and his wife takes her into unexpected waters. Dr. Cone has a famous rock ‘n’ roll couple move in when he treats the husband, Jimmy, for his addiction, with his famous singer wife, Sheba, along for ride. This musical tale will take you back, make you crank up the ’70s music, and make you rethink where you send your kids to babysit.
‘The Mothers’ by Genevieve Gannon
Award-winning Australian author Genevieve Gannon examines a big “what if” in her latest novel: what if you accidentally gave birth to a child that wasn’t yours?! Inspired by a true story, this chilling tale of parenthood and what it means to have a child will make you keep thinking about it, long after you’ve finished the book.
‘The Plot’ by Jean Hanff Korelitz
This is really two books, so Jean Hanff Korelitz should get twice the credit! This intriguing, unique tale about an MFA teacher/author whose own bright light faded quickly after his first successful book forces us to reckon with who owns the rights to a story idea. If a student with a fabulous plot idea passes away before he can write the book, is it necessarily wrong of the teacher to write it himself? “The Plot,” which tackles these questions and more, is written in the breathless, searing style by the same author of what became HBO’s “The Undoing.”
‘Don’t Make Me Turn This Life Around’ by Camille Pagan
When Libby decides to take her family to Vieques, Puerto Rico, on vacation, she does so to help herself regroup. She needs to get over the death of her father, her own cancer battle, her child’s health issues. But the vacation takes an unexpected turn when a tropical storm hits and threatens their survival. The Amazon charts bestselling author Camille Pagan writes with depth and soul about what makes a family whole.
‘That Summer ‘ by Jennifer Weiner
No. 1 New York Times bestselling novelist Jennifer Weiner tackles the life of Daisy, a Main Line Philadelphia dissatisfied-for-no-good-reason housewife who starts getting emails directed towards another woman with a similar email address. Those messages give her a peek into Diana’s life, one that suddenly seems far more appealing than her own. But was it just a coincidence that their paths crossed in life?
‘A Special Place for Women’ by Laura Hankin
From the author of “Happy and You know It” comes another skewering look at the antics of a certain group of New York City women, this time told from the point of view of a journalist who tries to break into a members-only secret club. “A Special Place for Women” has also been optioned for TV!
‘All the Colors Came Out: A Father, a Daughter, and a Lifetime of Lessons’ by Kate Fagan
No. 1 New York Times bestselling author Kate Fagan shares her intimate struggle of caring for her father during his battle with ALS. Their shared love of basketball is a central theme in the evolution and eventual conclusion of their relationship, one that highlights the unique bonds between fathers and daughters.
‘Tokyo Ever After’ by Emiko Jean
In this tale of identity and belonging, a young Japanese American girl, “Izzy,” who has always felt out of place living in California with her single mom, discovers that her long-lost father is actually the Crown Prince of Japan. She is whisked off to Japan like Eddie Murphy’s out-of-wedlock son to Zamunda in “Coming 2 America.” Izzy then tries to be less American and more Japanese, while confronting difficult people, old traditions and a very enticing bodyguard. This is part one of a two-book series.
‘Where the Grass Is Green and the Girls are Pretty’ by Lauren Weisberger
There’s nothing like a little Guns N’ Roses to make a book really stand out. Paradise City? Not in this story by No. 1 bestselling author of “The Devil Wears Prada” whose six other novels have all been bestsellers. A family of women who seem happy on the outside simmer internally, including a popular news anchor, a stay-at-home-supermom, a Princeton-bound “perfect” daughter, and then one, big lie changes everything. “Oh, won’t you please take me home …”
‘The Photographer’ by Mary Dixie Carter
Say cheese! Elite children’s society photographer falls in love with a family she shoots when she photographs their daughter’s posh 11th birthday party. When she enmeshes herself in their habits, settling into life at their townhouse, she ends up realizing that she can manipulate more than just photos. A debut novel from an actor and Harvard honors grad with an MFA in Creative Writing, “The Photographer” will make you rethink that smile.
‘The Lost Boys of Montauk: The True Story of the Wind Blown, Four Men Who Vanished at Sea, and the Survivors They Left Behind’ by Amanda Fairbanks
A gripping, maritime true story, “The Lost Boys of Montauk” is set in 1984 when a commercial fishing boat manned by the boat’s owner and his crew (two locals, one son of a wealthy family summering in the Hamptons) disappeared at sea after a storm a week into their voyage. Amanda Fairbanks writes not only about this tragedy, but also about how Montauk has changed dramatically in the past 40 years, how the effects of this one accident affected a generation and community, and the secrets that live on.
‘Things I Learned From Falling’ by Claire Nelson
A true story of burned out 30-something, New Zealand-born journalist Claire Nelson, who left her crazy life in London to regroup. She decided to journey through California’s Joshua Tree National Park, and while hiking had an accident that stranded her alone and injured in the desert for four days, fighting for her life. She lived to tell and shares her story, plus her thoughts on anxiety and isolation, in “Things I Learned From Falling.”
‘The Guncle’ by Steven Rowley
The bestselling author of “Lily and the Whale,” and a literary ode to Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis called “The Editor,” Steven Rowley has penned a brilliant tale of loss and love. A gay TV star, who had previously enjoyed the short visits with his beloved niece and nephew, suddenly finds himself in charge when his brother’s wife passes away and his brother falls ill.
‘Playing the Palace’ by Paul Rudnick
What if the Crown Prince of Wales were gay? “Playing the Palace” by playwright, screenwriter, essayist and novelist Paul Rudnick imagines just that, complete with a rom-com scenario when an American event planner takes up with the Prince, an affair that sets off a media frenzy.
‘Checking In: How Getting Real About Depression Saved My Life — and Can Save Yours’ by Michelle Williams
Former Destiny’s Child member Michelle Williams almost took her own life several years ago. She spent time in an inpatient treatment facility where she regrouped and found the faith to forge ahead, even without Beyonce. She shares her secret story in “Checking In” as she steps into her most important new role yet: mental health advocate.
‘This is How I Save My Life: From California to India, a True Story of Finding Everything When You Are Willing to Try Anything’ by Amy Scher
Amy faced an impossible choice: Risk death from late stage Lyme disease after consulting all the U.S. experts or head to India and try an experimental treatment that also might kill her. Amy heads around the globe to save herself and learns who she really is, delighting us in her quest for health.
‘Impostor Syndrome’ by Kathy Wang
The author of “Family Trust” heads back to Silicon Valley to examine what happens when a Russian operative infiltrates a popular tech company and the only one who suspects it is a low-level employee, a first generation Chinese American who realizes the privacy breach and has to figure out how to handle it. Or else …
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