Hot, Humid, Sleepy, Sexy: The Best Books About Summer

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At least in the Northern Hemisphere, this week feels like summer’s apogee, complete with record heat and bad weather. To me, the 4th of July is to summer what Christmas is to winter: once it’s over, the season and its weather feel overwrought and pointless, except the 4th of July is nowhere near as fun as Christmas, so what’s the point at all?

Can you tell I’m not a summer person? Maybe it comes from growing up lackadaisically homeschooled: the season doesn’t have the same lazy magic when you’re off school all year round. Instead it’s just too hot, too sticky, and too full of bugs. Swimming’s good, though.

As it turns out, the reading’s good, too. Summer seems to inspire more great novels than any other season. The claustrophobic heat, the long vacations full of people you’ll never meet again, the bone-deep languor, no school, sleepaway camp, the smell of the chlorine at the community pool, the beach…it’s all a recipe for stories as thick with tension and unrequited feelings as pea soup.

In honor of what I’m officially dubbing Peak Summer Week, I’ve compiled some of my very favorite books about summer and its aftermath below.


A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | My Review

9781936787579This novel is set in Australia, so summer is turned on its head, at least as far as the calendar year goes. If you’re an American reader like me (especially one from the frigid North), you’ll probably be charmed by the idea of a blazingly hot December in the bush. If you celebrate Christmas, it’s especially weird to read about how different seasonal tradition becomes when it’s 90+° Fahrenheit outside instead of -28°, like it was this year where I live.

But A Loving, Faithful Animal‘s appeal goes way beyond that novelty. It explores what happens to a family when a father, tormented by his memories of service in the Australian military during Vietnam, runs away one last time. It’s about a once-privileged mother, viciously abused by her husband, who’s desperately trying to hold it together. It’s about two sisters trying to escape the gravity of poverty and desperation. It’s one of the best novels about the working class that I’ve ever read (though even that’s an oversimplification) and it’s a gorgeous summertime coming-of-age novel, too. Just read it.

September Girls by Bennett Madison

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

September Girls CoverTo say this book is polarizing would be an understatement. If you look at its Goodreads page, it’s a pretty even mix of 1-star reviews and 5-star reviews. The biggest critique of it seems to be that it’s piggishly sexist, but one of the biggest praises of is that it deftly deconstructs sexism. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear where you fall in the comments below, but I, for one, unabashedly love this book.

It’s a YA novel (with lots of crossover appeal for adults, too) about teenaged Sam, who gets whisked off to a beach vacation with his brother by their absent-minded father. The town is full of Girls: beautiful blondes who occupy every possible summer job in town. When Sam begins to fall for Dee Dee, one of the Girls, he uncovers a bizarre secret: they’re all mermaids. The secret is mermaids! And if you’re thinking that a coming-of-age story about a boy who falls in love with mermaids would be corny and weird instead of achingly sad and fascinating, well, I don’t blame you…but you’ll have to trust me when I say it’s the latter.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

The Bell Jar CoverIf you’ve read it, how could you possibly forget the way Plath opens this novel by talking about the summer the Rosenbergs were electrocuted? The Bell Jar is classic anytime, but it’s especially a classic summer novel to me. Plath captures the hot, stinky claustrophobia of a New York summer perfectly, as well as the way summers can feel much quieter but just as dangerous everywhere else. It follows Esther, a gifted writer and intern at a fashion magazine who spins out into a frightening episode of mental illness.

As you may know if you’ve stuck around this blog awhile, I have bipolar disorder, so this book has a particularly special place in my heart: summer’s long days and short nights can be very hard on people with mood disorders. (I literally have to schedule extra mental health appointments in the summer to compensate.) In Plath’s hands, summer isn’t a time for vacation, but rather a sinister and unescapable force, which is how it’s felt in my own life since my bipolar onset in my teens. Even if you don’t have that experience, The Bell Jar is unforgettable and lovely–you won’t regret making the time to read it, if you haven’t already.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | My Review

9780735224292Where to begin? This book is flawless. It follows two families, one stubbornly suburban and set in their ways and the other free-floating and untraditional, as they become irreversibly intertwined. There’s an unforgettable contested adoption and court case that had my loyalties switching every other page. There are several coming-of-age stories happening at once, each distinct and achingly beautiful. And it all happens during a heady, sordid summer during the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal–a setting Ng makes deft use of to make her characters’ loss of innocence all the more bittersweet and palpable.

Ng does things with words I had previously thought were impossible. She manages to make a quiet literary novel about suburbia feel like a thriller. Little Fires Everywhere feels subtle while you’re reading it, but at the end you realize that your heart has taken quite a beating while your eyes were glued to the page. This book is un-missable. Seriously.

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

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I’ve packed this post full of heavy-hitting reads, so I wanted to include something lighter and uplifting for those who need it. And even if you don’t think you need it, this one is worth checking out this summer anyway.

The Wedding Date isn’t as heavily summer-themed as others on this list, but 1) it’s set in California, where it’s always kind of like summer (at least in this Minnesotan’s imagination),  2) wedding season and all its fake date potential is totally a summer thing, and 3) it’s the absolute perfect, platonic ideal of a beach read. When Drew invites Alexa to be his fake date for an ex’s wedding, things get more deliciously complicated (and sexy) than either of them could have dreamed. Even if you’re not into romance, I can practically guarantee you’ll love this book. It’s got everything you could want in a book: sweet, sour, salty, umami, and even a touch of bitter. (That analogy made sense in my head, I swear.) It’s an entire reading palate unto itself. Don’t miss it.


What summer classics did I miss? Drop your favorites in the comments below–I’d love to hear them.

Book Review: A LOVING, FAITHFUL ANIMAL by Josephine Rowe

Josephine Rowe is already a lauded author in Australia, but A Loving, Faithful Animal marks her U.S. debut–and it’s an auspicious one. The novel chronicles one family’s cycle of trauma against the backdrop of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, which is already an interesting story; Rowe’s prose, at once precise and dreamy, elevates this arc into fiction so potent and powerful that I want sing its praises from the rooftops, pressing copies into the hands of everyone I know.

You can read my full review below.


9781936787579

A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

  • publisher: Catapult (catapult.co)
  • publication date: September 12, 2017
  • isbn: 978-1-9367-8757-9
  • length: 176 pages

That was the summer a sperm whale drifted sick into the bay, washed up dead at Mount Martha, and there were many terrible jokes about fertility. It was the summer that all the best cartoons went off the air, swapped for Gulf War broadcasts in infrared snippets, and your mother started saying things like I used to be pretty, you know? Christ, I used to be brave. But you thought brave was not crying when the neighbor girl dug her sharp red fingernails into your arm, until the skin broke and bled, and she cried out herself in disgust. You were still dumb enough to think that was winning.

A Loving, Faithful Animal, page 3

The concept of World Englishes is usually applied to colonized (and neo-colonized) countries and cultures whose variations on English are often considered “broken” and less-than. There’s a growing understanding that these Englishes are no less valid and rich than “standard” British and U.S. English–but World English speakers still find the long arm of U.S. and U.K. cultural dominance difficult to shake.

I define all this because although Australian English is usually considered “standard,” I was struck by how much A Loving, Faithful Animal feels like a work of World English: a working-class, trauma-laden, bitter and acerbic portrait of an Australia that’s impossibly far-flung from its easygoing cultural stereotype.

The Burroughs family is damaged: by domestic abuse, by poverty, by a Vietnam War that Australians wished to be involved in even less than Americans did, and by an intense and painful love for one another that none of them know how to safely express.

Ru quietly seethes, Lani is a rebel on a razor’s edge, and their parents, Evelyn and Jack, are locked in a terrible cycle of abuse. When Jack, a Vietnam War veteran, disappears for what seems to be the last time, Jack’s brother, Les, waits for Evelyn in the wings. The beloved family dog–the eponymous loving, faithful animal–was recently torn to shreds by a wildcat.

Two big questions hang over all of this–Would Jack be an abuser if his draft number had never come up? Would this family still struggle this much? –which Rowe smartly doesn’t answer. Instead, she tells what are effectively linked short stories from the perspective of each family member, all distinct in style but anchored by a single point in time that serves as a dark star at the center of the chaos: New Year’s Eve, 1990.

Rowe’s grasp of language is superhuman, and the act of reading her prose feels rather like watching Mirai Nagasu land that triple axel at the Olympics: jaw dropped in stupefied awe, not quite understanding but certainly feeling. I had to keep my smartphone handy while reading to interpret the Australian slang and cultural references, and this added to the dream-like feeling, as if I were using an interpretation book. (I read the American edition, but Catapult seems not to have made any changes from the Australian one, which is an excellent thing.)

The Burroughs’s dusty, devastated home, full of holes punched in drywall and with redback spiders crawling all over the garage, is nowhere near my world. But in this book, Rowe seems to have pulled up a chair for me, asking if I’d like a glass of water or anything to eat. For a few precious hours, it felt like my home. And though it wasn’t exactly a pleasant place to be, it was still a magical one.

When I’m reading good fiction, I feel infinite, able to explore lives and Englishes far from my own. Josephine Rowe writes prodigiously good fiction–and I hope that A Loving, Faithful Animal is only the start of what U.S. readers will see from her. 5/5 stars.


My copy of A Loving, Faithful Animal came from my local library and I was in no way compensated for this review.

Friday Bookbag, 1.19.18

friday bookbag

Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or otherwise acquired during the week. It’s my chance to buzz about my excitement for books I might not get the chance to review.

This week was an absolute fiction palooza for me, and in putting together this list, I noticed that my tastes have run toward the darker and weirder of late. Hmm.

Let’s dive in!


9780143127550Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

why I’m excited: I adored Ng’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere (my review)so when this book was on deep sale at Barnes & Noble, I couldn’t resist. Everything I Never Told You is Ng’s critically acclaimed debut about a Chinese American family whose daughter, Lydia, is found dead in a lake.

Bonus: this book is on its way to becoming a movie, which is perhaps part of why Barnes & Noble had it out on the sale tables!

9781501112331In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

why I’m excited: This book is yet another book purchase I can attribute to my abiding love of thrillers, especially ones with a literary edge, and most especially ones whose tension hinges on femininity and sexism. I don’t know much about the plot, but based on its marketing, it’s going to be right up my alley.

Another bonus: Like Everything I Never Told You, this book is also being adapted into a movie!

9780307341556Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

why I’m excited: It feels a little bit like cheating to put a book I’ve already read in my bookbag, but Gillian Flynn is one of my favorite authors of all time and I very stupidly purged my copies of Sharp Objects and Gone Girl between freshman and sophomore year. Sharp Objects is a creepy crime thriller about murders of young girls in a small town full of some incredibly toxic secrets. After snagging this on sale, I’m just happy to have one of my precious babies back on my bookshelf again. (Regretfully, I still haven’t replaced Gone Girl yet, and I have yet to read Flynn’s other novel, Dark Places.)

Yet another bonus (and I promise this is the last one): I absolutely cannot wait to see the HBO adaptation of this book, which premieres this summer!

9781936787579A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

why I’m excited: I’m trying to do better about reading works by authors outside the U.S. and U.K., and A Loving, Faithful Animal is by an Australian author, Josephine Rowe. It’s a novel about an Australian soldier who returns from conscripted service in the Vietnam War and the trauma and healing his family endures, which sounds really interesting to me. It’s been also well-reviewed, its cover design is lovely, and it’s quite a small, short book–always pluses. I’m hoping it will be a bracing palate-cleanser that I can squeeze in between some of the longer books on my to-read list.

9780374100261The Answers by Catherine Lacey

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Why I’m excited: I don’t quite understand the premise of this novel–a woman who is flat-broke from medical bills ends up being paid to participate in an experiment to uncover the perfect recipe for a romantic relationship, I think? –but I don’t need to be clear on everything to know that it will be delightfully bizarre. Part of the premise is that the protagonist suffers from chronic pain–something I’ve dealt with for years–so I’m excited for that aspect, as well.

9781510720671The Last to See Me by M Dressler

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Why I’m excited: This novel is a ghost story set in a California mansion, and while ghost stories are not usually my thing, the marketing compares Dressler’s style to Kazuo Ishiguro’s, which will sell me on a book every time. (Maybe that makes me a sucker?) I did really love Larissa Pham’s recent ghost story, too, so maybe I’m less averse to ghosts than I think. This feels like the riskiest book I acquired this week, but at least it’s a library loan, so I’m not out any money if it turns out to not be my thing.


See books here that you’ve already read or that are on your to-read list? What are you excited to read this week? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!