Summer reading is shorthand for reads you can dive into, ones that capture your attention and hold on tight. And whether your preferred genre is sci-fi, literary fiction, romance, essays, thrillers or memoirs, we have suggestions for you.
Every author on this list is a black woman. By now, you’ve likely seen several compilations of educational titles from black authors. Those inspire change; so, too, can books from the black experience that tell stories of history, family, love and joy.
"Party of Two" by Jasmine Guillory (Berkley, $26): Guillory is an undisputed queen of romance, with titles like "The Proposal" and "The Wedding Date" routinely hitting bestseller lists. Her newest has a politically inspired plot. Olivia Monroe has just moved to Los Angeles to start her own law firm and ends up flirting with Max at her hotel bar – only to discover later that the guy who waxed rhapsodic about desserts is actually unior Sen. Max Powell. Olivia initially resists Max’s wooing but discovers she has more to worry about when they go public and her background is up for debate. Swoon-worthy descriptions of the sweets Olivia and Max both love are a bonus.
"The Dragons, the Giant, the Women" by Wayétu Moore (Graywolf Press, $26): "She Would Be King," Moore’s 2018 debut novel, reimagined the creation of her native Liberia via myth and magic. Now Moore shares the influences in her own life in this memoir of her childhood escape from Liberia and her family’s eventual settling outside of Houston. She and her siblings, along with their grandmother, flee from "dragon" soldiers with her "giant" of a father, who spins stories to a 5-year-old Moore that the people lying prone in the streets are merely sleeping. They travel to the village of Lai, on the border with Sierra Leone, as part of a tumultuous extended journey. Moore also delves into her young adult years in Brooklyn and, in a transcendent, gripping section, takes on her mother’s voice to narrate how "Mam" traveled from New York back to Liberia to help rescue the family.
"Lakewood: A Novel" by Megan Giddings (Amistad/HarperCollins, $26.99): Lena’s grandmother has just died from cancer, leaving behind suffocating debt, and her mother is chronically ill. Lured by the promise of high wages and robust health benefits, Lena leaves college and takes a job with the Great Lakes Shipping Company, which quickly reveals itself as a research study that uses black people as guinea pigs. With all-white doctors in a town of white residents, Giddings’ debut has echoes of the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, as well as "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." Giddings adroitly captures both the horror of Lena’s experience and the desperation that led her there.
"The City We Became" by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit, $28): Jemisin won an unprecedented three Hugo awards, sci-fi’s highest honor, for each of the volumes in her bestselling Broken Earth series. In the start of her new trilogy, great cities choose an avatar to protect themselves. The city of New York has awakened, and it gets one from each borough, from Manhattan’s mixed-race grad student to Staten Island’s isolationist Aislyn. The avatars must figure out a way to band together against a beast from another dimension to save their city. Jemisin uses a sci-fi frame to explore such timely topics as gentrification and racism, all with a plot that inverts Lovecraftian tropes and accelerates as evil spreads in New York City.
"Wow, No Thank You" by Samantha Irby (Vintage, $15.95): This collection is the essayist’s third, equal parts no-holds-barred examination of life’s quotidian details (Costco) and truly laugh-out-loud humor. "Trying to make new friends as an adult is the hardest thing I have ever attempted," she writes. "Harder than multiple colonoscopies? Yes. Harder than listening to the dentist pry my tooth bone away from my jawbone while I lie there wide awake? Yes." Irby’s distinctive voice navigates experiences that will be familiar to some (anxiety-fueled inner monologues), foreign to others (navigating an LA writers’ room), but always disarmingly honest and inviting.
"Real Men Knit" by Kwana Jackson (Berkley, $15.95): Though "Real Men Knit" is the first novel bearing the author name Kwana Jackson, romance fans are familiar with the author’s prolific work as K.M. Jackson, which has won accolades from NPR and Entertainment Weekly. "Real Men Knit" finds playboy Jesse Strong suddenly adrift when his beloved Mama Joy dies suddenly. His brothers think it’s best to close Mama Joy’s Harlem yarn shop, but Jesse joins forces with part-timer Kerry to reinvent Strong Knits. Undeniable sparks fly, but Jesse’s romantic history makes Kerry wary. The relationship between the brothers shines here, as does the power of a place to anchor a community.
"Conjure Women" by Afia Atakora (Random House, $27): Atakora’s fiction debut plunges us into the lives of formerly enslaved people in the post-Civil War era with an eerily affecting tale. Rue reluctantly takes on her mother’s role as the town midwife, but when she helps bring Bean into the world, questions swirl about his eyes and his too-light skin tone. And when other children perish, her fellow townsfolk question whether Rue uses her skills for good or evil, as they seek answers from the charismatic preacher Bruh Abel. "Because just as easy as folks’ praise came, it could turn to hating," Rue thinks. "Magic and faith were fickle." Atakora, the daughter of immigrants from Ghana, explores multiple layers of history and religion in her novel, as well as the multigenerational bonds between women, as she scrolls forward and backward in time.
"The Vanishing Half" by Brit Bennett (Riverhead, $27): "The Mothers," Bennett’s New York Times-bestselling 2016 debut, established her as a literary force, with film rights optioned by actress Kerry Washington. Now comes her newest novel, a family saga focused on identical twin sisters who grow up tightly bonded before their paths diverge dramatically. One sister eventually lives as a black woman back in her small Louisiana hometown, while the other creates an entire new existence as a white woman, complete with a white husband who doesn’t know her true race. Bennett plumbs the ripple effects of trauma in "Vanishing" and poses potent questions about performance as part of identity.
"These Ghosts Are Family" by Maisy Card (Simon & Schuster, $26): In 1970, Abel Paisley leaves Jamaica to work on the docks in England. When his friend Stanford dies in an accident and bystanders believe it’s Abel, he takes advantage of the confusion and slips into a new life. He assumes Stanford’s name, eventually moving to New York. Card’s hauntingly beautiful debut novel pivots around this subterfuge to spin the story of Abel/Stanford’s ancestors and descendants, as well as figures from their shared history. She maps colonialism, racism and infidelity in complex, rewarding storytelling that reflects the many truths of being human.