Summer Reading Recommendations From NPR's Petra Mayer
"Remembrances," Sinead O'Connor — O'Connor proves she packs a punch on the page as well as on the airwaves in this unsparing memoir about her life. Read it to find out how she really felt about tearing up a picture of the Pope on live TV!
"The Other Black Girl," Zakiya Dalila Harris — This summer's buzziest thriller. Harris draws on her own experience in publishing for this story of a Black woman at a publishing company who hopes for a friend and compatriot when her employers hire another Black woman, but then things get weird. Our critic Bethanne Patrick praises the book's "sad and wholly earned brilliance."
"The Woman They Could Not Silence," Kate Moore — Elizabeth Packard, was a preacher's wife in a small town in the 1860s who committed the unpardonable sin of arguing with her husband in public, so her husband put her away in an insane asylum. This is the story of how she fought her way free and changed the laws governing both married women and mental patients. As our critic Annalisa Quinn notes, it's not the entire picture of Packard (who had some unsavory opinions about race) but it is an inspiring portrait of someone who fought the system and won.
"Crying in H Mart," Michelle Zauner — Adapted from musician Michelle Zauner's powerful 2018 New Yorker essay, this is the story of how she came to terms with the death of her mother through learning to cook her mother's beloved Korean food. Critic Kristen Martin says the book "powerfully maps a complicated mother-daughter relationship cut much too short."
"A Most Remarkable Creature," Jonathan Meiburg — Your new favorite animal is the caracara — or at least it will be after reading Jonathan Meiburg's account of these obscure South American birds of prey. "Meiburg's voice is poetic; where other nature writers are known for the images they paint of landscapes, here are presented impressions, concepts as complex as species' movements over geologic time, in a way that is at once clear and beautiful," says critic Anna Morris
"We Need New Stories," Nesrine Malik — Why are people so prone to believing big lies? That's the question at the heart of Nesrine Malik's We Need New Stories. "Malik's tone is both conversational and crystalline, and her plain-spoken yet authoritative tone stirs rather than browbeats," says critic Jason Heller. "Even when she's aiming the reader inward by probing the pitfalls of self-denial and self-delusion, she doesn't come across as didactic."
"The Final Revival of Opal & Nev," Dawnie Walton — Dawnie Walton's debut novel takes the form of a journalistic investigation into a fictional rock duo, a white British man and a Black American woman, and the moment one of their concerts was interrupted by deadly violence. "All the glitzy, quick-change narrative styles don't detract attention from the core emotional power of her story," says critic Maureen Corrigan. "I tell you, even many of the fake footnotes in this novel are moving."
"The Chosen and the Beautiful," Nghi Vo — A lush, gorgeous retelling of The Great Gatsby where Jordan is a Vietnamese adoptee (and the center of the story), Gatsby has literally sold his soul and the beautiful people top up their cocktails with demon's blood. Critic Jessica P. Wick calls it "saturated in longing — soaked through as thoroughly as strawberries left overnight in vodka."
"Firekeeper's Daughter," Angeline Boulley — A powerful debut YA novel from Ojibwe author Angelline Boulley about a young woman grappling with both her Native heritage and an FBI investigation into a dangerous drug that may be coming from her father's reservation. "Some books take you where they're going with such confidence and grace that you find yourself at the end, breathless and hard-pressed to believe that it's over," says critic Caitlyn Paxson.
"The Witness for the Dead," Katherine Addison — This book was such an unexpected pleasure! Seven years ago, Katherine Addison wrote a book called The Goblin Emperor, which was about an empire of elves and goblins, and a young half-goblin who ascends to the throne unexpectedly. It's a gorgeous book — great worldbuilding, thoroughly sympathetic, complex characters — and for years readers thought it would stand alone. But now there's a sequel, which follows a fascinating minor character in a completely unexpected direction.
"The Queer Principles of Kit Webb," Cat Sebastian — A delightful queer historical romance, set in the 1750s and starring a retired highwayman who gets drawn back into crime — and then into love — when a dissolute noble convinces him to plan a heist. Lots of historical romances involve nobles and commoners (so may dukes!) but all too frequently they gloss over the realities of what those relationships would be like. Cat Sebastian has actually thought her happy ending through in a realistic manner, and that means a lot.
"The Hellion's Waltz," Olivia Waite — Another fabulous queer historical, this one set in the 1820s and involving two women in a small English town, one a talented young musician and the other a silk weaver, who fall for each other while plotting to take down a corrupt industrialist. Olivia Waite is another writer who doesn't neglect the historical realities that underpin her stories, which gives a solid and emotionally hefty foundation to this sexy romp.
"Snacking Cakes," Yossy Arefi — A perfect book for anyone who became an avid pandemic baker, and still wants to bake but has actual things to do outside the house now. Snacking Cakes is designed to let you whip up tasty cakes from whatever you have in the house, even if you're not an obsessive like me who has seven kinds of flour and seven kinds of sugar on hand at all times (not joking about that).
This segment aired on June 24, 2021.