It's here! [cue happy dance]. My 2021 Summer Reading List Giveaway. This is the fourth year I've compiled a list of my top literary choices for the summer and run a contest to get some of them into the hands of a few lucky readers. It's truly my favourite event of the year.
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Each year that I put this list together, I end up doing something a little different from the time before. Last year, I broke my habit of choosing a trend to group books around and just went with a bunch of escapist reads, perfect for a summer where real life led us to, well, desire escape.
This year, I've again stuck (mostly) with the women's fiction genre instead of incorporating non-fiction books or aiming for some sort of cohesive theme.
However, my selection process looked quite different this year.
While I normally select books that I want to read over the summer, this time I chose titles I've already read.
Because I've started and given up on so many disappointing books in the past year that I couldn't possibly take the chance of recommending a title to you that turned out to be ho-hum or completely inappropriate. To be totally honest, I like the books I read to be fairly clean. I prefer it when more is left to the imagination, so if I'm reading a book and it takes a turn in a direction I wouldn't be comfortable recommending to my aunt, I put it down.
So, since the start of spring, I've been on the hunt for the best books released since last summer. That's another limitation I put on myself this year–everything had to be less than a year old.
Friends, let me tell you, I struggled to find these titles. I read many others that didn't sit well with me or that didn't hold my interest. Still others I enjoyed, but they didn't feel right for this list. There are a few other promising ones I've started and am still currently reading, but these ten knocked it out of the park.
So, without further ado, I give you my top ten picks for an absorbing, unputdownable summer read.
Where to find these books
For each book, I'll let you know where to find it at your favourite retailers.
If they're available on Scribd, I'll include that link too. If you haven't signed up for this monthly subscription service yet, I highly recommend you check it out. For $9/month, you get unlimited access to a massive selection of books. Their selection changes frequently, but I have found a few of these titles on there.
You can sign up for a free trial of Scribd here.
I'm also adding links to books on Bookshop.org this year. Bookshop is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. If you want to find a specific local bookstore to support, find them on Bookshop's map and they’ll receive the full profit off your order. Otherwise, your order will contribute to an earnings pool that will be evenly distributed among independent bookstores (even those that don’t use Bookshop).
The Ultimate Summer 2021 Reading List Giveaway
The best part about launching my summer reading list is doing a giveaway! Sending books in the mail to people is like an addiction to me.
Use the giveaway entry form below to enter the giveaway. Earn extra entries by completing a few simple tasks like visiting me on Instagram and Facebook.
Three random winners will each win one book of their choice from the list. Winners will be announced July 6, 2021.
2021 Summer Reading List
I'm sharing these in the order I enjoyed them, so if you don't have time to read them all, start at the top and work your way down!
1. The Rose Code
The Rose Code is the best novel I've read since last year's American Dirt. It's completely engrossing–so much so that I have both the paperback and the audiobook and I constantly switched between them as I moved from the house to the car and back again.
This meticulously researched and detailed historical novel follows three young women who are recruited to work at Bletchley Park, the top-secret home of the Allied Force's WW2 codebreakers.
Though Mab, Beth, and Osla couldn't be more different, each of them finds their unlikely place at Bletchley Park and in each other's hearts. That is, until the pressures of war, secrecy, and unimaginable loss rip their friendship apart.
Jumping back and forth between the war years and 1947–the lead-up to the royal wedding, to be precise–The Rose Code shines a bright light on a well-concealed part of history, the role women played in the revolutionary codebreaking systems employed in WW2, and the unbreakable codes of friendship.
I was on the edge of my seat through this entire book, aching to learn the answer to every pulse-racing question. Quinn delivers an impeccable story with a solid history lesson and a healthy dose of royal fascination.
Find The Rose Code on:
2. People We Meet on Vacation
Alex and Poppy are another unlikely pair of friends: she's outgoing, adventurous, and spontaneous and he's reserved, orderly, and completely predictable. And yet, somehow they've remained best friends for the past decade, ever since Poppy hitched a ride home with Alex after their first year at university.
That first road trip morphs into a fun tradition–each year, Poppy and Alex take a vacation together and have the time of their lives. Poppy starts a budget travel blog and they have hilarious experiences trying to see the world on a dime.
But when she lands a job at an upscale travel magazine, their trips together change and cause a fissure in their friendship, one that divides them for two years. When Poppy gets one final chance to take Alex on a vacation and return him to his rightful role as her best friend, she pulls out all the stops.
I loved this book, not only because one of their many vacations took place in my hometown and it thrilled me to read about all the familiar landmarks in a novel (though that helped!), but also because the chemistry between these two is simply delightful and I couldn't get enough of them.
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3. The Four Winds
As Kristin Hannah is probably my all-time favourite author, it's inconceivable that she would write a book and it wouldn't make it onto this list. Everything she writes is golden, as far as I'm concerned.
I will admit that The Four Winds didn't grab me quite as much as The Nightingale did, or perhaps even as much as The Great Alone–those books may be impossible to top–but it was nonetheless excellent.
Like her last two epic historical novels, Hannah's The Four Winds tells the story of a mother who will–and must–do the unthinkable to save her children. The heroine, Elsa, captured me from the first page, as she took the first daring steps outside the prison of a home she'd been raised in. The story evolves quickly and Elsa is soon a mother of two, forced to take even greater risks.
The Four Winds is an exhilarating emotional rollercoaster that takes you up, and down, and up, then way, way down. Told through the alternating perspectives of Elsa and her fourteen-year-old daughter Loretta, Hannah unveils a historical event largely unfamiliar to me (the Dust Bowl that decimated Southern Plains of the US during the Great Depression), digs into the pain felt by those treated as unwanted outsiders in their own country, and shows the courage necessary to stand up and fight for what you believe in.
I couldn't put it down.
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4. Golden Girl
As I say every year, summer officially starts for me once I've taken my annual trip to Nantucket via an Elin Hilderbrand novel. She hits it out of the park with each book and her latest work is no exception.
At first, I wasn't too excited about the premise of Golden Girl: a middle-aged author is tragically killed, but gets to spend one last summer 'watching over' her family to make sure they are okay. It was a little too supernatural for me. And did I really want to read a book where the main character dies in the first chapter?
But it's Elin Hilderbrand, so I went along with it and I did not regret it. It's rare for her protagonists to not capture my interest immediately and Vivi Howe was no exception. A devoted mother of three young adults, Vivi is awaiting the publication of her thirteenth novel, in which she's hidden a real life secret.
Though I worried the afterlife scenario would be morbid, it was anything but. Vivi is swept off by 'Her Person', Martha, a guardian angel of sorts who welcomes new entrants into what one assumes is Heaven. Vivi negotiates with Martha, who gives her seventy-five days in a heavenly anteroom modelled after the saved images on Vivi's Instagram account–right down to the Benjamin Moore paint colour.
It is from here that Vivi watches her family and friends handle the aftermath of her death and learn to find their way in the world without her.
In her trademark style, Hilderbrand is able to take a serious matter and make it fun and lighthearted, while still making us stop and ponder some of the book's deeper messages. This is a perfect beach read to kick off summer.
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5. The Summer Job
The Summer Job is hands-down the funniest book I've read this year, and for that, I'm so, so thankful!
It isn't often a book comes along that has me laughing out loud as I read it under the covers so the flashlight from my cell phone doesn't bother my husband (because, of course, the laughing totally does not keep him up...). This is definitely that book!
When Birdy's best friend, Heather, ditches her summer job as a sommelier at a little hotel in Scotland, a silly prank leads to Birdy taking her place–even though she knows nothing about wine, other than that you drink it. When she arrives to find the expectations of Heather were much higher than she'd imagined, she's forced to get her act together if she's going to save the hotel from falling victim to its new celebrity chef's upscale rebranding and her terribly botched presentations of the wine list.
Although deeply flawed, Birdy is a lovable character, as are many of the coworkers she joins forces with in the hotel's restaurant. But more than that, her antics are wickedly funny, and couldn't we all use a good laugh right about now?
Find The Summer Job on:
6. The Nature of Fragile Things
Susan Meissner is another one of my favourite authors, one whose books I can always count on. If you haven't read Secrets of a Charmed Life or As Bright As Heaven, you should go ahead and add those to your summer reading list as well. They're golden.
Meissner's gift is taking a slice of history, usually a lesser-known one, putting an incredibly strong woman in the center of it, and putting the life of someone small and innocent into their hands.
This is exactly what she does in The Nature of Fragile Things. It's 1906 and Sophie Whalen is a young Irish immigrant living a difficult life in New York. Life is so hard, in fact, that she responds to an ad in the paper from a widower in San Francisco seeking a wife. She arrives to find a generous but distant husband and a small girl who hasn't spoken since her mother passed away.
Sophie does her best to build a new life in San Francisco. But when her husband goes away on a business trip, she learns something frightening about him. And then the earthquake hits.
While this wasn't my absolute favourite Meissner book, I did listen to the audiobook straight through, it was so gripping.
Find The Nature of Fragile Things on:
7. Good Company
Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Flora and Julian have been married–relatively happily–for over twenty years. Their daughter, Ruby, has just graduated high school and they're on the cusp of their new life as empty nesters. Flora has set her stage acting dreams on hold for years in favour of a more stable income doing voiceover work so her husband can run his community theatre company, Good Company, and take on less stable, more interesting acting roles.
Their emergence into this new life is threatened, however, when Flora finds Julian's wedding ring hidden away in a filing cabinet, the ring he supposedly lost years ago. When she questions him, deeply covered lies are exposed and they have to reevaluate their relationship and future.
My favourite part of the book is that Good Company stages a massive outdoor production each summer at a large family country home in New York. This tradition is what ties Flora and Julian's friend group together and is the foundation of many of their shared memories. As my family has a similar tradition–though on a slightly smaller scale–I loved reading about how much it meant to them and how it influenced their identities as individuals, couples, and families.
This is a slower, gentler read, perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
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8. Anxious People
Seldom does a book grab you as early as the dedication page. Fredrik Backman is not the sort of author to leave you waiting though: "This book is dedicated to the voices in my head, the most remarkable of my friends. And to my wife, who lives with us."
I'd say this pretty much sums up the type of humour saturating the pages of his latest book, Anxious People.
The novel, filled with quirky, well-meaning but bumbling characters, is masterfully written, each page pulling us deeper into their tangled web.
I'm completely enraptured by Backman's prose. Somehow he manages to write things that are simultaneously farcical and brilliantly insightful.
I wish I could quote three-quarters of the book to you, as that's roughly the amount I stopped and marvelled at, but I'll limit myself to a line or two: "The truth of course is that if people really were as happy as they look on the Internet, they wouldn't spend so much damn time on the Internet, because no one who's having a really good day spends half of it taking pictures of themselves. Anyone can nurture a myth about their life if they have enough manure, so if the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, that's probably because it's full of s***. Not that that really makes much difference, because now we've learned that every day needs to be special. Every day."
While the story is pretty simple–a would-be bank robber holds up a room full of people at an apartment viewing for an afternoon–the characterizations and depth of insights are anything but.
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9. Musical Chairs
Bridget, a professional cellist and one third of the chamber ensemble The Forsyth Trio, has planned a romantic summer away with her boyfriend Sterling. Her best friend and musical partner, Will, plans to visit her at her aging Connecticut summer home periodically while striving to revive their flailing trio by recruiting a famous young violinist who turns out to be a diva.
Sadly, Bridget's well-laid plans get turned upside down when Sterling cancels, her two adult children show up out of the blue, and her famous father makes a shocking announcement.
In many ways, I didn't relate to Bridget or her story. Though she and Will have been best friends for thirty years, she never married and conceived her children with the help of a donor. She grew up in a wealthy and privileged family and attended Juilliard before launching her career as a professional musician. Though she's struggled in some areas, she's led a relatively comfortable life.
Despite having little in common with her, I really found myself rooting for her. She is a good-natured protagonist going through a defining stage in her life. She's just received some newfound independence and she's not entirely sure what to do with it, but I loved watching her come into her own and deepen her relationships with Will, her children, and her family.
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10. Summertime Guests
I'm going to be totally honest with you here, even if it reveals me to be a lazy reader, or perhaps just one who listens to too many audiobooks while trying to multitask: Summertime Guests kicks off with a woman falling to her death from a balcony at the iconic Seafarer Hotel in Boston, and it didn't really occur to me to wonder who the woman was, so much as why she fell.
While many reviewers claimed to have guessed the identity of the victim early on, I can't say I ever gave it much thought.
This may have been because I was busy driving kids to and from birthday parties while I listened to the story, but I'd prefer to think it's because I was too engrossed in the lives of the narrators to worry much about the unnamed victim. Let's just say, the reveal took me by surprise, even though it may have been obvious to a more astute reader.
Summertime Guests unfolds from the perspectives of four characters, tied together by their presence at the hotel on this grisly morning.
Riley is at the hotel with her fiance Tom, testing wedding cakes for the upcoming wedding his overbearing mother is planning for them.
Recently widowed Claire is there to initiate contact with an old flame she hasn't seen in thirty years.
Jason and his girlfriend Gwen are enjoying a special birthday weekend until deep-seated issues in their relationship start to emerge.
And Jean-Paul, the hotel's manager is struggling to balance the needs of his wife and baby with those of the hotel guests, while clambering to diffuse the fallout of the tragedy.
I loved how this book examined relationships from all directions–dating, engagement, newlyweds, widowed–and allows the happy moments and heartaches to play out against the scene of a tragic death at a lavish establishment.
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I hope you enjoy all of these books as much as I did and that you take a moment to enter the giveaway!
Also, lease a comment below and let me know what book you're most excited to read this summer.
I’m Sophie. I’m a writer, homeschooling mama, and recovering overachiever. I get by on good books, chocolate, and just enough sleep.
Introduce yourself in the comments below and tell me what kind of books you love to read.