2020 Summer Reading List

As the 2019-20 Season of Literary Masters comes to a close, enjoy these summer reading titles until we meet again!

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall

Following two couples for several decades starting in the socially turbulent 1960’s in Greenwich Village as the husbands share pastoral leadership of the Third Presbyterian Church, Dearly Beloved examines the role of faith in its many guises and how it shapes the relationships, marriages, careers and choices of the foursome. The evolution of each of the characters encourages readers to grapple with the questions of what gives life meaning and how our decisions resonate within our daily lives in unexpected ways.

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

If you have a sister, read this book!  If you have a sister whom you love, read this book with her!  Warning: bring a BIG box of tissues.  Although you will definitely laugh at loud at times, you will most assuredly weep as well.  Elf and Yoli are sisters who have grown up in a Mennonite household.  Although on the surface, Elf’s life looks perfect and Yoli’s leaves a lot to be desired, the truth is that Elf is determined to end her own life.  And Yoli is just as determined to save her.  If you like books that put you in someone else’s shoes and makes you truly feel as you read, then this book is for you!

Dominicana by Angie Cruz

A timely look at the transactional nature of marriage for immigrant women of little means who often carry the weight of their family’s future with them to their new home in the United States. Ana comes to New York as a 15-year-old bride to a much older fellow Dominican in a loveless marriage that becomes suffocating as she is isolated in the tenement apartment they share with his brother. Freedom comes years into the marriage as her husband returns to the Dominican Republic during a time of political unrest. Ana is left to decide if she will follow her dreams or remain in a marriage that protects her family back in the DR.

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Winner of the National Book Award for fiction and one of President Barack Obama’s favorite books, this thought-provoking novel will keep you on your toes!  Set in a performing arts high school during the 1980’s, the story revolves around a precocious group of friends, two of whom fall madly in love.  As one may expect in such a setting, there is plenty of drama with enough twists and turns that eventually you’ll realize “Aha! this is a trust exercise! Now, as reader, who or what do I trust?”

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

A bartender in a remote Vancouver hotel, a stylish society trophy “wife,” a hardened cook aboard a foreign-owned container ship…are you hooked?   Vincent is the enigmatic central character in this new novel by the author of Station Eleven. The book weaves together Vincent’s story with a Ponzi scheme as it is exposed, two different women disappearing near bodies of water, and the unexpected death of an EDM band member in an underground club while being an unexpectedly moving portrait of secrets, greed, love, and unintended consequences.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Looking for a book you can gobble down in a day?  This classic roman noir, published in 1934, is riveting on so many levels!  A drifter arrives at a diner run by an old Greek man and his much younger, beautiful, and bored wife.  An immediate attraction between the newcomer and the young woman sets things in motion–how does one get rid of an unwanted spouse without paying for the crime?  If you think you know what happens in this novel, guess again.  Even after finishing it, you’ll want to check your own assumptions!  Much deeper than you may at first consider it, this book was the model for Albert Camus’ The Stranger.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

The latest novel from the author of The Family Fang brings together Lillian and Madison as two unlikely roommates at an East Coast boarding school. Even more unlikely is their enduring friendship as the beautiful Madison goes onto marry a prominent southern politician with two children from a previous marriage, while Lillian is stuck living at home and working as a grocery checkout clerk. They are reunited when Madison needs Lillian’s help to care for her stepchildren who have an unfortunate habit of spontaneously combusting. Despite the fantastical premise, the book is an often-funny, and ultimately quite moving examination of parental love and finding purpose in unexpected places.

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

An excellent audio book, even for those of you who tend to read print instead of listening.  As Ronan Farrow narrates the story, you’ll get carried away–just by his mesmerizing voice.  And the story itself is rather jaw-dropping!  His investigative journalism stands next to that of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (co-authors of She Said), illuminating events leading up to and surrounding the #metoo movement.  A real page-turner, the book is even better when paired with the ten-part podcast of the same name.  Read or listen to the book first, then listen to the podcast.  And of course, if you haven’t yet read She Said, make that a priority!

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

National Book Award-winner Woodson’s spare new novel examines how history, community, and decisions made by characters just coming into their own, impact the members of two African American families from wildly different backgrounds and social classes in Brooklyn.  The beautifully written, moving story, which was a New York Times Notable book of 2019 and went on to become a NYT bestseller, examines issues of sexual desire and orientation, gender expectations, familial and individual ambition, and the price of striving to overcome history.

Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell

Mitchell, an investigate reporter for the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, spent almost two decades digging into unsolved murder cases from the Civil Rights era in his state as well as Alabama. This book recounts his efforts on four of them including an assassination, an act for which no one went to jail until Mitchell’s reporting got the case re-opened. The book illuminates the systemic racism – often at the hands of state and local government officials – that made justice so long in coming.

The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage by Mara Hvistendahl

When three ethnic Chinese men are discovered digging around in the cornfield of a farmer under contract to Monsanto in Iowa in September of 2011, it touches off a remarkable, two-year investigation raising questions about industrial espionage, the role of the government in protecting corporate secrets, and corporate influence in trade disputes.  An eccentric seed scientist, a Chinese agricultural executive living in suburban Florida and a veteran FBI investigator inhabit this compelling story.

The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson

An easily accessible and readable story, this novel is also a bit of a gut-punch.  Filled with secrets–and the inevitable power that always goes hand-in-hand with them–the book follows the life and memories of Sister Johanna Marie.  When the nun is summoned to Reykjavik as part of an investigation into the death of a priest decades earlier, her trip to the Icelandic capital as well as down memory lane upends her own quiet existence and exposes truths that shatter those around her.  But will all be exposed?  And should it?  These are questions you can answer for yourself as you read this captivating tale.