Book Recommendations from a Busy Mom


What To ReadWhen someone asks for book recommendations, I always panic. It’s not that I’m without suggestions, it’s that reading can be such a personal experience. 

The right book has to find you at the right time in the right mood. 

So I can only offer the ones that have found me. 

Summer is traditionally a time for escapism, for light reading next to a body of water. I don’t know how many of us will get to experience that this year, so I’ve included a few light reads and some not-so-light. 

Book Recommendations

If you want to take a trip into adolescence…

I’ll Give you the Sun by Jandy Nelson & On the Come Up by Angie Thomas 

Honorable Mentions: Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

I’ll Give you the Sun and On the Come Up offer developed characters that return you to a time of Feelings. They remind you of what it was to have every expectation that you will change the world and present devastating new (and old) challenges faced by teens. These are characters you root for and grieve with and want to enable.

I included the prequels for Twilight (due in August) and The Hunger Games because even though I haven’t read them yet, I credit these series (along with Harry Potter) with bringing me back to books in my 20s after a long absence of reading. Classics they’ll never be, but they made me a reader again.

If you want to read a book that matters...

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai 

It might not seem like the obvious choice to read about a pandemic while in the midst of a pandemic but this book is always on my list of recommendations. I’m a child of the ‘80s so I’d heard of AIDS but vaguely associated it with red ribbons and not much else. Makkai gives it faces (fictionalized) and realness and pain and triumph and tragedy and it still sits with me a year after reading. It’s not a happy read but sometimes you just need a book with the power of truth.

If you want a happy ending…

If I Never Met You by Mhari Mcfarlane

This is chick-lit at its finest. Self-actualized women, flawed but redeemable men, and not impossible obstacles wrap you up in a fluffy blanket and give you the ending you want. I was raised on romance novels and Mcfarlane delivers the goosebumps, anticipation, and satisfying stories that will put you to sleep with a smile on your face. Plus, the characters are British, so you can count on a dry wit that elevates the humor just a bit. 

If you want comfort…

The Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny

I’ve never wanted to be a Canadian so badly as when I read a book of this series. Penny creates a fictional small-town Quebec filled with striving, dynamic characters to cherish.  Chief Inspector Gamache is the compassionate leader we crave, whose kindness is the stuff of legends.  I always enjoy a good detective series but this one has heart and great writing and makes me feel home. I even read her acknowledgments with enthusiasm because she shares so much of herself.  And don’t even get me started on the food descriptions. Yum.

If you want a little history…

Any novel by Paula McClain

If you love Ernest Hemingway, don’t read McClain novels. Two of her finest explore his relationship with different wives and are both equally entertaining. McClain takes you to Europe, Cuba, and Kenya with historical detail and page-turning excitement. She introduces strong women who defy the conventions of their time, whether it’s 1920s Paris (The Paris Wife) or 1920s Kenya (Circling the Sun). 

If you want to learn…

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

I intend to read Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi as soon as I get it off of hold in 14 weeks. In the meantime, this adapted-for-teens version by noted author Jason Reynolds is a quick and devastating read. As a high school teacher and mother of future teenagers, I had to read it. Reynolds takes Kendi’s original text about the history of American racism and modifies it for a younger audience familiar with history textbooks but not the detailed roots of racism. I still can’t wrap my mind around the hate that has helped form our country. 

If you want a different world…

Dominicana by Angie Cruz

The story of a child bride from the Dominican Republic moving to New York in the ‘60s is a major departure from 2020 Iowa. Despite the clear trauma of a teenager’s marriage to a man too old and the challenges of her immigrant experience, these pages offer a measure of hope and an appreciation for the expectation/oppression/assault of women, especially in motherhood. Ana left me in awe of her strength and unbelievable resilience as she addresses family obligation and sacrifice with determination and courage.

If you want something lyrical…

Any poetry by Kate Baer

Confession: I don’t love poetry. Even though I see its importance in literature, I’ve never been that interested. But Kate Baer speaks to me. Her book (What Kind of Woman) doesn’t come out until November so I only see her work through Instagram and the texts of friends, but her poems about being a mom will hit you in your gut. 

If you want reality with just a little magic…

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

After hearing Wilson on a Fresh Air podcast, I had to read his book. The story focuses on twins who spontaneously combust (one of Wilson’s fixations early in his life) when aggravated and their reluctant caretaker who takes the job because she has no other options. It’s such a strange condition easily made normal for anyone who has parented and fallen in love with the quirks of unpredictable children.  

If you want something that will make you smile…

The Book of Delights by Ross Gay

Poet Ross Gay set out to write a daily essay inspired by something that delighted him. I think about this assignment a lot and can only conclude that it might lead you to rapture. Here is his collection inspired by that goal. Some of these entries are only a page long and some go further, with wordy sentences that sometimes leave me giggling or stuck in silence. It’s not a serious book but it is at the same time. I think if I set out to find delight in one thing every day, I might find the secret to happiness.

If you want something with suspense…

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

Spy stories tend to be male-dominated but Wilkinson’s tale follows a Black woman striving to make a dent in the FBI’s New York office. The novel starts out with a bang and slowly develops through the form of a letter from the agent to her twin boys. Marie recounts her experience to her sons, weaving her undercover assignment fighting communism in 1980s Burkina Faso with her development as daughter, sister, and single mother. After finishing the novel, I was left with many questions but only in the best possible way.

What’s on your summer reading list? 

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