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It’s looking like this summer might be a huge season for traveling. We’ve all been stuck at home far too often these last couple of years and now with things a little more stable, it’s time to GO! I have vacation fun going on at least half the summer and in October I’ll finally be traveling internationally again with two weeks in Morocco. What are your travel plans for 2022? I’m betting no matter what they are, a little extra reading time will be on the agenda.
Today I’m sharing my Beach Bag Books 2022 guide which features 27 books that will make for great summer reading no mater where you’re headed. This year’s books are broken down into four categories, including three that highlight 2022 books: Smart Suspense, Loving Literary, and Delightfully Different. The final category, Backlist Beauties is made up of books from 2021 which I read after last year’s Beach Bag Books.
I’ll be talking about many of these books and some that you don’t see here on the May 18th episode of Sarah’s Bookshelves Live. Between Sarah and myself, your summer TBR list is going to explode!
Our American Friend by Anna Pitoniak (2/15/22, 336 pages) – The story centers on Sofie Morse, a one-time White House journalist, who is recruited by the First Lady to write her biography, but Lara Caine isn’t your typical First Lady. She’ll remind you of Melania, but there’s a whole lot more to her than that. Lara is also Russian and the daughter of a long time KGB agent stationed in Paris. The real question becomes why? Why does Lara want her biography written now and why Sofie? The first clue is that as the book opens Sofie and her husband are living in exile in Croatia. Why? (full review)
The Night Shift by Alex Finlay (3/1/22, 312 pages) – I actually read this book by accident, confusing it with another book with a similar tittle, but it was a good mistake! This is the story of two sets of killings, fifteen years apart. In both, three young people are stabbed to death and one teenage girl survives. The first, had a suspect who vanished. As the second killings happen, the survivor of the first, now a counselor, is called in to help the latest survivor. The story not only revolves around these two characters, but many more, some with connections to both killings, some only with the most recent. There’s a badass, pregnant FBI agent, a young, eager detective, a public defender with a past, and many more. (full review)
The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (3/8/22, 336 pages) – I’ve come to expect a lot from this powerhouse writing duo and they did not disappoint with their latest psychological thriller. In it, we meet a controversial therapist turned “consultant,” who guarantees to work her magic in ten very carefully orchestrated sessions. Avery calls the shots, but when she accepts Marissa and Matthew (the seemingly golden couple) as clients, all preordained plans and expectations are gone. The two, who came to her after Marissa cheated, aren’t quite what they seem, but then neither is Avery. Perfect, fun suspense to devour over a weekend. (full review) 🎧
Cover Story by Susan Rigetti (4/5/22, 368 pages) – I have so much to say about this book, yet can’t say much because it’s best to go into this story blind. I will tell you that it’s the story of a female grifter living in NYC and it will remind you very much of the Anna Delvey story, but don’t let that hold you back. It goes in a much different direction. Entirely written in diary entries, emails, text messages, etc., made this book a very fast read and really added to the fun. Best of all, I 𝐍𝐄𝐕𝐄𝐑 saw the ending coming. I should have, but I didn’t. When you read it (and you need to read it), message me and let me know if you guessed it. (full review)
The Caretakers by Amanda Bestor-Siegal (4/12/22, 352 pages) – On it’s surface this might seem like an unusual choice for this category, but suspense abounds. As the story opens, a young French boy is dead in his own home, and his American au pair is being taken away in handcuffs. From there, two questions need to be answered. What happened to the boy and did Alena have anything to do with it? The rest of the story seeks to answer both questions, with six different women contributing to the narrative. Three are au pairs working in the same wealthy Paris suburb, one is the mother of the child, another, his older sister, and the last, the local French teacher. Each holds a piece of the puzzle that slowly begins to make sense. (full review)
I’ll be You by Janelle Brown (4/26/22, 368 pages) – Sam and Elli are identical twins and one time child stars, but life as adults isn’t looking quite as good. Sam has been in and out of rehab many times and though she’s been sober for a year, she’s barely making it as a waitress in L.A. Her sister, Elli isn’t speaking to her, and Elli has problems of her own. Her husband has left her, she suddenly has a two year old adopted daughter, and she left for a weekend retreat and after a week still hasn’t come home. I loved the sister dynamics in this fun little domestic thriller perfect for summer reading. (full review) 🎧
Two Nights in Lisbon by Chris Pavone (5/24/22, 448 pages) – Shortly before all the COVID madness began, I spent several amazing days in Lisbon. That, and the fact that I really loved The Expats by Chris Pavone, drew me to his newest book. This domestic thriller involves a woman at the heart of a mystery she desperately needs to solve. Ariel Price wakes up in a Lisbon hotel to find that her relatively new husband has vanished. It’s not long before a ransom demand appears, but why? None of it makes sense, not to Ariel, not to the police, not to the embassy, but is that even true? Everyone seems to be holding back pieces, and no one wants to show their hand. Why? (full review coming soon)
Love & Saffron by Kim Fay (2/8/22, 208 pages) – This is definitely a “read in a day” type of book. I did it and I’m no speed reader, but the book is short and it’s also an epistolary novel, making it move very quickly. Spanning a few years in the 1960’s, Joan and Imogen become fast friends almost exclusively through letters. Joan, a recent college graduate, first writes a fan letter to Imogen, a 60ish food columnist for a small Northwest magazine. Drawn to Joan’s words, Imogen writes back. An unusual friendship, built on a love of food and trying new things, quickly builds and changes both women’s lives. (full review)
A Novel Obsession by Caitlin Barasch (3/15/22, 336 pages) – This is a twisty sort of story within a story. In it we meet Naomi who is desperate to write her first novel. She wants her story to come out of real life experiences, and she’s got nothing. That all begins to change when Naomi finds out her boyfriend’s ex is living just a couple subway stops away. She becomes obsessed, not only with Rosemary, but with the idea of stalking Rosemary as a premise for her elusive novel. And so the story unfolds. with Naomi going further and further down a rabbit hole that twists and turns in delightfully crazy ways. (full review)
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Germus (4/5/22, 400 pages) – Elizabeth is a chemist living in the 60’s and wanting far more from her career than the patriarchy sees fit to grant a woman. She’s quirky, no nonsense, and completely confident in her own abilities, but those very qualities made her vulnerable to the fragility of men’s egos. Elizabeth finds herself the star of an early TV cooking show called Super at Six. This is not a role she’s proud of, but it puts food on the table for herself and her daughter, Mad, and yet, Elizabeth knows she (and all women) deserve more. (full review)
Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett (4/5/22, 368 pages) – This is a story like nothing I’ve ever read before and I loved it! At its heart, 𝘜𝘯𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦𝘭𝘺 𝘈𝘯𝘪𝘮𝘢𝘭𝘴 is a grown up fairy tale, and don’t we all need one of those now and again? The story revolves around a family in trouble. Emma is a medical school dropout. Auggie has just finished his second stint in rehab. Their mother is angry at their father for an affair, and their father is slowly dying of a brain disease which causes him to see things, especially animals. And, oh! The story is narrated by a group of ghosts at the local cemetery. Trust me on this one! (full review)
Marrying the Ketchups by Jennifer Close (4/26/22, 320 pages) – This story focuses on three generations of the Sullivan family. A family who has just lost their patriarch, Bud, who together with his wife, Rose, started a successful restaurant in Oak Park, IL. That restaurant and the timing (fall 2016) are the backgrounds to the entire story. Bud passes away just as his beloved Cubs are finally in the World Series, and just before Trump is elected president. The convergence of those two events rocks the world of his family, especially his three adult grandchildren. (full review)
This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub (5/17/22, 320 pages) – This is a love story of sorts. Not in a romantic way, but instead it’s the story of the love between a father and daughter. As the story opens 40-year old Alice is sitting at her 73-year old father’s hospital bedside knowing he’s not going to make it. By a strange twist of fate, Alice travels back in time to the day of her 16th birthday. While there she begins to wonder if in the past she can save her father in the present. This book was time travel done right! (full review)
Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour (5/31/22, 304 pages) – This is a love story between two women who are each lost in their own ways, and slowly finding their way to each other. At 16, tragedy forces Sara to flee her home and family. She lands in Los Angeles, eventually finding work in the restaurant industry. Emilie lives in LA and has a loving, supportive family, but just can’t seem to commit to any one path. Emilie works arranging flowers in restaurants, where she and Sara first cross paths, but the journey to truly finding each other is much longer and more complex. (full review coming soon) 🎧
Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor (2/1/22, 336 pages) – I know a classic retelling might not feel like summer reading, but trust me here. Cantor uses many voices to tell the story of Jay Gatsby, including Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker, Detective Frank Charles, and a new addition, Catherine McCoy (Myrtle’s sister). Moving back and forward in time, she gives us the story of Daisy and Gatsby from the points of view of the three women, all of whom add twists to the original story and none of whom seem completely innocent to Detective Charles. From the opening pages through to its satisfying ending, I flew through this book loving every minute! (full review)
All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir (3/1/22, 384 pages) – No one is more surprised than me to have a YA book here, but this book was so good! From the very beginning I was completely drawn into the world of Misbah, her son Salahudin, and Noor. Misbah immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan and runs a small motel in a sad CA town. Noor’s uncle brought her to the U.S. at six. a She and Sal were close friends from the time she arrived. The lives of these three are complicated. They’re Muslim in an area with few Muslims, they have things to fear, people who let them down, others who are cruel, and still others willing to help. I can’t say more without giving too much away! (full review) 🎧
French Braid by Anne Tyler (3/22/22, 244 pages) – Let’s face it, Anne Tyler KNOWS how to write families. That more than anything is why I loved this story of the Garrett family who we first meet in 1959 when Mercy and Robin Garrett took their three children on the one and only family vacation of their lives. We get to know the five members of this family in the week they spend at the lake, and in the more than fifty years that follow. Nothing about this family is normal, but nothing is all that abnormal either, and yet somehow Tyler makes you love them! At 244 pages, it makes for a fast summer read. (full review)
Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow (4/5/22, 252 pages) – From beginning to end I was captivated by this story of three generations of a Memphis Black family, a family dominated by its women, and scarred by its men. It follows the lives of two sets of sisters, and the exemplary matriarch of their family. Nothing is easy for these women, who after lynchings, crimes, and abuse, must learn to survive and thrive on their own. The writing of this debut author was simply gorgeous. She told her story from four different perspectives and some how made a very short novel feel epic! (full review)
Like A House On Fire by Lauren McBrayer (4/26/22, 320 pages) – This is a story focused on one woman who, at 38, faces a whole lot of change in her life. As the book begins, Merit is a woman defeated. Married for twelve years, she has two very young sons, a husband she’s resigned herself to, and an art career that’s floundered. Living in San Francisco, expenses are high and money is tight, so Merit is forced to return to her first career, architecture. Her heart isn’t in it, but when she’s hired by a small firm, Merit quickly bonds with her boss, Jane. The two become a powerhouse team, both professionally and personally. From there sparks begin flying in Merit’s not-so-simple life. (full review)
Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews (3/2/21, 324 pages) – I don’t know how I missed this book last year! I loved the story of Florence, a young writer wannabe, who falls into the job of a lifetime: personal assistant to “Maud Dixon”, a celebrated novelist writing under a pseudonym. She becomes one of only a few people who know Maud’s true identity. The author exposes Florence not only to the world of a writer, but also to one of good wine, good food, travel, and adventure. Florence’s life is transformed, and then completely upended after she’s in a car accident on the coast of Morocco and the author is missing! (full review) 🎧
God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney (6/22/21, 320 pages) – This story is told by 18-year old Caroline over a summer she and her older sister spend alone on their family ranch. They flee there to put distance between themselves and their famous pastor father who has just been outed for having an affair. While at the ranch, the sisters try to hold onto their faith, but question everything else, bringing them closer and closer together. This was a very solid, moving sisters story and it’s great on audio! (full review) 🎧
Songs in Ursa Major by Emma Brodie (6/22/221, 336 pages) – Inspired by a brief affair between Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, this story follows a young budding rock singer, Jane Quinn and her band The Breakers. As the summer of 1969 is winding down, a fortunate twist of fate launches them from obscurity on a small Massachusetts island to a record deal, and the opening act for a heartthrob folk singer. Along the way there’s a little romance, a little friendship, a bit of mystery, a whole lot of male chauvinism, and even more “hell no” from Jane who refuses to live life on anything but her own terms. A perfect summer read! (full review)
Embassy Wife by Katie Croucher (7/13/21, 384 pages) – This is light romp through the lives of diplomatic wives in Namibia. Amanda, has just arrived with her Fulbright scholar husband and young daughter and she’s not all that happy about being there. Taking Amanda under her wing is Persephone, wife of one of the embassy diplomats. She’s the welcoming committee, the International School drama-queen, and a behind-the scenes social climber who secretly wants her husband’s job. Along the way the two get in some rollickingly funny situations and even face a mystery or two. Just plain fun! (full review)
For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing (7/20/21, 373 pages) – If you love snarky humor, this is a book for you! From the opening pages, I knew Teddy Crutcher was going to be a villain I’d love to hate. Prep school teacher, Teddy, was all about Teddy, and not ashamed to admit it. Everyone else, including other teachers, pesky parents, and most especially his own students were simply roadblocks to him getting all the accolades he deserved. No one was exempt from Teddy’s wrath OR revenge, even when things around Belmont Academy started going from bad to worse, attracting more and more unwanted attention. (full review)
Ghosts by Dolly Alderton (8/3/21, 320 pages) – Initially this might sound like a romance, but it’s so much more. It’s the story of Nina, 32, and living a great life, but a that is also changing rapidly. Her dad has Alzheimer’s and her mother is struggling, her friend’s are marrying and having babies, and Nina is trying to figure out where she fits in all of that, and yes, she’d like a relationship. Essentially, 𝘎𝘩𝘰𝘴𝘵𝘴 is a very well-told story of growing up and truly becoming an adult. It’s not all sunshine and roses, as we all know, but the journey through this one is so refreshing! (full review)
The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale (12/7/21, 304 pages) – Like lots of books that work for me, this is a mashup of several things I tend to appreciate in a good story: a little suspense, long-standing female friendships, a dual timeline, and as a bonus, this one is set in Paris! The story features three ballerinas who were classically trained at the Paris Opera Ballet school, and then went on to become members of the corps. After being gone for many years, one of the trio returns and amid secrets and pain, the delicate balance of women’s friendship begins to topple. (full review)
Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding (12/7/21, 336 pages) – This is NOT a light book, but I really think it has been an underrated gem, so I want to give it some love! This is an intense story of Sonya, a young woman who once was an actress, but whose life has been in a downward spiral for a long time. She has a 4-year old son who she adores, but the care she gives him is abysmal because she has a competing love…alcohol. Sonya can down three bottles of wine a night, she blacks out, she forgets to buy food, she scares little Tommy. She’s pushed everyone else out of her world, but Sonya WANTS to get better. This is her journey. I cannot recommend highly enough listening to this one. It’s narrated by the author (which I don’t normally love) and she is AMAZING, completely embodying frantic, manic Sonya. (full review) 🎧
🎧 – Books I listened to and would recommend on audio.
I hope your summer reading is amazing!
BEACH BAG BOOKS 2022 PIN ⇓