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38 Great Books To Read This Summer, Recommended By Our Favorite Indie Booksellers

From pulp sci-fi to a queer graphic memoir to a political deep-dive, these are some of our favorite booksellers' favorite reads.

Posted on June 19, 2020, at 11:05 a.m. ET

Quirk Books, Two Dollar Radio, Random House, Spectra, Doubleday, Del Rey, Anchor Books, Hui Hānai, Graywolf Press

1. A Novel Idea on Passyunk (Philadelphia) recommends The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

"Horror meets southern hospitality in this new novel by writer Grady Hendrix. Patricia, a housewife, longs for more adventure. She ends up joining a book club that has a particular interest in true crime. Together they read about serial killers and vampires and other monsters. When a mysterious, attractive man moves into the neighborhood, Patricia thinks she may have just found a real life monster, and she gets the adventure she's been looking for, whether or not she wants it." —Alexander Schneider and Christina Rosso-Schneider, owners

2. The Book Loft in Columbus recommends A History of My Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt

"A History of My Brief Body knocked me on my ass. Billy-Ray Belcourt, a member of the Driftpile Cree Nation and Canada's first Rhodes Scholar, explores the complexities of gender, sexuality, and colonialism in a short, poetic memoir. These essays transcend genre and become something else entirely — a reliquary of self-love and becoming." —Gary Lovely, marketing manager

3. Malaprop's Bookstore & Cafe (Asheville, North Carolina) recommends Antkind by Charlie Kaufman

"Filmmaker Charlie Kaufman's debut is a singular work, and one as neurotic, self-aware and self-indulgent as his movie work. I'm not sure who this book is for, exactly, since it's steeped in the world of movies, all filtered through Kaufman's peculiar worldview. But this is what makes it brilliant, that art can still be born of one man's eccentric, playful and remarkable imagination." —Justin Souther, senior buyer/bookstore manager

4. Space Cowboy Books (Joshua Tree, California) recommends Fools by Pat Cadigan

"Cyberpunk at its best! And unlike a lot of cyberpunk, this book has not become dated as the years pass — the story is still fresh and plausible. With seedy style and beautifully disorienting language, this book focuses on the transference of memories, both as a sort of drug, and as a means to vicariously attempt to steal the talent of others. The entire story had me guessing and did not disappoint every time it delivered in truly unexpected ways. The world-building is spot-on and gruesome, and had me believing that this is a world that could come to be if pharmaceuticals and surgery were taken to their logical extremes. Cadigan excels at the layered narrative, and somehow makes a really complicated story easy to follow. Not only is this probably the best cyberpunk book I have encountered, but I am dying to read another of her books." —Jean-Paul Garnier, owner

5. Tubby & Coo's Mid-City Book Shop (New Orleans) recommends Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

"Scooby Doo meets H.P. Lovecraft in this super fun adventure in the '90s! Teen detectives solve a mystery in 1977, but as they grow up, they all begin running from demons that they can trace back to that summer. So they decide to go back to the sleepy town of Blyton Hills as adults in the '90s to see if they can discover the truth. But the truth is a lot more horrifying than a man in a mask. This story is filled with rich horror, thrilling twists, outright hilarity, and surprising poignancy, and is perfect for fans of Scooby Doo and/or Cthulhu." —Candice Huber, owner

6. Parnassus Books (Nashville) recommends The Dragons, the Giant, the Women by Wayétu Moore

"In her new memoir, Wayétu Moore tells the story of her family's escape from Liberia during the civil war, her life as an immigrant and Black woman in Texas, and her relationship to her family over the years. Her writing is so beautiful and compelling — I was in absolute awe of what she accomplished with this book." —Cat Bock, buyer and inventory manager

7. Dolly's Bookstore (Park City, Utah) recommends Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

"This book was such a fun ride! It was a great new take on the classic Gothic — a tale of what happens when invaders come to leech off a land not their own, with so many fabulous folkloric additions from the heritage of the setting." —Michaela Smith, manager

8. Nā Mea Hawaiʻi (Honolulu) recommends The Diaries of Queen Liliʻuokalani of Hawaiʻi, edited by David W Forbes

"Published for the first time, Queen Liliʻuokalani's diaries (1885-1900), reveal her experience as heir apparent and monarch of the Hawaiian Islands during one of the most intense, complicated, and politically charged eras in our history. Brilliant and beloved Hawaiʻi historian, David W. Forbes, carefully transcribed the Queen's diaries — sourced from papers seized in 1895 by the Territory of Hawaiʻi, after the American-backed illegal overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in 1893. In this beautiful new book, Forbes annotates the Queen's diaries, providing important new insights and connections. This new book is a must-have for any library and an important companion to Liliʻuokalani's autobiography, Hawaiʻi's Story By Hawaiʻi's Queen." —Josh, project manager

Catapult, Blackstone Publishing, Random House, Avon, Harper Voyager, Liveright, Verso, Atria

9. Fact & Fiction Books (Missoula, Montana) recommends Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time by Ben Ehrenreich

"I have had an ongoing love affair with the deserts of the American Southwest for nearly two decades now, and I take my reading related to it both seriously and critically. With Desert Notebooks, Ben Ehrenreich delivers a new contribution to the canon of essential reading about the place and the rest of the world as it relates to it. Ehrenreich isn't writing a 'desert book' per se, but he is writing from the Mojave, and his love for it is deep. As climate change flexes its dark might around him, and Donald Trump (named here as 'The Rhino') wreaks his havoc, Ehrenreich delves into histories of the first inhabitants; the history of writing; philosophy, and ... owls. Sounds like a mash-up, and it is, but it works.

"Sometimes journalists-turned-authors produce work that simply reads like a collection of reported pieces sewn together with a half-baked attempt at a narrative thread. Ehrenreich avoids that trap; this man is a storyteller. The mix of science, myth, anecdotes, and a profound love for the terrain produces one of my favorite reads of the spring thus far, if not the year." —Chris, grunt

10. Seminary Co-op Bookstore and 57th Street Books (Chicago) recommends Block Seventeen by Kimiko Guthrie

"Block Seventeen is a stunning debut novel by a fresh new voice in American literature. The subtleties of pacing and movement evince Guthrie's experience as a choreographer. She has somehow written a page-turner with rich characters that simultaneously engages meaningfully and artfully with one of the most shameful chapters of American history. This is a book for our times." —Jeff, director

11. BookPeople (Austin) recommends Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

"I'M OBSESSED. Sittenfeld has created a nuanced character portrait and an explosive page-turner speculating what would have happened if Hillary and Bill had broken up and not gotten married. This ultimate what-if leads the novelized Hillary down some very surprising paths that you will want to travel with her." —Consuelo Hacker, buyer

12. Trident Booksellers & Cafe (Boston) recommends The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite

"The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics is the most fun I've had reading a book in a while. Lucy, a young astronomer has helped her illustrious father with his work for years, and after his death she refuses to give up the stars. When Lady Catherine St Day asks Lucy for advice in who should translate a new astronomical text to English for the first time, Lucy is determined to put herself forward, promising not just renown, but also the potential of a new love. I loved the way this book flipped points of view between Lucy and Catherine, allowing the reader to understand the complexities of both characters, and the rich and well-rounded background characters. The detail given to describing both embroidery and the stars made me want to learn more about both. Waite has created a Victorian world that I would be thrilled to live in, and I can't wait to read her next book, Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, which comes out July 28th! —Katherine, social media manager and lead bookseller

13. Mojo Books & Records (Tampa) recommends A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

"This work is scifi with a page-turning plot, lovable characters, and plenty of feel-good moments. It also presents serious themes, including AI, eugenics, and slave labor. And yet, even with its points of darkness, A Closed and Common Orbit is an all-out joy to read." —Melanie Cade, owner

14. Papercuts J.P. (Boston) recommends Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn

"Patsy is the intriguing tale of a young Jamaican woman who has finally received her dream of a visa to America. She intends to use this visa as an opportunity to escape the poverty that surrounds her in a Kingston ghetto and reunite with her oldest friend who left the island years before under a shroud of mystery. However, this escape plan does not include Patsy’s 5-year-old daughter, Tru. Over ten years we see Patsy grapple with the harsh realities of being an undocumented immigrant in America and Tru’s struggles with being left behind in Kingston. At the core of Patsy is the concept of love. One comes away from this novel realizing that the choices we make for love irrevocably impact not only the people we love, but the people we become. By tenderly and expertly looking at the sacrifices women make — as well as the complexities of class and color, immigration and identity — Dennis-Benn has produced a precise and achingly beautiful piece of work. It’s just been released in paperback and will make a great book to get lost in this summer!" —Mwahaki, assistant manager and bookseller

15. Binnacle Books (Beacon, New York) recommends The Dispossessed: A Story of Asylum and the US-Mexican Border and Beyond by John Washington

"Marketed as the first in-depth look at Trump's dismantling of asylum policies, this book is as much a genealogy of the very ideas of asylum and refuge as it is anything else. Deeply intertextual, drawing from the classics and policies of ancient Greece to contemporary Chicano studies and literature, as well as an in-depth telling of the life story of one Central American migrant, John Washington's The Dispossessed is fierce, illuminating, and infuriating — not a lighthearted beach read, but its own kind of page-turner, nevertheless. And if we want to enjoy our leisure time on beaches, maybe we should acknowledge the complex and unjust histories of all those who'd like to do the same, but simply cannot." —Mark Trecka, bookseller and Instagram manager

16. Powell's Books (Portland, Oregon) recommends Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner

"Jennifer Weiner’s Big Summer is a yummy beach read and more. It's a tale of the reconnection of plus-size Instagram influencer Daphne and her old high school frenemy Drue — with a sumptuous Cape Cod wedding, a murder mystery, and loads of sexy, mayhem-y fun." —Gigi L., bookseller

Tor Books, Quirk Books, Simon & Schuster, Riverhead, Harper Voyager, http://Tor.com, Harper Wave

17. BookBar (Denver) recommends The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

"Charming, sweet, quirky, and earnest, The House in the Cerulean Sea is a total comfort read that is perfect for summer! This contemporary adult fantasy is filled with heart. If everyone read it, the world would be a much kinder place. Linus Baker leads a quiet life as a Caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, until one day he is charged with an top secret case and must travel to an orphanage on a magical island, with six dangerous children and their charming caretaker. There is wonderful queer representation, and this found family of the most memorable characters will burrow deep into your heart. This is a book to read when you want to laugh and cry and be filled with warmth - which is something we could all use right now. —Christine Bollow, marketing and events coordinator

18. Oblong Books & Music (Rhinebeck, New York) recommends The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston

"If a fangirl's heart is reflected in the things she loves, you'll find mine in The Princess and the Fangirl. When a PR crisis hits the latest Starfield movie, actress Jessica Stone and megafan Imogen Lovelace are forced to swap places at ExcelsiCon in a grand plan to save the sequel — so long as they don't get caught. The perfect weekend read, Ashley Poston's The Princess and the Fangirl is both a rollicking rom-com and a thoughtful coming-of-age story about what it means to bare your true self to the world. You'll gasp, you'll cry, you'll cheer. Grab the popcorn and settle in — you won't want to put this one down. Pair it with Geekerella, the first in the series, and Bookish and the Beast, the new one coming this August!" —Nicole Brinkley, manager

19. Second Star to the Right Books (Denver) recommends Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

"Sometimes, you just need a character to sit with you in the shadows and the blue days. A character who understands you, and whom you understand. Sometimes, it doesn’t make things better, but it makes you feel less alone. That is Finley Hart for me. Part family-epic, part mental-health discovery, part fantasy, this gem of a middle grade novel is all my favorite pieces of Bridge to Terabithia, mixed with Claire’s distinct voice and incredible storytelling. It's a friendship story unlike any I've encountered before. And it might just be the most important book a (young) reader could happen across if they're hurting and don't understand why. Keep this book around, because odds are, someone you know will need it."—Britt Margit, marketing manager

20. Left Bank Books (St. Louis) recommends Deacon King Kong by James McBride

"James McBride is one of those authors whose writing will always surprise me and keep me enthralled! Deacon King Kong is a fantastic feat of historical fiction that will remind you in a lot of ways of his National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird (coming soon to a television near you). It will have you laughing at points, completely covered in tears at other, and definitely wondering what could possibly happen next through the whole thing. McBride delivers a story that will fully throw you into the projects of 1970s Brooklyn that will make you feel all the grime and glory." —Shane P. Mullen, events coordinator

21. Mysterious Galaxy (San Diego) recommends Polaris Rising (The Consortium Rebellion Book #1) by Jessie Mihalik

"Ada von Hasenberg is on the run, trying to carve out a life for herself beyond the preening and cutthroat aristocrats of the Consortium. When she is suddenly captured by mercenaries and dumped into a shared holding cell with Marcus Loch, the notorious Devil of Fornax Zero, Ada takes matters into her own hands, hatching an escape plan that offers Marcus his freedom as well. What follows is a fast-paced adventure complete with political intrigue, pirates, and sizzling romance led by one truly kick-ass space princess. In the Consortium Rebellion trilogy Mihalik crafts some of the most exciting and brilliant heroines I have read in years, perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Tamora Pierce. The von Hasenberg sisters are an incredibly strong group of women, confident in their own intelligence and abilities, and working to make the next generation of leaders kinder and more just than the ones that came before." —Jenni, owner

22. Harvard Book Store (Cambridge, Massachusetts) recommends Docile by K.M. Szpara

"Docile is compulsively readable book about sex, power, and love. In a world where children inherit their parents’ debt, they can choose to become 'Dociles' to the rich and powerful to work it off. When Elisha becomes Alex’s Docile, neither of them expect to fall for the other. From their first lines, Elisha’s and Alex’s voices are immediately captivating. Szpara has crafted a tale that’s scorching both in its smut and its critique of capitalist structures. I spent every spare moment I had devouring this book, as I was pulled further into the troubling — but disturbingly believable —world Szpara created. A must-read for socialists with a penchant for smutty fanfic." —Read D., customer orders coordinator

23. It’s A Mystery Bookstore (Berryville, Arkansas) recommends the Binti trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor

"These are powerful sci-fi novellas for young and wise readers who yearn for something that affirms that reaching for stars can come with costs. Binti is a sleeping giant who awakens when the tribal world she was born of, and the new world she has entered, cast her the role she was destined. I love this writer and her stories." —Melinda Large, owner

24. Broadway Books (Portland, Oregon) recommends Yeah, No. Not Happening.: How I Found Happiness Swearing Off Self-Improvement and Saying F*ck It All--And How You Can Too by Karen Karbo

"Karen Karbo might be living in France now, but we'll always consider her to be one of us Portlandians. As with all of her books, Yeah, No. Not Happening is a brilliant combination of insight and hilarity. This wickedly smart manifesto encourages women to reject 'self-improvery' and instead learn to appreciate and flaunt our complex, if flawed, human selves, turning our backs on the the nonstop cultural and societal pressures to improve ourselves. There is no one more dangerous than a woman who doesn't care what anyone thinks of her. As a bonus, Karen's books have THE best footnotes — check out her recent book In Praise of Difficult Women, an ode to the bold and charismatic women of modern history, for more of them." —Sally McPherson and Kim Bissell, owners

Riverhead; Milkweed Editions; Little, Brown; Akashic Books; St. Martins; Disney-Hyperion; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

25. Blue Bicycle Books (Charleston, South Carolina) recommends Real Life by Brandon Taylor

"Taylor’s devastating and stunning debut follows Wallace, a Southern, queer, Black grad student, across the three days before his fall semester begins. Wallace is a PhD student at an unnamed Midwestern university, and as the academic year looms, he confronts the death of his father, finds his biochemical work destroyed, and dives into a sexual relationship with a purportedly straight friend. But the book feels less about these plot points and more about Wallace’s inner monologue: the ripple effects of trauma, his anxiety, his constant self-patrolling and hard work to fit into a white academic space that has left no room for a body like his.

"Another student, at one point, forces a confrontation with Wallace, accusing him of misogyny — an allegation blatantly fortified by racism — and Wallace doesn’t respond, but instead thinks, 'The most unfair part of it … is that when you tell white people that something is racist, they hold it up to the light and try to discern if you are telling the truth.' This interaction is one of several humiliations Wallace suffers over a short span of time, suggesting that there’s nothing special about this weekend, but instead this is how Wallace — and so many others — are forced to live within a context that doesn’t recognize them, their pasts, or their humanity." —Sara Peck, manager and buyer

Read: "Working In Science Was A Brutal Education. That's Why I Left." by Brandon Taylor

26. White Whale Bookstore (Pittsburgh) recommends The Shame by Makenna Goodman

"We begin as Alma, our narrator, flees her two young children, husband, and pastoral life in the Vermont countryside, headed for New York City. From there, Makenna Goodman's daring first novel examines what led up to this moment, and how even an existence that many people of my generation believe is the "ideal Life" — of motherhood, of living off the land, of ethical consumption, a life of intention — is still not without its limitations. It's necessary work, a novel that felt like a distant relative of the all-time great novel Revolutionary Road: The Shame is just as exacting and defiant, and at times, as existentially gutting. I loved it. —Adlai Yeomans, owner

27. Sistah Scifi Online recommends An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

"An Unkindness of Ghost takes the institutional racism of the antebellum American South and places it in a space vessel, HSS Matilda, in the distant future. The main character, Aster, is smart, witty, and brave, as she battles for a future that honors her mother's lost legacy and heals the past traumas of those closest to her. She also fights for her right to exist as a queer, autistic, and gender non-confirming Black person. The ending is satisfying without being saccharine. It is a perfect read for summer 2020 in light of the international standing of defiance against police violence, and Pride events celebrating the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising." —Isis Asare, founder/CEO

28. Booked (Evanston, Illinois) recommends Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

"This is a book that needs to be required reading for youth and adults alike. Reynolds and Kendi tell the hard (HARD) story of how racism began in America. They break it down into manageable, palatable pieces — without sugar-coating or leaving out any of the atrocities that have occurred over time. It's at once funny, serious, and incredibly brilliant. This book, now more than ever, is SO important to read. It's extraordinarily well-written, it's exceptionally accessible, and it inspires hope for the future. I cannot recommend it enough." —Rachel Round, owner

29. The Astoria Bookshop (Queens) recommends Lobizona by Romina Garber

"Everyone is excited for vampires right now, but if you read Twilight and found yourself rooting for the werewolves, Lobizona is the book for you. It is so timely in its message of immigrant rights and finding identity, woven into fantastical elements of magic and transformation. Argentine werewolves and folklore, a secret school for magic, and so much more is within — and you'll love every page. I promise!" —Christian Vega, events coordinator

30. Charis Books and More (Decatur, Georgia) recommends The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert

"Although this doesn't feel like a normal summer for traditional beach reads, it also doesn't feel like a normal election year — all the more reason why people of all ages should flock to The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert. It's coming of age YA romance between two Black teens who take on a rigged and racist voting system, while also falling in love and searching for Marva's missing cat. Teens and adults will root for these young people and their mission to make their votes matter." —Errol Anderson, executive director of non-profit programming

31. Savoy Bookshop and Cafe (Westerly, Rhode Island) recommends The Animals At Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

"Okay, THIS IS SO FUN! In this neo-gothic, deliciously creepy female-centric, fresh spin on the classic WWII novel (about time!) Hettie is in charge of the taxidermy mammal collection stored at the British Museum of Natural History. Upon transporting the exhibit to a country manor to protect it from the impending Blitz, the stuffed animals seem to move around of their own accord... And what of the lovely, yet nervy Lucy Lockwood? Is Hettie falling for her charms?" —Anna Garceau, bookseller and barista

32. The Book Nook (Peoria, Illinois) recommends Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

"On the day she was abducted, Annie O'Sullivan, a 32-year-old realtor, had three goals — sell a house, forget about a recent argument with her mother, and be on time for dinner with her ever-patient boyfriend. The open house is slow, but when her last visitor pulls up in a van as she's about to leave, Annie thinks it just might be her lucky day after all. Interwoven with the story of the year Annie spent as the captive of psychopath in a remote mountain cabin, which unfolds through sessions with her psychiatrist, is a second narrative recounting events following her escape —her struggle to piece her shattered life back together, and the ongoing police investigation into the identity of her captor. The truth doesn't always set you free." —Cheryl, general manager

Knopf, New Directions, Riverhead, Doubleday, Street Noise Books

33. Bank Square Books (Mystic, Connecticut) recommends The Great Offshore Grounds by Vanessa Veselka

"I am blown away by this story about two sisters, Cheyenne and Livy, their idiosyncratic family, and their attempts at Figuring It All Out. Grounded in a working class world — where folks who have gone missing probably 'floated upward into the realm of home ownership and 401(k)s, healthcare or cars with airbags' — the story resonates with fractious vitality, a punk rock ethos, and just enough tenderness to underpin it all. It's somehow more beautiful and urgent than Veselka's masterful debut Zazen, which is itself required reading and one of the best books of the past decade. Highly recommended for those hoping to grasp the same kind of malcontent high as Nell Zink's The Wallcreeper or Danielle Dutton's Margaret the First." —Douglas Riggs, bookseller

34. Subterranean Books (St. Louis) recommends Index Cards by Moyra Davey

"This is a gem of a book. Davey is an artist, photographer, writer and filmmaker, and the book takes on the quality of exactly what the title infers — blurbs on index cards, perfect for picking up and putting down. This format is especially appealing with our attention spans pulled in so many different directions at once. The ground she covers, the connections she makes, and the stream of consciousness of her essays is inspiring. You can take this book with you anywhere. If you are like me and find the best things by bumping into them while looking in the other direction, this is for you." —Gena Brady, bookseller, social media, and displays

35. Read Books (Virginia Beach) recommends The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

"Summer gives us the opportunity to dig into something worthy of our full attention. James McBride has a great new novel out perfect for summer reading [ed. note: Deacon King Kong, recommended above!] but if you want to get to know where his story began, pick up The Color of Water. In this tribute to his mother ('a rabbi's daughter, born in Poland and raised in the south, who fled to Harlem, married a black man, founded a Baptist church and put twelve children through college'), he grapples with his own identity and reveals the fascinating story of the family experiences that shaped his view of the world." —Kristin Hildum, proprietor

36-38. Books Are Magic (Brooklyn) recommends:

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

"I loved Brit's debut The Mothers, and this book sounds just stupendous — a tale of twin sisters who go their separate ways, and one decides to pass as white. Her writing is both smart and propulsive, and Brit is a goddamn star. This book is going to shoot her all the way to the moon." —Emma Straub, owner

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

"Funny, tender, and heartbreaking. Pizza Girl hits all the right notes in its compact 190 pages. As a former pizza delivery driver, I remember being obsessed with repeat customers and how excited I’d be to find out a little more with every pizza ordered. I loved this book". —Mike Fusco-Straub, owner

Spellbound by Bishakh Som

"I was first introduced to Som’s work through her super electric, genre-defying debut collection of short comics, Aspara Engine (which just came out this April). So when I heard about this new graphic novel/memoir, I was stoked! Both collections explore themes of gender and sexuality, especially pertaining to diasporic queer and trans South Asian folks, but Spellbound is a meta-autobiographical account of the artists’ coming-of-age as a professional illustrator and trans woman. Them described Som as an 'up-and-coming comics superstar' and I 100% agree — I believe this is just the start of a long and prosperous arts career for Som, so make sure to keep an eye out!" —Serena, events and marketing coordinator


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