The summer heat wave is here, so it’s the perfect time to chill in your hammock with a bottle of California kombucha and a fantastic book in hand. Of course, you can always start a (socially distanced) book club with the girls, too—it’s a great way to stay connected. This year, California authors have published exceptional reading material, so get ready to fill your bookshelves. From non-fiction and memoirs to thriller and literary fiction, we have your summer reading list covered.
The Vanishing Half
By Brit Bennett
“The Vignes twins vanished on August 14, 1954, right after the Founder's Day dance, which, everyone realized later, had been their plan all along.”
Set in the 50s and 60s, when race largely determined your destiny, this captivating novel revolves around the Vignes twin sisters. After spending their childhood in a Southern black community, the 16-year-old identical twins decide to take control of their destiny by running away to New Orleans. Ultimately, the Vignes twins, inseparable as children, end up leading entirely different lives: Years later, one of the sisters returns with her black daughter to the small Southern town she once tried to escape, while the other sibling—who is light-skinned and secretly passes as a white woman—navigates a new, complicated world.
Although the twins are separated by distance, their fates remain intertwined. Author Brit Bennett weaves together an emotional story, connecting different generations of the Vignes family. She explores issues pertaining to race, identity, and familial expectations while uncovering reasons why some people choose to leave their origins behind.
By Eldonna Edwards
This mysterious, coming-of-age love story follows 12-year-old Clover Blue during his journey of self-discovery. There are many things Blue isn’t sure of—such as his exact date of birth and who his biological parents were—but what he does know is that he’s a member of the Saffron Freedom Community, whose close-knit, nature-loving commune members are considered family regardless of their diverse backgrounds.
After watching a sister give birth, however, Blue begins to wonder how he came to be. As his curiosity peaks, he begins to ask Goji, the commune’s guru-like founder, questions that cannot be answered. When a gorgeous girl named Rain joins the commune, Blue’s life is slowly turned upside down as he grapples with dark, new revelations about past lives. Blue soon finds himself having to decide which path to take: Will he stay in his bubble or risk it all and leave the commune?
By Percival Everett
“I imagined, realized, that if I could think like her, have my mind open like hers, so much of the world would be that much more available, magical, mysterious to me.”
Zach Wells, a dissatisfied geologist-paleobiologist, father, and husband, returns home following a field trip to the desert and finds his world crumbling. His daughter is experiencing mysterious eye problems, losing her memory, and lacking her usual edge in chess. Wells feels totally powerless as his daughter’s health continues to deteriorate—until the day he receives a jacket he ordered off eBay. Tucked in the pocket of the jacket is a strange note asking for help. Determined to save somebody, Wells secretly sets off for New Mexico on a quixotic rescue mission.
Prolific writer Percival Everett uses his majestic way with words to paint a deeply moving story about how loss and grief can make us move mountains. Everett intentionally created three different variations of the novel, and depending on where you purchase the novel, a unique ending awaits you. He willingly gives the reader authority, finding it incredibly thrilling that each reader’s perspective will be different.
Mothers Before: Stories and Portraits of our Mothers As We Never Saw Them
By Edan Lepucki
“But then again, that electric smile sums up exactly who my mother is: a superwoman with unparalleled courage and strength. That, despite the horrific experiences behind her and the fear of the unknown in front of her, she was determined to change the narrative of her story.”
In this depiction of the beauty of mother-daughter relationships, New York Times best-selling novelist Edan Lepucki gathers more than 60 original essays and photographs to share the stories of remarkable women, showcasing their lives before they became mothers. (One of the contributors includes Bennett, whose new novel, The Vanishing Half, is mentioned on this list.) Through their essays and images, the daughters reveal and showcase the vulnerability and the truth of their mothers’ lives. Regardless of how each story is painted, whether it’s witty or melancholy, every single one is touching and compelling.
Sansei and Sensibility
By Karen Tei Yamashita
Through short, inventive tales, author Karen Tei Yamashita remixes Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility into a modern Japanese immigrant story, which takes place during the 60s and 70s in California. To connect with her modern audience, Yamashita uses humor to touch on several relevant themes—such as class, race, and gender—and tackles questions related to inheritance: familial, cultural, emotional, and artistic. In Yamashita’s unique twist on Austen’s famous novel, Mr. Darcy captains the football team, and horse-drawn carriages are replaced with station wagons. Meanwhile, the characters collect community gossip, record high-school chatter, and examine the contents of deceased relatives’ in freezers.
By Chelsea Bieker
“To have a room cheer for you and only you is a strange treasure. It felt like everyone liked me more than I had ever known and I was unwrapping their affection for the first time like a gift.”
In Peaches, California, charismatic cult leader Pastor Vern promises to bring rain to the drought-stricken town. Once an agricultural paradise, this area of the Central Valley is now an environmental disaster, complete with cracked earth and barren raisin farms.
After her mother is exiled from the community for her sins, 14-year-old Lacey moves in with her uncaring grandmother. As Lacey endures appalling acts by men in powerful positions and begins to uncover the full extent of Pastor Vern’s plan to fertilize the land, she decides to go on a quest to find her mother—regardless of the consequences.
Centered on female friendship, resilience, motherhood, and salvation, this soulful, gripping plot will have you turning pages quicker than ever before.
Tom Clancy Firing Point
By Mike Maden
“He was tossed against the rails of the bridge wing, cracking his ribs, but his desperate hands wrapped around the nearest post to keep from falling several stories into the ocean.”
In the latest installment of the No. 1 New York Times best-selling series, Jack Ryan, Jr. is thrown back into his old life; this time, he finds himself on a mission to avenge an old friend’s murder. Yet again, we find Ryan in trouble with a capital T.
While on vacation in Barcelona, Ryan runs into his old friend Renee Moore and quickly discovers that she has dark secrets of her own. These secrets lead to her murder, and as she dies in Ryan’s arms, she utters the word, “Sammler.” As Ryan hurls himself into her dark past, he realizes that things are never as they seem, and this time, he may not be able to escape knocking on death’s door.
Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America
By Conor Dougherty
“...Sonja proceeded to lay out a platform that would make her a housing celebrity and inspire a run for city office: how expensive new housing today would become affordable old housing tomorrow, how San Francisco was blowing its chance to harness the energy of an economic boom to mass-build housing that generations of residents could use.”
Through propulsive storytelling and ground-level reporting, New York Times journalist Conor Dougherty unearths the San Francisco Bay Area housing crisis, chronicling the lives of a struggling math teacher, a teenage girl, a nun, a suburban bureaucrat, and a developer. They’re all on the path to restructure political alignment and build mass-manufactured housing within a time of rapid technological and social change.
this is Big: How the Founder of Weight Watchers Changed the World (and Me)
By Marisa Meltzer
“Our sense of the body, of its heft and momentum, is shaped more by the theater of our lives than by our costume.”
Raised in Northern California, Marisa Meltzer began her first diet at age five. Fast-forward nearly four decades, and she discovers the obituary for Jean Nidetch—who founded Weight Watchers in 1963—and becomes inspired to chronicle the deep parallels and enduring frustrations between their years-long efforts to lose weight, love their bodies, and have a positive relationship with food. By interweaving her own weight-loss journey with that of Nidetch, Meltzer creates an excellent testament to how transformation goes far beyond a number on the scale.
Which book are you planning to read first? Let us know your top choice in the comments below.
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