It’s summer time and the living is easy—at least for your kids. But maybe not as much for you, if you’re the always-on-call family cruise director. If you’re yearning to escape the hustle-bustle of summer activities with some good reads and adult conversation, why not call a meeting of your favorite reading buddies and check out our top book club picks for summer?
The Vacationers, by Emma Straub
The Post family heads off to the Spanish island of Mallorca for a two-week vacation to celebrate the 35th wedding anniversary of Franny and Jim, and their daughter, Sylvia’s, high school graduation. And everything goes just fine. Not! Several of the couples in this romantic comedy have suffered through infidelity, and what better than forced togetherness at a vacation home to bring old insults to fresh light?
Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult
In the latest from perennial bestseller writer Picoult, Alice is a scientist who specializes in studying grief rituals among elephants, and she knows a thing or two about loss: her mother abandoned her in childhood following an accident. Or did she? A psychic and a private investigator get involved in Alice’s quest for truth. Picoult is known for plots that delve into pressing contemporary issues, packaged in well-researched page-turners you’ll want to discuss for hours.
The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling
How many of you are still feeling blue because you finished reading the entire Harry Potter series to your kids and will never again hold a (small) audience rapt with your rendition of Professor Snape’s voice? (My hand is up.) Why don’t you shake those Rowling-withdrawal blues by trying her first novel for adults? The Casual Vacancy ditches wizards and Quidditch in favor of the political machinations that spring up in a small British town when a slot on the Pagford Parish Council opens. After you’ve discussed the book and polished off a few bottles of wine, you can have a competition to determine who does the best Snape, Potter, and McGonagall impressions.
The Children Act, by Ian McEwan
Thank goodness nobody ever told British novelist Ian McEwan he’s only allowed to write what he knows. He has a gift for bringing readers into the past or inside the minds of people with fascinating professions, feats he accomplishes through intense research and leaps of imagination. He brought us into London during the Blitz (Atonement) and into the operating room of a brain surgeon (Saturday), and in The Children Act he creates Fiona Maye, a London High Court judge presiding over morally complicated cases while her marriage unravels. As the book opens, Fiona’s husband announces he’d like an open relationship—just one aspect of this read that book groups will want to discuss.
The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd
The life of 19th-century abolitionist Sarah Moore Grimké sparked Sue Monk Kidd’s imagination and resulted in her latest novel, which follows the rebellious life of Grimke alongside that of Charleston slave girl named Hetty, known as Handful. Sarah chafes against the strictures placed on her by life at the pinnacle of Charleston society and eventually heads north to become an abolitionist. Meanwhile, Hetty, given to Sarah as a present on her eleventh birthday, stays behind and becomes involved in a slave insurrection.
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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami
If your book club tried to tackle Japanese novelist’s last bestseller, 1Q84, a thousand-pager with a labyrinthine plot, chances are good several members bailed. But don’t let Murakami’s doorstoppers daunt you—why not begin with some of his appealing gateway books, like last year’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, which returns to the simplicity of early books like Norwegian Wood? The eponymous protagonist is a likable, mild-mannered guy, but his new girlfriend feels something is amiss. He confesses that when he was in high school, he was best friends with two other boys and two girls, until they shunned him one day without an explanation. The experience shook him to his foundation, and in this philosophical novel, he embarks on a quest to find out why his friends turned on him 16 years earlier.
Revival, by Stephen King
I am a hopeless chicken when it comes to horror, but I like to read the books everyone’s talking about as much as the next super bookworm—so I gave Stephen King a try years ago. I made it through Christine and Carrie without nightmares, so then I moved on to Night Shift—how could cute little short stories be scary? Well, King’s “The Boogeyman” kept me awake for so many nights I swore off of his books. But braver souls than me will enjoy his newest, Revival, centering on the charismatic Reverend Jacobs. He moves to a small New England town, where he forms a close bond with a young boy, but tragedy causes the reverend to abandon both. When the two reconnect years later, tragedy and demonic stuff ensue, the specifics of which I’ll ask you not to reveal to me unless you have a pair of Depends handy. Perhaps the book club could split up during this discussion, offering blankies and a safe corner to rock in for wimps like me.
Adultery, by Paulo Coelho
With a frank title like this one, every book club member is guaranteed to crack the spine of international bestseller Paulo Coelho’s latest. A 31-year-old journalist named Linda enjoys what appears to be a perfect life, including a fulfilling career, a loving husband, and well-behaved kids. But she’s deeply bored by it all and yearning to get her groove back when she encounters an ex-boyfriend with some Fifty Shades of Grey tricks up his sleeve. Isn’t it nice how the characters in books make the mistakes so we don’t have to?
The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
If you loved Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell’s latest, The Bone Clocks, shares a kinship with it both structurally and in terms of sheer brilliance. Supernatural plot elements bind the time-spanning, globe-trotting elements of the plot’s six sections, but it’s Mitchell’s realism, and his unforgettable recurrent character Holly Sykes, that will lodge this book in your heart. We first meet Sykes as a lovesick teenager from a rough town in Kent, England, and she becomes more compelling every time The Bone Clocks returns to her story. Your book group will enjoy discussing whether Mitchell pulls off the supernatural pyrotechnics of section five, and whether he can be forgiven for his heart-stopping vision of the future.
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
It seems like over the last few years a bunch of novelists got together and made a pact to pen postapocalyptic stories. If you choose to check out just one of them, Station Eleven, Arthur C. Clarke Award winnner and National Book Award finalist, is a great pick. In its opening pages, famous actor Arthur Leander collapses onstage during a production of King Lear. His death (though unrelated) heralds the beginning of a worldwide flu pandemic. The novel moves back and forth through time to describe what happens as the illness and panic spreads, and picks up fifteen years later, when an actress with a traveling Shakespeare troupe attracts the attention of a prophet. You just might finish your meeting with a hankering to check out some of St. John Mandel’s earlier works.