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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Six Riveting Backlist Reads

The Summer Favorites

These titles aren't light "summer reads," but they were my favorite reads from a summer past, and they all stand the test of time. In case you missed them the first time around, I'm reposting them as this summer begins so you can add to your to-read list at will.

If you've read any of these, I'd love to hear what you think!

For classic light fiction that's also great for summer reading, check out these titles and Bossy reviews.


01 The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Bennett explores the complicated implications of perception as reality when it comes to race and its meaning.

In The Vanishing Half, Bennett follows the history of the fictional Vignes twins, Desiree and Stella, as they grow up in a town made up of those who identify as light-skinned black people. As teenagers they run from a prescribed future as maids in the small town, where tragedy in the form of evil white men took their father from them and left their mother scrambling to provide for them.

Upon reaching freedom, their paths diverge. One twin secretly passes at work for white, then vanishes into a life based upon this premise. The other twin marries a dark-skinned black man and lives as a black woman.

The book explores the complicated implications of perception as reality when it comes to race and its meaning; the subjectivity of and intense power within race labels; and the tension of living under false pretenses. For my full review, see The Vanishing Half.


02 Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

Atlantic City just before WWII, with its giant hotels, piers, and general hubbub, is the backdrop for the story of a few summer months in the life of an extended family.

I loved watching the story's events unfold in this lovely debut from Rachel Beanland.

Florence Adler Swims Forever, the story of a few summer months in the life of an extended family--including a stolid patriarch and matriarch, a free-spirited daughter, a spunky and fantastic granddaughter Gussie, a daughter with another grandchild on the way, a deadbeat son-in-law, and family friends to round out the group.

There’s an undercurrent of concern about Hitler and his increasingly punitive behavior toward Jewish families’ businesses and emigration in Germany.

I loved watching the book’s events unfold—even if I could predict some of them. Anything that was wrapped up a little too neatly didn’t bother me at all; I was all in and satisfied.

Beanland based some of the basic events of her debut novel on her ancestors’ experiences, which I thought was fascinating but didn't realize until the end.

Click here for my full review of Florence Adler Swims Forever.


03 Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby

This is a fantastic blend of realistic complications, mistakes, adjustments, and spunk. It's action-packed yet character driven.

Bug is a respectable business owner nowadays with a family. But some old acquaintances show up with an idea that might offer some financial breathing room--if the others on the job can keep their heads on straight, and that's looking like a big if.

Blacktop Wasteland took a little while to get going for me, but just shy of halfway through, the setup is complete and the action starts singing along.

I'm not inherently interested in the preparation and modification of vehicles or in skillful evasive driving, but I was all in for S.A. Cosby's writing about all of it.

Bug is a wonderfully faulted character. who when not in crisis takes stock of himself and aims to be a better person. He's forced to consider what loyalty means, and to face how dark the path ahead might become when the bad guys are truly evil, very powerful, and the stakes couldn't be much higher.

The ending of Blacktop Wasteland is a little abrupt and opaque, but not without hope.

See my full review of Blacktop Wasteland here.


04 Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

In Utopia Avenue, Mitchell takes us through the twists and turns of a fictional psychedelic British sixties band on its rocky rise to popularity.

Utopia Avenue explores the band members' crises, joys, fears, and triumphs. Mitchell made me care about a singer connecting with an audience, the cathartic heartbreak-writing of songs, and the magic spark of a performance.

The book contains endless imagined cameos, fictional adventures, and gems of wisdom from real-life musicians like David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Jerry Garcia, and members of the Rolling Stones--not to mention wild parties, betrayals, leaps of faith, breakups, and tragedy. But Mitchell expertly builds the band members into rich characters you're rooting for through their individual ups and downs as well as through the triumphs and setbacks of the band Utopia Avenue.

Mitchell doesn't provide too easy or neat of an ending to this weird and wonderful book, but it felt fitting and left me satisfied. This was a really captivating story that kept me intrigued throughout.

For my full review of Utopia Avenue, click here.


05 When These Mountains Burn by David Joy

Joy offers an often dark work of Southern literary fiction through which bubbles of hope emerge.

Ray has outlived his beloved wife in the mountains of North Carolina. He has a precious old girl of a dog, a fascination with (and healthy fear of) coyotes, a love of reading, and a no-nonsense manner that makes clear he doesn't brook fools. He has almost resigned himself to the heartbreaking idea that his addict son is too lost to be saved.

There's an undercover cop nearby who's trying to help take down a robust drug ring, and then there's Ray, who uses old-fashioned methods and his knowledge of mountain terrain to address injustices in a straightforward way.

When These Mountains Burn isn't always easy to read, but it isn't over the top, and Joy's characters are fascinatingly faulted and keep you humming right along. I read this in 24 hours while wishing I were making it last longer.

For my full review of When These Mountains Burn, click here.


06 This Is All He Asks of You by Anne Egseth

Luna has a unique and lovely voice and is an irresistibly odd bird of a twelve-year-old girl.

I just loved This Is All He Asks of You. Luna stumbles into encounters that shape her life dramatically, in unorthodox and heartbreakingly meaningful ways.

She is facing her mother’s decline in health and exploring her own identity and meaning in her life, and she shapes her sometimes practical but often mystical thoughts and reflections through writing letters to her father, who she has never met, in the conversational tone of a pen pal writing to someone who will love her and her words unconditionally.

I simultaneously wanted to scoop up Luna and take care of her and to follow the lead of this wise-beyond-her-years, intensely spiritual young person. She has a unique and lovely voice and is an irresistibly odd bird of a twelve-year-old girl.

For my full review of This Is All He Asks of You, click here.


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