Kids are heading back to school, but we still have several weeks left of summer. Maybe you have a Labor Day weekend vacation coming up, or are simply looking for a way to kick back and relax. Either way, I have eight reads perfect for these end-of-summer vibes. I love plot-driven, faster-paced, entertaining books during the summer season and while on vacation. So here we go!
The Chain by Adrian McKinty is a pulse-pounding thrill ride from the opening page. A thirteen-year-old girl is kidnapped at gunpoint by a man in a ski mask. In the next chapter, her mother, Rachel, receives a phone call from the kidnappers. In order to get her daughter back, she has to pay a ransom and kidnap *another* child, then get that child’s parents to pay a ransom and kidnap a child. She is now part of The Chain, a kidnapping and ransom scheme run by some mysterious and dangerous third party. I read this in less than 24 hours and regret nothing.
The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez. I read this book is one sitting on a Sunday afternoon! Such a delight. Kristen and Josh have major sparks from their first meeting, but there’s one problem: Josh comes from a big family and wants a bunch of kids someday, and Kristen has a medical condition that leads to infertility. So she keeps him at arm’s length even as they fall deeper in love. It was funny, sweet, romantic, and at times heartbreaking. The writing is voicey and accessible, the characters are vivid. Steam level is moderate, which means there is sexytime but it doesn’t dominate the story. Highly recommended for a beach read with depth.
The Whisper Man by Alex North. I took a chance and requested this one on Netgalley, simply based on that eye-catching cover. This is a mix of light horror, crime fiction, and family drama about a decades-old string of kidnapping and murders by a man known as The Whisper Man because he would sit by his victims’ open bedroom windows and whisper to them. (Major goosebumps, friends). Although the perpetrator was caught and imprisoned, twenty years later there is a resurgence of copycat crimes. I was utterly captivated by this story and found it creepy but not gruesome, well-plotted, with excellent characters. I read it in two days! (Just don’t read it at night).
Note: I received a free digital copy of this book via Netgalley and Celadon Books in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own. Releases everywhere August 20.
The Lost Man by Jane Harper: I was hooked from the opening image: a body is found alone in the desert of a vast cattle ranch, near an old gravestone in the Australian Outback. We learn that the dead man is Cameron Bright, one of the Bright brothers who own and run this property. There’s no mystery how he died—no one can survive in this harsh climate for long—but no one can understand why he was there in the first place. His car is found ten kilometers away, in good working order, stocked with food, water, and emergency supplies as it always would be while working the property. Why did Cameron leave it, then go out into the desert to die?
What follows is a slowly unfurling, character driven drama from the perspective of Nathan, the oldest brother. We are drawn into the lives of the Bright family, their triumphs and sorrows over the years that have led to this moment. While this is certainly a mystery, it is mostly a family drama—and an excellent one. These characters felt like real people, the setting like an actual place. Despite the slow pace, or maybe even because of it, I was riveted. The ending was perfect—understated and satisfying. Basically: I loved it. This book will stay with me for a long time. Five brilliant stars for this one.
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary. Tiffy and Leon share a bed. Tiffy and Leon have never met… This was one of the most unique concepts for a romantic comedy I’ve ever read! Tiffy needs a place to stay after getting out of a bad relationship. Leon needs money to pay an attorney to help his brother. Without ever meeting, Tiffy winds up renting space in Leon’s flat. He works long hours at night, so the entire place is hers then. While Tiffy is away at work during the day, Leon crashes for a few hours. They communicate solely via post-it notes for a while, and slowly get to know each other and of course, eventually falling deeply in love.
I adored this book! Both Tiffy and Leon were wonderful characters, quirky and realistic, very easy to root for, with great chemistry. I enjoyed watching their relationship slowly develop from strangers to friends to lovers. It wasn’t all silly and fun, though—the story had surprising depth, with a cast of vivid supporting characters. If you’re a fan of British romantic comedy like Sophie Kinsella, you should definitely check this one out. The steam factor is moderate—some sexy time but nothing too explicit. I devoured it!
Recursion by Blake Crouch. I absolutely loved Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter so I couldn’t wait to pick this one up. This story begins with a unique premise: people are suffering from what the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome, in which they suddenly gain memories of an alternative life they never lived. When NYC Detective Barry gets wrapped up in a case of FMS that piques his interest, he eventually meets up with Helena, a scientist working on a method to preserve memories for dementia patients. But as the story progresses, it becomes clear that something is occurring that could alter not only the way we remember our pasts but will also affect the future of the human race.
This gave me some serious 11/22/63 vibes mixed with a little Groundhog Day mixed with apocalyptic doomsday movies. I finished it at nearly midnight with a smile on my face. Highly recommended for hard-core sci-fi lovers as well as those who are just dipping a toe into the genre. Mind-bending, heart-lurching fun!
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang. Oh, what a gem of a book! Khai thinks he has a heart of stone because he doesn’t feel emotions the way most people do. He’s autistic, and has decided that he’s better off on his own than risking hurting others with his inability to feel or relate. Esme is a young, single mother living in Vietnam when she meets Khai’s mother, who has come to “find him a bride.” She sees something special in Esme and invites her to come live in the US with Khai and see if she can get him to fall in love. Esme wants to make a better life for herself and her daughter, so she agrees.
There is so much sweetness in this story. Khai doesn’t think he’s capable of love, and Esme doesn’t think he’ll love her if he knows her real self. But as they slowly spend time together, the trust (and attraction) grows. I chuckled, I got tears in my eyes, and finished with a smile on my face. Helen Hoang has solidified her spot as a must-buy author for me and I can’t wait to read her next book. (Moderate steam, much less emphasis on sex than The Kiss Quotient)
My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing. This is the story of a normal married couple. They work their jobs, raise their teenage children, and stress about money. They also murder people together. Narrated by the husband, this is a deliciously creepy, clever psychological suspense novel. My husband and I listened to it on a long road trip and were both completely engrossed. The writing is crisp, the story is fast-paced, and the ending is great! I didn’t find it terribly disturbing (most references to the actual killing are relatively oblique) but if you’re squeamish, be warned. It IS about a husband and wife serial killer duo, after all. Highly recommended for fans of smart suspense.
And there you go! I hope you can find something captivating to read during these last few weeks of summer.