If you’re looking for the perfect beach book, Harvard’s library staff is here to help. This summer, staffers are recommending gripping memoirs, epic fantasies, heartfelt graphic novels, and introspective essay collections. We link to titles available through HOLLIS.
Adventure and epic fantasy
Maia, the youngest (and exiled) son of the emperor, ascends to the throne after the suspicious deaths of his father and three older brothers. Contains: Intrigue! The weight and responsibilities of power! Fundamental decency! A cool bridge! It’s the best fantasy book I’ve read in years.
Emilia is a young witch in Italy, whose quiet life is disrupted when her twin sister is murdered. To help track down the killer and avenge her twin, Emilia makes a deal with a demon. I really enjoyed this supernatural mystery and romance, and the sequels keep the twists coming. A solid summer read!
Caught between the ruling Arameri and the gods they serve, Yeine Darr hopes to learn how her mother really died. Her journey is surprising and thrilling, interweaving through Jemisin’s terrifying world-building. This is part one of a trilogy, and the whole series is fantastic.
This book is a reinterpretation of Arthurian legend, centering on the U.S-based descendants of the original Knights of the Round Table. The protagonist is an African American pre-college student, who infiltrates a secret society at the University of North Carolina. The story is an original creation, drawing on enough of the old Arthurian mythology for diehard medieval studies fans, yet opening up the genre enough for those new to the legends. It adds a fresh twist on the Arthurian characters and incorporates themes of magic, ancestral heritage, and the history of American slavery.
Biography and memoir
A biography of William Parker, a double bassist, composer, writer, and community organizer associated with the New York City free jazz and creative arts scene. This is a rare biography that chronicles the life and music of a living musician associated with the jazz avant garde. It shows the vision of the man behind the music.
Grace Cho recollects her mother’s life from Korea to the Pacific Northwest. Born into a turbulent era of subjugation, experiencing the terrors of war, and shifting into a xenophobic culture — Cho connects her mother’s trauma to her challenges with schizophrenia. The act of cooking together becomes an empowering creative outlet on her worst days to find a sense of agency and self.
Fun supernatural fiction
An English doctor who treats supernatural beings — “vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights and entropy in mummies” — what could be better? My favorite was a sweet baby ghoul with a fever, who “wouldn’t even touch her nice rat.” (It was an ear infection, of course, an illness ubiquitous to all children.) Shaw’s storytelling could be gimmicky, but it isn’t. These well-written books are an absorbing and fun escape into a world where the supernatural is routine.
Recently, the early Discworld books have been released on audio — and they’re just as funny as they were in print! In Book 3, Death takes on an apprentice — he has a lot on his plate, as it were, and could use the help. But does this new guy Mort actually help, or just cause many, many more problems? If you’re familiar with Terry Pratchett, you already know the answer.
This book is a whimsical, heartfelt, and at times laugh-out-loud tale of a young, lonely witch trying to find her “place.” With its assortment of odd yet lovable characters (including a grumpy librarian and possibly murderous children), lots of magic, and a touch of romance, this book is the perfect summer beach read.
Not only does this comic have beautiful illustrations following a young frog on their first journey into the wide world away from home, but the book itself is absolutely stunning with its landscape format and vividly colored slipcase. It’s designed to make one slow down and process while reading and it is just one beautiful package of a book. It’s also one of the last amazing comics published by Peow Studio before closing, so please check it out in person if you get the chance!
Kyoko follows the boy she loves to Tokyo to support him in his quest to become famous. When he dumps her, she discovers her own talent for acting while trying to beat him in show business. This manga (shoujo) series has romance, comedy, drama, and beautiful art. Plus, there’s 47 volumes (so far), so it could last you all summer.
Fiction on modern love and friendship
Wolfe’s powerful yet delicate writing transported me into the world of the young protagonist, Fe Fe. Nearly a year after reading this book, images still come to mind of her family, friends, neighborhood, and Fe Fe’s last summer living in the housing projects of Chicago.
This novel follows the lives of three women, transgender and cisgender, and shows how their experiences intertwine around a pregnancy. Relationship dynamics and societal pressures impact their voyage into the possibility of parenthood. It is a thoughtfully written story about love from a perspective not often explored.
Set in a deeply drawn high school, this young adult novel is about assault, but also trauma, friendship, bravery, belief in what people say happened to them, and speaking your truth — especially that of girls and women, and yet also inclusive of everyone. Blake’s gripping and riveting narrative starts fast and never lets up a nanosecond. I have been immersed and soaked and saturated in it. Nearly every page blows my mind. And I’ve never been more moved by any last page — ever.
Historical fiction and fantasy
If you want a summer read that breaks your heart and sets it leaping at the same time, this is the book for you. It is phenomenal, just like the horse and his caretaker at its center.
The incomparable Isabel Allende has created another amazing character, the centenarian Violeta, who tells the story of her life in a letter to someone she loves “above all others.” She lived through the flu epidemic following World War I and through COVID; through dictatorships, poverty and wealth, love and loss. She has survived, as The New York Times put it, through “100 years of attitude.”
Set in a world where sea monsters are real, this is the story of strong, ambitious Amina Al-Sirafi becoming a legend. Through a scribe’s recounting, we see Al-Sirafi confronting both a new foe and her own past choices. If you enjoy adventure, pirates, and mythologies, check this one out.
The first book of Chakraborty’s new series, this story has everything: adventure on the high seas, found family and born family, brushes with the supernatural, and a satisfying ending. A really great beach read!
Newlywed Kaveri is settling into her life as a married woman in 1920s Bangalore, navigating all the expectations she’s expected to meet. Then there is a high-profile murder — at a party, no less! — and she finds herself increasingly drawn into the events surrounding the tragedy. The story is delightful, and as it’s the first in a series, I look forward to more of Kaveri’s adventures in future novels.
Inspirational and introspective writing
Ross Gay hypothesizes in this essay collection that joy, rather than springing from the absence of sorrow, is forged from the communities we build in the midst of our struggles. Exploring joy through lenses as varied as gardening, higher education, and skateboarding, Gay’s gorgeous, conversational storytelling builds into a politically incisive manifesto which brings sharp focus to what is essential in our human quest for love and connection. I want to give this book to everyone I know.
As a faithful and grateful member of the library’s mindful self-compassion community of practice, I look forward to our weekly talks and practices with the amazing instructors who lead us. They draw from their own experience and training as well as from the works of others, including Pema Chödrön. This book of teachings will help carry me through the community’s summer break.