Campus & Community

Choose your adventure in 20 summer reads

Library staff picks span mystery, monsters, memoir, manga, music, mindfulness, and much, much more

9 min read
Couple on beach with large books as suitcases.

Illustration by Kerry Hyndman/Ikon Images

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

Book cover: "The Goblin Emperor."

“The Goblin Emperor”
by Katherine Addison

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.

— Emily Mathay, Schlesinger Archivist

Book cover: "Kingdom of the Wicked."

“Kingdom of the Wicked” (series)
by Kerri Maniscalco

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!

— Maura Carbone, Senior Business Systems Analyst

Book cover: "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms."

“The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms”
by N.K. Jemisin

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.

— Debbie Ginsberg, Harvard Law School Library Faculty Services Manager

Book cover: "Legendborn."

by Tracy Deonn

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.

— Lee LaFleur, Associate Librarian for Research, Teaching, and Learning Services

Biography and memoir

Book cover: "Universal Tonality: The Life and Music of William Parker ."

“Universal Tonality: The Life and Music of William Parker”
by Cisco Bradley

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.

— Ed Copenhagen, Reference Archivist

Book cover: "Tastes Like War."

“Tastes Like War”
by Grace M. Cho

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.

— Scott Murry, Senior Designer

Fun supernatural fiction

Book cover: "Strange Practice."

Dr. Greta Helsing series (“Strange Practice,” “Dreadful Company,” and “Grave Importance”)
by Vivian Shaw

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.

— Samantha DeWitt, Resource Sharing Specialist

Book cover: "Mort."

“Mort” (Discworld series)
by Terry Pratchett

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.

— Debbie Ginsberg, Harvard Law School Library Faculty Services Manager

Book cover: "The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches."

“The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches”
by Sangu Mandanna

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.

— Hannah Hack, University Archives Administrative Coordinator

Graphic novels

Book cover: "A Frog in the Fall (And Later On)."

“A Frog in the Fall (And Later On)”
by Linnea Sterte

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!

— Julie Fiveash, Librarian for American Indigenous Studies

Cover: "Skip Beat!" Volume 1.

“Skip Beat!” (series)
by Yoshiki Nakamura

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.

— Maura Carbone, Senior Business Systems Analyst

Fiction on modern love and friendship

Book cover: "Last Summer on State Street."

“Last Summer on State Street”
by Toya Wolfe

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.

— Jane Skoric, Serials Acquisitions and Management

Book cover: "Detransition, Baby."

“Detransition, Baby”
by Torrey Peters

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.

— Scott Murry, Senior Designer

Book cover: "Girl Made of Stars."

“Girl Made of Stars”
by Ashley Herring Blake

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.

— James Adler, Cataloguer

Historical fiction and fantasy

Book cover: "Horse."

by Geraldine Brooks

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.

— Jocelyn Kennedy, Harvard Law School Library Executive Director

Book cover: "Violeta."

by Isabel Allende

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.”

— Elizabeth E. Kirk, Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Resources and Services

Book cover: "The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi."

“The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi”
by Shannon Chakraborty

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.

— Meg McMahon, User Experience Researcher


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!

— Amanda Hannoosh Steinberg, Librarian for Islamic Art & Architecture

Book cover: "Bangalore Detectives Club."

“Bangalore Detectives Club”
by Harini Nagendra

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.

— Debbie Ginsberg, Harvard Law School Library Faculty Services Manager

Inspirational and introspective writing

Book cover: "Inciting Joy."

“Inciting Joy”
by Ross Gay

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.

— Amanda Hope, Protective Enclosures Coordinator

Book cover: "Awakening Loving-Kindness."

“Awakening Loving-Kindness”
by Pema Chödrön

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.

— Elizabeth E. Kirk, Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Resources and Services