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Though August has arrived and the end of summer continues to inch closer, there is still plenty of time to enjoy the warm weather and hit the outdoors. A getaway is the perfect opportunity to unwind with a book, but narrowing down your lengthy to-read list may feel like a challenge.
If you're looking for a page-turner or two to bring with you on your next trip, Jenna Bush Hager can help with that. The TODAY book expert recommended her top 10 favorite books to read on vacation, from a relatable, lighthearted read to a thrilling murder mystery.
So whether you're soaking up the sun on a beach or enjoying a staycation in your own backyard, sit back, relax and dive into one of these great summer reads.
In case you missed it, Jenna announced earlier this summer that her June 2021 Read With Jenna book club pick was "Malibu Rising," by Taylor Jenkins Reid. "I felt like 'Malibu Rising' was a compulsively fun read that anybody would want to throw in their beach bag," Jenna said. "I think after the year we’ve had, everybody is looking forward to summer and this book felt like the perfect kick-off."
Set in Malibu in the 1980s, this novel focuses on the night of an end-of-summer party that changes the lives of four siblings, the offspring of legendary fictional singer Mick Riva. The story takes place over the course of just 24 hours, and flashbacks of Mick's rocky relationship with the mother of his children provides insight into the lives of the Riva siblings and what has shaped them into who they are.
Donna Tartt's debut novel can immediately draw its readers in from the first page, as the narrator recalls the murder of his friend years after the incident. He reflects on the time he spent as a member of a group of students at an elite liberal arts college in New England. Under the influence of their classics professor, the group deeply immerses themselves in the ancient Greek culture they are studying. The events that led up to the murder unravel in sequential order, and the novel explores the lasting effects it had on the students. You'll want to devour this thrilling book in one sitting.
Written in the form of a diary, this novel chronicles a year in the life of a single 30-something-year-old living in London named Bridget Jones. Bridget’s laugh-out-loud account details her struggles with her self-image, vices and of course, her complicated love life. Determined to find love, (because who doesn’t experience a daily fear of dying alone?), she decides that it’s time to go on a journey of self-improvement. “I think 'Bridget Jones's Diary' by Helen Fielding is always a great summer read,” Jenna said. If you’re looking for a fun, relatable read, you’ll want to carry this one in your beach tote.
“'Summer Sisters' by Judy Blume, my sister and I talk about that book all the time,” Jenna said. Set in the summer of 1977, this coming-of-age novel tells the story of two friends, Victoria and Caitlin, who spend summer vacations together on Martha's Vineyard as teenagers. No book captures the essence of the summer season and the friendships that shape our lives quite like this one.
Prefer for your vacation read to be a thriller? "The Secret Place" will have you on the edge of your seat with its unexpected twists and turns. The novel takes place at a boarding school in Dublin one year after a boy was murdered on the school's grounds. When 16-year-old Holly Mackey presents detective Stephen Moran with a photo of the boy captioned "I know who killed him," the case re-opens. Each chapter of the novel is told from the alternating perspectives of Moran and the students as they detail the unraveling of the case.
If you're looking for a title that will profoundly move you, this epic story will sweep you off your feet. The novel takes place over the course of three decades and follows the lives of four male friends, beginning with their post-college pursuit of professional success in New York City. The novel skillfully explores several difficult subject matters, including sexuality, addiction, abuse, trauma and recovery.
When Astrid Strick witnesses an acquaintance get hit by a bus, her perception on life and motherhood suddenly shifts. The Read With Jenna May 2020 book club pick explores the complex themes of family, community, aging and love. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character, all at very different stages of their lives. "It's about how families can be messy and complicated and at the same time, centered on love," Jenna said about the light and humorous read.
This unforgettable novel tells the powerful story of a young girl living in modern-day Nigeria named Adunni, who dreams of receiving an education. Despite the many obstacles and misfortunes she faces, Adunni refuses to let her "louding voice" be silenced. Her inspiring tale mirrors the story of many courageous young women across the world who long for a better future. Adunni's resilient voice will stay with you long after you finish reading the book. "It’s her (Adunni's) voice," said Jenna. "While reading, there were times when I felt like Adunni was whispering, singing and in parts, crying to me." Jenna selected "The Girl With the Louding Voice" as her February 2020 Read With Jenna book club pick.
Set during the Mexican Revolution, this beautiful novel tells the story of the De La Garza family. Tita De La Garza falls in love with her neighbor, Pedro, but the De La Garza family tradition doesn’t allow for the youngest daughter of the family to marry. Instead, it is her duty to care for her mother until she dies. Each section of the story is introduced with a different Mexican recipe, and Tita’s cooking becomes strongly connected to her emotions as she copes with her struggles.
This semi-autobiographical American classic is told from the perspective of Francie Nolan, an impoverished young girl living in the slums of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As you become enveloped in Francie’s bittersweet life and the daily experiences of the Nolan family, you will experience both heartbreak and hope.
Summer's bestselling books, according to Bookshop
While vacation reads often get labeled as breezy books filled with soppy romances and clichés, in reality, summer reading spans across genres. Whether you want to dive into some heavy texts, get lost in a mystery novel or step into someone else's shoes through a memoir, your summer reading list can be whatever you want to make it.
Bookshop, an online store that supports local and independent bookstores, shared their top five bestselling books this summer, proving that readers want a little bit of everything. Within this selection there is a book for every type of reader, from a nonfiction book about the legacy of slavery to a magical romance.
This novel takes readers on an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks that tell the story of slavery in America, beginning with the author's hometown of New Orleans. Through research and the voices of people living today, Smith is able to share essential stories from historical sights such as Monticello Plantation, where Thomas Jefferson enslaved 400 people, Angola, a former plantation-turned-maximum-security prison and even entire neighborhoods such as downtown Manhattan. This exploration of slavery's legacy on centuries of American history is one you don't want to miss.
This powerful memoir allows readers to step into the world of Ashley C. Ford as she describes the challenges she faced growing up as a poor Black girl with a father in prison. After struggling with a difficult relationship with her mother, changes to her body and assault, Ford sets out on a journey of self-discovery.
"Yoke," which is what yoga means in Sanskrit, is the link between good and bad, light and dark. In a series of brutally honest essays that will have you laughing, Jessamyn Stanley explores how to apply the larger idea of "yoke" to every day life. This fun read explores everything from imposter syndrome and loving yourself to cannabis and problematic American yoga culture.
Through this memoir, Michelle Zauner, the lead singer of indie band Japanese Breakfast, tells a deeply personal story about growing up Korean American, dealing with grief and reckoning with your own identity. After losing touch with her roots, her mother's terminal cancer diagnosis sets Zauner on a journey to reclaim the food, language and history she had neglected. Complete with family photos and intimate stories, this is a book to cherish.
Described as magical, sexy and a big-hearted romance, this novel is a little bit of everything. The story follows 23-year-old August who moves to New York City and is determined to get through life alone — that is until she meets Jane, a mysterious girl on the train. August soon discovers that her subway crush not only looks like an old school punk rocker, but she is actually from the 1970s. In this story, the impossible becomes possible as August tries to save the girl lost in time.
For more book recommendations, check out:
- 6 page-turners you need to add to your summer reading list, according to authors
- Jenna Bush Hager's June 2021 book club pick will transport you to the beach
- All of Jenna Bush Hager's book club picks