July 1, 2022

14 books to make your July bearable

WATCH: Zibby Owens talks new book, 'Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature'

Zibby Owens is an author, podcaster, book-fluencer, publisher, and a regular contributor to GMA.

Beach reads. We talk about them all year, eagerly awaiting a time when the weather universally cooperates so that we can sit oceanside (or pretend we're oceanside!) and devour books that allow us to lose ourselves, be transported, and truly feel.

Now is that time. The July sunshine, mixed with delicious summer foods like watermelon and fresh berries or tomatoes, perhaps something sparkly in the drink beside us, is the perfect reading recipe. So dive into these 15 summer reads which take us from the Upper East Side to Puerto Rico, from the Hamptons to New Hampshire, and from farm life to the front of the camera.

Let's lose ourselves. Together.

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15 books for July

'After the Hurricane' by Leah Franqui

A daughter returns to Puerto Rico to search for her missing father post-Hurricane Maria in this truly beautiful novel by Leah Franqui, whose debut novel "Motherland" debuted during the pandemic. Elena's father, who had a history of bipolar disorder, trauma and alcoholism, and was raised by a mentally ill mother, decides to return late in life to his homeland. But when the hurricane hits and he disappears, Elena heads straight to Puerto Rico to find out who her father was -- and, in turn, herself. An elegant, literary look at the love between fathers and daughters and what family really means, "After the Hurricane" will stay with you.

'A Gracious Neighbor' by Chris Cander

Martha is getting a bit obsessed. When her old friend Minnie moves in next door, it's all the excitement this suburban mom needs. But what begins as genuine interest goes too far. In fact, Martha's snooping reveals something she would never have guessed about Minnie and shows the harm that can be done when moms judge each other too harshly without the full story. Written in Chris Cander's distinctive voice, "A Gracious Neighbor" is just the friendship examination story we all need.

'A Hundred Other Girls' by Iman Hariri-Kia

Noora is a Middle Eastern American writer and blogger, tutoring on the Upper East Side and living on her sister's couch, until she snags the job of assistant to the editor in chief of her favorite magazine, Vinyl. A war of sorts breaks out between the print and digital sides of the business with Noora's unhinged boss leading the charge. Where Noora sides will determine her whole career. Like "The Devil Wears Prada," this workplace comedy proves that there's a little bit of truth to every joke.

'A Shoe Story' by Jane L. Rosen

College senior Esme is at Dartmouth about to open a graduation gift shipped to her by her mom -- the red-bottomed heels they'd both fantasized about -- when she gets a call from the hospital. Her parents had been in a horrific accident. By the time she drives the six hours home, her mother has died and her father is paralyzed. The shoes go long forgotten until her father passes away years later. Esme, unsure what to do and newly orphaned with years of time lost, decides to head to New York City and dogsit for a woman who has turned the kitchen pantry into a shoe closet. With characters like an Eli Zabar-ish bagel monger, a devoted ex-boyfriend she hasn't quite forgotten, and a very frisky dog, "A Shoe Story" is highly entertaining: a thoughtful beach read.

'Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature' by Zibby Owens

Okay, fine. I wrote this. But I promise it's good -- and a quick read. As an Amazon First Reads title for June, thousands of readers already read it (it was a #1 bestselling memoir) and many have told me they couldn't put it down. "Bookends" is my deeply personal story of navigating life's plot twists all told through the lens of reading and books. At every major life moment from my parents' divorce, the loss of my own best friend on 9/11 and the four losses of loved ones that same year, the craziness of motherhood, my own remarriage, food issues, and more, I've turned to books to get me through. Ultimately, it's the (hopefully) inspiring story of how I found my voice again -- especially after 11 years "staying at home" with my four kids. Now my voice is heard by millions of listeners through my daily, literary podcast Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books. Funny how life works.

'Crying in the Bathroom: A Memoir' by Erika L. Sanchez

One of the first essays in this honest, biting collection brings us Erika's thoughts about an infection in her nether-regions and how no matter what she did to cure it, she couldn't quite eliminate it. A metaphor for life in general? Well-written and thought-provoking, Erika's essays address identity, gender, being raised by Mexican immigrants, and more.

'In Her Boots' by KJ Dell'Antonia

New York Times bestselling author KJ Dell'Antonia returns after "The Chicken Sisters" to spin a tale about a 40-year-old celebrity "Pioneer Woman" with a pseudonym who, afraid of dealing with the spotlight when she returns to her childhood farm, convinces her best friend to "play" her. But when her mom appears, the gig may be up. Heartfelt, hilarious, and hugely entertaining, "In Her Boots" will keep you turning pages. Quickly.

'Kaleidoscope' by Cecily Wong

Sisters Morgan and Riley are heiresses to a global luxury goods emporium, biracial daughters of the Chinese-American couple who started the enterprise. When tragedy strikes the glamorous family, Riley has to pick up the pieces and learn what was really the truth. Evocatively-written and structured like fragments, "Kaleidoscope" shows what it means to look at family from all angles.

'More After the Break: A Reporter Returns to Ten Unforgettable Stories' by Jen Maxfield

What a good idea for a collection. Jen Maxfield decides to revisit ten stories from her TV reporter career years later for the real conclusion to the stories. The tales are just as heart-pounding in Jen's prose as they surely were on the screen, making finding out the endings incredibly compelling.

'Self-Portrait with Ghost: Short Stories' by Meng Jin

The author of "Little Gods" returns to take us from San Francisco to China in a collection of linked stories written mostly during the post-election and pandemic days. Themes like isolation, intimacy, relationships, maturing, powerlessness and what it means to make mistakes circle around these masterfully crafted stories.

'Sister, Mother, Warrior' by Vanessa Riley

A masterful novel about the Haitian Revolution, "Sister, Mother, Warrior" will surely follow in the successful footsteps of Vanessa Riley's "Island Queen." A West African warrior and the first empress of Haiti seem completely different until they unite in a common mission in this engrossing, important tale based on a true story.

'The Big Dark Sky' by Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz made a big decision late in his career. With his sales declining after grocery store mass market paperback racks were largely discontinued, Dean defected from traditional publishing and moved over to Amazon Publishing which, he felt, had the most extensive marketing plans. A key move on his part, Dean went on to sell more copies than he had in years. His latest book, "The Big Dark Sky," addresses our collective fear: what if this is the end of humanity?!

'The Boys' by Katie Hafner

A July 2022 Indie Next Pick, "The Boys" is the first novel by Katie Hafner, a frequent contributor and former staff member at the New York Times. Set during the pandemic, "The Boys" dives into the effects when a couple, Ethan and Barb, take in two boys and essentially foster them. Written in Katie's well-known narrative nonfiction-style voice, "The Boys" is highly relevant to all who care for others.

'The Crane Wife' by CJ Hauser

"The Crane Wife" essay went viral. Read over a million times after being published in The Paris Review, CJ became a true sensation. Already the author of two novels, CJ's first non-fiction collection of essays includes tales that highlight friendship and family, the life-paths not expected, and, mostly, love.